Matthew Herbert Biography (March 98)
It is probably not customary for artists to write their own biography unless I'd scored 244 for England in cricket during the 80s, but I wanted to make sure it wasn't full of phrases like 'it was then that Matt had the world knocking on his door'.so here goes…
I first started music when I was 4 years old, learning the violin and the piano through until I went to university. I started playing in orchestras and choirs from the age of seven and gigging with bands as a keyboard player at about 13. My first band was a 25 piece Glen Miller style 1940's big band and it was cool to make so much noise with no amplification. At the age of 16 I went on a tour of Sweden with my orchestra and had my first taste of life playing music abroad.
At school there was a teacher called Pete Stollery, an electo-acoustic composer in his spare time, and it was he that first played us the music of Steve Reich, Xenakis, and jazz standards and then make us consider them in the same way as we'd considered Beethoven.
My dad was a sound engineer at the BBC for 30 years and had always surrounded himself with sweet sounding technology. My parents soon realised my subsequent love for music technology might take me away from my desire to be a stunt motorbike rider and more into the realms of being creative. With my part-time job money and their birthday gifts, I gradually stared accumulating equipment until by the time I reached university I had a small home studio.
I decided to study drama at Exeter University as I wanted to create my own music without having to study composition in the traditional way. It is so rewarding for me now to be writing a piece of classical music for a full string orchestra as part of a film score because I am doing it in my own way and at the right time. At university I learnt about performance and the relationship between music and performance. It was here that I first started sampling my immediate environment in an attempt to create a direct link between what the audience was seeing and what it was hearing. It gave me the balls to stand up in front of 1000 strangers and try and entertain them with a bag of crisps. It was January 95 at the Arches in Glasgow that I first tried this idea out and rather surprisingly, it worked. Since then I have performed live with everyday objects (bottles, bikes, drills, radios, cameras, stones etc) and environments (I rebuilt my kitchen on stage) all over the world and in all sorts of venues. I have been lucky enough to travel and present my music in England, Ireland, America, Canada, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Australia and New Zealand.
It was also down in Exeter that I hooked up with the fledgling label and record shop of Mighty Force that had just released Aphex Twin's first record. With the encouragement of Tom and Mark from Global Communication, I was soon experimenting in a dancefloor environment with the sampling techniques I had developed for theatre music.
I moved back to London in 1994 having had little success with releasing records in Exeter and it was in January of '96 that three of my records were released: Wishmountain-'Radio' (techno); Doctor Rockit-'Ready to Rockit' (jazzy electro) and Herbert-'Part One' (house). We sold more of these than all of the other projects combined and suddenly I was in the world of remixes, DJing and albums.
Recently I have been taking jazz lessons on the piano and returning to what I first started writing-songs. It has been doubly rewarding because I am doing such a variety of work, including feature film soundtracks (Don Cameron's 'Paradisiac' being the latest), fashion shows (for Erik Halley and Gaspard Yurkievich), an Arts Council-sponsored Radio Boy tour of Britain and my own label (Accidental Records). The idea of the label is to give musicians the chance to experiment with electronic music and vice versa. It has minimal artwork so that hopefully we can create some sort of meritocracy where the public buys records because they like them, rather than because of a high-profile marketing campaign. As for the rest of what I'm up to- well I'm not going to tell you everything.
BIOGRAPHY PART 2 (September 2000)
Well I wrote that biog about 2 years ago so I guess its time for a new one.
Things here all change again. After recording for the RAMS group of labels: Phonography, Antiphon and Life (mine) it seems the path of the independent label never runs smooth and they finished. The result is that apart from the first music I wrote as Herbert on Phono, I now own the rights to all of my music. This is such an enviable position to be in as an artist and there are plans in the future to re-release some of the old stuff (minus the not-so-good tracks). The first release of this stuff, will be a Doctor Rockit compilation of some of the tracks that were released on Clear in the mid-nineties.
So the state of the labels is like this: Accidental Records is the name of the overall company and I will be releasing records as Radio Boy on this, alongside artists such as Matmos and Si Begg doing their own curious type of club music. I have also started Soundslike to release the Herbert music aswell as Phil Parnell. The first release though of all the labels is on Lifelike which has now become a sort of anything goes label, starting with the Doctor Rockit album 'Indoor Fireworks'. Future music on this label will be John Mathias a singer/songwriter who played violin for Radiohead on 'The Bends'. His well-crafted songs combined with interesting production and top performances from his band make him set to make a very interesting album in 2001.
At present I am interested in music that doesn't quite fit. For example I have just finished a new DJ mix album for Tresor called 'Lets All Mistakes'. These are the sales notes I wrote for the release, out in November 2000:……
The title says it all. I'm tired of a perfect universe where DJs feed the latest records in to a computer and perfectly beat match them. I'm human, I'm flawed and was never supposed to be a DJ. That said, I have played about 300 DJ gigs in the last four years in all sorts of amazing places, from Russia to Australia to Iceland. Increasingly people are wanting to hear new things on the dance floor and consequently going crazy over the wobbly stuff. This CD is supposed to be those tunes: from the consistently overlooked brilliance of Green Velvet to the structurally challenged records from Berlin. This really is my chance to play those records that make people either scream or leave dance floors. This is what I think electronic music is about, challenging conventions, trying to make people dance to ever increasingly weird sounds and rhythms. You have a captive audience, a big sound system and a spanish-strength vodka and tonic…. what more do you require for a chance to play people some new music?
So this is what DJing means to me at the moment. Sure I played some cheesy records in the past in an attempt to keep people moving, but now I'm deadly serious and whilst the mixing's not always perfect, the records mostly are. That's what's important. Hopefully after this release, 'Dusty Cabinets' will be number one and Green Velvet a national hero. I get the feeling though that whilst there's Ibiza and a load of magazines prepared to accept disco loops and drum machines as modern and exciting nothing will change, but in the words of Samuel Beckett, "fail again, fail better".
The live gigs have continued this last year with more Herbert Live shows than previously. For this I have drafted in Phil Parnell to play piano with us as well as having Dani Siciliano on vocals. I have also started incorporating some of the more experimental sounds of Radio Boy into the live show to present the idea of new sounds in their raw state alongside those more hidden in the mix of vocals and keyboards. We have taken the show so far to Ireland, France, Germany, Russia, Canada, a month tour of Australia and New Zealand (see web site for the diary I wrote), London, Portugal and a nerve-racking performance at Sonar 2000. It's rare when you play those big gigs that you actually see the audience properly, but in this case, we could see every single one of the crowd. It's scary when an audience moves from anonymity into a carefully defined mass. It was there however that I had one of the most amazing experiences: I looked up whilst playing a bottle of water to see everyone looking serious and staring at me intently. I still don't quite know why, but I smiled and 3000 people smiled back. It was one of those moments you never forget and even now it makes me feel weird.
The plan was to ease up on the DJing and live shows to concentrate on film music and recording the next Herbert album, but actually the offers keep getting better: 'come and play in an amazing Corbusier building in Marseille', or 'how about South Africa?'. So in fact, I am still off every week to play my wobbly music to whoever wants to listen.
As for the films, so far this year I have finished some music for 'Daybreak'- a Film Four UK production; a film called 'Nailing Vienna' by Jonathan English with a cameo by Caprice in it destined to be properly distributed; a short called 'Paradisiac' by Donald Cameron- an already in-demand director who is currently shooting Moloko and Blur's new video within six weeks of 'Paradisiac' being finished. Not bad for a 24 year old. Finally though, I am working with my good friend and supremely talented choreographer Blanca Li, who's debut feature is called Yo! and is an updated musical. There will be all the usual song and dance but with house music instead. Its co-produced with Pedro Almodovar who has always been a hero of mine so its going to be a bit of a good one I think. There are others in the pipeline but since the film industry is so paranoid, I can't say what they are. It's a very different kettle of fish though to write film music as it is functional and your decision is never final. It's hard too to have people reference others' music, implying 'copy this'. However, if you work with directors that you get on with, like I have been privileged to do this year, it is such a satisfying and rewarding experience when it all comes together and you see the result on the big screen.
I have also just finished some music for Channel 4 and unfortunately had to turn down offers of playing at more arts based events due to lack of time to execute my ideas properly. It's a real struggle finding effective and financially sensible ways of dividing your time, but until they get round to cloning me, I guess I just have to get on with it.
Robert Johnson, Offenbach am Main
Mirano Continental, Brussel