The Netherlands as most of us know is a great place to visit, especially if you hail from up-tight Blighty. Known for its adventurous attitude to every day existence, you can step off the boat in Amsterdam into a veritable orgy of..well, whatever you want or happen to chance upon. All inclusive and pretty much none-judgmental, and current ideas in pop music that run alongside these free-willed attitudes on the other side of the north sea, are being carried by a certain Jules Buckley, a non-classical conductor, composer and musical director from London who has collaborated with some of Europe’s biggest names in pop and rock including Arctic Monkeys and Professor Green.

Amongst other things, Buckley spends considerable time at the helm of the Amsterdam’s Metropole Orkest, and this year was invited to collaborate with both the Mark Lanegan Band and Squarepusher at the multi-venue/multi-city Cross-linx Festival 2015, which is now in its 17th year.

Cross-linx establishes connections between composed ‘new’ music and artists from the avant-garde pop scene. Essentially a series of cutting edge events for those who have a desire to look further than the plain hip bands. Cross-linx supported shows take place in cellars, attics, and hallways. This year, the festival itself extended from Amsterdam to Gronignen in the north, via Rotterdam and Eindhoven utilising much larger venues like the Muziekgebouw cultural centres in Eindhoven and Amsterdam.

The opening night in Amsterdam was a great evening. And after witnessing two beautiful, yet very different concerts by Metropole Orchestra with both the Mark Lanegan Band and Squarepusher it is clear that Jules Buckley‘s mission is to not only bring new audiences to orchestral music, but to expand the mind of those who know already what is to be presented them. You may be there for an enhanced experience but you still stand to gain so much more.

Artrocker sat down with Jules Buckley, to expand upon this year’s festival and his life’s work so far. But whatever you do, don’t call it “cross-over”, maaan!

Did you have any previous exposure to Cross-linx from previous years, it has been going for 17 years, that has perhaps inspired hook-ups of this nature, or do you think your own work outside of this has inspired the festival to further develop its ideas, especially as in this year’s case with both the Mark Lanegan Band and Square Pusher?

I had worked on previous Cross-linx productions with Patrick Watson and The Amsterdam Sinfonietta which brought Frank Veenstra and I together afterward to talk about this years edition. I think Frank liked my work with Pat and we have similar musical taste, I think, so felt there would be good energy for collaboration and bringing Metropole Orkest in was the obvious choice for us. We worked long and hard looking at ideas alongside Chris Wheeler (one of our artistic producers at Metropole Orkest) and finally came to the Lanegan/Squarepusher combo which we felt was edgy and current.

How long have you been with the Metropole Orchestra in Holland?

I first worked with Metropole Orkest in 2007 as a guest conductor and arranger and the orchestra asked me to become chief last year and so far so good..

You have in the past conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra with the like of Laura Mvula and Grime artists like Devlin and MC Skepta. These are seemingly out-there ideas , yet it is a format becoming more and more commmonplace. Or am I imagining that?

No you are right Andrew. More and more symphony orchestras across the globe are pushing into the “crossover” territory, an awful phrase, in an attempt to attract a new audience. It’s funny, because when Chris Wheeler and I set up The Heritage Orchestra in London we started playing only in clubs, not in concert halls. That was way back in 2004 and furthermore, Metropole Orkest are really the pioneers here having been smashing club and stage gigs since 1945!! So for these ensembles this “different” audience IS our audience. 

How risky is committing to a collaboration? 

These collaborations can create a tricky path to go down and often you see orchestras really getting it wrong conceptually. They only go in halfway playing that kind of white tuxedo ice cream selling schmaltz where the drum beat is quieter than the oboe out front and somewhere along the line there is a even a classical presenter on stage. Oh dear. I think if orchestras really want to do these projects well then they have to really embrace it 100%, explore the technology required to get the audience pumping and take a risk. Don’t be scared, those patrons will return for Mahler Symphony No 2!

Metropole Orkest is in a class of its own when it comes to embracing 100%. Their rhythmic and stylistic understanding of the evolution of pop and jazz music makes them a formidable ally to this musical world.

So the “cross-over” word is terrible, agreed! How would you prefer to describe what you do?

I feel I don’t define any lines or boundaries within music and musicmakers. It always makes it feel like Xfactor and gives people a chance to stuff things into boxes. I like to explore good concepts with good artists. Simple as that really. To me it is about the incredible palette an orchestra has to offer and the possibilities of this palette that can be found when working with great artists. I look to the concept first and then everything else comes after. I haven’t really given you a decent term have I? I guess “non classical”, first termed by Gabriel Prokofiev, is a term I feel a good affinity with. Crossover is too easy.

Squarepusher Tom [Jenknson] is very open about the mechanics of his art. Mark Lanegan has a very take it or leave it’, maybe uncompromising style. Or I feel that he knows that he does not have to explain himself which I like.

Would you describe Lanegan as difficult to work with?

I found Mark very easy to work with. I often find there are two types of composers/writers in the studio space: the ones who say “Surprise me” and let the orchestra and me do our thing as part of that, or those who want to share the creative process from beginning to end right down to the smallest detail – outside of their performance aspect of course. Mark was very much the former and this made it very relaxed an environment for myself and the orchestra to work with him and his band. You don’t get the name dropping and all that showbiz bullshit. The less words said in the rehearsal room the better anyway, in any music, any time. In fact, Mark is probably one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.

The two Amsterdam Cross-Linx concerts with both the Mark Lanegan Band and Square Pusher were amazing pieces of work and very different to each other for obvious reasons. With each artist is the approach pretty much the same – how does that work?

Each approach is different dependant upon a factors like how much rehearsal time you have? Is there a band involved or just orchestra? Vocals? How long is the set? What do you actually want to say? What does the music need? When you work with a band you have to allow space and find a balance between what the band play and what the orchestra could play, add, subtract. It’s about pulling out the melodic strands and fusing a subtle interplay between the two, exploring where new interpretations are appropriate, and knowing where to stick to the line. Sometimes I would completely remix a track, like ‘Floor Of The Ocean’ and that requires time with the artist. So sometimes concept is defined by the amount of rehearsal and preparation time you have together. Other times like ‘Revival’ – Tom Trapp arranged this one – we would go more like we were recording a pop track. Big lush strings harmoniously working in with the group, like one sound that’s straight down the line. 

That seems pretty clear with an artist like Lanegan, but Squarepusher…?

In the case of Squarepusher, Tom, Charles the conductor and Peter, the arranger, spent a long period of preparation on extracting and thoroughly examining the original musical stems from the Ufabulum album before deciding how to define that orchestrally live. It is a massive challenge blending orchestral and electronic sounds live as often the immediate power of the electronic sounds run the risk of overpowering the orchestral ambience and we felt that Peter’s work on this project made it a perfect choice for Cross-linx and for Metropole Orkest. There is so much rhythmic groove stuff in Tom’s writing that Metropole are really in their element embracing that. It was a big big piece of work by Peter.

Of course a project like this will polarise opinion and I think for Frank, Chris and I this was part of our intention for Cross-linx. It can’t be all nice and happy clappy all the time!

Interestingly, for me at least, the orchestra was more understated in the Lanegan show, I thought Lanegan’s guitar player Jeff Fielder provided a real warmth and I expected it to be lost underneath the orchestra but it wasn’t. The orchestra was so skillful in that it just added richness or texture, and seemed to let the band be the prominent force. But in the Squarepusher show I thought the orchestra really did dominate over the electronic music. It became a real force of nature, the organic over technology, although there was a distinctive interplay between the two forms, the orchestra was clearly in charge as far as the audience  and listener was concerned. How are these relationships established? Is it via an organic respect for each style of music, or is it more clinical?  

Mark Lanegan is a case of the former as he was on a world tour and so time to discuss and explore beforehand was very limited. This concept we approached was from organic respect with him trusting me to put the show together with Metropole Orkest. The Squarepusher project was more of a sit down and analytical affair to break it into small pieces and then rebuild with the orchestra at the helm.

Prior to Cross-Linx, whose work were you more familiar with, Mark Lanegan or Squarepusher?

Hmm… I’d say it’s about equal but I knew more of  Mark Lanegan‘s work with other groups like Screaming Trees, Queens Of The Stone Age etc, than his solo stuff and Tom Squarepusher‘s music I have listened to since my friends at music college hooked me on it around about 2001.

You are obviously a big pop and rock fan. The cyclical nature of pop is increasing all the time. What once took maybe 10 or 15 years to come round again, can sometimes return to the trendy mainstream after only 3 or 4 years. Has pop music finally ran out of ideas?

This is a really good question. The retro thing will always be there I think. Even when Georgio Moroder was starting out he said he wanted to combine the music of the 50’s,60’s AND 70’s…that was way back then…And sure, I love to see old gear from my childhood, the 80’s, and to hear those sounds in some of the bands today. But I would agree that the speed at which things come around now is increasing very fast which leads one to wonder where it’s all going…one thing is for sure though, you’re gonna hear the funky drummer loop every couple of years regardless!

But if I can go a little deeper? I feel the folk who stick to their guns 100% and accept no compromise will leave a great legacy. Those artists who don’t focus on where the sound “could’ be going but just focus upon their sound always create incredible work. You know, the ones who develop over years and years of painstaking grind. Squarepusher is one of those artists and I certainly don’t see any compromise in Mark either. But that whole major record label style of “Yeah!! Ok, insert artists name here, we need you to write a song which is a combination of Gary Numan meets Oasis meets The Wengerboys ….fuck yeah that’s gonna be the new sound!!”

It’s just weird, soulless shite and is largely responsible for why this retro head is catching it’s own tail and why so many artists lose their way. Outside influence from those who don’t know. Stick to your guns seems to work. This doesn’t mean retro is bad by the way, it’s brilliant and inspiring to look back and nothing future would exist without it. So I guess it’s all about quality deep down and that comes from non compromise with the material of choice.

Is the new originality to be found in what the likes of yourself are doing, with artists like Squarepusher ?

Well, I’m trying to do something fresh through my work, but I don’t know whether it’s original! Squarepusher absolutely and so many other artists out there right now like Three Trapped Tigers, Flying Lotus etc. These guys scare the shit out of me.

What next for Jules Buckley? What projects are on the horizon that may excite us.

This summer includes Metropole Orkest projects with Anna Calvi, Laura Mvula and Snarky Puppy and a series of performances of Goldie’s Timeless with Heritage Orchestra in July. Early next year I’ll be recording an album of my work with Metropole Orkest and in the meantime I’m working on a film score with Patrick Watson.

Interview: AP Childs

Cross-linx presents a short tour by the Canadian duo and Arcade Fire collaborators, saxophonist Colin Stetson & violinist Sarah Neufeld from 30 April to May 3rd. Concerts are again staged in Rotterdam, Groningen, Amsterdam and Eindhoven.