Fred N’Thepe – AKA Neue Grafik – is a Parisian soul with an inclination for London grit. The latter city being a place that he now fondly calls home.
Most recently, he’s developed his sound amongst the backdrop of London’s Total Refreshment Centre, a performance space and studio-cum-community centre that’s been described by Gilles Peterson as the ‘flip side’ to London’s jazz renaissance.
Like most great creative spirits, his work takes a stab at social, political and cultural commentary, conveying messages through moods, rhythms and scenes from the UK, France, Africa and the Americas.
Through his live sets, he brings dazzling jazz-hands to the MPC, and he now also caresses the keys collaboratively with the Neue Grafik Ensemble, whilst regularly DJing on the side.
We caught up with Fred recently to discuss a few things…
Hey Fred, What’s new?
Life’s great, thank you! Yes, we heard about that of course – a group with jazz at its core!
It’s clear that a broad range of music with jazz at its heart has been inspirational to you – from 90s hip-hop and street poetry, to contemporary London jams and older artists like Milton Nascimento and Alice Coltrane. What is your most striking memory of jazz and how did you initially uncover it?
Of the work that you’ve been involved in so far – be that recorded sessions and producing, DJ sets or live performances – which moments really stand out as the most pivotal, or groundbreaking for you in both a personal sense and in terms of exposure and validation as an artist?
In the past, you’ve touched on the political landscape of the moment being a source of inspiration – including the phenomenon of fake news and the current atmosphere of truth-manipulation, which clearly strengthens your hand artistically. Can you envisage the potential of Brexit and the broader political atmosphere perhaps reaching a negative tipping point from an artistic perspective? Or perhaps jeopardizing the London/UK scene that you often speak fondly of?
As an outsider looking in, I often find it difficult to imagine or comprehend the routines and rituals (or even just an average week in the life) of London-based artists, where the plight and struggle of surviving is often cast against a care-free energy and passion that stems from the people they’re meeting and working alongside. What keeps you sane and grounded in day-to-day life, in what often comes across as a disordered way of living?
You certainly can’t ask for much more than that!
Now, in the past you’ve drawn on how there was a pivotal shift in your musical outlook that took you completely by surprise, starting at the turn of the decade with artists like James Blake and labels like DMZ, Hessle Audio, No Hats No Hoods, Hemlock and Planet Mu, amongst others. Which releases and performances stand out the most to you from those times, and why?
From your long list of influences, which two artists would be the most magical to collaborate with? And why?
It’s clear that you have a very unique way of amalgamating influences thematically, and that really cuts across in your music and the way that yourself and others describe it. But how do you translate that abstract way of thinking and approaching a piece into the beginning of a tangible track structure? Is there a particular method or mind-frame that you find yourself falling into when you sit down at the keys or in the studio to convey these ideas? Or do you try to avoid falling into routines altogether when you approach new work?
Given that you clearly draw such inspiration in this highly thoughtful way, do you ever feel the urge to express your ideas verbally? Perhaps drawing on those street poet, hip-hop or grime influences?
In your Boiler Room Beijing set, you do a fantastic job of jazzing out on some old MPCs. As a producer and performer, is there a particular synth, plug-in or piece of hardware that you personally associate the most with your own sound or development? Which bits of gear have been integral to the Neue Grafik experience so far aside from the MPC?
So, Neue Grafik Ensemble’s ‘Foulden Road’ mini-LP has just been released – which is sounding amazing too, by the way! How integral has the community vibe surrounding the Total Refreshment Centre been to this project? Would ‘Foulden Road’ be possible without the TRC?
Which tracks from the release are you most excited about putting out? And why?
Finally, what can we expect from you and your collaborators and friends in the near future, looking beyond ‘Foulden Road’?
Fred, thank you.