Manu Delago Talks


Every now and again an artist comes along whose talent blows you out of the water. Effortlessly transcending musical genres, Manu Delago does not concern himself with such arbitrary notions – he works on a higher plane.

At only 30, the percussionist, composer and producer has a CV most musicians would struggle to achieve in a lifetime. It includes touring with Björk, collaborations with the London Symphony Orchestra, film soundtracks (Robocop) and now touring the world with his band 'Manu Delago Handmade'.

Of particular interest is his use of an instrument that was invented in Switzerland as recently as 2001. Similar to an upside-down kettle drum, he says the 'Hang' drum sits somewhere between a harp and a tabla and allows him to coax out rhythmical melodies of intense beauty. With five million YouTube views for his DIY performance video 'Mono Desire', it is just one of the many things that marks out the London-based Austrian as very special.

His new album Silver Kolbalt is another. In the album notes Delago explains that the name comes from the chemical element found in aeroplanes, batteries and even our own bodies, and in German it can also mean 'goblin'. Geology mixed with fable – not surprising from someone who grew up around mountains and all their enigmatic grandeur. This is borne out from the beginning with album opener 'Disgustingly Beautiful' which conspires with vocalist Isa Kurz to create a cold enchantment in the manner of Sigur Rós.

Taking time out of his manic schedule, R$N caught up with Delago to talk inspiration, pushing boundaries and, of course, Robocop. This is a tantalising peak inside the mind of a legend in the making;

Congratulations on the new album. It's a really beautiful piece of music – how do you begin to create something like that?

I'm collecting ideas and sketches all the time and then when it comes to making an album, I try to use the best ones. Some tracks start with a Hang idea, others with an iPad demo and others just with a textural sound like a bicycle bell or the sound of two colliding magnets. 

What was it inspired by?

Generally speaking anything that one does, inspires and manipulates. I try to listen to a lot of different music, and of course I also get inspired by the collaborations I do. I've been lucky that my recent collaborators like Björk, Anoushka Shankar, The Cinematic Orchestra or the London Symphony Orchestra do very different things which hopefully makes my own sound unique. 

Your music appears to embrace classical, jazz, electronic all at the same time – how do you manage to bring together these very different genres so seamlessly?

I'm trying not to see these borders. When you live in a place like London, you're surrounded by so much diverse culture and I love combining them or even the clashing of extremes such as a beautiful bassoon melody with a growling electronic beat.

In this sense would you say you are intentionally trying to push boundaries?


What other artists are you listening to at the moment?

The Prodigy, Herbie Hancock, Punch Brothers, FKA Twigs, Igor Stravinsky, Lost Midas, Jon Hopkins were the ones I listened to last.
(And The Cinematic Orchestra every night on stage this week!)

I read in another interview you mention John Cage's, 4'33. I just wondered what you think of this kind of experimental music that others might call ridiculous?

I'm a big fan of John Cage's approach and ideas. He was definitely pushing the boundaries.

How has growing up in Austria affected your compositions?

I think my time in Austria was influenced by rock, pop, drum'n'bass and jazz. I think moving to London definitely opened up my horizon and exposed me to more electronic music, world music, but also contemporary classical music. But I guess the world is so internet-dominated that you can expose yourself to anything online…

What was the process like working on the soundtrack for Robocop – do you watch a particular scene from the movie together with the composer and discuss it first before playing? Or does he simply tell you what he wants?

For Robocop, the composer was looking for metallic sound effects and it was an interesting challenge to create these sounds on the Hang and avoiding to sound too beautiful. Making nice sounds seems to be the obvious route to go on the Hang but I really like exploring other timbres of the instrument.

I'm sure lots of people reading this interview would love to know how you get into the position where you are offered work soundtracking movies, collaborating with orchestras, and famous artists like Bjork… what do you yourself attribute that to?

I think if you want to be at the right place at the right time, you just have to be at many places all the time. I've been playing around 100 concerts every year since I was 17 years old. And of course now the internet helps too. The more active you are, the more people hear about you, it's not rocket science. 

Your CV has already become full of so many interesting projects… what's next for you?

I've just started touring my new album  'Silver Kobalt' and hopefully there will be many more gigs to come. Also the 'Vulnicura Tour' with Björk is in its early days so there should be quite a few more gigs to come. Apart from that I have some writing commissions for various ensembles.

What would you like your ultimate legacy to be?

Hopefully I'll be remembered as someone who contributed some new ideas and sounds to the world.

Manu Delago is currently on tour with his band ‘Manu Delago Handmade’ – Here are their UK dates:
Apr 28 / Manchester, Band On The Wall 
Apr 29 / Liverpool, The Kazimier 
May 02 / Cardiff, Four Bars 
May 03 / London, Bush Hall 

Silver Kobalt is out now on Tru Thoughts. The single, “Drumheart feat. Anil Sebastian”, is out on 25th May.