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Anti-Pop Consortium Interview - Sleeping On The Job
Daniel Ross , November 4th, 2009 03:35

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After some time in the wilderness, New York’s Anti-Pop Consortium returned this year with a monumentally inventive, polished and enjoyable collection of skewed hip hop, Fluorescent Black. Their first record since 2002’s Arrhythmia, it's a dark, insular and intrusive affair with moments of humanity to cherish amid the encroaching technological hysteria; but what’s most impressive is the way Sayyid, Beans, Earl Blaize and High Priest manage to keep the raps as economical and precise as possible. Not a single measure goes past without some sort of wizardly non-sequitur, a well-considered reference, a telling turn of phrase.

They’ve never been known for giving too much away in interviews so, with The Quietus ever-ready for a challenge, we took them to task. Glossing over the much-discussed re-union, we turn our intention to the group’s ambitions, their beliefs, their view on their peers. Minus Earl Blaize, they are, it has to be said, extremely jet-lagged, sleepy, drinking (indeed, when asked if they know what Stella Artois is colloquially known as in the UK, they happily chorus “WIFE BEATER!”) and a tad irritable at times . . .

Now, I wouldn’t presume you’d elaborate on what’s already been said about your split, hiatus and reunion, but there must have been a large amount of pressure on you for the first Fluorescent Black sessions, surely?

Sayyid: It wasn’t really the pressure . . . y’know we had to get re-acclimated, but it wasn’t pressure. We didn’t have a label at the time. We took the time to make the album that we wanted to make. It wasn’t until a quarter of the way through that we actually had a label. We were already putting the finishing touches on between touring and whatnot.

That’s quite rare, isn’t it, to be creating an album at this point in your career and not have a label behind you?

Priest: That’s how we’ve always done it.

Beans: We were still touring heavy. We were out, for a period of two years, every two months or something like that.

So how were those first few sessions? Which tracks were finished first?

P: ‘Lay Me Down’ was finished early. ‘Volcano’ was finished early. ‘Apparently’. Those were the main ones.

Were they bedrocks for the rest of the album?

P: The sequence of the songs is almost the order in which they were recorded. It was almost quotial to the order they were done.

S: A little bit. Slightly.

Some of the tracks sound more restless than before. I’m thinking of ‘Capricorn One’, here. Do you think that was due to the freshness of working together again?

B: Naw, I think it had a lot to do with Earl Blaize.

S: That beat’s hot. HP [Priest] did the beat, but Earl put his two cents in. We woulda spit over that in 2002, or any other time. Hot joint, man.

There seems to be a dichotomy on this record between the humane and mechanised, synthetic or fabricated. Robot voices for example, and ‘Timpani’ manipulates a classical man-made sound, and also Sayyid’s singing on ‘Born Electric’. Could you elaborate on those juxtapositions?

P: That’s the production palette we work with. A lot of the live instrumentation was brought in at other stages to help realise the arrangements, but the general synth and drums is more times than not the starting point. It’s good in a four-person team to have all hands on deck, to take arrangements to different places vocally.

When you record, do you operate democratically?

P: It’s more democratic than not, but sometimes it takes one voice to be the voice of reason, but we all take those responsibilities.

How much do you accept that press involvement is key to a successful album launch?

S: When you’re making the art, that’s something you control. It’s in our hands, because we’re still doing it. After we hand it out people have their interpretations and their own feelings toward the music. We don’t really control that. That’s out of our hands. Press and magazines, overall media or whatever you have to push awareness and everything else along the way . . . you know, people know a lot about something and haven’t bought it. It doesn’t necessarily sell records. What sells records is people’s freakin’ excitement about records. And those people tell other people, there are different ranks for how people get information and those ranks get filled up with various people, mouth to mouth. It becomes a virus of shared interest, which is kind of how M.I.A. came about. Very much with press help.

What can we expect when you tour the record?

P: With the live shows, the agenda is to bring the studio to the stage. We keep it 50-50 in terms of improvisation. I think overall we’ve developed a good sense of pacing, to be able to gauge a nice set list. The improvisational elements will always be different and we rotate songs constantly.

Do you still enjoy playing live?

P: It’s all good, it’s good to see the interaction.

B: I like playing live, I think our live set has gotten stronger as we’ve been moving towards the album’s completion, and after we’ve gotten more acclimated with each other again it’s gotten way stronger. Really strong.

Were you nervous for the first few shows after you got back together?

B: (Instantly) No, not nervous. It was a matter of just getting comfortable. Not nervous. Not at all. I’ve known these people a long time, regardless of whether I was working with them or not. We were still interacting with each other even though we weren’t working with each other. I know them. I’ve known them for a long time. I wasn’t nervous, it was a case of getting into a groove.

Would you say your name still carries the same impact it did when you first came to prominence?

P: It’s hard to gauge as a brand.

B: You tell us.

The only reason I brought it up is that everyone knows it’s much easier to have an ‘Anti-Pop’ sentiment these days. I’m sure you’d agree there are many more acts with access to an audience – are you worried that the impact of your name might be dulled?

S: No. You can’t really uhh . . . it’s hard to estimate or underestimate if people take what you give. It’s like coming to a party expecting everyone to be, like, there all the time and being like “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah…” You’ve got to set yourself up for disappointment. It’s easier to just make the music, set up the party, set up the jump-off. If people come through they come through, if they don’t they don’t. Either way, you gotta go hard regardless. That’s what we do. We go hard. I’m not phased by anything about the machine of music. I love it, but it’s not my entire life. I play hard, I work hard. We see what happens. Other than that, I’m here to experience life, whatever man.

Further to that, is it fair to say that Anti-Pop Consortium don’t have the most traditionally ‘bad-ass’ image?

B: [Indignant] What do you mean by that?

Just that you don’t bring to the forefront elements of popular hip hop in the way that a lot of other acts tend to do, a lot of the violence and so on. For example, one of you has been in jail, but only for a day.

P: Y’know, our crimes . . . that was like, fifteen years ago.

That’s part of my point – that’s as bad-ass as you’ve gotten, really. What do you think about acts that do glamorise those aspects?

S: Man, if people live a certain lifestyle, it doesn’t matter where they are, they’re gonna live that lifestyle.

B: OK, while we’re being honest, this my opinion, Beans’ opinion. I don’t believe all of it. I believe some people have gone through those experiences, but I don’t believe all of it. People are a little bit more discerning now. I think a lot of it is bullshit.

P: The reality about being in New York is just by proximity, nobody’s that far away. You see it all. So um… we’re grown men. If that’s the mentality you want to come in with, to promote that, then that’s where you’re headed. It’s juvenile.

It seems your outlook from the beginning has been about being creative before being successful.

B: No. I think it’s being successful being creative.

S: I think differently. I think it’s about being creative and if it happens, success or whatever, then that’s cool, but being creative is first.

If success came in that way, do you think it would change you?

B: I guess success, and some of those things that people categorise as success, to me is autonomy and being able to do what you wanna do.

Have you achieved success?

S: Hell yeah. There are still certain things that I want out of this, but in terms of autonomy, big time. We’ve never done anything we didn’t want to do. No-one ever told us that we had to do this, or write this type of song, we’ve been very autonomous our whole career. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Success for me, Sayyid, is overcoming battles. You always have battles against yourself. You want to reach the point where you don’t have those battles and you just do the music.

What were those battles initially?

S: Oh my God! Jealousy, power, glamour, fame, a sense of entitlement… all of those things are things artists battle, myself included.

So if success is overcoming battles, would you say you’re at least content to be facing them?

B: I would say we’re still working on it.

S: Contentment… I’m content when it’s not all good. I’m very content. I’ve got my family, my people, we pop around the globe and whatnot, but I recognise the incredible amount of work we have to do. Pushing the record, pushing the campaign for Fluorescent Black. That’s what we do. I’m content within my band, but not content with the amount of work that has to be done.

What goals do you have now?

P: Just to constantly get better.

And how do you do that?

B: You just do what you do, listening to what you think would work better.

Do you have any spirituality in your lives? Are you religious?

S: Oh absolutely, I am.

That’s interesting, because I would say that it’s not something that comes across at all in your music. It’s not the most celestial of musics.

S: I’m not sure it should be. [Suddenly incensed] You don’t want the church in music. I’m not into that. I don’t like that stuff! I HATE IT! I don’t mind going to church and hearing gospel choirs and gospel music, but I’m not having that in my player. I don’t like that, I don’t even like regular music, I’m not a big standard music guy. I want something different. Anything with church or gospel, man, that takes me out. Neo-soul takes me out. There needs to be a new way of looking at soul, but cats just aren’t doing it.

P: It’s not the place for it. When it is the place, I can appreciate it.

S: That’s Bob, man. [meaning Marley]

[At this point, it becomes obvious that Beans has fallen asleep due to some early afternoon beers and jetlag]

One more question – what does hip hop have to do next?

S: You can’t tell hip hop what to do. It’s like the web, you can’t buy the web. You can buy the Daily Mail and put it in your backpack, but you can’t buy the web. You can’t tell hip hop what to do. Everyone’s like “what does hip-hop need?” The actual core of hip hop is pop art, right Beans?

[No response]

S: It becomes a pop art form, and that’s actually a lot of the ethos of hip hop. There’s experimenting with genres, which is what we call hip hop – where we see Anti-Pop. Then there’s the machine, the pop culture machine, that says things have to happen a certain way. In terms of where hip hop goes, it’ll continue to be a popular art form and then it’ll be something else. We can’t tell hip hop what to do.

[The folk at Big Dada then tell us that it’s time to finish up. Their representative looks at the sleeping Beans in the corner]

P: He always does that when he drinks.

Anti-Pop Consortium play London's Scala on Thursday November 5