The experimental folk trio Lau have made a name for themselves by pushing the boundaries. Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke speak to Jo Frost about curating their own festival, Lau-Land
Anyone familiar with Lau will be aware that the trio love a bit of collaboration – whether it’s performing with the Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu, wigging out with Norwegian jazzer Bugge Wesseltoft or creating avant-garde contemporary music with the Elysian Quartet. So the idea of them curating their own festival in order to perform with some of their favourite musicians seems like a no-brainer. The impetus behind Lau-Land is simple: “To present music that we find inspiring is our remit, which covers quite a lot of music,” Green explains. “And to try and get as much interaction as possible. It has always been good for us as musicians in such a small unit to take inspiration from outside sources.”
It undoubtedly helps that all three are voracious listeners of music. “I don’t think all bands love sitting around listening to music, but we genuinely do,” Green says. “There is always music in the van. It’s the perfect opportunity to listen to music.”
O’Rourke elaborates on the philosophy behind Lau-Land: “The whole ethos of collaboration is strong. It’s the theme that we wanted to run through them all; encourage as much collaboration onstage and offstage as possible. It’s a bit like ‘musical shepherding,’” O’Rourke laughs, “get them in an enclosure together and see what happens!”
There’s a clear pride in their folk origins that certainly influences the programming. “We’re really proud of our folkie thing,” Green acknowledges. One aspect of this is the traditional music session. “It’s a kind of social phenomenon,” explains Green, “how we can introduce this thing that we love to other people?”
Among the names on the Bristol Lau-Land programme are Tinariwen and Omar Souleyman. “There’s something about Tinariwen’s sound and their landscape which you can completely connect with, which has always interested me,” O’Rourke says. “As far as music is concerned, the music we write as a band, it’s all about places and landscapes – this is so obvious and beautiful in Tinariwen’s music.”
There are less obvious connections with the Syrian wedding singer, Omar Souleyman. At the time of speaking it’s not clear whether there will be a collaborative element to Souleyman’s set but O’Rourke confesses that he’d love to see a piper onstage with the singer: “I can just totally hear traditional Scottish Highland bagpipes with this music!”
There are plenty of other aspects to give the event its USP: the Lau-Lab, ‘a platform for traditional and experimental musicians to meet and learn from each other,’ and the Collaboration Station, which involves some jazzers, a few folkies and electronic musicians spending a day together, culminating in a free public performance on the Friday night. Then there’s the Emerging Music Platform, a stage for up-and-coming acts, selected by Lau.
Audience participation has become very much a part of Lau-Land. “Folkies go to festivals and expect to play in sessions and do workshops. That exists much less outside the folk world but there’s no real reason why it should not exist,” says Green. So there will be a range of workshops, including Sam Lee doing a song collecting workshop and Hacker Farm doing one about instrument-making. After London, Gateshead, Edinburgh and Bristol, where next? “We like the idea it’s a moveable festival,” explains O’Rourke, “we could do it anywhere, anytime… we’ve even talked about doing one in Tokyo.” It looks like Lau’s musical utopian vision is about to go global.
DATES The next Lau-Land takes place at Colston Hall in Bristol from May 29-31. Songlines Magazine is an official media partner. Buy tickets.