If you’re going to do a comeback, do it in style…
Bobby Tank took a few years away from the studio but returned at the start of 2019 in glorious technicolour with a pixel-punching maximalist three-track EP Oxygen. Marking the start of a new chapter, working closely with London A/V disrupters Not Like That, the EP that boasted cover art from Beeple and an immersive, not to mention trippy, 360° VR music video by artist Baron Lanteigne.
It then launched in earnest in February with an A/V performance in a small cube room dressed with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screens and kitted up with 12.2 surround sound. A unique sense-arresting space: just like Bobby’s music, it was a far cry from your typical performance as both the visuals and music whisked you away into an unreal world. Comparable to stepping into a VR environment without actually using VR, the constantly morphing and evolving graphics matched and complemented both Bobby’s and warm-up act Morgan Hislop’s crystalline, heavily melodic and fantastical soundscapes. To the point it was like the small crowd had been entrusted with a VIP ticket for a guided tour around the innermost corners of the DJ’s minds.
An outstanding EP, a unique performance concept and a bright collaborative future for Bobby and Not Like That. Their story continues this month as they drop a wedge of remixes from Deon Custom, Tregs, Orlando Boom and Brokenhaze. We called up Bobby and Not Like That founder Henry Prince to find out more… And what to expect next.
Let’s go back to that night in February…
Bobby Tank: I’d never seen, or played in, anything like it in my life!
Henry, explain the concept of the night…
Henry: I’d been doing A/V nights for a while. Trying to bring club rave culture and A/V culture together. It’s happening in Europe a lot more but less here, but I realised that the big projectors and images make people feel more inhibited and a little shy to get into it much more than they do in a club where it’s dark. So the format you saw with Bobby is a natural progression for me. I’ve done away with all the conventions of being in a rave and tried present a DJ in a completely different way: in a room with a shit ton of visuals. People seemed to get it. They felt more comfortable in the space. They didn’t feel they had to dance or play up to expectations of the more traditional style event.
Like an experience or a spectacle. DJ Stingray said in a recent article about how club culture needs to get up to speed with tech culture and how the new generation of music lovers and ravers need more than just a dark room. I think there’s space for both…
Henry: Dark room culture definitely has its place, and always will, but dance music is diversifying and growing beyond the dark room vibe as well. As the music diversifies, club culture should too. It’s about getting the right performers and artists whose music makes more sense in the type of immersive environment. Bobby was perfect for that.
What I liked about the event is how it slowly became very sociable and interactive as the sets progressed.
Henry: Yeah you’re right. It takes time to get in to it and get comfortable within it. It would be interesting to see what happens when it goes on for longer. There wasn’t a bar there, but the more people drank, the more people lose inhibitions. It will be interesting to see but the whole idea of sharing an experience is very important to me and something I care about. I’ve always been into VR but it bugs me that it’s a solitary experience. Even when you’re connecting with people around the world, the mask takes up the whole face. So this type of environment is a taste of the VR experience but with social aspect, too. The idea of escapism is strong for me, as well: taking people out of the day-to-day environment and creating a digital world is really exciting.
Bobby you have a very visual musical style. Henry’s right in saying your style lends itself to these type of events.
Bobby: Yeah, I tend to approach my music visually anyway. Never really have a set structure in mind, I usually need something visual to inspire me. It doesn’t just come to me unfortunately, generally need an incentive. I might look at Beeple’s art for instance to encourage inspiration and find something that will respond to the music I’m hearing in my head which I can then sonically bring it to life.
I’m sure films and games do the same?
Bobby: Totally. And what Henry did for the show was as close to seeing what is in my head. It felt revolutionary. I’ve played many shows and I’ve been to a lot of clubs nights but nothing quite as immersive as that.
Henry: This is just the start. There’s loads more that can be done with it. There’s so much to try out and experiment.
And more releases from Bobby? How did you guys link?
Bobby: We’ve been fans of each other for a long time. Prior to physically meeting, I’d heard many great things about NotLikeThat’s experimental club movement and label from some producer pals of mine and how they were positively bridging the gap between London’s bass culture and progressive maximal electronica. So, naturally, I started to delve deeper into their profile and eventually became a superfan.
It wasn’t until 2016 when I had the honour of being booked for one of their club nights and man, they did not disappoint. It was great fun. My music isn’t exactly club savvy so was nice to be given the freedom to play what I want. I’ve been booked for many DJ nights before and always felt restricted to express my core influences as I prefer to approach my sets like a composition almost. So when I’m in either a tech house, grime or whatever environment, it sometimes makes me wonder ‘what am I doing here?’
That’s quite an odd experience for a DJ to be in!
Yeah. I kinda have to play that music to keep people happy and that’s fine, but having to strategically bring in as much of my own sound and music I love without losing the crowd can be challenging at times. Especially as you’re being booked off the back of your name you’ve developed through productions. This night, however, was amazing as it really gave me the freedom to really showcase my personality. The 360 degree visuals and 12.2 surround sound really enhanced the the whole experience and took it to another level.
This is a new chapter for both of you really, right?
Henry: Very much. We’ve had a shift in the business model. I was running it as a label until six months ago, but then I realised that when you’re an experimental label there’s no money in streaming. In order to make money on Spotify it’s an economy of scale. The artists who get streamed heavily gain he most, but niche artists with dedicated fanbases are losing out. So I had to work out a new way of working and created a content production company that works on a project by project basis with the artist; whether it’s a release or an event or show. So for each project we’ll create innovative content, 360 videos and immersive environments like the one you were in earlier this year.
Bobby: London’s kinda in its comfort zone right now with grime, house and drum & bass nights. As good as they are, there needs to be more variety and experimentation. Hopefully this might open a new door.
Henry: The audience for this music definitely exists in London, but people don’t know about the events or that they’re happening. I think, like a lot of things, it’s a long process of people getting know you. We want people to link the names and music to the experience so if they see it on flyers or posters they know it will be sick…
Joining the dots. So the remix package is out now. What next?
Henry: It’s still in development but I’m working with a friend of mine Ivan Isakov who is an installation artist and VR and haptic hardware designer on an installation/interactive web application. Working title “Hypermedia”, the installation will simulate a social media platform experience but instead of hiding the creepy data capturing and algorithmic coercion that goes on behind the scene on Facebook and the like, the user will be confronted with it. Not Like That is expanding into multimedia projects, especially installations, that tackle digital rights issues. I’m interested in exploring game mechanics in this context and this links with the immersive audio/visual work I’ve done with Bobby and Baron Lanteigne. Immersive artworks are a very powerful way of engaging people with important social issues.
Wow that sounds mad. How about you, Bobby?
Bobby: Learning to focus on one project a time and get my bloody album finished.