Matthew Herbert’s children still struggle to understand what daddy does for a living, he tells me. The other day he was rattling a stick against the wall of his home in Whitstable, trying to disturb a mouse. His son looked up and asked: “What are you doing, Dad? Are you making music?”
It’s not surprising that his seven-year-old can’t fathom what he does when Herbert’s genre-defying projects involve rather a lot of musique concrète – using sampled natural sounds as the basis for his work, which confuses even his adult listeners – it’s definitely music but is it informative, or for fun? He’s probably the creator of some of the most inventive dance music that doesn’t get played in clubs and the most experimental jazz that you can still dance to.
Also known as Herbert, Doctor Rockit, Radio Boy and Mr Vertigo, Matthew Herbert has been making music for 25 years and made 30 albums, collaborating with all sorts of people, from Heston Blumenthal to Björk and remixing for Moloko, Dizzee Rascal, Ennio Morricone and REM.
We’re sat on a big, pink, comfy sofa in one of London’s private members’ clubs, discussing his new album, his philosophy of music and a lot of things that are wrong with capitalism. He talks slowly, thoughtfully, in a gentle cadence littered with “you knows” and rehashing of syntax; saying different iterations of the same sentence until he’s happy with the phrase. I imagine the production process for his music is similar, with each sampled sound moved around and manipulated until its in exactly the right place. Considering he can take three or four years to make one album, this is probably the case.
His new album, The Shakes, his first dance album since 2006’s Scale, is full of lively, arresting sounds. The Shakes is named after, “that moment that’s halfway between excitement and terror, because that’s what it feels like to be alive.”
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