INTERVIEW

Pete Wareham calls the progressive jazz-funk of Melt Yourself Down ‘People Music’.

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Categorisation – the sorting of stuff into its rightful place. It’s something we all do in order to make sense of our messy little worlds. No one wants to be ‘sorted’ themselves, of course, and for some, no matter how hard the rest of us try, they just won’t sit comfortably anywhere.

Pete Wareham, the animated Saxophonist and bandleader of progressive World Music collective Melt Yourself Down, has first-hand experience of not fitting in. A veteran of Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear, his new group is an energised collision of influences that spans both continents and time, a mix that has left critics dumbfounded as they attempt to hurriedly coin it jazz or one of its million hybrids.

“I really like taking a bit of this and a bit of that. Inventing a new cocktail is what I want to do and what I like doing,” Wareham informs me on a bench positioned in the heart of Brighton’s Laines. “I just think of influences that I want to blend in a certain way,” he says, later admitting that the ideas can sometimes land on him at unexpected times.

It was at one of these moments, in fact, that led to the formation of Melt Yourself Down. “I was looking for an Omar Souleymann track at the time,” say Wareham. “It was around eighteen months ago.  Randomly, I found this Ali Hassan Kuban track called ‘Habibi’. When I found it, I listened to it about a hundred times; I couldn’t stop listening to it. I became obsessed with it.  I had always listened a lot to Algerian music and other things, I always had this idea to do a North African hip-hop band, but it never kind of materialised. Anyway, I was DJing one night and thought I’ll play it, so I played it. It was probably a year after I had found it, maybe longer, maybe two years. The whole dance floor went crazy and I thought, ‘right, I def want to do this’. I never had the thought of doing something that sounds like that track before, with the same sort of instrumentation. It was at my birthday party actually, the next day I just phoned up a lot of people, the people who became the band, asked them if they were up for it, started writing music and a few weeks later we had a rehearsal.”

The people enticed in were Shabaka Hutchings (The Heliocentrics), Tom Skinner (Sons of Kemet), Ruth Goller (Acoustic Ladyland), Kushal Gaya (Zun Zun Egui) and Satin Singh (Transglobal Underground): a grouping of people who were no strangers to working on things that sat outside of the mainstream. The rehearsals would soon turn into forming the basis of what would become the group’s self-titled album. Says Wareham: “We did five rehearsals before we recorded the first half and another five before we did the second half.

“It was a bit weird,” he says. “Normally we are more live players than we are studio players. And so, normally we would have gigged the hell out of it before recording it, but we can’t do that with brand new bands. No one is going to give you a gig without a recording; a recording isn’t going to be at its best unless you play live, so I just had to edit the tunes really hard, so that they stood up on their own – they couldn’t rely on jamming to get through – the writing had to be really solid.

“All the rehearsals were recorded and then I chopped up the recordings of the rehearsals and then arranged the tunes and wrote them that way. I made my own demos of each one, I took the demos to the rehearsal and we recorded the rehearsal and chopped up the rehearsals.”

Simply put: it was an exercise to “get the arrangements right” and to “calibrate the tunes”, but it was also one that had a divine effect on how the album later sounded. “All of the songs were really distorted. They were done through a laptop microphone, so when we started giving the demo’s to the producer, everyone was like, we wanted to keep that really distorted rough sound that we had in rehearsals because it sounded like it was out in the street.”

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The end product of these recording sessions with producer Leafcutter John is an album that has excited as much as it has confused the populous. “People asked us what genre of music it was. We pre-empted this, we knew it was going to be a question, so we decided to call it ‘People Music’. Not that we’ve ever had to call it anything, but that’s what it is about, it’s about people. It’s about energy really and colour.”

It’s an album that bubbles with boisterous energy and the spirit of punk, jazz, dance and North African rhythms with vocals woven in such a way that they at times feel like one. “That’s one of the great things about Kush, he makes up his own language. He’s Mauritian, so he sings in a Mauritian-French but there’s a bit of Creole in there as well and some English, plus some of his own made up language. It’s nice, because a lot of the music that I listen to, obviously I don’t understand Nubian, and one of the big things that Ali Hassan Kuban band tried to do was preserve the culture of the Nubian. As they got completely wiped out, there was a lot of effort to preserve the culture through music.

“I listen to a lot of Algerian music, but I don’t speak Arabic. I like the sound of the words, there’s something about the sound that I like and this reflects that. You can put your own words on it and also you’re not dictating how people should feel; you’re keeping it open. Feel something but we’re not going to tell you what.”

Wareham is keen to stub out the idea that Melt Yourself Down is just a temporary flirtation, too, an opinion that it’s easy to have when listening to the band’s novel, brassy carnival tracks. “We’re working on new material at the moment” he confides.

“We’re in a situation where we can gig now, so I want to try and do it, so that we’ve played the next albums material live before we record it. It’s going to be the big difference between the two albums and we’re in that position where we can, so I want to take advantage of that, writing on the road and rehearsing in sound checks, trying to keep it going. So yeah, we’re all very dedicated; we’re really doing our best to make it as good as it can be.”

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