Interview: Foreign Beggars
Foreign Beggars are an act which have simultaneously been labelled one of the most exciting shows in hip-hop and electronic dance music alike. They’ve gained a strong following with fans of bass music through countless collaborations with big name producers like Skrillex, Knife Party and Noisia, but the group will tell you they are quite unlike many of the DJ acts you find them sharing the stage with. Having made a name for themselves as hip-hop artists over the past ten years, they maintain that while they may be dabbling in bass music, Foreign Beggars will always be a rap group at the core.
I talked with DJ Nonames about the new album ‘The Uprising’, various collaborations, light shows, music videos, tour riders, and just about everything in between. Along with emcees Orifice Vulgatron and Metropolis, DJ Nonames rounds out the Foreign Beggars trio.
StatiK: So your new album ‘The Uprising’ is all over the place in terms of genre, were you guys trying to go in any sort of direction with that? Or was it just about whatever was coming out at the time?
DJ Nonames: Well it’s certainly a mixture of different styles. I mean that’s kind of true to the whole Foreign Beggars ethos of gettin’ stuck into all different kinds of music. I’d say this one is probably one of the most varied albums we’ve put out, but there’s a clear kind of movement towards the electronic side of things.
StatiK: I guess recently you guys have been headed more in that direction.
DJ Nonames: That’s how it’s worked out. I mean, I think more down to the fact that… that’s just where the energy is in what producers are coming out with in terms of new sound, and you know… that’s where a lot of the excitement is. It’s definitely not a dubstep album. I think some people get it twisted and think we’re like a dubstep collective or dubstep rappers, and it’s not the case. Just listen to the album… there’s stuff from 90 BPM through to 180 drum and bass. It’s all there, and if you ever see a Foreign Beggars show, you’ll know that that kind of represents what we do, what we project, and what we’re into.
StatiK: You’ve got twelve original tracks on the album. It must have been in the works for awhile!
DJ Nonames: Yeah, well it’s symptomatic of the touring lifestyle I think also. The way a lot of work gets done (The recording of vocals, the mix tapes, the whole organization of the group) is on the move cause we’re always touring. We’ve been doing this for several years now, so our laptops are our favourite buddies. A lot of the decisions get made, and the work gets done on the road and that’s, I think, kind of evident… Less so if you look at The Forthcoming, the next album in the works which is already nearly finished… the Noisia project. That’s much more a studio effort of Orifice Vulgatron and Metropolis going to Groningen, and working IN the studio with Noisia. Obviously, you’re gonna hear that, you know, that’s a different approach… a more classic approach to producing an album.
StatiK: So you released the album on Mau5trap, and it sounds like they left all the content up to you guys, but how much input you have when it comes to the music videos?
DJ Nonames: Well, the music video thing is always more of a gamble. I mean, yeah, you’re right… with the album, Mau5trap pretty much left us to our own devices. There were no limitations or expectation in terms of what they wanted to see on the album. They were pretty much like… do your thing, which is really cool. In terms of the music videos, you’re putting your art and your music in someone else’s hands, and it’s always a little bit of a gamble. Sometimes they come out great, sometimes not so great, I mean… obviously you have an idea of what you want it to look like, and so do they… And there’s various other things with time constraints and release strategies and stuff, which mean that things happen sometimes in ways that obviously are beyond your control. We’ve had some good ones and we’ve had some not so good ones I’d say.
StatiK: At this point, you guys have worked with just about everyone. Is there ever a time where one of you gets bummed out having to cut back your own role to sort of… make room for another producer or vocalist?
DJ Nonames: Nah, not at all. My role in the whole group is; I’m DJ, I do all the tour stuff, and put together the mix tapes. Obviously I’m part of the whole business side of things… making sure that we handle our business. We used to have an in house producer called Dag Nabbit, and the first two albums are almost entirely his. The first album is entirely his production, and the second one we started working with other producers. By now, it’s really at a point where… we can work with anybody, you know? The music world is such a varied and rich place now, particularly from the producer side of things. You’ve got kids in Russia… kids in Wisconsin… kids in South America… wherever. The boundaries and borders are relatively unimportant, and the opportunities to make interesting and cool collaborations have never been so good, so I think we’re well versed and well positioned to take advantage of this kind of landscape we live in. I think that’s part of the richness and the variety of the music we do… the breadth of producers that we work with and are in contact with.
StatiK: You mentioned Dag Nabbit… does he still play a production role with Foreign Beggars?
DJ Nonames: Dag has a real job now, so… Dag grew up! Meanwhile, we took a path of irresponsibility and debauchery… and uhhh here we find ourselves! *Laughs* Yeah, I mean he still works, he still makes beats… he’s done stuff with some major artists actually recently. He’s still doing his thing, and there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do more stuff with Dag in the future. He’s still our boy, you know? But it’s kind of like so many people are throwing great music our direction, it’s just tricky to do it all.
StatiK: Getting back to that album with Noisia… how do you get things done with so many guys on one track? Is there sort of a routine by this point working with them?
DJ Nonames: Well, you’d be best to ask Orifice and Metropolis how they work with Noisia exactly. I’ve been up in the studio a few times with them… but there’s definitely a special relationship there. You know, they’re friends… and the time they’ve known each other means they understand each other. Musically, there’s a lot of respect there. The whole process, like I described earlier, is a lot more of a classic collaborative production process where they’re all in the studio together. Certainly, what comes out of that is really special, cause… they’re on top of their game in terms of production and engineering. No matter who you speak to, in whatever field, everyone’s got respect for those guys. They put the hours in, and it shows. In terms of rappers, I’m lucky enough to be working with two of the most skilled and diverse rappers in the game.
StatiK: I wanted to talk about your live show a bit… I was wondering, do you ever get the chance to drop your more laid back tunes? Something like, say… Flying to Mars? Or is the crowd usually all about the heavy stuff?
DJ Nonames: Sometimes I’ll open the show with that actually. I’ve done a little mash-up with a Shift Key instrumental, this new young UK guy making kinda trap inspired stuff. It depends on the situation… in a Foreign Beggars show situation, there’s the whole dynamic of… we don’t start out punching you in the face, you know? You have to wait forty minutes for that. I’d like to think there’s a range of music… so yeah there’s more laid back stuff at the beginning of the show. At the moment we’re doing Palm of my Hand and Amen, which are two songs off The Uprising. It tends to pick up fairly swiftly, and obviously it depends on the environment… if you’re in a festival, a club, if it’s a young crowd, if it’s a more seasoned crowd… It all depends.
StatiK: All sorts of artists are adding the big expensive light shows to their live sets lately… Deadmau5 is the obvious example, but you’ve got like… Datsik… Excision… Boys Noize now… Any plans to jump on that?
DJ Nonames: It’s funny actually, how you can see how different artists put different emphasis on different parts of their show. Certain people pay more attention to the sound side of things, and you’ll see them carting around two truckloads of Funktion-one, or Peavey audio sound… which I think arguably is a lot more important than bringing some nice sparkly lights and expensive LEDs. But, you know, it depends what you’re trying to achieve, and it depends what you are. If you’re a producer/DJ, you might have to rely a lot more on visuals.
StatiK: Well I guess on the hip-hop side of things that isn’t as big of a deal. You can just show up and let the music speak for itself, right?
DJ Nonames: Yeahh, it depends you know? Even in hip-hop… Beastie Boys brought a huge giant inflatable penis… famously… and I’m sure Jay-Z spends a shitload of money on his light show. I think for different stages and different situations, you have to kind of cater to that. Certainly, it’s something we’ve been toying with a lot more… ideas as far as how we want to do bigger live shows. As you do bigger stages, and bigger festivals, a lot of them have in-built lighting guys, but you wanna have as much control as possible on your whole visual side as much as your sound. It is definitely important, but from our point of view, we’ve got a different focus from just one guy standing in the middle pressing a button, you know? We’re a hip-hop group. It’s an interactive kind of show, there’s stops and starts. Right now we could have a laptop show where everything is run off a click, and it just goes from the beginning to the end, and you’re relying on a computer clock for everything… but we’re a hip-hop show, and that’s part of the fun… not knowing what exactly we’re gonna do. We like to have that. It’s important that we have that.
StatiK: So there’s more of a band mentality then?
DJ Nonames: Yeah. That flexibility… When you’re interacting with the crowd, it’s important that you determine when the gaps are. When you talk to them you don’t know how long certain things are gonna go on for… you might extend some shit a bit longer just with a little glance, and it’s important we have that flexibility as a hip-hop group. We’re a rap group at the end of the day. You can dress it up how you like, but we’re a fuckin rap group.
StatiK: You recently did a track with Tommy Lee, have you considered adding drums or live instruments to the show?
DJ Nonames: Yeahhh, we do a live thing as well. There is a live outfit, and we’re actually doing a 10 year anniversary… 10 bloody years, can you believe it?… at Jazz Cafe in Camden in February. It’s basically gonna be with a full live band and all the artists that contributed to the first Foreign Beggars album, ‘Asylum Speakers’.
StatiK: That’s huge! Congrats man.
DJ Nonames: Yeah, thanks! I mean we’ve had some great shows at Jazz Cafe… Some of my most memorable night in London have been there. I remember a couple in particular… One with De La Soul, one with Jay Dee and Mad Lib, and J Rocc on the turntables… which is one of the most magical nights I can ever remember. It’s a small venue, but good sound, intimate, and it’s gonna be a perfect way of celebrating the fact that we’ve managed to survive ten years doing this thing. I mean, to a lot of people ‘Asylum Speakers’ is a classic UK album. It’s gonna be great, there were a lot of collaborations on there… a lot of different rappers, and most them I believe are gonna be making an appearance.
StatiK: So what are you listening to outside your own stuff these days?
DJ Nonames: Boyyyyy. That’s a huge question. That’s a disproportionate amount of my life. Producers or emcees?
StatiK:Either? Is that too wide of a range?
DJ Nonames: Nahhh I’ll think about it for a sec mate, cause I listen to so much shit. I mean, in terms of what I’m really listening to… for risk of sounding cliche, the Kendrick Lamar album… and the Frank Ocean album I still listen to religiously. I think that’s amazing, and it’s no chance that he got nominated for 6 Grammys. There’s a guy called Grandtheft I’ve been checking recently and really like. Eprom is always a big favourite. I saw him in Jerusalem of all places one or two years ago, and I’ll never forget that, man. Like… ever since then I’ve been a massive Eprom fan. Starkey, his new album is amazing. That guy is too underrated. There’s a guy Arp 101. he’s a producer from over here… used to produce under the name Alix Perez. That’s his drum and bass moniker. Obviously the TNGHT album… Africa HiTech. Shit, all the grime guys… Frisco, Wiley. A lot of the Birmingham guys… StayFresh, they got some shit. Trap dudes like Bro Safari, this new guy from the UK, Shift Key. Kastle, Rustie… there’s so much it really is difficult nowadays.
StatiK: Solid List!
DJ Nonames: I’ve got a new little side project as well with my boy Son of Kick. It’s called Supatrol, and it’s some more kinda… house vibes. Like, slow bassy house I call it… percussive bassy house. We’ve got a release coming out on Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird label in January.
StatiK: Oh cool! Are you big into VonStroke as well?
DJ Nonames: I love his stuff man, I love the whole French Fries sound. Canblaster… I’m a massive fan of Canblaster as well, Club Cheval… I didn’t catch as much of them as I wanted, but they were out at Stereosonic with us in Australia, the tour we just got back from. That was an incredible festival, probably the best festival we’ve ever done. Stereosonic is like a tour with about 20 artists moving around Australia doing these huge outdoor festivals… it’s sick. I got to catch Canblaster quickly there.
StatiK: Alright I have one last question for you here… I’ve been seeing a lot of wild tour riders floating around. Anything crazy on yours you can tell us about?
DJ Nonames: Ooooh bruv you don’t wanna see ours. It’s full of hypocrisy. I mean, we got stuff like… asthma inhalers AND cigarettes. Picture that. We got some shit I’m actually quite embarrassed about, but I don’t wanna get into that. *Laughs* It’s inevitable, just like wearing all black. It just happens to you. You get a ridiculous rider, and you start wearing all black clothes. Don’t ask me why!
StatiK: Well you gotta take advantage, right?
DJ Nonames: You just gotta wear them black clothes, and eat those blue M&Ms and shut the fuck up, man.