Bonobo explains how his music has changed since his 2003 breakthrough
“I spend time on the details, I think the details are where the soul is in a lot of music styles, especially electronic music,” says Simon Green (a.k.a. Bonobo), taking a break from rehearsing his latest album, The North Border, with the band he’s convened for his upcoming tour.
The North Border, which is Green’s fifth for Ninja Tune, is indeed a very soulful electronic album that’s incredibly easy to listen to, simply because it’s so beautifully textured and seamlessly constructed. It’s the sort of detailed production and maximalist minimalism that comes from a man alone in a room building and refining layer upon layer of sound.
“I don’t let the studio process be informed by whether it’s going to work live, I don’t really think about that. I think the most interesting thing is to have those challenges, it’s not really live music but it’s somehow going to work live,” says Green who started performing live with a band in 2005 after he released M For Monkey. “I didn’t want to do the nodding-into-a-laptop thing because I didn’t think that it really represented how I made the music. I’m playing a lot of instruments into the sampler. It would be a more honest representation of the record to have actual musicians play the parts that I played initially.”
Green explains that as the music evolves, so do the bands he creates to perform live. “The lineup has changed over time. It’s coming onto eight years that I’ve been doing it now, I’ve had the same drummer since day one but people come and go. I think that the way my music sounds now is different than the way it sounded in 2003, so the palette of instruments has changed and the lineup of the band has changed as well.”
Swinging from the branches
Bonobo’s sound has evolved over time, though it remains identifiably his own, and 2010’s Black Sands saw the audience for his well-honed, soulful electronic music grow by leaps and bounds. Even though he now lives in New York and the style of soulful downtempo electronic music he crafts is as deeply rooted in NYC’s Giant Step as it is in London’s soulful trip-hop heritage, he still considers himself more of a London boy, at least musically. “I’m into the UK-based scene and the abstract end of bass music has been a big influence. Even though I was living in New York I think I made a London record.”
Make no mistake, just because the man and his music have roots doesn’t mean that Bonobo’s not branching out and fruitfully experimenting with new sounds and textures. “The thing that kept it interesting for me was using different tones and sounds, I wanted to sort of strip away the jazzy elements and bring in more electronic elements but use them in a very melodic and textural way.”
Some of the tracks, like the transcendent single “Cirrus,” are heavily electronic. It will be interesting to see how Bonobo and his band resolve the challenge of performing live some of the evocative but more headily electronic tracks on The North Border. After all, part of the joy of hearing someone playing live comes from the improvisation and how a live version is different from the record—that’s where you find the soul, in the details.