Friday, 31 August 2012

ADO emerge blinking into delight

In early 2011, this blog posted a flurry of enthusiastic posts about ADO – Alternative Dubstep Orchestra – as they powered though a string of gigs at the Hare and Hounds in King’s Heath in Birmingham. Then... it went quiet. No live action, no posts. But now, with gigs planned, and a box-fresh video that you can see after the jump, there’s an awful lot to talk about. Shelley Atkinson’s doing the talking. 

I’m very fond of ADO. One reason is purely sentiment: the seeds for the band’s genesis were sown at the November 2010 launch event for The Pilot project, which I led, and for which ADO manager Shelley Atkinson had played an invaluable role as lead researcher. At the PP launch, Shelley and DJ Karl Jones had challenged each other to see if live musicians could work coherently with DJs and turntablists; from that challenge came the first version of ADO.  But there's more. 

The second reason there's a lot to love about ADO is simply the pure musical adventurous spirit of the project - a collection of hugely disparate musicians and DJs, working together across genres that have never meshed before. 
The potential was huge, and it still is. Throughout 2011, I'd never before been able to watch a band evolve so fast and so nakedly, in public. It was charming and enthralling at the same time. Musicians spun in and out of the line-up, as the band worked towards a degree of identity and a coherent music vision. Some people struggled to find their feet; others took to it like ducks to water; some found they had other fish to fry, or obligations to meet. And that, of course, is often the way it is. 

Time for that chat with Shelley about how things are now...

It’s 21 months since ADO came into being. Tell me about the first idea that drove ADO 
Shelley Atkinson: Oh, to celebrate Birmingham's music scenes and encourage 
collaboration. To showcase musicians from different genres, to create something along a basic dubstep line, but to enhance that and mix different music together.
But wasn’t there a musical point you wanted to prove?
Yes. Two of us came up with the ideas: Karl Jones and myself. I’ve put live music on for the past five or six years…working on festivals, creating festivals. When we met, we were at loggerheads. Karl was trying to convince me that dubstep is innovative, that turntablism is an instrument in its own right. Lots of things that he’s very passionate about. Coming from where I had been – more ‘traditional’ music making, if you like – I disagreed, largely. I felt DJs had too much stake in popular music.  I wanted to inject more live music into his world, and he wanted to inject into the ‘live’ world, more evidence that dubstep isn’t just one thing, that it can be varied, that it had twists and turns, and that it can be live. So we both had agendas…. But we both wanted to celebrate Birmingham music and music-making, of all kinds. 
So how has that worked out – have you reached a perfect medium between the two approaches?
I think so...nowadays it is less about trying to prove a point and more about seeing what comes out once you get 10 different musicians together coming from different points of view. For me the sounds that come out from that are exciting. Everybody puts their point of view into the pot. Sometimes there can be creative tensions, but that's what makes the music sound so different - nobody is following a formula. You’ve got producers, songwriters, and people who are very passionate about their genre in there…
Surely it’s a case where the musician creates and the DJ curates?
I would have said that initially, Robin…but if you were to speak to Richard Shawcross, for example, who is a DJ in ADO, or Karl Jones – they would say they were musicians; they create bass lines, rhythms, melodies. Which they do! So we’ve had this debate from the word go. The lines are so blurred now! 
Sounds like healthy creative tension to me…
Yes. I think people fighting for different things musically can create a new thing. And you have to compromise, you have to work together. So it’s a great process. To me, the process is just as important as the music itself. 
Let’s talk about the process, because you’ve done quite a lot of that, live, onstage. The band lurched chaotically into life on stage, and it was a pleasure to see that lurching. I’ve never seen that before. Normally, all that stuff takes place in the rehearsal room…
 … and then you go out and gig when you’re ready. You don’t book a gig before you’ve got a band, like we did! But it was scary, and exciting. Some of the musicians hated it at first, to be honest. They hated being put in that position. It’s scary and it’s not fair, to do that to a musician. 
Leaving them naked on stage….
Naked, yeah! Often many of them were doing styles of music they weren’t really knowledgeable about. But that really doesn’t matter anymore, that’s not the point. And it never was, actually.
But that’s what excites me: something unique might emerge from this huge fermenting mess of ideas and abilities.  Let’s get back to the present. I saw almost all your gigs last year, and it was lovely to watch you evolve and nail new approaches. But I think you’ve only done one hometown gig in 2012.
It was important to play live, and to inspire people in a room, and do stuff on stage that hadn’t been done before. We used every gig to grow and learn. All those experiences came to a head after a year, and then it was time to make some music in a recording studio. And I don’t think you can do both at the same time – it’s very difficult. So that’s why it’s been a bit quiet. Lots of writing. And we wanted to approach this work in the same way - not to churn a product out. 
What is the timescale for the rest of 2012?
We’ve got a video out now – see above – filmed at two of our gigs. We’re hoping to do a November tour. Some of the members play in other bands: you’ve got Leighton Hargreaves who plays in the Destroyers. Tom Livemore’s going to be touring with Carina Round again in October. So everybody’s finished what they’re doing by November. Which lets us tour, and also put out a release, with Hero Records.
Conventional wisdom says you should only play with one band if you’re going to give it your best show. You can’t do that with this band. So how do you deal with that? 
These are signs of the times. I don’t know many musicians who just play with one band in Birmingham. Actual working musicians in our city all play with different bands; and they all are going to have one band which they have loyalty to. I’ve never, as manager of ADO said to anybody ‘You must choose’. 

And that is a brave and a good thing... because, when it comes to collaboration, ADO set a new record for cross-town multi-stranded musician membership. Brass section stalwarts Christopher Holmes plays with Sister Henry and The Prescriptions, and Fly Harper with Friendly Fire. Bass player Spike Barker also plays with Toy Hearts, and the brilliant percussionist Joelle Barker also plays with, among others, TG Collective.

Now a tricky question: this is your first major managerial gig. What would you say to yourself of less than two years ago, just starting up the band?
Good question. Let a lot things go by – you can’t take it all on. With ten people, you’ve got ten lots of emotions and inspirations and hopes. We’re all on the same page, but I don’t take on every little thing. The times when I’ve found it difficult is when I’ve forgotten the big picture. The big picture is what you need to keep you eye on!
What happening in 2013, Shelley?
More tours, more recording. We hope to come into our own. We hope people will stop saying things like ‘That’s not dubstep’ or ‘that’s not orchestral’, and just realise it’s a musical force. We want to work with some well-established artists as well
And what’s the ‘brand’ going to be: ADO or Alternative Dubstep Orchestra?

Oh - ADO. 

Just to round things off, it's worth noting that, just as ADO grew out of an unlikely and idealistic collaboration, where different musical worlds collided with very satisfying results, so ADO in turn is now spawning yet more experimental ventures, Past members have gone on to form exciting ventures like Electric Swing Circus, and Jolt Music is a new collaboration between present members Leighton Hargreaves, Tom Livemore and Joelle Barker. That's not all; there are more ventures cooking up even now. I rather hope that, with this level of musical curiosity and willingness to explore, that we will see more ventures in the future. Long may all this continue. 

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