Friday, 20 April 2012

Interview: Veí

Jonn Dean has been a constantly shifting musical experimenter during his time recording and performing music from a Manchester hub. An electronica project took the backseat while he played keyboards with local alt-rock group Kin, but since they disbanded Veí has moved to the fore.

The name itself is curious enough without introduction to the open-minded approach to musical composition lying beyond. Even the name ‘Veí’ has evolved during its lifespan, as Dean explains. “I started working on my own material whilst I was still playing keys for Kin, but I was quite keen to start writing with someone else rather than it remain a solo project. I worked on a few tracks initially with Paul Mckie (formerly of From the Kites of San Quentin) and I was trying to think of a suitable name for the collaboration. As we lived opposite one another at the time I thought it would be interesting to see whether the word 'neighbours' had a quirky ring to it when translated into another language. The Catalan word for neighbours is 'Veïns' which I loved instantly and we stuck with that.”

He continues: “When Paul became busier with Kites and wasn't available to continue with the project, I was curious to know what the singular of Veïns would be, so Veí was born. The notions of producing electronic music and writing and performing under a pseudonym have always felt synonymous to me, especially given my influences, and I enjoy the association with the actual meaning of the word – everyone is someone's neighbour.”

His tracks have been included on compilations and a debut digital EP, Thank You For Talking, was supported by forward-thinking music collective Mind On Fire. It could be said that recorded music is all about capturing a moment to be repeated as an exact copy; a live show is about recreation of that in person. Veí has until recently struggled with this dichotomy and there were always issues with preserving his improvised live show as a recording, given that reproducing the same song was a rare occurrence. That EP now remains distinctly in the past as Dean has adapted his live show by trimming down the wealth of flashing LEDs and bulky hardware at his disposal in favour of a simpler – and easier to control – laptop-based set-up. “I love improvised music and the processes associated with it,” he states, “but I personally feel that in the long run there is only so far you can take it.”

There was also only so far he could go in the eyes of local promoters. Veí’s name would often adorn posters as a warm-up act, meaning that only the early birds into any show would see his set. Given his proclivity towards ambient orchestral arrangements and only small remnants of recognisable individual songs, it was not surprising that he would precede more uptempo acts. Nowadays, tracks are still modified onstage, but the level of control is higher with a more stable groundwork laid.

He admits that the equipment progression has afforded him more freedom then before and has in turn affected the recreation of tracks for an audience. “My old live setup was primarily based around limitation. With the set-up I put together it meant that there were things that I couldn't do easily, but that in turn forced me to be creative and think of ways around those shortcomings and also focus on the things that I could do well with it.”

“Instead of improvising and creating tracks on the spot I've been focussing more on writing and production values from the outset of a track. I'm still experimenting of course, but I feel that now I can capture that experimentation before anyone else hears it and add it into my work, rather than getting lost in the moment of an improvised show and not being able to recreate it.”

It was a Now Then Manchester gig in December 2011 that became the first road test for that new, less improvised set using laptop software, supporting thebrokendoor and Jason Singh at a show, ironically, focussing on improvised and semi-rehearsed musical accompaniment to previously selected films. Although uncertain at first, he can reflect on having made the right move. “I felt at first as though I had abandoned my roots to an extent, but the tracks were really well received and I felt like I had definitely made the right decision.” His selection was a walkthrough for the Limbo computer game and the differentiation from the rest of the show in terms of improvisation mattered little, as Branching Dialogue’s reviewer afterwards expressed “an urgent need to buy the game and to see every gig Veí does from here on out”.

There will be another opportunity to witness that particular show, as he will perform to the same video clip for the Soundtracks From The Other City stage at this year's Sounds From The Other City festival in Salford. As no stranger to cinematic and musical cohesion, he will also take on the final segment of a combined re-soundtracking of 1980s sci-fi film Dark Star at Dulcimer bar on Sunday 22nd April, with his set following instalments by Christopher William Anderson and Yes Blythe.

The switch was in part due to an affiliation with the new Baptists & Bootleggers label, which provided the platform for his new production ideas. “I had been thinking about switching from improvisational shows to writing some actual tracks for a few months anyway,” says Dean. “But when B&B asked me to do the EP I thought that would be an ideal opportunity to make the transition.” His physical self-titled EP launch at the start of 2012 was a part of the launch of the Baptists & Bootleggers label as a whole, where his performance acted as further evidence of his move away from the unplanned and chaotic constructs of old.

The show later saw Borland (who will next perform at Antwerp Mansion on Thursday 26th April) and Go Lebanon tread the stage; the former shrouding the room in dry ice, leaving only their candlelit corner of mystical noise-craft as a visible reference point. Their audio reference points sway all the way from vocal parts as heavily encrypted by effects as Animal Collective to an incongruent rendition of Rod Stewart’s words in ‘Da’ Ya’ Think I’m Sexy?’ – and all backed by steadily mellow ambient duskiness to match the artificial atmosphere. The latter takes on a military guise both in terms of costume and their satirical humour (playing a “song about men who touch things they shouldn’t – called ‘Sarkozies’”) for a set of angrily cranked up injections of tinnitus. It is a show indicative of the variety of genres encouraged by the Baptists & Bootleggers label.

For example, another of Veí’s involvements with B&B was contributing one of the five tracks on the main launch record, ...Of The Wolves, which comprises a multiple arts smorgasbord centred around Dante’s Inferno, the 1930s film based on Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. His fifth of the record – an interpretation of the same 8 minute 12 second visual clip selected for each musical act – is named ‘Decaying Bodice’, a typically serene piece of music even in response to a film whose fiery despair erupts loud and ferociously through the other musicians’ versions. It is almost detached from the imagery; accepting of the depicted hell and tapping into a quiet place, watching the bedlam from afar. Such is the paradox of Veí; a neighbour by name, but with a street to himself where music is concerned.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t have influences. Radiohead was a noticeable starting point with Kin, while his Veí EP nods towards Four Tet in parts. Dean also cites Bjork, Baths, Aphex Twin, James Blake and Amon Tobin.

He first became involved with the label after being introduced to its co-founder Callum Higgins at the launch event for a Mind On Fire and OneFiveEight collaboration, Hear No Evil, See No Evil, the CD for which features tracks by both Veí and Higgins’ solo music project, Yes Blythe.

“After meeting Callum at the launch, one of the MOF boys informed me that he was doing a soundtrack project and put me in touch again. As I was only using hardware with live improvisations at the time, I recorded 'Decaying Bodice' pretty much the next day, which was well over a year ago now. I knew there were plans to release it and I was really interested in the idea that it would be a compilation of tracks all inspired by the same piece of film. I didn't know at that stage that they were looking into the Umbro Industries bursary or that they would ask me to write an EP to coincide with the launch, so when all that came together it started to gain momentum and become very exciting.”

Since that meeting and subsequent support, Veí is growing in confidence and looking to the future. “I just wanted to show what else I am capable of. I still use elements of my old methods in the writing process but for now I definitely feel as though I'm moving in the right direction and don't plan on taking a step backwards.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Photography: Paul Green
Sunday Soirée poster design: Craig Brown - Beards Club Illustration
Now Then B&B poster design: Hattie Lockwood
B&B logo courtesy of the B&B label
Rod Stewart sourced from the internet

Veí will perform next at Dulcimer bar in Chorlton as part of a Now Then Manchester and Baptists & Bootleggers co-promotion featuring three electronic musicians re-soundtracking the 1980s sci-fi film Dark Star. He will take on the final section of the film, after Christopher William Anderson and Yes Blythe have performed live soundtracks the first two thirds. The gig takes place on Sunday 22nd April from 5.30pm.

No comments:

Post a Comment