Musical Adventures at the Arezzo Wave Love Festival
by Anna Battista
Day 2 - "Your time is over"
The day starts rather well with a morning gig by a friendly girl band, Dunia, who play just three songs but make us happy. Unfortunately, as soon as the Dunia finish their set, all the journalists are obliged once again to attend a useless press conference about the creative writing lessons given by an Italian writer in the festival area during the afternoon, before the bands play on the main stage. Since the genius is making remarks about music and literature being really two close things, something which sounds like a shocking discovery (for him…), we decide to escape pretending to having a compelling appointment with someone. And the fun finally starts in the afternoon when I give a look at I Am Kloot's rehearsing under a boiling sun and finally manage to interview them. Ex-label manager of Wall of Sound and writer Jemma Kennedy said that if her novel Skywalking would be turned into a movie, she would choose I Am Kloot's song "Storm Warning" as the soundtrack for the credits, "Wonderful! I'd love to see it!" Andy Hargreaves, the drummer of the band exclaims, while John Bramwell, the voice and the guitar of the band interrupts his joy, "It's always like that: we never get a mention, but right at the end we're there. Oh well, anyway that's the credit bits, the cool part, the emotional bit!" and between one exclamation and the other we retrace I Am Kloot's history right from the beginning and in particular from their name.
"When our first record came out on a label in Manchester nobody knew we were three," Johnny starts, "so we wanted a name that was kind of enigmatic, intriguing and nobody could tell what kind of music was going to be," and Andy explains to me how they got to We Love You. "Actually it was they who got in touch with us. A friend of us, called Guy Lovelady, had a little record label and gave us a thousand pounds. We pressed two little 7" singles and Wall of Sound/We Love You, managed to get one of those and got in touch with us and came to us, which is good. The album Natural History was recorded all over the place. It was all done on a digital portable recording studio. We like recording in big rooms just to get the acoustics of the room and we did it all over the place 'cos it was completely mobile. We just liked to do a song one week and then in a few weeks we would do another couple or whatever. And we also went up to Scotland to do some recordings. The album got good reviews and this was a surprise for us: who could predict what was going to happen! We love it! We really like it and we think it's great! I really like all the songs on the album," Andy concludes before Pete intervenes, "I like the last one, 'Because'."
I remark to them that I'm crazy about the third track of the album, "Twist". "I think the choice of my favourite track on our album depends on my mood," Johnny adds, "but I like a lot that hidden song at the end, all that noise. I like also 'Twist' and I wanted that one to be the first on the album, I like it. I think we can still do a full length version of it. I like it a lot." When Natural History came out, I Am Kloot were labelled by the music press as New Acoustic Movement. "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!" Johnny shouts, not finding the words to start speaking, "We don't like that movement and we don't want to be part of any movement, any scene," Andy states, "It's just lazy journalists coming up with a little pigeonhole, isn't it?" he concludes, while Pete Jobson, the bassists chirps in, "We were labelled NAM because anybody tries to put you in boxes, to find a definition for your music…" "It's quite annoying, actually," Johnny finally finds his breath to start commenting, "I think we recorded a lo-fi album, the first LP, but when people see us live they realise that we're different bargain and I think with the next LP people will see. I mean it doesn't matter which instruments you use as long as you're playing alright and the atmosphere of the song comes over, you could use any instrument really..." "NAM evokes images of..." Andy suggests, "...Donovan!...Oh, no!" Johnny concludes, before making a puking sound so that we move on to another topic.
I Am Kloot were born in Manchester. "Pete has just moved to Manchester," Johnny tells us, "He's from near Newcastle, near Scotland." "You know, I'm an adopted Mancunian!" Pete exclaims smiling. Manchester has always been considered a legendary place for music, a town which became, as time passed, a sort of music myth that spawned great bands ."I think it's ridiculous that everyone looks to a city as the place were good bands come from," Johnny claims, "I think the word you used is correct, 'myth'. I don't understand the statement 'great music comes from Manchester', I don't think that's true. I just thing there is maybe quite a lot of hype about it. I saw Winterbottom's movie 24 hour Party People and I enjoyed it, really enjoyed it. I thought it was Manchester glorifying itself and taking the piss out of itself at the same time, which is about what we do. It's a kind of tongue-in-cheek movie, it's not a documentary."
While I am Kloot were rehearsing I heard a couple of new songs. "The new album will hopefully be released early next year, in February we think," Johnny reveals. "I began a couple of new songs, we have a lot of new songs actually, we still haven't finished them. Besides we can't play them since tonight we have a short set, only 35 minutes. We only played twice in Italy, in Milan at the Tunnel and at the Independent Festival in Bologna. It was very enjoyable. We were supposed to be here last year, but couldn't get here because there was an air strike. After Arezzo we will play at the festival in Benicassim, Spain on 3rd August. We're recording now, so we're touring only now and again. We did a lot of gigs last year, 160, we did so many and it was stressful. I quite enjoyed myself. This year we'll do only about ten shows since we're recording," Johnny concludes. "I'd like to tour in the States, to go to New York and San Francisco, but it's so massive, isn't it? You should hold your life for a while to go to the States," Andy adds.
I Am Kloot also appeared on the 25 Years - The Best of Rough Trade Records and We Love You...So Love Us compilations. "Since we are starting recording now, I don't know if we will feature on other compilations, but I imagine so, I hope so, it depends on whether people want us or not!" Johnny exclaims. "There is a song on the album which hasn't got any lyrics, 'Loch', just music. It has been on a chill out LP, which I wouldn't expect, and was nice," Pete chirps in, "That's one of my favourite tracks!" Among the new bands I Am Kloot love are label mates The Bees and another band, Coral, "They have a groove," Johnny explains, "I heard something on the radio and didn't know it was them and I was listening to it and suddenly it made a strange thing in the middle of it and I instantly thought 'that's Coral' because there's only them that would do it. You can't really put the finger on any particular style they do, but you do know it's them, which is great I like that."
From music we start talking about globalisation and Italy. "We don't know, it's really confusing, people are pro and anti-globalisation and it looks like there's a lot of left and right wing pro it and a lot of left wing and right wing anti it and it's really confusing trying to work out what the hell is going on," Johnny shakes his head and for a second he seems too serious, then his tight lips break into a smile. "Perhaps it's a massive conspiracy that nobody can understand! Italy seems to be politically to be quite strange, England's quite moderate, which, in a way, maybe sometimes will not be such a bad thing." And while chatting about anarchic acts, the usual idiot from the press office arrives stating "Anna, your time is over", her index and middle fingers forming a pair of symbolic scissors. Shit, I have more 'Your time is over' warnings on my mini disc than interviews. I Am Kloot heartily laugh at the scene while I reveal to them that I'm already planning to do some gate-crashing in the dressing rooms since nobody here is going to allow you to do your job. This makes them particularly happy, and they sign my copy of Natural History with the words "The Rebel" after my name. I'm really chuffed about it, so chuffed, that I'm now ready to do a revolution with Michael Franti. Don't worry, I'm going to start a non-violent revolution with him.
Michael arrives barefoot, two phosphorescent festival pass bracelets adorn his ankles and he's holding in his arms his lovely kid. He looks really sweet and manages to conquer our hearts as one of the kindest individuals we ever met in this festival mess. Ex-leader of the band Disposable Heroes Of HipHoprisy, Franti is now enjoying a new music life, reinventing himself with a new band, Spearhead. "My new band is a way of detaching myself from my past, but at the same time a way of building a sort of continuity with my previous band. Usually, forming a new band is just a process: some people want to do some other things, have other bands that they play in, so we brought someone new. But then it becomes a new evolution, a new music because the members of the band are different. I try to bring a fresh perspective to my music and hopefully it's fresh to the world. I'm excited about Ozomatli and I like to see the cross-pollination of music, I like to see the Latin music with the African music, with hip hop, jazz, I like to see the mixture. When I grew up I started listening to the artists in the '70s like Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye all these conscious soul artists, who were putting out political ideas, and then disco came in and so all those conscious soul artists were gone. Reggae was the next thing, and I started listening to Bob Marley, Linton Kwesi Johnson and so on. And then through reggae I got to know The Clash, 'cos they were working with Don Letts. Then I moved on to punk rock and from that I got to hip hop with Public Enemy. As a consequence, my music is a mix of all of those things, soul, reggae, punk rock and hip hop."
With this band we've been together for two years: Carl is the bassist and he's been with me for ten years, Dave the guitarist for five years and then we have Etienne, our drummer, who is from Nigeria so he brings a lot of African funk influences into our music and we get different influences in our sound also thanks to our jazz keyboard player Kevin and Radio Active, our beat-boxer, he just makes noises with his mouth in the mic."
Franti's latest release bears a message. "This record, Stay Human is the most political record I ever made: I don't want to write songs anymore that say 'Fuck the system', I wanna write songs, for the people, for us. They have to express the full rainbow of our emotions, they have to express anger, joy, sadness, happiness, sorrow, pain and they have to express our struggle. In Stay Human the main message is about the death penalty in America, about putting an end to the death penalty. Death penalty is something a few artists talk about. Steve Earle talks about the death penalty, but apart from him there are very few artists who speak about it. The death penalty is still very popular in America and a lot of artists think that if they speak out about the death penalty they will lose their fans and their record sales will drop. In America, right now, there aren't a lot of musicians who are speaking out about what's happening, most musicians are scared, especially major label artists."
"There was a time when we had thirty of forty large labels, and within those labels, you had Island records which had Bob Marley, Grace Jones, Tom Waits, a lot of different things. In these days, we only have five labels. Yesterday I saw the president of Vivendi Universal who was forced to resign and that was on CNN. Suddenly such a piece of news is on the stock news, not on the music news. Today artists are on labels who are trying to find the next Britney Spears, not the next Bruce Springsteen or the next Bob Dylan, artists are afraid to speak out and it's a bad thing. My idea is that I believe all bombing is terrorism and I'm against that and I feel we shouldn't be in a war against terrorism, we should be in a war against militarism. We should bring justice and peace in the world through economic equality and through opportunities for the developing nations. We can't go around the world chasing down our enemies and killing all of them, it just makes more enemies."
"As a band, every night we do a different set, every night we do a different show, but right now the message we give with our shows is the same: it's important for people around the planet to feel like there is a community of peace and power to the peaceful, that's what I would like to do in Arezzo, share this message with people here in Italy, a message that says there are other people in the planet who think peace is worth fighting for. And of course another message is 'Have a good time!'."
The hip hop scene is at present really alive, though a lot of hip hop acts such Eminem are often criticised for their lyrics, "I don't know if such artists have a message in their songs," he starts. " I mean every artist is different, I can only speak about my words. I look at the music scene now like I looked at it in the late '80s. At that time you had a lot of bands with big hair and spandex clothes and then overnight it seemed like Nirvana came in and music changed. I look at hip hop now and I see the same thing I saw then: you have guys with gold chains and cars. I'm waiting for this new shift, this new wave to come and I think as the world becomes more and more aware there are going to be more and more messages, there are other values besides money that we should be having."
Michael anticipates for his fans one of his newest projects: "I'm planning to release a book of poetry with my lyrics. It's something I have been planning with a friend of mine who has been shooting photographs and stuff for the book. But I think that music and lyrics are one thing, it's not really two things, but one, the lyrics are there with the songs. Sometimes I do perform them as spoken word, but I just do my words alone, so I'm not in any hurry to write down my lyrics in a book, 'cos I think that the lyrics are more complete with the music. Music is like the score to a film. When you do poetry on top of music, it's as if music carried an irony, as if it contrasted with the words. I think the spoken word is beautiful, but the spoken word and the written word are not always the same."
New things are happening to Michael also for what regards music. "In June we recorded a new album and now we're out on the road to play a lot of the songs live and we'll finish the album in August or September, but I'd like to play the songs live. It's not good enough writing the songs in the studio and putting them on tape, without having a feedback from your audience." Michael's got beautiful crystal clear eyes and when you look into them you know he's not bullshitting, so, when he's asked what he will tell to his fans outside when he will meet them, he calmly answers, "There is a song that I do called 'Bomb the world' and the lyrics say, 'We can bomb the world into pieces, but we can't bomb the world into peace. That's what I'll tell them."
Peace and love to Michael Franti then, but hate to the press officer person who's giving out signs of impatience and proclaims that yes, our time is over once again. So let's rush to the stage where I Am Kloot have already started playing with an extended version of "Twist". Johnny is perched on an amp with a guitar in his hands and, after playing "Morning Rain", he pauses to introduce to us "86 TVs", "a song about transvestites and TV", as he underlines, and dedicates it to an ambiguous Italian TV showman who claims of being a music expert (erm, perhaps Johnny still hasn't had the pleasure to meet the guy who presents the bands on stage during the Arezzo Festival…you never understand if he's a transvestite or if he's simply got a bad dress sense…). I Am Kloot do a lovely set, too short perhaps, but very funny as well, especially when Johnny starts telling the crowd nonsensical sentences in Italian involving a prune, before reassuring us that we can relax because we are in the hands of "semi-professional musicians". "Titanic", "Storm Warning", a song about "getting drunk and falling into catastrophe", complete the set together with a new song, "This House is Haunted" that sounds a little bit like "Twist". The best part of the gig is probably when Johnny, Andy and Pete play us "To You" and dedicate it to us.
So, cheers to I Am Kloot and welcome to Ozomatli who blow up the stage with a sambatastic rhythm and with tracks such as "Embrace the Chaos". They drive themselves so crazy that they start jumping around and interacting with the crowd. Right at the end of the show, instead of stage diving or throwing themselves in the crowd, they simply jump into the photographers' pit with all their instruments, jump over the safety bars and, after having caused a minor mayhem among the crowd, launch into a funny rendition of the "Hymn of Joy" surrounded by hundreds of people clapping their hands. People enjoy them so much that when Michael Franti & Spearhead get on the stage, they're still dancing. Michael and his band rock the stadium with a soul-dance-hip-hop influenced set which includes "Sometimes" and "Do Ya Love". MC-ing and hip-hopping Ozomatli surely established a very good relationship with the crowd, but Michael is the one and only who manages to make the crowd stand, sit at his command and repeat after him whole sentences such as "All the freaky people make the beauty of the world".
Franti also manages to make the photographers dance with the security staff and his beat-boxer Radio Active makes us crazy singing like Armstrong or making a fucking avalanches of sounds and breakbeats only with his voice. He sounds like a drum machine and he's better than any crap Belgian techno mix. Radio Active makes so many noises stuttering and scratching like a broken record before finally collapsing and vomiting on the stage. Right after the third track, Michael Franti says he's sorry that the best football team of the world was eliminated so soon from the World Championship finals. A lot of people think he's referring to Italy and cheer, but he takes off his T-shirt and reveals a Senegal T-shirt, which makes us smile and cheer up even more. As promised Michael sings about love and peace, gives us an anti-militaristic song, "Bomb The World," and then concludes the gig praying us to "stay human" before starting playing football and jumping among the crowd to say bye to his fans. Michael's too sweet, really.
We feel so peaceful with the rest of the world after Michael's gone that when The Dandy Warhols arrive we fall into depression. Indeed, they only manage to ruin the atmosphere, they're so fucking cold that they manage to build a gap between the crowd and the band. Singer and guitarist Courtney Taylor is just a pretentious bastard, guitarist Pete Holmstrom is just another useless little star and Zia McCabe is mainly just enjoying herself, playing the keyboards and drinking litres of water. Their set is so flat and crap that makes you wonder how they managed to become so fucking famous. The answer is easy, their track "Bohemian Like You" was used for a mobile phone TV ad, which is practically broadcast every five fucking seconds. But they are shit. No joking. Even their rendition of their hit is flat and feebly manages to arouse people's enthusiasm. People in the audience look at them with a very indifferent expression on their face and don't even clap to show they're enjoying. I'm afraid The Dandys can't compete with Michael, they haven't got a message to tell us, except that "heroin is so passé". Shame that tonight we want some peace and love and not a lesson on out-of-fashion drugs and crap bands who play at being icons. While they're playing their last song, we rejoice thinking that tomorrow will be a different day, another day of music, fun and madness.
Continue to next page for day three.