Bonobo, inspired by beautiful hip-hop, London scenes, and a tumble dryer
November 27, 2014 1:16 PM   Subscribe

From the rather common "skate punk into alternative music" origins to a bedroom producer who signed with Ninja Tune, Bonobo, the stage name for Simon Green, has continued to change musically. From the lone musician who made sample-based music, he has expanded into working with field recordings, studio musicians, and live shows where the band took a four bar drum break transformed it into a seven minute epic drum-sax solo battle, to which the crowd tried to clap along. You can see him live tomorrow at the Alexandra Palace in London in a special Boiler Room session, but until then, there's plenty more to see, hear and read.

From the beginning, Simon Green's Bonobo was seen as more refined take on the well-played sampling game, though he fell into some of the same cliches with Animal Magic, his first album (YouTube playlist). His second album, Dial 'M' for Monkey (YT playlist), shifted the balance between hip-hop beats and jazzy samples farther towards the jazz side, utilizing samples of his own playing, alongside beats and breaks from his shopping during his North American tour. The progression towards live music and studio musicians was hinted at in Recurring - The Live Sessions EP (YT playlist), recreating some prior tunes as live pieces. [Bonus link: Strictly Kev talks about the album design, including the limitation on the tracks, which resulted in Four Tet's remix getting edited down a bit.]

But it was Days to Come, released in 2006, that saw Green fully moving away from the "chill out" label that cast a shadow over his first album, turning to live musicians for the majority of the album. He figured more out in the studio with other musicians, trying things out and scrapping them when they didn't work. The result was his "best work to date." The next album, Black Sands (Japanese edition on Grooveshark), saw Green's title shifting listed as DJ and composer in an NPR interview/overview, as his sound expanded to reference, "a lot of nods to that kind of late 70s, early 80s kind of sounds and the more current stuff out of New York, like Yeasayer (Wiki) and Phenomenal Hand Clap Band (Wiki)." Some of that was also introduced to his other major effort that came out in 2010, Andreya Triana's debut album, Lost Where I Belong (Grooveshark stream). Green and Triana met after he heard her singing on Flying Lotus' "Tea Leaf Dancers," and they hit it off.

Last year, the fifth Bonobo album dropped. Despite moving to New York, the resulting album has been noted to have a distinctly "London" sound, and also a closer association with 4/4 tempo and house music, still holding that specific Bonobo style. In some ways, the list of guest artists on the album, The North Borders (YT playlist), is a good marker for how well regarded Green's Bonobo is, with Erykah Badu being the best-known of the bunch. The album lead to another round of tours, and this time, was captured on a live album, The North Borders Tour - Live. (sample on Ninja Tune; various formats listed on Discogs). That album came out in October, but the tour wraps up tomorrow, November 28th, at Alexandra Palace in London. The final show is sold-out, but it can be streamed online at at 8.30pm GMT / 3.30pm EST / 9.30pm CET / 12.30pm PST (the site features a live countdown, but for help calculating other local times, World Time Buddy might be helpful).

Et cetera:

Odd interviews and song selections
  1. DJ Shadow - "Midnight In A Perfect World" -- Bonobo's early inspiration to start making "beautiful hip-hop;" he went on to also list Madlib and Dilla with high regard
  2. Amon Tobin - "4 Ton Mantis" -- Green considers Tobin a mentor, though he also said they swapped beats back in this era. Tangents: Bonobo remixed this track, and Tobin remixed Bonobo's track "Scuba"; the two later collaborated on "I'll Have the Waldorf Salad" (previously)
  3. Bill Evans - "Peace Piece" -- something Green would pick in a "Desert Islands discs" scenario, noting he selected it to close his Late Night Tales mix (Resident Advisor review).
  4. Dorothy Ashby - "Essence Of Sapphire" -- jazz harp! Bonobo says "I always thought of Dorothy Ashby as a funkier Alice Coltrane;" he was introduced to Ashby by Kieran Hebden when they were out digging while on tour together.
  5. Bill Conti - "Reflections" -- "a hidden treasure on this very mainstream [Rocky] soundtrack."
  6. Lapalux - "Gutter Glitter" -- Bonobo says "You can still get an emotive sound from a vocal even if the lyrics are inconsequential."
  7. Herbert - "The Audience" -- Bonobo says "I've always been into tunes that have two parts in them, that have a twist."
  8. Erykah Badu - "The Healer" -- a Madlib production; Bonobo says "It's the heaviest tune but everything is just feather light. From the click in it to the bell. It's the deepest tune."
More mixes and productions
posted by filthy light thief (12 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
A little of it is a bit Zero7-ish, but I really liked Machinedrum's remix of Bonobo's Eyesdown, as well as the original.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:20 PM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bonobo's great. I've been listening to a lot of The North Borders recently, and heard it a fair amount up at the ski hill coming out of cars too. He even came and played a DJ set in our little mountain town, but I was unfortunately away.

Thanks for the huge list, I know what I'll be listening to at work the next couple of days.
posted by sauril at 2:00 PM on November 27, 2014

Looking back on Bonobo's back catalog, I definitely hear how his earlier work could be closely classified with similar artists (Koop, especially early tracks like Glömd (1997)). And now his modern stuff is definitely in line with more of the London scenes, but there's still something that's distinctly his own sound, and I love it.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:07 PM on November 27, 2014

If you are in London he's is also one of the amazing lineup for The Hydra's Ninja Tune night on 6th December (for which there's still tickets):
posted by Erberus at 2:20 PM on November 27, 2014

Music by Bonobo tends to pop up on Pandora and I enjoy it, but I've never known anything about the artist, so I appreciate this fpp.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:59 PM on November 27, 2014

Massive fan of Bonobo. Not to say his later stuff isn't great (because it is) but I much prefer his early stuff that seemed to spring from the late 90s early 00's super chill/relaxed and playful genre that seemed to pop up (See: Air's Moon Safari, Hint's Portakabin Fever and Bent's The Everlasting Blink to name a few). His live cover of Nothing Owed is one of my alltime favourite tracks.

Awesome, awesome post. More peeps need to listen to Bonobo.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 4:10 PM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

What a wonderful post -- thanks! Worth mentioning, linking, and watching (even though they may be buried within one of the playlists linked above):

The Keeper (live in Paris)
Short KCRW session from last year

I passed up the chance to see him the last time he played a live show in NYC (not just a DJ set, like the one coming up in February), and won't make that same mistake twice.
posted by peeet at 4:44 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find a lot of his stuff a little... tepid but I saw him do the live show (which in his case means with a band of something like eight people) and that was pretty cool.
posted by atoxyl at 12:37 AM on November 28, 2014

Thanks for all these links, can't wait to check them all out.

If you like Bonobo you may also like Sau Poler, since a lot of his stuff reminds me of Bonobo's work. (soundcloud)
posted by ropeladder at 9:38 AM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know that I can add anything else to this discussion. I just wanted to express my gratitude for this post, filthy light thief. Very well put together, and as a Bonobo fan since the "Dial M for Monkey" days (I may or may not have had "Flutter" as my auto-play tune on my Myspace profile...), this is a fantastic compendium!
posted by kilozerocharliealphawhiskey at 5:55 PM on November 29, 2014

Here's a link to the (live?!) stream on YouTube, which appears to be going into the (first) encore now.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:35 PM on November 29, 2014

OK, I'm an idiot - the performance is on loop on YouTube and Daily Motion. It's restarting now. The ending was beautiful, so I'm looking forward to watching this all tomorrow.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:56 PM on November 29, 2014

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