Back in March 2013, musicians and non-musicians alike gathered at London retail concept space LN-CC for a multi-sensory experience like no other. Thomas Bullock—a DJ and record producer with decades of street cred who fell in love with mezcal later in life—had kept the new bar area inside LN-CC well-stocked with a collection of rare and small-batch mezcals he imported himself. Yet displaying the distilled spirits wasn't enough for Bullock, who wanted people to experience firsthand the magical, unifying energy of mezcal—a spirit native to Mexico that's often overshadowed by its agave sibling, tequila.
Bullock's Spirit Bear Mezcals teamed up with LN-CC for a special night that mixed music and booze in a brand new way. While the bar offered a diverse tasting of mezcal varieties, a group of assembled musicians (including Jonny Nash of LN-CC, Tiago Miranda, Merrick Adams, Kyle Martin and Bullock himself) sat in a circle and played an entirely improvised performance, while audience members sipped drinks and joined in when the mezcal loosened their inhibitions.
The last 25 minutes of the Spirit Bear Mezcal Ensemble's jam session were recorded, and it has finally become available on vinyl. With the original recording left untouched (save for minor volume and EQ adjustments) the record preserves the raw, shared musical experience and gently reminds us there are lots of different ways to engage with music and people.
"We were excited to develop and explore ways that we can get together as a community, create a community and share within a community a party together. We're interested in questioning the way that we go out. Rather than thoughtlessly, over and over again: go to the bar, the music's blaring—it's just draining," explains Bullock to CH. "We were excited about how an evening could be spent more productively within the old formula of 'wine, women and song.'"
Describing the thought process behind the hybrid tasting-performance, Bullock continues, "It was mezcal that we were interested in, rather than the brand. We wanted to introduce people to the mezcal. It became clear that everything works in circles somehow, with mezcal and music. The way that mezcal is often produced, it's cooked in these circular ovens, it's fermented in circular tanks, everything is circular. The bottles are circular, the glass, the community, the way that we pass it around. So we decided to set up a circle of musicians, or a circle of instruments which were open for people to pick up and join in with, and we decided to put together a mezcal tasting where people respond to the mezcal they're drinking by playing the music."
"So rather than the kind of typical, laden adjectives that the epicurean will produce to describe a mezcal (the sort of chocolate notes of black leather and tobacco with a hint of cherries and whatnot)—that gets quite fun, but you can only take it so far—it's just pure expression back through music, as a way of responding to the mezcal or expressing your feeling about the mezcal," says Bullock. The buzz of mezcal teased ethnic yet romantic sounds from the instruments, fusing traditional hand percussion and driving guitar rhythms with electronic flourishes from the synthesizers. The performance feels like a single, united voice, while radiating the liveliness of spontaneity.
While a glass of scotch might immediately conjure an image of drinking alone at the bar, mezcal is intended for the complete opposite. "The unanimous feeling was that everyone felt sort of connected," Bullock describes. "The mezcal, it gathers you together. It really does."
Purchase the 12" Spirit Bear Mezcal Ensemble vinyl at LN-CC in London or online for $17. Only 300 copies have been printed, and there will be no repress.
Images courtesy of Andy Malone, album artwork by Stevie Anderson