In 2005 Matthew Herbert signed a ‘Personal Contract for the Composition of Music’. The manifesto’s first point stated that ‘the use of sounds which already exist is not allowed’, and Herbert has stuck faithfully to his promise. Matthew Herbert Big Band’s sound is definitely a unique experience. They startle audiences with their brassy style, which mixes flashes of musical theatre with nu-soul grooves. Just one listen to Herbert’s work reveals why REM, Bjork, Yoko Ono, and John Cale have been just some of the stars queuing up for Herbert’s production services.
Reading Matthew Herbert’s discography makes you wonder how he has found time to sleep over the last 15 years. Working under different monikers, including ‘Matthew Herbert’, ‘Radio Boy’, ‘Doctor Rockit’ and just ‘Herbert’, the man who will this year thrill us with his Big Band has been successful in a wide variety of fields. He’s produced, amongst many others, the Mercury-nominated The Invisible. He’s remixed for a lengthy list of artists, some listed above, which also includes Cornelius, Roy Ayers, and Quincy Jones. He’s DJed at venues including the Hollywood Bowl and Sydney Opera House and has scored 10 feature films, including Human Traffic. And (!!) he’s worked on fashion, ballet and theatrical shows, including a presentation of his work at the Royal Court on Broadway.
Matthew Herbert’s vision is best described in his own words: “When everything I read politically and watch and hear has been absorbed, there comes a point where you must feel it viscerally otherwise you are closed to the horrors of it and thus closed to the possibility of action, closed to the idea that you could make a difference or could have prevented the outcome. This internalising of the struggle, the friction, the melancholy I feel should be at the emotional core of the work. After all, I am making music and not writing a newspaper article. But with the invention of the sampler, I can now explicitly root my work in the literal, critical present. I can describe the real in the frame of the imaginary.”
2003’s Goodbye Swingtime and 2008’s There’s Me and There’s You, Matthew Herbert Big Band’s first and second albums respectively, both featured many covertly recorded sounds, including some taken within the Houses of Parliament. With these samples the band forcefully engage their audiences beyond transitory aural and visual joys: the track One Life has one beep for each death in the Iraq War, and The Yesness features 100 figures of world power saying the y-word. Alongside the band’s lush instrumentation, soulful vocals, and fascinating rhythms, these samples ensure that Matthew Herbert Big Band reverberate in the memory long after their show has come to an end.