Sonar Festival: Matthew Herbert

Interview with the Sonar veteran
Sonar Festival: Matthew Herbert
One of the joys of a festival like Sonar is that you get the opportunity to see a musician's musician; artists in the truest sense of the world. Matthew Herbert is an artistic polymath, producing some of the most groundbreaking music to ever grace our stereos. As well as his own musical output, he's also shaped sounds for the likes of Roisin Murphy, Micachu and Bjork. He's one of the most eloquent chaps you could hope to come across too so we couldn't pass up this opportunity to talk to him about everything from his music, his work as a producer and DJ, and his current projects, including The Pig, a record based on the life of a pig he knew. Yeah, you heard us.

Hi Matthew. You're a bit of a Sonar veteran these days aren't you?

This is my fifteenth year so I know all the organisers and it's a bit like magnetic north for us because it's right in the middle of the year and the line-up is always good even if the night gets a bit scary, so it's good. I tend to come back every year but bring a different project. They don't like you to repeat yourself, that's the thing.

Is it easier to be innovative on the European scene than it is in Britain?

No, I just think that everyone comes to things from a different point of view and everyone brings things of a different cultural bent to their response. I do all sorts of things. I've just remixed Mahler's 10th symphony for Deutsche Grammophon and I'm performing it live in Berlin in September with an 85 piece orchestra. Then I'm DJing at east German techno parties 2 days later. For example, in France they like to talk about the music so you end up having much more thoughtful discussions about why you're making the music and what you're hoping to get across and how you construct the music and put it all together. And then in Spain it's much more spontaneous than that, its visceral, its about going out, going a bit mad.

What are you working on at the moment?

I've made this record out of a pig. The pig was born in August last year and I followed it for twenty four weeks and it was killed in February and it went into the deep freezer. Part of the skin's being made into a drum, some of it's being made into salami and sausages. The rest is being cooked in August so we'll have a feast in August and that will be turned into music. I've been doing the Mahler thing and I've just produced Rowdy Superstar who's a new, pretty eccentric underground British hip hop act. I've produced a woman called Barbara Panther who's from Rwanda and grew up in Belgium and Germany. That's out on City Slang later this year. I'm writing a film that should start shooting next year. I'm doing a performance with the London Sinfonietta at the London Jazz Festival. I'm working with Anthony Hegarty from Anthony and the Johnsons.

So You're busy enough. Do you ever feel like slowing down?

All the time, all the time, but I think that when the world's as messed up as it is and when I have an incredibly privileged life – I travel the world, I own my records, I don't answer to anybody, I get to make music and I get paid to do it – I think I have a responsibility to question that privilege and whilst I'm doing that there's nearly half the world struggling to get by on nearly a dollar a day and don't have access to clean water and things like that. So this is an incredibly privileged experience and one I wish to rigorously examine to make sure that I'm not becoming complacent or becoming some wanker DJ or selling out or making everybody feel as if the world is alright all the time because there's some pretty scary things on the cards about to occur and I think that music isn't really taking a position on those things and I think that it needs to if it's still going to be relevant and I think that one of the biggest problems with the music industry and the record sales decline is that a lot of music is not really that inquiring anymore. Its quite happy to repeat patterns and reorganise itself but actually the world demands a greater engagement with it, I believe. I don't think its enough to just sit there and do your thing and just hope that someone buys it.

Words by Karl O'Keefe

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