Artist to Artist: Khidja and Man Jumping
Romanian DJ and production duo Khidja have long been fans of Man Jumping, a British ensemble that blurred the boundaries of avant-garde, synth-pop, jazz and new wave during the 80s.
Being a close part of the Emotional Rescue family, Khidja mentioned to label head Chuggy that he should track down the band, unearth some of their old material and present it to a new generation of discerning listeners. At the time nothing materialised, but coincidentally a year or so later Chuggy was contacted by the band, who had started working on the reissue campaign of their 1985 album Jumpcut with Beggars Banquet.
Emotional Rescue led the vinyl reissue for the album and, in signature style, invited some of the label's nearest and dearest to shape their own interpretations of the original tracks. Of course, Khidja were first on the hit list, alongside another appendix of remixers including Reckonwrong, Bullion on Gengahr.
Here the duo and the band quiz one another on collaborations, commercialisation and the need for rebellion…
Khidja: Man Jumping came about after your years together with Lost Jockey, but how exactly was it formed?
Man Jumping (Charlie): It all started with Orlando Gough’s collection of cocktail pianos made by Eavestaff. The Lost Jockey was formed as a small band of keyboard players to play multi piano music written by Orlando and other band members together with pieces by Reich and Glass. Lost Jockey developed into a somewhat anarchic post-classical orchestra. As an unfunded and undermanaged co-operative, it eventually separated into various different parts. Most of Man Jumping’s members had served a commission of one kind or another in the Lost Jockey. The exception was Martin Ditcham, a percussionist and drummer, who was a friend of mine.
Man Jumping (Orlando): Lost Jockey – we said yes to anyone who wanted to be in the band. So it grew with chaotic rapidity to thirty players. And when it became impossible – like a children’s party that’s got out of hand – we looked for a more practical version. Man Jumping – a mere seven players…
Khidja: Was there a London Scene where this kind of music was happening and being performed?
Man Jumping (Charlie): There may well have been many London scenes in the early 1980s but if there was, Man Jumping was not a participant. Our inspiration came from further afield. We operated like a charm of magpies – if we saw anything shiny, we picked it up, popped it in a bag and recycled it. This was all done pre-Internet of course.
Khidja: How long did it take for the first album, Jumpcut, to come together?
Man Jumping (Charlie): The making of Jumpcut was an evolutionary process. The first three tracks we recorded – 'Walk On, Bye', 'Down The Locale' and 'Belle Dux On The Beach' – were all written out on 16 stave manuscript paper and taken to Eastcote Studios in what we thought was a completed form. Once Martin Ditcham, Philip Bagenal and producer Mike Hedges were added to the cast, we began to learn that Eastcote was not a space where a pre-ordered list of parts was recorded, it was a lab where a vast array of sounds, colours and rhythms where stressed tested. From then on, although we had many of the ideas written or sketched out, there was an expectation that the music would be altered and edited as a part of the recording process. For example, 'In The Jungle' was a collection of riffs and chords, which we developed during the recording and Philip’s input was significant.
Khidja: Were these jam sessions that came together spontaneously as songs or written pieces before the studio visit? Were you paying studio time and was it a tight schedule to finish these?
Man Jumping (Charlie): We had no way of taking anything in to Eastcote for Jumpcut which we could use and expand. We had to start every track from scratch. We had no sequencing facility. Everything was played by hand in real time. It was, looking back, the last days of the analogue era, although we didn’t know that at the time. I can imagine that the looseness of some of the playing made remixing quite a challenge. There are some inaccuracies within the original recordings, which would be unacceptable in this digital age. As against that you may hear a spontaneity, which compensates. An interesting observation which Philip Bagenal recently made is that working digitally enables music to be played and recorded non-stop. A push of a button and you go again. No time wasted. Working on tape, there are frequent periods of silence while the tape is rewound and the drop in place located. Time for discussion. Time in which the ears can rest and the brain refocus. We recorded at any time when Chaz was not in Eastcote himself. We paid a modest sum for the time but at that point, Eastcote was not a commercial studio for hire. We knew Chaz via Andy Heath. Andy managed Chaz and was our publisher. It was Chaz’s kindness that enabled us to make the albums. We had no record deal and no advance. Mike Hedges also came to us via Andy. Andy’s accountant was Mike’s brother. A favour was called in. What luck.
Khidja: How did you end up on Bill Nelson’s radar for Cocteau Records? Were you asked to record an album for the label or did they sign the record after the music was recorded?
Man Jumping (Charlie): There wasn’t a ready-made market for the music we made. Consequently, there wasn’t an established label that knew what to do with the music. It didn’t fit into any genre. Labels couldn’t decide whether it was classical, jazz, club or world. Or none of the above. We were introduced to Bill Nelson by John Leckie. John had made one of the records with Lost Jockey and also produced Bill’s band, Be Bop DeLuxe. I can’t recall why John didn’t work with Man Jumping, I suspect that he was simply too busy. Bill had just started a label called Cocteau. He really was a once in a lifetime A&R man. He never wanted to hear anything until it was finished, he never asked us to change a note and he was unfailingly supportive. Sadly, he didn’t have the funds or the management in place to promote what was a tricky project. But without him, Jumpcut would not have seen the light of day.
Khidja: Did you have moments when you get bored of music and if so, are there any particular pieces of music that restore that fire, that bring back that love for music? If so, which ones and why?
Man Jumping (Charlie): There were seven of us with catholic tastes. If I had to name people that we all listened to I would suggest Talking Heads, Weather Report, Steve Reich, Steely Dan, Pat Metheny, John Adams, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis. We were also interested in what was going on in the clubs, particularly the first generation of 12” mixes. This seemed to offer an opportunity for some of our tracks in a remixed form.
Khidja: Listening to the stems we could feel the fantastic work producers Mike Hedges and Philip Bagenal did on mixing it. Could you remember any particular quirks during the recording process, any gear that was used or recording techniques? Was there a Linndrum involved? Alesis HR16 perhaps? Eventide effects? DX7? Was it recored in different rooms? Were you playing together or just layering takes on top of each other’s recordings?
Man Jumping (Charlie): We had no digital equipment. The closest to that would have been Chaz’s PPG Wave 2.2. Most of the instruments were acoustic with a Fender Rhodes, a Hammond B3 and a couple of Oberheim synths and Steinway Grand. Any electric instruments were usually recorded through a Roland JC120 with a mic and not DI’d. Philip had already amassed an interesting collection of vintage mics – Coles ribbon 4836, AKG 414swith a T2 capsule. Other equipment included: Lexicon PCM 41 delay; EMT transistor plate; Yamaha NS10s to mix; Yamaha digital delays and Pultec EQs. The mix was a fundamental part of the creative process and there would often be half a dozen people controlling faders or effects some of which never went on to the multitrack and simply got added to the mix live. There was no ability to keep parts of a previous mix, each mix was different and you went with whichever one seemed to be the best overall.
Khidja: There was a mention that stimulants played an important part of recording, was it a Fleetwood Mac kinda situation were you would just jam for days without an end in sight, constantly torn by arguments topped with occasional spurs of exuberance?
Man Jumping (Charlie): We did very little jamming at Eastcote. For a number of reasons, it wasn’t very Fleetwood Mac. Philip Bagenal trained as an architect and not as an engineer. He sees music in structural terms. The voices which open Walk On, Bye, for instance, lend the piece an arc. They also serve as a great introduction to side two of the vinyl.
Khidja: Talking about the past, music seemed to have been a medium for (especially young) people to express themselves or for the better to rebel, to come together and manifest. There was no social media you could complain on so you had music. This also seems to have been lost with the new generations. You want to comment on that?
Man Jumping (Orlando): Yes, music was a means of rebellion – and there was a lot to rebel against. It seems that nowadays the mainstream media are very expert at co-opting rebel movements and making them acceptable, e.g. Grime. Or maybe the artists themselves are happy to become mainstream.
Man Jumping (Charlie): The 60s could be seen as a period when music formed part of the protest movement in the US, which was railing against Vietnam and segregation. Since then, the commercialisation of culture would seem to have reduced the political impact of music. There is as much protest and concern surrounding climate change today, but I’m not aware of this movement harnessing music to express this.
Khidja: Are there tracks that never made it out but were nevertheless recorded or was it a precise affair?
Man Jumping (Charlie): My biggest regret about Jumpcut is that it doesn’t include any track of Orlando’s. There was no reason for this, he just didn’t have a new piece at that moment. There are two of Orlando’s pieces on our second album, World Service.
Khidja: How was it working for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre? Was the live show in the link above played live during a contemprary dance performance? Is there a chance of this being performed again today?
Man Jumping (Charlie): Man Jumping was a 7 piece. To be an economic proposition without the support of a label we needed to find projects outside of making records. We worked with contemporary dance companies. We pitched for film work. We tried working with singers who had record deals. We hoped that by remixing tracks for use as club music we might be able to find a new audience. In a world where the internet did not yet exist, finding an audience was difficult. As it turned out, too difficult. Were we good enough? Did we have something to say which was worth listening to? Did Brian Eno ever say that Man Jumping was the most important band in the world?
Khidja: You mention that commercialism v. ideology was an important part of Man Jumping’s credo, would you care to elaborate?
Man Jumping (Orlando): The Man Jumping state of mind was complicated. We wanted to be successful, but on our terms. We found many forms of popular music alluring, but at the same time we didn’t want to be mainstream. The music veers between the ultra-listenable and the bloody-minded (Lenin Tempted By A Job In Advertising). Actually, that title sums it up in a way… We saw ourselves as rebels but wanted commercial success, so maybe we weren’t really rebels!
Man Jumping (Charlie): Commercialism v ideology. That’s a phrase of Orlando’s. I am relieved that we have been able to rescue the multitracks and that we have stems for almost all of the tracks. We are delighted by the remixes which have been made by a fascinating group of musicians. If you can find a place for any of the stems in your own music we would be delighted. Equally, if you ever wanted to remix any tracks off the second album, we look forward to hearing them! Thanks so much for your interest – and for fitting out our old friends with some fancy new clothes.
Khidja: Was the track “Lenin Tempted By a Job in Advertising” ever released? It sounds fantastic. You mention the Mahavishnu Orchestra as inspiration, I know Martin was part of Ian Carr’s Nucleus which was a great Jazz Rock outfit, were there other things on your radar as well, Weather Report perhaps?
Man Jumping (Orlando): Lenin is definitely Mahavishnu-influenced in its arcane time signature, though it’s much more systems-ish, less jazzy. Weather Report was very much on our radar. Apart from anything else, the keyboard players in the band were awestruck by Joe Zawinul’s programming and playing. And Miles Davis’s Tutu was bang in the centre of our radar. We loved the combination of Miles’s extemporising brilliance with Marcus Miller’s gorgeous complex sophisticated arrangements.
Khidja: Regarding your trip to the US after the release of “In The Jungle”, was the record launched only in Europe and that’s why you were trying to persuade Geffen Records to give you a deal? What was the idea behind that, record a new album with a US label and take things further?
Man Jumping (Orlando): Yes, we were ambitious!
Khidja: There must’ve been more interest from less commercial labels or minimalist / jazz labels. Is the famous Brian Eno quote mentioned everywhere about calling you “the most important band in the world” true?
Man Jumping (Orlando): No one knows, not even Brian Eno himself….
Khidja: If it is, that must’ve helped a lot in putting you on the map everywhere, no?
Man Jumping (Orlando): Not really. Maybe being ‘important’ is not very seductive.
Khidja: It seems that nowadays, there is some sort of stagnation in terms of new, genre defying or even defining music. Its harder to attach our generation to a particular genre as you could in the past. Today, the past keeps getting recycled. We have better technology then ever but we mostly use it to reinvent the past. We’ve heard this in a Mark Fisher interview and think he has a valid point. What are your thoughts on this?
Man Jumping (Orlando): Hmm, I’m not so sure. Music nowadays seems very diverse – you might say fragmented with so many genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres – and full of life. Yes, there’s a lot of recycling and of course digital technology has made this easier and easir, but there always was I think. It’s easy to see the past as a golden age because a lot of the junk has been filtered out. The 1960s is a good example. Most of the music then was terrible. The choreographer Siobhan Davies has a brilliant way of looking at old stuff (old music, old dance pieces etc.) – as compost – a basis for growing new stuff.
Man Jumping: It would be very interesting to hear what you think about that. You’re recycling old stuff in an extremely creative way.
Khidja: Yes we totally embrace it and also really try to be very open minded. There is so much incredible music old and new we love, although a lot of the times it’s from the past, also from the “present” but not necessarily “new”… we’ve heard it before. We (and in general our scene) seem to have a major fetish for music from the past. Reasons for that can range from incredible musicianship or just amazing aproach and ideas to forward thinking or eccentric, different. Siobhan Davies views are a great way to look at things and she is right for seeing them in this way but it also proves Mark Fisher’s point. A simple and maybe obvious example would be to look at how the Kraftwerk sound, in a way informed Detroit techno at the time. Or how Kraftwerk came to sound like that because a new era of instruments was ahead so they basically they lived the transition from analogue to electronic. Maybe this sort of big shifts stopped with the 20th century. We seem to live in an era that’s defined by remix culture, a hybrid sort of era. We think the reason for this probably came along with the Internet. Things don’t have time to develop anymore maybe, they don’t have time to grow. Mark Fisher’s views are in a way similar but he has also a completely different prespective that is more, dark.
Man Jumping: It would be interesting to know how you interact with other artists now – your base, Berlin, must be full of musicians with similar interests and an audience interested to hear what you make?
Khidja: We interact a lot between each other, sending ideas back and forth all the time and yeah, it's a place with plenty of talented musicians, travelling on the S-Bahn can spark a lot of ideas. The city has a lot to offer, there’s a big and diverse music scene and it's a place with a lot of history. Youth and club culture modeled the city after the fall of the Berlin wall.
Man Jumping: Do you work regularly with others?
Khidja: In more recent times we did it with either Mihai Balabas (guitar, violin) or Rob Szeliga (bass, clarinette), which sparked an EP last year. We've also put together a really interesting live show with them commissioned by Europalia. The two of us met a week prior to their arrival in Berlin and decided on the core structure of the set. Upon Mihai and Rob’s arrival, we spent another three days together practicing and jamming, many new ideas came up like that. The fifth member of the band, George Jasper Stone provided the visuals. The whole thing had another layer of depth with the visuals behind us. We performed the first one at Arkaoda in Berlin on a Klipsch sound system. No monitors, we were surrounded by this incredibly warm and big sound. Ideal set up.
Man Jumping: Do you have a writing or sketching period as part of a new recording or remix or does the digital age allow you to keep everything as you go?
Khidja: We take breaks when working on tracks, sometimes even a year or two but usually a few weeks so we can listen to them with a clear head. Every version is kept, there might have been a bit more magic in one version of the track and then you can always go back and never lose the little imperfections. We are two studio nerds with similar technical skills and influences and two separate studios, so a lot of gear is available in between us. We work together but also a fair bit individually. It’s really about catching a cool idea and then making the best out of it. Happy accidents are our favourite thing. Sometimes out of working on one thing suddenly you have a new part that can grow into something else, so you can keep that and create something very different.
Man Jumping: Where do you go to find music off the trodden path? And how on earth did you find Man Jumping? As far as I know, there was never any distribution outside the UK and the albums were pressed in tiny numbers.
Khidja: We spend a lot of time browsing for unusual music and try to find the records. The satisfaction of finding that special track after a seemingly endless search (sometimes) is absolutely worth it. In this case we came across the “Man Jumping” remix of Aerotropics, a friend and big inspiration had brought this back from NYC at the time. Bogman, hero DJ in the Bucharest scene and more. This must be more then 10 years ago. We couldn’t find the Aerotropics Remix EP at all at the time but the Jumpcut LP was easier to track down. We discovered that every track was so amazing. Since then it was one of those records that we listened to for over and over again.
Man Jumping: We love the remixes which you have done for us. A good remix will tell you things about the original which you hadn’t heard. What you have done is rather more than remix. The sound world is familiar but the songs have been extended and reimagined, and the rhythm has been updated. When you remix, do you start with a shape that you want the music to have or does it grow organically once you get to know the stems?
Khidja: Usually we start isolating the best parts and then we try to work with that by chopping the channels up or reimagining them melodically through synth sounds so we can have more freedom to change scales. It's always nice to try and match instruments so the remix sounds more like an alternate version of the original as well. On “Walk on bye” we added additional synths half way in, tried to complement what was already there in a tasteful way. No additional synths on the ‘Down the Local”, just reshuffling the stems and adding a new bass line and the beat. We also tried re singing the vocals as they were missing from the original stems.
Man Jumping: Do you see yourselves as rebels?
Khidja: “In our own tea time”