WONKY CARTON

Live drums, football, and the City of No Illusions: Fenbred

In the dank depths of February I used LV’s xlr8r mix as a mid-afternoon shockwave. It was an alternative to the caffeine-induced plummet at 6pm, and simultaneously opened my ears to all kinds of new musical incarnations. Amidst the juke, grime, and off kilter rhythms of the mix I found a really interesting drum pattern from an artist called Fenbred.

Fenbred, it turns out, is Mr Benjamin Gardner from Buffalo, NY. He’s not, as I expected, a superstar DJ or a New York Knicks supporter, but a graphic designer by trade, an Arsenal fan (which is only a good thing), and a terribly nice guy. His appearance on the LV mix is also a brilliant story: in simply replying to an LV tweet he opened his music up to the Hyperdub producers, and they dug Fenbred’s ‘Back Home’ track into their mix.

‘Back Home’ emerges like a drunk from sleep. Clear vocals and syncopated drums – which sound incredibly live – gradually eschew the disorientated and thudding phasers and drive the mixdown forth. It’s at a solid speed (124) and indicates a real feel for dynamics and groove, much like his other track ‘Wooden Rollercoaster’. My first impulse was to ask the young producer where this really inventive and idiosyncratic cut came from: is he a brilliant drummer turned electronico – Chad Smith meets Midland?

‘I’m absolutely shit at playing drums,’ says Gardner, emphatically putting that theory to bed. ‘The beat in ‘Back Home’ was made with some drum samples in a sequencer. I was listening to a lot of a UK Garage at the time and wanted to try to replicate those kinds of beats, at the same time making it feel like a live kit.’

Live kit it is not then, but of the inspiration for textures and melodies Gardner speaks about natural life. Study and expanse. Time to think. ‘I spent a great deal of time this past summer in Yellowstone National Park and dedicated a lot of it to writing music on my laptop – especially at night because there was almost nothing else to do,’ he says. ‘The music I was listening to at the time contrasted massively with the vast landscapes that I was physically a part of, and that juxtaposition was really inspiring.’

Gardner’s early involvement in music came in high school bands, tragically blown apart by ‘clashing egos and the stress of co-writing’. It was seeing Four Tet’s live show that provided his earliest electronic stimulus, a clarion call to the keyboard and to the DJ booth. ‘I really felt inspired to take on the task of producing my own material after that,’ says Gardner. ‘As a listener I enjoy being taken in many sonic directions and exploring the vast spectrum of dance music. It’s something I seek to replicate in my own productions.’

I wondered if Gardner’s hometown of Buffalo was also inspiring. According to wikipedia Buffalo is Forbes’ tenth best place to raise a family in America but has been cited by the UN for having one of the worst rates of economic inequality in the world (nearly a third of its citizens live below the poverty line). It is also an ex-rail terminal and known as the City of No Illusions. It sounds a little like Detroit, then, but without the outrageous musical heritage.

I got an answer deeper than I was expecting. Gardner explains that there are indeed similarities with Detroit – ‘Buffalo is a unique place with a lot of fascinating history, yet has failed to show signs of real economic growth in my lifetime’ – but that there also remains a huge cultural disparity. For, while Detroit remains awash with techno producers and club nights (Omar-S and Kyle Hall to name a few prominents), Buffalo often gets bypassed to Toronto. Worse than that, Buffalo’s creatives also miss the press.

‘While there are lots of creative people here with genuine intentions to make it a better place to live, their efforts seem to go unnoticed,’ says Gardner, pointing to an unlikely source of complaint. ‘Maybe that’s because most of the community’s attention is focused on our football team who have never even won a single championship … Tons of people here would be willing to take a bullet for the Buffalo Bills’ waterboy. Personally I don’t get it.’

While we can all appreciate (or hate) underachieving sports teams, the individual effects of a cultural depression are both theoretically and physically prohibitive. By example, my university town was crap for exciting and innovative music. On one hand that meant that there was little positive reception for what was done, but on the other that those persevering built a community and something original out of that frustrated energy. For Gardner and other producers in Buffalo, this thrust of wanting to move forward emerges in their music. ‘It can be tiring being surrounded by a sort of collective cultural depression while trying to remain positive and unattached from it,’ he says. ‘But there is an evoked desire to move forward in my music, and that’s a main part of what drives it.’

So from under the gaze of Niagara Falls, via the cut loops of ‘Back Home’ and an inhibitive local environment, where is Fenbred driving to now? Well, he has done a mix for us, which is damn exciting! The smooth 40 minutes reflect his house-y productions and delve into some suitably varying dynamics – Flügel’s ‘Brasil’, Todd Terje’s ‘Inspector Norse’, and Blawan’s ‘Getting Me Down’. In the wider world he plans to have an EP out by the end of the year, and encourages you to keep tabs via his soundcloud. There are some forthcoming one offs to add to those already in the offing, apparently…

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