One of the most outstanding electronic music artists of the past two decades, whos's also the head of influential Border Community label and a true producers’ producer, is coming to world music festival Druga Godba at Kino Šiška in Ljubljana this Saturday (May 26th) with his band The Animal Spirits. James Holden has managed to blend electronic music with jazz and African tradition on his last critically acclaimed album and now he’s taking this story on tour with the live band.
You’ll perform at Druga Godba festival in Ljubljana with The Animal Spirits. What challenges and dynamics did working with the band brought to your creative flow?
I think many people synchronising is one of the best things about music! It is a magical and powerful thing, and the experience of being inside that - unscripted things happening in perfect alignment - is wonderful. Over the last years, I started to wonder if the electronic way of working is the aberration.
How do you cope with the fact that everything that comes out of instruments does not necessarily sound just as you imagined in your mind as there’s much more human element involved?
I think things that are good are usually too complicated, nuanced and interdependent to really be controlled - the best bits of my previous solo work were always to some extent beyond my control, a mix of serendipity and chaos, so adding more people hasn’t made it harder. I’m strongly against the idea of faking everything; music doesn’t need photo-shopped thigh-gaps in it...
It always felt that your sound or at least your vision of it is rooted in prog rock. Now you sound halfway between electronica and jazz. Is this the end of your path or just a stage on a mission of redefining classic prog rock with your blend of kaleidoscopic electronica?
It’s just a stage on my own journey, another experiment and chance to learn. I did consciously try to avoid certain harmonic feelings that were "too much rock" (or "emo!") for this record, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. The lines between things are imaginary, so I like illustrating that with records that are hard to categorise.
It seems you are trying to escape clubs; now you tour with a band in the past you’ve performed in church, galleries, nature… What’s your beef with clubs?
Haha. No beef, I still deeply love the idea of clubs - the freedom, the deep-listening people, the way people get into a trance, but the experience of being me behind some decks in a club playing to people with set expectations became a bit heavy, and so playing live in different spaces has been like a reset button to set me free again.
How important for you and your music is the element of hedonism? We're not sure if you’re hedonist at all, maybe more of a geek’s geek kind of DJ and producer, but your sound does evoke some kind of … eh … magic or transcendence?
I like the idea of being a hedonist but lack the mental strength to do it full-time... and I think I might get bored if I did it much more. But I respect that in others, and hedonists make the best audiences. When making music I find different states of mind quite easily. I think my goal is to share those feelings with everyone else!
Where in the scene is the place of Border Community right now? You were always trying to do things a bit differently than most of the other players.
In a way, I think we’re finally where we wanted to be - we were quite uncomfortable when things blew up; accidentally becoming a meme was terrible. Now we just exist on the edges again which is quite fine for me.
There are quite a lot of people (producers too) who stimulate their drug experiences by listening to your music. We're wondering how much is (or at least was) your music influenced by drug-related experiences?
I’m not sure you need to draw a line between drug experiences and the other states of mind we reach naturally. I did like creating "trippy" music but does that necessarily come from drug experiences? I’m not sure. A walk in the forest with strobing bright sun or driving too fast in an old car or meditating are all ways towards interesting states of minds too.
And how much is your music and particularly the last album influenced by visits to other lands and cultures? Has some particular trip especially touched you and you wanted to catch this spirit into Animal album and tour?
The trip to Morocco in 2013 was a huge influence on me. The powerful effect of the Gnawa music I saw there, the experience of learning to fit my electronics into a band, and realising (as we played together) just how much of the structure of dance music/trance/techno was totally universal, an innate property of humans rather than a unique bit of modern western culture. So there’s a bit of Gnawa influence in the record, and the technology that lets my synth/pc "listen" to the drummer is a central lynchpin in the whole project.
When was the last time you visited a trance party just to enjoy music? We almost forgot that you’ve started in a trance since you really impressed us with your Border Community opus (including remixes for Nathan Fake and Boards of Canada), which is very spacey and full of progressive elements.
Specifically, a club playing trance? I actually can’t remember! Maybe Plastic People for a Four Tet all-nighter before he’d fully blown up like he has now - I remember dancing barefoot with my partner, lost in it. But a party where I danced and found that state of mind? The recent weekend I had it for a moment watching Coby Sey play before us in Austria - his live set had a Suicide-ish intensity - high-speed kick drum loops - seemed like he wanted to trance everyone out.