Non-Classical is not only a record label but a music genre in its own right. Collaborating with the likes of Thom Yorke and Hot Chip, Non-Classical has managed to transform the typical notion of classical music. Non-Classical’s founder, composer Gabriel Prokofiev, talks to ArtRebels about the label, their revolutionary club nights, gigs at SXSW and future club nights in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
What is the intention behind Non-Classical?
The idea is to help create an independent and alternative scene for classical music. On the whole, the classical music industry is dominated by corporate record labels, formal concert halls, and large institutions that tend to have a very traditionalist and old-fashioned outlook. At the same time there are millions of broadminded music fans out there, who are put off not by the music itself, but by the ‘experience’ – the way it’s presented.
So by putting on classical music in the format of a gig or club night, we’ve started to get a whole new crowd. The same can be said for the record label, in that the albums we put out are assembled in a less standardized, more individualist way than most classical CDs, and the addition of remixes alongside original compositions is a big part of this.
Those of us involved in running the nights and the label are far more comfortable operating in these formats anyway, so it’s always felt like a natural thing to do, as opposed to just another gimmick.
Why the name?
The name is meant to emphasise that we’re actively resisting the dominant image and traditions of ‘classical music culture’. I guess it’s comparable to the idea of ‘anti-folk’, in that it takes a certain type of music but rejects the way it’s conventionally presented.
Put simply, we are presenting Classical music in a ‘non’-classical way.
Where do you see Non-Classical going?
We have some very exciting things on the horizon – we’ve recently hosted some larger scale events at London’s XOYO (one even featured a 52 piece string orchestra performing Penderecki’s ‘Threnody’) and will be making those more regular from the autumn onwards. We’ll also be starting more regular nights in other major cities like Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam. In November, Gabriel (Nonclassical founder) will be presenting our debut club night in Copenhagen, and we’re hoping to find some like-minded people there that we can continue to collaborate with. Gabriel’s compositions will also be performed by Copenhagen Philharmonic as part of their 60 minutes concert series in January 2013.
In the long term, we’d just like to keep spreading the word about our alternative approach as widely as possible. There are more and more promoters trying similar things, and we think this will have a really positive knock-on effect for how the next generation perceive classical music.
Any surprise reactions from your club-nights?
People are at their most disarmed when they wander in drunk at the end of the night: last week, confronted with a set by quite an intense, avant garde vocalist, someone asked if the performers “had forgotten to take their pills”! It’s great when people who are unfamiliar with that music react so honestly, because you get a chance to really engage with them openly.
How has the traditional classical music scene reacted to Non-Classical?
There’s been a whole range of reactions from the traditional mainstream. Of course some people are put off by the types of venues we use, the informal approach and occasional background noise, but on the whole I think everyone can see that it’s a positive step. We’ve even had some proper converts who come down expecting to hate it and end up regulars.
Generally, the established classical music world hasn’t openly criticised what we’re doing. Although, at a big night in collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra in the Roundhouse earlier this year, a composition student shouted ‘Rubbish’ after Gabriel Prokofiev’s new Concerto for Bass Drum, later explaining to a journalist from the Telegraph that he thought it was the ‘bastardisation’ of classical music!
(Which was surprising as we see a lot of what we’re doing as returning classical music to how it was 100-200 years ago when it was much more part of everyday culture.)
Do you see yourself as fitting into the mould of classical music, or do you think of yourselves as a stand-alone music genre?
In terms of our club-nights, the focus is contemporary classical music, and most of the live performances are by acoustic classical ensembles or soloists; but the styles performed represent a broad range of contemporary music, from free improvisation to very ‘academic’ avant garde composition, to more electronica-influenced work. The DJ sets then add quite a unique twist, combining classical music with electronic production techniques in real time, and that could be seen as different genre.
With our label, there does seem to be a ‘nonclassical sound’ emerging, particularly in the remixes we release. Each CD is split into 2 halves: there are the new classical compositions, which are then followed by remixes of those compositions. We ask all remixers to follow our ‘house rule’ that they should only use sounds from the original recordings and not import their own electronic beats; so you get remixes with quite an organic and original sound, and those remixes are starting to feel like a cohesive and distinctive style, perhaps moving towards embodying a new genre.
You were at SXSW in 2011. How did the US crowd react to your sets?
Yeah we’ve been at SXSW three times now, and the popularity of Nonclassical has grown and grown. In 2010, our venue was at capacity for most of the night. It’s really important for new classical music to be represented at those types of festivals, and show that it can appeal to alternative audiences.
Give us your top 5 tracks to listen to.
1. Gabriel Prokofiev – Jerk Driver
2. Steve Reich – New York Counterpoint
3. John Cage – First Construction in Metal
4. Tansy Davies – Neon
5. Gerard Grisey – Partiels