High Cross Society: Nu-Collaboration Culture
A group of artists have been inhabiting a warren of performance and living spaces in North London. Haringey’s High Cross Centre has lent its name to a new musical community who live and work there. They are not just breaking into the underground music scene; they have been around for a while and have an intricate relationship with London’s modern musical history.
Hip Hop has always been a ruthless scene; competitive to its very core, be it on stage, on the streets, or in the creative hub of the studio. Yet the genre has always lured artists into collaboration, and there is a small community growing in London which is stretching modern underground urban music to its limits.
The biggest stars in hip hop have made infamous collaborative tunes. Eminem was part of this revival and helped to bring rap music back into mainstream charts across the world in the Noughties. Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Xzibit and Nate Dogg joined him on tracks like Bitch Please II on his Marshal Mathers LP. Their West Coast-style rap music put differences aside and advertised unity in an industry fractured with competition and rivalry.
There is an complex family tree of musicians who have graced London’s music venues for years (it can get confusing):
Joe Driscoll set up The Local Posse which included (among many other contributors) himself, Dizraeli, Bellatrix, Klumzy Tung and Lazy Habits. Lazy Habits is also the name of the larger seven-strong hip hop live band. More Like Trees roll about in the same musical circles; a strum and bass threesome who regularly collaborate with solo artists like Tali (world champion DnB MC) and Reeps One (UK beatbox champ).
Those are the three main groups, but they are organic in composition and have spawned to form the key ingredients of High Cross Society. James Collins (aka Lazy Habits) brought together Josh and Matt Whitehouse (brothers from More Like Trees), solo artist Fjorka, James Breen (Joe Driscoll’s drummer), Steve Abunab (percussionist from Lazy Habits), Lachlan Radford (double bassist from MLT), Luke Fabia and Ben Thorpe (LH horn section), Reeps One and Josh Bevan. Each member has a quality that is specific and unrivalled.
This fusion of hip hop, flamenco, strum and bass, heavy world music, and big band brass swirls around in one big beautiful collection of artists in a way that is unique to London’s underground scene.
Their activity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Followers of London’s music are impressed by the UK artists managing to smash through genre-defining conventions. Adam Tait, entertainment journalist and deputy editor of Shout4Music, realises how they are changing the personality of hip hop culture: “Collaborative work has always been the lifeblood of hip hop, but the digital age has made it so ridiculously easy. What’s really great at the moment though is that artists are eagerly collaborating outside of the hip hop scene, which I think is opening a lot of casual observers eyes to its technicality and musicality.”
Adam points out that hip hop has undergone a rebirth in modern music: “It’s getting really exciting again because people are doing whatever they want with it; and when they do, their peers are there to pat them on the back, offer suggestions and be influenced rather than post some nonsense diss track that makes for amusing late night YouTube viewing but not much else.”
Lazy Habits’ vocalist James Collins believes the artists are sticking to hip hop’s methodical roots: “This collaboration culture has always existed, Especially in hip hop. I think it just needs someone to pull it together.” In this case that was Joe Driscoll to begin with as he was the driving force behind the original London Posse’s improvised set that performed with an ever-changing line up of international talent. He continues: “I mean we all collaborate a lot but not on this scale.” High Cross Society covers vital new ground.
Matt Whitehouse, who plays the cajon in MLT and HCS thinks that they have created something altogether new: “I’ve been playing in bands for a long time and I’ve never known anything quite like the little pocket of musicians we’ve come across. Its an ego-free melting pot of ideas and specifically collaboration – never feeling like there’s any ulterior motive in their actions, just nurturing new talent and welcoming it into the fold.” He insists that any competition is merely healthy, “You’re around such talented people you strive to be better, they make you want to be better a musician – they challenge you and you challenge them.”
He admits he was initially surprised at the relationship between some of the artists involved: “The beat boxers are individually immensely talented, and you’d expect – or at least I did – there to be beef between them, because battling is so intrinsic in what they do, but no – they hang out, are good friends and just make each other better all the time.”
Their dwelling in the High Cross Centre has become the site for a boot camp of musical creativity. Josh (Matt’s brother and fellow band mate) explains: “When someone else is there it keeps you on your toes, you think quicker and in new ways. I think it is hugely key to your development as a musician. Working with Tali helped me to develop more in transposing electronic music effectively with acoustic instruments. I love working with Reeps when I get the chance, he has taught me so much about stage presence and power.”
He understands that their methods aren’t favoured by all artists: “I have met many who are only really keen on staying focused on their own thing. Both are important. Music can be very personal and often its not that people are opposed to playing music with others, but maybe they just haven’t met the right individuals yet.”
Joe Driscoll’s legacy of The Local Posse hangs heavy and thick like smoke around the artists who come together and make music as High Cross Society. This is more than a group of people experimenting with sound and subbing themselves into each others’ bands. High Cross Society is a way of life; they coexist entirely in this collective creative consciousness. What’s even more exciting is it is still early days and their music is still relatively immature. This all-inclusive musical melting pot have joined forces to better themselves and each other to create an elite group that will soon realise its full potential. We should be prepared.