Creatives in profile – interview with Augustine

Pressbild Augustine Foto: Oskar Omne

One of the hottest prospects to hit the music scene in 2019, Swedish artist Augustine first announced his presence with his hit debut, “Luzon” at the start of the year. Since then, more singles have followed, along with a critically acclaimed EP, Wishful Thinking at the start of the summer.

At 22-years of age, Augustine is a name that should be on everyone’s radar – as Nothing in The Rulebook made clear in our own review.  With songs and lyrics are characterised by soulful falsetto, cinematic instrumentation and melancholic love stories, it’s little wonder that two of his tracks immediately rocketed to #1 on Hype Machine, as he became one of the most talked about debuts of the year.

In his own words, he is an artist “weak for synth pop songs that are so big you just lose yourself in them”, yet, as readers can hear for themselves (by checking out his debut EP here), there’s a huge amount of versatility on offer here.

It was a pleasure to catch up with Augustine for our latest ‘Creatives in profile’ interview…

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background

AUGUSTINE

Hi there! Thank you guys for the beautiful write-up on the EP! I live in Stockholm, Sweden, at the moment; but I’m born and raised in a small town called Jörlanda on the Swedish west coast, just outside of Gothenburg. I moved to Stockholm about two years ago for the music. Before then I spent my days writing songs at home and finishing senior high school.

INTERVIEWER

Is music your first love, or do you have another passion?

AUGUSTINE

I played some sports when I was younger. Football and ice hockey! But I eventually quit them both because of the interest I had for music. So maybe it’s not my first love, but it’s surely the greatest love!

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

AUGUSTINE

Oh there’s so many! For the EP specifically, I listened a lot to The National, Phoebe Bridgers and The xx – just to name a few. I think they all have some kind of gloom and melancholia to their music, which I’m totally drawn to; that’s the sort of thing that makes me inspired.

INTERVIEWER

One of your first tracks, Luzon, pivots around a certain sense of oblivion through experiences of love – with lyrics like “you might just kill me off”; “I just want a disaster” – whereas another of your first tracks, and A Scent of Lily is more open and contemplative about love and relationships; you ask, “now what’s next?” For you, how much is music a way of communicating these different encounters and experiences of love – and, when it comes to it, where do you tend to place yourself on the scale between oblivion and hopeful optimism?

AUGUSTINE

Great question! It wasn’t my intention at all to write love songs when I first started making music. I played the drums and I was really into the beat and pulse of a song, and as far as lyrics go I tried to write some poems when I was younger; but that was it.

Then when I started to sing, it just felt natural to craft these kind of gloomy love-stories, maybe because I’ve listened a lot to artists who tend to do that (The National, etc…). So I guess that must be a way of communicating different experiences, whether it’s on purpose or not! On the scale, I’d place myself more to the oblivion side of things.

INTERVIEWER

What role does the (somewhat intangible) concept of love play in your work more generally? 

AUGUSTINE

I’ve realised lately that I often enjoy these heavy dramas about love, movies like ’Blue Valentine’ or ’Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. I’m fascinated about it but I can’t really give a good answer as to why. It’s not that fun to watch or to listen to a story in which the relationship just works out, right?

INTERVIEWER

Your new tracks, Viola and Slacks – like your other work – showcase a fusion between different blends of music (like a fine cuisine) – from Electro to Jazz, classical to modern, mixing the digital with traditional, instrumental; old and new. Meanwhile the lyrics are often structurally poetic, reminiscent of Rodriguez or Dylan. Do you see your music as being intrinsically linked to any one particular genre of music? Or are genres within any creative art inherently limiting and confining?

AUGUSTINE

It’s definitely fun to play around! And at the same time try to keep some kind of sound through out a number of songs. I have to say thank you for mentioning Rodriguez and Dylan.

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Augustine: “more to the oblivion side of things”

INTERVIEWER

Can you talk us through your creative process? How do you take a song from initial idea into fully-fledged single?

AUGUSTINE

It’s a mess! I don’t understand my own process very well yet. I often start the idea in the production stage, where I start to experiment with different sounds and beats. When I have some kind of rough demo, I listen to that idea over and over again until it’s playing in my head even when it’s quiet. Like for instance when I’m going to sleep. That’s when the writing of lyrics start to take place – in my head while almost falling asleep. The brain forms such random words and themes to the songs when you’re tired.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in the music industry at the moment, what are your thoughts and feelings on the way the industry is developing? What should we be looking out for over the coming months/years? And how would you advise aspiring music artists to break out onto the scene?

AUGUSTINE

I don’t really know. It’s hard to have a say on that beast of a machine that it is! Now with the streaming era I think many people adapt their songs a bit to make them interesting in the very first seconds. Limited attention spans and all that. I guess every artist just has to make the best of it in their own way, but most importantly: keep on doing your thing and always write the songs you want to write. 

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on? 

AUGUSTINE

This summer it’s time to finally write more music again! My focus is also set on getting some live shows going, and just to keep on building this project. This year has been a blast!

Quick-fire round! 

INTERVIEWER

Favourite musician/band?

AUGUSTINE

Well, since you mentioned him earlier, Bob Dylan!

INTERVIEWER

Can you name a song you love, and a song you hate?

AUGUSTINE

’Boots of Spanish Leather’ by Dylan always leaves my heart so full. So full that I can’t name a single song I hate right now!

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

AUGUSTINE

Cult classic!

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated artist?

AUGUSTINE

Kindness!

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated artist?

AUGUSTINE

Ed Sheeran? So dull of me to say that!

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think more people should know about?

AUGUSTINE

My good friend ’J. Aissa’ just released his debut single ’S&W’ a couple weeks ago. It’s just beautiful!

INTERVIEWER

If music didn’t exist – what would you do?

AUGUSTINE

Oh, maybe I wouldn’t have quit football. I think I’d like to study some psychology courses.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

AUGUSTINE

I think I can do a kick flip on a skateboard! I could a year ago, at least.

INTERVIEWER

Most embarrassing moment? 

AUGUSTINE

Back when I was a kid I got so angry at my older brothers that I smashed the windows of our car with a big rock. 

INTERVIEWER

Something you’re particularly proud of?

AUGUSTINE

This whole year!

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

AUGUSTINE

”I wish I could” he said!

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Music review: Augustine

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With his debut EP, ‘Wishful Thinking’, Augustine captures the optimism of humanity and youth alongside the fear of the oblivion our species is facing

A lot will be written about the latest musical export from Sweden, Augustine, who first caught attention earlier in the year when he dropped his tracks Luzon and A Scent of Lily. At first glance, the new tracks on his newly-released debut EP seem to promise more of the same uplifting builds and studiously bright melodies that at times feel as though what might be created if you were to blend Dylan with Avicii, Rodriguez with Foster the People.

But this is more than a simple case of taking masters of folk and turning them into electro-pop. Augustine incorporates smooth brass and jazz instrumentals alongside modern rock and trance to create a potent musical cocktail. Add to the mix the artist’s wide vocal range that springs around energetically and captivatingly, and you quickly realise that too much of these tracks will get you pop drunk, and quickly.

What separates this music from other electro-pop artists is the lack of interest in slick varnish; the disregard for auto-tuning or using digital processes to create a ‘perfect’ (and as such, unrealistic) sound. Instead, moments of intensity – as when he reaches for the very limits of falsetto frequencies – are allowed to exist in a certain state of rawness that makes the music all the more real for it.

Indeed, while the driving beats, synth productions and mellatron tones can capture and thrill, the content of the lyrics often hints at something darker: a sense of oblivion amid the delirium – the madness of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream with the existential angst of Hamlet.

There’s also a bravery in the departure from the driving, synthesised brass chord progression and smooth frequencies of his first track Luzon, to the melancholic, desperate vocals of Slacks – where, accompanied by slow, minor piano keys, listeners might suddenly think they’ve stumbled into a Bon Iver album. And, as with the emotional intensity of tracks found on Justin Vernon’s seminal For Emma, For Ever Ago, we encounter moments of oblivion found in the everyday (in this case, the impossibility of facing your reality while sat in your house wearing little else than tracksuit trousers):

“I was close to going out

I look so fucking helpless in these slacks

Another day is slipping through the cracks”

The hints at the versatility of Augustine’s ability long to be explored further; and it’s a shame the EP can only provide us with a limited amount of content to discover. The full album can’t come soon enough.

There’s an outstanding amount of talent on display here – and praise is well deserved for a 22-year old who has delivered an EP full of potential summer hits. As the world burns and stumbles from one political crisis to another amidst a global, catastrophic climate breakdown, Augustine captures the optimism of humanity and youth alongside the fear of the oblivion our species is facing.

Augustine on Augustine: the artist reflects on the meaning behind the songs on his debut EP “Wishful Thinking”

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Characterised by soulful falsetto, cinematic instrumentation and melancholic love stories, Augustine’s songs and lyrics have drawn comparisons to iconic voices like Mark Foster, Justin Vernon, Ezra Koenig and James Blake.

Moving through a vibrant soundscape of future-retro indie-pop with shades of bedroom electronica, 22-year-old Swedish songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Augustine made his debut with ”Luzon” in February of 2019, followed by “A Scent of Lily” in April. Both singles went straight to #1 on Hype Machine and received critical acclaim – and Augustine quickly became one of the most talked about debuts of the year.

Characterised by soulful falsetto, cinematic instrumentation and melancholic love stories, his songs and lyrics have drawn comparisons to iconic voices like Mark Foster, Justin Vernon, Ezra Koenig and James Blake.

As he releases his debut EP, Wishful Thinking (Read our review, and listen to the songs right here on Nothing in the Rulebook), Augustine offers a few reflections on each of the tracks on his EP:

Luzon

Augustine says: “The first song I released as an artist that changed so much about my life. It’s a memory of the contrasts in a relationship, thinking that it’s a bit scary if the current moment is the highlight of your life. You are high on life, but so afraid to lose the feeling that you somehow lose yourself instead.”

Viola

Augustine says: “I was a little angry with the world when I wrote ‘Viola.’ Much of that anger was due to feelings of anxiety, guilt and other boring things. The line ‘I’ll be your biggest disappointment if you sum up the years of adolescence’ is really about being scared of not being enough.”

Wishful Thinking

Augustine says: “I’m weak for synth pop songs that are so big that you just lose yourself in them, so I wanted to try one myself. ‘Wishful Thinking’ is a twisted love story about looking back at something with both regret and lack, but mostly with a fear of forgetting how a certain person is, looks and sounds.”

A Scent of Lily

Augustine says: “This was initially an attempt to write a pop song, with inspiration from the chorus of Ariana Grande’s ‘Into You.’ ‘Lily’ eventually became much more alternative. It’s about powerlessness in a relationship, when you buy into everything about the other person, to the point that you stop thinking your own sensible thoughts.”

Slacks 

Augustine says:“The most personal song of the EP. It’s about how a lovely relationship didn’t last because of distance. We moved to different cities, and I became so self-absorbed. I started suffering from agoraphobia that made it hard for me to even go outside. A little crazy in hindsight.”

Augustine exposes his deepest fears on debut EP “Wishful Thinking”

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One of the hottest prospects to hit the music scene in 2019, Swedish artist Augustine has now released his debut EP, Wishful Thinking

One of the hottest prospects to hit the music scene in 2019, Swedish artist Augustine has now released his debut EP, Wishful Thinking, adding three new songs that broaden and crystallize a singular sound built on gorgeous falsetto, cinematic productions and evocative lyrics.

Since his February debut, where he released Luzon and A Scent of Lily, Augustine has received worldwide praise for the pair of effervescent indie-pop singles, both of which went to #1 on Hype Machine.

As his debut EP drops for the first time, Augustine has spoken about the highly personal connection he has with the new songs, which he says are a means for him to express, and share, his deepest fears.

Listen to Augustine’s new EP on Soundcloud here

“Hearing the EP from a distance,” he says, “it became clear that this music grew out many years of me being afraid of being a disappointment to others. All the lyrics were inspired by being afraid of people, the world and leaving things behind.”

The power of his critically acclaimed singles “Luzon” and “A Scent of Lily” made 22-year-old Augustine one of 2019’s most talked about new artists. Both of these self-released singles led to comparisons with iconic voices like Bon Iver, Mark Foster, James Blake and Ezra Koenig.

The five-track EP contains three new songs: the bombastic synth-pop thrillride “Wishful Thinking”, the warmly pulsating “Viola” and a heartbreaking ballad “Slacks.”

Augustine says he has also taken a lot inspiration from The XX, Lorde and Maggie Rogers among others. All songs are collaborations with producers Rassmus Björnson and Agrin Rahmani (LÉON, Skott).

“An outstanding amount of talent”

The 22-year old songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist grew up with the poetry-laden music by artists from Bob Dylan to The National, while living among the traditional Dutch-style canals and leafy boulevards of Gothenburg, before moving to Stockholm. From these beginnings it seems as though Augustine is set to go global sooner rather than later, as Nothing in the Rulebook notes in our review of his debut EP:

“There’s an outstanding amount of talent on display here – and praise is well deserved for a 22-year old who has delivered an EP full of potential summer hits. As the world burns and stumbles from one political crisis to another amidst a global, catastrophic climate breakdown, Augustine captures the optimism of humanity and youth alongside the fear of the oblivion our species is facing.”

Check out our full review of Augustine’s ‘Wishful Thinking’ debut EP here

Read Augustine’s own personal reflections on the meaning behind each of his new tracks here

 

 

WATCH: ‘Rigs of the Time’ music video

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The music video for the song ‘Rigs of the Time’, as featured in the movie SINK (both starring Martin Herdman) has now been released.

The music video of ‘Rigs of the Time’ – as featured in the film SINK (written & directed by Mark Gillis) – has now been released.

Shot entirely on an i-phone and using FiLMiC Pro, the song is performed by Oliver Hoare and the Late Great. Directed by Mark Gillis (who was recently interviewed in Nothing in the Rulebook) alongside Director of Photography, Cassius Rayne (of ‘Go Film It’ fame) – the music video makes full use of the groundbreaking mobile technology that made headlines when Sean Baker’s movie ‘Tangerine’ made waves at the Sundance Film Festival.

The music video has been released just as SINK hits stores and streaming services on DVD and online.

Described by Nothing in the Rulebook‘s own Professor Wu as “genuinely original” and getting “under the skin of the audience in a way precious few films do these days”, SINK has received critical acclaim since being released in cinemas.

Check out the music video here below, then go on and watch the film yourself.

Theatre review: ‘Sexy Lamp’, by Katie Arnstein

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The ‘Sexy Lamp Test’: if a female character could be replaced by an item of otherwise alluring lighting without changing the story, it has failed the Sexy Lamp Test. Photography by Simon Jefferis.

Funny, conversational, moving and devastatingly honest, ‘Sexy Lamp’ is the new story and performance from Katie Arnstein, who previously won awards for her debut show Bicycles and Fish.

The show starts as arguably too few shows do, with the solo performer Arnstein wearing a lampshade on her head, listening to Seth McFarlane’s sexist song ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ (which McFarlane performed at the 2013 Oscars). This is a nod to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s ‘Sexy Lamp Test’, from which the show takes its name, and which determines if a female character is relevant to the plot of an artistic work or merely decoration. If a female role could be replaced by an item of otherwise alluring lighting without changing the story, it has failed the Sexy Lamp Test.

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Katie Arnstein delivers a 5-star performance in a 5-star show. Photography by Simon Jefferis.

Complete with charming, informal conversation, pitch-perfect impressions, and (very good) ukulele songs, Arnstein delivers a show that is thoroughly inspired by – and part of – the ongoing #MeToo movement. ‘Sexy Lamp’ charts her journey from a seven-year-old inspired by Judy Garland’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, to a woman inspired by a desire to put right the fact that Garland was put on addictive, appetite suppressing drugs by Oz’s producers, while being paid less than all the other principal actors except Toto the Dog.

The writing is sharp and fresh, and the work as a whole is inquisitive, analytical, contemplative; significant. It’s also deeply personal, giving it the sense of a performative memoir and in the end it leaves you feeling as though you’ve spent a long while in the intimate company of a stranger, who nonetheless somehow feels achingly familiar.

Indeed, in her personal account of her story working in the industry she clearly loves, Arnstein presents us with scenes and experiences that far too many women will be able to recognise as having seen or experienced themselves.

This isn’t ever about sharing sympathy (despite the abundance of empathy on display here). Rather, this play is in many ways a rebellion against what has come before and a rallying cry against the old, sexist, world-order. There are revelations against certain companies that will make your jaw drop (not least because of the matter-of-fact tone of delivery that juxtaposes the enormity of the content you’re hearing). There are lessons to be learned in standing up against your useless agent who never gets you a gig, and the empowerment that comes from realising you are able to use the word “no”. Perhaps most poignantly, there is a beautiful example of the power of solidarity that exists between people as the show reaches its conclusion – that provides a case study in how to stop perverts and harassers in their tracks, and lifts the whole scale of the performance to an extremely moving end.

You might have come for the lamps; but you’ll stay for the luminescence of the performance, and you’ll come away enlightened.

6 things that should be better known

Better Known

At Nothing in the Rulebook, we love starting conversations and building new creative relationships. So we were thrilled to be invited onto a wonderful new podcast called Better Known Show, hosted by Ivan Wise, which seeks to uncover new things that guests think should be better known.

As Ivan set out in an article for NITRB, “If you need a recommendation right now, there will be no shortage of suggestions. The problem is that far too many of them are exactly the same.”

Well, we couldn’t agree more. On the show, we pick six things we think should be better known. If you don’t want to spoil the surprise – click the link and subscribe (on Android or iTunes), and check out our episode!

But, if you don’t mind spoilers, read on!

6 things that should be better known, according to Nothing in the Rulebook

  1. The Future Library project in Norway
  2. Dr Chuck Tingle Professor of Massage
  3. The bad sex in fiction awards
  4. No Alibis book shop http://www.noalibis.com
  5. Richard Serra’s “portend I slugten” at the Louisiana art gallery in Denmark http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/richard-serra-porten-i-slugten
  6. Josh Spiller’s IF comic book anthology on superheroes
    http://www.joshspillercomics.tumblr.com

And a few things that we mention that almost made the cut:

Now what are you waiting for? Go listen to the episode!

Beyond the popular canon: things that should be better known

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“We soon learn that Shakespeare, the Grand Canyon and the Bible are worthy of our attention because everyone keeps telling us so.”

If you need a recommendation right now, there will be no shortage of suggestions. The problem is that far too many of them are exactly the same. For instance, in looking for something to watch on a Saturday night, your search for “greatest films” will be answered with an infinity of lists compiled with varying degrees of judgement but surprising levels of consistency. Automated recommendations generally just give you more of what you have already asked for. Critical ones seem to clone themselves, as if unwilling to depart from an agreed line. Citizen Kane is repeatedly right up there, according to the American Film Institute (number 1 film of all time), Sight and Sound (number 2), Hollywood Reporter (3) and Rotten Tomatoes (4). But what if you’ve already seen it, and didn’t even think it was that good? What then?

By adulthood, most of us are aware of the historical figures, places and books represented by what can loosely be categorised as the canon: the list that you were taught at school, that books and newspapers tell you are the best and most important. Sometimes, we agree with them, sometimes not, but we soon learn that Shakespeare, the Grand Canyon and the Bible are worthy of our attention because everyone keeps telling us so. It is supplemented by a popular canon, as expressed by your social media, of more ephemeral, instant pleasures, that may have an unstoppable democratic force, but that does not mean that you always share them.

Any canon is important, as it provides a society with a shared catalogue of experiences and reference points; otherwise, how does one know what to speak about to a stranger? But your curiosity about the world need not stop there. How much more interesting, every so often, to put the canon to one side, and say to someone, “Tell me about a great book that I’ve never heard of.”

My podcast Better Known sets out to ask people what they love that the rest of the world does not seem to value. In short: what should be better known?

People are keen to answer the question, firstly because we all love talking about what we are passionate about, but also because we do not always get the opportunity. Most people have quirks in their tastes that are slightly unorthodox but we rarely get a chance to talk about our obscure preferences, precisely because other people are not familiar with them. Generally, in conversation, most people are looking to have their beliefs confirmed than challenged, and so they may not be in the mood to hear anything new. Instead, much of our social life only covers those topics which we know are popular and thus safe, and so it is easy to live one’s life with others only through the pleasures which the news picks out for us.

Through dozens of interviews, I have heard about the fascinating objects, events and ideas which guests hold dear and feels compelled to impress upon other people. The novelist Joanne Harris spoke about the Child Ballads, hundreds of traditional stories collected in the nineteenth century. Biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett discussed a book which her mother had written about a nineteenth century dinner party of writers and artists. Writer Ben Schott explained why movie posters look the way they do. It has been inspiring to hear and then take up these suggestions of things which I would otherwise have never known about.

For some guests, the obscurity of their choice provides a pleasure. They like the fact that they have uncovered something that others have not. For others, they enjoy the obscurity, particularly of a place, for a more practical reason: if lots of people knew about the place, then its serenity, part of its appeal, would be ruined. But, most of all, they make their choices because we are all individuals, and sometimes what we like most of all may not have officially made the grade, but is nonetheless worthy of their – and maybe your – time.

Each episode aims to bring a person with private obscure passions to an audience eager to learn more about what is best in the world. Each guest selects six things, and so you begin to get a real sense of who they are through the range of their choices without necessarily knowing particular facts about them, their job or their life. By way of contrast, and to ensure we do not drown in positivity, they also get to pick one thing which they think should be less well known and it is frequently a highlight for me to hear someone go from such radiant optimism to unbridled cynicism so rapidly. Picnics, liver and jeans are among those proposed as being overrated. But the focus always then returns to what they like.

It is easy, as an adult, to stop learning anything new, and to exist endlessly off inspiration from the past. If you want to remain curious about the world, and continue to be inspired, you have to make an active effort. Better Known aims to be an entertaining introduction into a world of inspiration that you previously knew little about. You will not agree with all recommendations, but you will hopefully learn something new. After all, how many more endorsements for Citizen Kane does one need?

About the author of this article

IW.jpgIvan Wise presents the Better Known podcast (www.betterknown.co.uk). He is a former editor of The Shavian, the journal of the George Bernard Shaw Society, about which he has written for the Times Literary Supplement, Times Higher Educational Supplement and The Guardian website, and was the expert witness on an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives. He works in the charity sector, for Think Ahead, a mental health organisation that recruits and trains graduates to become social workers.

Creatives in profile: interview with Señor Samba

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In the spirit of all good interviews, Nothing in the Rulebook first encountered Señor Samba on a chilly night in central London, dancing in a group apparently gripped by some shared disco-infused hysteria and shouting half-correct lyrics of classic disco tunes at unsuspecting tourists.

This is the model of a creative phenomenon that has been gripping creative festivals since 2008 – and launched in London in 2018. Founded by Guru Dudu, these silent disco walking tours are a unique blend of interpretative dance, crazy improvisation, and spontaneous flash mobbing through different cultural settings. Inspiring and insane in perhaps equal measure, they offer participants an extremely rare thing in a day and age so often defined by rules and limitations: they offer people permission to play and celebrate their creative and quirky selves.

It may come as no surprise to you, then, that these silent disco walking tours are right up our proverbial alley. Make no mistake: there is absolutely nothing in the rulebook that says you can’t dance and sing to Bohemian Rhapsody in the middle of Leicester Square.

It was thus a real treat to catch up with Señor Samba once he’d had a chance to get out of his effervescent, ever-so-revealing, tight blue outfit and feature him in our long-running ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series.

And we have a real treat for all of you, dear readers, too: the first 10 people who read the interview and quote it in an email to London@gurududu.org (and follow Guru Dudu on Instagram at gurududulondon or facebook at gurududulovesyou) will receive a pair of free tickets to Guru Dudu’s shows. 

Happy reading (and dancing), comrades! 

 INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

SEÑOR SAMBA

My name is Rikesh. I grew up in Brighton, UK, where my heart still resides. I live a relatively chaotic life based on the principle of never saying no to anything, which has led me down some pretty interesting avenues (like dancing around in blue lycra short shorts leading people dancing to ABBA).

Other than moonlighting as a lycra wearing disco diva, I’m the Vice President of a green technology company called Pluvo (check us out), a professional session vocalist, and I’m studying a medical degree. I like to keep busy. 😊

As well as singing and dancing on every occasion I like to travel, read, learn, eat, and I’m partial to a good crossword. Favourite quote, and one of the maxims I live by: ‘Just because a song has to end, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the music.’

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

SEÑOR SAMBA

Anyone who does good in the world and has a passion for doing so. The real heroes are those who are unsung and fight against all the s*** we put up with but make sure they leave the world in a better place than they found it.

Similarly, I’m inspired by honesty. It’s a really difficult thing in an image-centred world to be true to yourself. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what that truth is. So to find it and to live it is a difficult thing.

INTERVIEWER

How did you get involved with Guru Dudu’s project?

SEÑOR SAMBA

I was going through a really bad period and I did what every sensible adult would do. I quit my day job in the city, moved out of the big smoke, and curled up in a ball in my parents’ house in Brighton for a while. I’ve always been a fan of the Brighton Fringe and I’d seen a bunch of crazy people wearing headphones so I thought I’d give it a go. For an hour I forgot about everything – I was Freddie Mercury, I was Whitney Houston, I was even Kylie Minogue, and I didn’t care who saw. For an hour the world was a splash of music and colour. At the end Guru came up to me and told me I danced like a lunatic. I thanked him. He told me he was recruiting new Gurus. A few months later I was in my blue lycra short shorts in Edinburgh getting 60 shameless superstars to do the YMCA on the Royal Mile.

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INTERVIEWER

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced getting the project off the ground?

SEÑOR SAMBA

London is a big city; there’s loads to do. We’re competing with some of the best entertainment the world has to offer. Also, it’s getting the word out. When people do it they love it, it’s just going to take time before the disco revolution hits these streets. In smaller towns/cities it’s much easier to gain traction but then the target market is smaller. Those are some of my favourite gigs though.

INTERVIEWER

There’s something liberating about singing loudly (often badly) in a group while getting down on it in the middle of an otherwise unexpecting public space. Why is that?

SEÑOR SAMBA

Music is a wonderfully liberating thing. Who doesn’t sing and dance in the shower or in the car when by themselves? Headphones allow privacy and are one of my favourite inventions of the 20th Century. What we do is take that privacy and make it public, through community. Privacy in public – I like that. It doesn’t matter that you’re singing and dancing just like you would in the shower right in the middle of Leicester Square – as long you’re not alone in doing so. And that freedom to be as ludicrous as you feel in front of the whole world? Why, there’s nothing more liberating than that.

INTERVIEWER

Are you in a secret, unspoken war with DJs of traditional, ‘loud’(?) discos?

SEÑOR SAMBA

Absolutely not! The more music the better.

INTERVIEWER

We’re living in some pretty reality-shattering times. In an age of Trump and Brexit, should we be getting people out on the streets to protest, rather than party?

SEÑOR SAMBA

There are a million and one answers I could give here depending on my state of mind, but ultimately the main thing is that Guru Dudu is for everyone. Your politics, your views, they don’t matter when you’re jumping up and down to S Club 7.

Beyond that, I truly believe that fun, joy, laughter – that’s the best form of protest. There’s a lot of angry people in the world and they have every right to be. I’ve been angry. Angry at the state of the world, angry at the state of my life, angry at the state of myself. The best way to combat anger is with love. Self-love, love of others. Play, joy, passion, and love.

INTERVIEWER

Hopes for the future?

SEÑOR SAMBA

For myself or for Guru Dudu? For myself – I hope that someday I find my inner peace, whatever that means. I’ll know it when I see it. Chaos can only last so long. For Guru Dudu? I just hope that everyone who would get something out of our vision gets a chance to.

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Quick fire round!  

Just what is a ‘laughter meridian’?

A meridian that makes you laugh. Obviously.

Are we really supposed to blame everything on ‘the boogie’?

Well we can’t very well go round blaming it on sunshine. Blame it on the boogie. Occasionally you can blame it on Piers Morgan, but yeah – mostly just the boogie.

Craziest thing you’ve seen on a silent disco tour?

I did a tour in Chichester where there were mostly children and I decided to play the Pink Panther theme tune. I got the kids to pretend everyone was a spy and hide. I led the tour into a Poundland. One of the kids, couldn’t have been more than 5, took it so seriously that he climbed onto a shelf and hid himself behind the cereal boxes. It took us a while to find him and a little longer for his mother to coax him down so I had to maintain a dance party in Poundland for a while…

Worst moment as a silent disco leader?

I don’t know that I’ve really had one. I’ve had one tour where the energy wasn’t what I’d like but to be honest people still came up after and said it was the most fun they’ve ever had. It’s difficult when you know you haven’t been on the best form, but this idea is so unique and novel it’s easy to forget that people will still love it anyway. It’s an even harder thing to accept you can’t always be perfect, but it’s an important thing to understand.

Best moment?

I was doing a tour in Edinburgh and I was getting the participants to show off their dance moves. There was one teenage boy with Down’s Syndrome. I passed the baton to him to show his moves. There was a couple of seconds’ hesitation after which he proceeded to break dance in the middle of the circle. Literal air flares. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. It was incredible. I actually fell to my knees. The tour kicked off. At the end I asked him if he wanted to show off some more of his moves and much to the delight of half of central Edinburgh he strutted his stuff on the steps of the National Museum of Scotland. It was one of my first tours, but I’m not sure I’ll ever see anything that tops it.

Doing ‘Dancing Queen’ the weekend after the Tory party conference outside 10 Downing Street and having a police car turn on its sirens in appreciation of our moves wasn’t bad either.

Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner?

Aretha. Saying a little prayer for her on all my tours. But I love all the divas. I’d have to say my favourite is Etta James.

Favourite book/movie/TV show?

Book: The Flying Classroom by Eric Kästner. It’s a German children’s book. I don’t know how to describe how much I love this book. It’s about 5 boys at a boarding school and in 100 pages (with illustrations) it deals with concepts such as abandonment, depression, loneliness, loyalty, fear, poverty, and friendship – and never in a way that feels remotely condescending. A quote from the book goes as follows: ‘God knows, children’s tears weigh no less than the tears of a grown up. It doesn’t matter what causes your unhappiness. What matters is how unhappy you are.’

Movie: Barfi. It’s a Bollywood movie that was the first to deal with disability. The two primary characters are unable to speak for the entire movie. In a country where disabled children are often seen as a burden or a curse and abandoned by their parents, this film is a welcome reminder that disabled does not mean less than. It’s also just adorable and has me a weeping wreck by the end – every time.

TV Show: Ed. A cute little show about a guy who owns a bowling alley in small town America. It’s nothing special but the dialogue is quick, the characters are endearing, the storylines are easy, and it is a saccharine escape from a much more complex existence.

What’s your ideal silent disco playlist?

I love trying to vary up my playlist depending on the crowd. I love hearing people’s ideas too. My favourite song to get people moving however is always a bit of Whitney Houston – I Wanna Dance with Somebody. And it’s probably the one song that I have on my regular playlist that I haven’t got remotely tired of yet. Any ideas, let me know!

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“What It Was Like, What Happened and What It’s Like Now”

There are countless examples of famous creative artists struggling with mental health issues or turning to addiction. Yet for every troubled genius who made it, there are countless others who didn’t. In this article, musician Christopher Tait shares his personal experiences of living with addiction – and what can be done to help provide support for struggling artists and musicians.

Passenger pic

“What It Was Like, What Happened and What It’s Like Now”

– The AA Big Book

I vaguely remember being curled up on a filthy mattress, praying to anyone/thing to make the pain go away. I recognized the pain – acute pancreatitis. It felt like there was an alien pushing though my sternum, and my veins were on fire. I’d experienced it before after some serious benders, and the only relief was to lay fetal-style and wait for it to pass. Or…go to the ER and beg for Dilaudid.

It was 2005 and I lived above Detroit’s premiere (and only) goth club in an old hotel called The Leland. The weekend I moved in, someone jumped off the roof after taking acid and wandering from the basement club up to the top of the building. That set the tone for my stay there.

I was gone half the year on tour, and the other half was spent living like a vagrant and shoveling tour profits up my nose. I’m not sure what made me think that that could go on forever, but as soon as I felt better, I’d escape the ER and walk down the hall, past my room with the dirty mattress where I prayed for help, and head straight down to the dealer’s place. (It helps to have the goods in-house during those cold Michigan months, fyi. While I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, there was nothing like buying a baggie from the guy down the hall).

When you’re in it, bad things keep happening to you and it’s always someone else’s fault. And incredibly, if you say that enough times you start to believe it.

Flash forward six years to 2011 – I wake up in a hotel in Nashville, not sure where I am. Again. No other band members are staying in the room, and there is vodka left in the jug. It was always a bad sign if there was booze left and the jug was in the trash – that meant I hadn’t put it there. It was probably thrown out based on behavioral backlash. At first it was just another morning of waking up and wondering what I’d done, and searching for keys, wallet, phone, etc. etc.; forget repeat; forget; repeat.

I woke to several texts and a knock at the door. I was sat down and told I’d be leaving the tour. After driving the tour van over a laptop (I hadn’t had a drivers license in nearly a decade), I repeatedly tried to fight multiple members of the group. I had this super power – when I was at my most unhappy with myself, I’d start drilling at everyone around me. Shockingly, my hotel roomies had had enough and gone elsewhere.

When I read back on what I just wrote, it sounds like badly-drawn Bukowski without much glory or wit. All signs point to insanity, but not when you’re in it. When you’re in it, bad things keep happening to you and it’s always someone else’s fault. And incredibly, if you say that enough times you start to believe it. The universe was against me, and the bottle was my only friend. Or the dope man, on nights where I had enough scratch.

Flash forward again to 2013 – I’m on tour with Electric Six in the states, then Canada. Sober for two years and trying to stay sane on the road. I’m drilling at myself by this point, and my head is rampant with anxiety and paranoid fear that the others I’m touring with think that either I’m boring now, or that I’m a self-righteous turd (the ego is truly an amazing thing; two weeks into a van tour, everyone is just trying to get a few hours sleep, five minutes of peace, and laundry on a lucky week).

The fact that I think anyone gives a shit either way about me or anything other than staying sane at that point in the tour is in itself delusional. I’ve tried to go to meetings on the road; local AA info has led me to a bowling alley in Asbury Park, and an open field in Little Rock. In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, we arrive late. There are no meetings around, my data doesn’t work, there is no green room, the Starbucks is closed. It is freezing cold out. I sit in the van and listen to an old AA tape on a laptop (Adam T – La Hacienda Reunion. An old chestnut in the world of AA speakers). I start to think to myself that it should be easier than this.

“Communication…that’s where the change began and continues”

I’m not here to rattle off war stories without purpose, and I don’t regret every single thing I did when I was actively using either. I’m here to present a cautionary tale, and a solution that helped me: Communication. At it’s very heart, that’s where the change began and continues personally.

When I’m on tour, I go to meetings. I have a show to do and beyond that, the gig environment is none of my business. When I’m off tour, I work with others that share the same issues. “Defects” even, as you often hear in recovery. I like the term “Character Defects”. It reminds me that it’s not something I can put a bandaid on, hoping it will go away. It’s there; But the garbage floating around my head – the anxieties, fears, and apocalyptic inclinations will recede if I discuss them with others who might be in a similar boat. And that’s enough, with regularity. If I open up, they diminish. If I keep them in, they get heavier until the bow breaks and I’m screaming at people who can’t hear me down the express way.

When I let my guard down, I can get vulnerable. I can laugh about this shit. I can sit down and talk with strangers anywhere in the world that relate, and the weight is lifted. I’m not alone, and much as my ego would like me to be the only single “tortured artist” on the planet that’s ever dealt with this, I’m not. We’re everywhere.

Before, my only answer to anything was to jump into a bottle. I suppose it was easier, until it wasn’t. But this is better. Life is still life, but I can handle it without the crutch of numbing myself. I live with, understand, and appreciate consequence and accountability. I have options; I don’t have to let everyone down, I can be there for myself and others, my bills are paid, I know where my wallet is etc etc repeat remember repeat. I still screw up, but I attempt to make right.

Passenger was started as a very small, simple, feet-on-the-street service in Detroit – If someone is on tour or traveling, they can call or email us and we will flesh out times with them to make sure they have options. If they have time for a meeting between soundcheck and stage, we’ll get them to a meeting. If their time is limited, we have a clean green room that’s just coffee, internet, peace and quiet.

For the last year, we’ve worked on The Compass – a metropolitan meeting-finder that will be updated through user interaction and central offices. We hope to make it like a Waze for people in recovery on the road. Efficient and current. Simple.

passenger AA pic

Passenger’s Compass tool is a GPS-enabled app that offers directions and info for travellers to multiple types of meetings including AA/NA, buddhist recovery (Refuge), and mental health (NAMI).

Our campaign was put together with artists and musicians alike, both in and out of recovery. Our hope is to present a united front where artists from all walks of life can stand together to support those who have recognized issues or concerns in their own lives. We ask anyone who’d like to help to visit the campaign page and see how they can contribute:

https://www.patronicity.com/project/passenger__compass#!/

Help us provide resources for travellers and touring musicians struggling with mental health & addiction issues.

About the author of this post

Christopher TaitChristopher Tait has written and performed for Electric Six since 2002. When off tour, he’s at Brighton Center for Recovery (a treatment center outside of Detroit, MI) working with others who are struggling with addiction issues. Before starting Passenger in 2015, Chris was a freelance curator for Beats/Apple Music in Culver City, CA