Mark Ronson: My Creators Project will be like Disneyland for hipsters
By David Smyth, Evening Standard
A new collaborative arts event is coming to London next month, and naturally Mark Ronson is at the centre of it.
The London-born, New York-based producer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist has the best contacts in the business. It's in the blood: his father managed bands and his stepfather, Mick Jones, founded the soft rock group Foreigner.
Since his days of spinning records at the shiniest celebrity parties (including Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's wedding) he's been in demand by musicians as diverse as P Diddy, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Ghostface Killah. Never mind Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon — Ronson can do it in one.
The Grammy and Brit Award he won for his star-studded covers album, Version, and especially the modern soul sound he masterminded for Winehouse, have proved that it's not just who he knows but what he knows, too.
Now, as he gears up to release a third album that radically alters his familiar, horn-packed sound, he's also a driving force behind The Creators Project, a “content creation studio” that has its first live event in New York this weekend before moving on to London, São Paulo, Seoul and Beijing. “It's like Disneyland for hipsters,” Ronson tells me in his slow, posh, mid-Atlantic tones.
The Creators Project is the joint concept of computer technology giants Intel and Vice, a style magazine so frighteningly hip it emits an electric shock if you pick it up while wearing the wrong trainers. “It's easy to be a little bit cynical, to think it's a multimillion-dollar company leeching off something for cool points, but in this case they're genuinely passionate about it,” Ronson claims.
Like a one-day mini festival that takes over the multi-storey Victoria House in Bloomsbury Square, it aims to bring together artists, film-makers and musicians from around the world, knowns and unknowns, and bounce them off each other. Other notables who have signed up include Interpol, MIA, Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Gorillaz artist Jamie Hewlett. Civilian attendees can see the installations and attend panel discussions during the day, with the tantalising possibility of collaborating with the musicians during live performances in the evening. London's free gig will feature Ronson, Bloc Party's Kele Okereke and Filthy Dukes, among others.
Ronson, 34, is a natural fit for such creative bedhopping. “Collaboration is probably one of my better talents, knowing who fits good with what.”
Even as a relative unknown, he brought together reggae star Sean Paul, Rivers Cuomo of indie rockers Weezer and rappers Q-Tip and Mos Def to appear on his low-selling debut album, Here Comes the Fuzz, in 2003. He really struck gold (three times platinum, in fact) with Version, three years ago.
He took one set of indie favourites (Radiohead's Just, The Smiths' Stop Me, Kaiser Chiefs' Oh My God etc), added a different set of singers (Winehouse, Allen, Robbie Williams) and covered the whole thing with partytime horns and hip-hop beats.
Its ubiquity came at a cost, however: Ronson became predictable, even adding that parpy brass to the first ever official remix of a Bob Dylan song, Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine) in 2007. “I just love the sound of those Motown and Stax horn sections. That's what I was raised on,” he says. “But Version's success has challenged me to switch things up. To be honest I'm glad the new album sounds nothing like it.” This week I was given access to one of only two copies of Record Collection currently in the country. There are no cover versions this time, and no horns, but it does still sound like Ronson. It suggests that his primary colours are not those trumpets after all but a great tune and a crisp, hip-hop breakbeat.
And a lengthy guestlist, of course. As on his debut, Ronson has filled the songs with rappers foremost. Q-Tip (again), Theophilus London, Spank Rock and more appear for shouty interludes on nearly every track. Singers range from up-and-coming girls MNDR and “heart-melting” Rose Elinor Dougall, to indie boys such as Kyle Falconer of The View, to Eighties greats Simon Le Bon and Boy George, to Ronson himself, a first-time singer who smothers his voice in an echo effect to avoid embarrassment.
“I need to be around other creative people before I feel replenished enough to start working on my music,” he says. The inspiration this time came from working with Duran Duran on their next album, still untitled and without a release date.
Their keyboard guru Nick Rhodes became Ronson's mentor. The retro sound now comes from a procession of analogue synthesizers instead of trumpets. “It was like when you get a new bicycle and you love it and want to ride it every day. I heard these synths and fell in love. As Nick was partly responsible for the sound I really wanted him to like it. He ended up playing on the title track.” It's different, but it works, especially on that image-puncturing title track and the extraordinary Somebody to Love Me, what Ronson calls a “melancholy afrobeat Tropicalia thing” on which a husky Boy George has rarely sounded more soulful. “The only way I've ever been able to create something really interesting is by forging all these different influences together until no one genre is recognisable.” No doubt he'll make plenty more influential friends at The Creators Project and give his sound another makeover. This musical chameleon won't be typecast again.
The Creators Project London event is at Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, WC1, on July 17.
Register for free tickets from 10am Monday morning at thecreatorsproject.com. Mark Ronson & The Business Intl also play July 17 earlier in the evening at the Lovebox Festival, Victoria Park, E3 (0844 847 2436, lovebox.net). Record Collection is released by Columbia in September.