Hailing from the London, the recording and production ensemble the Heliocentrics are hard to pigeonhole, though they have most often been dubbed a psych-jazz-funk band. Led by drummer/composer/arranger Malcolm Catto, the outfit straddles hip-hop, funk, modern jazz, film and library music, psychedelic, electronica, and various world musics.
They’ve released co-billed recordings with artists including Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke and Nigerian soul and jazz saxophonist Orlando Julius, among others. Their own recordings, beginning with 2007’s seminal Out There, have had a deep influence on the burgeoning South London cross-cultural jazz renaissance. After releasing their first composed feature film soundtrack for The Sunshine Makers in 2017, the group signed on with Madlib’s label for albums like 2020’s Telemetric Sounds.
The Heliocentrics have their roots in the late ’90s when raw Funk band -The Soul Destroyers (who would include several members of the Heliocentrics) released a handful of 45’s on Jazzman records subsidiary, Stark reality.
1. The name the Heliocentrics is taken from the Sun Ra album ‘Heliocentric worlds’
2. When we first started gigging there were 16 of us in total including a Sitar, Musical saw and vibes. This sounded pretty good but didn’t prove very practical. There are currently a more manageable 7 members of the band – Dan Smith – guitar /Electronics, Danny Keane – Cello/Keys, James Arben – Bass Clarinet and Oboe, Barbora patkova – vocals, Chris Williams – Sax and flute, Jake Ferguson – Bass, Malcolm catto – drums.
3. We have done concerts playing along side some of our favourite artists including Marshal allen (and other Arkestra members) , Archie Shepp and Pharoah monche
1. What is the biggest inspiration for your music?
Like many older brothers, mine – ‘Grahame’ influenced me heavily and got me into Post punk/New wave – a generic umbrella term encompassing a vast array of musical styles that lay outside the popular genres of the day that included bands as diverse as ‘Suicide’, ‘Chrome’, ‘Cabaret Voltaire’, ‘This heat’, ‘23 Skidoo’ ‘Talking heads’ ‘the Swell maps‘ and ‘PIL’ etc.
During this brief explosion of youth empowerment ‘Punk’ gave birth to a real home grown DIY music culture that saw many musicians try and create something original with an honesty and integrity that reflected the time and origin of it’s recordings that consequently still sound relevant today.
Even though I was too young at the time to really get, it did instil in me a somewhat more forward looking rather than a nostalgic musical outlook, a spirit of experimentation and a DIY approach to music making.
Other milestone influences for me were hearing –
‘the Velvet Underground’, ‘Silver Apples’, ‘Faust’, ‘Parson sound’ ‘This heat ‘Stockhausen’, Modal Jazz pioneers such as ‘John Coltrane’, 70s Italian Library and sound track records like ‘Morricone’s’ – ‘the Feedback’, ‘Sun ra’ , 90s Hip hop and Jungle records.
2. How and when did you get into making music?
I first started paying drums when I joined my brothers band “Decoy 33” after their drummer left, I knew the songs and just did it without thinking.
My Dad was also a musician and was very supportive and bought me the old drummers Kit for cheap for my Birthday.
After that I played with various other local bands and then moved to London where I ended up playing drums for the raw Funk band the ‘Soul destroyers’ which was the pre cursor to the Heliocentrics featuring band members Jack Yglesias, Ade Owusu, Jake Ferguson and me.
It was playing with them that inspired me to make my own album -‘Popcorn Bubblefish’ as I wanted to do something using more of my influences
3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time?
Africa – John Coltrane – Impulse
(from the album Africa Brass vol 2)
Second hand – reality – Polydor records
(from the album OST)
Freind sound – Lost angel proper St – RCA
(From the album Joyride)
The Invaders – Spacing out – Duane records
(From the album OST)
Lea riders group – Dom Keller os mods- (Decca 45)
Camille Sauvage – Funky seven – Crea sound (from album 7 drums concerto)
Silver apples – program – Kapp
(From the album OST)
This heat – horizontal hold –
(From an album released from the John peel sessions)
Organized Konfusion – the Extinction agenda – Hollywood BASIC
(From the album OST)
Harold McKinney – in the mood – Tribe
(From the album Voices and rhythms of the creative profile)
Sorry couldn’t quite do it in 5
4. What do you associate with Berlin?
I always associate Berlin with my time there playing with the ‘Poets of Rhythm’ after their original drummer and then band leader ‘Max Weissenfeldt’ moved onto playing vibes.
Max and Jan (Max’s brother) are both still friends and are independently making interesting music. At that time Berlin felt like a hub for artists with many available cheap premises to rent. Sadly like London the increasing rents and the emphasis on creating luxury flats on sites where there used to be affordable work spaces has driven a lot of artists further out of the city.
Berlin like London had/has a tangible electricity in the air which is something akin to tapping into a vast hive of ideas and a collective buzzing creativity. The other thing that struck me about Berlin was the vast expanse of dog turds that carpeted the pavements, bringing to mind a sort of huge interactive open air conceptual art installation, like an assault course that lay in wait of unsuspecting travellers.
5. What’s your favourite place in your town?
I live in East London, In Hackney which is now home to me and my family – me my wife Fabie and my son Mylo.
I have lived in many parts of London but there is something unique to Hackney especially where I live in Lower Clapton that makes it feel good to be here.
6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?
After school I did an apprenticeship and became a lithographic printer (or Journeyman as we were once known when that was still a trade) so I would maybe do that or else if I could do it alI all over again in the absence of music, I would have loved a crack at being a journalist or a writer.
7. What was the last record/music you bought or listen?
I have just come back from a recording session in Nashville (which sounds pretty jet set but these things only come around occasionally)
I had a couple of days of while over there so I visited some record shops.
A guy working at one of the stores was really helpful and seemed clued up so I asked him to recommend some cheap local stuff that he rated.
One of the his recommendations was a local lap steel gtr record that featured a heavily reverberated track with the Steel gtr going through a wah wah pedal, the result is pretty trippy and it is certainly a good buy for the $6 price tag.
8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
the Arkestra, Pharoahe Monche, Kool keith, Archie shepp, the guys from Broadcast, Sunburned hand of the man, Geoff barrow, Floating points, some old school Dub producers, with indigenous musicians or anything that would force us to change up what we do.
9. What was your best gig (as performer or spectator)?
I think seeing the Birthday party (Nick caves old band before the bad seeds) at the Ica was one of those rare gigs where you are totally bewildered by the onslaught of cacophonous music and the wild live performance and say to yourself ‘what the fuck is this’, but you love it (I remember coming out of there with a sleeve missing from my jacket).
They were a truly unique band perhaps because being from Australia they had a totally different set of references than most of the UK bands at the time and were musically pretty subversive with Jazz overtones.
Another great gig was seeing Pharoah sanders at the Gilles peterson Brighton Jazz bop in the 90s.
It was a bit too much for most of the people there but myself and a handful of others found their intensity hypnotic, you couldn’t look away.
As an example of their musical fervour they played through the venue lights being turned on and then the PA being turned off, they didn’t care as all the instruments were accoustic in nature.
They had this real Punk attitude and were just doing their thing without giving a fuck if anyone in the crowd liked it or not..at that point the place was pretty much empty and the cleaners were out cleaning up the venue..
Other contenders are the United colours of Sodom and Broadcast and a few years ago for the first time I actually cried at a concert because it was so good..it was the Arkestra at a Church in Islington London.
10. How important is technology to your creative process?
It is essential for the recording side of things as we use a computer and pro tools, only the first couple of albums were recorded onto 1” 8 track and then 1/4” tape. As for the music we make, technology does not really affect what we do as we don’t use backing tracks as we feel that they are a bit of a cop out and because we never play to a click as we think it inhibits our individual feel and our musical voice which should not be tempered or dictated to.
We would however like to experiment with using a sampler so we can incorporate varied more interesting and exotic instruments into our sound without having to learn any of them to a reasonable level of proficiency and also maybe use some triggers to get different sounds from the drums.
11. What can people expect from your concert in Berlin at Gretchen?
We hope to take people on a journey, wether or not they enjoy it remains to be seen.