Interview: Chairman Kato on "Underbelly"


This week I headed to the basement of Teasmith in Spitalfields Market, East London to check out an intriguing audio-visual installation called Underbelly, created by electronic producer Chairman Kato and spacial animator Christ Stoneman. It's on until the end of the month, you can find more details here. 

How would you describe "Underbelly" in under 140 characters to someone on the other side of the world from East London?
Hmmm...shit losing characters already....It's an immersive audio visual experience. The dark heart of an oriental teahouse. The witching hour. Damn you, Twitter.

It's quite an unusual project for an electronic producer, how did you and Stoneman first come up with the idea to work on an installation together?
I guess so, but I always go out and see art and installations, so it didn't feel like a step too far for me. I did have Chris to help me through the initial stages of conceptualising things, which was new for me. And in the end he told me to stop wibbling and just get on with it anyway like I normally would. The idea originally came from the fact that I was offered the space in the first place. To be offered a space in such a ridiculously prime was something I just knew I couldn't turn down. Other projects had to take second place for a while. Chris was someone I'd been exchanging ideas with a while and had him earmarked in my mind. So when the opportunity came up I knew straight away who to discuss it with.

There are some really interesting harmonies and layers to the work, is there a singular inspiration behind the piece or did you approach it from different angles and find ways to collaborate?
I started by making a sample of music from which the rest of the piece was to evolve, and I think because the aesthetics of science fiction and its immersive qualities were on my mind people like John Carpenter influenced the initial synth work on that starting point. After that though I just let it flow really, but you can hear ambient influences, hip hop and (in my opinion) Detroit house in the final section. To be honest at first I wasn't really getting anywhere, and realised it was because I was overthinking. Once I realised that I just went back to the usual organic process and it fell into place. I ploughed so, so much energy and emotion into that piece of music.


The environment you've created is far from a traditional gallery setting, can you describe some of the creative and practical process behind realising the piece?
Very true and that's something that I am really enjoying. The fact that it contrasts so starkly with the refined atmosphere of the teahouse upstairs is something I'm pleased with, and that idea formed the initial creative brainstorming; I wanted to create an environment that confronts you, something that you don't expect and takes you by surprise. Hopefully when you've disarmed people's expectations they can go along with it a bit more. Chris was totally into that too. We wanted to create somewhere that looked like it could have been a crime scene, or an alien quarantine or something, although ultimately it's down to the individual to take what they want from it.
The practical process was probably the biggest learning curve. Trudging back and forth to B&Q in Leyton in search of industrial polythene! I looked like a total weirdo carrying plastic sheeting on the bus. And neither Chris or I are exactly handy with a hammer....or even a stapler for that matter....there was a lot of trial and error building this. But it was a lot of fun.

What is a "false shadow"??
Haha Chris should probably be answering this....Chris' area of interest is animation, bringing things alive, making something an experience. We have a very simple object suspended from the ceiling that casts a shadow onto the far wall of the structure. Chris has done some clever stuff with that shadow to make it come alive. I don't want to give too much away for those who haven't seen it but he transforms that shadow using mapping techniques that I don't really understand and the end result is, in my opinion, beautiful.

Launch party @ Teasmith

Seeing as it was your first audio-visual installation, did you come up against any challenges or unexpected moments during the creation of "Underbelly"?
Oh yes. There was a lot of pain. Worse than childbirth.... Building the environment with the industrial polythene was a massive challenge and it's a good job that it's low lit because our handywork was seriously shoddy. I think we convinced ourselves that we had somehow made a virtue of it. I tied myself in knots a little bit during the initial conceptualisation stages until I had some good advice and stopped over analysing things. I wasn't expecting so many people to turn up to the opening, that was definitely a surprise. The most unexpected thing for me is probably just how rewarding the experience has been after all the hard work and obstacles we came up against. Amazing.

Do you have any other projects up your sleeve that take your music out of peoples stereos and in to new spaces?
Definitely. I want more. I've got an idea for the next project. Started to pitch it to people this week, getting some positive noises. This experience has opened my mind to more projects, and I'd even be open to doing something that I don't have to do music for.

All photos by Bruno Costarelli