Matt Tong (Algiers): We rub a number of people up the wrong way
Think about the Algerian war of independence and the work of Franz Fanon… Define the nature of “civilisation”… Find a place inside yourself for a music that asks a lot of the questions… and afterwards, read the interview with Matt Tong – former drummer of Bloc Party and current Algiers drummer.
Hello from the independent Bulgarian media for music – DJambore.com. Please, introduce the members of the band and reveal the story behind your name. Is it related to the Algiers Motel incident in 1967?
Matt Tong: Hello there. This is Matt here. I’m the newest member, so please forgive me if some of my responses to your questions are a little patchy. I’m on drums, by the way. We also have, Franklin James Fisher on vocals, guitars, keys, and pretty much every instrument he lays his hands on, Ryan Mahan on bass, keys, vocals, samples and programming and Lee Tesche on guitars, loops, percussion and general chaos.
To keep it succinct, the name of the band relates to the Algerian war of independence and the work of Franz Fanon. This is a starting point but a useful and highly meaningful one since, of the many ideas we return to in our music, a key one is the pernicious impact of colonialism and its legacy. We like to ask who gets to define the nature of “civilisation”, on whose terms and why, and we like to draw attention to the stifling paternalism of the west and its myriad hypocrisies.
For sure, you DO draw attention! That’s why we are so glad to have you in Sofia on the 3rd of February! You have already had concerts all over Europe. Are the gigs different from those in USA? In what way?
We’re very excited to be performing in Bulgaria for the first time! It feels like we’re a few steps ahead in Europe than in the USA. The USA is very much a nation in the midst of a deep existential crisis and it’s hard to find a place for music that asks a lot of the questions that many Americans are beginning to ask themselves. Not to sound arrogant but there is the sense that we perhaps rub a number of people up the wrong way, moreover we reject easy categorisation, not because we think we are crazy savants, but because we reject the binary narratives so readily churned out by American mainstream media.
You have been to Bulgaria already, your video “Irony. Utility. Pretext” was shot in the Buzludzha monument. Tell me more about it – the decision to make a video there, the experience and how did you get inside?
Well, I wasn’t a member of the band at that time but I can attempt to construct an answer based on what the others have told me about the making of that video. First and foremost, Buzludzha is an incredible monument that almost defies any attempt to explain what it actually is, and in its decaying, state it looks somehow even more imposing and alludes to something quite dystopic.
Secondly, it speaks to the sorrow of a failed attempt to challenge the status quo, the failure of communism to rid itself of corruptive forces from within and without and to make good on its ideals. By all accounts the experience of making the video was truly memorable and I believe the band simply climbed over the fence. Apparently people do it all the time.
Last time I was there, I just get in there from the underground entrance, but it doesn’t matter. Previous year you have released your second album The Underside of Power. Where is the underside of power and how to reach it?
The underside of power is place that can only be reached through intense meditation. Seriously though, it refers to a sense that if one maintains hope, or at the very least rejects nihilism, then one can find spaces, even if tiny and seemingly insignificant, to work towards overturning the tyranny of power.
What story does the album tell? What is predominant – the death or the cycle?
Good question. I mean, there are definitely recurring themes throughout but I think we’d hesitate to call it a record with an overarching story since that makes it seem like a concept album, which it’s not. It’s hard to separate the issue of death from the issue of the cycle. To me, isn’t death the cycle?
Yes, you are right – the death is a part of the cycle. Are you writing about personal experience or your songs are “socially” oriented?
One side informs the other and vice versa, no? Franklin certainly has lyrics that speaks to things to have happened in his life or directly impact him, but he has the ability and the eloquence to show how the personal transcends to the universal.
According to you, what is the greatest musical event of the XX century? And – the biggest event of the XXI century?
20th Century – “Joelene” – Dolly Parton
21st Century – “Slowass Joelene” – GoodLittleBuddy