At the end of February (29-Feb to be exact), one of the more interesting, progressive promoters in London is marking Ten Years of Chaos at The Dome in Tufnell Park. That promoter is the collective known as Chaos Theory, who for the past ten years have been bringing London gig-goers interesting, experimental and thoughtful bills at a variety of venues.
/Talk Show Host/058/Chaos Theory
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Not everything is of interest to me that they put on, but the sheer breadth of their musical tastes mean that is to be expected, really. But what I will say is that their bills will always have me checking out the support acts, as there is often something I won’t have come across before and will be amazed by.
With the upcoming celebration of their ten-year tenure so far, I caught up with Kunal from the collective to talk about how they’ve got this far, and their thoughts on gig-going in London right now. Thanks as ever to the promo people who arranged this e-mail interview and provided the promo pics, and to Kunal for taking the time to answer my questions.
A note about the interviews on amodelofcontrol.com. This is now a long-running, occasional series, occasional because of the fact that I only interview artists when I have something to ask, and when artists have something to say. I don’t use question templates, so each is unique, too. Finally, I only edit for grammar and adding in links, so what you’re reading is the response of the artist directly.
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The past decade in London seems to have been a tough time to be promoters. Why do you think you’ve succeeded where others haven’t?
/Kunal/Chaos Theory: At least twice a day, I say to myself “river beats mountain eventually”. That is usually enough to keep me going if I’m ever having any doubts. Otherwise, I think communication and transparency are extremely important. There is a culture (a dying one, gladly) of telling people whatever you think they want to hear to get them involved. I try to be transparent about what is and isn’t possible, and always evaluate how I can better deliver on promises, and expect the same from artists, collaborators and anyone in the team. No one gets it right all the time, but I feel that I can trust someone more if they can tell me when they can’t deliver something, rather than hoping that they can and letting me down, so I try my best to do the same for everyone else. Also, lots and lots of random freelance and agency jobs, to cover the costs without taking up all my promotion time. They take the mick if you let them, but they’re a godsend for people like me.
You’ve long since had an impressively wide taste in music that you promote – have you always been this open-minded, or was there a particular, unexpected band that changed the way you look at music?
/Kunal/Chaos Theory: All I know is that I didn’t like what was presented to me as a way of living, so I started finding better guidance or education in lyrics than anywhere else. The music taste came after; I was a little kid reading the lyrics along to Pink Floyd, Phil Collins and Michael Jackson, then discovered Radiohead, then Tool, Björk and Lamb. All musicians with beautiful stories and ideas in their songs.
I also used to learn piano, so had some exposure to classical and instrumental music, and briefly sang in a choir as a wee one, so adore vocal harmonies to this day. I discovered my love of instrumental jazz when I lived in France and have generally been exposed to great electronica and experimental music by the wide range of good friends I have; each into wildly different types of music and art. The whole attitude we celebrate at Chaos Theory events is that quality is quality. We don’t belong to any tribe, and all lone wolves and tribes are welcome to mix in one space for a few hours and experience something they already love, or something they don’t understand but might love.
I’ve always been impressed by your willingness as promoters to be visible at shows, engaging with punters and even occasionally introducing acts yourselves. This is something many promoters prefer not to do, instead hiding in the shadows, as it were…
/Kunal/Chaos Theory: That was an idea that was suggested to me in 2010 at our first full gig, when a lot of people chatted loudly over the bands and some were left feeling unappreciated. It’s weird, I feel strange doing it, but a lot of people seem to like it, as they don’t end up feeling like they should know something they don’t already. Plus some bands like being bigged up before they go on stage. It is also very weird for other bands and fans to see someone compering, but it’s notable that some old regulars have mentioned it and stopped coming as often since I stopped doing that. I now leave it up to bands as to whether or not they want me to do it. If it helps, great, but I don’t want my compering to ruin their stage vibe or presence. Despite popular belief, I am quite happy in the shadows, but if you say you’re going to promote, then promote…
According the London Assembly, London has lost 35% of it’s grassroots music venues since 2007. How has that impacted you as promoters – do you now have to work further in advance just to find a venue to book a show, and indeed has it stopped you booking shows you wanted to be involved in?
/Kunal/Chaos Theory: Yes, the few great venues that are left standing are very much in demand, so to book a weekend gig less than six to nine months ahead can be a struggle now. The pressure on the existing good venues has also caused the price of hire to go up. It has influenced my ability to run regular monthly showcase nights for new bands, but venue owners, artists and promoters always adapt. It’s a pain, but not a worry, there’s always another way to get interesting artists out there.
The upcoming 10-year anniversary show has a hell of a line-up. Is this a good representation of the music you love right now? (I’m intrigued by Zu, as they are a band that has passed me by until now)
/Kunal/Chaos Theory: Generally yes. This lineup is an amalgamation of most of the sounds we love, live and breathe. All of us in Chaos Theory love a lot more than just what’s on at 10 Years Of Chaos, but couldn’t pack in any more! And it was so annoying that some more of my favourite bands asked to play after we’d already filled it up. If this one goes well then maybe we can try a two-day event next year. I want more math rock and jazz on there for sure. I’ve been a fan of Zu ever since I was a musical whippersnapper, so to work with them for a second time in six months is a high point in my life.
What’s next for Chaos Theory over the upcoming decade?
/Kunal/Chaos Theory: Who knows? Most of what we’ve done over the last decade was the result of a surprising opportunity that presented itself, rather than some detailed plan that we carefully stuck to. I guess if we keep working with good people, they’ll push us in the right direction. I must give kudos to Jo Quail, Alan Pride, Peter Junge, Vodun, Swamp Booking, Dead Pig Bookings and Old Empire for generally pushing and influencing the goals and standards I had for Chaos Theory, merely by having high ambitions for themselves and high expectations of me. Also on the flipside, thanks to the good people in Chaos Theory (listed on the Behind The Chaos section on our website), The Black Heart, The Dev, Electrowerkz, Portals Festival and Nambucca, who’ve just thrown me a lifeline in some way or another when I needed it. This scene relies on mutual support, collaboration and respect. Those who view others as competition eventually tend to isolate themselves and get left behind, in my opinion.
Finally, do you have a favourite (or favourites!) show(s) that you’ve put on?
/Kunal/Chaos Theory: Well, that is an extremely tough one, as they were all super fun (for me at least!). There were notable moments when we’d tried a totally new thing, like Jo Quail‘s first album launch in Shoreditch Church in 2011, or the first time we worked with Jarboe in the same space two years later. The energy counts for a lot, which is why we’re glad to be working with so many artists at 10 Years Of Chaos who’ve created electrifying moments for us in the past, like Zu and Nøught last August, Vodun at both of their album launches, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard at their album launch, Furia‘s UK debut, VASA when supporting Yowie and when launching their last album, dystopian producer Metalogue, and Memory Of Elephants any time they play.