Mathew Jonson: Still on fire
Fri 21st Jan, 2011 Featuresin
The last time he was here he was so hot a speaker caught fire. Need I say more? Mathew Jonson only really needs one credential for those that saw him and said fire at Rainbow Serpent two years ago, but there’s an awful lot more to the amazingly talented Canadian’s story.
Jonson’s production was first showcased by Itiswhatitis Recordings, which launched his warm, simmering, pulsating tech onto the world stage. The same label was home to the first release from his band Cobblestone Jazz. Jonson’s own label, Wagon Repair, became as synonymous with the output of Canadian tech as its owner. Then, three years ago, Jonson relocated to Berlin. Our last interview with him tells part of that story, but it was the fire at Rainbow Serpent which has arguably made the biggest headline in Australian chinstroker annals.
Since 2009 Jonson’s perpetual world tour hasn’t really stopped. Perhaps as a counter to all that is Berlin he’s become rather taken with Goa, to the point that he now has a house there.
“I fell in love with it the first time I went,” he recalls. “I kind of have a really intense connection there, it feels like home actually. For me it’s more time to relax, I’ll be working a little bit and I’ll have a small studio there, but it’s actually the first time I’m writing music there. I was planning on taking the studio when I was there last year but it just didn’t happen, I spent all my time trying to figure out my new house.”
Jonson’s returning to the subcontinent for six weeks after his Australian tour. “I’ll go to India for some vacation time and also Cobblestone Jazz is doing a tour of India as well so we will write some music and spend a bit of time in Goa.
“As far as playing there goes it’s just for fun. I’ve played a few shows in India and it’s a really nice scene, a really small scene, but the people are great. I actually don’t play in Goa very often and I actually try not to. I play mainly in Delhi and Mumbai.”
Half a year and a quarter of the globe away is another of Jonson’s personal highlights, the Labyrinth festival in Japan. The line-ups are more music geek than big names, the crowd is dedicated and appreciative, and the legendary Funktion One rig is probably visible from space. In short, it’s a unique moment that is created, and there’s lots Jonson loves about it.
“There’s a lot of things. It’s a really nice environment to be in, it’s all one stage so it’s really focused. I think it’s my favourite place to play because of the people. The crowd is very, very educated as far as the music goes, very nice people and very responsive as well. I love the venue too, being up in the mountains, it’s on a ski-field actually, it’s beautiful.”
Mind-expanding festivals notwithstanding, however, this year Jonson is attempting to eschew frequent flyer miles and focus on what’s most important to him. “My main priority now is writing music, definitely. And actually I always try to make that my main priority but when I’m touring heavily it certainly takes away from my ability to do that, because of all the energy that touring takes.
“So right now I’ve taken a lot of time that I’ve scheduled to not be touring so I can be in the studio more, trying touring a little bit less and making the shows have a lot more impact rather than touring super-heavy like I have in the last few years.”
He’s working on revamping his live performance, and it sounds like Australia’s going to be getting a sneak preview.
“The amount of new music I’ve got right now, it’s completely different from the last time I was in Australia, and actually there’s quite a few new additions even to what was heard on that RA Podcast as well. I’ve been trying to write a full new live show for this coming summer, and so I’ve been spending half the time in the studio, some new things that are lots of bass, hard and thumping, and quite a bit of stuff that’s feelgood, happy music.”
Jonson’s studio productions often present a very different sound to his live show. Asked about the way he threw 2010’s Agents Of Time album together, he says that the various soundscapes, some of which are quite dark and bleak, come from a bunch of different places.
“The [pieces] are pretty separate actually. It’s not an album I tried to write as a whole. It’s more of a collection of music, I think, because some of it I wrote with a film score for Faust that I did for the Timewarp Festival, also in conjunction with Cobblestone Jazz and my brother Hrdvision. So it was basically like a year [in the making], I found myself all of a sudden having a lot of music.
“I’d never really had the opportunity to do an album because I didn’t have enough music to fill a CD, and I had a lot of music also that wasn’t necessarily music I would have released on a single, because it’s not really dance music per se, some of it’s a little more abstract, so it was a nice opportunity to be able to get some of that music out.”
However, Jonson’s happy to leave these diversions out of his blistering live show. “I always make that sort of stuff in my studio but as far as playing it in my sets, I don’t play it that much, if at all actually, because when I’m playing live at festivals or clubs, most of the places I get booked are, you know, oriented to the dancefloor, so if I was playing a lot of stuff that was on my album it would probably be a bit strange!”
The live show, the studio work, the collaborations. Jonson is a busy guy, but the work doesn’t stop there. He also recently acquired the rights to the Itiswhatitis catalogue and is remastering it for a new release. So despite all the travelling and the tangents in his illustrious career, some things are coming full circle.
On his latest circumnavigation of the globe, Australia is a place he’s very happy to return to. His thoughts on Rainbow echo his sentiments to Australia in general. “The thing I really noticed was that there were so many genres of music, I really appreciated that. It seemed like it was really open-minded as far as music programming goes. So that was great, I walked around the whole time and checked out so many good acts and DJs. Yeah, it was amazing.”
As for the possibility of a repeat of the fire incident, Jonson laughs heartily and modestly mumbles something about “record temperatures”. With much of Australia in flood, some of it not far from the Rainbow site, the weather might be different this time around. But the forecast for Jonson is as it ever has been: extreme danger of mind-melting.