Simon Green’s alias, Bonobo, took formal shape in the late ‘90s with the release of the 1999 song “Terrapin,” which later found a place on his seminal debut album, ‘Animal Magic,’ released in 2001. Later, he was signed to independent British record label Ninja Tune, with which he has gone on to release four studio albums, most recently 2013’s ‘The North Borders.’
This most recent album is a clear evolution for Simon as a musician. It’s an organic and soulful sound made possible with electronic beats, a sound entirely less sample-reliant than previous works. At the same time, it’s more instrumental, with slightly faster 4/4 beats that, perish the thought, stray towards the realm of the danceable. At times evocative of James Blake and even Pogo, ‘The North Borders’ has solidified Bonobo’s reputation as one of the most exciting beatsmiths in electronica.
Simon recently took some time off while driving through the Colorado Desert to share his thoughts on Iceland, the differences between American and European crowds and the evolution of his musical style.
What have you been working on lately?
I haven’t had much time to work on anything lately, as I’ve been on the road promoting my newish record for the last seven months. But actually I’ve been working on a compilation album called ‘LateNightTales.’ It’s kind of a mixture of all sorts of stuff, more or less late night stuff. It’s a real privilege to be asked to contribute to one of these albums [other artists who have been selected to make these albums include MGMT, The Flaming Lips, Four Tet, Belle & Sebastian, Jamiroquai and Arctic Monkeys]. Other than that, I’ve just been touring. I’ve been on the road forever.
So you’ve been touring quite extensively lately, do you have any insight on the differences between touring in the US and Europe?
I mean yeah, it’s kind of tricky. I live in New York, but I’m still British. I live in New York on a visa, so um… I do half my touring in America and half of it in Europe. It feels very familiar now, touring in America. The American crowds react more to the louder parts of the set whereas I think the European audiences kind of appreciate the deeper parts of the music, you know? They appreciate the more subtle nuances of the music.
COLLABORATION AND INFLUENCE
In your music, especially lately, it seems you’ve got a penchant for collaborations. Are there any kind of dream collaborations you’d love to see happen?
I guess I worked with Erykah Badu, who was kind of one of those, you know, she was definitely on my list of dream collaborations. But I think if you ask a lot of producers, you know, who make this kind of music, I think everyone’s gonna say Björk. I think everyone would love to work with Björk. Q-Tip would be a great thing too, but it really depends, sometimes I think the greatest songs can come from people who are completely unknown.
What have you been listening to lately, as far as inspiration?
I’m listening to a lot of stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of more neoclassical, experimental kind of stuff, like Matthew Bourne and Dustin O’Halloran. Also, some really good kind of beats producers, like Lap for Lux. The new Om Unit album is great. Stuff like Gang Colours, there’s some really interesting music coming out.
Are you listening to any Icelandic musicians?
I like a lot Icelandic folk music, a lot of the accordion music. There’s a lot of very beautiful, kind of wistful Icelandic folk music.
A CONSTANT EVOLUTION
How would you say your music has evolved since ‘Animal Magic’?
I think it’s just evolved over the years. I think that ‘Animal Magic’ was such a product of its time, which was, you know, that kind of very down-tempo, sample-based jazz-y kind of instrumental music. I wouldn’t want to do that now, 10–15 years later; it would seem a little sort of out of place. I think my music is reflective of what’s exciting to me at the time, not that it necessarily follows trends, but I’m aware of what’s happening and what’s relevant and what’s exciting. I think that’s kind of how my music has evolved with the general music.
Where would you like to see your music go and the genre develop?
I think it’s always nice to break out of a scene, and I think I’m doing that a little, to sort of cross over from being just in its own specialist area, to make your music without compromise, that appeals to people who’re maybe not familiar with that style. I think I just wanna keep pushing it to see how far I can take it, I don’t have an end goal really. I’m just sort of making it, making music as best I can. If people seem to be getting along with it, and that kind of makes me happy.
ICELAND AND THE FESTIVAL
Seeing as how you’re playing a multiband festival in Iceland where people may or may not be very familiar with your music, can you offer a convenient entry point in your discography for a new listener?
I would go back just one album to ‘Black Sands.’ It gives a very sort of broad idea of what my sound is like and I think it’s maybe a broader album than the last one, because it has more of that live, jazz-y aspect, along with the more programmed electronic stuff. I think that would be a good one.
Are there any bands on the Sonar Reykjavík bill that you’d like to see?
I haven’t had a chance to look, but I know James Holden is playing and I love what he does, so that’s something I’m gonna check out. I think I’m only there for one day, but definitely James Holden, if I can.
Is there anything in Iceland itself you’d like to see?
I want to see all the springs, the volcanic stuff, the landscape, you know. It’s one of the places I’ve wanted to go to the most, out of anywhere, so I’m gonna try to get out there a few days before the festival, to go out into the country and hopefully get a chance to explore a little bit.