Vaccinations may be providing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for the live events industry, but any return to normal is still a long way away – so festivals are still having to come up with creative solutions to maintain their activities and visibility. One of the most creative approaches of all has come from Chris Tofu and the team behind the London Remixed festival taking place on March 26th and 27th.
As well as standard streaming, the shows will also be presented in VR formats, and for PC users via the Sansar virtual event platform – with a special visual world based on the infamous Shangri La area which Tofu helped to create at Glastonbury Festival. This otherworldly “venue” was originally built for the Lost Horizon virtual festival last year after Glastonbury 2020’s cancellation, and is now being used to host a line-up which brings together acts from across multiple continents and cultures. In keeping with this month’s theme on Mixtape of how the global and the local intersect in 21st-century culture, we got in touch with Tofu to find out more about the ethos of this carnivalesque event.
Hi Chris, can you sum up the thinking behind this festival’s line-up?
London Remixed is in its 11th year now, and is always a super different and funky event for 1,500 people. We showcase the diversity of culture to over 200 other festival organisers too.
Why does the name focus on "London" rather than the global nature of the line-up?
London Remixed is part of the Global Local Project. So, our music has always been about how different diasporas remix within 21st-century culture – Arabic, Latin, African, Roma etc. This is the London version, but acts in normal years come from all over the UK. I’d say about 75 per cent of them are in some way remixing the culture they come from, while the rest are more traditional. We had created Lost Horizons – a VR version of our field Shangri-La – and it’s given us this insane opportunity to green-screen in acts from anywhere onto the same stage. So, this year’s version is incredibly global and were very proud to work with so many great friends from around the world. There are literally no cultural borders online – Brexit doesn’t exist in this alternate world.
On the topic of "global", how do you feel about the way listeners and the music industry approach music from other continents now, as compared to back in the Eighties when "world music" was coined?
The whole world music phase was crucial in bringing the music of other continents and cultures to new ears. Peter Gabriel with WOMAD, John Peel, Charlie Gillet and thousands of promoters and producers all helped massively in smashing rock and electronic music’s monocultural hold on the music world. But it also created a box that many people needed to scramble out of, to get wider mainstream recognition. Acts like Gogol Bordello famously turned down awards for world music from the BBC as they didn’t want that pigeonhole.
Now, though, with things like chillwave, and so much of these international acts like [Chilean-American producer] Nicholas Jaar, [Ecuadorian Jaar collaborator] Nicola Cruz, [blues and African music sampling Englishman] Romare, and [archive label] Analog Africa, and just hundreds of projects that have successfully reached new ears without even using that “global” term, let alone “world music”. That’s before the commodification of world styles into mainstream US pop, which is huge in itself. In short, the digital planet has disseminated music from around the world to new audiences that were impossible with traditional media, so it’s a bigger market and greater reach.
That international pop thing is so striking: Afrobeats, K-pop, reggaeton and more are all global forces now. Do you ever think about trying to get more global pop sounds, or is the plan always to keep it a bit more left-field?
We’ve always been rooted in underground UK culture, remixing with different cultures within the UK – whether that’s UK-based people with a Colombian heritage doing a live drum ’n’ bass band, or Roma hip-hop, or whatever. In this iteration we have included people like Azadi Records from India who basically are the baby Def Jam of India, and their amazing and sometimes unlikely crossovers, and Horsepowar who is a Canadian-Indian woman with serious lyrics and attitude, K.O.G. who is literally smashing it on the Afrobeats and bass music front with his acts like Onipa and Zongo Brigade, Dengue Dengue Dengue! – which if you were from Peru would be on all the radios and parties. So it’s not exactly a matter or pop or underground. For us it’s all about the vibe, and to audiences who really want to party.
How do you feel about the concept of "appropriation"? Do you feel like there is a clear line between what is good faith cultural interchange and what is just lifting other cultures' ideas and aesthetics for profit?
I think you’re the only person to ask this! It’s a massive question and one that I’ve been battling with for 25 years. We believe passionately that the UK’s diverse cultures and the communities behind them should be seen by the wider community in the flesh. Remixed Festival is the end point of a year when we would usually create 17 stages at UK festivals, mainly of diverse British culture – sometimes whole stages, and sometimes for a few hours.
We have had to change a few things in how we present and talk about music that remixes across cultures. For instance, Balkan remixed music was once called Gypsy beats – sometimes with no Roma involvement at all – so naturally that name couldn’t stand, and Balkan beats was the replacement. Stuff like that comes up. We also make “packages” in Global Local, and as most acts are pretty underground, we find it more effective to approach programmers and festivals with music as micro genres – Latin Remix, African Remix, etc. – rather than the names of acts they may not know.
It’s more boxes, yes, but at the moment across all UK festivals there’s hardly one Arabic-British or Desi [Indian subcontinent diaspora] act – so we’ve got to start somewhere! We try our best and we certainly don’t really profit in a normal sense – literally over a thousand acts have gotten work or started off their careers with our support. On a wider scale our whole society is made up of twisted versions of cultural appropriation, for better or worse. It does from some actually that helped, like how Paul Simon’s Graceland really brought Southern African music to a new audience, to more dubious things like the “Coca Colonisation” of [Notting Hill] Carnival, or how all of rock ’n’ roll and dance music also owes a never-paid debt to the original Black musicians – from blues all the way to dub. The world is a remix.
From the line-up for London Remixed, could you pick five acts who really excite you? What makes them so relevant right now in 2021?
Dengue Dengue Dengue - From Lima, Peru. An amazing act dedicated to remixing ancient sounds of Central America in a fruity way.
BCUC - From Soweto, South Africa. Probably the greatest African band in the world right now for vibes and pressure.
K.O.G - Literally the most important Ghanaian musician/rapper/creator/producer in the UK right now. His live shows are off the scale.
FRENTE CUMBIERO - From Bogota, Colombia. This video is with their Japanese counterparts, Minyo Crusaders, where they created a Japanese cumbia-frente remix. They also make cumbia in Bogata with the likes of Ondotropica, taking this genre world-wide in the process.
Amrit Kaur - From North London, UK. Amrit is an Asian singer who mixes the sounds of India with neo-soul and plays a unique ancient instrument, the sarangi. A brilliant innovator.
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs