Secret Artists in Residence: "Are we recording?"
A week before Best Kept Secret starts, but also during the festival itself, musicians, producers and singers of all sorts gather at Secret Artists in Residence for magical, unusual jam sessions that will blow the minds of music fans lucky enough to witness them. Festival director Maurits Westerik talks with Pitto, curator of Secret Artists in Residence and producer Sie Medway Smith about being the architects of this particular, infectious brand of musical chaos.
First of all, can you introduce yourselves?
Sie: I'm Sie Medway Smith, producer, mixer, writer, music maker and Pitto’s musical partner. I live in Brighton, grew up in London, for which I am very proud and grateful. London is a city where anything is possible, “where cool music was always going on and still is”. When I was 18 I started working in a studio, and there I made coffee and tea. Eventually, I became Howie B's assistant. Howie showed me how to put my ears and eyes to use at the same time and that's how I became a producer. Now, 30 years later, I'm still making music and enjoying it more than ever! Every day I meet amazing people, I do what I've always wanted to do, get away with it and probably always will! It's in all of us, if there's something we really set our minds to, it can be achieved by setting things in motion.
Pitto: I am Pitto, a multi-instrumentalist, music maker, producer, mixer and DJ. Living and working in Utrecht. In addition, I organize Secret Artists in Residence at Best Kept Secret.
Pitto previously organized Secret Artists In Residence together with Studio Stekker, and with great success. This year, Festival Director Maurits Westerik asked Pitto to curate this event during Best Kept Secret. To do this as capable as possible, Pitto asked co-producer Sie Medway Smith to help him curate Secret Artist in Residence. These two talented artists invite various musicians and artists from the Best Kept Secret program to participate in this refreshing, eye-opening musical experiment.
The artists at Secret Artists In Residence provide a musical contribution that can be filled in entirely according to their own wishes. For example: spontaneous jam sessions performed with a miscellany of instruments, inspiring lyrics and innovative ideas. Everything is possible and (almost) everything is allowed! Sie and Pitto have taken up the honor to create a sense of cohesion. What the end result might be? Well, that's still a Best Kept Secret for everyone.
So how did the two of you meet?
Sie: Pitto and I came together very organically. Eight years ago I went to Studio Stekker, I clicked right away. It was love at first sight!
Pitto: During that period, we moved to Studio Stekker from de Zeedijk to a completely empty building located on the Oudegracht in Utrecht. During the week of moving, I slept for two hours a night to organize and get everything ready inside of the building. That Monday morning everyone was giddy to hatch the idea: let's go! It was like a gang of wild puppies, everyone scurrying across the building came to me with all kinds of questions. Sie also came to me, he asked in very polite and calm English: Pitto, may I ask you something? The funny thing was , my whole stress level simmered down because of his question, instead of up. It was then when I thought: What the fuck! Who is this guy? He wanted a tape machine and a recorder, and I couldn't say no to him. That day we got talking, it was really at that moment that I found out who he really was: someone with a lot of experience in large recording studios. This made me understand why Sie had such a calming effect, because of his experience and skills. That calming emotional state works really well between all these headstrong musicians. Before we knew it, we started collaborating with artists such as Tessa Rose Jackson and made an album together in 2016 called Breaking Up The Static.
What does a day at Artists In Residence look like exactly?
Pitto: It’s literally just creating! There are so many diverse people with so many different ideas and it is precisely this symbiosis between them that’s magical. It’s very difficult to explain what goes on behind the scenes or what makes such a successful week. It basically starts at zero, then the artists come in, and as a producer you start thinking about great collaborations and where a nice cohesion can take place. It’s nice if there are artists present who have experienced an Artist in Residence before. Someone who has already experienced the vibe can also convey that again… it’s almost spiritual.
During a Residence session, how do you work together when things happen from which you can’t really anticipate where they'll end up?
Pitto: With Residence sessions there isn't the pressure you normally experience when you have to finish an album or mix a song. Combining the artists' different skill sets is fantastic, it's a real-time experiment designed to take artists out of their comfort zones. It's our job as producers to solve the puzzle, combine all the different professionalisms and build bridges to add into the mix.
Sie: ‘Are we recording?’ Just think of equipment such as synthesizers, many of these machines are difficult to use, when you turn them on you have no idea what is going to happen. As a producer you have to embrace the fact that you hope it sounds good, if it doesn't you just keep going until it does. This is also where the inside joke between Pitto and me comes from: “Are we recording?”
How do you organize that chaos and what does it trigger inside of you?
Sie: Organize the chaos! By recording everything, making notes so that you have an idea where to arrange what, that allows you to connect different sessions. There was a great jam session at Residence with three drummers playing together. We recorded that entire session and as I record, I take notes so I know what’s a great piece to use. That week we ended up with hours of material, which we transformed into a piece of clocking in around 10 minutes. It's like a dream come true, it's the best thing ever.
Pitto: It may seem chaotic, but you can also direct that chaos somewhat. Music is my life, it’s the place where I can express my emotions and where my blood overflows with love. It’s self care and love for others. Music is the place where I have the best self-reflection and at the same time, where I'm vulnerable as fuck. But when you share that with others it's a really cool bubble! What I really love is the whole vibe in Residence, many sessions arise spontaneously, that cohesion is really spectacular and inspiring to experience. Something can come out of nowhere: we did like an organ session, there were seven organs in a circle and no one touched them while everyone was hoping for a great jam session. Out of nowhere a great session of hours started with so much fun that we forgot to even click the record button.
Sie: You know why? Because I wasn’t there…!
Do you think BKS is a good place for Secret Artists in Residence?
Sie: BKS a real dream scenario for this, the line-up is astonishing and it is a very unique experience to bring so many different people together!
Pitto: What I really like about BKS is the clash of different kinds of music and the eclectic mix. like the gorgeous, soulful voice of Leon Bridges or the funky beautiful guitars of Yasmin Williams. Actually, I think the audience is the best act of the festival, that's why it's such a good match!
What’s your best kept secret?
Sie: I am very VERY interested in Modernist Architecture, and particularly mid-century furniture. My best kept secret is that I collect chairs, I have too many for my house. One for each day of the week! And some to spare.
Pitto: I like to pick wildflowers. Even more when the connection is as beautiful as the leaves surrounded by them.
Could you maybe give us a sneak peek of which artists you will be working with?
Sie: I love the band Black Midi! When I saw them perform I immediately called my girlfriend afterwards to say that the album doesn't reflect what they're doing live at all and that I have to be the person to produce their album. When I saw them on the BKS line-up I thought: this is where it's going to happen! I'm going to get these men, get their asses over here and jump in the deep end together! Warren Ellis, Nick Cave's guitarist, is my neighbor, I see those two regularly. I'm going to ask them anyway, but there are so many more artists that we're going to invite.
Pitto: My dream is to work with everyone from the line-up, all the artists are so cool! I just can't choose. If I really had to pick one, I'd choose 4B2M. 4B2M has a song called ‘This is happening’. I think it would be cool to use that track because I really want BKS to continue this year!
Text by: Tammara Kratzer
Translation by: Jasper Willems
Photos by Pauluz