Youth Stand Up is the latest record to emerge from Keith 'JD Twitch' McIvor's Autonomous Africa label. Put together by Emily MacLaren, owner of Glasgow's Green Door studios, the album was recorded in Belize, Ghana and Scotland, bringing together musicians from 3 Commonwealth nations for an exuberantly punkish long player that draws equally on highlife rhythms, African bashment and Scottish psychedelia.
Always happy to chew the fat with Twitch, we gave him a call to discuss the album's genesis, side-tracked into some musings on modern West African pop, managed to fit in some quick ruminations on the nature of charity, touched on Glasgow's clubbing woes, and then ended up talking about Jeremy Corbyn...
I wanted to talk to you today about the Youth Stand Up project. What I find interesting is that it doesn’t really feel like a fusion project; it's more it's own thing. Were you wary of the pitfalls of fusing different musicians together going into this?
I was yes. So Emily, who put the whole project together, came to me before anything had been recorded and told me what they were going to do and asked me if I would release it. I said that I would, but on the basis of how it turned out as I was very wary that it could end up as a terrible mish-mash of sounds, but knowing Emily so well and knowing what she was capable of, I knew that she would probably pull through and I knew she had the determination to get it to work, along with the musicians she worked with and her infectiousness transmitting to them. But more than that, I guess, was that it was all finally put together and mixed back at their studio in Glasgow, where they managed to make a cohesive sound out of it.
Often with this kind of thing there’s the danger of falling into a kind of half-arsed Café Del Mar thing.
Absolutely. If that’s what it had ended up being I would have had to say no to it, but I had a lot of confidence in her to pull through.
It’s almost got more in common with 80s post-punk, it's reminiscent of groups like A Certian Ratio and The Pop Group
Absolutely. I’m not sure if they played that to the musicians or what, so I can’t really say about the influences or inspirations, but there is definitely a post-punk feel to a lot of the tracks on there.
Technically, doing something like this, I can imagine it being a bit of a logistical nightmare. What’s the process?
Well, the initial process was that the Commonwealth Games were in Scotland last year and Green Door Studios have managed to survive through various funding’s and various courses as they get young people in and show them how the studio works and how to make recordings. The funds are non-governmental and they’ve managed to tap into that well. So they’re always on the look out for funding, and they found out that because they were in Glasgow, because of the Commonwealth, if you could tie together three different Commonwealth countries to do a project, there was funding available. So they applied for the funding with this idea in mind. Emily had already travelled to Belize and come across the people that ran the studio there, and likewise she’d been to Ghana a few times and been involved in drumming workshops, so she was in contact with musicians there. That’s how she pulled it together really, having already met these people and having their contact, but then she managed to get it funded through this Commonwealth Games fund. I think that paid for her and the musicians to have the studio time or whatever.
So the different parts were recorded in Belize and Ghana?
So first of all they went to Belize and recorded a load of stuff, then came back to Glasgow and added some more parts to it there. Also in Glasgow they got some local musicians to record various parts. Then they went to Ghana and recorded some bits there, and I think most of that stuff was made from scratch there and brought back to Glasgow again and then it was all combined and mixed in the studio there. The whole genesis of it is quite complicated I think, as some of the tracks have elements of Belize in them, some of them elements of Ghana, some of them with everything mixed together.
Reading the press release it was saying that in Glasgow, some of the Glaswegian musicians added vocals in in a different language. Is that right?
Yeah, they did it in a different language and they didn’t really know what they were saying.
That seems quite funny to me as that brought to mind the idea of listening to Ride on Time or, say, Saâda Bonaire, where they’re singing in English with a Turkish accent- to English ears it seems so exotic.
Yes, exactly. They were singing lyrics they wouldn’t even have understood the meaning of!
It's gonna be pretty bizarre for people over in Belize or wherever to be listening to this and hearing their language in a Scottish accent. I think if you’re British your not used to being that ‘other’... But this makes me think, this project has been presented as having the specific sound of Ghana and the specific sound of Belize, but what hasn’t really been discussed is the sound of Glasgow. Is there a sound of Glasgow?
The Green Door Studio has a sound and we’ve released several things that have been recorded there. From my ears, if I didn’t know anything about this record and I put it on, I think I would be able to tell you that it was done at Green Door. I don’t know if that’s a Glasgow sound per-say, but it’s definitely a sound within Glasgow. Everything that’s recorded there, no matter how measly, there’s definitely a certain sound to it. Other famous recording studios like Compass Point have a certain sound that they’re associated with. Green Door Studios is one of those and I really think that there is a Green Door sound.
Could you put that sound into words?
Its got a certain sense of otherness, they have a lot of homemade stuff and even though they do use computers it’s majority analogue and they use tapes an awful lot, so it’s very tape saturated and it’s got this warm, psychedelic haziness to most of the stuff that comes out of there. Obviously you could go in there as a rock band and come out with something that doesn’t sound like that, but if Green Door mix it themselves, you’ll probably get this sonic quality that you wouldn’t get at a different studio.
There is quite a Psych-y sound to the LP, There’s definitely something heady going on there.
Yeah, that’s a good word to describe their sound actually.
The project isn’t actually over now is it, because you’ve got a fundraiser coming up at the November, isn’t that right?
It’s going to be an ongoing thing, so any proceeds that are left over will be split between the musicians in Ghana and Belize. Especially in relation to Ghana, when they went over they asked for people to donate equipment they didn’t use any more and people donated synthesisers, microphones, drum machines and they took all that over, and they more or less built the basics of a recording studio in the rural parts of Ghana and any funds that go to Ghana will end up helping to complete this community studio. They don’t have any electricity there, so all the equipment has to be run by generator. But that project will be on going and Emily will be trying to get musicians from here to go over there and record from scratch or collaborate with local artists. Hopefully some really interesting collaborations will come out of it. So there’s the fundraiser next month, but there’s the vision that hopefully it’ll be a on going project for the long term.
Great. So you’re heavily involved in the Autonomous Africa project- how are you going about sourcing your Autonomous Africa stuff?
Autonomous Africa is original productions by people that tend to be making the music for a moral reason, like trying to raise funds for a certain project etc. So it’s all happened very organically to be honest, as I tend not to ask people, it’s just from people that have paid attention to the project and have wanted to get involved. So far, everything has been British musicians working with source material that was recorded in Africa and used with permission. In a couple of cases we’ve been working with music from Africa, and there was one track that’s hopefully going to part of an ongoing project, where we were trying to trace how the roots of African music has influenced music across the world. So in Columbia you’ve got a sound called Cumbia, which is also called Afro-sound, which was influenced by the trade roads from West Africa and Columbia and the music of Western Africa has fused with the music from Columbia.
So there was a two pronged idea behind Autonomous Africa, one that raised funds for organisations in Africa, in particular a mission in Tanzania where the money would go 100% directly to them, not through any NGO’s, where the African people would know how best to use the money as they know their own affairs better than anyone else, and also to highlight Western and Global interference in Africa – where big companies are buying up large chunks of land in countries such as Ethiopia and are using that land to grow crops that are then to be exported, which then means that that people there are barely able to feed themselves, yet the government is happy to sell this land for huge amounts of money to bring in extra income. So there are terrible things happening in Africa that we are implicitly involved in, but through our choices we do actually have the power to change things if we’re a little bit more careful about the products that we buy. Admittedly, it is like throwing a pebble out into the universe, but I felt that it was better to try and do something, than to do nothing.
On the fundraising side, its been very successful for the mission in Tanzania. From the record and the fundraising, I think we’ve raised somewhere in the region of £25,000.
So does this make you the anti-Geldof?
Haha! I think when the last record came out last year there was an Autonomous Africa Boiler Room which I and Auntie Flo did, and there were a few people that were actually quite angry about it and someone actually tweeted that Midland was the new-born Geldof of underground House. The thing is, we’re not preaching at anyone. The amount that live-aid raised was amazing, but then you’ve got to take in the administration costs of such a huge thing, so it’s just about thinking of an alternative way of doing it and making sure that the money goes direct and not through any NGO’s. We’re not looking for any glory out of it.
I do find it interesting that there is a tendency amongst white Western muso people to eulogise West African music from 20 - 30 years ago but be very wary about going near stuff that is currently very popular, whichis often seen as cheesy…
Yes, I think that’s a very Western middle class, muso thing. People have gone to Nigeria or Kenya, sourcing and trying to find old records, but no one out there is interested in these old records.
The scene out there right now is crazy, the new stuff is really exciting, but it gets quite overlooked I think. There's been incredible dance music coming out of Ghana for the last 5 years
Right across Africa there are amazing hybrids that make use of more modern technology. I think the Afro-Beats thing has got a little bit of traction here. But as well as listening to all this stuff from the 70s/80s, I’m always interested in the stuff that is happening now but yet for some reason it hasn’t really crossed over yet, even though it’s actually quite easy to find online.
I sometimes feel that it’s easier for Westerner's to eulogise a figure like William Onyearbor, who’s older and pleasingly eccentric. But when there’s quite a brash young man flashing loads of money around, people - particularly 'world music' fans - tend to feel very awkward.
I think perhaps you’re right. I’m interested in hearing the new stuff that’s going on, but I think I’m also guilty of fetishizing these old releases from the 70s. When old music is re-packaged and made available via either compilations, or reissued, where the modern music isn’t really being made available to a viral market, it really takes some digging away to find it. From what I’ve heard, over there people exchange music via their phones and it’s quite easy to physically get hold of, but here it’s not at all.
The bit rates are generally pretty low as well, but then I grew up listening to tapes recorded from pirate radio and the sound quality was shit on those as well. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been told I need to listen to everything as a WAV, which seems totally alien to my experience as a raver.
Yeah, but I guess that also becomes part of this music’s identity, that it’s a low bit-rate mp3. It all helps to shape it’s overall aesthetic and it’s sound.
I think people actually almost produce it to that bit rate as well, as if they want it to sound good on a mobile phone.
Absolutely. That’s probably what they’re using as their monitors when their producing it too. They’re not worried about how it’s going to sound in Fabric.
Haha, yeah I doubt that. And talking of UK clubs, the Glasgow clubbing scene has had some big upheavals recently, with the closure of The Arches. How are things feeling now?
I mean, for me it hasn’t really had that much of an effect because it’s not somewhere that I frequented or played at all that often, but I think that there are a lot of nights that have just vanished, particularly big name nights, that have nowhere to go. They used to have a big Happy Hardcore night in there that have just completely vanished. The main issue though, in my opinion, is that it was closed because of the believed issue of drugs being used in the venue. Even if it was an issue that was going on there, at least it was in a well-controlled environment. It’s not like because they don’t have anywhere to go they’re going to stop taking drugs. There was an awful lot of anger surrounding the closure, even if it wasn’t a significant place to me, around the way that it was done and the fact that the mentality behind it was so narrow minded and plainly stupid.
Is there a sense now that any other venue could be next?
Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of the venues in Glasgow now fear that there might be further clampdowns or further changes, such as the police wanted to sanitise the city centre. But who knows? The politics of Scotland has completely changed in the last year. Glasgow has been controlled by a Labour dominated council for 70 years, longer than the communists were in Russia, and there is soon to be an election and I think Labour is finally going to lose control of the city. If it ends up being an SNP council and if it’s better or not, remains to be seen. Knowing that they’re going to be kicked out within the next year seems to have given them the idea that they can do whatever they want and there’s going to be no recourse. It’s always been a very corrupt council and I think one of the real reasons that The Arches was closed was probably because of corrupt property dealing speculation, or something along those lines.
On a sort of tangent, do you think there’s been any interest in Corbyn’s election in England, in Scotland? Has it had any traction at all?
Yeah, definitely. I was once a long term Labour supporter but in the last two General Elections I could never have imagined voting for them, but now Corbyn is in it’s a different story. If I were in England, I’d vote for him. In Scotland, the Scottish Labour Party is a completely different entity, and the Scottish Labour Party has been so complacent and entrenched for so long and they just take everyone for granted. The way that they handled the referendum has tainted them in a lot of former Labour supporters eyes forever. So whilst people may be thinking that Corbyn is a great thing, although it’s early days, whether people actually vote for him or not is another thing, simply because of the dislike and distrust of the Scottish Labour, rather than the Labour party in general.
70 years of power is going to turn any party bad
I think three quarters of the MPs in Scotland were Labour MP’s, so they just didn’t care. Despite that, people are definitely talking about it. It’s probably the most talked about subject over the last few months, certainly with myself and a lot of the people that I know. People are very aware of what’s going on with the Labour Party at the moment. I think they're still going to be wiped out in the Scottish elections next year though...
More info on Youth Stand Up! can be found over on http://www.greendoorstudio.co.uk/