Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Last November saw the release of the first album from Ultraísta: the London-based trio comprising Radiohead and Atoms For Peace producer Nigel Godrich, famed drummer Joey Waronker and vocalist Laura Bettison. An energetic and intelligent debut, with obvious sonic links to the prestigious past collaborations of Godrich and Waronker, its most important contribution was probably to introduce Bettison's talents. Enhanced by her gritty and characterful tones, tracks like Smalltalk and Gold Dayzz became soaring electronic pop keepers.
After a year of chasing up musician friends, this month Ultraísta put out 'Ultraísta Remixes', offering reinterpretations from big names like Four Tet, FaltyDL and Zero 7 (whose links with Godrich may go back as far as their excellent take on Radiohead's Climbing Up The Walls in 1998). Highlights included a familiarly glorious deconstruction job from Matthew Herbert, as well as Nathan Fake ripping up Party Line at the roots. Admittedly, the remix album can often be a rather flaccid and forced excersise, but you'd do well to hear a more cohesive album reinterpretation than 'Ultraísta Remixes' this year.
We spoke to Godrich and Bettinson for a bit of a summer debrief, touching on recent live performances and how their own view of the project has altered following these remixes. Find that after an exclusive look at a kaleidoscopic visual accompaniment to Nathan Fake's offering.
Hey Ultraísta, how’s things?
"Things are very good. No complaints."
If you could sum up your summer in one word, what would it be?
Congratulations on the remix album. Something I really like about it is that you’ve got a remix of every track on there instead of having four different versions of Smalltalk, for instance. Were you quite strict on only offering one piece to each artist, or was it a more natural process than that?
"We were strict about picking only one version of each song for the album, however in all honesty we probably have enough remixes behind the scenes to make 'Ultraísta-Remixes Part II'. But we won't be doing that. We were very fortunate to be able to call on a lot of our friends for the remixes, and when we started out we were just intrigued to see what would come back and had no real intention of making a whole other record out of them. That just sort of revealed itself to us really. I think remixes are a fun way of collaborating with other artists you admire who you may not ever get the chance to be in the studio with."
Nathan Fake’s take on Party Line is one of the most transformative on the record, and twists some wonderful shapes with Laura’s vocal. Did you discover new things about the original album through these remixes?
"We discovered that music can be taken apart and the pieces be put back together in a different context endlessly… recycled forever. A big part of the way the original album was made was by taking pieces of music we had already made, stripping them down and throwing them against new parts and ideas. That’s actually when things started to make sense – when we thought of some of the tracks as remixes. Subsequently they have been remixed by some very talented other people for this project, other brains who think about music differently to us and don't have the same attachments to the tracks that we have."
"If we sent these remixes off to get remixed again they would turn even more corners and eventually become unrecognisable as the original tracks. That is very much how our culture works these days – computers have made us able to endlessly rehash things into other things, it’s something that we are used to and expect now." – Ultraísta
"If we then sent these remixes off to get remixed again and again they would turn even more corners inside even more people’s brains and eventually become unrecognisable as the original tracks. That is very much how our culture works these days – computers have made us able to endlessly rehash things into other things, it’s something that we are used to and expect now. It's interesting."
As well as the new video for the Nathan Fake remix, you’ve got about six videos for tracks off the debut gathered on your site, all packed with light and colour. Is connecting a visual element always an integral part in what you do?
"Yes – again that's one of the things that we started addressing before we even finished the original recording process. Things really started to make sense when we tried to project visually what we heard in the music. The aesthetic tied it all together and helped us to focus on what it was we were making. It helped us finish. Originally the entire project was meant to be simply 10 videos with music that we were going to put up on Youtube and that would be it. Why didn't we do that again?"
"I think all said and done the video and visual aspect was almost the most fun part of the whole project. Moving forward it certainly will be a very important aspect. It all comes from the same processes and the same parts of the brain, and working on visuals brings welcome relief to endless listening!"
"The aesthetic tied it all together and helped us to focus on what it was we were making. It helped us finish. Originally the entire project was meant to be simply 10 videos with music that we were going to put up on Youtube." – Ultraísta
You supported Flying Lotus alongside Thundercat in New York back in May, how’d that go?
"That was a lot of fun. The shows were great and some of the biggest audiences we'd played to and it's always a buzz to hear people singing along to the tunes, especially when it's just a support gig! We love New York. We'll be back again in 2014 I'm sure."
Any plans for the band on the horizon we should know about?
"We're currently playing around with some new ideas. Some new music, some new visuals. It's coming up a year since our debut album was released so we're pretty eager to share something soon."
I Am Fortified released 'Ultraísta Remixes' on the 2nd September 2013.