| 10°C Belfast

'We live in an intertwined, really complicated world'

Electronic musician Moby on his sampling of black music, the Natalie Portman row and his tribute to friend David Bowie


Reworkings: American musician Moby

Reworkings: American musician Moby

Reworkings: American musician Moby

Lockdown has enforced a unique period of isolation and reflection for many of us, but for Moby, two decades from the height of his fame, that's not too far from the norm.

The electronic musician (55) has spent much of the pandemic doing what he'd usually do -spending time alone at his home in Los Angeles.

"Before the pandemic, I stayed home and I worked and went hiking and avoided socialising. So during the pandemic, I have stayed home and worked and been prevented from socialising," he says.

This Benedictine lifestyle is a far cry from the hedonism of Moby's early fame, chronicled in eye-watering detail in a new self-narrated documentary released in May. Moby Doc charts the artist's life from a traumatic childhood through to life as a teetotal animal rights activist.

Moby became a household name at the turn of the millennium when his record Play and a string of hit singles propelled an outwardly awkward, shaven-headed bedroom musician to rock superstar status.

"To my shame, I kind of defined myself - and a lot of my wellbeing was largely the product of - being a professional musician, and being a public figure," he admits.

That might be fine when things are going well, but, as the Harlem-born artist explained, it makes it all the more tough when things go the other way.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

"In around 2002, the tide turned," he says. "All of a sudden the articles were negative, the reviews were bad."

More negative headlines followed in the wake of Moby's recent memoir, Then It Fell Apart, in which he described dating actress Natalie Portman when she was 20. Portman denied this characterisation of the relationship, claiming she was 18 at the time and simply remembered a "much older man being creepy" with her.

Despite initially insisting his account was accurate, Moby later apologised for behaving "inconsiderately and disrespectfully".

Another criticism, this time levelled at Moby's music, relates to his use of the work of black artists in some of his most successful songs. To some, including the artist himself, these reworkings were a mark of respect and helped bring them to new, much larger audiences. To others, they were simply exploitative.

"The only thing I've ever been able to say, in my defence… I don't even like the word defence," Moby starts when asked about this debate.

"When I have used African American or black vocals, samples, it's out of a place of just profound love and appreciation for those voices, with the full understanding that I have no right whatsoever to use them or lay claim to any aspect of the experience that gives them their power," he says.

"Cultural appropriation is a real thing," he adds. "But we also live in an incredibly intertwined, complicated world. The clean lines between different types of artistic or spiritual and cultural expression. Oftentimes, sometimes they exist, and oftentimes, they're quite blurred."

Whether consciously or otherwise, Moby's new record Reprise - an orchestral album largely comprised of reworked hits - includes the aforementioned songs with the famous vocal parts performed by black singers, namely Gregory Porter, Amythyst Kiah and Apollo Jane.

One of the more poignant moments on the record is a tribute to David Bowie, a childhood hero whom he befriended and performed with after the pair became neighbours in New York.

The stripped-back rendition of Heroes references a special moment when he and Bowie performed the track on his sofa.

He explains: "It was one of the most special moments of my life, not even professionally, but personally, spiritually, to sit with my favourite musician of all time and play a delicate version of my favourite song of all time."

Top Videos