Continues to Find ‘Outliers’ in his DJ curations and touches down for colossal Denver show at Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum
Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum | August 2
By Michael Chary
Photo by Dan Medhurst
Malcolm Gladwell’s third book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” is very much like his other works, where he takes seemingly complex cultural mores and breaks them down into something easily and unexpectedly comprehensible. In the case of “Outliers,” he examines how most successful people achieved their prominence, for reasons mostly contrary to what society imagined them to be. “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have the strength and presence of mind to seize them,” he wrote.
It’s a thesis that seems appropriate for the gentle persona of Simon Green, a.k.a. Bonobo; one of the most highly-respected names in electronic music production of the past 20 years, who demurely cites Gladwell’s book as the titular inspiration for his Outlier series of music curation.
“Yeah, me and a friend were sat at a pub in London one day and were chatting about Malcom Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ which was fresh in my mind,” Green told The Marquee during a recent interview. “It just refers to what it refers to, which is people out there doing their own thing, I guess. It’s only really a reflection of what I’m into; a reflection of my own taste really, and the idea was to just have a banner underneath all of these extra things away from just making records and touring.”
The banner he refers to is just one step shy of a record label, something he says he’s been averse to over the years, despite maybe an overarching expectation for him to go down that path.
“I still don’t feel like I need to do a label, I just think it’s such an investment and I don’t want to do it in a half-assed way,” Green said. “Yeah, when I think about doing a label, it opens up a whole ’nother area. I haven’t seen many artist labels get to the point where they’re as relevant as general indie labels. So, we’ll see, but I don’t think so. I think Outlier is really everything but the label.”
For now, it seems, Green is content exploring the spontaneity of the live DJ set, touring and finding inspiration in the ephemeral, transitory nature of what suits his momentary tastes. It’s a sentiment that maybe speaks to his nature as an outlier — someone who seizes sonic opportunities when they present themselves, as opposed to what the layman might perceive his creative workflow to be: a meticulous composition of classical production deftly mixed with contemporary dance music.
“I could make a song on the plane today and play that tonight, which I often do,” Green said. “I think a lot of music has come from DJing and making music to play in the club, like Kerala, which is something I made for a DJ tour in the U.S., before I began playing and tweaking it every night. So, I’ve started thinking that DJing is a really good way of being more spontaneous and playing new ideas straight away. Also, it’s less work, you don’t have to be in the studio hitting snare drums all afternoon.”
It may come as a surprise that Green still enjoys playing ad hoc DJ sets in dank, sweaty clubs, especially after a decades-long career that boasts six highly-acclaimed albums, world tours with 12-piece live bands, and Red Rocks headlining spots among other illustrious venues worldwide, but he is a man of his pedigree. One who not only recognizes and appreciates the cyclical nature of the electronic scene, but also knows where to find the new and exciting forms in that periodicity, like the burgeoning scene of electronic music coming out of Africa.
On his last LP, Migration, one of the stand-out tracks, “Bambo Koyo Ganda,” incorporated the sounds of gnawa music, an African-Islamic spiritual heritage out of Morocco. He even brought the traditional group of artists he recorded for the album on tour with him. And that appreciation for the traditional percussive sounds of the African continent has maintained its presence on Green’s Outlier sets, with tracks like “Malukayi” by Mbongwana Star and Konono No1, two Congolese musical acts out of Kinshasa.
“Generally, there’s always been a dialogue between African music and dance music,” Green said. “And now there’s a big house movement in South Africa. Recently, I was DJing in Johannesburg and the scene there is crazy. I did a workshop in the Langa townships in Capetown. I was talking to 18-year-olds there and everyone is into electronic music and everyone is making house, there’s this crazy scene there.”
“And it’s comparable, I guess (to Europe and the U.S.), but the scene in Europe is changing all the time, like the young kids are into really hard techno — that seems to be the vibe out there, in the same way the EDM scene took over in the U.S. in the late 2000s. It seems like that kind of energy for Europe, but for like really, brutally hard techno, like very fast, distorted 909 techno. It’s sort of interesting, you notice that it’s changed again and there’s a movement. But the U.S., I feel, is a good place for it right now, everyone seems to be really on board for club culture in a positive way.”
Maybe that has something to do with the reason Green calls the U.S. home, away from his native U.K., as his style often lends itself more to some of the experimental elements of American music and the receptivity to scenes it tends to attract. According to Green, those scenes are what the latest Outlier tour wants to cultivate. On the heels of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Bonobo’s Denver stop is booked at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum — a converted 182,000 sq. ft. airplane hangar that functions as a space and aviation museum during the day packed with vintage fighter jets and various aircraft.
“We were trying to look for unique spaces that make it an extra bit more special,” Green said. “So yeah, we looked at a bunch of places and being able to get ahold of this for the day was kind of a no-brainer really. All the planes are going to be in there and we’re going to light everything up and make a feature of the space, so it’s not just a stage versus audience thing — the whole room is the experience. That’s kind of always what I’ve done, in terms of DJing and coming from more of a club perspective where, there’s less of a focus on a performance. It’s not like a room watching a dude playing records, it’s more about the party, it’s more about the environment and the space, which is what we wanted to do with this one.”
Wings Over The Rockies Air & Space Museum | August 2
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- Four Tet