Damon Albarn | VOXPOP Magazine – September 2012

Interview is in French. All scans by and courtesy of Mel, please visit her blog (o0vespertine0o.tumblr.com)

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Thanks to 2-J from the GU Forums for the translation.

– on John Dee: “Dee was a very cultured man. Mathematician, astronomer, Occult enthusiast. Even though he was the personal advsier of Queen Elizaebth, he becamee a real heretic: they reproached him for practising sorcery, they didn’t understand that a mind, however rational it may be, may be interested in magic. So this poor doctor Dee fell into disgrace and ended up banished from good society in Britain, alone, poor… I think that if Dee had lived in our era he would have been a sort of Steve Jobs, but an anti-Steve Jobs…

– on Gorillaz: “During the recording of our last album we were at cross purposes on a whole load of things. So now, I’m like a boy who think that it’s difficult to put a knot back in a tie that’s been untied”

he thinks England today is a real multicultural success story, (though he doesn’t want to get Nationalistic about it). Particularly in London. He says he sometimes travels across London and hears the Muslim call to prayer, which doesn’t sound threatening to him nor does it give him the feeling of being far from home, rather it’s part of his daily life and sounds as natural to him as the chimes of Big Ben. It’s relative to a culture but universal at the same time.

– he says he has followed the news in France about some people saying “being French is above all not being Muslim”. He despairs that in the 21st century we’re still stigmatising people for their religious practices. He says he is pragmatic about the fact that Capitalism has basically triumphed everywhere. There are Starbucks everywhere in the world. All our habits, practices, are now in his global melting pot. There’s no other way to live other than to learn how to live in a Multicultural environment. To do so makes us more intelligent. Some people would like to promote
the idea that Islam is in total contradiction with the West, and similarly that
Buddhism and Hinduism are similarly in contradition with the Catholic roots of the West. This just increases fear and rejection.

– thinking that because the West has Christian roots it’s incompatible with the religious roots of other parts of the world is one of the biggest errors, he says. This story of cultural roots makes no sense. Why can’t we instead try and extract from the study and texts of history what’s a common basis of civilisation? We should firstly deal with what unites us, what belongs to the world history of civilisations. We should study world history, but from the real start, before religions appeared. You won’t find any orthodoxy there. There’s no clear line between what’s good and what’s bad in terms of beliefs. We can look for a common base through music.

– He says he has travelled to wash his head. He never knew music as something Anglocentric. He says this is a very ‘London’ view: the whole world is in the city of London, sounds and colours. In London, going from one culture to another is only the price of an Underground ticket. So of course, it’s easy. He would like mroe of it. So he journeyed in a different way, as a citizen of London. He went to Africa, Morocco, the Middle East and realised two things. Firstly our differecnes are real. Even about things you can’t discuss. You have to be cautious when you go abroad. Above all don’t carry yourself with a colonial mentality to the people who welcome you. Non-Western countries don’t want all of our model. We should remember that! We’re not saviours! We aren’t waited on any longer as some benevolent geniuses who turn up with knowledge, civilisation, education for all etc, in our bags. Let these countries build themselves. Most importatnly, in their own rythm.

– he thinks he is at a crossroads. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s something else. But now he’s arrived at a point where the English part of his brain is the same size as the part of the brain open to the rest of the world. He says he’s heard everything on the subject: ‘Damon Albarn is a tourist who helps himself to the music of the world to make an image! Damon’s interested in Africa because he’s a middle class guy living on Portobello Road (Bourgeois bohemian part of London, notes the magazine). Renewing yourself is often seen badly in life, and in the music world it’s worse still! [said with a large smile]

– he agrees that he often uses fictional frameworks in order to make a record. With the Gorillaz characters, with certain Blur albums, with the John Dee record. He is constantly searching for a good story – in books, in albums, in the news or just hearing stuff when he goes round his friend’s houses.

– he says he waits for life to give him good stories so he can get his song ideas going. Without that he wouldn’t be the songwriter he is. He wonders whether he would be able to do as many interesting things without stories. He could still write songs, but without context songs are always a bit deceptive… which is what he hears more and more on the web and on the radio. It’s not an idea that he likes, the idea that music is cut off from the world or anything else. He likes it when music leads you to something else.

– He does think that pop music is a bit cut off from the world around us nowadays. From what used to be a collective adventure, today we’re in an era where music adapts to the individual. It’s even sadder that music is going to make you a segment of the market, an isolated person. He was lucky enough with Blur to experience the Britpop era. If you take away the Britpop cliches – the gear, the Blur vs Oasis war, the British flag, – the period was one of the last socially interesting adventures that Pop Music has known. Something of the order of social experience and communal music took place. And he says he is happy to have been a witness to it – not an actor, he notes, but a witness.

– he doesn’t believe in nostalgia at all. That state of mind bores him. He says he is not a Romantic, but an observer. And he observed, in the mid-90s in England, that he was part of a generation of musicians and audience who had the same desire to change their country, their music business, their fashion, etc. That galvanised him because he had the same feeling of life that he’d dreamed of when older relatives had told him about Punk and Ska. Since then he’s been looking around, but music is no longer a vehicle for this communal experience anymore. Everyone is in their own corner and community, as they say on the social networks… we don’t break out any more.

– it would be too simple to say that the web has been bad for music, he says. It’s also allowed us to discover groups, talents and world musicians that we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to discover without this rapid access to information. It’s the same for cinema, writing and photography. But from the moment the internet opened the floodgates, we’ve all regrouped exclusive areas. That are becoming smaller and smaller. He doesn’t like social networks like Facebook and Twitter, he says, because all they tell us is the same thing: “Damon, you have some friends who share your tastes, a location,” etc. this limits the level of experiences and of curiousity, you see…

– about the new ways artists are promoting themselves, he’d like to say something intelligent but he finds himself bewildered by how everything’s accelerated. Look at the record industry, it’s contracted and become totally opaque. He doesn’t understand anything anymore and [some people might think] it’s up to him to find find solutions because music has allowed him to live well up to this point. [he starts proposing what some people might suggest he do]: ‘Now, my work isn’t only to be a maker of albums in the studio or an artist on the stage. I have to make sure that my updates / news don’t cease. I should get myself on twitter “today, Damon ate an excellent roast chicken”.’ He thinks that’s stupid but he feels that we’re all being pushed in that direction.

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