GhostownL'article en français
DEEPLY HIP-HOP IN THE SOUL, OPEN TO EXPERIMENTATIONS WHICH LEAD HIM IN DUB OR TRIP-HOP LANDS, THE BRITISH ARTIST INSTALLED IN FRANCE HOLDS THE BOAT OF HIS ARTISTIC WAY OF MASTERLY HAND. HE ANSWERED THE QUESTIONS OF THE INTERVIEW "FOCUS ON...", AND HAD A LOT TO SAY.
To begin with, who are you?
I'm from the UK, I've been living in France since 2002, first in Montpellier, then in Rhône Alpes since 2007, I was born in Bolton near Manchester but I grew up in the countryside in Scotland, apart from a few years in Edinburgh and Montpellier I've always lived more or less in the countryside, I'm more attracted by the calm and nature than by cities and people. I'm a quiet and reserved person, I don't talk much, so I take my revenge in my songs!
How would you define your music?
It's quite difficult, I switch between intimate, personal and more festive atmospheres, I also like to explore darker and more disturbed universes with a touch of humor. From one track to another it's not quite the same style, even if apparently you can always recognize something of "Ghostownian". I'm carried by the groove, something hypnotic and catchy. In musical style I would say Alternative Hip Hop - shades of trip hop and electro, dub and reggae, even ska, as well as folk and gypsy music with some swing.
What made you decide to embark on this musical adventure one day?
Since I was fourteen, when I discovered rap music like Cypress Hill, Ice T, Ice Cube, Dr Dre etc, I wanted to rap, I remember that when I listened to House Of Pain, I spontaneously made a kind of yoghurt, until my friends asked me to shut up! At the same time in my family, they were always playing folk music and other music, my mother gave me a keyboard and I was having fun finding melodies and creating loops, it was always loops that interested me, often the beginning of a song (rock/jazz/reggae) had a riff that I could listen to over and over again while the song itself didn't interest me more than that. At first I was rapping, but one of the problems we had in the UK was that American rap was telling a story about a life that had nothing to do with our British lives, and imitating an American accent sounded fake. That's why British rappers in the early days of hip hop never made it big, rap was American, not English, whereas in France, even if some rappers copied the US style a bit, the fact that they rapped in French made French people identify with them. NTM could fill the Stade de France, London Posse couldn't do the same at Wembley. So in the UK we were almost forced to create another style. And a few years later, when the trip-hop movement arrived, as well as other urban UK music like drum & bass, I identified more easily with that. Seeing 3D or Tricky on the mic, I thought, yeah, I could do that without being ridiculous! There are more British elements in this music, plus there was the Anglo-Jamaican culture that had already given bands like The Specials or Madness a few decades earlier. When I was eighteen, I finished school and was bought a 4- track cassette recorder, I was also lent an old sampler with a 2 second sampler capacity, as well as a reverb and multi FX box. I was in heaven, making 12 minute trip hop tracks without mercy! I just wanted to make music, and anything else seemed impossible. Little by little, I was making less and less trip-hop and more alternative hip-hop sounds, dipping into gypsy and folk music, I also finally decided that one should not be a prisoner of one's accent, but rather be free to sing the way one wants. Usually a singer doesn't care about copying black Americans, but a rapper is supposed to "keep it real" A quick aside: popular music copied everything from black Americans, first blues and jazz, then rock 'n roll which became pop. Mick Jagger sang "I can't get no satisfaction", it's an Afro-American grammar, we are supposed to say "I can't get any satisfaction". It's something that happens on its own, without thinking - at least in my house, as soon as I hear blues music I start singing, copying the accent and the grammar that I've heard before. (Blues riff starts) . . . I ain't got no money I ain't got no friends I ain't got no hope But I’m sure as hell gonna make amends Grammatically correct English version: I don’t have any money I’ve not got any friends
Your influences ?
First the hip-hop of the 90s, especially Cypress Hill, Dr Dre, Ice T, Ice Cube, then Wu Tang, Gravediggaz, and The Fugees in 96/97 Besides that, the sound of my youth, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, The Art of Noise, The Specials, Madness. Later I was seduced by the Trip-Hop sound of Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead, it was my mother who listened to Portishead first, I could hear the big bass and the beat from my room, and I wondered why she listened to hip-hop! Then I came down from my room and heard that it wasn't quite hip hop, but very interesting anyway, I was seduced by this slow, soft, and dark hip hop base. I also listened to a lot of dub when I was 19-20 years old, I used to go to the Messenger Sound System in Edinburgh, and the bass and backbeats marked me. Lastly, traditional, folk and gypsy music, but less in an approach of listening to music for pleasure, rather to find elements to sample. Like in old records, there are often very interesting phrases at the beginning of the song before really starting the song.
If you had to leave on a desert island with 3 records, which ones?
If I had to choose, I would take: Ice Cube - Death Certificate: his best album in my opinion. The beats (Sir Jinx) switch from sample to sample but in a less chaotic way than on his first album (Amerikkkas Most Wanted) and less smooth than on his third (Lethal Injection). He tells the typically difficult life of a young black American in such a visual and graphic way that I could visualize everything as if I were there. It was almost educational, the gang violence (bloods and crips), the drug territories, Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam in America, the STD stricken communities, etc. Cypress Hill - Black Sunday: DJ Muggs really created another style all by himself. At the time he was on fire with HOP and Funkdoobiest, or even on a track with Ice Cube. He had the groove in his blood! Often, bringing a certain tension like in a horror movie or a thriller but with an extra phat beat, heavy bass, overpitched horse samples, something a little jazz, but without being Jazzmatazz (Guru) and too Jazzy. All this coupled with B Real's very high pitched and original nasal flow and songs about "weed" and violence, it was heaven for a teenager! Even if I like a lot of their other songs, this album can be listened to in full even 30 years later Fugees - The Score : the sound of this album is magic, soul and RnB samples, hard beats, staying musical without overdoing it. Wyclef, Pras and L-Boogie have very complementary tones, it was a revelation for me this album, and among the only albums I can listen to in full. The only track I like less is the hit "Killing Me Softly". However, if I were to really go to a desert island, I would need something to record on, so an MPC, an Octatrack or just Logic, I'm more interested in making music than listening to it.
The perfect track for cooking?
Maybe "Snake in the shadow" by Alpha Steppa, but I'd need more music to cook with, and it would be a good time to discover new tracks. I like the algorithmic selections of Apple Music or Spotify. The more you listen, the more they learn, and it usually works well.
A little technical point: what equipment do you use?
In the past, I had a lot of machines, I didn't trust computers, and I wanted to be able to easily present my music live. I started with the Yamaha RM1X, then Yamaha Motif, AKAI MPC1000. Then the Elektron brand, the octatrack is a very special machine, limited to 8 tracks, like in the old days, with almost infinite sample processing possibilities. It has an almost incomprehensible interface at the beginning. Since a few years, I changed everything for the simplicity of a Mac, Logic, and a midi keyboard. It's less fun, but more powerful, and most importantly I can easily start an idea, turn it into a song, and finish it without worrying about MIDI cables or timecode shifts. Note that I have been working remotely for years with Kirsa (DJ) and very often I send him bits and pieces of my instruments (horns, organs, guitars etc) that he manipulates and scratches afterwards. His intuition and feeling towards our projects are precious. With a simple "we need a break here! "that changes everything!
It's not easy to break into the musical jungle, even with talent... what do you think?
Twenty years ago, I was sending demos to labels, playing gigs and the local media played a very important role in generating interest and building a press kit. It wasn't easy to reach people outside of our circle of friends or local shows. Almost 15 years ago, I have fond memories of the Myspace days. In the beginning, it was really great to be able to share your music and let people discover it. Then free music, Jamendo, Electrobel and others allowed me to share my music more. However, the moment when Facebook replaced Myspace was difficult. Little by little it became almost impossible to appear in the public feed without putting money, I had to spend more than 2000€ to boost my posts, just to be seen by more people than my mother and my ex. I ended up deleting Facebook with my 3000 fans. Eventually I regretted and started again, but there is a good chance I will delete again. Instagram too, I don't feel like it's really buoyant, people are inundated with content, and likes aren't necessarily going to translate into listens on the paid platforms. On the positive side, Ghostown is currently listened to all over the world, our top 3 on Spotify is France, USA and Germany. The "releases of the week" algorithms on Spotify and Deezer (and a little bit on Apple as well) are making more and more people discover our tracks, so it's really positive. I invested hundreds of euros on some songs, to finally reach 10k listens, while others without promotion were taken by the algorithms and crossed the 20k. So these possibilities make it possible to dream. You never know, Spotify in my case is much more positive than any other platform in terms of visibility of new sounds. We could ask for a more equitable distribution of revenues for small artists, (already in progress at Deezer and Soundcloud) we could question the fact that major record companies are majority shareholders at Spotify and that the people behind the most listened playlists are anonymous and impossible to contact. But on Spotify I've been able to get 20k, 30k 40k listens to some new sounds compared to barely 1K elsewhere. Soundcloud by the way, is getting harder and harder since they changed their format, to become a streaming platform like the others. It's very hard to get your sounds heard there. Same with YouTube, there's too much competition. I don't feel like my new releases are being followed by my old fans on Bandcamp either. To rephrase my answer to the question, I think it would be impossible for someone like me to "break through" today, I think without pretense that I make good music and I think a lot more people in the world could appreciate it, but they're never going to discover it without a big break on my part, like having my music in a show, commercial or movie. To break into hip-hop today, you have to present something controversial or very sexualized, or both, sell the idea of selling drugs and fucking bitches and making a lot of money. But even in the past I think that talent was rarely enough. You needed an image, a gimmick, a story. N.W.A and other gangsta rappers presented a cartoonishly threatening image to scare white people, which increased sales among white people! Coolio had his hair, Cypress their weed, Wu Tang their kung fu, Tribe Called Quest a return to their roots in African fashion. How many female RnB singers were not beautiful and did not have a perfect body? How many rappers presented an image of a good guy, stable, intelligent and courteous? Reference: Rap Starr by Sticky Fingaz (Onyx) Also our society has become inundated and gorged with content, there is less patience. People skip after 3 seconds, so there's no need for an intro, and they listen to an average of 2 minutes, so the 8 minute version might as well be kept private at home! Generally speaking, more and more people are making their own music. Personally, I'm disgusted by software that allows you to make music almost without doing anything, like "choose a melodic progression", "choose a style", "press the "break" button", "press the "original" button". It depresses me.