Thursday, September 07, 2006

Talking Will Holland's ear off Part 1

In the above photo, which, admittedly, tends to showcase the turntables more than anything, is Andy Williams at left and Will "Quantic" Holland at right. I just sorta liked the photo-thanks to I think I want to go to Hungary now.
Anyhow, as promised, here is the interview I did with Will (using the first name sorta takes away from my journalistic mystique, eh?) this past weekend. I'm cutting it in two because it's quite long. An extremely short version appears in the Montreal Mirror today. I haven't really edited much of this, so I sound pretty blather-y, if that's a word. I tend to get a little excited when I get to talk to people who've been to Ethiopia. I'm a dork that way. Anyhow, on with the show. If you don't know who Quantic is and what he does, you should. His music is simply terrific, and he seems a darned fine fellow to boot.

EM: I see you as taking the concept of crate digging to a whole other level. What do you look for?

Q: I think that the basic form of crate digging where it’s basically looking for breaks, drum breaks to loop up or to sample and things, and then I think that once you do that for a whole [laughs] you just get in to music more. And you get into it a little more deeply; you get in to all kinds of music, regardless as to whether it has a drum break in it or whether it’s a funky record or not. So myself, and probably Miles [Claret, of Soundway records] also, are both looking for quite eccentric records, and definitely dance records. Something that you can play out in a club and it will go down well and be played up to good effect, but also something a little eccentric so it could be a calypso record, a salsa record, an afrobeat record, but it has to have something interesting about it.

EM: You travel around a lot. It seems like you want to go to the source of the music you like—take, for instance, Ethiopia’s Mulatu Astetke.

Q: Well I guess—I’m actually sitting here with Miles now—and I guess the thing is, all of these things start off in record room, it a kitchen, listening to a record, and going “Oh my God! This is amazing. How was this made? Who made it? Where do they come from?” Miles had of those moments a few years back and said, right, I’m going to go to Ethiopia and he bought the ticket to Ethiopia. And we were just sitting around one night and [Miles] told me he’d gone pretty briefly, but he’d found some nice records. We just decided to go again, with the premise of trying to track down Mulatu for an interview. So we interviewed him for Wax Poetics. And also we wanted to do a potential sounding out of whether we could do some recording over there. Which actually, we haven’t done yet. It’s all kind of gone a little bit wrong. I mean, it’s gone well for Mulatu, because he’s got this “Broken Cloud” track and he’s got a lot of interest through that. But it’s becoming increasingly hard to pin him down, to set dates, because he’s a very busy man. But as far as getting out there, it’s just the case of buying a ticket and just kind of winging it, really. [laughs] Actually, Mulatu really took us under his wing.

EM: Ethiopians tend to be nice like that!

Q: Yeah. You know, all these places, some are heavy places to go to, but people are really friendly. I think it’s like anything—when somebody’s taken an interest in your culture, unless you’re robbing or something, but this is something that we are promoting and trying to keep the knowledge of this music alive. A lot of these forms of music are dying out. A lot of people don’t want to being learning to play drums in Africa, they want to use a drum machine.

EM: Vincent Kenis, who’s worked with Congolese musicians, most famously, Konono No. 1, he said that in Kinshasa, none of the young people really want to listen to the traditional music. In Ethiopia, it’s the same, everyone wants what’s new—the latest Amharic pop music. When I’ve asked kids about Mulatu Astake, they’ll say, “Oh, my parents like him, we like Teddy Afro.” In Ghana as well, there are not a lot of people listening to the tracks found on Soundway’s compilations. It’s like you’re resurrecting the past—do you feel that you should focus more on contemporary tunes?

Q: For me, I’m interested in real music and music played in the room with an atmosphere to it. Just because I like Puerto Rican Rhumba records from the 60s doesn’t mean I have to like reggaeton. For me, the two things are so far removed. [Music] just becomes a generic culture that doesn’t have any roots in [a cultures] own heritage. With reggaeton, a lot of the time it is a just a dancehall riddim. There are interesting things, modern Caribbean records; I have found some nice modern Ethiopian stuff, but only a few. To be honest, I really like drummers and I really like live music. And I like things nasty, kind of messed up, in a way that it gives it character. And I think what you’ve got to remember with these older recordings is that they were made in really unique times.

EM: Yes.

Q: You had army bands and military bands, police bands—especially in Ethiopia. All these bands were part of clubs and I don’t know whether you’d get a recording now from twenty Nigerian policemen, playing a funk track or an afrobeat track or a high life track. I don’t think that’s happening any more. I think it’s about getting kinds who are into music aware of that olds stuff and how they can add that into their music and not do some kind of “Mr American” style thing, trying to be a rap star. Instead, be more in keeping with the music that they’ve come from.

EM: In Ethiopia, even though kids like modern stuff, there is still quite an appetite for not Mulatu, but very traditional Ethiopian music. Played on the masinko and krar, in a pentatonic mode that’s really different than what Westerners are used to listening to.

Q: Yeah, I like that stuff! [laughs] I remember I went with Miles and Mulatu to this restaurant in Addis and they had the traditional players playing that stuff on krar and we had to get up and do this dance, you know, with the shoulders.

EM: Of course!

Q: And Miles was thinking, god, we came to find Mulatu and here we are shaking our shoulders to the krar. I think though, it’s interesting and it’s all part of the music I’m interested in and so is Miles as well, is that point where all these forms of folk music were becoming modernized. Maybe they were trying to be a little more commercial, trying to be a little bit more turned into a product.

EM: It’s as if you’re looking for links. With Mulatu, you do hear the minor strains so common to Ethiopian music, mixed with other influences. With early calypso, you hear the traditional chanting. It’s almost like being a musical archeologist.

Q: Definitely. I think it’s just looking to see what spices were turned into pop a long the way. With Mulatu, you can hear Chinese music in there and you can hear all the Puerto Rican rhythms that he picked up in New York. And you can hear the fact that he was in London playing with jazz guys. I love going on these trips because you hear just the strangest music.

Part 2 to come...

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