Dial ‘B’ for Bonobo

The beloved DJ keeps bringing clarinets to the rave

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Simon Green, the man behind Bonobo, is not actually — in any way — an expert on monkeys.
Neil Krug

Last year, Simon Green found himself in that most universal of experiences: Green turned 40 and lost his father, his last living parent. His mother had passed just a couple of years before.

Green was touring relentlessly at the time, so much so that he’d decided to pull up the roots he’d planted in New York and go full nomad because “there was no point in paying rent anywhere.”

Always on the move, his parents gone, his two sisters living in Australia and some family back in his native England, Green began to dive into the concepts of “movement and transitory [events], the idea of people moving, their influence and environment. All of these ideas, these kind of geographical concepts.”

‘Migration’ is Bonobo’s latest full-length release.

The result was the album Migration.

Green is the type of celebrity most folks wouldn’t know if they passed him on the street. He’s routinely tucked away behind decks, his face often obscured in the shadowy ambience of clubs. But after 17 years on the scene, he’s become one of the most widely played producers on the planet.

Under the moniker Bonobo (a name he regrets, by the way, as people ask him about monkeys… a lot), Green traverses broad musical terrain, deftly fusing jazz and hip-hop, folk and house, classical and soul.

His work often evokes the stylings of ’60s French jazz maestros like drummer Aldo Romano and double bass mastermind Henri Texier (whose danceable “Les Là-Bas” received a gentle remix from Green in 2016) while remaining accessible and inventive. Over time, Green’s compositions have grown in scope and nuance, bringing in more live instrumentation and powerful female vocals such as Erykah Badu, Bajka and Andreya Triana.

In 2004, Green reworked his catalog for a live touring ensemble — a miniature orchestra, really — featuring horns, woodwinds, guitarists, percussionists and vocalists, with Green switching between the decks and bass guitar. (Though many fans think of Green as a bassist, he says he picked up the bass because “it was the last roll to be filled in the band.” He’s a pianist first.) The live set up adds warmth to the contemplative, mellow vibe of his records.

Neil Krug

But Green’s never forgotten his roots as a DJ, forged in the fires of the ’90s club scene in the U.K.

In the past four years, Green has spun DJ sets at both Vinyl and Beta in Denver, and the Fox Theatre here in Boulder. He has a standing residency at Output in Brooklyn. As a DJ, Green taps into the more primal sounds of dance, from deep house to reggaeton.

While his records have set the standard for the post-party, cerebral vibes of downtempo electronic, the classification does a disservice to the versatility and breadth of Green’s work — and frustrates the man himself.

“There was a comment on my Instragram when I posted a little video of recording strings in my house, and someone was like, ‘Finally, you’re going back to the real music. I don’t think you should be doing all of this synthesizer stuff.’

“This isn’t about one thing or another — it’s about all of it,” Green says. “Some people will not engage in the DJ aspect and dancier side and get upset when confronted with that aspect of what I do if they only engage with the sort of vocal-led stuff. Some people come over to both sides.”

Alpha and omega, yin and yang — everything needs a counterbalance, and besides, as the man himself phrased it on Twitter recently, “where else you gonna see a clarinet in the rave?”

Migration, perhaps more than any of his previous albums, displays both sides of Green’s musical coin. Tracks like “Outlier” and “Bambro Koyo Ganda” build up to drop club-heavy beats, as does the first single, “No Reason,” Green’s collaboration with pal Nick Murphy.

Neil Krug

Besides giving Green the foundation for the album’s theme, his constant movement last year played a hand in developing the album’s sound.

“I was making music in airport lounges and tour buses until I got settled,” Green says. “A lot of the record was achieved in this way.

“There’s a lot to be said for being in a stable studio when you’re rested,” he adds. “But I think the headspace of being in an airport at 7 a.m. when you haven’t slept is still valid as a resource. So even though it’s not as comfortable, it’s still valid to be feeding off experiences when you’ve got the club ringing in your ear from the night before. A lot of ideas came from that point.”

Green still tours at what could reasonably be called a relentless pace, but he’s got a home base in Los Angeles now, where he lives “on the more reclusive side of the trees” and avoids the Hollywood cliché. Good friend and renowned producer Jon Hopkins lives just across the street, so Green recruited him to play piano on the title track of Migration.

Home base notwithstanding, Green shows no signs of slowing down. He has tour dates lined up through November of this year, and he’ll maintain his once-a-month, two-hour DJ set for online radio station NST. He recently launched Outlier, a catch-all project for the things Green loves to do: small festivals, all-nighters, parties, radio shows, and maybe — just maybe — a label one day.

No, Green won’t slow down, because you see, a migration never really ends. The seasons change and suddenly it’s time to start the process all over again.   

On the Bill: Bonobo & Nick Murphy (Chet Faker). 7 p.m. Friday, May 12, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison, 720-865-2494.