“As a band I think we try to directly interact with the universe’s parameters of space, time, matter and energy. Each track is a new experiment that feels ritualistic for us. We experiment with our bodies and minds as well as technology old and new.”
A force to be reckoned with
Is it a locomotive? Or supersonic booms? Maybe artillery on offensive? Could be rockets to the moons. Roaring of waves crashing on rocks. A phenomenon, an electric stream of sound bursting out of a wild nebula, knocking our socks off. A conjunction of Betamax Killer (drums), Danalogue the Conqueror (keys) and King Shabaka (sax).
Earlier this month, following their fantastic 2015 Prophecy EP, UK-based Maxwell Hallett (Betamax), Dan Leavers (the Conqueror) and Shabaka Hutchings (King Shabaka), together known as The Comet is Coming, have released their debut album, Channel The Spirits, on the mighty Leaf label. The young yet experienced and skilled trio’s exploration through cosmic jazz, afrobeat and swirling electronica is displayed on Channel The Spirits in full, merciless, star-blowing spiritual power. There’s a new gang in town, a crystallized force to be reckoned with, and hopefully it’s here to stay. Keep your radars on these three space outlaws.
Betamax Killer :: Me and Dan’s musical pathways collided with each other about 11 years ago when we lived in Brighton, and our sonic powers were forged by process of many late night low light sound experiments with our musical peers. We studied the psycho-acoustic discoveries of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Moondog while trying to fuse the volatile energy of Led Zeppelin with John Coltrane.
We eventually reduced down to a synth and drum two piece named ’Soccer96’ and we were to spend the next 5 years turning down offers of people wanting to join our band. This was to continue until one day at the side of the stage was to appear out of the shadows a figure of immense musical proportion – Shabaka Hutchings sax in hand. Next moment he was on stage releasing the sonic horn and I could actually see the audience begin to levitate. The fusion of energy was blinding at first, but in the aftermath everything was now crystal clear. We had created a new band. We then booked in three days in Total Refreshment Centre studios and made a record with such a rapid surge of creativity that I have almost no memory of it. Through the smoke I can see the wheels of tape spinning with Shabaka and Dan convulsing into machines.
Me and Dan mix our own music so we finished mixing the creations in my garden shed in London over a long winter. Having worked with producers before it is such a liberating feeling to take control of the sound once again and get spiritual with the mix. Suddenly we had about two albums of music so we sent it all to ‘Big Tony’ at Leaf. Leaf Label have been behind some of our favourite artists notably Polar bear and Caribou. We didn’t even send it to anybody else.
Danalogue the Conqueror :: From the first time we jammed together on stage we new we had something special. The combination of Betamax’s melodic fluidity on drums with my synths had always been pretty supercharged, we’d intentionally made a duo (Soccer96) after realising that with only 2 instruments we could both be turned up in the mix really loud. So until we met the King Shabaka nobody could really go in hard enough to compete with us sonically on stage, but I’m pretty sure even without a microphone people in the crowd could hear the blazing tenor sax – the volume tussle is part of the game.
Sound & style?
Betamax Killer :: As a band I think we try to directly interact with the universe’s parameters of space, time, matter and energy. Each track is a new experiment that feels ritualistic for us. We experiment with our bodies and minds as well as technology old and new. I feel on the edge of what I know and we always use music as a form of searching. We see with our bodily feelings, in tandem with mental impression in a search to discover alternative mind states. I think this is why science fiction seems to resonate well with us, it’s a double exploration into the unknown universe and human imagination.
I sometimes wonder if we sound like spiritual jazz that’s been upgraded with atomic power with a few lasers attached. The gigs can get really heavy and energetic but there is some serine deepness behind it all.
Danalogue the Conqueror :: I would say we are the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Like when the Comet is coming over the yard arm you know what record to reach for. The intensity of the final hour, the ecstatic rhythms to make it all go out with a bang, the drama of the synths and the cry of human emotion through the sax melodies. And dancing, sweaty dancing. We all realised that The Comet is Coming was the perfect title, putting in perspective we are flying through space on a rock, it could end at any time, and how this feels here and on other planets, how the whole galaxy interacts and what sort of future we can imagine and dream up.
The new album?
Betamax Killer :: ‘Channel The Spirits’ is attempting to go further than previous missions. We wanted to discover more about creation through the process of destruction. When we create our dinner we use destructive tools of blades and fire. I think the same is true of music. Experimenting with acts of sonic violence, distortions, bleeding tapes, saturations, intoxications, physical exhaustion, conceptual collisions, we gathered up the magnetic mapping of events and began to deconstruct further. These processes allow one a glimpse of something very real. So to ‘Channel The Spirits’ seemed to encapsulate our collective objective. I think there is a lot of struggle in the sound, but through this you can feel moments of overcoming and human power.
Danalogue the Conqueror :: With the album engineering and producing, Betamax and I did it all ourselves. We have access to a place in East London called the Total Refreshment Centre. Capitol K is the head engineer there and tracked about half of the album with us. We used a lot of old and weird equipment.
Some of the material was written by chance, we improvised hours of music so what you hear on the album is part of a much larger process. Zen painting influences my compositional methods where the artist makes an abstract expression first, before imagining what it could become before completing a finished painting in a recognisable form.
Danalogue the Conqueror :: Playing live is a buzz with the Comet. I would say the chemistry is electric, but we are also developing all the time, the tracks get extended and bifurcate into different explorations live in a way that is unpredictable and joyously infinite, I’d like to think that no two Comet gigs will be the same.
King Shabaka :: Because we formed in the making of an album I think our live performances have developed on a tangent to the energy espoused on the album. We generally play pretty hard, like we’re trying to transcend the physical limitations of our bodies and get to a space whereby all that’s left is pure energy and intent.
Betamax Killer :: Our next gig in London is on the 13th April which is our album launch, at the London Fields Brewery.
Betamax Killer :: A bouncer outside a venue once asked us if we were making devil worship.
Danalogue the Conqueror :: My mate Scratcha DVA was at a gig and said Journey Through The Asteroid Belt was fresh to him as at sounded ‘GRAND’ – grandiose like a castle or something.
King Shabaka :: Once playing at the hootenanny in Brixton I looked down to see about five black guys going totally nuts in the front singing along and jumping to my improvised lines. Black people aren’t particularly known for their support of jazz based music (en masse) in the scenes that I inhabit. So I thought….job done!
On heavy rotation?
Betamax Killer :: We’re always discovering new Pharoah Sanders recordings, Alice Coltrane, all things Brain feeder label. Also I’ve come across a Balinese dance music from the 70s called Jaipong, hand drums and gamelan with hype shouting I absolutely love it, check out Idjah Hadidjah – Tonggeret.
King Shabaka :: Actress – hazyville; United vibrations – The Myth of the Golden Ratio; Kano – made in the manor; Tumi mogorosi – project elo.
Danalogue the Conqueror :: I’m loving this enigmatic producer ‘U’ who has released some pretty wild stuff, kind of sounds like its been dug up in a junkyard on cassette in the year 2126 and still plays ok somehow. Similar to one of my other obsessions, Patten.
Owiny Sigoma Band, Troyka, i’m a big fan of the Peckham scene – guys like Al Dobson Junior, Henry Wu, Yussef Kamal Trio, Mo Colours, and then the WotNot Music label of producers, Deft, Alphabets Heaven, K-15.
I’ve been producing a new LP by a band called Flamingods, so have listened to that a lot, it’s going to be a strong release on Soundway Records soon.