Composer Jules Buckley Talks Ibiza Classics & Bringing the Sounds Of New York to the BBC Proms

Suki Dhanda
Jules Buckley

Orchestral composer, conductor and arranger Jules Buckley has worked with everyone from Massive Attack to Quincy Jones to Arctic Monkeys to Tori Amos and has credits on over 70 albums. In collaboration with DJ Pete Tong, he brought together club music and classical for the Ibiza Classics live show, which reinterprets some of the White Isle's iconic dance records into orchestra arrangements and has packed out arenas around the world, including last year's gig at the Hollywood Bowl. Tong and Buckley also worked together on the hit albums Classic House and Ibiza Classics, while Buckley collected a Grammy for Sylva, his 2015 collaboration with U.S. jazz group Snarky Puppy.

The British-born composer's latest project sees him bring his Heritage Orchestra back to the BBC Proms for New York: Sound Of A City -- a one-off live show paying tribute to one of the world's most influential music cities that will feature live performances from Sharon Van Etten, Serpentwithfeet, Nitty Scott and Hercules and Love Affair.

"There will be some stuff that the audience will relate to and some stuff that's just going to totally wig them out," predicts Buckley -- who doubles as chief conductor of the Netherlands-based Metropole Orkest.  New York: Sound Of A City takes place at London's Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 8 August.

What was the original idea behind New York: Sound Of A City?

Right from when Chris Wheeler and I first founded the Heritage Orchestra 14 years ago, the focus has been orchestral projects that are fresh out of the box and a little bit unpredictable. Last October, me and Chris started kicking ideas around about the idea of a dirty modern electro disco project and where that sound emanates from. Obviously, over the years there's been a hell of a lot of great disco that's come out of New York. What quickly became apparent is that this new electro disco scene in New York is so eclectic and diverse it's impossible to really define it. So we've put together a concert based upon snapshots of current artists that are doing some real cool shit there.

What kind of music and artists were you listening to for inspiration while putting together the show?

At one point we were considering trying to create a DFA Records vibe. There was also quite a deep delving into different rappers from NYC at the moment -- people like Princess Nokia. We also went back to stuff Blondie and tried to figure out if there was a way to link that into the concept and make it work. It was when we heard Hercules and Love Affair track "Omnion" that features Sharon Van Etten -- who was already on our hitlist -- that everything fell into place.

Will you include references to New York's musical heritage in the concert?

Originally we were looking at a historical idea, but you don't have enough time in 75 minutes to pull that off. So we're definitely going to throw in a couple of touchstone moments. We have got one lined-up which we think is really going to resonate. We'll also be focusing on the original music of the artists themselves. Someone like Serpentwithfeet just feels very fresh right now. He's totally got his own sound and it lends itself very well to orchestral reworking. So there will be some stuff that the audience will be able to relate to and some stuff that's just going to totally wig them out.

What's the key to making classical crossover concerts work?

I personally don't like the term crossover classical. I think when the word crossover starts get bandied around it gives off the impression that there's this spot in the middle you're trying to target where you don't necessarily understand either worlds. This is more like contemporary music in a large ensemble setting. If you look at composers like The National's Bryce Dessner and Micachu who pool their influences from far and wide, you would class it as contemporary. The goal here is to reimagine the works of these artists in a large ensemble context and show the different possibilities of the music. That same interpretative, explorative technique applies to any composer from any genre in history, from Quincy Jones to Henry Purcell. You're essentially taking ideas, riffs and motifs, fucking with them and seeing if what comes out at the end is any good.

2018 feels like a very vibrant time for contemporary classical and non-classical orchestra music. Would you agree?

I'd say it's boom time for fresh orchestral projects. I think I've never seen so much stuff going on. When we started Heritage Orchestra back in 2004 our aim was to take the music into different places to different audiences. Now so many artists are looking to orchestras for inspiration and for colours and sounds that they maybe haven't found before. Audiences are also attending more of these projects and learning in the process. [Streaming] has had an unquestionable impact in enabling people to check out different stuff and discover new sounds. The question is whether they can get to the end of an album without skipping to the next track?

One of your best-known previous projects for the BBC Proms was 2016's Quincy Jones Prom, a musical celebration of the legendary pop producer. You also reunited with him on an international tour of live concerts to mark his recent 85th birthday. What was that like?

What was crazy about putting together the initial BBC proms concert was how do you define an artist's work in 100 minutes of music when he's got 79 Grammy nominations and hundreds of hundreds of albums. It was several months of painstaking research to figure out what would work, sending that setlist back to him and his team and seeing what songs Quincy did and didn't dig. Ultimately, it was massively inspiring and obviously very humbling to work with someone like Quincy.

Have you been surprised by the global success of the Ibiza Classics brand?

It was something that we never anticipated. When we put together our first project we just thought it was going to be a one-off. There was a lot of furore [in the U.K.] around it at the time because of the nature of what that music was and because it was being featured in the  the Proms. But the fact that we've been able to take the show all over the world has been insane and we're still on that trip. There are so many people that can associate with a lot of these classic tunes and now, years later, are coming to hang with us at these gigs. It's something that's very touching and really cool to be a part of. When I was a teenager, I was not into dance market. I was into grunge and heavy metal and jazz, so for me it's been a really nice journey and appreciation of another music form.

What else do you have planned for the year ahead?

We're currently working on Ibiza Classics album number three. We have got a couple of special things going on there, which I have to keep under my hat for now. The other main goal is to finally put together an album of my own stuff. Over the last few years whenever I've had breaks from collaborations I would go back and continue with my own stuff and in the next 12 months I'm going to make a big push on that. It's something that I've been longing to do and I think creatively I need to do it.