Friday 20 February marked the fourth performance of Brighter Sound’s Wall of Sounds Artistic Directors Series, a collaborative event showcasing new, original music. This year’s series was lead by folktronic hero Beth Orton.

I travelled to the buzzing Band on the Wall to witness a mind-blowing show of 12 new tracks that she and 14 other female musicians put together after meeting only five days prior and spending that time preparing. Carefully squeezing my way through the crowds of artists and their adoring fans after the electrifying gig, I managed to grab a few minutes of Beth’s time in her dressing room to ask her about the event.

Beth, would you like to tell us about how you became involved with this Wall of Sounds showcase?

I was approached by Brighter Sound and asked if I wanted to do it, and I immediately said yes, then I found out it was going to be all-female and I was a bit perplexed. I didn’t really get it. However, Brighter Sound then explained that only one in four applicants were women, so they wanted to do an all-female performance to draw attention to this imbalance. I thought it seemed like such a shame and it got me thinking. Why was it fewer women applied? Was it a confidence thing?

So the project then appealed to me as I thought I could hopefully be a good influence in encouraging these women in some way. It became clear that, by applying, these women wanted to come out and show what they had, and I could help them do that.

How many applicants did you choose from originally?

Brighter Sound took it from 350 applicants to 30. Then with those 30, I got to know their music through listening to it on YouTube and their CDs, and eventually managed to choose 14 to work with.

You have done a lot of collaborations throughout your career. How did this compare?

I have been lucky enough to work with so many people and have had all these incredible mentors in my life who have helped teach me and shape my music. So this week was basically a chance to give back and to enable other musicians to have the same sort of experience, hopefully. I felt like that was what was being asked of me, so it was a good opportunity to give back.

It was amazing to see such a sheer variety of musical styles and genres represented on one stage. How did you bring your experience of experimental music to the project?

I have always liked to mix it up. I mean, I have done the whole folktronic thing, so to come to this, especially from the new album I am working on at the minute, was great, as I had to opportunity to segue into something different yet complementary. It’s great to be able to park one project and then move on to another.

In fact, when I picked a lot of the musicians to work with, I thought about what we needed to get that contrast. I definitely didn’t just want singer-songwriters, although of course there are singer-songwriters here who are fucking amazing. I think it just tied in perfectly with the record I have just finished and things I learned over the last year, and became like one big melting pot of ideas.

I felt that the spirit of community on stage was great and everyone’s styles meshed together so well. Was it really as harmonious as it seemed?

It’s funny. I came into this project to help build others’ confidence in their abilities, but I think it has also helped me immensely too. I realised, just as they were acknowledging that they really could write songs and put down beats, mix with other people and make something extraordinary happen, that for me it was the same thing. After all my time as a musician I have discovered that I can help shape other musicians and maybe even produce a little bit. I loved it, as I could pick up guitars and push people into slightly different directions, but ultimately it was all their thing. It doesn’t always happen like that, but I feel with this, even with everyone of all ages and all backgrounds, things just slotted together perfectly. What a great bunch!

I heard you saying you’d like to stay in touch with everyone. Do you reckon there’s any scope for working with some of the people again in the future?

I just don’t know for certain. I can’t make any concrete promises. But, for example, I know that Becca and Kayla want to do a single of the song they did together [‘Let That Woman Go’] and if I can help in any way with that, I will. If I can ever help any of them out, I will. I would love to stay in touch with all of them, but you know I can’t go promising the world as that would be disingenuous. I really hope that the connections we have made this week remain. I was saying, “What if we go on holiday together in ten years’ time!” I do hope we stay connected, as it is so exciting to have worked with them.

Can you tell us any more about what you are working on at the minute? Will this collaboration have had any impact on it?

I have just finished recording an album and I have got to mix it. It’s something a bit different as I have been working with a guy called Andrew Hung from Fuck Buttons. When we met up to work together, he handed me a lot of power by saying, “Do you want to do keyboards?” So that’s what we did. I’d play the keyboards and he’d mess around and build and layer the sounds. In a way, it was a similar experience as with this Wall of Sounds collaboration as he was generous and I was open, so it created a sort of beautiful symbiosis.

We’ll see anyway. I don’t know when it’s coming out yet, so I don’t want to say too much about it. But yeah I’m excited!

Background photo by Joel Chester Fildes.

Elspeth Vischer