Tru Thoughts is releasing a new EP by sUb_modU, called Pidgin Synths, tomorrow.
For his new EP, the Berlin-based producer pays homage to afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti with reworkings of two of his iconic tracks’ Expensive Shit’ and ‘Water No Get Enemy’. The EP also includes two synth-heavy original compositions.
A jazz musician with a speciality for tenor sax, sUb_modU is a polyrhythmic project that reinterprets ensemble music of the ancient tribes. Attentive to the dualities in sound,sUb_mod U’s work is electronic yet sonically organic, complex yet understandable–electronic music with a human feel.
Today, we’re excited to premiere his take on ‘Water No Get Enemy’, a killer electronic-filled reinterpretation that retains the vibrant energy of the original while adding its own sizzling fire.
With the EP dropping tomorrow, we caught up with sUb_modU to talk about what’s to come.
Hi, Romeo, tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from, what kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Hi Twistedsoul, and thank you for hosting me here. I was born and raised in Aosta (Italy) – a small tourist town in the Alps of outstanding nature and a mountain range that acted as a catalyst for my musical ambitions. Thanks to the music, I had the possibility soon to satisfy the wanderlust to go beyond these borders.
Having started studying music as a child, I immediately became fond of classical music. Then came the passion for 70s dance, then the new-wave, punk, alternative, hardcore, post-rock, soul, funk, trip-hop and electronic music. Later, at some point, I became very passionate about jazz music, and it was at that moment that my musical life changed. I immediately started studying and playing jazz.
I love your reworkings of the Fela Kuti tracks. What made you choose these classic tracks and what inspired you to do your take on these legendary songs?
I’ve always been in love with the Fela period with Afrika 70, and the 12″ Expensive Shit is my absolute favourite. So when one day I had to experience the sounds of a new analogue synth I tried to remember the theme of a song that I liked. When it came to my mind to write the sequence of Water No Get Enemy, I found an incredible sound that gave me the same effect and power of that brass section. At that point, a thousand other thoughts started on the potential of a reworking (many of those thoughts were about working respectfully on that music).
Can you tell me a bit about your new EP Pidgin Synths? What was the creative process both with the covers and the original compositions?
I started from the two covers, with the idea of experimenting. As I went on, I realized that this method of work could have led me to compose original songs with this style. I still didn’t know if it would work, that’s the beauty of experimentation. The covers were perfect for the reason that they represent two different types of Fela’s sound (one more relaxed with a slower BMP, the other tenser and faster). At this point, I was really curious to see what would happen, rebuilding everything from scratch, without using samples. Afrobeat was very distant from electronic music, but it has unique and unmistakable features. So I decided to face this job as in jazz we usually face a standard: reinterpreting it respecting some essential aspects (such as melody, rhythmic afrobeat, harmony). I found myself solving interesting puzzles, such as “how can a synth emerge that plays the role of a trombone section in the midst of other synths that do a more rhythmic job and others that are halfway there?”. “What are the elements that I can keep very similar to the original sound material, making sure that a style of reinterpretation comes out instead of a pedantic reproduction?”. Then, after acquiring the language with the covers, I let it all flow and composed the original tracks “RAM Generation” and “Pidgin Synths” using the same palette of sounds, following the same harmonic and rhythmic principles and trying to highlight the typical traits of a genre that belonged to Nigeria in the 70s.
Tell us about your set-up. Where and how do you record your music?
I work on my music with analogue synths and drum machines, a sampler, with the help of a DAW on my pc. Also, I play instruments like saxophone, flute and pianos. Usually, I compose and record the things I can in my home studio. Then, for some recordings that require more advanced equipment, mixing and mastering, I move to the Pavili studio in Berlin (over the years we have built up a relationship of trust with the sound engineer Vitaliano Zurlo).
What are your five favourite tracks at the moment?
Jeff Parker “After The Rain”
Kassa Overall “Please Don’t Kill Me”
Rabii Harnoune & V.B. Kuhl “Traveller”
Makaya McCraven “I’m New Here” (Gil Scott-Heron)
Alogte Oho & His Sounds Of Joy “Mam Yinne Wa”
What else is coming up for sUb_modU in 2020?
I’d like to tell you that I’ll be playing live soon, but in the current epidemic situation, it will be difficult for this to happen soon. However, I have some jobs planned, including a remix. Also, I’m currently working on a lot of new music, and I hope to be able to give it a definitive shape and release it soon. From what I have noticed so far, I am shifting my centre of gravity towards jazz as the primary approach, with a new formula that I’m really enjoying.
Finally, we’ve been asking our interviewees this in the current climate, so any advice for self-isolation in the light of a certain global pandemic?
More than giving advice, I can tell you how I’m experiencing it. For me, it is a unique opportunity to observe and understand how it works “myself”. In isolation, you can better realise that everything depends on you. If you look closely, others have nothing to do with your problems. “You” remains “you” and the only really good thing you can do is improve yourself. One very useful thing was to focus on one or more purposes and to give it all my attention as possible. In this way, I think it won’t be a period to be thrown away, but to be remembered as a moment in my life without which I would never have gotten some openings on myself and the world. Stay healthy within yourself!