Listen: Fresh Touch - Fresh Touch EP

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Richard and Rodaidh take a trip to Ethiopia, working with local musicians as part of a cultural exchange.

Posted 27th February 2012, 4:57pm in Features


Fresh Touch is the recording project of XL Records owner and producer Richard Russell and studio engineer Rodaidh McDonald (recorded The xx and King Krule). In a similar vein to the DRC Music album they both were involved with last year, the Fresh Touch EP saw Richard and Rodaidh take a trip to Ethiopia, working with local musicians as part of a cultural exchange.

Recorded in hotel rooms, airports and buses the EP also includes some production work from YYY's Nick Zinner. The EP is released today via Angular Records; Rodaidh McDonald takes us through it track by track.

1. Harar Rhythm
On Saturday we landed in Harar Meda Airport after an internal flight from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. After a crazy rooftop drive through the winding Harar mountain roads we arrived at the medieval walled city. Our guide took us to the cultural centre where we were privileged enough to witness the Quotaan Qoat singers: three elderly ladies seated on the stage holding tambourines and hand bells gave one of the most incredible vocal performances a lot of us had ever seen.  
When we arrived back at our hotel in Addis the following day Richard and I listened back to the recordings we had made and found a few brilliant moments.. clusters of vocals, big roomy handclaps and bassy footstomps. We started to make loops out of these recordings, structured it a little, then we introduced some extra vocal sections and bass synth. 
Back in London we sent the stems to Nick Zinner (who had also been on the trip) who brought a huge amount to this track,  adding extra synth parts and longer vocal sections from his own recordings. 

2. 68 Joint 
The beat and some of the percussion might have been put together at the hotel and the rest was completed by Richard back in London… I made a quick edit and that's how it stayed. 
In the markets and street corners we came across these amazing stalls selling bootleg cassette tapes of obscure and local Ethiopian artists. With there being very limited internet and very little distribution outside of the cities, we felt privileged to discover these recordings in this way and so bought as many as we could.
Basically our original idea for Fresh Touch was to present it like one of these tapes… a lost recording of an electronic Ethiopian group with, I suppose, western dance music / R&B aspirations. 
Cassette tapes are the main means of distributing music over there. Even in the dedicated music stores there were racks and racks of tapes and only a few vinyl relics and CDs and so keeping with this we wanted these tracks to sound like they had actually been found on a cassette somewhere. It wasn't to sound too modern however, it had to have a strong electronic element. We distorted a lot of digital synths, and ran the mixes out through cassette recorders and things. 

3. Modern Approach
This was started in Addis Ababa Bole Intl Airport as we waited for a connecting flight to Harar and then completed in a Hotel room in when we arrived. The rhythm part comes from a couple of loops made from a recording of Gurage village singers in the van as we gave them a ride back into the city. The synths might have just come off a microkorg that someone had brought along, if I remember. 
The process for recording and putting these tracks together was just a case of grabbing whoever was around at the time and getting them to play whatever instrument was nearby. Nothing was too preconceived. Along with us on the trip were a host of very talented artists and musicians who would play with the local artists. Damon Albarn, who organised the trip, summed it up best as a 'Musical Cultural Exchange', sharing of musical ideas, performance and fun. Richard and I being mainly studio people felt that actually recording, editing, and structuring some of these performances into tracks was our contribution to this exchange.

4. Adaje Legit 
Richard started the beat and sent it over. I put some of the chords down in Logic and added some sub bass. The sample which lies under the beat comes from the Shiromeda Polyphonic singers from whom we witnessed a really incredible and moving group performance in a field on the outskirts of Addis. This started with a different, more dancey structure but then we made an edit that simplified it, turning it into straightup verses and choruses in order to make it easier for a certain rapper to jump on. This never materialised but the structure remained. 

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