At first, it's hard to tell what you're looking at, through a ripple of rapidly flickering images. A drumbeat thuds. Then musician Obongjayar’s words ring around what turns out to be Hackney Arts Centre, a space in east London. “This is war,” he sings, “you’ve had enough / this makes you so shook that you soiled your drawers.” Throbbing under his vocal, the drums linger – if only for a second – then dum, dum, duuuuuun, they’re back. So, too, is a foreboding synth – the kind you might hear in a movie trailer as a planet implodes in slow motion, except here, in a low lit room of twisting bodies, it comes across less Transformers and more Eyes Wide Shut.
As the camera pans around the room, drummers, musicians and dancers are revealed. There’s Young Turks member and FKA twigs collaborator Tic playing the guitar. To his left, Ghostface Killah’s son Infinite and his pal Mela Murder shift slowly in and out of each other’s space, moving as if underwater. Somewhere among them is Mercury Music Prize winner Sampha, French duo Ibeyi, and XL Recordings’ co-founder Richard Russell, who is playing one of the drums.
These members make up part of Russell’s project, Everything Is Recorded, and this scene – shot in February 2018 – opens their new Mahaneela- and CHILD-directed film (watch above). As collaborations go, Everything Is Recorded is ambitious, outrageously freeform and un-choreographed, unlike anything else happening right now. Though loosely centred around elements of jazz, soul and rap, their sound isn’t constricted. It’s music in its pure creative form, made of the moment, as evidenced by their track album released earlier this year. Take a listen to “Mountains of Gold”, then Gil Scott Heron cover “Cane”, then “Be My Friend” as aural proof.
Alongside the previous names, the Recorded team includes London MC Giggs; the toothless rapping mayor of Manhattan, Wiki; cosmic jazznaut Kamasi Washington; The Internet’s soulful frontwoman, Syd; Blur and Gorillaz’ man Damon Albarn; and a whole load more. This vast, cross-genre collaboration of artists is key to Everything Is Recorded. “You can be a musician of any level and any experience” says Russell at one point in the film. “It doesn’t matter how virtuous they are, how many Grammys they’ve got – actually the right attitude and outlook counts.”
Throughout the film’s 30 minutes, Everything Is Recorded members praise their process. Words like “magical”, “putting ego aside”, “nourishment”, “expression” enter the fold. Ultimately, by the film’s end, it is evident that the project goes beyond music, and into something deeper – about the mechanisms of human interaction, fulfilment, life, and the moments we live through, big and small.
Russell and I spoke about this near-spiritual-like process of making music last year, when I visited his studio to learn more about the Everything Is Recorded project. At the time, he said that “transcending the ego is a big part of what we're exploring with this record.” That still rings true, but with this film more is revealed. “Loneliness,” Russell says, “is an unquestionable theme.” This is something that’s seen most vividly in the film’s scene with Infinite, where he speaks about having never felt love, but wanting to desperately to be in it – to be cared for, and to care about. It’s a touching moment and one that ends with a description of a heated, “screaming, cursing and crying” argument between Infinite and Mela Murder, culminating with Russell – having watched on in silence – telling Infinite to go into the booth and sing. At that point, once all the emotions had been purged and the sadness released, Infinite delivers his best, most beautiful vocal.
An emotional practice is at the core of Everything Is Recorded. Toward the end of the film, some of the artists say what they think the name means. Obongjayar initially thought it meant that everything was, literally, being recorded. And it was: Russell had ProTools up every time anyone was in the studio. But that’s not the meaning. “When you dig deeper than that,” Obongjayar says, “everything is recorded from the moment you’re born to the moment you die”.
“All this is being stored in you somehow, and it does affect you; all the little things you shovel and you hide and you don’t face,” adds Sampha. These things, these moments, allow us to be creative, explains Obongjayar. At one point, Infinite says “it’s like the beauty of memory.”
This is a poignant, tender conclusion to the film, especially since, after these quotes, we hear the lyrics to “Be My Friend”, which say “it is possible to be alone, and not live alone / it is possible to feel alone, and not work alone”. But then it changes: “you are not alone! You didn’t get here by yourself.”
Given the album’s theme of loneliness, but also its emphasis on collaboration, the film and the culmination of these closing scenes presents a value. Work together, it suggests, and you will feel life. Use the moments of the past to be creative; use them to connect, collaborate, communicate. Do it all, as one. This project is a celebration: of what’s already been recorded, no matter how big, small, dark or light; and of what is to come.
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