Brian Eno: Interview

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Interview: Brian Eno - producer, pornographer, perfumier and peacenik

  • We know many different Brian Enos. We know him as the sound sculptor who transformed the music of Roxy Music, David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2. We know him as the pioneer of sampling, of electronica, of ambient, of generative music. We know him as the connoisseur of hardcore pornography; the man who once fucked six groupies in one day before collapsing; the occasional transvestite; the man who started work on a male aphrodisiac perfume for Unilever in 1977; who once pissed in Duchamp’s urinal as an artistic statement.

    Today we meet more incarnations of Brian Eno. We meet a session musician who is busy playing ‘keyboards and treatments’ on Grace Jones’s new album, her first in 17 years (‘she’s one of the great treasures of modern life’). We meet someone who’s curating this Sunday’s concert at the Astoria – he’s invited multi-instrumentalist polymath Nitin Sawhney and singer-songwriter Imogen Heap to play solo sets, and has French-Algerian punk disco maverick Rachid Taha to headline. We also meet a Brian Eno who is going to re-live his ancilliary role in Roxy Music – albeit without the feather boa and the spaceman outfit – as Rachid Taha’s backing vocalist and ‘sound manipulator’ (‘I’m playing various processing tools to distort the guitarist, so effectively we’ll be playing one guitar together’).

    We also meet a Brian Eno who has become a political activist. Anyone reading his hilarious diaries of 1996 will have met someone whose whimsical, surrealist rambles about tasting his own piss, or not being able to achieve an erection in Ireland, seemed somewhat apolitical. But, in the last five years, politics seems to have subsumed his life. He’s become a prominent supporter of the Lib Dems and a passionate opponent of the war in Iraq, which is the focus of this Astoria show.

    ‘No, I haven’t been particularly political in the past and I would happily not be political now,’ says Eno. ‘But I think it came from one book I read, called “Defying Hitler” by Sebastian Haffner in which he describes how Germany in the 1920s slid, quite unconsciously, into fascism. And, while I’m certainly not making any comparisons between Blair and Bush and the Nazis – I don’t want to give that impression at all – I’m just saying that it’s easy for things to slide out of control. It’s actually very easy for democracy to disappear. It’s important to be engaged.’

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