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A Split Personality: Exploring the mind of Matthew Herbert

A Split Personality: Exploring the mind of Matthew Herbert

Matthew Herbert holds a reputation seldom to that of all other electronic music artists worldwide. Whilst maintaining this reputation as a British artist who only uses samples and recordings to create his music, he is also an artist heavily influenced by social and political affairs. Whilst these themes have commonly been used as backdrops for albums fabricated by influential R&B, hip-hop and rap artists, these are feats that Matthew Herbert incorporated into electronic music in a way never seen before.

The absence of these themes in electronic music could be down to a scarcity of vocals, or perhaps the fact that the majority of electronic music is produced ignorant of conceptual themes, with the sole intention of making people dance, which is fair enough. Matthew Herbert however is an artist whose unique production methods and social integration have helped create a long line of concept albums that are some of the most creative in the history of electronic music.

Showing no confines to any genre within the electronic mould, Matthew Herbert has produced music under a number of monikers, each having its own ethos of production. From his earliest material as Herbert to the peaking experimentalism of Wishmountain, Matthew Herbert’s unconventional techniques manage to integrate themes of politics and society, not to mention more playful topics such as food, in a way that is boldly heard within the finished product.


Herbert was the alias that Matthew’s first album 100Lbs was released under; which brought together a number of his Parts EPs that had been released over the previous two years. This was the platform for Herbert’s club music with many of the tracks now considered underground classics, and warranting hefty prices for the original records.

Herbert’s intentions of using non-musical samples to create his own tracks are less apparent in earlier tracks under the Herbert moniker. Although these are wonderfully warm house tracks with hints of darkness and industrialism, Herbert commented that he later regretted using samples of other recordings, saying that it was a “betrayal” of what he wanted to do during that time.

Around The House was the first truly defining LP from Matthew Herbert. Released in 1998 and created using samples from household objects, this saw the use of drum machines and synthesizers become completely absent, which was mirrored in the following album Bodily Functions, which used recordings from parts of the human body.

As the late 90’s saw a high concentration of Herbert releases, by the end of the decade Herbert was fully immersed in the hedonistic club scene that enjoyed a short-lived golden era during those years. After years of indulgence, which inspired some of the Herbert material, Matthew left this behind after becoming too heavily involved. However, earlier this year he took a return to the Herbert Moniker, under which he released the album entitled The Shakes, his first release as Herbert for almost a decade.

The Matthew Herbert Big Band

Taking a completely left-handed turn away from house and techno after his creativeness began being internationally recognised after Around The House, Goodbye Swingtime saw the classically trained musician within Matthew escape through a Big Band that included five saxes, four trumpets and four trombones, with Herbert then twisting and playing with the arrangements on a computer.

Being a “refreshing new practise” for Matthew, he warmed to the aspects of jazz that couldn’t be found when making dance music under the Herbert moniker. Harmony, human feel and acoustic texture gave more control, more possibilities and fewer boundaries.

The Matthew Herbert Big Bang saw only 2 official releases, one in 2003 and one in 2008, however these are two of the most vivid in Herbert’s back catalogue, not only for their totally unique sound, but their themes. The sleeve notes on Goodbye Swingtime state political literature as being the backbone of the album, with quotes from political activists such as Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky used as percussion throughout. The second instalment from the Big Band opted for the theme of overconsumption with the introduction of vocalist Eska Mtungwazi (recently nominated for the Mercury Prize with her own solo debut album), giving Herbert access to recording original vocal material and forwarding his political views more individually.

Personal Contract For The Composition Of Music

A digression worth mentioning here… By the onset of the new millennium, Herbert had cemented his conceptual intentions; with the way he achieves them now embedded in his methods. In the year 2000, Matthew Herbert took a step into the untouched by electronic musicians by issuing the Personal Contract For The Composition Of Music. This document set guidelines for how Herbert would make music from here on out, with points including that there should be no use of drum machines, synthesisers of effects presets.

This kind of document sets Herbert further apart from his contemporaries as it set fundamental principles for him to stick to throughout the following years of creating and performing music.

Read Matthew Herberts Manifesto

Matthew Herbert

Plat Du Jour was the first LP released under Herbert’s full name, with the principles set by his personal contract this time intending to “move the listener closer to the stories the work contains”, instead of focusing on the the celebrity and idolatry of the artist.

Using recordings that include 3255 people eating an apple, the Matthew Herbert moniker melded a series of LPs that make you think, rather than tap your feet. Plat Du Jour also saw the introduction of a live show that incorporated food preparation and even smell, whilst still keeping to his manifesto introduced in the new millennium.

The trio of albums that came in 2010 and 2011 took another step further with all the sounds found within One One being sourced from Matthew himself as he plays all the instruments that appear on the album and even sings. The following two tell the story of a night in a Frankfurt nightclub and the life and death of pig. Whereas the background of music made as Herbert can be overlooked, particularly whilst on a dance floor ignoring all distractions, the material released under his full name causes “the music, the matter and the message to be inseparable”.


The first of Herbert’s more experimental aliases is Wishmountain, which saw its first release in 1998. Each track produced under this alias is made using 8 recordings of one object, a sampler and a sequencer. Tracks like Bottle, Crisps and Pepperpot are self-explanatory titles stating where the recordings are taken from.

Each of these tracks sees Matthew deriving rhythm, melody and atmospheric sounds all from a limited number of recordings of one object, which is undeniably captivating.

Matthew Herbert also released superb experimental music through the alias Radio Boy and Doctor Rockit, again combining several recordings of singular things of places to make tracks that you wouldn’t believe adhere to Matthew’s forward thinking contract.


Through releasing innovative music under a number of monikers using production methods many other artists would not dare to attempt, Matthew Herbert has become one of the most influential and impressive electronic music artists in the world.

Since his reputation grew as a user of unconventional and sometimes unbelievable techniques, Herbert has received a nomination for The Mercury Prize (The Invisible), has collaborated with everyone from Róisín Murphy to Heston Blumenthal, scored films that include Human Traffic and maintained his superlative record label, Accidental.

Matthew Herbert’s reputation precedes him, has he gone as far as one can go when venturing beyond the boundaries of electronic music? Only time will tell.

Words by Josh Plews
Photos courtesy of Matthew Herbert

A Split Personality: Exploring the mind of Matthew Herbert

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