It’s been an astonishing couple of years for GoGo Penguin, the UK trio of drummer Rob Turner, double bassist Nick Blacka and pianist Chris Illingworth. Their trademark mash-up of minimalist piano themes, deeply propulsive bass lines and electronica-inspired drums has seen their 2014 album v2.0 shortlisted for the Mercury Prize and fuelled their exhilarating live shows from their hometown of Manchester to Montreal and Paris to London.
The band has written and performed a new score for Godfrey Reggio’s cult film Koyaanisqatsi and collaborated with noted choreographer Lynn Page for a Gilles Peterson-curated night at the Barbican. Drawing on a heady brew of influences from Brian Eno, John Cage, Massive Attack and Aphex Twin, GoGo Penguin has created a brave new sound that is wholly their own.
In the midst of all this they’ve signed with iconic jazz label Blue Note Records and are set to release their label debut Man Made Object on February 5, 2016. The video for the album’s lead single “All Res” was released today and can be viewed HERE. The band will make their New York City live debut on January 16 at the 2016 NYC Winter Jazzfest.
Man Made Object is the sound of a band confidently pursuing their own path. “The title is partly inspired by my fascination with ideas of robotics, transhumanism and human augmentation,” says pianist Illingworth, a statement that begs for elaboration. “We’re recreating electronic music on acoustic instruments. It’s like a man-made object that has become humanized and it seemed like a good album title, one that also means something different to each of us, and hopefully to each listener.”
Indeed, although they're predominately an acoustic piano trio, GoGo Penguin’s music draws from many areas of contemporary electronic music, one where you can hear arcade game bleeps, glitchy breakbeats, hypnotic Aphex-style melodies, grinding bass lines and a rumbling low-end. It has been described as “acoustic electronica”, a term which perfectly sums up their modus operandi. “Many of the songs on this album started out as electronic compositions that I made on sequencing software like Logic or Ableton,” says drummer Turner. “I’ll then play it to the band and we’ll find ways of replicating it acoustically.”
Man Made Object opens with the warmly welcoming “All Res,” a track inspired by the simple image of sunlight streaming through the clouds. “Unspeakable World” is pure GoGo Penguin, catchy and exhilarating in equal measure, “Branches Break” started life as a Four Tet-inspired laptop piece with bassist Nick Blacka playing through an effects pedal and Chris playing harp-like flourishes, while “Weird Cat” is based around a recording that Rob made of a stray cat wailing one night (“it was a really great melody that this cat came up with,” he says. “It sounded like a Burial track”).
The hypnotic minimalism of “Quiet Mind” and “Surrender To Mountain” both take their cue from I Am That, a book of conversations with the Hindu mystic Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. While on “Smaara,” a song inspired by the Hindu idea of sleep demons, Chris dampens the strings on his piano with kitchen roll to replicate the sound of a synth. “Initiate,” is a delicate, low-volume rumination, partly inspired by Amon Tobin and the cryptically titled “GBFISYSIH” is a heart-breaking lament that serves as coded tribute to an old friend. Finally the triumphantly, defiantly martial closing track, “Protest,” sees Rob and Nick recreate a fiendishly difficult Roland 808-style beat fused with a siren that Chris had programmed into a drum machine on his iPhone.
And it is that ability to synthesis the seemingly disparate influences of electronica, jazz, and classical music into their own unique musical DNA that gives GoGo Penguin such an instantly recognizable and compelling sound.