Page 130


Brian Eno

Roxy Music. Ambient. Fela Kuti. Afrodisiac. Reickuti. Words Chris May Portrait Kevin Davies

One day in September 1973, shortly after he had left Roxy Music, Brian Eno was wandering along Tottenham Court Road. Near the junction with Warren Street, he passed a small electrical supplies shop, Sterns Electrical. Among the radios, light fittings and hairdryers in the window, Eno noticed a handful of LPs, each by an artist whose name was new to him. Intrigued, he went into the shop and left, half an hour or so later, with an album that, he says, “changed my life”. The album was Fela Kuti’s Afrodisiac. Fate dealt Eno a good hand that day. Back then, Sterns was probably the only place in London where you could have bought Afrodisiac – or, indeed, any African LP other than the academicallyinclined field recordings available at a few specialist folk-music shops. Sterns received its stock haphazardly, from African students at nearby University College London, some of whom would return from visits home with suitcases full of vinyl. Once an album sold out it was usually gone forever, Sterns having no system for reordering. If Eno had walked in a month later, Afrodisiac would probably not have still been there. In the forty years since he discovered it, Afrobeat has woven itself through Eno’s work – not so much, perhaps, in the massively successful albums he has produced for U2 (seven of them) and Coldplay, but in his solo projects, which 128

he self-deprecatingly describes as “little ships on an ocean of indifference”, and more leftfield collaborations. He cites Afrobeat’s synergy with the algorithmcreated “generative” music he has helped to develop over the last decade; it is at the core of his latest album, High Life, his second collaboration with Underworld’s Karl Hyde, released this summer, which uses a compositional approach Eno calls ‘Reickuti’ (a contraction of Steve Reich and Fela Kuti). In 2011, he co-produced Seun Kuti’s album From Africa with Fury: Rise. On September 29, Knitting Factory Records will release a seven-album Fela Kuti vinyl box set compiled by Eno (which includes, naturally, Afrodisiac). Eno was born in Suffolk in 1948. He studied art at Ipswich Civic College with cybernetic art pioneer Roy Ascott, then at Winchester School of Art, where he became interested in electronic and minimalist music. At the prompting of an ex-college friend, reed player Andy Mackay, he joined Roxy Music in 1971, first behind the mixing desk, and later as onstage synthesiser player and electronicist. Roxy singer Bryan Ferry is said to have become jealous of Eno’s scene-stealing outré appearance, and in 1973 Eno left the band. He released his first solo album, Here Come the Warm Jets, in 1974. Since then, Eno’s output has been prolific and, also, seemingly effortlessly

avant garde. He has released 17 solo albums, 16 ambient installation or video albums and 27 collaborations with fellow adventurers such as Robert Fripp, Kevin Ayers, Nico, Jah Wobble and David Byrne. He has produced a further 50-odd albums, for Talking Heads, John Cale, John Cage, Ultravox, Laurie Anderson, Devo, David Bowie, Baaba Maal and Grace Jones. He almost single-handedly created ambient music in the 1970s, and has been at the forefront of his generative music since the mid-1990s. I’d love to know how you came across Sterns. If you’d blinked as you walked past it, you wouldn’t have noticed it. I was trying to remember that when I wrote the introduction to the Fela box. I don’t remember anybody telling me about it. I think I just walked past it one day and – I always had a taste for the exotic – I looked in and thought, gosh, I haven’t heard any of these albums. I’d moved to London not long before, in 1969, shortly after finishing college, and like most people who move to a new city, knew more about it than people who grew up there. I was fascinated by the richness of culture and determined to find out as much about it as I could. I just used to walk around looking at shops and thinking, gosh, I’d love to see what they sell. Sterns was one of the discoveries. >

Jocks&Nerds Issue 12, Autumn 2014  
Jocks&Nerds Issue 12, Autumn 2014  

Volume 1