From The Basement A rare, live session from Caribou

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WordsLucy Bourton

WeTransfer has partnered with Nigel Godrich's iconic music series “From The Basement” to bring you six new performances from some of the world's most extraordinary artists and bands. Here you can see a rare, close-up show from Canadian-born, era-defining composer and musician Caribou, recorded in his home-town of London. Here writer Lucy Bourton speaks to Nigel Godrich and Caribou about the magic of this intimate live session.

The output of Dan Snaith, the Canadian-born, London-based artist who performs under the moniker Caribou, is a distinctive combination. Lyrically, Snaith’s material holds heartfelt emotion—from his beloved hit “Can’t Do Without You”, through to recent tracks like “You and I”—yet musically his sound swirls with the euphoric tendencies of electronic dance music. Caribou’s songs are ones you close your eyes in sweaty clubs to. They’re tracks to fill dance floors, rather than necessarily be watched as a musical performance. 

And so this session, recorded as part of a new series of Nigel Godrich’s “From The Basement” created with WeTransfer, perhaps won’t be what those familiar with Snaith’s material are expecting. Under usual circumstances, Snaith’s artistry is modestly hidden, visible only as a silhouette against a vibrant light show of animated visuals. But within the confines of Godrich’s south London studio, all focus turns to Snaith’s intricate style of composing.

Although Caribou operates as a solo project during writing and recording phases, since 2003 performances have always featured a live band. This group is currently made up of Ryan Smith (a childhood friend of Snaith’s) on guitar and keys, John Schmersal on bass and drummer Brad Weber. Interestingly, the band only meet once an album has been recorded. Then, in a process Snaith describes as “reverse engineering what most bands do,” the group will pick apart a track to figure out the most interesting way to perform it. “They kind of play to the different sides of my personality,” says the artist of this unique process. “The one who likes the kind of quiet and solitude of working by myself, and the more social, gregarious and collaborative side as well.”

Heading to Godrich’s studio in May 2022, Caribou’s “From The Basement” session was recorded just as the four-piece headed out on a repeatedly rescheduled tour. Largely performing songs from Caribou’s 2020 record “Suddenly”, the recording sees each member huddled in a chaotic circle of drum kits, Apple Macs and keyboards. Each executing a layered variety of sounds, the outcome is a nightclub within a house-show set up—where Caribou’s members play calmly (and comfortably, with their shoes off), while Godrich and his team bob their heads in the background.

Yet even within this relaxed environment, it’s the level of precision of each member you’re likely to walk away astounded by. Within seconds of opening with the track “New Jade”, the harmonic tone of Snaith and Schmersal’s combined voices is exactly as it sounds on record, while Weber and Smith play drums and guitar with such accuracy you could mistake them for samples. Weber’s rigor is continually noticeable on the second track, “Ravi”, as he switches between a drum pad and kit—later joined by Snaith for a double-drummed outro. The session then ends with the 2021 elation-inducing single, “You Can Do It”, for seven minutes of escalating joy.

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You can see them working together, an interaction between them that’s usually in the dark.
Nigel Godrich

This distinct quality of Caribou is also one of the reasons Godrich wished the band to join this series of “From The Basement”. First meeting when Caribou supported Radiohead on their 2012 “King of Limbs” tour, Godrich is a longtime fan of Snaith’s way back to his first few records. “I am in awe of him,” as the producer simply puts it. However, joining Godrich in his studio was also a leap of faith for Snaith: “He was so trusting to come into a scenario where he doesn’t have any of his production or lights and do this,” says Godrich.

In turn, there was an added layer of pressure on the producer’s shoulders to reveal the mechanics of an operation rarely seen. “It was potentially one of those things where it’s like, ‘oh god I really hope this works’, but my priority is to make something that works for the art that he’s making. I think what we’ve made is something really interesting.” Dually for Snaith there was a wish to finally have a record of this process: “We don't do a lot of sessions like this,” he says, “but the idea of having a document of our live performance recorded by someone I have the utmost respect for… I know it’s going to sound great, I know it’s going to look great, everything about it is well-captured.”

This creation of audio visual artifacts is exactly what “From The Basement” has offered to artists since its inception, in which you can finally see “the performance element to it all,” as Godrich describes. And in this case, Snaith’s session offers a doubly rare viewing opportunity. “You can see them working together, an interaction between them that’s usually in the dark,” adds Godrich. “You’re used to watching that show and surrendering to the sound-system, but that’s what’s interesting about Caribou.”

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