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.

Androids behind a velvet rope: The Phenomenal Handclap Band, Form And Control

First published in Loud And Quiet

The Phenomenal Handclap Band
Form & Control
Tummy Touch
Out 30th January 2012

The Phenomenal Handclap Band have dialled down the funk and turned up the proggy art-rock for a follow-up album which splices those ‘70s genres with a wearying dose of adult contemporary, castrating its dancefloor potential in the process.

The New York collective once toured with Bryan Ferry, which says it all, really. Ostentatious velvet-rope slickness suggests Roxy Music at their glossiest, yet at heart it’s all deeply repressed, even conservative. Oddly blank vocal efforts are duplicated in a creepy android choir (echoes of Ladytron, continuing the riff on Roxy) that’s totally sexless (and not in the good Ladytron way).

There’s no doubt that TPHB is the project of two DJ minds tuned to the other side of the mixer – this is all about structure and sheen, knob-twiddling and record-referencing. Beautifully constructed but with little of the joie de vivre that fires up its retro source material.

Slackin' too hard: Cymbals Eat Guitars live at the Garage

First published in Loud And Quiet

Cymbals Eat Guitars
Relentless Garage
5 January 2012

One strain of American rock that’s never quite made a successful translation into British music is the sub genre known, in typically contradictory fashion, as ‘slacker rock’: superficially loose yet nerdily exacting, hyper-literate yet loving to play dumb, boisterously poppy yet with guitars always a smidge out of tune.

Staten Island band Cymbals Eat Guitars, who put out their second album Lenses Alien last August, have added their own generation’s angsty inflections to a marginal update on the suburban slacker sound, so instead of slouchy Gen-X ennui, their live performance ripples with the muscular professionalism of a small town band with its eye on the prize.

Singer Joe D’Agostino switches from a sing to a scream, with not so much the geek-goes-postal attitude of Stephen Malkmus as with the gelled finesse of Dave Grohl, while keys, bass and drums provide a heavyweight backdrop like a houseful of Modest Mice.

Clever, unpredictable songs with clever, cryptic lyrics don’t always register in a noisy low-ceilinged room, but the dedicated air-punchers at the front suggest that CEG’s killer tour schedule and word-of-blog buzz is paying off, little by little. Recession era music, eh? Even the slackers are working too hard.