Thirteen years after their last North American tour, Bristol-based trio Portishead is back to, finally, tour on their latest album Third, released in 2008. They have their reasons for not doing this sooner. There have been babies and other projects; Barrow produced Anika's Stones Throw debut, for starters.
But now they're back making the European festival rounds –including ATP's I'll be Your Mirror, which they curated and headlined — and traveling across the pond for a string of U.S. dates, including tonight and tomorrow at the Shrine.
In January, after the tour ends, Barrow will start writing material for the new Portishead album, which he jokes could take another five or ten years, given their track record. From Mexico City, Barrow spoke to us about finally touring Third, producing Anika's Stones Throw debut, and why dance DJs are all assholes.
In an old interview, you said you used to hate playing live. Is that still the case?
I definitely enjoy it a lot more now because I think it's the most important — the most direct, the most pure — link to an audience now, if you do it correctly. When we play live, we don't want any fucking beer advertising or any people trying to sell you mobile phones while we play.
Why did you want to work with Anika?
I needed a creative outlet, and I got together with two guys, and we formed BEAK>. We knew we didn't want to work with a songwriter. And I was talking to my mate about it, and he said to get Anika, this half-German writer who's not really a singer. We did a lot of covers because songwriting can be really time consuming, and if you want to just make music, sometimes it's the best way forward. It's not gonna smash it's way into the charts–when we first released it, we couldn't get a single review in a magazine 'cause people were just like, 'Huh, what's this?' so we were like, 'It's fine, don't worry about it.' But slowly but surely, people have come around. They understand it now.
You gave up music for a while after spending some time hating dance music and DJ culture and beats. What do you hate about that culture?
I know DJs — some of my best friends are DJs, and they're great — but really, dance music is full of assholes. Self-promoting assholes. Rock music is full of assholes as well.
But a different kind of asshole?
No, there's just less of them. When you gotta play a dirty club with your mates, taking time out to learn an instrument, and you end up in Sheffield and some bloke gives you £10 to play a gig and no one turns up, it's just what it is. But I've been to places where dance DJs turn up and they say, 'Oh no, I am not staying in that hotel.' They've got a laptop with a couple files on it and that's it, so I'm thinking, 'How is he getting away with this shit?' In the rock scene, a guitarist couldn't stand up there and say that and have people adore him. They can't fucking do it.
So why do they get away with it?
Cuz everyone's on pills! It's disco, isn't it? I go on Twitter, and you see this faux hip-hop producers and DJs, and they're so arrogant, man. You ain't done nothin' to get arrogant about!