Interview and Review: Gypsy Hill Album Launch Party @ Passing Clouds (London, 11th September 2014)

Gypsy Hill have taken about four years to publish their first LP, but that’s because they like to do things right and properly! And if you were present at Our Routes launch party in one of Dalston’s most vibrant venues you’d understand why. Gypsy Hill are a rising phenomenon of the London eclectic music underground. They got together back in 2010 and are an exciting reflection of what a multiethnic and multicultural city can inspire musically.

DJ Kobayashi & Herbert Newbert are two talented musicians, djs and producers and are the main culprits behind Gypsy Hill’s success. They set up the project, write, arrange and produce all the tunes. We had the chance to meet them minutes before their performance at Passing Clouds.

RhythmPassport: We are really curious about the name of the band because, if we are not wrong you are based in South London, far from the Gypsy Hill area

Dj Kobayashi: We are based in Brockley, but when we started the project, we used to travel by train to reach the studio where we were doing the sessions. At that time we were still looking for a name for the band. One day, while we were standing at the train station thinking about any possible names and reading the train destinations we listened to the announcer saying “this train goes to King’s Cross via Gypsy Hill”, and we thought, “wow, Gypsy Hill, that sounds good!” So we named the band Gypsy Hill.

RhythmPassport: Can you explain how you start playing Balkan music? What’s behind the decision to mix Gipsy sounds with so many other styles and influences?

Herbert Newbert: That’s the thing – because we started djing we were getting more and more into the Balkan scene. But as you said, there are so many different interests behind our project and so many different influences. It’s a real mix of sounds.

RhythmPassport: How did you start working together?

Dj Kobayashi: We met in a totally different scene in some ways. Herbert used to do sound and we used to dj together. We went to play at Glade Festival some years ago, which is really an electronic music event. We worked on a stage together, and after the festival was over we moved to different projects. For example Herbert worked on a flamenco project (Native Horizons) to which he added different beats. Meanwhile I was djing a lot in the Balkan/Gipsy scene during the Stranger Than Paradise and Balkan beats London events and I had the idea to create few tunes, a couple of loops to play with. At the time it wasn’t really intentional to form a band, just to try to make new tunes and put them on Myspace. The thing was, people liked those tunes and the project kicked off from there.

Herbert Newbert: Yes, there was no intention to play this kind of music

Dj Kobayashi: We just wanted to create some sounds. I just wanted to make a couple of tunes to define me as a dj and to be different from the other djs. But from there everything has changed.

RhythmPassport: How did the project develop? How did you get in touch with the other musicians?

Dj Kobayashi: It was quite easy. For example, my brother is playing the classical guitar, while Herbert knew Benson at that time, who is the trombone player.

Herbert Newbert: It was just about all the connections we’d had until that point It was about friends, friends of friends, and the other bands we played in. We just came together.

Dj Kobayashi: We have been really lucky with the people who came into the band because they really reinforced the connection, which has always been really good. So, from there it was easy to keep on pushing. After the first gig we all thought “there’s something interesting going on here!”

RhythmPassport: Were the other members already listening to and playing Balkan sounds?

Dj Kobayashi: Not necessarily. For example Gipsy music was totally alien to the trombone player.

Herbert Newbert: I used to play with the trombone player, and the funny thing is at that time he was a drummer in a heavy metal band – and now he plays trombone! We asked him if he was up to it and for him was a massive change.

RhythmPassport: How is it to work together in this way, coming from so many different backgrounds. You also put together many influences. Is that why you needed four years to come out with a record?

Dj Kobayashi: I think that in some way, what has delayed us has been the fact that we put the first songs we recorded online straight away, and the feedback was so good that we started to receive many offers for gigs. After a while, we had so many gigs to play that we had to prepare a lot of material for them instead of the album. Also we tried to create a different vibe for the album. Since we think like producers we feel that what we do live has to be different from what we do in the studio. There are bands who want to bring the ‘live thing’ into the studio recording and sometimes that works, but that wasn’t our intention.

Herbert Newbert: Once we went back in the studio, we tried to re-imagine a lot of the live tracks, rather than being the other way round. You usually write a tune and then you play it live, but we think the other way round.

RhythmPassport: Your live shows portfolio is indeed quite remarkable. You have already played on hundreds of stages in the UK and Europe’s leading music festivals such as WOMAD, Glastonbury and Latitude here in England, Sziget in Hungary and Fusion in Germany. How is it to travel abroad with your project and have you found any difference between the British and the European audiences?

Herbert Newbert: Actually I love the European audiences.

Dj Kobayashi: In my personal opinion, the best response that we have got has been here in the UK. We had great gigs in Switzerland and Germany, but I don’t know why it is – I prefer the response from the British audience. It has had a different vibe.

Herbert Newbert: The thing is that when we go to Europe people see us as coming from a slightly different angle. Maybe they’re a little bit more used to Gipsy music, while here in the UK they are interested in other aspects. Maybe they are more into the ska side of it or the electronic one. Here in the UK people appreciate us for different things, on different levels. Also because I feel that, even if Balkan sounds are new to some people, the U.K. audience is more open. There are so many music festivals in Britain that everyone is exposed to every sort of music. People are still hungry to listen to something they haven’t already discovered.

RhythmPassport: Can you explain to us what the title of your record means? Because Our Routes seems something like a summary, a recap of Gypsy Hill’s career.

Dj Kobayashi: It was a long and hard decision. We wanted to show that our ‘routes’ have been part of the way, our way through the music. When you hear it it also sounds like the word ‘roots’ meaning backgrounds. Since we all come from different backgrounds we thought that it worked fine in reflecting our different interpretations of music.

RhythmPassport: And where are your ‘routes’ going? What are planning to do next?

Dj Kobayashi: We are already working on two different projects. We have opened a studio in Central London, which is called Down and Left, and we want to work with and produce different acts. Since we opened the studio we got in touch with many amazing musicians, and as producers we can help thinking and coming up with new ideas. So we are trying to put these artists together and collaborate with them. Another project is to try to keep things quieter, to slow down a bit.

Herbert Newbert: Yes, or we are going to be too busy!

Dj Kobayashi: I’m already thinking of the next part after this part. I’m always one step ahead! Also one of the reasons why the album took so long to be published is that we always think further down the line. At the same time, there were so many times we weren’t happy about what we had. Even if it was good, for us it wasn’t good enough. So we had to go back and change something like the sound, the drums, the bass, or the brass. We have always tried to get the vibe, to understand how the music lets us feel. Since it is an instrumental album and there are no lyrics in it we’ve had to step back, look at it and understand how it makes us feel.
Then, if it was sounding ok for two or three days or one week, we had to send it because if not, we were going to change something else. It was never ending!

RhythmPassport: Why have you decided to present Our Routes here at Passing Clouds?

Herbert Newbert: Because Passing Clouds is a second home for us. We like the atmosphere. We feel like a family. We know every guy here and there is always a good atmosphere.

…and a good atmosphere is the minimum you can expect from a Gypsy Hill gig. But their album launch show at Passing Clouds was a step up! Thanks to the help of the Discount Orchestra, the TigerMonkey and Dj Sasha Dieu, they set up a two-hour event during which everyone rode at full gallop without a break. Despite being in no hurry when it came to releasing their album, on stage Gypsy Hill showed that it is not true that slow and steady wins the race! In the subtropical microclimate of the crammed East End venue, the South-London based ensemble honoured their fame of being a bunch of kooky, offbeat and funkily skilled musicians.
Since the first scream of trumpet and as the trombone started to raise its voice, they immediately hooked the audience to their mix of Balkan, ska and jazzy tunes. In few minutes they spilled onto their fans a downpour of effects, reverbs and distortions, letting everyone go hog-wild with their unbridled up-tempo attitude. Only closing time stopped Gypsy Hill from carrying on with their groove bonanza. But without a doubt, haunting songs like ‘Balaka’ or ‘Balkan Beasts’ resounded in everyone’s dreams the night after. If they needed four years to release such an exciting work then let’s sit down and wait for 2018.

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