Hector Bizerk are one of the primary exponents on a Scots hip hop scene that has been described recently in the national broadsheet, The Scotsman, as being ‘in rude good health!’ Louder Than War’s Harry Mulligan recently sat down with the group’s rapper Louie fresh from a showcase at SXSW, for a chat about the group.
Having deployed guerrilla marketing and gigging methodologies to masterful effect, they recently played the NME Showcase at this year’s South By South West Festival in Austin Texas. The troupe who consist of Louie Bay dropping the lyrics, and Audrey Tait, their drummer-as-lead-instrument on phrasing and punctuation are accompanied by a fat bass as well as a percussionist. This is not simply the cutting edge as we know it, it may very well be the Bleeding Edge in a music scene in the UK that is bored rigid with formulaic Indie fare. Louder Than War caught up with Louie on his return into the UK, find out what he had to say below this video recorded at SXSW itself…
Harry Mulligan: I’m sitting here with Louie from Hector Bizerk, how you doing Louie?
Louie: Very, very well, thanks.
I understand that you are just back from stateside, would you like to tell us what you were doing out there?
We were Showcasing South by South West in Austin, Texas. We applied to and then we were invited. Creative Scotland asked us to do their Showcase, which happened to fall through so we ended up Showcasing for the British Music Embassy which was probably advantageous, as we played on Bills with bands that we maybe wouldn’t have played with before, and expanded our audience. Then we were invited to Showcase for the NME which was a pretty special performance as well. So they were the two main Showcases we done but we did lots of other Gigs as well, all in and around the Festival in Austin.
Did you play anywhere else other than SXSW?
This time we just went purposely for SXSW, but we’ve been in the states before, particularly in NY, it was brilliant, we got some college radio play, which helped when we applied to go to SXSW. A tiny minority of people in the States knew about the band because we’d had minuscule bits of coverage.
How do you feel you were received?
Brilliant! The people there are so endearing and so warm. I think with our live show, we give everything we’ve got and I think in the States people appreciate that. The first day we did a show – we had some crowd participation, and they just lap that up there. We were blown away. The first show we did, we weren’t sure how people would receive it and after two songs it was bouncing. They closed the tent and stopped letting people in as it was so busy but it had transparent sides on the tent, so they had people on the sidewalks, watching from there that couldn’t get inside the tent. That was great encouragement for us. The people there were so nice to us, all the reviews, saying we were great, It was just a shot in the arm for us for the next wee bit of the trip. We got that first one under our belts and it went so well.
It’s been noted that you have recently signed a managerial deal. Would you like to tell us what happened?
Well it was a mutual love of football and I guess we met through that and he obviously likes the band. He started just giving us wee bits of advice to push our sound away from Scotland, and just in the summer last year, he asked me if we’d like him to represent us. Well, it’s been great. We’ve always been a DIY band, we engineer our own stuff, we obviously write our own stuff, we market our own stuff, there are quite quirky guerrilla advertising campaigns that have been successful, and I think, to be honest, we have become synonymous with that, and just making things happen. We’re not the kind to just sit around and wait for things to happen, we don’t wait to get handed something on a plate. We’ve earned every single punter that’s paid to come to our show. Our management is there to help us take it to a different territory, a bigger scale and another level. His knowledge and experience is invaluable, and he’s a good friend of course. I completely trust any decision-making that he thinks we can take with this band. So the whole SXSW thing, he absolutely smashed it with the array of contacts that he already has. He created a real buzz about Hector Bizerk before we were even there. It’s just been fantastic, and we hope we can use this as a springboard to take Hector Bizerk to other places.
Analogue or MIDI or both?
We’ve never really done any analogue recordings. We’re very fortunate to work out of Pauls Halls Studios where we have the freedom to experiment and develop our craft as recording artists. The whole digital era was well and truly upon us when we started recording, I mean I would love to. It’s just about affordability as well, so yeah, I’m well and truly up for that. It’s just a case of having the money to invest in that type of recording. And some people do it just for the sake of it. It needs to reflect the sound. When we’re recording, the drums are very much at the forefront of the mix. I think in most modern contemporary music, the drums are lost under the MIDI processing and we would generally just have Audrey battering the shit out of a drum kit, really in your face, and driving like that. I think that’s what Hip-Hop is in its truest sense, is and we like to have those moments in the shows. There’s a break that everyone can groove with in our recordings, but ultimately in our live shows as well.
Is there anything you would like to say to any burgeoning, embryonic, Scottish Hip Hop Artists that are up and coming?
I think integrity is the key to making Hip Hop music – to making any music, really. If I hear somebody singing a pop song and they have an absolutely fantastic voice but I don’t believe them when they sing, I don’t give a fuck, I’m just not going to listen to them any longer. Some of my friends are trained, pitch-perfect, but I don’t believe them. If someone is MC’ing, especially in Hip Hop, if what you’re rhyming about isn’t heart-felt, then I’m just not interested. Some people have been very successful in adopting different personas, it’s kind of escapism, and I think it’s a very explorative way of writing as well and I’m not downing that. People are exciting themselves and they are exploring themselves, and whether they breakdance or DJ, or graffiti, I’d be supportive with that, and they’ll reap the rewards, the personal rewards of that positivism. The expression through Hip Hop.
A lot of people in music say that authenticity is overrated, what would you say to that?
Ha ha! Maybe aye, well it depends on what you want to make music for? Some people want to make music, I mean Mr Blobby has had a Number One. Who am I to say: ‘Oh, that’s un-authentic!’ Some people want to make records that they love and they say represent them, or represent a people or a movement that they feel a part of, and some people make records to make millions, and it’s not for me to judge. Some of my mates are signed to a Major label right now, and are doing very, very well. I wish them all the success in the world, they’re purposefully trying to make hit records, maybe they want to be celebrities, whereas other people want to live a £Rock n Roll lifestyle£ where they just want to get fucked out of their nut and shag hundreds of women or whatever. Some people genuinely just want to make good inventive music that excites them and pushes their buttons, and takes their creativity and their personality to different levels. We’re looking at it from an artistic point of view, Hip Hop is a cultural phenomenon, and how that manifests itself in the east end of Glasgow, or east London, or Dublin, or Tokyo or whatever. I think it’s the same thing, no matter where it is, it’s got that integrity to anchor to it. Of course I like to write blues music, I like to write pop music, but not for me to perform as a performer. Songwriting is about being adaptable. We’re currently writing the soundtrack for a play that is going to tour later this year, and it’s very different to have prescriptive subject matters to explore. It’s exciting, and the styles; kind of spoken word, trippy soundscapes, it’s good fun. Some people as artists want to write songs that other people can sing, and that’s great. I love being a performer myself. Our band is encapsulated in its live show. The best you can see of our band is caught in the moment. People have very different ambition, and my ambition is just to expand and explore my creativity, pushing ourselves as songwriters.
I’m unsure really. We’ve been working on a series of EP’s, and this is just more about expanding our song writing prowess as a group, because, we self-released an album in 2013 and it retrospectively got a lot of hype after being nominated for the Scottish Album of the Year. We were ready to write a new album but because of the hype that went around that, we thought it would be better if we did a series of EP’s, so that we release an EP every eight or twelve weeks, exploring different sounds, trying to really evolve so that by the time we put out a new album we’ve grown; everybody compares a band from their last album to their next album. I want people to think that Hector Bizerk have levelled up, again! Not that we’ve just made the same album with different songs on it, ha ha, we’ve made the same similar styled album. I want to push the creative boundaries where it’s possible. We’ll definitely be putting out an album in September. Well, it will be finished by September. I think it’s coming out on Walk Tall Recordings via PIAS, and this Soundtrack for the play, we’re going to launch that in June as well to coincide with the touring of the play. So it’s really exciting.
Somehow, I’ve also had a book come out recently, which is a bit mad. Somebody wanted to publish the lyrics from the last album, so that’s going into Waterstones. It’s a bit ‘kin mental isn’t it?
People have told me before: ‘Rap or Hip Hop from Scotland, you can never do that, it’s not marketable – you will always be a bedroom emcee or whatever!’ Well, we’ve worked very hard for it and we’ve been lucky that we get to go to all those different places, people want to invest their time and their effort in what we’re doing because they believe in it. They think that other people will also believe in it and they would want to read the book or buy the record, or watch the film… We made a film at the turn of the year as well, which was of The Bird That Never Flew EP.
We worked with a young film maker, Ian Henderson, he’s only 19, and the guy is an absolute enigma. So he’s a phenomenon, he’s a good friend of mine, we worked on an EP with him and a visual artist, Pearl Kinnear who’s always been a part of what we’re trying to do with the band, visually. I think Hip Hop has always had that visual element, that forgotten element of Hip Hop, how people express themselves through paint. People like Banksy get a lot of press but there is amazing Grafitti in Scotland. There is some amazing Creativity in Scotland, people who are, on an underground level, are world renowned, within that community. They have amazing reputations; guys like Acme, Gazmack, Rogue1 and all that. I want to encompass it all in our live show. I want people to come away from Hector Bizerk shows with that kind of sensory overload where they feel like there are so many memorable moments – I want to have moments where there’s breakdancing happening, there’s live art happening, where the crowd is ‘kin bouncing then where the crowd is hush and we’re doing an A Capella thing – just to have that sort of control over an audiences enjoyment of a performance. That’s what an emcee should be, she/he should be controlling the atmosphere, where you’re turning the nobs on how people react to different… You’re like a conductor of… Hip Hop!
I dunno, that’s how I see it anyway…
As Hector Bizerk gain more of a global signature, how do you alchemise these new experiences into audio visual art?
That’s just what we’ve always done. We’ve always took the situation that we’re in and try and have that be representative of the music that we make, but also of the canvas that Pearl paints, the film that Hendo pulls together from it. We’re starting to get better at it and hopefully we’ll continue to improve. If you’re not learning, what the fuck are you doing really? Artistic people, w need to continue to improve on our knowledge and our skills and just continue to entertain people. I don’t know about a global signature or anything. We’ve taken small steps in the right direction and I hope we can continue to build on that experience. We’ve done SXSW and we’re back in the States later in the year, gradually progressing with our talent, having other people come on board and feel a part of it as well so that the music is representative, whether they are in New York or Glasgow, that’s the key.
Lastly, what would you like to say to the readership that I haven’t asked you about? What would you like to put out there?
I would just like to say that loads of people have an idea of what ‘Luck’ is, and most people have an idea about ‘right time and right place’ and all that. I think that is an absolute nonsense. It’s the people that work hard and believe in themselves that make the most progress. Yes, some people do get lucky, sometimes that happens, but I think that you create your own luck, in many respects, people who are excelling, not just in music, not just in art, in business, in anything, they work their arse off to get to the point where they feel they should be. Where they are striving to get to. It doesn’t happen by accident. If anybody wants to be successful then just get your finger out and work hard.
Louie, thanks for talking to Louder Than War!
All words by Harry Mulligan whose Louder Than War author’s archive is here.