Lee Bannon

Pattern of Excel is the latest offering from Lee Bannon and his second album through Ninja Tune. Once again, it has gone against expectations with its mix of surf rock inspirations and poolside references

To label Lee Bannon is a fool’s errand; his musical output remains in constant flux. Approaching any of his releases, such as the latest Pattern of Excel, with a particular expectation is your own shortcoming.

I'm in that period where I want to expand and show that I can do more than just make a beat

Even his identity has seen a recent transformation. His original moniker – derived from the Wu Tang slang term for the city of Long Beach (‘Lebanon’) in his home state in California – has now changed to just ¬ B (Alt L + B), meaning ‘not Bannon’.

“The name I feel has reached its limits,” writes Bannon in a note to his fans. “The current works I feel have grown to such an extreme that it must have its own pulse, without the stigma of past works or a genre ... Music I compose in the future can no longer exist in the same realm any longer with music I created when I was 17, fickle and still developing.”

The end-part of the message refers to a time 10-years-ago when he was making hip hop at high school in his hometown in Sacramento.

After meeting the likes of west coast artists Oh No (Madlib’s younger brother), the Alchemist and Hieroglyphics crew founder Del tha Funky Homosapien, Bannon’s career as a beat maker had taken off.

Moving to New York, Bannon paired up with rapper Joey Badass and the Pro Era crew to work on the 2013 mixtape Summer Knights.

Hip hop was soon left behind after Bannon signed to Ninja Tune and released his debut Alternate/Endings. The album, a reimagining of UK jungle, highlighted his will to follow his own musical path and ignore expectations.

With Pattern of Excel, he has done the same again. And the same for Bannon is always something completely different.

I looked at this project as a wave
goodbye to the Lee Bannon stuff

Could you speak about the ideas behind Patterns of Excel?
I went through a lot of phases with this album. What I wanted to do was capture more of the scene where I grew up, which involved a lot of rockabilly, surf rock and things like that. I wanted to implement some of that but still in an IDM fashion. Also, to make it sound very aquatic, like some poolside jams. I really don't know how I reached that destination but I just kept going with it for a year.

Quite a long time then?
Yeah. The album, under the same title Patterns of Excel probably took like a year and a half. There were two different done and completed versions of it – one sounding completely different from the other. I liked that version but it didn't feel like I took it to where I wanted to.

Was the process a lot different this time than with previous work?
Yeah, I'm actually playing the guitar you know. As opposed to Alternate/Endings, I was playing the instrument and using a lot more analogue stuff – like modular synth effects and some ARP stuff.

Did you play guitar from a young age?
No. I had one for the last three years and I only started noodling around with it for the last eight months – but every day.

The process of learning an instrument as a producer must be quite different.
Yeah. I look at it more that I play with five-strings not six. Not having traditional lessons with guitar gives it its own vibe.

Would you say this is a new direction for you or just one entity?
I looked at this project as a wave goodbye to the Lee Bannon stuff. It’s a way of morphing into something new. Something that looks more complete and exists at a level that I want to create at.

I don't know if you saw the note [on Instagram] but that along with this album was me saying goodbye. Now I'm going to do it under a moniker [¬ b] that doesn't have preconceived notions of what stuff's going to sound like before it comes out.

Now I feel like I can strip it back
and do something accessible

If you're doing something like this album and people drop genres on it, its because there’s certain references – its like post rock and very far from hip hop. But if you go into a store and look for it, its going to say hip hop and R&B.

Do you think genres are important?
I think they're important but equally not. It depends on what type of person you are.

From a creative perspective?
No, they're not. But for business, they definitely are.

You've previously spoken about not wanting to be put in a box. It seems that you’re continuously moving through different sounds.
It's still in flux. I feel like I laid a pretty good foundation with hip hop. I mean you've got people like Nick Cave and Brian Eno who made their groundwork in one specific genre and then started experimenting. I think I laid the groundwork in that genre now. I'm in that period where I want to expand and show that I can do more than just make a beat.

From the perspective of the listener, this album makes you work.
The other stuff was easy to listen to because you know it’s this or that. It makes sense to why it exists.

With my live show at MUTEK, I'll be doing my first show with guitar – just ambient guitar and reverb. More sets like that and expanding. More than just a CDJ. Becoming more of a performer.

It seems today that producers are introducing more acoustic elements into dance music.
Sometimes that vibe is good. That's why I really like what Oneohtrix Point Never or the Haxan Cloak are doing – where you're not really going to dance, you're going to see a performance.

How are you going to approach performing this album?
I'll play it live at certain events – MUTEK is one of those events. But the conditions have to be right. If I'm getting booked at a club, it's not the proper set up. At the same time, stuff like Boiler Room is an alternative to that – it's experimental but you can get into some type of groove to it.

I wanted to speak about your musical roots. I heard that your mum got you into Goldie?
Yeah she was really into drum'n'bass. But I don't think it was even Goldie. It was a tape she had in her old car that had that song on there.

When I was growing up in Sacramento,
there was kind of a weird scene

But other stuff like Janet Jackson too. In some of her earlier albums there was a lot of experimental sounds – almost like a Björk album.

It took me a while to return to the drum'n'bass though.

Was there much of a scene for it in Sacramento?
Now. But when I was growing up in Sacramento, there was kind of a weird scene. Trash Talk, Death Grips, Chelsea Wolfe – we were all within a five-mile radius of each other. It was kind of strange because we all went off and did our own things. At the time, we were kind of just figuring it out.

Was there a rave scene?
Yeah there was a DJ out there who was kind of the common link for a lot of us. That's how I met Zach Hill from Death Grips. His name was DJ Whores. He showed me a lot of drum'n'bass. He was playing it at his nights at a place called TownHouse, which was in like midtown Sacramento. He was the centre of this world. This was around 2008-2011. It was at its peak at around 2010.

It's always interesting from the UK perspective to hear that there's a jungle scene on the west coast.
Recently its being going on more. But when I was growing up, it was just people who make ska and white guys with dread. That was who was playing that stuff. But DJ Whores was playing it too and we'd ask about it.

Have you left the jungle stuff behind now?
No, definitely not. I've got so much content from when I was doing Alternate/Endings that didn't make it on there.

I've now reached how I want to project myself

I make remixes, breakcore tracks and stuff like that all the time. I just haven't released it yet because I thought a lot of people would have thought that would be predictable.

Do you think you've learnt a lot from this album about what you can do?
Yeah that's really what that album is too: testing out ability. It's really experimental and kind of a tough listen. Now I feel like I can strip it back and do something accessible. Now that I know all the ins and outs of the technical part, I have the ability to create what I want.

From when I started doing music in high school to now, a lot of the growth was publicised in the media. Most people get to do that in privacy, to get to that point where they're like, now it's ready.

Over that 10-year period, I've now reached how I want to project myself.

Do you think there's an end goal?
I think I've reached a point where I know what I want to do for a while.