Bow down to New Zealand instrumentalist/producer Lord Echo (a/k/a Mike Fabs). An esteemed groove merchant, Echo’s work agilely flows between soul, dub reggae, Afro funk, disco and beyond – sometimes within the same composition, as evidenced by the acclaimed single “Molten Lava,” featuring the lovely vocals of Leila Adu. The track is culled from M.F.’s latest long-player, Curiosities (Bastard Jazz) – an effort that so impressively mixes and matches influences it seemed only right that we ask the talented Kiwi to discuss some of the recordings that changed his life.
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1. Queen - A Day at the Races (Elektra, 1976)
Lord Echo: Queen was the first band I got into when I was a kid. My Dad was working at the hospital as a gardener and someone was throwing out a bunch of records which he brought home – and most of them were Queen records, so that was how I ended up getting into Queen. I can’t say I still listen to them, but they wrote a shit load of good rock songs, Freddy Mercury is an undeniably good vocalist and performer and perhaps most influentially to me Brain May has an utterly unique guitar sound. When you hear it, you know it’s him. He built his own guitar with his Dad out of the family mantel piece above the fire, and he plays guitar with a coin instead of a pick. It’s an extremely difficult thing to do – to have a ‘sound’ in any respect.
2. Sun Ra & the Arkestra - Sound Of Joy (Delmark, 1968)
Lord Echo: I had this for a year or so before I really fell in love with it but now it’s a record I never tire of hearing, and I can put on at almost any time and it’s never the wrong thing. He has such a huge and diverse body of work, and is without doubt an absolute genius. For me, this record is the perfect balance between the big band influences of Fletcher Henderson (whom I also love) and the more eccentric and radical sounds to come. It’s sincere, romantic, nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. I think his music is timeless and his legacy will only continue to grow in influence and the respect it’s accorded. I love eccentric personalities and I love radical and visionary individuals that live outside the constructs of their surrounds.
3. Lee Perry - Arkology (Island, 1997)
Lord Echo: Lee Perry is of course another genius and another person that is deeply eccentric and radical in what he produced. I think he is one of the greatest mix engineers in the history of engineering and my biggest influence from that point of view. This compilation came out when I was a teenager, and it was my introduction into his world of sound, which I never hope to leave. The songs contained there in remind me so much of the dry heat of the summer where I come from, the mountains and the rivers where I grew up. This music is at once deeply human and totally cosmic or alien. I once spent a night up in the hills camped by a river, and listened to this. It made so much sense there, with the firelight flickering on the rockface. Then a storm came up and I almost drowned trying to cross the river in the middle of the night when I became too rough. [ laughs ] But I lived to see another day!
4. Fela Ransome Kuti & Afrika 70 - Expensive Shit (Soundworkshop, 1975)
Lord Echo: Again, Fela is someone who, more than most musicians or people, was a radical in every sense. He created a new sound and his own musical language, and as if that wasn’t enough he was constantly risking his life for his views and his art. An incredibly brave and courageous man, and it saddens me deeply that really the stress of it eventually overcame him. When I found this record, I was looking for new music in Wellington Library. I used to go and listen to CDs for hours trying to find interesting new things (this was before the Internet, of course). I found this in the jazz section, and as soon as I put it on it blew my mind. I had been in love with reggae for a while, but I had a hunger for something more directly connected to Africa and this record fulfilled that and opened up a whole new world of modern African music to me. Highlife, juju, afrobeat and all the African versions of popular American music of the ’60s and ’70s. I think that the trajectory of African American music returning in a way to Africa and of course the social and political movements that went with it is very interesting, and it is one of my favourite sounds.
5. Miles Davis - In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969)
Lord Echo: I took acid and listened to this when I still did that kind of thing. It was great, perfect really. What I really love about it is the way Teo Macero took this hypnotic, sprawling jam by master musicians and used tape edits to give it a form and shape. I’m very interested in technological process’s that leave a distinct impression on music. Dub is similar in a way. You take a piece of music and then you use this non-musical tool (mixing desk) to give it an entirely different shape. Of course, really you are using the mixing board as an instrument. I love the keyboard playing on this record – 3 keyboardists. And I love it when the music kicks back in and starts from the top again, it’s like the beginning of a new day – the same in many ways, but different because you change.