At this point, most electronic music fans are familiar with British producer/DJ Bonobo and his trip-hop-meets-downtempo style. But unless you’ve seen him live or checked out his recent DVD, The North Borders Tour—Live, then you most likely don’t know that Bonobo, the bandleader otherwise known as Simon Green, is also one helluva skillful bass player.
With an elaborate stage setup that includes a string section, horn section, drummer, guitarist, and multiple keyboardists, Green is always located in the back of the ensemble, triggering samples, playing synth lines, and commanding his ’81 Music Man—often with one hand—all while orchestrating his cathartic, entrancing music.
His 2014 album, The North Borders, features moody and rhythmic compositions powered by ambient samples, strong vocal contributions, and his captivating bass work. Songs like “Cirrus,” “Sapphire” and “Transits” achieve such a round and rumbling bottom that it’s hard to imagine the lines were captured with an electric bass. The 38-yearold composer’s most recent EP, Flashlight, tracked on his tour bus during his recent two-and-a-half year road jaunt, reveals a dancier vibe. He recently began work on his sixth album, with a new palette of sounds guided, as usual, by bass.
With so many electronic elements of your music, why do you continue to use electric bass?
The electric bass has a very specific frequency, a texture, that I’ve always wanted in my sound. The bass doesn’t just provide rhythm; it alters what goes on beneath it. A bass line can change the entire body of sound immensely. I began playing the bass because it was the last position that needed to be filled, and ever since then, it’s been a huge part of my musical identity that I’ll always use.
What attracts you to the active sound of your Music Man StingRay?
I love StingRays. When I first played one back in the early ’90s, I fell in love with that tone. I also have an old Fender Mustang short-scale bass that I use in the studio; it has a short decay that is rather punchy, and a more burly tone and a psychedelic ’60s sound, but I prefer to play my StingRay live. I like to use the higher registers of my basses and get that great tone above the 12th fret, and the StingRay and Mustang are perfect for that.
During your shows, you’re almost always doing three things at once while playing bass. Does that get complicated?
I wish I had four hands so that I could do everything at once more confidently, but onstage, I have to use both hands and both halves of my brain to make it work. I had to adapt to playing with one hand, so I’ve gotten good at using a lot of hammerons and striking the strings well enough to get a full sound. It’s necessary that I do all of my parts well, or it’ll jeopardize the song.
How would you describe the role of bass in the landscape of your music?
There’s a lot going on, and there are a lot of dynamics; the bass leads the journey and powers the charge from the back. In my music, the bass line can decide the track’s whole vibe. I put so much importance on what the bass will convey and how it will change the emotion of the song. Even with so much going on, the bass is the catalyst for everything.
Bonobo, The North Borders Live [Ninja Tune, 2014]
Bass 1981 Music Man StingRay, 1965 Fender Mustang
Pedals Line 6 M13 Stompbox Modeler
Synth Novation MiniNova