Up Beat is a collaboration between anonymous outsider electronic musician Xqui and the painter, poet and sound artist Bettina Schroeder.
This is a collection informed by the London-based Schroeder’s visual artist sensibilities, yielding ten poems full of visceral, vivid imagery and oblique observations. Each of these pieces are supported by Xqui’s distinctive approach to collecting and skewing noises and field recordings, giving Up Beat a strange and beautiful symbiosis of words and sound.
Though the pieces were recorded independently, with Schroeder in London and Xqui from a secret location in the north of England, the starting point of both the words and accompanying sound were remarkably, though unconsciously, similar. “The inspiration for most of my work comes from an observation of things happening around me and from personal experience,” says Schroeder of the stimulus for her wordscapes. “On other occasions it’s my physical surroundings that start me off. Anything that has an urgency will find its way into the poetry, intentionally or otherwise. The inspiration can also happen at any location or time. It could be while I’m walking, in the middle of the night, at the airport, while out with friends or after a long, unproductive day. It means I have to stop whatever I am doing to make a note of the idea, if not write down the whole piece in one go.”
For Xqui, the approach to collecting sounds is the same. “I’m forever walking around recording interesting noises on my phone, or on a Dictaphone,” he says. “I’m almost always recording things, and always listening for interesting sounds. It’s like everything’s a jigsaw and I’m just piecing it all together. I love that.” For past albums, Xqui has used manipulated sounds of a tumble dryer, hens clucking and a toilet flushing. For Up Beat, his esoteric sound sources included a Mumbai street scene, the sound of a tea shop and the clicking sound of a vintage cinematography camera.
Schroeder’s inspiration was just as diverse. “The tracks P Is… and I Have A Knife were inspired by the war in Ukraine,” Schroeder offers. “The track Video World was conceived while the shop assistants were setting up my newly purchased phone in my local games, video and phone shop. In the four hours it took them to do that, I started reading the titles of the video cases on the shop shelves and immediately felt a rhythm for a piece. Writing it down then and there was a great way to fill in the time while waiting for the phone.”
If, by the time Schroeder’s myriad inspirations have manifested themselves in verse, the original catalyst might have become shrouded, the same is also true of Xqui’s recordings. “I’m no musician,” he confesses. “I can’t play any instruments at all, but I like messing with sounds. It could be as simple as using an app to change voices or add echo, through to more complex processing. I like to end up with something that sounds nothing like the sound I came up with originally. I like to disguise things. I like to hide things in tracks that no one but me could ever find.”
Yes, Yes, the first track to be taken from the album, is a characteristic mix of the dark and the light that Xqui describes as “quite catchy”. Its sonic footprint is a brooding, ominous, prowling sequence of grimy synths, while Schroeder’s vocal – consisting solely of the repeated word ‘yes’ – flits between the playful and the sinister. “It focuses more on the sound of the spoken word,” she says. “It’s about the finer nuances that emerge when you use the same expression with the same meaning, but in so many variations of tone. I was fascinated by how much you can express, and even change the meaning of the word, just by saying it differently each time. It was interesting how ‘yes’ – a positive, affirmative word – can also be threatening, questioning, ridiculing or even express utter boredom during a conversation, depending on its pronunciation.”
Levity is an important characteristic of Up Beat. “Bettina can be serious, but I thought some of her verses were just hilarious,” says Xqui. “There’s one called Yellow Rain, where it’s about pissing in the park, and that just so much fun.” Pieces like Yellow Rain carry a wry humour, while P Is… alternates freely between references to Putin, Monty Python, pussycats, prisoners of war, parrots, pistols, pole dancers and peace.
Elsewhere, there are pieces like Colour Monkeys, Orange Junkies that directly link to Schroeder’s primary work as a visual and multimedia artist. “Because my creative work encompasses sound, poetry and painting, when I wrote that poem I was thinking of the excitement you get when working with colour, in particular watercolours which are very fluid and explosive,” she explains. “It was fun to put the richness of specific colours I like and the type of marks my favourite brushes make – usually expressed visually – into words. It gives the palette an additional dimension. ‘I Slip Into Your Brain, You Slip Into Mine’ also has a painterly quality. It was an attempt to escape everyday life, the desire to enter another, more pleasurable, sensual world. It’s about the sort of desire you get on a Monday after a nice weekend that should never have ended, or after a particularly shitty week.
Up Beat is, in essence, a rumination on the world around us, expressed through lists, observations, emotions and the twisted, manipulated sounds of the every day.
[Mat Smith (Electronic Sound Magazine, Clash Magazine, Documentary Evidence, Pooleyville, Further Evidence)]
Order UP Beat via the Xqui Bandcamp page here
All words via Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. Paul’s website is hiapop and you can follow him on Twitter as @hiapop, and on Facebook here.
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