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Folk is alive and well (and electronic) say Four Tet and Manitoba.listen to manitoba interview feature
listen to four tet interview feature
Back in 1965, the Newport Folk Festival was reduced to apoplexy when a cocky youngster called Bob Dylan flouted the ban on electric instruments and plugged his guitar in. Now, nearly 40 years on, a new generation of musicians are ringing changes in the cloistered world of folk music once more. Splicing rustic sounds with the clicks of circuit boards, producers like Four Tet and Pedro are creating laptop lullabies that, if the audience at Newport had heard them, would have sent them scurrying to the real ale tent for a pint to cry into.
“Anyone with good ideas and enough heart to tell the purists to f**k off can breathe new life into folk music,” ponders Kieran Hebden, the man behind Four Tet. “The inspiration was the sound, not folk music as a way of life.”
Because, as Kieran points out, the music dubbed “folktronica” looks forward not backwards. His albums Pause and Rounds may contain plucked harps and pianos but the darkness which pervades them is at odds with any notions of green and pleasant lands. And whereas folk is still in thrall to the live acoustic band, Rounds was pieced together on a laptop with no live instruments at all.
Manitoba (Dan Snaith) and Four Tet (Kieran Hedben)
Dan Snaith, aka Manitoba, also uses a laptop to sample and loop sounds. Unlike Hebden, however, Snaith used a wide variety of live instrumentation on his acclaimed Up In Flames LP - and the Manitoba live act includes two drummers - but sounds similarly unique as he rides roughshod over genre conventions.
“So many records these days, whether rock or electronic, just use the same set of sounds as everyone,” he laments. “And I didn’t want to make a record that sounds like it’s from the 60s. I wanted to make a record that sounded like it came from space.”
It’s a point with which James Rutledge, the guitarist in DOT who’s just released his debut solo album as Pedro, concurs. “Folk is just one element of my music,” he says. “And while it sounds pretty and emotive I prefer harder sounds. It gets the folktronica tag because I’m using live instruments that have been messed around with. But a lot of people making folktronica have very different agendas, and that’s why it’s exciting.”
Colleen (Cecile Schott) and Pedro (James Rutledge)
Indeed, ‘folktronica’ can encompass everything from Hebden’s computer compositions to the pastoral hip-hop of Aim, to French folkstress Colleen who, despite the prevalence of electronics on her album Everyone Alive Wants Answers, claims that software can never really replicate the soul of live instruments.
But, unlike the “cricket, warm beer and village green” vision of Britain to which folk music previously belonged, this time everyone is invited to dance. And you won’t need hankies and bells tied to your shoes. Paul Clarke 25 July 03
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aim - interview
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colleen - everybody alive wants answers
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