At the forefront of Electronic artists currently dipping their toes into the popular mainstream, Bonobo is a musician who continues to insist on the importance of live sounds and live performances. In a radio-centred age of electronic music and DJs, this kind of musical ingenuity stands out more than ever.
Currently promoting his latest album Migration – released earlier this year – Bonobo (Simon Green) is in the midst of his worldwide tour. Accompanying him is an acoustic band of twelve people including a string quartet, brass, drums and Green himself on bass. Although many of Bonobo’s songs make extensive use of samplings and choppy or electronically-generated sounds, at his live shows every track is performed with a live rendition. Making the most out of what his music has to offer, this emphasis on the music reminds us that Green possesses a musical mastery stretching far beyond the software and the turntables.
With Migration, Bonobo has a whole range of new material to play with and a lot of expectations to meet. It has been four years since the release of his last album, The North Borders, and his fans from all over have been waiting long for new songs to add to their ‘chill’ playlists.
Yet there’s something not quite all-out carefree in Migration– from a sense of angst in the uneven, non-symmetrical musicality of ‘Figures’ to almost nervous dread in the heartfelt but quietly gentle melody in ‘Break Apart’. This isn’t too surprising. Green himself admits that Migration was partly inspired by deaths within his family and a feeling of being “displaced”. For Green, the album signals his coming to terms with these personal issues.
Interesting then is his use of the set list to build the live show with euphoric momentum. The set increases in tempo, aptly beginning with drowsy and pensive ‘Migration’ itself, before moving through tracks from all the albums and closing with the skippy beats and shuffling movements found in ‘Kerala’ from Migration and ‘Know You’ from The North Borders. Alongside the videos –great, dramatic, elemental landscapes taken by a drone and playing across large screens on the backdrop of the stage – this momentum creates a kind of eye-opening vision and a sense of relief.
This visual aspect of the show presents another opportunity for Green to demonstrate his artistic imagination. Working with Strangeloop (David Wexler) from Los Angeles and the photographer Neil Krug, Green is interested in the immersive experience of the whole room. The geographical images, moving through the wilderness and spanning across rock, fire, and water, are a powerful stage design that eloquently and appropriately reflect Migration itself. The album’s namesake, migration, and Green’s own questions of home, identify and movement, all have a part to play in the making of the album. Under the present global climate, such topics are powerfully resonating.
Perhaps this partly explains why Bonobo attracts such a diverse range of people. Underpinning every track– from the easy-listeners to the dance-movers – is something powerful being said about “the study of people and places” (Green’s own words). Woven through the beautiful, thick-layered soundtrack of Migration is something quietly unsettling – something that is evident too in the music videos for ‘Kerala’ and ‘No Reason’.
Sophisticated, atmospheric and thought-provoking. Bonobo is not only an artist that wants us to enjoy his music, but an artist that wants us to listen.