Lee Bannon is starting over
As he closes the book on his output as Lee Bannon, the Sacramento-born producer’s in a reflective mood.
“Hip-hop was training,” muses producer Lee Bannon. “There’s lots of electronic musicians out there, people who really push things forward, who started out making hip- hop with their friends. Those productions never saw the light of day, but over time they nailed their own sound, a completely different sound. And I think the same thing’s happened to me. It’s just that because I met Joey, it happened in front of an audience.”
Bannon is speaking on his evolution as an artist. Last year’s well-received Alternate / Endings saw him rupture with his beat-making for the likes of Joey Bada$$ and other Pro Era members like Rokamouth. For him, the traditional relationship between rapper and producer has become problematic.
“90% of the work goes into the beats,” he says, “all for a visiting rapper to write a few words and trample over the track. I just want to let my stuff shine for what it is. I’ve grown more conscious about giving away beats to people who are just gonna record some vocals on top and put it on the internet.”
Instead, Alternate / Endings delivered 60 minutes of white-hot jungle, rich with field recordings and instrumentation. His latest full length for Ninja Tune, Pattern of Excel, strays even further off grid by delving into the primal matter of his production technique. Pattern is a collection of largely beatless sound collages and ambient – a compilation of unrealised tracks, of consecutive interludes, of abandoned plans.
Each track has a particular message, he explains. Artificial Stasis, with its voice recording of an overbearing photographer, talks about the creative frustration Bannon was experiencing as a hip-hop producer. DAW in the Sky for Pigs reflects mournfully on the millions of greedy bedroom producers all in it for the wrong reasons. Opener Good / Swimmer starts with a recording of a splash, whilst the scorched, hollow drone of closing track Towels dries off the listener before they get on with their lives.
The aquatic theme is present throughout, with words like ‘shallowness’ and ‘inflatables’ popping up in the track titles, and cover art that’s more than a little Nevermind. “It’s like a surf-IDM album!” laughs Bannon, “It’s meant to be played really low, in the background, at the pool.”
At the end of May, Bannon announced that Pattern would be the last record to come out under his name, citing concerns that he had now diverged so far from his original sound that it made no sense to carry on working under a moniker still loaded with certain expectations. Material under the new name ¬ B (‘Not Bannon’, or Alt L B) has already surfaced on his Bandcamp.
Pattern is, in effect, an attempt to tie together a seemingly disparate body of work. “Pattern is clay before it’s morphed,” he says. “It’s the last breath of Lee Bannon morphing into ¬ B.”
Bannon has frequently played down his diverse style, often citing his place of birth, Sacramento as a formative factor. The Californian capital is a place where, as Bannon puts it, nothing thrives in isolation. Maybe you wince when you hear the term mash-up, it being at the root of so many ill-conceived ideas, but Bannon has no problem using it. He, Death Grips and others have proven that done right, and with love, there’s little limit to what you can incorporate into your sound.
"Pattern is clay before it’s morphed; it’s the last breath of Lee Bannon morphing into ¬ B.”
What’s behind the decline of small, concentrated scenes in a major city like Sacramento? Bannon points to the internet, which has done a lot to level traditional ideas. “After 2006,” he says, “anybody could be from anywhere. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but it’s definitely made people less fickle, and opened them up to different sounds.” It explains how fellow Sacramento natives Trash Talk can take Bannon and New York trio Ratking on tour, where the only obvious common link, as Bannon suggests, is that you can mosh through it all. “Nobody seemed too confused,” he says. “Everyone was just ready.”
Looking forward, Bannon is taking on production roles for artists who, at this stage, he’s reluctant to name – they’re not hip-hop, is all he’ll say. What’s obvious is how excited he is.
“I’m not even turning dials in the studio these days,” he says, “it’s all just communication. You know how Brian Eno was able to be weird for a while and then go and do David Bowie, and then be weird a while longer before doing Joshua Tree? That’s what I want. Whatever I return to, it just needs to mean something.”
Pattern of Excel is out 10 July via Ninja Tune