Seven albums deep into his life as London Elektricity, Hospital co-founder Tony Colman has created one of his most impressive bodies of work to date: Building Better Worlds.
The evidence was clear from the first single to come from it earlier this summer, Final View From The Rooftops. A Morricone hurricane, loaded with big cowboy whistles and a belting soprano (two lesser spotted elements in the jungle periodic table) it was a statement: Tony wasn’t writing drum & bass for drum & bass’s sake, he was exploring worlds much deeper in his musical make-up. Worlds that would eventually comprise vocals from his nine-year-old son, a cover of one of his earliest acid jazz singles from 1991, a tribute to his father (by way of absolute gully banger with Whiney) a dramatic fusion piece with Urbandawn and the return of one of his most popular vocal collaborators Else Esmeralda. That’s just the tip of the album’s singular universe.
Presented through a visual framework of provocative photographs by Ben Beech and inspired by the unique immersive headspace only music can bring; Building Better Worlds packs a similar punch in terms of weight and musical clarity as his legendary album Syncopated City way back in 08. Bold, touching and diverse. It lands tomorrow on Hospital Records, here’s what you can expect.
The album theme seems acutely appropriate with the political climate right now…
It does. But it actually came from much more of an abstract concept. I think a lot about how the music we really love and keep coming back to creates its own little world for us. A universe you can go to in your head. We’ve all got our favourite songs and albums we come back to over and over again and, for me, they’re like stepping into an alternative world. A biosphere you can go and inhabit for a while to get away. It’s somewhere to go and occupy.
So that’s what I was attempting to do with this album: build these worlds that hopefully people can go to and escape to. But, as you say, simultaneously our world has been politically disintegrating. Trump, Brexit, horrible ring wing nonsense. The world has changed dramatically while I was making this and it took on a deeper resonance.
It’s a very personal album isn’t it?
You’re right. From many angles. Be that lyrically and musically. There’s far more of me musically in this than all of my albums, besides Syncopated City. I was digging a lot deeper, allowing myself to step outside of the constraints of traditional drum & bass and allowing the music to take over. Though it is D&B tempo, some of the tunes are quite removed from what you’d consider drum & bass.
Or it subverts things nicely, like The Prescription Is Love with its 12 bar loop. D&B with a twist. That might be hard to mix, mind…
I’m not sure how that came to me. It just seemed to fit the theme. The intro is four groups of 12 bars, which is the same as three groups of 16. It’s a standard 48 bar intro. Mixing out is a bit harder, but once that tune drops it goes off. It’s great to see people reacting to it on the dancefloor. It seems to roll quicker because of the 12 bar structure. It’s quite interesting.
What’s interesting is the finale tune Don’t Give Up Now. It’s an update of a 1991 tune of yours, right?
Yeah it’s something I wanted to do for a long time. I wrote it and released it on my second label Tongue & Groove on 12” with my band at the time IZIT. It became a big tune in the acid jazz scene. I was living a rented house in Tottenham and every penny I could scrape together I’d go and get more copies cut. I ended up selling about 4000 out of the boot of my Morris Marina. That kicked me off. It was a simple production but a strong song. Probably the strongest song I’ve ever written. Anyway I’d rediscovered the ADAT multitrack, time-stretched it and rebuilt the song. Unfortunately I couldn’t trace the singer Sam Edwards. She’s off the radar. But, as luck would have it, Bulgarian Goddess introduced herself to me. This was the first song I gave her to try and she was incredible. But that was very special hearing the song reimagined and brought back to life like that.
Lots of memories, I’d imagine?
Definitely. That’s pretty much where everything started for me. It was great time and it’s funny that a lot of people hearing this song won’t have even been born when it was first made. It still stands up, I’m happy to inject more life into it. And the words are every bit as true as they were in when I wrote in 1990.
Definitely. There are some heavy moments too such as Empty Seat At The Table
That’s dedicated to my father. I wanted to make a tune in his honour, although I didn’t know it was going to end being an absolute banger! It starts off with a fretless bassline, handclaps and jazzy chords, which was lovely, but I just couldn’t get the tune to drop. So I called up Whiney, asked if he wanted to collaborate with me on it, sent him the sketch and the next day he sent over version one of what you hear now. It’s got that glorious bassline and drums on the drop. I added all the little eccentric bits and delays and it just works and plays out amazingly.
There’s a very strong visual theme isn’t there. Tell me about Ben Beech’s photography…
I’ve known Ben for years. He’s a fascinating man and lives outside Tokyo. He discovered that in Japan, and other Asian countries, when institutions close down or companies go bankrupt and the buildings go into derelict status no one ever steps foot in them. So you’ve got places like sanitoriums, fun parks, hospitals, hotels all going into a state of decay and no one will step foot in them. Still with fixtures and fittings and everything left untouched. There are bottles in a hospital dispensary. Every kind of dangerous substance known to man, still in their 1950s bottles. Amazing furniture which would fetch tens of thousands with creepers around them. It gives you this sense of the passing of time and a world in decay. Nature gradually reclaiming our world. Which at some point will happen.
Truth. So these images became the framework for the album…
Yeah I had some sketches anyway but I wanted to match a photo to a sketch as a form of creative glue and get a cohension. Not like a concept album but more of an added dimension for me while making it. At that stagte this was helping my throught process and gave me pointers. Ben was sending more and more photos and very gradually I was starting to choose images and we ended up with special photos for each tune. They tell their own stories. They add another dimension to the project.
They do. So does the orchestration of the album. Tell me about Orkestra Galactica. I know you released under that name but who else is in it? You credit them a lot on the album…
The Orkestra Galactica work on this cruise ship, forever on a journey in space, stopping at planets, picking up, entertaining, dropping off. Every album I’ve made has had at least two tracks with the orchestra providing strings. They exist in my head and in the box and recordings of real musicians in the mix to spice it up. I also have to shout out Natus. He’s released on Hospital before and is at the Royal College Of Music. He’s a brilliant violinist and has some incredibly talented friends playing strings. He’s my go-to real string guy and did a lot of depth to the album.
I’ve noticed a theme with worlds. And outer space. Orkestra Galactica did tune called When Worlds Collide…
There’s another one called the Andromeda Variations, too. I’m basically a huge sci-fi buff, I have been since I was 7 and was taken to the premier of 2001 Space Odyssey. It was in Cinema Scope. Massive screen in Hyde Park Odeon. Since seeing that film I’ve been obsessed with sci-fi. Hence the track Kubrik’s View.
Every track is personal in a different way. I think a final shout out needs to go to the Secretary General, right? Your son is even on your album!
Yes he is. It’s bizarre the way it happened. I caught him rapping in the car while driving him to swimming practice. He’d been learning Inja’s Blank Pages off by heart and dropped Samurai so accurately I did that thing you’re not supposed to do and videoed him. I sent it to Inja who said ‘wow, that’s quite uncanny.’ So my wife suggested he wrote a verse for him for the album. He came up with the title when we practised in the studio the next day. I told him to rap the alphabet and he said he needed time to think. Inja came in the next day and heard it fresh and Inja said ‘woah that’s the title there’. In the modern age. We don’t have time to think. We wrote the song in an hour and a half, Stanley practiced it a few times and on the second take he nailed it. That was it, done. He had the flow, the nuances and got on with it. It was quite impressive. So yes, please do big up the Sec Gen.
Big up yourself too please.
I think, like we touched on, it’s been a very personal and meaningful album to me in many many ways. I hope in time it does creates worlds for people to escape to and explore, thank you.