“Pharrell’s just done a tune with the Swedish House Mafia. That made me really sad; like you’re clearly one of the most talented people in pop music, what are you doing?! It’s like somebody, somewhere has said to him ‘look, you’ve got to move with the times – and unfortunately, that’s what the times are’.”
I’m having dinner with LV, and member Will Horrocks is bemoaning Pharrell’s recent form. He’s right, of course, but in dismissing the idea of moving with the times, he’s touched upon what makes LV special. The London-based trio – Horrocks, Gervase Gordon and Si Williams – couldn’t care less about moving with the times. With dub and reggae as their self-confessed “home sound”, they had been making music for the best part of a decade when they stumbled upon a record deal with Hyperdub in 2007. Of course, they didn’t know much about dubstep at the time and probably didn’t care either; the meeting with Kode9 was coincidence, set up by a friend.
Since then they’ve worked with some of the most hyped musicians in South Africa and legendary figures from the world of reggae, releasing on UK labels like Hyperdub, 2nd Drop and Hemlock, but people still don’t know much about LV. They’re publicity shy, content to stay in the shadows while their supposed peers juggle flickr, Facebook, myspace and Twitter on a daily basis.
Despite this attitude, their new single ‘Boomslang’ has been their best received to date, and production work for the likes of Spoek Mathambo looks set to further raise their profile. FACT was granted a rare interview with the three, where we discussed their history, the increasing influence of South Africa on their work and more.
“We’ve reached a happy point where we can basically make what we want.”
So I had no idea what you guys looked like, or what your backgrounds were, really. I imagine that’s true of a lot of people. So first question: what are your backgrounds, and given the fact that you’ve released on some relatively high profile labels, how comes you’ve managed to stay in the shadows for so long?
Gerv: “Well I was born in South Africa, came to London when I was about six, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Will: “We all met at university. Me and Si have known each other pretty much since we were born. We lived on the same road in East Dulwich. When we went to uni, I was in the year above Si, and me and Gerv were in the same course – or at least we were registered on the same course. We started making music towards the end of first year, and then when Si arrived the next year it became three. We’ve just been making music ever since.”
And LV is just the three of you, right?
Will: “Yeah, it’s us three. There have been other people at various points…”
Gerv: “Well, there’s always been other people.”
Will: “Yeah. We can’t seem to put out a release without an ‘and’ somewhere in it.”
Is that intentional, that collaborative approach?
Will: “Nah, it just sort of happened. Happy accidents, basically. So yeah, that’s always been what the three of us have done together, since uni, make music. And now we make music and occasionally we release it.”
Gerv: “[what we made in college] was basically an embryonic version of what we do now. We’d go through phases… like we’d have different people around us, and that would inspire what we made in different ways. Now we’ve reached a happy point where we can basically make what we want … And none of us are singers. It’s taken us a while, but we’ve now found some people that we really want to keep working with.”
What’s interesting is that I don’t know if there’s really an LV sound. What you make is so varied.
Will: “I dunno, there’s something in there. It will reveal itself but it’s a long story, the LV sound… [laughs]
“We don’t sit down and say we’re going to make something that sounds like X, Y or Z. The thing is though, there’s three of us, so occasionally some of us will be pulling the tracks in one direction, and others in another. One of us will be playing a keyboard, another will be making random noises, and the other one will hear something in that, so we’ll work from that. There is a strong element of serendipity that comes out of that.”
Gerv: “Even if we start out saying we’re gonna make a deep, lush house tune, someone will break up the beat at some point.”
Will: “Short attention spans, that’s what it is.”
Well you’ve got the more reggae-ish songs, you’ve got the kwaito tracks, there’s garage-y ones. Is that diversity simply a case of different members doing different things?
Will: “We just make music that we want to make at the time. We just have fun, and make sounds, and see what happens. Well, some of us have more fun than others.”
Gerv: “It’s also responding to… For example, with ‘Globetrotting’ and ‘Don’t Judge’, the two tunes we made with Errol [Bellot], he’s a died in the wool roots reggae singer. So naturally the music that grows up around his vocal is gonna work with that. Whereas with Smiso [Okmalumkoolkat, vocalist on 'Boomslang'], and his vocals, there was a certain amount of inevitability [about the route we go down].”
Will: “There’s no explanation or intentions to what we do, and in terms of genre, that’s something that gets applied afterwards by other people. When we sat down to make ‘Hylo’, the thought process was the same as when we sat down to make ‘Boomslang’, it was just making what we wanted to hear.”
Si: “There was no premeditated, ‘this is what this is going to sound like’, process. It wouldn’t work if there was one.”
Gerv: “I wonder, do people actually set out like, ‘right, I’m going to sit down and make this big genre-piece now”?
They do, but you can usually see the fact they have from a mile off.
Si: “Genre, at the end of the day, is just something – something useful – that’s applied afterwards, with certain touchstones and reference points that enable you to understand something you might not necessarily listen to at that moment. But as far as making music goes, it’s not that useful.”
Gerv: “It doesn’t work!”
Will: “Well, it doesn’t work for us. I’m sure some people can be like ‘right, now I’m gonna make a banging hands in the air trance beat’, and it just comes out.”
Gerv: “It’s funny, because with ‘Boomslang’, I’ve seen a few people refer to it as a kwaito tune. But I wonder then, what would kwaito artists actually think about that? I don’t think someone who considers themselves a kwaito artist would consider ‘Boomslang’ a kwaito tune.”
So when you went back to Cape Town [documented at Blackdown], was that the first time you’d been back?
Gerv: “No, I’d been back a few times, but that was the first time I suppose that I’d gone back and been away from my family, and actually looked around a but. But the stuff that we did out of that trip only really took shape when I got back here. It was only when we all got together, and we had the Spoek [Mathambo] stuff, and there’s a tune that we did with this girl Zaki, who’s done backing vocals on some of Spoek’s stuff. We’ve done some stuff with here; she’s seriously amazing. That’s coming out at some point.”
Was it that trip where you really embraced the house music there though?
Gerv: “No, it’s always been there. It’s the same with Will, his step-dad’s into all sorts, and music’s been there [from an early age] for me too. Like you know, at Christmas my mum might get homesick and stick on… I dunno, the Soweto String Quartet, or some sort of South African pop. It’s just there, it’s one of those things that fits in, and forms our music.
“And at the same time, my uncle, who’s a South African guy, was in a reggae band. So it’s not all been like, shiny pop. That’s something that’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine, when people expect all South African music to have the same rhythm, and to all be 4×4. There’s amazing South African jazz, psychedelic rock, there’s all kinds of stuff…”