“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.”
;hl=en_US” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>LV feat. Okmalumkoolkat: ‘Boomslang’
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…”
Going back to the early days of LV, when did you make the transition from students making music to the point where you’re releasing on labels like Hyperdub?
Gerv: “Just coincidence really. A friend of ours went to DMZ, he slipped Kode9 a CD with some of our tunes on it, and a couple of days later he called the number on the back. It’s funny in retrospect, because at that point it’d only been him, Burial and The Bug releasing on Hyperdub, so he must have seen something in it. In fact, Jay from Darkstar – I used to work in a pub with him, years and years ago. And after a couple of years of no contact we bumped into each other on Kingsland Road. This was about two weeks after ‘Globetrotting’ came out, and three or so weeks before Darkstar put out ‘Need You’. He was like ‘so, how’s the music going?’ and I’m like ‘good, we just put out a single on this little label called Hyperdub’… that was one of the most bizarre things ever. We used to work the Sunday shift, and play each other stuff we were doing – just bizarre.”
So how long had you been making music before that point?
Will: “Well ‘Globetrotting’ was 2007, so… seven years, really. We’ve been making tunes together, uninterrupted, since about 2000.”
Gerv: “And it’s funny, because even if you’ve heard everything we’ve put out, that’s still only seven or eight tunes out of shitloads that have never seen the light of day.”
Will: “We did self-release something, once upon a time, but we wouldn’t rush to do it again. It’s a nice idea, but if you want it to make money it becomes very stressful.”
Gerv: “Yeah, you find yourself sitting at your instruments or computer, thinking ‘do I put something blindingly obvious in this’?
Will: “That’s what’s nice about Steve. We’ll play him a load of stuff, and he just picks what he likes.”
So you’d been doing stuff for seven years before you got a release…
Gerv: “Yeah. As you may have gathered, we’re not the best self-publicists.”
Is that intentional?
Will: “As we were saying earlier, the whole [LV] thing started because we like getting together and getting music, not telling people about it. Self-publicity is not something that we think about, and we perhaps live in a slight fantasy world where if we keep making good music for long enough, people will pick up on it.”
Gerv: “Well, that’s what happened with Hyperdub. We didn’t make an effort to promote it, but Steve heard it and he reached out. That was like an ideal scenario for us – where the music alone is enough to get to people.”
Will: “It is a slow way of doing things though.”
Well it suits the label. I don’t know how many people on Hyperdub are great self-publicists.
Will: “I think you have to get over it, ultimately. If you’re going to try and sell music you’ve got to tell people about it.”
Gerv: “But that’s what Hyperdub does for you. It breaks down doors, where people will check you out through association. But then again, we all just see it as part of what we’re doing.”
Was dubstep, where Hyperdub came from an inspiration for you guys?
Gerv: “It passed us by, really. That same friend who gave Steve the CD-R, he played us [early Kode9 single] ‘Sine of the Dub’, and I think we had [early Burial single] ‘South London Boroughs’, but by the time Steve got in contact we weren’t really up on that stuff.”
Will: “I’ve got a friend who’s got an absolutely massive, massive record collection. Dating back… well, beyond the sixties, but the sixties is where it really starts getting numerous. I was spending a lot of time then recording his stuff to my iTunes. A lot of it was reggae and dub stuff, a lot of African music, a lot of disco, soul. Just black music from the sixties onwards, I guess. That’s what I was doing around that time, as a slightly odd archiving project. There are still tunes we’ve got on mp3 from that that you can’t get anywhere; they’ve never been re-released. It’s a good way of finding new music that’s not new.”
Si: “New old music.”
Will: “Well that’s the thing; we like to hear new music, but the concept of ‘new music’ is a very subjective thing. A lot of the new music we listen to is old.”
Has reggae always been a constant with LV?
Will: “I would say so. My stepdad is really into reggae, I have a very vivid memory of listening to Burning Spear and other such civilised reggae when I was seven or eight. It’s more dub, actually, tape delays and reverb, that’s like a home sound for me.”
Gerv: “My uncle played the bass in a reggae band for many years. They were quite big for a while but it was under apartheid, and he was black so they couldn’t get gigs in public venues.
So there’s more stuff coming from the trip to South Africa then?
Gerv: “Yeah, there’s a split single that’s coming out, with a whole bunch of remixes – that’s one of the tracks from Spoek’s album that we produced. There’s the collaboration with Zaki… it’s weird, because she’s had this big hit over there now. Like she’s a bit of a house diva, but the stuff she writes herself is unbelievable.”
Will: “Yeah, like if you try to predict what note she’ll hit next, you’ll always be wrong, but it will always sound right. It’s that element of surprise that’s awesome…”
Si: “That’s one of the great things about collaboration though, that you’ll get something unexpected back from it.”
Gerv: “Well that’s how it works with the three of us. Inevitably, someone will surprise you.”
Will: “Or I’ll just do something to annoy you.”
“You can’t polish a turd. But you can roll it in glitter.”
What’s it like when you work together, anyway?
Will: “Usually the three of us are in one room, for an extended period of time, with no pressure to do anything else and no expectations of what we’re going to produce. We’ll have a selection of synths, and things that you can hit. All of our synths crackle at this point, except for one which is in good condition because it belongs to Jack [Dunning, Untold]. That’s in mint condition, obviously. We polish it every day.”
“We do love analog synths. They just sound better.”
Gerv: “Plus there’s a chaos to them. They sound slightly different every time.”
Si: “And that chaos stays the same when once you’ve recorded it. That’s what pisses me off about soft synths, the way it changes every time you open up your project.”
Will: “We predominantly work with audio. We don’t use a lot of soft synths and samplers. We’re mostly audio just cut up and played around with.”
Gerv: “I don’t have much time for the idea that analog’s inherently better though, I think it just suits what we do better. I love a lot of music that’s made on shitty software, completely inside the computer, and that’s all.”
Will: “Basically, we’ve got some [analog synths], so we use them. That’s the easiest way to put it. Anyway, as far as our process goes, we generally record as much as we can in one session, then we go away and tweak it… though we have been known to spend far too long tweaking stuff. We need to work on retaining the session’s immediacy; for instance, with remixes now, what we do is the three of us will give ourselves a limit of say, two days. There’s a sense of a moment when you record that way, it encapsulates what you’re doing at the time. You can fuck around with it for months, but what you usually end up doing is losing some of the original momentum – for better or worse.”
Gerv: “You can’t polish a turd. But you can roll it in glitter.”
Will: “We did a remix of Micachu once that took about six hours. Someone described it as like having iTunes and myspace open at the same time, which we took as a massive compliment.”
You were talking about how you now have some collaborators you want to retain a relationship with. Is there more narrative stuff to come with Josh Idehen?
Will: “Well yeah, we are working on something with Josh. It’s getting there, we’re just trying to not endlessly tweak it.”
A new EP?
Will: “Maybe a bit longer. It’s fluid. We’ll see how it goes. Us and Josh have one of those relationships where… it’s not quite that we shout abuse at each other, but it can get lively. But ultimately it’s very rewarding.”
Gerv: “Josh is one of those people who challenges your expectations.”
Will: “…and patience” [all laugh]. He’s got a great voice. He plays around with that a bit more on this record, it’s broader than the 38 EP.”