Published Mar 27, 2010The Modern Deep Left Quartet, Canada's only electronic super-group, have been kicking around as a loose combination of Victoria-born musicians for years. The group consist of the three members of Mathew Jonson's Cobblestone Jazz, with good friend the Mole on board. This line-up have been playing together unofficially for a long time, though in the past year or so they've started billing themselves as the Modern Deep Left Quartet for festival gigs around the world. What separates this unit from others in the world of techno is their improvisational ethos; they never know what's going to come out once they start jamming. Fortunately, nearly two decades of performing together gives them a leg up and as a result, this debut album of sorts (billed for K7 logistics as the sophomore Cobblestone Jazz album) has a strong sense of intuitive progression. At six long and winding tracks, jazzy elements arise early and hold the foreground. But unlike Cobblestone's 2007 debut, 23 Seconds, The Modern Deep Left Quartet plays to a stronger groove and invites into the mix a bit of the Mole's disco pedigree. As a result, highlight tracks such as "Cromagnon Man" and "Mr. Polite" kick harder than anything Cobblestone Jazz have previously turned in, making The Modern Deep Left Quartet another strong addition to the ever-growing canon of these four Canucks with talent to burn.
You guys have been working unofficially as the Modern Deep Left Quartet for well over a decade. Why was the time right now to put that jamming into record?
The Mole: To be honest, it just happened. We were working in the studio, like we always do when we hang out together. This is during the week between tours when the guys were here in Berlin. And, well, in the end we had more than enough material for an album. Actually, I think we have another in the can as well, not to mention a vault full of madness that probably isn't suitable for public consumption.
Why label this as Cobblestone Jazz's second album instead of just a Modern Deep Left Quartet debut album?
This was a business decision. The Cobblestone name has a lot invested in it by K7, with the years of touring, and we didn't want to mess with that. By keeping it this way, the Cobblestone guys can keep on touring as a trio. While the Modern Deep Left Quartet, which are by their nature more experimental and expansive, can remain thus. The Modern Deep Left Quartet have thus far only played for more daring festivals ― those willing to take a chance ― like Mutek in Montreal, New Forms in Vancouver or Real Grooves in Tokyo. And we didn't want to belittle that risk either. We really respect that some are willing to take a chance on us. Honoured, really. In the end, keeping the Cobblestone name for the album just made the most sense for the album and for the touring that comes with a new album. And it was so easy: just add my name in the production credits and off we go. Cobblestone on stage stay the same and Modern Deep keep their rep as well. Actually, I don't know what kind of rep the Modern Deep have. I hope it's good.
Can you share a few memories on how you guys all first met back in Victoria?
I remember meeting Tyger Dhula first. That was when I was still in high school. I was sneaking out on Wednesdays to go to a night called Berlin. Never would I have imagined that I'd be living there years later. John the Baptist was running the show back then. He was a major influence on all of us in Victoria. As time went on, Dhula asked me to join Velvet, a kind of hippy jam band that had DJs in it, namely Dhula himself. That was when I met Danuel Tate. He was playing keys in the band. We played every Sunday night for years. I understand that Kuba [the singer/bandleader] is still playing regularly in Victoria. A lot of seriously talented musicians passed through that group. Mathew Jonson played in there ― lots of fun, those days. Must have been, because we sure weren't making any money! Anyways, somewhere in the midst of all this and many more odd configurations, Dhula had a warehouse space, at the time, so we were playing all these raves and after-hours [parties], either DJing or making up techno jam bands for the night. You know, machine music. Anyway, at one point Danuel came up with this idea for the quartet, loosely based on a jazz quartet, and we started gigging. We had a real community, just like good West coast hippies are supposed to.
Two members are in Berlin and two more Victoria. How does this affect the dynamic of the band and the recording sessions?
Well, we get limited time to work, but this makes work time all the more productive. Every time we see each other it is like a mini-reunion, lots of fun. Of course, it would be nicer if we were all together in the same city, mostly because it is fun and natural to hang out with those guys. They are close friends, after all. But with Mathew and me chasing solo, dare I call them, careers, well, it sadly isn't possible at this time. Maybe in the future when gas gets more expensive and the internet becomes a syndrome, like road rage. But by then touring the world will probably be over too, so we'll be back to meeting each other on the streets and playing little community parties with all the old folks and kids. Which is all right as well; I do love a good party with old and young dancing together. How often does that happen outside of a wedding? Not enough, I say! Folk fests shouldn't have the monopoly on something so good.
The jazz background that forms the spine of this group is arguably what separates your live show from that of others. How much does jazz affect what you do together and does it allow more freedom to improvise when you're playing live?
When we perform we do so from a certain point of view, and that would be something we took from jazz: the idea of reacting to each other, improvising. Of course, with time and familiarity one gets to know where the others are heading with certain ideas, and so it gets easier to play about. This for me is the most exciting aspect of performing with the Modern Deep Left Quartet. There is always some surprise, albeit generally a familiar one, and it is steeped in the sense of play; it is fun. Those guys are so talented that I can sit back and just enjoy. Every time we play it is all improvised. That is the point for us. We are comfortable enough with each other to be able to communicate on stage and move around ideas, new and old, and sometimes even fight, if that's required.
You're currently working on a Prins Thomas/the Mole collaborative album. Any idea what that will be called, what it will sound like and when it's expected to come out?
Not sure what it'll be called; Thomas keeps on calling it our ugly baby. So far it sounds like neither of us, but we still have a lot of work to go. Truth be told, it may even be released as a series on a new label, or on his Internasjonal label, maybe we both do different mixes of the same songs and release them as double singles. This is all still under construction. Very fun stuff though. He's a dude and easy to work with, a real workhorse, in the studio nine to five, like a salary man. (Wagon Repair/!K7)