How Producer Kwes Made Me Fall In Love With Opera Music

Never thought big girls and teary men was your thing? Me neither, until one of my favourite artists decided to have his way with Puccini. And guess what, rap music and opera go hand in hand...
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Never thought big girls and teary men was your thing? Me neither, until one of my favourite artists decided to have his way with Puccini. And guess what, rap music and opera go hand in hand...

Opera is so 'out' with the vast majority of our demographic, we tend to forget that it exists. Most of us are so bug-eyed and ritalin-starved we can barely make it through a 'Best Picture in a Foreign Language' nominee, or a Justin Timberlake album of absolutely reasonable length, so three hours of people singing loudly in Italian is a total non-starter.


But hey, guys; you GOTS to get into opera. You've seen movies, and you know who goes to the opera in movies? Billionaires, Future Bruce Willis, and the Elephant Man. The second two may be dead, but we all want to be billionaires, and the only way to become a billionaire, as far as I'm aware, is to start doing billionaire things. Things like going to the opera.

Still not sold? I suppose you want someone "cool" with "credibility" who "knows what they're talking about" to convince you. Well, how about Kwes. His talent for genre-defying electronic music (which hasn't stopped being cool since 1977), has led to production work with everyone from Micachu to Bobby Womack, and he has a collaboration on the horizon that's such a big deal that we're not even allowed to tell you about it. And after he finally set his own voice front and centre with last year's bewitching Meantime EP, his upcoming debut is hotly tipped to become on of the highlights of 2013. If anyone could trick us into going to the opera, it's probably Kwes.


Lucky, that, because Kwes. and Peroni - a lager that at least markets itself as being for billionaires - have collaborated with Go Opera to create Opera di Peroni; a new production of Puccini's lesser known opera "La Rondine", stripped down to an easily digestible 90 minutes and performed by a hot young cast, with electronic flourishes and in an immersive setting. And immersive is bang on; Shoreditch's insanely versatile Factory 7 (pretty much an empty warehouse round the back of the Queen of Hoxton) was lavishly decked out with furniture, bars, lamps and a bed which punters wisely realized was for climactic arias and emoting, and not sitting or shagging. Performers often appeared from within the audience, the action moved fluidly between three locations; it felt, for the most part, like observing an unusually loud and tuneful conversation on the table across from yours.

The not-so-secret to the success of Opera di Peroni is crazy simple, and it's this: opera, as it turns out, can actually be really great - and seeing it in this setting makes it a hell of a lot easier to appreciate and digest. Taking it out of the theatre is a stroke of genius - nothing puts you in the frame of mind for re-evaluation quite like being freed from the constraints of a uncomfortable seat, a single forced perspective, and the all-encompassing fear of having to wait 90 minutes for a piss. Having English translations of the dialogue projected onto the wall didn't hurt either.

Seeing it live at all is half the battle, because in the same way I didn't really get Colin Stetson until I realized he was making that alien noise with a giant saxophone and his own damn mouth, seeing these sounds come out of actual people instead of speakers changes everything. Think, for a moment, about the human body; the reason Adele always, always stands and moves that way when she sings, is that that's what it takes to make that sound come out. Everything must be just so. But outstanding lead actress Anna Jeruc-Kopec wasn't standing like Adele, and was hitting infinitely more vocally challenging notes, perfectly, while lying on her side with her head on a duvet. It doesn't make a lick 'o sense, from a physics perspective, and yet there it is.

In fact, if this thing needed anything, it was more Kwes. The majority of the score was supplied by a small crew of fiercely talented classical musicians, with his input being restricted for the most part to the arias. But boy howdy did he make a difference, with his subtle but powerful swells of noise lifting the experience to heart-stopping euphoric heights. It's tough to say whether the show would have benefited from a more constant electronic presence, but it was hard not to hanker for more when the peaks were so effective.

Luckily, we got more Kwes. And here it is!


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In what way did working on this differ from what you normally do?
Well, for a start, I was working with classically trained musicians, day in day out, and they work in a completely different way. I was essentially another instrument, so even though they encouraged me to work in my usual way I was still improvising with the others, as well as working with the mood and atmosphere of the arias. It’s made me want to try out new ways of listening to and creating music.

Has working on Opera De Peroni had any influence on your debut album, which is due out later this year?
I'd already finished quite a bit of the album before I'd done any work on this. Doing the Summer Event got me thinking about composition a lot more - I actually scrapped quite a few of the songs after that, about a third of the album. The new material is very much song based, and I've also been playing around with structure. I think that's where I've always been heading.

What was it that inspired you to bring your own voice into your music?
I just felt that there was something I need to communicate that I could only do with my voice, it just makes the material a little bit more personal. Most of my favourite music is like that.

Where do you draw your lyrical inspiration from?
It depends. The song “Honey” [which is about a cabbage singing to a jar full of honey] is inspired by Brian Wilson, the song "Vegetables" from the Smiley Smile album - that was an album that really inspired me. But then on one level, I was just trying to make myself laugh. And when I was writing "L.G.O.Y.H", that was a song for my loved ones - I wanted to write something to make them happy.

The title of the Meantime EP comes from where you grew up - how else has your environment informed your music?
A lot of what I'm singing is influenced by that. At least two or three of the new songs are about situations and events that happened around Greenwich when I was a teenager. I wrote some of these songs at least five years ago - I lost a load of them when the computer I was working on broke, but the hard drive didn't, so I eventually managed to recover them from that.

Is lead single “Rollerblades” indicative of what to expect from the new album?
There's actually a different version of that song on the album, but I'd say the ending is a clue. There's more live instrumentation this time. I haven't mentioned this before but there's a lot of sounds linked to transport; subway trains as percussion, that kind of thing. I’m still kind of figuring out how to play the new record live. It'd be pretty amazing if I could get, like, a section of train onstage with me or something. When I do work it out I'm hoping to make the experience a bit more audio-visual.

What else can we expect to see from you this year?
I'm doing a lot of production and writing work this year. This girl called Valentina, she's got an EP coming out which I produced, so I'll doing some more work with her, some other people. Some people I can't mention! I also saw Mica last year, when we played some shows together, and we talked about maybe doing another Kwesachu mixtape. I'm not sure when though. I'd also love to try working on film music, and I'm really interested in advertising jingles - it's fascinating, the way people seem to always remember the audio aspect when they're thinking about adverts.