Thursday 24 February 2011


Woebot’s “Chunks” is a tremendously great, deeply mysterious record and for all its use of samples it feels original, elusive, new. Much of it is sourced from 70’s rock and so I thought it would be appropriate if I asked Matt a few questions about the record and the general drift of what I perceive to be his aesthetic/approach. I had a go, but I’m miles off track and for all the diplomatic thoroughness of his answers no closer to pinning his slippery sensibility down. Curse him.

It’s available here.

Woebot: Argos from Matthew Ingram on Vimeo.

TUME: First off and very generally, "Chunks" is a good-humoured record in lots of ways. There’s a kind of colourful, ludic exuberance informing the whole thing (as there is with your other work, too). Is this a conscious reaction against the “seriousness” and “darkness” of a lot of recent trends? (dubstep, witch-house, hauntology, black metal, etc)

BOT: It is quite moody in parts but certainly I know what you mean. It is warm rather than cold and there are bits that are silly and funny, and stupid of course..... Though naturally in music that is “warm” there are frequently lugubrious qualities. You only have to listen to Hank Williams.
To answer your question, not really to be truthful, I didn't/don't have a conscious strategy to react against “the darkness”. I mean, that sounds like quite a good idea on paper, and if only I had been so ingenious, but no. I don't know about the other Dark stuff stuff you mention, you're probably right, but there are playful qualities to things like Moon Wiring Club and The Focus Group....
However, I do suppose I am trying to go against the grain generally. In trying to re-orient or re-point musical history, I suppose there is an aspect of that that is corrective and by extension the assumption is that I believe there is something wrong with the status quo. Not that I'm implying there's anything wrong with Francis and Rick! (Drum roll)

TUME: You’ve suggested that the post-punk idea that rock needed to get it’s groove back essentially ignores the fact that there was plenty of groove in rock prior to punk. The first track “Roger “seems to hybridize blues rock and ‘Ardkore. Is there some kind of lumpen-continuum being posited between critically reviled/ ignored genres?

BOT: Er, there are definitely microscopic traces of Ardkore on the record, however I think they're an inevitable product of using samples, but in fairness to your question, ones I haven't avoided. On “Roger” or “#sattc” those sped-up vocals, most people would probably shy away from doing that. Ardkore was pretty much an extension of Hip-Hop anyway, and that mid-period of funk sampling Hip-Hop is probably the most obvious analogy to what I'm doing with “Chunks”. A lot of Ardkore was made on MPCs. Gerald used an MPC60 for all his Juice Box stuff, and Roni Size I know did too.
There is that nice way that Ardkore would sample hoary rock like DJ Seduction's “Sub Dub” with its June Tabor sample, Baby Kane's “Hello Darkness” - a likkle bit of Simon and Garfunkel or D-M-S's “Love Overdose Remix” with its Fleetwood Mac sample. But really I suppose they weren't making a strategic point just rifling through their parent's collections, not that I'm valorising making “strategic points”.

TUME: Would you say that “Chunks” wants to elide punk and the critical discourses that privilege it?

BOT: The now widely-derided “earthy” quality of music came a cropper at that point in time. It might have been to do with the encroach of globalism, but Punk was merely the harbinger. Kraftwerk were equally central.

TUME: Thinking about ‘Ardkore and blues rock, do you see similar sensibilities and sonic strategies at play (I’m thinking here about the high pitchedm orgasmic wailing in blues rock, the emphasis on the rhythm section, the extreme treble of the harmonica, the drum breaks and drop, all of which seem to have a sonic analogue in ‘Ardkore) ?

BOT: There's probably more emphasis on the mid-range and that's a characteristic of Hip-Hop too.
It's become quite problematic to compare things with Rock because people's association with it is with its visual totems. Whenever you heard a guitar on a nineties piece of music it always sounded like it looked exactly like a guitar. Indeed a great deal of Rock music now sounds like it should look.

I think you're right to focus purely on the sonics though because understanding music in terms of instruments is deeply misleading.

TUME: There is the question of how sampling produces a particular effect, there’s something in the ragged edges of a sample, the way they burst in and out that is antithetical to “flow”, and again is this a reaction to the slickness of digital product? In other words is sampling in some ways an attempt to recapture the looser “authenticity” of a live band? Does sampling carry a trace of the physical that adds something to the kinetic effects of a track for example?

BOT: I think I'm more interested in musical “events”. The thing with a lot of computer music is that it can become like an “audio trickle”. The temptation when working within a DAW, even working with samples is always to smooth, to refine – and it definitely has a place in music – but yes, working with the MPC where you literally punch in a sample, there is immediately a sense of drama to that. And yes, the sample itself is the result of a musical gesture.
The furthest I've got production wise on this album is “Blues” where I've used samples which slightly sit at odds with the meter (nothing to do with the quantising). When you hear a band play, there's that thing where not everyone hits the head of the bar at the same time, the drummer and the guitarist are grinding away in their own separate universes and the music lurches back and forth. When everything does align you get a bit of a rush. It's the same thing that you get in those old disco mixes where it was impossible (or very difficult) to mix them perfectly but then magically they slip into one another.

TUME: Can you give us some idea as to what the source material of the samples was? It seems to me that your work is both kind of investigative, they take on particular era/ideas about music and research them in a way, trying to pull out what’s best in genres and align them with later developments, yet they seem to be joyful records, fun to listen to, not dry or self-important, or calculated.

BOT: Oooh! Trade secrets I'm afraid. As long as I can keep from being sued the better.
People have let me know they've worked out what such and such is – and I try and gag them from going public, ha! Quite often, like with “Stagger” it's about two seconds of music which I've chopped up in hundred different ways – and a certain amount of stuff is actually played. The lead Moog line on “Rusticle” and “B612” is little old me. The Moog is a great synth because it is THE Rock Synth – I love that about it.
A lot of the original records, shameful to admit, can be quite spotty. I wish I could say they were all unknown stone classics. However, they ARE all records where I appreciate the vibe and all of them fall in this weird region where you'd imagine people would know what they were but they've been forgotten.

TUME: Do you think there’s too much “sonically-correct” stuff out there, too much obscurantist crate-digging and too little focus on unfashionably straight mainstream goodtime tunes?

BOT: I'm not really in favour of the mainstream of old music per se, but it seems weird that whole spectrum has been turned completely upside down. It's sort of sad that people have heard, say, the Vashti Bunyan's “Another Diamond Day” LP but not, Donovan's “The Hurdy Gurdy Man” LP even though the latter vastly outsold the former.

TUME: Your work generally strikes me as partaking of a kind of deep Englishness, and I feel it connects, with its genteel surrealism and its wryness, to a long tradition that goes back through the Canterbury scene, the Goons, Music Hall and beyond. How English do you think your sensibility is?

BOT: Indecently so. However a bit of the fun with this record has been riffing on the Trans-Atlantic thing. I like the way that before Punk it was a perfectly acceptable mode. For years I thought damn fools we've got to be English, but then suddenly I thought gosh that's really funny and surreal. And you never know, might open new markets ;-)

I could talk about the Trans-Atlantic thing all day. Which I'm not going to.

TUME: Obviously there’s many more things than just blues rock going on in "Chunks". Does “#sattc”or example suggest the next Woebot album might take World music as its subject?

BOT: Ha. No, I'm really wary about being seen as doing pastiches actually – though to some degree I can't get away from it. My thoughts on the next thing, which will take me a very long time to make, couldn't be further from that.

“#sattc” was having a bit of fun with that 1970s strain of Tropical Rock – Of course it all comes out a bit garbled. You know that Emerson Lake and Palmer LP where they are all in Hawaiian shirts?* And the Marimba which was quite a bit instrument for those bands. Also there's that thing in Lyndsey Buckingham's aesthetic which is quite like that – you know all those safari pictures on the “Tusk” inner sleeve! Ha ha ha, makes me laugh.


David K Wayne said...

Er... the connection with the 70s is a somewhat stretched here, no?

carl said...

Nah, i don't think so. I mean it's not a record FROM the 70s but it's certainly one about the decade, both in using seventies source material and also arguing about where the critical emphasis should lie re punk. so...i don't see it as much different to commenting on/including books like "when the lights went out" that offer alternate views on what was valuable and maybe overlooked/written out of the general view of the time...