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Fila Brazillia shows us their own Brazil

Fila Brazillia
DJs Elliott and Miles
Berbati’s Pan
231 S.W. Ankeny
9 p.m. tonight

If you didn’t know about Fila Brazillia before, you may have thought that they sound like some tropicalia/Jobim/Gilberto obsessed conceptual fusion band. Then you learn that their name was accidentally derived from a breed of fighting dog, and you get some kind of idea what they’re really like: creative, surprising, fun and just plain unbeatable.

It’s difficult to say what kind of music Fila Brazillia is, besides challenging. Challenging in that they wish to go beyond boundaries of so-called “electronica” or “downtempo” or “chill out after-hours vibes.” Influenced by everything from dub to house to R&B to trip-hop to whatever, Fila Brazillia are fusion in the true sense of the word. They somehow combine disparate elements into a cohesive whole, and will put soul in your (ear)hole when they hit Berbati’s Pan tonight in a show sponsored by KPSU 1450 AM.

With their eighth album Jump Leads just released on their own 23 Records, Fila continue the tradition they started in Hull, England, in 1990, when Dave “Man” McSherry and Steve Cobby had a chance encounter on a bus.

While McSherry was busy being “the Man,” Cobby took some time to talk with the Vanguard about everything from playing live to Timbaland.

So you’re just beginning the U.S. tour. How did your dates in the U.K. go?

We’ve played about six shows in the U.K. so far, and they’ve been great. The response has been good.

I understand that you’re using a live setup for the tour, what’s that going to be like?

Well, we’ve only toured twice in 12 years, and in the past we’ve had a sextet, which can be a lot, but it offered more sonically for the sort of digital/analog hybrids that we were going for. For this tour we’re just bringing a drummer along with us, Matt Swindells, and the singer Steve Edwards was with us in the U.K. But we’re going to have the rapper from New York, Djinji Brown, with us in the States. Our setup now should be a lot tighter, more uptempo, where the last time we were more experimental, we’re looking to do it differently this time.

What kind of new sounds can we expect from this lineup?

It’s going to be the best of both worlds, as we have a live drummer, and we’re also using sequencers. We like to use anything, for more sonic colors, and on the new record it’s more of a minimal thing, with less subtler textures, and it’s more functional, like DJing, with layering. There’s going to be a bit of improvisation, more jamming, but we’re keeping it to a minimum so as to not be so self-centered. And we’re going to have Djinji MCing as well, which will be something different.

Do you feel like there’s going to be more of a live performance aspect in electronic music now?

We like to do both, as sequencers and drum machines can never really imitate live drums. With producers, I think people are realizing to not make everything so sterile, and robotic. It doesn’t feel like much of a live performance with somebody up there with just a mixing desk, there’s not enough energy or interaction in it. For these gigs, people like to watch the stage – it’s not like some shows where they have to have other visuals going on because there’s nothing to watch. I think having a frontman makes a huge difference, to have someone on the mic, the audiences interact, and it’s more continuous. And we like the crowd to get vocal.

Did you use a similar live setup for the recording of the new album, Jump Leads? I noticed that these are the first original Fila tracks with vocals.

We’ve had plenty of remixes with vocals on them, and we’re still producing the same way, not that much has changed. But yeah, it is different working with vocalists in the studio. We had Steve Edwards come in and just sing over the tunes we already had, he made up songs over them, and then, like we had scissors, we chopped up the recordings into arrangements. We think we can get better expression this way, and we like to work quickly, as we recorded 11 songs in four days for the new album. We like to keep the sessions quick, and just get the best sounds possible. We co-wrote the songs for about nine months, from about September of 2000 to the summer of 2001.

How is Jump Leads different or not different from your previous work?

This is the first album we’ve done after our 18-month break of not writing at all, and the first stuff we’ve done since we left Pork Recordings and started 23 Records. We just needed to take a break, we had been on sort of a production line with the previous albums, so we sat back and took stock of what we were doing. I think as a result we now sound fresher. We were willing to take risks, and we had the singers do what worked for them. The arrangements are a bit tighter, I think of it like some R&B productions – like Timbaland – that digital tightness. Though it’s been almost two years later, it’s everywhere. I think there’s more variety, we tried not to rework the old stuff but to enter new territory. Just look at it like a human being, someone might have been fat or overweight, but now they’re maybe fitter. There’s less noodling.