LOUD AND QUIET ZERO POUNDS / VOLUME 03 / ISSUE 38 / THE ALTERNATIVE MUSIC TABLOID
AT THE ALTAR OF THE BASEDGOD
∆ GRAHAM COXON HOT CHIP MAC DEMARCO CHET FAKER LADYHAWKE JAPANDROIDS FEMALE BAND
CONTENTS J U N E 2012
0 9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . N A M E TH AT TU N E / A M E R I C A N B OY SOUNDALIKES ARE THE WORST! LUKE WINKIE REPORTS FROM AUSTIN TEXAS
10-12 . . . . . . . . . SI NG LES & BOOKS / LE FTO V E RS THIS MONTH’S SINGLES, EPS AND PAGE-TURNERS XIU XIU ASKS DIRTY BEACHES HOW HE’D KILL HIMSELF
COVER PHOTOGRAPHY ELLIOT KENNEDY
MAC DE MARCO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 THE SLEAZIEST GUY IN THE CLUB
HOT CH I P . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
LOUD AND QUIET PO BOX 67915 LONDON NW1W 8TH
AS FAR AS ALEXIS TAYLOR IS CONCERNED, HOT CHIP’S WORK HERE IS DONE
FE MALE BAN D . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 CINEMATIC, WEIRD SOUNDS FROM THE BACK ROW, COURTESY OF A DUO WITH NO HOME
CH ET FAKE R . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 NICHOLAS MURPHY MAKES BACKGROUND THAT HE HOPES YOU COULD READ A BOOK TO
Δ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 THE ONLY GANG IN CAMBRIDGE TAKE US PUNTING IN THEIR NEW HOMETOWN
JAPAN DROI DS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 BRIAN KING DISCUSSES HIS VOLATILE BAND AND THIER NEW ALBUM ‘CELEBRATION ROCK’
LI L B . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 CHURCH OF SWAG: JUST HOW GOODLIKE IS THE BASEDGOD
LADYHAW KE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 PIP BROWN FINALLY FOLLOWS UP HER 2008 DEBUT ALBUM, WITH A RECORD CALLED WHAT ELSE BUT ‘ANXIETY’
G RAHAM COXON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 ON HIS CHEAP AND NASTY NEW ALBUM ‘A+E’, AND WHETHER OR NOT HE’D LIKE ANOTHER BLUR RECORD
EDITOR - STUART STUBBS ART DIRECTOR - LEE BELCHER SUB EDITOR - ALEX WILSHIRE FILM EDITOR - IAN ROEBUCK
CONTRIBUTORS BART PETTMAN, CARL PARTRIDGE, CHAL RAVENS, CHRIS WATKEYS, COCHI ESSE, DANIEL DYLAN WRAY, DANNY CANTER, DK GOLDSTIEN, ELINOR JONES, ELLIOT KENNEDY, EDGAR SMITH, FRANKIE NAZARDO, GARETH ARROWSMITH, JANINE BULLMAN, LEE BULLMAN, KATE PARKIN, KELDA HOLE, GABRIEL GREEN, GEMMA HARRIS, LEON DIAPER, LUKE WINKIE, MANDY DRAKE, MATTHIAS SCHERER, NATHAN WESTLEY, OWEN RICHARDS, OLLY PARKER, PAVLA KOPECNA, POLLY RAPPAPORT, PHIL DIXON, PHIL SHARP, REEF YOUNIS, SAM LITTLE, SAM WALTON, SONIA MELOT, TIM COCHRANE, TOM GOODWYN, TOM PINNOCK THIS MONTH L&Q LOVES CAROLINE BEASHEL, FRASER DAVIDSON, JAMES PARRISH, JENNY MILES, JODIE BANASZKIEWICZ, LEAH WILSON SCOTT STEELE SOPHIE WILLIAMS THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN LOUD AND QUIET ARE THOSE OF THE RESPECTIVE CONTRIBUTORS AND DO NOT NECESSARI LY REFLECT THE OPINI ONS OF THE MAGAZINE OR ITS STAFF. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2012 LOUD AND QUIET. ISSN 2049-9892 PRINTED BY SHARMAN & COMPANY LTD.
36 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ALBUMS FILMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 PIL, LIARS, SIGUR ROS, THE WALKMEN, FRIENDS AND ALL THE MONTH’S KEY RELEASES
IAN ROEBUCK’S NOTICED HOW FILMS TRAILERS COME WITH TRAILERS OF THEIR OWN THESE DAYS
42 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LI V E PARTY W OLF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 LIVE AT LEEDS, GABRIEL BRUCE, GRIMES, THE HORRORS, MAD COLOURS & MORE
THE INAPPROPRIATE WORLD OF IAN BEALE / WIN BEACONS TICKETS / GET THE LOOK / IDIOT PARADE
WELCOME J U N E 2012
When we heard that Lil B was coming to London for 24 hours we thought we had to meet him. Single handedly – or at least by the side of friends Odd Future – the Berkley-born BasedGod, as he calls himself, has made hip-hop exciting again. Never mind that he doesn’t make his own beats, or that he can’t rap particularly/at all well – this guy’s managed to tick off the game’s old guard, who have clearly forgotten what it is to be 22 and in search of hip-hop’s fame jackpot.
CONTRI B UTOR
C H A L R AV E N S WRITER
By giving away close to 2000 tracks he’s amassed a frightening amount of admirers, matched only by the amount of haters. He’s got pop stars saying “SWAG!” and he called his only ‘official’ album ‘I’m Gay’, which of course pissed off a lot of people in hip-hop too. In that age-old style/substance head-butt, we wanted to know just how worthy of worship The BasedGod is. Does his genius extend his mythology, and does it really matter if it doesn’t? Of course, setting up an interview with Lil B, armed only with an anonymous Gmail address, turned out to be a complete pain in the arse; a back and forth of maybes, probablys and then “DEF DOWN RESPECT”, followed by no further instructions. As Lil B’s star is rising, his operation remains miniscule and tinpot, which, if anything, only makes his achievements all that more impressive. For light relief, we went punting with ; a band who have long since outrun their own mythology by making intricate, sophisticated music that’s somewhere between folk, electronica and hip-hop. They choose not to rap, but they do make their own beats and their debut album, ‘An Awesome Wave’, is as ripe for your next dinner party as it is a pensive face on Made In Chelsea .
Snagging this month’s cover feature was no easy task. Lil B, while currently the talk of hip-hop, for better or worse, runs a ship that is small rather than tight. There’s him and his manager, and that’s it – just them dealing with the clamour. It meant that their replies to our calls and emails were vague, to say the least. Thankfully, Chal Ravens was intrigued enough by B’s shtick that she was prepared to hunt him down on foot, and to her relief he suitably impressed. “My Damascene moment with the music of Lil B was sudden and overwhelming,” she says. “In a ﬂash, I realised that saying he ‘can’t rap’ is like saying Mark E. Smith ‘can’t sing’ – entirely beside the point. Speaking to him in person, though, I felt more confused than ever about ‘what it all means’. Divisive as he is, I still reckon Lil B could be the most important rapper of his generation.”
COVER SHOOT: LIL B. OLD STREET, LONDON BY ELLIOT KENNEDY 05 MAY 2012
BEGINNING J U N E 2012
AMERICAN BOY / TALES FROM THE OTHER SIDE BY LUKE WINKIE: OUR MAN IN BAR ACK ’S BACK YARD
NAME THAT TUNE THE UNDERHAND WORLD OF THE SOUNDALIKE IS NO PLACE DANNY CANTER ENJOYS
YOU COULD MOVE TO BROOKLYN, OR YOU COULD BUILD YOUR OWN LOCAL SCENE. I’M JUST SAYIN’
It’s no more a revelation that sex sells than it is that sex sells harder and faster with a soundtrack keeping time. Those old Levis adverts – they wouldn’t have worked with the sound off, would they? And so popular music and advertising have been going at it forever. Today they’re banging so furiously that neither the product nor the music needs to be as playfully steamy as 1985’s Marvin Gaye/Launderette ad for shrink-to-ﬁt 501s, or Wrigley’s Greyhound bus commercial of the ’90s, where two frighteningly good looking travellers share a stick of gum to Free’s ‘Alright Now’ and then deﬁnitely have sex well into the following two adverts of the break. All commercials, from Morrison’s to Mastercard, feature songs we know, and most of us have come to accept that musicians need to get paid and the ad people are the only ones left with money in the bank. Britain’s most gluttonous ice cream, Magnum Inﬁnity, has the sex down. Their current television ad features a troupe of ﬁt ofﬁce girls clambering around one lucky bitch deep-throating a wangsized chocolate lolly that comes out the size it went in. Magnum Inﬁnity – clever. They’ve got a tune too. Yeah, I know that song, it’s ‘Gay Bar’ by Electric Six. Only it’s not at all – it’s a song that sounds a hell of a lot like ‘Gay Bar’ by Electric Six. It’s certainly close enough to have you singing ‘Gay Bar’ to yourself shortly afterwards, and these soundalikes – these opportunistic, underhand compositions written by company lawyers to make sure that just enough notes from the originals are nudged out of line to avoid a suing – they are the worst! You might struggle to feel any sympathy for Coldplay, but they seem to be repeat victims, as their songs are twisted ever so slightly by companies that couldn’t get clearance on the real version of ‘Life In Technicolor’. I ﬁrst noticed it when a hooky rendition of ‘Warning’ by Green Day (a truly terrible song in any case) was selling shampoo in 2000. Muse’s gnarly take on Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ was once used without their permission. The perpetrators just re-recorded it, the Muse way. It wasn’t their song, but they had made it into something else, and now someone had copied it so well that most people thought the band had sold out, before we were all ok with it. It’s not (just) about the money, though. Certainly not for the Coldplays and Muses. It’s about forced association, a pretty dirty lack of respect and, without the risk of sounding melodramatic, theft. And bands are getting a bum deal. It’s not as if you could promote, I don’t know, a sex dungeon with a slightly altered image of Ronald Macdonald, is it? And not just because no one would come.
America is a very big country. I know that rarely deserves repeating, but sometimes it’s worth it to step back and absorb the scale. Distinct zones, distinct cultures and distinct prejudices. It’s a country built on divided identity, something that can be easily marginalised when you’re reading the right websites. All these states, all these personas; it’s part of our wonderful mess. There’s respect, but you’d never mistake a Texan for a New Yorker. But we tend to forget all that, for our corner of the universe, the ones populated by the folks who care about indie-oriented music far more than we probably should, we’ve found ourselves weirdly regimented. I suppose it’s easier to think that way. Bands come from Brooklyn, football players come from Alabama and we don’t travel past the Mason-Dixon Line unless we’re headed to Austin. That’s just the way things are. Destroying that regimen is one of the best things the Internet has done for us. I remember the ﬁrst time I spoke to Ernest Greene, the man responsible for Washed Out’s beatiﬁc electropop. I was almost shocked when his southern, molasses croon crackled through the phone line. Of course he speaks like that, the man was raised in the rural Perry, Georgia; it’s part of his heritage. Why would I expect anything different? Why is a dude making weird dance music a novelty when he comes from a speciﬁc part of the country? If the modern world has taught us anything it’s that these divisions aren’t exactly the same concrete walls they were a decade ago. It forces us to confront those stereotypical jumps in some unﬂattering, day-to-day ways. As if there’s a musicological typecast that ﬁts right into geography. Brooklyn music can only come from Brooklyn. It seems like the bands are buying into it too. The number of acts who’ve packed up for New York is astounding, especially when you consider how expensive the living-cost is. It almost feels inevitable, like “the relocation to Brooklyn” is a natural part of a band’s development. I guess people aren’t interested in creating their own scenes, they’d rather attach themselves to something that is already cool. I saw it to a lesser extent in our small-but-dedicated scene in San Diego – one by one our best acts would move up north to the bigger, chicer Los Angeles. There’s no denying that L.A. had the better shows and the bigger infrastructure, but it can still feel disingenuous. I once interviewed the Alabama trad-rap duo G-Side who’d come right out of the microscopic Huntsville, Alabama. “Yeah we could’ve moved to Atlanta or Houston” they said, “but we wanted to be from here. We wanted to build something ourselves.”
Illustration by Jade Spranklen - www.spranklen.com
I KNOW THAT SONG, IT’S ‘GAY BAR’ BY ELECTRIC SIX, ONLY IT’S NOT AT ALL
BEGINNING SINGLES & EPS / BOOKS 01 BY L EE B U L L M A N
(SOUTERRAIN TRANSMISSIONS) JUNE 4
HO OK W OR MS / K O GUM A Z A F OR M & F UNC T ION / UR S ID S
C HIP S F OR T HE P OOR F IS T UL A
(GRINGO) OUT MAY 28
(PARLOUR/INVISIBLE SPIES) OUT MAY 21
When Hookworms released their eponymous debut EP last year they weren’t shy about their inﬂuences – psych, drone and krautrock pioneers like Silver Apples, Neu! and Spaceman 3. “We can hear everything we’re ripping off all the time!” they told us, not that that made their doomed grooves any less hypnotic. ‘Form And Function’ isn’t a million miles from the band’s previous, repetitive (impressive) jams, although it does come with the addition of backing responses to vocals that are more forthright than ever, sounding like the yelps of James Murphy or Robert Harvey of The Music. On the ﬂip, Nottingham’s Kogumaza like their space rock to be just as cyclical, only minus the vocals and with an extra metallic sheen as they soar out of the earth’s atmosphere. Up and up goes ‘Ursids’, until it’s eventually a pinhead. These tracks – and bands – clearly belong together, happily grooving through a black hole, side by side.
Between Happy Mondays and The Fall are London quartet Chips For The Poor, and there’s a game to be had with new single ‘Fistula’ – a track they describe as a “future World Cup anthem”. They might be right on that front; Scott Bradbury’s everyman bark deﬁnitely as contagious as ‘Vindaloo’, if a little smarter... perhaps. The game, then: ‘Fistula’ begins with a sweet Afro-pop guitar lick. Twenty ﬁve seconds in, it’s interrupted by Bradbury’s ‘clacker box’ vocals, speaking and sneering about not shaking hands. A second guitar crunches to its own tune and the ropey drum machine shakes on. Now, can you still hear the tropical, looping guitar? It’s still there, all the way until the end, and somehow, quite brilliantly, it works. Spotting it is like going on Total Wipeout, trying not to fall in the water while comedy foam objects twat you in the face. That sums up how serious Chip For The Poor are, and why their anti-fashion punk is so much fun.
S K A GBO Y S B Y IR V INE W E L S H (JONATHAN CAPE)
Irvine Welsh’s twelfth book sees the writer return to the Leith streets that provided the backdrop to his astonishing debut novel, Trainspotting. Twenty years on from the book that launched them, Skagboys reunites us with the heroes and villains that ran amok in a story that went on to deﬁne British cinema of the 1990s and propel director Danny Boyle to Oscar glory some twelve years later. Sick Boy, Renton, Tommy, Spud and the terrifying Generalisimo Begbie are all in attendance, and as one would expect, they’re up to absolutely no good at all. Indeed, Skagboys provides the ﬁrst time that many of these characters have gathered on the page since Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno, in which Renton and his cast of friends and anti-friends come together in order to make some dirty cash out of DIY porn movies. Intended to stand as a prequel to Trainspotting, Skagboys opens up halfway through Margaret Thatcher’s unholy reign over the 1980s and tells the story of that decade from the perspective of those at its sharp end. According to Welsh, much of the book began life as background notes, written at the same time as his ﬁrst novel. He maintains that the material was not intended for inclusion in Trainspotting, but instead to satisfy his own curiosity about the characters he was creating, getting to know them as well as he could before loosing them on the world. It means that some of the familiar faces in Skagboys are a little harder to recognize at ﬁrst. When we ﬁrst meet Renton, for example, life is good. He has a steady girlfriend and a place at University, not a habit that has him diving down toilets and watching dead babies climb the walls. The journey that then takes him and his friends from hope to heroin is imbued throughout with Welsh’s trademark stark portrayals of tragedy, horror and dark humour, amid reﬂections on everything from friendship to the human cost of politics. Of course, the success of Trainspotting will have many comparing the two novels directly, and while Welsh’s debut novel remains his best, Skagboys is still the writer at his most macabre, shocking, funny and sharp, allowing a relatively small tale to tell a much bigger story indeed.
Single reviews by John Ford Blowback by Lee Bullman and Michael Forwell published by Pan Macmillan available now. www.leebullman.com
D OL DR UMS EGYPT
Doldrums is Airick Woodhead – a 22-year-old guy from Montreal, Canada, who sounds like a 22-year-old girl from a city in the sky. He’s currently schlepping around Europe opening for Grimes, which makes complete sense – ‘Egypt’, after all, is extremely clever, sample-heavy music; a track full of so much sonic pick’n’mix it’s quite unbelievable that it’s come from one mind. Where Claire Boucher is masterfully channelling Mariah Carey, RnB and IDM into her own brand of post-gothic club tunes, it’s more difﬁcult to put a ﬁnger on what’s on Woodhead’s iPod. ‘Egypt’ is more ‘early doors’ electro – something that will make you consider the danceﬂoor rather than keep you there at 3am. For 8 minutes Woodhead’s girlish vocals swim through the clouds to the blip of blinking LEDs and subtle Eastern inﬂuences. It’s a mellow club jam that paws at being tropical but never fully makes it. It’s relaxing and never repetitive, even when it is, Game Boy ﬂourishes and brief backward vocals slapping you out of your daze and dropping you back in again. What’s more, b-sides ‘Jump Up’ and ‘Copper Girl’ are equally as inventive, the former especially, inspired by none of the above as Doldrums now pogos along the horizon. This is music for high times.
BEGINNING LE FTO V E RS
DI RTY B EACH ES
LAST MONTH WE INTERVIEWED XIU XIU MAIN MAN JAMIE STEWART HE LEFT THESE QUERIES BEHIND FOR DIRTY BEACHES
Jamie Stewart: If you were arrested and convicted for arson and made to serve 15 years, how would you conduct yourself in prison? Alex Zhang Hungtai: “I’d ask my best friends to beat the shit out of me and ruin my face and shave my head. Realistically, I’d probably align myself with whatever group would take me in for protection. I can’t survive alone in there.”
If you were in a knife ﬁght, what kind if knife would you want to have and would you cut yourself on purpose to freak out your opponent? “I’d have a meat cleaver. Chinatown style! I would not cut myself, though. I’d just mince the other dude who’s trying to start shit.” When you dance, what dance do you do? “I sway. Slow dances with a partner are always nice. Big fan of slow dances.”
“TO STAY FIT I EAT CHILLI DOGS. LOSING WEIGHT ISN’T MY FORTE”
When you stroke your magniﬁcent head of hair, what song of praise do you whisper to the ghost of [Grimm fairytale] Rapunzel? “I just think of Bloodshot Bill, whom I stole the move from. He’s a one man band act in Montreal that is absolutely amazing live, and extremely fun to watch. Another person I tried to emulate was Tony Leung (actor) from the ﬁlm Days of Being Wild by Wong Kar Wai. He was in the last sequence of the ﬁlm.”
If you had a direct channel to Santa Muerte [commonly know as Death outside of Mexico], what would you ask her to do for you? “If I did see the Grim Reaper, I’d say: “don’t take my wife, take me instead.” And if I was alone, I’d try to run away. I want to live as long as I can to experience all the things life has to offer.”
When you think about Belgium singer/songwriter Jacques Brel, an inspiration, do you imagine him in black and white or colour? “Deﬁnitely black and white.”
What do you do to stay ﬁt? “I eat chilli dogs. Losing weight is not really my forte. But I am incredibly gifted in putting weight on. That’s something I’m a natural at.”
If you were on a roof top and there was a military parade rolling past, what would you hurl down at them: fried chicken legs, wet rolls of toilet paper, chunks of marble from the headstones of the people they’ve killed, pollen or your own entire body? “Hmmm. I’d ﬁnd out if they have an anti-aircraft gun on site ﬁrst, before I throw anything at them. Just trying to be reasonable.” What makes you feel bad? “Guilt is the sole emotion that plants seeds in your mind that corrodes everything in its path until there’s nothing left in you.” If you were to be depicted in a piece by contemporary silhouette artist Kara Walker, what would you like to be doing? “Good question. Doing laundry or anything that is stereotypically categorized as Asian behaviour in North America.” What is your favourite echo device? “Space echo! (This is actually an inside joke for those wondering why Jamie asked me this question. If you listen to our split 7” you can hear that we both used the same echo effects in our songs, without each other knowing. It was uncanny). What is the best way to kill yourself? “That’s a tough one, but I’d break off all ties with family & friends so they won’t miss me. Die alone, somewhere close to an ocean if possible. If I were to off myself, I’d like to make sure that those that are close to me won’t be hurt by this decision.” ---
For more Leftovers, visit www.loudandquiet.com/tag/leftovers/
Photography by Gabriel Green
As the creative core of Xiu Xiu, the ever-confessional Jamie Stewart has become known for creating harrowingly personal music, but also for having a dark and surreal sense of humor. Last month, for example, we met him to discuss his latest album, ‘Always’ – a record made up of tracks entitled ‘I Love Abortion’ and ‘Born To Suffer’ – but he seemed most interested in discussing his favourite fruit, watermelon. For this month’s Leftovers, he chose to quizz Alex Zhang Hungtai aka Dirty Beaches; a man with whom Xiu Xiu recently shared a Record Store Day release with. Needless to say, Stewart’s questions weren’t quite of your usual ‘so who inspires you’ nature.
Mac DeMarco THE SLEAZIEST GUY IN THE CLUB PHOTOGRAPHER -
Mac DeMarco’s face has been ﬂoating around the Internet largely with lipstick on. The rest of him seems to always be topless – one continual double nipple slip. What a sleaze! Born in Edmonton, Canada, and now living in Montreal, DeMarco, in the ﬂesh, is a friendly, mellow dude, happy to hang out with a beer and cigarettes. He’s cool, not creepy; not the sex pest he looks and sounds like on new album ‘Rock And Roll Nightclub’. Mac used to record under the name Makeout Videotape – a DIY garage project that was clanky and cloaked in reverb; a lot like Wavves, and so a lot more unremarkable in terms of what we’ve come to expect from young North Americans in baseball caps. Under his own name and still working alone, his new material is weirder, more fantastic and, well, sleazy, or “sketchy” as he repeatedly refers to it. Mac deeply purrs now, like a deviant Roy Orbison still looking for a good time between cabaret gigs. He sounds malevolently seductive, lounge-singing to an audience of one – the guy from Silence of The Lambs, sat in the corner with his sewing machine, licking his lips. You’d need a wash after the album’s opening title track if it didn’t have you wishing you were singing it. Mac DeMarco sounds like he’s into some freaky shit, but he also sounds like the coolest guy on the strip. He’s been calling his music Jizz Jazz for years, a name he ﬁrst came up with for his home studio. “It was going to be ‘smooth jizz’, but Jizz Jazz has stuck,” he says in a pointedly reasoned tone. “I think it’s pretty funny, and the way ‘Rock And Roll Nightclub’ sounds is jizzy and kinda gross. It sounds a little jazzy, but not too jazzy, just jizz jazzy.” Mac pauses for a second of serious thought. “It would be nice if other bands started trying to sound Jizz Jazz. I mean Ariel Pink’s been doing it forever. It’s just crappy sounding, slippery, sloshy, funky, underbelly music.” Mac talks in such a laidback way that it sounds like he’s always being serious, even when he’s explaining how ‘Rock And Roll Nightclub’ is an accidental Frankenstein’s Monster; essentially a joke that went right. “Me and my friend were just fucking around on a four-track and then he had to go to work so I just carried on recording by myself,” he says. “I was trying to make power pop songs, like The Ramones sounding. So I made some songs and then slowed them down, and slowed the vocals down, and it turns out I can make songs that sound like Chris Isaak or something. It wasn’t a very serious effort or anything – I was just fucking around. “The Makeout Video stuff, I wouldn’t say it’s sincere song writing, but I was trying to make more serious music. With this stuff, I’m fucking around – it’s like a theme album, and the theme is a joke. I like the songs, though, I don’t think they’re crappy, I think they’re funny and cool.” “Cruising in the moonlight / Heading down town /
– “It’s just crappy sounding, slippery, sloshy, funky underbelly music... Sketchy and dirty” – Looking for some fast love / Gotta get down,” croons DeMarco with a curled lip that has him impersonating Elvis, a less gentlemanly Nick Cave and Jim Morrison all at once. It seems that the ‘wild side’ Lou Reed spoke of is still out there. ‘Baby’s Wearing Blood Jeans’ is then the stuff of a kinky denim fetish. It purrs: “Straight-leg or a boot-cut / I’m begging darlin’ please / Stay with me forever / Just don’t take off those jeans”. Romantic. “Elvis gets chucked around a lot,” he says, “and I love Elvis, but I think his songs were deﬁnitely a lot sweeter. He wasn’t very greasy… well maybe his hair was greasy, but he was as sweet as… hmmm… a cherry, let’s say.” Mac’s clean guitar picks up where it left off with each track, noodling a laconic surf riff that might in actual fact be the same on every song, until, that is, the Pavement-ish ‘She’s Really All I Need’ – the album’s halfway point. From then on,‘Rock And Roll Nighclub’ sounds a little more like Mac’s ‘Makeout Videotape’ output. It’s a conscious decision. “What I’ve tried to do on the album is split it down the middle,” he says, “so that the second half sort of has a couple of songs that sound more like regular music,
because I think this is the ﬁrst release of mine that a lot of people would have heard, and people should enjoy the rock’n’roll songs, but I’m not a crooner all the time.” While ‘Rock And Roll Nightclub’ may drop its lounge act halfway through, it remains funky and grubby ‘til the last, “kinda grungey, sketchy sounding and dirty,” as Mac puts it. “When I was recording it I was living pretty sketchy,” he nods,“like with no money and smoking all day. I had pretty bad tonsillitis too. I was sick and feeling down and out and sketchy. It’s just funky rock’n’roll music. It’s deﬁnitely sleazy. I’ve never really written swear words into songs before. It’s the dirty side of life. Show them their dirty underwear.” Last night was Mac’s birthday. Like most of us do, he spent it getting drunk. Then he played “a really bad show.” “But I think that’s allowed,” he says in his stressfree lilt. “It was my birthday, so I’m allowed to get nice and drunk, I think.” The show was full of friends, in his new hometown of Montreal. He’s lived in the city for a year and it’s a place he’s still getting to grips with, where it’s “super cheap to live”, but there’s no music scene he feels he can relate to. In many ways it doesn’t matter – Mac, a night time person, as his sloshy, heavy-eye-lidded music suggests, makes music in isolation, recording at home into the early hours. A fan of Joe Meek, Jonathan Richman, Arthur Russell and The Beatles (he freely admits that his track ‘I’m A Man’ is him “trying to rip off George Harrison”), Mac doesn’t really need the outside world, which is perhaps why he’s so playfully built his own in ‘Rock And Roll Nightclub’. Still, he misses his days living in Vancouver where there were some likeminded bands to hang out with, and his new album has given him a chance to vent his frustrations with Montreal. “Usually the music I make is a reminder of how my life is going,” he says. “For the rock’n’roll songs on the album, I can’t really say the same thing about them... Well, maybe I can. I mean, ‘European Vegas’ [very much from the crooning, dirty side of the album] is a song about Montreal and how stupid I think some of the things that go on here are.A lot of kids move to Montreal and are like,‘it’s changed the whole way I am; I dress like Morrissey now and drink wine in the park’. Montreal is trying to be a beautiful European city and it’s just this greasy drag. “Every time we came here the shows would be so fucking crazy,” he continues,“so I was like,‘Man, it must be crazy there all the time – we’ve got to move there!’. And it can be crazy, but, I dunno, there are things about it that are kinda weird.” A “greasy drag” that’s “kinda weird” – it sounds like Montreal and Mac DeMarco are meant for each other. Or perhaps it’s the city that’s made him this way. Regardless, ‘Rock And Roll Nightclub’ is a happy accident that transcends the joke it started as.
THE WAY ALEXIS TAYLOR SEE’S IT, HIS WORK HERE IS DONE
ew label. New album. Same familiar set up. For a band that’s spent the better part of a decade polarising opinion, consistency isn’t one of the buzzwords typically associated with Hot Chip. So after leaving DFA/EMI to release new LP ‘In Our Heads’ on Domino, Alexis Taylor explains that the move was more of a logical step than a new beginning. “It’s a label that’s always been very close to our hearts,” he says. “I used to work for Domino before Hot Chip signed to DFA and EMI. I was a fan of the music it was releasing and I always thought that Domino and Drag City were two of the best labels out there. In recent years, even when we were on EMI, I maintained relationships with people at Domino and just shared a lot of good times with them.Then About Group signed with Domino for our last album so I began a working relationship with them again and got to experience what it was like to be a band on that label so it just made sense. We didn’t meet any other labels. It was a pretty easy decision.” There’s clearly a mutual respect and afﬁnity between band and label and is another example of each party looking beyond the glitz of a major name and ﬁnding a relationship that works. “I think now, where records are selling less, a good label is really important,” says Alexis.“I think that having a label that got through the hard times and knows what it’s doing to get music out there to people, and is dedicated to the bands, and is not full of inner turmoil the way major labels like EMI started to feel, is a good thing. I’m not saying that everyone there was, but there was a threat to everyone’s jobs when EMI was being sold, and sold again. “You want to have a label that lets you do your own thing,” he continues, “but also one that has good ideas when you want them to have good ideas. We’ve been able to sense that they were really keen, and really excited to have our band on the label, so there’s a lot of love for the group there.” It’s also an indictment of the increasingly considered decisions discerning bands are making in terms of creative control and label pressures. In a progressively open market, it’s no longer a one size ﬁts all dynamic, and the more astute – both bands and labels – will surely reap the beneﬁts. “I think that’s true,” he nods. “That’s probably quite a healthy way for records to get made. I suppose there was a golden era of interesting major labels and major label records, like the ’70s where bands were making big, lavish records that cost quite a lot and could be supported through not having hits. I guess this was mainly because labels were making their sales elsewhere, but it’s deﬁnitely
harder now to make records that way,” he ponders. “I think you just adapt to the situation. We’ve always made records on a tiny budget, just because we’re used to working on a small scale and gradually working in a studio. We certainly didn’t go crazy and go to the Bahamas or anything; we just did it in a cheap studio in London. I do wonder how different it would be if we made a record in a different era, though.” Hot Chip have certainly seen the world since the release of their 2004 debut,‘Coming On Strong’. Despite a near decade of success, though, and a steady climb to critical recognition, the band’s means and methods of recording have, unwittingly, remained the same. For a group happy to indulge in numerous side projects and bands, familiarity has won out over opportunity. Alexis explains that the way he and Joe Goddard – together Hot Chip’s creative engine room – write is today how it was in the beginning.“Either myself or Joe has a song idea, and whether it’s complete or incomplete we play it to each other in whatever form and work on it from there,” he explains.“Collaborative songwriting is always how we’ve done it and it’s always been quite easy for us to write songs that way. Yesterday we were rehearsing songs for shows that were coming up and I found myself playing songs from the ﬁrst album and realising how similar it is in terms of the chords and the feel and the observations, and it made me think there’s quite a natural way we’ve written from the beginning.” This consistency isn’t always readily apparent within Hot Chip’s eclectic experimentation beyond Alexis’ awkward vocals, but in an almost inimitable way it’s arguably what binds most of the band’s back catalogue together. Beyond the off-beat percussion and off-kilter time signatures, there’s the fondness for old house and 90s dance that’s come to the fore as the driving force on new album ‘In Our Heads’ but, as Alexis points out, if you analyse anything long enough, you’ll ﬁnd what you want. “Each album is a snapshot in a way, because a song doesn’t really take that long to be written. I think by the time we’ve ﬁnished the record, it’s taken quite a long time to make it, but it’s still representative of those initial ideas. You write the album then spend a lot of time talking about it and rehearsing it and touring it and it lets you get back inside it. It’s kind of a weird snapshot that gets analysed, a lot! “Sometimes you think a song is meant to be a certain style, but we’ve never made an album where we’ve explored one type of groove or one type of music from start to ﬁnish. We’ve never made any of the albums in that way. Making genre-based decisions would be quite weird. I don’t know if anyone does really… maybe
– “Music is there for people to find for themselves and get pleasure fr� and not be forced into” –
Simon Cowell? “I’m not saying our music is so complicated we couldn’t do that, but it’s never thematically one thing. Maybe we’re just not that marketing conscious in the way some people are – some people like to give this prescription to what something is.” The genre. The pigeonhole. The box. The topic that wracks most music writers with guilt or the caveat some use to laud over or unleash on the bands they love to hate. It’s a subject that’s a source of clear frustration to Alexis yet he talks about it eloquently. “I’ve never really understood what the obsession is with that,” he says. “I always just think it’s really misleading. Right from the beginning, a review is quite often trying to categorise things that aren’t really there and that tells people it’s ‘like this’ or ‘like that’ when it often really isn’t. A lot of people don’t necessarily even notice it isn’t that because they’ve been told the opposite so many times. As someone who listens to music, which a journalist does and a person making music does, I’m not sure I’m motivated by that need when listening to someone else’s music to say it’s ‘this kind of record’ or ‘that kind of record’. “Record shops is where you would have had these divisions and I don’t know how helpful it is to people to be told what they’re going to get before they hear it,” he continues. “It’s a very powerful thing to be a journalist. You’re given this respect and authority to say that about a record, somehow, over anyone else. It’s quite strange to step back from that and there’s usually a passion for music, so I’m not taking that away from journalists, but it’s a funny idea that sets people up. I do it all the time – I read reviews of ﬁlms and if it’s a poor review, I’m affected straight away. “You could even go even deeper in terms of music that you ‘should’ listen to or is ‘worth’ listening too… music is there for people to ﬁnd for themselves and get pleasure from and not be forced to think a certain way by something they react to. I don’t know if I feel there are records that need to be pointed out to the world that are worth hearing. I don’t have that righteousness myself, to be honest.” Neither a pious diatribe nor an animated attack on the music press, it’s an honest summation that underlines Alexis’s thoughts in terms of his music philosophy. Content with creating an album and letting it go, it feels like his personal expectations and ones for the band have always been relatively simple: control what you can, trust those that you need to. “In a weird way, the work is done once I’ve ﬁnished the album. I don’t really have any idea how it’s going to be received. We had these quite interesting interviews about it and had a good response from the different parts of the label that have heard it and are excited by it.That still doesn’t tell us anything about how it’s going to be received when we put it into the world. I’m not really a good judge of which songs are going to reach the bigger audience. “I always liked ‘Over and Over’ but I didn’t know that would be the song we’d be known for, but there’s tracks on this record like, ‘Night and Day’ and ‘Now There is Nothing’… ‘Look At Where We Are’… maybe those three... and ‘How Do You Do?’ as well – I’m most excited by those, but I don’t know whether will they reach our core fan base or will they reach more people. I’ll leave that up to the label to do what they want to do with it.”
Hot Chip PHOTOGRAPHER -
Female Band MUSIC FROM THE BACK ROW PHOTOGRAPHER -
Lights out. Celluloid sparkles to life as monophonic drone ﬁlls the theatre, velvet curtains draw back and the din gets louder.The ﬁlm we are about to watch is Female Band. “It’s kind of like a twisted detective drama,” says Anna, whose imaginary vision is laid before us. “God, that sounds so pretentious, but we are very cinematic in our process.” It’s no surprise as cinema surrounds both Anna, the founding member of this duo, and her musical soulmate Melissa: they met and work at the Prince Charles movie theatre in London’s Leicester Square. “I tried to talk to Anna at ﬁrst but she didn’t want to know me,” deadpans Melissa, a joke perhaps but Anna backs her up. “I’m genuinely a difﬁcult person,” she admits.“It takes time to gain my trust and Melissa gained it by going to all the right shows.” Strangers at work, the odd ﬂeeting glimpse across tinpot venues around town would see the pair eventually bond. Used to playing on her own as Female Band,Anna eventually plucked up the courage to approach Melissa. “She told me she’d been a guitarist and could play the Cello, so she came round for a jam and we’ve been married ever since, musically of course.” Anna bursts out laughing, which sets Melissa off. “Our songs are our babies.” Something clicked and Anna’s pet project suddenly took on a life of its own.“It’s one girl making music and one girl making noise,” she imparts, and it’s a summary that’s difﬁcult to argue with. Female Band’s music has a paradox at its heart – beautiful lush and ambient textures clash with atonal, jarring, altogether strange sounds to make something darkly experimental and highly original. “It’s so hard to describe, but we like to experiment and we don’t know what’s going to happen before we go on stage,” explains Melissa. “It’s kind of like a soundtrack to a ﬁlm, but you have the entire cinema to yourself,” adds Anna, leading us back into pitch black, torch in hand.
Mystery remains at the forefront of the group. Early Internet posts claimed they hailed from Brooklyn but now read Montreal. Wherever they’re from, their mischievous heart remains one certainty. “I’d like to say it doesn’t matter where you’re from its where you’re at!” exclaims Anna punching the air and clearly showing us her Brooklyn ring in the process. “I’ve lived in Russia, Sweden, Poland and all around the States,” she continues. “I’m connected to so many different places for so many reasons.” It’s a nomadic history that suits the band’s music – their minimal sonic experiments have no place of their own so why should they? A new EP entitled ‘Goodbye New York, Forever’ does hold a (blatant) clue though.The band are releasing it on a limited run of cassette tapes through Italian Beach Babes at the end of the month. “At ﬁrst we didn’t want to release our music but the label were so kind and supportive and have come to all of our shows… yeah, ALL of them,” giggles Anna, well aware that they’ve only played a handful so far. Those they’ve played, though, have set people talking; a widescreen mix of white noise, minimal guitar lines that are sampled live and buried lyrics. One recent show made such an impression that members of the audience had to sit down... in a good way. “It’s a really immersive experience with very little break between songs,” says Melissa. “We played a show in a gallery recently with seats and it felt so right.” We know they’re heavily inﬂuenced by cinematic themes, but what of music? Before I can open my mouth Anna jumps in: “Whatever you do don’t say My Bloody Valentine or Sonic Youth,” she blurts. “I’ve heard all of Sonic Youth’s records and I didn’t get on with them. MBV I had trouble with as well, which is a constant source of argument for me and my friends.” OK what do you like?
“Perfume Genius, Jay Reatard, obviously, Raime, who are these guys from London making very beautiful, dark electonica – it’s sexual.” We also get Melissa’s inﬂuences through a fog of laughter – Burial, Four Tet, Joy Orbison. Such lists are normally boring, but with Female Band you can see the dichotomy; the fusion of electronic and guitar parts in their work clearly split through Anna and Melissa’s talents and inﬂuences. Melissa even DJ’s house music. “She’s so good at it, I love going along to help out and support,” smiles Anna, the marriage very much in its honeymoon period. “One band we deﬁnitely have in common is Mount Kimbie. We got an email from them but it’s probably because we’ve been sending them fan mail.” Female band are no more shy of ambition than they are of poking fun. They’ve set out goals for this year already, to play ATP festival, go on Jools Holland and get an email from Mount Kimbie. “So we are well on our way!” they nod. Hearts on their sleeves kind of gals, Anna hasn’t hidden her admiration for someone else too, and one sentence hangs over almost all of their output so far. “Oh, you mean the ‘I will always love Jay Reatard’ thing on the Internet,” she says. “Well, he was always so acceptable to other bands and other people. He told me once his favourite ﬁlm was The Vanishing so I watched it and was blown away. Our track ‘Rain Song’ is about that ﬁlm and about Jay. Each song has a story and that’s where I started with that one.” Female Band’s own story is developing at pace. We are already through opening credits and into act one. “I have found the place where I can be creative,” says Anna. “When Melissa came in she felt like she was part of this place. I respect Melissa’s opinion and we write together now. It’s almost like Inception; you enter someone else’s dream and become the same dream.”
Chet Faker MUSIC FOR THE BACKGROUND PHOTOGRAPHER -
Word of mouth has long held precedence over how we ﬁnd out about new music, but the power of the blogosphere must never be underestimated. Postings and re-postings of videos is what brings unlikely candidates, such as 13-year-old Rebecca Black with her unbearably auto tuned song ‘Friday’ and teeny-bop sensation Justin Bieber, to the fore. So powerful are the blogs now, they can pluck a complete nobody like Chet Faker, aka Melbourne-based Nicholas Murphy, and catapult him to international success. In Murphy’s case, it was Aussie blog Who the Hell? that picked up his delicate, ambient-house cover of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ and got the ball rolling. That was February 2011 and the ﬁrst track Murphy had ever put online. One year later and he’s signed to London’s indie label Chess Club, as well as Downtown Records in the US, he released his debut EP ‘Thinking in Textures’ on March 26th and even scored an invite to this year’s South By South West, which was the ﬁrst festival he had ever played at. Not bad for a 24-year-old former bookshop assistant – something that Murphy worked as for ﬁve years while studying audio engineering at university before his music went viral. “I think there’s still a job for me if I wanna go back,” he jokes. With his full, wiry ginger beard and woolly hat, it’s not difﬁcult to spot Murphy on the street in central London waiting for a taxi. His Wurlitzer has broken in transit, so I join him in his search for a Fender Rhodes to replace it or he won’t be able to play his debut London gig later at The Social.“It’s my favourite instrument,” he informs me about the Wurlitzer. “It’s a 1968 electric piano that I’ve had for two years now. It was maybe why I started doing this music – it was a missing element with its warm, lush key sound. But I use that and a Fender Rhodes keyboard as well. I try not to buy too
many new things because adding a whole new instrument can really change the sound and I’m still working out what I’m doing, I’m still progressing. It’s not a ﬁnished, polished product.” Murphy may only have been Chet Faker for a year, but he’s been writing and performing music for eight – either electronic instrumental stuff or acoustic singersongwriter fare. “I don’t know why it took me so long to combine the two,” he admits.“I never took it seriously enough. I think I was too afraid to take it seriously.This was the ﬁrst time I knuckled down, and there were times when it was no fun but I would do it anyway. It was a maturity thing, a work ethic. If you want to be good at anything, you do that. Music has always been an outlet for me, but it took me a while to develop a work ethic and want to make it the best thing that I could make.” Now that he has settled in a certain direction, Murphy’s music is taking on a very soulful vibe with a bluesy rasp. It’s almost tranquil. “I love anything lowtempo with sleepy tones,” he confesses. “Anything you can put on and read a book to that doesn’t distract you. That’s something I wanted to do. I wanted to make something that someone could put on and then go and write an essay to.” So, background music? “Exactly. I wanted to write good background music. There’s something really nice and understated about background music.” Although calming, Murphy’s sound is also rich in textures. You can hear layers of harmonies, samples, minimal beats, various bleeps and whirring keys. Even the empty pauses seem deliberate and long thought over. Mainly, Murphy reveals, because he takes his time. “When I’m writing, it’s manic and I’ll do heaps and heaps, but I’ll come back to it time and time again. A song can be ﬁnished but it’s not ﬁnished for me. I’m
D K GOLSTEIN
really aware that my name is being put on it, so I don’t want to look back and think,‘Oh I should have changed that or ﬁxed that’.Time is the answer. “Plus, I usually write twice as much as I’m going to release. So the EP was seven tracks, but I probably wrote around 14 songs, because I can’t always write something good, so I’ll just write as much as I can and pick the ones that I’m happy with. I use the mad scientist approach but then edit it. It’s like that saying: ‘Write drunk, edit sober’.” By early next year, Murphy is set to have his debut LP completed, but he’s already got 16 tracks for it, of which he tells us he won’t choose from just yet, he’ll just keep going because he’s not working with anybody else on the record, so he only has himself to answer to. “Like I was saying before, I’m still working out what I’m doing and if it ain’t broke, don’t ﬁx it. I still feel like I can experiment a lot and bringing someone new in can really change your sound. I’m still trying to hone my sound, I don’t want to dramatically change it.” He’s not kidding when he says he doesn’t want to mess with the order of things, because despite label backing Murphy is still planning to record the LP on his own in his garage at home. But in terms of the road that’ll lead him down, he can’t be sure yet. “I have an idea of what I want it to be like, but I can’t really direct music where I want it to go. It’ll probably end up sounding quite different to what I want it to sound like, but so far it’s darker with more electronic sounds than the EP. It’s not a huge jump, but I’ve been playing around with production techniques.” Chet Faker, as a project, is still very much in its infancy and it looks to be going in a very exciting direction, but if everything does crumble just as quickly as it started, Nicholas Murphy always has the bookshop to lean on.
THE ONLY GANG IN CAMBRIDGE (TOWN NOT GOWN) PHOTOGRAPHER -
Cambridge is possibly the most frustrating city in the world. Biscuit-tin-beautiful, it even looks good on Google Earth; a concentrated cluster of putting-green lawns and 16th Century buildings made for painting. It’s how, you imagine, Middle America might envisage England – a lush Arcadia, regal and historic, handsome and pompous. The thing is, Cambridge operates a strict look-don’t-touch policy. Those lawns and buildings, they’re the university’s, and ‘the gown’, it seems, doesn’t not like to share with ‘the town’. Cambridge is to visitors what Willy Wonka’s factory was to its victims. It’s one big tease. Save for a small portion of the town centre,everywhere is off limits to those that don’t belong to one of the city’s prestigious colleges, and even if you do, you daren’t think about walking on the grass; it’s just not cricket. At every entrance there’s a tubby warden to shoo away the plebs, which today includes us and who relocated here eight months ago from another university town, Leeds. Today they’re showing us the sites of their new neighbourhood, which includes, in order, a famous bakery (slagged right off by our taxi driver on account of them dining out on the fact that Prince Charles bought a sausage roll there once), a pub where Pink Floyd played their ﬁrst show, a punt on the River Cam, the pub again, some colleges we can’t get into and keyboardist Gus’ ﬂat. “We ﬁnd Cambridge quite lonely,” says singer Joe Newman as the rest of the band echo the sentiment. As the guard at King’s College waggles her ﬁnger, we can see why. “All the colleges have quite insular social scenes, so they go to their college bar and plays their friends are putting on,” explains Gus (Unger-Hamilton). “They’re doing college shit and it’s hard to get involved in that.” “We’re not very proactive in penetrating that,” says Joe, before guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury notes that Cambridge is so without a music scene that they’ve been to just one show (Portico Quartet) since living here. “There is a band from here called Clean Bandit who are going to be massive,” says Gus. “I think they’ve moved to London now,” he laughs. Of course, could have done the same having graduated and changed their name from Films to a delta sign.When we last interviewed them, in May 2011, they were still unsure of where they’d make their new start. They decided on Cambridge because it wasn’t London – a measured, pragmatic decision from a measured, pragmatic band. There are no tubby wardens in the centre of London, but there are plenty of distractions that most young musicians giddily hoover up.
“We could have moved to London after Leeds and got no work done,” says Gus. “And then what? A bit of hype would have gone to our heads, and god knows where we’d be now.” “We just like the fact that we don’t need anyone else to function,” adds Joe.“We don’t need a scene to remind ourselves that we have similar tastes. We do what we do with our heads down.” Isolation becomes . Holed up in Brixton, south London, it’s where they recorded debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’; a record conceived within their own insular cosmos. It’s a fascinatingly complex album and really quite stunning, as sophisticated and patient as ‘The xx’, as likely to take a turn for the weird as modern day Radiohead. The tracks rarely end as they begin, like ‘Fitzpleasure’, which travels through shamanic a cappella harmonies and dirty bass onto gobbledygook tongue twisters, intergalactic arpeggios and ascending group cries. Or the much sweeter ‘Something Good’, which is continually nagged by ﬂourishing pianos. There are many ﬂeeting moments, Joe says, “so that you’re always unfamiliar with the song”. “I think the thing that most interests us is those decorative bits,” he explains. “Those little details are as important as the general structure of the song. You’ve got to keep the attention of the listener, and a good way of doing that is just by evolving the song and manipulating certain things that mutate and change. “We try to make each new experience on a track as powerful as a hook. So if there’s a change in melody, or a drop in everyone playing, we should treat that moment, even though it’s ﬂeeting and only happens once, like it’s a hook that happens over and over again. So we dedicate the same amount of time to those moments as we do to moments that repeat over and over again. Everything has to be of a high standard and to the same level – it doesn’t matter how many times we play it.” There isn’t much that ‘An Awesome Wave’ sounds like. Having punted us down river with considerable ease, our puntsman (a friendly, posh chap called Ben who looks like an extra from The Wind In The Willows) nearly had a heart attack propelling us back upstream against the current. Once he’d got the colour back in his cheeks he asked Gwil what his band was called, then. “Alt-J,” said Gwil. “Old Jay? Cool.What do you sound like?” “Every time the world caves in and I don’t know what to say,” says Gwil in the pub. “I always end up saying it’s folk meets electronica meets hip-hop. It sounds awful, like fusion music, some horrible hybrid.” It’s a lot like trying to categorize TV On The Radio. Hopeless.
began shortly after Joe had left his friends and travelled north to start university. It was to be his vanity project. Unveiling his until-then-private songs on Myspace, he thought, would prevent him from being forgotten and give everyone something to talk about on his return home. So he kept writing and recording, ﬁrst alone and then with Gwil who knew his way around GarageBand. Gus became a fan and can still name more of Joe’s early songs than anyone else, while Thom says, “It was exactly the type of music I was looking for, I just didn’t know it until I heard it.” They’ve since been through a few names, as bands tend to do, but Thom’s drumming has remained key to the group’s sound, unique due to the simple decision of axing cymbals, ﬁrst because a kit with cymbals wouldn’t ﬁt in the dorm room they practiced in, then because without the sounds of steel washing out the band’s songs, sounded like no one else. There’s no doubt that his sharp, cracking percussion provides them with a large portion of their hip-hop edge, the folk coming from Joe’s nasal soul vocal and Gus’ low harmonies. The rest of the band hung around Leeds a year after graduating while Gwil ﬁnished his studies, and then they moved here. “We had no money and we’d hatched this plan to move to Cambridge, which meant jumping through a lot of hoops,” recalls Gus. “There were ﬁve of us in all, living in a two-bedroom ﬂat. We lived in constant fear that they’d come around for a surprise inspection and ﬁnd Thom living in the hallway.” Since signing a deal with Infectious, Joe and Thom are still housemates while Gus lives below Gwil, both with their girlfriends. Fearne Cotton has been lovestruck since their second single, ‘Matilda’, and their tracks have been spotted on Match of The Day, Made In Chelsea and a channel called 100% Babes, which neither party conﬁrms or denies knowing about. Things are going well for , no doubt because they’ve had a growing legion of fans since day one – surveyors of Soundcloud who’ve learned the words to the band’s demos and form triangles with their ﬁngers at shows, à la Jay-Z’s Rock Nation diamond. I imagine, for a band who at ﬁrst wanted to keep their faces out of photo shoots, the attention is taking some getting used to. “It’s fucking weird,” says Gwil. “On the last night of the Ghostpoet tour we were in Wrexham and there
were these girls with deltas on their faces.We met them afterwards because they were buying some merch and they were like,‘do you want a joint while you’re loading out,’ so we’re like, ‘yeah, okay’. We’d loaded up the van and were waiting for our tour manager, and in that time we had to talk to them and we just got horriﬁcally stoned, like, so we were paralysed. And they were taking photos and uploading them to twitter and asking us loads of questions…” “It was horrible,” interjects Gus. Gwil: “We were way too stoned to deal with them and they stayed there for over an hour and a half. I had to get our tour manager to sort us out but I was very high.” “Ghostpoet’s band were calling us ‘Alt-Gay’, which didn’t help matters,” Gus laughs. “We’re not very rock’n’roll,” says Joe. I don’t know – we were drinking at 11am, albeit whilst on a punting tour of Cambridge. “Yes, but only because our puntsman told us to,” says Gus. “It was peer pressure. He was like, ‘get the bruskis in, guys’, and we were like, ‘oh…okay…don’t make us’.” To further prove Gus’ point, Gwil tells me of how his girlfriend’s father has some friends living in Cambridge so they – two dad-aged professors – came around for dinner, with Gus as moral support. Their guests insisted on listening to ‘An Awesome Wave’ and very much enjoyed it. “I deﬁnitely used to think that if you make an album and your parents like it, it can’t be good,” says Gwil.“But now my parents really like our album and I think that’s
– “We like the fact that we don’t need anyone else to function. We do what we do with our heads down” –
a really good test, actually. It’s quite a young persons’ way of thinking, that.” “We know that it’s going to be quite accessible for an older crowd,” says Joe.“People always love harmonies no matter how old you are. I think we have the best of both worlds. Generally, our music is quite odd to listen to, because you can’t compare it to too many things, or so we’ve been told. But also there are areas in the songs that are actually quite accessible to a wide range of people.” It’s not as if ‘An Awesome Wave’ sounds like a James Morrison record though, just because your mum might like it. In class and execution, at least, it’s closer to Wild Beasts and The xx, swelling with plenty of emotion and natural musicianship for it to easily wash up on the Mercury Prize shortlist. Joe describes it as “disciplined”, saying, “If you put a microscope to every bit of it, it’s all been thought about very carefully; it’s very considered.” “But it’s only something that can come easily when all of you are likeminded and so is your producer,” notes Gwil. Joe: “…and it has to be said how crucial Charlie [Andrew, the band’s producer since they began] is to this record.There’s four of us but Charlie contributes just as much to our sound – he’s integral.” The band’s most successful single to date is ‘Matilda’, an ode to Natalie Portman’s character in Leon that is arguably the album’s straightest song and the track that gives the folk to their ‘folk-meets-electronica-meetship-hop’ tagline. ‘An Awesome Wave’’s opening two tracks act as even more of a curveball to what follows, ‘Intro’ sleepily yawning into life to be met by an interlude (the a cappella ‘Rack And Ruin’, perhaps an old sea shanty, perhaps the sound of Sherwood Forest) as early as track two. “The beginning of the album isn’t really representative of the rest of the record,” warns Gwil. “When we were in Berlin a guy there was like, ‘it’s weird that at the beginning of the album you’ve got two tracks that are pretty hard and then it’s hit after hit.’” “The entrance exam,” says Gus. “Exactly,” nods Gwil. “On that xx album, the intro was by far the most listened to track, by me, and that was the inspiration behind our intro. I think it’s best to confuse the audience at the beginning and freak them out. If they can get through that, they’re going to get through the rest of the album and love it.”
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Japandroids A bottle of Maker’s Mark is nestled by David Prowse’s drum kit as he hammers the skins and Brian King threatens to choke on the microphone every time he throws himself forward. A few feet away, kids and grown men old enough to know better are hurtling, slamming and caterwauling to Japandroid’s spirited sound. On stage, David and Brian look exhausted, two wrecks ﬁnding strength in the moment, the crowd, and each other, powering through on a mix of whiskey, adrenalin and conviction. This was 2009 and one of the last shows on Japandroids’ whirlwind ‘Post Nothing’ tour. It, and they, came out of nowhere, the internet buzz around their debut album reaching pandemic levels and driving two intense years of touring.This time, though, it’s supposed to be different. “Things are good but it’s quite busy and quite overwhelming,” Brian explains. “People forget that in many ways, this is like a ﬁrst album because it’s the ﬁrst time we’ve actually done the traditional album-making process properly. It’s the ﬁrst time we went in, recorded an album, got ready to release the album, then released the album and toured on it. “It’s what 99.9% of bands do,” he continues, “but with ‘Post Nothing’, we put the album out ourselves, had it ﬂoating around for a while then it got picked up and it felt like a much slower process. So many things happened in such a short amount of time. This, now, is ten times as overwhelming as that was.You never really get used to it but if you’re a big time rockstar, it’s probably
old news.” After surviving the whirlwind around the debut, Japandroids now face the obligatory pressure around its follow up, ‘Celebration Rock’. Where ﬁrst time round they were a band making music without expectation, the building anticipation for the new album is a factor they’ve been painfully aware of. “I think we went through every second album cliché we could when making this album,” Brian admits. “When we recorded ‘Post Nothing’, we didn’t have any fans, we’d never toured, so when we played the songs to people they were friends or friends of friends. It was probably a case that people didn’t necessarily like the music; they just came to support us because we basically had no audience. It was just for us, just for fun, and so when you’re writing and recording the second album, and you’ve gained this massive audience, and you know people are waiting for it, and you know a certain amount of people are going to hear it and review it, it’s a totally different psychological process to write and record. In one respect, the ﬁrst album was totally pure, then the second time it can be very impure if you let it get away from you.” Taking responsibility for everything from the merchandise to the social media pages, Japandroids are still a band driven by a proud DIY ethos that extends beyond just writing and recording. Whereas ‘Post Nothing’ was born out of a raw, one-take necessity, ‘Celebration Rock’ enabled Brian and David to strive for further improvement, and it’s an understated ethos
that’s driving the spirit behind every album. Brian: “With ‘Post Nothing’, we didn’t have that luxury where we could go in and play a song ﬁve or six times until we get one where we can’t hear any fuck ups. I can still hear plenty of fuck ups but they’re less obvious. The only goal with the second record was to try and make sure there was the same lineage and that you hear a band getting better, in song writing, in recording, in performing. Going out and playing shows and hearing people sing along to the songs gives you a conﬁdence that what you’re doing isn’t totally terrible. “I think if you listen to the albums chronologically you can hear a band just trying to work it out.We don’t work with a producer so there’s no one to take a band and turn them into something they’re not. You have these crazy buzz bands that have only played 20 shows and can sell 50,000 records and they work with some producer and sound like this super-professional band and you’re thinking how can they sound this good? They don’t! They don’t sound that good but they hired someone and paid them a bunch of money to sound that good, so as time goes on and they tour, they’re working to be that good. Our records are a reﬂection of how good we are at that time so hopefully you get an idea of how the band’s changing. If you always do the same thing, all you’ve really got is the songs to show that evolution.” Driven by an energy and vitality, ‘Post Nothing’ was everything you could ask from a debut – a raw, honest and unﬁltered dose of rock to soundtrack breaking free
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES. AND BAD. AND VOLATILE PHOTOGRAPHER -
and cutting loose on an open road. Capable of capturing moments without being explicit, it’s an album that revelled in the space and volume it creates, inviting you to colour in the blanks. Characterised by anthems and ambiguity, it set down a difﬁcult benchmark for ‘Celebration Rock’ to follow. “We often get feedback from ‘Post Nothing’ and it’s usually about the feeling of a record,” Brian explains. “It’s quite a hard thing to understand, to capture how someone feels and try and use that for the next record. As far as the themes go, they’re pretty similar, but I think the ways they’re delivered have evolved. There isn’t too much you can do in a duo where you can evolve, sonically, album to album so I wanted to write more lyrics and say more. “In some of the ﬁve/six-minute songs, like ‘Crazy
– “Our relationship is far fr� perfect. In fact, it’s incredibly dysfunctional, but we make it work” –
Forever’ where we weren’t actually saying anything, you’re letting the listener use their imagination, which has its merit, but I felt that was going to be taking the easy way out to do it on this record again. I think that was one of the things that helped people gravitate towards the ﬁrst record.Thematically, I think they’re the same, I’m just saying more.” In the seven years since the band formed inVancouver, there’s a wealth of things to say. Brian and David’s longstanding friendship, coupled with the close twoperson band relationship, makes for an intense dynamic. The simplicity of two friends playing in a band and travelling the world together is a permeating one – from the on-stage bond to the sense of brotherhood to the Polaroid album sleeves, you know the balance between fondness and fury is the fuel for the band, no matter how exhausting it might be. Brian agrees. “We started the band in 2006 so this is our seventh year together,” he reiterates. “It’s quite rare that bands with four or ﬁve members will stay the same for that amount of time, unless you’re in a huge band and you get paid to stay. The relationships don’t stay consistent and creative and positive for that long and our relationship is far from perfect. In fact, it’s incredibly dysfunctional, but we’ve managed to make it work. I agree with that feeling of freedom and spirit and release, and I’m not sure how you’d capture that but it’s easier in a two-piece because you just need to focus everything through less of a committee and have to have more of a relationship.”
Three years ago, that relationship broke down completely. Brian and David reached an impasse and, for all intents and purposes, called it quits. Fast forward through a tumultuous few months and a touring schedule fuelled by fear as much as adventure and it’s easier to understand why Japandroids sound like a band hurtling along at light speed. It’s one of the reasons why we should celebrate a band as spirited as this. “What a lot of people don’t know is that we broke up for a few months after recording ‘Post Nothing’, and self-releasing the album was the last thing we wanted to do as a band,” says Brian. “We’d stopped booking shows, we’d stopped practicing together, we’d stopped working on new material and at the end of 2008/the start of 2009, we just weren’t a band anymore. “The sole motivation for us when we were in the band was that we never went on a proper tour and that was the Holy Grail for us. It still is: that idea of travelling and playing music for people was the big thing we wanted to do. One of the reasons, subconsciously, we toured on that record for two years, was that we felt if we stopped touring it’s going to be over. We only got back together to make a tour happen, then we got offered another tour, then we got offered to go to Europe.We didn’t even talk about doing a second record until the end of 2010.We were making it up as we were going along is what I’m trying to say. Our relationship is too volatile to really plan in advance so there’s no bullshit. Regular people are just making it up as they go along and just trying to work it out.We’re no different.”
LIL B HAS BECOME THE TALK OF HIP-HOP, TAKING ON HOMOPHOBIA, GIVING AWAY HIS MUSIC FOR FREE AND WRAPPING HIMSELF IN HIS OWN WEB-SAVVY MYTHOLOGY. YOUNG RAP LOVES HIP, OLD RAP DEFINITELY DOESN’T. CHAL RAVENS INVESTIGATES WHO’S RIGHT AND JUST HOW GOD-LIKE THE BASEDGOD IS
“Ellen DeGeneres! Swag! Ellen DeGeneres! Woo!” Flanked by a brick wall of security muscle, a snakehipped Californian, little more than 5ft 7’’, is whipping the crowd into a froth of ﬂailing arms and pumping ﬁsts, blue light glinting off his gold teeth and shades as he announces himself humbly as the ‘BasedGod’. It can only be hip hop’s most divisive ﬁgure for a generation: Brandon McCartney, or as you probably know him, Lil B. “First I park my car, then I fuck your bitch!” he chants in the nasal drawl heard on his most banal and ridiculous tracks, as his fans lurch forward as one to swamp the stage for the chorus of ‘Wonton Soup’, B’s biggest hit (where ‘hit’ means ‘most viewed on YouTube’ – eight million views and counting). Tonight’s set is weighted heavily towards his most notorious meme-spawning material, including ‘Green Card’, ‘I Own Swag’ and newer, um, songs, like ‘Ima Eat Her Ass’ and ‘Please Respect the Bitch’. The big guys on stage get tough with the invaders, tossing them back into the throng and twiddling their earpieces as if the crowd want anything more dangerous than to pogo along with their hero, screeching, “Swag! swag! swag!” Before wrapping up at 9.30pm (the early slot is necessary for the hour-long meet-and-greet session afterwards), B tries out one of his ‘Based freestyles’, this time a pretty hopeless example of his notoriously hitand-miss improvisations. He tests a few lines, grinning at a successful rhyme but reverting to the chant of “Young BasedGod” when he fails to tease a couplet from his brain.While half the crowd lose their minds at the front, a signiﬁcant proportion of attendees are skulking further
back, sizing up B as a foreign curiosity rather than a demigod. When he announces the last song, there’s a decisive dash for the exit among the lone gig-goers who’ve heard all they need to hear.The patient devotees, on the other hand, queue up for an hour to get their souvenir snap, to be tweeted immediately in the hope of a retweet from @LilBThePack1 himself (veriﬁed; 431,800 followers and rising). In that moment, the entire Lil B narrative is neatly illustrated. A rapper with a million fans and nearly as many haters, Brandon McCartney’s journey from skate brat to underground superstar has attracted no small amount of controversy and column inches along the way. No longer considered a young buck in the game (he was named in U.S. hip hop magazine XXL’s ‘Freshman Class’ feature last year), B’s inﬂuence can now be heard in mainstream rap and chart pop, while critics from blogs and broadsheets ruminate on the meanings of ‘Based’ music. Many listeners, though, are bewildered by the hype, arguing that he plain can’t rap and has no business calling himself a ‘god’ of hip hop, ‘based’ or otherwise. It’s time to ﬁnd out more, so we wait patiently backstage while the fans get their starstruck moment. An assortment of over-dressed hangers-on pace around behind the curtains, ﬂashing shiny varsity jackets, wrist-to-wrist tattoos and freshly purchased snapbacks. Lou Pocus, a producer from Bedford who’s made a few beats for B, has brought his crew in and waits to shake hands with his collaborator and pass on some contraband, which is gratefully received. Gatecrashers and groupies line the walls
as security guards vainly attempt to weed out imposters. In the midst of chaos, B’s manager ﬂoats calmly, packing up the limited equipment they’ve brought with them.A true San Franciscan, long-haired and impossibly relaxed, he also sorts out the backing tracks during the set – no hype man or DJ on this tour – and shepherds B towards the various interviews, taxis and ﬂights using a paper plate, on the back of which are the phone numbers for XOYO [the venue we’re in] and Addison Lee scrawled in green. By the time we pin the rapper down for our post-show interview, it becomes obvious we’ll be lucky to steal 20 minutes of his time. They’ve got an early morning ﬂight to catch and, by the looks of it, the night is young for B. In scruffy basketball shorts, yellow knee socks and a pair of tatty Vans, B cuts a modest ﬁgure, with the exception of his full grill and chestful of tattoos (the centrepiece reads: Lord, protect me from myself). He greets everyone enthusiastically and seems pleased with the show:“One of my favourites, deﬁnitely.” A ﬁlm crew ask how he prepares before going onstage. Perhaps we were expecting vocal exercises, or liquor and blunts, but this is San Francisco’s Lil B we’re talking about.“Just meditate,” he says, “and get my high right.” It’s not the orgiastic nihilism you might expect from the guy with “four diamond rings, two big-ass chains”. For every ‘swag’ there’s a ‘based’ – once a term of abuse directed at ‘basehead’ crack addicts, now reclaimed as the linchpin of an entire philosophy of sorts, a brand of positive thinking that betrays his upbringing in the hippy homeland and college town of Berkeley.
sites like Pitchfork cover him because they “see the raw emotion”. “You know, everything comes full circle for me,” he tells me. “I don’t consider myself a rapper, you know, it’s just like an emotion, or just a colour or something. It’s something way bigger than hip-hop. So right now it’s just like, I’m just setting my stones right now, and doing what I gotta do.”
JUST LIL B
’s ﬁrst taste of fame came when he was just 16 with The Pack, a teenage crew who scored a hit in 2006 with the skate anthem ‘Vans’, an ode to laceup shoes over a sparse ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’-style groove. The Pack dissolved after a disappointing experience with their major label, but B set to work on his own material, assisted by producer Young L and a huge supporting cast of beatmakers. He’s clocked up 30 ofﬁcial releases since 2009, all free to download, with a zero-budget video accompanying virtually every track. “I’m at, like, 1,500 to 2,000 tracks,” he says. He must have to revise sometimes.“I got a lot of stuff to remember, so yeah, I deﬁnitely go back and listen to it all.” So nothing gets lost and forgotten in the back catalogue? “Everything’s special, everything’s equally valued. I take pride in quality over quantity, and just kind of doing what’s true, true to myself.” Quality over quantity, it must be said, is not the apparent modus operandi of the BasedGod, whose promotional strategy has essentially been a war of attrition using YouTube, Twitter and sheer proliﬁcacy as his weapons. Quality control is not so much ignored as gleefully stamped out, with B often recording his bars in a single take for optimum “honesty”, as he describes it, even when that means leaving in the false starts, missed beats and countless ‘Based freestyles’ that taper off into nonsense. Some tracks contain barely any lyrics in the traditional sense – check ‘Bitch I’m Bill Clinton’, where he intones “White House, White House” in lieu of a chorus and chants, “Flag Bill Clinton, car Bill Clinton, house Bill Clinton, girls love Clinton”. Fans of Q-Tip, Chuck D, Eminem or the rest of rap’s big-hitters might ﬁnd it infuriating, but it’s not hard to imagine a Mark E. Smith fan digging the abstract repetition. B raps over whatever beats he can ﬁnd – luckily he now has so many producers sending him material that he’s spoilt for choice for the next few years. Among them is Clams Casino, New Jersey’s Mike Volpe, who got his break providing the music to ‘I’m God’, ‘Motivation’ and ‘Cold War’, and has since broken through with his brilliant ‘Instrumentals Mixtape’ and productions for Harlem’s A$AP crew and Main Attrakionz. Along with Keyboard Kid 206’s beats, these ‘cloud
rap’ instrumentals are some of the tightest productions for his raps so far, standing in contrast to the overblown ‘swag rap’ tracks which take their cue from the Dirty South’s blaring horns, ratatat snares and sagging bass distorted by volume. The tackiness is matched by the sleazy artwork, depicting B nestled among rows of diamonds and rising ﬂames, and videos like the recent one for ‘Bitch Doing 30’, in which a stripper wobbles and gyrates in plastic heels and yellow bikini for the entire length of the song, any hint of sexiness displaced by awkwardness and, eventually, absurd humour. The hip hop purists hate it, of course. Usually, the most gifted lyricists are venerated by their peers and cultural gatekeepers like label bosses and journalists – look at lauded rappers like DOOM, GZA and Mos Def. The connection between rap and poetry has been made explicit, and rappers who want to be taken seriously need to get their words in order. In contrast, the street element of hip hop – ‘trap rap’, in its latest formulation – is seen as simple-minded and disposable, the unconscious counterpart to the dreaded ‘conscious hip hop’ (a separation that only serves to conceal unspoken judgments on race and class, you could argue). But listen again to B’s rapping in The Pack. He can ﬂow if he wants to – he just isn’t doing it anymore. He may not be a wordsmith in the dictionary-swallowing style of the Anticon label, but he has a knack for phrases so off the wall that they lodge in your brain, cryptic and unfathomable. In that sense, it’s hard to think of precursors to his style other than, at a stretch, the surreal craziness of Kool Keith or the true original that was Ol’ Dirty Bastard. When B does turn his hand to a more conventional hip hop sound, as on last year’s reﬂective ‘Illusions of Grandeur’ mixtape, his technical weaknesses are revealed and the mixtape is forgettable in comparison to the records he intends to reference (‘Based For Your Face’ is centred on a Public Enemy sample – a high bar for anyone).Andrew Nosnitsky, who writes the Cocaine Blunts blog, is a long-time supporter of B and argues that appeasing hip hop purists is basically a futile endeavour, because persuading listeners that B can rap ‘properly’ does nothing to aid their understanding of the rest of his catalogue. In short, Lil B is to hip hop what no wave is to rock: an expression of the breakdown of language and a deconstruction of the genre in a lo-ﬁ, DIY format that rejects the role of major labels. He has described himself as “a rocker in the rap world”, saying indie rock-oriented
one of B’s mixtapes has been produced by himself, although it’s credited to ‘The BasedGod’. ‘Rain In England’ is a bizarre artefact: 16 tracks, many more than six minutes long, on which B simply talks and talks over a beatless haze of plasticky new-age synth washes, covering every aspect of the ‘based’ life and philosophy (“My brain is a giant forest / Trees growing in it in little circuits,” he ponders). Did we hear an instrumental from ‘Rain In England’ playing after the show? “Yeah, deﬁnitely, thank you so much, man,” he says, pleased to discuss some of the most reﬂective music in his catalogue. “‘Rain In England’ was the ﬁrst ambient hip hop album ever. The BasedGod produced it and I was a part of it. It’s deﬁnitely just historical, you know, it went over a lot of people’s heads. I mean, no song on there is under ﬁve minutes, and I’m rapping just straight, you know, some songs are eight minutes – it’s real deep man, real deep.” What was the inspiration for the title? “I was just feeling like that. It was just the whole vibe that I got from the music that I was making, you know? Being outta England, that’s the whole vibe.” On it, B gives an insight into the subconscious ﬂows and introspection that produced the ‘based’ philosophy, but the speciﬁcs are hazy. He’s described being based as simply “being positive, being yourself,” nothing more dogmatic than that, but in the fronting environment of hip hop, with bragging and swagging a chief preoccupation, a few hippy platitudes along the lines of “just be you” and “do what you feel” are noticeably out of sync with the culture. Even if it doesn’t go much deeper than that, it’s an intriguing ﬂipside to the guy who ﬁrst parks his car, then fucks your bitch. Devotees who have taken the ‘based’ lifestyle to heart can even satisfy their curiosity with Takin’ Over, the
book he’s written to explore “the positive, the love and all possibilities”. Much like St. Paul’s epistles, it’s a collection of text messages and emails to fans offering them guidance and calling for an end to violence and anger in rap music. (You can make your cheque out for $26.99.) For now though, B’s fans revel in his most playful output, taking up catchphrases like the recurring nonsense boast, “Hos on my dick ‘cos I look like Jesus” (other lookalike options include JK Rowling, Elvis and Miley Cyrus), which rapper Kreayshawn lifted for her own track, the incomparable “Hoes On My Dick”. For every nugget of ‘based’ positivity you’ll ﬁnd another ridiculous boast, but B’s formal variations, from ‘Rain In England’s’ ambience to the trap rap madness of ‘Realist Bitch Alive’ or the surrealism of ‘Bitch I’m Bill Clinton’, see him emerge as an artist ﬂirting with genre and skirting the boundaries of acceptability. The music can be read as both lowest common denominator silliness and all-encompassing parody (or at least pastiche), approaching a level of implicit politicisation that’s the exact opposite of up-front politicians like Dead Prez or Immortal Technique. Take the quintessential swag rap of ‘I’m Heem’ – the title refers to Hennessy cognac, yet the lyrics turn ‘heem’ into cryptic babble: “Sex heem, yes heem / I’m heem, naw’mean?” and later, “What I rap for? Everything / Want bling bling and world peace.” You could even muster a comparison with James Ferraro, the underground artist whose 2011 mixtape ‘Bebetune$’ was a hyperreal collage of overblown swag rap, halfway between a love letter and a mockery. This level of creative freedom points to why mixtapes are more important than ever in hip hop, allowing an artist like Lil B to thrive. Despite releasing an album last year (called ‘I’m Gay’, to the gasps of a genre rife with homophobia), he immediately gave it away on his blog, thus relegating it to a mixtape, and he seems to think his ﬁrst album is still ahead of him. “I’ve been working on my ﬁrst album that I’m ever gonna release for about ﬁve or six years now, and it’s gonna be worldwide in stores,” he says, but details are vague. I ask if the transition from mixtape to album will affect the sound or lyrical material? “Mmm,” he ponders. “I can’t really tell about that… but you know it’s gonna be fantastic, it’s going to be worldwide.”You get the sense that we’ll be waiting for a little while.
by the rules makes for a slow game, and B is more interested in scaling up his operations than dropping an ofﬁcial album and garnering mainstream acceptance. As an artist set on worldwide fame, perhaps he’s considered the staple cash-generators of the hip hop A-list – acting and clothing lines? “I mean, I already been acting,” he says.“I been doing like, some low, low, low key stuff, not putting it out there.” Ah, of course. But would you want to avoid following in other rappers’ footsteps? “I haven’t done it now – in everything, I haven’t been doing what other rappers do.” So there won’t be a Lil B line of Vans? “Yeah, you know…” He pauses.“I gotta get paid, you know.That’s what it is.” The mention of Vans alludes to the ratty lace-ups he’s currently wearing – is it true he won’t take them off until he makes a million dollars? “Yes ma’am.” An interesting business plan for a ‘based’ hippy. So how
– “I DON’T CONSIDER MYSELF A RAPPER. IT’S JUST LIKE AN EMOTION, OR A COLOUR OR SOMETHING”
important is money to him? “I mean, from not having it and then getting it, you know, it’s not everything. I see how people treat it and what it is. It’s cool, it’s cool to have it, but it’s not necessary, you know.” So wearing the Vans reminds him to keep working? “To keep it street, keep it street.” It’s difﬁcult to see how he could work any harder, having made his name basically through relentless proliﬁcacy and self-promotion.You couldn’t ignore that amount of material even if it wasn’t bizarre and subversive too. He knows his history and constantly references artists new and old who inspire him, but he’s taken what he’s learned and binned it. Like the muso who goes punk, believing he’ll ﬁnd a greater truth in just three chords, B leans on non-verbal or barely-verbal communication to upturn hip hop’s reverence for the spoken word.As the Guardian’s Alex Macpherson points out, “truly brave trailblazing entails trolling your own core demographic.” In that sense, the mere existence of Lil B is to be celebrated, whether or not you want to pump ‘Wonton Soup’ at your house party. It’s certainly entertaining to see him raise the hackles of old boys like former G-Unit afﬁliate The Game, who named B “the wackest rapper of all time” after hearing his spot on Lil Wayne’s comeback mixtape ‘Sorry For The Wait’. It’s a shoddy few bars which ever way you cut it, but B’s reaction to the diss was priceless nonetheless: “Game already know he a lesson in my book,” he told a reporter,before blurting,“But he’s irrelevant! BasedGod!” and hopping into a blacked-out Mercedes.
current wave of young rappers can’t disguise the debt they owe to the Lil B phenomenon, from the cartoonish Kreayshawn to A$AP Rocky, the self-styled “pretty motherfucker” to B’s “pretty bitch”.
He doesn’t seem bitter about it, though, largely because Lil B never seems bitter - peace and love is very much the philosophy of the BasedGod. “I’m good, I’m in a great position,” he says. “None of these artists are really, like, jacking me; they’re all fans. It’s all good man, everybody really wants me to win, they rooting for me. I just been doing what I wanna do right now, feeling good being the boss, doing what I want, having not to answer to nobody.” And that’s the freedom that the lack of a major label can offer? “You know, we poppin’ like we on a major label right now anyway,” he says. “I mean, the rap game is so good for me right now, so good.” Lil B madness reached a tipping point when Justin Bieber was seen doing B’s trademark cooking dance last year (instructions: pretending you’re cooking). He was returning the favour after B named a song after him and declared them to be cousins, but now Bieber’s taken it a step further – check out his latest issuance of product, ‘Boyfriend’, with its intro chant of “swag” in his Timberlite tones. Is it time to come up with a new buzzword? “I mean, I always stay making the trends,” says B,“but you know right now, that’s my bruh, Justin is good, man. I heard myself in his new song and it’s like, that’s love man! So it’s great, it’s all family.” And now a whole new demographic is in reach. “Yeah, I got a lot of young fans already.” Other seemingly inappropriate creative plans include his “garage punk” album, ‘California Boy’. All that’s known about this one is that it’s “not some joke rock album” and is inspired by Lenny Kravitz and Axl Rose. Even his hip-hop collaborations seem wildly unlikely, with recent tweets suggesting a hook-up with enigmatic rap genius Jay Electronica. “Yeah, me and Jay gonna hook up, I’ma be deﬁnitely rockin’ with Jay Electronica soon.We were supposed to meet up while I was out here but our timing’s been messed up.” Jay’s notoriously low output rate seems an unlikely ﬁt with B’s work ethic, not to mention his complex wordplay and Nation of Islam references. “I think we’re really the same,” counters B. “It’s just, you know, Jay Electronica is not really wanting to work with anybody, he’s not just reaching out to people saying, ‘I wanna do a mixtape with you’ or something. But you know, we all from the same pot.” For all the world domination plans, it’s still hard to see how Lil B can ever truly commercialise his underground success. He didn’t manage to sell out XOYO, for one thing – an 800-capacity venue – and of course his record sales are irrelevant. As we wrap up, having nabbed little more than 15 minutes with him, B poses for photos and switches it on perfectly, lowering his shades here, ﬂashing his grill there. His manager dials the numbers on his paper plate and politely hurries us along. A pretty lo-ﬁ operation on the material level, but in the virtual realm the BasedGod is someone else completely – Twitter mogul, YouTube star, self-help guru and record label boss (since he signed his own cat, Keke, to BasedWorld Records). He’s pissed off the old guard and led in the new. He’s even lectured at New York University (“my ﬁrst sold-out lecture and my ﬁrst lecture ever,” he notes), and all without a major record deal or heavyweight management.You can see why he’s convinced of his own genius, even if half of XOYO weren’t so sure. B reaches out to hip hoppers, baby-faced tweens, Pitchfork geeks, broadsheets, arch intellectualists and even the university establishment. His hopes for his eventual legacy to hip-hop are no less universal. “Just become the BasedGod and do what I need to ﬁnish,” he says. “I need to just do a lot of work and there are a lot of goals that I need to complete so that I can feel happy and my supporters can be happy.” All that’s left to say is thank you, BasedGod.
PIP BROWN FINALLY FOLLOWS UP HER DEBUT ALBUM WITH A RECORD CALLED WHAT ELSE BUT ‘ANXIETY’
Ladyhawke PHOTOGRAPHER -
Comebacks are never easy, and it’s something New Zealand songstress Ladyhawke knows all too well. After all the awards, the sell-out shows and the hype of 2008’s ‘Lady-electro scene’, Pip Brown gave us silence. Fighting off breakdown rumours, bone-crippling exhaustion and the dreaded ‘second album syndrome’, after a three-year wait, we ﬁnally ﬁnd out what’s comes next for Ladyhawke. Peering through the dim lit gloom in Shefﬁeld’s Leadmill, it appears Pip is feeling fragile. So much so that when she proffers a tiny hand to shake, I fear that she might break. Since contracting a rare illness and being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, Pip has found herself prone to bouts of sickness, allergies and panic attacks that make touring a constant struggle. I wonder out loud how she has learned to cope. Gently nursing a bottle of Berocca and peering sadly from beneath the brim of her fedora, she answers softly: “Touring’s a double edged sword really,‘cos I love it, but I hate it at the same time. Like, I love playing but I’m not really that sort of person, I like my home comforts. Sometimes it’s wonderful and other times you feel really crap and you have nowhere to go. “I wasn’t a social kid really anyway,” she says. “I liked being at home, I didn’t like staying in other people houses or gardens. I still don’t really like it. Sometimes it’s the pleasantries you have to get out of the way and I like the person, but it’s so awkward going over to someone’s house sometimes.” There’s something about Ladyhawke that breeds an easy familiarity, and despite feeling under the weather Pip is relaxed and friendly, her smiling eyes hidden by a mop of shaggy blonde hair.When she swears in her soft New Zealand twang it sounds almost school-girlishly naughty. “Shit, I remember wanting to play drums so bad! It was the most I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.When I was about 11, I begged and begged and begged, then I remember my mate Jonathan called up my Mum and said, ‘Mrs Brown you gotta let Pip play drums, it’s free! It’s free lessons!’ I’ve just always wanted to play music. That’s all I’ve wanted to do.” Her new album,‘Anxiety’, has a darker, more insistent beat running through it than her self-titled debut. It simultaneously reigns in the electro pop while polishing off some of the rough edges for a glossier production sheen, though Pip insists she was going for a more “lowﬁ, home studio sound”. Recorded in the South of France and New Zealand with her long-time producer Pascal Gabriel, it’s been a long, drawn-out process and
her relief that it’s over is palpable. “There was absolutely no part of me that was gonna do that album as soon as I ﬁnished touring, though,” she reasons. “I was too tired and I didn’t want what I was doing to sound like everything else. And so I needed a break to get some perspective and I think that’s what it gave me.” Away on tour almost constantly from her self-titled debut album’s release in 2008 until 2010, Pip Brown was burnt out. So she decided to take some much-needed time off, returning to her family and her roots in her hometown of Masterton, New Zealand. She grins happily. “It was amazing! So awesome and chilled out, and to see all my friends and family and just reconnect again… It was a really good place for me creatively as well, as it got me out of the whole hustle and bustle of London; you know, the stress of being in the industry. I just rent a place there now (in London) but I lived there for a few years, then moved back to New Zealand for a year and half and now I’m back here again. So, yeah, it’s good to go home.” Following her long break from the stresses of the industry, calling her second album ‘Anxiety’ has incited an onslaught of personal speculation, particularly in her home country where articles wax lyrical about her alleged “complete breakdown” in the run up to its recording. Pip sighs. “The thing is that everyone always said to me that I was too private. As for the title, I didn’t think it was that big a deal, it was just me poking fun at myself. “Deﬁnitely for this album it felt like one extended therapy session. I remember writing the lyrics to the title tracks and thinking, ‘Fuck, is this too much?’, and then realising that I can have a sense of myself because it’s true and there might be people out there who can relate to it.” Songs like ‘Cellophane’ also hold a special place in her heart, with its heavy drums and crunching guitars hiding her closest thing to a torch song. She explains, “You can go through your whole life and you always look upon the past with nostalgia, but you don’t realise what you have at the time, so it’s really easy to do. ‘Cellophane’ is a song saying, ‘it will all make sense later on down the line’.” Having chatted for a while and now seeming almost completely relaxed, common themes of fantasy and reality dodging crop up and she laughs to recall an early interview where she said she wished she could see ghosts. Ladyhawke itself is a name Pip took from a fantasy ﬁlm of the same name – a movie starring
Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer as doomed lovers who transform into a Hawk and a Wolf at different times of day. It’s essentially a love story, albeit one with Matthew Broderick as a dopy peasant and a bizarre medieval disco soundtrack. “Somehow it felt right, like it suited me,” says Pip. “And I loved the concept that she was one thing during the day and another thing at night time.”
for Ladyhawke the performer, when she burst onto the scene in 2008 was quickly grouped with other female artists like La Roux, Little Boots, Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine, also becoming an unwitting style icon in the process when ‘Paris Is Burning’ was used to soundtrack a Chanel runway show. Critics heralded the new wave of self-empowered women as a movement, something with which Pip Brown heartily disagrees. “I think it’s a shame when it’s girls doing something it’s a ‘movement’, but when guys are doing something it’s just music. It really fucked me off actually.”
– “I wasn’t a social kid. I didn’t like staying in other peoples’ houses or gardens. I still don’t” –
In the midst of all the madness surrounding her ﬁrst album, she also garnered a celebrity fan base containing musicians as likely and unlikely as Kylie Minogue, Courtney Love, Peaches and Tim Burgess, who she recently collaborated with on his new album. “We’ve known each other a few years,” she says,“and I’ve been a big fan since I was16. He was a fan of mine as well. We met and we got on instantly, you know. He just asked, so I came to Manchester and stayed in his house and made some music. It was cool.” Pip is also a self confessed “massive gamer” and collector of retro consoles. ‘My Delirium’ was used on rally game Colin McRae Dirt 2; her previous band Teenager had a track featured on Grand Theft Auto IV. It seems only right that I should ask her if she has ever thought about creating her own gaming character? She laughs.“Deﬁnitely not, no. I’d love to co-create a game with a proper gaming geek and I could be the ideas and things, I’d love that. That would be awesome! I’d probably make myself a dinosaur or something.” Most recently, the release of ‘Anxiety’ has been pushed back once again to June 4th, begging the question, what are Ladyhawke fans still expecting and hoping for? Are they expecting anything at all? If they are and the answer is another record ripe for the indie disco, set to the
synthetic pop brilliance of ‘My Delirium’, that’s not what we have here. ‘Anxiety’ is still for FM radio, but it’s slower, more guitar-driven than synth-lead, and now Pip smoothly purrs with intended sass. It sounds a lot like a Cardigans record, which, in parts, at least, has been worth the wait. Inﬁnitely more comfortable in the conﬁnes of the studio than here, on the road and about to play a show, it seems that Pip – a creator and a pop performer, but also a complete introvert – is constantly ﬁghting a battle with the two sides of herself. Played out to greatest effect in the superﬁcial world of the video created for single ‘Black and White and Blue’, she still has long way to go before conquering her inner demons. Slowly though, she’s ﬁnding solace in her long-term goal of becoming a music producer. “That’s what I want to do, write and produce for other people. That’s the path I’m steering myself down. Because I love being behind the scenes. I mean, I love doing what I do, but I’m not going to be young forever, you know? The age is creeping on.” Set to tour the UK as well as New Zealand and Australia this year, she’s had very little time to think about her next move. “I’ll just be touring basically and there’ll be another UK tour later in the year. So yeah, shows all around the world ‘til I can’t walk anymore, I imagine.” With that this most unstarry of rock stars declares her urge to pop upstairs for a nap and a cup of green tea. Later on stage, lit by glittering fairy lights, a heady transformation takes place, as thrashing at her guitar she ﬂings out songs into the crowd. One thing during the day and another thing at night time.
an overgrown garden in sleepy north London, the most inﬂuential guitarist of his generation can smell wild garlic. “It’s really pungent,” insists Graham Coxon, Blur’s talismanic prodigal son and one-time NME Award winner for best solo artist, as he rummages around the greenery, rubbing shrubs between thumb and foreﬁnger to eke out the scent. Our photographer, who put him here in the ﬁrst place for our shoot, exercises patience. After a vain search, Coxon concedes that it could just be someone cooking next door, a shot is taken and we go inside. But such attention-diverting tactics aren’t surprising: Coxon has, after all, always looked uncomfortable in the spotlight, famously opting out of much of Blur’s champagne swilling, Groucho Club bravado of the mid90s, and even now ploughing on with a musically confrontational solo career while his bandmates are, variously, entering politics, appearing as judges on cheap TV talent shows and, of course, touring the world as the leader of imaginary cartoon bands or with Elizabethan operas. While the fact remains that he is a 43-year-old man still incapable of making eye contact, there’s a perverse honesty to Coxon’s shtick. For one thing, to look at him is almost to know him – in mucky Converse and drainpipes, well-chewed nails and constantly rufﬂed hair, he is the quintessential feetturned-in, socially awkward indie hero, all guitar-god exuberance when everyone’s looking elsewhere but ﬂustered speech when called to say anything himself. But his awkwardness seems more a coping strategy than a cause for sympathy. Indeed, for all his difﬁdence, there’s a stealthy ambition to Coxon’s musical career: it’s worth pointing out that with April’s release of ‘A+E’, his eighth solo record, he has now made more albums alone than with Blur. Even so, being centre of attention isn’t getting any easier. “I’m just not really frontman material, whereas Damon is,” he explains apologetically, when probed about the difference between playing by himself and with his bandmates. “In Blur it’s cool because I can pretty much sit back, concentrate on playing a guitar. But on my own it’s a bit more complicated – I have to sing and play in time and things like that,” – he says this last bit with heartfelt candour, as if revealing a grand secret to performing music – “and I feel a bit like I’m rooted to the spot.” If by “frontman material” Coxon means Albarn’s rabble-rousing berserker routine, then true, he’s certainly not that. However his presentation, both on record and on stage, is certainly enthralling, almost mysterious; Coxon’s is a solo career full of ripples and eddies, off-
kilter rambles and idiosyncrasies and, crucially, little compromise. He comes across like a leader in a band of one, and that can be heard on ‘A+E’ more than any of his other solo work, especially compared with his deeply collaborative, thoughtful and altogether grown-up last album,‘The Spinning Top’.“A+E was made up as I went along, pretty much start to ﬁnish at home, by myself, and was no way as carefully arranged as ‘The Spinning Top’,” he explains. “There were ideas that I wanted to develop later on, but I never got round to it, and then I got used to the songs how they were, so just put on some drums and sang a vocal.” If that sounds simple on paper that’s because on record it is too, mainly.While not an album with any airs or graces, and certainly one that feels stumbled upon rather than painstakingly crafted, ‘A+E’’s repeat-listen value comes via that classic pop trick of offering a hook with something screwy underneath. On ‘Meet & Drink & Pollenate’, the album’s catchiest track, a blaring horn lick draws you in, then crunching sludgy guitars and tinny beats keep you wondering, broadly, what the hell Coxon’s playing at. “It’s just really ratty club music,” he explains dismissively, when asked what he was aiming for with ‘A+E’. “A lot of clubs up north under railway arches have this cavernous, echoing sound, and I thought that’s where I’d like to hear these songs: in clubs full of social inadequates who would have to get very drunk before they would dance. A lot of beer, and Miaow-Mix probably, or whatever it is they have nowadays. But I think ‘A+E’ is real booze music – vodka Red Bull and lager.” If all this rhetoric – the listen-while-pissed, the celebration of the anti-craftsmanship – makes ‘A+E’ sound somewhat disposable, that’s kind of the point, says Coxon. In our 45 minutes together, he proudly calls his latest record “cheap and nasty” several times (and it is, often delightfully so), and is ultra-suspicious of any pop music with ideas above its station. He puts his decision not to paint a front cover for ‘A+E’ – the ﬁrst of his solo LPs where he hasn’t – down to a discomfort with current “pretentious,overprecious”album artwork,and dismisses any attempted grandeur within music as “God, it’s only pop”. But if his solo manifesto seems to be one of zero frill and ultimate authenticity, his job in one of the UK’s most loved bands couldn’t be more different: in July Blur will release a lavishly packaged, premium-priced 21st anniversary box set containing all their albums, remastered, a host of rarities, three concert DVDs and a collectable seven-inch. They will then perform in front of 50,000 people in Hyde Park to close the London Olympics and, if 2009’s triumphant reunion is anything to go by, sign off with ‘The Universal’, perhaps the least cheap and nasty pop song you could ever imagine. Coxon’s ﬁne with the dissonance though. “I’m just good at departmentalising,” he says. “My role in Blur is different, that’s all.” But depending on who you read, that role might not exist for much longer. In April, Damon gave an interview to The Guardian’s John Harris saying that he didn’t think there’d be any more Blur albums, or gigs after August 12th. Couple that with a career-spanning box set that would make a perfect
bookend, Alex and Dave leading happy lives away from music, and everything’s looking one way. “Did he really say that?” asks Coxon, protectively and slightly peeved, when I bring up Albarn’s quotes. “John Harris stabbed him in the back [in that interview]. He reported it in a pretty bullshit way.” Nonetheless, Coxon acknowledges Blur’s form in making ambiguous statements about their future. “Normally, we pick an answer out of a hat,” he explains with a wry smile. “We don’t know what the future is really.” So far, so non-committal, so evasive. But what about Coxon himself? If it were up to him, I ask, would he like to keep the band going? There follows twenty seconds of silence, during which he runs through his entire repertoire of nervous ticks: he chews his ﬁngernails, rufﬂes his hair and chomps down hard on his bottom lip. He purses his lips and blows a slow raspberry, then ﬁnally speaks.“I don’t really know how to answer that.”There’s another pause. “If we could do something really good, then yeah.” As in new material? If he could wave a magic wand, have a new Blur album that sounded great and go and tour it? “I’d do that, yeah. If it was guaranteed to be absolutely fucking brilliant,” he says, staring ﬁxedly at a spot on the carpet, wringing his hands. And that seems to be as much clarity as we’re going to get on the subject, the subtext seeming to be that it’s Albarn’s call: Coxon’s keen, and the others will do what they’re told.
a dangerous game taking anything Alex James says seriously, but one of his more shrewd observations of recent years, in his autobiography, was describing Graham Coxon as “brilliantly artistic but vulnerable”. It almost entirely sums him up. Where James is cocky and irreverent, Rowntree the nerd and Albarn bolshy and aggressively ambitious, Coxon is the sensitive soul, both in Blur and alone, deeply insular and at times painfully self-aware.When his press ofﬁcer pops his head around the door to remind him that it’s time to collect his daughter from school, Coxon tuts to himself “another reckless interview”, furrowing his brow and giving his hair another rufﬂe. It’s not that he’s said anything particularly controversial – he’d like to make another record with Blur, the cheap’n’nasty aesthetic of his new album is deliberate – but the overall impression is of somebody who’d feel far more comfortable were he just left alone with his guitars to keep making imperfect, inconsistent but always fascinating pop music. “I’ve always worried about dying young, that’s nothing new,” he confesses as he gets up, “but these days it’s have I got twenty years? Thirty? Ten? I wake up in the morning thinking ‘how long have I got left to do some really good stuff, to better myself, before I cark it?’.” Coxon’s internal ambition is undeniable, admirable and strangely romantic, and suits his slightly maverick, worry-head personality. He may want his old band back, but if he has to keep bettering himself alone, then so be it.
Graham Coxon ON HIS CHEAP AND NASTY A+E PHOTOGRAPHER -
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EL-P Cancer For Cure
Public Image Ltd This Is PiL (Public Image Ltd Records) By Daniel Dylan Wray. In stores May 28
Ahhh, the dreaded reformation album. Ironically, for something representative of a bands rebirth, it can ultimately be the kiss of death for many a group, sending an artist back to the grave as fans and critics alike batter the soil ﬁrm with a shovel. Many have tried, few have succeeded, like The Stooges who pissed all over a perfect three for three record with the god awful ‘The Weirdness’, and Gang Of Four, whose return LP ‘Content’ had very little new to say for itself. Devo and Magazine have offered fairly solid comeback albums but failed to ignite any real excitement and originality. Most reformation albums wind up in a state of miserable self-parody.Thankfully, ‘This Is PiL’ is an evolution; a step forward with eyes locked straight ahead, no heads turned over their shoulders looking back to past glories. The opening title track is ﬁlled with countless repetitions of John Lydon screaming “This Is PiL” in various forms, from twisted whispers to curdling screams and manic howls. It’s a statement of intent, an almost boisterous introduction that immediately reinstates what a wonderfully original and idiosyncratic singer
John is, whilst also clearly reafﬁrming ‘we’re back’. ‘Deeper Water’ is a delectable slice of guitar pop; ‘Terra Gate’ is as brutal as the group get, a glorious racket of thrashing guitars. Throughout the twelve songs there is an enormity of variety in style and tempo, from the spoken word ‘The Room I am In’, which is backed by gorgeous Neu!-like accompaniments, to the ten minute closer ‘Out Of The Woods’, which is carried along by a river of rolling bass and twisting electronics, PiL still proving they are impossible to pinpoint stylistically. And yet the most refreshing thing about ‘This Is PiL’ is the notion of the album, what it represents and ultimately embodies.There is nothing safe here, it doesn’t rely on conventionality or predictability or even past glories, and it takes the band back to their very essence – being a forward thinking, experimental pop group.The album’s most misguided, ﬂawed moments, such as the bizarre ‘Lollipop Opera’, don’t fail because they play it safe or rest on laurels, it’s because the experiment fails somewhat. But at least there is an experiment, true to the band’s all-embracing attitude of creating new material, taking risks and accepting the possibility of getting it wrong. It’s an admirable and revitalising stance that leaves you asking the rarest of questions to a reformed group – what’s next?
El-P hasn’t changed.‘Cancer For Cure’ is a shirked, claustrophobic, paranoid clutter of rhyming conspiracy theories. It’s Def Jux to the bones, ﬂexing brash, noisy, errormessage beats, heavy on beefy, toughguy rhymes and almost entirely void of pleb-pleasing hooks.The rappers, as usual, sound like they’re having a fucking blast pulverizing through chaos.There was something mystic about El-P’s reawakening and subsequent return to the fold, like he’d arrive swollen with new angst, anxieties and stories – but nah, this feels right at home, eschewing any pacing or tension for a full-blown physical assault, condensed into a single, brutal act. “I am Sam /I am known to go h.a.m. / the full retard / playing taps on that keytar / in a benz or a bea-mar,” he spits over a squelched-shut trumpet on the cyberspace-broiled ‘The Full Retard’. A wide-eyed Killer Mike, who’s just released a different paranoid, government-busting record with ‘R.A.P. Music’, assassinates a concentrated, computer-trash chug with vicious focus and “smuckers/ motherfucker” strokes. When El-P is working unassisted, though, he ﬂexes his usual complete indifference with rapping on beat, and crams every bar he gets with the entire breadth of his lexicon.When the overstuffage descends on an already-gorged instrumental like ‘True Story’ it almost feels like selfparody. It’s why, in parts,‘Cancer For Cure’ can feel too excavated – like a crisp depiction of “the future of hiphop” painted in ’98.The stormy, steely drones and security-camera rhetoric can feel like the Brooklyner is compensating for something. But that doesn’t stop it from being weirdly charming through its relentless sneer. If nothing else, it will remind you of the best times you’ve had listening to El-P, back when his perspective felt cutting edge.
Photography by Phil Sharp
(Turnstile) By Luke Winkie. In stores May 28
Kill For Love
(Mexican Summer) By Chris Watkeys. In stores June 11
(Italians Do It Better) By Reef Younis. In stores now
(Paw Tracks) By Olly Parker. In stores June 11
(Sub Pop) By D K Goldstein. In stores May 28
(Secretly Canadian) By Chris Watkeys. In stores May 21
‘Hour Fortress’ opens Light Asylum’s eponymous LP with a serving of bolt-together electropop, a sub‘Blue Monday’ feel and theatrically deep vocals from the duo’s intriguing singer Shannon Funchess. And it’s her actor-ly range of vocal styles that distinguishes this pair from any run-of-the-mill synth twosome.The lip-curling punk snarl employed on ‘Pope Will Roll’ could very easily, in the wrong hands, sound just plain silly, but here it spikes your interest. On the beautiful ‘Shallow Tears’, Funchess then sounds like Tina Turner aping Editors’Tom Smith, while in ‘Sins Of The Flesh’ her voice drips with pain and is then antagonistic and seedy. And yet it’s this heavy reliance on the power of the vocals that exposes Light Asylum’s musical shortfalls, set as they are to anonymous synth cuts, dispassionately booked out from the bog-standard electropop library.
Johnny Jewel is a man with a glittering track record of applying a gilded pop touch. Co-founder of the Italians Do It Better label, specialising in the kind of effortlessly enigmatic electro Prince might make if Kitsune reeled him in, ‘Kill For Love’ is a score of luxurious, panoramic pop beauty. And after being controversially overlooked for scoring the ﬁlm Drive, it could be construed as a glorious way to settle a score. After all, revenge is best served as a lingering, neon-lit journey ﬂoating through silent city highways and ghosting through dead city streets. An album that both blooms with hope and dreams and withers under the slow second half chill, ‘Kill For Love’ tempts with sweet vocals that crystallise in slow, glorious subtle builds. However you listen to this album, it’s simply a majestic effort and a welcome return.
I’m a terrible fan of lo-ﬁ, that horrible ‘almost genre’ of music that sounds like a demo and celebrates the incompetent. I can’t get enough of it, I just love a good shambles.This album – the second from Dent May – deﬁnitely sounds like a demo, but not like a Sentridoh collection of sound collages and acoustic shufﬂes, not like early Ariel Pink where Hall and Oates struggled to escape an Animal Collective b-sides album, but instead like a collection of tunes seemingly based around garageband pre-sets. It’s the album of a trier that wants to be Prince and hopes to ﬁnd beauty in reaching for the impossible, but instead produces a digital squelch that wants to be pop but doesn’t seem to deal in hooks. I don’t want to be one of those guys who has a pop because of a change in direction, but please bring back the ‘magniﬁcent ukulele’, it suited you.
“King Tuff should not be inspected or even listened to with critical ears,” according to Bobby Harlow, producer of this eponymous second LP.That negates our job, so let’s give it a go anyway. Kyle Thomas’s new album opens with ‘Anthem’, an unsurprisingly big track that’s a cacophony of biting guitars and rhythmic raps of the snare.This isn’t a theme that runs through the album, though. Tambourines ﬁll the plod-along ballad of ‘Unusual World’, which Thomas croons over in such a way you expect a ’60s girl group to kick in with some doo-wop ooohs. ‘Swamp of Love’ is then a semiacoustic number featuring vocals that slur à la Dylan and ﬁnd a happy medium between sounding drunk and meaningful. Essentially, it’s pleasant, catchy, ﬂuid stuff; modishly lo-ﬁ and easy on the ears. Unfortunately, it is also void of any real surprise.
Some of the tracks on ‘Passage’ – the debut album by married duo Exitmusic – feel like post-rock vignettes, the grandeur and majesty of that genre compressed into bitesized, accessible chunks. ‘Stars’, for instance, lacks the length but has some of the character of a Godspeed You Black Emperor! track; deceptively slow and dirgelike to begin with, it evolves into something urgent yet indistinct, its half-developed nuances like shadows dancing on the periphery of your vision. Elsewhere there’s the pounding drums and cracked vocals of the slightly Arcade Fireesque ‘White Noise’, while the crashing waves of ‘Sparks Of Light’ close the record to Aleksa Palladino’s lisping, breathy vocals that wash over an echoing backdrop that keeps threatening to drop into a full-on apocalyptic climax. By turns ﬁery and reﬂective, this is a superb debut.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat Jazz Mind (Upset The Rhythm) By Daniel Dylan Wray. In stores now
As far as introductions to an album go, you can’t get much more of a bulldozer than ‘Sermon’ – a ﬁlthy, industrial chug fronted by screaming, manic howls of “This is my Sermon”, over and over again, that sound like the violent cries of Future of The Left.The results will either have you kneeling before them or send you running for the hills. Stylistically, this debut album from Baltimore’s most abbrasive clunk punk duo is a jittery, twitchy, incoherent mess, but its all the better for it. It’s wildly idiosyncratic and deeply original. Often you think it’s going to settle in one territory before it springboards into another – John Maus to Beat Happening in a ﬂash, Suicide to Chain & The Gang in a drumbeat.Then it’ll slip into Liars at their most deranged. Songs barely ever break two minutes, so there is no time to get comfortable anyway. It’s a pacey joyride of a record, deliciously primitive and a wonderful reminder of the effective power of frugality in music.
AL BUMS 06/10
All Of Us, Together
We’ll Be The Moon
(Lefse) By Chal Ravens. In stores June 4
(Vertigo) By DK Goldstein. In stores now
(Polyvinyl) By Matthias Scherer. In stores June 4
(Underwater Peoples) By Stuart Stubbs. In stores June 4
(Tape Club) By Chris Watkeys. In stores May 28
Teen Daze comes from British Columbia’s picturesque Fraser Valley, not far from Vancouver. He got his degree from a Bible college and likes to keep his music – three EPs and now this full-length for Lefse – separate from his daily life, not even giving out his full name. Despite the Teen Daze moniker, he cites literature and basketball as bigger inﬂuences than clubbing or drugs (he abstains), so it’s no surprise to hear that ‘All Of Us, Together’ is a warmly inclusive and exceptionally polite record. Inspired by an encyclopaedia of ‘Utopian Visions’, he taps into the non-committal ambience of chillwave and adds a danceﬂoor pulse that’s more Manitoba than Manumission.The gorgeous ‘Erbstuck’ touches on club-ready euphoria, but elsewhere, like on the unfortunately titled ‘The New Balearic’, he elegantly scrapes the rungs on his way down.
Listening to Fixers is a bit like being slapped in the face by Animal Collective, which, although is cheating, is no bad thing. From the initial, choppy vocals of opener ‘Majesties Ranch’ to the closing ukulele on lullaby ‘Good Night’, it’s uncanny. Along the way, however, this Oxford outﬁt pull in inﬂuences from ’80s synth-pop – especially on ‘Alexandra’, which shimmers like a Tears For Fears track, and ‘Amsterdam’ with its reverberating drums – and ‘Six’ era Mansun, who are hinted at in the erratic tempos of ‘Dais Flowers’, while Congolese soukous shines through the chants and tropical twinges of ‘Floating Up’. Fronted by Jack Goldstein, the ﬁve guys of Fixers reared their heads back in 2010 and you can see why it’s taken nearly two years to come up with this.They’ve been polishing their songs to ensure a sinuous, hard-to-fault debut.
‘Celebration Rock’ starts and ends with ﬁreworks.The 35 minutes inbetween are a barnstorming mix of driving rhythms, gargantuan hooks and glistening guitars, as well as lyrics celebrating friendships born out of drinking and singing the night away. Having essentially broken up even before their ﬁrst album was released, Japandroids have condensed their inﬂuences (Husker Du, Black Sabbath, Superchunk) and personalities into an almost perfect record.The lyrics are more reﬁned than on ‘PostNothing’, but not pretentiously so. The pop-punky ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’ channels early Springsteen and the glorious, singalong climax ‘The House That Heaven Built’ contains the impossibly romantic lines: “When they love you/and they will/ tell them all, they’ll love in my shadow”. Japandroids never intended to become the world’s best rock band, but with this album they might just be.
Portland quartet The Memories made this, their debut album, in a bedroom, on drugs and in love, and boy does it sound like it. It’s as soppy and romantic as it is louche and stoned, no-ﬁ to the point of being as sonically rich as a birthday card that plays a tune when you open it. It’d make it frustrating-toimpossible to sit through if the songs themselves weren’t so charmingly innocent – far more so than titles like ‘Took Drugs (Went Insane)’ suggest. Just two tracks break the two-minute mark, but this isn’t rattling garage punk, and within its 19 doe-eyed minutes the band manage to resemble The Ramones at their most sentimental (‘What You Want To Do Tonight?’), The Beatles’ ‘I Should Have Known Better’ (‘Higher’) and – nearly – Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ (‘Baby (You’re Totally Crazy)’).Well worth putting up with the tape hiss for.
An excess of self-conscious, deliberate zaniness can often prove to be more irritating than interesting. Laurel Collective tread the tightrope between the two, sometimes erring and plunging, sometimes excelling.There are so many inﬂuences and musical reference points here that to list them all would take if not an entire issue, at least a double page spread. So just imagine LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip presiding over a huge school hall where infantilised versions of Friendly Fires, Field Music, Belle & Sebastian and the Beach Boys bash away manically on swathes of instruments. Every now and then, as on the brilliant ‘Flame Thrower’, the resulting cacophony aligns into some kind of order, and what we hear resolves into a kind of quirky indie built with the big, bold, primarycoloured building blocks of pop. Quirkily good stuff.
O. Children Apnea (Deadly People) By Nathan Westley. In stores May 28
First surfacing with a sombre attitude and a monochrome wardrobe to match, comically gothic London band O Children soon earned themselves a reputation for creating Joy Division styled post-punk that was as depressingly dour as it was depressingly unoriginal.Two years after the release of their eponymous debut album, though, they are in a different place, much more complex in structure and richer in detail that sees them reach new sonic heights. ‘Apnea’ remains a gloomy affair, but one which snakes around the back roads of doom-ﬁlled indie from the 1980s. Opener ‘Holy Wood’ is Echo & The Bunnymen duelling with Simpleminds, while elsewhere The Cure drip onto the album.Tobi O’Kandi’s distinctive baritone voice still towers as tall as he 6ft 7” frame, his Nick Cave-ian overtones at their richest on ‘PT Cruiser’, which, like ‘I know (You Love Me)’, is striving for the same ballpark as The Horrors recent output. Impressively, it’s not too far off.
Liars WIXIW (Mute) By Reef Younis. In stores June 4 From the forced isolation of a log cabin to the lockup underneath a Los Angeles overpass, Liars’ dedication to mixing things up is admirable. Six albums in and still prepared to hole themselves up with a suite of unknown digital programmes to fathom and a determination to collaborate and work through things together, ‘WIXIW’ is the fearless, direct testimony to that conviction. Far less tense and wracked with a sense of impending anxiety, this is an album that’s electronic heavy and sample-based. And although there are some tender moments on the swim of ‘The Exact Colour of Doubt’ and the wilting ‘Who is the Hunter’, Liars’ intention to drive technology into the heart of their music has some reward. ‘Octagon’ is the techno-mutterings of ‘Kid A’ era Radiohead, the doubt, anxiety and mild euphoria on ‘No.1 Against the Rush’ makes for a solid understated contrast, and The Rapture meets NiN of ‘Brats’ deals a dose of droning industrial atmospherics against a buzzsaw beat that just won’t quit. Self-confessed slaves to change, the band are still prone to arty moments of wild experimentation, as on the Soap & Skin nightmare of title track ‘WIXIW’, but, as always, Liars’ penchant for smokescreens and mystiﬁcation maintains their hallmark allure. Preening or perplexing, Liars are still one of the bravest bands around.
In Our Heads
(Domino) By Sam Walton. In stores June 11
(Outer Battery) By Matthias Scherer. In stores June 4
Hot Chip’s last album, 2010’s terriﬁc ‘One Life Stand’, found the band – four ﬁfths of whom were recent newlyweds – loved up to euphoric effect.Two years on, the tone is more regretful: “Have we taken all we’re good for? Have we registered our love in vain?” sings Alexis Taylor on ‘How Do You Do’, setting a theme for the rest of ‘In Our Heads’ that would shake the resolve of even the most ardent romantics – while track titles like ‘Now There Is Nothing’ and ‘Let Me Be Him’ speak for themselves.Thankfully, though, if Hot Chip’s love lives are on the wane, their songwriting, consistently idiosyncratic and playful here, certainly isn’t. ‘Flutes’ and ‘Night & Day’ ﬁzz with 2-step energy and humour, ‘Always Been Your Love’ is a charming slice of classic British soul, and while the result is perhaps a more grown-up, less giddy ride than ‘One Life Stand’, it’s still just as fun, infectious and entertaining – no mean feat for a break-up LP.That is what this is, right?
J Mascis has an ear for a tune.True, Dinosaur Jr were mainly known for their punishing sludge-grunge, but there was always a pop sensibility lurking beneath the feedback. Mascis’ 2010 solo album was full of gorgeous acoustic ditties with hummable hooks, but anyone putting on ‘Heavy Blanket’ expecting to hear the white-haired wizard live out his melodic side again is in for a shock.There’s a barely credible back story to this project (involving stoner marching band members, a swimming accident and Eddie Vedder), but what you need to know is this: ‘Heavy Blanket’ is 37 minutes of overdub and vocal-free, dirty as fuck 70s psych rock, whose guitar parts basically consist of one epic solo. The thunderingly tight rhythm section is slightly evocative of a less ﬁerce (but equally as lo-ﬁ) Lightning Bolt, and Mascis has abandoned the honey-coated lead guitar sound usually employed on Dinosaur Jr for a screechy, ﬁlthy overdrive. One for the diehard fans, sure – but also surprisingly fun.
A L BUMS 06/10
Friends Manifest! (Lucky Numbers) By Austin Laike. In stores May 28 Just look at Friends.The sassy, hip girls; the bright colours; the older dudes at the back, certainly too old for a cap like that.They remind you of New Young Pony Club, don’t they? Well, they should do, because the similarities don’t end with simple aesthetics. ‘Manifest!’ is the Brooklyn band’s debut album – a collection of cool disco pop in a new wave box that’ll please the indie fans too. Most like NYPC is the fact that Friends, really, have two killer tracks; their ‘Ice Cream’ and ‘Get Lucky’ being ‘Friend Crush’ and ‘I’m His Girl’, the ﬁrst of which saunters across the danceﬂoor like a Lykke Li track you can move to, while ‘I’m His Girl’ is more lust-ﬁlled Metronomy, and deﬁnitely more about its bass riff than its hokey ‘trust the one you’re with’ sentiment. On both – and throughout the rest of the album– singer Samantha Urbani sounds as good as she looks, well aware that she can have anyone in the club she chooses. But while the band’s recurring carnival spirit (plenty of tracks are rammed with tropical instruments and rhythms) and detours into ’90s FM pop (‘A Thing Like This’ could easily have been sung by Gloria Estefan or Janet Jackson 20 years ago) prove Friends’ musical prowess to be far above their hype, when was the last time you listened to ‘Fantastic Playroom’? Although solid enough, ‘Manifest!’ probably has the same staying power.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs
(Bella Union) By Olly Parker. In stores June 4
Trouble (Polydor) By Reef Younis. In stores June 11
The Walkmen’s sixth album in ten years doesn’t rip up the rulebook, but those of you paying attention are probably aware that they wrote a fair chunk of it anyway, so who cares? Fair-weather friends still looking for the follow-up to ‘The Rat’ can go and download ‘Heartbreaker’. “It’s not the singer it’s the song”, sings Hamilton Leithauser before the track reverts back to a cracking guitar hook.Title track ‘Heaven’ is another glorious pop moment. Mournful guitars mixed with uplifting melodies make it a little less obviously the stuff of hits, all for the better. By the end, however, ‘Heaven’ peters out and fails to live up to its early promise. It contains some of The Walkmen’s strongest songs yet, original ideas and plenty of sonic variety, but whereas some tracks work, others feel halfbaked. ‘No One Ever Sleeps’ is perhaps a metaphor for the album itself, containing strong moments before ending without ever really realising its true potential. A missed opportunity perhaps, but still a ﬁne album.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs can’t help but invite happy adoration. Bouncing between blazes of effervescent colour and genre, complete with dinosaur dancers and elaborate homemade headdresses, Orlando Higginbottom’s fantastical, carefree presence behind the controls gives TEED the character to carry the vibrant amalgamation of mainstream-friendly big beat, electro energy and understated vocals. Intent on making a record that would outlive ﬂeeting danceﬂoor trends, ‘Trouble’ has a welcoming accessibility that owes much to the balance of old and new. Lifting singles from previous EPs, tracks like ‘Garden’ and ‘Household Goods’ add familiarity but still sound fresh and clean. And with the grind of ‘American Dream Part 2’, the understated slow build of ‘Closer’ and the starry-eyed synth on ‘You Need Me On My Own’, ‘Trouble’ is an album rich with production values, enduring intent and exploration.You can almost see the colours.
Bo Ningen & Damo Suzuki
Man Without Country
Breaking Away (Young & Lost Club) By Nathan Westley. In stores June 4 Though singer/guitarist Sammy Lewis confesses that Being There’s debut album is a four-man vehicle designed to supply a nostalgic trip back to his teens years, this eleventrack sonic expedition never verges on being overly retro.While opener ‘Punch The Clock’ is awash with rich, fuzz-drenched shoegaze overtones that coil their way around a solid and simpliﬁed JAMC styled core, it is a template that the album soon swerves away from. ‘Back To The Future’ is no rock’n’roll ode to Marty Mcﬂy but instead a brief two-minute burst of Sugar-hugging, melancholic pop, before a casual strut through the sounds that populated early ’90s American college radio continues. Traces of The Lemonheads’ populist melodies and bursts of Dinosaur Jr’s guitar breaks help make this album a fast paced yet ultimately charming ride, pepped with a youthful exuberance.
Foreign Affair Conﬁdential (So I Buried) By John Ford. In stores now
While the weird wails of Damo Suzuki – the voice of krautrock luminaries Can – have never failed to translate from live stage to tape, Bo Ningen’s psychedelic brilliance has never fully reached our home stereos. An easy ﬁx, you’d think – play a gig, record it and release it, unhinged monster riffs an’ all. That’s what ‘Foreign Affair Conﬁdential’ is – a live record, although not of the band’s material. A one-take deal of improvisational psych noise, this is, unfortunately, more a Suzuki release than it is a Bo Ningen one. Needless to say, made up on the ﬂy, it’s completely bonkers, equal parts abrasive walls of sound, convulsing wah-wah and Suzuki’s abandoned sermons. Occasionally the friends ﬁnd what they’re looking for – a moment of synchronised beauty amongst the melee. But largely it’s for hardcore noise fans only.
(Souterrain Transmission) By Matthias Scherer. In stores June 4
By Sam Walton. In stores June 4
(Ninja Tune) By Chal Ravens. In stores June 11
David Bowie ruined going to Berlin to record an album forever. Nobody is realistically going to top his Low/Heroes/Lodger triple whammy, but still bands ﬂock to the German capital for its cheap rent and alt vibes. Crocodiles, the Cali nu-gaze favourites, also spent a month in East Berlin recording their third album, with presentable results.The quintet have kept the best elements from 2010’s ‘Sleep Forever’ (the krauty, druggy haze and the big choruses) and added a sense of joyous abandon to the mix. ‘Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)’ has a huge, harmony-infused hook, and ‘Bubblegum Trash’ is dumb but fun noise-pop.The saccharine ‘No Black Clouds for Dee Dee’ falls ﬂat and ‘Hung Up On a Flower’ peters out quickly despite the latter-day Shins feel, but turn ‘Endless Flowers’ up loud enough and you’ll hardly notice.
Man Without Country are actually two men from South Wales, with a fondness for the shimmering, glacial sweeps of M83 and Sigur Ros – which is just as well, given that they’ve hired M83 and Sigur Ros producer Ken Thomas to mix their debut LP. Thomas appears to have done the job he was hired for: ‘Foe’ has towering peaks, washes upon washes of blissed-out synth and generally indecipherable vocals swathed in reverb. Occasionally it all comes together to create huge, sad monsters of songs, not least in the impressive opening and closing tracks. Elsewhere, though, the album’s maximalism comes at the expense of musical sensitivity, and leaves it gasping for some subtlety amongst the majesty, not least on the penultimate epic ‘Parity’, which ends up sounding more like 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ than the bleak, soaring ballad to which it seems to aspire.
This second album from art-pop genre-blenders The Invisible is an 11-song threnody; an ode of mourning following the death of frontman Dave Okumu’s mother. Named after her, ‘Rispah’ is bookended by a loose choir of African voices like those Okumu says he heard at the wake, articulating the sorrow and joy entangled in this record. As you’d expect from these craftsmen, it’s lusciously produced – drums ﬂutter and fade as Okumu’s breathily angelic voice drifts into a limbo between life and inﬁnity. The mournful electronics owe much to Radiohead (and the guitar on ‘Surrender’ is straight out of ‘In Rainbows’), but the decayed funkiness built up from distorted drums and shivering guitars is uncannily voguish, echoing the exhumed ’80s R&B we’ve heard lately on records by Kindness and others.
Foe (Lost Ballon)
Sigur Ros Valtari (Parlophone) By Stuart Stubbs. In stores May 28
Sigur Rós’ 2005 breakthrough album ‘Takk’ – made famous by sound-tracking Planet Earth and footage of ﬂowers ﬂitting with the sunrise – remains the only album I listen to on planes.Wide-screen, weightless and completely ethereal, it’s sky music, as euphoric as it is heart breaking, as it reminds us of the world’s beauty and how insigniﬁcant our place in it is.There’s a reason Sigur Rós are featured on nature documentaries – their music sounds like it’s been made by whales. After 2008’s disappointing, more conventional ‘ Meo Suo í Eyrum Vio Spilum Endalaust’,‘Valtari’ returns to ‘Takk’’s sparse, cinematic make up. It’s perhaps ever-so-slightly more ‘up’, but it’s no less evocative of life’s big questions, full of xylophone sparkles and swells of vocals sang in a mixture of Icelandic and the band’s own shrieking language.You’ll still not understand what Sigur Rós are saying, but the fact that it still seems to be very important indeed (and beyond words in any case) makes them, once again, as wondrous as the wild.
LIVE AT LEEDS Various venues, Leeds 05.05.2012 By Kate Partin Photography by Danny Payne
Over 500 festivals will take place across the country this summer, so you have to be pretty special to hold the crowd’s attention. Based in venues around the city, Live at Leeds is the perfect chance to dip your toe in without a muddy ﬁeld or soggy tent in sight. Now in its sixth year, this particular urban festival has followed the likes of Manchester’s In The City and Brighton’s Great Escape, expanding its scope with a programme of conferences that offer tips to those wanting a career in the music industry. There’s a regular football tournament too. It’s a relaxed atmosphere at the Cockpit as we drift from the French ﬁlm cool of Garnets to the upbeat sunshine choruses of the not-greatbut-not-bad Hooded Fang. There are masses at the O2 Academy, though, who’ve congregated for local favourites I Like Trains. Debuting tracks from their new album, they are calm and assured, singer Dave Martins voice rumbling with steady gravitas. Muddying the boundaries between electro and Nick Cave, they keep the
crowd their willing captives ‘til the last. Across town we keep the ﬂavour local with Ellen and the Escapades at the Holy Trinity Church, who also pull an impressive crowd.The church is near packed out for a glimpse of their warm retro-folk sound. It’s heart lifting stuff, so it’s time to check out the grungier side of Leeds, squeezing into the sweaty conﬁnes of Milo for punk sensations Kleine Schweine. Ellen and The Escapades were pretty and cuddly; this is plain loud as the band thrash around the tiny stage until they are battered and bloody. Songs like ‘You Can Call Me Albania’ give a hefty dose of ball-bag rock’n’roll that the festival was in need of. Toy – the psych pop band formed out of the ashes of Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong – is way too busy and it looks like a trend that will continue into the night as the bands get bigger. ’s show at Holy Trinity soon has people being turned away too, but for those inside ‘Breeze Blocks’ is particularly worth the cram, as is a
restrained version of ‘Blood Flood’ that wrenches up the tension until it snaps. Queuing has always been a problem at this festival and the last minute cancellation of headliner Marina and the Diamonds only adds to the pressure. Across the other side of town at Leeds Met University, Lianne La Havas is an oasis of calm. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, she welcomes us into her world with gently plucked guitars and soft, smoky tones that melt away our worries. Traditionally, the Brudenell Social Club is the best place to round off the night, in past years it playing host to raucous sets from Mariachi el Bronx and Young Knives.While Ghostpoet doesn’t quite ﬁt the mould, he certainly is cool, stalking the stage to his subtle mix of hip-hop and mellowed out DnB. It takes a little time, but soon the crowd are piling onto the stage to join in with his tribute to drunkenness, ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’. Live at Leeds may test your patience, but it always delivers.
GRIMES XOYO, Old Street, London 09.05.2012 By Samuel Ballard Photography by Elinor Jones
Claire Boucher is, by all deﬁnitions, a modern day polymath.With her expertise ranging from videographer to painter, she is the quintessential allencompassing artist.Tonight she calls into London on her European tour, where excitement around the Canadian-born star – aided by magazine covers and TV appearances – has meant the show is well oversubscribed.Walking on stage, dressed in bumblebee apparel, ﬂanked by two greased backing dancers, Grimes politely orders the lights to be turned down before launching into ‘Inﬁnite Love Without Fulﬁlment’, the intro from her debut 4AD release, ‘Visions’.What follows is an extraordinary 50-minute cocktail, one part electro-pop and three parts rave.The hype machine is fully justiﬁed in its stratospheric predictions. Firing through ‘Vanessa’, ‘Circumambient’ and ‘Be a Body’, the two shakers behind her ﬂail in time to the beat of their own respective drums.Things reaches a heady orgasm when ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Genesis’ are played backto-back and two other male dancers enter the stage; now an orgy of electro and limbs.This is Montreal’s answer to Kylie Minogue, and east London loves it.
THE HORRORS Chinnery’s, Southend-on-Sea 09.05.2012 By Stuart Stubbs
As part of Jack Daniels’ JD Roots series,The Horrors have returned to crusty semi-coastal town, Southendon-Sea – a place they’ve always been at odds with. An overwhelming minority aside, the townsmen of Southend are not music fans, and where hardly anyone knew of the band when they were bombing through 10-minute live sets in 2005, there’s a fair chance that just as many locals still have no idea a.) who The Horrors are, and b.) that they are in fact from the area. It’s just that kind of place. In part, tonight’s competition-winners-only audience appears to prove the point, bemused and static.They do erupt between songs though, awoken from the recurring onslaught of twisted noise carved mostly from the guitar of Joshua Third. Bassist Rhys Webb seems immune to the brutal sound; a spinning top that baggily dances to highlights from ‘Primary Colours’ and ‘Skying’. Sadly, ‘Strange House’ remains the band’s neglected ﬁrst born, though, even at a show this brash and loud, even back in the town where it all started. And perhaps that sums up The Horrors best – the band that never really belonged, and one that still refuses to conform.
LIVE 01 Mad Colours Photographer: Danny Cook 02 Gabriel Bruce Photographer: Adam Shoesmith
CATE LE BON
Village Underground, Shoreditch 23.04.2012 By Chal Ravens
Oporto, Leeds 25.04.2012 By Kate Parkin
Old Queen’s Head, Islington 26.04.2012 By Stuart Stubbs
Marking the release of her rather excellent second album, ‘CYRK’, the mop-topped Cate Le Bon is softly spoken in her chatter but surprisingly strong-lunged on the mic, adding a spiky vigour to her usually more fragile bedroom-pop songs.The Welsh songwriter spent last year touring America solo in support of St Vincent, but this time her backing band of friends and collaborators suits her as she gets stuck into the guitar while a ramshackle ruckus kicks up and the beat stays steady but loose, like the best kind of ‘60s garage bands. White horses ﬂicker into Siamese twin skeletons in the background, providing a jarring visual addendum to some deceptively odd lyrics: “If it pours in the daytime, we’ll have to stay indoors / I’ll milk the time you’re sat with me.” Any folky comparisons encouraged by her lo-ﬁ recording style can be binned, though – the Velvets-y shufﬂe of ‘Falcon Eyed’ and the gloriously ugly ﬁnal bars of closer ‘Ploughing Out Part 2’ are pure rock’n’roll in the whimsical vein of her label boss Gruff Rhys, while her solo encore is a deliberately dirgey and weird thing, her voice clashing joyously with harsh organ keys. Bon, you might say.
Founding members of the newly emerging ‘Meat Scene’ of Shefﬁeld (yes, meat), Mad Colours sport their pork medallions with pride. Lovers of the macabre and the obscene, these former members of local band The Heebie Jeebies also make gloriously upbeat pop melodies. Emerging in a chaotic scramble of guitars and splashing drums, ‘Antique Guerilla’ spins around quicker than an ADHD kid mainlining Tizer.The crowd stand in happy bafﬂement as song after song whizzes past in a rainbow blur. Suffering from the equivalent of music kleptomania, the band snatch up ’60s beat band riffs, punk-rock shit stirring and laidback afro-beats, and thrust them all together with irreverent glee. When ﬁnally the crowd catches hold they are sent ﬂying through the frantic hum of ‘Hot Wet Sticky Flowers’. At times the banter is self consciously ridiculous and singer Owen Adams’ rasping drawl borders on grating, but the sheer arm twirling joy of songs like ‘Verda Hugo’ see this quickly forgotten. Less Shefﬁeld bands being tarred with the inevitable Arctic Monkeys brush is allowing a fresher sound to break through in this city. Distilling the bitterness of punk with loose-limbed ska, Mad Colours are an energetic force to be reckoned with. Get ready to embrace your inner idiot, the good times are back.
Tonight feels like that episode of Made In Chelsea where a vampire turns up and Spencer loses his shit. You know the one – the ‘indie’ one, in a pub rather than a bistro off the King’s Road.That is to say that tonight’s audience is impossibly good looking, youngbut-not-kids, all swept back hair and Hugh Grant glasses, and that in front of them is the gaunt-faced, Count-ish Gabriel Bruce, baritone booming, ladies blouse on, seducing to the furthest corners of the room. From his opening, baroque take on Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid’, everyone, posh and otherwise, is impressed to say the least, and so we should be – Bruce is an incredible entertainer, along the lines of a less spoilt Patrick Wolf doing Simple Minds; a budding Nick Cave ﬂirting with spooky pop music, with a skeletal band of 3 – two female backing singers in matching outﬁts and hand gestures, and some guy on a laptop and keyboard. Bruce himself sings but also dances, and his dancing is as important to his spell as macabre tracks like ‘Sleep Paralysis’ and how deeply he croons them out. He moves not like nobody’s watching, but rather like everyone is, starting with awkward, daddish sidesteps and erupting into violent, off-beat shape-pulling. He ends with what seems to be his ‘Dancing In The Dark’. Spencer and everyone furiously cheer, especially as a dance routine with Bruce’s singers breaks out.You should see this guy.
TRAILER TRASH TRACYS
A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS
Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen 08.05.2012 By Martin Cordiner
Cargo, Shoreditch, London 08.05.2012 By Olly Parker
Music without a centre can sometimes be hard to engage with. It’s not that this London four-piece have no melodies or hooks, it’s more that to remove one piece of the whole would leave this bulging Hoxton crowd with something that just wouldn’t make sense.This puts Trailer Trash Tracys forever on the edge, balanced between an otherworldly, effortless groove and a wilful obtuseness that can grate. By and large they do a pretty good job of bringing sometimes complex debut album‘Ester’ to life, their combination of Jimmy Lee’s ever changing pedal-ﬁltered guitar sounds and Dayo James’ complex drum rhythms capturing the attention. Add additional electronic beats, Adam Jaffrey’s trebly, melodic bass and a spangly-jacketed Suzanne Aztoria, using her voice more as a fourth instrument mixed into the whole rather than a focal point, and you have a dark-hearted Cocteau Twins or a soundtrack to a Donnie Darko sequel. If identity is what you’re after then they have it in spades. But whereas a crowd can sometimes remain stock-still in awe, they can also stand not quite knowing what to do with what they’re hearing.Tonight feels like it’s moving towards the latter. Let’s hope the dreamy ‘Candy Girl’ and the ambitious star-gazing of ‘Dies in 55’ lead the way, because if they do then this deliberately out-there bunch could become something truly impossible to ignore.
The lights are off and it’s on. Loud, bottom-heavy and back-lit with ﬂashing white light, A Place to Bury Strangers begin their assault on my senses. As the bass rumbles through my gut and slowly collapses my insides, I realise I am surrounded by an audience gawping in silent devotion. At the end, as we leave feeling cleansed and happy, I realise the reason they called their forthcoming album ‘Worship’ – tonight is akin to a holy experience. It’s not worship in a submissive sense, however.We do not devolve responsibility to the band, believe they will change our lives or imagine that they are the saviours of our slowly decaying part of the music scene. It is a knowing worship; we are aware that they manipulate us using frequency and strobe, but my lord, when you’re there in the space, it is mind-blowingly effective and a welcome respite from the outside world. Like worship, you either do it or you don’t. If you like your melody buried under a layer of noise played hard and fast, then there’s a chance you’ll like A Place to Bury Strangers; if you don’t, you won’t. Non-believers are unlikely to change their minds and start attending church, but a fair few will, upon hearing the gospel, become converts and spend one evening every year or so joined with us in silent prayer.
City Hall, Shefﬁeld 27.04.2012 By Daniel Dylan Wray
White Heat, Soho, London 24.04.2012 By Samuel Ballard
Skate Central, Shefﬁeld 05.05.2012 By Daniel Dylan Wray
After ‘quitting’ music and immersing himself in writing for a few years, Ryan Adams has now come out of hibernation with quite a bang, heading back to the UK for the third time in twelve months.There is something almost circular about Adams’ career now – as he sits alone on the stage with nothing but a guitar, harmonica, piano and a notebook you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were seeing him embarking on his ﬁrst solo tour, taking ‘Heartbreaker’ to the masses, which is reinforced further by the heavy delving into said album.Tonight is the ﬁrst time in the eight years of seeing Adams that he has played an almost identical set in two consecutive trips I’ve taken to see him; perhaps after years of toying with and occasionally frustrating his audience, he is giving them what they want – the hits. His voice ﬂuctuates between the delicate whispers of ‘Please Do Not Let Me Go’ and ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ to the more seething and scorching takes of ‘The End’ or ‘English Girls Approximately’. He’s never seemed more at ease and while the danger and unpredictability of his performances have now gone out the window, they’ve been replaced with a beauty and consistency he’s always hinted at being capable of delivering.
With homage to rap’s Golden Age, the new vein of Sub-Pop’s output is picking up where the tangent faded twenty or so years ago. Now, THEESatisfaction are riding the crest of hip-hop’s newest and most provocative wave. More De La Soul than DMX, the musically (and romantically) entwined pair of Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White tonight court Soho’s Madame JoJo’s on a night in which subversion rules. Making their entrance on stage in a synchronised swerve, they ﬁre through ‘Game, Blouses’, ‘Reagan’ and ‘Een Sah Ewe’ without skipping a beat, Irons understated in a baseball cap and denim shirt and Harris-White in a tank top, leopard skin patterns and a glorious afro.The crowd, witnessing the lightening quick transition from track-to-track – and the tangible aural aroma of jazz-fusion hip-hop – are fully engaged, receptive and willing the pair on. “We are the queens of the stoned aged,” they declare in unison.Tonight, as they rattle through an extensive sixteen-track set-list, they take deepest, darkest Soho away from an April night and somewhere far, far away. After appearing on the Shabazz Palaces debut last year,THEESatisfaction have developed a sound that is both intriguing and experimental within an arena where peripheral movement is often ignored.The fact that the album resonates into a live setting is even more impressive.
The premise is simple: build a stage on a roller rink and put a bunch of bands on it for the evening.The results? Loads of completely drunk, inept people on wheels falling and crashing to the ground as the sonic swirls of Errors echo through the enormous venue. London’s Breathe Out opened auspiciously with a raucous set of 90’s inspired guitar fuzz shortly followed by Novella who prove to be worthy competition to the likes of The Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, with their Galaxy 500-tinged set of noodling guitars and ethereal vocals. A shift in tempo and tone comes from Ghosting Season, who emit an impassioned, pulsing and throbbing electronic set cloaked in gusto – a Fuck Buttons-like sonic assault. Errors take to the stage and open with the recent album opener and highlight ‘Tusk’ – a gorgeous blend of intricate, sweeping electronics with pounding drums and protruding synthesiser.They strike the line between subtle refrain and bombastic splendour with marvellous ease, the drummer pounds with manic, frenzied force that makes one wonder if the stage is going to collapse, yet the guitar lines and electronics gently radiate, like something crawling under your skin.They do euphoria to ambient and back again all with seamless transition, making their performance a relentless and captivating one. Bruised bodies, broken bones and throbbing hangovers for all.
THE PROPER ORNAMENTS Power Lunches, Dalston, London 11.05.2012 By Danny Canter ▼
London ﬁve-piece The Proper Ornaments wear their inﬂuences on their hotch-potch, thrift shop sleeves, and to look at their rolling lineup – tonight made up of founding core James Hoarse of Veronica Falls and Max Clapp, Max’s Let’s Wrestle bandmates Wesley Patrick Gonzalez and Darkus Bishop, and bassist Daniel Nellis – you’d think they’d have a million and one sounds. Between them they sport handlebar moustaches, lank, metal hair, ’60s pop bobs, paisley shirts and denim jackets. In terms of their sound, though, they have just one/one and a half. On their recent EP,The Proper Ornaments sound proudly like The Byrds, and while they are ﬂeetingly as crystalline this evening, they mostly sound a hell of a lot like The Velvet Underground, which is ﬁne by me. Shambolic doesn’t even start to cover this display of lax, wiry playing. Between tracks they remind each other of how the next song goes; they often count themselves in only to begin at separate times;Wesley spends a lot of time laughing at the back; the harmonies aren’t smooth like on record, but rather barbed and half spoken. For some here, it’s way to close to how you image their practices might be. But for others The Proper Ornaments are most like The Velvets a.) because they don’t care, and b.) because beneath the riff-raff you can just about make out some ﬁne, monochrome garage tunes. I’m in that camp.
GARBAGE The Troxy, London 09.05.2012 By Chal Ravens ▼
Strutting, snarling, pouting and prowling, Shirley Manson is relishing the chance to air the rock star moves she’s had in storage for the past seven years. In teeny red hotpants, black vest and a pair of armbands, she looks just about identical to the Scottish lass who ﬁrst tasted fame in 1995 with Garbage’s squillion-selling debut album. Aside from the longer hair, now styled into immaculate copper waves, time seems to have stood still for the 45-year-old.The same can’t be said for her slavishly devoted crowd, who show the signs of the intervening 17 years rather more readily, not to mention the songs themselves – so resolutely ’90s in their grungy pop-rock format and glossy radio-ready production that I’m unexpectedly transported to some halcyon preadolescent afternoon, ﬂicking between MTV and Nickelodeon and eating Golden Grahams out the box. Music like this simply no longer exists.The pop-grunge of Garbage, Alanis Morissette and ‘Celebrity Skin’-era Hole, for instance, with its identity politics (‘Queer’), dodgy sex games (‘Supervixen’), negative sentiments (‘Only Happy When It Rains’) and vulnerable, destructive women (‘Stupid Girl’), would be totally out of place on the radio in 2012. That said, these four old-timers have nothing left to prove, ploughing through a back catalogue of hits any band would envy. Shiny, happy rock music for life-long weirdos.
By IAN ROEBUCK
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS Starring: Greta Gerwig, Carrie MacLemore, Adam Brody Director:Whit Stillman
Arnie with his big gun
Trailer Trailers Has anyone else noticed how movie trailers have their own promos these days? “You know you’ve got to have a trailer for the trailer, son!” So shouts Terry Crews, ex NFL star, now professional shouty man as he introduces the teaser for The Expendables 2. I’m afraid he’s right; the obligatory big tease is an inevitable marketing ploy that looks like it’s here to stay – there’s no need to raise your voice though,Terry; we can still hear you over all those explosions. This short, sharp send up (8 seconds of actual footage to be precise) sees Terry barge on screen to introduce things getting blown up with a wink and a yell. A few days later and we have the proper trailer, Arnie with a big gun and everything.This is the modern movie preview and we’d better get used to it. Len Wiseman’s remake of Total Recall had a 45 second promo leaked to the public prior to the full trailer hitting home too. Its content? Text along the lines of ‘This Sunday get ready for the World Trailer Premiere’ with the occasional ﬂash of a sheepish Colin Farrell alongside (HELP) Kate Beckinsale. I haven’t of course forgotten Prometheus. Ridley Scott’s eagerly anticipated monster of a movie has experimented with the promo ﬁlm like no other. 20th Century Fox tapped into the titanic power of Twitter (getting over 15m followers in the process) to create an intricate multimedia web promoting what promises to be the ﬁlmic event of the summer.The quite outstanding full length trailer interrupted the penultimate episode of Homeland not once but twice,
and the second occasion was something new – a shorter reaction ﬁlled clip full of the general public’s feedback via Twitter. Although a somewhat jarring promotional tool, surely this beats seeing the cinema goers on screen.With any luck, the trend of witnessing ‘actual’ cinemagoers informing us that they soiled themselves during The Woman in Black as their girlfriend watched on in disbelief is well and truly over.With an innovative campaign that brought social media to the everyday Sunday night sofa, 20th Century Fox got people talking. Have we seen too much though? It’s the standard complaint to many a trailer in today’s market, after the tease there is nothing left to taste.Viewing the preview for September’s much talked about Looper you can see how they’ve tried to avoid this quandary, with mixed results. Director (Rian Johnson) and star (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sit side by side in theatre seats and talk through various scenes in cringe worthy fashion, if you haven’t seen it yet then bring something to hide behind. And yet this almighty mess of a trailer still doesn’t take away from the fact the ﬁlm looks pretty smart. 3rd Rock from the Sun’s Tommy Solomon (sorry, I still can’t help it) plays a hitman who must assassinate himself, a confusing premise and his future-self is played by Bruce Willis who must be used to turning up on set somewhat perplexed by now having already met older/younger versions of himself in both The Kid and Twelve Monkeys.
High school highbrow is a gem of a genre and a goldmine of underrated features have stolen our hearts. Look back to Rushmore, Election and Ghost World, all lovable and loquacious oddities that paved the way for movies like Damsels in Distress.The archetypal American school is prime fodder for a razor sharp comedy; the campus a place within popular culture that’s perfect for satire and Whit Stillman’s return to the director’s chair arrives at college dripping with his familiar sardonic wit. Stillman’s previous ﬁlm, the Chloe Sevigny-starring Last Days of Disco, had a self-indulgent tone and this year’s Damsels in Distress takes it one step further. Stillman clearly delights in creating intolerable characters and practically forces you to like them; it’s a strangely compelling style. Greta Gerwig’s high school queen bee,Violet – perhaps Stillman’s most unbearable creation so far – and her two excruciating best friends take it upon themselves to welcome newcomer Lily into their clique and set about saving their fellow students from suicide and smelliness.There is a lot to admire in the script (Stillman also wrote the screenplay) and Violet has some killer scenes, in particular her love for tap dance and her attraction to the frat house morons she believes are ‘handicapped’, but Damsels in Distress is a ﬂawed feature that ﬂirts with ﬁlm school ideals. Oddly, it all feels very much on purpose. Shot in under a month with little variety in location, its hyper real look and whimsical plot place it as a pet project. Despite a cheerful song and dance number to close out, as this perplexing movie leaves you rather cold you can’t help but wonder if that was the intention. A cult classic for few, simple curiosity for the rest.
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PARTY WOLF COMPETITION Just that
WIN TICKETS TO BEACONS FESTIVAL Last month I scrapped my infamous, shit-hard crossword for a simpler competition well worth winning - tickets to London festivals Field Day and The Apple Cart. A great prize, providing you could get down south on Jubilee Bank Holiday. It’s a fucking trek from the North though, so it seems only fair that this month’s booty is a pair of tickets to Beacons Festival, taking place August 17-19 at Funkirk Estate, Skipton, North Yorkshire. Beacons was rained off days before its maiden voyage last year, thanks to ﬂash ﬂooding in the area. For 2012 they’ve moved site and pulled together a lineup that includes Peaking Lights, Patrick Wolf, Kwes, Factory Floor Wild Beasts and Cass McCoombs.
To be in with a chance of winning two tickets to Beacons, email the correct answer to the below question to email@example.com by June 20th.We’ll then pick a winner out of a hat or a tub, and a couple of runners up will receive copies of Cass McCoomb’s latest album, ‘Wit’s End’. Which National Park is Skipton, and therefore Beacons, closest to? a.) North York Moors b.) Yorkshire Dales c.) The Peak District d.) Sainsbury’s Car Park
And last month’s Field Day/Apple Cart festival competition answer: The band that closed the main stage at Field Day 2011 was Wild Beasts.
GET THE LOOK Dress like someone famous
Me again! Last month I was sporting a rather natty Aladdin-as-a-whore look, if you remember, but of course that’s not my usual, everyday look.This is! It’s inspired by my second favourite ﬁlm of all time, Shakespeare In Love. Out of shot is a codpiece made from a Flora Light tub. A small one should be plenty big enough, unless you’re one of those horrible bragging types (Blobby was), and don’t forget to scoop out all of the marg – it really burns.The plunging V is something I picked up from a fellow celeb that mum says I look just like – yes, Russell Brand.Top it off with some velvet sleeves made from your old dear’s curtains (shhh) and a faux leather waistcoat from New Look. My favourite ﬁlm? Emmanuelle. Am a right, dads? I’m right.
This is Spencer. He did a bad thing and banged his friend’s girlfriend. His friend’s dad runs a biscuit factory.
I just can’t believe Pat’s dead. Sorting through all of her stuff has brought it all back to me
Wa-hey!!! Look what I found in Fat Pat’s bed! Dare me to put it on?
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely ﬁctitious.
PHOTO CASEBOOK “The inappropriate world of Ian Beale”
A MONTHLY HOUSE PARTY FROM LOUD AND QUIET and YOUNG & LOST CLUB
JUNE 8 LIVE
PALE SEAS REAL FUR BREATHE OUT DJS POWER LUNCHES 446 KINGSLAND ROAD HACKNEY, LONDON £5.00 ENTRY 8PM TIL 1.30AM PLUS HOME DJS PLAYING FUTURE ALTERNATIVE CLASSICS LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE IN ADVANCE AT WEGOTTICKETS.COM
OFF MODERN HATCHAM SOCIAL JULY 13 LIVE
OLD FOREST SEALINGS LABYRINTH EAR AND MORE TBA! DJS