Moses Boyd:
The UK Jazz Name
You Can Trust

Words: Jack Garofalo
Photography: Hyperfrank

Moses Boyd is undoubtedly one of the hottest properties of jazz music (worldwide) at present. As well as spearheading the burgeoning UK movement, the drummer, DJ and producer runs his own label, the eclectic Exodus Records—some feat for a 27-year-old. Born and raised in Catford, South East London, the MOBO award-winning musician is a true force to be reckoned with, working with the likes of Sampha, Little Simz, and being an integral cog in the Mercury Prize-nominated Sons Of Kemet album, My Queen Is A Reptile. Being hailed as the saviour to take British jazz to unparalleled levels both nationally and internationally, has its burdens, yet the percussionist is as relaxed as they come, taking the growing attention in his stride with an air of confidence and optimism. Fresh off hosting the first instalment of his new BBC Radio 1Xtra residency, we met up with Moses in a little cafe in Peckham as the autumnal sun beamed down, to chat about his debut solo album, his love of grime, and why the UK jazz resurgence shows no signs of slowing down.

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What got you into the foundations of music, before you picked up the drum sticks? Was it a musical household?

Thankfully, I was raised in a house where music was a centrepiece of everything. None of my family played instruments, except one of my brothers who played a bit of guitar, but there was always this underlying thing that connected us all, and that was records playing around the house. My family are originally from the West Indies, so the combination of stuff that was blaring was always different; one day, there’d be reggae and hip-hop playing, and then the next day it could be Bjork, Bob Dylan or even some Debussy pumping out the speakers. My mother, in essence, was a hipster before that word or subculture even ceased to exist, so the variety of genres came to ultimately define what I’m about.

Why choose the drums?

Basically, in secondary school, I always wanted to try out the saxophone, but I was told that there was too many sax players so I got shafted onto the euphonium, this big old tuba-like thing which was a chore to carry about. I threw the towel in on that and then, one day, I walked past a classroom and it sounded like Animal from The Muppets was smashing this kit up and I immediately gravitated towards it. Usually, at that age—like most young teenagers, I got tired of things pretty rapid but, for some reason, my love for the drums just grew and grew and I eventually honed my craft and felt this was my thing.

How instrumental was Four Tet in exposing you to a wider audience with the choosing of Rye Lane Shuffle in his Boiler Room set back in 2015?

I mean, Kieran (Four Tet) was huge in getting me into that world but also Sam Shepherd (Floating Points) and, of course, Gilles Peterson, who was the overseer of the Steve Reid Foundation which really catapulted me. I remember writing “Rye Lane Shuffle” years before, when I was 17, and just sent it to Kieran and Sam when I recorded it years later. They were residents at Deviation at XOYO as well as touring together all around the world and, immediately, they gave it a few spins and they just genuinely felt it. Kieran is just a great guy, a massive music lover and supports independent artists, so it happened very naturally and organically. He was the first person to really champion it so I owe him a lot, not to mention using his platform to work jazz into club culture—which was huge at the time, and still is.

Why do you think the UK jazz scene has hit such incredible heights over the last year or so? Do you feel it can transfer to increased chart success?

Definitely so. I mean, just look at Kamaal Williams and Sons Of Kemet’s Mercury nomination—it shows it’s just getting bigger and bigger. More musicians are turning towards jazz influences, but the two real standout moments in bringing the culture to a mainstream audience were Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly and David Bowie’s Blackstar. Both of these albums came about whilst I and so many others in the UK scene were just starting to put music out, so things just fell into place perfectly. It was out of our hands. Jazz has always had a scene for the last century, in almost every corner, but if it wasn’t for those two LPs I don’t know if it would’ve turned out like it has now. I’d like to think so, but sometimes it comes down solely to being in the right place at the right time, just like grime back in the early 2000s; youth culture magnetised towards it and it snowballed into the giant it is now.

You’ve always been a huge advocate of grime in generalwho’s been on your radar recently?

Arguably, grime is now a completely different thing to what it was when it first started. That doesn’t mean I’m not feeling it, but there was a rawness to it back then. Recently, I’ve been feeling Octavian, Dave’s stuff and, of course, Little Simz—as well Ghetts’ new album. Then you’ve got Trim’s 1-800 Dinosaur LP which came out back in 2016, which was huge for me; the subject matter and experimentation takes you back to Roman Road so vividly. It’s an experience and goes beyond the music, which is so important.

“Authenticity is a fundamental thing when it comes to music; it’s something rare which can’t really be faked.”

Congrats on your new BBC Radio 1Xtra residency. Is this something you’ve wanted to pursue more outside of performing and recording? I remember seeing you at the Madlib show at Phonox last year and you were in your element behind the decks.

It’s something I’ve had in the back of mind for a while, outside of gigging. I’ve done a bit of radio and interviewing here and there: the Tony Allen Boiler Room piece, which is one of my cherished highlights to date, as well as a few other things. I’d be lying if I said it was my goal to have a residency on BBC radio but when the opportunity arose through my good friend, Jesse Howard, I saw it as an important platform to bring through other people in our community and culture. It’s not about me, but the fact that this iconic station has got someone like myself—a predominant musician—to do what I want to do without restrictions is beautiful. I’m excited where it’s going to go; the first show we had Swindle doing a live jam session, which I was told was the first time that’s ever happened on the station. I want a bit of everything; dancers, poets, in similar vein to Jools Holland where there’s just this incredible amalgamation of different genres and sounds. So, yeah, I’ve got high hopes.

The new album, Displaced Diaspora, feels like it has London—particularly South London—embedded within its DNA. How did you achieve this and was it on purpose?

Authenticity is a fundamental thing when it comes to music; it’s something rare which can’t really be faked. When you’re hearing the album and that’s what radiates, it’s not something I intended to do but it’s just one of those things I can’t subtract from the end product. I have a friend called Kelsey Lu, who’s from North Carolina. I love her music, but what’s so cool to me about her stuff is how embedded the southern influences feed her music. It’s so country, whatever she does, and I love country music. It’s just something that you can’t replicate or diverge from, which is good because the music develops an identity which you can’t imitate.

Kevin Haynes Grupo Elegua features heavily on the album. Why choose such a huge stalwart of UK jazz to have such an influence on Displaced Diaspora?

His group was one of the first professional bands I got the opportunity to play in and I ended up performing with Kevin, on and off, for a few years. He opened me up to a world of music and rhythms which were alien to me, so he was a huge mentor and influence at a crucial time in my life. Around about the time the recording process of the album came to fruition, I was kind of doing my own thing and I wanted to solidify our time together into a piece of work. For me, Kevin has some of the most exciting concepts and ideas in music and he wasn’t getting enough recognition, so I wanted to capture his greatness in a collaborative effort which I was extremely fortunate to document.

Journey To The Mountain Forever was a true spiritual jazz masterpiece, with many labelling it as this generation’s Love Supreme. What was the process behind that LP and how did it come about?

Binker Golding and I had been working on new material on the road which we wanted to record. We’re on tour one time in Portugal, sat on a beach and just enjoying life. We had soundcheck in a few hours and we decided to not leave that beach until we had figured out our concept of the project. We both love sci-fi films, Lord Of The Rings, as well as prog rock and that kind of thing, so it came together quite easily. We envisioned this mythical world with these two characters roaming through the mountainous landscape; I promise, we weren’t high at the time but it just seemed so mysterious and unique. We had an idea of who we wanted to work with, in particular Byron Wallen and Evan Parker, who really digged the notion and who was a real icon that we both wanted to play with for a long time. It was just a case of getting the musicians together and letting the idea take shape. What came about was an album I was immensely proud of, in terms of musical direction and theme, and one that was a pleasure to be a part of.

A little birdie tells me you’ve got a new album ready to drop in 2019. What can you tell us about it?

Well, I’ve tried to keep it under wraps! But yeah, it’s just something that’s a lot closer to where I am right now. Displaced Diaspora was recorded back in 2015, so releasing it now was a bold move but one which felt right; the album was a good chronicle of where myself, and the music scene, was back then. In the space of three years, the scene has already evolved rapidly so this album is a departure away from the first album but it’s firmly still got my fingerprints etched into it. I feel I’ve pulled off the merging of the acoustic and electronic worlds that I’ve been messing with for some time, and feel this body of work is my best effort in mixing the various sounds. Also, a few features here and there too, so yeah, I’m looking forward to getting that out early next year and touring it. I’ll be playing a few tracks off of it at the Islington Assembly Hall on November 24th, which should be big. You’ve got to keep it moving.


Posted on November 13, 2018