Thrumming with organic energy, experimental hip hop-jazz project ‘Heart is Beating’ from live outfit The 3rd Estate is just that- alive. Somewhat of a Justice League of musical talent, The 3rd Estate take their name from the militant group of peasants that sparked the French Revolution and, in turn, history reached out into the present with the pandemic period and tragic losses of rapper Ty and guitarist Toby Seed, both survived by their contributions on the project.
Fitting this spirit of a people’s movement, the 3rd Estate blends the vibrant dynamism of both hip hop and jazz to really play the urban streets they are inspired by into existence- with triumphant refrains, interactive instrumentation and left-field solos to replicate the kind of beautiful chaos that anyone who’s walked down a British high street will be well familiar with.
We ‘sat down’* with the various members of The 3rd Estate to glean the process behind this British street opera.
(*NB: via a computer).
This is a live project in a world (country) where live shows are but a distant memory, was the experience of making this project fulfilling or bittersweet?
Chriz Gabriel (Vocalist): I think it was more fulfilling than bittersweet. I mean, the bringing of all of our talents together is something that reminds me of a world where we were free and people coexisted in the same space adding to the rhythm of another to create a masterpiece. It makes me think of the present where we continue to do that albeit in different spaces. It makes me look to the days when we will share stages and do this once more.
Jonny Murray (Trumpet):It’s definitely been a fulfilling experience. This project has been in the works long before the covid 19 pandemic, it’s been a labour of love for my good friend and long time collaborator Dan Berry, so the overwhelming feeling is one of huge satisfaction and excitement to get this music out into the world. Hopefully it won’t be long until we can perform it live.
How did playing with the other members inform your own performance?
Dougal Taylor, (Drums/Percussion): It’s always a treat to play with everyone live. Putting rhythm tracks down with Tom, Jim and Dave in Brixton for the EP was great. It’s a solid starting point playing with people you know and trust musically. Energy was directed at getting the best live takes together and having the tunes sit well so my personal performance was mostly intuitive, playing what sounded best with the Keys and Bass and keeping my ears open!
Jim Daoud (Guitar): The musicians you play with have profound effects on your musical choices and decisions. Recording with Third Estate was a unique experience, not knowing what to expect on the day we all fed off of each other’s energy and ideas. A lot is improvised and in the moment so the takes were different and each had their value. I think it adds to the jazz aesthetic energy of the band.
The group name ‘The 3rd Estate’ is particularly politically charged. Do you see any parallels between the French Revolution and contemporary events?
Dan Berry (Writing, Arrangement & Saxophones): I think there is a tradition in Hip Hop of passing on knowledge, in the same way you get political stories passed through folk music. Akala’s fire in the booth is probably a great example of this from the UK scene.
I’m obsessed with things that are from the ground up (or underground I guess) and I was thinking about the parallels between the idea of ‘The 3rd Estate’ and the Occupy slogan ‘We are the 99%’. I think the name is paying homage to that, and I feel like music has the same power of uniting people that you find in concepts like ‘The 3rd Estate’. These are perhaps a little vague but that’s often the case when naming something, it can be hard to put your finger on why the name sounds right for the project but to me it all links up somehow.
I guess the link I see today is that they have passed on this powerful idea that still lives on and develops, in a similar process to how we inherit underground music like Jazz & Hip Hop and get the opportunity to re-imagine it in a way that fits us right now.
Dan, this project is your brainchild, can you recall the moment of conception?
Dan: Probably when I was in my halls of residence listening to ‘The Roots – Things Fall Apart’ on repeat at my uni halls of residence. I’d just moved to London to study Jazz and was heading down to Fabric to check out things like Scratch Perverts playing Hip Hop through to DnB sets. Been trying to connect the dots between Jazz, Hip Hop & underground club flavours ever since!
How did you go about the process of assembling this team of musical avengers?
Dan: I think when you are a musician & music obsessive you try and take notes of people you meet along the way who are on the same wavelength. It’s been something I have been trying to patiently put together for years, and ultimately it was just having the courage to ask all these musicians & MCs that I loved to come together to record. It existed as a live project for a while before we hit the studio so I’d already had a chance to test it out in front of a crowd (first gig at Brixton’s Hootananny I think) so after that I gained a bit of confidence to set some studio dates.
Did you set out to make a hip hop project with jazz elements or a jazz project with hip hop flourishes?
Dan: The idea was to found a Hip Hop project, but put it together with Jazz sensibilities. Watching Jazz & Hip Hop shows over the years I was always drawing parallels between musicians improvising and MCs free styling… and I guess also watching how a good DJ almost improvises between himself and the crowd. I felt like I was seeing these 3 different disciplines of improvising and thinking it would be awesome to get them all firing together.
I love the effect this has on our live shows, as any one musician or MC in the group can read the room or vibe and just take us off on a tangent. That’s the key thing taken from Jazz really is this idea that every single time you play the tune live it’s got something a bit different.
The project unfolded over quite a long time period, did you find it challenging getting everyone in the same room?
Dan: Yes. Doing any new music independently is hard, and when you try to organise a larger group of people you’re only making it more complicated. Luckily we landed a great support gig opening for Homeboy Sandman & Edan at the Jazz Cafe, so I used that as the excuse to book studio time during the day beforehand!
As for rappers CANMKING & Chriz Gabriel, there’s a freestyle dynamism in your flows that, I imagine, would make this project’s genius.com page practically read like an interpretive art piece. What was the writing process like for the lyrics here?
CANMKING (Vocalist): With the first piece of music being “Heart Is Beating” my head space was dealing with disappointment from a relationship not working out & trying to push forward, while attempting to heal.
The second piece being “This Game” was lyrics I had already written that I felt meshed well with the vibe of this track Dan presented, so I decided to let it loose that way.
Dealing with fake people, or villainous type Individuals. Made me expressive with the irritation.
Chriz: A lot of my lyrics when creating with the guys work off the group dynamic. “You know we hit the beat like” (The Heart is beating hook) began through me just bouncing off the instrumentation. With This Game, there was no concept to begin with as the lyrics suggest, only to be free and vibey with it. The thought was just create something I would like to buss a step to. From there the rest just flowed.
Instrumental sections like the closing two minutes of final track ‘Every Day’ play like a sonic tour through the proverbial Third Estate- were there particular images or motifs that guided your playing in these sections?
Dougal: Improvising in the studio can be a challenge. The setting for the music to happen is very different to a live show. Having those moments in the studio can be really rewarding because there’s a certain simplicity and directness when the entertainment elements of a live show are stripped away. Though those same elements can also help create an environment for improvisation in a way that the studio often can’t. Having an understanding for each other’s time and sound made those more involved sections feel natural and conversational to record.
The development of ‘Heart is Beating’ tragically saw the loss of contributors Ty and Toby Seed, do any of you have stand-out memories of creating with either of them?
Tom Dreissler (Bass Guitar): We did a 3rd Estate gig with Toby one week before his passing. At the time he was about to go on tour in the states it seemed everything he wanted had come together for him. He smashed the gig with flair and had a queue of people wanting to meet him after. I was looking forward to doing more recording and shows with him and then what happened happened. Just shows you really never know what people are going through. His best mate and guitarist Jim Daoud filled in fittingly after to channel Toby on the recording.
TY was always great to work with- the recording of “heart is beating” being no exception. He had a light hearted sense of humour that would ease any tension and get people out of their shell.
He had a community spirit and always took interest in what projects people were up to.
It’s very sad and crazy to think these two are gone- this record probably being their last features.
Dan: Ty was just a real honour to hang out with for the day. I’d had several great chats with him as a fan running into him in South London or at his shows. Watching his live band set at Finsbury Park (in 2010) was actually the moment that made me think this whole 3rd Estate idea could actually work, so I was beyond grateful that he liked the music and was up for getting involved.
Working with Ty in the studio felt like an education on how to record great vocals, he really walked me and Will (engineer) through the process step by step with all his ad libs, doubling etc. Having listened to his music for years it was beautiful watching him put all the components parts of a Ty verse together in front of our eyes.
Toby Seed I first met nearly 20 years ago when we were both about 15 and on a Jazz summer school course. Felt quite rare back then to find a young Jazz musician who was also into Hip Hop & DnB and we’ve been going raving and playing music together ever since. We had a 3rd Estate show in Old Street back in September 2018 which was the last time I saw him. I remember talking for hours and hours about everything under the sun after our rehearsal and then him utterly tearing up the guitar on the show. You can hear the guys’ utterly unreal talent on the outro of ‘Every Day’ – it’s this combination of super musical melodies with tons of grit, dirt and the most insane groove. I can’t listen to it without imagining him swaggering about with a cheeky grin on his face.
An outright personification of contemporary street-level existence, Heart is Beating delivers as close to a live music experience as we can get through digital 1’s and 0’s, and it is only a matter of time now before they’ll be able to deliver the real deal.
The 3rd Estate’s tour departs from all major streaming platforms this Friday, all aboard!