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.”