We do love our nutters here at LSD and when we ran across self styled ‘Neo Balkan Circus Dub Rave Biscuit’ crew Slamboree we simply had to have a word. Relative newcomers to the scene, Slamboree took the festival season by storm last year with a dizzying cocktail of velvet meets velcro burlesque, breath defying circus stunts, teardevil acts, mimes, rhymes and gorgeously diverse musical elements chucked into a blender and whipped up into a bonkers, bass driven hybrid of everything from gypsy to dubstep. Oh and seven shades of lunacy, a fat wink and a rampaging dollop of roaring good times lashed into the mix to keep things nicely volatile.
With a 10 piece live band, and a gloriously eclectic crew of talented showmen and women, Slamboree whisk a crowd into intoxicating nights of intense, up front madness as insane beats drop with furious irreverence, fiery explosions warp the stage and all kinds of precision mayhem rip through an electric atmosphere. This is all out performance rave – take a deep breath – and pile in. We caught up with Freear for a word as the 2012 festival season starts to gather momentum.
Where did the idea for Slamboree come from and how did it come together
Well quite a few people involved came from a live band background and had all sort of independently reached the conclusion that they wanted a lot more going on as a show and a lot more live visuals within a new concept. At the same time, there was a big collective in Leeds of theatre and circus performers – the live visual arts, and we were looking for a way to combine the two into an overall show where there was always something grabbing your attention and some new dynamic going off. Something maximizing creativity and live performance with a real perspective on it and a very real feel to it.
How much history did the core crew have with each other before embarking on such a big mission
We’d all worked in similar circles. For example – there are 2 central circus crews called Surefire Circus and Happy Slap Boutique who we collaborate with on Slamboree. We’d be supporting each other’s events on a regular basis whether it be a cabaret night, a circus night or a band night, and when the energy is there, it just becomes a question of working out the logistics of how putting all the different strains together was going to work. The first real practice / brainstorming session we had about 15 people at it, and it was a really intriguing concept as we all tried to balance out our own space and our own roles within it, while equally looking for ways to work off each other and bring it all together as a whole.
As such an ambitious project – and with the sheer numbers involved and the space needed for bands, circus acts and all the rest of it, it must have been quite difficult to find venues that would take a chance on you and people willing to invest in booking the whole crew.
We played a variety of sized gigs over the last year from a 150 capacity boat gig with no stage, 10 performers and about 2 inches of space between the hula hoops and the main crowd, to a crowd of about 5000 at Boomtown with 25 performers on stage. Because of how interchangeable the act is we’ve been able to adapt each show around the venue and stage space. The promo video we made from our first gig to about 200 people really helped to get across what the show and concept was about. A lot of the first bookings came off the back of this video being passed around social media networks and being spotted by potential promoters. The most unique gig for us was on Arcadia’s Afterburner stage at Electric Picnic because it was a 360 circular stage about 10 feet above the crowd. A lot of nights and promoters have been really welcoming to the concept so we‘ve worked really hard with them to make the show work in a range of different shapes and sizes. This adaptable nature of the act is the most exciting thing for us and we feel there’s great potential for the future.
Obviously now you’ve got a very strong musical identity – but was that there from the beginning or did it evolve out of the nature of everything that was happening within Slamboree
It’s definitely taken shape along the ride. I used to write a lot of breakbeat, dub and glitch hop, but when we integrated the brass section, it took on a much funkier vibe and suddenly added in this depth of soul. And by the time the strings hit the mix, with the violins coming into play – it hit a whole new level of possibility as the Balkan and gypsy lines started flowing through it. And that just drove it to this mad mix and cacophony of styles bringing together drum n bass, breaks, Balkan, gypsy, dubstep, techno and electro swing.
And did that whole Balkan, gypsy feel click instantly with the nature of the performance – that outrageous, extrovert, half circus half cabaret vibe and help unite the different elements
It fit perfectly straight away. The quirkiness of the performance – never taking itself too seriously the sense of upbeat colour bursting out really works beautifully with that jump up Balkan / gypsy style. And a key factor is that it also encourages audience participation and gets this sense of euphoria going in the crowd as they become part of the performance – so it’s been great to nail a crossover sound using all these wildly different elements into something that brings the crowd out of themselves rather than take them deeper into themselves.
It’s almost like a reappraisal of it. The essence is totally in that spirit, but we’ve brought our electronic influences to the table and wired everything we’ve learned through it.
How important is the comedic element in what you do
Because the whole thing is very visually based, there’s a lot of slapstick in the performances, but equally, there’s a lot of daredevil moments with people doing some really mad things but always with that quirky edge to it that compliments it brilliantly and gives it an original spirit.
How much is planned and how much is improvised within a night.
I’d say about 50 / 50 nowadays. We have a very open mic philosophy with the live performances and part of what we’re about is leaving a lot of room for improvisation both musically and theatrically. Another huge aspect of what we do is to integrate local performers into each show, so while you always have a core crew, each town – each night has different collaborators on board. We did this one gig in Exeter where I sat down on the social media sites looking for local circus collectives in the Exeter area. I got in touch with a few of them and we worked out some parts where they could collaborate, by emailing them audio from our previous gigs to discover which parts of the show could work best for their styles. Once they’d decided what they were going to work with, it meant they could practice independently leading up to it – do a quick rehearsal on the day and then bring their own vibe onto the stage that night.
Is that a massive rush in itself? That instead of knowing precisely what you’re going out there to do, having this spontaneity built in
Hugely – each show has a different voice to it, and it keeps it so exciting for us. I guess we tread a fine line between petrified and excited before every gig as we’re never sure how it’s going to go, but that keeps the whole thing buzzing. And new performers at every gig create a new energy at every gig and that’s what makes it so special to be a part of. It’s become part of the very nature of Slamboree.
For you personally who’s doing so much of the music production – how much of it is collaborative with the live musicians – in that they have the freedom to riff on the basics – and how much do you know that you need a trumpet part that needs to follow certain progressions and ask them to lay it down like you see it.
It varies depending on the piece of music or the circumstances. We’ve got a drop in studio that we’re renting in Leeds where people can lay down new lines and do a few takes on a theme, or just throw a range of ideas down, send them to me and we can bounce the ideas back and forth. I use an application called Dropbox online where people can upload takes into an online folder – and it will appear on my hard drive in the same folder. At that point – I can make any edits, or drop some beats onto it and send it back – they see what they think and maybe do a tweaked take or whatever, and we can collaborate virtually like that.
You’ve had a blinding summer at the festivals and now the music side has gone off in its own right with Zorba hitting number 6 on Soundcloud’s hottest tracks. Are you gobsmacked by how quickly momentum has built
Absolutely delighted. We can’t believe what an incredible year it was and how fast things took shape. No one was more surprised than we were to be honest and we can’t wait to see what happens next. But what a summer. Our biggest Summer gig was Boomtown Fair, who I’d sent the promo video I mentioned earlier, they got back straight away saying it was right up their street and managed to crowbar us into the lineup for the main stage before Goldie Lookin Chain where we ended up playing to a crowd of about 5000 people. That really launched us in the South of England and to have that much exposure so early on in any project is just amazing. Off the back of that, Arcadia got in touch and got us out to Ireland for the Electric Picnic festival and incorporated our show onto one of their stages which are just mind blowing. Pyrotechnics you wouldn’t believe – awesome engineering and Tesla coil technology sending lightning bolts through the structures.
There’s nothing quite like Arcadia is there
It’s next level. Playing on Arcadia was like a dream come true, and at the moment, it’s looking like we might be working more with them in the future. So we’ve got a few months to up our game as much as possible and really focus on making the show work organically with the structures, weaving the pyrotechnics and the Tesla into the show and creating something really extraordinary to take to the next wave of festivals we do together. It’s beyond our wildest dreams.
How’s the album coming
So far so good, it’s taking shape nicely. I moved to Bristol recently finding it to be the perfect, central place for me to be pulling in the performers I’ve met in the last couple of years that I want to be working with on it. So I’ve moved into a new house, set up a new studio, got loads of new hardware and we’ve got a really interesting collective album coming together with a whole range of different styles in play.
What else does 2012 hold for you
We’re going to really try and up the ante on the live side. One of our performers works at a circus supply warehouse, so we get access to all these new toys which we’d like to start basing creations on and pull together hybrids of other circus tricks to really hone a totally individual style. We’d like to really push the envelope in terms of unifying music and performance and drive the improvisation to new heights, focus on bringing in even more audience participation, and create a really next level immersive experience.
Issue Nine – Chasing Dragons
May 23rd 2012[/box_light]