Meet The Band: GoGo Penguin

Manchester based trio GoGo Penguin (drummer Rob Turner, double bassist Nick Blacka and pianist Chris Illingworth) bring their trademark mash-up of minimalist piano themes, deeply propulsive bass lines and electronica-inspired drums to Cardiff’s The Gate Arts Centre on February 6.

The band have previously been shortlisted for the Mercury Prize and fueled their exhilarating live shows from Manchester to Montreal and Paris to London. They’ve written and performed a new score for Godfrey Reggio’s cult film Koyaanisqatsi and collaborated with noted choreographer Lynn Page for a Gilles Peterson-curated night at the Barbican.

Ahead of the release of their new album Man Made Object on February 5, Chris Illingworth chats to Andy Howells.

How did you get into playing music?
We had one of those old electric organs in the house when I was a kid. No one in the family played a musical instrument so I’m not sure where it came from or why we had it, but I started messing about making tunes on it. My parents thought it would be good for me to try some lessons so when I was 8 I started studying piano and have been playing ever since. I studied classical piano right through to graduating from the RNCM and for ages I wanted to be a classical pianist, but there was always a part of me that wanted to do something different. I started my first band when I was 11, I was on bass guitar and we played covers of tunes by bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. Not long after that I started a piano trio and that’s when I knew what I really wanted to do.

How would you describe your music style? And what are the major influences on the band’s sound?
Describing our style is a tough one. We all have different musical backgrounds and bring different elements to the group and we draw influences from all over so it’s hard to pin down. Our music has often been called ‘Acoustic Electronica’ and that’s a pretty fair description. We’re an acoustic trio – piano, bass, drums – but we draw a lot of influence from electronica, particularly in the way electronica itself draws influence from many styles and genres.

You are about to embark on a UK headline tour, how are you preparing for that and what can people expect from your shows?
We finished a tour of France just before Christmas so now that we’ve had a bit of a break over the holidays we’re getting back into rehearsals and building up stamina ready for the UK shows. Our new album is out on the February 5 so we’ll be playing the new tracks on these gigs along with some of our older material. If you want a bit of a taster you can find some live videos on our website.

Your new album will be released later this year, can you tell us a bit more about it? How will it differ from the previous albums?
As with the previous albums, our new album Man Made Object is just a snapshot of who we are right now. We’re always pushing ourselves and the limits of what we can do with our instruments as a band and this is a continuation of that process. There are definitely similarities between this album and v2.0 – we haven’t suddenly become a completely different band – but there are differences, sometimes in the way we approached the composition of the music, the way we improvise within the tracks and we played around more with effects, both electronic and acoustic. We’ve done a lot of gigging together since v2.0 and that has definitely played a role in shaping the form and sound of the new album.

Where can people hear your music?
If you head to our website you can find links to listen to our music and watch videos or have a look at our tour dates and come see us live.

Beyond the February tour, what else can we expect from you in 2016?
After the UK tour we’re heading to France in March and then Japan, Germany and the US in April. It’s going to be a hectic schedule of touring this year but I’m sure there’ll be some surprises along the way. You can keep up to date with our latest news on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

  • Call Box Office (029) 2048 3344 for online booking of the bands Cardiff show.
  • Andy Howells is a freelance writer. A version of this Q&A appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement, The Guide on January 29, 2015.

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