Geoff Barrow Would Love to Produce for Nas

Geoff Barrow in Beak>. Photo courtesy of Beak> facebook

“Portishead is my biggest band and I owe my career to them, but Portishead, in my eyes, can’t move forward unless I do these other things.” It’s late on a Wednesday afternoon and Geoff Barrow is at home Skyping with Hive. As he good-naturedly admits, the Bristol-based Barrow’s name is synonymous with the band Portishead; since then though, he’s peppered the group’s intermittent albums with solo projects and remix work that doesn’t so much dip into other genres as plot a course of navigation between their common points. So for this year, Barrow’s “other things” present themselves as his Stones Throw-released hip-hop effort Quakers (cut with long-time engineering cohort Stuart Matthews and Australian producer Katalyst, not to mention a cast of 32 guest vocalists), a Judge Dredd and 2000 A.D.-inspired electronic yarn with BBC composer Ben Salisbury titled DROKK, and the second long-player from his post-rock combo Beak>. Taken together, the projects are something of a micro-blend of the Portishead formula; they testify to Barrow’s own musical upbringing that has its roots in rap but was fortified with a broader perspective by virtue of residing an ocean away from the New York City scene of the late-’80s that laid down the production template that Barrow became so smitten by. Barrow spoke to Hive about the state of modern hip-hop, the tape cassette roots of the Quakers experiment, and the musical differences between all of his current gigs.

The Quakers project is being bandied around with a quote saying that you made it sound like you were disillusioned with modern hip-hop. Is that true?

Yeah, I’m disillusioned by most of the hip-hop. Well, it’s more the modern state of the industry and the hip-hop that gets on the radio and the money that’s invested in that type of hip-hop. I mean, I’m not saying it should be invested in 40-year-old white guys from Bristol, but it’s good to see a Tyler and those guys and what they’re doing and what they’re bringing back to hip-hop and how that’s been related back to punk. I find that side of hip-hop kinda died out — that real kinda commitment to having something to say even if it’s stupid, even if it’s aggressive or not always PC.

Do you think that energy and punk element is down to age and older rappers getting lethargic?

No, I think because you’ve got the American business model which is incredibly hardcore. You couldn’t really call Jay-Z lazy. I think it’s more of a dig at where the industry’s gone really. Old MCs, I suppose, are maybe more reflective, like all artists really with that age. I won’t say hip-hop is a young man’s game, but then I’ve never really been in hip-hop culture — I’ve always just been in a band and admired the music.

So what sort of modern hip-hop is on the iPod of a 40-year-old white guy from Bristol these days?

It most probably wouldn’t have a great deal of hip-hop in it! It would at the moment have the Muppets on it, to be honest, because it’s a lot more useful at keeping the kids quiet in the car.

Are there any big mainstream rap songs out there that have caught your ear though?

The biggest mainstream rap song … I don’t like ’em, really. I just don’t like ’em! I respect all people like Kanye West and that but I don’t like the tunes. It’s most probably Eminem, I expect, one of his tunes.

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