Having been first introduced via the Liquid Music project run by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota, with the hope of a cross-genre collaboration, POLIÇA and s t a r g a z e first met in person in February 2016 in the Berlin living room of the conductor and ‘leader’ of musical collective s t a r g a z e, André de Ridder.
Joined by POLIÇA, the Minneapolis-based electronic five-piece, led by vocalist Channy Leaneagh and producer Ryan Olson, the two bands talked and the s t a r g a z e musicians began to improvise — strings, brass, woodwind played over a handful of song sketches brought by Olson. “They were not even song structures, just electronic textures,” de Ridder says. “And we started playing over them. But it was so important that the starting point was in the same room,” de Ridder adds. “Because we could see how their faces lit up when we played. I guess that's where our minds met.”
Olson recorded the Berlin improvisations and incorporated them into several tracks he sent to the s t a r g a z e collective a few weeks later. “And I guess that was where the ping pong started,” says de Ridder. What followed over the next 18 months was a long-distance musical romance of sorts, sustained by emails, mp3 files, video conferencing, as well as occasional meet-ups in Berlin, Minneapolis, and Eau Claire. Both bands were adamant that whatever they created — be it a single piece of music or a whole collection of songs — “not just be POLIÇA songs with s t a r g a z e pasted on top,” as Leaneagh puts it. “We really wanted to maintain this conversation back and forth, and be a new version of both POLIÇA and s t a r g a z e.”
Coming together again in October 2016 to prepare for a week-long residency culminating in a festival at the Funkhaus in Berlin — the former headquarters of the GDR state radio - the players wrote, rehearsed, and developed the ideas they had been pinging back and forth via the internet in the venue’s Studio 2, an exquisite, wood-panelled room with remarkable acoustics. “What that room created is pretty indescribable,” recalls Leaneagh. “It was a little cocoon.”
When Stargaze arrived to premiere the project in Minneapolis however it was the day after Trump’s election, and they found their new bandmates reeling. It was in the wake of this news — and just a day before the premiere, that Leaneagh wrote one of the album’s most sublime pieces, How Is This Happening. “The famous question is always ‘which came first the music or the words?’” says de Ridder. “And I honestly think in this project the music came first and then Channy found the words that were going to capture the atmosphere of the music. Or transcend them. Or contrast them. So it was interesting with How Is This Happening, at the last minute to turn the process on its head. She just made up her lyrics and her vocal line, and she sang it to us, and we started playing to it, and arranging it as we were playing, everyone being aware of what was happening in America at that time.”
The resultant album feels more than a simple collaboration, something more than a sum of its parts, a record with its own unique life force and distinctive voice. For de Ridder, the album’s title, Music For The Long Emergency, reflects the confusion of the times. “It had a meaning of music being a haven, giving you a ray of hope,” says de Ridder. “An alternative reality. And that became a theme of the music too. Quite a lot of the music is a little dark, and it does reflect what has been going on, but also incredible beauty at the same time which we hung onto because we needed to.”
Finally, having performed together at this year’s Eaux Claires Festival, POLIÇA + s t a r g a z e have announced some shows in the new-year around release.
Giles King Kwakeulati Ashong, known as Kwake Bass, is from Lewisham, South London. A keen drummer since the age of 5 years old, his passion has led him to become musical director for both Sampha and Kate Tempest’s latest tours. He has played with the likes of Lianne La Havas, Mica Levi, Joey Bada$$, MF Doom, Roots Manuva, Shabaka Huthcings, Novelist and his own four piece - Speakers Corner Quartet and duo =CoN+KwAkE=. His role as a producer has grown through his exploration of live electronic improvisations and the studio experimentation of what lives between the cracks of structured programming. In addition to music, he also holds a working relationship with production company Lemonade Money, having presented his own segment in ‘Oh My Gosh’, a production made for Red Bull TV.