Exclusive Interview with Glyn “Bigga” Bush!

Science dropped by Martini & Jopparelli. Sep-27-2009

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It was exactly one year ago when we had the chance to talk with Glyn “Bigga” Bush. Actually it was not a real conversation as we asked him to freely talk about himself. That was a great post indeed but what about a real chat in order to know more about him and his music? We thought it was a good idea and he has been helpful and friendly as usual. Enjoy!

In the short autobiography you did for us last year, you explained how you moved from the city to a quieter venue. Do you think this affected your tastes in music and production style?

At first not at all but I’ve been here nearly 13 years now and I’m definitely much less interested in what’s going on musically in urban places now.  I still hear “urban” (with a small “u”, not the euphemism for black music) music that turns me on but I don’t much interest in clubs or the latest fads in dance music.  In terms of production my style hasn’t been changed by the country environment as far as I can tell.

In the 90′s you toured in Europe and USA playing in clubs. Are you still up to play in rave parties and clubs? Or are you are more oriented towards more laid out situations like live sets in small clubs?

I rarely get asked to play in clubs any more and don’t particularly miss it.  My favourite gig would be a small party, even a house party but I still really like playing at festivals, either chillout or a party set.

How do you see the club scene evolving from the 90s to now? Was it better back then, or what? Do you like the club music out now?

It was better for me because I’d just discovered it and it was a very exciting time to be involved in music.  If I were 30 years younger I’d probably feel the same now, but you get into different things as you get older. It’s inevitable that we look back and see things through rosy tinted specs in some ways but I feel I’ve really moved on from that scene.  Having said that I still enjoy a good party and appreciate the way the underground is always throwing up new and interesting stuff.  I suppose I’m a bit more cynical now about how new stuff gets jumped on by people who want to make money rather than make music.

How has your way of making music changed over the years? Do you use the latest equipment, or do you prefer using vintage machines ?

It’s changed primarily in that I’m much more interested in using the computer as a super-deluxe tape machine to record real instruments after which it’s a process of editing as well as mixing.  I don’t spend much time looking for samples any more, although I still have things on my hard drive that get me started or serve a purpose when I’m working on something.  But it’s a long way from how I worked in Rockers Hi Fi when the sampler was king. I’ve done my gear-whore thing and I’m really over it now – in fact I don’t have any vintage machines other than an old Korg monophonic synth which is fun but doesn’t get used very much. I’m more excited about my Burns 12 string guitar!

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How do you build a track usually? Tell us a little bit about your creative process. We’re particularly curious about your rock-solid, warm basslines: do you build your tracks around them or you throw them in later?

The bass rarely comes first; if it’s a track with beats then I’ll probably start with a loop and then jam along on guitar till I get something to work with.  Then I’ll probably get the bass guitar out and do the same.  In the past I would always use a keyboard bass sound as (with Rockers) we had a couple of modules that were great for enormously fat basslines.  And I still have one of them which I use a lot (which is called Fujiha D9e for all you tech-nerds out there); but when I was making the last album (13 Faces of Lightning Head) it wasn’t the right sound for afrobeat so I got into playing the bass more.  Plus I was really inspired by old African records where the bass would have one string that was wildly out of tune – probably due to the neck being warped in the heat – and that was an effect I tried to recreate on some of the album tracks.

If I’m making a BiggaBush track I’m more likely to use a synth bass as I suppose it’s part of my signature sound. So the Fujiha will get an airing.

Recently we did an interview to Mike Love where he explained to us how he discovered Fela and the Afrobeat. Can you tell us about the path that brought you to the 70s West African sound? What was the aspect of this music that impressed you most?

Not Mike Love of the Beach Boys surely? Anyway I came to this music firstly through a newspaper article I read in about 2001 – about a guy called Duncan Brooker who travelled round Africa collecting vinyl and brought out a comp called Afro Rock on Kona records – which is a great album. Then I discovered the Soundway label in Brighton, England and sent one of my embryonic afro tunes to Miles Cleret, the label founder, along with Studio Don (the first Lightning Head album).

He was into what I was doing and agreed to meet me and ended up playing me a lot of his own vinyl collection, sourced in West Africa.  I was blown away, took copious notes and went back into the studio which a much clearer idea of what I wanted to do for the next album.  What appealed to me was the style of drumming – tight, funky but not playing conventional American type grooves – plus the out of tune bass and the clipped guitar playing.  It was like hearing James Brown refracted through an alien looking-glass.  It appealed to me in the exactly the same way as reggae covers of soul and pop hits does: it’s a bit wonky but it retains some of the original spirit and then adds a load of its own exuberance.  I came to Fela later on, really hadn’t heard him properly at this point.  When I did the track that got me was “Coffin For Head of State”, which is just beautiful, a long long track with all of the anger and the pain and the defiance and righteousness you can imagine (it being written following the Nigerian authorities raid on Fela’s house in which they physically attacked everyone and threw his mother out of a window; she later died of her injuries).

But Fela is really very different to a lot of the other artists and bands from that time.  He’s out there on his own.  The stuff that really inspired me was I guess more like the African pop music of its day. Short tracks, hooks, brass riffs, crazy little call-and-response things, and of course tight grooves.

Your album 13 Faces of Lighting Head and of course your Afrobeat EP have been shaped on this African sound. How did you manage the production of such great tracks as Afro Spot (our favourite one), considering the fact you were relatively new to this “Afro” elements? I mean, you did a terrific job at your first try…

Well it took me a while to get it right, both in terms of sound and playing and production.   I worked on that album on and off for four years.  So I had to listen to a lot of authentic stuff and try to emulate how they did it.  But it felt like a step forward to learn how to make a record that sounded like a band.  Ironically that was how I described Studio Don when I made it; when I listen to it now I think it’s much more sampladelic than I realised at the time.  13 Faces sounds more like a band because most of it was done on real instruments. I’d also done a track for Comet Records using Tony Allen’s beats (there was a whole album of tracks by various producers, called Allenko Brotherhood).  This tune was called Drumfire and on it I imagined an afrobeat sound I’d never actually heard, based on stories of Fela’s massive horn section, all night sessions at the Shrine in Lagos; and relentless beats. (Hear the Journey into Afrobeat documentary ) I also stuck a sort of hi-life guitar in there which I don’t think worked so well.  I was being a bit of a tourist and not doing my research properly.  I’m still amazed that working with those amazing beats didn’t inspire me to explore Tony Allen or Fela’s music any further at that time.  But I’m a bit like that – stuff passes me by for years and then something triggers an interest and complete obsession often follows.  Each thing has its time in one’s life I suppose.

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Let’s talk about the Lion Head Compilation Volume 1, your latest release! It’s really eclectic indeed and this peculiarity makes us love it. The first track (Ella Fitzgerald meets Rockers Hi Fi – Sunshine of Your Love) is awesome and is a classic, we love Ella and we are listening to a lot of jazz in these days. Tell us more about this track, the compilation, and about your relation with Jazz music in general.

Towards the end of the 90s Rockers was drawing to a natural conclusion; I’d moved out of Birmingham and was spending less and less time there – although I did the 180 mile commute for the best part of two years, staying with friends during the week and feeling a bit lost and homeless whilst there.

Then Mojo (a German club and label affiliated to Universal Jazz) asked us to do a remix as part of a series they were putting gout, taking tracks from those Dancefloor Jazz albums and getting contemporary producers to do their take.  There were no master tapes so we literally had to find a singer who could learn to sing it as close to Ella as possible.  Her name is Jackie Dean and she did a fantastic job.  Some people who really should know better were even fooled by it.  Anyway once we did the Rockers version I had the vocal sitting around and I’d been getting back into batucada, playing with a local samba band down in Bournemouth.  I had the idea of doing a drums-and vocals-only version and that was the result.  I still think it’s one of my best works and it took quite a while to programme the beats and get it sounding real – can you see a theme emerging here?

As for jazz – I first really got into that in the mid 80s when someone lent me The Far East Suite by Duke Ellington, which turned my head around and was a huge influence.  I also got massively into Gil Evans, the stuff he did with Miles Davis especially.  My wife is a big fan of John Coltrane too and we listened to that a lot when we were courting, but that was something to appreciate and marvel at rather than something that fed into my own music making.  Likewise Anthony Braxton, whom I’d first heard honking his contrabass clarinet in the 70s. I got his Five Pieces 1975 album back then and still like it today.  Actually I have to confess that I only recently got my first I-Pod and I have been listening to a lot more jazz – really digging an album by Don Ellis called Tears of Joy.  He was a trumpeter and band-leader, a pioneer of both irregular time-signatures (which I’ve been obsessed with since about 1970) and electronics – using effects on the trumpet.  I am a bit of a sucker for big bands of the non-Glenn Miller variety.  Also starting to explore more of Thelonius Monk’s music – I saw an amazing gig by Jason Moran recently where he was using some of Monk’s themes as starting points for new pieces, as well as improvising over original recordings by Monk – both his band and sounds of him talking and tap-dancing at rehearsals.  I have an ambition to one day play jazz guitar, so I guess I should start the lessons pretty soon!

On the same compilation we have a completely different track: Sounds & Blues. Being very much into Dupstep lately, we thought “Hey, this is Dubstep!” at the very first listen. But of course it sounds also like trademark Biggabush dub. You were one of the first to realize that jamaican Dub music had some potential in the club and urban scene. What’s your opinion about the Dubstep movement and his peculiarities, like the love for dubplates, vinyl and back-to-back dj sets?

The thing I like most about dubstep is the fact that it seems to be more about an attitude than specific or obvious musical content –apart from the monster bass of course. So you can have tracks at different tempos, different feels – I think the way Benga does it is really inspiring, it’s proper future music.  Of course there are a zillion people jumping on the bandwagon doing dubstep by numbers, that’s inevitable when a genre gets hyped, but there are real innovators out there.  I’m hoping to release some stuff by a producer called Geode who’s been making tunes since he was about 15; he’s 20 now and his dubstep and d n b are amazing.

As for dubplates, well if you’re a vinyl purist I suppose they are an expensive necessity, but I thought everyone was playing CDRs or using Serato now…..I’ve more or less stopped buying vinyl I’m sorry to say.  I still love it but it doesn’t make sense in terms of carrying or storing and I do like to play around and re-edit with tracks so getting them in a digital format is logical for me.  I actually just halved my record collection – selling at record fairs where I met some dealers who eventually bought the rest of the stuff I wanted to shed.  Apart from the first sort-through when I felt a few pangs it wasn’t at all painful.  I didn’t make much money but psychologically it was great to part with such a huge bulk – about 2500 records.

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The Magic Drum promo really caught our attention: it’s so sick and it’s just a promo! What do we have to expect? I imagine a lot of DJs will pick up those beats for their edits and remixes too. Would you mind about that?

Not at all – the Magic Drum Orchestra is something that I’ve been working on with Ralph Cree for about five years and it’s really coming together now – a 13-piece percussion group playing afrobeat, funk, hip hop, drum and bass and traditional rhythms.  We’ve got our first album “In the Studio” coming out on Lion Head next month and it’s something that really works in a club environment. We’re playing at Camp Bestival and the Big Chill soon and that’ll be the first time we’ve actually played on big stages.

In this age of synthetic dancefloor sounds, how did you came out with the idea of putting out an acoustic drums-only record?

Well I’ve been a huge fan of batucada since starting to play in a samba band in the late 80s and I’ve always liked the idea of combining it with sampled sounds, hence quite a few of my tunes apart from the Ella track – check out the stuff I did for Suba on Crammed and tracks like “Message to the Tribes” and “El Head Sound” on Studio Don. Nowadays I mostly listen to music from the pre-sampler era.

What about teaming-up the Magic Drum Orchestra with the Hypnotic Brass Ensamble? That would be a heavy combination!

That would be a dream come true.  Next best thing was the stuff they did with Tony Allen!

Are you planning to bring on tour your new Lion Head music? If yes, what should we expect, a classic dj set or a full live performance with real instruments?

I’m thinking about doing something which combines all three actually….

We know you are going to release two more albums in the next months. Let us and our visitors know more about it!

OK well you have the Magic Drum Orchestra album out in August09.  The next one is Lightning Head Specials which takes in remixes, unreleased rarities and versions of tunes done under the Lightning Head monicker.   Includes versions of Stephen Marley’s “Traffic Jam”, Up Bustle & Out, a new afro mix of the theme from 2001, Popcorn, lots of classics all collected together for the first time…After that there will be a remix album based on tracks from 13 Faces of Lightning Head, with versions by Diesler, Watch TV, Dub Traffik Control, Romanowski, Nightmares on Wax, and others still coming in.  Then there’s the Geode album mentioned above.  Lots of new stuff.

Magic Drum Orchestra at the Big Chill 2007

Feel free to say what you want to our readers and to talk about your future projects…

I’m feeling more excited about playing live music than DJing these days so really into pushing the Magic Drum project and also doing some live afro stuff with a full band.  I’ve also got a progressive rock project on the back burner which I started a while ago. The idea is to use irregular time signatures like 5/4 and 21/8 and so on but to use really funky beats so it has a very organic and earthy feel – kind of like the way you have those crazy time signatures in some folk music, like Eastern European stuff, but it sounds quite natural and people can dance to it (in my dreams anyway).  It’s gonna be big, in-your-face, uncompromising, impossible-sounding music.

Thanks Glyn and keep up!

www.biggabush.co.uk

www.magicdrum.org.uk

LISTEN THIS ONE! MDO re-invents Snoop’s classic “Drop it like it’s hot”!

Magic Drum Orchestra “Drop It (Like A Funky Muppet)”, Lion Head Records