Cover Interview: Bonobo

Simon Green, aka Bonobo, has firmly established himself as one of Britain’s finest contemporary electronic artists of recent years, with his acclaimed 2013 album The North Borders taking him on a seemingly endless live tour, stopping at more than 175 venues in over 30 countries across the globe. But the US-based producer will be back behind the decks for an exclusive and intimate DJ set in Birmingham this month, as local club promoters Leftfoot continue their 15th anniversary celebrations in stunning style. Fellow DJ and Leftfoot head honcho Adam Regan asks the questions.

So, 2014 was a big year for you, rounding off your huge live tour with a show at Alexandra Palace. Would you say that was the most enjoyable show you’ve done since you started playing live?

Yeah, it’s got to be up there, right? The thing about those big shows is you have to remember to enjoy yourself. Because it was such a huge gig with big production, it is easy to get sucked into the grandeur of it and focus on getting every detail perfect and hope nothing goes tits up. I had to remind myself to look up occasionally and appreciate the moment. There were a few of those last year – Glastonbury, Central Park in NYC, Sydney Opera House. Honestly though, it’s sometimes the smaller gigs where there’s less pressure that are the most fun. The ones where you can let yourself relax a bit.

How much involvement did you have in planning the production? Apart from sounding fantastic, the visuals and lighting – and white balloons – made it feel very special.

Pretty much all of it. These were conversations I’d been having with production and management all year leading up to the gig.

Our lighting and sound team are all trained ninjas. We’d been touring so extensively the show was already super tight and the lighting is a big part of the show. My light guy Will is like an extra band member in terms of knowing the set and changes. We just strapped on a few extra special effects for the big London finale. The bubbles didn’t really work out though, unless you were those three people in the front row they went completely under the radar.

And how was the rest of the Alexandra Palace after party, looked like it was heading for a very late and messy one?

Bit of a special night that one…The party rolled along on the same trajectory until they threw us out. I was mostly getting bounced around like a pinball having the same micro conversation over and over until I could barely speak. My main objective for the night was to find my friends and have a bit of a dance. Managed to make it onto the dance floor for the very last tune.

I think the Rainbow Warehouse show will be your first DJ set in Birmingham, if my memory serves me correctly?

I think you might be right there. I can’t believe I’ve never DJ’d in Brum! I’ve played numerous times in obscure towns in the northern territories of Canada and Japanese mountains but never in the UK’s second city. Inexcusable really.

I was looking through some old Leftfoot flyers and found one from 2001 with you and Zero DB on the bill, but you had the flu and had to cancel. Be honest now, were you just hungover?

You know what, I don’t remember, 2001 feels like a lifetime ago. Sounds like a killer lineup though.

Are you a ‘head down, knob-twiddling, focusing on the mix’ kind of DJ, or do you like to stand at the front of the stage making heart signs and stage diving? Or maybe the one-armed techno fist pump in a low-cut black T-shirt?

I think I used to fall into the first category. I consciously changed that after a gig in Poland years ago where I was reading some comments online about how I looked bored and miserable whilst playing. Truth is I’m usually having an ace time at the turntables. I’m definitely a shuffler though, I’ve always been a slightly awkward performer. Especially these days where there’s several camera phones at point blank in your face all night. But I won’t get into the phones on the dancefloor thing. Thats a whole other rant.

Who are your three favourite DJs and what makes them so special?

Ah man, this is a tough one. There’s a few consistent friends who have always been inspirational DJs. Mostly the people I’ve been lucky enough to cut my teeth with back in the day. My favorite selectors are the people who understand the right record to play at that exact moment and the right record to complement the one before. When to go big and when to go deep. Rob Luis was the person who taught me how to work a dancefloor from doors ‘til end of the night – that sounds a little dodgy – and that arc of the night was a very important skill to know. Same goes for Dom Servini. And of course everyone’s favorite uncle, Mr Scruff. More recently Berlin’s Delfonic, who runs Oye Records, and Sam [Shepherd] Floating Points. Oh, and [Gilles] Peterson…there’s loads actually.

We also have Leon Vynehall on the bill at The Rainbow Warehouse. His music seems to complement what you do really well. Have you two played together before?

We’ve never met. We chatted on Twitter a bit. Mostly just getting excited for The Rainbow Warehouse. He’s ace though. I’ve been playing his stuff for a while. This’ll probably be the first set I play in a while that doesn’t feature his tunes.

Which other artists have you been into this year? Do you get the chance to listen to much new music?

Yeah definitely. I think it’s weird not to constantly crave new music. It’s important nourishment. I’ve been going all over musically recently, actually getting into a bit more minimal stuff. Really into this wave of neo classical that seems to be bubbling up at the minute. People like Nils Frahm and Keaton Henson. Also, the Erased Tapes label for some forward thinking, avant-garde dance music.

We also have you headlining the Leftfoot Boat Party at The Garden Festival in Croatia to look forward to in July. What makes those parties and that festival so special?

They’re on a boat! In the Adriatic sea! And everyone’s on holiday! The Garden was the first of the Croatian festivals and the regular crew that make that party each year are a real community.

You’ve recently moved from New York to LA. Have you taken up roller skating along Venice Beach in hot pants yet? How is life on the west coast compared to the east?

I’ve always been into roller skates and hot pants. I love NYC but it’s a grind. Amazing place if you wanna be out every night getting smashed, but honestly I spend so much time away doing that, I want home to be somewhere calm and relaxed where I can recuperate and work. LA is having a bit of a moment now, it feels like. There’s a strong creative community out here and it feels like the right place for the next chapter.

Have you had much chance to write/produce in the last few years with all the touring? Can we expect another album from you in 2015?I’ve been homeless for 10 months now. As I write I’m moving into a house in LA but the past year I’ve been living out of a suitcase. I left my house in NYC last year and I’ve been touring ever since. I’ve had to force myself to learn to work on the road and it’s been a good exercise. I’ve got a fair bit done, which I’ll play most of in Birmingham, but still no concrete timeframe for the next album.

Interview by Adam Regan

Bonobo DJs at The Rainbow Warehouse, Birmingham, on Saturday, April 25, presented by Leftfoot and Shadow City. Support comes from Leon Vynehall.

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