Interview: Amon Tobin

Amon Tobin on jazz, the Ninja Tune label and his new projects.

1. Amon, can you tell us how you discovered the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim? How did bossa nova attract you?

I grew up with Brazillian music all around although I was never particularly drawn to Jobim. I like it as much as anyone else though. Hard not to like it 


2. Would you name some jazz records that you really like to listen to and never get fed up with?

I'll always love Duke Ellington's caravan. I recorded a DJ mix once that was only versions of caravan mixed with some of my favorite drum solos.


3. Would you tell us about how your music has been changing through the years (from album to album)?

I started with moving musical phrases out of their natural context. Then by reordering the phrases. Then by synthesising the reordered phrases. After that, I explored synthesising recordings made in the natural world and now I'm doing my best to put all I've learned into emotionally driven music. Things that don't necessarily show their technique.


4. Tell us about the Bricolage album. Many listeners consider it significant. There are many rumors about this period of your life: you were travelling like a wandering musician, recording some sounds. What happened to you in those times?

I don't think it was as significant as people say. I think it was to do with timing. My interests aligned with the wider world for a moment and I was hailed as some kind of messiah by trendy publications like pitchfork. All bullshit, of course. What mattered to me was, I was able to keep making more music and to keep developing. 


I had spent a good while wondering just prior to all this. I'd spent some years working as a street tout in Portugal. It was sketchy work for sketchy people and I spent just enough nights either on a beach or in jail to know I wanted to do something else. I wasn't able to make much music during that time. Mainly busked and played piano badly in bars. 


5. Your music transformed from semi-acoustic to mostly electronic. Is this a quest for new horizons?

No, it's all electronic. The approach is different is all. But yes, always trying to learn and learn more.  


6. What are you interested in outside of music (sport, riding, video) and why so? 

I'm really not that interested in many other things. I like films, books and podcasts, I suppose. I'm quite boring.

7. What is the attraction and the advantage of modular synths for you? Why did you start to work with them? 

I like how they don't always do as they are told. Also very limited, which I like because you have to escape the limitations and that ends up being a very creative thing to do.  


8. Your album Supermodified opened consciousness for many people. What is the main idea of it?

There wasn't a concept or anything like that. I was in the process of reorganising musical phrases and putting things together that weren't naturally fitting together. I didn't know much about production or mixing but I found it very interesting to take fragments of existing music and see if I could string them together to make new musical forms. Then to do this over several layers. Percussively, melodically and so on. 

9. What is the attraction of the hip hop and drum’n’bass genres for you? Is there a driving  point, which pushed you to start the Two Fingers project?


As a kid, blues was my first love but my second love was Hip Hop. I grew up listening to and dancing to Hip Hop. As a young teenager, I developed a love for Man Parrish, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Electro that I heard coming out of New York and Detroit. I still watch b-boy battles and I am always inspired by what can be done with limited resources and imagination. That's what Hip Hop signified to me as a kid. Now, of course, it's very different but it remains part of my musical development and I continue to explore it with the Two Fingers project.


10. What was the purpose of creating Nomark Records if you had been working with Ninja Tune previously?


I have six different aliases I've been working hard to build over the last decade. It's too much to put on a label with other artists and a release schedule that's not my own. 


Nomark is an insane idea but we've been going for a year and a half, so I'm hopeful it can continue to grow. I'm so grateful to see how people got behind it and directly support what I do. Buying the music instead of just going on Spotify. It means the world to me as does my team. I could never have done it on my own. 


11. What else would be the point of your interest: what kind of genres would you mix together?


I'm less interested in genres than I used to be. I approach music mostly through its core elements (rhythm, mellody, timbre) rather than it's cultural signifiers. 


12. Let’s talk about your recent album Fear In A Handful Of Dust. What kind of equipment did you use while working on this release, were there any difficulties?


My goal with this album was to make something beautiful, but also not to lock it to a time. I didn't want it to be something you could identify as being made in this particular year or that particular year. I realised that drums often anchor music to a time so I did away with drums. Instead I used percussion that would be harder to define. 


13. Do you listen to your own released material?


I do just after I've made it. I listen again and again, but then not at all really afterwards. It's not a rule or anything like that. I'm just busy making new things.


14. Why do you think other people listen to your music? What can they find in your music that sounds relatable to them?


I don't know but I hope people can find an emotional connection. I hope the root of what I'm feeling can be transmitted even if it's not always clearly interpreted. Failing all that, I hope it's at least interesting technically. 


15. Which artists’ music from Ninja Tune sounds interesting to you, if any?


I'll always love Kid Koala. He continues to inspire me as an artist and a human 


16. Do you like the situation in the music world at the moment?


No, it's pretty awful, of course. A devalued currency for the most part. Somehow, something everyone loves, but few people care about. On the other hand, the world in general is in a difficult situation and it's up to us to be creative and strong. it's easy to complain and it's also dull. Yes, the situation isn't easy but I also think it will get better. Because all of us want that.

Official website of Amon Tobin

Amon Tobin on Bandcamp

Amon Tobin on SoundCloud

Questions: Ilya Kudrin