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The conversation is about rebirth and new identities. Specifically the news that Sweden is renaming ten species of birds because they have “racist” names, giving them a new identity that fits more with the country’s modern thinking. How exactly does this fit a discussion with electronic trio Portico on a Tuesday afternoon at Ninja Tune HQ? Well, the band were hatched from the remains of critically-acclaimed, Mercury nominated jazz group Portico Quartet. But what their reduced personnel and reduced name offers is wildly different from jazz – the horns and hang drum have been replaced by ethereal electronic soundscapes. Duncan Bellamy, Milo Fitzpatrick and Jack Wyllie became three with the departure of Keir Vine in July/August last year. It suits a narrative to see the new name and the new sound as a phoenix like rise from the ashes (we have a full album about to drop already), but reality shows a much longer gestation period for their change. Wyllie explains, “It feels quite long. We were writing stuff as the three of us before Kier properly left. He officially left in July last year, when we put out a note about it. It had been happening before that and we had already been writing stuff.” “I think we just felt that we wanted to do something quite different. Between us the music we were making didn’t quite match what we were into. We went away for about a year to find a way of working and we did a few bits and bobs, but nothing we were that satisfied with and then we got to a point when we nearly stopped doing it. But we decided to give it one last shot and start again with something fresh and a completely new approach.” Comparing the two sounds, “fresh” is one word that is entirely apt. This is a new world of production-based electronic sound completed by a series of guest vocalists. “We have been quite lucky to have these close personal connections with Jamie and Joe, who we have known personally for quite some time. There was a period of trying things and it just not working and we had to go out and try people, mess around and experiment,” says Fitzpatrick. The ‘Jamie’ of which they speak is former housemate Jamie Woon, and ‘Joe’ is Alt-J front-man Joe Newman. The trio of vocalists is completed by new label mate Jono McCleery. The close personal connections may go some way to explaining the sheer ease with which the collaborators fit into the whole sound of Portico. Each vocalist is distinct but similar enough to make forthcoming album Living Fields feel like a complete work. Fitzpatrick elaborates, “We wanted to make it into a body of work that flowed and didn’t feel disjointed and it needed the right singers and right approach, and you always come back to the people who are nearest and dearest. Jack knows Joe, and Jamie who we lived with and even Jono we’ve known from a long time ago. You realise you’ve got a lot of it right in front of you.” Despite the album being a fairly equal affair, it is McCleery that is central to this new band, as the man they started the creative process with and as a fourth member for their live outings (ironically making them a quartet again). But in the scheme of things there is something that really gels with Joe Newman, as if his vocals were made specifically for Portico (causing some errant Youtube commenters to wrongly argue this is an Alt-J side-project).
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