On Ntone

Ever been back to somewhere you lived as a child? You've spent your whole life moving, going forward, forgetting and then suddenly... you stop, look round. Everything is familiar - like you only left yesterday - but wrong, like you'd never been there before. Too small, different layout, not as sunny, the snow not so deep. An old and new geography all in one space.

Riz Maslen grew up in a small village in Gloucestershire, doing what country kids do - catching sticklebacks in the brook, playing in the fields, whatever. But while a childhood in the country might be idyllic, the teen years are less so. Like a million and one country kids before and since her, she devoted her time to dropping acid and forming ramshackle bands.

When she moved to London in the late eighties she found acid house waiting for her - the perfect escape route from the stultifying country air. She ended up recording vocals for Future Sound of London and even performing with them on Top Of The Pops. But, having seen FSOL and 4Hero working in the studio, being a singer was never going to satisfy her. Next came a stint as the keyboard player with The Beloved, but even there Riz felt too much control was in the hands of others.

Instead, with a small loan, Maslen bought a home studio set up and began recording the material that she would release under the name Neotropic. Neotropic ended up signing with Ntone in 1995, while in the same year she signed as Small Fish With Spine to Oxygen Music Works in New York.

Since 1996, Neotropic has released two albums on Ntone. The first, '15 Levels Of Magnification' was critically acclaimed and established her as a talent to watch. The second, 'Mr Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock' realised that talent. Described in Mixmag as "inspirational", other magazines also waxed lyrical: "A gamut of emotional, feeling music is within, detailing love, hate, anger, hope and despair" (Wax).

Over her time with Ntone, Riz has toured extensively in the US and in Europe, including sets with Paul Jason Fredericks at both the Montreaux Jazz Festival and last year's Coachella festival. This year her live commitments will include a special showcase with a full string section where members of The Orchestra will reintepret her new album, 'La Prochaine Fois' ('The Next Time') in a band that will also include Nick McCabe (formerly of The Verve).

In many ways, 'La Prochaine Fois' is both a development and a return, a summarisation of where Riz is coming from and where she's going. For one thing, the collaborative element of the music has grown. Paul Jason Fredericks makes an appearance, but so too does Nick McCabe of the Verve, whose guitar playing makes a significant contribution to the sound of the music, and Sally Herbert, who has provided string arrangements for, amongst others, the Manic Street Preachers. It continues Riz's search for emotion and earthiness in electronics, this time with a more organic and live approach that harks back to the English folk tradition of Nick Drake, sideways to the post-rock experiments of Jim O'Rourke et al and forward to a new way of making electronic music.

But it also seems to hark back to Riz's days catching sticklebacks, as well as her days of teen country-alienation, exciting days in the city and terrible days in the city, journies around the world and afternoons at home. It's an album of memories and recollections, twisted round and shot forward into the future.

This is as it should be. Because 'La Prochaine Fois' is also a film, a road movie, in fact, compiled by Riz on her travels. Cinema is an area in which Riz has become increasingly involved. Her music is being used in the independent film 'System Noise', directed by Josh Ferrazzano, which was shown at the Sundance 2000 festival. She has also collaborated with avant garde electronic muscican Kaffe Mathews on a film score for a short film called 'Dish' directed by Melonie Poole. 'Dish' is to be screened at Cannes 2001. In addition, Riz has been involved with the music for a John Woo television series shown in the USA and Canada, has licensed music to Channel 4 and Sky. She has also used projections and visuals in the live show she has taken round the world. Now, all her work is coming together.

Back in the country, but it's somewhere else.

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