Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My album of the year is Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland's 'Black Is Beautiful'

And I wrote about it for Dummy at the beginning of December as they counted down their top 10 albums of the year.

“Is it any good?” a friend asked, after I’d declared Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s Black Is Beautiful my album of 2012.

What a question. Surely it’s the motivation for these annual countdowns, as we collectively ask: is it any good? Can you quantify its goodness relative to the rest of the year’s musical product? Is it an album you can’t stop playing? Was it the soundtrack to your summer?

“It’s…” I struggled for the word. “It’s not good, exactly. I mean, I don’t really want to listen to it that often.” A sceptical face looks back at me. Try again. “It’s just… it, isn’t it? It’s not just the album of 2012 – it is 2012.”

When I first heard Hype Williams (the duo’s previous and apparently interchangeable name) near the end of 2010, something about their woozy conveyor belt of crusty-edged samples, squeezed, stretched loops and cassette-like fidelity transported me back to being a car-sick child, listening to my dad’s worn-out tapes on the way to the airport at dawn.

Tracks like 'Blue Dream' and 'The Throning' triggered a queasiness that I’ve never quite shaken off – all that lethargic, narcotic, pitch-shifting infinite loopiness burrowed into my brain and made me listen over and over, unsure of whether I actually liked what I was hearing, but convinced it was worth enduring.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Carter Tutti Void interview: "We did two run-throughs and said, right – let's take it to the Roundhouse"

First published in Loud And Quiet

For a simple rock and roll gig to attain legendary status, it must induce an element of fiction in its retelling. The people must whisper and proclaim and brag about it as though it wasn't quite real; a strange blip on the space-time continuum that allowed a thousand fans to squeeze into a room made for a hundred. Legends, by definition, tend to skirt the supernatural.

They also, by definition, belong to a previous era. The Sex Pistols at Manchester's Free Trade Hall, Public Enemy at Hammersmith Odeon, Throbbing Gristle's Prostitution Show at the ICA – take the venue's capacity and double it, and that's the number of fans who'll tell you, “I was there.” But the show that sowed the seed for this interview? Well, that was no simple rock and roll gig – and these are no ordinary legends.

And talking of Throbbing Gristle, those perverse pioneers of avant-garde noise and the shape-shifting genre we still call 'industrial', it's one half of that now defunct operation who sit before me today, forming two-thirds of a pan-generational supergroup which, following their single one hour show in May 2011, is also effectively defunct.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

PUMMELLED IN THE FACE: Naomi Punk crawl out of US rock's dirty underbelly

First published in Loud And Quiet

Naomi Punk
The Feeling
Captured Tracks

There is a great and mighty school of American music that posits that the best way to communicate your latest gosh darn fine pop song to your listeners is to PUMMEL THEM IN THE FACE with it over and over, taking up rust-ridden serrated guitars and crash cymbals to slice straight through their brains leaving nothing but mutilated chunks of cortex and gristle pulsating out of time on the kerb.

Well, the fine debut by Naomi Punk (who naturally hail from Olympia, Washington, spiritual home of riot grrrl and grunge) emerges from this very school, combining grubby lo-fi melodies with introspective slowcore darkness to excellent effect, even touching on that great unspoken canon of American rock genius stretching from Mars to Butthole Surfers to Royal Trux. Released on Couple Skate Records in the U.S. this spring, The Feeling well deserves its repress and international release.

A heart still beating: Ex-Throbbing Gristle members rework Nico's Desertshore

First published in Loud And Quiet

Chris Carter, Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson and Cosey Fanni Tutti (X-TG)
Desertshore/The Final Report
Industrial Records Ltd

At the time of Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson's unexpected death in 2010, the former Throbbing Gristle member had been arranging this reworking of Nico's Desertshore, a record so profoundly desolate it's impossible to believe it arrived in the same year as The Partridge Family.

Determined to complete the album in tribute to their departed bandmate, TG's Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti called in Marc Almond, Blixa Bargeld, Antony Hegarty, ex-porn star Sasha Grey and filmmaker Gaspar Noé to contribute voices in three languages to their own abrasive, mesmerising interpretations of Nico's monochrome classic, proudly showcasing both her lyrical gift and their own tact in handling the source material.

Then comes another eulogy, this time from the remaining TG members to their missing friend, constructed from their final sessions together. As if afraid of trivialising the preceding 50 minutes by lightening the tone, The Final Report is a Hadean landscape of lava and molten metal, obstinate and uncompromising, grainy and dark – with a still-beating heart.

A new French wave: Melody's Echo Chamber

First published in Loud And Quiet

Melody's Echo Chamber
Melody's Echo Chamber
Weird World
Out 5th November

As a classically trained multi-instrumentalist and singer from Paris, it's no huge surprise to hear shades of Stereolab's Lætitia Sadier all over Melody Prochet's accomplished debut record of delicate psychedelia, intricate melodies and all manner of fuzzy and frazzled twists and turns. Opening track and recent single 'I Follow You' sets the tone for an album of clever pop that never sounds like it's trying to be clever – close attention has been paid to knitting textures and tones together so you barely hear the joins, as softly distorted low-end sounds melt into buzzing guitars, twinkly synth echoes and Prochet's own husky and inviting voice.

Bringing in Tame Impala's Kevin Parker as producer was a wise move, adding some well-placed dirt and grime and plenty of chunky bass and beats to Melody's feminine sweetness. 'Mount Hopeless' introduces scuffed up breakbeat drums under a gorgeous duet of voices and winding guitar, while 'Crystallized' is a breezy motorik groove that owes a heavy debt to Broadcast, a band Prochet must be familiar with. 'Some Time Alone, Alone' has another sneakily addictive melody buried under wall of sound drums and twangy guitar, but its gentle strangeness prevents it from sounding like sickly retromania. An accomplished debut and a deeply satisfying listen, if collages of bleached out hypno-melodicism are your jam.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

An uneasy pact: Radiohead host an evening at the O2 Arena

First published in Loud And Quiet

O2 Arena
9th October 2012

One miserable day in the late 1990s, five successful young men called Radiohead decided to get off the bus, in a manner of speaking. From now on, they said, this stadium-filling rock band wouldn't be playing stadiums. They wouldn't be playing rock, either. So they binned their guitars, sent drummer Phil Selway on an extended tea break and totally recalibrated their musical compass.

It was a savvy and well-timed move; even if that drastic severance with guitar-based anthemic angst rock had produced nothing but the opening track to Kid A, it would've been a major success. The stadiums and guitars crept back in slowly, but their point was made.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

"There's nothing ironic about it": How To Dress Well on sex, drugs, philosophy and 'hipster R&B'

First published in Loud And Quiet

Tom Krell has released over 50 songs as How To Dress Well in under three years, across one album (Love Remains) and a bunch of small-scale releases. I hadn't really taken stock of this overabundance of product until a few days before meeting him, when I dutifully revisited the tracks I'd heard before and listened for the first time to the others, including his new record Total Loss, which represents a subtle but resolute shift in sensibilities for an artist who is far more sincere and cerebral than that unfortunate 'hipster R&B' label would suggest.

Meeting Krell on the morning of his impossibly sold out show in Dalston, he talks at length about the elements that drive his creativity: musical, personal and philosophical. That hazy patina on the surface of How To Dress Well's abstract lo-fi soul music isn't just an Instagram of a passing trend. In contrast to the copycats who've emerged in the wake of his innovation, Krell is lucid and assured in putting across his artistic intentions. In the end, the 40-odd minutes of recorded conversation were so densely packed with ideas that it wasn't worth tainting them with my own feeble edit, so here follows an abridged transcript for your consumption.

Through wildfires and scorpions: the making of Grizzly Bear's 'Shields'

First published in Loud And Quiet

Grizzly Bear have been plodding round Europe for days now, from hotel room to airport to private members' club, the latter being the type of venue they find themselves in today, answering questions and posing for photos for an unending procession of scribblers and snappers. Despite the band's indie credentials, it looks like we've got an A-list press junket on our hands. A trip with no sightseeing. A bandwagon with no groupies. A tour with no gigs. Yep, the bears are in the big league now.

They're here to talk about their fourth album Shields, due for release on Warp in September. Since they finished touring the hugely acclaimed 'Veckatimest', two of the band have spent time on solo projects – Daniel Rossen with his gorgeously understated, Grizzly Bear-ish Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP, and Chris Taylor with the less Grizzly Bear-ish Dreams Come True, a set of starker electronic songs recorded under the name CANT. Meanwhile, de facto frontman Ed Droste got married and drummer Christopher Bear – well, who knows what drummers do with their time off?

The band heralded their reunion as a four-piece and the completion of the new album by posting the first single online at the start of June. Named after a mountain said to be shaped like a slumbering warrior, 'Sleeping Ute' wrestles with a natural mystery, with the ghosts of the American wilderness, the magic of a waking dream. Rossen wrote the song, but the sleeping slopes of Ute are just a dream to him, too.

Moon Duo's 'Circles': Round and around and around the desert rock badlands

Moon Duo
Souterrain Transmissions

Starting life as a side project for Ripley Johnson's psychedelic drone machine Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo was a vehicle for Johnson and his partner Sanae Yamada to explore the grittier end of the endlessly repetitive space rock spectrum – but with a handful of EPs and an acclaimed album, Mazes, behind them, the pair now seem to have the edge on their wooden mothershjip.

Like its predecessor, the title of Circles gives you some idea of the territory we're in here. Lost in the badlands without a map, Moon Duo's desert rock takes a wrong turn and ends up on the Greyhound to NYC, where Silver Apples lend them an oscillator and Suicide provide the beat with a pawn shop drum machine. San Francisco breathes through them still as their muscle memory teaches them deadhead jams that loop round and around and around ('I Been Gone' and 'Rolling Out'), but the joyous inanity of garage rock shines through (the 'Nuggets'-ish 'Sparks' and 'Circles'). Deliciously deranged.

Music from the past, music for the future: Silver Apples live at The Lexington

Silver Apples
The Lexington
18 September

The music of Silver Apples is not so much timeless as it is out of time; an ex nihilo miracle that appeared almost a decade before it could be comprehended. Metronomic drums place the songs somewhere in the machine age, but after that it's anyone's guess. Violent synthesised disturbances recall the minimal electronic underground of the early 80s, and a discordant no wave vocal hovers uncomfortably on the wrong notes, but it's the bubbling oil lamp projections on the back wall that provide the clue to this apple's provenance.

Simeon, the sole remaining member of the group, is 76 years old – and he's here not only to play songs from the band's 1968 debut, but also newer compositions that suggest his idea of a good night out is 14 hours in the darkest corner of Berghain. He cracks wise when his equipment fucks up before realising he's forgotten to turn up the volume, but otherwise he too is a wonder from outside of time playing macabre nursery rhymes from the not-quite-future.

'Oscillations' still sounds off its actual box and evocative of those vintage drugs us young'uns shall never imbibe – ludes, bennies, purple hearts – and for us, he's even gone and put a donk on it.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Eyelid-peeling kosmische heaviness from
Japan-via-E8's Bo Ningen

First published in Loud And Quiet

Bo Ningen 
Line The Wall
Stolen Recordings
Out 8th October 2012

Any Dalstonite who knows their Acid Mother's Temple from their elbow should recognise this quartet of Japanese psych rock spacemen – their bum-length black hair and 26-inch waists can often be seen prowling the piss-stained pavements of E8 when they're not savagely molesting speakers in underground clubs across the same postcode.

London has been a fertile incubator for Bo Ningen's Sabbath-gone-kosmische sound, what with The Horrors spearheading a revival of esoteric psychedelia and loping krautrock in recent years, so that Line The Wall's frenzied jumble of heavyweight riffing ('Daikaisei Part 1' and, er, 'Daikasiei Part 2'), stabbing math rock ('Nichijyou') and even drifting electronica ('Ten to Sen') sounds surprisingly cohesive. While their debut suffered from a plug-in-and-play live sound that lacked the energy of their eyelid-peeling performances (see video above), this album has the dynamic elbow room to make it more than just a souvenir of the live experience.

Baltimore analgesia: Lower Dens live in Hoxton

First published in Loud And Quiet

Lower Dens
Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen
16th August

Before walking on stage, Jana Hunter takes off her round Lennon glasses. Maybe she can barely see up there, lights flashing in her eyes as she myopically stabs at the keys in front of her, picking out guitar lines with just her fingers' muscle memory.

It's ironic that Hunter might voluntarily handicap her performance with sightlessness as she leads her band through songs from their second album Nootropics, a title referring to those 21st century designer drugs that sharpen your brain and increase productivity. If there's a narcotic haze of any kind floating around Lower Dens, it's the analgesic sort. 

Formed by Hunter after a string of anti-folkish releases in the later 00s, the Baltimore band's subtly addictive strain of nocturnal dreaminess, underpinned by Hunter's fascinatingly ambiguous voice, has been gaining ground on the back of 'Brains', the lead single and linchpin of tonight's set. Climbing to a stirring, unsettling peak, it grasps the crowd tight, shaking us with every beat and graceful chord change as Hunter's cool and distant voice ascends to the climax, causing clenched fists and eyelids tightly shut.

'Propagation' and 'Lamb' are excellent too, but nothing can take away from those five glorious minutes, which remind you that even boring old drums and guitars can still sometimes prompt a little shiver, blindsiding you with a grain of emotion you'd swear you've never felt before. Truly special.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Serious fun as south London meets South Africa
on LV's 'Sebenza'

First published in Loud And Quiet


Hyperdub continues its run of boundary-pushing releases with the second album from LV, which combines the London-based production team's beats with the words of Okmalumkoolkat (one half of the Johannesburg electro-rap-whatever duo Dirty Paraffin), Cape Town MCs Ruffest and the already established Spoek Mathambo, whose debut 'Father Creeper' inspired bewildered fascination in this reviewer in March.

Unlike Mathambo's pick-and-mix of western pop, LV & co. have located a sweet spot somewhere between the dance sounds of south London and South Africa. Dubby UK bass underpins languid raps on 'Zulu Computer', while 'Animal Prints' sounds like glossy bubbles of UK funky being popped by stabs of South African kwaito, over which Mr Koolkat seems to be freestyling a safari (“Zebra, giraffe / animal prints”). Ruffest contributes to a crisp and clinical trio of tracks and Mathambo appears just once, on the sultry comedown 'Work'. Serious fun.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Aren't we after all better actors than Marlon Brando? R. Stevie Moore's late flowering

First published in Loud And Quiet

R. Stevie Moore
Lo Fi High Fives: A Kind Of Best Of
Ogenesis Recordings


This frizz-bearded, pot-bellied 60-year-old is having his long overdue moment in the spotlight – you might've seen him staring out from June's cover of The Wire or tearing up the Quietus stage at Field Day. The unlikely creator of over 400 albums of DIY songcraft, R. Stevie Moore is Gandalf the White to Ariel Pink's faithful Bilbo, the original purveyor of retrolicious AM radio power-pop, blending the harmonic lushness of the Beach Boys with the acerbic weirdness of Talking Heads and the barminess of The Flaming Lips.

If it wasn't for his outwardly oddball demeanour, with the flip-up shades and splendid lyrics (“Aren't we after all better actors than Marlon Brando? Showbiz is obsolete”), he would've been up there with those songwriting greats, or at least hollering from the sidelines with Van Dyke Parks. Massively recommended, along with his website, another lo-fi trove of obscurities.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

More news from the 90s: Gatekeeper's 'Exo' goes back to the global decade

First published in Loud And Quiet

Hippos In Tanks

Gatekeeper's terrifying Giza EP from two years back instigated a revival of John Carpenter-esque horror soundtracks (see Xander Harris' Urban Gothic and Geoff Barrow's recent Drokk project), but now the Chicago production duo have binned the lightning strikes and campy synths for a bewildering onslaught of 90s sounds, from acid-fried techno to Spiral Tribe rave fantasies to the queasy digital dystopia of James Ferraro's Far Side Virtual. And weirder: a 'first-person gaming environment' has been designed as an add-on, which you can explore like those old CD-ROM adventure games.

If that sounds too sickly to be palatable, bear in mind that Ferraro is perhaps one of Gatekeeper's closest contemporaries – both produce a kind of conceptual meta-music, at once dated and futuristic, with something very real and very terrible to say about the digitally-enhanced, high-definition, hyperreal world we live in. Perhaps not an album to come back to regularly, but an essential listen for anyone interested in the not-so-danceable corners of dance music.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Totally devoted: the London soul of Jessie Ware

First published in Loud And Quiet

In the video for 'Running', the velveteen R&B single released by Jessie Ware earlier this year, the slinkily attired singer throws diva shapes from under a monument of lustrous black hair, framed by a red stage curtain and gold leather upholstery. It's preposterously opulent, and coupled with an invitation to interview her at a chichi Clapham restaurant, your correspondent was half-expecting the full Diva Experience – two hours late, no eye contact, untouched salads, PR bod present to oversee proceedings, the whole drill.

But at precisely the allotted time, Jessie Ware bursts into the premises with the biggest grin, firmest handshake and shiniest hair you could hope to encounter in a nascent pop star. She's just come from a video interview around Brixton Market, which took a turn for the strange when a tramp wandered into the frame and “put his cap on my head,” she says wide-eyed.

“So I said to him, I'm really sorry, but I'm not having you put some nit cap on my head. I hate to be a diva but I need to wash my hair now.” In the next 40 minutes that's the only sign of anything approaching diva behaviour from this Clapham-born girl, whose self-deprecating humour, silly faces and quickfire chatter are instantly endearing and sadly impossible to replicate on the page.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Lil B: At the altar of the BasedGod

First published in Loud And Quiet, June 2012

This is a long-form interview-cum-essay about the rapper Lil B, for fans and newcomers alike. In an ideal scenario you might mark this to read later on your smartphone, or if you're feeling less cutting edge you could perhaps print it off and staple it together. Enjoy.

“Ellen DeGeneres! Swag! Ellen DeGeneres! Woo!” Flanked by a brick wall of security muscle, a snake-hipped Californian, little more than 5'7'', is whipping the crowd into a froth of flailing arms and pumping fists, blue light glinting off his gold teeth and shades as he announces himself humbly as the 'BasedGod'. It can only be hip hop's most divisive figure for a generation: Brandon McCartney, or as you probably know him, Lil B.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

LIVE: Cate Le Bon's whimsical rock and roll is deceptively odd

First published in Loud And Quiet

Cate Le Bon
23 April 2012
Village Underground, London

Marking the release of her excellent second album, Cyrk, the mop-topped Cate Le Bon is softly spoken in her chatter but surprisingly strong-lunged on the mic, adding a spiky vigour to her usually more fragile bedroom-pop songs. The Welsh songwriter spent last year touring America solo in support of St Vincent, but this time Le Bon's backing band of friends and collaborators suits her, as she gets stuck into guitar while a ramshackle ruckus kicks up and the beat stays steady but loose, like the best kind of '60s garage band.

White horses flicker into Siamese twin skeletons in the background, providing a jarring visual addendum to some deceptively odd lyrics: “If it pours in the daytime, we'll have to stay indoors, I'll milk the time you're sat with me.” Any folky comparisons encouraged by her lo-fi recording style can be binned, though – the Velvets-y shuffle of 'Falcon Eyed' and the gloriously ugly final bars of closer 'Ploughing Out Part 2' are pure rock and roll in the whimsical vein of her label boss Gruff Rhys, while her solo encore is a deliberately dirgey and weird thing, her voice clashing joyously with harsh organ keys. Bon, you might say.

Despite the name, Teen Daze delivers an exceptionally well-behaved debut

First published in Loud And Quiet

Teen Daze
All Of Us, Together
Lefse Records

Teen Daze comes from British Columbia's picturesque Fraser Valley, not far from Vancouver. He got his degree from a Bible college and likes to keep his music – three EPs and now this full-length for Lefse, home to Neon Indian and How To Dress Well – separate from his daily life, not even giving out his full name.

Despite the Teen Daze moniker, he cites literature and basketball as bigger influences than clubbing or drugs (he abstains), so it's no surprise to hear that All Of Us, Together is a warmly inclusive and exceptionally polite record.

Inspired by an encyclopaedia of 'Utopian Visions', he taps into the non-committal ambience of chillwave and adds a dancefloor pulse that's more Manitoba than Manumission. The gorgeous 'Erbstuck' touches on club-ready euphoria, but elsewhere, like on the unfortunately titled 'The New Balearic', he elegantly scrapes the rungs on his way down.

In a limbo between life and infinity on The Invisible's 'Rispah'

First published in Loud And Quiet

The Invisible
Ninja Tune

The art-pop genre-blenders' second album is an 11-song threnody, an ode of mourning following the death of frontman Dave Okumu’s mother. Named after her, Rispah is bookended by a loose choir of African voices like those Okumu says he heard at the wake, articulating the sorrow and joy entangled in this record, which acknowledges with a heavy heart that even death can bring a renewed passion for life.

As you’d expect from the The Invisible craftsmen, it's lusciously produced – drums flutter and fade as Okumu’s breathily angelic voice drifts into a limbo between life and infinity. The mournful electronics owe much to Radiohead (and the guitar on ‘Surrender’ is straight out of In Rainbows), but the decayed funkiness built up from distorted drums and shivering guitars is uncannily voguish, echoing the exhumed ‘80s R&B we've heard lately on records by Kindness and others.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Gang Colours and rainy day reveries: an interview at the Vortex

First published in Loud And Quiet

Southampton-based producer and singer Will Ozanne assembles moments of hazy nostalgia from the building blocks of quintessentially British sounds, and he calls the end result Gang Colours. Debut album The Keychain Collection is a reverie in blue, blending the rainy day garage of The Streets with the electronic soul of Mount Kimbie and a catalogue of half-remembered instants collected on his trusty dictaphone.

Celebrating its launch on Gilles Peterson's eclectic Brownswood label, Will is playing the bijou Vortex jazz bar in Dalston, supported by fellow electronic experimentalist Gwilym Gold. Lounging on a sofa in the office-cum-dressing room next to the tiny gig space, he's as excited about having a bash on the grand piano in situ as he is about performing a secret cover song, which later turns out to be a number by another Southampton singer (we won't spoil it here, but no prizes for guessing).

Although he usually works alone, Will enlists producer friend Ryan on synth-triggering and knob-twiddling for the live performance. “He has his sampler connected up to the computer, so he's almost like the composer and I'm just playing around. It's a nice dynamic. I think for the next show we've got here we're going to have a drummer as well,” he says, explaining tonight's sell-out has prompted a second Vortex date on 5th April.

After picking up the basic programming tool Hip Hop eJay when he was barely a teenager (“I got mad into Tupac really early, lots of naughty words”), Will moved on to much-loved old school workhorse Fruity Loops when a tech-head cousin downloaded it for him. “I don't think I would have done it if he hadn't done it for me! I've still got a lot of love for Fruity Loops, but when I went to uni it was kind of a course requirement to use Macs.” His digital music degree became the ideal testing ground for his emerging musical aesthetic, an ephemeral blend of piano, vocals and beats inspired by garage and dubstep.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Willis Earl Beal: 'Acousmatic Sorcery'

First published as one of Dummy's albums of the week

Willis Earl Beal
Acousmatic Sorcery
Hot Charity/XL Recordings

His rags-to-records story precedes him: living rough in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Willis Earl Beal began scratching out the roughest of rough-edged, sad-eyed, home-brewed soul with a voice much older than his 27 years and equipment as flashy as a beat-up acoustic guitar and a karaoke machine. After circling the city's hipster scene, distributing flyers for his outsider blues containing just a name and number, Beal even had a crack at the US X-Factor – he made it to boot camp, but was dumped when Cowell and co realised they were dealing with an actual personality.

Despite the press-friendly characterisation of Beal as an ol' fashioned, dust-covered wandering bluesman, it's obvious from the chugging anger and clanking percussion of 'Take Me Away' and 'Angel Chorus' that he has more in common with Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits than John Lee Hooker, while the child-like dissonance heard on Cosmic Queries brings to mind Royal Trux at their most deranged. Acousmatic Sorcery won't be for everyone, but as a portrait of America's underbelly from one of its almost-forgotten citizens, it's nothing less than an album of our time, despite its obvious anti-modernity.

I was not seduced by Devin's 'Romancing'

First published in Loud And Quiet

No Evil

No doubt it’s simply bad timing, but whacking a song called ‘Born To Cry’ on an album released just two months after LDR’s complicated birth is portentous in the extreme for this risible basket of focus-grouped, cod-60s, ham-garage, pseudo-soul flimflam, which boils down to one-word: product.

With a voice processed into a compromise between garage-era Van Morrison and Julian Casablancas, NYC's Devin is trying very hard to pass himself off as an insouciant rock and roll bad boy, quiff dishevelled just so as he channels the dead and decaying heroes of yore.

It's all pretty dreadful stuff, but closing track 'White Leather' is the nadir – a token slowy with the priceless line: “Let's get all trashed up on a Friday night, my baby's all in white leather.” Where are you off to, love? The annual Adult Erotica show at the ExCel centre? Supermarket rock.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

"I'd be on the sofa watching Diagnosis Murder and snoozing if I could": An interview with Cate Le Bon

An interview for Topman GENERATION 

Flying the flag for that unique Welsh strain of homely psychedelia, Cate Le Bon's scuffed-up bedroom pop is like the weird daydreams of Syd Barrett seen through the eyes of Faust, Jacques Dutronc and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci.

Her second album Cyrk – which means 'circus' in Polish – is out on Gruff Rhys' Turnstile subsidiary label Ovni on 30th April, and she'll be supporting The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Perfume Genius on tour in April and May. Before getting back on the road, the softly-spoken musician tells Topman GENERATION about going loopy in the Hebrides and recording “horrible” sax solos in her living room.

Topman GENERATION: Hello Ms Le Bon. You claim to live in Cardiff's French Quarter, but that seems a bit unlikely to me. What's your affiliation with the French?
Cate Le Bon: Well, I often dream about being French, but unfortunately as opposed to dressing like a French woman I dress how a Welsh woman thinks a French woman might dress.

TG: What makes Cardiff a good place for musicians?
CLB: I've always thought that Wales has quite a unique fold of musicians. Cardiff is a very generous music scene, where regardless of how well the bands are doing it never really makes a difference to the social aspect. Members of bands will always help one another out, as opposed to bands being in competition – it's a very supportive, nice scene to be working in.

TG: Did you really record the album in a living room in North Wales?
CLB: Yeah, we went to my best friend's house, who plays guitar for me, in a place called Bethesda. We set up in the front room and ate pancakes and jammed together. I like to escape when making music and writing music, there are far too many distractions elsewhere – and that's not me being, like, ‘at one with nature’ – it’s just knowing that I'd be on the sofa watching Diagnosis Murder and snoozing if I could.

TG: You’ve described the album as a time travel travelogue – is there a concept running through the songs?
CLB: Not so much, but I think the imagery tends to return to the sea or an island, and I think that comes from being at a festival a couple of years ago on the isle of Eigg [in the Scottish Inner Hebrides]. It was just mindblowingly incredible to be so secluded – everyone went a little bit bananas, you’re on this tiny island and everyone’s drinking and having a great time. And I think there’s some kind of security being on an island – you can’t really get lost and you can’t go further than a certain amount. It had a quite lasting effect on me.

Read the second half of the interview at Topman GENERATION, where you'll a few other pretty decent interviews, actually.

Monday, 21 May 2012

BAND OF THE YEAR SO FAR: Savages, live at White Heat

First published in Loud And Quiet

White Heat, Madame Jojos
3rd April 2012

When a band can count the number of gigs they’ve played on two hands and still have room to click their fingers in time, you can usually expect a jumbled jigsaw of their intended sound – the right pieces in the wrong places; wonky edges mashed together haphazardly. But to discover Savages in their primitive state is to gaze on a 1,000-piece jigsaw of a monochrome cityscape, not only completed but glued and framed up in the knowledge that this right here is already a work of art.

Hyperbole indeed, but warranted when you’re standing in front of four thoroughbred rock stars in the making, angular and louche, delivering us from the apathetic navel-gazing of chillwave with their brittle minimalism cooked up from scraps of Jim Jarmusch, Lydia Lunch, Kobo Abe, Gun Club, vacant stares, yelps of rage and splattered, smudged guitars layered over taut and solid rhythms.

What it is not – though some will no doubt try to draw the link – is the coquettish prankster punk of The Slits, nor the mannered goth of Siouxsie. All is cool, fleshless and sharp, with volume and dissonance on the offence as singer Jehnny Beth, with starkly cropped hair and roaming eyes, repeats words boiled down to their unpleasant essence: “She will, she will, she will,” “Husbands, husbands, husbands,” “Hit me, hit me.” No strangers to the music industry, they’re playing by their rules this time, so no downloads for you yet. Catch Savages in their natural state instead – alive.

Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury: 'Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega-City One'

First published in Loud And Quiet

Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury
Drokk: Music Inspired By Mega-City One 

The revival in interest in early electronic music produces an awkward paradox. From Veronica Vasicka’s Minimal Wave series to the forgotten proto-house classics loved by the UK bass scene and the legacy of industrial revived by Carter Tutti Void – it's an eternal summer of early ‘80s retromania. Portishead's Geoff Barrow and BBC composer Ben Salisbury encapsulate that paradox with this imagined soundtrack for the 2000AD comic.

A vintage Oberheim Two Voice synthesiser dominates while semi-automatic drums warp over rasping metal, making for a fairly literal take on the dystopian grid-eyed world of Judge Dredd. The fantasy action is firmly in the realm of sci-fi hauntology – a past that saw the future in the man-machines of Kraftwerk, John Carpenter and Drexciya – and though the revival is partly a fan fetish, Drokk has a stylish commitment to authenticity that can't be knocked.

Carter Tutti Void: 'Transverse'

First published as Dummy's album of the week

Carter Tutti Void

The notion of the legendary gig, that unmissable moment you inevitably missed, seems to belong to a previous era. The Sex Pistols at Manchester's Free Trade Hall, Public Enemy at Hammersmith Odeon in '87, Throbbing Gristle's 'Prostitution Show' at the ICA – take the venue's capacity and double it, and that's the number of people who'll swear, “I was there.”

Talking of Throbbing Gristle – those perverse pioneers of avant-garde noise and what became known as 'industrial' – the latest release from the group's alumni is a recording made at the Mute label's Short Circuit festival at the Roundhouse last May. Performing in the venue's tiny secondary space rather than the main hall, only a few hundred of the festival's ticketholders bore witness to Carter Tutti Void on stage, but now Mute is releasing the performance – four tracks over 40 minutes, plus an extra studio version of the final track – for general consumption.

Comprising Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of TG and Nik Void of industrial resurrectionists Factory Floor, 'Transverse' is a guttural rasp from the ravaged carcass of machine music, a white-hot flash of metal-on-metal that leaves blistered skin and ears in its wake. You probably weren't there, but with this bleak and visceral artefact of performance (beautifully mastered, by the way) you can at least make an passable pretence of having being exposed to it in the flesh.

"So much goes unspoken": An interview with 2:54

First published in Loud And Quiet

There's a moment in the Melvins track 'A History of Bad Men' when the white-hot riff-crunching collapses in a smoky haze of churning doom rock, like stones turning to molten lava. It's at two minutes and 54 seconds, to be precise, and it's a fitting moment of conception for the elegant but ferocious music of sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow. Though that origins story has been repeated many times since the day in 2010 when 'Creeping' popped up online and became an instant blog hit, it remains an auspicious genesis for the duo who call themselves 2:54. Finding themselves with a whole lot of hype to capitalise on, they've spent every day since then honing their songs and shows, and on 28th May their self-titled debut will be finally be delivered to the world through Fiction.

Younger sister Hannah is the quieter half of the duo, with hair like a gothic Elvis and usually found moulded over her guitar, wringing out plaintive melodies shimmering with reverb. Colette, older by two years and the more dominant conversationalist, is the de facto band leader given to scarlet lipstick. Their synergy isn't obvious as first – they don't look especially similar, even up close, and they don't trade private jokes or bicker as siblings are wont to do. Instead, there seems to be a certain silent bond between the two – not that they have nothing to say to each other, but there is simply no need to say it. This quiet assurance is the core of every 2:54 song, where poise and balance underpin the windswept emotional turbulence and lovelorn drama of tracks like 'You're Early' and 'Scarlet'. No surprise that they often draw comparisons with the brooding darkness of The xx and Warpaint.

But in contrast to the music, in person the girls are nothing but polite and warm, drifting into each other's sentences and nervously tapping lighters and fidgeting in their seats. We meet in a flat on one of East London's more salubrious streets, in which the dark furnishings and black piano provide a suitably moody backdrop for the photo shoot. They make for quiet sitters, amenable to the photographer's directions but bristling at the possibility of a vintage stove creeping into the frame, keen to avoid situating themselves in a typically feminine domestic milieu.

With their monochrome grungy clothes and spooky videos to match their atmosphere of the music, it might seem they control their image pretty carefully. “Not at all!” they counter, speaking together. “My main thing is, it’s the last thing I want to think about, ever, but particularly with performing I just want to be able to move with my guitar – that’s my only thought after sitting in a van all day,” says Colette. But you know, two sisters, two leather jackets, people are going to describe them as moody gothic types whether they like it or not – yet nothing could be further from the truth, surely? They both laugh. Maybe the music is a conduit for a darker side of their personalities? “I think it's totally part of us.” “It's completely us.”

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Queens of the Stoned Age: Hip hop partners THEESatisfaction speak up

One of the most enjoyable interviews I've ever done, following on from last year's meeting with Shabazz Palaces, was this one right here with the ladies of THEESatisfaction. I am genuinely thrilled that they're getting so much kudos, acclaim, buzz, hype, plaudits and all that jazz at the moment, because they are unarguably GREAT and their album is GREAT.

Just picking out the twisting beats and rhythms and stuttering rhymes and the way their voices weave in and out is a joyous mental exercise, the musical equivalent of a very satisfying crossword. But that's what a cruciverbalist like myself would say, and that makes awE naturalE sound like thesaurus hip hop, which it ain't - it's more like a psychedelic strain of hip hop breathing new life into funk jams and cosmic jazz and neo-soul and real poetry. Oh, just play the track will you:

First published in Loud And Quiet

THEESatisfaction – the Queens of the Stoned Age, as they describe themselves – have been making serious ripples lately ahead of the release of awE naturalE, their debut album for Sub Pop. But if they sound kinda familiar, it may be that you already know those distinctive voices from Black Up, 2011's enigmatic offering from Shabazz Palaces, also out on the Seattle grunge label.

The self-styled 'lo-fi rebel hip hop' duo have actually been active on the U.S. city's music scene for a few years, releasing mixtapes like the wonderfully titled Sandra Bollocks Black Baby and THEESatisfaction Love Stevie Wonder: Why We Celebrate Colonialism, but it was teaming up with Shabazz Palaces, creation of the former Digable Planets rapper Ishmael Butler, that finally put them in the spotlight. As well as lending jazzy vocal tones and sharp rhymes to Black Up, Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons have performed often with Butler and his percussionist Tendai Maraire, and now they're back in the UK supporting Little Dragon, a band whom they're also big fans of. “We did a show with them in Seattle years ago, we opened up for them, and we just connected immediately,” says rapper Stas, the smaller-'froed half of THEESatisfaction. “We did another festival with them and kept in contact.”

Stas and Cat, partners in music and life, meet me in their sweltering dressing room at Kentish Town's Forum, where despite the mild weather outside they've cranked the heat up to tropical inside. Tonight's show will be one of their biggest, but they're not sweating it. “We get a little nervous,” says Cat, the larger-'froed band member with the sultry jazz voice, “but then we get on the stage and that character of THEESatisfaction comes out, so we can just sit back and go somewhere else.” Their show, much like Shabazz Palaces' live act, is stripped back and sassy, the two women in full control of beats and vocals, even throwing in a casual dance routine or two. “We've had offers from people to be our hype man, but we just hype each other on stage,” says Cat.

At college back in Seattle, the pair had circled each other for some time, meeting through friends and when Cat was doing spoken word nights. “I'd be performing and we'd kind of catch each other's eye,” she laughs. They started to hang out, and then date, and now it seems they eat, sleep and breathe with each other, making music at their home in the West Coast city.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Your gauzy summer soundtrack has arrived: Pinkunoizu's 'Free Time!'

This Danish band turned up at White Heat last year and I was pretty keen on them immediately, but the album is a glorious thing indeed. Where their live show is all about driving rhythms and Velvets-indebted wig-outs, this debut full-length is... ah, so hard to describe. It just RIPPLES. A beautifully put-together record that should have real staying power in your record collection.

'Free Time!' 
Full Time Hobby

The debut from Copenhagen-via-Berlin band Pinkunoizu didn't so much arrive on my desk as waft down on a tattered Persian carpet to pour me a thimbleful of intoxicating syrup. Taking the post-rock of their previous incarnation, Le Fiasko, the four Danes douse elliptical grooves with '60s pop tones and hypnotic melodies to create a lo-fi grooviness that fans of Stereolab or Animal Collective would welcome.

Opener 'Time Is Like A Melody' is like seeing a sunrise from underwater, rhythms expanding and contracting like lapping waves, while 'Parabolic Delusions' teams some forgotten tune of the Cultural Revolution with acid squelch and clapping games. Those grooves aren't merely groovy but alluring, sucking you into a fantastical hinterland of vintage psychedelia where Eastern scales and one-chord drone jams mesh with bathroom echo guitars and sweetened melodies.

There's no showing off here though – all is decidedly low-key. Much like 936, Peaking Lights' sleeper hit last year, 'Free Time!' deserves to be the gauzy backdrop to another Indian summer.

LIVE: Brisbane's DZ Deathrays are sharper than your average

DZ Deathrays 
Old Blue Last
6th March 2012 


A pint is being spilled. At least five people are jumping up and down, and not half-heartedly either. For a Shoreditch pub on a Tuesday, this has got to count as an unqualified success for DZ Deathrays, Brisbane's finest – and possibly only – two-piece thrash-rock pop-brutalisers.

To a backdrop of blinding Dan Flavin-style strip lights, which sear hot colours into our retinas long after the amps have gone cold, singer and guitarist Shane Parsons and drummer Simon Ridley lay down a deceptively intricate set of pop songs-gone-bad on this first night of three at the Old Blue Last.

The DFA 1979 comparison is an obvious one, but it's the classic rock and metal canon that's the real wellspring for DZ – the primal heaviness of Sabbath, the squealing chewiness of Jack White's guitar, the furious thrash of Anthrax and, maybe most of all, the stoopid genius of anyone who's ever crushed a beer can into his head just for laughs. They might style themselves as two slapdash slackers getting lucky with a bunch of garage jams, but listen up – those razor-edge riffs, sharp song structures and knockout dynamics are no accident. Hold on to your pint.

First published in Loud And Quiet

Clacking their coconuts: Django Django live at XOYO

Django Django
27th February 2012

After hovering on the fringes of the big time for a few years, Django Django finally made a splash in January with their magical eponymous debut, securing hours of radio play with the enigmatic effervescence of single 'Default', which they despatch with confidence early on tonight.

The XOYO punters tessellate and squirm in the oversold venue, eager to get an earful of this 'hot new band', as if DD hadn't been playing London's toilets and trend-holes on a near-weekly basis since 2009. To be fair, this is version 2.0 – tighter, stronger, and most definitely weirder, or at least truer to their own odd-kid-out nature. They did meet at a Scottish art college, after all.

Singer and guitarist Vinny Neff is the pretty face centre stage, contributing shards of Link Wray twang and surf guitar and clacking his coconuts vigorously (the percussion instrument, that is – the third pair of the tour after having them stolen each night). Bassist Jimmy Dixon does his best turkey neck while keeping close harmony, Dave Maclean (whose big brother is in The Beta Band, fittingly) takes on the not-so-simple task of keeping time, and the gorgeously named Tommy Grace does everything else required on synths.

Sweating through their uniform Django t-shirts, they finish with the ecstatic nonsense of 'WOR', soaking up the adoration with genuine surprise at their new-found status as critical darlings and commercial contenders. They won't be seeing a venue this small again.

First published in Loud And Quiet

Monday, 27 February 2012

Third one's a charm: An interview with The Maccabees

A few weeks ago I met The Maccabees before their headline show at Brixton just as their third record, the expectedly epic-sounding Given To The Wild, was coming out. It's an alright record! And they were lovely! And mega fit obvs lol!!1! The whole thing was a pleasant surprise! Owen Richards took some neat photos of the band too, including the one below, which was taken to the side of the stage. They set up a ping pong table on stage during soundcheck, which can only be a good thing. I miss ping pong.

Some slight changes were made in the printed version which I can't really be bothered to add in here. Suffice to say I prefer my own concluding paragraph to the subbed one (as all writers do, the egotistic idiots).

First published in Loud And Quiet

Photo by Owen Richards

Raking through the slush pile of mid-Noughties indie rock, who would you have predicted to be filling arenas half a decade later? The Kooks? Good Shoes? The Pigeon Detectives? As we know, the landslide of leather jackets and Telecasters soon became landfill, consigned to changing rooms, mobile phone ads and Hollyoaks montages, and surely destined to be a mere footnote to 21st century pop music.

But a strange thing happened in 2011. Three of the year’s most feted albums – The Horrors’ Skying, Metronomy’s The English Riviera and Wild Beasts’ Smother – were delivered by bands of the 2006 vintage. While none of those bands could have been mistaken for landfill indie even in their embryonic form (being obviously in possession of some discerning taste and eccentricity of vision), they hardly seemed likely back then to blossom into the critically acclaimed list-botherers you now see before you.

Even less likely to make the leap from upstarts to heavyweights, then, were The Maccabees. While the Brighton-based band may not quite have a Mercury nomination on their hands with their third album, the restrained and ruminative Given To The Wild, they are nonetheless on a weirdly similar trajectory to their Class of ’06 peers, surprising probably even themselves as they gear up to play Brixton Academy for the third time.

Raw power, digital: Kap Bambino's 'Devotion'

First published in Loud And Quiet

Kap Bambino
Because Music

Crystal Castles’ breakthrough success annoyed everyone from hand-wringing parents of Skins wannabes to hipper-than-thou types suspicious of the too-cool-to-be-true duo. And they must have pissed off electro-thrash boy-girl duo Kap Bambino too, a band whose fifth album makes another valiant stab at dethroning the Toronto upstarts. Known for their fearsome live shows, Bordeaux-based KB have made a surprising success of translating that raw power to shiny disc, with the title track’s arpeggios pumped through the Tokyo grid before collapsing in garbled distortion.

On ‘Next Resurrection’, stabbing synths veer towards sick-headed trance through the eyes of John Carpenter (the touchstone du jour in electronic music, it seems), while Caroline Martial’s fembot vocals hit a poppy sweet spot with added juvenile squawks. The drums are fake and tacky like Essex nails, bludgeoning you with perverted Euro House builds and drops, while gothic keys grind through a digital mincer for a zombified twist on the witch house weirdness of Tri Angle Records. You’ll hate yourself for loving this.

Spoek Mathambo blitzes the American pop canon on 'Father Creeper'

First published in Loud And Quiet

Spoek Mathambo
Father Creeper 
Sub Pop

When Vampire Weekend and Fool's Gold take inspiration from distant climes, we’re told the results have 'African rhythms' or 'Afropop style'. It’s a typically insensitive catch-all for the cultural output of a billion people in 54 countries – but what if the situation was reversed? Spoek Mathambo, South African purveyor of 'township tech', uses American pop, rock and R&B like crayons, scribbling crunchy guitars over booty bass or accented rap over kwaito beats as he grapples with the un-sunny themes of sex and death. Occasionally the bewildering juxtaposition falls in sync (creepy two-part closer 'Grave', for instance) but it's a jarring ride as lyrics about jiggling your jelly hover disconcertingly over emo-ish guitars, while Mathambo's sing-rapping follows its own fancy in matters of pitch and key. Whether that’s intentional is hard to deduce; either way Father Creeper is essential listening if you think you know African music.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

"People are more accepting of strange music now.": TOY emerge from the ashes

A few days after meeting TOY for Topman Generation, hours before one of their Shacklewell Arms residency slots, I realised their week must have been a total press bender. The crowd at the gig was about two-thirds lone wolf A&R types, geezers with balding/bald heads loitering about waiting to hear the next big thing, plus they were the featured band on the Guardian Music podcast that week, among other press engagements.

Seems to me that TOY are a precocious, thoughtful lot with excellent taste who want to turn all that into some very high-quality music. A far cry from their original incarnation as Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong (really).

Having said that, they take 'shamelessly derivative' to levels that even The Horrors (friends of the band, in fact) would reject as too ball-grazing.  Check out the opening bars of their split single/free download - within three seconds of 'Clock Chime' I heard people around me muttering 'Sonic Youth', quite accurately, before it turned into a cover of the languorous intro to 'Endless Blue' on Skying, and then became something rather heavy and very long. As 'Endless Blue' does as well, although in a slightly different way.

Anywho, here's the inner-view and a video. There also used to be a fucking awesome fan blog which was basically 10 pages of psychedelic GIFs, as though the Exploding Plastic Inevitable got eaten by the internet. Sadly it seems to have disappeared in the two weeks since I wrote the interview. Fan love is fickle.

TOY interviewed for Topman GENERATION

Tomorrow's next big thing is yesterday's news, as they say. But when the Jing Jang Jong ditched frontman Joe Lean and their major label deal, no one expected them to come up smiling two years later with louder guitars, longer hair and a station-wagon full of unstoppable motorik rhythms. But that's exactly what they have done, emerging as TOY. The band have already released a two-track download ('Left Myself Behind'/'Clock Chime') on Heavenly Recordings and just wrapped up a month-long residency at Dalston's premier trendy grotspot, The Shacklewell Arms. Here, Tom Dougall (vocals), Dominic O'Dair (guitar) and Charlie Salvidge (drums) tell us why they take their inspiration from the 60s west coast acid wave before letting rip to a crush of balding industry geezers and young'uns keen for a first look.

Topman GENERATION: Hello gents. Tell us what TOY are all about. 
Dominic O'Dair: Our sound is an amalgamation of all of our influences, which include West Coast bands like The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane and The Beach Boys, New York things like the Velvet Underground, early electronic music and post-punk.
Tom Dougall: And German music, like Can.
Charlie Salvidge: ... and a bit of folk as well.

Topman GENERATION: You toured with The Horrors last year. What was it like going in at the deep end and playing venues like the Roundhouse in Camden? 
Dominic O'Dair: It was really good practice to do it that way.
Tom Dougall: We wouldn’t have played any big tours had it not been for them, so it’s been really cool to play to bigger audiences. And when Cat’s Eyes [the 60s pop side project of Horrors frontman Faris Badwan] were touring their album, our bassist Panda played with them too.

Topman GENERATION: Both TOY and The Horrors play music infused with psychedelia and krautrock. Where does that come from?
Dominic O'Dair: We’ve basically all been listening to that music for years. We don’t really do anything consciously, it’s just the music that we like.
Tom Dougall: I don’t know what else we’d do – we try and write something that’s on a par with the music we like. If we can make records that at least to us stand next to some of the great records we listen to... I don’t know whether we’ll ever get there, but that’s neither here nor there.

Read the rest of the interview here

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Worldwide Awards 2012 with SBTRKT and Sampha, Julio Bashmore, Koreless and more

Now then, now then - a review of an awards night no less! Purely democratic though, as you'd expect from all-round nice guy Gilles Peterson.

First published on Resident Advisor

Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards 2012
KOKO, Camden, London
21 January 2012

For the uninitiated, Gilles Peterson has hosted his Worldwide show on BBC Radio 1 for 12 years, showcasing the outer reaches of leftfield hip hop, free jazz, African rhythms and soulful house, kerb-kicking blues and Cuban heat, dubstep and whatever the heck else he fancies. His eclectic and exacting taste has earned him a loyal core of open-minded listeners, who made up the bulk of the crowd at KOKO for his annual Worldwide Awards ceremony. But there was something bittersweet in the air this time round, as Peterson recently announced his departure from the station as part of a clear-out of the old guard (Judge Jules, Fabio & Grooverider) to make way for the new (Skream & Benga, Toddla T).

The running order was upheld with military precision, but with doors at 7pm most of the crowd inevitably missed sets from Dimlite, Gang Colours and Hudson Mohawke, all of whom were headed for the exit well before 10pm. Moving seamlessly from live sets to DJs, Kutmah delivered Brainfeeder flavours before the Los Angeles imprint was named Label of the Year. Other winners included Jamie xx for his remix of Adele's 'Rolling In The Deep', SBTRKT for his self-titled album and Machinedrum, who took home the John Peel Play More Jazz Award.

Read the rest of this review on Resident Advisor

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Love Dubbin': An interview with Hyperdub's Cooly G

A new assignment for me! (I would say 'paymaster' but that's not really appropriate for a music writer.) I spoke to producer Cooly G for Topman's new GENERATION website, which you can check out in all its iPad-optimised glory over here. There's actually some great stuff, not only on music but also art, fashion, films and so on (The Big Pink, Japanese cinema, the style of the Beastie Boys...). Not sure what it all has to do with selling 'cheeky' logo t-shirts but shut up and drink your juice.

After bringing us groundbreaking records by Burial, King Midas Sound and Ikonika, Kode9's Hyperdub label is preparing to release the debut album from Cooly G – producer, singer, teacher, footballer, mother, and (if she carries on like this) Hyperdub's very first pop star. Here, the Brixton gal tells Topman GENERATION about her “more emotional” album, touring the States with Jamie xx, and why her status as the future sound of UK bass music is all down to a football injury.

Topman GENERATION: In 2009 Hyperdub put out ‘Narst’/’Love Dub’ after discovering your tracks on MySpace. But what were you doing before you started making music?
Cooly G: I play football and do music, and that's what I have been doing since I was a kid, but I decided to do music because of my destroyed knee and not being able to play football. I went to the studio for the first time on the day I had my last exam. I was playing for Tooting and Mitcham Ladies FC, they’re a semi-pro team, and I was teaching music technology in Brixton.

Topman GENERATION: You were originally associated with the funky house scene but you've been releasing through a dubstep label, what's the deal? 
Cooly G: I don't know where this funky house thing has come from, I really don't. I used to rave to it, but I was more into deep house, going to them proper deep house raves where there were no black people in there! Maybe some of the tracks I made have that funky element, the drum pattern might have been funky, but I never ever thought in my head, 'funky house'.

Read the rest of the interview at Topman GENERATION

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hessle Audio crest their wave at the Bussey Building, December 2011

At the tail end of 2011 I had a superior night out in Peckham and wrote about it for a website, but it got lost in the post somewhere. Here we are anyway, complete with past tense formatting (which I am not a fan of at all).

Warm presents Hessle Audio with Pearson Sound, Ben UFO, Pangaea and Joe
Bussey Building, Peckham, London
10 December 2011

2011 was a year of consolidation, rather than exposition, for the always-on-point Hessle Audio. Founded just as dubstep burst its banks in 2007, the label found itself at the vanguard as UK dance music splintered into countless sub-genres, putting out singles that touched on house, bass, dub, R&B and whatever else its stellar roster could shoehorn into six minutes. Yet this year, aside from the excellent compilation-slash-retrospective 116 And Rising and two vinyls from Pangaea and Peverelist, Hessle's three founders seem to have focused on the more lucrative gruntwork of playing records to sweaty dancefloors.

The Bussey Building in Peckham has quietly established itself as an alternative clubbing hub in this dog-eared corner of London, where comparatively cheap rent and the local art and music colleges have fertilised a close-knit hipster outpost. Okay, so it's a decrepit old warehouse, the lights are too bright and there's barely more than a trestle table for a DJ booth, but the sound quality is surprisingly meaty – and one-room-parties always have the edge when it comes to atmosphere.

The Hessle colleagues and label favourite Joe all chipped in to a monster back-to-back session, rarely playing more than three tracks before tagging out. In different hands it would've been a car crash of mismatched records and stilted mixing, but the collaborative effort worked precisely because the Hessle attitude is so deeply embedded in these friends and former housemates, who flit freely between genres and BPMs. Tapping the tempo up and down constantly, they touched on influences across eras, from anonymous new white labels to severe techno, classic house, pristine UKG and, for the final half hour, some high watermark dubstep courtesy of Pearson Sound, a murky and unforgiving finale for the last clubbers standing.

One noticeable trend among the night's selections was footwork, its defiant anti-rhythms and broken robotics having quietly infested the UK dance underground since Planet Mu's first Bangs & Works compilation last year. While dubstep is still a tangible influence, it's the lure of the offbeat – machine-made yet unpredictable – that really feels like the freshest direction. It would be easy to suggest that UK bass music has failed to match dubstep's break-out success, or even that the scene is off the boil entirely after a flurry of innovative releases in '09 and '10. But if 2011 seemed like a quiet year for Hessle, maybe that's only because the attitudes the label helped generate have come into their own. Dance music is in a divergent mood and selectors like Ben UFO gleefully reject genre purism in favour of a fragmented, freeform party attitude. If the satisfied faces at closing time were anything to go by, us listeners are in the mood for mixing it up too.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Big movements from below: An interview with Shabazz Palaces

Back in November I met Shabazz Palaces, but the interview has only just appeared in print, in the first Loud And Quiet of 2012. Their album also appeared very near the top of the Village Voice Pazz & Jop end-of-year list, although didn't feature in quite as many Top 10s as I'd expecting. But hey, lists are stupid.

Last year's Shabazz Palaces record was remarkable for many reasons. The record turned heads not only for its provocative title and unorthodox sonic template of African percussion, spooky jazz, murky industrial beats and distorted vocals, but also for its appearance on Sub Pop, that Seattle grunge label usually home to bands like Beach House and Washed Out. As the first hip hop release from the imprint, Black Up stood apart from the rest of 2011's so-called 'avant rap' bubble of blog-friendly notoriety-seekers like Lil B and the Odd Future kids. The album was the product of the mysterious Palaceer Lazaro, soon identified as Seattle dweller Ishmael 'Butterfly' Butler of early '90s hip hop trio Digable Planets, along with percussionist Tendai Maraire and guest vocals from newly-signed labelmates THEESatisfaction. The DIY weirdoism on show on Lil B's I'm Gay or Tyler the Creator's Goblin couldn't be further from Black Up's complex rhythms, opaque lyrics, freeform structures and cryptically spiritual aesthetic.

Meeting Butler and Maraire on a miserable day in Shepherds Bush near the blank face of Westfield shopping mall, London seems embarrassingly unglamorous compared to these rarefied mystery guests. Then again, Butler is from a city with 944mm of rain a year, so the gloom seems to suit them. Outdoor photos over, they offer their thoughts on being placed in the underground hip hop bracket alongside someone like Tyler, who was only just out of nappies when Butler won his first Grammy award. “I think at the core, the comparison is exact,” says Butler. “I think that we all have a similar approach to music, culture and life. But that being said, you could probably say that about most of the people making music around the world. I think a direct comparison is somewhat lazy, y'know, just because the acts are a little different [to mainstream hip hop]. Because in that difference is a chasm that's huge from one artist to the next. I like Lil B a lot – Lil B doesn't write any lyrics, he just puts the beat on and starts rapping, leaves all the mistakes in – to me that's a brave and courageous and kinda visionary way of doing it, it's kinda old school to the core, and I respect that, but to compare that with the guys in Odd Future... But cats are coming from the same heart feeling, I think.”

Dan Sartain and the only sensible part of my review

Oh dear, I made a stupid mistake while reviewing Dan Sartain's new album for L&Q which was entirely due to an iTunes cataloguing error. In summary though, this is what I thought of it:

That clatter-clanging blues-punk is here distilled into 13 sub-two-minute songs, of which ‘Nam Vet’ is pure British grot’n’roll circa ’05 and half of the rest sounds like the Ramones. Which, on balance, is fine by me.

This is roughly what Mr Sartain sounds like, and if you were unlucky enough to read the full 145 words then my sincere apologies for filling your head with indie un-facts. Massively embarrassing.