An interview with King Shabaka, Betamax and Danalogue the Conqueror for Jazz Australia.
To the curious ear, 2016 Mercury Prize nominees, The Comet Is Coming are a creative jazz trio. But these mavericks think of their sound as “apocalyptic space funk” – a comet that “travels through distant galaxies exploring musical concepts.”
The Guardian calls them the “true heirs” of Sun Ra – and saxophonist Shabaka is a member of Ra’s enduring Arkestra (Sydney Festival 2014). You may find yourself questioning more than just the borders of genre in the face of cosmic annihilation. Of course, you’ll also find yourself dancing much too hard to the music to care what they call it.
We chat with London-based jazz/electronica/funk/psychedelic rock trio The Comet is Coming about pre-game rituals, spontaneous composition and the macrocosmic scale of the universe.
JA: What do we need to know so we can prepare properly for the incoming energy explosion that is your live show?
King Shabaka: Space is the place.
Danalogue the Conqueror: That you are already us and we are already you before we arrive in Australia and after.
JA: How do you prepare for a show as a group?
KS: Generally we engulf ourselves within a cosmic haze and let the spiritual world guide us from there.
DTC: I try to envision at once the macrocosmic scale of the universe, and that I am a community of billions of cells within my body, and within that notion life is fleeting and potentially pointless. But it’s also the perfect length of time for its scale and infinitely meaningful.
JA: Do you have any pre-game rituals?
KS: Sometimes we stretch.
DTC: I love a beer.
JA: Your music is not easy to categorise neatly into a single genre. How would you describe your sound?
DTC: Immersive DNA restructuring.
JA: Each of the three band members go by some pretty awesome pseudonyms – “King Shabaka”, “Danalogue the Conquerer” and “Betamax Killer”. What’s the story behind these names?
King Shabaka was the last Nubian king who united upper and lower Egypt, and this is who Shabaka was named after. He tries to channel this energy when performing.
Betamax is a piece of mechanical equipment that has been disregarded and dismissed into the sands of time. Rediscovered like a ghost of ancestral knowledge, this ancient drum technology returns to haunt Babylon.
Danalogue the Conqueror comes into the hazy, post-sincerity era with a lost generation of deep analogue synthesisers, and shoots intuitively for the heart. As we all know, love conquers all.
JA: What is your approach to recording versus playing live?
KS: Our previous recordings have been the result of spontaneous composition, which relies on all our musical sensitivities being in tune with arrangements forming in real time. When performing live, we try to take this material and use it to channel spirits from a realm that can’t be articulated within the constraints of orthodox language. We believe that the energy created from this undertaking is a force for good in the world.
DTC: Making a record is about creating a document of your place in space at that time, combined and multiplied with your co-conspirators and steeped a little in the broth of your civilisation, pushed through an organic equation machine powered by the imagination gift we receive from the hyper-dimensional force.
Playing a concert is about inviting folk to an interconnected human mind experience, creating the soundtrack to a movement through spaces that occur both simultaneously between everyone, and also uniquely within the one person. As artists we can direct the flow of attention from a mind space, to a body space, from a carnal energy, to a neo-cortex intelligence space, always driving towards a positive uplift in human energy potential and spirit.
JA: How much of it is improvised and how much written/planned in advance?
KS: Quite a lot of the music is pre-planned but we have space for improvisation and we’re always open to tunes taking their own course if the situation demands it.
JA: Who would you consider your biggest influences musically?
Betamax Killer: CAN
DTC: Led Zeppelin/Flying Lotus