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Greg Kampf, Prog Rock Relayer, pt 3: Prog Rock in the 2010s

Without detracting from the awful events which took place in Ottawa yesterday (October 22, 2014), here is the third and final part of my interview with Greg Kampf, DJ of CHUO FM 89.1’s prog-rock program, La Villa Strangiato.

In part 1, Greg and I went over the history of the program and of prog rock itself, giving you a glimpse into the storied background of the prog-rock universe.

In part 2, Greg and I talked about how the internet has affected the production, distribution, and consumption of prog rock.

Here in part 3, Greg and I explore what prog rock means in the 2010s. How do you define prog rock in the 2010s? What does it mean to be a prog rocker in the 2010s? Can the idea of prog extend beyond rock and into other genres, such as pop? And to what extent has prog rock seeped into pop culture through mediums such as film and sampling? Greg answers all of these questions below.

Part 3: What is prog rock in the 2010s?

Now the thing about prog rock — and especially listening to your show — is to define prog rock. I listen to your show and I hear sections that are jazzy, I hear very metal, kind of Dream Theater-type stuff, although you probably stay out of the way of Dream Theater because they’re a little bit too common at this point…

I used to be a huge Dream Theater fan.

I think the last time we spoke 14 years ago, you asked me about Dream Theater.

I think I probably did. I was a real fanboy of the group at that time and they were an important group on the scene at that time. They were making records that no-one else was making, their sound is so huge, their musicianship was on a scale that hadn’t been seen in a long time, and they were kind of doing things on their own terms. As uncool as they were, that was really great…

They still kind of are, aren’t they? We’re sort of off on a tangent now, but we can still talk.

Well, yeah. I’d say the last five records that they’ve done sound kind of samey, and I’ve lost a little bit of interest in what they’ve done. There are so many other groups doing so many interesting things. But I still have to hand it to Dream Theater. They sparked an entire era/subgenre of bands that were inspired by them and it’s what we call the progressive metal scene. They’re one of the grandfathers of that scene and they’re still doing things on their own terms.

So how do you define progressive rock in 2014?

Well, I think we can make a distinction between progressive rock and prog. We’ve talked a lot about all these early bands making all these classic records and coming up with these sounds and whole universes of uncharted territory from 69 to 74.

Today, I look back on that, on those works, on those bands, and that to me is prog.

A lot of musicians and bands today still draw a lot of influence from those groups, especially Genesis.

Now we’re talking Gabriel-era Genesis…

Genesis - A Trick of the Tail - 1976
The artwork for Genesis’ A Trick of the Tail album
Genesis - Wind & Wuthering 1976
The artwork for Genesis’ Wind & Wuthering album

Gabriel-era Genesis, yes…And two albums that were done after, in the post-Gabriel-era, which would be Wind & Wuthering and A Trick of the Tail, both in 76, when Phil Collins took over the vocals, but Steve Hackett, the guitar great, was still in the band. He had so much to do with the way that they sounded at the time.

So that’s kind of the classic prog sound. A lot of groups and a lot of listeners today, I find, they grew up in that age or, as they say, the music you listened to as a teenager is the music you listen to the rest of your life. So if Steve Hackett comes to play at the Casino du Lac-Leamy, it will be sold out. There will be 1200 people there. If there’s a Genesis cover band that comes to play at the Bluesfest, there will be 800 people standing in the field watching them. If there’s another band that kind of sounds very similar to that early Genesis prog-sound that comes to play in Montréal, people will drive down the highway to see them.

But, in 2014, if there’s a band that is truly progressive doing things that have their own sound, that have a variety of diverse influences, and they’re trying to make something new and unique, we’re lucky if five or six people will come to see them at Café Dekcuf or Presse Café.

Okay, maybe 20 people.

Now is that the definition of progressive – to be doing something truly unique?

I think so.

To be pushing forward?


What kind of pushing forward do you see now that didn’t exist in the 70s, 80s, and 90s?

Well, I think as the planet becomes more globalized and we have access to hearing basically anything that’s ever been recorded and we’re kind of at a time when it’s been so easy for musicians to connect with one another across countries, across continents, you’re seeing the types of collaborations that wouldn’t have been possible 30 or 40 years ago.

I recently received an album by Russian pianist Stanislav Zaslavsky. This project is called Kazhargan World, and he’s basically recruited six musicians from diverse places. They’ve all recorded the music that he’s written. They’ve recorded all their parts, shipped it back to him. He mixed it all together, and it sounds like a full band that was recording in the studio together. They’re totally in sync.

That type of technology did not exist 40 years ago. You’ve got Europeans and Americans and Japanese musicians that have all collaborated together and are bringing their diverse backgrounds and experiences into a project. And anything can happen when you’ve got that type of creativity that comes into a project.

So that is really exciting in terms of the future: the types of collaborations that are happening now and will continue to happen. And the types of traditions that may not be common to progressive rock or progressive jazz that may be brought in.

There’s a record label in New York City called MoonJune RecordsLeonardo Papkovic‘s label. He’s been going to Indonesia a lot and making contact with a lot of rock and jazz musicians in Indonesia that were unknown to most of us, and he’s now actually releasing their records internationally. So now he’s bringing Indonesian musicians to America to play with jazz guys here, and it’s just amazing what they’re coming up with. That’s the future.

With progressive rock necessarily being a niche market, do projects like these eventually trickle into the mainstream consciousness?

They can.

On some level. Do we hear a series of notes in a Beyonce song and say, that actually originated with this project?

I think that happened with a Kanye West tune. Didn’t he sample something off In the Court of the Crimson King a year or two ago? [Ed. Note:  Kanye West’s “Power” features a sample from “21st Century Schizoid Man“.]

There was a Vincent Gallo movie — Buffalo 66 — and the soundtrack featured a whole pile of prog rock, some Yes songs. Mike Oldfield‘s music was used in The Exorcist.

So there are some moments when pop culture kind of takes ownership of some of these moments in progressive rock and kind of turns them on their head and uses them for different means, whether it’s the background music in a film or in a television commercial. Although I’ve yet to see that.

There’s a beautiful moment in Children of Men — do you know that movie?

I haven’t seen it yet. Now I have to see it.

There’s a beautiful moment where they use “In the Court of the Crimson King” as a background against an image of the inflatable pig from Pink Floyd at Battersea Park with a very rich man in this huge mansion in the sky.

And you know why this is happening now, right?

Because the guys that are producing films like that are the guys that came of age listening to prog rock in the 70s and are now in positions of power somewhere up and down the line with creative input in the film industry. They’re now able to take what they loved growing up and deposit it in a kind of mainstream popular film, which appeals very much to me as a prog rock listener, but may be absolutely mystifying to somebody who isn’t familiar with the traditions as much. That’s cool.

On that note, actually, you made me think… I just watched The Lego Movie with my daughter, and Mark Mothersbaugh did the soundtrack. Now, we’re speaking of Devo, and Devo is something else altogether but, could they also be considered progressive, if not rock, then pop in the way they pushed the limits of pop?

Devo, I suppose, was revolutionary in the sense that Devo was out there doing their own thing, a very singular entity in pop music.
In the context of this conversation, and that’s just where this idea’s coming from, I would want to consider them progressive pop.

There’s a lot of progressive pop that’s out there that I hear and go, wow! This is great because it’s more than just the conventional pop song. There’s a lot going on here.

Just like, you know, how a lot of these Pixar films appeal to kids and adults because they work on both levels. They can appeal to the simpler, more innocent side of us, and they can also appeal to the intellectual side of us that stimulates various neurons to go, wow, that’s so cool, that’s so clever, so I totally agree.

OK. As a final note, you’ve talked a lot about how Europe and Japan seem to keep producing progressive rock and also have an appreciation of your podcast. Would you say progressive rock is something of a more European type of music. Is it rooted somewhere in the symphonic music of the last 500 years? Is that why there’s an appeal?

Greg Kampf with Beethoven and Bamboo
Greg contemplates the European background and the Japanese influence on today’s prog rock with a bust of Beethoven and some bamboo

I think if you were to read a lot of essays about where progressive rock came from, you would read a lot of musicologists attempting to make that link between kind of what was happening in the call [?] between psychedelia, pop, and classical music that all converged towards the end of the 60s. Definitely, there was a lot of that, like, classical or contemporary, modernist aesthetic that came into it to make it what it was.

It stands out – it’s not Jimi Hendrix. It’s not The Doors, although there are some very proggy elements of The Doors music. But if you listen to Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick, that is not like listening to Traffic or Chicago.

But yes, musicologists agree there is some degree of the classical aesthetic that fused with what was happening in the 60s with rock, pop, and psychedelia, that kind of created this new form that then was labeled progressive rock.

OK. Thank you very much for your time. It has been a pleasure.

Greg Kampf, Prog Rock Relayer, pt 1: History

Greg Kampf, Prog Rock Relayer, pt 2: The Internet Effect

Greg Kampf, Prog Rock Relayer, Pt 2: The Internet Effect

My interview with Greg Kampf was both enlightening and wide-ranging, covering a lot of unexpected topics and taking off on a few tangents.  Part 1 can be found here, in which we talked about the history of Greg Kampf’s radio show, La Villa Strangiato, and the roots of what we now call prog rock.

In Part 3, we talk about how to define prog rock in the 2010s and prog rock’s effect on pop culture.

Part 2: Prog rock in the Internet Age

So without getting you in any legal trouble, how did the internet age help with your discovery of new prog rock?

I’m still very much a believer in purchasing physical products. I’m not a huge downloader. I have downloaded materials that were either out of print or almost impossible to find.  There are some albums from the Québec scene from the 1970s that have never seen a CD release, and there are some aficionados in Québec who were making these great LP blogs these long-lost prog recordings and they were making them downloadable, so I did download them, heard them, and now some of these albums have been given an official release through great organizations such as Prog Québec.

La Villa Strangiato - CD Collection
A sampling of Greg’s CD collection.

Since then, I’ve actually been able to purchase them. They’re all cleaned up, they’re beautiful. And so if you were to see the size of my CD collection, you would probably be a little bit alarmed. I know my wife constantly reminds me that from time to time it’s maybe not a bad idea to cull a little bit. But I’m still very much about the physical medium and making sure that the artists are compensated for their efforts. A lot of artists actually reach out to the program, too, and they’re happy to send along promo items to the station and sometimes in person at concerts, as well.

I guess that really helps since you have a lot of contemporary artists on your show.

A lot, and I’m finding now as we’re moving through the 2010s with the rise of Bandcamp, a lot of bands are just putting their material up on Bandcamp for free downloads. They’re not expecting to be paid for it, for better or for worse.

If they’re expecting any kind of remuneration at all, it would be through merchandise sales, at gigs, through the gigs themselves, via gate receipts, and they may or may not even produce a physical CD/LP for sale.

Continue reading Greg Kampf, Prog Rock Relayer, Pt 2: The Internet Effect

Greg Kampf, Prog Rock Relayer, Pt 1: History

With the imminent arrival of Pink Floyd’s The Endless River — either a collection of outtakes from The Division Bell sessions or an idea of what the band would have been like had Richard Wright had a chance to lead the band — prog rock is at the top of the news cycle.

And what better way to become reacquainted with prog rock than by listening to La Villa Strangiato, CHUO FM 89.1’s dedicated timeslot to celebrate the past, present, and the future of progressive rock? I had some time in June of this year to sit down and talk with the erudite DJ of that show, Gregory Kampf, and it was fantastic. As someone who appreciates prog rock, but is not a fanatic, it was fascinating to listen to Greg expound on the history of prog rock, what prog rock means in the digital age, and what prog rock means for the present and the future.

Full disclosure

I went to school with Greg’s wife Helen and I have been friends with her and Greg since those days. Even though Greg and I had not had an in-person conversation with each other in about 14 years, we still knew what we were up to through our regular Facebook updates. So this interview was really more of a friendly conversation, and it shows. I hope you enjoy it.

Part 1: Where did La Villa Strangiato come from?

Can you give me some background on La Villa Strangiato. When did you start?

Hmmm. I’ll even go back prior to that. I’ve long enjoyed progressive rock music. It was introduced to me by my mother Lynn back in the early 90s. She basically pulled out her King Crimson, her Yes, her Jethro Tull LPs from back in the day and said, “Listen to these,” because at the time I was just getting into Rush, the great Canadian progressive-rock power trio.

La Villa Strangiato - The Big 6
The great English “Big 6” of Prog Rock

Then I went off to university and I was spinning the dial one night on the FM band in the fall of 1997. I stumbled upon 89.1 FM, which is the community radio station at the University of Ottawa, CHUO, and I heard something that sounded very familiar. I think it was something by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, or Jethro Tull — one of the great English “Big 6” bands. I was like, “Oh my god, this is prog rock and it’s actually being played on the radio! What is this?”

And I just kept listening. And lo and behold, it was actually a radio broadcast on a Sunday evening by a francophone host who was doing a show called La Villa Strangiato. His name was Yann Grenier and he was working with a fellow by the name of François Laflamme. The two of them were hosting this program that they founded in 1996 and that I kind of found by chance one night on the FM dial.

By 1999 François had left and Yann was looking to move onto other things. He offered me a chance to actually host it and that’s where I came into the mix. I became a volunteer at CHUO that April.

Now when you did that, what was the format of the show? Was it any different than it is now?

It was a little bit different. Today it’s an hour and a half show. Back then, it was also an hour and a half show, but one thing that those guys liked to do, a tradition that they had established and that I continued was having an album of the week, which they called L’albume vedette.  So the first sixty minutes of the 90 minute program would be basically a melange, a hodgepodge of different tracks, but the last thirty minutes would be dedicated to featuring a number of tracks, or a suite of songs from one album in particular that was highlighted, so that’s something that I continued. But that fell by the wayside as I passed the torch on to another host when I left for Japan, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Continue reading Greg Kampf, Prog Rock Relayer, Pt 1: History