Over the last two decades, the multifarious Will Holland has produced a substantial 18 albums under various monikers and styles. The producer best known as Quantic has been a bandleader crafting jazz albums, an electronic music beatmaker, a discoverer of brilliant Colombian singers, a bossa nova guy, as well as one-half the production duo that gifted the world and that canonical iPod commercial with "My Swing Is Tropical" in 2007. As you should be able to guess, he plays instruments ranging from the accordion to the electric guitar, and as a DJ he's revered for cavernous crates that have soundtracked spellbinding moments everywhere from Brooklyn nightclubs to cumbia-only Boiler Rooms and Cuba's first major music festival
Growing up in the mid 80s in the small riverside town of Bewdley in the sprawling county of Yorkshire in the UK, Holland would trek as a teen to larger cities nearby like Birmingham to hit record stores and soak in the bustling music scene, gazing upon the rows of the many hotly tipped sleeves on the wall. It was a noble step up from his first time holding an actual record as young boy, one he was able to pick up after collecting 12 tokens from the side of a box of Corn Flakes. (If you were wondering, that record was none other than "Come on Eileen.")
As Holland grew past finding music in cereal—and an early affinity for American groups like Fugazi—his early passion for zine-making as a 15-year-old led him into the wormhole of electronic music promos, soaking up pivotal drum and bass from Metalheadz, and later, the sultry trip-hop from the likes of Portishead as he was starting to produce beats on his own. In 2001, Quantic debuted as a producer with his album The Fifth Exotic, a masterclass in smoky, succulent downtempo that could soundtrack a mushroom trip just as well as an all-night study session.
During a seven year stint living in Cali, Colombia in the mid 2000s—a country Holland described to me as a "musical mecca"—we've gotten to know Quantic the far-sighted bandleader and collaborator—one who's discovered talented vocalists and musicians everywhere from dusty small towns to bustling Latin cities. Just dive into his beat-riddled, horn-fueled album Magnetica,
recorded around 2014 when he was living in and around Colombia's pacific region. It was there he met a teacher and folk singer named Nidia Góngora, who together with Holland just released a new album of sunny, danceable Latin rhythms this May called Curao on the UK's Tru Thoughts Recordings.
Like many artists whose career have been so heavily varied and shapeshifting, one of the best ways to track his path is to explore the many songs and albums that influenced his career—whether it be releases he worked on or just fell in love with along the way. For our next installment of Crate Expectations, Will Holland invited us into his sunny Brooklyn loft to chat. From traditional, religious Mexican music to classic albums from Goldie, these are some of the records that made Quantic...well, Quantic.
THUMP: Can you tell me a bit about moving down to Colombia and how that fed your affinity for record collecting?
Quantic: I had a friend from New York whose grandfather was living in Colombia. I had been buying records in Puerto Rico a lot and started going to Panama, too. So Colombia was an obvious place to go, especially in Cali where I ended up living—they have an amazing, and crazy culture of record collecting. I heard about people in parks listening to records with an overhead projector that would show the cover. Everyone would be playing cowbells and dancing to the music in perfect synchronization because everyone knew the rhythms. I ended up staying with my friends grandfather and kept going back until I just stopped going back to England.
How does the vibe of this record different than some of your past collaborations?
This record is a lot more techy I think. I've definitely been trying to focus on more of a modern sound. A lot of the early stuff I was doing with Nidia was more informed by classic Colombian stuff, afrobeat, and a lot of 70s related genres. I've tried to be really relevant [on this record]. Nidia comes from an amazing background; she's a folkloric singer—a type called a cantora—which is native to Colombia's Pacific Coast. Her mother was a singer, her mother's mother was singer. So I didn't want to just replicate those styles. The idea was to do something a little more modern and bring it to a modern audience. But we really tried to focus on not just putting a dance beat over something.
For someone who is mixing cultures in their music a lot, do you think a lot about the lines between appropriation and the sharing and influencing of other cultures?
I think the direct approach to understanding [the sharing and influence of other cultures] is working with established singers from that culture, and working with established writers. Every piece that me and Nidia have created have been either new compositions or very collaborative. We tried to escape that mentality of just ripping a record and putting a beat under it. That's not to say I haven't sampled a bunch in the past, but always try to put [your music] into a new context. I'm not going to be sampling any prayer calls any time soon, though.
I'd love to hear some of the early records you were listening to when you first started traveling down to Colombia.
This compilation Acordeones Sabaneros from the Discos Fuentos Estereo label has the best accordion players from Colombia in my opinion—people like Andres Landero, Aniceto Molina, and Alejandro Duran.
What's the label culture down in Colombia like?
There's just a hell of a lot of labels there going back to the 50s. They're mostly based out of Medellín, like [the label] Fenta. Fenta started in Cartagena then moved [to Medellín] afterwards. One really fun thing about Colombia is they they produced 78 speed records for a long time. In America jukeboxes used to use 78s, and then they moved over to 45s. But in Colombia they just continued using 78s, so you can find pretty modern records from the late 70s on 78 speed, which is a bit rare.
How exactly would you describe the genre of what we're listening to right now?
Well the name of the compilation is Acordeones Sabaneros—acordeones being an accordion, sabaneros the region. You have two schools of the Colombian accordion: Vallenato which is from Valledupar (Valley of Upar) and then Las Sabanas, which comes from towns that are more in the cattle region. After the music in Vallenato kind of exploded, it pretty much eclipsed the rest of the culture of recorded music in Colombia. I really love this sabanero shit because it's a lot more rootsy and related to country living, and indigenous rights. A lot of the players were farmers who were growing stuff and cutting cane. It's quite a political thing that labels like these popularized country folk. Andres Landero, for instance, became something of a god, especially in Mexico where he's seen as a deity in the cumbia scene and elsewhere. You'll see a picture of Jesus on the wall, and then a picture of Landero.
[La Contundencia - "Fiesta San Pachera"] is a cool example of a band that came out the Pacific Coast of Colombia, and really relates to the new record with Nidia. We have a few tracks that relate this style. It's kind of like a marching band format from the Afro-Colombian heartland. It's also akin to Carnival music because it comes from the celebration of San Pachera which happens every year. A lot of these songs became anthems that people still sing on the streets. It's a really important record for the Pacific region.
Do you have anything that bridges the gap between this more traditional music and stuff that is more electronic?
Akuta Mhondoro is a record that I respect that I respect for being a nice meeting of those styles. This label Nyami Nyami has some really great shit. The front of the record shows a Calimbo, the back an 808. I like this because it's a very rudimentary joint meeting of two things—the traditional and the electronic.
How often do you think about simplicity in your music?
I'm beginning to think that the simpler the better, most of the time. Or at least the simpler the idea. The minute you start hearing the complexity in music, that's kind of where you're getting into more "beard scratchy" territory. I think the beauty of the most heavy shit is when it's very effective at sounding easy.
Can you play be something from when you were first getting into the electronic scene as a teenager. Or when you made your first albums?
If I can't find it, I'll definitely talk about it. I've sold my collection a couple of times so it becomes harder to keep all those records in order. Alex Reece's Pulp Fiction is somewhere in here. That record kind of put me on to having a super clean soundscape in my music, and having everything hit really hard and dry and just be super efficient. It's music made for a sound system. There's also Goldie's Timeless. That was big, more before I was buying new vinyl. More the cassette era. But [Timeless] was probably the first full-length electronic music record I bought. Early Portishead and Goldie were probably the two records that were influential for me when I was getting into beat making and writing The Fifth Exotic and Apricot Morning.
Can you some dub records that influenced your beatmaking? While you're over there can you tell me a bit about your relationship with 45s?
I think inherently they're often overlooked, because they're a lot more of a labor-intensive search. In a record store it's much easier to go through LP's because they have a picture on them, right? It becomes a lot more difficult with 45s because you don't have that information to go on. I feel like a lot of people don't get on with them very well. I love them just because of the compact nature of being able to go to a club or bar and just play a couple of hours of music with a small box.
This is a 45 "You" that meant a lot to me kind of when I was around 16, 17. It's an HP Barnum production from Los Angeles; he worked a lot with David Axelrod, and he was part of Capitol Records arranger/producer kind of crew. He produced this record for Spanky Wilson, and I fell in love with it. I ended up getting hold of Spanky, writing to her when she was living in Los Angeles, and invited her to England. We did a couple of songs, a tour in the UK, and also did a record together. After that we became good friends.
A couple years ago you explored jazz and soul music on A New Constellation. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with jazz music?
I guess sampling and looking for different sounds kind of got me deep into jazz. And especially avant garde jazz, because that area tends to be sparser, and have more individual sounds and soundscapes. I got into the jazz looking for sounds, and then kind of in a way stayed for the music. Jazz is a hard one because there's a lot of it. In England you grow up with it, like a household thing. I kind of got into Latin jazz before American jazz. But I love it man. I think it's particularly becoming more of a fusion thing, like late 70's, George Duke kind of stuff.
"I got into the jazz looking for sounds, and then kind of in a way stayed for the music" —Quantic.
What do you think of artists like Kamasi Washington and Thundercat—this kind of new movement of jazz going on?
It's amazing. It's real LA culture, and those are real LA musicians. People like Kamasi are just super talented. Also Thundercat I've got mad respect for because he has such humor on those records. He's not so serious. I think that's one reason jazz kind of died because it got too serious. One of the fun things about the Brainfeeder guys, is that they come from a pedigree of really high level jazz musicians, but are also down to just fuck around. Here's a nice British Jazz compilation.
Check out more photo by Sara Wass here.
Pick up Quantic and Nidia Góngora's Curao album now on Bandcamp.
David Garber is on Twitter.