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

 

 

Muscle Memory

A collaboration between childhood friends – musician Four Tet and artist Anna Liber Lewis – explores clubbing nostalgia and bodies in flux

Howling yawns of pastel colour blend freely with the music that surrounds them, transformed through dreamlike harpsichord and rumbling bass. Twisting abstract shapes warp and dance in front of a gallery audience that look more like ravers than fine art enthusiasts. This is Muscle Memory, a visceral, synaesthesia-like collaboration between Anna Liber Lewis’ lyrical paintings and Four Tet (AKA Kieran Hebden)’s soundscape, created exclusively for the exhibition. The sweeping movement contained in the Elephant West space, both visual and aural, is a joint love letter to the pairs teenage years clubbing together and getting “lost in music”.

Having studied fine art at Central St Martins and the Royal College of Art, Lewis recently won the Griffin Art Prize in 2017 for her work exploring the female form and sexuality, providing her with the time and space to focus on the exhibition with Hebden, the critically acclaimed polymath who travels the world with his music. Over a period of 6 months the pair exchanged tracks and images, responding to each other’s work instinctively, intuitively. It was also during this time that both artists lost their fathers to aggressive illnesses, further cementing the collaboration and colouring it with powerful emotion.

Following the success of the show, we talked to the pair about metamorphosis, London’s nightlife and loss.     

Has this collaboration been a long time in the making?

Anna Liber Lewis (AL): When you’ve known each other since birth and been like family for forever, it just happens naturally. I had started looking to music a lot more when I painted and it became an integral part of my practice – locating myself in my body and dancing in the studio. I became obsessed with Kieran’s New Energy album, which took me down this rabbit hole of listening to music we used to dance to when we were teenagers in London. I sent images of work in progress and tracks I was listening to and we went from there.

Kieran Hebden (KH): Whatever she could asked of me, whether she was painting, creating sculpture, whatever, I’d listen to her because I’ve known her all my life and trust her. When I was at the gallery the other day doing a concert, I realised there isn’t anyone else I’d do this with, no other painter in the world. A lot of my favourite projects are driven by personalities. It’s often more about people and their ideas or imagination rather than the format they use.

Who or what is influencing you at the moment?

KH: Loads. A ridiculous amount. I listen to music everyday – it’s coming into me all the time. There are classic staples that roll through my life, sometimes I’ll listen to a John Coltrane record every single week and those constants end up having a big impact. I also go through phases where I get swept up with specific sounds, I’ll suddenly want to listen to some old soul, techno, or speed-garage. But it’s when music comes together with a specific moment that it really connects for me. Last summer I saw Riccardo Lobbos do a DJ set and standing in the crowd, listening to this amazing, futuristic set where I didn’t know any of the music – I remember walking away from that and thinking ‘I’m terrible at this, I need to rethink everything I’m doing – I’ve seen something just on another level’. It’s important for me to be humbled all the time, to think about my game and what I’m actually trying to achieve here. If it all gets too comfortable, then I’ll be making some rubbish music with low energy.

AL: Maria Lassnig – she used to lie down and paint so really worked from her body. Vanessa Bell, Sonia Delaunay – lots of women now. In the past I was trying to kick against the ‘big boys’ – Picasso, Matisse, and the older I get, the more interested I am in the women not quite included in art history. There’s a fantastic show on at The Tate with Dorothea Tanning at the moment and it’s so nice to see women getting the recognition that they were previously denied.

I’ve seen quite a few beloved clubs close that you use to have residencies in (Plastic People) and some gutted of any atmosphere. What’s happening to London’s nightlife?

KH: I’m frustrated and angry about what’s happened in London in terms of nurturing and respecting spaces for culture. The government and councils believe when you close a club you can simply open it up elsewhere, but for any sort of art institution, it takes time to build up a following and bring together like-minded people. A club like Plastic People – it took years and years to become what it was and we’re losing places like that all the time – it’s very hard to get them back. I see other towns in Europe like Amsterdam or Berlin where you have clubs treated in the same way you would a museum – I want to see that attitude here. People come to London for art and music, so they should be protected, whereas I feel like people are spending more time making sure there’s enough Costa Coffees in town.

‘Muscle Memory’ suggests something remembered and instinctual. How much of your work is based on instinct or intuition?

KH: Making music is part of my day to day life, the same way as eating and brushing my teeth. It’s woven in with everything I do, so I don’t overthink it. We’re old now, we’re used to doing what we do.        

AL: I’ve compared painting to sex or boxing in the past and had previously painted from the outside in. I’m increasingly moving towards intuition now though and try to listen to my gut. There’s a muscle memory from everything that’s come before. It was brilliant being surprised by Kieran’s music because it forced me to react and listen closely to its layers, which led to more layering in my own work.

How has familial loss impacted your work within the past year?

AL: It’s kind of unbelievable and I definitely need more time to process it all. It shifted me towards drawing more, because the painting is quite physical and requires a lot of energy. The drawing helped me to be introspective. I’s been a very strange year, intense, in lots of ways.  

KH: It was nice to be in the middle of work when something this heavy happened. Maybe it slowed us down a little bit, but life goes on. It might have even made it even more potent, because it had greater significance. Both our dads would have been so proud of us. The last piece of music I made was more calm and ambient, different from what we had initially discussed which was rave based, tying back to our memories of clubbing. But by the end, given what had happened, there was this other side that needed to be there, this calmness.

Muscle Memory was exhibited at Elephant West from January to March 2019