John Metcalfe is a musician of many hats. The composer, producer, arranger and violist has been a member of post-punk band The Durutti Column, collaborated with a number of iconic artists such as Peter Gabriel, Blur, The Pretenders and Coldplay as well as arranging music for theatre and TV. Recently, and in keeping with this spirit of versatility that he has become known for, Metcalfe has invited four contemporary musicians to remix tracks of his 2018 oeuvre "Absence" for a new album, "Absence Remixes". "Absence Remixes" contains tracks by musicians Robot Koch, Sebastian Mullaert, Richard Spaven and Henrik Schwarz as well as one by Metcalfe himself.
"Absence" is perhaps Metcalfe’s most existential body of work yet. Partly inspired by the loss of his father, the composer and musician explores through its tracks the subjects of death and grief; how we as human beings come to terms and deal with the absence left behind by those loved ones who are gone. Although the album employs some of the most conventional song structures Metcalfe has ever worked with, it’s teeming with innovation, cutting-edge sonics and pioneering collaborations. "Absence" contains soundworlds that cross genres and blur the boundaries between electro and classical music. Together with Rosie Doonan’s vocals, Ali Friend’s bass and Daisy Palmer’s drums, Metcalfe weaves acoustic and electric sounds in ten tracks that explore the heartfelt emotions of love, solitude and hope.
"Absence Remixes" is less about this personal journey of loss and grief than it is about the sonic journey of experimentation and open-mindedness that has always characterized Metcalfe’s work. “I’m inspired by sonics - sounds in their purest essence are what inspire me to write music,” says Metcalfe. It makes sense then, that when choosing the artists to work on the remixes he picked musicians who, like him, understand sound in its most dynamic and free form. “All of these guys work in lots of different worlds. The point is they’re really open-minded - it doesn't matter the history or provenance of the sound, they will use it and explore it,” explains Metcalfe. Given that Metcalfe wanted the album to push out into different and fresh directions, he thought the collaborators’ creative processes shouldn’t be influenced by his own narrative and understanding of the tracks, “How could they relate on that level? How could have they gone through the same journey as me if they are not me? They have to express themselves,” explains the musician, who gave the collaborators free reign over his tracks.
The German deep house producer Henrik Schwarz has carved a niche for himself with lauded live sets which fuse acoustic and electronic sounds incorporating even orchestral elements. His visionary perception of music production as a fusion, and his understanding of the power of live performances, aligned harmoniously with Metcalfe’s own vision for the album. “I found a lot that really speaks to me in John’s track ‘Above The Waves Of Crystal Water’. So the process of adding new things was light and playful,” says Schwarz of his remix. Likewise, Robot Koch produces music informed by orchestral sounds of cinematic grandeur. Metcalfe met Koch at a Berlin concert organized by their mutual label, Neue Meister, and began exchanging ideas and forging a friendship, “I just loved his soundworld, and he is really lovely guy,” says Metcalfe of Koch. Another genre-crossing artist involved in the album is the Swedish electronic music producer Sebastian Mullaert. Some of the recurrent themes in Mullaert’s work are those of tranquillity, stillness, Zen meditation and nature, “I start working with the sounds. Looping, playing, shaping, like a ceramist working with clay. This process becomes a mantra; a meditation, and my studio becomes filled with sounds and rhythms... echoes from the original song,” says Mullaert of his creative process while remixing. Finally, Metcalfe chose his close friend and colleague Richard Spaven to contribute with a remix, their bond being the closest in the album given that Spaven is the current drummer on Metcalfe’s band. Having also played the drums for notable musicians such as Flying Lotus, The Cinematic Orchestra and Jose James to name a few, Spaven has become known for a style and unique eclecticism that bridges the worlds of jazz and electronic music, “He is a bit of a legend really. A go-to influence for a lot of people. He has a brilliant combination of passion and spirituality and a really good dose of intelligence” says Metcalfe of Spaven. In addition to the four aforementioned collaborators, Metcalfe himself will be contributing with a new version of one of his own songs. “It’s always exciting to re-visit material you’ve gone down a particular path with and to take it somewhere else. It’s like changing your room around - it’s still the same furniture but with a different energy and perspective. Having said that you might throw everything away and re-paint the walls so it’s totally unrecognisable”, he explains.
The five tracks of "Absence Remixes" branch out into different directions sonically, but the common values that unite the artists give way to an album that has at its core experimentation and freedom.