Perchance to Dream

To celebrate The Hydra’s upcoming series, DEBONAIR discusses the magic of a B2B set

DEBONAIR, photography Stephanie Elizabeth Third

“To be, or not to be,” is the question posed by Hamlet in Act 3, Scene 1 of the eponymous play. London-based promoter The Hydra has answered: why not both? In a triumphant return to the dancefloor, former BOC gasworks site The Drumsheds will see two day-long events titled To Be and Not To Be, each packing in nearly twenty artists. Featuring a who’s who of selected spinners, and built around the magic of B2B sets, the former features Nina Kraviz with Paula Temple, Laurel Halo and DEBONAIR, Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann, and a solo set from Jeff Mills, among many others. The latter, meanwhile, continues to pile on sonic luminaries ­– Four Tet with Floating Points, Carl Craig and Moodymann, Joy Orbison alongside Mount Kimbie, and Jon Hopkins, to name only a few. It’s going to be a (Covid-compliant) riot.  

To mark the occasion, Port caught up with the wonderful DEBONAIR to talk about the joyful ebb and flow of the B2B, as well as taking risks and building trust with audiences.

DEBONAIR

How have you been? 

That feels like such a big question these days! I’m doing well, thank you. I endured a brutal stint of long-COVID but I’m mostly on the other side now so I’m in the process of rebuilding my life whilst really pacing myself and getting strong again.

What have you been up to the past few months? I bet you’re happy to be back in the clubs?

It’s been quite life-affirming to get back into clubs, the first few shows back really reminded me what a dream-career I have, and how lucky I am to be able to conjure a musical narrative and share this with a dancefloor. Obviously the rug really was pulled from underneath us in the live music industry when the pandemic hit and it’s still far from over, so it’s been a very strange and conflicting time; partly being so happy and grateful to reconnect with treasured people and old ways of life, whilst also navigating future career plans in an ever-changing landscape, whilst also holding onto the lessons learnt in the past 18 months – both personally and hopefully in a wider context too.

The Drumsheds

What do you admire about Laurel’s selection – how does she compliment your own? 

Laurel’s selections show a deep love and passion for the true breadth of music, which I certainly feel we have in common, but we’re also both DJs that could really go anywhere in our sets, so combined – it’s going to be a dynamic ride for sure!

What is the push and pull, the give and take of a B2B? Are there any rough rules or basic etiquette?

The overall feeling of a B2B has to be that you are building a journey together, so being reactive yet sympathetic to what your partner is playing whilst also driving the energy forward periodically creates the most satisfying results. There are some key rules in this, such as letting your partner’s tracks breathe, giving them space on the mixer when it’s their turn, and not trying to trip them up with tracks that are too short or tricky to mix out of – or at least giving them a heads up if something unexpected is coming so that they’re ready.

I’ve read you never pre-plan your sets – does this ultimately free you, allow you (and the audience) to go to spontaneous, unexpected places? Is that not daunting? 

I don’t plan my sets to the T, but I generally have a few options worked out for how I’ll start my set, then multiple ideas for how that evolves over the night – it’s all about how experienced you are as a DJ though. Pre-pandemic I felt fluent enough to have a rough plan then use my instinct and connection to the room to build the rest, but after having such a long break without playing during lockdown, I’m now working out a couple key themes and selections that I want to draw for during a set beforehand – this is all able to change though – it needs to feel right in the moment.

DEBONAIR

What musical fields or soundscapes will you explore on Saturday? 

This entirely depends on what energy me and Laurel build together in that space, but I have a feeling that it will start off pretty experimental and atmospheric – feeling out the room – then after that we might get quite fun and cheeky with it, get the party started!

How do you gauge an audience’s appetite to take sonic risks? Or is better to simply lead the way?   

This is the skill of being a DJ really, it’s not exact but you learn how to tune into the energy of a space and push different sounds and feel whether it’s received well or not. There do need to be times when you’re a bit more daring and take some risks or instigate some changes in pace, but often it’s about how you continue this narrative and how technically well it’s executed as to whether the audience will follow you or not – they need to trust that you’re on your way to building a bigger picture.

Is there another B2B on the night you’re particularly looking forward to? 

I’m super looking forward to Mala & Moritz Von Oswald – can’t quite believe that I get to experience that tomorrow.

To Be takes place on the 27th November 2021, and Not To Be on 18th December 2021

 

 

Field Day 2021

On the last weekend of August, London’s Victoria Park welcomed the return of Field Day in a quintessentially electronic homecoming

The day began as we bounced our way onto the overground, only to be met by a swarm of festival goers; the influx of glittery faces, patterned shirts, make-shift drinks and bumbags gave them away instantly. We walked from Whitechapel, many others did the same, and the weather was typically British – muggy and grey. But despite the somewhat bleak skies that casted over the city, there was a real sense of anticipation sweeping the air. Field Day, London’s annual outdoor music festival that originated in 2007, had returned. And with it came a sell-out event and line-up comprising a mix of electronic genres and six arenas, not to mention a thrillingly moody headline performance from production duo BICEP at the main stage – the first performance since 2018.

After a year of cancellations, the elation for the UK’s return to festivals was unmissable. As we edged closer to the gates, the bassy hum of the stage openers exaggerated this: IMOGEN, Jaguar, Flip the Lid, Sofia Kourtesis, Grainger and Yung Singh were all kicking off what would be a blissful homecoming to the original playground of Victoria Park. Other bookings included O’Flynn, Hot Chip Megamix, Artwork, Mall Grab, Rosie Low, Floating Points, TSHA and Poté to name a few, and it’s safe to say that those in attendance were more than enthusiastic. 

“It’s been different,” said the festival’s director, Luke Huxham, as I sat down with him to ask about the expected and enduring hurdles. “It’s been challenging trying to navigate through the rescheduling and reacting to the government messaging. But, I think festivals in general are challenging, so it’s just been another challenge we’ve had to deal with. However, things are back and they’re back for good. It’s exciting.”

With the previous event held in south London’s Brockwell Park, Luke explained that it was a thrilling return to the festival’s birthplace in east London. “This is where we’re going to stay for a while,” he said. Coupled with a quick reaction to the news of the pandemic, the team were able to roll over the line-up from 2019, which inadvertently worked in their favour. “In a way, the delay has been a good thing because BICEP’s profile is now much bigger than it was or would have been for last year’s event,” said Luke. “So we’ve got one of the hottest headlines at the peak of their career.”

Photo credit: Ro Murphy / Hotchip

Poté, a Paris-based artist who also goes by the name Sylvern Mathurin, took to The North Stage in the early evening for his DJ set. A little different to his live performances, the set was still brimming with energy. The return to festivals, he said, had been rejuvenating: “It gave me a lot of time to re-think what I want to stand for and how I want to portray myself in the future.” Having just finished working on an album, he explained how his experiences over the pandemic have been self-defining; he’s thought a lot about who he is. “For the first time, I’ve got into therapy and started diving into who I am. Especially with all that was going around – Black Lives Matter and Me Too – it made me question who I am and what I stand for. I never had that existential moment before.” 

This was Poté’s second UK festival of the year so far, with Lost Village being the first a couple of days prior. For him, like many of the artists performing that day, the come-back was exhilarating. “As soon as you go up on the stage and get that roar of energy, there’s nothing else to do but give it back, releasing it and dancing.”

TSHA

TSHA is a London-based DJ producer who was one of the early performers at the Victoria Park East stage. Catching her after the set, there’s no denying that she set the mood for what was to come later on. “It’s difficult to play early but it’s always nice,” she said. “Not everyone gets here at this time or people aren’t drunk enough yet, or ready enough. But it’s been a good vibe – I think everyone’s been pretty on it with a lot of the festivals, which is wicked.”

Field Day was TSHA’s second festival of the weekend, so it’s been a busy return for the DJ. “It’s been really energising but at the same time exhausting,” TSHA added. She’s just dropped an EP and has been utilising the past year or so to write. But as things opened up again, her focus then shifted to performing. “You’re there meeting people and finally seeing friends you haven’t seen in a long time, finally being able to be together and dance together, catching other performers I haven’t seen in a long time; it’s a hole that’s been missing and it’s been filled now.”

Photo Credit: Karolina Wielocha / Mall Grab
Photo Credit: Ro Murphy / Bicep
Floating Points
Jaguar
Photo credit: Karolina Wielocha
DJ Seinfeld and George FitzGerald

Floating Points

Port talks to the acclaimed musician about his latest album and finest work to date

In June a ship captained by Carola Rackete picked up 53 migrants off the Libyan coast and docked in Lampedusa, infuriating Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini. Rackete was released from house arrest following international criticism, but could now potentially face 15 years in prison for aiding undocumented migrants. Sea-Watch, the humanitarian NGO named after the contentious ship that rescued the rubber dinghy, is directly referenced towards the end of Sam Shepherd AKA Floating Points’ latest album, Crush. The troubled, layered, lilting track with a haunting Buchla synthesiser refrain was inspired by “a modern-day hero”, explains Shepherd, “who’s actually out there doing good, physically helping people. This story gave me some degree of hope and if I can raise awareness of the organisation through my music, then I will.”

Shepherd’s first album Elaenia took him five years to make – Crush was made in five weeks. Nodding to the intense, crucible-like period it was fashioned in while he was improvising during support shows for The xx, the long awaited album is also responding to the “pressure-cooker of the current environment”. Operatic, dystopian, dark and brooding, it switches from waltzing synth requiems that serenely chirrup to bristling bass drum kicks, all with a frenetic energy and melody that is unmistakably his own. Where has this darker, heavier sound come from, I ask? “The very nature of debate and discourse now, leaves me with the feeling that the currency of truth seems to hold no value anymore. Literally anything goes. Boris Johnson can just lie, Donald Trump can just lie – there are no consequences anymore. That’s what makes me most acutely nervous, that the nature of truth holds no value, therefore democracy has no value ­– because it’s built on promises and being accountable for them. A lot of the record was born out of this feeling.”

“It upsets me when Michael Gove says ‘we’ve had enough of experts’. I spent a good 10 years at university becoming an expert in something. Neuroscience may not have much relevance in people’s day to day, but there are people who are experts in economic policy and how Brexit is going to affect fishing, farming, how disabled people are going to access health care, for example. For people to ignore this expertise, it makes everything completely fucking pointless. I was turning to the news on a minute by minute basis – I thought I was doing this to stay informed, but actually, I was looking for some sort of hope. ‘Tell me something good, show me some breakthrough news’, and it was never good.”

Last Bloom still

Having toured extensively over the past couple of years Shepherd was keen to get back to his London studio and immerse himself in a purely electronic world: “Not too long ago I accidentally wiped the entire memory of my Rhodes Chroma synthesiser, so I rebuilt its entire 200 pre-sets myself. It took a long time to create a bed of sounds that I felt really inspired to play, so when I suddenly had this gap of five weeks to nail some music down, it happened quite quickly. I could access the sounds I wanted to use so swiftly. I knew them.”

Listening to the album, you can hear a number of subconscious sonic influences – the bleeding rush of Vangelis, stabs of Phillip Glass and the tangled pulse of Aphex Twin. “Aphex – I could never pin down,” reflects Shepherd, “I love his music, but I don’t feel like I know it that well because there’s so much of it. It’s too difficult to use as a reference point because nothing will ever sound like it. I can’t do that! When I was younger all my friends at university were into him, but I used to go to a lot of Bang Face and Electrowerkz raves in Angel, see people like Ceephax Acid Crew. That sound, artists like Autechre, the world of IDM, were definitely in my head for Crush.”

Crush

The first single initially dropped by record label Ninja Tune – LesAlpx – was a bouncing return to the dancefloor, a space Shepherd feels equally at home at, regularly spinning house, disco, techno and soul in institutions like Berghain and Fabric. Mention the club Plastic People in most music circles and the response will be rose-tinted glasses covering misty eyes. The tiny yet incredibly influential basement in Shoreditch regularly played host to residencies from Theo Parrish and Four Tet – a close friend of Shepherds – but abruptly closed down in 2015. It was also where the classically trained musician learned his trade as a DJ: “I started off quite humbly, doing a couple of parties, but it quickly moved to basically whenever no one else was playing. It got to the point where we could announce a party on a Thursday or Friday and we’d get 200 people, no problem. It’d be a party too, it’d be a jam.”

I put it to Shepherd that London lost more than just the physical space when it shut down. He pauses briefly. “Last night I listened to this Pedro Santos record and one song came on that is 100% a Plastic People tune. I had totally forgotten about it. It took me by surprise and I was grinning ear to ear. But then I thought, ‘where could I play this in London now?’. The answer is nowhere, there’s nowhere good enough where the system and crowd would be that forgiving. It had a lot to answer for culturally. It’s sad to have lost it because it was more than just the sound system, it was the whole community around it. But I don’t get hung up about this stuff because I’m sure somewhere else in London is really good now. Something will rise out of the ashes over time. I hope it happens before I get into my forties though, so that I can enjoy it rather than need to go to bed. I’m 33 going on 85.”

The spontaneous energy of the album demands to be listened to loudly with the lights down low. Shepherd notes that the records rapid shift in tempo and mood is meant to mirror “what happens when you’re at home playing music with your friends and it’s going all over the place…I wanted to make some dance music, I felt I had missed it for a while. I released LesAplx as a ‘hi everyone, I’m back’, but when the album comes out, I feel it will pull the rug from under people’s feet. Because the rest of it isn’t that at all.”

Floating Points plays Crush live at Printworks 21st November