Binker & Moses are the London trailblazers exploring the boundaries of jazz
Binker Golding and Moses Boyd, London’s friendliest jazz revolutionaries, are nestled in the upstairs of a Covent Garden pub. Boyd is dressed casually in all black, including the hat still pulled down over his ears as protection from the late March snow outside. Golding, meanwhile, has opted for a plaid shirt, blue jeans and a belt adorned with a Ford Motor Company buckle, seemingly rescued from a written-off Fiesta and given new life.
We’re here to talk about the duo’s new album, Feeding the Machine, their first in an eventful five years for the pair. “We were busy,” shrugs Golding when asked about the gap since 2017’s Journey to the Mountain of Forever, their second album together. “Moses has been doing Exodus, I’ve been doing my own quintet. Even in the pandemic, we always had future plans; we were always scheming.” They’ve been so preoccupied, in fact, that they recorded their new album in just three days. “More like two and a half, because the first half day was setting up the equipment,” Golding clarifies with his trademark nonchalance.
© Cameron Ugbodu
As we chat, the pair’s dynamic quickly becomes clear. Boyd – the duo’s drummer and a label owner, producer and DJ in his own right – is laid-back and affable. Golding – the saxophonist and elder of the two by six years – is more contemplative but still open and gregarious, despite the fact that, in Boyd’s words, “he’s got a face that makes you think he’s more serious than he is”.
Golding and Boyd have been fixtures, together and apart, of what’s now known as New London Jazz – but long before the scene’s stars were soundtracking Louis Vuitton catwalks. Each boasts classical jazz training – Boyd at Trinity Laban, Golding at Middlesex University – and both mastered their practice in Tomorrow’s Warriors, an incubator for almost all the London jazz talent currently racking up column inches and awards (and where Golding now serves as a mentor himself). Over the years, they’ve become known for their distinct take on the genre’s conventions, drawing on everything from grime mixtapes (debut album Dem Ones) to The Lord of the Rings and high fantasy (Journey…).
“I remember doing gigs at The Spice of Life for £40 on a Sunday to a handful of people. Not one Black person, no one under 40”
Their third album, Feeding the Machine, takes an already unconventional approach in an entirely new direction. Recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio under the guiding ear of engineer Hugh Padgham – a.k.a the inventor of gated reverb – it’s the least straightforwardly ‘jazz’ record in either musician’s discography. The album opens with a ripple of saxophone that loops spectrally, notes fading into ghosts of themselves as the next bar washes in. The atmosphere is distinctly unsettling from the start; the gentle burble of synths in the background evokes ambient music, while the squawks of saxophone and stumbling drums feel deliberately off-key. As the album progresses, these lopsided loops recur. Shimmers of cymbals and frenzied brass jostle for position, new layers constantly morphing in and out of the foreground. The cumulative effect is a record that somehow feels both claustrophobic and gleefully full.
“We wanted it to be less about ‘songs’,” Boyd explains. “We wanted it to be something different.” To achieve that, the pair enlisted the help of bassist and producer Max Luthert. During recording sessions, Luthert operated the titular machine – a contraption made of various modular synth components and a live tape recorder into which Golding and Boyd would feed their drums and saxophone to be digested and regurgitated with the producer’s guidance. “We have this setup, we go in with this equipment, and whatever comes out, comes out,” Boyd says of the duo’s mindset going into the sessions. “It was a very expensive risk, but I think it turned out well.”
© Cameron Ugbodu
That mix of confidence and openness to new experiences has defined Golding and Boyd’s partnership since they first met. Well over a decade ago now, the pair first crossed paths not on stage in one of London’s jazz clubs, nor in rehearsals at Tomorrow’s Warriors. Instead, the pair met in possibly the least ‘jazz’ place you could imagine: the Safestore storage lock-up in Acton, west London.
“We were meant to be playing in the band for Abram Wilson, the late trumpet player,” Boyd explains. The storage unit – “no windows, no ventilation” – served as a makeshift rehearsal space. Originally from New Orleans but based in London, things rarely went according to plan when Wilson was involved. “With Abram, there was always a twist,” Golding explains, “and there was a twist with that show, I’ll tell you that.”
“Even in the pandemic, we always had future plans; we were always scheming”
First, there was the fact that a 16-year-old Boyd was drafted in to play at the last minute – for his first-ever professional gig – because the band’s previous drummer had ended up in prison (the reasons for this are unknown to both band members to this day). Secondly, the show was in Bratislava, Slovakia, and whoever was in charge of flights hadn’t changed the details on the ticket. After all those hours in a stuffy storage unit, Boyd never even made it out of London.
As it turned out, that may have been for the best. As Golding explains, the band’s first night in Bratislava didn’t go smoothly. “Myself and some good friends [who were in Bratislava for a different gig] went out the night before the show,” he begins. “We went out with no idea where we were going, and we met this peculiar character who looked like Peter Lorre in some old movie – just so suspect. Anyway, he told us, ‘Oh I love English guys; I’ll take you out somewhere good.’”
© Cameron Ugbodu
Golding and his crew followed him. “He dragged us through all these old Soviet-style tower blocks for miles and miles and eventually he brought us to this basement club,” he explains. “We’re going down the stairs, and people are yelling abuse at us.” He pauses to clarify a key detail. “At this point, I need to notify you that all the members of this party are brown-skinned people.” He continues: “We’re in this club, and we’re looking around, and it’s like, that guy has a t-shirt with a swastika on it, and that guy has a tattoo of a Berlin eagle and everyone’s a skinhead… Oh shit, this is a Nazi club.”
After a hasty exit, Golding and his friends made it out unscathed, and the saxophonist made it back to England without any further incidents. Boyd, meanwhile, remained safely in Catford the entire time. It’s the kind of experience that the pair probably wouldn’t go through now. Not only are they older and wiser – Boyd is 30 and Golding is 36 – but in the years since, London’s new generation of jazz musicians have become highly regarded the world over, and far less likely to be led astray.
“I remember doing gigs at [Soho pub] The Spice of Life for £40 on a Sunday to a handful of people. Not one Black person, no one under 40,” recalls Boyd as he reflects on how the capital’s jazz scene had developed since he and Golding first met. “Compared to now, where I was guesting with Steam Down last week to a room full of people of all ages, genders, ethnicities… There’s an economy now.” While jazz revivals have come and gone in the past, what’s different this time is the level of infrastructure supporting the scene. “I think of so many people that have jobs because of this community,” Boyd continues. “Whether they’re a DJ or promoter or [run a] festival built off its back. That didn’t exist before.”
© Cameron Ugbodu
But along with this success has come increased pressure from the other ‘machine’ in their lives – the music industry. “That’s what led us to the puppets,” Boyd grins. Uninterested in going through the usual rigmarole of social media promotion that comes with album cycles, the pair invested in a couple of Muppets-style stand-ins to do it for them. “We are essentially puppets on these social platforms,” he continues. “Like, I don’t want to do TikTok, so why not have some puppets do it instead?” The gimmick also fits nicely with Feeding the Machine’s preoccupation with industry and technology, recalling the original machine men, Kraftwerk, and their own avatars – the robots.
Ultimately, though, as they prepare to embark on their first shows and festivals in over two years, Golding and Boyd are optimistic about the shape of jazz to come. “Things will always develop, and the nucleus that I came up with doesn’t exist anymore in the same way,” Boyd reflects. “But I look around and Nubya [Garcia]’s touring with Khruangbin, Yussef [Dayes] is doing a West Coast tour of the US, Sons of Kemet are doing a world tour. It’s kind of as big as you could get.” London’s jazz scene is often spoken about as being in a perpetual state of coming up, but as Boyd highlights, “how many [UK] rappers do you see doing American tours, then going to Europe, then Australia?”
© Cameron Ugbodu
It’s the most animated Boyd has been all conversation. His voice is full of excitement at the continued success of his peers, but is also tinged with the frustration of 14 years spent as a ‘rising artist’. At last, though, thanks to acts like Binker & Moses, that’s changed. “I’m talking to kids that are 16 and listening to Pharoah Sanders. This is a beautiful thing, because I was weird when I was doing that,” Boyd laughs. “Everything is way more integrated now. That’s what we always wanted.”
Feeding the Machine is out now via Gearbox Records
Binker & Moses play at Wilderness Festival, Cornbury Park, 04 Aug 22 – 07 Aug 22