As the crowd fills the floor dancing away the night, the DJ plays music from a dark corner, his headphones on, lost in his own world. It’s a foreign world for many, which once brought criticisms about their musicianship and artistic skill. Simon Green, a UK producer and DJ better known as Bonobo, is touring behind his new album Black Sands. He spoke with SFCritic during a phone interview.
SFCritic (SFC): Are you formally trained in any instruments?
Bonobo (B): No, I’ve always kind of bluffed it with instruments. I play all the instruments on the album. I always just find a way to get a melody from an instrument.
SFC: Do you have any training in music theory?
B: Yeah. I’m not that trained in theory, but I just find my way around instruments fairly easily. If there is a melody in my head, I can generally get it out and play it.
SFC: Did that always come easy for you?
B: Once you know how to play the keys, and once you know how to play guitar, anything else is just a variation of that. If you understand how scales work and key structure you can translate anything.
SFC: I noticed that you stuck with one vocalist on this record, as you’ve also done in past records. Why do you choose to do that?
B: Because I wanted it to sound like a record. It’s this effective coherence. I don’t want to fill the record with guests, because it doesn’t have any identity that way. It needs to have a signature.
SFC: Why don’t you stick with the same vocalist through different records?
B: I want the project to still be my music, and not necessarily a band.
SFC: Have you ever been criticized for not being a “real musician” for the electronic elements in your music?
B: No. And if they do I don’t care. There used to be the argument that sampled music was not real music. That’s ridiculous to say that electronic music isn’t real music.
B: Sampled music and electronic music infiltrated the mainstream and everyone’s consciousness. It’s not this kind of threatening new music that is used to be.
SFC: Did you ever receive any criticism for not being a good live show, or anything of that sort?
B: No people really like it. It’s sometimes ambiguous whether it’s one person, or a band, but I kind of like that. I get more criticism when I DJ because people don’t hear the sound they know as Bonobo. They don’t know what the project is, and then there’s a dude playing records.
SFC: What is the process of putting together a DJ set like for you?
B: I don’t play my own music, because you need to keep to the dance floor. I play music that is like mine, that has the same vibe, the same style — but at the same time it’s heavy enough that it carries itself on the dance floor.
SFC: Do you go into a set with a predetermined set-list?
B: Sometimes I do, but within that there are certain times where it would be inappropriate to go too hard. I have a plan but I can make diversions.
SFC: Do you ever make personal mixtapes for friends?
B: No, I used to. I make more playlists, which isn’t like the old mixtape where you would spend time writing stuff on the seam of the cassette. Now you just make a folder for someone. It doesn’t really have the same love or craft go into it.
SFC: Not the way you describe it, it definitely doesn’t. In that regard, does music translate into emotion for you?
B: There would probably be something by this neo-classical Polish composer, Jacek Kaspszyk.
SFC: What about if you’re angry?
B: I don’t know. I don’t really have an angry mixtape.
SFC: What if you’re trying to seduce someone?
B: Porteco Cortet, their Isla album.
SFC: I have one last question, and I’m sure you’ve heard this question before…
B: The monkey.
SFC: Yeah. Are you already regretting naming yourself it?