Saturday, July 28, 2007
Middle-class wankers in dinner suits ...
Today's Guardian reports - "In the late-80s, when Factory Records launched its classical off-shoot, Tony Wilson vowed to wrestle classical music away from "middle-class wankers in dinner suits". Twenty years on, despite Factory and numerous embarrassing attempts to sell classical to the yoof and ageing rock stars dabbling in everything from opera to light chamber music, classical remains a dusty, dying art form. You can put William Orbit's orchestral work on at the Manchester International Festival or let Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood write for the BBC Concert Orchestra, but you can't make anyone under 40 care.
Gabriel Prokofiev is aware of this, but refuses to concede defeat. The man behind Nonclassical, a label and London club night, he is bucking the downward trend by returning classical music to its populist roots. Which means moody sleeve designs instead of laborious liner notes and live events where you can get pissed and talk over the crap bits, trading ideas - as Mozart once borrowed from folk - with dance music.
From anyone else, this - programming string quartets with electronica DJs and such - might look contrived, but Prokofiev is a uniquely credible broker. The grandson of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, he studied classical music to post-grad level before, frustrated with the insular world of contemporary classical music, chucking it all in to pursue various underground dance music projects. Under his patronymic Gabriel Olegavich, he heads-up the mighty disco-punk outfit Spektrum, records off-beam electro as Caspa Codina and has produced leftfield tracks for Lady Sovereign and Manchester MC Envy.
Well versed in the similar politics of classical music - "if you said anything was 'crossover' you'd be stoned to death" - and cutting-edge electro, Gabriel is determined not to produce a "patronising" hybrid of the two.
The first section of the latest Nonclassical CD contains four stark, challenging movements, written by Prokofiev and performed by the Elysian Quartet, which contain echoes of the excitable, repetitive patterns of techno. Those same tracks are remixed by Hot Chip, Conboy and US grime producer Starkey, who improvise hiccuping grooves from plucked strings and such. It's interesting, abrasive and, particularly UK hip-hop head EarlyMan's remix, outright joyous.
Currently working on Concerto for Turntables & Orchestra, a collaboration with the Heritage Orchestra and turntablist DJ Yoda, Prokofiev argues that only by engaging with popular culture can classical music attain a new common vitality.
"I'm not on a mission for classical music per se," Gabriel swerves, unconvincingly, "but it is an amazing tradition. There are things about it which are really special: the incredible instruments that have evolved, the performers who train like maniacs. Dancing to a mechanical beat is thrilling, but so is a really sensitive classical performance. Plus, so many clubs and radio stations play the same stuff, but the general public can handle complicated music."
Report from Guardian, Gabriiel Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 1 on YouTube here, listen to remixes of his String Quartet No. 2 here, and for Prokofiev for middle-class wankers in dinner suits follow this path.
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