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Shilpa Ray: “I’m an introvert so I spend a lot of time by myself when I can.”

I first took notice of Shilpa Ray when Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds invited her to support them on tour, a few brief moons ago. Back then she was with her band of ‘Happy Hookers’ and immediately struck me as an artist worth gushing over. She has an iconic voice and range, not to mention lyrics which will make you shiver and crack up with laughter at the same time. 

She released her latest solo record Portrait Of A Lady earlier this year, an almost concept-type album which one can safely say is her most personal, dealing with issues as it does like abusive relationships, violence against women, and of course, feelings towards the former U.S ‘Commander in Chief’, Donald Trump.  Portrait Of A Lady is an interesting side step for Shilpa Ray as for the first time in her career, brings in moments of synth and electronica mixed with her usual love of crunching guitar and pop melody. It also encapsulates her own very brilliant dry, witty sense of humor.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Shilpa Ray about her new record, what brought it on, and the various influences on her as an artist. 

 

Ms. Ray, I understand you currently/recently had COVID – just at a time when I think the world was at least starting to move on slightly. How are you feeling at this point in time, I hope it’s not hit you too badly and how has this affected your touring and live shows? 

 

I’m fine. I’m twice vaxxed so my worst ailments were fatigue and brain fog. I did get a sore throat and slight fever but only in the beginning. I thought I had allergies since every time I got tested they would say it was allergies. This time the results came in different. A lot of touring musicians are getting it actually and it’s wreaked havoc on Spring touring for sure. You have to be out in public a lot in different environments, not in your own town or bubble, so the risk is high. The risk was always high to get sick on tour anyway and now you get this illness where you’re canceling/rescheduling constantly and it’s unpredictable.

 

How are you spending your time – does this kind of situation allow you to do things you might not have time for otherwise? 

 

I’m an introvert so I spend a lot of time by myself when I can anyway. I love quarantine! I realize that’s kinda nuts to say since so many people died and the amount of death and panic in NYC in March/April 2020 was pretty scary.  However, I needed the pause. People are unbelievably exhausting and Americans, in general, are overdramatic and talk too much, so when they smell the empath in you, you will get used up. I was definitely feeling used up, so retreating felt like a dream. I picked up a guitar, mixed an album, worked on some videos, did some live streams, cooked a lot, worked at a mask factory, redecorated, chain-smoked then quit smoking, read books, and watched TV. Everything was simple. I’ve been desperately trying to hold on to that simplicity. I’m at my best when no one is breathing down my neck haha – in New York, living like that is impossible.

 

The press notes which accompany ‘Portrait of A Lady’ mention Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” –  You’ve talked about the influence that had on you and this record and how it made you want to dig deep into yourself and your own work. How do you as an artist go about channeling that kind of thing into a pop record – where do you start, and do you ever run certain risks about giving more away about yourself than you may wish to? 

 

The process of writing this album was incredibly hard.  I wanted to musically capture the impact Nan Goldin’s work had on me.  I am an abuse survivor but had rarely expressed it cause it comes with a lot of embarrassment and shame. I also rank really low on the totem pole of public sympathy – A brown punk rock woman of small stature, sometimes broke/sometimes not broke is not the heroine of the #metoo movement. I grew up in an environment that informed me I had to be unbreakable in order to survive. I related to Nan Goldin in the sense that she’s an artist drawn to the artist’s world of anarchy only to find that the anarchy is patriarchal and being curious and intelligent other was gonna cause problems and by problems I mean problems that could be fatal. I found that out in my mid to late 20s during the bro culture of the aughts. This bro culture still exists now, by the way, I just learned how to spot the flags faster. The moment I saw her work I had that “aha”  moment. No other artwork has impacted me that way. She’s the ultimate badass.

 

 

You’ve said her work “shook me to my core and made me reflect on my own experiences with sexual assault and abuse.” – I understand you probably won’t want to divulge your own experiences of these matters, but have you ever addressed them in your art prior?  

 

My goal, in writing this album was to be as honest as possible and to finish it. It was important to me to be real and not fall into the traps of speaking for others or pushing generalized agendas. Every survivor deals w/ surviving in their own way. I could never express myself in an op-ed. First off, I’m not important or academic enough to write one, so I wrote a ‘traumopera’. Lydia Lunch helped me coin that term btw.  She’s a gem. Talk about meeting someone and having the “aha” moment. I have boundaries for sure. My experiences also happened 15 years ago so they are not as raw as they would’ve been had I written them a few years after the fact. That would’ve been a completely different record.  I wrote about my experience as a 20-something while I was in my late 30s. I had already gone through therapy, time, and establishing my lifelong friends and support system. Not bad for an introvert. I’m in my 40s now, still experiencing giant man-babies, red in the face screaming over me, when they don’t get their way and I have zero tolerance for that. The world might still think they’re precious but I don’t. I would never want to live in a head like that. I could never love that.

 

In terms of this record’s themes (Trump, abusive relationships, #MeToo, it ran the risk of being an angry album, but you managed to not make it so which is a huge credit to you. 

 

Yeah. As I mentioned before, time molded my anger in a different way but seriously compared to all the sad girl music out there this album is incredibly pissed off. I don’t have any puritanical views of expressing anger. I was raised a Kali-worshipping Hindu. Rage can go off the rails for sure but is not expressed enough in art. It’s a very real part of human emotion. There’s hypocrisy in the Western world when expressing rage.

 

Before even hearing a note or lyric on this album, I was drawn to the song titles which made me smile e.g. ‘Charm School for Damaged Boys’, Male Feminist’, ‘Cry for The Cameras’. You seem to have a good sense of humor. 

 

What other choices do we have when we’re forced into being pacifists? I have always had a dry biting sense of humor and it comes out when it needs to. It developed from being bullied at school. Some big white kid would come mess with me and my ego would be like “I’m too smart for this shit”. Then I’d use my words and they would cry. You learn a lot about survival being the first generation in an American school. It’s exhausting though, which is why I mostly keep to myself. I would like to enjoy my life.

 

How much do you think about the future in terms of your creative process and what your output may be like, in terms of with another band or otherwise?

 

I’ve actually enjoyed being a side player in other people’s projects cause you learn about music in a completely different way. It’s more technical and the pressure’s off cause all you are responsible for is listening to the bandleader and playing your part the best you can. When it’s your own project you have to wear so many hats, make no money, and be perfect all the time, while everyone else shits on you. It’s a sad existence.

I am getting older and I find that music belongs to a different generation now, so it’s time for me to try other things that fit my age. It would be different if I was in some kind of Radiohead-type band where we’re making money, therefore I can continue touring till whenever, but unfortunately for me, that’s not the case. You can only be a poor “up and coming” act for so long till you have to change how you are incorporating music into your life. That said, I never compromised and always made the albums I wanted to make, mistakes and all. I’m really proud of that, but yeah switching gears and making old people art like films and writing has crossed my mind.

 

 

I first came to love your music through hearing The Happy Hookers and specifically, touring with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. You must get asked about this a lot, I presume so I apologize for being another lazy interviewer. What was it like being a part of his tour?  

 

It was amazing! I have very fond memories of my time with them. I learned a lot and became a stronger performer cause he was just throwing me out there alone in front of an arena full of people who were only there to see them. What a challenge! He is definitely one of the kindest most generous artists I’ve ever met. I’m lucky they took a chance on me.

 

What are your thoughts on musical influences? 

 

I still love the feeling of discovering something and becoming obsessed with it. I’m very much a listener and consumer of art who needs to develop my own relationship with what I’m consuming. I think that’s why I don’t automatically listen to new music. I’m not susceptible to marketing campaigns or doing what everyone else is doing. I remember being obsessed with Gun Club in my early 20s when everyone else was listening to whatever generic brand of NYC/Brooklyn indie music that was being released at the time. It took me 6 years after Is This It came out to genuinely dig the Strokes.  I was at a New Year’s Party w/o my abusive partner at the time. Someone turned on Hard To Explain and I was high and dancing and everyone there was so rad and happy. I felt so young and free. I hadn’t felt that way in a really long time. It also gave me so much joy to love something I knew “he” had hated so much. I’ll never forget that moment.

 

What kind of influence of being a New Yorker have on you?

 

A lot of problem-solving, a lot of noise, and a lot of keeping it short. New York doesn’t have time for one’s 8 min opus and I love that. Take the fillers out. I’ve always been a creative person but didn’t really try it publicly till my early 20s. I studied music as a kid, bombed many recitals, and was always thought of as an unfocused, lazy underachiever throughout my childhood. For a while, I believed it, until I found myself hauling a baby-sized coffin with my heavy ass harmonium on a hand truck over the Williamsburg Bridge just to play an open mic. I didn’t see myself as being lazy after that.

 

How has that changed in the years since you started?

 

 It’s tough to keep the same momentum. There’s so much negative in the music industry, you can really lose why you do it in the first place. Every time I put out an album I ask myself “why am I still doing this?” then I forget I felt that way, get back into my zone, and start writing again.

 

‘Portrait Of A Lady’ is out now

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Gaspar Noe: “I feel that I’m more serene with these two concepts we call life and death.”

Gaspar Noe

Gaspar Noe is a dangerously provocative and mind-bending filmmaker who has the ability to combine almost every element of what makes truly great cinema. In his own words, he’s already made many films that have, “scared people, turned them on, or made them laugh.”

I would also add that he’s also managed to bore us, or maybe just I, to tears (his 3-D porno ‘Love’), induce horrifying and at times euphoric anxiety (‘Climax’), make most of us switch off at notable and world-famous rape scenes (‘Irreversable’) and in his first and one of my favorite film of his, (I Stand Alone), create an extreme and brilliantly nihilistic tale where even he himself appears to recommend that viewers watch at their own discretion. 

With his new film ‘Vortex’, Noe evolves further. He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2019 and published images of his time in hospital on his Instagram profile – which I initially thought of as a hoax, such is his (apparent) dark sense of humour. The result of recent trauma is  ‘Vortex’, a film about an aging couple in decline which stars legendary horror director Dario Argento in the main role of a man dealing with dementia.  Here, Gaspar Noe discusses themes of ‘Vortex’, where it came from, and his own sense of decline. 

 

 

Mr Noe, what was the origin of Vortex? 

 

I’ve been wanting to make a film with elderly people for several years. With my grandparents, then with my mother, I realized that old age involves very complex survival issues. It generates overwhelming situations in which those who have protected you most revert in turn to their childhood. So I imagined a film with an extremely simple narrative, with one person in a state of mental deterioration losing the use of language, and her grandson who has not yet mastered it, as two extremes of this brief experience that is human life. 

 

I would say that it’s your least provocative, least violent film to date. Fair comment?

 

That’s not for me to judge. While it’s my first feature film for all audiences, I’m also told that – due to the very common situation it describes, which most people are or will become familiar with – it’s the toughest. I’ve already made films that scared people, turned them on, or made them laugh. This time I wanted to make a film that made them cry as hard as I could cry, in life as at the cinema. Tears really do have a sedative effect when they come into contact with the membranes of the eyelids, which makes them one of the most pleasurable substances there is. Also, this isn’t the first time that I’ve filmed with the greatest love people older than me: it was the case with Philippe Nahon with whom I made Carne and I Stand Alone. But this time, Vortex is really inspired by recent experiences in my life, and all those ultra-brilliant loved ones whose powers of thought I saw decay and then die before my eyes. The film probably refers to the emptiness that surrounds us and in which we float. I’ve also been told that it recalls Enter the Void in the sense that its subject is the great emptiness that is life and not death. 

 

Perhaps it’s also your most radical, desperate film? 

 

Maybe, in any case not very Manichean. It’s just the story of a genetically programmed disintegration when the whole house of cards collapses. As we wrote for the Cannes Film Festival synopsis: Life is a short party that will soon be forgotten. 

 

Did you write this film following your sudden brain hemorrhage? 

 

No, not at all. I’d already thought about the subject for this film long before. On the other hand, with this stroke, from which there was very little chance that I would emerge alive or unscathed, I was catapulted onto the dark side of the moon. While I was on morphine for three weeks, I thought about my death and its consequences for all those around me, the mess I would have left behind. That’s death: the objects of a life you leave to others and that disappear in a garbage truck as quickly as memories that rot along with the brain. In any case, since the hand of destiny gave me some joyful extra time, I feel that I’m more serene with these two concepts we call life and death. In addition, the convalescence that was imposed on me, followed by this fabulous collective experience of confinement linked to a virus, allowed me to spend months discovering the greatest melodramas of Mizoguchi, Naruse and the unjustly forgotten Kinoshita, whose melancholy, cruelty and aesthetic inventiveness reminded me what truly great cinema could be. 

 

Was it a commando shoot? 

 

I wrote a 10-page text, that grew to 14 pages when I expanded the bodies of the characters to deposit it at the CNC (laughs). Canal + committed and I got the ‘avance sur recettes’ (advance on receipts) for the first time. I shot in April, over 25 days, and finished on May 8th. I had an editing room on set and, since we didn’t have very long shooting days, I started editing right away, in the evenings, on weekends. It was very fast, especially the post-production before Cannes, but I love speed. It worked well for Fassbinder, it worked well for all the great Japanese directors in the 60s. Why do slowly what you can do quickly? 

 

When did you have the idea for the split-screen? 

 

The story of the film is very commonplace, it’s just something that happens quite naturally for people aged 80 and over that their children must manage. And these situations are so heavy day-to-day that most of those over 50 carry them like individual curses that they’re almost ashamed to talk about. For the form, I envisaged something almost documentary, without written dialogue, and on a single set, as realistic as possible. The only aesthetic position I took was to film some scenes in split-screen to emphasize the shared loneliness of this couple, but I hadn’t planned to do so over the entire duration of the film. The first week I only shot a few sequences with two cameras, but in the editing room I realized that when one of the characters left the frame, leaving us alone with the other, I really wanted to continue to see what he or she was doing at the same time. Reality is the sum of the perceptions of those who make it. And since there’s nothing more boring in cinema than this artificial tv movie language that almost everyone uses I thought, as long as we’re making something as contrived as a film, why not have fun with the split-screen? So I timed the shots and filmed the missing parts to complete the sequences. The process then imposed itself from the second week of filming. It feels like we’re following two tunnels that evolve in parallel but never meet, two characters irrevocably separated by their paths in life and by the image. The camera language was a bit complex, and, as usual, I hadn’t made storyboards. It requires a good spatial logic and I was constantly solving a mental Rubik’s cube. Once again, I slept very badly at night. 

 

And your actors? 

 

My three actors were the most beautiful RollsRoyces of improvisation that I could have dreamt of. But by working with Françoise and Dario, given my admiration for them, I put myself under a lot of pressure, joyful and constructive as it was. I didn’t want to screw up, to do a lazy directing job in front of a master of the image like Dario Argento, nor dare to miss a single performance by anyone with Françoise in the film. I’ve idolized Françoise since discovering her in The Mother and the Whore, even though Jean Eustache’s use of ultra-precisely written dialogues is the exact opposite of what I try to do. When Dario agreed to act in the film, I had less than a fortnight to find his son. I thumbtacked photos of Françoise and Dario on a wall and asked myself who could be physically credible as their child. Then I thought of Alex Lutz. I’d seen Guy by chance and was blown away by his performance. I stuck his photo next to his parents’ and it worked perfectly. We met, and he was available. And when he told me he had himself directed Guy from a 10-page screenplay, I figured we were well suited! 

 

With this more ‘grown-up’ film, you may even risk getting good reviews. 

 

Most great films are massacred when they’re released, and the worst ones are venerated…So I don’t care. To paraphrase Pasolini, what we do is more important than what we say. Vortex might be more ‘adult’ than my other films. But, I Stand Alone and my short SIDA aside, I feel as if I’ve only really made films about teenagers for teenagers. Today, at 57, perhaps I’m finally entering adulthood a little. I am getting into an unkown world.

 

Thank you.

 

Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

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Horace Panter: “Our message was serious but our music was uplifting”

The Specials emerged from an era of British music like few others; one that combined the influences of both homegrown political dissidence and Jamaican dance-house music. In the late 1970s, The Specials produced the first and finest combination of multi-racial (and also collaborative) music that the UK had ever seen, inventing the term ‘Two Tone’ in the process. Many since then have tried to hold the cue, but few have managed to do so or execute with such originality. I do doff my hat to those who have tried. In terms of being related to the quality of ‘ska’ music The Specials dealt (and continue to deal) in,  I can only raise the name of the Fat White Family, a band who seldom sound in the same genre, but do very much carry the energy, wave of originality, popular tunes, humour, and indeed political messages of The Specials. The common political message can be left up to the reader to decide. 

Horace Panter was in the Specials and played Bass in their original and current line up. These days, he’s very eager to get The Specials back touring (COVID forgiving) and also spends his time working with his own Pop-Art, adapting to being a ‘technophobe’, whilst also on the verge of being a grandfather. Felten Ink caught up with Mr Panter to discuss such matters. 

 

Horace, what is the difference between being a ‘musician’ and an ‘artist’? 

 

Being a musician gives instant feedback. If you’re doing good, an audience applauds or your bandmates acknowledge you. If you’re doing bad, you know about it pretty quickly too. There is a lot of adrenaline involved! With painting, the satisfaction and contentment is something internal. I guess, to use a pop psychology word, it’s ‘mindful’. The validation from an audience comes more slowly but it is there. I get a kick every time someone buys one of my paintings.

 

To me your own artwork looks like it would come under the term ‘pop art’? 

 

Yes, I’d say I follow the Pop tradition. I take everyday objects and paint them, elevating the mundane. Andy Warhol had his soup cans, I have my cassettes, Japanese Vending Machines, American diners. I don’t mind people putting structure around my work – it doesn’t affect how or what I paint.

 

Do you look at everyday things and feel the need to make something?

 

I look at all genres of art (which is why I miss being able to go to galleries/exhibitions). Everything inspires me: it could be a colour or a shape or an object that suddenly takes on a specific meaning that I think could be transferred to a painting. A fellow artist once said to me ‘lots of people can draw/paint to a level that is extraordinarily but, as an artist, you have to have an idea’. I’d say it’s far harder to have an idea than it is to be technically brilliant. I don’t want to follow trends in art though I’m aware of them. I guess my strongest influences come from Pop Art, given that I was a child of the 60s when everything ‘cool’ came from across the pond: pop music, art, fashion. I love Peter Blake’s work but he was also influenced by American Pop culture.

 

What has being a musician taught you (if anything) about your own exploration into making your own art – to me your artwork doesn’t seem too personal?

 

As a musician, I’m a team player. I need a drummer and other musicians to create my music; it’s collaborative. I always refer to my art as ‘my solo album’. The work stands or falls on its own merit and by my own efforts. I have done a few pieces of ‘personal’ art but I keep them for myself!

 

I would love you to share some… I’ll keep it a secret, I promise. When is the best time for you to work, create, and why?

 

I prefer to paint in the daylight (natural light) which has been difficult with the short winter days. After walking the dog I spend most of the day in the studio but I do go out to see my printer or framer a couple of times a week. I try to take a break at weekends but if I’m on a roll, that often goes out of the window. The painting itself dictates how I work I guess.

 

It seems to me there are perhaps few other modern bands continuing the work of The Specials. Do they exist?

 

Where are the new Specials? I think various aspects of The Specials are observable in a lot of British music – the reggae/ska influence, the dance style, but nothing has come that close. Jerry (Dammers) once said he thought that Galliano were like The Specials. There are, of course, bands that, lyrically, resemble the band, but I think our USP was the message and the dance. Our message was serious but our music was uplifting.

 

I once read you saying nice things about Sleaford Mods (not my bag, to be honest).  Personally, I think Fat White Family are one of the greatest bands currently on earth who at least share the attitude of a band like The Specials. What else is are you into musically?

 

I’m not familiar with Fat White Family – I’ll look them up – but Terry thinks highly of them. I thought the Sleaford Mods were mesmeric performers and it was great to have them on tour with us. I don’t listen to too many new acts (where do you find them these days if you don’t have Spotify… I don’t because I’m a bit of a technophobe!). I think my vast knowledge of rock’n’roll is something of a millstone around my neck. Everything I hear seems to sound like something else – spot the influence if you will. I have tickets to see The Drive By Truckers in June in London, re-scheduled from last year… I hope they play. Bands send me stuff on social media and, now and again, I prick up my ears and listen to a song all the way through. These days I’m quite impatient, if it sounds generic in the first few bars, I’m gone. I’m not cynical, maybe just have too many tunes in my head already!

 

I first got into the Specials in the days of indie dance floors back in my late teens/ early 20s (a long time ago now). Why do you think The Specials continue to be so important for newer generations? 

 

Well, firstly: The tunes are great. The lyrics are easy to sing and are still relevant. The rhythms are irresistible. The live shows are full on – 100% full tilt celebration. Got your ticket for the 2021 gig yet?

 

Not yet, but… How has this ongoing lockdown treated you and have you been able to develop or at least maintain yourself as an artist, i.e. your own artwork and with the band?

 

All the Specials’ work for 2020 was rescheduled for 2021. Then, even our 2021 tour was put back from March/April to September/October. Between the lockdowns I did three small gigs, two with a Cajun/Zydeco outfit and one with a Blues band. They were all great and made me realise how dependent I am on performing as a release. During this current lockdown I’m one miserable mother-fucker. There’s only so much you can practice playing the bass! Art-wise, I’ve never been busier. There are new projects and new opportunities, making it an exciting time. Counter-intuitively, people have still been buying art, which is great for me. I’ve managed to paint a whole new series of cassettes which will be exhibited in the next couple of months. Obviously, the exhibition will be virtual which takes some of the fun out of it as it’s nice to build up to a physical exhibition and to meet people at the opening. Nothing is as usual though is it? I stay home, walk my dog in the countryside twice a day and do everything I can to stay sane!

 

What has this current situation given you that normal life would have restricted? 

 

We (my wife and I) moved house a week before the first lockdown, from Coventry to a small village in Warwickshire. Love it. We have spent our time since then exploring the area, finding remote places to walk the dog (border terrier called Mijj!), had builders in, who have been great company… builders always are aren’t they! As well as concentrating on painting, I’ve had lots of time to read and think. Our son and daughter-in-law moved from South London to Warwick just before Christmas. It is a huge frustration that we can only see them in a socially-distanced situation, so no long boozy dinners together! I miss playing Blues/Cajun/Zydeco in pubs. Socialising in general. Visiting museums and art galleries. I was planning a road to trip to visit friends in the USA so god knows when that will be possible!

 

I don’t want to spend too much time on COVID but as it’s affecting everyone – what are your own thoughts on how the UK is dealing with it? Will we get back to normal (I tend to think aside from pubs and gigs, normality was overrated)?

 

I don’t think there was a single country in the world that was prepared for the virus (except perhaps Taiwan). We had to make it up as we went along didn’t we. There were always going to be conflicting interpretations of scientific data and weighing up the economic consequences. I don’t think we’ve felt those consequences fully yet. The performing arts industry has been decimated. The current debacle about musicians/performers needing permits to perform in Europe is a farce that needs to be fixed. Maybe bands like The Specials can take that on the chin, given they have a management structure capable of sorting all that out. It is young bands and musicians (including choirs, small opera companies, etc) that will feel it as they often go out on a shoestring budget and they won’t be able to absorb the extra costs. I’m just hoping to play in pubs again!

 

I’m now in my mid-30s and feel it – does one chill out more as they get older – You’re 67 now so what does age do to you?

 

Haha! It makes me jealous of anyone who is 30 years younger! Stuart Copeland once said to me “musicians stay younger longer” – I hold to that thought constantly!! Less angry, sure. More chilled, sure. Without the mist of anger I have been able to think more deeply about things like politics… I’m less reactive and more contemplative. I look for context in everything, despite the fact that context is often obscured. I see that MSM and social media are designed to make me angry so I back off. I’m going to be a grandfather this year and that gives me a deep sense of joy. The personal stuff, family, friends, etc., is the important stuff. 

 

In terms of your artwork, I love your cassette art in particular – how do you choose who to stick on there. I was thinking you should do a mixtape version and link to a playlist on Spotify… with the help of the one they call ‘Alexa’? 

 

With the cassettes there are self-imposed boundaries. Circa 1970 – Circa 1995 are the boundaries. Having said that, more bands are recording and releasing cassettes as they have achieved a kind of iconic status. All the cassettes are the same dimensions. The interesting bits are small, overlooked factors like the screws (do they have screws?), or the window. Are there numbers folded into the front place under the window? (what use were these anyway?). These small factors inform how the cassette looks. Yes, I only do bands I like. No way would I do an Abba cassette – or Queen! Don’t even mention Queen! Having said that, my new series doesn’t feature bands/songs; it celebrates the object alone and I’ve concentrated on design/colour. The idea of Alexa scares me shitless!

 

I agree with you on ABBA, God forbid Alexa decided to play me that. Are you ever bored with making music?

 

Never! Music is such a wonderful thing to be able to perform. I can’t possibly imagine my life without it. Now and again I get fed up with a painting I’m doing so I’ll put it aside or scrap it. I never get fed up playing music!

 

Are you cynical about older bands getting back together to tour or make new music? I don’t wish to be crude, but making money is important – thoughts?

 

Well, at my age, I ain’t in it for the travel and I do have a family to support. I would by lying to you if I said that the money didn’t matter. You might be surprised that I still have a mortgage and I don’t have a pension plan, or even a new (or old) BMW! I have never been close to being a millionaire, more’s the pity haha! My accountant says that in a good year I make about the same as the average builder. The Specials is a big band with a large crew, the cost of doing a tour is eye-watering. Regardless, I love it! Being with Terry (Hall) and Lynval (Golding) and the gang is like being with family… we have decades of history!

 

Interview with Horace Panter – January 2021. To be continued…

www.horacepanterart.com

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Abdel Bendaher: “I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed”

Samir Guesmi’s directorial feature debut is described as being a ‘rites of passage’ in which a father and son will slowly grow to know and understand each other when ‘botched robbery’ and the need to satisfy older friends offer no end of conflict. Newcomer Abdel Bendaher plays Ibrahim, a youth hell-bent on finding himself and others at the same time. Here, Abdel Bendaher answers some questions about the role itself, working with director Samir Guesmi and finding his own feet in when dipping his toes into the world of filmmaking. 

 

Abdel, How did you end up being a part of this project? 

 

It was a bit of an eventful Sunday for me and my friends: we went to watch a friend – totally outclassed by older players – play a football match. At half time we dropped our ball near the spot where Samir Guesmi was. I felt he was staring at me. With his motorcycle helmet in hand and big as he is, we thought he was a cop! He introduced himself, and explained he was a director and actor. We didn’t believe him. He had to show us his Wikipedia page with a photo before we took him seriously. Then he asked if he could film us. Weeks went by and Christel Baras, the casting director, contacted me. I did a test with her first, then more casting sessions. I gave myself completely each time, because I felt the pressure mounting and I wanted to believe in this. When I found out I’d got the part I was really happy! 

 

What was your relationship with cinema before this experience?

 

 I only went to the cinema to watch American blockbusters. But with my best friend we often fantasied about making a film about our friendship and the bullshit we used to come up with together. Now I’ve started to watch French cult films, I’m opening myself up to cinema and it fascinates me. 

 

Do you remember your reaction when you read the script of IBRAHIM 

I remember feeling it was really alive. I was immersed and I believed in everything I was reading. I quickly identified with Ibrahim, who is a high school student like me. He’s shy and reserved too. It was easy to project myself into this role. I liked the friendship between Ibrahim and Achilles as I much as his relationship with his father and the connection he develops with Louisa.

 

What did you tell yourself about Ibrahim? The truth? 

 

Nothing! I told myself I was going to play Ibrahim as I am. I understood that’s why I had been chosen, that I should stay as close to who I am in life to play the role of Ibrahim. I just thought he was an unlucky boy, not a victim. He wants to do things right and avoid problems, but his mate Achilles involves him in his bullshit and exerts a big influence on him. I also think he and his father love each other very much, but don’t dare tell each other. Ibrahim is a very observant character… Like me! I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed. I’m a champion at looking away if someone I’m looking at turns his head towards me. So I had no trouble finding the right attitude for Ibrahim, and Samir helped me a lot too. He guided my gaze, sometimes even during scenes. 

 

How did Samir direct you, in other respects? 

 

He told me to not act, to be natural. The fact that he himself is an actor helped me. During the first weeks we shot the scenes in Ibrahim’s and his father’s apartment. They were complicated scenes, because their relationship is complicated. The first days, Samir didn’t want to talk to me. He had warned me that the beginning of the shoot would be tough, and he piled the pressure on me. That’s how I felt about it anyhow, and it did help me to find the right emotions for the film. At first I concentrated on my character; I was in my corner and repeated the lines to myself, I was hunched up, like Ibrahim. I quickly felt I was the character. Bit by bit I understood this was Samir’s strategy, but I didn’t hold it against him. All the more so since at the end of the first week he came to talk to me and explained why he had talked to me so little at first. Little by little I started to feel more at ease with everyone. 

 

Did you manage to forget the camera?

 

Only after several days. I got used to it gradually. I also had to get used to the crew, I was a bit overwhelmed by all these people around me. What helped me was being invited to participate in the location scouting. I got to know some technicians and quickly felt accepted. But on set, I was intimidated. It was really intense, and I felt there was no room for mistakes. I didn’t know that films were made like that. I thought you shot in front of a green screen with dialogues written on cards! Those first days were crazy – hallucinated the first few days: no comparison! 

 

How did you find your character physically? Did the wardrobe help… the chapka hat for example?

 

Yes, even if at the beginning I thought that the shoes I had to wear were lousy! These must have dated from the time of Louis XVI, these trainers! I swear to God! I wore a chapka hat, a coat, had a green bag… At first when we shot the scenes at the high school, with kids around us who hadn’t necessarily understood we were shooting a film, I was a little ashamed in these ugly clothes! But it allowed me to feel like Ibrahim. The chapka hat physically defines his character. He wears it all the time, he’s attached to it. When Ibrahim takes it off the people who look at him feel they are discovering a new face. 

 

Did you see Samir’s short film, C’EST DIMANCHE! before the shoot? 

 

This short film helped me. It doesn’t describe the same father-son relationship but it gave me clues. 

 

How did you work with the other actors? 

 

They were all older than me and had experience on films. They acted like big brothers and sisters to me. They helped me a lot and made me feel at ease, by rehearsing my lines with me between takes, for example. 

 

Were you able to leave this role easily? How did you emerge from this first film experience? 

 

When I went back to school after filming, I was shyer than before, as if Ibrahim had rubbed off on me. But that changed quickly, particularly when I was back with my friends. It’s funny, because at the beginning, I was in a hurry for this shoot to be over with. But at the end, I was sad and wanted to start again as soon as possible. I really want to carry on acting. I know how lucky I was to have met Samir. I’ve always loved the idea of trusting my destiny. Samir arrived at the right time: I had bad grades in third grade, I wasn’t sure which way to head. This film has changed everything for me. I’m like a new person, in a way, thanks to this film. It is also the first step towards the professional world. When I finished the shoot, I was a bit proud of myself, without having become big-headed. Just proud to have taken on a challenge and to have been able to play a part in a beautiful film.

With thanks to the lovely people at Wild Bunch. 

 

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Deji Ijishakan: “I felt like I had to act like Zarathustra in a sense… just go to war with ideas”

Deji Ijishakan is a 21-year-old jazz musician from south London, his primary instrument being the tenor saxophone. Over a relatively short time he’s developed an eclectic and unique musical personality, infusing his passion for philosophy into his music, and forging an entirely new subgenre he calls jazz-drill. He plays in a number of jazz and fusion bands including Levitation Orchestra, Nihilism and Hypernova Militia. Over the lockdown he’s started releasing his own solo work under the name Xvngo. Ashwin Tharoor sat down with Deji to talk about his music, philosophical influences and new projects.

 

Deji, Xvngo [Shango] is your stage name, right? Where did that come from?

 

It actually originates from a Yoruba god, an Orisha in the Yoruba tradition. They have their own their pantheon and like, Shango was the god of thunder, fire and willpower. I was inspired by that.

 

How was your lockdown?

 

It’s been really up and down you know. I’ve had some really high moments, like for instance I just started releasing my music under the alias Xvngo, as a solo artist. I also finished my degree, got into the Masters I wanted to do and started a business. At the same time, in other areas it’s been quite negative. I know someone quite dear to me who’s been affected by coronavirus. I’d definitely say it’s been more positive than it has been negative.

 

That’s good to hear.

 

I think it’s good to go through some difficult times, because it makes you stronger, psychologically.

 

So, when did you start playing music?

 

I’ll never forget my earliest memory engaging with music, I think I must’ve been like 8 or 7 years old. It was on a laptop, not a music programming laptop or anything like that. There was this programme on there, for a game or something. I remember there being a wizard involved. I remember playing on a keyboard that allowed you to play [music] with the keyboard of the laptop. Testing sounds and being like, oh wow, what is this!

 

Did you have any big musical influences in your family or at home?

 

Funnily enough, one of my uncles is a saxophone player. And my dad forced me to play the keyboard when I was quite young, and at first, I was against it. Even though I must’ve shown him some type of musical inclination. But yeah, he wanted me to play and I was rebellious at first but then I really got into it and began to love it. So, my dad was a big musical influence, and then growing up throughout secondary school I was very much involved in music.

 

What about your first musical love, in terms of an artist or a band?

 

The first really profound musical love I had was for John Coltrane. I’d say when I learnt about Charlie Parker, I was like, wow, this is amazing. I was about 13 years old, so I was quite lucky to be introduced to bebop music. The way that I got into bebop is quite funny. I’d been playing the piano up until I was 13, and I used to go to this mentorship. And, at the time I listened to a lot of hip-hop music and my mentor looked at all the music I was listening to and he was just cussing me out for like an hour, and he was telling me I need to stop listening to this stuff.

 

What was he cussing you out for?

 

Like, he has quite a conservative taste in music, listens to Ben Webster and that type of thing. He said like anything after the 1980s is almost sacrilegious music (laughs), you know what I mean? But yeah, he was cussing me out for listening to like MGK, Giggs, Waka Flocka Flame, even Jamie Fox.

 

Sounds like he didn’t like hip-hop at all.

 

Yeah, he was very anti-hip-hop. And then after that, out of fear, I started listening to some jazz music. And I was like, you know, I really like this. Once I’d been introduced to it in that way I really began to fall in love with it. Then I started playing the clarinet. But when I found Charlie Parker as a result of this awakening, this jazz awakening, it really blew my mind. I couldn’t believe someone could make a sound like that, like a human being. I really couldn’t even comprehend. Now that I play bebop, and I can take the lines and I can play it, it’s kinda different. But when you’re standing completely beholden to it…

 

With no conception of how it’s made…

 

Yeah, it’s just so sublime. And then time went on, I kept on listening to jazz, and I found John Coltrane. It was beyond sublimity with Coltrane, because you could just see a man on a journey with music. And, he’s just leaving everything else behind, he doesn’t care about anything. He’s almost channelling – like he’s a vessel for his own unconscious mind. All the potential things in his brain, that he could release, to do with music. Like he’s trying to exhaust his whole potential musically. Which is such a beautiful thing to see.

 

I really like the way you put it. So, which jazz musicians do you really like on the scene today?

 

Well I’d say in terms of modern guys, I’d say like Joe Armon-Jones. I love his music; I play with him as well. Moses Boyd as well, really good music, KOKOROKO, Wonky Logic just put out some music. There’s hella people, Ezra [Collective]. And then you got other people like Levitation Orchestra, PYJÆN. I really like Empirical, another modern UK jazz band. There’s a lot of heads lying about doing some sick stuff, taking all different angles towards the music.

 

So as far as I know, you’re in four bands? Hypernova Militia, Levitation Orchestra, Nihilism and KOKOROKO? Is that last one correct?

 

Yeah, I’m not a member of KOKOROKO, but I play with them. I’m in the KOKOROKO family, but I wouldn’t call myself a member. But the other three yeah, I play in all of them.

 

Are they all active at the moment?

 

Hypernova’s active, Levitation Orchestra’s got some music coming out, Nihilism we’re gonna be getting in the studio to record an album.

 

Nice! I’ve seen Hypernova and Levitation Orchestra live and they were both amazing, but how would you differentiate the styles of the bands that you’re in?

 

With Hypernova, I’m the band leader, and the whole mission of Hypernova is one big philosophical, comical, abstract, absurdist, mess.

 

It’s off the rails.

 

The way that I approach that is gonna be way more primitive, and like almost letting your unconscious mind take control of the whole situation, whereas with Levitation Orchestra I’ll take a backseat. With Levitation Orchestra we’re all trying to write music together, so I’ll just try to contribute to the collective composition, as opposed to trying to drive it all. And with Nihilism as well it’s very collaborative, and a whole other sound world from Hypernova – which is typically bebop. The funny thing is we’re now putting the drill music with the bebop. On our EP there’s gonna be a drill track where we’re playing on it. First drill track with live horns.

 

That sounds sick, tell me more about jazz drill? And your new single Entropy?

 

Jazz-drill really started with me and Matt from Harris Westminster [our Sixth Form]. At university in first year, when I had my saxophone, I’d be hanging out with people but I’d also wanna practice and they’d be playing drill music and so I’d just play over the changes. And then, I was like, let me just keep doing this it’s good fun, it’s different. Now it’s become a thing of its own and I’m just trying to make as much of it as I can.

One thing I appreciate about being an artist and putting out music, is you can just superimpose anything you’re experiencing or anything you find interesting into the general story behind the music, the artwork, or the name of it. With Entropy, it’s a nod at this thing called the free energy principle. It’s a neuroscience theory that says your brain is an inference machine, so your brain is always trying to make predictions about reality. Once you have a system making all these predictions, it means that entropy will play a role in it. What entropy is, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, is that we’re constantly moving towards more disorder. We’re constantly moving into more micro-states than previously were. Now as a statistical machine, what does it mean for you to be moving into more micro-states, moving into more disorder? It when there’s a prediction error, it’s when the statistical machine predicts something but then is surprised when the information it gets doesn’t marry up with what it was supposed to get.

[Neuroscientist] Karl Friston has been using mathematical equations behind thermodynamics and entropy to apply it the brain, but there’s just so many implications behind it. There are even implications for psychedelic drug use. There’s this thing called the entropic brain hypothesis made by this dude called Robin Carhartt-Harris doing research at Imperial [College] about this right now. Saying how psychedelics increase the entropy of the brain, and that’s why it can help people with depression.

 

That’s really interesting. How did those ideas inform the music, if at all?

 

I don’t know if I could say that I consciously felt it informing it, but once I’d made the music, I feel like it represented that. And the music that I make is always in some way gonna be related to whatever I’m reading or whatever I’m thinking about.

 

Was there any particular inspiration for how you incorporate philosophy into your music?

 

I mean, Mr. Stone [from Harris Westminster] used to teach philosophy of music (laughs). But I can’t really think of any artists off the top of my head who used to incorporate philosophy directly into their music. I just felt like doing it, I just felt like it had to happen.

 

What do you want people to feel coming way from your gigs? Especially Hypernova, which I guess is the most…

 

Visceral!

 

Yeah!

 

I want them to feel confused, I want them to feel entertained, want them to feel like they may be learnt something. I want them to feel like they need to start questioning the way they view reality.

 

What else do you like to listen to, other than jazz?

 

I love classical music. I love Beethoven, Bach, Shostakovich, Vivaldi, I love Vivaldi. I love Stravinsky as well. Other than jazz music, I mainly listen to classical music. Listen to some dub, listen to some drill music. But I also listen to some indie rock stuff, I listen to whatever I’m feeling.

 

Yeah, nice! You gotta have a mix. What’s on the horizon for you, in terms of new music you’re making or releasing?

 

Hypernova records the EP this weekend, that’s gonna be released sometime before I die. (Laughs)

 

Fingers crossed.

 

In terms of my solo project I’ve always got music coming out. I’ve got another single coming out in the next three weeks. You can always rely on me to have a single coming out.

 

I know you’re an avid reader of philosophy, but when did that start?

 

When we were at Sixth Form, I was into philosophy but I never really read it properly. Mr Stone actually inspired me quite a lot. And from then on, I was very much into metaphysics, Plato, Kant as well. Having that philosophical viewpoint helped me when I got to university, but I think my real engagement with philosophy started when I started watching Rick and Morty. There was a period in my life, I think Year 13, when I used to believe a load of these crazy theories, like some batshit crazy theories. Then I remember watching Rick and Morty, and seeing Rick and seeing how much he only allowed what he believed to be dependent on logic, rationality, reason and science. That kind of broke down a lot of the way that I was perceiving things. From then on, I was introduced to Existentialism and Nihilism and started getting into Nietzsche. When I got to university, I was like I’m just gonna read as much as I can. I just devoted myself to it. I read Thus Spake Zarathustra and that changed my life.

 

How did it change your life?

 

For me, after I read that book, I felt as though anything that was some trouble or something that caused me pain, it felt more like a war. Like a righteous war. Because after reading Thus Spake Zarathustra, I felt like I had to act like Zarathustra in a sense, and like just go to war with ideas. That helped me ground myself philosophically and intellectually.

 

Since you’re the band leader of Hypernova Militia, how do you incorporate philosophy into the music live?

 

There are several ways that I do it. There are some commands that I do, I give the band commands. Some of them would be stupid shit like, ‘quantum spin’ and then everyone spins around or like ‘roid rage’ and then everyone plays this mad music. But then also I’d just randomly get on the mic and say some philosophical passages. Whenever I feel like it, within songs. I also say some political stuff like ‘free the market’ (laughs). But like, there’s philosophy always being drawn throughout the whole thing.

 

In terms of improvisation on the sax, is there a particular way you approach it? Feel free to get technical, or spiritual.

 

For me, playing the saxophone is so therapeutic. It allows me to escape into myself and let my unconscious mind just be expressed aesthetically, artistically. At first, whilst I was learning how to play the saxophone, there was various ways I would approach it technically. You know you have to learn your scales, gotta learn the harmony. But even the way that I approach harmony, I see the whole thing as one big game. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, or like a maths problem. Harmony, composing, improvisation as well.

 

When I play music with other people, I often feel a kind of metaphysical, mind-melding connection. How do you feel about that?

 

I get what you mean, there definitely is a metaphysical component to it. There’s the band right, but there’s the non-physical, non-temporal elements of the band, you know? Even if you killed every single member of Hypernova, as an idea it would still exist. Like, the meaning behind you guys playing together, and obviously the idiosyncrasies of the musicians themselves. Personally, when I play in a group setting it’s all about listening. Trying to produce something that’s conversational.

 

As someone who performed live so much are you itching to get back out there?

 

It has been a while, but one good thing about the whole lockdown is I could just focus on being in my room and studying and going on all these other intellectual journeys. So, I was able to explore that part of myself even more, and almost forget about performing. But then also, I really wanna perform. Human desires are really all muddled up.

 

How do you feel about the government’s response to the whole music industry?

 

(Laughs) I think they tried…We can’t spend an unfathomable amount of money on any project, any domestic policy, because it will cause problems for the economy in the future. And then people end up dying as a result of it, whether we like it or not. So, we have to be reasoned in what we do. I think they’ve given it a shot; they’ve tried. There’s always gonna be problems. We’re in unprecedented circumstances. I mean, I’m fundamentally a libertarian – stop the government from having too much power.

 

During lockdown you started a project with the slogan ‘Buy, Back, Build’, what was the name of it?

 

The name is Owó, and it means money or business in Yoruba.

 

What are your aims with this project?

 

So, we’re creating a black business directory app, so you can use the app to find your local black business, and you can also use it find venues and galleries and that type of thing. And, eventually, I’d also like to incorporate information on finance, and that type of thing. With that project, it was in response to the George Floyd death. For me, the reason why I made it was because I was like, I’m seeing people respond to this in a way I don’t think is gonna effect change in the long term.

 

What do you mean by that?

 

Just posting on social media this, posting on social media that, putting up black squares. There’s no long-term impact of this, this is all performative. People are like, I’m in solidarity, but people actually end up dying because of real economic problems. My whole approach, I don’t wanna be on the whole political thing, I’m more on the economic development approach to it. That’s why I decided to make the app. I think that many of the problems black people face in this country are class problems as opposed to race problems. And that’s an economic issue as opposed to a policy issue.

 

Do you not think they’re interconnected in a lot of ways? Policy and economics, but also class and race?

 

Policy and economics are definitely connected, but the reason why I favour an economic perspective on it is because policy is top-down, but economic development is bottom up. If you build a company, or you and your people build companies, then you can actually put money back into the community. You don’t have to wait for my man to change the law, so that he’ll give more money, you can actually do it yourself. I’m not a fan of top-down control, I’m not a fan of government getting involved in everything. So, I think the economic route is the most prudent thing to do.

 

Isn’t top down change necessary to provide the conditions in which black businesses can thrive?

 

Yeah, there do have to be some policy concessions, for instance allowing for small business owners to not have to pay ridiculous rates on licenses, and random regulations for starting businesses. Freeing up the market basically, but especially for small business owners. Yeah, we need policy change to happen, but if you take the economic route first, the policy won’t even matter to you.

 

Finally, what would you say to the thousands of young musicians coming up now, trying to do stuff and be original?

 

First thing I’d say is, listen to as much music as you can, so you can see what you’re naturally disposed towards and hone in on that. Another thing I’d say is, know that there’s gonna be times when you feel like you’re not perfect at your craft, but that’s the whole point of it. It’s the whole point of it. It’s a dialectical process, you know what I mean? You need to come up against the problems and then get through the other side. So, keep fighting the good fight, keep making that music, keep listening to music and just do your thing.

 

I think that’s about it. Thanks a lot for chatting with me.

 

My pleasure bro.

 

You can follow Deji on Instagram at @xvngo and his bands:

@hypernova.militia

@levitationspacebase

@nihilismband_official

Ashwin Tharoor is a 22-year-old graduate living in London with a passion for music, writing and visual media.

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Shilpa Ray: “I’m an introvert so I spend a lot of time by myself when I can.”

I first took notice of Shilpa Ray when Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds invited her to support them on tour, a few brief moons ago. Back then she was with her band of ‘Happy Hookers’ and immediately struck me as an artist worth gushing over. She has an iconic voice and range, not to mention lyrics which will make you shiver and crack up with laughter at the same time. 

She released her latest solo record Portrait Of A Lady earlier this year, an almost concept-type album which one can safely say is her most personal, dealing with issues as it does like abusive relationships, violence against women, and of course, feelings towards the former U.S ‘Commander in Chief’, Donald Trump.  Portrait Of A Lady is an interesting side step for Shilpa Ray as for the first time in her career, brings in moments of synth and electronica mixed with her usual love of crunching guitar and pop melody. It also encapsulates her own very brilliant dry, witty sense of humor.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Shilpa Ray about her new record, what brought it on, and the various influences on her as an artist. 

 

Ms. Ray, I understand you currently/recently had COVID – just at a time when I think the world was at least starting to move on slightly. How are you feeling at this point in time, I hope it’s not hit you too badly and how has this affected your touring and live shows? 

 

I’m fine. I’m twice vaxxed so my worst ailments were fatigue and brain fog. I did get a sore throat and slight fever but only in the beginning. I thought I had allergies since every time I got tested they would say it was allergies. This time the results came in different. A lot of touring musicians are getting it actually and it’s wreaked havoc on Spring touring for sure. You have to be out in public a lot in different environments, not in your own town or bubble, so the risk is high. The risk was always high to get sick on tour anyway and now you get this illness where you’re canceling/rescheduling constantly and it’s unpredictable.

 

How are you spending your time – does this kind of situation allow you to do things you might not have time for otherwise? 

 

I’m an introvert so I spend a lot of time by myself when I can anyway. I love quarantine! I realize that’s kinda nuts to say since so many people died and the amount of death and panic in NYC in March/April 2020 was pretty scary.  However, I needed the pause. People are unbelievably exhausting and Americans, in general, are overdramatic and talk too much, so when they smell the empath in you, you will get used up. I was definitely feeling used up, so retreating felt like a dream. I picked up a guitar, mixed an album, worked on some videos, did some live streams, cooked a lot, worked at a mask factory, redecorated, chain-smoked then quit smoking, read books, and watched TV. Everything was simple. I’ve been desperately trying to hold on to that simplicity. I’m at my best when no one is breathing down my neck haha – in New York, living like that is impossible.

 

The press notes which accompany ‘Portrait of A Lady’ mention Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” –  You’ve talked about the influence that had on you and this record and how it made you want to dig deep into yourself and your own work. How do you as an artist go about channeling that kind of thing into a pop record – where do you start, and do you ever run certain risks about giving more away about yourself than you may wish to? 

 

The process of writing this album was incredibly hard.  I wanted to musically capture the impact Nan Goldin’s work had on me.  I am an abuse survivor but had rarely expressed it cause it comes with a lot of embarrassment and shame. I also rank really low on the totem pole of public sympathy – A brown punk rock woman of small stature, sometimes broke/sometimes not broke is not the heroine of the #metoo movement. I grew up in an environment that informed me I had to be unbreakable in order to survive. I related to Nan Goldin in the sense that she’s an artist drawn to the artist’s world of anarchy only to find that the anarchy is patriarchal and being curious and intelligent other was gonna cause problems and by problems I mean problems that could be fatal. I found that out in my mid to late 20s during the bro culture of the aughts. This bro culture still exists now, by the way, I just learned how to spot the flags faster. The moment I saw her work I had that “aha”  moment. No other artwork has impacted me that way. She’s the ultimate badass.

 

 

You’ve said her work “shook me to my core and made me reflect on my own experiences with sexual assault and abuse.” – I understand you probably won’t want to divulge your own experiences of these matters, but have you ever addressed them in your art prior?  

 

My goal, in writing this album was to be as honest as possible and to finish it. It was important to me to be real and not fall into the traps of speaking for others or pushing generalized agendas. Every survivor deals w/ surviving in their own way. I could never express myself in an op-ed. First off, I’m not important or academic enough to write one, so I wrote a ‘traumopera’. Lydia Lunch helped me coin that term btw.  She’s a gem. Talk about meeting someone and having the “aha” moment. I have boundaries for sure. My experiences also happened 15 years ago so they are not as raw as they would’ve been had I written them a few years after the fact. That would’ve been a completely different record.  I wrote about my experience as a 20-something while I was in my late 30s. I had already gone through therapy, time, and establishing my lifelong friends and support system. Not bad for an introvert. I’m in my 40s now, still experiencing giant man-babies, red in the face screaming over me, when they don’t get their way and I have zero tolerance for that. The world might still think they’re precious but I don’t. I would never want to live in a head like that. I could never love that.

 

In terms of this record’s themes (Trump, abusive relationships, #MeToo, it ran the risk of being an angry album, but you managed to not make it so which is a huge credit to you. 

 

Yeah. As I mentioned before, time molded my anger in a different way but seriously compared to all the sad girl music out there this album is incredibly pissed off. I don’t have any puritanical views of expressing anger. I was raised a Kali-worshipping Hindu. Rage can go off the rails for sure but is not expressed enough in art. It’s a very real part of human emotion. There’s hypocrisy in the Western world when expressing rage.

 

Before even hearing a note or lyric on this album, I was drawn to the song titles which made me smile e.g. ‘Charm School for Damaged Boys’, Male Feminist’, ‘Cry for The Cameras’. You seem to have a good sense of humor. 

 

What other choices do we have when we’re forced into being pacifists? I have always had a dry biting sense of humor and it comes out when it needs to. It developed from being bullied at school. Some big white kid would come mess with me and my ego would be like “I’m too smart for this shit”. Then I’d use my words and they would cry. You learn a lot about survival being the first generation in an American school. It’s exhausting though, which is why I mostly keep to myself. I would like to enjoy my life.

 

How much do you think about the future in terms of your creative process and what your output may be like, in terms of with another band or otherwise?

 

I’ve actually enjoyed being a side player in other people’s projects cause you learn about music in a completely different way. It’s more technical and the pressure’s off cause all you are responsible for is listening to the bandleader and playing your part the best you can. When it’s your own project you have to wear so many hats, make no money, and be perfect all the time, while everyone else shits on you. It’s a sad existence.

I am getting older and I find that music belongs to a different generation now, so it’s time for me to try other things that fit my age. It would be different if I was in some kind of Radiohead-type band where we’re making money, therefore I can continue touring till whenever, but unfortunately for me, that’s not the case. You can only be a poor “up and coming” act for so long till you have to change how you are incorporating music into your life. That said, I never compromised and always made the albums I wanted to make, mistakes and all. I’m really proud of that, but yeah switching gears and making old people art like films and writing has crossed my mind.

 

 

I first came to love your music through hearing The Happy Hookers and specifically, touring with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. You must get asked about this a lot, I presume so I apologize for being another lazy interviewer. What was it like being a part of his tour?  

 

It was amazing! I have very fond memories of my time with them. I learned a lot and became a stronger performer cause he was just throwing me out there alone in front of an arena full of people who were only there to see them. What a challenge! He is definitely one of the kindest most generous artists I’ve ever met. I’m lucky they took a chance on me.

 

What are your thoughts on musical influences? 

 

I still love the feeling of discovering something and becoming obsessed with it. I’m very much a listener and consumer of art who needs to develop my own relationship with what I’m consuming. I think that’s why I don’t automatically listen to new music. I’m not susceptible to marketing campaigns or doing what everyone else is doing. I remember being obsessed with Gun Club in my early 20s when everyone else was listening to whatever generic brand of NYC/Brooklyn indie music that was being released at the time. It took me 6 years after Is This It came out to genuinely dig the Strokes.  I was at a New Year’s Party w/o my abusive partner at the time. Someone turned on Hard To Explain and I was high and dancing and everyone there was so rad and happy. I felt so young and free. I hadn’t felt that way in a really long time. It also gave me so much joy to love something I knew “he” had hated so much. I’ll never forget that moment.

 

What kind of influence of being a New Yorker have on you?

 

A lot of problem-solving, a lot of noise, and a lot of keeping it short. New York doesn’t have time for one’s 8 min opus and I love that. Take the fillers out. I’ve always been a creative person but didn’t really try it publicly till my early 20s. I studied music as a kid, bombed many recitals, and was always thought of as an unfocused, lazy underachiever throughout my childhood. For a while, I believed it, until I found myself hauling a baby-sized coffin with my heavy ass harmonium on a hand truck over the Williamsburg Bridge just to play an open mic. I didn’t see myself as being lazy after that.

 

How has that changed in the years since you started?

 

 It’s tough to keep the same momentum. There’s so much negative in the music industry, you can really lose why you do it in the first place. Every time I put out an album I ask myself “why am I still doing this?” then I forget I felt that way, get back into my zone, and start writing again.

 

‘Portrait Of A Lady’ is out now

Gaspar Noe: “I feel that I’m more serene with these two concepts we call life and death.”

Gaspar Noe

Gaspar Noe is a dangerously provocative and mind-bending filmmaker who has the ability to combine almost every element of what makes truly great cinema. In his own words, he’s already made many films that have, “scared people, turned them on, or made them laugh.”

I would also add that he’s also managed to bore us, or maybe just I, to tears (his 3-D porno ‘Love’), induce horrifying and at times euphoric anxiety (‘Climax’), make most of us switch off at notable and world-famous rape scenes (‘Irreversable’) and in his first and one of my favorite film of his, (I Stand Alone), create an extreme and brilliantly nihilistic tale where even he himself appears to recommend that viewers watch at their own discretion. 

With his new film ‘Vortex’, Noe evolves further. He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2019 and published images of his time in hospital on his Instagram profile – which I initially thought of as a hoax, such is his (apparent) dark sense of humour. The result of recent trauma is  ‘Vortex’, a film about an aging couple in decline which stars legendary horror director Dario Argento in the main role of a man dealing with dementia.  Here, Gaspar Noe discusses themes of ‘Vortex’, where it came from, and his own sense of decline. 

 

 

Mr Noe, what was the origin of Vortex? 

 

I’ve been wanting to make a film with elderly people for several years. With my grandparents, then with my mother, I realized that old age involves very complex survival issues. It generates overwhelming situations in which those who have protected you most revert in turn to their childhood. So I imagined a film with an extremely simple narrative, with one person in a state of mental deterioration losing the use of language, and her grandson who has not yet mastered it, as two extremes of this brief experience that is human life. 

 

I would say that it’s your least provocative, least violent film to date. Fair comment?

 

That’s not for me to judge. While it’s my first feature film for all audiences, I’m also told that – due to the very common situation it describes, which most people are or will become familiar with – it’s the toughest. I’ve already made films that scared people, turned them on, or made them laugh. This time I wanted to make a film that made them cry as hard as I could cry, in life as at the cinema. Tears really do have a sedative effect when they come into contact with the membranes of the eyelids, which makes them one of the most pleasurable substances there is. Also, this isn’t the first time that I’ve filmed with the greatest love people older than me: it was the case with Philippe Nahon with whom I made Carne and I Stand Alone. But this time, Vortex is really inspired by recent experiences in my life, and all those ultra-brilliant loved ones whose powers of thought I saw decay and then die before my eyes. The film probably refers to the emptiness that surrounds us and in which we float. I’ve also been told that it recalls Enter the Void in the sense that its subject is the great emptiness that is life and not death. 

 

Perhaps it’s also your most radical, desperate film? 

 

Maybe, in any case not very Manichean. It’s just the story of a genetically programmed disintegration when the whole house of cards collapses. As we wrote for the Cannes Film Festival synopsis: Life is a short party that will soon be forgotten. 

 

Did you write this film following your sudden brain hemorrhage? 

 

No, not at all. I’d already thought about the subject for this film long before. On the other hand, with this stroke, from which there was very little chance that I would emerge alive or unscathed, I was catapulted onto the dark side of the moon. While I was on morphine for three weeks, I thought about my death and its consequences for all those around me, the mess I would have left behind. That’s death: the objects of a life you leave to others and that disappear in a garbage truck as quickly as memories that rot along with the brain. In any case, since the hand of destiny gave me some joyful extra time, I feel that I’m more serene with these two concepts we call life and death. In addition, the convalescence that was imposed on me, followed by this fabulous collective experience of confinement linked to a virus, allowed me to spend months discovering the greatest melodramas of Mizoguchi, Naruse and the unjustly forgotten Kinoshita, whose melancholy, cruelty and aesthetic inventiveness reminded me what truly great cinema could be. 

 

Was it a commando shoot? 

 

I wrote a 10-page text, that grew to 14 pages when I expanded the bodies of the characters to deposit it at the CNC (laughs). Canal + committed and I got the ‘avance sur recettes’ (advance on receipts) for the first time. I shot in April, over 25 days, and finished on May 8th. I had an editing room on set and, since we didn’t have very long shooting days, I started editing right away, in the evenings, on weekends. It was very fast, especially the post-production before Cannes, but I love speed. It worked well for Fassbinder, it worked well for all the great Japanese directors in the 60s. Why do slowly what you can do quickly? 

 

When did you have the idea for the split-screen? 

 

The story of the film is very commonplace, it’s just something that happens quite naturally for people aged 80 and over that their children must manage. And these situations are so heavy day-to-day that most of those over 50 carry them like individual curses that they’re almost ashamed to talk about. For the form, I envisaged something almost documentary, without written dialogue, and on a single set, as realistic as possible. The only aesthetic position I took was to film some scenes in split-screen to emphasize the shared loneliness of this couple, but I hadn’t planned to do so over the entire duration of the film. The first week I only shot a few sequences with two cameras, but in the editing room I realized that when one of the characters left the frame, leaving us alone with the other, I really wanted to continue to see what he or she was doing at the same time. Reality is the sum of the perceptions of those who make it. And since there’s nothing more boring in cinema than this artificial tv movie language that almost everyone uses I thought, as long as we’re making something as contrived as a film, why not have fun with the split-screen? So I timed the shots and filmed the missing parts to complete the sequences. The process then imposed itself from the second week of filming. It feels like we’re following two tunnels that evolve in parallel but never meet, two characters irrevocably separated by their paths in life and by the image. The camera language was a bit complex, and, as usual, I hadn’t made storyboards. It requires a good spatial logic and I was constantly solving a mental Rubik’s cube. Once again, I slept very badly at night. 

 

And your actors? 

 

My three actors were the most beautiful RollsRoyces of improvisation that I could have dreamt of. But by working with Françoise and Dario, given my admiration for them, I put myself under a lot of pressure, joyful and constructive as it was. I didn’t want to screw up, to do a lazy directing job in front of a master of the image like Dario Argento, nor dare to miss a single performance by anyone with Françoise in the film. I’ve idolized Françoise since discovering her in The Mother and the Whore, even though Jean Eustache’s use of ultra-precisely written dialogues is the exact opposite of what I try to do. When Dario agreed to act in the film, I had less than a fortnight to find his son. I thumbtacked photos of Françoise and Dario on a wall and asked myself who could be physically credible as their child. Then I thought of Alex Lutz. I’d seen Guy by chance and was blown away by his performance. I stuck his photo next to his parents’ and it worked perfectly. We met, and he was available. And when he told me he had himself directed Guy from a 10-page screenplay, I figured we were well suited! 

 

With this more ‘grown-up’ film, you may even risk getting good reviews. 

 

Most great films are massacred when they’re released, and the worst ones are venerated…So I don’t care. To paraphrase Pasolini, what we do is more important than what we say. Vortex might be more ‘adult’ than my other films. But, I Stand Alone and my short SIDA aside, I feel as if I’ve only really made films about teenagers for teenagers. Today, at 57, perhaps I’m finally entering adulthood a little. I am getting into an unkown world.

 

Thank you.

 

Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Horace Panter: “Our message was serious but our music was uplifting”

The Specials emerged from an era of British music like few others; one that combined the influences of both homegrown political dissidence and Jamaican dance-house music. In the late 1970s, The Specials produced the first and finest combination of multi-racial (and also collaborative) music that the UK had ever seen, inventing the term ‘Two Tone’ in the process. Many since then have tried to hold the cue, but few have managed to do so or execute with such originality. I do doff my hat to those who have tried. In terms of being related to the quality of ‘ska’ music The Specials dealt (and continue to deal) in,  I can only raise the name of the Fat White Family, a band who seldom sound in the same genre, but do very much carry the energy, wave of originality, popular tunes, humour, and indeed political messages of The Specials. The common political message can be left up to the reader to decide. 

Horace Panter was in the Specials and played Bass in their original and current line up. These days, he’s very eager to get The Specials back touring (COVID forgiving) and also spends his time working with his own Pop-Art, adapting to being a ‘technophobe’, whilst also on the verge of being a grandfather. Felten Ink caught up with Mr Panter to discuss such matters. 

 

Horace, what is the difference between being a ‘musician’ and an ‘artist’? 

 

Being a musician gives instant feedback. If you’re doing good, an audience applauds or your bandmates acknowledge you. If you’re doing bad, you know about it pretty quickly too. There is a lot of adrenaline involved! With painting, the satisfaction and contentment is something internal. I guess, to use a pop psychology word, it’s ‘mindful’. The validation from an audience comes more slowly but it is there. I get a kick every time someone buys one of my paintings.

 

To me your own artwork looks like it would come under the term ‘pop art’? 

 

Yes, I’d say I follow the Pop tradition. I take everyday objects and paint them, elevating the mundane. Andy Warhol had his soup cans, I have my cassettes, Japanese Vending Machines, American diners. I don’t mind people putting structure around my work – it doesn’t affect how or what I paint.

 

Do you look at everyday things and feel the need to make something?

 

I look at all genres of art (which is why I miss being able to go to galleries/exhibitions). Everything inspires me: it could be a colour or a shape or an object that suddenly takes on a specific meaning that I think could be transferred to a painting. A fellow artist once said to me ‘lots of people can draw/paint to a level that is extraordinarily but, as an artist, you have to have an idea’. I’d say it’s far harder to have an idea than it is to be technically brilliant. I don’t want to follow trends in art though I’m aware of them. I guess my strongest influences come from Pop Art, given that I was a child of the 60s when everything ‘cool’ came from across the pond: pop music, art, fashion. I love Peter Blake’s work but he was also influenced by American Pop culture.

 

What has being a musician taught you (if anything) about your own exploration into making your own art – to me your artwork doesn’t seem too personal?

 

As a musician, I’m a team player. I need a drummer and other musicians to create my music; it’s collaborative. I always refer to my art as ‘my solo album’. The work stands or falls on its own merit and by my own efforts. I have done a few pieces of ‘personal’ art but I keep them for myself!

 

I would love you to share some… I’ll keep it a secret, I promise. When is the best time for you to work, create, and why?

 

I prefer to paint in the daylight (natural light) which has been difficult with the short winter days. After walking the dog I spend most of the day in the studio but I do go out to see my printer or framer a couple of times a week. I try to take a break at weekends but if I’m on a roll, that often goes out of the window. The painting itself dictates how I work I guess.

 

It seems to me there are perhaps few other modern bands continuing the work of The Specials. Do they exist?

 

Where are the new Specials? I think various aspects of The Specials are observable in a lot of British music – the reggae/ska influence, the dance style, but nothing has come that close. Jerry (Dammers) once said he thought that Galliano were like The Specials. There are, of course, bands that, lyrically, resemble the band, but I think our USP was the message and the dance. Our message was serious but our music was uplifting.

 

I once read you saying nice things about Sleaford Mods (not my bag, to be honest).  Personally, I think Fat White Family are one of the greatest bands currently on earth who at least share the attitude of a band like The Specials. What else is are you into musically?

 

I’m not familiar with Fat White Family – I’ll look them up – but Terry thinks highly of them. I thought the Sleaford Mods were mesmeric performers and it was great to have them on tour with us. I don’t listen to too many new acts (where do you find them these days if you don’t have Spotify… I don’t because I’m a bit of a technophobe!). I think my vast knowledge of rock’n’roll is something of a millstone around my neck. Everything I hear seems to sound like something else – spot the influence if you will. I have tickets to see The Drive By Truckers in June in London, re-scheduled from last year… I hope they play. Bands send me stuff on social media and, now and again, I prick up my ears and listen to a song all the way through. These days I’m quite impatient, if it sounds generic in the first few bars, I’m gone. I’m not cynical, maybe just have too many tunes in my head already!

 

I first got into the Specials in the days of indie dance floors back in my late teens/ early 20s (a long time ago now). Why do you think The Specials continue to be so important for newer generations? 

 

Well, firstly: The tunes are great. The lyrics are easy to sing and are still relevant. The rhythms are irresistible. The live shows are full on – 100% full tilt celebration. Got your ticket for the 2021 gig yet?

 

Not yet, but… How has this ongoing lockdown treated you and have you been able to develop or at least maintain yourself as an artist, i.e. your own artwork and with the band?

 

All the Specials’ work for 2020 was rescheduled for 2021. Then, even our 2021 tour was put back from March/April to September/October. Between the lockdowns I did three small gigs, two with a Cajun/Zydeco outfit and one with a Blues band. They were all great and made me realise how dependent I am on performing as a release. During this current lockdown I’m one miserable mother-fucker. There’s only so much you can practice playing the bass! Art-wise, I’ve never been busier. There are new projects and new opportunities, making it an exciting time. Counter-intuitively, people have still been buying art, which is great for me. I’ve managed to paint a whole new series of cassettes which will be exhibited in the next couple of months. Obviously, the exhibition will be virtual which takes some of the fun out of it as it’s nice to build up to a physical exhibition and to meet people at the opening. Nothing is as usual though is it? I stay home, walk my dog in the countryside twice a day and do everything I can to stay sane!

 

What has this current situation given you that normal life would have restricted? 

 

We (my wife and I) moved house a week before the first lockdown, from Coventry to a small village in Warwickshire. Love it. We have spent our time since then exploring the area, finding remote places to walk the dog (border terrier called Mijj!), had builders in, who have been great company… builders always are aren’t they! As well as concentrating on painting, I’ve had lots of time to read and think. Our son and daughter-in-law moved from South London to Warwick just before Christmas. It is a huge frustration that we can only see them in a socially-distanced situation, so no long boozy dinners together! I miss playing Blues/Cajun/Zydeco in pubs. Socialising in general. Visiting museums and art galleries. I was planning a road to trip to visit friends in the USA so god knows when that will be possible!

 

I don’t want to spend too much time on COVID but as it’s affecting everyone – what are your own thoughts on how the UK is dealing with it? Will we get back to normal (I tend to think aside from pubs and gigs, normality was overrated)?

 

I don’t think there was a single country in the world that was prepared for the virus (except perhaps Taiwan). We had to make it up as we went along didn’t we. There were always going to be conflicting interpretations of scientific data and weighing up the economic consequences. I don’t think we’ve felt those consequences fully yet. The performing arts industry has been decimated. The current debacle about musicians/performers needing permits to perform in Europe is a farce that needs to be fixed. Maybe bands like The Specials can take that on the chin, given they have a management structure capable of sorting all that out. It is young bands and musicians (including choirs, small opera companies, etc) that will feel it as they often go out on a shoestring budget and they won’t be able to absorb the extra costs. I’m just hoping to play in pubs again!

 

I’m now in my mid-30s and feel it – does one chill out more as they get older – You’re 67 now so what does age do to you?

 

Haha! It makes me jealous of anyone who is 30 years younger! Stuart Copeland once said to me “musicians stay younger longer” – I hold to that thought constantly!! Less angry, sure. More chilled, sure. Without the mist of anger I have been able to think more deeply about things like politics… I’m less reactive and more contemplative. I look for context in everything, despite the fact that context is often obscured. I see that MSM and social media are designed to make me angry so I back off. I’m going to be a grandfather this year and that gives me a deep sense of joy. The personal stuff, family, friends, etc., is the important stuff. 

 

In terms of your artwork, I love your cassette art in particular – how do you choose who to stick on there. I was thinking you should do a mixtape version and link to a playlist on Spotify… with the help of the one they call ‘Alexa’? 

 

With the cassettes there are self-imposed boundaries. Circa 1970 – Circa 1995 are the boundaries. Having said that, more bands are recording and releasing cassettes as they have achieved a kind of iconic status. All the cassettes are the same dimensions. The interesting bits are small, overlooked factors like the screws (do they have screws?), or the window. Are there numbers folded into the front place under the window? (what use were these anyway?). These small factors inform how the cassette looks. Yes, I only do bands I like. No way would I do an Abba cassette – or Queen! Don’t even mention Queen! Having said that, my new series doesn’t feature bands/songs; it celebrates the object alone and I’ve concentrated on design/colour. The idea of Alexa scares me shitless!

 

I agree with you on ABBA, God forbid Alexa decided to play me that. Are you ever bored with making music?

 

Never! Music is such a wonderful thing to be able to perform. I can’t possibly imagine my life without it. Now and again I get fed up with a painting I’m doing so I’ll put it aside or scrap it. I never get fed up playing music!

 

Are you cynical about older bands getting back together to tour or make new music? I don’t wish to be crude, but making money is important – thoughts?

 

Well, at my age, I ain’t in it for the travel and I do have a family to support. I would by lying to you if I said that the money didn’t matter. You might be surprised that I still have a mortgage and I don’t have a pension plan, or even a new (or old) BMW! I have never been close to being a millionaire, more’s the pity haha! My accountant says that in a good year I make about the same as the average builder. The Specials is a big band with a large crew, the cost of doing a tour is eye-watering. Regardless, I love it! Being with Terry (Hall) and Lynval (Golding) and the gang is like being with family… we have decades of history!

 

Interview with Horace Panter – January 2021. To be continued…

www.horacepanterart.com

Abdel Bendaher: “I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed”

Samir Guesmi’s directorial feature debut is described as being a ‘rites of passage’ in which a father and son will slowly grow to know and understand each other when ‘botched robbery’ and the need to satisfy older friends offer no end of conflict. Newcomer Abdel Bendaher plays Ibrahim, a youth hell-bent on finding himself and others at the same time. Here, Abdel Bendaher answers some questions about the role itself, working with director Samir Guesmi and finding his own feet in when dipping his toes into the world of filmmaking. 

 

Abdel, How did you end up being a part of this project? 

 

It was a bit of an eventful Sunday for me and my friends: we went to watch a friend – totally outclassed by older players – play a football match. At half time we dropped our ball near the spot where Samir Guesmi was. I felt he was staring at me. With his motorcycle helmet in hand and big as he is, we thought he was a cop! He introduced himself, and explained he was a director and actor. We didn’t believe him. He had to show us his Wikipedia page with a photo before we took him seriously. Then he asked if he could film us. Weeks went by and Christel Baras, the casting director, contacted me. I did a test with her first, then more casting sessions. I gave myself completely each time, because I felt the pressure mounting and I wanted to believe in this. When I found out I’d got the part I was really happy! 

 

What was your relationship with cinema before this experience?

 

 I only went to the cinema to watch American blockbusters. But with my best friend we often fantasied about making a film about our friendship and the bullshit we used to come up with together. Now I’ve started to watch French cult films, I’m opening myself up to cinema and it fascinates me. 

 

Do you remember your reaction when you read the script of IBRAHIM 

I remember feeling it was really alive. I was immersed and I believed in everything I was reading. I quickly identified with Ibrahim, who is a high school student like me. He’s shy and reserved too. It was easy to project myself into this role. I liked the friendship between Ibrahim and Achilles as I much as his relationship with his father and the connection he develops with Louisa.

 

What did you tell yourself about Ibrahim? The truth? 

 

Nothing! I told myself I was going to play Ibrahim as I am. I understood that’s why I had been chosen, that I should stay as close to who I am in life to play the role of Ibrahim. I just thought he was an unlucky boy, not a victim. He wants to do things right and avoid problems, but his mate Achilles involves him in his bullshit and exerts a big influence on him. I also think he and his father love each other very much, but don’t dare tell each other. Ibrahim is a very observant character… Like me! I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed. I’m a champion at looking away if someone I’m looking at turns his head towards me. So I had no trouble finding the right attitude for Ibrahim, and Samir helped me a lot too. He guided my gaze, sometimes even during scenes. 

 

How did Samir direct you, in other respects? 

 

He told me to not act, to be natural. The fact that he himself is an actor helped me. During the first weeks we shot the scenes in Ibrahim’s and his father’s apartment. They were complicated scenes, because their relationship is complicated. The first days, Samir didn’t want to talk to me. He had warned me that the beginning of the shoot would be tough, and he piled the pressure on me. That’s how I felt about it anyhow, and it did help me to find the right emotions for the film. At first I concentrated on my character; I was in my corner and repeated the lines to myself, I was hunched up, like Ibrahim. I quickly felt I was the character. Bit by bit I understood this was Samir’s strategy, but I didn’t hold it against him. All the more so since at the end of the first week he came to talk to me and explained why he had talked to me so little at first. Little by little I started to feel more at ease with everyone. 

 

Did you manage to forget the camera?

 

Only after several days. I got used to it gradually. I also had to get used to the crew, I was a bit overwhelmed by all these people around me. What helped me was being invited to participate in the location scouting. I got to know some technicians and quickly felt accepted. But on set, I was intimidated. It was really intense, and I felt there was no room for mistakes. I didn’t know that films were made like that. I thought you shot in front of a green screen with dialogues written on cards! Those first days were crazy – hallucinated the first few days: no comparison! 

 

How did you find your character physically? Did the wardrobe help… the chapka hat for example?

 

Yes, even if at the beginning I thought that the shoes I had to wear were lousy! These must have dated from the time of Louis XVI, these trainers! I swear to God! I wore a chapka hat, a coat, had a green bag… At first when we shot the scenes at the high school, with kids around us who hadn’t necessarily understood we were shooting a film, I was a little ashamed in these ugly clothes! But it allowed me to feel like Ibrahim. The chapka hat physically defines his character. He wears it all the time, he’s attached to it. When Ibrahim takes it off the people who look at him feel they are discovering a new face. 

 

Did you see Samir’s short film, C’EST DIMANCHE! before the shoot? 

 

This short film helped me. It doesn’t describe the same father-son relationship but it gave me clues. 

 

How did you work with the other actors? 

 

They were all older than me and had experience on films. They acted like big brothers and sisters to me. They helped me a lot and made me feel at ease, by rehearsing my lines with me between takes, for example. 

 

Were you able to leave this role easily? How did you emerge from this first film experience? 

 

When I went back to school after filming, I was shyer than before, as if Ibrahim had rubbed off on me. But that changed quickly, particularly when I was back with my friends. It’s funny, because at the beginning, I was in a hurry for this shoot to be over with. But at the end, I was sad and wanted to start again as soon as possible. I really want to carry on acting. I know how lucky I was to have met Samir. I’ve always loved the idea of trusting my destiny. Samir arrived at the right time: I had bad grades in third grade, I wasn’t sure which way to head. This film has changed everything for me. I’m like a new person, in a way, thanks to this film. It is also the first step towards the professional world. When I finished the shoot, I was a bit proud of myself, without having become big-headed. Just proud to have taken on a challenge and to have been able to play a part in a beautiful film.

With thanks to the lovely people at Wild Bunch. 

 

Deji Ijishakan: “I felt like I had to act like Zarathustra in a sense… just go to war with ideas”

Deji Ijishakan is a 21-year-old jazz musician from south London, his primary instrument being the tenor saxophone. Over a relatively short time he’s developed an eclectic and unique musical personality, infusing his passion for philosophy into his music, and forging an entirely new subgenre he calls jazz-drill. He plays in a number of jazz and fusion bands including Levitation Orchestra, Nihilism and Hypernova Militia. Over the lockdown he’s started releasing his own solo work under the name Xvngo. Ashwin Tharoor sat down with Deji to talk about his music, philosophical influences and new projects.

 

Deji, Xvngo [Shango] is your stage name, right? Where did that come from?

 

It actually originates from a Yoruba god, an Orisha in the Yoruba tradition. They have their own their pantheon and like, Shango was the god of thunder, fire and willpower. I was inspired by that.

 

How was your lockdown?

 

It’s been really up and down you know. I’ve had some really high moments, like for instance I just started releasing my music under the alias Xvngo, as a solo artist. I also finished my degree, got into the Masters I wanted to do and started a business. At the same time, in other areas it’s been quite negative. I know someone quite dear to me who’s been affected by coronavirus. I’d definitely say it’s been more positive than it has been negative.

 

That’s good to hear.

 

I think it’s good to go through some difficult times, because it makes you stronger, psychologically.

 

So, when did you start playing music?

 

I’ll never forget my earliest memory engaging with music, I think I must’ve been like 8 or 7 years old. It was on a laptop, not a music programming laptop or anything like that. There was this programme on there, for a game or something. I remember there being a wizard involved. I remember playing on a keyboard that allowed you to play [music] with the keyboard of the laptop. Testing sounds and being like, oh wow, what is this!

 

Did you have any big musical influences in your family or at home?

 

Funnily enough, one of my uncles is a saxophone player. And my dad forced me to play the keyboard when I was quite young, and at first, I was against it. Even though I must’ve shown him some type of musical inclination. But yeah, he wanted me to play and I was rebellious at first but then I really got into it and began to love it. So, my dad was a big musical influence, and then growing up throughout secondary school I was very much involved in music.

 

What about your first musical love, in terms of an artist or a band?

 

The first really profound musical love I had was for John Coltrane. I’d say when I learnt about Charlie Parker, I was like, wow, this is amazing. I was about 13 years old, so I was quite lucky to be introduced to bebop music. The way that I got into bebop is quite funny. I’d been playing the piano up until I was 13, and I used to go to this mentorship. And, at the time I listened to a lot of hip-hop music and my mentor looked at all the music I was listening to and he was just cussing me out for like an hour, and he was telling me I need to stop listening to this stuff.

 

What was he cussing you out for?

 

Like, he has quite a conservative taste in music, listens to Ben Webster and that type of thing. He said like anything after the 1980s is almost sacrilegious music (laughs), you know what I mean? But yeah, he was cussing me out for listening to like MGK, Giggs, Waka Flocka Flame, even Jamie Fox.

 

Sounds like he didn’t like hip-hop at all.

 

Yeah, he was very anti-hip-hop. And then after that, out of fear, I started listening to some jazz music. And I was like, you know, I really like this. Once I’d been introduced to it in that way I really began to fall in love with it. Then I started playing the clarinet. But when I found Charlie Parker as a result of this awakening, this jazz awakening, it really blew my mind. I couldn’t believe someone could make a sound like that, like a human being. I really couldn’t even comprehend. Now that I play bebop, and I can take the lines and I can play it, it’s kinda different. But when you’re standing completely beholden to it…

 

With no conception of how it’s made…

 

Yeah, it’s just so sublime. And then time went on, I kept on listening to jazz, and I found John Coltrane. It was beyond sublimity with Coltrane, because you could just see a man on a journey with music. And, he’s just leaving everything else behind, he doesn’t care about anything. He’s almost channelling – like he’s a vessel for his own unconscious mind. All the potential things in his brain, that he could release, to do with music. Like he’s trying to exhaust his whole potential musically. Which is such a beautiful thing to see.

 

I really like the way you put it. So, which jazz musicians do you really like on the scene today?

 

Well I’d say in terms of modern guys, I’d say like Joe Armon-Jones. I love his music; I play with him as well. Moses Boyd as well, really good music, KOKOROKO, Wonky Logic just put out some music. There’s hella people, Ezra [Collective]. And then you got other people like Levitation Orchestra, PYJÆN. I really like Empirical, another modern UK jazz band. There’s a lot of heads lying about doing some sick stuff, taking all different angles towards the music.

 

So as far as I know, you’re in four bands? Hypernova Militia, Levitation Orchestra, Nihilism and KOKOROKO? Is that last one correct?

 

Yeah, I’m not a member of KOKOROKO, but I play with them. I’m in the KOKOROKO family, but I wouldn’t call myself a member. But the other three yeah, I play in all of them.

 

Are they all active at the moment?

 

Hypernova’s active, Levitation Orchestra’s got some music coming out, Nihilism we’re gonna be getting in the studio to record an album.

 

Nice! I’ve seen Hypernova and Levitation Orchestra live and they were both amazing, but how would you differentiate the styles of the bands that you’re in?

 

With Hypernova, I’m the band leader, and the whole mission of Hypernova is one big philosophical, comical, abstract, absurdist, mess.

 

It’s off the rails.

 

The way that I approach that is gonna be way more primitive, and like almost letting your unconscious mind take control of the whole situation, whereas with Levitation Orchestra I’ll take a backseat. With Levitation Orchestra we’re all trying to write music together, so I’ll just try to contribute to the collective composition, as opposed to trying to drive it all. And with Nihilism as well it’s very collaborative, and a whole other sound world from Hypernova – which is typically bebop. The funny thing is we’re now putting the drill music with the bebop. On our EP there’s gonna be a drill track where we’re playing on it. First drill track with live horns.

 

That sounds sick, tell me more about jazz drill? And your new single Entropy?

 

Jazz-drill really started with me and Matt from Harris Westminster [our Sixth Form]. At university in first year, when I had my saxophone, I’d be hanging out with people but I’d also wanna practice and they’d be playing drill music and so I’d just play over the changes. And then, I was like, let me just keep doing this it’s good fun, it’s different. Now it’s become a thing of its own and I’m just trying to make as much of it as I can.

One thing I appreciate about being an artist and putting out music, is you can just superimpose anything you’re experiencing or anything you find interesting into the general story behind the music, the artwork, or the name of it. With Entropy, it’s a nod at this thing called the free energy principle. It’s a neuroscience theory that says your brain is an inference machine, so your brain is always trying to make predictions about reality. Once you have a system making all these predictions, it means that entropy will play a role in it. What entropy is, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, is that we’re constantly moving towards more disorder. We’re constantly moving into more micro-states than previously were. Now as a statistical machine, what does it mean for you to be moving into more micro-states, moving into more disorder? It when there’s a prediction error, it’s when the statistical machine predicts something but then is surprised when the information it gets doesn’t marry up with what it was supposed to get.

[Neuroscientist] Karl Friston has been using mathematical equations behind thermodynamics and entropy to apply it the brain, but there’s just so many implications behind it. There are even implications for psychedelic drug use. There’s this thing called the entropic brain hypothesis made by this dude called Robin Carhartt-Harris doing research at Imperial [College] about this right now. Saying how psychedelics increase the entropy of the brain, and that’s why it can help people with depression.

 

That’s really interesting. How did those ideas inform the music, if at all?

 

I don’t know if I could say that I consciously felt it informing it, but once I’d made the music, I feel like it represented that. And the music that I make is always in some way gonna be related to whatever I’m reading or whatever I’m thinking about.

 

Was there any particular inspiration for how you incorporate philosophy into your music?

 

I mean, Mr. Stone [from Harris Westminster] used to teach philosophy of music (laughs). But I can’t really think of any artists off the top of my head who used to incorporate philosophy directly into their music. I just felt like doing it, I just felt like it had to happen.

 

What do you want people to feel coming way from your gigs? Especially Hypernova, which I guess is the most…

 

Visceral!

 

Yeah!

 

I want them to feel confused, I want them to feel entertained, want them to feel like they may be learnt something. I want them to feel like they need to start questioning the way they view reality.

 

What else do you like to listen to, other than jazz?

 

I love classical music. I love Beethoven, Bach, Shostakovich, Vivaldi, I love Vivaldi. I love Stravinsky as well. Other than jazz music, I mainly listen to classical music. Listen to some dub, listen to some drill music. But I also listen to some indie rock stuff, I listen to whatever I’m feeling.

 

Yeah, nice! You gotta have a mix. What’s on the horizon for you, in terms of new music you’re making or releasing?

 

Hypernova records the EP this weekend, that’s gonna be released sometime before I die. (Laughs)

 

Fingers crossed.

 

In terms of my solo project I’ve always got music coming out. I’ve got another single coming out in the next three weeks. You can always rely on me to have a single coming out.

 

I know you’re an avid reader of philosophy, but when did that start?

 

When we were at Sixth Form, I was into philosophy but I never really read it properly. Mr Stone actually inspired me quite a lot. And from then on, I was very much into metaphysics, Plato, Kant as well. Having that philosophical viewpoint helped me when I got to university, but I think my real engagement with philosophy started when I started watching Rick and Morty. There was a period in my life, I think Year 13, when I used to believe a load of these crazy theories, like some batshit crazy theories. Then I remember watching Rick and Morty, and seeing Rick and seeing how much he only allowed what he believed to be dependent on logic, rationality, reason and science. That kind of broke down a lot of the way that I was perceiving things. From then on, I was introduced to Existentialism and Nihilism and started getting into Nietzsche. When I got to university, I was like I’m just gonna read as much as I can. I just devoted myself to it. I read Thus Spake Zarathustra and that changed my life.

 

How did it change your life?

 

For me, after I read that book, I felt as though anything that was some trouble or something that caused me pain, it felt more like a war. Like a righteous war. Because after reading Thus Spake Zarathustra, I felt like I had to act like Zarathustra in a sense, and like just go to war with ideas. That helped me ground myself philosophically and intellectually.

 

Since you’re the band leader of Hypernova Militia, how do you incorporate philosophy into the music live?

 

There are several ways that I do it. There are some commands that I do, I give the band commands. Some of them would be stupid shit like, ‘quantum spin’ and then everyone spins around or like ‘roid rage’ and then everyone plays this mad music. But then also I’d just randomly get on the mic and say some philosophical passages. Whenever I feel like it, within songs. I also say some political stuff like ‘free the market’ (laughs). But like, there’s philosophy always being drawn throughout the whole thing.

 

In terms of improvisation on the sax, is there a particular way you approach it? Feel free to get technical, or spiritual.

 

For me, playing the saxophone is so therapeutic. It allows me to escape into myself and let my unconscious mind just be expressed aesthetically, artistically. At first, whilst I was learning how to play the saxophone, there was various ways I would approach it technically. You know you have to learn your scales, gotta learn the harmony. But even the way that I approach harmony, I see the whole thing as one big game. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, or like a maths problem. Harmony, composing, improvisation as well.

 

When I play music with other people, I often feel a kind of metaphysical, mind-melding connection. How do you feel about that?

 

I get what you mean, there definitely is a metaphysical component to it. There’s the band right, but there’s the non-physical, non-temporal elements of the band, you know? Even if you killed every single member of Hypernova, as an idea it would still exist. Like, the meaning behind you guys playing together, and obviously the idiosyncrasies of the musicians themselves. Personally, when I play in a group setting it’s all about listening. Trying to produce something that’s conversational.

 

As someone who performed live so much are you itching to get back out there?

 

It has been a while, but one good thing about the whole lockdown is I could just focus on being in my room and studying and going on all these other intellectual journeys. So, I was able to explore that part of myself even more, and almost forget about performing. But then also, I really wanna perform. Human desires are really all muddled up.

 

How do you feel about the government’s response to the whole music industry?

 

(Laughs) I think they tried…We can’t spend an unfathomable amount of money on any project, any domestic policy, because it will cause problems for the economy in the future. And then people end up dying as a result of it, whether we like it or not. So, we have to be reasoned in what we do. I think they’ve given it a shot; they’ve tried. There’s always gonna be problems. We’re in unprecedented circumstances. I mean, I’m fundamentally a libertarian – stop the government from having too much power.

 

During lockdown you started a project with the slogan ‘Buy, Back, Build’, what was the name of it?

 

The name is Owó, and it means money or business in Yoruba.

 

What are your aims with this project?

 

So, we’re creating a black business directory app, so you can use the app to find your local black business, and you can also use it find venues and galleries and that type of thing. And, eventually, I’d also like to incorporate information on finance, and that type of thing. With that project, it was in response to the George Floyd death. For me, the reason why I made it was because I was like, I’m seeing people respond to this in a way I don’t think is gonna effect change in the long term.

 

What do you mean by that?

 

Just posting on social media this, posting on social media that, putting up black squares. There’s no long-term impact of this, this is all performative. People are like, I’m in solidarity, but people actually end up dying because of real economic problems. My whole approach, I don’t wanna be on the whole political thing, I’m more on the economic development approach to it. That’s why I decided to make the app. I think that many of the problems black people face in this country are class problems as opposed to race problems. And that’s an economic issue as opposed to a policy issue.

 

Do you not think they’re interconnected in a lot of ways? Policy and economics, but also class and race?

 

Policy and economics are definitely connected, but the reason why I favour an economic perspective on it is because policy is top-down, but economic development is bottom up. If you build a company, or you and your people build companies, then you can actually put money back into the community. You don’t have to wait for my man to change the law, so that he’ll give more money, you can actually do it yourself. I’m not a fan of top-down control, I’m not a fan of government getting involved in everything. So, I think the economic route is the most prudent thing to do.

 

Isn’t top down change necessary to provide the conditions in which black businesses can thrive?

 

Yeah, there do have to be some policy concessions, for instance allowing for small business owners to not have to pay ridiculous rates on licenses, and random regulations for starting businesses. Freeing up the market basically, but especially for small business owners. Yeah, we need policy change to happen, but if you take the economic route first, the policy won’t even matter to you.

 

Finally, what would you say to the thousands of young musicians coming up now, trying to do stuff and be original?

 

First thing I’d say is, listen to as much music as you can, so you can see what you’re naturally disposed towards and hone in on that. Another thing I’d say is, know that there’s gonna be times when you feel like you’re not perfect at your craft, but that’s the whole point of it. It’s the whole point of it. It’s a dialectical process, you know what I mean? You need to come up against the problems and then get through the other side. So, keep fighting the good fight, keep making that music, keep listening to music and just do your thing.

 

I think that’s about it. Thanks a lot for chatting with me.

 

My pleasure bro.

 

You can follow Deji on Instagram at @xvngo and his bands:

@hypernova.militia

@levitationspacebase

@nihilismband_official

Ashwin Tharoor is a 22-year-old graduate living in London with a passion for music, writing and visual media.

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