Remi Rough (London, 1971) is one of the greatest exponents of the abstract current of urban art. Coming from the UK art scene of the 80s, he has since then worked in the public as well as in the gallery space. The artist combines the purism of avant-garde movements such as Suprematism, with a totally modern expressionistic energy inspired by music and the fragmented urban environment, to create powerful abstract compositions. His synthetic yet dynamic lines and neat geometric color forms, whether on walls or on canvas, acquire an almost sculptural dimension.
As music’s abstract language, in Remi’s paintings the visual elements become a chromatic system of pure forms. In his works colors, lines and shapes are modulated as visual “chords” in a musical composition, resulting in a dynamic, yet neatly precise structure, where nothing is arbitrary and everything is in the right place.
Music On Walls had the chance to discuss with Remi Rough while he was preparing his first solo show in Italy "Symphony of Systematic Minimalism" at Wunderkammern Gallery in Rome. For this exhibition, Remi Rough has explored the relationship between visual art and music and has produced a 9 track album that directly correlates to the paintings within the show. This is the first time Remi has explored the natural connection of his artwork and his music making. The 9 songs reference his artistic and musical influences from as far a field as John Carpenter and Aphex Twin to Futura and Marcel Duchamp.
Hi Remi, could you tell us how the idea of creating a show exploring the relationship between visual art and music came to you?
I’ve been making music in one form or another for over 20 years but I’d never really linked the two. I felt it was about time I connect those two worlds of mine and I thought about making a sonic representation of all the paintings I had made for the exhibition… Initially they were just going to be soundscapes but then they started forming into full tracks… I guess it was by accident really.
Was it the first time you work on such a project?
Absolutely. I have made music for friends artistic projects and films etc… But never for my own project.
Could you describe to us how was the process of creating music and visual art for the same show?
The paintings came first really. But I was constantly making notes as I was working on them to reference the music. I started making some drum programmes and simple melodies soon after. I tended to work on two tracks at the same time and then I would revisit them bit by bit to make them sound complete. The really fun part for me was getting to work with my good friend 'A LA FU’ who also owns Vava Records. He helped mix and tweak all the tracks to get them into a finalized state. We have kept in constant contact throughout the whole process so any ideas and changes either of us wanted to make we could action those ideas straight away.
With the paintings I kept them all around me in the studio. I like to see the previous works and get inspiration from them to continue with the rest of the series. It’s a strange habit but I love to have them all close and around me while I’m working.
Were you working on the music and the art at the same time? Or did you create the artwork based on the music you created first?
I had finished four paintings before I even started on the music. I think I then completed two whole tracks before moving onto the fifth painting. It’s a really loose way of working. You’re creating things from scratch so you have to be prepared for them to sometimes not work. So being too formatted with your working process will only make that creativity suffer I think. If anything I think the paintings came to life before the soundtrack but the titles were born out of the songs. Plus logistically I would more often than not paint during the day in the studio and make the music at home in the evenings. The needed some space apart to become their own entities.
What was your favorite part of the process?
Painting is a sheer love for me. Having my music playing in the studio and experimenting with forms and colors is without doubt my utmost favorite place to be. The music making is a completely different process and feeling. It’s way more intense and needs more concentration.
What is your favorite artwork of the show?
Thats such a tough question?? They’re all my favorites really but if I had to save only one in a fire it would probably be ‘Illuminated’ (see artwork on the right).
It was one of the first paintings for this series I made and I initially hated it… I kept working on it and just by way of some slight changes I began liking it more and more. The painting and I both went on this quite long and arduous journey which I think made it a better painting and me a better person. For that reason it’s quite an important piece to me now. It’s funny how you can really dislike something and then grow to love it...
What is your favorite music of the show?
Again a tough question but slightly easier. The track 'M E O’ is by far my favorite. It was quite a difficult track to make in so far as getting the sample sounding right. I also love that it’s an American artist speaking so so French with a slight American accent. When I listened to the final album mix, I knew straight away that ‘M E O’ had to go right at the beginning of the album. That said I do love the entire album and I am very proud of all of it.
You can also listen to the full album here
Apart from the music created for show, what is the kind of music you would listen to when creating?
It’s so broad… Some days I like jazz, the Whiplash soundtrack, Miles Davis and Alice Coltrane are staples for me. I love electronic music, Boards of Canada, Survive, Daft Punk, Thom Yorke. Anything melodic and repetitive works great for me.
I love a little David Axelrod too. And some days I go totally retro as I have a soft spot for Genesis and Hall and Oates. It all depends on the mood but there’s definitely no single genre of music ever being played in my studio.
What is the song you like the most recently?
‘Shoe’s Off ' by Swet Shop Boys. I’ve had the whole album on repeat for the past 2 months now… I know Riz MC too and he’s a lovely stand up guy. Great actor and brilliant rapper. That album is a total gem!
If you haven’t heard that album, you need to get it… It’s so good!
What is the album you like the most recently?
'Migration' by Bonobo. It’s so sonically beautiful. Really minimal and highly captivating. This and Swet Shop Boys are my current listens.
What was the last concert you went to?
It was actually Bjork late last year. She played in London at the Hammersmith Apollo with the Aurora Orchestra. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and I absolutely loved it.
You have over 20 years of experience in music production, what was the most exciting music project you worked on?
I was in a band called ‘Reptiles', which I guess officially I am still a part of as we never split up. We played The Sonar festival in Barcelona in 2004 which was definitely one of the utmost highlights of that time. Creating music with a band is a completely different experience to making music on your own. I loved being part of that band. But working on new projects is just as exciting.
Do you play an instrument?
I play the guitar and also a little piano. I can also keep a beat on a drum kit but I’d never say I could actually play the drums. I can also sing reasonably well which helps sometimes.
What are your next projects involving music and art?
Musically I am working on an EP project with my friend Mike Ladd. The project is called ‘TheDeadCanRap’. It’s almost finished and again A LA FU is helping us out with it. It should be out by the end of the summer with hopefully an album to follow for next year.
Artistically, there so much going on it’s nuts! On the same day as my opening at Wunderkammern a huge museum show is opening in Roubaix in the North of France at La Condition Publique, "Street Generation(s)" curated by the Parisian gallerist Magda Danysz. I have 3 pieces of work in that show plus a selection of my sketchbooks from 20 years ago being displayed. I am also in a group exhibition in New York curated by Lori Zimmer and then I have mural projects coming up in Washington DC, Switzerland and Monaco.
And as if that wasn’t enough my wife and I are also project managing house renovations to or home in South East London.