Listen to this – interview with Squarepusher and Charles Hazlewood

‘Listen to this’ set to “engage, inspire and excite and generally blow the mind of the entire audience that come and witness it” (Charles Hazlewood)

2011 saw massive cuts to the arts budget in Croydon Council, closing the Clocktower and cutting the summer festival. Croydon now seems to be going through a period of significant positive change, Fairfield Halls is to have a cash injection and plans are afoot – thanks to CEO Simon Thomsett – to bring new and exciting arts projects to Croydon.

On June 15th Fairfield Halls brought the Southbank to Croydon with ‘Listen to this’

“a unique musical collaboration… a thrilling musical hybrid creating a unique moment in music history.

I had the privilege of speaking to Simon Thomsett the
Fairfield Halls CEO, Charles Hazlewood and Tom Jenkinson about their work, listen to this and what it means to us in Croydon.Led by Charles Hazlewood, pioneering conductor and founder of the Paralympic orchestra. With boundary pushing electronic artist Tom Jenkinson (aka Squarepusher) and the Southbank Sinfonia – an orchestra devoted to developing the orchestral musicians of the future.


Simon, what does Listen to this mean to Croydon and Fairfield Halls as a venue?

It means something new and that’s the exciting thing. Tom Jenkinson’s music is all digitally based so it has an unusual sound; it’s not just Drum n Bass or Dubstep. It crosses lots of genres, it is quite unique and it’s got this great driving energy about it – it has individuality. Couple that, with the energetic Southbank Orchestra whose youth is key and in their non-playing time they listen to stuff like Squarepusher so it’s in their blood.

Charles brings this brilliant overview, this visionary leadership to it as a musical director. He’s a conductor of course but he’s also, importantly, a great advocate for good music. His view is this; there is there are only two types of music, good music and bad music, in whatever format, whether electronic, traditional, and orchestral. Good is the key. He essentially said that this is a one off on 15th June. It will only ever be this one time that you will get this particular concert performed. That’s a very exciting thing because that live aspect gives it a real edge, the adrenaline will be pumping and for Croydon it’s just great for it to be here, for us to be the venue, the place, the town that gets to host this particularly exciting and passionate and full of energy event.


What do you want to achieve by putting Listen to this on at Fairfield?

What I want is for people to come away from it just saying, “I’ve never seen or heard anything like that before”, and checking out what we’re doing in the future and to come again. I hope what it does is show people that there are other things that you might not expect to see at Fairfield and my aim is for it to be a place where there’s a sense of belonging and whatever your tastes are there’s something for you at the Fairfield.

I talked to a very excitable Charles Hazlewood about seismic beats, blowing the audiences minds and how excited he is about ‘Listen to this’

You’re bringing your show ‘Listen to this’ to Croydon. One of the things Croydon is famous for is Dubstep, and many of the original key players such as Skream, Benga and Artwork of Magnetic Man are Croydon boys. Are you a fan of the Dubstep scene?

Oh yeah, big-time. I’m very interested in that area of creativity. I love the fact that Croydon was the crucible for it and was the place where that seed was planted and started to grow. Croydon has a fantastic, long and rich history and connection with electronic dance music it feels totally appropriate to bring Squarepusher, one of the GODS of electronic dance music, to Croydon.


Where did the idea for ‘Listen to this’ come from?

It was born out of a conversation with the brilliant Simon Thomsett who we are incredibly lucky to have running the Fairfield Halls. About 3 years ago we were talking about how we might create a project that might lure a heavy mix of people who love dance music and those who love orchestras and all the people who are somewhere between those two poles to Fairfield Halls.

Running in parallel to that, Tom Jenkinson, Squarepusher, and I, had been having conversations for a number of years about what might happen if we took his seismic beats and put them in the context of an orchestra and what kind of new hybrid music might we create with these two amazing arenas of possibilities and ‘Listen to This’ is the result.


How are the rehearsals going?

We’re very keen that by the time we start rehearsals in the week leading up to the gig itself that we have some absolutely fantastic juicy pieces of musical protein that are going to engage, inspire and excite and generally blow the mind of the entire audience that come and witness it.


You’re known for pushing musical boundaries. What can the audience expect from this performance?

What’s going to be exciting about the project is we’re basing it mainly around Tom’s most recent album which is called Ufabulum, and if anyone hasn’t heard it, I urge you to get a copy, turn the volume up and the lights down and immerse yourself in it. It’s an amazing array of musical narrative. That’s going to form the backbone of the gig, tracks from that album completely re-imagined in the context of an orchestra. In-between we’re going to be playing other pieces of very colouristic late 20th and very early 21st Century orchestral music which have a kind of renaissance or relationship either to Ufabulum itself or to Tom’s work in general. He’s a man who thinks very much in terms of colour and one of his great Gods is the extraordinary French composer Olivier Messiaen, so there’ll certainly be some Messiaen in the mix and some other composers who have a relationship to Messiaen. There’s an amazing Greek composer called Xenakis and we may also delve into the world of George Benjamin, a brilliant British composer who studied briefly with Messiaen.

Everything will interrelate, and the idea is with any concert, is that it should be a sonic adventure where you hear some of Tom’s material radically re-invented as I’ve said but alongside these counterpoint pieces by Messiaen and others. So, hopefully by the end of the gig everyone will have had a 360 degree experience of this music and the world in which it operates.


Finally, I spoke to Tom Jenkinson aka Squarepusher about his role in the production, Ufabulum, light shows and his bass…

What can the audience expect from ‘Listen to this’?

What we’re looking to do is to extrapolate out from the original material whilst staying harmonically pretty close to it, expanding out the sonic palette, so I suppose in some way it’s a revision of the aesthetics of the set of compositions and looking at ways of how to recreate some of the entirely digitally created sounds, sounds which have absolutely no history within the analogue or music performance domain – sounds with no trace of human hands so-to-speak. It’s not just an academic exercise in sonic extrapolations; we are very much trying to stick to the melodic and harmonic core of the album. There will be elements of electronic performance which I will be doing myself alongside the performance by the orchestral musicians.


Charles said that you’re going to be blowing people’s minds, do you agree?

Yes, he is an extremely forthright and confident chap and I admire him for that, I hope to be, yes.


Brilliant, will the bass be coming out at any point?

Yes it will be, I’ve persuaded Charles to play a solo organ piece by Messiaen and in return I’ve got to hold my end up and play solo bass, well that’s what he fired back and me immediately, so I said, if that’s the case, fair enough, I’ll do it!


You built the visuals for Ufabulum from scratch and they were pretty amazing, will you be bringing similar visuals to the Fairfield?

That’s very much one of the exciting parts of this project for me, to try to take the orchestra out of its comfort zone without making the musicians uncomfortable. I don’t mean in a physical sense but in the way that an audience member might treat an orchestral performance in the context of the concert hall, using elements from the Ufabulum show prior to the orchestral augmentation. It should be pretty striking, the orchestra surrounded / engulfed, somewhat it the quite arresting, quite aggressive visual element, it will be quite a spectacle and I can’t wait to see it.


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