Cranking It Up at Middlelands With Bonobo
If you’re familiar with the music of Simon Green, you might not think of him as a festival kind of guy. Working under the Bonobo moniker, he’s spent nearly two decades carving out a sonic territory that’s located closer to dreamland than clubland, with the emphasis more on drifting melodies and hazy textures than it is on slamming beats and booming bass. His recent Migration—released on Ninja Tune, as all of his albums since 2003’s Dial ‘M’ for Monkey have been—is a subtly kaleidoscopic collection of tracks, a headphone symphony rife with emotional resonance.
But Green, who’s playing live at the upcoming Middlelands festival, has a quick answer when asked how Bonobo’s low-key sound fits in with a lineup that boasts the considerably more full-on likes of Marshmello, Major Lazer, Bassnectar, and Datsik.
“The music just sounds bigger when you play it through huge speakers,” he explains with a laugh. “It’s the nature of how it’s presented: Just by amplifying it and playing it in a larger environment, it becomes larger itself. And within the arc of the set, the music actually gets pretty ravey toward the end, before it comes down again. We tried not to make it go too hard for too long, or too far down for too long. But I think the balance is there.”
“Nowadays, I try to DJ long sets—four or five hours—and that does teach you how to create that arc, how to program hours of music that will create some kind of journey.”
He’s learned that sense of dynamics, to some degree, through years of DJing. If you’ve heard him spin, you’ll know that Green is fully capable of walloping a crowd—not so much through brute force, but via shifting rhythms and gradually unfolding themes.
“The DJing does help to inform the process,” he explains. “Nowadays, I try to DJ long sets—four or five hours—and that does teach you how to create that arc, how to program hours of music that will create some kind of journey. And when I play live, I don’t want it just to be like a band playing their songs, one after the other.”
“I have had some really rewarding experiences playing to the kind of crowd where maybe 50 percent of the people are unfamiliar with my music”
In the case of Green’s songs, “one after the other” wouldn’t be such a bad thing. His music—hypnotic, rich, emotive, and full of ambience, yet forceful enough to get those synapses firing—is inherently appealing, and Migration might just be the purest manifestation of the Bonobo sound yet.
“You always want to make exactly the kind of album that you’re aiming to make,” Green says. “Exactly what I’m aiming for, of course, is different from record to record. But with Migration, I think I’ve gotten as close as I have ever come to doing what I was trying to do. You never get exactly what you want, but this one was almost there—which is as good as it can get.”
The album was his first since moving to Insomniac’s hometown of Los Angeles. A native of Brighton, UK, he’s also lived in London and NYC. “Then there was a year of kind of living nowhere,” he says. “I love where I am now, kind of up in the trees. It’s very peaceful, with birds and sunshine—it’s very different from anywhere else I’ve lived.” But Green hesitates to say that his bucolic surroundings have much to do with the pastoral aura of much of Migration. “I don’t really work that directly,” he explains. “I think that feeling’s more the result of the personal journey—things like family, figuring out how I fit in with everything.”
At Middlelands, Green will be performing with a full band: He’ll be on electronics, bass and keys, joined by a drummer, another keyboardist, woodwinds, guitar and vocals. An extensive visual component comes courtesy of David “Strangeloop” Wexler, a frequent collaborator with Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder crew. “We’ve been wanting to do something together for years,” Green says, “and we worked really closely together on this. I would play him the music in the studio and give him my ideas for the aesthetic, and it all kind of came together really early on. You can see it in the show—it’s got a real coherent feel.”
Even with the visuals, a band behind him, and the volume cranked, you’d still think Green might have some trepidation about playing his intimate music to a festival crowd—one that might not be fully acquainted with the Bonobo brand. “Yeah, these kinds of big festivals are not my usual place,” he admits. “But I look at getting across to the crowd as a challenge. I have had some really rewarding experiences playing to the kind of crowd where maybe 50 percent of the people are unfamiliar with my music—and I did manage to win them over. Of course, there are always a few who kind of stand there, blinking, waiting for the drop.”
Middlelands comes in the beginning stages of a massive tour, one that keeps him on the road through early 2018. “The mileage over the course of the year will be staggering,” he says with a bit of trepidation in his voice. “But once you get on the bus and everything is moving, it’s actually hard to get off of it. You find a certain kind of momentum.”
As for what’s in store for after the tour… well, that’s to be determined. “I’m just taking it a month at a time,” Green says. “But I’m already working on some new music, with no pressure and no deadlines—which is really the best way to do it. I’m not one of those guys who can just sit down with a blank canvas and come up with something—I just do the work, and the work creates its own momentum, and then eventually something begins to take shape. And then, it’s almost a record.” We’ll be waiting.
The first-ever Middlelands takes place Friday, May 5, through Sunday, May 7, at the Texas Renaissance Festival Fair Grounds in Todd Mission, TX. Tickets and camping passes are available now. For more information, visit the official website.
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