British producer and DJ James Holden will be performing at this year’s edition of Riga’s Skanu Mezs festival for adventurous and related arts. On October 10, the closing evening of the festival, he will play a live show, based on material from his critically acclaimed album The Inheritors. He will be joined onstage by his live band which features a drummer and a saxophone player.
The release of James Holden’s long-anticipated second album The Inheritors back in the summer of 2013 kicked off a bold new phase in the British electronics guru’s musical career. An epic 75 minute long English pagan saga, the immersive and idiosyncratic alternative electronic universe of The Inheritors was the product of Holden’s late night studio jams on his modular synthesizer and custom hybrid analogue-digital machines. But with a recording process that had become so focused around the capturing of his own in-the-moment live performances, it was not long before the act of travelling the world playing other peoples records as part of Holden’s international DJ career of some years standing began to feel increasingly out of step with his most recent studio explorations: the time had clearly come to take the plunge with a touring live show all of his very own.
It was Caribou’s Dan Snaith who had first given Holden the idea to transport his hitherto studio- bound modular synthesizer rig into the live arena. But it would take an impossible-to-turn-down post-album invitation from none other than Thom Yorke to convince Holden to finally assemble his own live touring outfit, with a request to support Yorke’s own Atoms For Peace supergroup on their North American arena tour in the autumn of 2013. Holden had long been a fan of the London-born brotherly synth-and-drum improv duo Rocketnumbernine, so their jazz-trained drummer Tom Page was the natural first choice to complement Holden and his newly-condensed portable modular set-up on this fledgling live outing across the pond, placing electronics and drums head to head in an improvised reimagining of tracks from The Inheritors.
Following their return to the UK, the newly-formed synth-and-drum duo of Holden and Page have continued their live adventures with festivals and one-off shows across Europe, occasionally joined onstage (schedules permitting) by the improvisational flourishes of French saxophonist Etienne Jaumet (of Zombie Zombie fame), donor of the guest sax solo on Inheritors highlight The Caterpillar’s Intervention. And thanks to Oxford maths graduate Holden’s self-coded interactive drummer-following software – which is informed by the latest mathematical models of musician’s timing – the nuanced drumming of Tom Page is liberated from the tyranny of the click track which usually dominates any attempt to integrate real drums with live electronic performance: instead, Holden’s arpeggios are hung off Page’s drum hits, enabling this electronically-minded duo to play with the interconnected togetherness of a “proper” live band.
This may all seem a long way from 1999’s exuberant teenage trance hit Horizons, the 12” single which first thrust the classically-trained 19 year old James Holden onto the global dance music scene thanks to an early intervention from Sony Music, opening up an intensive course of remixing, producing, collaborations and DJing in place of the conventional graduate career path. It was with the formation of his own Border Community record label in 2003 that Holden really began to assert his singular vision, unleashing a bonafide dancefloor classic with his own unstoppable remix of Nathan Fake’s The Sky Was Pink (2004) before flexing his album muscles with his milestone debut The Idiots Are Winning in 2006. (“Holden is operating in a different league”, proclaimed Q Magazine, presciently.) But it would take a further seven years of wandering in the between-albums desert – squeezed between an intensive schedule of weekly DJ excursions – before the grand statement comeback of The Inheritors was finally ready to let loose upon the world, kick-starting Holden’s radical transformation into the fully-fledged live performer we see today.
Here is what Crack magazine write of Holden’s current live show: „We’ll get this out of the way from the start: the new Inheritors live show is nothing short of outstanding. Comprised of three players – Holden on synths, a drummer, and a saxophonist – this is not some cosmetic rehash or attempt to update the bread and butter formula of the past decade. This is performance that sits squarely at the opposite end of the spectrum: a place made up of single tracks, real instruments, pauses for applause, and bouts of freeform experimentation. In short, this is live music in its truest and most essential form.”
The Skanu Mezs festival for adventurous music will happen in Riga, Latvia on October 2, 9 and 10. The tickets to the festival can be purchased at www.bilesuserviss.lv.
Holden’s performance at Skaņu Mežs festival is a part of the project “Experimental Music Lighthouses”. The project will take place between November 1 2014 – October 31 2015 and will be available to the greater public in October 2015 during the Skaņu Mežs festival in Latvia, as well as at the Insomnia festival in Norway shortly thereafter. The aim of the project is to promote a four part cooperation between Skaņu Mežs and Insomnia. This includes, amongst other things: the production of a Latvian/Norwegian composition; an exchange of Latvian and Norwegian musicians between the programs of the festival; creating a mutual festival program; the exchange of new compositions between Riga and Tromsø with the help of artists’ residencies. The unique soundscapes of both cities and their symbiosis is the emphasis of each of the exchange.
The project is co-financed by the European Economic Area’s (EEA) Financial Mechanism programme “Conservation and Revitalisation of Cultural and Natural Heritage.” The grant is made up of 84.236,74 EUR from the EEA (consisting of money from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), an allocation of 14.865,31 EUR from the Latvian national budget and 15.625,95 EUR of Skaņu Mežs’s, own means.
Skaņu Mežs’2014 is supported by EU programme “Creative Europe”, Riga City Council, Latvian State Endowment for Arts (VKKF) and others. Skaņu Mežs is a member of ECAS – European Cities for Advanced Music association for experimental music festivals as well as the SHAPE platform for innovative music and audiovisual art.