CAREFULLY dressed in a tweed jacket, full-frame glasses and a bow tie, J Willgoose Esq looks like he’s just come out of the BBC stereophonic workshop or an oxbow lakes geography lecture.
A glance at the musician’s back catalog can confirm the impression of mannered charm – with tunes on the London Blitz, the overnight mail train, the Space Race, the coal mines, the Titanic and the conquest of Everest. But as we know, looks can be too deceiving.
Read again: From Spitfire to Titanic: Public Service Broadcasting on how it all started
Driving force behind electronic rock band Public Service Broadcasting, J is a creative dynamo and his music is a powerful blend of soaring electronica, propulsive pop, explosive rock, sharp dance-punk, emotional synth and euphoric brass – its inventive soundscapes layered with voice samples harvested from the archives and delivered with captivating visuals
It’s sleek, engaging, groove-laden and thrilling – and has raged everywhere, from grungy clubs and chaotic festival grounds to the RAF Museum, the National Space Centre, a former coal mine… and at the Royal Albert Hall.
This summer, J, drummer Wrigglesworth, multi-instrumentalist JF Abraham and their extended band had the rare privilege of celebrating the BBC’s centenary by performing This New Noise – a musical tribute to the broadcaster at the Proms, accompanied by the folk star Seth Lakeman and the massive ranks of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
For a band whose 2013 debut came as “Inform-Educate-Entertain,” it was an inspired choice.
“It wasn’t the kind of thing I ever imagined we would do,” says J – still elated by the experience.
“It was quite a special and incredible musical experience to have the chance to work with such incredible musicians.”
It was the band’s second outing to the South Kensington concert hall, having performed music from their astronomical album The Race for Space there.
“It’s not something I ever thought would happen or happen again!” he keeps on.
“When I started recording music, I expected it to disappear into the ether – but people seem to like it.
“We work hard with a minimum of talent!”
On Sunday October 16, they scale back slightly when they return for a show at the New Theater in Oxford.
No stranger to the city, the band have played everywhere from upstairs at the Jericho Tavern in Modern Art Oxford and the Young Truck Festival in Steventon.
“Oxford has a lot of memories for us,” says J.
They are on tour with their latest project Bright Magic. The album is an impressionistic portrait of Berlin but J, he says, is “really about all cities”.
Written during a stay in the German capital, it is his most ambitious and versatile work to date; a century-old tribute to a metropolis he clearly loves and to the people, like him, who have found themselves there. Although still a public service record, it is less immediate and sometimes abstract with fewer samples and more guest vocalists. It was partly inspired by Walter Ruttmann’s 1928 sound ode to the city, “Wochenende” (Weekend) – which is sampled on three of his tracks.
“Part of my job is to make sure these things live on in posterity,” he says.
He describes the album as being more conceptual in nature than previous projects.
“It’s not about telling an ABC story, but about painting a conceptual portrait of a city that has become a haven for people from all walks of life,” he tells me.
“The record is our story of Berlin as a center of creativity and trying to examine that and take inspiration from the process. We’re trying to do something bold!
So after taking listeners from the beaches of Dunkirk to Everest, the Welsh valleys, Berlin and the Moon, what is his next project?
“I can’t say because I don’t know,” he admits.
“I had a few things floating around…and I pulled out my antenna.
“I need to record stuff and get excited about an idea. You don’t chase an idea, the idea excites you and takes you in directions you don’t think you’re going.
However, he hints, “Next, I plan to do something less masculine. But with prom and having a second child, it’s been a busy year.
New Theater fans are also guaranteed to see many of their favorite songs, with crowd-pleasing Spitfire, Go and Everest devices at most shows.
“We have too much respect for our audience to leave them out,” he says.
“These are the songs people want to hear and it would be pretty self-indulgent not to want to play them and stick to German modernist expressionism!”
Reread: Stars on stage and in the crowd at Alex James’ tasty Big Feastival – special photo
He continues, “There are up to 35 songs that we can perform live, so we can mix them up and keep things different.”
So what can we expect on Sunday? “Oh, the usual swearing, violence and nudity,” he laughs. “There will be eight people on stage, so it will be very engaging. There will be live vocals and a horn section. It will be an audiovisual assault, but in a good way! And I hope people enjoy it.”
Public Service Broadcasting, New Theater Oxford, Sunday 16 October. Tickets: atgtickets.com