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Interview with Craig Manga of Mangabros

‘Craig Manga of Mangabros writes dark pop, riddled music, complements of past influences such
as NIN, Kate Bush and Brian Eno. Our interview with him uncovered some of the mystery to
Mangabros, also the editor of WEATNU DM.’

Good evening, Craig. Thank you for having this interview with #WEATNU Digital Magazine. This music of the new Mangabros album ‘Soulcoalblack’ is quite unique, or an anti-pop, avant-garde, shrouded in soul and electro. And even though the masses do not understand it, perhaps the complexity of the album should be better explored?

Craig Manga: I am under no illusions. ‘Soulcoalblack’ is a difficult piece of work, an awkward proposition to many. A tetrahedron peg in a square hole. And we fitted nowhere until WEATNU. And yet, somehow – ADD-fashion – we flit everywhere: there are industrial soundscapes, broken piano ballads, krautrock elements, warped glitch beats. Somehow we’re stranded between the dancefloor and the headspace.

Has #WEATNU been a success for you then?

Craig M: Oh no…(smiles) but we failed magnificently. By the numbers anyway, but we do have an avid obsessive fanbase. We remain resolutely Marmite.

That’s always a plus. But there is beauty in failure, once you get up and try again, eventually seeing the light one day.

Craig: We’re always gonna draw disdain from the Xfactor gen but admiration from those discerning enough to want something a little different, off the mainstream. “These are songs, Jim, but not as we know them.”

You’re quite popular here on weatnu, is weatnu helping your music at least gain a goal?

Craig: WEATNU is helping immensely in our magnificent failure (aka cultish success)

I hear some jazz influences in your music, would you like to talk about what influences you as an artist?

Craig: The jazz influence comes from guitarist/piano player, Glen, where as aleatoric moments of randomness (John Cage, Eno) are me.

There are two in Mangabros?

Craig: 5, but we choose our numbers by the dice. On the album: myself, Paul, Glen and Tony. Present gigs: just Paul and yours truly. I have played solo with just acoustic guitar. I once didn’t play at all. We augment with other musicians, drummer Mark, and bassist/pianist Tony.

Your sound is very distinctive, tell us more about that.

Craig: Our actual sounds are never factory settings, I sculpt and layer sounds until barely recognizable. I’m very proud of the wonky warped detuned piano sounds I’ve birthed, usually involving bowed piano strings and doppler-effected flux harp. I also add acoustic textures: the thump of wood, scrape of metal, creak of stool. So these are totally bespoke sounds. Also, the album was intended to have a claustrophobic atmosphere, so it was created entirely on headphones, no monitors or speakers involved.

Almark: There is indeed a closeness to the album and high quality. Why do you suppose the music feels as though you’re drifting in and out of consciousness, it’s very personal, almost wracked with pain?

Craig: Yeah, I agree, it is slightly fevre-dreamlike. Dreampop with Night Terrors. Black Pop, ha! Quite proggy too, in that there are many many changes in each and every song. It is sonic collage. Like the tuning, drifting on an old radio, one station bleeding into the next.

This is my first time to hear the entire album from start to finish, but this is a highly impressive and daring work. You must feel artistically satisfied?

Craig: I am proud of it, but already i have moved on. and the music is becoming purer and more layed bare, the album is the second part of a trilogy, a tryptich. slowburnblue was first, more electronic, dense and experimental, much darker UDM. The next one’s a clutch of love songs ‘Deepfleshred’, well, songs of love loss and longing (and maybe a little lust thrown in for good measure).

As these songs are intricate, it’s only right to ask you how you approach your songcraft?

Craig: I write lyrics and they can be a starting point. But lately I tend to scramble a few chords on acoustic guitar, transpose them to MIDI then sing phonetic gobbledegook over them to find melody (or not). I then strip away the primary, the original outlines, maybe add weird icing to the cake.

Speaking of weird, listening to King of Tarts, the sounds of both ecstasy and pain together, wrapped in a jazz chorus.

Craig: King of Tarts is a purely solo effort on my part, no guitars. all programmed, no playing; glitched piano.

I hear hints of Radiohead on The Blue Scrawl. Very haunting song.

Craig: Funny enough, that one originated from Glen – not a great Radiohead fan – but the angel of death coda came from me. I take Radiohead as a great compliment. Glen wouldn’t though.

I can certainly hear your music in indie films. Do you see this music making it into that genre?

Craig: I have written soundtracks for college film projects, mostly arthouse stuff. And some accompanying soundtracks to silent movies (Nosferatu, Caligari) and some alternative songs for The Wicker Man, but mangabros are now exploring their own film-making for a couple of art installations. I am very much into storytelling and interweaving narratives in songs anyhow.

Very nice. Are you self-taught?

Craig: Self-taught totally. A guitarist who can’t even name the twisted chords he comes up with. I think I’m an alien that fell to earth (not really) found a bunch of instruments and proceeded to strum the snare drum and beat the guitar with drumsticks.

We are the gifts to the world of lost souls, only to fill them with music, perhaps this is true.

I can’t help but wonder from your distinct vocal style who you are influenced by?

Craig: My vocals have been described as ‘the Hendrix of the larynx’. my vox touchstones are Scott Walker, Gabriel, Peter Hammill, Bjork and Kate Bush.

Almark: And your song on this album ‘Black Pop Caucasian Vampire Blues’ how do you feel about it’s morality?

Craig: It is an incredibly sad song. beautiful, deep and haunting. It is the requiem for a murdered child, a forgotten victim. I could weep really.

Music without emotion is dull.

Craig: Tell me, A, how do YOU feel about ‘Black Pop’?

 Is that what you call this music, Black Pop?

Craig: I hope people realize that bleak songs are intended to be uplifting ultimately.

Misery loves company.

Craig: Sad songs mend hearts (like the gnarled gospel of ‘Dead Riff). Many of my songs come from a dark place, and intended as catharsis: the raising of the spirit, the soothing of the depressive mind. As a sufferer, creating my art, words and music, really helps. I hope it’s carried forward to the listener.

Any collabs ahead from meeting others artists through WEATNU?

Craig: Yeah, one with Meter Bridge. They’re also gonna write an original piece that will further the narrative on our ‘Z’ cycle of songs. Also, a project with Dave from Bufinjer, and another with Lie Craze.

Excellent, we hope to hear those in the future.

Craig: And hopefully something with that elusive founder of WEATNU, forgot his name.

Oh yeah, he will have to squeeze you into his busy time-schedule. 😉

And what are the future plans of your music, what do you hope to accomplish, the ultimate dream?

Craig: For people to listen at least once through, all the way through, and in sequence, and base their opinions not on what’s popular atm or by peer-group pressure, but on personal considered judgment. There’s tunes in them thar hills.

Purchase Soulcoalblack on WEATNU Records.

Follow Mangabros on twitter.

More albums on their bandcamp.

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Interview with IX

IX is an electronic duo from the UK, based in Chelmsford/Great Wakering, England.

We are interviewing one half of IX today.

How are you Darren?

Darren Esp: I’m great thanks.

We are glad to have you with us on WEATNU as a registered artist. Could you tell us a little about your music?

Darren Esp: We’re glad to be a part of the WEATNU movement. IX are essentially an electronic duo but we strive to be a little different from the norm. We’re not shy of dabbling with most genres and plan on incorporating various instruments along side our main electronic backbone as it were.

It’s always great to hear that, thank you. Even for the UK your music is quite dynamic and different, how is this allowing exposure on BBC radio?

Darren Esp: We’ve actually yet to get any BBC airtime. We’ve been submitting like crazy to various stations both here in the UK and abroad. BBC 6 is actually one of our biggest targets. They’re a great station and are very active at promoting new acts and acts that don’t fit into the normal categories so they’re a good fit for us. Fingers crossed our debut album is getting neat the top of their “in tray.”

We have all the faith that you will.

Darren Esp: We have plenty of patience. One of our founding concepts was to not rush into things and to play “the long game”.

I finally have a chance to listen to your whole album today for this interview, and songs from System VII have been playing on Rotation on WEATNU [OUR] for some time now. Has this in any way benefited your fan-base?

Darren Esp: I’m sure it has. Our fan numbers climb steadily but we do get spikes whenever we’re on your rotation. WEATNU is also a good fit with our plans. We’ve always expected to be an underground act that slowly builds up a back catalog and fan base so it’s a pleasure to be involved.

Glad to hear that.

What is the story of IX?

Darren Esp: It’s quite a long one. My bandmate Iain and I go back a long way, all the way back to the 80s. We met in a record shop and he invited me to an alternative club in our home town at that time. I ended up becoming the DJ at that club and we’ve been firm friends since then. I’d dabbled in a few bands over the years but they never seemed to work out. Doing electronic music was something that I personally had always wanted to do but had never really had the time for. About 2 years ago my personal circumstances changed in that respect and I found I had plenty of time to finally put some ideas together for what became IX. Iain has always been “that guy who knows about computers and technology” which was perfect.

There are a good deal of subdued sounds to IX, especially with System VII. Not to compare with acts such as Massive Attack but still modern enough to sound unique.

Darren Esp: Yeah, we spend a lot of time getting things just right. System VII took over a year of producing and mastering before we were happy enough to release it.

Atmospheric/prog-rock is a focus point on this album, with both high quality mixing and song structure. You are also the guitarist for IX is that right?

Darren Esp: Yeah I play both bass and guitar. System VII is quite “guitar light” to be honest, you’ll be hearing more on our future releases.
Our devision of labor is quite polar. Iain focuses on technology and the management/ promotion side of things while I concentrate on the song writing side.

So you work together in the studio?

Darren Esp: We always take quite a long time getting each track right. Generally I’ll write and rough out tracks on my own and then we get together and go over things together, then there are revisions… and revisions and revisions. we both come from a software development background so that’s how we attack song writing, with version numbering, mastering and alpha-beta- release cycles.

Right, being organized is very important to the song process.
How was the name IX decided upon?

Darren Esp: We’re both big Sci-Fi fans. We wanted something that was simple, bold and would look good on a poster lol. We took IX from the Frank Herbert novel DUNE, where IX is a mysterious planet where machines and technology are created and developed. Sometimes that technology is seen as dark and foreboding, something we thought married up with how we as a band use the technology of music. We don’t always do things the way most people would.

Yeah, I’ve seen the album cover, fantastic stuff and we have another huge fan of the Dune series on #WEATNU, Pzi, Pal Zoltan.

The album VII sounds much like a modern Dune soundtrack might sound, are you hoping to break into the cinematic world of electronic and score for film?

Darren Esp: That’s totally something we’ve talked about. I’m actually writing a couple of pieces currently for a writer friend of the band to go with his releases. So booking soundtracks as well as the movie angle is something we’re planing on pursuing.

Indie or mainstream?

Darren Esp: Indie all the way

Do you play keyboards sometimes?

Darren Esp: Yes indeed. It’s the backbone of what we do. Almost everything we’ve done was written on keys.

So, you play guitar, bass and keyboards…

Darren Esp: …all badly yes lol

And Iain does the sequences, drums and so forth?

Darren Esp: It’s so far been mostly me on sequencing too.

It’s hard to cover over talent with modesty

I love how the album builds suddenly on The Machine. Parts I – III, listening to the first part.
Or the beginning of that movement.

Darren Esp: We are definitely studio-centric. we have a phrase “Quality Threshold” basically a track never leaves the studio if either of us have any issues with it.

As it should be.

Darren Esp: The Machine was actually one of the fastest tracks we recorded. Everything came together very quickly on that one.

Being a musician myself, I agree 100% What music influences your sound these days? I hear Classical on Serena’s Lament.

Darren Esp: That is a complicated question lol.. There are two types of music… good music and bad music. We’re influenced by the good stuff. Yes we plan on having another classical style track on our next release too. Again it goes right back to when we first started. We said if we’re going to do it we’re not going to go half measure. It has to be great in our opinion or it’s not worth doing. It’s why the first album took so long. It was a learning process for us both. But hopefully we’re progressing and our new output wont take quite so long.

Are you playing live at this time?

Darren Esp: No, we’re totally studio based for the time being. there are technical issues with recreating our sound live that can only be overcome by throwing lots of expensive equipment it’s way. If we can’t be brilliant live, we’ll wait until we can.

That’s understandable, as many of us these days use software centered sound.

Darren Esp: Yeah it would be easy enough to plug a laptop into a sound desk but that sound would not be good enough for us. We’ve seen people do that and we’ll wait until we’re in a position to do something better.

I hear VST modules are good for live performance.

Darren Esp: … and that is where you’d have to ask Iain lol. He’s in charge of technology.

Laughs, right. What do you think about WEATNU as a whole?

Darren Esp: I think it’s a great idea and I love the energy and effort you put in. I think it’s going to grow to be something very cool.

Thank you, already we’ve been showcased on a community radio station in Austin, Texas. We hope to gain the attention of larger media such as PBS. Plus we have the PR, Radio, record label, and now #WEATNU Digital Magazine. With a team of people helping make this dream real for the electronic musician.

Darren Esp: It’s great. the one thing we’ve been surprised by is the willingness of electronic musicians to club together like this.

It was the dream from the start of WEATNU, because it’s the only way, due to the market changing so much after 2000.

Darren Esp: Indeed it’s a whole new world for music publishing now and organizations like WEATNU are going to start playing a big part in shaping the market.

Being the first virtual movement of the Electronic underground, we hope this happens.

Darren Esp: The same here.

Do you get a chance to listen to #WEATNU [OUR] 24/7 radio?

Darren Esp: I’ve not had a chance yet but I know Iain has. Another of his jobs in the band is to find things for me to listen to. He’s dropped a few WEATNU band names in my inbox and I’m working through them.

Some names?

Darren Esp: Yeah I was listening to Ian Haygreen and The Aircrash Bureau earlier.
Interesting stuff. I like the differences there are between a lot of “electronic” artists.
Those two are both essentially electronic bands but very different.

There is a lot of variety on WEATNU.

Darren Esp: On the downside though, I think its very home studio set-ups make is easy for people to churn out content of lesser quality. If you go on soundcloud and just surf it’s stunning how much poor quality stuff there is. It’s important to keep that Quality Threshold in mind.

And we do, especially for the label

Darren Esp: Absolutely it’s that which what makes WEATNU stand out.

So you’re on your way to writing a new album?

Darren Esp: Already well underway. We have half a dozen tracks already lined up and in the early production stage (alpha we call it). Our new demo: “Now Spell IX” is kind of a little inside joke for us. we thought it would be fun to put it out now as it’s quite different from the stuff on System VII (as is most of the stuff on the new album).

Exactly, I heard that right off.

Darren Esp: Yeah it’s something we thought of ages ago but were waiting for the right song idea to use it. Now Spell IX just flew together once we’d had the idea.

And are we to expect that same sound throughout the album, or are there surprises in store?

Darren Esp: Totally surprises. There are basically two types of album we intend to release “Blue” (concept albums like system VII) and “Red” (more traditional mixtures of songs like the new one Grinder).

I see the really great merchandise on your bandcamp. With limited edition minidisc and more.

Darren Esp: Indeed. That’s another thing we always wanted to do. our next album will be available on Cassette, we like redundant formats.

It’s never easy to produce physical in mass, how did you manage, are you under a label?

Darren Esp: No we’re not signed. we do everything ourselves although we do use a label name (Guild Records) for our releases but it’s just us. eventually it may be more.
* remember we mentioned “The Long Game”

Favorite softsynth these days?

Darren Esp: Trade secrets lol.

Good answer.

Just wanted to say thank you for having this interview with us today, for WEATNU and your support.

Darren Esp: Totally our pleasure. Thank you for your continued efforts to develop the electronic music underground.

It is our passion and now yours.

You can find IX on twitter 

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