There are hundreds of directions music could take in the new web wide world. Records like Konoba’s ‘Mind the Gap’ provide an exciting glimpse at a destination any aspiring singer songwriters should be endeavouring towards. It culminates a life’s work. There’re plenty of releases with great songs well performed, but what makes this stand out is a production style that’s unique to one man.
Konoba (real name Raphael Esterhazy) is a native French speaking, Belgian born architecture student. He took the chance to travel to London to study music, then to Brighton to study production, and then brought the two worlds together with a playful flair that demonstrates the huge potential for a creating with a home studio.
The album kicks off with the track ‘Everything is Everything’ and a few bars of a hard edged industrial loop, made using a sample of a broken printer. The minimalism of the opening bars opens up to a flowing acoustic guitar part and a warm vocal; a whole chorus from one voice. He uses the studio and the technology as another instrument in itself, made up of smaller individual sounds, but ultimately built into the track in a way that gives it a voice of its own.
Breathing life into technology the way Konoba has managed to on this is no small task. It means creating an extension of an idea that has been explored before in the music of people like Radiohead: how do you express emotion through technology? ‘Mind the Gap,’ explores this, perhaps unconsciously, and provides a very strong argument that technology doesn’t hinder the pursuit of true expression. In his own words: “There’s a lot you can these days with a little bit of equipment, if you know how to use it.”
His mastery of the software speaks volumes, the loops on tracks like ‘One more spin / Another day’ have real soul to them, never feeling like lifeless expressions emanating from a machine. He’s programmed them, but with real soul, and the warm sound of his vocal cushions the harder edges of the machine sounds, keeping the track contemporary and percussive, but never losing a human element. Rather than writing music and using the studio “like a printer” he integrates the recording and production into the songwriting element.
He’s keen to stress the importance of more traditional musicianship. This is an artist still “paying his dues” despite the already well developed professionalism of his songwriting and production abilities. He told me of the time he spent with a friend busking round Europe. It was possible for them to fund the entire trip almost entirely from the money they made playing on street corners in sunny spots to willing tourists. (Apparently Saint Sebastián in Spain is a great place for buskers to earn their keep).
‘Mind the Gap’ sonically feels like a trip through an imaginary city. A city consisting of real places, it takes you past Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Tournai, and past London’s Gherkin, and marries the two cultures in a way that feels natural and obvious. Not knowing what will be round the next corner (or in the next minute if you’re not on board with the metaphor) is another side to the album’s charm giving it an identity. Konoba is a one-man creative production machine and ‘Mind the Gap’ is definitely worth your time, as an exploration of modern songwriting and of expressive production.