GoGo Penguin Throws a Remix Party

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GoGo Penguin’s Chris Illingworth (left),​ Nick Blacka and Rob Turner

(Photo: John Shard/Montage: Paul Middlewick)

Though jazz and cover performances are a long familiar pairing, remixing isn’t nearly as ubiquitous an exercise for the repertoire. Yet for GoGo Penguin and its new album GGP/RMX, there’s a sense of fully realized destiny in what Nick Blacka (bass), Chris Illingworth (piano) and Rob Turner (percussion) have brought to life with the artistry of nearly a dozen other collaborators, including Machinedrum, Shunya and Squarepusher, among others.

With 11 tracks for tinkering from the trio’s self-titled fourth release (Blue Note, 2020) and previously Japan-only single “Petit_a,” GGP/RMX puts more than new sonic arrangements on display. Everything about the record — its musicality, collaborating artists and the album from which GGP/RMX draws its inspiration — works together to showcase the musical flexibility of GoGo Penguin’s compositions as well as celebrate the local and international expanse of who and what has shaped the group over time.

Chris Illingworth spoke with Kira Grunenberg for DownBeat about what these collaborators mean to the band, how Manchester’s music scene shines on the album and more.

Kira Grunenberg: What compositional qualities and/or stylistic attributes of GoGo Penguin made it apparent that this was the best record for this project?

Chris Illingworth: When [Nick, Rob, and I recorded GoGo Penguin], we started out thinking it would be fun to get some remixes done of a couple of tracks. Then we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see what every track remixed is like — you know, just see what artists we can get onboard?” There’s been so much talk over the years about the fact that we’re heavily influenced by a lot of electronic artists, and we’ve never really pushed that side of it.

Well, what better way to kind of bridge that gap than by showing musicians that we love, and musicians that we respect, and kind of saying outright, that we trust them enough to take our music and do what they want to do with it? That’s how much we like these people and that’s how much we respect them. So there was an element of that, and there’s also the element for us of it [being] just really fun to hear what other people are going to do with it.

Grunenberg: How would you describe what makes the stylistic character of your home, Manchester, unique as compared with the rest of the GGP/RMX’s global musical perspective?

Illingworth: A big part of [Manchester’s scene] is indie-led. You have these very different things going on all the time in Manchester [where] people are trying to make these [creative] opportunities. I think that’s probably a big characteristic. It’s just a melting pot. I think there’s very little judgement. People just play the music and everyone wants to come along and see it.

Grunenberg: What were the deciding factors regarding the GoGo Penguin tracks each collaborator would work on?

Illingworth: At the beginning, there was an element of almost first-come, first-serve for whoever said yes to doing a remix. A few we just [asked], “What do you want to remix? What do you get a vibe from?” I think a big part of it is giving people the freedom to do their thing. I think that generally, that’s where you get the best results. If you try to dictate the images, try and tell [others], “This is what we’re thinking,” you get some weird sort of product where it’s kind of not honest and not true enough.”

Grunenberg: What was your core vision for GGP/RMX, as far as listener perception in jazz and other music communities was concerned?

Illingworth: We wanted to show people, it’s one thing to say who we like and who we’re influenced by. It’s another to say, “Here’s a selection of these people — listen to them. Here’s our music. Here’s what they think of us. And, here’s what they have done in terms of bringing their characteristics, their personality, but also respecting us.”

There are definitely people who are probably finding us through that kind of jazz world. [We’re saying,] “Here’s a load of music, which we think is really great — a lot of musicians we think are really excellent, who don’t exist within that world. And here’s some music for you to listen to as a way of maybe getting something different, something new.” It’s kind of [like] we’re curating that.

Grunenberg: How much about the remixes surprised the band? Did you learn something new about your compositional approaches as a result of them?

Illingworth: It was often surprising what [the collaborators] latched onto, the part of our music that they found really interesting. I love the fact that they seemed to be really brave — to see each person come back and go,“‘I’ve not been fearful or worried about this.” They weren’t worried about whether we were going to like it or not.” DB



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