High Fives 2020 (20) – CHOPCHOP

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Here’s another one of our second wave of 2020 High Fives. The band CHOPCHOP hails from Brighton and are described variously as out there, a mad crew, part jazz/prog/post-punk/hip-hop and funk, led by a mad Galician performance poet. Here’s how they managed to get the best out the dogpile that was 2020:

We started 2020 fully pumped up as the album we’d been working on for the last few years, “Everything Looks So Real”, was ready for launch and we had a tour lined up. All set to go with our new guitarist, Ade, we played two very sweaty and raucous gigs to kick this off – a Baba Yaga’s Hut gig at the Moth Club in Hackney and the other our album launch at the Hope & Ruin in Brighton. By the third gig however – at Worthing’s Bar 41 – whipping up a room into a sweaty mess was starting to feel distinctly jarring, as the seriousness of the pandemic was starting to set in.  The venue has one wall that is covered in acrylic fur and there was the uncomfortable sensation that to come close to it was akin to running through a field of Covid grass with your arms wide open.  Then shortly afterwards there was the realisation:  we might not be doing this for quite some time, and yes – rest of the tour has got to go in the bin. So, not such a high five this, but to rewind to the start – our debut album finally came out, it went down well – so yay to that! 

Xelís, our vocalist, is originally from Galicia in Spain, and as the worrying news of daily rocketing cases there was coming in, and the prospect of the first lockdown loomed, it came to crunchtime and he took one of the last flights out to be with family and friends. So with the band now spread far and wide we tried at first to play and write together online, but it just didn’t work as a live thing – too laggy and disorientating no matter which app we tried.  Abandoning that we instead went for ’email tennis’ – each of us starting a track and adding sections and passing it on. This felt like it unveiled a whole new load of dynamics and ideas that wouldn’t usually surface – so that’s been a definite upside to the whole thing.  

Outside of music we were all looking for ways to keep ourselves stimulated – for me I found it in walking and discovering parts of the outskirts of Brighton I hadn’t come previously across in my 25 years here. One favourite walk was to Coney Wood, where I came across this fungus which resembled almost identically a pork pie on a log.

It was a year with no big road trips or far-flung adventures, so any bit of magic or mystery close to home became extra special. Towards the end of the summer I was looking out to sea and spotted a man emerging from the water cradling what looked like a very heavy and brightly coloured object.  It turned out to be a 3 foot high Ganesh, which must have been cast into the sea as part of the Hindu Chaturthi ritual that usually happens in September. A crowd gathered round as the man hauled him up the beach and set him down on the pebbles, everyone charmed by this unexpected visitation. What was nice was that he stayed there for a month, with people leaving gifts and going to say hello, then come the high tides in October he was taken back by the sea, with just a few fragments of him left, smashed on the promenade.         

In Galicia, Xelis is better known as a writer than for his CHOPCHOPing, and November saw the release of the first translation into English of one of his books: Feral River – a collision of all the stories with a river as protagonist that have inspired him over the years.  

Around this time we were also able to go to a couple of low-key gigs in town, one a Miles Davis tribute in a church, and the other a VR gig-cum-immersive theatre experience at our favourite venue, The Rose Hill, who have also started a label and released our album, Everything Looks So Real.  The feeling of excitement that you were at an actual real-life gig was immense, and a good reminder of how precious a thing live music is. 

With all of us back in the same country, and with Xelis post-quarantine, we were able to resume our weekly rehearsals. In a year when there was often a feeling of disconnect with others, and where events came mediated through screens, it was a real salve to be in a room playing and creating with other live humans.  This was also the year we welcomed Ade properly into the band and it was exciting to hear the new ideas he was bringing in every week. Come the new restrictions in mid-December this all had to be knocked on the head of course, but while they lasted these sessions were the thing I was most looking forward to every week, so let’s call them High Five 5! 

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