Simon Green, most commonly known by his stage name Bonobo, requires no introduction. His intricately layered beats have defined the ‘New Downtempo’ movement—pushing the boundaries of music in the vein of hip hop instrumentals since the release of his first record.
We spoke with Simon on the cusp of releasing his latest album, Migration and embarking on yet another world tour. In addition to producing and DJ’ing, Simon is known for adapting his beats for full live bands on tour to play his tracks. In conversation he’s got the frankness of a well-seated artist who doesn’t need an inflated ego or speak grandiosely about his work. Read on to find out more about Migration and his creative process as Bonobo.
Kerala, a track off of Migration.
Migration seems like a relevant topic given the current global issues, is that what the title of the album refers to?
The title isn’t overtly political. If it were, it’d be called Immigration. Though I know migration is a bit of a tense subject right now. It’s more to do with the movement of culture, really—the effects that has on the landscape and the effect that has on the people. Migration is always happening—but it tends to be more politically aligned right now. It wasn’t a statement as such—it’s an all encompassing view on the movement of culture.
With the internet culture is moving faster than ever—
Cultures are shrinking as well—there used to be a time where you could only experience certain arts, architecture, music or literatures in a specific place. This idea of only being able to access culture in its place of origin has shrunk away now. There’s this whole mix of cultures and exchanges between them that makes the world a richer place.
How did you select the songs that make up Migration?
The live tour for North Borders ended at the end of 2014. Then I did another year of DJ’ing in 2015—and in the middle of that I moved away from New York and spent a year living nowhere, living on the road. Amongst all of that, I was making music on my laptop. It was good, because it’s a different environment to create in. You have different reference points when you’re in different spaces. There’s a different mindset when you’re at home and well-rested. But you’ll make very different music when you haven’t slept, and you’re in an airport at 7AM, with the music of a club still ringing in your ear. That’s not as pleasant as being at home but it’s just as valuable. A lot of this music came from those kind of headspaces. It was later, when I finally settled that I took a look at this body of ideas that I had and started putting it together into a record.
“There’s this whole mix of cultures and exchanges between them that makes the world a richer place.”
You recently moved to LA—
Yes, but as soon as I got here [in LA] I went away again for like six months on tour. I still feel relatively new and am only just settling here. New York was great but I find that there’s not really any need for me to be there—I wasn’t engaging in the city. Whereas here there’s a very good creative community developing. I’ve been accused of being cliché by an interview before for moving to LA [laughs]. But there’s certainly good people coming out here now and it’s a lot more inclusive and collaborative. Ninja Tune set up an office here and all these UK labels are moving out here. There is a college-like creative environment, where everyone is down to create or hang out at the studio. It’s a really nice scene now.
But then you’re going back on tour again—and with a live band. How are you able to adapt your music to a live set so quickly?
I don’t really think about it until the album is done and I’ve got two months to turn it into a live show. When I started doing the live band thing, the music I was making lent itself to traditional instrumentation a little more than it does now. So it’s always kind of a challenge. The North Borders also wasn’t a live sounding record either. At this point, the band who is touring with me next year hasn’t heard the record yet so I’ve got to work that out and take that project to them in the rehearsal space. The fun thing is figuring it out—I’ve got to acknowledge that it’s electronic music but it’s got to be broken into something freer. Something that can be genuinely live without live instrumentation just strapped onto a backing track.
“There’s a certain romance in landscapes isn’t there?”
The video for Break Apart is visually stunning. The Bonobo project has always had a strong visual element, how involved are you with them?
The visual aspect has always been important in what I’ve done and this is no exception. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted and Neil [Krug] has been really great to work with. Neil and I talked a lot about the idea, which came out of an ongoing interest in creating something out of very barren landscapes. He went out to Death Valley to shoot all the artwork for this album—he got shots of canyons at the brink of dawn. We talked about going back to the areas he shot in to capture some drone footage. Which he did, and it looked incredible when it came back. We weren’t really trying to make a music video—we thought about maybe using the footage in the live show or doing something with it. But when he rendered the footage, it just looked insane so we presented it as a music video—which was never the main idea.
Landscapes are a recurring theme in your works—
It’s interesting—there’s a certain romance in landscapes isn’t there? It’s an aesthetic I’ve been trying to work with since Black Sands. That record cover was designed to show signs of human endeavor in very remote places. That was what really captured me—these alien, remote corners of the world where there is something human. When I was living in London I’d take night flights and fly over the Northern Territories of Canada, and you’d look at the inflight map showing that there are little settlements in the middle of the Tundra. It’s always fascinating to see that people are out there doing whatever it is they’re doing.
Thank you Simon,
for speaking with us about “Migration” and your music making process.
“Migration” is out on Ninja Tunes records January 13th and is Simon’s sixth album as Bonobo. Since releasing the album “Animal Magic” in 2000, Bonobo has been creating music that strikes somewhere between electronic club music and downtempo instrumental hip hop.
Get a copy of “Migration” and find out if Bonobo is coming to your city on the Bonobo website.
Also be sure to check out the FvF Mixtapes for more music here.