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Gavin Brown Takes On The Legendary Martin Bisi | Interview & EP Release Feature

May 30, 2024
photo by Joan Hacker

Martin Bisi Interview Special

With Gavin Brown

Martin Bisi has had a long and storied music career; both as a musician and as a producer. With the latter at his BC Studio in Brooklyn, he has worked with everybody from Sonic Youth, Swans, Lydia Lunch to White Zombie, Helmet and Unsane. As well as working on early hip hop recordings,  Herbie Hancock’s legendary Rockit and so much more. His career as a musician is more than impressive as well, and Bisi has just brought out his latest material in the My Ultimate Urban Fantasy EP. 

Gavin Brown had the pleasure of catching up with Martin Bisi to hear all about his latest music and his whole music career which spans his early days, right up to the present day. 

Your new EP My Ultimate Urban Fantasy is out now. Have you been happy with the reaction to it so far?       

Yes, the songs are all pretty different. So everyone seems to find something. I’m surprised that many have commented about the guitar on Manhattan Local Train. My personal music isn’t really about guitar. 

What does the title of the EP refer to?

There’s a vision of the future where cities are utopian. So it’s an ironic title as we all have different ideas about that, and the results are a mixed bag at the moment, and definitely not my fantasy -as i say in the lyrics of the title track 

How did your European tour at the end of last go and what were some of the highlights of the run?

A highlight was Berlin with Gewalt. With the right crowd i really break the boundaries

Opening for Wolf Eyes in Oslo was also great though more subdued on my end 

How did your recent show at Berlin NYC go and how did the new material from My Ultimate Urban Fantasy go down?

Yes we played 2 tracks from the record. I also debuted adding drum elements to my setup, in addition to playing guitar – bass drum, floor tom and a hung piece of scrap metal. There’s a video with highlights here: 

Will you be doing more live dates in support of My Ultimate Urban Fantasy?

I’m playing June 14th at Young Ethel’s in Brooklyn in a showcase of South Brooklyn bands, with Mustafina (members Alice Donut), a reunion of Ultrabunny and No Lovesongs – free show

You started the legendary B.C. Studio back in 1981. How does it feel to be still working on music there all these years later?

It’s strange, probably because it’s so rare for anyone in a city to remain in the same place – reflecting on this is part of the new EP – but i’m really fortunate because now the studio is part of the music history of Brooklyn and New York City at large 

What was the neighbourhood like back when you started the studio compared to what it is like now?

Well it was much emptier, with a more obvious presence of gangs and the mafia, though the mafia is still there of course. It was definitely a more inspiring environment – now traditionally suburban sensibilities have taken over – soon the City will be indistinguishable from the suburbs -essentially another topic in the EP  

Did the grittier side of New York come out in the music of the bands you were recording at the studio?

Absolutely. We tended to find the beauty in our environment, or to channel the experience to make sense of it

Are you working on anything at the studio at the moment that you can tell us about?

Weeping Icon, the record is almost done .

and ON from Toronto

What are your main memories of your recent studio experiences? 

Studio experiences are a bit of a chaos – hard to remember from day to day. But i’m continuously making new relationships – that seems to be the main takeaway

You worked on early hip-hop records by the likes of Rammellzee, Afrika Bambaata and Fab Five Freddy. How exciting was it to work on those records when hip-hop was just starting out?

Well I didn’t realize it was the beginning of anything back then. I wish i had know to appreciate it all more, but that’s not how it works. I just know what’s the best thing to do at any moment – then as now 

How was the experience of working on the Herbie Hancock album which included the classic track Rockit?

Again, I had no idea how revolutionary it was until much later. I’m normally more excited to work on something more grass roots and give it legs. So working on a Hernie Hancock record was cool but it wasn’t my dream project 

When you were working on Rockit, were you aware you were working on something that would be so especially with the scratching of GrandMixer DST? 

I knew DST (now DXT) was an exceptional turntablist, but really the magic there was him finding that specific scratch, of “FRESH”. 

You released the documentary Sound & Chaos: The Story Of BC Studio. How was the experience of doing that and looking back at the history of the studio?

Doing the doc, and then its reception in New York really turned me around from a bit of fatalism about even having a recording studio. There was a time before the resurgence of vinyl that it seemed like the album form was doomed, and with people recording at home, and the de-emphasis on quality, that the golden era of recording had passed.  

Have you had any thoughts about doing a follow up now it is ten years on from the original?

It’s crossed my mind, but it wouldn’t be me who does the documentary, i’m not a filmmaker 

How was it working with so many musicians you’ve worked with in the past on the BC35 collections?

Working on all that music took a long time, maybe 8 months, the more of it came together, the more excitement there was. So it was pretty exhilarating

What do you still want to achieve with your music career?

I take things pretty much a year at a time. I can’t really control who approaches me to record a project, or what musicians are available to collaborate with. I need other people to do anything. So I just try to stay busy and hope that good things fall in my lap

Who are your biggest musical influences both as a musician and also on the production side of things?

I have no influences as far as production. As for playing guitar, i try not to have the music be too guitar-focused, so i can’t say there’s any influence from guitarists. I think it’s a large mass of sound, approaches and genres that influence me, some of this is subconscious.

A huge thank you to Martin for spending time with Circuit Sweet

Words: Gavin Brown

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