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Interview with Bonobo: Enough Monkey Business

As the crowd fills the floor dancing away the night, the DJ plays music from a dark corner, his headphones on, lost in his own world. It’s a foreign world for many, which once brought criticisms about their musicianship and artistic skill. Simon Green, a UK producer and DJ better known as Bonobo, is touring behind his new album Black Sands. He spoke with SFCritic during a phone interview.

SFCritic (SFC): Are you formally trained in any instruments?

Bonobo (B): No, I’ve always kind of bluffed it with instruments. I play all the instruments on the album. I always just find a way to get a melody from an instrument.

SFC: Do you have any training in music theory?

B: Yeah. I’m not that trained in theory, but I just find my way around instruments fairly easily. If there is a melody in my head, I can generally get it out and play it.

SFC: Did that always come easy for you?

B: Once you know how to play the keys, and once you know how to play guitar, anything else is just a variation of that. If you understand how scales work and key structure you can translate anything.

SFC: I noticed that you stuck with one vocalist on this record, as you’ve also done in past records. Why do you choose to do that?

B: Because I wanted it to sound like a record. It’s this effective coherence. I don’t want to fill the record with guests, because it doesn’t have any identity that way. It needs to have a signature.

SFC: Why don’t you stick with the same vocalist through different records?

B: I want the project to still be my music, and not necessarily a band.

SFC: Have you ever been criticized for not being a “real musician” for the electronic elements in your music?

B: No. And if they do I don’t care. There used to be the argument that sampled music was not real music. That’s ridiculous to say that electronic music isn’t real music.

This is an argument from ten years ago about sampled music. I used to hear that argument.

SFC: What do you think changed?

B: Sampled music and electronic music infiltrated the mainstream and everyone’s consciousness. It’s not this kind of threatening new music that is used to be.

SFC: Did you ever receive any criticism for not being a good live show, or anything of that sort?

B: No people really like it. It’s sometimes ambiguous whether it’s one person, or a band, but I kind of like that. I get more criticism when I DJ because people don’t hear the sound they know as Bonobo. They don’t know what the project is, and then there’s a dude playing records.

SFC: What is the process of putting together a DJ set like for you?

B: I don’t play my own music, because you need to keep to the dance floor. I play music that is like mine, that has the same vibe, the same style — but at the same time it’s heavy enough that it carries itself on the dance floor.

SFC: Do you go into a set with a predetermined set-list?

B: Sometimes I do, but within that there are certain times where it would be inappropriate to go too hard. I have a plan but I can make diversions.

SFC: Do you ever make personal mixtapes for friends?

B: No, I used to. I make more playlists, which isn’t like the old mixtape where you would spend time writing stuff on the seam of the cassette. Now you just make a folder for someone. It doesn’t really have the same love or craft go into it.

SFC: Not the way you describe it, it definitely doesn’t. In that regard, does music translate into emotion for you?

B: Yeah.

SFC: Ok. Maybe we can do a few examples. If you’re really sad, what record would you put on?

B: There would probably be something by this neo-classical Polish composer, Jacek Kaspszyk.

SFC: What about if you’re angry?

B: I don’t know. I don’t really have an angry mixtape.

SFC: What if you’re trying to seduce someone?

B: Porteco Cortet, their Isla album.

SFC: I have one last question, and I’m sure you’ve heard this question before…

B: The monkey.

SFC: Yeah. Are you already regretting naming yourself it?

B: I regret talking about it everyday. I know what they do. I know what they are. I know everything about them.

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