November 10, 2017
Meet Glasgow rave instigators Golden Teacher, whose punk-funk-meets-dancehall sound has made them one of the most electric live acts in the UK. Six 12″s in, and with their first album proper No Luscious Life out now, we spoke to drummer Ollie Pitt to find out how Golden Teacher’s combustible, groove-based improvisations make it from the studio to the record in one piece.
Back in 2013, The Vinyl Factory went to Glasgow to take part in the city’s first Independent Label Market where, pitched next to Optimo Music, we were given the nod by JD Twitch to check out the label’s latest local find. A six-piece live punk-funk act named after a magic mushroom, whose first two EP titles loosely nod to Werner Herzog and Dylan Thomas? It wasn’t a hard sell.
Despite having watched Golden Teacher evolve over the last four years, seen them live a handful of times, commissioned them to do a mix for VF, and even rushed out to Sounds Of The Universe to get hold of their hand-painted ‘Rave Instigator’ 12”s back in 2015, when it came to putting together questions for this interview, it was remarkably difficult to know where to begin.
That’s perhaps because Golden Teacher are slippery customers: you’re unlikely to find all six members in the same place at the same time – even in the studio, where they occasionally record as smaller units – and pinning down the music is like playing genre whack-a-mole. Although reference points are everywhere – the downtown NYC thing defined by 99 Records, hard-as-nails EBM, reverb heavy dub and dancehall – they are a band that defy definition to the point where even Ollie can’t recall how the record was made. “Listening back to some of the songs, I can’t remember who was playing what, or even what instruments are making which sounds!”
And while the emphasis of the music writhes in different directions between tracks, the process for Golden Teacher has remained largely the same. “In a way I see this new album as no different to the very first release that we did,” Ollie explains. “There’s no song-writing in the traditional sense. People come up with ideas, but they’ll probably just get totally changed in the process of making them happen.”
Much of this is down to the approach, influence and guidance of Green Door Studios in Glasgow. Half recording studio, half community outpost where kids, the unemployed, and budding musicians of all stripes are mentored through workshops and events, Green Door has become a by-word for the city’s open-minded, inclusive music scene, and the portal through which the six members of Golden Teacher came together.
“It provides a space to make music communally, which is not a thing that happens very much,” says Ollie, who recognizes that the band’s improvisational approach to recording was both inspired and facilitated by this approach. So what does a Golden Teacher session actually look like?
“The approach to making music has stayed largely the same throughout,” Ollie said. “We go to the Green Door, we have bits of songs, structure, or rhythms in mind and we basically set everything up in the studio as live as possible, and just jam. And when stuff’s sounding good, we’ll hit record.”
Not being precious about who plays what is another important element to this process, where non-musicianship can add freedom or naivety to the sound. “You don’t need to know how to play a synthesizer (or other instruments we’ve used like clarinet or harmonica) to feel confident recording yourself playing on it,” Ollie says, hinting at both a punk and improvised jazz ethos which has flowed into the band from its various members. “I always think that if you have a band that has a very clear idea of what they want to do and what they want to sound like, and then they record and get that sound, it feels like the process kind of ends there. I don’t really know where you go from there?”
Instead, Golden Teacher crash everything (and everyone) together and chip away until they’re left with something new. “Many times we’ll be jamming or recording and one person will want to make techno, and someone else will want to make dubby pop and it will end up half way in between.”
While that may sound perilously haphazard, a meticulous editing process and ruthless quality control filter has meant that their six EPs have retained a thrilling, high-octane consistency. “We’ve ended up with some pretty horrific music that no-one will ever hear,” Ollie admits, pointing to this as a reason why it’s taken them four years to get an album together.
However, releasing EPs and 12”s has also strengthened their reputation as a live band making music for DJs and the dancefloor, which may be one of the only things they’ve planned in advance.
“Right at the very beginning, one of the things we decided when we realized we wanted to do it live was to essentially emulate a DJ set but with a live band. By that I mean ideally only play at club nights at times that would usually be the DJ’s slot, and play continuously mixing and blending tracks together without stopping, and basically make it like you’re seeing a DJ but it would all be live.”
Let them on stage and Golden Teacher are a formidable proposition. Crackling with primordial energy, all six individuals materialize on stage as one breathing organism, like a twelve-armed mutant disco machine, embodying the elastic physicality of tracks like ‘Party People’ or ‘Spiritron’.
“I know that a lot of our stuff isn’t disco really,” admits Ollie, “but disco is still huge and people love dancing to it in clubs. But as music made by bands, there’s hardly any proper disco bands still playing live that you can see in a club.”
Rather than a traditional disco band, Golden Teacher bring their improvisatory spirit to the stage, allowing them to extend and contract parts of songs that the audience respond well to, just as a DJ might interact with his or her audience in selecting which direction to take next.
“Switching between genres of dance music, and not thinking like we need to stick to one sound, is similar to how we might have approached a DJ set, keeping a similar vibe going but switching stylistically quite a lot from track to track.”
Return to the album, No Luscious Life, and this approach is played out on record. ‘Sauchiehall Withdrawal’ kicks things off with a rolling, Sleeping Bag-esque dubby disco suckerpunch – what Ollie hints is “the most conventionally structured pop song we’ve ever done.”
Things are left to simmer on track two, which dips into serpentine percussive workout ‘Diop’, inspired by Senegalese poet Aby Ngana Diop, before they really hit their stride on ‘Spiritron’, a cosmic throb complete with heavy Italo synth jabs that fire shards of light across the room like a disco ball.
But like their live shows, half the record is simply not replicable. In Ollie’s words, much of the B-side “ventures off” like some unruly animal into “completely improvised” territory. “It’s partly by accident and partly because we find it much more interesting to let things go in different directions,” says Ollie. As No Luscious Life shows, regardless of where they start, who plays what, and how it evolves, the outcome of these collective navigations are still unmistakably Golden Teacher.
Golden Teacher’s No Luscious Life is out now via Golden Teacher Records. Grab yours here.