Bonobo’s New Album ‘Migration’ Is About How Bittersweet it is to Live Abroad
The UK producer’s sixth studio album is out on January 13 on Ninja Tune.
Photo of Bonobo by Neil Krug
There's very little linear about the sixth studio album from British producer Simon Green, a.k.a. Bonobo, Migration. The 12-track LP, out on Ninja Tune on January 13, is a disjointed record that makes stylistic leaps—from suffocating melancholic strings to the frenzied euphoria of breakbeat drum loops—so big it throws you off balance.
But then there's nothing linear about migration either. When you move abroad, the anticipation of pastures new and adventure is magnetic, but leaving behind the comfortable familiarity of home can be bittersweet. Green, now 40 years old, has been moving around a lot in the past few years. He left his native UK for New York in 2010 and then moved to LA in 2015, where he is currently based. Over the course of its construction, Migration became a way of capturing the strange tension of that time period; it's a vacillating exploration of the thrills and loneliness of living as a global citizen
"I feel very much at home here [in LA], but then again I kind of don't know what that means for the future," Green recently told THUMP over the phone from his home in LA. "The more time you spend in a place, the more that becomes a part of you."
Written during a period of bereavement for a family member, the follow-up to 2013's The North Borders is tinged with a deep wistfulness, made all the more poignant by the fact that Green no longer lives close to his family. "Grains" is richly textured and reflective. By contrast, the first single off the album, "Kerala," which leans on a vocal sample from Brandy's 1994 hit "Baby," is markedly more upbeat and speaks to the electrifying magnetism of starting over somewhere new. Tracks like "Ontario" are more reminiscent of the electro-pastorals on Green's 2000 debut Animal Magic, nodding to the idea that even in nomadic travel, we still stay true to our roots.
THUMP caught up with Green to talk about Migration, transatlantic flights, and how moving around can change your worldview.
THUMP: The album is called Migration. Tell me what migration means to you.
Simon Green: If you had called an album Migration five years ago, it would have had different connotations. But I think it's only as political as it needs to be. First of all, it's more of an aesthetic than a study. It is instrumental music, so it's not narrative like there would be if I was a singer/songwriter.
In the last five or six years since I left London, there's been this theme of journeying from one disparate point to another, and the effect it has on people. My family and friends are spread out all over the world, but we always find these anchor points where we always return—be that New York, LA, or London. These places which are somehow interconnected. It's about how people can travel from one culture to another place and leave a trail of culture in that space.
How has moving around shaped your perspective on the world and your own sense of identity?
I'm more aware of how my culture—or the culture I'm immediately surrounded by—how that's perceived in places, versus how other cultures are perceived in other places. The reality of what that means to certain people. Having spent the last 10 years on the road, I've been able to see all these different perspectives on the world. I have the benefit of that balance, and that's been really important.
Is LA going to be your permanent home?
I feel very much at home here but then again I kind of don't know what that means for the future. I've got no family in the UK anymore—the only thing holding me there is friends and the root that that's where I came from. But then here—why am I here? Other than it feels like the right place to be.
It's also a weird time for America right now. Can you really subscribe to living in a country by choice if that country goes in such a weird way. But who knows—if it comes to a point where America is a regressive country or supports oppression, then you can't really stand by that and say you're happy to stay here.
How has moving around informed your creative process?
I've always worked from the studio before, until this record where I've switched to Ableton and I've been able to create a record on a laptop with a sample library. I think that headspace is very important though for making music. For me my set of references are shifting all the time and I have to adjust to my mental frame of reference more so than the environment I'm in, which might be in an airport departure lounge at 7 AM with a hangover.
I made one of the tracks, "Break Apart," on a flight from Miami to LA. I was in a somber mood when I was there. But I was in different place when I revisited that track, I was back at home in a more comfortable place, and I couldn't tune into that mood that was in. A lot of people say being comfortable when you're creating is the best environment, but I'm not sure that it is. Being incredibly tired, in a disparate part of the world that you don't really want to be in, that really sort of can energise your ideas more so than being comfortable. And this record has defo been made in those sorts of situations, where it's kind of felt sort agitated.
On some tracks, the record goes to some pretty somber places.
It's definitely split into different elements. There is a more reflective side, which actually happened at home. Being on tour is a very polarising thing—you're on tour and seeing people all the time in a hyper-social situation, and then you're at home in the studio with long periods of isolation.
I made the tune "Kerala" while I was on tour in 2014, when I was making music within the headspace of playing out that same night. So I was making tunes that would work on the dancefloor. But when I got back to LA and the touring stopped and I settled, all the stuff that had backed up over the last few years fell upon me in a wave of weirdness. That was a reflective time and the more melancholic and cinematic soundscapes came out. It's a really split record in terms of still being very energised from being on the road, to having the space to actually process the stuff that happened in that period.
You wrote one of the tracks, "Break Apart," on a flight—do you find flying intense?
Yes! You end up welling [up] at Pixar films on flights. I think there is something to do with the pressure or something; there's a biological reason. Which I only recently realized because I always thought of it as a very reflective period. You're on a flight, you've been somewhere and done this thing and you go somewhere onto the next thing and it's a nice little punctuation to have a moment of reflection and you get emotional. But no, it's actually a biological thing.