Matthew Herbert’s career has spanned three decades, in which time his politically motivated and innovative music has made a considerable impact both in the public and media realms. His latest EP, ‘Brand New Love’, will be released by Hypercolour, and sees him produce with up and coming singer Zilla and also features a remix from jungle heavyweight Paul Woolford.
Herbert prides himself on his processes, and has even set out guidelines for him to abide by. Back in 2000, he issued his Personal Contract for the Composition of Music (which includes his Manifesto of Mistakes), denouncing the ‘short cuts’ of modern music, which includes the use of drum machines and lifting other people’s beats. As a result of this, he has distanced himself from earlier music he made under the Herbert moniker (he used samples from other artists), and now strives to make sure all his samples and songs could be reproduced in a live setting.
In 2005 he released ‘Plat Du Jour’, which covered the politics of food distribution, and in this he sampled 3500 people eating an apple at the same time. The mechanics of Herbert’s methods are beautifully illustrated here, as in order to prove his point, he was even specific about the type of apple and the season. His work hasn’t always been well received and was condemned by PETA in 2011, as his album ‘One Pig‘ documented the birth, life and death of a pig. He said their complaints were absurd as his music intends to encourage people to “listen to the world a little more carefully”.
He’s also created music in response to the excesses of the Bush and Blair administrations and the dominance of greedy corporations in a world that is starved from resources.
With such a broad discography, it is no wonder that the people and places his work has taken him to are so diverse. His extensive collaborations range from Bjork to Heston Blumenthal, his music has taken him from Broadway to the Royal Court, from Sydney Opera House to a Hollywood Bowl, and he even worked on the 2009 Eurovision song contest.
His latest EP, ‘Brand New Love’, adds another dimension to his work. As on previous albums, such as his work with Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne on ‘The Shakes‘, it is clear some of his strongest material comes when working with a female vocalist. ‘On Brand New Love’, Zilla’s crooning vocals compliment the backdrop of distorted chords and echoing bass, the relative simplicity of the track being one of its greatest strengths.
Paul Woolford’s Special Request alias turns in a robust jungle rework featuring choppy breaks, distorted bass and synth sweeps which unexpectedly take a U-turn into a string section that works strangely well. Next up comes ‘The Peacock’ which has a layered mass of reverbed synths, loose beats and clean stabs. Finally, the EP closes with ‘Cheekbone’. Frantic synths, idiosyncratic quirks, and fragments of vocal samples occasionally bleep through, showing off the best of Herbert’s characteristic sampling.
It is no doubt a diverse EP from the man who embodies the very meaning of the word, but the lack of an overt backstory or political motive (or even how the samples were taken), is almost slightly disappointing, given that it has so greatly enriched his previous work. For example, ‘Mechanics of Destruction‘ sampled big brands being reused and recycled as a protest against corporate globalism while ‘There’s Me and There’s You’ took samples inside the Houses of Parliament and in landfill sites with a message on over-consumption. The way that he has previously mixed form and content is truly remarkable, and in comparison to this, ‘Brand New Love’ could appear superficial.