Kokoroko: “It’s not a sequel, it’s a different story”

With a new album on the near horizon, the eight-piece band shares insight into their journey and new sounds

Photography by Vicky Grout

Likely a familiar name to UK dwellers and even those living further afield, Kokoroko is an eight-piece London-based band that’s gone from strength to strength in recent years. Fitting the bill of the old saying “like music for my ears”, the band is indeed something that anyone will be happy to hear as it fuses Jazz and Afrobeat into a harmonious merging of rhythms, improv and honey-dripping melodies. Fronting the band is Sheila Maurice Grey – vocalist and trumpeter – who plays alongside her musical family: Yohan Kebede (synthesisers and keyboards), Cassie Kinoshi (alto sax and vocals), Onome Edgeworth (percussion), Tobi Adenaike-Johnson (guitar), Ayo Salawu (drums), Richie Seivwright (trombone and voals) and Duane Atherley (bass, synthesisers and keyboards). And honestly, it’s important to think of them that way – a group of kins who each share different interests and insights. Because when they come together, no matter their differences or likeness, the music is what binds them. Below, in anticipation of the launch of their new album Could We Me More, set to release in August, I chat to the band about their journey and what we can expect from their new sound.

I’d love to hear about how you all met.

We all met at different times and in different places. Clearly we all met for a reason, though! That reason is something we’re still exploring.

To those who haven’t heard your music before, how would you describe it?

Dopamine. 

What are you all like as individuals, do you all share the same music interests and taste? 

We all have different music interests and taste, I think that’s the special thing about the band – it’s taking the things that make us individuals and marrying them together as a celebration of who we all are and where we come from.

As an eight-piece, what’s it like being part of such a big group? What’s the dynamic like?

It’s amazing. When you find one person jarring, there’s another seven people to talk to, ha. Working and playing in a big group is amazing, but it also has its challenges. This includes learning how to allow space for others as well as figuring out where you fit into the equation of a song. It sharpens you as a musician, and forces you to simplify and revisit the essence of the craft, which is songwriting.

You’re currently on tour, which sounds incredible! Where did you play, are you teasing out your new album?

We just finished an incredible run in the Netherlands and Belgium, with highlights being two sold out shows at Paradiso in Amsterdam and Ancienne Belgique in Belgium! We appreciate the love we get shown all over Europe and we’re looking forward to the France leg of tour next week! We might play a new song here and there.

We’ve been teasing bits of the new album and reworking some classics that kind of tell the story of why and how a band like us exists. 

Speaking of, can you share some details about your new album? What can we expect to hear, and how does it compare to your previous releases?

Our album is a reflection of where we are at in our creative process; it’s an honest album in every sense of the word. Expect to hear mistakes that capture the essence of the song better than perfection could. 

The album is a moment of time captured, similar to our first EP. It’s hard to compare them – they’re from a very different time and a very different place. I think we would all encourage people to try to be present when listening to the album or any album, rather than listening comparatively. It’s not a sequel, it’s a different story.

Can you pick out a couple of favourite moments from the new album and talk me through them?

We Give Thanks was special; it’s a song that really captures the energy of the band. It was amazing to watch Sheila step out of her comfort zone, being adventurous with the way she sang while also paying homage to the 70s and 80s Afro rock/psychedelic bands that paved the way. Another moment is the outro to Somethings Going On; it was the last thing we all recorded together in the studio and the energy in it perfectly sums up the weeks we spent together writing and recording the album. I think a favourite track might be Good Times, I’m torn between that one and Home.

Is there a certain feeling or emotion you’re hoping to evoke from the new album?

There is no specific feeling or emotion we are trying to evoke, we just want people to connect with our stories. Different people will connect with different things and that’s something we’ve learned from each other. That’s the exciting thing about creating something – it kind of takes on its own life as soon as you let it go. We all have different favourites!

What’s next for the band?

Hopefully to start working on another album, a film maybe; some people want to delve deeper into fashion. We are quite ambitious as a collective ha, but basically whichever medium allows us to express ourselves in the best and most fulfilling way.

Music is a Vehicle for Perceiving

The author, poet and curator Anaïs Duplan shares a thoughtful insight into his recent essay, explaining how he strives to create community and understanding through his work

Photography by Ally Caple

How did you get to where you are today?

I was born in Haiti, i came to the Unites States around H3 and, besides a three-year stint living with my mother in Havana, Cuba, I’ve mostly been on the East Coast, between Boston and Brooklyn. I went to school as an undergrad at Bennington College, which is where I teach now, and I studied poetry and socio linguistics. Then I went to grad school for poetry at Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I was working for visual artists before I went to Bennington, and I transferred from there to RISD art school, and realised that I preferred working for artists than making art myself. 

Even though I’ve worked mostly as an arts worker at different arts organisations, I draw a lot of inspiration from visual artists – Black digital media artists both within visual arts but also music. I had a music journalism period, and I draw inspiration from that in my teaching. I’m a post-colonial literary professor at Bennington, and it’s pretty cool to be teaching where I went to school. It’s a cool way to incorporate some of my background as an artist worker.

What inspired you to become an author, poet and curator? Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

I do not remember the first thing I ever wrote, but I will say that, because I transferred to Bennington from another school, I was loafing around for a while between disciplines. Bennington  doesn’t really have majors – you can create your own course of study. So I left the visual arts, so to speak, or realistically it just wasn’t what i wanted to do. I was doing sociology and anthropology and realised I had an interest in language and those areas, so I was hovering around socio linguistics and discourse studies for a while. It was in that moment that I took a poetry class on a whim, and to get into class you had to apply with a packet of poems and I remember scrounging around on my computer trying to see if anything looked remotely poem-like. I found some old diaristic journal writing and put it into some stanzas and I got in. I was surprised to find my professor Michael Dumanis, who I teach alongside at Bennington, saw potential in my work and encouraged me to pursue poetry. I thought it was crazy, but here we are.

What drives your writing? Are there any specific elements, moment or experiences that influence you to pick up a pen and paper?

When I first started writing, it was a lot about having the space to say and think about things that I felt like I didn’t have in the rest of my life – in particular thinking about family dynamics, selfhood, relationships, gender, sexuality and all of that. Later on, I became really interested in writing about work that other artists and writers in my community were doing and my arts worker career path joined with my writer path.

What compelled you to write your essay, Music is a Vehicle for Perceiving (Or, a Foundation for Artful Intervention). What narratives are you hoping to share?

I became interested in writing work in conversation with my community. With the essay Music is a Vehicle for Perceiving, the piece’s statement is in the title; it’s an essay that I hope folks will try to read musically rather than try to read intellectually. By that I mean there’s a body and lineage of Black writers – Édourard Glissant, Fred Moten, Simone Wright to name a few – there’s a bunch who are in this space between poetry and theory. When we’re the space of the poem, we expect to read for affect and emotion; how does this part make me feel? But then, when we get into the world of theory or prose paragraphs, we switch into this way that we’ve been tried to read, which is more of a white, western hierarchal form of knowledge production where there are experts and people who don’t know. If instead we operate through this idea from Glissant, “to consent not to be a single being”, then we’re starting from a plan of already being in a community and already being understanding of one another. Then the writing is just an opportunity to perceive one another and to be together, like a relationality. The essay was about trying to write in a way that was inspired by those writers who I saw doing more affect-driven theoretical writing. 

What’s your personal relationship to music like?

I love music – I don’t make it and I’ve never really tried to make it, except I had an acoustic guitar in high school. I respect music and musicians a lot, and I’m very sensitive to sound which serves the practice of poetry. I hope that the audience will respond to the essay by reading musically, perhaps feeling a sense of relationality, community or finding resonance with the piece – in particular feeling a sense of permission for affect and emotion rather than reading with the mind.

How do you hope your audience will respond to this essay, what can they learn or feel? 

A main goal of mine as a writer is to try to write work that gives people permission to operate through the intelligence of the emotions. I don’t write fiction, I wish I could; I have a lot of respect for fiction writers. But in terms of poetry and essay, and the space in between – which I’ve been playing with lately – I would definitely say that’s a prime space for exploring what it means to understand information through the emotions rather than through the mind.

What’s next for you, any upcoming plans or projects?

Coming up next, I am writing a book for an academic press on the history of Black experimental documents. It’s my first time writing a book for an academic press, so I’m excited to try to explore the tension in the space, staying true to my poetry background but also writing prose that will work for a more academic audience.

 

An extract of Music is a Vehicle for Perceiving can be read here.

Radio Ballads

In a new show at Serpentine, four artists reveal a three-year collaboration with social workers, carers, organisers and communities to share impactful stories of labour and care

Rory Pilgrim, _RAFTS_, Barking and Dagenham Youth Dance, Production Still, 2021. Photo: Matthew Ritson.

“What keeps us connected? What do we need to repair? How do we listen and how do we hold each other?” This questions are posed by Amal Khalaf, curator and artist who’s currently director of programmes at Cubitt and civic curator at the Serpentine Galleries. Exploring stories about labour and care – plus the important act of how we care – Amal alongside the wider gallery team have embedded these questions into a new exhibition named Radio Ballads, currently on show at Serpentine and running until 29 May 2022. The show is also simultaneously running across the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham from 2-17 April, headed by the council’s New Town Culture programme. 

Over three years, artists Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar were asked to collaborate with social workers, carers, communities and organisers. Radio Ballads is the culmination of this and features long-term projects spanning film, drawing, mixed-media, song and music. It’s an impactful exhibition that shares experiences with mental health, domestic abuse, terminal illness, grief and end of life care. It’s also created in response to 12 years of austerity and the demise of the UK care sector – from privatisation and immigration policies to racism and lack of access to services. All of which is conceived through the voices of social care workers and those giving or receiving care. 

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Sonia Boyce, Yes, I Hear You, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Even the title, Radio Ballads, is rich in personal meaning. It takes its name from the original Radio Ballads broadcast on the BBC from 1957-64; it also looks at the form of a ballad – the poems and narratives set to a song or assortment of sounds – and how the framework centres the voices of people. Artists and musicians spend time “listening to people who were rarely represented in the media and often violently erased form history – centring their voices and words on their own term was a revelation to me,” explains Amal.

Interested in using art to “build political power, create life-sustaining relationships, and enact community and systems change”, says Amal, Radio Ballads is provoking, resilient and brave through its documentation of how social care services and artists can work together. Helen Cammock – former social worker and long-term artist – is deeply aware of the responsibilities that social workers bare for others, and the impact this can have on their lives. In her work with Bass Notes and SiteLines, Helen explores the connection between text, voice and body in order to present resistance and strength. Through sessions with people receiving care and those offering it through an organisation called Pause, Helen’s contribution – spanning film, meditation exercises, group drawings and a live performance – sees a series of artistic workshops come to life, all in all reflecting on the connections made through music and lyric writing to express anger, pain, joy and care. Below, Helen tells me more about her prodigious work at Radio Ballads. 

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

Tell me about your work involved in the show, what stories are you hoping to share?

There are a number of different elements to the show. These elements somehow give a ‘way in’ to the project process, and discuss in different forms the ideas that we were talking about in the project. This included a discussion in its widest sense about care using different activities to find ways for the conversation. We looked at how the body can be a site for resilience and the voice a site for resistance. 

The show includes a film (which weaves together refections from social workers and women who access care that take sung and spoken form, and also texts from people who have written about both voice and care). There is a large fabric banner, a triptych of screen-prints, a series of small line drawings and three larger line drawings made by contributors in the workshop process, a research table full of books that somehow speak about the idea of care and its relationship to body and sound, and a booklet that includes text I’ve written, drawings, images and a project playlist. Most of the works are made by me but some (the line drawings) come from activities on the project. There will also be two performances of a song Listening In Your Silence that I’ve written made up of words, phrases and stories that have come out of the workshop discussions. This will be a group performance of the song that we have been rehearsing together for eight weeks. We will be joined by a small choir from Brighton and Hove who have also been rehearsing the song for the past month.  

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

You worked with social workers, carers and communities for three years. What was this like for you, and what did you learn from them? Can you tell me more about your findings and the conversations you had?

It was a period that involved the lockdown so it included ‘in person’ and online workshops/conversations. This meant changes in participants/collaborators and the way that we could be together. This felt a little de-stabilising and was hard work in a way – when we were trying to be together. We worked with different social work practitioners (from different areas of care services) and with one project where both practitioners and the women who received support came together. A range of different activities were used in order to develop the space for discussion and trust to be built. We used drawing, led meditation to music, creative writing, photography, discursive activities and singing – all as ways to have conversations about care and self care and the relationship between voice and body, and resistance and resilience. We tested some of this out through what we ‘did’ together. We discussed what music means to us, what it feels like to speak and be heard, we used our voices to sing and our bodies to form shapes and gestures to articulate different emotions and states to further these conversations. This forms a foundation of the material in the film.

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

Can you share any stories or anecdotes from working with them?

There is no one story – it was a process of exchange. Each person has many stories and experiences. A process of trust building was key. In order for us to discuss what it means to use your voice (metaphorically or physically) it was important to create structures for those conversations. We had moments of sadness and moments of laughter, moments of connection and situations where conversations were difficult. There was negotiation and deal-making sometimes when asking people to try something new – or something that felt unfamiliar. There were women who felt uncomfortable singing in a group and for others; singing in a choir represented something difficult from their past. This sharing was important and informed how we approached each activity. Some social workers spoke about the power of being vulnerable in certain ways alongside the women they work with in the sessions and how this brought particular benefit to their working relationship. 

What response do you hope you’ll receive from this work?

I often say that I want people to respond both emotionally and intellectually to the work, and that this is about being able to connect to others and their stories but also to one’s own. We all have moments where we feel our voices and our bodies enable us to survive, to resist, to care… the process of this project is ‘the work’, if you like. The exhibition is made up of glimpses of this process. It is a way to touch or be touched by the process, but the process was where the work took its form; the site of the work. 

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

In what ways can art improve social care and community? How is your work contributing to that?

I am an artist; I am interested in dialogue and in the transformative nature of art to transform the form, shape or sound of stories and ideas. I want to create something new – ideas, sensation and thought through the work. This has a social function, a political function and an artistic function. It isn’t social work. This isn’t my aim here. But any relationships we form with people – individually or collectively – can have a role that supports, invigorates, validates, challenges and this can be seen as a form of labour, in contributing to a way of seeing, changing or interrogating the social fabric. 

I believe all situations in life can benefit from art and social work, and work within and between communities is absolutely one of them. It is a way to express and communicate on different levels and through different forms. It is a way to create channels for communication – say difficult things – and process difficult experiences. Not outside of therapeutic approaches or other structures of care, but alongside or in dialogue with. 

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, Green Shoes Arts, Production Still. Photo: Jessica Emovon.

Rory Pilgrim, Sketch Book. Courtesy of andriesse-eyck galerie.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Helen Cammock, Bass Notes and SiteLines: The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Film Still, 2022.

Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Film Still, 2022.

Anaïs Duplan on Music

The poet, curator and artist shares an extract from his essay Music is a Vehicle for Perceiving (Or, a Foundation for Artful Intervention). An interview with the author will be released in the coming weeks

Photography by Ally Caple

Music is a vehicle for perceiving. We demand music. The music of the soul connotes the body, thought, intervention, silence. We can’t be the speakers of our bodies; we’re already spoken for. We instead tune into, smile upon, the parcels of ourselves that are beaten up by historicity. To live, thrive, we don’t demand to not be beaten up. Instead we wield our beaten selves in the arms of the rest of our bodies. Sit up proud, happy. We made it here today. Go on. 

Wow, it’s incredible to be drawn-out, to read ourselves from outside within the art of peace, freedom. If we embrace living in clarity and knowledge, then it behooves us to receive our social landscape more fully. What attributes do we project onto experience? Do we perceive that being alive is embraceable? Do we take refuge in what we know, using this refuge as a free space from which to receive each other? Is there a suggestion, here, that others might not see that we come from what we know? That others might not even see how we come from what we know?

Romantic encounters create a self-reflective sense. Our lovers have a Blackness we ourselves would like to have, actively strive toward. Further lovers embody the Blackness of ours we’ve tried to repress. In either case, our encounters with romance bring us into intimate contact with our joining, susceptibility. Submission and dominance get played out in different arrangements, depending on our relationship with our sexual partners. The reflexive meaning of submission and dominance: what it means to be dominated changes depending on our relationship with our partners: our relationship with their position, who they channel down through the centuries, their position in relation to us. Submitting to our lovers is submission to their Blackness. We reconcile to let those attributes take precedence over our own. We reconcile, to be dominated by our ancestors and, in a consensual sexual relationship, embrace being dominated by them. Or, we dominate our partners, and our own Blackness prevails. 

What materialises when our lover has attributes that shuffle us into vulnerability? Vulnerability is complete and presents us with the momentum needed to receive. We have those defence mechanisms, our angels. We try to save ourselves from insult. Our defence mechanisms are sophisticated, useful. It isn’t wretched to try to recover our bodies from harm—it’s smart! But the mechanisms we use to cover ourselves are often outdated, causing us harm. We’re sabotaging our bodies. We don’t know when we’re doing it. We can’t be honest. 

Our orientation to life is to the detriment of our unvoiced desires. Soul is an appearance, a glimmer, a smile. If we’re patient, we get to its essence. Our souls bring revelations to the surface in order to foreground information they deem primary to our survival. Do we have the nerve to listen? Are we ready to drive with trouble? The negative emotions are there to talk with us. Their negativity is what signals that we should pull inwardly, into slowness. So far as negativity gives positivity meaning, the negative emotions are not wretched, not to be resisted. On the contrary, resisting negativity proliferates it by authorising it to go undealt with. Unprocessed pain manifests through unconscious behaviour. Resisting negativity, refusing to perceive it, means it proliferates. It’s been authorised to go undealt with. It transforms, phase-changes, metamorphoses, joining the ecosystem of our life, though remaining mysterious, even alien, to us. Do we ever think about why we dream of controlling our bodies? Do we think through what we’re afraid of: resurgence, uncontrollable stories passed through, seated in us, or do we think through unrequited love? 

We’ve never understood what myths really are. We know what a story is. We know a story is told across cultures, temporalities (and inside a culture, across its generations). But what moves a myth, generates the scale of its reach? How does it generate meaning for a culture as a whole? The men, the myth, the legends? There’s no style or method of walking around that will not pull out some sort of ancestral translation from our bodies. I walked down to the parking garage and it was cold. I had washed my skin with cold water that morning.

We can get aroused by art. Art as Blackness, as recreation. Is valuing Blackness the parallel of possessing it? We possess Blackness in greater or lesser degrees. To the extent to which we value those Blacknesses, we voice our ancestors. 

Among folks in public, who have nothing to do with each other, somehow, small synchronicities, repetitions, are materialising. They are echoing each other, mirroring, and bonding. We are the joint apparatus of our bodies, labouring in tandem to keep us free, to help us survive. When we’ve built up a reservoir inside our bodies of mutual perceiving, we are able to tolerate the sense of being wrong ourselves. We don’t fight what is materialising in us; we consent to our situation first. We labor to enrich our situation from a place of mutual aspiration. 

Peace proceeds from contentment; trust that the desired result does arise. We’d like to be replete immediately, to get rid of what we hold to be our negative attributes. We can’t get along with being flawed; we can’t bear the view/idea that we can’t fix our flaws right this moment. We’re not who we dreamed to be. We don’t authorise the cycle of undergoing: checking our bodies with judgment, rush, and anger. Can we tolerate the vision of our own failure? Be careful of smoothing over what is the field of failure, meaning, the place of unimaginability, and beyondness. Inside our bodies is the source of our creativity, rooted in the field of failure. 

We serve our bodies with a clear, kind, wet, responsive disposition. If we’re impatient, we should practice not having views. If we’re too startled, we should practice acting on our views. Do we have to be successful when we struggle? The puzzle of it all is when we “get what we dreamed of”; it doesn’t seem satisfying. What we dreamed of is much more complicated. 

Art is the way we proceed across time, the puzzles we read in each other. What does it take to shuffle, to forge a soulful connection? Are situations of conflict driven by personality flaws? By the inner intervention of personality flaws within each? By the resistance of Blackness to a kind of Blackness which it deems nonconsensual? By the drive to cover up what reads as not okay, incomplete—that’s to say, the ideological? Be a reinforcement or re-embodiment of the Blackness we wish to read reified in experience. This is, after all, a Blackness that gathers around itself. 

We continue to feed the myth of our bodies to our bodies in order to survive. Who are we? We can get closer to the answer to this question when we hear out what drives our hurt. 

This text is an extract taken from Music is a Vehicle for Perceiving (Or, a Foundation for Artful Intervention), written by Anaïs Duplan and published on Topical Cream on 1 December 2021

Ewen Spencer: While You Were Sleeping

The eponymous British photographer’s new book provides a nostalgic snapshot of 90s club culture

Ewen Spencer: While You Were Sleeping

Conjure up an image of a club goer – the type who sways, dances, gropes, kisses and sleeps without a care in the world – and it will most likely be one of Ewen Spencer’s. Synonymous with exposing the antics of British nightlife, the photographer and filmmaker has carved a reputable name for his work documenting (and revealing) youth, fashion, music and subculture, particularly that which depicts a time when smoking in clubs was allowed and people were a lot less tied to their phones. In fact, phones weren’t really a thing back then. Could anything be more nostalgic?

While studying at Brighton School of Art in the 90s, Ewen began photographing topics in tune with society – snapping people having a 20-minute break at a service station on the M4, for example. This is where his interest in subcultures arose and, having attended Northern Soul all-nighters at the time, he decided to start bringing his camera in tow. It was the perfect subject matter. Then, upon graduating in 1997, Ewen took his imagery to Shoreditch-based Sleazenation magazine and launched his career capturing nightclub moments for the publication. He proceeded to document the UK’s garage and grime scenes and worked with NME, The Face, Dazed, Nike, Apple among others – he also took the inner liner photographs for The Streets’ album Original Pirate Material, and has released a handful of books including Open Mic, UKG, Open Mic Vol.2 and Young Love.

A flourishing career so far, it seems only right for the photographer to look back at his archive. Doing just that in his new publication titled While You Were Sleeping, these very pictures – featuring those previously unseen – are an enjoyable reminder of a bygone era, a time when clubbing and clubbers were oblivious to the photographer’s lens. Will nightlife and club photography ever be the same again? Below, Ewen tells me about these prolific pictures. 

Ewen Spencer: While You Were Sleeping

What inspired you to start photographing nightlife, and why make this book now?

I began making pictures around youth scenes out of my own interests. I was involved in the northern soul scene and the many off-shoots from that: modern soul, rare groove, house and garage throughout the late 80s and 90s. I just began to apply what I’d been researching and testing out while studying photography in those places that I loved. It blossomed into a visual language that made sense to me and discussed a myriad of social and perhaps political concerns and considerations at a time, when that was still conceivable in a club or around a dance floor.

Who caught your eye back then?

If you have an interest in people I think you probably gravitate towards interesting characters. In the late 90s, I was going into spaces that would hold no more than 200 people in some instances – in a basement in Brixton, let’s say. I’d look for characters interacting together, begin working around them and at times integrate myself with them to the extent where we’d have a drink and become friendly. I might stay with these people for a while and then work around the room; I might stay a couple of hours and shoot 10 rolls of film, and then move onto the next place. Unless it was a bigger club, or somewhere I was particularly interested in hearing a DJ or a particular sound, I’d stay and work all night and maybe know a few people in there. Sonic Mook Experiment was a place where I knew folks who were working in fashion, music and art. I photographed Jerry Dammers, DJ-ing here for Sleazenation in 1998.

Ewen Spencer: While You Were Sleeping

The photos are an incredible record of the past, where smoking in clubs was legal, people wouldn’t be glued to their phones; everyone seems less aware of themselves. How does it feel looking back on a time like this through your imagery? And has your process changed now that people are more self-conscious?

I think it all depends on where you go. I was at Guttering last weekend in Bermondsey and the folks were really up for the evening, dancing hard, mixing it up with one another. I love to see it; there were some real faces in there. 

I’m always surprised by kids approaching me who know my pictures and are maybe more sussed to the dynamic, and that is in someway making the act of shooting around scenes a little more performative, in that the consent seems quite immediate. I had a few acknowledgments of satisfaction from people I’d photographed and a few kids came up and shared their pictures they’d been working on… Photography is obviously far more accessible and democratic now. However I’m not encouraging people to come and show me your pictures at parties, thanks x

Ewen Spencer’s While You Were Sleeping is published by Damiani at £40

Ewen Spencer: While You Were Sleeping

Ewen Spencer: While You Were Sleeping

Ewen Spencer: While You Were Sleeping

Philipp Mueller: 120 bpm

Relive the Swiss techno scene of the 90s in a new book published by Edition Patrick Frey

As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, more so do we yearn for moments from the past, nightlife being one of them. Here in the UK, we had a blissful and somewhat wary few months reliving the sweaty, body-to-body movements only found in the dark and bassy depths of a club. But the potential for these nights to be put on hold, yet again, still looms. So for now, the easier days of dancing can be experienced in a more 2D (yet still utterly dynamic) form through the pages of Philipp Mueller’s latest book, 120 bpm – a comprehensive documentation of the rise of the Swiss techno scene in the 90s.

Published by Edition Patrick Frey, the Swiss photographer looks at the magnanimous impact that Switzerland’s techno scene has had on clubs, dance music and nightlife over the years. Rebellious and free, we see the dawn of Zürich’s street parades and the synonymous underground raves and parties, housed amongst warehouses or private venues. The flash-lit shots of party-goers are paired with archival clippings from rave magazines and fanzines, giving the book an almost allegorical feel and one that can stand the test of time. The book’s name, too, is given a musical stamp of approval as it denotes the average number of beats per minute on a club track, luring you in to the succinct and heart-racing photo sequences found within. Below, I chat to Philipp to find out more.

What inspired you to start working on a project about the Swiss techno scene?

I wasn’t part of a rave scene to begin with, and it didn’t start as a project. What you can discover in the photographs, which grow through the years, is that I was involved in the nightlife scene in Zürich, and that I got hired by independent magazines to cover parties, fashion shows and of course rave and techno events.

First, I have to tell you that all the material for this book was in my archive for a very long time. I almost forgot about it until I rediscovered it, picture by picture. This means I looked at them as if was seeing them for the first time. 

I pulled a presentation in a PDF together and started to show it to my friends in London, Paris and Zürich. I was testing if those photographs were of any interest for people outside of Switzerland. My friends were surprised of the vibrant scene in Zürich, they thought I took the pictures in London or Paris. They were even more surprised when I told them that the photographs are over 20 years’ old. My agent encouraged my to send it to Editions Patrick Frey, and I was pleased the publisher wanted to work together on this book.

Talk me through your photography featured in the book, what did you seek to include?

My photography always reflects on the zeitgeist of society. Therefore, the book shows my perspective of the 90s; it was a free time where everyone could express themselves. It includes photographs of my friends, models, drag queens, musicians, rave kids and other creatures of the night. 

You’ve also incorporated a mix of clippings from magazines and fanzines, what does this add to the narrative and structure of the work?

Those magazines were my first clients. They didn’t pay me, but the freedom in creativity was priceless. They are like a time capsule, representing what was going on in society and culture at this time. They formed the very foundation of my work until today.

Can you pick out a couple of favourite images and talk me through them?

The cover with the girl sticking her tongue out is my first choice. It has an iconic and rebellious touch. Then, a little further back in the book, there’s the gay couple shot (the guy with short hair and the guy/drag queen with long black hair). Love is love – that is it what it means. And there are so many more.

Any particular message you’re trying to convey in the work?

It was never meant to be a memory lane book. I hope I will inspire people to live free, be creative and tolerant.

What’s next for you?

I have 30 years’ worth of photography work from new wave and punk, shot in Paris and London, as well as parties, fashion and celebrities. Some stuff has never seen the light of day, such as Hugh Hefner’s birthday party in Paris and John Galliano’s legendary cardboard fashion for Dior, shot backstage to be precise. Maybe there will be another book….

All photography courtesy of the photographer

120 bpm is published by Edition Patrick Frey and available here

Music for climate change

100 cities threatened by rising seas can listen to a piece composed by Cecilia Damström, played by the Lahti symphony orchestra and conducted by Dalia Stasevksa

The Finnish tabloid Helsingin Sanomat once referred to Cecilia Damström as the Greta Thunberg of music, and quite frankly, there is no better description. The Helsinki-born composer, who grew up in a German-Scottish-Finnish family, has so far written four chamber operas, music for orchestra, choir and chamber music plus a host of other solo works. Her most recent piece, however, confirms her essence – the drive, spirit and temper – of her career entirely. In collaboration with the carbon-neutral symphony orchestra of Finnish city Lahti, Cecilia has crafted a 10-minute piece entitled ICE. 

Conducted by Dalia Stasevksa, the music is available only to 100 cities worldwide that are endangered by climate change and its consequent rising sea levels. Artistically strict, upon landing on ICE’s very own homepage, users are given the option to input their city to test out whether or not their lands are threatened. Myself in London, I popped the data in and therein flashed a harsh yet necessary statement: that the city is under threat from rising sea levels. The only positive of this message, though, is that I’m now able to listen to Cecilia’s composition of playful and peaceful melodies that rashly intensify as it strives to replicate the impending danger of our world. “The piece begins with depicting beautiful ice scenes,” says Cecilia. “Every chord is a symmetrical chord consisting of six notes, because when water freezes it always becomes a symmetrical hexagon.” The first three or so minutes, in this sense, depicts a “normal” winter period before “alarm signals” begin to change the pace, “and the winds that grow ever louder every time the winter shortens.” 

“At around five minutes,” she continues, “you can hear ecosystems starting to collapse and the strings playing frantic rhythmic repetition, how time is ticking away. While at six and a half minutes, we will again hear alarm signals, like when a big vehicle is trying to reverse. The alarms begin to ring out clearly SOS (three short, three long and three short signals). Soon after we can hear ‘total’ collapse, the heart’s irregular beat in a duet with a bicycle bell, also signalling SOS. The bicycle bell is a symbol for how human (personal) action can impact and make a change, and make things turn around. We hear a fast speed rewind of the collapse from about eight minutes until we are finally back at the beginning, back to normal winters at around nine minutes. The bicycle bell is also the last thing we hear, human action is the note of hope for the future.”

Lahti Symphony, Sibelius Festival 2019. Photo by Maarit Kytöharju

ICE is an apt example of how music can be employed as a tool for steering change, particularly when it comes to addressing the impact of our warming world. And cities, like Lahti, are at the forefront of this: consuming less resources; making urban areas more sustainable; consciously encouraging sustainable urban planning like transportation; and actively sourcing renewable energy are a few instances. Leading the way and setting an example for all, Lathi has been coal-free since 2016 and will be a zero-waste, carbon-neutral city by 2025. It’s also proud to state that 99% of its household waste is received and recycled, and has plans to protect 8% of its nature and resources by 2030.

If urgent action isn’t taken now, then disastrous effects will be brought to the surface, quite literally, by the end of the century. No city will be unaffected by the climate crisis. “Together with Lathi,” says Cecilia, “I wanted to draw attention to the alarming state of these coastal cities by highlighting them and bringing together the people who live in these areas, and share the concern about the future. On the one hand, we are asking the questions about what unique things will be lost if we lose these areas, and on the other hand, we wanted to focus the piece’s message of hope and prompt action on the endangered areas.”

Photo by Marthe Veian

The cities declared under this powerful merging of music and activism have been chosen based on reports and findings by the Urban Climate Change Research Network, The World Economic Forum, OECD and Climate Central. Along with London, these other locations include Copenhagen, Dakar, Istanbul, New York, Buenos Aires, Shenzhen, Venice, Melbourne, Tokyo, Faro, Liverpool, Amsterdam and many more. According the project’s research, rising sea levels are set to threaten several coastal cities by 2050 and 2100. “I hope we can raise awareness of the acute situation of the glaciers and get people to act on the behalf of nature,” she says of her impactful messaging. So what does Cecilia hope for the future? “Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and from those engaging, at least 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change. My hope is that we can be part of those who bring about the changes needed for stopping climate change.”

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

Perpetual Concerts

Rolex’s new concert programme supports musicians affected by COVID-19 

Renaud Capuçon, © Jean-François Leclercq

There are few areas of life that COVID-19 hasn’t altered with its insidious, debilitating reach. As we explored back in May, the viruses’ impact on the music industry and creative’s livelihoods has the potential to be catastrophic if there is inadequate support, even beyond the £1.57 billion arts emergency fund announced by the UK government. The private sector has its role to play, which is why why Rolex’s newly launched initiative to support musicians and singers during this critical period is welcome news. Having started last week and running through to early September, the programme will see three “Perpetual Music” concerts take place in Italy (Teatro Rossini, 21st August), Germany (Berlin Staatsoper, 1st September) and France (Opéra national de Paris, 3rd September).    

Before each concert, three brand ‘testimonees’ – including Juan Diego Flórez (philanthropic Peruvian tenor), Sonya Yoncheva (renowned Bulgarian-Swiss operatic soprano) and Rolando Villazón (lyric tenor and Artistic Director of the Mozartwoche Salzburg) – will perform the repertoire prepared with singers and musicians, with Renaud Capuçon (renowned French violinist) supporting the French show. Concerts will involve over 100 artists whose work has been adversely affected by the pandemic, and streamed live on medici.tv, reaching thousands worldwide. 

Sonya Yoncheva, © Rolex Hugo Glendinning

“During these difficult times, when musicians have suffered both the loss of audience and income, our aim is to provide them the opportunity to perform with renowned artists at prestigious venues with the finest acoustics,” notes Arnaud Boetsch, Rolex director of communication & image. “Significantly, this gift of time and exposure is in keeping with the company’s pursuit of excellence and its long-term commitment to foster the work of those who aim to reach the pinnacle of their profession….within the context of these unprecedented circumstances, this project is also a way for us to help keep music as an essential element in our daily lives.”

Concerts will remain available on medici.tv until the end of October 2020

Baloji

The Belgian composer, director and writer in perpetual motion discusses his career – past, present and future – with Aimee Cliff

Baloji often finds that other people don’t know quite how to define him. As a musician, director, stylist and visual artist moving fluidly between genres, forms and languages, his refusal to be put in a box is exactly what makes him so appealing. Speaking over the phone from his home in Belgium, he reflects on the questions he frequently gets asked: “’Are you a rap artist?’ ‘Are you African music? Electronic music? Poetry?’” He chuckles warmly. “I’m like everybody else. Sometimes I want to listen to grime. Sometimes I want to listen to something instrumental. . . Like everybody, I have different moods. But in music, you have to be one specific thing. That’s the way this industry works. People tell me all the time: ‘You’re not focused; you don’t know who you are.’ It’s a difficult thing for them to deal with, apparently.”

Currently, the multihyphenate artist is spend- ing most of his time writing, while he is under lockdown due to COVID-19. Having been in Italy a few weeks previously, he’s seen the early stages of the pandemic unfolding from different vantage points around Europe. It strikes him how little countries are learning from one another, even in a crisis. “We need to not only talk about our own little islands, our own countries,” he says. “It’s very important, it would help the whole world.”

Baloji wears Dior Summer20 men’s collection throughout

It’s a point of view that comes naturally for someone whose identity has been shaped by multiple continents and cultures. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1978, Baloji was taken to Belgium to live with his step-family when he was three years old. Four years later, his father, having lost all his assets because of war, disappeared from Baloji’s life. At 14, Baloji dropped out of school and found his way into a hip-hop group named Starflam, which he performed with as MC Balo. But it was at the age of 26, after rebuilding connections with his mother and with his native Congo, that he began develop- ing his solo career with Hotel Impala, a personal, strident record of funk-fuelled rap.

His career since then has been a multifaceted, ever-evolving one. His albums – including the sweeping, psychedelic 2018 LP 137 Avenue Kaniama – have established him as a star in France and Belgium, and gradually crossed over to English-speaking audiences. Right now, Baloji believes the west is more open to hearing from African artists than they have been in the past. “It’s changing for the good, ’specially with afrobeat, just because the diaspora is so reactive,” he says. “But it’s also a trend – we have to be careful with trends, that it’s really changing the way people perceive African music.” One thing he’s definitely happy about, though, is “that we finally killed the idea of ‘world music’ – which is just a box where we put all the music that is not European”.

He’s also finding that, thanks to improved Internet access, his own music is finding more fans in the DRC than ever before. “Four years ago, the access to data and 4G in the Congo was so limited, the decision makers were all the same,” says Baloji. “Now my work has the help of the Internet, it’s really made a difference. I don’t depend on 10 people, who say, ‘It’s not for us, it’s too European.’” At the time of speaking, he was in fact supposed to be on a tour of East Africa (now rescheduled due to the pandemic), playing shows and screening films.

For Baloji, shows and screenings go hand in hand. His work as a musician has always been supplemented by cinematic experiences, like his stunning, surrealist 2019 short film Zombies, a commentary on smartphone addiction. Throughout his career, Baloji explains, he has self-funded his short films, because he’s passionate about realising his vision even when his label don’t have the budget: “When I conceive the music, I always think about the visuals, how to make a narrative structure around it, the scenes and the sequence.”

But his work as a director hasn’t always been taken seriously. “People don’t believe that as an artist, you can also be a director. It’s something that they don’t really accept, and it’s very hard to deal with that. You know, when you see a video, and it’s directed by Madonna, everybody’s like, ‘She didn’t direct it, she just put her name on it.’ So when [I direct something], they’re like, ‘Yeah, right. There must be a white guy behind you doing all the work.’”

In recent years, though, Baloji has seen this attitude shifting – in part because of the amount of time he’s spent grafting, both in front of the camera and behind it, and in part because of accolades he’s won, including Best Styling, for Zombies, at the UK Music Video Awards in 2019. “This really helped,” he says of his UKMVA. “People could finally accept: ‘He’s the director, and the musician, and he’s also the stylist.’”

Thanks to this boost, Baloji is now working on a dream project of his: the feature-length film Augure, a magical-realist depiction of an uber-patriachal society, for which he has finally secured funding after receiving six rejections. “It’s narratively…weird for traditional funding,” he laughs. “This industry is very strange. Everybody wants ‘something different’, but then nobody’s there to pay for something different, because they’re scared that nobody goes to the theatre to watch this type of movie. So that made it difficult.”

Speaking with a breezy frankness, it’s clear that Baloji is now the most relaxed he has been throughout his career – not because he has won the approval of gatekeepers, but because he has liberated himself from caring about what they think. “Ten years ago, I was scared of everything,” he reflects. “Scared of what people would say; scared of people not showing up [to shows].” In the past, he says, he would get down about the little things, like radio playlisting; but now he takes sheer joy from the crowds he sees coming back to his shows again and again, and is excited to create for the sake of creating. It’s in that spirit that he’s returning to the studio to work on a new album, which will also be the soundtrack to his film Augure. He describes it as perhaps the most fun he’s ever had writing music, because he’s pushing himself to write from the perspective of his female characters. No longer dogged by the worries he had earlier in his career, he now sees his experience and maturity as a gift. “The way this industry works, they make sure an artist survives for four or five years, and after five years, it’s game over,” he says. “Because we always need ‘something new’. But if you’re really an artist, you can be refreshing and different, not just because you’re new. All my favourite artists, directors, painters – they all reinvent themselves. You just have to challenge yourself.”

Photography Mous Lamrabat 

Styling Dan May 

Grooming Gwen De Vylder

Photography assistant Tim Coppens

This article is taken from issue 26. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here