Interview: Bonobo

Interview: Toby Keenan
Friday 11 February 2005
reading time: min, words

With the average copulation lasting 13 seconds, sexual contact in bonobos is rather quick by human standards

Bonobo, known to his former schoolteachers as Simon Green, has released tracks on Ninja Tune and Brighton's well-respected Tru Thoughts label, producing accessible beatscapes that have found favour with Mr. Scruff and long-time buddy Amon Tobin.

A musically dextrous artist, you can hear him playing all manner of instruments on his records, from toy xylophones to sitars, and all self-taught. Combining this with more than a drop of sampler skills and a hard disk recorder Bonobo puts together music with the right combination of sensitivity and head-nod-ability to earn appearances on many of those recent `late night', `future jazz' and `karma' collections. His 2003 album `Dial M for Monkey' is a compelling listen, sounding something like a collaboration between DJ Shadow and Notts' own Bent. Which is no bad thing at all.

The Bonobo is also a rather fascinating kind of monkey, as demonstrated by the following excerpt from Bonobo Sex and Society, by Frans B. M. de Waal (originally published in the March 1995 issue of Scientific American 82-8). Read on in the name of education.

The bonobo is one of the last large mammals to be found by science. The species is best characterized as female-centered and egalitarian and as one that substitutes sex for aggression. Whereas in most other species sexual behavior is a fairly distinct category, in the bonobo it is part and parcel of social relations--and not just between males and females. Bonobos engage in sex in virtually every partner combination (although such contact among close family members may be suppressed). And sexual interactions occur more often among bonobos than among other primates.

Bonobos become sexually aroused remarkably easily, and they express this excitement in a variety of mounting positions and genital contacts. Perhaps the bonobo's most typical sexual pattern, undocumented in any other primate, is genito-genital rubbing (or GG rubbing) between adult females. One female facing another clings with arms and legs to a partner that, standing on both hands and feet, lifts her off the ground. The two females then rub their genital swellings laterally together, emitting grins and squeals that probably reflect orgasmic experiences. (Laboratory experiments on stump- tailed macaques have demonstrated that women are not the only female primates capable of physiological orgasm).

Male bonobos, too, may engage in pseudocopulation but generally perform a variation. Standing back to back, one male briefly rubs his scrotum against the buttocks of another. They also practice so-called penis-fencing, in which two males hang face to face from a branch while rubbing their erect penises together.

The diversity of erotic contacts in bonobos includes sporadic oral sex, massage of another individual's genitals and intense tongue-kissing. Lest this leave the impression of a pathologically oversexed species, I must add, based on hundreds of hours of watching bonobos, that their sexual activity is rather casual and relaxed. It appears to be a completely natural part of their group life. Like people, bonobos engage in sex only occasionally, not continuously. Furthermore, with the average copulation lasting 13 seconds, sexual contact in bonobos is rather quick by human standards.
Frans B. M. de Waal, I can only salute your knack for describing such behaviour in such objective and sensible scientific terms without a hint of immaturity.

Ok... enough monkeying around, let's get back to the non-penis fencing (perhaps) Bonobo, and conclude that he probably lasts longer than 13 seconds in bed.

Ninja Tune, his current record label, urge us to resist shelving Bonobo under the expansive umbrella of 'chill-out', despite the relaxed musical approach of his records. I'm not entirely sure why, as Bonobo tunes seem to me like great accompaniments to 'chilling out', although some of his tracks do have that additional Lemon Jelly-style quirkiness that seems to scream out to advertising agency ears. I chilled out with the man himself to find out more.

Many artists would give important body parts to have connections with Tru Thoughts and Ninja Tune. Just to make them a bit more jealous, how much free stuff do you get sent?! Seriously, what's it like to be involved with such well respected labels?
"It's not that glamorous really. I do get sent quite a lot of tunes from people I know in music, but I still have to buy a fair amount. Working with Ninja Tune has been great because they are so well known and respected, and have lots of quality acts on their roster, meaning they have a great record company infrastructure and experience in doing what they do. It definitely opens doors - the video for "Flutter" [an ice cream truck crashing into a pond in slow motion, backwards] directed by Conkerco was one of the top three final nominees for the British Animation Music Video Award 2004, and Ninja Tune helped that come about. "

You say that your Ninja Tune album 'Dial M for Monkey' was put together 'as an album'. Is it a similar story with the upcoming LP and if so what ideas and influences are guiding the making of the new record?
"Dial M for Monkey" was my first proper go at an album, starting from scratch, as opposed to a collection of tunes built up over the years. The new album is gonna be out sometime this year. I've been really busy as I'm also working on a mix album for Ninja Tune's Solid Steel series, so it's taken a lot of effort. The flavours and tempos are along the same lines as the last record, but I definitely think people will see I've developed as an artist and hopefully find the record to be a coherent selection of tunes that develop and feed off each other."

Your music is pretty relaxed and subtle. How do you bring this into a heaving venue and get it to work?
"I've toured with a band before when taking my music out. At the moment I'm doing a limited series of DJ sets which combine the best of the recent stuff I've got hold of with some of my other favourite tracks. I think a little of something new, combined with something recognizable is a good way to play."

Any recommended listening for people that like your style?
"Too many things to mention, I wouldn't know where to begin. Buying my CDs is probably a good start."

The Bonobo is a rather fascinating animal (particularly with their highly charged sex life) - Is there any particular reason for choosing to adopt their name?
No comment.

Bonobo played at Stealth, on Friday 11th February 2005.
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