“Benjamin Britten would play gabba”

Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor talks about taking the classical composer into the 21st century

Arts+Culture Q+A
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Benjamin Britten is rightly hailed as one of Britain's most prodigiously talented and prolific composers: over a 40 year career, he composed everything from film scores to folk songs, ornate chamber operas to booming orchestral showpieces. More than soundtracking pretty much all of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, his music has seeped into almost every British person's subconscious: Britten's work has accompanied the opening of cathedrals, Christmas carols and funeral send-offs. 

Inspired by Britten's many arrangements of folk songs, Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor is re-interpreting the composer's work for Faster Than Sound: Roots, a residency at Aldeburgh Music that also features Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, electronic composer Anna Meredith, and house and techno composer South London Ordnance. Dazed spoke to Taylor about his unlikely allegiance with the 20th century composer, and what kind of music Britten would compose in 2013. 

Dazed Digital: A lot of people wouldn't associate your output with classical music. Do you play classical music yourself?

Alexis Taylor: My dad likes him and lent me a record of these folk songs, and I had heard bits and bobs but didn't really know his work at all well before this project. I listen to some baroque (Bach, Scarlatti etc) music more than classical music really, and I listen to more modern composition generally (Terry Riley, La Monte Young). It is fair enough for people to not associate hot chip with classical music - we don't have a direct link. I like 'music' though, so was drawn towards this project because the arrangements of some folk songs I had heard in other, more traditional versions sounded really interesting

DD: What do you enjoy about Britten? 

Alexis Taylor: He seems to experiment harmonically in an interesting way, destabilizing the melodies and structures of songs he is arranging. My work is nothing like Britten's - but having said that there is something of the destabilizing of song structures in About Group that I play in.

DD: What are you planning to do with your arrangement?

 Alexis Taylor: Arrangements which respond to his, harmonically, and take them elsewhere, somewhere stranger perhaps, as well as some which return to the traditional arrangements the songs may have had originally- but transposed to new instrumentation.

DD: If Britten were alive today, what kind of music do you think he'd make?

Alexis Taylor: Gabba.

Faster Than Sound: Roots is on at Aldeburgh Music on Saturday 12 October. www.aldeburgh.co.uk/events/faster-sound-roots

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