From hip hop to jazz, the alternative inspiration
Linda Fredriksson with Swedish group Mopo
Anything but traditional: Leo Riegler and Lukas König of Koenigleopold from Vienna
Alternative is starting to become a meaningless phrase in mainstream music; the artists at 12 Points, though, are trying to reforge the cutting edge
The alternative music scene was once where you went to hear music at its most extreme, a place of strange people with odd instruments and even stranger ideas about what to do with them, all in the name of innovation and experimentation. Now, mainstream music has claimed alternative, or “alt”, as its own: Billboard’s current top 10 alternative chart contains such far-out artists as Muse, Mumford Sons and Fun. Alternative music’s cutting edge has been blunted.
The jazz scene has always relished its “outsider” image, fed on a steady if now cliched diet of dangerous looking people in sharp suits and smoky settings. The 12 Points festival, which starts today in Dublin, has one of the most eclectic offerings of any music festival: 12 young acts are selected to perform, each from a different European city, and the concerts take place in Dublin every other year and travel around Europe in-between. It’s a celebration of the shock of the new in jazz and music.
One of the common features among these alternative acts is their enthusiasm for collaboration, across genres, across art forms and across countries. Koenigleopold from Vienna are a collaborative case in point. The duo met at Jazzwerkstatt Wien (Jazzworkshop Vienna), a two-month festival in 2004 that has now evolved into an international community of musicians and collaborators (the collective released the band’s first album, Aalfang, on its label).
Leo Riegler is a self-taught musician with a mainly hip hop background, whereas Lukas König studied music in the more traditional sense. The band, though, is anything but traditional. König plays bass and drums at the same time, one of their recent tracks laments being wasteful with hot water, and, according to Lukas König, recently “the main theme of our work is circling around food”. (The latter is not without its dangers – the band were the subject of a lawsuit, and a decent amount of media brouhaha, after a butcher took umbrage with his name being used in one of their YouTube videos.)
“We use ourselves as a filter and are reflecting everything we hear, see and smell and transforming it to an art form that we think we can do best: music,” says König.
Historically, jazz has perhaps been music’s most innovative genre, but that torch may have passed in recent years to younger genres, such as hip hop and electronic music. “There have been so many people who discussed if jazz is dead or it’s just smelling funny, or if it has moved to another continent,” says König. “Our inspiration isn’t coming from jazz alone at all. As a drummer, I am not a specialist in harmonic structures, but rhythmically, I’m more inspired from new hip hop and electronic music productions, which are pointing to morphing and shifting methods, which brings the rhythmic question back to ethnic music or even minimalism.
“The sound engineering factor [by experimenting with acoustics, recording and production techniques] can be found more in other genres than in jazz, where it has been the tradition that people gathered into a studio, playing music. This sound, without any major production, has its own speciality, because you hear the raw spirit of the music. But for us, right now, it’s important to combine as many sound ideas as possible, and therefore technology is too interesting and developed to just make a jazz record.”