Entertainment & Arts

Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich launches Ultraista

Image caption The visual impact of Ultraista is important to the band

Radiohead's longtime producer Nigel Godrich is to branch out with his new futuristic electronic group Ultraista.

Beginning with 1994's My Iron Lung, through OK Computer right up until 2011's The King of Limbs, Nigel Godrich has produced records for Radiohead. But his new project, Ultraista sees him step back from Oxford's finest and team up with American instrumentalist Joey Waronker and singer Laura Bettinson.

The result is Ultraista, which history of art buffs will know comes from ultraismo - the Spanish futurist movement of the early 20th Century.

"I got given a book by my mum that she found in a charity shop by this Argentinian guy [Jorge] Luis Borges, who founded the Ultraist movement - who were the Spanish-speaking futurists," explains Godrich.

"It was very much a thing of the time, post World War One, throwing out and rejecting the past, it was a very interesting time in art."

Aside from "really liking the word", Godrich says he and his bandmates Waronker and Bettinson spent time looking at the work of the futurists, the art and social movement led by Italian Filippo Marinetti which celebrated youth, violence, industry and technology.

"We discovered were that we were not the first people to have that idea," he admits. "The Art of Noise is a futurist manifesto and Zang Tumb Tumb, which is ZTT, is a poem and is the name of [British record producer] Trevor Horn's label."

The project arrived as a result of Godrich and Waronker - who has played drums for Smashing Pumpkins, REM and Beck - working together on Radiohead singer Thom Yorke's Atoms for Peace project.

Gestating over a period of several years, it wasn't until the renowned duo brought a singer on board, in the shape of 24-year-old Bettinson, a recent university graduate who had been performing under the name Femme, that the band finally took shape.

'Colourful and energetic'

Godrich describes the new album's sound as "abstract but conveying a feeling, very cut and paste".

"The idea behind the music is that it's very colourful and energetic," he continues, though he baulks at the idea of pigeonholing the music.

"You create something in a vacuum and then you're required to give it a signpost and some sort of label to present it under."

Often credited informally at the "sixth member" of Radiohead, Godrich admits working with one of the world's most famous bands does bring a level of expectation when it comes to the kind of music Ultraista is playing.

"I wish that it wasn't the case but I'm very fortunate in that people are interested in what I'm doing and I'm never going to turn my nose up at that," he says. "But it's like going on holiday, it's really nice to do other things and we all talk about that in the Radiohead camp.

"The baggage is maybe attached to me but it's not mine."

He freely admits that working with such a talented group of musicians "is a very stimulating experience", adding, "I've developed as a musician massively around those people."

Image caption The band have played a handful of live shows across Europe

Early highlights from Ultraista's forthcoming album include the tracks Bad Insect, which opens their live shows with its driving beat and synths.

The track Smalltalk has been remixed by London-based artist Four Tet into a genuine dancefloor filler.

However, Godrich stops short of using the much-maligned '90s term Intelligent Dance Music.

"It's supposed to be exciting but is probably more accessible that the IDM stuff which is the haute couture of dance music."

Godrich says it was Bettinson, until now known in indie circles for her solo wonky pop, who very much helped shape the band's sound.

"The most frustrating thing about dance music is that I find a lot of the stuff I like, other people don't and it really frustrates me and that's why is good having Laura, she understands that world."

The band's visual presence appears to be as important as the sound itself. Online videos for their tracks online show Bettinson bathed in primary colours and bombarded with flashing strobe lights. Cheaply made, for sure, but oddly effective.

"She definitely doesn't suffer from epilepsy because the poor girl had to suffer hours of bright lights flashed in her face," says Godrich.

"But I really enjoy doing that stuff. I'm strong technically, that's how I've succeeded in my career," he adds. "I think abstractly but I'm strong technically and often the case with those sort of people is that they have good imagery but they can't turn it into something because they have to use somebody else to make it happen."

Transferring the music videos to the stage, it transpires, was not the trickiest element for Godrich who says, "the music is the hard bit because we have to learn how to play the songs".

"I had to learn to play the parts that I wrote on a screen which is difficult because I'm not a keyboard player, I'm a guitar player so that was pretty funny.

"We essentially had to cover our own songs."

Following Ultraista, Godrich confirms that an Atoms For Peace album is due to come out next year "with hopefully a tour to follow".

The band, which also includes Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, first played live shows in 2009 and 2010.

"Finishing the record has being going on for a while now," says Godrich who described the process as "very laboratory-style thing, weeding through sessions".

"Thom's been very busy, I've been very busy but it's coming."

Ultraista's self-titled album is out in the UK on 5 November.