Music: The politics of sampling

by Dan Grunebaum

Matthew Herbert, aka Doctor Rockit, aka Radio Boy

Building on the buzz generated in previous Tokyo visits, UK electronica auteur Matthew Herbert returns this week for an expanded tour that will see two performances by his new Big Band, as well as a label showcase.

In previous tours, including a performance last February at Liquid Room, the sampling wunderkind was able to build enough support to bring over his new, expanded band.

"I've realized as I get older that opportunities don't usually come to you," said Herbert in a brief chat before the tour. "No one calls up and says, "Would you like to record an album with 20 musicians?" However, if that's what you want to do, there's a network of people to help you realize that. This is particularly the case in Japan, where I have a small but perfectly formed team of people to help and advise me."

Operating under a slew of aliases including Doctor Rockit and Radio Boy, Herbert became one of the late '90s most sought-after producers, breathing fresh life into the intelligent end of dance music with his "found sound" approach.

The son of a BBC sound engineer, Herbert was just another bedroom knob-twister until his experiments sampling everyday objects began to attract attention. "I first started sampling my intermediate environment in an attempt to create a direct link between what the audience was seeing and what it was hearing," Herbert says in his autobiography.

"It gave me the balls to stand up in front of 1,000 strangers and try to entertain them with a bag of crisps. It was January '95 at the arches in Glasgow that I first tried this idea out and, rather surprisingly, it worked. Since then I have performed live with everyday objects (bottles, bikes, drills, radios, cameras, stones, etc.) and environments (I rebuilt my kitchen on stage)…"
Through a flurry of releases on independent labels including his own Accidental Records, Herbert has brought his vision of electronica to the world. 1998's Around the House was perhaps the clearest expression of the Herbert philosophy, and also marked the beginning of his collaboration with vocalist Dani Siciliano and New Orleans jazz pianist Phil Parnell, now essential members of his band.

Herbert has also been much in demand as remixer for the likes of Super Furry Animals, who no doubt appreciate his credo that, "Remixes must be completed using only the sounds provided by the original artist."

But is it possible to carry the sampling orthodoxy to extremes? "I don't think it is possible to go too far with a philosophy that is about avoiding repetition," insists Herbert.

"In terms of sampling, 'classic' samples are usually around because of laziness. People are invariably concerned with authenticity, and by using the same 'amen' break in drum and bass, for example, they can short cut to sounding 'real.' I think there is a place for the use of samples in music, but it should be a very small place, not the predominant strain."

Joining Herbert on tour are a number of guests. Quirky multi-instrumentalist and Domino Recordings artist Max Tundra will be presenting material from his new album, Mastered by Guy at The Exchange. Also in the house will be formidable producer-vocalist Jamie Lidell from key techno label Warp.

Rounding out a tour that will also see Herbert make the first-ever appearance by a foreign artist at the Rising Sun Rock Festival, the Englishman will host a label showcase, "Soundslike an Accident," that will offer live sets from San Francisco's The Soft Pink Truth and Japanese-German unit 8 Doogymoto. Herbert and vocalist Siciliano will also be presenting their alternative takes on DJing with sets behind the decks the following weekend.

The Matthew Herbert Big Band plays Liquid Room on August 16 (sold out) and 18. Matthew Herbert will also perform a DJ set at Liquid Room on August 23. See listings for details.

Photo by Hostess Entertainment

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