GoGo Penguin On The Importance Of Jazz Shaping Their Unique Music
You can’t really pigeonhole the music of GoGo Penguin because frankly, their unique sound is a melting pot of genres and styles. Give them a listen and you’ll find a distinctive sound that’s a mesh of jazz, rock, electronica and a few other musical styles lopped in between for good measure.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint what our underlining inspiration was for our music,” admits pianist Chris Illingworth (pictured centre in the lead visual). “I think the main thing that we all had in common was that we came from some sort of performance background.”
The eclectic mix of genres – classical, jazz, drum, bass and more – gave birth to the band’s unique sound, which has seen the band rise up the ranks in the realm of music.
Illingworth along with bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner put out their first debut album, Fanfares in 2012 and immediately received positive reviews.
They followed up with their second effort, V2.0, which was shortlisted for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize “Album Of The Year”. A year later, the trio were signed to Blue Note Records.
“It blew our minds to have been signed by Blue Note, obviously because of their history of being a recognised jazz label,” says Illingworth.
“It motivated us because they not only appreciated what we were trying to do with our music, but were also receptively drawn into these ideas and incorporative elements. Even until today, it still makes me excited seeing that logo on our albums.”
But Illingworth is quick to admit that GoGo Penguin’s style of music doesn’t necessarily lie within the context of jazz, at least not in the traditional sense.
“If you think about the earliest styles of music that would have been jazz, there’s none of that sound incorporated into our songs,” he explains.
“The style of harmony, rhythmic elements like you see in swing – we don’t go anywhere near these elements. But at the very core of our music, we do have that operative improvisation and interaction, which is a bit more abstractive in the jazz sense.”
With such a diverse range of styles, GoGo Penguin feels comfortable in not trying to label their music as anything but music.
“That’s for people like you to say really,” opines the musician. “I think labels are useful to an extent, because quite honestly we do try to incorporate stuff like UK Garage, electronica or synth based music and all these other strange things, in order to make it work.”
Illingworth recalls a number of times where people have gone up to them after a gig to complement them on their performance, before quickly admitting that they don’t particularly like jazz.
“We’ve played at a number of gigs, even more traditional jazz festivals, and I do admit sometimes our music is at risk of putting some people off,” reveals Illingworth.
“This is predominantly why; we prefer to not call it anything. We just want to put this music out and it’s for everyone. It doesn’t mean everyone will like it but at least they’d have a chance of listening to it and then deciding if they like it.”
In a nutshell, Illingworth admits that GoGo Penguin is open to trying absolutely everything: “It’s because we don’t want to create boundaries for ourselves or let anyone dictate what we can or can’t do.”
Breaking new ground
Navigating new musical territories and pushing the boundaries of genre lies at the very core of GoGo Penguin and it’s something that the band is eager to take to new heights in the future.
Illingworth says that the band is putting the finishing touches of their next album, which will be out next year and they’ve also lined up a number of performances in the months ahead. One of which will be the inaugural Freespace Jazz Fest in Hong Kong, which is also set to be a debut performance for the band in the city.
“We haven’t played there before, so we don’t really know what to expect, but we’re really excited to be there” he enthuses.
“We’re really lucky to get these opportunities to play at these events and everyone one of them is different.”
For Freespace, Illingworth admits the band will probably stick to a mixture of music. Things from all the previous albums like Man Made Object and A Humdrum Star as well as their recently released EP, Ocean In A Drop.
GoGo Penguin’s performance at Freespace Jazz Fest in Hong Kong is just the latest chapter for the band, as they continue to make their way through the musical realm while steering their sound into new places.
According to Illingworth, their upcoming album next year will see the band evolve their music, in a way, to another level.
“It’s tricky to explain how this one will be different,” admits Illingworth. “I mean, it’s hard to put into words, which is why we make music!”
The pianist also reveals that in terms of musical styles the new album will have more compositions.
He points out: “It’s mostly about the way we have structured the tracks and arranged them to be honest.”
Illingworth admits that he, along with Blacka and Turner didn’t see much of a change, at least from their perspective, at first.
“We just make the music – we rehearse, record and collaborate and we’re constantly working within the music. So we don’t really think or realise that change until it’s pointed out to us.”
According to Illingworth, it was Nicolas Pflug, the head of the Blue Note Label from France who remarked on their changing musical styles.
“He listened to some of the tracks and said it was very bold because it still had that GoGo Penguin DNA but it’s like we’ve gone somewhere else with it,” adds Illingworth.
“For our fans and audiences, they probably see a more drastic change in our musical styles as well as performance. But for us, I think it reflects a continuation or evolution of GoGo Penguin’s sound.”
Cover Image: Yvonne Schmedemann
Writer | Richard Augustin
Two decades in journalism but Richard believes he has barely scraped the surface in the field. He loves the scent of a good story and the art of storytelling, two elements that constantly fuel his passion for writing.