The Comet Is Coming: ‘We’re doing the music of the future, but backwards’

The London retrofuturist trio make apocalypse party music with a jazz sting in the tail

The Comet Is Coming: Dan Leavers aka Danalogue the Conqueror, Shabaka Hutchings aka King Shabaka, and Max Hallett aka Betamax Killer

The Comet Is Coming: Dan Leavers aka Danalogue the Conqueror, Shabaka Hutchings aka King Shabaka, and Max Hallett aka Betamax Killer

 

Suppose tomorrow you hear that a large celestial object is headed our way, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, not even Bruce Willis. What will you do? Some will turn to their god of choice, some to their drug of choice; carnivores may pray for mercy and vegans may pay for a hamburger; but it’s fair to say that the thoughts of many will turn to dancing like there’s no tomorrow. Because, well, there won’t be.

Dancing is certainly what The Comet Is Coming think you should be doing. Channelling the spirits of Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, King Tubby and George Clinton, filtered through Flying Lotus and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop circa 1979, the hip London trio deliver a euphoric, earth-shattering live experience that is the ideal soundtrack to any self-respecting apocalypse party.

“We’re doing the music of the future, but backwards,” says the band’s drummer, Max Hallett, aka Betamax Killer. “There’s a lot of people trying to replicate electronic music with a live band, using backing tracks, samples, laptops and things like that, but we wanted to do it a bit different. We wanted to go back to the seventies and imagine the music of the future, but back then.”

Hallett and the band’s keyboard player, Dan Leavers aka Danalogue the Conqueror, met on a contemporary composition course at Sussex University and had already been in a few bands together, “very serious and heady experimental, post-rock kind of stuff”, when they formed Soccer 96 in the mid-noughties. With Leavers’ bank of vintage analogue synths and Hallett’s old-school drum set, the duo became an underground hit on the London club scene, cranking out their spontaneous psychedelic grooves at squat raves and warehouse parties.

The Comet Is Coming

Tall figure

As their subterranean fame spread, Hallett and Leavers began to notice a tall figure turning up at their gigs, checking them out. Shabaka Hutchings, aka King Shabaka, was already a rising star of the UK jazz scene, with a stint in Sun Ra’s ghost band, the Arkestra, under his belt, and in 2013, his similarly adventurous Sons of Kemet band won the Mobo award for Best Jazz Act. Then one night, Hutchings appeared at the side of the stage with a saxophone in his hand.

“We’ve come to learn that Shabaka generally has his saxophone with him,” says Hallett, smiling. “He wants to play with everyone. So we found him a mic and immediately there was a kind of synergy that I don’t think anyone expected. Our initial thoughts, working with a sax player, was that the music could get a bit more low-key, or go a bit more jazzy, but as soon as he started playing, we realised that he was lifting the energy up to another level.”

Jazzy or not, the presence of Hutchings certainly drew them to the attention of the jazz audience, and connected them to a new generation of improvising musicians who are finding as much inspiration in Orbital and Squarepusher as they are in bebop.

It’s not music from this world. We kind of have to put it out into space, because it doesn’t have a space here yet

“We listen to jazz more than play it, I guess,” says Hallett cautiously, citing early 1970s Miles Davis and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra as influences. “I listen to that stuff, and I think, well if that’s jazz, maybe what we’re doing is kind of jazz but [jazz has] this very deep tradition that goes back a long way, and it’s hard to really claim it and say that I’m a jazz guy, because I haven’t gone all the way through that – there’s quite a lot there – but I’ve always thought about making new sounds, and finding new ways of interacting musically, and if that’s jazz, it’s jazz.”

Incendiary

Whatever it is, their music is finding audiences that other jazz groups can only dream of. The trio’s incendiary debut album Channel the Spirits was nominated for a Mercury prize in 2016, and with a new album, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, about to be released on the legendary Impulse label, and live shows scheduled for 2019 around the world, including Dublin (Sugar Club, Friday, March 1st) and Belfast (Black Box, Saturday, March 2nd), the Comet is definitely coming this way.

 “It’s not music from this world,” says Hallett. “We kind of have to put it out into space, because it doesn’t have a space here yet. We’re using this space in the future as a way of getting a bit more of a clean slate, to be more creative, following our intuitions. By throwing it all into the future, its a bit more unknown for us and then we can just keep the mystery, and I think the mystery is not saying what it is, not knowing what it is yet . . .” Hallett tails off and scratches his tousled head. Describing the apocalypse is hard work for an underground drummer in the daylight.

 The Comet Is Coming play the Sugar Club, Dublin on March 1 and Black Box, Belfast on March 2. Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery will be released on the Impulse label on March 15th. thesugarclub.com and movingonmusic.com

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