From the sound of his own home, to pigs, prisons and explosions, for nearly thirty years Matthew Herbert has been using music to tell stories about the world around him.
Matthew Herbert, also known as simply Herbert, as well as a string of other guises including Doctor Rockit, Radio Boy and Wishmountain, has been releasing music for almost three decades. Sometimes pieces intended to make us think, other times just really great dance records, the raw gritty idiosyncrasy of his sound is rooted in his experimental method; nothing comes from pre-existing tools or presents, every individual component recorded and manipulated into music.
Throughout his prolific musical career, Matthew Herbert has created everything from big band jazz to driving techno. For every comparatively commercial piece of music, there is something conversely experimental or thought-provoking. These releases have often appeared almost side by side, Herbert’s freedom to explore different ideas and sounds made possible by his various monikers.
From simple, straightforward house tracks to albums that chart the life of a pig, sampling its journey from birth to death, Matthew Herbert’s projects have always succeeded in garnering attention. While coverage of the political and ethical statements within some of his work has been inevitable, and intentional, his music has also repeatedly been praised for its enduring craft and musicality. Twenty plus years after their initial release, Herbert’s early house music productions still stand up today, and many have been recently reissued following years of continued demand.
Released back in 1995 under his Doctor Rockit alias, the Ready to Rockit EP, set the course for what would become Herbert’s distinctive sound. That year also saw the release of Birds; the first 12inch to appear under Herbert’s own name, it straddled the house and garage genres popular at the time, evolving the Dr Rockit sound into something beefier and more club-oriented. A year later, Herbert released a run of dancefloor-ready 12s, including tracks like “Rude, Shuffler and Our Love (Has Got Me Movin’)”. Though distinct, each record displayed the steady development of a signature off-kilter, jazz-infused house sound.
By the end of the 90s, Herbert had released two full studio albums, 100lbs and Around the House. The latter saw the producer reshaping recorded sounds from within his home to create electronic music, setting in motion the artistic method which he has followed ever since. By the early 2000s, Herbert had become both an in-demand remixer and producer, working with artists like Roisin Murphy, Micachu and Bjork. Reworks of tracks like Moloko’s “Sing it Back” have stood the test of time, remaining faithful to the original crowd pleaser whilst adding a unique, timeless dancefloor quality.
While this was all happening under his dance-oriented moniker, Matthew Herbert was simultaneously releasing the experimental, artistic pieces that have remained a continuous focus right through to the present today. Over recent years, the artist has protested capitalism by offering free downloads of tracks that use sounds from McDonalds and Gap, made music from a five second recording of bombing in Libya and, even on the relatively poppy 2015 album Shakes, sampled protests and prisons.
For Matthew Herbert, sound is certainly valued as a powerful and evocative tool. Whether it’s in the blissful euphoria of the Herbert track “I Hadn’t Known (I Only Heard)” or the recordings of a fast food restaurant as Radio Boy, when it comes to making music, every sound counts for something.