C I R C U L A T I O N V O L U M E
I S S U E
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F R E E
Also —— Wolf Alice, Afrikan Boy, Mt Wolf, These New Puritans + more...
C I R C U L A T I O N V O L U M E
I S S U E
—— The Team Co-Editors
2 0 1 3
F R E E
JONJO B LOWE JONI ROOME
06 INTERVIEW WOLF ALICE
08 THE CHANGING FACE OF HIP HOP
NIAMH CONNOLLY ALICE LAWRENCE
ALEX BEAZLEY-LONG WILL OLENSKI
BEX LIU AND FELICIA MORIZET
KARL BOS ROSEANNA BREAR ELLIE BURCH ERIN CORK BETH CURTIS RORY FOSTER JAMES HOPKIN KIT LOCKEY ALEX MORDEN-OSBORNE TESSA PULLEN ALEX THEODOSSIADIS
NEO-SOUL ELECTRONIC REGGAE
• LONDON GRAMMAR BY JEM GOULDING • WOLF ALICE BY CAROLINA FARUOLO • AFRIKAN BOY BY SIAN DAVIES • MT WOLF BY NEIL BEDFORD
Marking this little paper-baby’s three-year birthday, we’re once
GIG LISTINGS LIVE IN LEEDS THE WAREHOUSE PROJECT: BLEEDING MANCHESTER DRY
PUSHA T MILEY CYRUS DAN LE SAC VS. SCROOBIUS PIP JOHNNY FLYNN CALIFONE ARCADE FIRE JANELLE MONAE
Around this time last year, we left our stall at a freshers fair unmanned for an hour or so. We made it back to find that our sign had been subtitled with the biro-scrawled words of a Lemon Press writer: “Circulation Magazine- Too busy taking drugs and listening to repetitive electronic music”. After a variety of all-too-public stints in rehab and a tumultuous relationship with YUSU, we can proudly that say we’re clean, out of court, (maybe still fighting for full custody), but back with the bang of our 10th issue!
FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS: PT. II
LONDON GRAMMAR AFRIKAN BOY THESE NEW PURITANS MT WOLF
again hugely proud of the interviews included in this issue, from the established These New Puritans and dark-pop pioneers London Grammar, to the rising Mt Wolf and reemerging Afrikan Boy. Whilst our talk with Wolf Alice explores the musician’s liberty to live free from constricting 9-5s, our selection of comment pieces include poignant insight into the homogenised, Manchurian music scene and the softening of hip hop’s once resistant voice.
sioned, I walked all the way to the Minster for my promised, enlightening-boogie before realising that the two are not the same. Whilst the magazine that follows attempts to document sometimes untenable musical trends and specific technicalities, we also value music’s inherent subjectivity and explore it as a medium for the personal expression of political, social and even economic issues. What do we do when capitalism transforms our childhood, Disney starlets into twerking-twits? When we haven’t got enough money to buy food and can’t find a body of thought to represent us? Moreover, what do we all turn to when we’re
When I started writing for Circulation, a friend of mine pulled out the quote: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. Wrecked and momentarily disillu-
looking to escape our own thoughts, to transcend the isolation of our own minds and enter a collectivity of shared sentiment? We find music. This 10th issue marks our three-year anniversary and the last issue for our current committee. I’m hoping you’ll celebrate it with us by reading on and coming to our launch party advertised at the back. I promise there’ll only be 15% ‘electronic music’ and of that only 2.2% will be ‘repetitive’.
JONJO B LOWE
COLUMNS —— Neo-soul
sprouted in the early ‘90s with the intent to explore the contours of soul and R&B in new contexts. Since then, the success of releases like John Legend’s Love In The Future, an unmistakable product of G.O.O.D. Music, has shadowed a close-knit, experimental community of artists who still share the desire to challenge musical orthodoxy. The lack of experimentation in popular soul has made it difficult for artists like Bilal to associate with the neo-soul genre as redefined by Def Jam, Universal and Sony. Fortunately, contrasting sounds, which continue to focus on artist expression rather than popular appeal, are being produced just scrapes under the surface. With a deep fluency in soul and jazz, Melbourne group Hiatus Kaiyote “borrows ingredients from far-reaching lands” to create their distinct flavour—“Future soul, Wondercore + Multi-deminsional polyrhythmic gangsta shit”. In 2012, they self-released their debut album Tawk Tomahawk which led to their affiliation with Q-Tip, and neo-soul veterans Erykah Badu, Questlove, and SaRa’s Shafiq Husayn. In the wake of their 2012 success, Hiatus Kaiyote has been building a presence in the UK, and will be in Manchester on November 20th at Mint Lounge. This continued experimentation is hardly secluded to the spheres of soul and R&B, as the genre has spread from more traditional soul-revival groups like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, whose Give The People What They Want will be released January 14th of next year, and more progressive artists like Thundercat. Co-produced by Flying Lotus, Thundercat’s summer album Apocalypse shows the same level of emotional engagement as work by D’Angelo, and as much musical variation as Erykah Badu’s The New Amerykah Part Two. Yet, songs ‘Oh Sheit it’s X’ and ‘Heartbreaks + Setbacks’ scream Brainfeeder with the influence of glitch.
Artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu have been directly shaping the genre by championing smaller artists such as LA-based Moonchild. The soulful sounds of their 2012 album Be Free are influenced by Bon Iver and John Coltrane, and their recent single ‘All the Joy’ is full of quirky analogue samples and distinguished by the vocals of Amber Navran. Robert Glasper has also contributed to the genre’s collaboration culture with the Robert Glasper Experiment. His project, a collaboration of some of the biggest names in soul, hip-hop and R&B, including Jean Grae and Common, will be releasing the much-anticipated Black Radio 2 on October 29th.
Machinedrum’s Vapor City follows on from what Room(s) started, with ‘Gunshotta’ bringing some jungle into the mix. For those of the non-dancing disposition, Oneohtrix Point Never has a new record out. R Plus 7 is reminiscent of old computer sounds, with their eerie clean sheen and inhuman timbre. Bits of the album are haunting and others plain tricky, but it’s an interesting release for those who want something specifically detached from the current edm trends. In between this club divide are LPs by Jon Hopkins and James Holden. The latter is an impressive if somewhat flabby listen—tracks like ‘Renata’ and ‘The Caterpillar’s Burial’ are fantastic, raucous fun. But others drag the album on, making a chore of the 15 tracks. Hopkins’ mercury-nominated Immunity, on the other hand, is an 8 track masterpiece—perfectly paced and without a dull moment.
—— Electronic music seems to be having a bit of a mid-life crisis. You know, that age when you’re not really sure who you are, what you’re meant to be? Ministry of Sound brings out a deep house compilation and you cry inside for a few days. No one really seems to know where electronic’s borders lie, and whether we want 7”s and EPs or long releases. Does anyone really care? Maybe not. But it’s poignant to note that many of the best releases this year are records less belonging to electronic music than merely passing through it.
That’s not to say an album’s for everyone. EPs from Koreless, Lil Silva and Sampha are great examples of knowing when to stop, and not pinning on a couple of extra tracks just to justify the ‘LP’ tag. Sampha’s EP, bleeding together the best parts of his production with vocal abilities, stands out as a fantastic release. Is it actually an electronic release though? Who knows. Who cares. RORY FOSTER
Darkstar, Darkside, Daughn Gibson, Daft Punk all fit into this group of ‘non-categoricals’—electronic-ish to varying degrees. Something tells me the term won’t catch on, but they’re all good records. The middle two are fascinating listens, blending some rock (and in Gibson’s case, country) influences with an electronic crust, creating something bizarrely wonderful.
Not since Bob Marley passed away in the early ‘80s has reggae really been a force in charts on either side of the Atlantic. Whilst artists such as Shaggy and Sean Paul have had success with reggae fusion down the years, their big singles tend to have more in common with contemporary RnB than the roots music we started with. Now though, in various guises, reggae is slowly fighting its way back into the mainstream.
On the other side of the coin are some good LPs that are absolutely electronic. Gold Panda’s second full length sees his residency in Berlin leading him down a more club-orientated path, with only a couple of ambient exceptions.
Spearheading this movement is Major Lazer—a collective helmed by producer Diplo. It should be noted that not all of their output is reggae and their eclectic records hop across every musical style even loosely associated with Jamaica, from dancehall to moombahton. This approach however broadens their popular appeal and helped 2013’s Free The Universe reach #34 in both US and UK album charts. Major Lazer also oversaw the production of Snoop Lion’s debut reggae LP Reincarnated, as well as releasing it on Diplo’s Mad Decent label. Snoop’s widely publicised (and likely short-lived) conversion to Rastafarianism saw the record hit #16 and #34 in US and UK charts respectively. The issue here is that the sincerity of the material in such a case is dubious and with a genre so deeply rooted in ideas of love, understanding and, fundamentally, religion; is that acceptable? 30 years ago the answer would’ve been a resounding “no”. However, the genre has become so heavily marginalised that compromises need to be made, and doing so might prove the vehicle in getting reggae back into the mainstream. Take for example ’Jessica’ from the aforementioned Free The Universe. The track has been spun on Radio 1 and playlisted by both 1Xtra and 6Music—no surprises so far. The kicker is that it’s a 4-minute dubbed out reggae track with barely any hooks and no gimmicks. In short, with any other name attached to it, the track wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near this level of airplay. It seems ’Pon De Floor’ has opened some doors. The brand of Reggae on the up may not please the purists, but any genre must evolve to survive. If it opens the door to the right artists, I’ll grit my teeth when Snoop Lion and Miley Cyrus’ ’Ashtrays and Heartbreaks’ comes on the radio and smile politely when people are amazed to discover that dub and dubstep are different things. KARL BOS
FINDING THE RIGHT WO R D S : PA R T I I
we know and each day we live will eventually become a story. Offered up to the ages, even the most mundane things are passed onto the graceful authority of words. As an English student, I find myself perpetually lost in storytelling, whether in my own life or tangled in the pages of novels and poetry. There’s something particularly cathartic about plunging into the depths of an unknown tale. And it’s for this reason that great musical lyrics tend to come from great stories. Far removed from Miley Cyrus’ wrecking balls and the roars of Katy Perry, is a vast lyrical plain—tracks dripping with excellent words and fascinating stories. But why does a story matter in terms of lyrics? Even the most simple, chart-bound tracks follow some sort of developmental trajectory—man
likes woman, man says she has a wonderful booty, woman shakes what she got, everyone lives happily ever after. Yet there’s so much more to be enjoyed. It is easier to engage with a song when something is happening, when we can relate to the journey. RM Hubbert’s ‘Car Song’ is one such track, with its humble recounting of a trip away: “A weekend away from pills and paranoia was the plan / So we headed for familiar territory, and the comforts of memory / …I used to swim over there, but that pub’s going downhill”. Beautifully written and strikingly simple in its construction, these lyrics draw you in—they’re nostalgic, they open up questions. They tell a great story.
track ‘Bright Lanterns’ presents a captivating chorus: “Damn, you always treat me like a stranger, mountain / though you’ve seen the shadow between the city and what is mine”. There’s a strength and conviction from the narrator here that keeps us interested, as if we’re part of the conversation. Perhaps the most important factor, though, is the ability to write lyrics that genuinely endear us to the artist. Sam Carter’s ‘Pheasant’ tells the tale of a failed romance in a way that is truly funny without being melodramatic, no mean feat: “We met in a foreign hotel reception as summer returned / here in the midst of sunbathing Brits determined to burn / …’cause you flattened me like a pheasant on a country lane”.
Narrative voice is equally important in this search for words. Even if the stories we hear aren’t linear, the right words draw us in. The Tallest Man on Earth’s
We are surrounded by stories. Laura Marling, Ryan Adams, The Smiths, The National, PJ Harvey
– name after name, woven with words. For me, songs need this flair, the affirming quality of something recounted to us. Lyrics are all about additions, about saying something more than just the music, and so, we must look to stories. To paraphrase a miserable poet—where do we live, but in words? ALEX MORDEN-OSBORNE
GIGS+LIVE —— Live in Leeds
—— November 2nd - Robyn Hitchcock - The Duchess, York
The Autumnal months in Leeds kicked off in earnest with the opening of shiny new venue The Belgrave Music Hall. Spread over three floors and topped with a stunning roof terrace, the venue is the brainchild of promoters Simon Stevens and Ash Kollakowski, the guys behind the wildly successful (and Circulation favourite) Beacons Festival and Leeds institution Nation of Shopkeepers.
2nd - Julio Bashmore - The Faversham, Leeds 7th - Todd Terje - Control, Leeds 8th - Night Vision Present Swamp 81 - Tokyo, York 9th - Ricardo Villalobos - Mint Warehouse, Leeds 9th - Nightmares on Wax - Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds 10th - Grass House - The Basement, York
Over the next couple of months they will be hosting a diverse range of acts including the Warp-approved Acid House of Nightmares on Wax on and intimate exploits of Big Deal. The most exciting booking however has to be the industrial-dance-noise-pop of Factory Floor. Their recent eponymous debut album is a must-have but the band are held in such high regard because of their muscular live performances, which have only increased in intensity since the edition of vocalist Nik Void. This chance to see them outside of London is not to be missed As well as launching a new venue, Stevens and Kollakowski have created a promoting brand entitled ‘Best Friendz’. Along with using the brand to book bands for the Belgrave, they will occasionally be branching out to other venues. Such is the case when they bring Savages to Vox Warehouse. Another band known for their overwhelming live performances, the post-punk all-female quartet will flourish in such an unconventional space.
11th - Savages - Vox Warehouse, Leeds 12th - Mount Kimbie - Stylus, Leeds 12th - Turin Breaks - The Duchess, York 12th - Big Deal - Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds 14th - Julia Holter - Howard Assembly Room, Leeds 16th - Vampire Weekend - First Direct Arena , Leeds 17th - Foy Vance - The Duchess, York 20th - Mazes - Nation of Shopkeepers, Leeds 22nd - Gold Panda - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 25th - Metz - Brudenell Social Club , Leeds
—— December 4th - Factory Floor - Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds 5th - J. Cole - O2 Academy, Leeds 6th - HAIM - LMUSU, Leeds
As one new venue opens, another continues as the famed Brudenell Social Club celebrates its 100th (!) anniversary in November. Apart from a few specially planned events, the Brudenell will celebrate by doing what they know best: booking fantastic acts. Two highlights from their packed end of year calendar are Metz, a Canadian hardcore punk band
10th - Purson - Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds 13th - Kurt Vile & The Violaters - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 18th - Alice Ostapjuk - The Basement, York 30th - The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show - The Duchess, York
whose fantastically loud debut album was one of the better releases of last year, and Gold Panda, the British beatsmith who make undeniably beautiful music. One of the unique features of Leeds is how the city’s various Student Unions also double as world-class venues. This couldn’t be more evident in Leeds Met Union’s booking of BBC Sound of 2013 winners HAIM whilst Leeds University have secured the vast talents of Mount Kimbie for their own Stylus venue. Perhaps the most idiosyncratic venue in Leeds is the Howard Assembly Room. Adjoined to Leeds Opera House, the Victorian performance space initially looks like it would be more suited to a TED talk or an evangelical preacher. However looks can be deceiving as it hosts some of the best in contemporary composition, and occasionally an artist you (might) have heard of. One of these occurrences is in November when they will welcome American multi-instrumentalist Julia Holter. Holter’s music is as beguiling as it is beautiful and her latest album Loud City Song is sublime. Moving from the venue to the club, as one is wont to do of a night in Leeds, November sees two of the biggest names in techno descending upon the city. First up is Todd Terje, the Norwegian producer behind the now legendary ‘Inspector Norse’ who is coming to brand new club Control, which claims to be the ‘biggest purpose built, multi-million pound music and dance venue in the North of England’. And just two days later, the god-like figure of Ricardo Villalobos will be pitching up to Mint Warehouse. Expect nothing less than a 6 hour set of pulsating, elliptical minimal techno from the Chilean. ALEX BEAZLEY-LONG
PHOTO: ERIN CORK
THE WAREHOUSE P R O J E C T: B L E E D I N G MANCHESTER DRY
a doubt, The Warehouse Project has become a super-club in every sense: boasting a 6000-person capacity, booking the worlds best DJs from all genres, and attracting ravers from all over Europe. After its inception in 2008, it has grown and grown, moving from Boddingtons to Store Street before reaching its current home Victoria Warehouse. It has constantly reinvented itself when other clubs became stagnant and dated. As WHP has grown, revenue has increased to astronomical levels. This season they have sold out more than two-thirds of their events at an average ticket price of £25, which added to lucrative sponsorship deals from Kopparberg, Coors Light and Boxfresh. Sadly, these big bucks mean that The Warehouse Project is pricing competition out of the market in Manchester. Many promoters
have attempted to put on nights during the WHP season and have been told time and time again by agents that the artists whom they are attempting to book are unavailable due to WHP. Why is this? Because The Warehouse Project is making so much money that they can afford to pay off artists to enter into exclusivity contracts, which state that they can play for WHP and WHP only between the end of September and the start of January.
have a good night in Manchester between September and January you have to fork up £25 to see the same artist on a stacked line-up where most of your money is being spent on DJs you won’t even see. Having a strong music scene across the city is vital and at the rate promoters are currently leaving Manchester, there won’t be a scene at all besides the sweat pit that is Victoria Warehouse. Instead of twisting their music ethos to comply with WHP, long running Mancunian nights such as Selective Hearing and Hit & Run are gradually migrating to nearby Liverpool and Leeds in order to secure the artists they are looking to book. The scenes in these neighbouring cities have never had it so good, with clubbers from Manchester often opting to travel rather than pay the extortionate
A lot of people might say “so what?”—and with reason. WHP offers everything you want from a venue, diversity in music, underground and upcoming producers and DJs, insane lighting, and even better sound. But then again, who can pay £25 on the regular to go? What happened to going out to a cheap club every week to see a headliner? Now, if you want to
entrance fees. Rumour has it, former #1 club in the world, Sankeys, is re-opening its doors after having packed up and moved to Ibiza. They plan to refurbish the club to how it was when Sankeys, and not WHP, was the Mancunian club on everybody’s lips. Truth be told it can’t happen soon enough. As good as The Warehouse Project is, too much of a good thing is unhealthy and Manchester’s nightlife is certainly in an unhealthy state at the moment.
ILLUSTRATION: ERIN CORK
INTERVIEW: WOLF ALICE
——This is an interview
with a bass player who’s been in his band less than a year, and on the day it was conducted, said band had yet to release their debut EP. I’m worried the following paragraphs won’t have much to say, but it soon becomes clear, after about three minutes of talking to Wolf Alice’s Theo Ellis, that the band have already had quite an adventure pre-EP (although they have since released it) and have quite a lot to say for themselves. Indeed, Ellis launches into my first question – how did you all meet? – with such exactitude and enthusiasm that, given the sulky nature of some of Wolf Alice’s songs, I am quite taken aback and forget to turn my voice recorder on. The story is a variation on a theme of mutual friends, possibly dating back to school days, centering around North London. Partly due to shock, partly due to the speed that Ellis talks and changes topic, I don’t know the specifics. By the time I remember to press ‘record’,
the first thing captured is, ‘not so much like a lion to an antelope, but more like a kitten to a pretty ball of string’, which is Theo’s simile for how he became the fourth of the Wolf Alice quartet. When Wolf Alice began as a duo – just Joff Oddie and Ellie Rowsell – they were making soft folk music, without electric guitar or any friends that played drums, but with Ellie’s incurious, gentle vocals. Early songs such as ‘Leaving You’ and ‘Wednesday’ certainly garnered attention and fans, but are a long way from the songs on their Blush EP, released this month on Chess Club, with the inclusion of drummer Joel Amey and bassist Ellis. Progressing through their singles ‘Fluffy’ and ‘Bros’, they’ve found a sound that’s got them supporting The Cribs and then the Swim Deep tour. It’s clear the band’s sound has become more boisterous when Ellis starts talking about his crowd-surfing exploits –
“I didn’t realize how much you have to think about it, and how carefully you have to position yourself, cause if you knock out a thirteen year old you’re really in trouble”. Do you aim for a big muscly man, I ask? “You’d be surprised, there aren’t that many at Swim Deep shows” he says, smirking. “You kinda aim not to hurt people… From stage diving to life mantras”.
later admits - “I hope we’ll all be able to do this for the rest of our lives”. I don’t know whether this is through confidence in Wolf Alice, or a lack of alternatives. “Joel and I, we can just about do this, this band thing, but that’s it. I could maybe work in a bar, I did that for a bit, but it’s pretty bleak compared to this. Ellie could do anything, she’s a babe”.
They’ve also played sets at Latitude, Beacons and End Of The Road festivals, amongst others. “The whole festival thing feels like a bit of a blur. We camp at most festivals – there are no hotels for Wolf Alice. It was mainly tents and getting run over by golf buggies. It was nuts. But next year I reckon we might have our minds a bit more together, maybe notice what’s going on”.
Now that Oddie has finished university, life as a proper, full time band has begun. “We’re travelling around in a van. I think I found some old sushi in the back of the van when we were cleaning it out. And some shoes. It’s quite middle class, but I don’t think any of us ate sushi so I don’t know how it got there”.
I’m pleased that Ellis inadvertently speculates about next year; it’s nice to know the band see another year to their careers. He
PHOTO: CAROLINA FARUOLO
Those long drives must offer a lot of time to listen to music and hone influences. “I think we all love Brian Jonestown Massacre, and we all love the Dandy Warhols. A fair bit of grunge, Nirvana, Vines, Queens of the Stone Age. It changes. Joel listens to a worrying amount of hardcore music, he loves Bad Brains and stuff like that. Joff’s got an amazing country knowledge” Is there anything contemporary they’ve been enjoying recently? “I love Dingus Khan” – I ask if he knows the dance routine to their song, ‘Ambulance’. He starts singing the chorus loudly. Life in the van sounds pretty fun. More than once, Wolf Alice have tweeted asking for a place to stay in various cities on tour. In Cambridge, they offered to pay in ‘bits of bread and two oranges’. In Bournemouth they requested a ‘house/shed/car/seafront penthouse villa mansion’ in exchange for ‘twenty beers and a Maroon 5 album’. I wonder if the band has spent their summer on strangers’
sofas, sacrificing noughties CDs and leftover food for the sake of their art. “We’re not taking the piss… Although we haven’t had to stay in a strangers’ house yet, but we will”.
the band, so much so that when I find trouble with the Londoner’s line in ‘Fluffy’, ‘What’s there to do in this dead old town?’, Ellis says he thinks “it’s metaphorical”. He offers to email an answer later.
“To be fair to our fans, we’ve had some really lovely messages from some really lovely people being like, we’ll put you up and we’ll give you a cookie or something, but we haven’t had to take them up yet cause usually we’ve had some pals in different cities. I don’t know how we’ve done it cause I don’t think I have that many friends, but we haven’t had to go without a bed yet”.
All band members are involved somehow in the songwriting process, though. “Like the song ‘Blush’, we all wrote together at about two in the morning, at Joel’s house when we were demo-ing. There are times when someone will come with a melody or a riff and we’ll elaborate on that… We’re very involved in all the creative stuff, our videos as well. We like to know what’s going on. I think the only thing we’re truly shit at is having our photo taken. I’ve never seen a press shot where we look in any way reasonably cool. I think we’re bad at being cool. I’ve been trying to be cool since I was six and I’ve been having a fucking huge mare the whole time… I’m pretty sure I only smoke to be cool”.
With their busy summer over, Wolf Alice have clearly said, “now we want to make an album, and we’re going to figure out how to do it, then we’re going to make it, and release it, and see what happens. That’s our PR strategy”. Will creating this album be a collective process? Roswell is the lyricist of
If Ellis isn’t good at being cool, or indeed anything else other than ‘the band thing’, then, I tell him, I hope he’s enjoying it. “It’s all pretty fucking great to be honest. Working twelve hours a day in a bar does suck compared to driving around in a van and playing for 45 minutes to really great people”. From our brief chat, it sure sounds like it.
PHOTO: CAROLINA FARUOLO
THE CHANGING FAC E O F H I P- H O P
—— If many of us were to
ask our parents to describe hip-hop and rap music, more often than not they would inevitably bring up the stereotypes of gangsters, guns, and cuss words. Hip-hop has undeniably had a chequered past, so in certain times this would be a pretty accurate description, but we are surrounded by a very different musical landscape in 2013. In the late 1980s, California’s N.W.A were the first gangsta rap group to truly turn heads with their 1988 platinum selling album Straight Outta Compton, making waves despite little airplay and no supporting tour. In the early 1990s, the East Coast of America started taking control of the hip-hop scene with groups like Wu-Tang Clan. This was before the media truly opened its eyes to hip-hop and realised the moneymaking potential of the feud between Bad Boy Records (West Coast) and Death Row Records (East Coast). The feud was like a contemporary Wild West for suburban American, with associates of each label being gunned down or jailed with alarming regularity. Sadly, this fiction for most Americans was a violent and bloody reality for many young black men in America. The deaths of 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G falling so close together impacted the scene immensely. Whilst never being embraced as mainstream music, gangsta rap
The past few years have brought an unexpected and unprecedented change in hip-hop. The diversification of the genre has been incredible and the success of minority groups in hip-hop has been amazing. In a typically black genre, Eminem could have been seen as a moneymaking tool created by label executives had it not been for his exceptional ability. Nowadays, more and more white rappers such as Action Bronson, Yelawolf, Mac Miller, and the ubiquitous Macklemore have shown that they have the ability to battle it out with the best of MCs. Macklemore brings up the delicate place of white rappers in his track ‘White Privilege’: “Hip-hop started off on a block that I’ve never been to/ To counteract a struggle that I’ve never even been through/ If I think I understand just because I flow, too?/ That means I’m not keeping it true”. The origins of hip-hop may well be distant from Macklemore’s upbringing, but this should not stop him from creating hip-hop music. If we claim that only black, underprivileged Americans can make hip-hop because it originated in ‘their’ environment, does this mean we have to deny artists like Flying Lotus and TV on The Radio because electronic music and indie rock are ‘white’ genres? It’s a ridiculous and unproductive argument. To deny a musical genre to people is culturally destructive and unfeasible in a cosmopolitan society.
had media attention but only as its own separate entity. With the deaths of two of its biggest stars, gangsta rap was heading the same way. The mainstream media ignored hip-hop until the late 1990s when Jay-Z gained momentum and a young man from Detroit surprised many with the release of The Marshall Mathers LP. 50 Cent brought back the sentiments of gangsta rap with Get Rich or Die Tryin’, but his album sales dropped midway through the decade. Around this point there was an emergence of more intelligent and accessible artists like Kanye West and N.E.R.D. as well as OutKast’s hugely successful fifth album by Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Despite these success stories, hip-hop was struggling. Starting in 2000, the sales of hip-hop music in the United States began to drop and in 2005, hip-hop sales had dropped 44% and declined to 10% of all music sales. Nas’ Hip-Hop Is Dead album released in 2006 proclaimed the end, but thankfully, Nas was wrong. Throughout the mid-2000s rap verses in pop songs became more and more common, and by the end of the decade hip-hop was in control as Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter III was crowned the best selling album of 2009 in America. As the new decade approached, hip-hop artists were as much a part of mainstream music as indie bands or pop groups, but the stereotypes still lingered as the music form was at times misogynistic, violent, racist, and sexist.
Homophobia is still a big problem in hip-hop but with a tide of openly gay artists like Le1f, Mykki
Blanco and Big Freedia getting critical attention, the general attitude is quickly changing. Frank Ocean’s eloquent coming-out letter posted on Tumblr released a torrent of praise from artists and journalists. In an interview with NME, Angel Haze, who is a pansexual female MC, brought up the discussion point of female rappers: “we need to find some unity between women, it’s so easy to pit against each other… they want to be The One. I just want to be one of them”. Angel Haze is typically pigeonholed because of her gender and sexual orientation, but her musical output should be free from prejudice. Women are still overly sexualised and objectified in music, and whilst still a minority, females are growing in influence in hip-hop thanks to strong, uncompromising and talented women like Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj. Just because artists representing minority groups have got record deals does not mean that hip-hop is free from problems. Reebok recently dropped Rick Ross for his lyrics about date-rape on the track ‘U.O.E.N.O’ produced by Childish Major. His lyric “Put molly [MDMA] all in her champagne/ She ain’t even know it/ I took her home and I enjoyed that/ She ain’t even know it” are not words that should be coming from the mouth of a public figure or any respectable human. Rappers like Gunplay and Chief Keef are also bad influences with the latter being almost shamelessly exploited by his multi-million dollar record deal. Chief Keef (aka Keith Cozart)
is a Chicago native who only just turned 18 in August and his immaturity shows with a long list of legal problems due to his gang related activities. Keef’s rapping is basic to say the least; a heavy focus is given to violence and his increasing public profile is a step in the wrong direction for hip-hop. Thankfully, since the turn of the decade, a wave of intelligent, observant, and talented rappers have taken the burden from Kanye and OutKast. Drake rejected all notions of hip-hop being inextricably linked to a gangster lifestyle. Aubrey Drake Graham is a Jewish, Canadian, mixed-race former child actor. Drake doesn’t rap about hustling on street corners. Instead, he raps about breakups and emotions, and has been incredibly successful because of it. Kendrick Lamar has made an incredible impression on hip-hop with the platinum selling
good kid, m.A.A.d city receiving overwhelming critical acclaim, with many proclaiming it an instant classic. Kendrick focuses on the struggle of growing up in troublesome Compton, Los Angeles. Songs like ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’ elaborate on the difficulties of fitting in with drug dealers and gun runners. The album also tackles religion, expectation and disenfranchisement with expert ability rarely seen in such a young artist.
Genesis is capable of a decent verse, and Earl Sweatshirt has just released his debut album to widespread critical acclaim. Odd Future are not gangsters, they didn’t hustle on the street corners, they don’t pack heat and they never claim to. What Odd Future do well is cultivate a strong internet following through clever use of Twitter, emphasis on merchandise, and work with other forms of media. They are also not afraid of being funny and this is an endearing quality that is not seen enough in music on the whole.
The polarising rap collective OFWGKTA have turned heads with their unique group of rappers and producers fronted by the social media savvy Tyler, The Creator. Their buzz relies heavily on self-promotion and branding as well as a clutch of morally questionable music videos. Despite the gimmicks, they do have genuine talent in the ranks; Tyler is hit and miss, Domo
Even the fashion in hip-hop is changing with artist like A$AP Rocky and Kanye West launching their own fashion lines and wearing typically white designer labels. Numbered are the days of oversized jeans, tracksuits, and sports jerseys. Nowadays, you are more likely to see skinny jeans, Alexander Wang shoes and Dolce
& Gabbana suits. This is another step in the right direction for the integration of hip-hop into mainstream culture. Whilst black fashion designers are not unheard of, it is an overwhelmingly white industry and with western culture becoming so cosmopolitan, it is only right that black designers are embraced and encouraged in the same way hip-hop is embracing change. Whilst the transformation is not fully complete, we are at a turning point in the evolution of hip-hop and this era is packed with talented artists who are able to put out their music to a wider audience without fear of prejudice or persecution. The world has changed hip-hop for the better, now it’s time for hip-hop to change the world. JONI ROOME
ILLUSTRATION: KIT LOCKEY
INTERVIEW: LONDON GRAMMAR
a new band comes along whose sound seems to be impossible to find under the weight of the comparisons being levied at them. ‘The new xx! With Florence Welsh on the vocals!’ is quite a buzz to have accompanying your debut album. Such is life for London Grammar, a three-piece from London (by way of Nottingham). Vocalist Hannah Reid and guitarist Dan Rothman met at university back in 2009, before later adding multi-instrumentalist Dot Major to form the band. A set-up so reminiscent of The xx was always bound to set tongues wagging, and wag they have. I sat down with Dan on the eve of their first ever headline tour to talk creating record labels, Glastonbury and psychoanalysing friends. If You Wait, London Grammar’s debut album, is built on softly swooning synths and melodious guitar. This production provides the perfect foil to Hannah’s vocals, which I can only think to describe
how it started really.” Did their sound change after Dot joined? “To begin with it wasn’t a drastic change, we were really acoustic, there wasn’t any electronic production involved. I was just playing electric guitar and [Dot] was playing drums so it wasn’t a dramatic difference in sound. The rhythm was there and that kind of rhythm that we use now we were just starting to formulate.”
as being wholly arresting. Hers is a voice which commands attention, and also, as Dan informs me, “one of those voices that just destroys your throat on a weekly basis”. In fact when we speak Hannah is holed up with tonsillitis, and the band has had to cancel their gig the previous night. In the seemingly never-ending age of the X Factor we could be excused for experiencing ennui of hearing voices that are described as ‘powerful’, ‘heart-felt’ or ‘emotional’. London Grammar are a refreshing alternative.
“It wasn’t until a year after that after sort of developing in the studio and taking time with producers and all that that we kind of found the more electronic side of things, and that’s when the sound really changed I guess”.
Beginning life as far more of an acoustic enterprise, the band originally consisted of Dan, guitar in hand, touring bars and pubs around Nottingham with Hannah.
Dan describes their time spent in the studio as a “learning process”: “just being [there] and working with a couple of different people you become exposed to Logic (Apple’s music production software) and different plug-ins and the kind of boring shit that goes on in the studio, you know how to use all that stuff.”
“We did that for about a year, and then we met Dot, who was introduced to me by my girlfriend. He was in the year below us and played drums. He pretty much just joined the band by coming along to a gig with us and playing. That’s
Before they were London Grammar, the band went through a set of various names. Playing around Nottingham, Dan and Hannah decided that they wanted to stand out: “we had it in our heads that we wanted to call the band ‘London’ something. So we called it The London Project for a bit, and then stumbled across London Grammar, I don’t know why, that sounded good together. And it just stuck”. As names can often be, it became a slight point of contention.“I’m not sure everyone thought it was a good idea at first, but you kind of become your name after a while. I’m glad we kept it”, Dan says, laughing. Music and artistry has always gone hand in hand, and London Grammar have a strong visual aesthetic to match their sound. “I don’t think that’s how we anticipated it to be”, Dan says. Their website presents a stylised logo for the band over their singles (in a way that reminded me of how Majestic, the Urban Outfitters of YouTube channels,
PHOTO: JEM GOULDING
does with their logo on tracks stolen from the internet). Dan credits their label, Ministry of Sound, with helping them work out the finishing touches: “I mean you don’t really think about all of that stuff; how the logo is going to look, or the cover, or the name or any of that stuff. I mean it came together quite naturally and Ministry [of Sound] were really great at helping us do that.” I’m surprised to hear that London Grammar are signed to a label known first and foremost for electronic and dance music. Is this maybe a sign that Ministry of Sound are keen to take a more ‘XL’ approach, shall we say, to signings? Perhaps they were keen to snare their own xx? Dan explains, “basically, when we had been gigging for a while we got spotted by a record company, and the usual hype starts, as with a lot of new bands. You get 3 or 4 different labels talking to them and you get taken out to dinner and all that…” Sort of like a business seduction, I proffer?
“Yeah, and we went through all that and we were lucky enough to get a manager and we ended up signing a record deal with Ministry of Sound, who kind of had this great idea of signing a band that they had never signed before”.
psychoanalyses people, and I think that’s where she get’s a lot of her inspiration from.” This autumn the band depart on a mammoth tour, which sees them headlining for the first time, ever. They will be going around the UK, Europe and America in a tour that started in September and finishes in January. It must be quite a prospect for them, I tell Dan.
With Hannah being ill, I don’t get the chance to speak to her directly about the lyrics which she pens for the band. As is wont in the best music, they are often painfully raw and open. Love is frequently explored. Dan is quick to assure me he’s schooled in the most important assertions.
“It is exciting, and terrifying! This is such new territory for us, and we are nervous about it. We’ve been really lucky that we’ve already managed to build a fan base that are buying tickets to see us. It’s insane, it’s nuts. And it’s really exciting.”
“She does write about relationships she’s had, not just with boys, but with family and friends. However, I think with Hannah, and I believe this as well, [the lyrics] aren’t as specific as a lot of people think. With ‘Wasting My Young Years’ (the band’s second single) Hannah was not referring to herself, but commenting on her perception of other people around her. She
As ever, with a first tour, there’s the anticipation of how it will be received. And the pressure is well and truly on. “We do feel an obligation to put on a really good tour for people, and that’s kind of scary as well. We hope we can live up to the
album and reproduce the same thing live on stage. Festivals have been a good preparation for it, we’re all really excited”. Despite having played together for over 3 years now it feels like 2013 is London Grammar’s year. Highlights so far have included Glastonbury, “it was the first time I had been and to play there for the first time having never been there was crazy. It felt special and seminal”; and Wilderness festival, playing to 3,000 people on a tiny stage (“it was nuts!”). By the end of our interview I’m left thinking that trying to make comparisons where London Grammar are concerned is pointless. They’re doing things their own way and it’s working out fine.
PHOTO: JEM GOULDING
AFRIKAN B OY
——WE live in an age
where the internet grants global communion and the potential for overnight fame. As I prepare to speak to Afrikan Boy, I’m aware of his familiarity with the cyber-powers from above. He was 17 when he recorded his 2007, viral-hit ‘One Day I Went to Lidl’; after weeks of scrawling bars instead of notes in sociology lessons, he got into his friends bedroom studio to record the track and put it up onto Myspace. A couple of days passed, the hits mounted to the thousands and soon he had the high-as-a-plane M.I.A. on the line asking for a collab. Five years have passed and his latest track ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ is all over commercial radio stations, but the seventeen-year-old excitement seems not to have subsided: ”When MIA contacted me I didn’t know who the hell she was. I was a Grime-loving kid living in South London. She was completely off my radar, but somewhere along the lines, I had been beeping on hers. I listened to her stuff and clicked with her beautiful Sri Lankan voice. I only clocked that she was ‘someone’ when I saw her on Timbaland’s ‘top friends’”. ‘One Day I Went to Lidl’ tells Afrikan Boy’s daily tale of stealing from Lidl to get by. “I was a kid that never missed a day of college because the 30-quid-aweek from EMA was a goldmine. That’s where I was coming from. ‘One Day I Went to Lidl’ was real, I went and I shoplifted”. He’s charismatic; so emphatic in his speech that I laugh. He chuckles momentarily, then stiffens:“I mean it’s funny now, but it was real then, you know?”
THESE NEW P U R I TA N S
He speaks of M.I.A. fondly. As he puts it, “working with her taught [him] the simple thing: if you make your music how you like it and all your fans like it, you’re all good”. And the fact of being valued by her as much as she was by him helped to clarify his own perspective as an artist: “I was an African Boy from London and I was rapping about immigration and all of those kinds of issues. She was intrigued to hear someone from the London Grime scene doing it like that”.
the mastermind behind These New Puritans is a man who knows his stuff. We caught up with him before his band’s UK tour to chat about critical expectation, bass singers and new found lyrics. These New Puritans have garnered vast critical acclaim and five star reviews for each of their previous albums, the pressure doesn’t seem to faze Jack, “I was expecting some kind of backlash to this album, so mentally that allows you to not think about it too much. We don’t tend to think about critics or anything but when someone comes up to you and says ‘Oh I love this album’ it really does mean a lot that’s what we do it for”.
“Made in Africa but born in England”, we talk about his role as a figurehead for Afro-brits. “I have the chance to give young Africans an identity. ‘Afrikan Boy’ isn’t just a name, it’s an identity. For once, people can turn on the radio and hear some African music, and that’s cool. I never had that opportunity. I’d only ever heard African music in my mum’s car, or when my dad would play Fela Kuti. So, to hear that on the radio and for other cultures to appreciate it can only help.”
Hidden, the band’s second release, was awarded the NME Album of the Year award in 2010 (an award which can become a poison chalice when you consider The Klaxons and MGMT picked up the honour in 2007 and 2008 respectively). Jack seemed cautiously aware of the consequences, “obviously it’s nice but we don’t pay too much attention... I suppose we make the kind of music that means this kind of thing can make a difference - to reach a larger audience than we normally could have on our own”.
On the topic of music opening up the mind, he finishes by talking about the artist who has most shaped his vision: “At university, I listened to Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged and it blew my mind. It changed my perspective on life, religion, the music industry and what my message was. I still go back to revisit it. I looked at the world differently the next morning. It felt like what I was seeing was different”.
Field of Reeds certainly didn’t let critics down, with a more mature and natural sound than Hidden - it seemed to be a natural progression for the band. Jack explains that in such a digital era, playing instruments is “a bit of a forgotten art” and their ability to affect us is often understated.
“With live instruments you get more contrast - how loud a sound is, that is the overriding and most powerful part of human perception of sound. Most recordings are loud all the time, so you’re massively getting rid of most impact straight away”. This translates well into a live setting with the band being expanded to a seven person operation for their upcoming UK tour which Jack feels is the best that TNP have had so far, “the contrasts between the old and new stuff lets us build a good set with all the contrasts… we used to have a bit of a conflict between playing an uptempo and crowd pleasing set, which isn’t our natural mode, or do we set an atmosphere and let people get immersed in it, but now with the new band set-up, no question, we set an atmosphere”. Jack feels that the challenging nature of the music has led listeners to miss out on the warmth of the emotion in the lyrics -“some people think it sounds like cold or harsh music, but I think that’s mostly people’s preconceived notions about TNP, for me, just because it hasn’t got a fingerpicking guitar and a bluesy singer doesn’t mean its not emotional music”. Always well crafted and rewarding in a live environment or on record, These New Puritans are a band whose cult status is richly deserved. Mainstream radio play may elude them but their music is essential listening and their live performances are unmissable.
PHOTO: SIAN DAVIES
INTERVIEW: MT WOLF
——‘Indie-rock’, ‘dream folk’, ‘psych-flavoured, trippy folkish-electronica’; there’s something very mysterious and hard-to-place about Mt Wolf. As I sit down to talk to one half of the band, it occurs to me that for all my self-advocated fan-knowledge, I feel remarkably unprepared. With a sound unlike anything I can describe, It’s hard to imagine what the personalities on the other end of the instruments will be like.
I needn’t have worried. It appears guitarist Stevie McMinn and drummer Alex Mitchell are just about as down to earth as you can get. Driven in their work and passionate about their craft, but still carrying a chilled-out, ‘we’re-down-for-anything’ vibe, the boys are more than happy to talk music. Despite each individual’s musical background, Mt Wolf is a relatively new project for the group. Stevie – crowned ‘the catalyst’ of the band by Alex – met Bassi [producer/guitarist] at Music College in London. “That’s when we started working on a solo project, just the two of us. I think we thought of ourselves as something like, I dunno, The Hurts or The Pet Shop Boys.” Snorts of laughter from Alex prompts Stevie to concede, “Yeah, it clearly wasn’t amazing.”
Kate then joined after graduating from Cambridge University. “She took over on vocals and was just ‘oh my god’ amazing, so that sorted that.” Alex, Stevie’s roommate, was the last to join the band. “I think we were on the tube and I turned to him and said, ‘so… do you wanna be in my new band?’ And that was that really.”
Do you prefer playing live to recording in a studio?, I ask. “Well we’ve never really recorded in a studio as such. Most of our stuff is recorded in fragments and passed between us through email. The rest basically comes together in Bassi’s bedroom in Dorset.” So where does the composition process start? “Usually with something that either Bassi or I have written; a guitar riff, or a line of music, and then all of us will come together and add our parts. Kate’s area is lyrics and she’s very, very good – sort of a poet – and so we just leave her to it.”
Mt Wolf was launched early 2012, despite having played as a band for about a year before that. “It took us a while to find the sound that we have now. And it took us a long time to craft our live show. By chopping up the recorded songs and making them into playable things, we didn’t have to rely on a backing track and things like that.” The heavily electronic nature of Mt Wolf’s music prompts me to ask how much of their music can actually be replicated live:
In the twenty-first century, bedroom basslines are no uncommon thing, with the likes of Mount Kimbie and Grimes leading by example. Would Mt Wolf say no to some studio-time? “If we had the freedom and money, we would. We love being able to get together and write. But we’ve all got jobs and stuff and luckily, this way works for us.”
“Everything’s live. We play absolutely everything live.” It’s surprising how many established bands you come across these days who still use backing tracks, and the boys said as musicians it’s easy to spot. Trying to come up with a way of recreating all the electronic elements of their songs without relying on pre-recorded material is a challenge: “but the first time we played a song where absolutely everything was live, that was cool”.
Unsurprisingly, it has all happened rather fast for Kate and the boys. Since the release of Life Sized Ghosts early 2012, Mt Wolf have bounced from success to success. But for these humble London boys, the concept of fans is something they haven’t really got to grips with yet. “It’s quite a surreal and new thing to us. Corsica Studios was the first time we actually had fans
at a gig; up until then it was just our family and mates. I remember walking onto the stage and thinking ‘who the hell are these people?’ This summer was the first time we had people come up to us and it’s a really warming feeling, it’s really humbling.” I suppose the best thing is to let people listen and decide for themselves. One of the reasons I think it’s so hard to group Mt Wolf under a label, is that they’re more concerned with ideals of emotion and not genre. When I ask whether the boys would like Mt Wolf to affect people in a particular way they shake their heads. “Sometimes we get messages from people saying how our music helped them through a difficult time in their life. Hearing those kinds of messages, even when you haven’t necessarily made a huge impact on the world, just a small impact on someone’s life, makes what you’re doing feel amazing. Music has helped me through difficult times, so it’s really humbling to hear that your music has helped other people in a similar way. If our music has done that, job done.”
PHOTO: NEIL BEDFORD
——My Name is My Name.
can best be summarised by a sample, midway through ‘Numbers on the Board’ - a short burst of Jay-Z’s “Intro: A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More” drops “motherfuckers can’t rhyme no more, ‘bout crime no more”. Pusha T is calling out the fakers and his debut solo album proves he is as real as he claims, as well as being a skilled rapper to add to his underground credentials. ‘King Push’ opens proceedings, after rumours it was produced by Joaquin Phoenix turned out to be false, the truth proved even more baffling. It was given to Kanye West by Phoenix, but was made by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich’s stepson. It’s a decent song and a good beat but pales in comparison to the incredible ‘Numbers on the Board’. Sinister, sparse beats produced by Kanye and Don Cannon are decorated with solid gold intelligent rhymes. Not a line is wasted and the benchmark is set high from early on.
From the second track on, each song has at least one feature spot. It’s not unusual in hiphop but with Kanye and Drake toning down the features with their acclaimed releases, one might think an artist with the ability of Pusha T would want more of the limelight, especially considering that at 36 he isn’t exactly inexperienced. Chris Brown and Rick Ross’ features hinder a focused and coherent flow, whilst later in the album Kelly Rowland is
miles out of place and Big Sean is weak. 2 Chainz is, well, 2 Chainz.
As a long serving, self-confessed Miley fanatic, I have recently found my love for the pop-princess turned twerking-queen of “hip hop”, put to the test. As with any child star, fresh from the hold of Disney execs, her transition has been closely scrutinised by the press and feminists alike, and amidst the rumors of pregnancy, the Hemsworth break up and the backlash from her VMA performance, it seems Miley bashing has become an international sport.
‘Suicide’ brings back the dark and spacious beats which is Pusha’s winning formula but the pacing problem returns with ‘40 Acres’. The styles are jarring as concurrent tracks and ‘40 Acres’ itself seems like two separate songs - The Dream’s chorus and Pusha’s verse are too different. Things switch direction again on ‘No Regrets’,a huge instrumental from Hudson Mohawke and former BMF member Young Jeezy on the guest verse work pretty well but doesn’t sit right on what was supposed to be, according to Pusha T, a ‘dark’ and ‘cinematic’ album, like the movie The Devil’s Advocate.
Admittedly, it’s easy to forget among the latex and dancing bears that Cyrus’ fourth album Bangerz sits on the number one spot only days after its release. This follows the instant successes of the number one single ‘We Can’t Stop’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’ which currently falls at number two of the charts. Can it be that Cyrus (recently referred to as acting like “prostitute” by Sinead O’Connor) has proven herself as a credible, talented, re-emerging star?
Kendrick Lamar always turns heads and thankfully he is used perfectly on the brilliant ‘Nosetalgia’ a coke dealing reminiscence. This track is the distillation of the whole album, where it hits its stride and finds identity. Kendrick shows a sinister side that he has ramped up since his ‘Control’ verse.
The shift from the glossy, sugar-coated pop of her earlier years is marked in this album by attempts to include grittier, hip-hop influenced elements alongside her characteristic blend of country, ballad and electro-pop. However, it’s a blend that often makes this album hard to define and sometimes even harder to listen to.
An album named after a quote from The Wire had high artistic standards to match and despite pacing problems and one too many guest spots, Pusha T’s debut is a brilliant solo album. Twelve solid tracks, a clutch of songs that are destined for end of year lists and probably the best beats of the year make for a very good release. If you’re going to be one dimensional you have to be good at it. Pusha T is be the best one dimensional rapper in a long time.
Notably, Cyrus’ outrageous rap-off with her hero Britney Spears in ‘SMS’ feels unnatural and forced, even embarassing. Where her collaboration with Nelly in ‘4x4’ desperately tries to unite hip hop and country, the result is a bizarre nursery rhyme that’s more
in keeping with the ‘Hannah Montana Movie’ soundtrack than an “adult and sexy”, breakthrough album. That being said, ‘#GETITRIGHT’ is a funky, feel-good track recalling aspects of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’. Alongside ‘Do My Thang,’ these are fun, party tracks, though admittedly uninspiring lyrically. Where Cyrus excels is in her fiery, vampy ballads. ‘Wrecking Ball,’ ‘I Adore You’ and ‘My Darlin’ give space for her to showcase a deep, throaty and sporadically-soulful voice. ‘Drive’ cleverly merges dramatised, emotive vocals with a foreboding dubstep undercurrent. It must be said that the only redeemable ‘bangerz’ of this album are the ballads reminiscent of her pre-Molly years as alter ego, Hannah Montana. Bangerz ultimately lacks the hip hop anthems we were relentlessly promised. Instead, there is a kitchen sink of sounds and influences which, despite her three-year musical silence, are carelessly crammed together. Despite it all, I’m sure (and hoping) the unpredictability and willingness of Cyrus to push the boundaries (I mean, who else would make out with a hammer?) in both her music and performance will always ensure fanbase. Through it all, I can’t help but agree with Cyrus on this: “Madonna’s done it. Britney’s done it”; that the innocent-girl-cum-sex-symbol has all been done before. And probably better. Farewell my smiley, southern-belle.
DAN LE SAC VS. SCROOBIUS J O H N N Y F LY N N PIP ——Repent Replenish Repeat. According to recent interviews,
Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip didn’t plan for such a long gap between 2010’s The Logic Of Chance and this, their third LP. However, the duo have been keeping busy; both have released and toured solo records, Pip has been trying his hand as a DJ for XFM, Le Sac has been an in-demand remixer. Professional success can’t prevent private turmoil though, as Pip will attest. Some of the best albums ever made have been break-up records, some melancholic, some bitter - this release is certainly in the latter camp and the duo’s darkest, heaviest offering yet. ‘Stunner’ opens with a venomous Pip getting straight to the point and setting the tone lyrically for much of the record, “I know it sounds weird/ I do want you to look back on this and smile/ But I kinda want that smile to be through tears”. Message conveyed, Le Sac takes cue and drops an unsettling, industrial beat which accentuates the menace in Pip’s delivery. It’s a tough listen which keeps you on edge right up to the fadeout. Second single ‘Gold Teeth’ is in a similar vein and although the choice of Flux Pavilion as guest producer was surprising, the outcome certainly isn’t – it’s a jarring mishmash of audio clichés, autotune, dubstep bleeps and filter sweeps, you name it, it’s in there backing Pip’s aggressive verses. The highpoints of this record are the slower, more introspective numbers and the stand-out track is ‘Terminal’; a spoken word piece about a magical, ecstasy fuelled night with a mysterious, terminally-ill girl, scored with slowly evolving, atmospheric textures reminiscent of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘I’m New Here’. Pip is touching and articulate, with lines like, “I heard that when a girl writes off the world/She does it in cursive”. Elsewhere, ‘Porter’ tackles another tough subject, examining patients in a mental institution through the eyes of its employees. Unfortunately these moments are overshadowed by the more visceral approach taken with much of the album as Pip chooses bile over substance or style. RRR for the most part is jarring, uncomfortable and dripping with anger. However, you could argue on that basis that the record is a success, the duo have captured the cacophony of feelings that stem from a heavy break up and put them to tape, still raw and unchecked. Knowing though that they are capable of such eloquence and insight, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed. KARL BOS
——Country Mile. British
singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn does not storm back into the music world with his latest and third album release, but instead ambles towards us slowly down a country road, stopping to pick buttercups on his way. Shadowed by the unstoppable posh-boy folk giants that are Mumford and Sons, Flynn has petered on the brink of becoming a breakthrough artist for years now. He’s toured with aforementioned giants and popular folk-singer Laura Marling, but has never quite hit that hallowed top forty spot the others have grasped, and unfortunately it might still be out of his reach. A Shakespearean actor by day, Flynn clearly expresses his these influences by drawing upon archaic language to create pastoral imagery throughout Country Mile, enough to make even Hardy blush. Flynn’s idyllic lyricism in ‘Bottom of the Sea Blues’ (“My soul is in the trees / It’s in the sap that fills the wood”) conjures imagery of apple orchards and meadows. When twinned with the old fashioned ‘folky’ sound of tracks such as ‘Gypsy Hymn’, it does force you to ask how much of Flynn’s twee-country twang is overtly self-aware. The title track ‘Country Mile’ is undoubtedly a strong track of rousing guitar riffs and a catchy percussive beat, which strays into the folk-rock genre. Acoustic sounds are replaced by electric and the track ends in a crescendo finish of crashing cymbals and strong harmonies. It is Flynn’s ballads however, that show his true strengths. His baritone voice is stretched in ‘Einstein’s Honesty’ as he punctures his rough, throaty crooning with flickers of falsetto which creates a gorgeous sound. Deep in expression and rich in tone, the listener is enticed by Flynn to absorb the honesty of his lyrics as he sings of star gazing with his lover. ‘The Lady is Risen’ and ‘Fol-de-Rol’ are certainly great songs with catchy hooks and strumming guitars. Flynn’s quaint lyricism is a perfect accompaniment to the oncoming autumn months and there is no denying that what we have been presented with is another reassuringly decent Johnny Flynn album. Country Mile is enjoyable and cohesive, but some off-piste harmonies and contrived lyrics (“The bull looks a meanie but he’s on your side”) mean that Flynn’s transgressive style never seems to progress any further forward than his previous albums, and we are left with yet another album of ‘nice sounding folk songs by Johnny Flynn’.
CALIFONE ——Stitches. Having spent the
past fifteen years lurking in the now well-established shadow of fellow Chicagoans Wilco, Califone’s subtle yet influential presence in the American alt-rock scene continues to avoid the attention of a wider audience. Songwriter Tim Rutili’s lazy vocal style in no way reflects his ambition and vision as a musician. From his lead role throughout the nineties in the often overlooked Red Red Meat, to collaborations with Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, Rutili has been a constant and important factor in American indie music over the past twenty years. Stitches, it is clear, is the work of a man rich with experience in his respective field. Opener ‘Movie Music Kills a Kiss’ rambles along with Rutili’s vocal delivery bringing to mind Bill Callahan’s poetic drawl. A steady crescendo peaks with a frantic organ stuttering in the background before the track retreats into closure. From the first couple of tracks there is a sense that ambient Americana seems to be the general tone of the album. However, third track ‘Frosted Tips’ merges into a fully formed high tempo rock out, complete with thumping drums and heavy bass. The album is well weighted in that it offers these sturdy pop influences amongst the drawn out ambience that embodies many of the tracks; a reward for the patient listener. Traditional Americana and lo-fi electronics mingle throughout the album. ‘Moonbath. Brainsalt. A. Holy. Fool’ relaxes into a soft steel pedal led ballad reminiscent of Will Oldham; an example of alt-country influences being pushed to the front of the mix. Whereas on tracks such as ‘Bells Break Arms’ and ‘A Thin Skin of Bullfight Dust’, synthesisers and electronic effects resonate prominently around distorted guitars and programmed drums. The influence of nineties American alt-rock is prevalent throughout Califone’s whole discography and this is no different on Stitches. The layers of ranging instrumentation on ‘We are a Payphone’ bring to mind the intricate arrangements of Lambchop, whilst the wobbly electronics and sparse synths which drone for the closing minute of final track ‘Turtle Eggs/ An Optimist’ could easily fit into a Yo La Tengo album. Whilst keeping to the distinct sound which has resulted in fifteen years of consistently noteworthy material, Califone also offer new and interesting ideas throughout Stitches. It is the sound of a band clearly relishing the ageing process. The new Califone album is more than just a stitch in their already impressive tapestry (excuse the pun).
——Reflektor. Two years ago,
——The Electric Lady.
—— Big Wheel and Others. For a man of famously few
The Suburbs gained Arcade Fire commercial and critical success, which has naturally caused their fourth album release, Reflektor, to become one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. Its release was preceded with cryptic logos, including an enigmatic graffiti campaign, scrawling ‘reflektor’ upon various buildings and objects, all devoid of explanation. The announcement that James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) would be co-producing the album heightened expectation and exemplifies a shift in direction, musically steering away from the commercial status that The Suburbs was attributed with. It’s a refreshing risk that the band have embarked upon throughout Reflektor. The record is ambitious, split into two distinct volumes with nearly all the songs exceeding six minutes in length, creating two journeys for the listener to board. It seems appropriate to begin with the album’s titular and first song, ‘Reflektor’, which features vocals from David Bowie. It’s definitive of Arcade Fire’s majestic quality, whilst integrating a disco hybrid as Chassagne and Butler sublimely echo “this is a reflector”, creating a ongoing lyrical pattern. The song was introduced through the Vincent Morisset directed interactive video which turns the viewer into a responsive observer, as well as a literal reflection of the video itself through the use of its media. It’s also an insight into the band’s personal life, as the video is directed in Haiti; Chassagne is of Haitian descent and it’s certainly become a place and culture of influence upon this record. This is most highlighted within ‘Here Comes The Night’, which creates a slower pulse through a consistent drumbeat, steering the rhythm of the song, but it also incorporates six Haitian percussionists which act as a circus-like relief throughout the chorus. ‘We Exist’ illustrates a musical shift from the harmonious vocals, and instead is reminiscent of an 80’s pop-rock Bon Jovi/ Springsteen record. This influence is also apparent within ‘Normal Person’, which affirms a new, bolder sound for the band. The second volume of the album relaxes into lyrics built around Greek mythology - songs’ titles cry for Eurydice and Orpheus, then ‘Joan of Arc’ concludes one volume by opening with intense punk, but developing into a French electronic vocal from Chassagne. Reflektor is creatively ambitious, displaying songs that are more complex, yet still embody a mysterious and eclectic sound. Arcade Fire have successfully dared to be lyrically and musically motivated, to push their sound and art further, exceeding expectation. NIAMH CONNOLLY
Through all the retro guitar-twanging and futuristic robotics, there’s one question that persists throughout The Electric Lady: Who is Janelle Monae? It’s been the golden question since her debut, The ArchAndroid. In The Electric Lady, the tunes are looser and more self-indulgent. It’s an endlessly danceable collection of music, one that invites you to into her bizarre, funk-and-soulflavoured world, and allows you to approach Monae for yourself. In one sense, it’s obvious who Monae is: The Electric Lady wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s unapologetically nostalgic, seemingly lost in analogue, blending a variety of black popular music from the twentieth century. Through high-powered soul anthems such as ‘Victory’ and ‘Primetime’, Monae sings of love and loss, of success and failure. Her music is about her: her motivation, her self-confidence, her passions, and fighting for a place in the world for her ‘weird’ and ‘freaky’ attitude. It’s a far cry from 2013’s conception of cool. Rather than laid back and minimal, Monae opts for intricate layering, buzzing with detail, and bursting with passion. It would be easy to dismiss it as a messily arranged, badly mixed throwback – and admittedly, these are its flaws – but that would be to ignore how interestingly it’s packaged up. Electric Lady is more than a scattered collection of funky romps and 7”s; it’s styled as a seamless radio playlist that glides from track to track, with interludes from DJ Crash Crash, ‘your favourite robotic, hypnotic, psychotic DJ’. The year is 2719, Monae is in fact, Cindi Mayweather, Android Alpha platinum 9000, leading the Android rights movement. Those deeply personal lyrics weren’t Monae’s at all – but Cindi’s, relayed second hand by a DJ on underground radio. What’s also telling is that in 2719, we’re still nostalgic for the sixties and seventies, for groovy funk and the civil rights movement. You can’t ignore race in an album as musically black as The Electric Lady. Indeed, it’s the tracks which are explicit about race that are the most dazzling, such as ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ or ‘Ghetto Woman’. The result is something that touches on electrifying (pun intentional). Who is Janelle Monae? She’s an individual who aims to inspire, and speak for many. Whilst at times a little over-detailed, The Electric Lady is a truly heartfelt album, and one that pulls the personal and political together with passion and irresistible grooves.
words in interviews, it seems appropriate that Big Wheels and Others should start with an excerpt from the 1970 documentary ‘Sean’. On three occasions soundbites of the four and a half year old Sean Farrell serve to break up the music. McCombs himself was born in California and these interviews of what it was like growing up in San Francisco seem to serve as a reflection of his own experiences of childhood. Even though all of McCombs’ previous offerings require multiple listens to really come to terms with, at a lengthy twenty-two tracks, Big Wheels and Others is in no rush to define itself. Despite the singles, it is hard to determine which songs stand out on the album. They all seem to be of equal importance and guide the listener through McCombs influences from the stripped acoustic guitar of ‘Dealing’, through the country driven lap-steel on ‘Angel Blood’ to the instrumental jazz compositions such as disc two’s opening track ‘It Means A Lot To Know You Care’. The latter’s title suggests a thank you to the listener for taking the effort to change CD; for all those who do the song is a worthwhile reward. It’s just as difficult now, several listens and many hours since first hearing the record, to put a finger on what it is that makes this record so rewarding. Undoubtedly people will, without the context of interviews and press that McCombs is so insistent on refusing, enforce meanings upon the record that may have never been originally intended. As with all great art, Big Wheels and Others has already begun discussion. What you take from it is up to you. All I know so far is that with Sean’s voice breaking up songs of varying styles from throughout McCombs’ career, and the title’s allusion to a children’s tricycle, there is definitely retrospection present. With each revisit, it feels increasingly like this is most definitely an album proper, rather than a collection of McCombs’ latest songs. Big Wheels and Others needs to be listened to as a whole, a lengthy whole. Why? I’m not sure, but as McCombs says in the nine minutes that close the first disc, through whispered harmonies interlaced with swelling string arrangements and eerie lap-steel guitar, “Everything Has To Be Just So”. I can’t tell you why, but it does. Listen for yourself and figure it out.
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ELECTIONS ON FRIDAY 15TH NOVEMBER Circulation is moving into it’s fourth year of publication, and, although we’re sad to say goodbye, change is good. We’re looking for a NEW, enthusiastic editorial team to continue taking the magazine further, so if you’re into music and like what we do, get down to our elections. All positions will open for re-election. See you there...