There are very few acts in music today that carry the swagger and snap of Foreign Beggars. From the fierce rhymes and stylish beats of their classic debut to the snarling electronic bite of their more recent work, they are a group that simply refuse to stagnate, with each new musical offering always bringing something fresh to the table. We caught up with Orifice Vulgatron and Metropolis for an in-depth chat about their latest album, The Uprising.
Foreign Beggars, how's it going?
M (Metropolis): All good man.
O (Orifice Vulgatron): Splendid.
So the new album has dropped. How would you describe the record?
M: I'd say it's an eclectic mix of music from across the board, from a whole bunch of different producers and genres, gelled together with our raps on top. I'd say it's a fun album, you know, it's not like 'Stray Point Agenda' which was a much more brooding affair. It's a lot more fun and also a lot more electronic than any of our previous releases up to this point.
It's obviously been signed to Mau5trap. How did that one come about?
OV: The main connection there was Noisia. DeadMau5 is a big Noisia fan and I think it was through them that he heard of us, that was it really. The first thing we released through Mau5trap was this track 'Scatter' that we did on Skrillex's Scary Monsters EP. He'd heard of us before then and was a big fan of Contact, so we did that EP and then conversations kind of opened from there. We started off talking about a Foreign Beggars/Noisia project and it just came round to us doing an EP of our own.
How much of a dialogue was there between you and them during the album-making process? Was it very much "just go away and do your own thing" or…
OV: Oh yeah, during the album it was carte blanche.
M: Yeah, they just said that they wanted us to do whatever we wanted to do, they weren't particularly trying to push us. We'd been talking to a few other people before who all just seemed to want us to make this massive dubstep album, but they didn't really understand the history of Foreign Beggars and where we actually come from. So it was really reassuring and a bit of a surprise actually to walk into a meeting and have them be like "Yeah, just do your thing. Work with who you want to work with …"
OV: I remember when we were putting our first stuff out, before we released our first record and we were trying to get signed, the amount of fucking bullshit that I heard. People telling me we need fucking dancers in the band and shit, you know what I mean? Telling us we need to take Anik's verse off of 'Where Did The Sun Go'… I mean you just need to walk out of these offices. After that Badman Riddim' tune blew up and after dubstep became so huge and the stuff we did with Skrillex, we were even speaking to majors who just wanted us to do this dubstep album like he [Metropolis] said. I think that was one of the deciding factors of why we signed because they just gave us free reign to do whatever the hell we wanted. We could of given them a throwback, boombap hip hop album, we could've given them anything.
Were you not at all worried about alienating some of your fans by signing with the label?
M: I think a lot of people might have looked at the link up between us and Mau5trap, and kind of been like "what's it gonna be?" or whatever, but from the minute we knew we could do our thing, we felt fine. I remember the first time they came in to listen to all the tracks that we'd done and everything we played them, even the cuts from Kidkanevil and Alix Perez, they were just like "Yeah, this is dope", they were mad into it. They were even emailing us and being like "Yo man, I love this line…" and stuff. I think a lot of people think that just because it's under Deadmau5's name or whatever, it's going to be a certain thing. It just goes to show that people are more open minded these days and the lines between genres are kind of blurring now. But talking about the clash between the older fans, alienating them or whatever, I think that a lot of them felt alienated already, just because we kind of went a little bit more electronic on the last album and I feel like that's something that we have to take on board, that's something we have to deal with. We weren't really so worried about that because we kind of hinted on Beggatron that we were becoming more electronic and, through stuff like 'Contact', people should have had a decent clue of what was coming next.
Is that something you would consider pulling back on, perhaps doing something a bit more straight-up hip hop, or do you consider yourselves an electronic act these days?
M: We still consider ourselves a hip hop act, but I mean even if we were to put out a straight "rap" album it would still be electronic, you know? It would be hip hop beats or whatever, but it would be electronically produced. We're talking about doing a lot more straight hip hop stuff anyway, because I think that's where we've come from and that's kinda where we've repped the hardest...
OV: I think a lot of people who talk shit about the fact that we're not doing a certain type of hip hop anymore or are complaining that we're working with a certain type of dubstep, should just look a little deeper. Alright, fine, we've done a certain few tracks that have got massive visibility, but that's not all we've been doing. If you take Beggatron remixed for example, we've got tracks with Om Unit, Goth Trad, Blue Daisy … people haven't even noticed that. The same guys who are chatting that stuff haven't even paid attention, probably don't even know who people like Machinedrum are…
Are you usually feeling the same beats or is there ever any tension around that?
M: (laughs) Oh there's definitely differences in taste. But I think that's part of what makes us strong as a unit. We have different things we like but we try and blend it together and where we meet in the middle tends to be the right balance.
Out of all the collaborators on the album, there is one in particular that seems to stand out a little more than the others. What was the deal with the Tommy Lee track?
OV: That was a connection through Noisia and Sonny [Skrillex] again. Tommy was playing drums with DeadMau5 for a while and is just into electronic music. If you look back, even while all the Motley Crue shit was happening, he was doing all kinds of different shit. Sonny told me that he was a fan of ours when I was living with Noisia… he just told me that every time Tommy soundchecks, he plays fucking 'Contact' or 'No Holds Barred'… I was like "Are you crazy?!". A couple of weeks later he introduced me on email and I was like… I was shitting my pants. I've been a Motley Crue fan since like the 80s, you know what I mean?
Did you meet him face to face?
We just talked about music and he just said "yeah, when you guys come to Cali, come to the studio". It came around to the album and he had this track with Millions Like Us so we did. I did actually meet him before that. It was my mum's birthday and I flew her over from Dubai as a present and then took her to a Motley Crue concert, took her backstage to meet them and everything. She even got them to sign her tits…
In terms of the collaborations in general, is it very much the case that you get sent a beat and then you choose what you want, or is there more of a back and forth than that?
M: I mean for some of the tracks there is more of that. For example, with Flying to Mars, we've been working with Alix Perez for a while, doing a few tracks on the side. That beat was made, we demoed it and then nothing really came of it. When it came round to recording this album, we kind of revisited it with Donaeo and having him on board completely changed the dynamic of the whole track, so that was kind of a little bit more organic. Whereas with Amen we just checked out a load of beats by Burns, heard that one and were like "we can definitely work with that" and just chopped it up a little bit and put the vocals down. I mean there's always a back and forth because the producer needs to be happy with what's going on as well. With Apex, we were actually in the studio with Knife Party and built the whole track from scratch… that was probably the most fully organic track on the whole project.
How long did that take?
M: Man, we were sitting around in that studio for about 5 hours while he was just getting the idea together.
OV: He started one and then scrapped it.
M: I was just sitting there like "what can I rhyme to?" It was a slow process and then all of a sudden it was like bam! That's it right there! So we recorded it and by the end of the night, we were like "yeah, bang on."
What about the track with Salva?
M: I'd heard a bunch of his stuff, particularly this remix he did of a Beans (Anti-Pop Consortium) track which I was a big fan of. I just hit him up on Soundcloud and I basically missed his response, so I thought he wasn't interested and I was a bit gutted about it. But then I met this dude who knew him and he was like "yeah man, he mentioned something about you wanting to work with him but you never got back to him"… I was like "What?! he wants to work with us?" So I hit him up again and he sent us a whole bunch of beats. We messed around with a couple of them and then all of a sudden he sent us this new beat that he's made with Nasty Nasty and we were like "Ohhhhhh…!" And, I dunno, the beat just kind of said something to me about shoes, it just had the shoe swag to it…
I think it's amazing that you've got someone like Salva, who's a San-Francisco-based producer, on the beat and then you're MCing about Lewisham…
M: Yeah, I think that's what's so great about this project. You've got people like Salva and Nasty Nasty working alongside Millions Like Us, working alongside Knife Party or Blue Daisy… I think it's a really cool thing that you can have an album like that and everything still fits together, you know?
Were there any collaborators you missed out on?
M: The list was long man. We hit up bare people. I was chasing Mark Pritchard for a long time, hollered at Hudmo…
That's so funny, I was gonna say that you should spit on a Hudson Mohawke beat…
OV: He did send us some beats in about 2005 and we started some shit and recorded it but it just didn't materialise, we didn't finish it in time or whatever… but yeah, I think we probably hit him up every 9 months or so. We just get a lot of air…
I suppose he must be pretty busy right now…
OV: Well, that's it.
M: He said to us then that he was working on his album and he didn't have time for it. This was before the whole TNGHT thing came together. We actually share agents with Lunice as well and we tried to get something to happen with him but nothing ever did. I mean for every single collab that happens, there's a whole bunch that, because of timing or whatever, we don't get to do.
You obviously just did Maida Vale, which was great by the way. What I was particularly interested in, aside from the performance, were your comments on performing and your reluctance to play your more introspective stuff live. What I found on this album, perhaps a bit more than your earlier work, was that even the tracks that do have quite inward-looking lyrics, like 'Never Stop' for example, still have that big sound behind them. Was that something you wanted to work on, being able to be a bit more open and still have the sound behind you to pull it off live?
OV: I think this album has been the one where we've invested the most into the whole mixing process, especially the vocal production. We definitely wanted to keep it big, but mainly for the track itself. I mean the sounds we were playing with were a bit more epic in general, but I think we did still want to get deep with the lyrical content.
M: It's always a difficult thing because a lot of tracks make it quite hard to go deeper. We've been doing a lot of dubstep tracks and no one is really trying to get too introspective when they're in a club, like raving out or whatever. It's kind of challenging to find that balance, but some beats lend themselves to it. Like on the Million Like Us track, we wanted to get deep because we felt that this beat could be saying something really nice.
It's probably quite hard to get to that place in a show to be performing those kind of tracks…
M: Yeah, I mean we did this one track with DJ Vadim, which is one of my favourite things we've ever done, called 'Black Hole Prophecies', and like, just because of the way the show is, it's so difficult to find a place to put it. In certain situations, however, it really works. Like for instance when we first started playing in France, people weren't really on partying like crazy, it was more of a spectacle, and that would be an environment where we would be able to drop it. That doesn't happen very often though.
On the subject of touring, this album feels very much like a performance driven record. Is it likely to dominate your live shows?
OV: Not really. We kind of keep everything chopping and changing a lot. I mean we’ve incorporated a lot of the new stuff but we won’t do the whole song from top to bottom anyway. There’s a lot of old stuff but we’ve also thrown in a couple of new remixes into the mix as well, like the UZ 'Boombags' remix which is popping off nicely. But yeah, we still have a lot of the old stuff in the set. I think it’s really important.
What kind of shows do you actually prefer? Are you more about the big crowds or do you really feel those intimate gigs?
M: I think they both have a different vibe. Big crowds are amazing because it’s like a power thing, you know? There’s so much energy in the room and to see that many people react to your music is a great thing. But doing smaller, intimate gigs is also nice because you really connect with the crowd. I don’t really prefer either. It’s like when people ask you what the best show you’ve ever done is. Every show has a different vibe and energy.
OV: The big, big, big ones… I really like those. When things are that that large, there tends to be a certain level of professionalism with the organisation as well, which helps…
M: On the flipside though, at the really massive ones there is normally a big amount of space between you and the crowd and you don’t get to connect with them, and I much prefer being right there and up close with people. To me, that’s more exciting because you kind of share more.
In terms of the UK hip hop scene, how connected to that world do you feel these days?
OV: For me, I see UK rap music as essentially the same thing. I don’t understand why there is a disparity between 90 percent of the shit that Charlie Sloth would play and what Logan Sama’s playing. All these different “scenes” are so similar, you know what I mean? These dudes are probably living in the same fucking block.
M: It’s all rap music. There are so many good rappers in the UK at the moment from across the board, whether it’s like straight hip hop stuff, the grime scene or whatever. There has been an evolution in the way that rap music comes out in the UK, so for me it’s all part of the same thing. I rate P Money as much as I rate Strange Universe, I rate what Piff Gang are doing… there’s just so many people doing good stuff. I definitely do still feel a connection to it.
OV: Definitely. The circuit we play is different now and obviously the records are different, but they’re still our peeps. I still check for everybody’s music, we still listen to everything. I don’t like the way the “UK hip hop scene” kind of disconnects itself from everything else a little bit… I mean it definitely does do that. It kind of keeps itself within itself if you know what I mean? That’s a generalisation, but still…
Do you think that harms the music?
OV: No, I just think it stops individuals from realising there’s massive potential out there. Take Brokn Englsh, for example. The way they do their shit is completely different because they’ll work with all sorts of people. They work with garage producers, drum and bass producers, they’ll put out classic hip hop shit… I just don’t think you should limit your horizons.
M: I think that a lot of people need to recognise that you get a lot and grow a lot from working with other artists and other genres. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve become that genre. If you look at a lot of American rappers, like KRS One doing tracks with Noisia, or Saul Williams, who’s been all over drum and bass and stuff… I just think that there’s no reason why you should limit yourself to just one genre. You can go and experiment and that helps you grow as an artist and it grows your fan base. It just challenges you and that’s a really good thing.
You can buy The Uprising here.
Words: Jet Vevers
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