Catching up with: GoGo Penguin; PRS Foundation funded artist

It’s been an astonishing couple of years for Manchester based trio GoGo Penguin (drummer Rob Turner, double bassist Nick Blacka and pianist Chris Illingworth).

Their trademark mash-up of minimalist piano themes, deeply propulsive bass lines and electronica-inspired drums has seen them shortlisted for the Mercury Prize and fuelled their exhilarating live shows all over the world.

Although they're predominately an acoustic piano trio, GoGo Penguin’s music draws from many areas of contemporary electronic music, one where you can hear arcade game bleeps, glitchy breakbeats, hypnotic Aphex-style melodies, grinding bass lines and a rumbling low-end.  It is the ability to synthesise the seemingly disparate influences of electronica, jazz and classical music into their own unique musical DNA that gives GoGo Penguin such an instantly recognisable and compelling sound.

GoGo Penguin is one of the 37 International Showcase funded artists set to perform at this year's SXSW. We took a few moments to interview the trio to find out why PRS Foundation is so important to emerging artists and what playing stateside means to them.

What does it mean for you to be able to play SXSW?

It’s absolutely awesome. We did a few things in America last year in the first half of the year which was such a privilege. We played Coachella and a few other gigs across the states – but we’ve never been to Texas. SXSW is a festival you hear about growing up, so it’s really exciting to have been invited to perform at it. We are really looking forward to it. 

Are there any other artists that you’re looking forward to seeing in Texas?

When I looked through the list, I can honestly say I didn’t recognise that many names, but in a way that’s really exciting, because it means we can hear a whole load of new music. I noticed DJ Yoda is on the list too. I’ve been listening to him since I was a kid and his musical styles have really influenced me so I am definitely going to see him. There’s also Doug Stanhope on the list (a comedian), and I am looking forward to seeing him.

What would you say your musical ‘style’ is like?

It’s so difficult trying to describe your own music. It’s instrumental music with elements of jazz. Each of us are from different musical backgrounds which shows in our music. I came from a classical background, but I listen to dance and rock. The other guys came from a jazz background. We all listen to (and take influence from) Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Massive Attack. We share different ideas and styles, and bring it all together which forms our style. We’ve been called acoustic electronica. Our music definitely has an electronica feel made up by acoustic elements.

Who have you taken influence from in your career?

So many different people. As a band many of our influences come from electronica although we're always listening to everything we can get our hands on. We've been listening to a lot of Jon Hopkins and Nils Frahm at the moment, they both have very unique and individual styles, and the last Radiohead album has been on a lot recently. There really are so many different artists who have influenced our musical style along the way.

What has been your career highlight to date?

Last year was such a great year for us – we were so lucky. We did our first really big headline gig at the Roundhouse in London. It was great to see so many people there, who wanted to listen to our music. We did loads of unique gigs which was really memorable too. One stand out one was in Chamonix on top of a mountain.  They had to bring our piano in with a helicopter. That was pretty special.

What else does 2017 have in store for you?

We just started working on a new album. We are working on load of new tracks and ideas right now, and we will be recording in summer with the album out early next year. We’re also doing some more touring and in the summer we will be performing live to ‘Koyaanisqatsi’, a cinematic film that we composed our own score for. 

Which new artists are you listening to this year?

We’ve been listening to artists that have released new albums this year. Run the Jewels’ new album is great, as is Bonobo’s album Migration. We’re really enjoying that.

What has the journey been like to get to this point?

It’s been amazing but so difficult to describe it. It’s incredibly difficult. You’re always having to work hard and there are challenges. There are times when you’re completely skint.  But the rewards outweigh the difficulties. We are so very lucky. We were away for 200 days of the year last year. It’s a mindblowing experience to be able to travel all over the world, and to see that when you perform, there is always an audience. It still feels like such early days for us, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how things go – but it all is looking and feels really positive.

How important is funding from PRS Foundation to emerging artists?

Really important, especially when you’re first starting out as a band. Recognition in your home town is hard nonetheless further afield. Getting invited to play in Texas is a great experience when it is such a challenge trying to get your name out there. Getting this help is a really big deal for us, and other musicians too. We feel really lucky.

Are you headed to SXSW? Catch GoGo Penguin here:

GoGo Penguin at the Main II

Wednesday, 15th March, 9:00 – 9:40pm (DST)

GoGo Penguin at St David's Historic Sanctuary

Thursday, 16th March, 11:00pm – 11:40pm (DST)


In November 2016, PPL pledged to invest £200k per year in new artists as part of the PRS Foundation partnership. Find out more here.