Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 70 / the alternative music tabloid
Plus U.S. Girls Bernard Butler Tkay Maidza Algiers Nicolas Godin + Amy Pettifer is a female music journalist
Beirut No No No, Yes
GIRLs IN THE ROOM – 12 Bernard Butler – 14 U.S. Girls – 16 Algiers – 20 Tkay maidza – 22 Nicolas godin – 24 beirut – 28
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 70 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Plus U.S. Girls Bernard Butler Tkay Maidza Algiers Nicolas Godin + Amy Pettifer is a female music journalist
Beirut No No No, Yes c o v er ph o t o g r aph y A m b er M a h o n ey
Earlier this summer I posted a notice on the Loud And Quiet website specifically asking for female writers to get in touch. You might have seen it, but in case you didn’t, the gist of it was this: for a majority of our 10 years, we’ve been fortunate enough to have around a 50/50 split in terms of contributing men and woman. It’s still the case in our excellent photography team, but sadly not when it comes to our writers. The talented women who have contributed to this magazine in the past, I’m happy to say, have all gone on to great and greater things, many continuing to pursue successful careers in music journalism, but over the last year or so, it’s left us low on female voices. As I wrote in my post, I sincerely hope that it doesn’t affect anyone’s enjoyment of what we do (not least thanks to the strength and views of our existing female writers, and our team of guys who continue to write about music without a trace of misogyny or prejudice), but it remains something I’m determined to rectify. Amy Pettifer has spent the last couple of months researching this issue of gender representation in the press for an article for this month’s issue (page 12). Unsurprisingly, it kicked up more questions than answers, and the article she first had in mind changed more than once before she settled on her excellent, personal piece found here, which also focuses on Jessica Hopper’s recent book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. As I’d said to Amy at the beginning of July, we receive a ton of emails every month from people interested in writing for us, they just all seem to be from men these days. In talking to female writers for her article, a recurring point was that the onus is on Editors to actively affect that this. Of course, ideally, women would get in touch to write as much as guys do, but for a multitude of reasons, currently they don’t. We can hardly sit around just hoping that they will. Stuart Stubbs
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10 Years of Loud And Quiet
Did I Love 2005? 10 years ago, Black Wire appeared in the very first edition of Loud And Quiet as a post-punk trio photocopying their 45’s sleeves and causing riots in the clubs of Leeds. Singer Dan Wilson recalls being in the definitive cult band of ‘New Yorkshire’ A s to ld to dani el dylan w ray
I moved to Leeds to go to art school and I loved it. Leeds didn’t have the musical baggage of other cities like Liverpool and Manchester, which meant that you had the freedom to do anything. We had club nights like Pigs, Bad Sneakers andThe Village Green and ace venues like the Brudenell Social Club. It wasn’t all sweetness and light as Leeds was still a pretty tough place. Blokes would throw pint glasses at us when we walked to rehearsal and my mate lost a few teeth after one of our gigs. 2005 started with a banging headache and the threat of eviction from the flat the three of us in Black Wire [Dan Wilson, Si McCabe and Tom Greatorex] shared. We had finished recording our album on New Years Eve 2004 and went straight from the studio to play an impromptu gig at a tiny club in Leeds. I remember wearing a black tuxedo I bought from a charity shop in Middleborough and luring everyone back to our flat with the promise of White Lightning and a CDR of new Cribs demos. I remember being really happy with some Burberry socks that I got for Christmas and some kid nicked one of them while I was crowd surfing.That’s when I knew we were onto a winner! Thankfully we managed to avoid eviction and spent most of January in the studio working on B-sides and demoing new songs. It was around this time that we got a message on MySpace from a guy in America who wanted to manage us out there. Within two days of contacting us he was in Leeds dancing around our studio like a man possessed. A month before the album was released we couldn’t get into our own gig because the bouncer said the venue was over capacity. I
ended up sneaking in through the fire escape and about 50 kids dressed like a cross between Richard Hell and Edward Scissorhands followed behind. We had built up our own little army of fans and I knew they would love the album as much as I did. The album launch involved us playing three gigs in three different cities and all day I was getting texts from our manager saying ‘fucking hell we’ve sold another album’!The last gig of the day ended with a stage invasion, naked crowd surfing and a man dressed as a priest biting Si’s ankles. We left our manager to pay for the broken microphones and disappeared before anyone else tried to bite us. We were definitely a cult band, and if you had signed up to our little family then I think you loved the album. What surprised me was when The Sun gave us a 5 star review and declared that ‘the future is dark, the future is Black Wire’. I felt like we had gatecrashed the mainstream for a brief moment and I also felt a bit dirty, as I hate that rag. Every small town and every city had their own scene in 2005, everywhere had their local Libertines or Queens of Noize and they were starting club nights. We played in Newcastle and there was a really low stage and the security were panicking. For the last song I climbed the PA and the crowd stampeded forward. It was like looking down on a sea of limbs and hairspray and I couldn’t have been happier. When we got backstage we realised that Si had landed on a pint glass during the scuffle and the promoter offered us a case of blue WKD as an apology. Touring with The Cribs really helped us reach a wider audience. They were about to release their
second album and it was really inspiring to see their band get bigger without having to compromise. It was ace to see kids turning up to our gigs in Cribs t-shirts and I still have a lot of respect for the Jarmans. It was around this time that the NME coined the ‘New Yorkshire’ movement. I thought the tag was great – I remember doing a photo shoot for the NME and it was a teenage dream come true. The publication is obviously London-based so it was good to be part of a movement that forced some journalists to venture further north than Camden. My favourite albums released in 2005 were Maximo Park’s debut and Gemstones by Adam Green. These records didn’t exactly revolutionise music but I loved them. What I found most interesting about the music scene back then was how eclectic attitudes were becoming. We would be at home listening to the Birthday Party and Tom Waits then go out and dance to Kanye West, TestIsicles and MIA, which sounds tame now but it was proper exciting when you’re out of your mind in West Yorkshire and the DJ has just promised to play LCD Soundsystem again. I don’t want this to sound like a eulogy, but 2005 was amazing. We were so dedicated to Black Wire that nothing else mattered. Before I went to art school I had resigned myself to the fact that self expression and creativity were reserved for a privileged few. Being in a band gave me a real sense of belonging and gave me a creative outlet and at one point I think it definitely defined who I was, probably because I called myself ‘DAN BLACK WIRE’ on myspace.
books + second life
The Big Dog Reef Younis investigates what rock stars do next No.12: Big Boi / expertise, the (world famous?) Pitfall Kennels was born. With Outkast on hiatus from 2007, Big Boi was free to focus on his solo work while Mista Vegas, Uncle Rukkus, Shallow Hal, Dough Boy, Hannibal, Captain Morgan, and Doo Daddy took care of the bitches. Soon enough, Rick Ross was swinging by to play with the pitbulls, and Pitfall Kennels were supplying dogs to the likes of Serena Williams, 50 Cent, Usher, Roy Jones Jr., and Maurice White (of Earth, Wind and Fire fame). That’s not to say the money is Big Boi’s only motivation; a quick visit to Pitfall Kennels site sees talk of ‘West Coast Gotti’ and the ‘Pitall’ bloodlines and “very short, girthy big-bone monsters”, seemingly the proud Pitfall guarantee. “We’ve finally got to the point where there’s a Pitfall bloodline,” he told Spin back in 2004. “It takes years.” From the commitment that goes into a breeding a $2,000 pitbull pup to including his dogs in Outkast videos – his white pitbull, Polar Bear, featured in the ‘The Whole World’ – Big Boi doesn’t need to ask anyone “where my dogs at?” because they’re probably in one of his 48 kennels in Fayetteville. Or at Usher’s.
As one half of perennial Grammy-gatherers, Outkast, Antwon Andre Patton (to his mum, Big Boi to me and you) made a chart-bothering habit of filtering hip-hop’s dirty south into mainstream pop gold. Following the early acclaim for debut album ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’, and follow-ups, ‘ATLiens’ and ‘Aquemini’, Outkast’s place at the forefront of the Southern hip-hop movement was confirmed, but it was the duo’s fourth album, ‘Stankonia’ that carved up the US and UK charts in a blaze of funk, soul, and experimental hip-hop that firmly set the duo on their way to six Grammies and over 25 million records sold. But before, during, and even after all of that success, Big Boi’s heart was elsewhere. “I want to quit everything and live on a farm with my dogs and maybe a few horses,” he admitted back in 2002, “but the music keeps pulling me back to stitch together that Funk Frankenstein we call Outkast.” That same year, he’d picked up 55 acres in southwest Atlanta and got together with some dog trainers to take his sideline in pitbull breeding up a level. A family interest passed down by his grandfather, Big Boi had been casually breeding from an early age but now with the land and
by jani ne & L ee b u ll man
Untouchable Things by Tara Guha
Without the Moon by Cathi Unsworth
Getcha Rocks Off by Mick Wall
Tara Guha debut novel tells the tale of Rebecca Lawrence – jobbing Shakespearian actor and piano enthusiast who senses, not for the first time, eyes in the audience bearing down on her portrayal of Ophelia with a disturbing intensity as the rest of the audience explode with applause. When Rebecca then meets Seth, and begins to attend his Friday Folly gatherings, made up of a collection of seemingly switched on bohemians, she finds herself caught in a web of smart, complex and wellrendered characters whose world is far darker than it first appears. It’s a beautifully written, stunning debut from an exciting new talent from Yorkshire and marks the beginning of a writing career to watch.
Following from 2013’s stunning Weirdo, Cathi Unsworth steps back further in time and introduces us to DCI Edward Greenaway as he negotiates the labyrinth of London during the blitz and attempts, against the odds, to catch up with the murderer leaving mutilated corpses all over the city. Reallife characters and crimes are mixed so deftly throughout Without the Moon that it becomes impossible to tell where truth ends and Unsworth’s spooky imagination begins. Against the backdrop of a bombed out city, we are introduced to spivs and gangsters, mediums and scandal journos as the most dimly lit corners of the war torn capital are illuminated. The best noir writer we have.
As a journalist, Mick Wall walked with the big beasts – the ’80s hair metallers and LA gunslingers who were once what people thought of when they thought of rock. In the disappeared, testosterone driven world thatWall describes, women are hardly ever given names, they are either groupies or girlfriends, there merely to serve the needs of the permed rock gods in skin tight spandex pants hoovering lines the length of Sunset Strip and ripping it up at Enormodomes across the land. For those of us who never ‘got’ the scene portrayed in Getcha Rocks Off, the book offers close-up backstage insight into one of the most excessive and hilarious periods in rock’n’roll’s dumb history.
getting to know you
Peaches Born Merrill Nisker, the subversive electro punk known as Peaches has spent the last six years in the theatre, the opera and writing a book. She returns this month with sixth album ‘Rub’, featuring other tough woman like Kim Gordon and Feist, and she’s the fifteenth artist to fill in our Getting To Know You questionnaire / The worst date you’ve been on Dates?
People’s biggest misconception about yourself That I will sleep with anyone
The thing you’d rescue from a burning building My vitamix blender. Your guilty pleasure Karaoke and massage. The most famous person you’ve met I met Tilda Swinton at Art fair. She was lovely and fun.
Your biggest disappointment that I still can’t speak german
Your favourite item of clothing My leather culottes.
The best piece of advice you’ve been given Shut up and do it. Your favourite word Zolly.
Your pet-hate People who interrupt while saying: “I hate to bother you.” The worst job you’ve had Nothing’s as bad as unemployment.
Your biggest fear The world’s water running out.
What is success to you? Getting up in the morning.
The celebrity that most pissed you off, even though you’ve never met them Nope.
What talent do you wish you had? I wish I could fly.
Your hidden talent Water-skiing. The best book in the world Testo Junkie by Beatriz Preciado.
Favourite place in the world Thailand beaches, relaxing. Your style icon Fran Lebowitz.
Your first big extravagance Huh? What is the most overrated thing in the world? Cars The characteristic you most like about yourself I’m very energetic..
If you had to eat one food forever, it would be... Cheddar cheese. The film you can quote the most of Spinal Tap.
The one song you wish you’d written? ‘Did it on em’ by nicky minaj
What would you change about your physical appearance? I am perfect to myself. What’s your biggest turn-off? Negative land. What would you tell your 15-year-old-self? Read more and ask a lot of questions.
The worst present you’ve received Come on, it’s a present!
Your best piece of advice for others Read more and ask a lot of questions.
Girls In The Room Amy Pettifer looks at Jessica Hopper’s new book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic and recalls her personal experiences as a woman writing about music illus t ra t ion: g are th arrowsmi t h / wri t er: amy pe tt ifer
There are approximately three hours a month in which I feel brave and it was during one of these hours – about four years ago – that I started writing about music. I’ve always loved writing; I knew I could do it but I certainly wasn’t busting with confidence, striding around town and slamming perfect pages down onto editor’s desks. Quite the opposite. Like a lot of people stepping out of the private realm and into the public armed with something they’ve made or something they think,
I was apprehensive. But it was balanced with an internal tug – a feeling that this fear would be offset by the satisfaction of seeing words I’d written, on something I cared about, rendered in print. Obviously, I love music too; as a record buyer, gig goer, un-practiced guitar player, compilation tape maker / receiver and lifelong student. My parents had a record collection just classic and just obscure enough to hook me from an early age; I worked
in big chain music shops as a teen and was nearly fired for accidentally blasting an expletive heavy Primal Scream track over the in-store stereo. A couple of years later I followed Damon Gough from gig to gig with a demo tape and almost got signed to Twisted Nerve (he was drunk); I dated someone who once had a job that paid him in records and got a different kind of sonic education – rougher, rangier. I’ve known people that put on bizarre gigs in Working Men’s clubs and
relished each strange, sweaty evening listening to odd bands from Portland making noise in a remote corner of the Midlands for one night only. I once made a vegetarian lasagne for Jeffery Lewis and had fish and chips in Covent Garden with Billy Childish. It’s my particular, skew-whiff musical trajectory, but none of it is especially unusual; half of that list are experiences that hundreds of others could own too, and the rest... well, if you haven’t made lasagne for Jeffery
“The power of Hopper’s book is that it exists fully within the fray and her prominence is not tied to her gender”
Lewis it’s likely you have a similarly odd tale of your own to add in its place. Music is the backbone of life for most of us; at every point of the day it can be a scene setter, a mood enhancer, a blasting surprise, a wake-up call, a relief and a euphoric escape. Whether it’s been absorbed by osmosis, leaked through the bedroom wall of an older sibling, passionately followed or heard against your will while working a shitty retail job, we can all claim a musical education. The point is that there’s no reason to buy into the image of the music critic as some God-like cabbie, jealously guarding their sonic equivalent of ‘The Knowledge’ – a brain full of obscurities and intricate folk histories weaving together to form a blistering, untouchable universe of rock machismo. If you ask me, the key to producing writing about music that people will want to read, is tapping into whatever idiosyncratic bunch of experiences have lead you to become the music fan you are. That and passion. Music is personal. And writing about it should be personal too. Therefore it’s vital to feel represented in the perspectives and voices that bring new artists to our attention, that filter and analyse the music we know and the music we’re about to hear. In her recently published book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, Pitchfork’s Senior Editor Jessica Hopper writes: “It did not occur to me to start a band until I saw other women in one. It took seeing Babes in Toyland and Bikini Kill to truly throw on the lights, to show that there was more than one place, one role, for women to occupy, and that our participation was important and vital – it was YOU MATTER writ large.” This statement echoes loudly, its resonances bleeding into the world of rock writing that Hopper occupies and challenges with the very presence of the book. For women that write, or are thinking of writing about music, the event of its publication is a joyful, bolstering landmark. Its mission – as the preface states – is ‘to plant a flag’, to draw attention to the dearth of hardbound volumes of its kind and to herald the female critical voices that both already exist, and that will surely follow. Hopper’s collection of essays points to a sea change, a moment in which women in music journalism are numerous and visible, but it also highlights that the very same world – for all its inherent wonder – can be
something of a boys club. At the WoW festival held at the Southbank Centre in London earlier this year, broadcaster Lauren Laverne described her early experiences of being a consumer of music, remembering “a guy in a record shop who wouldn’t sell me albums because he didn’t want to waste them on a girl.” While it’s hard to imagine such a scenario taking place today, it would be wrong to say that female artists, critics, broadcasters and producers no longer need to strive for equal representation, whether it be the gender balance of names on by-lines, facing the continued surprise that an artist might be capable of writing her own material, or dealing with the feeling that a female critical voice is not considered as authoritative as a male one. For Hopper the key is in validating and celebrating the particularities of an approach that is the polar opposite of the craggy rock journo patriarchy – an approach that might otherwise be dismissed as ‘fangirling’ – not serious or ardent enough to carry authentic critical weight. In recent years the Internet has been a gift, providing limitless space in which new writing can develop, artists can incubate and supportive debate can thrive. But that digital space isn’t always a safe one and being a woman in possession of an opinion and a desire to write often brings with it a barrage of comment that plumbs the depths of violent, hateful, retrogressive sexism. It’s an endlessly depressing situation for women and non-jerk males alike – particularly if this troll behaviour ends up being the reason that anyone, with the desire and skill to do so, thinks twice about offering an opinion or a take of their own. Thankfully, the strong enclaves of
feminism that have gathered momentum online have led to the creation of sites that offer much needed positivity and balance. There’s Rookie Mag – for which Hopper is music editor – that includes mix-tapes, interviews and serious appreciation aimed at an avid audience of teenage girls; there’s Glasgow’s TYCI, which gleefully marries live music, podcasting and writing with meaningful social engagement; The Girls Are… with its boundless range of coverage and Her Beats which focuses on women in electronic music, to name a very few. I’m overjoyed by these and other similar sites on a daily basis, but I’m equally aware of the fact that they do not do away with the experience of being – from time to time – the only girl in the room. As much as these tight communities are vital, so is the notion of genuine balance elsewhere in the industry. Of being, say, in a seminar on experimental music, and not being outnumbered 10 to 1. Of ending up at the bar afterwards and not being so fully conscious of having to ‘hold your own’ that it stops being the social and sensory pleasure that it could and should be. The power of Hopper’s book is that it exists fully within the fray and – despite the joke/truth of the book’s title – her prominence is not tied to her gender. Spanning 11 of her 20 odd years as a writer, it is shot through with a sense of in-the-moment engagement, of growing up and around the darkest corners and brightest lit stages of the contemporary music world.Via zines and independent mags, to TheVillageVoice, The Chicago Tribune and SPIN (to name a few), the breadth of her knowledge is evident in essays that explore the phenomena of Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus; the origin stories of rappers in the Chicago scene and the unravelling of Grunge and Riot Grrrl mythologies. But nothing here is being proved or hammered home. Her engagement is granular, knowing, often acerbic and possessing of critical distance, but it’s also bellydeep, ventricle, emotional; ‘There is,’ she writes, ‘a void in my guts that can only be filled by songs.’ To have a positive role model like Hopper at Pitchfork’s helm is vital not only due to the quality of her writing, but also because of the way in which it may work to affect positive shifts in editorial practice and structural inequality. There are many brilliant
female music writers working today, occupying bold, diverse and endlessly knowledgeable standpoints – but there can always be more. From speaking with female editors and writers that I admire for this piece, there was consensus on two counts; first, that there is perhaps an inherent difference in the way that women and men are compelled and encouraged to put themselves forward creatively; and second, that it is the role of editors to address this, to seek out and nurture writers, unlocking the world of music journalism to new voices. But once you know it’s open… capitalise on whatever instant of bravery, rage, determination or desire compels you and power the fuck through. My own experience has been a positive one. Most of my early music writing appeared in this very paper and, while I found my feet and learned a hundred valuable lessons (more skilled self-editing; the importance of checking your work 10 times then checking again; testing that a Dictaphone is switched ON etc.), there was trust and opportunity to keep me going. Access to new music, live music and artists I was curious to interview was fitting compensation as I honed (and continue to hone) my work; I went from a capsule review to a cover feature in just over a year, and that tangible, inky achievement has made countless other things possible. For me the pleasure and the compulsion is to continue being a girl in the room. It’s having the opportunity – alongside an inspiring and diverse group of peers – to listen first, to speak, to look deeply and reflect on the ways that music intertwines with life; to learn, to discuss, to piss people off with my writing, or to meet someone like-minded and connect. I’m writing this because Loud and Quiet are looking for more female writers. If you are reading this with the slightest itch or the strongest impulse, then here is an opportunity to begin. I urge you to spill your guts. The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper is published by Featherproof and is available now.
Tell Me About It
BERNARD BUTLER Ahead of this month’s reissue of ‘The Sound of McAlmont & Bulter’, Sam Walton met Bernard Butler in his north London studio to let him do all the talking about the purest project to come from Britpop P ho tog ra phy: j an g el o m ol i nar i / w ri ter : Sam walt on
Bernard Butler is a contrary bastard. Case in point: he professes to have no time for ’90s nostalgia, while simultaneously putting together a box-set reissue of The Sound of McAlmont & Butler, a record he made with David McAlmont after acrimoniously leaving Suede in 1994. Not that that’s a problem: drowned out by the more effective attention seekers of Britpop, ‘The Sound Of ’ is a lost gem with far more variety than its juggernaut lead singles, ‘Yes’ and ‘You Do’, might suggest. On a wider level, though, he reckons he simply owes it to his profession to rebel against the establishment, to be true to yourself, to take no shit. If all that reads a bit like a memetic motivational jpg on the page, well, that’s your problem – and Butler certainly won’t care. Indeed, that pig-headedness is far from an irritation in real life. On the contrary, it’s an inspiration, in the current era of studied retromania, to encounter someone so stubbornly ploughing his own furrow so selffulfillingly. However, as it transpires, twas ever thus…
“The McAlmont & Butler project was originally intended as one single – a seven-inch – of ‘Yes’ and ‘You Do’”
No tour, no t-shirts, no press, nothing – that was the whole ethos. It was beautifully pure, arrogantly, stubbornly, suicidally pure – and stupid, frankly, when you look at the rubbish that sold a million copies in ’95. My principle was, “what’s the most pure thing you could do?”, which you could stand up without press, without a video, a tour, any money, without even a sleeve, without a band, without a band name. That was my dream. It was about making it just a sound. Do you like this? Turn it up. Do you not like it? Throw it away. The landscape at the time was so posturing, so this desire for purity was a massive reaction to all that. With Suede, lots of stuff was shoved in our face that we didn’t ask for at all, and it could be quite vulgar. I was fed up with that stuff, and also felt very guilty with getting that amount of attention: I grew up a Catholic, and I’ll never get rid of that – the Pope is up there [taps his shoulder] all the time, the cunt! – and however far I go away from it, I’ll always have that guilt for being celebrated for basically prancing around with a guitar. So ‘Yes’ and ‘You Do’ were all about what came out of the speakers, as a reaction to the guilt at getting away with it a bit while I was in Suede. And I totally acknowledge that it’s a flawed ambition, but just because you can’t achieve it completely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. I thought, what if? In all art, that’s the good thing – what if you do this? If it’s shit, then whatever. At least I tried.
“There’s nothing left over from those sessions – we just wrote each song and recorded it”
“We could’ve made a record with four different ‘Yes’like songs on it and filled it all with strings”
I hate it when bands say: “we’ve written 65 songs for our new album.” I’m like, “really? Wow! Have you? What, so you’ve written 55 shit ones? 55 shit songs? What the fuck are you doing!?” So no, we wrote then recorded, simple as that. Quite often, David hadn’t heard the song until we were in the studio. It was very instinctive – record pretty much live, and then while everyone was still standing there we’d mix it, put it down and go home.
And you’d listen now and hear a Britpop record of its time and go: “ah well, the album’s not as good as the single, is it.” I knew that the record company expectation was for us to do another ‘Yes’, but if a record company asks me to do something, I will always do the polar fucking opposite, because that’s my duty as a musician. That’s something that’s missing from musicians today: if they’ve even got a label, they’ll just be like, “I’ll do whatever you want”, which is just so fabulously uncreative and uninteresting. I have a theory that at the moment everything is all about ‘success’, and I think we’ve got a really dangerous ethic about success in society: it runs through education, music and the arts, even the Labour leadership contest: who will be the winner? Who will win us the election? Not who do we believe in, or who believes in what they’re saying. And it’s in education too – everything’s about results, about getting to the right university and teachers getting the right amount of grades. But what for? It’s all about winners and losers. And it’s the same with music. Bands say they want to give their music away to build up a fanbase, to appeal to as many people as possible so they can play to as many people as possible. But I want to hear somebody saying, “all I want to do in my life is make a great record”, and in my generation we did say that. There were several great guitarists, Jonny Greenwood and Graham Coxon, and a whole slew of
“I think what’s interesting about ‘Yes’ is that people don’t say they like it because they saw us on tour or whatever”
Mainly people found it on a tape, or met their husband to it, or shagged someone to it, or told someone to fuck off to it, and that’s it. I’m used to having fans of Suede, for example, talking to me about what they loved about the band, or how Suede defined their teenage years or whatever. But with ‘Yes’ it’s just about the song, and I think that’s a really nice, pure thing. No one knows about McAlmont & Butler so the song’s liberated from any baggage or context. Every time someone says they like that song, they say, “it made me smile”, or it brightened up my day for three minutes, and that’s just the greatest thing in the world.
LEFT : B u t l er o u t s id e h i s s t u di o i n c r o u c h hil l , North London
innovative, fantastic, characterful musicians, who just wanted to make great records. Sure, they got successful or whatever, and that was partly to do with the era, but they also were interesting, ambitious people who weren’t trying just to get on Top of the Pops. They were trying to make a record that was part of them. We’ve lost that in the last ten years, and in their places we’ve got too many musicians talking about “the business” as if they’re accountants. Musicians talking about A&R, or all this Tidal bollocks, where musicians queue up to sit on a fucking board meeting. I hate all that.
“I’ve been asked to rejoin Suede for reunions, but I just wouldn’t feel part of the gang”
I get on really well with Brett, and it’s really nice that he asked me to do it, but when he asked me, I just saw a month of listening to those records I made 20-odd years ago and nothing else, and then a month of standing in a rehearsal room playing those same records and then having to go on stage and do it. And I just thought, whose benefit is this for? It was a Friday night that they were playing [‘Dog Man Star’ in full], and on a Friday I’m normally in the Harringay Arms with a couple of
friends doing the crossword. And I just thought, where would you rather be? Just put yourself onstage – would you rather be there? And I’d definitely rather be in the Harringay, because I can just see myself on stage and I’d be tense and uncomfortable. So who would I be doing it for then? Would I be doing it for me? No. I’d be doing it for Suede fans, so [shrugs]… so what? I mean, come on. Would my wife be coming? No, she’d be in the Harringay! Would my friends be there? No, they’d be in the pub too. I couldn’t show my face with my friends if I was like that, going on about the old days. I mean, you’ve got those musicians who say they’d do everything for and owe everything to their fans, but that’s not true, is it? Suede fans are just people who like music, and so do I. But I don’t expect Neil Young to come to my studio and play guitar, do I? I’m not like, “Right! Where the fuck is Bowie when I need him?!” [laughs]. I find that side of things embarrassing and excruciating. Life as a musician is about the record you’re going to make on Monday, not the one you finished last Friday. When I made those [first two Suede] records, that’s what I thought then, and that’s the way I still feel. And a lot of those people we’re talking about don’t feel that way now. They did feel that way in the ’90s, then they gave up. Damon Albarn and Jarvis Cocker and all those people I used to know at that time, I’m pretty sure any of us would have said that the reason we started to make records was to get rid of Phil Collins and that lot, whose main ambition in life was rolling out the barrel, doing the same old songs, getting out the old hits for the mums and dads. And that’s not something that I want to be part of, so I’m quite happy moving forward – it’s the way I live my odd life. I’m just not a nostalgia person; I don’t enjoy it. And I admit, yes, that said, I’m reissuing an album from 20 years ago, but only because otherwise I’d have missed the chance. We deliberately didn’t milk ‘The Sound of McAlmont & Butler’ at the time, remember!
“If The Smiths got back together, would I go and watch it? Absolutely not!”
And I’ve made that clear to every member of The Smiths. I saw them five or six times. I saw the last-ever Smiths concert. I was there. I don’t need to go again. I admit I did see the Stone Roses in Finsbury Park the other year, and took my kids because it was nearby and I knew the tour manager, but we left after two songs because it was so horrible. It was such an ugly scene – 50-year-olds out of control, the sound waffling around, meaningless out-oftune singing. I hated the whole experience of it. I thought, you’re just reliving a time that has gone in your lives, and probably wasn’t as good as you’d characterise it now anyway. “I’d rather do a small tour with interesting musicians than play to a shedload of people doing greatest hits tunes”
I’m not doing that for the people sitting in front of me, either, though. I’m doing it for me – I’ve got to live my life, I’m not Benny Hill! I’m not a performing seal. A lot of musicians need adoration, but I’ve got kids. I’ve got a lovely wife. I don’t need it from other people. And I think people get more out of it anyway if you’re like that, because it’s better than going, “Oh I’m just up here to play a song that you like and take your money.” I mean, if you’d asked me what I’ve been doing for the last five years, and I’d said, “just touring the world playing old Suede songs”? Nah, no thanks. I’ve made eight or nine albums in that time. You mightn’t have heard any of them, but as it is, my life is all right. I make records, I go home, I go to the pub. I think I’m quite contented, maybe more than some.
Rig ht : Meg Remy pho t o g ra phed a t t he ho me st ud io o f An t o in e l ut en s in hud so n , n ew yo rk
Something More Jarring In small-town America, Stuart Stubbs met U.S. Girls for a breakfast of pancakes, gender equality, Bruce Springsteen appreciation and the need for conscious pop music
To amplify the serenity of Hudson, New York, take the train north from Manhattan for two hours. It’s a gentle and idyllic journey; an elongated descent into upstate living, where there’s nothing to look at except for trees to your right and the great, still Hudson River to your left. The thrill of the city is muted as soon as you pass Yonkers, after twenty minutes or so, and yet Hudson itself seems quieter even than all that silent countryside in between. Hudson’s train station doesn’t have platforms – first you need to make sure you’re in the front two carriages that stop in line with a freshly painted, wooden building, then jump down onto a small metal stool and skip across the tracks to safety. I arrive on a Wednesday afternoon, the day of the week when everything in town is routinely closed, restaurants as well as shops. Even my hotel is only semi open – when I arrive I’m told not to leave the building without my key card: it’s how I’ll be able to get back in the front door once the one member of staff (Paul) leaves for the day in an hour’s time. It’s 4pm. On my way up the street I pass one convenience store with a sign in the window that reads Open From 11 Most Days. It’s closed. Arriving in an American town as dead as this one feels particularly strange due to how cute it is. The painted railway station looks like a terminal on Main Street, Disneyland: a quaint look that covers the town over, each colonial building perfectly individual and skewed. Take the kids out of Disneyland, though, and it’d feel eerie to say the least, and so Hudson initially feels like the chocolate-box town in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – the one where all the children have been kidnapped and a new face in town could easily feel like the curtains have eyes. Cynicism and paranoia will have you believe that, but quiet though it is, Hudson is simply the kind of place that you never envisage when you think of smalltown America – a sleepy, liberal community, fuelled by the arts and what appears to
be the optimum amount of gentrification. Here, if a shop front doesn’t belong to a gallery it’s an antique shop or a thrift store or a furniture emporium. There’s a fivedollar record store that also sells junk, a bar that doubles as a bookshop, a vegan pizza parlour and an opera house that is out of proportion with everything else, even if this is technically a city (America’s first, so Paul tells me).There are no chain stores at all, the occasional building flies the gay pride rainbow flag and when I do finally see a human being they’re driving past the single storey, oneoffender-at-a-time-please police station, waving at the officers outside, who wave back as if they’re great friends. If that sounds like a lie, wait until you hear this – one homeowner on Warren Street has erected a colourful, handmade sign in their front window that reads Sleeping Cat Theatre. They’ve then hooked their front curtain behind a chair on which – obviously a favourite spot – their cat is asleep. I presume they’ve done this just because. So when Meg Remy tells me that Bruce Springsteen and Isabella Rossellini have holiday homes here, I get it, just like I get it when she tells me that Hudson is her favourite place to play on her way to New York City, perhaps her favourite place to play anywhere. “I don’t like playing in the city,” she tells me at local dive bar and DIY venue The Half Moon, “so if I have to go there for a show I make sure I book a show here either the day before or the day after. It’s my treat to myself.” After U.S. Girls has performed, it’s getting late, so we arrange to meet for breakfast the following morning, before Remy drives to Manhattan to perform on a pier in Chelsea. Tomorrow will be a much more showbiz affair, which is exactly what she’s dreading about it. She rolls her eyes at the thought of a day festival (this one is called RiverRocks) where people wear flowers in their hair, and particularly at having to perform in front of any logos.
We hang out before we call it a night, mostly talking about how her new record deal with mega indie label 4AD is sure to open more (absurd) doors for her, and how many people will presume that new album ‘Half Free’ is her debut release, not her fifth LP. She admits to being apprehensive about working with a larger label (until now U.S. Girls has released chiefly via Siltbreeze, K-RAA-K and Brighton’s Fat Cat Records) but insists that she feels no pressure to say yes to anything she doesn’t want to do. Already she’s turned down a gig playing at a Louis Vuitton catwalk show on the grounds that there was no fee attached. “Can you believe that!?” she says on The Half Moon’s terrace. “‘Louis doesn’t have much of a budget for this…’ Well, how about you sell one more bag, or give me a bag and I can sell it myself. I can’t be playing shows like that, because they obviously don’t respect me.” Similarly, Remy cancelled a live booking once she found out that the headliner she’d be opening for was being paid $21,000 while her fee stood at $150. She managed to reduce this alarming gulf by a fraction (finally being offered $650) before forgetting the whole thing. “At first I thought, fuck it, y’know what, I will play the show and make sure it’s the best show I’ve ever played, and then I thought, no, I don’t need this, so why should I put up with it?” Equality on tour, she says, is something she’ll be directly affecting now that she’ll be playing bigger shows as the headliner, with the ability to give opening acts fees they deserve.
udson is not a typical American town,” says Remy as we sit down to a breakfast of short stack pancakes, juice, tea and coffee. It ended up being a late night – she left The Half Moon at a reasonable hour but had to wait up for her backing singers,
Amanda Crist (who also makes up one half of electro pop duo Ice Cream) and Isla Craig. You can see it in her sore eyes. “It’s typical of liberal America,” she says, “but if we were in Texas right now… it would still be friendly and look quaint and cute, but the vibe would be different as a freak walking down the street.” Remy has always considered herself that way, and in her 30 years she’s seen enough of the States to become an authority on what’s out there. At school, as a defining loner in a tiny hometown in Illinois that she won’t tell me the name of, she formed a punk band called Slut Muffin with her only friend. When her parents divorced she and her mother edged closer to Chicago but remained in the middle of nowhere until Remy moved to Portland. Then Philadelphia. Then Toronto where she currently lives with her husband Max Turnbull, who professionally goes by the name of DFA musician Slim Twig. “I think I was running from ex-boyfriends,” she says. “I’m a Cancer, so, as a crab, I take my home with me. Wherever I am, there I am. “I think it’s part of my personality – I get antsy. Whenever I start feeling stale, I want to mix it up.” For its history and refusal to go nose-to-nose with New York, Philly is Remy’s favourite city (“Being there makes you feel like you’re in a Bruce Springsteen song”) but it was Portland that inspired U.S. Girls and got Remy building a DIY network as she began to tour up and down the west coast. On arriving in Oregon, she played guitar in a band called Hux – an aggressively angular group that she describes as “very early 2000s.” “I just always wanted to get bloody at shows,” she says, “break a bone or smash our faces or something.” She drummed in a shambolic punk outfit called Hustler White, too, named after an art porn movie by Canadian director Bruce LaBruce, followed by Silver Cream, a free jazz project, fully improvised and made up of two unaffected guitars. It
Photogra phy: Antoine Lutens / writer: stuart stubbs
was the solo woman of Portland that inspired Remy most of all, though, and musicians like Inca Ore and Grouper offered a blueprint for making music without having to deal with band mates or compromise intent. Remy had discovered the ritual of recording music alone and liked it so much she began U.S. Girls as a project for herself. She started by making 100 CDRs to pass out at shows and on to friends, which lead to two albums proper on Philly label Siltbreeze. ‘Introducing’ was released in 2008, followed by ‘Go Grey’ in 2010. The tone of these early
records is unrecognisable from the albums that followed and especially the forthcoming ‘Half Free’. Unapologetically experimental, U.S. Girls was laying to warped tape a particularly dark brand of hauntology, where static and drones were occasionally joined by Remy’s wailing moan at unpredictable intervals. “When I was alone, that was what was coming out,” she tells me. “Weird and haunted. That first record was me at the end of my rope, so that’s what it sounds like. “Those first two records were pretty unhappy times,” she says. “I was
in relationships with bad men, which I chose – I chose to be with those people – but I was stuck in a pattern which I think had been set for me from childhood. It was bad men, booze, drugs, depression.” She laughs. You can hear the moment when Remy’s life flattened out, when she stopped running from ex-boyfriends and found love and solace in Toronto and Max Turnbull – it’s all over her 2011 album ‘U.S. Girls on K-RAA-K’. It’s hardly a shiny pop album, but for the first time Remy was collaborating with others on U.S. Girls, including Turnbull and producer Onakabazien,
who added something that was notably absent on ‘Introducing’ and ‘Go Grey’ – beats. Remy’s true, strange voice was emerging, too – a strained Ronnie Spector-ish whine that’s full of soul but not completely easy to listen to. “Meeting Max changed a lot of things in my life,” she says. “I think I’d been searching for an ally and companion for a long time. These bad men or troubled friends or whatever, it never worked out – with Max it wasn’t just romantic love; we spoke each other’s language, with music and art and what we want to do. My music changed so quickly, from his help but
also because I had a new emotion to pull from.” Proving the point is ‘… on K-RAA-K’’s cover of Brandy and Monica’s ‘The Boy Is Mine’ – the first track that Onakabazien worked on. “Around that time I started standing up on stage,” she notes. “I used to close my eyes and get through it, like early sex or something.” She says that performing remains a test, although you’d never know it from her rooted onstage stance that’s suitably badass for a musician as fiercely independent as her, and I’m not surprised to hear that she welcomes the challenge more than she favours
the comfort of a supporting band. That was her set up at one point, and it did make performing more bearable for her, but then… “It got too easy. As soon as you have a set up on stage that is remotely traditional, the audience are like, ‘oh, I get this. There’s drums and guitars and a girl singing. I can digest this; I can get into this; it’s simple.’ And I could see that; I was like, ‘what the fuck, this is really pleasing!’. I was giving it up too easy. I like when people are enjoying it, but it’s fun to make people feel uncomfortable. There’s enough entertainment that makes you feel safe
– I’d rather something more jarring, where people leave thinking, what was that? I don’t know if I liked that but I can’t stop thinking about it.”
n October 25th ‘Half Free’ will replace U.S. Girls’ 2012 album ‘Gem’ as Meg Remy’s most quote-unquote commercial-sounding record yet. She originally slated it as a joint release with Onakabazien, before other producers worked on tracks for it, including Ben Cook from Fucked Up,
who released U.S. Girls’ 2013 EP ‘Free Advice Column’ on his Bad Actors Inc. label and contributed to ‘Half Free’ track ‘Red Comes in Many Shade’. It’s a mournful ballad about the sorrowful subject of a bad relationship. Musically speaking, it’s not typical of the whole record’s tone, which shifts pace as it skips from dub to glam rock, to Moroder-ish disco, to ‘Velvet Rope’ RnB over its nine tracks. It’s this eclecticism that gives ‘Half Free’ much of its appeal, but the star turn is really Remy’s vocals and, even more so, what they’re conveying. “I’m trying to make conscious pop
U. S . G I R LS O N C E C A N C E L L E D A S H O W O N F I N D I NG O U T TH A T T H E H EA D L I N ER ’S F E E WAS $21,0 0 0 , WHI L E S H E WAS OFFERED $150 T O OPEN
music,” she says, and the clue is in the name – U.S. Girls has always been a project by a feminist artist fighting for gender equality. The first song that Remy was truly audible on was ‘… on K-RAA-K’’s ‘State House (It’s a Man’s World)’, and ‘Half Free’ continues her quest to be a voice for the everywoman, just as her hero Bruce Springsteen became a voice for the everyman. So ‘Damn That Valley’, whilst Remy’s party banger, is the desperate cry of a war widow, and the opening ‘Sororal Feeling’ is from the first person perspective of an abandoned and abused wife who signs off each chorus with the evocative line: “And now I’m gonna hang myself / Hang myself from my family tree.” Remy wrote disco track ‘Window Shades’ after watching the Katy Perry tour documentary Part Of Me, telling me that the scenes in which Perry is desperately trying to save her marriage to a disinterested Russell Brand – to no avail – are all too familiar to her. “It was really brave and honest of her to include that in that film,” says Remy. “It changed my mind about her. She’s no fake.” Of course, you could argue that unrequited love and husbands going to war and never returning aren’t in the same ballpark, but the truth is that relationships are a huge part of life and U.S. Girls isn’t interested in fuelling the false impression that feminism is about hating men and denouncing love. She’s passionate about the topics she sings about, but far from humourless, which is how ‘Half Free’ contains a silly skit called ‘Radio Play No. 1’ – a phone conversation between Remy and her sister-in-law about weird sex dreams involving parents. It ends with a blast of canned laughter on a punch line that I won’t ruin here. Remy says that a lot of the characters on the album are full of hurt. “It’s about pain and confusion, due to the world we live in and life,” she says. “It’s got a very grey feeling.” I point out that she’s so happy these days, though. “But the world isn’t,” she says. “There are moments when I want to tear my hair out – people are so fucking asleep. Even the people you know, even me. I’m still checking Twitter. Why do we have to do that every day? Why has that become an hourly thing for some people?” For a brief moment we go silent and look at our pancakes. “I don’t know that people are looking at their phones and the Internet for what it really is,” she continues. “There’s some shit going
on that we’re going to find out about, and it’s going to be too late, probably. I mean, Edward Snowden is amazing and a fucking hero, and you ask the average person who he is and they’d be like, ‘oh, isn’t he that guy that got caught with that stuff or something?’. He sacrificed his life to say something very important, and I don’t mean this just from a government standpoint, but advertising and corporations are starting to corral us, basically, and we’re just getting herded in until eventually there’s just total control.” ‘Damn That Valley’ first had me thinking that the title ‘Half Free’ was a reference to war. Then I decided it must be womanhood, in a world that still discriminates. “It’s to everything,” says Remy. “That’s the thing – that term applies to the whole world. To having children, to marriage, to working. Even if you have this great job and all this money, you still have this boss. “I don’t know if freedom has ever existed. I’ve never been free. I can’t be free from my own mind.” Remy sees her themes as being relevant to American women, and by proxy all women in western culture. When I ask her what gender relations are currently like in North America she laughs as she exhales “totally fucked.” “It’s 2015 and a woman in the States still doesn’t have total control over her body,” she says. “It’s absurd. All of the images we’re inundated with, and rape culture, and how everything is set up to protect and for the benefit of men… I read about this college student who was raped and the college refused to punish the man who raped her so she carried a mattress around to every class she went to for two semesters, as a protest. That’s an incredible statement, and that’s how it is. There’s always going to be some reason to protect the man in a case like that – either there’s no ‘proof’ or it’s his word against hers, and I think his will always win.Yoko Ono fucking said it – ‘Woman is the nigger of the world’. There are male groups that have had it hard, but when you break it down, woman of all colours have it the worst.” U.S. Girls’ new album closes on a song called ‘Woman’s Work’, about the false representation of female beauty in the media and how corrosive and endless these unattainable body images have become. Remy says that just because she wrote about the subject, it doesn’t mean she herself is immune from these warped pressures. “I think I’ve suffered from that my whole life,” she says, “body dismorphia, due to the
images that you see in the media compared to the one you see in the mirror. You could never look like what you see in the magazine, because that’s not real. It’s airbrushed and whatever, and it creates a disconnect. But it’s something I always struggle with. Like, you don’t want to leave the house because you feel you look bad. It doesn’t happen to me every day, but if I’m being honest… Even cool people – not that I’m saying I’m cool – but women who are educated and read and know all about this bullshit, you’re still brainwashed and susceptible to it. That’s partly why I cut off all my hair – it was one less thing to worry about in that department.”
oman’s Work’ ends on a flooring line: “You arrived in your mother’s arms / But you will leave riding in a black limousine.” The slow jam of ‘Navy & Cream’ (a “neurotic, existential kind of thing”) packs a zinging parting shot too: “Now she wants a tattoo of a tear drop on her finger / But it won’t fix a thing / Her child is her enemy.” “That’s totally about my family,” says Remy, “and it’s also about families in general. I think a lot about families, and how we’re born into them and have no choice, and most of us feel a sense of loyalty, even if we don’t get along with them – you feel this pull to keep in touch and keep up appearances with them. I think that’s bullshit. I think you should find your family where you find it, and you shouldn’t stay tied to something that’s not good for you. “I think a lot of parents have children who hate them, and they don’t know it.” I presume that Remy isn’t close to hers, but she says that her and her family (her mother, father and two older brothers) are just different. “I’m an alien or something,” she says. “I’m close with my mum still. I got great things from my family – very valuable traits that I use daily. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have my family as very good examples of believing in myself.” Growing up in Illinois, the Remy household was a musical one, without anyone in it being a musician. Music fuelled conversation and mapped out the lives of Remy’s folks, who’d hear a pop song on the radio and reminisce about where they were when it was first released and what time it reminds them of. The radio was always on and Remy’s mum made sure that her
daughter was never embarrassed by the act of singing aloud, leading by example. Then Remy discovered punk and Bikini Kill and realised that you really can sing however you like. “I don’t think I’m a very good singer,” she tells me, “I just think I’ve got balls or something. I think my voice is very weird – it’s not for everyone. That’s why it’s not pop. It could never reach a broad audience – it’s not digestible enough.” Ask Remy what music she first fell in love with as a kid and she’ll answer you in in a heartbeat – Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Beach Boys and Boys 2 Men, but especially Springsteen. His is a name that crops up in each of the previous articles I’ve read on U.S. Girls, regardless of the fact that the two have little in common stylistically and thematically. “But I mention him in every interview because I’m trying to meet him,” says Remy. “Any time I can mention him I will. Like, we’re playing this show today on the pier in New York, and there should be some people there, and it’s in Manhattan, so I’ll be thinking, there might be someone here who knows Bruce, or someone in his band, so I’ll mention him.” She laughs. “That’s what you’ve got to do. “I’d like to meet him and have a drink with him and I would just like to know, from him, his intentions for what he’s been doing this whole time.” I ask what she thinks they are. “I have no idea.” And what about your own intentions? What are they? She lets out a laugh as we collect the bill. “To be honest and exposed and raw with myself, in the hope that it will encourage others to be more real with themselves, and uncomfortable. But also just to make music that has a message of some sort. I love love-songs, too, and I write them, but it’s just taking the time to really focus on the lyrics and create a mood and convey emotion, and just to challenge myself and never take the easy route. And just not being influenced by all that crap that comes along, and not becoming spoilt. Like Louis Vuitton.”
Vindicate Your Anger Gospel punk band Algiers are making political music at a time when we need it most
n my mind, music has always echoed people’s political opinions rather than shaped them. From Woody Guthrie’s lyrically astute folk through to the righteous anger of Crass, political songwriting has always tapped into popular feeling rather than led them. In a way, that has always been the power of music as a social force; it acts to rally people and serve as a lightning rod for thought and action. If that’s true, then judging by the amount of people crammed into the Waiting Room jostling to see Algiers, something big is in the air. Any way you cut it, this three piece (four-piece, including former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong) has certainly caught the growing sense of fury at the status quo, and they have succeeded in drawing out the kind of badgewearing, socially attuned punks who have been absent from a lot of shows recently. As if to make my point, a middle-aged woman clasped my arm just as the band struck up –”is this them,“ she said, trying to steal a glimpse over the crowd of people. “I read about them in the Socialist Worker today, and I didn’t want to miss them.” “We were trying to create something that was outside of ourselves,“ muses bassist Ryan Mahan as we discuss the response to the band’s self-titled debut album before the show. “It’s not really about us, but more about building a space where we can throw our thoughts in and hopefully have other people throw their thoughts in.” For a band that have always had their views squarely displayed on their sleeves, Algiers seem genuinely taken aback by the reception that ‘Algiers’ has been getting. “I don’t know what ‘doing well’ is; I don’t have any way to gauge it,” adds lead-singer Franklin James Fisher. “It‘s all a learning
experience for me, so I have to take it as it comes. I think it‘s safe to say that none of us ever thought that we’d be in a band at any stage of a career, let alone one that is on a label.” Algiers have definitely struck a chord with many people out there. Forming in Atlanta in 2009, this trio of multi-instrumentalists have caught the imagination with their righteous blend of drone, soul and Marxism. For a band with such a powerful and coherent manifesto, it’s always been more of a pick up and put down project. With the band members spread across different continents, they move forward in short leaps and bounds, which seems to suit them perfectly. “For better or worse it’s just how it’s been drafted,” explains Lee Tesche, the group‘s guitarist. “Our circumstances mean situations like this, where we’re together for about 3 weeks where we had to rehearse, play a bunch of shows, take two days at the studio and record new songs, means that it can be quite intense sometimes, but it works. We do this and then go off and do our own thing.” This disparate way of working is perhaps the cause of Algiers extremely eclectic sound, with all three members bringing different and often conflicting influences to the table. The result has been a sound that is infuriatingly difficult to pin down, and Algiers have invited comparisons as diverse as Public Enemy, The Clash and A Certain Ratio since Matador released their album earlier this year. Tesche’s spooky, wiry guitars recall The Birthday Party and Gang of Four, while Mahan’s rumbling bass lines and sharp, urgent synth stabs bring hints of Joy Division and Throbbing Gristle to the mix. Holding it all together is Fisher’s mournful, soul-like vocals that add a real melodic punch to what should be a pretty minimal affair. On paper, it’s
an approach that shouldn’t really work, but thanks to the band’s sheer musicianship, they manage not only to mesh together this wide-ranging collection of styles but also transcend them. Despite the band’s myriad of influences, it has been Algiers’ gospel flourishes that have most focussed the critics’ minds. I’m keen to find out how the band are feeling about the attention; “I suppose that’s because on the surface it seems so antithetical in nature to the punk element,” offers Fisher, “but when we started this thing we quickly realised how much they have in common. Originally I tried to sound like other people, and it wasn’t something that I felt comfortable with, so these guys told me to reference something that I knew, and y’know, I’m an African American and gospel music and the church is very much a part of my identity.” “From my perspective, gospel music sits at the nexus of a lot of American history and it’s about liberation,” adds Mahan. “A lot of people pick up on the religious aspect, asking, ‘why would you choose religious music?’ Well, no, it’s music about emancipation.” For Fisher, though, the whole argument seems slightly redundant. “It‘s not just gospel music, it’s soul music and it’s R&B and it’s jazz and it’s blues and it’s hip hop and it’s funk,” he says. It’s all those types of music that make up the history of American music and popular music. We noticed a lot of the shared lineage of all of these genres but the construct of all of these genres is a divisive tool and I think the easiest way to overcome it is to pay them no mind.” For Mahan, the chance to comment on the state of the world is one of the main motivations for being in a band. “It’s just based in dissatisfaction,” he says earnestly. “You come from your
environment and you interact with your environment. We have all been influenced by political bands so to speak or bands who have had something to say about the times that they lived. For me personally, it’s very difficult to have music or art without some kind of engagement with society. I’m not very interested in listening to something if it doesn’t at least somehow engage with our social conditions.” The danger for most political bands, from Nation of Ulysses to Body Count, is that they can end up stuck in an echo-chamber, with the message only resonating with a close group of fans. “If you engage with politics as a band then essentially it’s a suicide mission for your career,” agrees Fisher. “I think it’s very difficult nowadays for any sort of musician or artist to make a living and one of the last things you’re going to do is sabotage yourself.You’re going to be talking about whatever’s selling or whatever’s marketable. I don’t know what degree of success we’ll see but I think we’re at a particular place and a particular time that people seem to be responding to what we’re doing.” And that’s the point, people are responding to what Algiers are doing. Whether it’s the band’s sharp criticisms of the politics of the South or the groundswell of outrage that has come from the recent events in the USA, the trio’s calls for racial justice seem more vital than ever. “I think those events reflect a reality that has existed in the same way for a very long time,” says Fisher as we touch on the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. “It’s built up into a massive powder keg and it’s been something we’ve wanted to exorcise for a very long time, so it feels great that this is resonating with other people. The things that we talk about and the things that speak to us and the
P hotogr a phy: jenn a foxton / writer: do m inic h a ley
Above l-r : M a tt Tong, Ry an Mahan, Le e T e s c h e a nd Fr anklin Jam e s F is h e r in abne y pa r k c e me te r y . St oke Ne wington, L ond o n.
things that piss us off – those same set of emotions are resonating and it’s a good feeling. You feel somewhat vindicated in your anger and somewhat validated in your disgust. You don’t feel like you’re crazy or that you’re the only person in the world who has been feeling this for so long.” Shining a light on the rifts and divisions of the American South is, in many ways, the core of Algiers music. “As someone who’s quite conditioned by my own environment I feel like there was a lot of weight there,” sighs Tesche. “I didn’t feel like I was able to express my thoughts in that space until I left that space. It’s like I couldn’t leave it until I left it and it still took me a long time to actually get away from it, in an emotional sense.” Mahan is more blunt: “The fundamentals of this band are based in memory and our engagement with history and how we feel about our own past, but also the general experience in the world, which can be really dreadful. We have a Southern Gothic element to our inspiration but that is very much about kind of a dread in society and a sense that things are not as they seem.” As we continue to talk, I slowly begin to glimpse how complicated
Algiers’ relationship with their home can be. Mahan, Tesche and Fisher are all certainly politically astute, but they also have a keen sense of history and I get the feeling that they’re caught up in an attempt to make sense of a region that is still coming to terms with the wreckage of the past. “Because we have criticised the history of the south, people think we have this malevolent distaste for it,” explains Mahan, “but it’s just us trying to understand it as a concept and how it defines us. You can’t totally repress all that history; it’s like it’s still there, in your ear, and you can still feel it. I think a song like ‘Remains’ is about that. There’s a reminder there for you as an oppressor or the oppressed. You might not recognise it, but it hangs around like a haunting, ghostly feeling, structuring your life and your interactions with other people. I’m suddenly reminded of Doris Salcedo’s ‘Shibboleth’; the huge crack in the floor of Tate Modern. Its purpose was to show that at the core of all this culture and high ideals, there is a scar that British imperialism left, and there’s no way it can be easily papered over. It’s a sentiment that I see reflected in Algiers’ music. “There’s definitely an element of void in our music. A
nothingness,” says Mahan when I mention it. “It’s not a nihilistic thing, it’s like however you try to fill it in with society, culture and laws, you can’t forget that fundamental rift and you can’t get rid of it. That’s why it’s melancholy. It’s political, but – and this is why I’m drawn to gospel – there’s an acknowledgement that we’re not going to get there, well maybe we are, but not right now. That’s pretty melancholy, but there’s also an affirmation there.” Perhaps unwilling to leave it on such a bleak note, I offer that like recovering alcoholics, maybe the first step to healing these deep wounds is to accept that they exist. “I think it does help to recognise issues like these,” nods Mahan, “if more people did, maybe we could move towards a reconciliation.”
L e f t : T K A Y MA idza i n Ma r r ick v i l l e, Syd n ey , A u s t r a l ia
Switch it up TKAY MAIDZA is doing it for the women of Australia, and not just the other rappers Photography: Cybele Malinowski / writer: jennifer jonson
In the Northern hemisphere, the phrase “Australian female rapper” can only be associated with one name: Iggy Azalea. For better or worse (read: undoubtedly worse) Azalea is the Land Down Under’s only successful female hip-hop export to date. However, some very public celebrity feuds and gratuitous acts of cultural appropriation have rendered her more embarrassment than ambassador. In the past two years, a 19-year-old rapper from Adelaide has been waiting patiently in the wings, crafting a handful of ambitious, radio-ready tracks. Now, with her successful ‘Switch Tape’ EP behind her and a debut album in the works, Zimbabwe-born Tkay Maidza is poised to redeem Aussie hip-hop on the international stage. Her effortless flow and polished production have garnered comparisons to the likes of M.I.A. and Azealia Banks, though Maidza is quick to state her admiration for the undisputed queen of contemporary hip-hop. “Nikki Minaj was the reason why I started,” she says, having begun to write songs in her mid-teens. “She made me think, wow, girls actually do this thing!” The importance of elevating female voices in an industry dominated by male artists is not lost on Maidza. She recognises that she’s a pioneer, and hopes that, in time, she also proves to be a trendsetter. “I’m excited to see how far I go,” she says of her recent rise to prominence, “but I think it’s
just the start of something, a bigger picture for women in Australia – not just rappers, but female vocalists as well.” Maidza is both humble and affable –the kind of person to laugh at a dud joke just to diffuse the tension – though her easy-going demeanour belies a discerning streak. She’s aware of the naysayers who want to divest her of her achievements or discredit her successes, and she isn’t afraid to defend herself – “I don’t think it’s a fluke or anything, because I’ve been able to play some of the most elite festivals.” In that she means Australia’s celebrated Splendour in the Grass Festival (an event she’s performed at twice) and earlier this year she was selected to fill in for Lykke Li at the touring Laneway Festival after the singer pulled out due to ill health. “It’s like Pitchfork Festival in Australia,” she says of the latter. “They always get the Pitchfork kind of people to play there. Not a lot of Australians get to play there.” Now that she’s made sufficient headway in conquering her homeland, Maidza has set her sights on winning over audiences abroad. She toured the UK in support of major label pop trio Years & Years this summer and tells me that she enjoys playing to people who aren’t yet familiar with her work. “I like playing overseas because no one really knows what I do, so I don’t have
to play crowd favourites all the time. We can change the set and make it more experimental. It’s fun to try and win over new people.” Ultimately, she hopes to gather a following in the U.S. and embed herself in the Big Apple’s historically rich hip-hop scene. “It’s my goal to live and work from there,” she says. “If I don’t live in New York, I don’t feel like I’ve done what I set out to do.” Like so many tourists, Maidza was instantly smitten with sights and sounds of the city, but, more importantly, she came to understand how the place shaped rap music as we know it. “I realised why people rap about what they rap about,” she says. “You can feel the culture just walking around, you can see it everywhere. It’s the city of big dreams.” While Maidza may not have a lifetime of urban living to draw from in her lyrics, she finds that her own experience provides her with a wealth of material. “The ‘Switch Tape’ EP that I wrote last year was about losing friends and getting rid of people that you don’t need in your life,” she tells me. “The stuff that I’m writing now is more about me trying to find out who I am and me telling myself to keep going. I’ve written a lot of songs like that lately.” She’s also discovered that fame and acclaim have their drawbacks, and she half-jokingly bemoans the fact that she can no longer leave the house looking
like “a dag”, for fear of being recognised.The sudden materialisation of hangers-on and opportunistic acquaintances has been a legitimate test of Maidza’s patience, too. “More people want more things from you”, she says. “The more I become known, people feel more entitled to get me to do things for them.” Through it all, Maidza’s music remains her respite and her salvation. “It’s just my outlet for stress,” she says, “that’s just how I vent. It’s like a therapy session or a time-stamp of my life, I guess. Sometimes I write a song and I don’t understand why I wrote it, but then in two months or two years I’ll be like, ‘oh that’s what that song meant.’” At present, Maidza’s debut album is roughly halfway to completion and she’s preparing to embark on a tour of Australia in September, with many dates already sold out. Seemingly true to form, she remains modest in the face of adoration; still pleasantly surprised at the level of attention her songs have been receiving. “I just used to do it for fun, and then it actually started picking up and it somehow turned into my job. It’s my interpretation of my own life, it’s my story”
Age Appropriate After two decades as one half of Air, NICOLAS GODIN has made a solo album, quite by accident, and inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach Photography: sonny mccartney / writer: James f. thompson
So, to Paris then, as I accept an invitation for an audience with a member of French pop music royalty on a sweltering August afternoon in the City of Light. Photographer in-tow, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a morning surveying the spooky crypts of Cimetiere Montmartre and strolling by the iconic red windmill of the Moulin Rouge, all courtesy of record company largesse. Across to Paris for breakfast and back for last orders? I could get used to this. It’s a charmed life but it’s one that our globe-trotting interviewee evidently takes in his stride, judging by how immaculately he’s turned out emerging from a cab to meet Sonny and I at a secluded backstreet hotel less than 24 hours after getting back from his holidays. Skinny white jeans, a box-fresh grey cashmere pullover and a Burberry trench coat that’s easily worth more than all of our clothes put together. Quelle surprise, Nicolas Godin’s wiry frame is a vision of Parisian elegance and élan. For two decades, the Parisian-born, Versaille-raised musician and producer has spent life as one-half of celebrated downtempo electronica duo Air. Along with bandmate Jean-Benoît “JB” Dunckel, Godin rode the crest of the French Touch wave throughout the mid-to-late-nineties with albums like retro-kitsch classic debut ‘Moon Safari’ and its moody follow-up, the ‘Virgin Suicides’ soundtrack. In the process, the duo inspired legion imitators (think Röyksopp, Zero 7, Lemon Jelly) equally in paean to chilled-out rhythms pared with vintage synthesisers. Since then, Air have released other big hitters like ‘Talkie Walkie’ as well as more esoteric fare (‘10,000 Hz Legend’, ‘Music for Museum’). For people of a certain age though, those first couple of records are hard to beat. Air’s early output has found itself in near-constant phased rotation on my own turntable since my teenage years. I oscillate between unbridled adoration for songs like ‘Sexy Boy’ and ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’ and a gnawing sense that they belong on the soundtrack to a Monkey Dust dinner party scene. But then I’ve just bought the ‘Virgin
Suicides’ on vinyl, so… If Air’s music occasionally sounds like a product of its time, Godin certainly looks good in the present face-to-face, his freckled features and willowy mass of auburn hair belying his 45 years. We take a seat on the street terrace, seeking solace from the europop blaring away inside the hotel restaurant. “It’s funny,” says Godin as he sips from his sparkling water (Perrier, bien sûr) with just the right level of panache. “I started just around the corner from here – I had a flat over the hill in Montmartre – and I starting making music here 20 years ago. It’s… crazy.” Perhaps even crazier is that it’s taken all of those 20 years for Godin to get around to releasing a solo album (‘Contrepoint’) out on Because Music this month. Dunckel released his first (‘Darkel’) back in 2006. For all their experimentation across albums, Air operate within a fairly specific part of the electronic music spectrum. I ask Godin if there was never a desire to release anything outside of the band up until now. “Personally, I don’t think people should do solo records,” he says. “I think it’s a bad idea, you know? “Because I think there’s a magic and a chemistry between opposite people. Unfortunately, to make a cool band you need people with different personalities, so there are always egos [competing]. When I do festivals, I go backstage and see all these bands that hate each other. I saw the Strokes fighting. They were literally fighting! But I like that, I like the energy. People say they think they can do it on their own better but I don’t think so. The first two [Air] singles I did by myself. But I hate it, I don’t like to be by myself.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Godin originally had no intention of ever releasing ‘Contrepoint’ as an album. The project originated with a couple of documentaries on legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould that he was shown by a friend. Gould was a masterful interpreter of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and the exposure had a profound impact on Godin. Soon, he was studying Bach’s music. “I didn’t plan to do [a solo
album],” he says. “My idea was just to get new inspiration from a personal point of view, not to make a record. Just because I felt I needed some fresh influences. I was bored. So I decided to study classical music to go more deep in my knowledge, and just for me to be excited and be a better man; a better composer. And then, little by little it became a record. I didn’t have a goal, I didn’t wake up one morning saying, now I have to make a recording. It didn’t happen like that at all.” Each of the eight pieces on the album sees Godin employ one of Bach’s melodies at its core, although most then veer off sharply into unexpected avenues. ‘Widerstehe doch der Sünde’ is a case in point, starting off with an introduction from a longlost concerto (“One of the most badass chords that I’ve ever played on a keyboard,” notes Godin) before morphing into a multi-faceted modern symphony. On paper, ‘Contrepoint’ is a high-minded, almost academic exercise, but as an album, it’s exhilarating. No straightforward accomplishment, says Godin. “I think it’s super-easy to do an experimental record that can be boring,” he says. “I think it’s much harder to do something that’s mainstream. Like, I remember so many bands that make a cool album with a lot of hits, then next thing they try to be artistic and people don’t mind and say: ‘Wow they took some risk, they did something artistically experimental.’ I say to myself, it’s so much harder to write music that’s on the radio than experimental music. “So my challenge was how to do something with a high level of musicality in it but not something boring or deductive. [Now] I’m in a tiny place and if I move left or right, I’m going to fall into a horrible world, you know? So I have to stay in the middle and it’s pretty exhausting, actually. It’s like walking on a rope and you can fall!” Godin was also conscious of past experimental missteps. For some, ‘10,000 Hz Legend’ was a bridge too far beyond the sultry bedroomfriendly music of the first two Air albums. The sentiment seems to have
weighed heavily on his mind in recording the new record. “[‘10,000 Hz’] is much too complicated for me,” he admits. “It’s like – I don’t compare myself to Brian Wilson – but when I read in interviews from him, he said he was not a big fan of ‘Good Vibrations’. He said the song was too complicated. He liked to write catchy, hit singles and he thought ‘Good Vibrations’ was too much stopping all the time. I remember that when we did ‘10,000 Hz’ the songs stop all the time and you don’t have time to get into it, except ‘How Does It Make You Feel?’ which is very simple. The structures of the other tracks are way too complicated.” Another element of complexity in recording ‘Contrepoint’ was that Godin needed to be able to play Bach’s work on piano. Bandmate Dunckel is a classically trained pianist but Godin is a bassist by trade, necessitating some serious practice. He managed to master some pieces but others were simply too complex. It’s for that reason that we’re able to look forward to the release of an album instead of a mere concert. “I could hear in my mind how [the songs] should be played but some of them I was not good enough, as a pianist, to play them,” he acknowledges. “So that’s why I did the record – that’s the only reason why. My fingers couldn’t do things that I could hear in my mind. When I see Glenn Gould’s playing I can see that it’s absolutely not a problem for him. His fingers, he can do whatever he wants. With me, I know some parts of the music and how it should be played but actually I couldn’t do it.” Godin began the record by using a computer to sequence the piano melodies that he was unable to play by hand. Little by little, though, the producer was unable to resist the urge to contort Bach’s melodies into entirely new songs. Soon additional harmonies were layered atop one another, new melodies were written and an entirely new set of songs began to emerge from the studio. Ever-wary of going it alone, Godin was keen to ensure the process of recording ‘Contrepoint’ was ultimately
Be l o w : N i c o l a s g o d i n a t T h e h o t el r o y a l ma n s a r t in t h e c en t r e o f P a r i s
a collaborative experience, what with his self-confessed limitations in the classical field. The services of cosongwriter, keyboardist and Bach specialist Vincent Taurelle were soon employed, along with a supporting cast of artists including French vocalist Gordon Tracks, Brazilian singer Marcelo Camelo and – perhaps slightly incongruously – Connan Mockasin. “I think even solo artists need to be with somebody, he says. “Great solo artists like Bowie always had a great producer. I think it’s stupid to make ‘solo’ solo records – I just don’t think it’s
interesting because you need to fill yourself with the energy of someone else.”
rom the way that Godin speaks about his new album – and the fact that he mentions having another “concept” up his sleeve – I’m fairly sure that he sees ‘Contrepoint’ as the start of a series of solo records that reflect personal interests, albeit probably in constant collaboration
with trusted friends. I’m slightly less sure what all this means for Air, though. Throughout our time together the subject of Dunckel and the future of the band barely comes up. In fact, lost in translation or otherwise, when Godin does speak about Air he sometimes seems to refer to the band in the past tense, as though a previous chapter of his life. “I’ve been there and done that, you know?” he says. “I reached that point where every night I was playing the same songs. So I was like, okay what should I do now, you know? Because this is done.
“I think also with the kind of music we were doing, we had hit the maximum audience that we could reach,” he continues, “because otherwise we would have to become more commercial. I think I couldn’t go higher than I was reaching, so that was it. We played some amazing places like the Royal Albert Hall, the Sydney Opera House… we did so many tours around the world. It’s like after 15, 20 years, that’s it – we reach our cruise control. I think we accomplished everything that was technically doable with Air.”
Nicolas godin stands by h i s s t a t emen t t h a t peo pl e o v er 40 ma k e s h i t reco rd s. H e’ s ma d e h i s f i r s t so l o a l b u m a t t h e a g e o f 4 5.
The last widely-released record from Air was 2012’s ‘Le Voyage Dans la Lune’ – the duo’s soundtrack to Georges Méliès’ 1902 silent picture. A totemic piece of French culture, a newly-discovered print of the film was remastered from scratch, with Air given the honour of recording an aural accompaniment. It was a project in which Godin was proud to take part but crucially also a signifier of where the future of Air might lie – operating within the projects and commissions of others. Certainly the band seem prolific in this respect. Last year saw a limited, vinyl-only release of ‘Music for Museum’, a commission for the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille as part of their Open Museum project, while previous art collaborations have included film soundtracks (‘Virgin Suicides’) and more besides. If Air are to have any kind of long-term future, it might be in this capacity. There are no plans for a new Air record, says Godin. “I think if something happens it will happen; I’ve got nothing against it and nothing for it. I just wait for a sign of the gods or something. ‘Le Voyage Dans la Lune’ was a good record because we had a reason to do it; we had this film, which
had been restored and is a monument of French culture. We said okay, wow, that’s a good project. So if another good project happens, I’m completely open to do something but I need a good reason because I think otherwise I’ll not do it. I don’t care, really.” One of the reasons for Godin’s reticence is his controversial, longstated aversion to older people making music. I remind him that he once said anybody over the age of 40 makes shit records. Cue uproarious laughter. “It’s true! It’s fucking true!” he guffaws over his dwindling mineral water. “All the people we admire, that happens. I think in the best case, you do maybe 4-5 good albums but most of the bands make maybe 2-3 great albums and that’s it. You have to have a vision of music, you make a statement, make a record and then when it’s done, you just need new bands. You don’t need old bands making new records – I think what the world needs is interesting records, we don’t need old bands making records. “Once in a lifetime, it’s your window and we did that; we were in the right place, with the right equipment. All the planets are in the same line, you know? Suddenly it’s your turn and you have to not fuck up,
you have to make records when it’s good for you. And then after a while, when it’s gone, it’s gone.” On one level it’s a bit of a shame to hear somebody like Godin talk like this – to be so candid about the ephemeral nature of the true manifestation and apotheosis of an artist’s talent. You’d like to think people like him could go on making classic albums forever. Of course, he’s entirely right. Are Radiohead really still making good records? What about U2? When was the last good Rolling Stones album you heard? “Like 1971 or something,” Godin proffers in response to the latter with a snigger. Still, I venture that it’s a bit of a pity to write off artists after a certain point in their life but Godin says that it’s only natural. In fact, it turns out he has a fairly comprehensive theory as to why older musicians are rarely responsible for classic albums – especially electronic ones. “As a musician and as a producer, at some point in your lifetime you are accurate with technology and you can see that the technology that they produce is fit for you,” he begins. “Then you need to make a good record with this technology because it’s your turn. After that, even if you know how to use the modern technology, it’s not your style. “Look at the Moog synthesisers – they had them a few years too soon and they didn’t know what to do with it. Then Stevie Wonder had Moogs and he made these great albums, but the new technology took over – samplers and digital synthesisers. He kept making albums but it wasn’t his time; he was right with the Moogs and the Rhodes keyboards. But then there was Depeche Mode, who did great things with the Fairlight synthesisers etc. “Then us [Air], in ’98, ’99 with all this new gear, that was for us. So that’s when I did a lot of electronic music, because I knew I was accurate with this equipment. Nowadays I use new technology, new programs and plugins, but I can feel it’s not my strength. I use them because I like it but I know that it will not be my asset. My asset is my knowledge and my experience that the new guy will not have. But I will not [prioritise] the technologies of nowadays, because I
had my time where I was accurate with it but I know I’m not anymore.” Godin’s solo album rather deemphasises its creator’s roots in electronica; a development that it now seems was no coincidence. “You need to be in phase, as a creator, with the technology,” he says. “When it’s your turn, you make a great album with it. So there’s a great analogue synthesiser album, there’s a great digital synthesiser album, there’s a great drum machine album, there’s a great rock guitar album. There’s always someone who’s accurate with the technology.” In some respects then, Godin’s pivot into the world of classical music with ‘Contrepoint’ represents something of an abrogation of his responsibility to be at the bleeding edge of popular music; a passing of the torch. For some people this might represent a disappointing retreat from the horizon of the zeitgeist. To my ears though, it seems like a pretty pragmatic response to any maturing musician’s changing position within the artistic landscape from the vanguard to the exploratory. “You know, you’re only a newcomer once in your life,” say Godin, “and I think after a while, I see a lot of artists scared to be not fashionable anymore. They always check what’s new but just end up seeming like an old person with plastic surgery, you know? [Laughs] You still look old but you obviously look like you’ve had plastic surgery! So I say [to myself], let’s do classical music because this is at my age; I can do that, it’s natural and it’s my performing desire.”
Be lo w: b e ir ut’ s f r en c h h unting b ugle t a t t o o s . R igh t: p lay ing p i a n o i n h is b r oo kly n s t u d i o
Back to Zach Condon doesn’t know what you’re going to make of the new Beirut album, a record plagued by crippling self-doubt, and one that bypasses the fantasy sounds of his early adventures in Europe P hotography: am ber mahoney / writer: stuart stu bb s
Zach Condon always looked like a World War II evacuee. Cherub-faced, porcelain-skinned, wavy of hair, in a tidy blazer and open-neck shirt, there he stood, as if on the platform of a country village railway station, with a musical instrument from another time tucked under his arm – a trumpet or a French horn or a ukulele. In 2006, when he released ‘Gulag Orkestar’ – his first album as Beirut – no other act at the coalface of new millennial indie looked or sounded remotely like him, and Condon’s singular and complete vision (and fantasy) has endured on a diet of uniqueness and self-imposed pressure. Even when he was buddied up with other non-dance-punk acts of the day, like Arcade Fire, Final Fantasy and Patrick Wolf, it was only earthy, old country instruments that they really shared in common – nobody else was utilising pianos, accordions, strings
and a hell of a lot of brass to make Balkan folk and Sicilian funeral music. The only records that have resembled ‘Gulag Orkestar’ since are Beirut’s following two albums and his clutch of EPs. Condon is now 29 and still lives in Brooklyn where his project began in earnest, although as a young American obsessed with Europe he’s spent plenty of time away from his adopted hometown. He looks less like a paragon of virtue hiding out from the Luftwaffe these days, although his perfect mop of hair is still a style (and non-style) of its own, and he still looks good in a shirt with buttons. His three-day stubble tells the story of his last three years, which haven’t been easy, and he arrives at his new practice studio in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, as you’d imagine anyone else to who’s suffered from chronic insomnia their whole
life – squinting into 10am white light and introducing himself in a low, slow register that lingers for our few hours together. Later this month, Beirut will release his (or, more so than ever this time around, their) fourth album, but ‘No No No’ has been no walk in the park – “More like a frozen waterfall and an ice pick and snow cleats climb,” says Condon.
n 2013, whilst touring his 2011 album, ‘The Rip Tide’, Condon was hospitalised in Australia due to exhaustion whilst simultaneously going through a divorce. He convalesced in Brooklyn and summered in Istanbul where he fell in love, but creatively, for the first time,
he became crippled by self-doubt. Writer’s block got the better of him as he scrapped albums and albums worth of material. Condon has a history of battling anxiety. In the past he’s spoken candidly about the stage fright he suffers from (which has led to panic attacks that have cancelled tours before now), and Australia wasn’t the first time he was hospitalised due to exhaustion. “You could go on,” he tells me. “I’ve got manic depression, I’ve got an intense fear of flying – you could go on and on.” Insomnia feeds off mental torture and I believe Condon when he stresses that it’s one of the most frustrating things in the world. “It should be so easy to switch it off and go to sleep – it’s that fucking simple, right? – but it’s not, and so you’re going through these nights, and you’re up by yourself and the
Right: Z ach C o nd o n o n th e str e e t in Pr o s pe c t h e igh ts far r ight : be h ind th e dr u ms at comp le te m us ic st u dios, bro o ky ln, NY
world shuts down – even here in New York, you’re utterly alone after a certain point. And you’ll go through these epic mental wars throughout the night, and then the sun will rise and they’ll all seem so petty and stupid. And people will wake up and you’ll start socialising, and you’ll be like, ‘where did I just go, because this is not the same reality as 3 or 4 o’clock this morning.’ And it’s this weird, awful feeling. How do you explain that to the people around you? What I went through last night while you were asleep felt like one of the most epic battles of my life, and you just cruise through life. “But they’re all mental,” he says. “All these issues, they’re all in my head, and that’s what you realise. So if anyone else got the luck it was the luck to just be content.” The pressure he puts upon himself, he says, is getting worse. “I’m more self-aware, too. I like to think that coming from an ethnically Irish Catholic family, we just love to make ourselves suffer.” He laughs. So Zach Condon was tearing his hair out writing music only to throw it in the bin, until his core band mates, bassist Paul Collins and drummer Nick Petree, did something about it. In a much grottier practice space than the one we’re sat in (Beck is currently rehearsing upstairs), a mile up the road under the Manhattan Bridge, they convinced Condon to put in a 9 to 5 day with them, Monday to Friday. “We just used field recorders, and we’d just jam, which is a word I hate,” says Condon. “I’d usually burn that to the ground, and they knew that too, but that’s what we did.” He describes that dank room in Dumbo as a dungeon, and points out that the rust on an amplifier beside us is from the moisture that would cling to and drip from the walls and ceiling. It would constantly make their acoustic instruments detune, and while on a 31-degree day like today it would be unbearably hot inside, in the depth of New York’s coldest winter in recent times the three of them would sit tight to a space heater with scarfs wrapped around their heads. “We’d do really silly shit and then something would
catch,” he says. “We’d pursue that idea a tiny bit and before I could get all wrapped up and confused about it we’d move on to the next thing – on and on until it became apparent that we had a decent batch of songs to work on.” ‘No No No’ is Beirut’s first album to have been written like that, and the first that was composed in New York. It’s important because place has always been two thirds of Condon’s inspiration and all of his romantic Interrailer identity – his track titles include ‘Brandenburg’, ‘Rhineland’, ‘Nantes’, ‘East Harlem’, ‘Bratislava’ and ‘Postcards From Italy’, to name few. In the past, he’d travel and either retreat to New Mexico, where he grew up, to write, or make for the solitude of upstate New York. “Here never felt like an appropriate place to work,” he says, “because the city was where things happened, but not music, not writing.” Condon always preferred Brooklyn to Manhattan, way before that was what you were meant to say. Like so many things in his life, he was introduced to it by his older brother, Ryan, who’d moved to New York for college, from the family home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Condon first visited his brother’s Broadway apartment in 2001: “And that to me was the most romantic thing in the world,” he says, “but Broadway was a shit show back then – it was a mess. My brother wouldn’t let me walk around on my own, that’s for sure. “New York is meant to be a shock to the system. That’s what makes it so exciting. In my mind, it played out like a fucking movie, which is kind of how I’ve lived a lot of my life, and I feel like I’m only just beginning to snap out of it.” Condon has a younger brother, too (Ross plays in garage band Total Slacker), but the influence of Ryan – a writer – cannot be overstated. Back home in Santa Fe, before he was sneaking the middle child into Brooklyn clubs and art spaces like Galapagos, it was Ryan who schooled Zach in European cinema, returning home each night with a different foreign language film and sitting his brother down in front of them. “He
was also the guy who... I’d bring home a Primus CD and he’d throw it out the window and give me [Brazilian IDM musician] Amon Tobin or something,” says Condon. “Ryan moulded me in some ways.” Ryan wrote all of Beirut’s early blog posts, and a short story of his appears on the back sleeve of 2007’s ‘The Flying Club Cup’. In 2009, Condon, who’s never enjoyed writing lyrics for his songs, told Loud And Quiet that he tries to sync his voice (or words) with Ryan’s because he likes the way that he writes, and in an email exchange a couple of weeks after we met in Brooklyn, he wrote to me: “He was always there, he moulded my listening experience as a kid as well as providing me lyrics for years after. Ryan was always the voice of reason. We never fell out so much as life just took us apart enough that we’re both still shaking our heads wondering where the time went. Ryan’s particular voice will always be the voice in my head. The band knows this. He encouraged me more than anyone ever has when I got my hands on recording
equipment. If you like my music than you like where Ryan as an older brother steered me – nothing could mean more. He also introduced me to skateboarding, snowboarding – the guy is a genius and I’ll always love him. I wish more people could see what an inspiration he is – there is no Beirut without Ryan. He saw my love of the things I do now and legitimised them, gave them a name.”
ach Condon learned nothing in school, which is why he dropped out. Which is completely different to learning nothing in school because you dropped out. New Mexico, he tells me, has the worst school attendance records in the United States, which falls in line with the colloquial term for capital city Santa Fe – ‘The Land of Manana’. Instead, he got a job at a cinema that exclusively played foreign movies, which made up his mind that he needed to go to Europe. Two trips at the age of 17 and 19 essentially
resulted in Beirut and ‘Gulag Orkestar’ – an exotic, homemade homage to baroque pop, gypsy and Balkan folk, Mariachi trumpets and the kind of theatrical bohemia and otherness that can only come from the giddy adventure of a man or woman while they’re still young enough to be so simply enthralled by something that they want to give it a go themselves. ‘Gulag Orkestar’ was a success due to its unpretentious fandom as much as the talents of its arranger; the following Serge Gainbourg- and Yé Yé Girlsinspired ‘The Flying Club Cup’, too. For a couple of years, Condon spent a majority of interviews talking about Europe, enough, you’d imagine, to put him off the place altogether. But its significance still looms large – larger than ever, perhaps – as he makes music further removed from the traditional sounds he once mined. He says: “‘Gulag…’ is this kid’s complete and utter fanaticism of this new style of music he’s just discovered and everything after that is me chilling out and opening up and remembering to write music and not just devote my time to being something else. “I was convinced that Europe would be like walking through an old French film,” he remembers. “And then I had all of these ideals of social
and political standpoints that I thought these American hicks will never understand. It’s not the case – every place is nearly as backwards as the next. The mind sees what it wants to see, so I nestled into it quite nicely. “My first stop was London, which I was more confused by than anything else, and I was so eager to get to France I can remember taking the train to Paris and getting out at the Gare Du Nord – it was epic, seeing it for the first time. It absolutely lit up my brain in a way I’d never experienced before. “A big thing in my family is architecture,” he continues, “and to be in a place where that’s an actual thing was… Downtown Santa Fe is gorgeous, I should say, but America to me is just this suburban sprawl of nothingness, nothingness, nothingness; everywhere you go feels like nowhere. Suddenly, in the first time in my life, in every direction that I looked there was beauty, and it absolutely blew my mind. There was a guy pissing on the station, asking me if I wanted a ride, and even that was beautiful.” Condon doesn’t speak rapidly in our morning together, but he enthuses about Europe like he does no other subject. He’s now engaged to a girl from Istanbul, and has spent the last four years visiting Turkey, learning the
language and studying areas and maps of the city. He’s modest when I point out how quickly he picked up and replicated the complexities of Southeast European Romani music as a 19-year-old – all those happy squeezeboxes and forlorn trumpets. “I’m just a good parrot,” he insists. “It’s why I’m good at picking up languages and accents and key phrases that make it sound like I know what the fuck I’m doing. And then after that you’re just going to get a blank stare. I still can’t really play that music.” There are few images more romantic than that of an American in Europe, and even if you take away the melancholic swell of Beirut’s music, he’s still out there doing what F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway were doing – treading the foothills, tearing up Paris and eventually finding the time to create something that truly justifies their being there. He says that New York is “too fucking necessary” to permanently live anywhere else, but of course it’s the back and forth that’s most romantic of all. “The music scene isn’t like it is here anywhere in the world,” he says, “not LA, not London, and those are the two big gravitational pulls, but we’re right in the fucking centre of it. Always have been, always will be.”
Condon is under no illusion that he’s not a kid from Albuquerque, USA, either. Or at least he isn’t any more. He picked up a trumpet to rebel against his New Jersey-born, rock and poploving father, but the records of his childhood home (Bruce Springsteen, The Beach Boys, Motown and doowop) have left their mark too, and ‘Gulag Orkestar’’s comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel were never unfounded or contested by Condon, a fan. When he says: “‘Gulag…’ is this kid’s complete and utter fanaticism of this new style of music he’s just discovered and everything after that is me chilling out and opening up,” or, “[New York] played out like a fucking movie, which is kind of how I’ve lived a lot of my life, and I feel like I’m only just beginning to snap out of it,” he’s pointing to ‘No No No’, an album that might sound less like Beirut to us, but sounds most like him to Condon. “You have to imagine that where I’ve totally inhabited this fantasy for so long – this otherness – I tend to forget what’s actually there,” he says at one point. And earlier when we discuss Santa Fe: “I think it led to a lot of my ambitions, because it’s a very isolated place. It doesn’t concern itself with the outside world, which is a good thing now, and I fucking love that place to death, but as a kid my ambitions were well beyond my means. It made me struggle to be someone I’m absolutely not, and I tried so hard to do that that I probably confused myself and have been working my way backwards ever since, but the fantasy had become the utter reality.”
o No No’ is Beirut’s most concise album yet, picking up where ‘The Rip Tide’ left off. “That album was me trying on my own sound again, but it was still rough around the edges,” says Condon. “This one is very much… the clothes fit.” If you were hoping for a return to grandiose funeral horns and jittery accordions, stop – it really is an album mostly made up of a drummer, bassist and piano player freezing their arses off during a New York winter. And yet it’s Condon’s most joyous collection of songs, perhaps most of all because it embodies the relief of finally getting it made after a period of severe turmoil. The brass featured – now an accompaniment rather than the main attraction – is paired down, leaving Condon’s curling, melancholic croon centre-stage. It makes you realise that his sad voice has been the most
important element of his music all along, even though tells me: “If I could change one thing in this world, music wouldn’t have words.” I’m sure that telling him that wouldn’t put his mind at ease. The fact remains that he is extremely anxious about how his new album is going to be received. He reckons the doubt has always been there, but it was once overpowered by “youthful vigour and enough cocky confidence as a postteenager to just get it out there and be convinced that someone would want to hear it.” At 29, Condon is acutely aware that there are certain expectations of a Beirut record, and worse still, they’re expectations of a fantasy version of himself that no longer exists. He knows that it’s all in his head, and tells me so with a noted air of frustration and shake of the head more than once. Denial would be even more destructive and he knows it. “I’m fully aware of it,” he says. “I’m not exactly the mentally healthiest person I know, but I put up a good fight. “The older I get the more I realise that [the anxiety] won’t go away, so I just try not to lose my head over it every time. There’s the young, bratty teenage part of me that wants to be like, ‘that’s what gives me my edge and
Abo v e: A l i s t o f ev er y s o n g be i r u t h av e ev er p l ay ed liv e i s o n t h e f l o o r o f th ei r r eh e a r s al s p a c e
keeps me on my toes and makes me interesting,’ but wouldn’t it be fucking nice to not have to deal with that.” Maybe it is what gives you your edge, I say. “Maybe, but I try not to play into that because it will lead to places like denial. “I need to let go of the album now, which is what I’m doing. When I’m not listening to it, I’m filled with anxiety. I’m afraid that old fans aren’t going to like it, I’m afraid that new kids aren’t going to get it. I’m afraid that critics are going to be like, ‘oh, he’s trying to be this…’ Shit like that. When I actually calm the hell down and listen to it, I find myself really pleasantly surprised, like, ‘this is fun! This is actually quite enjoyable, and it’s thick and there are good melodies, and it’s all things you’ve wanted out of an album.’ These songs make me happy; they’re nice. But when I’m not listening to it, philosophically I can’t wrap my head around it and I have these fears it’s going to be taken the wrong way.”
Over email I asked Condon exactly what he meant by that. He replied: “Being disingenuous, I guess – like every note didn’t matter as much as the rest.” “I feel like in some ways I’m not giving people enough credit,” he told me in Brooklyn, “and that it’s just my own dismissive and judgmental mind. But I feel like people get used to you, and there’s a certain image I have. When you’ve been around long enough you can easily get pigeonholed into certain ideas. And so to literally write an album where you say, ‘only do what comes naturally, don’t ever think about that,’ that is unnatural. “So much of it is in my head.” Condon was filled with similar dread when he released double EP ‘March of the Zapotec/Holland’ in 2009. The record’s first half was business at usual, including the almost caricature oompah of ‘The Shrew’, but ‘Holland’ wasn’t even a Beirut release – it was Condon as Realpeople, his electronica project that harked back to his teenage years listening to IDM. Exotic track titles and songs about places remained (‘The Concubine’, ‘Venice’ and the brilliantly evocative ‘My Night with a Prostitute from Marseille’), but ‘My Night…’ sounded more like The Postal Service than anything else, and ‘Venice’ was
completely ambient. Condon was concerned then, too, and ‘March of the Zapotec/Holland’ is widely considered his greatest release to date. He’s definitely more unpredictable than he realises, and just as few fans jeered “Judas” after he displayed such a love for electronic music, ‘The Rip Tide’ (a less brassy, more conventionally structured record than Beirut’s first two) didn’t have them running for the hills either. ‘No No No’ is Condon’s next logical step in presenting his true self, and so it is that he’s dialled down the idiosyncratic sounds that fuelled the days when he was living in a film and exploring the world. He’s still hopelessly romantic, though, and his new record still yearns and aches like only a Beirut album can. “It’s entirely a letting go type album,” he tells me before his scaled down band of four arrive to continue a week of rehearsals. “The whole place leading up to that, it was like, ‘you’d better fucking enjoy yourself at this point, you fought for it.’”
Reviews / Albums
John Grant Grey Tickles, Black Pressure Bel l a U n i on
p h o t o g r a p h y : S p e ssi HA LL BJ O R N SS O N
By Joe g ogg i n s . I n sto re s Oct 2
In retrospect, John Grant now seems to represent one of the great musical near-misses of recent years. Before producing a genuinely stunning solo debut in the form of ‘Queen of Denmark’ back in 2010 – then five years out of the never-quite-made-it alt. rock band The Czars – he gave serious consideration to leaving the music business behind, with substance abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts all hampering his ability to work and write. That he has gone so impressively from strength to strength since – and, in doing so, has turned episodes of self-loathing into records that burst at the seams with humour, charisma and personality – is something to be relieved about; the world would be a little poorer without him in it. What ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ shows us, though, is that Grant is continuing – as he did on
breakthrough album ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ a couple of years ago – to turn his hand to new stylistic pastures with ease. ‘Snug Slacks’ is an out-and-out disco-funk strut, with a casual, almost spoken-word vocal over sludgy synths, while ‘Guess How I Know’ taps into some of the same brash riffery that producer John Congleton presided over on last year’s self-titled St. Vincent record. ‘Voodoo Doll’, too, is dominated by an electro groove, and serves as proof that the biting quality of Grant’s sardonic lyrics isn’t withered by him adopting a different vocal style to his trademark baritone: “Even on your worst day I hate no one more than you / Break into my house and read my diary if you need some proof” is amongst the standout lines. “You and Hitler ought to get together / You ought to learn to knit and wear
matching sweaters,” goes the taunt of ‘You & Him’. It’s the tracks on ‘Grey Tickles…’ on which Grant reverts to familiar sonic territory that feel like the detours; the sprawling title track sets the deadpan delivery of old against sweeping strings and a choir to summon up some operatic intensity, whilst ‘Down Here’’s gentle jangle provides some respite from the electronic onslaught. This is not a short record – it clocks in at just under an hour – and you have to suspect that opinions will be split as to whether the handful of songs that don’t match the synthdriven palette so evident elsewhere might have been cut. For me, they play an important role in the pacing and are strong enough to command inclusion (‘Global Warming’ is a highlight), but it’s hard not to suspect others will feel differently.
Grant drafts in Tracey Thorn on ‘Disappointing’ for an unconventional but no less thrilling duet; it’s one of a host of tracks on the LP to really crystallise its central themes of anger and resentment – Grant is on bullish lyrical form throughout. The album is then bookended by spoken-word snippets of a passage from the Bible, specifically Corinthians 13:4 – “love is patient, love is kind.” It’s in stark contrast to the perspective of the topic that Grant presents throughout the rest of the record, but then he’s never been averse to a touch of irony and grim humour. Just as on his last two records, the sheer force of his personality finds a way to shine through even when he’s aggressively pursuing different sonic approaches, and it’s that, in turn, that sets him a class apart from so many of his peers.
Disclosure Caracal Is l an d By Sam Wal ton . In sto re s Se p t 25
It’s a mark of Disclosure’s success that their time as hipster darlings putting out nothing but Discogsbusting 12”s now feels like a longago blip in their history. Another mark is that, for fear of leaking, Universal Records were only allowing advanced listens of ‘Caracal’ via a compressed, laggy stream hidden on their website. And another still is that while much of the ’90s house and garage revivalism of Disclosure’s debut album endures here on their second, it feels less pilfered this time round and more like Disclosure just doing their thing. In short, it appears the Lawrence brothers have entered their Imperial Phase: guaranteed hit singles, high-
profile collaborations and an air of untouchability. Unfortunately, the first casualty of the transformation has been their music. But to ascribe this dip in quality simply to a newfound champagne lifestyle isn’t quite right. For while there’s a sense right across ‘Caracal’ of a band somewhat phoning it in, there’s also simultaneously the feeling of Disclosure trying too hard to broaden their appeal, and in doing so dulling their own personality: only two tracks here don’t carry guest vocalists, and more often than not the duo allow their collaborators to dictate the mood. The effect is swamping: when Lorde begins singing about “sunsets off
Mulholland” on ‘Magnets’, the song becomes entirely hers, which may be enjoyable to Lorde fans but leaves Disclosure sounding affected, and sadly toothless. Equally, on ‘Omen’, Sam Smith’s contribution, the pair are usurped by their singer’s histrionic nasal yelps. ‘Caracal’ is not a bad album, by any stretch – there’s nothing here as anti-creative as David Guetta, say, or as feckless as Avicii – and compared with its chart-facing dance music peers, ‘Caracal’ has an undoubtedly fluid, head-bobbing likeability. However, neither is it a particularly good one: it lacks the heft, swagger and, crucially, the buoyant personality that defined its
predecessor, and in its place are not previously unexplored sonic seductions but just watered-down iterations that bend awkwardly to their guests’ aesthetics. That dilution could be intentional, although the Lawrence brothers don’t seem cynical enough to be that patronising. Instead, and perhaps more worryingly, it feels like the lurch towards banality has come entirely naturally, as both a reflection of and facilitator for their mega-success. There are flickers on Caracal (‘Echoes’; ‘Hourglass’) that suggest a lust for club-based bangers remains. Larger chunks, however, warn that Disclosure’s Imperial Phase could mutate into bloat.
Julia Holter’s fourth album (following 2013’s ‘Loud City Song’) is her strongest and most focused yet. From the first syncopated beat of opener and lead single ‘FeelYou,’ it is the sound of an artist pulling away any lingering flabbiness to reveal a perfectly defined, lean core. While previous efforts sought refuge in the sheer scale of their sound, ‘Have You In MyWilderness’ has the confidence to use space to its advantage, making its statements all the more effective and allowing Holter’s ghostly vocal
to float higher than ever. Sonically, it recalls the psychfolk and baroque pop of Ayers, Wyatt, Barrett and, more recently, Apple, as its intricate bass lines wrap around luscious strings and bright, shining keys (‘Betsy OnThe Roof’ showcases the richest piano sounds since Nigel Godrich sprinkled his magic dust on ‘Pyramid Song’). Lyrically, it is also a more pared down affair compared to the classic literature referencedropping of previous albums. Rather than nodding respectfully
at the artists of the past, the LA-born Holter, who studied composition at The California Institute of the Arts, now fixes her stare inward, shining a torch on what makes her tick as a human being. The result is a much more honest and more personal collection as she dismantles the nature of relationships, the subjectivity of honesty and the fragility of love. It soothes and it haunts. It embraces and it pushes away. I won’t pick highlights, because there aren’t any lows.
Julia Holter Have You in my Wilderness Domi n o By davi d zammi tt. In sto re s S e p t 18
p h o t o g r a p h y : la u r a c o ul s o n
Albums 0 7/ 1 0
Blank Realm Illegals in Heaven
HeCTA The Diet
Baio The Names
Ci ty S l ang
G l a ss no te
I U S h e Music
By S am C ornforth. In sto r es Se p t 4
B y Chris Watk e y s . I n s to r e s S e pt 1 8
By D av id Z ammi tt. I n s to r es S ep t 1 8
B y A lex wis g a rd . In st o r e s S ep t 2 5
For anyone unfamiliar with Blank Realm, their frenzied songs skip and jump between the different subgenres of homemade garage rock like a malfunctioning radio. On their last album, 2014’s ‘Grassed Inn’, they managed to channel their chaotic barroom rock into something vaguely coherent – a path they’ve continued down here. ‘Illegals In Heaven’ is the Aussie’s first album to be recorded in a studio, but it still fizzes and pops away like a packet of Haribo. This is best displayed on ‘River of Longing’, with its vibrant and infectious melody that exudes the warmth of their Brisbane roots. Elsewhere, they manage to ooze art rock cool on ‘Cruel Night’, while ‘Palace of Love’ features chiming pillowy guitars. Opener ‘No Views’ is a deliriously scuzzy mess. Unlike their previous work, they also reveal a fragile sound with tender ballads ‘Dream Date’ and ‘Gold’ hinting at a more mature side to the four-piece. ‘Grassed Inn’ felt like the group hitting their stride, but here Blank Realm have furthered that momentum with another fun and exciting effort that once again piles on the layers of influence.
Diversify or die, confound expectations, keep moving forward; the restless creativity of Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner takes another turn in his experimental, electronicorientated HeCTA project. This is a man who’s been gloriously standing on the outer fringes of ‘alternative’ music for around three decades throwing another curveball, and as he joyfully, provocatively says in the press release: “Suck it up, hippies!” Opener ‘Till Someone Gets Hurt’ is pleasingly buzzy, while ‘Sympathy For The Auto Industry’ is melodic, more chilled out, and – very oddly – vaguely reminiscent of a partially submerged, slowed-down Erasure track. The record’s high point comes in ‘Like You’re Worth It’, which drifts slowly and quietly, synths dropping in and out, an ambient cocoon of sound moving gently through an underwater world. Take the presence of its semi-legendary creators out of the picture, and this is still an album of high quality electronic music. Yet for all its inventiveness, ‘The Diet’ remains ultimately an unchallenging listen – an engaging experience, but not an arresting one.
For almost a decade now, Chris Baio has been growing restless as one half of Vampire Weekend’s rhythm section. The bass player has always planned to release a solo album and with his band on something of a hiatus, he’s taken the opportunity to drop his debut. And to be fair to Baio, it’s a bit of a departure. Most of ‘Brainwash yyrr Face’ finds him occupying territory closer to the electronic pop of Cut Copy and Hot Chip than African-influenced indie. Unfortunately the depth just isn’t there. Constantly relying on the repetition of meandering electronic loops, ‘The Names’ comes off as unfinished and unconvincing. ‘All The Idiots’ seems to be Baio’s take on house music, but as it edges limply over the 7-minute mark you’ll be glancing at your wrist wondering how on earth the minute hand hasn’t moved. The vanity project status is enforced by the fact that lead single ‘Endless Rhythm’ is the album’s only strong track and also the closest Baio comes to the classic Vampire Weekend sound. A nice addition for existing fans, for the rest of us this is as disposable as its title suggests.
In the six year gap since her (relatively) tame last album, ‘I Feel Cream’, Peaches has done opera (L’Orfeo), Broadway (Peaches Christ Superstar, naturally) and written a book. But nowadays, not making a record for that long is tantamount to career suicide. Fortunately, ‘Rub’ shows that the woman born Merrill Nisker is still making subversive nymphopop of the highest order. While there are guest spots from Kim Gordon and Feist, this is absolutely Peaches’ show. Single ‘Light in Places’ (with its extremely literal video) is a slow-burning raveup, and the minimalist title track does for masturbation what ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ did for… well, you know. Meanwhile, ‘Free Drink Ticket’ may be the most disturbing song she’s ever written – a spoken word evisceration of an ex (“I wanna be there when you implode”), calmly spat out over an ominous synth loop. Sometimes the shock value overshadows the songs, but this IS Peaches we’re talking about here. And when she purrs, “I know it’s not subtle,” during ‘Dick in the Air’, at least you know she means it.
Since the clench-your-teeth-sohard-you-feel-like-biting-throughyour-lip expulsion that was Girl Band’s cover of ‘WhyThey HideTheir Bodies Under My Garage?’ in 2013, there’s been a boiling sense of anticipation as to what this Irish group will unveil as their debut album. What has arrived is a record that charges in all direction; explosive yet recoiled, chugging with a brooding force that can border on the fearful, something always feeling like it’s ready to snap or detonate. It’s
like running through a minefield whilst blindfolded, which makes for joyously uncomfortable listening. A large degree of this unpredictability seems to stem from the band’s seeming disdain for conventional structure, with tracks unfolding abstractly, their construct resembling that of a buckled car post-accident – you can still make out the shape, form and structure of the original, but it’s now bent almost beyond recognition, into something strange and fascinating.
‘Holding Hands With Jamie’ doesn’t sit still for long enough to fully grasp what it is about or where it’s going – it’s a continually moving, evading and tantalising post-punk album that makes the listener chase its wild and uncompromising trail. It shakes off genre associations and band comparisons with gargling confidence. Nothing – or nobody – else sounds like Girl Band at the moment and they seem to relish in their own demented yet deeply exhilarating creations.
Girl Band Holding Hand With Jamie R o ugh tr ade By dan iel Dy l an wra y. In store s Se p t 25
Craig Finn Faith in the Future
Wand 1000 Days
Primitive Parts Parts Primitive
Mercury Rev The Light in You
Par ti s a n
Ci ty Sla n g
t ro u ble in mi nd
B ell a Un io n
By dere k r obe rtson. In sto res Aug 11
B y S am Wa lt o n . In s t o re s A ug 2 5
By J am e s f . Tho m p s o n . In s to r e s Sept 4
B y Lia m K o ne m a nn. In s t o r e s Sept 1 8
If you’re coming at Craig Finn’s second solo album from a deep love of The Hold Steady and appreciation for 2012’s ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’, then there’s lots to get your teeth into here. It mines the same, classic rock heartland sound of dusty, widescreen Americana that Finn’s been exploring for over twenty years, and his skill as a storyteller and scene-setter remains undiminished. But this time he’s dialed back the intensity (and the and the gung-ho optimisim); these songs brood, slowly simmering without really reaching any kind of peak. And that’s exactly the problem. Shorn of the bar-rock thump and fist-in-the-air defiance that characterises his best work, Finn’s gruff sing-speak voice falls a little flat, his characters’ sparkle lost in the murk.Written after the death of his mother, the heavy atmosphere and themes of perseverance and redemption are understandable. Introspection is a tough about turn from arena-sized sing-alongs, though, and these (sad) tales are left without the emotional heft – lyrically or musically - they require to truly hit home.
As more and more bands take a decade to release three decent albums, encountering one that manages it in just over a year is refreshing – and, in Wand’s case, proof that music from the psych/prog playbook need not be agonised over to be compelling. Indeed, the most endearing characteristic of ‘1,000 Days’ is its unpretentiousness: across 12 tracks, the sense of a band just riffing – literally – is never far away: freewheeling keyboards and tumbling drums give way to heavyheavy sludge guitars that just seem like a good idea at the time, every time. What that spontaneous performance doesn’t mask, thankfully, is the strength of the songwriting. Save for ‘Dovetail’, an overlong mid-album instrumental, ‘1,000 Days’ is a masterclass in Lennon-esque concision, from the starry-eyed acoustic title track to the distorted roughness of ‘Paintings Are Dead’, which deftly punctures any lingering prog pomposity. Frenetic, chaotic and an intensely satisfying blast, ‘1,000 Days’ leaves you hankering for Wand’s next fulllength – out soon.
A complete list of all the bands that Lindsay Corstorphine (guitar, voice) Kevin Hendrick (guitar) and Robin Christian (drums) have been in would leave no room for a review of ‘Parts Primitive’, the debut record from Primitive Parts and the result of yet another side-project-cum-mainband for the London-based trio. It’s certainly fair to say that Corstophine and his pals know their way around the UK independent scene, though where their other projects generally skew closer to balls-to-the-wall punk rock, we’re told that Primitive Parts aim to sound like “Stiff Records in the ‘60s” – an amalgam of scratchy post-punk (say, the Feelies) and British Invasion. It’s a solid premise that lives up to its promise on protopsych opener ‘Miracle Skin’ and rifffest ‘Troubles’ but falters deeper into the record, with chords and tempos seguing into one another and a creeping sense of overfamiliarity (via White Fence, Parquet Courts and the Brian Jonestown Massacre for starters).To be sure, there’s some good fun to be had – with bright and breezy melodies all over the place – though originality is in short supply.
‘The Light in You’ was designed to bring Mercury Rev back from the brink. As the band’s first release since 2008’s ‘Snowflake Midnight’, this ninth album has been a long time coming. It is, at its heart, a tribute to the long-standing friendship between band cofounders Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper, and it’s clear that the sentiment here is genuine, even if during ‘Central Park East’ and ‘Autumn’s in the Air’ things become saccharine. Lyrically, it’s all a touch too emotive and literal, filled with references to nature and the seasons, which can feel a bit like a high school band rather than indie stalwarts as credible as these. It’s the musical composition that is Mercury Rev’s real strength here, and ‘You’ve Gone With So Little For So Long’ features haunting strings that build up to a surprising crescendo before dropping away to music-box chimes. ‘The Light in You’ is not quite the ‘back from the dead’ album Mercury Rev intended it to be, then. The redemption is personal, intimate, but doesn’t quite make it to the audience.
Petite Noir (AKA 24-year-old Cape Town native Yannick Ilunga) has termed his sound – somewhat egocentrically – ‘Noirwave’. It cherry picks from a myriad of opposing influences, including post-punk, soulful British pop and West African High-Life. Admittedly that sounds messy on paper, but in practice it makes for an album of sexy, yearning, downtempo pop. And at the heart of this polyrhythmic gumbo are Ilunga’s soulfully plangent vocals. They are the glue that binds his music, and fall
somewhere between Robert Smith, Tunde Adebimpe and (no joke) ABC’s Martin Fry. ‘Freedom’ echoes a sexed-up Depeche Mode, ‘Just Breathe’ surges with the urgent thrill of TV on the Radio, and ‘Best’ sounds like Joy Division playing a residency in a Lagos nightclub. There are times when the album can seemingly dip into the facile, with Ilunga‘s lyrics leaning heavily towards superficial pop aphorisms, but as you let them wash over you, you’ll find it’s this
simplicity that is key to the album’s success. Ilunga – rich in heritage himself, as the son to an Angolan mother and Congolese father, who was born in Brussels – blurs genres but never muddles them and the result is a collection of richly lovelorn songs. His music may be in thrall to certain influences but it’s never shackled by them, allowing the subtle majesty of ‘La Vie Est Belle/Life Is Beautiful’ to flow in seductive freedom; like silk billowing on the breeze.
Petite Noir La Vie Est Belle Domi n o By Tom Fen wi c k. In sto res Sept 11
Albums 0 7/ 1 0
Sealings I’m a Bastard
U.S. Girls Half Free
Dungen Allas Sak
Faux Di s c x / Ita l ia n B e a ch ba be s
Sma ll to wn S upe r S o un d
F u ll t im e h o bb y
By j oe goggi n s . In sto re s se p t 18
B y H e nry w il k i ns o n. I n s to re s s e pt 2 5
By re e f yo uni s . I n s to re s s ep t 2 5
B y h a yl ey s c o t t . I n s t o r es o c t 2
The most surprising thing about this debut record from Sealings is just how refined it all seems to sound; compared to everything else they’ve released to date, the rough edges have very much been sanded down in production terms, presumably because the Brighton trio have realised that loudness doesn’t necessarily have to mean harshness. It’s a good move, too – it sets them apart from plenty of their noise rock contemporaries without watering down the near-violent approach to the guitar that has been their unique selling point to date. The fabulously titled ‘Psychic Gobshite’ provides some proof to this end; there’s noodling and often melodic riffs that vie for prominence when the chorus hits, with an explosively aggressive vocal. There’s pleasing stylistic variation, too, between the incendiary likes of ‘Malloy’ and the almost poppy ‘Hey Bernice’, and ‘Transient Curse’ suggests that offkilter electronic sounds might provide another avenue for the band to go down in future. In a genre where genuinely original ideas are sparse, ‘I’m a Bastard’ is a promising debut.
Meg Remy’s debut release for 4AD is strikingly feminist and confrontational; the leadingly titled ‘Half Free’ hinting at the politically charged lyrics within. But while the subject matter is anything but, the musical influences are subtle and adopted masterfully. At its best, soulful vocals poignantly juxtapose against classic pop hooks, as in the Best Coast bubblegum punk ‘Sed Knife’. Remy, though, is concerned less with stoned boyfriends and more with abusive relationships and sexism, as on opener ‘Sororal Feelings’, brilliantly conveying heartbreak and struggle in a fuzzy, Dirty Beaches style loop. Elsewhere there’s the ’80s videogame soul of ‘Navy & Cream’ and the dubby ‘Damn That Valley’, sang by a war widow. On occasion U.S. Girls loses sight of her pop sensibility and comes across a little po-faced (‘New Age Thriller’ and the didactic ‘Woman’s Work’), but these moments are few and far between. It’s indicative of how diverse and accomplished the album is that the four best tracks are of completely different genres and seem anything but forced.
After 15 years and six albums, Dungen are in a familiar place. Like an old friend, their pastoral jazztinged pop can be easily forgotten but it’s always a welcome, drifting return. And five years since their last release, ‘Allas Sak’ is a bright continuation of the freewheeling melodies that has made much of their output pretty blissful listening. Armed with guitars, drums, bass, flutes, violins and an array of arrangements that veer from the mystic to the seasonal, tracks like the bongo-driven ‘Sista Festen’ and the busy flute of ‘Franks Kaktus’ should be incense-drenched disasters, but where the former hooks you in with sweet West Coast vocals, the latter eases into a smoky, bass-sliding slow jam. Firmly rooted in their continued ability to strike a balance between sun-kissed harmonies and hippie clichés, Dungen have, for the most part, steered their psych-pop the right side of pious spirituality. ‘Allas Sak’ stays diligently true to that intent, and while it doesn’t hit the heights of the brilliant ‘Ta Det Lugnt’, it’s still a scenic footnote to another summer.
Since his EPs ‘Crushed Pleats’ and ‘Pillars & Pyre’, Canadian producer Christopher Smith, aka Dralms, has shown a propensity for crafting wellwrought, emotionally substantial hazy pop songs, and his debut LP ‘Shook’ is no different. Similarly eerie, this record is slow and sultry from start to finish – the churning bass and kaleidoscopic synth combine elements of psychedelia alongside North American indie, resulting in something whimsical and close to unique. There’s such a thing as too sedate, though, and ‘Shook’ is saved only by its melodic instinct, Smith’s deft, breathy vocals and fleeting idiosyncrasies, such as the sporadic inclusion of brass, here and there. Ultimately it remains all too soporific, almost to the point of sounding like a record stuck on the wrong RPM. Album closer ‘Crushed Pleats’ exhibits a rare welcomed dissonance towards the end, but by that point you’re probably already asleep. Granted, this is chill out music and serves its purpose well, but a little more life, nuance and colour would have made ‘Shook’ a veritable alt-pop triumph.
If Battles’ 2007 debut was their bristling binary opus, and follow up ‘Gloss Drop’ their guest-vocal-laden mind-melt – after founder member Tyondai Braxton left midway through recording – then ‘La Di Da Di’ is the trio reverting to head-down industry. Speaking in the build up to the album’s release, they promised “a mushrooming monolith of repetition… an organic techno thrum of nearly infinite loops that refuse to remain consistent,” and, wired with taut energy, tracks like ‘Tricentennial’
and ‘Flora > Fauna’ duck and weave with that familiarly mutated time signature logic. Battles’ brilliant ability to bond the imperceptible will always be an almost impregnable strength, but minus the concentrated, dambusting heft of their debut, or the type of gloriously left-field turn Matias Aguayo provided on ‘Gloss Drop’, their art of repetition doesn’t hit hard enough. Where ‘The Yabba’ underscores the albums tightly wound appeal, as
a straight exercise in machine beatsin-space and the subtle threat of hitting ignition, ‘FF Bada’ jerks into a mesh of twisted guitar and fretboards of impressively dexterous fury. The manic ‘Phantom of the Opera’ meets ‘Organ Donor’ duel of ‘Non-Violence’ kicks the complexity back up to the wonderfully skewed notch reminiscent of ‘Atlas’ but for all the technical flashes and hard-wired complexity on show, it’s that stubborn inconsistency that denies ‘La Di Da Di’ its knockout blow.
0 7/ 1 0
Battles La Di Da Di
War p By Reef Y ou n i s . In sto re s Se p t 18
Reviews 0 7/ 1 0
Deradoorian The Expanding Flower Planet
Darkstar Foam Island
Destruction Unit Negative Feedback Resistor
S a c r ed B o n es
By Chri s Watke y s . I n sto res S ept 2 5
B y Da n i el Dy la n W r a y . I n sto res S ept 1 8
Fidlar’s second album is full of songs for the miserably employed and the basement dwellers; the people who feel like also-rans. Like throwing yourself into a teeming moshpit, ‘Too’ is designed for catharsis and punching your way back to happiness, like on ‘Punks’, a two and a half minute scream that makes you think of amp towers shaking and bodies crashing together in an explosion of sweat and beer and unity against a shitty, teenage existence. Similarly, ‘West Coast’ seems set to become a live favourite, with a manic energy that gets under the skin. While the album’s overarching sentiment is one of itchy panic, inspired by the darker days of singer Zac Carper, the band’s typical humour stops things getting too bleak. Album closer ‘Bad Habits’ rolls through the various pitfalls of a quarter-life crisis before slamming on the brakes for the tormented punchline; “Oh my god I’m becoming my dad.”The only weak links here are the groaning asides at the end of several tracks that break the coherence of the album, but really, when the rest of it is this fun, who cares?
Foam Island is a woozy place; a place where beats, floating soundscapes and passages of simple speech converge. Darkstar’s third album is interspersed with clips of the voices of young northerners describing their lives and their hopes. These slot in amongst the band’s usual slices of light-touch electronica, providing texture and colour to an album which might otherwise have been rather straightforward. Amongst these, ‘Cuts’ is overtly political, about savage austerity measures, but it’s not all about the message. ‘Pin Secure’ is a spacey, sparse, floaty and melodic mini-epic, while the album’s title track feels lightly soulful. It’s when Darkstar depart from their musical template that things begin to get a lot more interesting, though – witness the orchestral swathes and hesitant, fragile outlook of ‘Tilly’s Theme’, while another twist comes in the divergent beats and unusual instrumentation of album closer ‘Days Burn Blue’. Still, for the most part ‘Foam Island’ floats along inconsequentially, almost incidentally.
Destruction Unit’s last album, ‘Deep Trip’, was just that; a heady mass of psychedelic guitar assaults that locked into grooves as frequently as it turned up the volume. On ‘Negative Feedback Resistor’ there’s a heaviness and aggression that supersedes the more melodic edge of their previous work. Some moments of the album, such as on ‘Salvation’, move into a sort of psych-metal territory with hurtling, smashing drums and swirling, wailing guitar lines that circle around the forceful charge of the song, moving like a swarm. The album can border on the one-dimensional, becoming bogged down, and occasionally overpowered, by the effect-laden-yet-still-gruff vocals and the endlessly pounding drums. There are plenty of moments in which the textures and sonic intricacies outweigh the heavyhandedness occasionally on display, though, and it’s actually the brief moments of serenity – bathed in eerie drones and misty textures – that prove most interesting. These are usually brief moments of the calm before the storm. Enjoy them.
Mica Levi has always been confounding. It’s impossible to fault her for diversifying from her alreadyexpansive palette of styles, but after composing the haunting score for Jonathan Glazer’s film adaptation of Under the Skin, there’s something about the notion of her returning to her band, the Shapes, that smacks of obligation if you think about it too much. The dehumanised themes of ‘Under the Skin’ seem to have led to a (relative) outpouring of emotion on
the third Micachu and the Shapes album, bluntly titled ‘Good Sad Happy Bad’. As much of a sonic grabbag as ever – not for nothing was the band’s collaboration with the London Sinfonietta entitled ‘Chopped and Screwed’ – this is a collection of lo-fi post punk jingles. Clattering garage thrashes rub shoulders with the more easygoing likes of the dusky, loping ‘LA Poison’, all tied together with the strangulated rasp of Levi’s distinctive vocals. The highlight is ‘Thinking It’, a
throwaway-sounding carnivalesque romp, darkened by a stream-ofconsciousness spoken word vocal, debating the long-term-versusshort-term merits of keeping fit, to a surprisingly profound conclusion. Sadly, though, the rest of the lyrics rarely cut that deep, with platitudes spat out to sound like inflammatory slogans. And while there’s a lot to sink your teeth into on here, too much of it seems underwritten or unfinished to really get – ahem – under the skin.
Wichi ta B y L i a m K o ne ma nn. I n sto r es S ept 4
An t i c on By Sam Cor nfor th. I n sto res A ug 28
‘The Expanding Flower Plant’ sounds like the title of a dusty battered old record you’d expect to find in your local record shop wedged in a psychedelic crate alongside Jefferson Airplane and other west coast bands. Angel Deradoorian, the former bassist and vocalist in Dirty Projectors, unsurprisingly does indeed conjure up mind expansive sounds, but unlike the mellow tunes her contemporise produce she pursues an otherworldly noise inspired by East Indian, Middle Eastern and traditional Japanese influences. It makes for an interesting and challenging debut album. There is the enchanting ‘Komodo’ and hypnotic ‘The Invincible Man’ that boast intricate songcraft, but also testing moments like the grating ‘DarkLord’ and ‘Violet Minded’. Deradoorian stated that she wanted her debut to “broaden the mind and its capabilities beyond what we are told it can do.” Although it sounds like the typical stoned spiel from a psych band, ‘The Expanding Flower Plant’ is a good effort at doing just that.
Micachu & The Shapes Good Sad Happy Bad Rough tr ade By Ale x w isgard. In sto res Sept 11
Ought Sun Coming Down C o nst el l a ti o n By d er ek r ober tso n. In sto re s se pt 18
“Well today, more than any other day, I am excited to feel the milk of human kindness.” Euphoric, but arch with it, that’s quite an opening for a song that details a David Foster Wallace-esque joy in the banalities of modern life and ends with singer Tim Darcy (he officially changed his surname from Beeler earlier this year) yelping how “we’re all the fucking same”. But much about the Montreal-based quartet’s debut record surprised and delighted in equal measure; a fizzing, postpunk romp that managed to be complex yet catchy, and tackled such heady topics as self-doubt, empowerment, and social awareness with wit, intelligence, and a hopeful swagger.
A pretty high bar then, but how much thought and effort they’ve put into clearing it shines through ‘Sun Coming Down’’s eight tracks. Tightness and precision are not necessarily what you expect from young, scrappy art-punks, and while ‘More Than Any Other Day’ displayed, at times, a dizzying level of technicality, their subsequent year on the road has only heightened this sense of togetherness; by the time you reach the churning ‘Sun’s Coming Down’, drummer Tim Keen and bassist Ben Stidworthy function virtually as one, while Darcy has the uncanny knack of knowing exactly when to embellish and when to let the rhythm take centre stage.
Confident enough to bury their influences – David Byrne, Talking Heads, Modern Lovers et al. – a little deeper this time, Ought seem unencumbered by history and intent on carving out their own legacy; they look defiantly forward, not back. And while there’s still an even split between head-rattling squalls and angular guitar pop, Darcy’s distinctive detachment and deadpan delivery proves the perfect foil for a restless spirit and the simple, raw production employed throughout. All this culminates in a song they’ve been playing live for over a year, ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’, a gorgeous, sprawling epic that gently unfolds over the course of nearly eight
minutes. The record’s spiritual heart – just as it anchors their shows – swings back and forth from gentle crescendos to quiet bustle while Darcy spits repeated sections of (very modern) meaningless small talk. “Condo / How’s the family? / Beautiful weather today / Fancy seeing you here!” is his wry take on the monotony of our limited human interactions and capitalism’s march of conspicuous consumption. But Darcy, as always, lets in a chink of light; “I’m no longer afraid to dance tonight / Cause that is all I have left!” Take pleasure in the small victories then, and joy where you can find it; this album is a good place to start.
Twenty years have passed since the sultry downtempo electronica of Air first glided across the bedrooms of young lovers in France and beyond. Nowadays, ‘Moon Safari’ and the ‘Virgin Suicides’ soundtrack are practically canonical records for when the lights go down and rightly revered as modern classics. In some ways Nicolas Godin and bandmate Jean-Benoît Dunckel have darted around those albums’ elegant shadows ever since; albums like ‘Talkie Walkie’ put a new spin on the
seductive dreaminess of those earlier releases without quite bettering them. For his first solo outing, Godin has continued down the path established by Air on ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’ – the pair’s imagined soundtrack to Georges Méliès’ 1902 silent picture of the same name – in the sense that he’s used the work of another artist as the basis for his own compositions. This time, Godin’s muse is Johann Sebastian Bach, as channelled by legendary Canadian pianist Glenn
Gould. Each of the eight tracks on ‘Contrepoint’ sees Godin use one of Bach’s melodies as a starting point before pivoting into something truly gorgeous, whether that be a sensuous bossa nova shuffle (‘Clara’), a jazzy instrumental (‘Club Nine’) or a bombastic outright minisymphony (‘Widerstehe doch der Sünde’). For sure, the concept behind ‘Contrepoint’ is wilfully highminded but in Godin’s hands, the result matches brains with breathtaking beauty.
Nicolas Godin Contrepoint
Be c au s e By J ames F . Th omp son. I n sto re s Se pt 11
p h o t og r a p h y : j en n a f o xt o n
Reviews / Live
Pissed Jean 100 Club, Oxford St. London 19 / 0 8/ 20 15 wr i ter : E dgar sm ith Ph oto gr aph er : Tom Jack son
Their unobscured vocals, simple riffs and mooning arse Loud And Quiet cover shoot – you know where you stand with Pissed Jeans. To this end, the excellent Pennsylvanian punk band makes a thing of subverting the ‘we thought [previous town] last night was good, but…’ rock trope. The crowd at Electric Ballroom, for the UK leg of 2013’s ‘Honeys’ tour, had to watch in the knowledge that Liverpool ‘kicked [their] ass’. This evening, as the band slam the previous night, its awry sounds and blown amps, we know we are lucky to be catching the second of two London dates. Drummer Sean McGuiness
begins, wisecracking that we’re stuck with just him, before the others leisurely join him and jump into a careening spin through their back catalogue: a mostly-Sub Pop/all awesome cannon of hardcore, fringed with ad-libs, more jokes, and partial yet ever-growing nudity. You’ll notice their capering doesn’t make the journey to print intact; you have to witness it directly to be bludgeoned by its expert timing. Because, while they’re heavy – Pissed Jeans delve as far as thrash, acid punk, even no-wave – it’s tempered by their real weapon: this sense of wry, anarchic intelligence applied to bluntly honest fun.
My phone flies out of my pocket and smashes itself in a sea of feet. A wart on the knuckle of my right hand, that had been cryogenically treated by a GP that morning, explodes into the sweat-and-now-blood-sodden back of someone’s T-shirt in front of me. This explosion of head-banging is elevated by the imperative to hang on Matt Kosloff’s words which, with a literariness that could belong on a Simpson’s episode or Shellac record, maraud across personal failings, injuries, breakdowns, and the maddening depravity of Middle America, in a tone of caustic but friendly concision. His down-to-
earth manner and neighbourly good looks spur and contain the mayhem of the music, ensuring a happily paradoxical aesthetic: wildly excessive yet somehow understated. Previous LP ‘Honeys’ was the kind of refined work that suggested a band who might, in a few months’ time, reissue a remastered first album, and so they did. Native peers of the now decade-old ‘Shallow’ were decidedly more loose and garage-y, and less punk; PJs were nogoodniks with real scope, making stuff like MDC, Minutemen and label mates Mudhoney, and were less noted or fashionable. That has since reversed.
Luna Gorillam, Manchester
Woods Oslo, Hackney, London
0 3 / 0 8/ 20 15
2 0/ 08 / 2 01 5
wr i ter : Dan i el D yla n Wra y
w r it er : S a m Wa l t o n P hotogr a ph er : S a m wal to n
That a standard two-guitars/bass/ drums/keys band has nothing new to say is, in 2015, nothing particularly new. But with Woods, the innovation comes from their novel approach: while many throwback bands concern themselves with aping specific genres, Woods target Oslo tonight with virtually all available genres within a specific era – namely the early-1970s. Accordingly, their show veers from twangy ‘My Sweet Lord’ slide solos to strung-out viscous prog and Dylanesque folk-rock poignancy, all helmed by Jeremy Earl’s earnest falsetto, delivered with the melancholic frown of a man whose DVD collection, you imagine, is all Muscle Shoals documentaries and Woody Allen. Mellow jams and roots rock might not be natural bedfellows for Hackney hipsterism, butWoods’ amiability and undeniable songcraft bridge that gap.
After a ten year break Luna – the New York dream pop band formed in the wake of Galaxie 500 – are back. Material from ‘Penthouse’ and ‘Bewitched’ shines resolutely; an early outing of ‘Sideshow by the Seashore’ is delightfully wonky in the way its groggy guitar line sounds like someone slowing down a spinning record. ‘Friendly Advice’ is utterly glorious, being both harmonious and explosive in its constant build up and delivery, and the (one of many) ode to the Velvets’ ‘23 Minutes in Brussels’ is similarly forceful and engrossing in its looping chug. Dean Wareham’s vocals are a little deeper these days but still indistinguishable and Britta Phillips’ bass is a constant joy to absorb. Famous for an array of covers, the band end on ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, which is a slightly dampening close to an otherwise deeply fulfilling set.
Mark Lanagan The Leadmill Sheffield 0 1/ 0 8/ 20 15 wr i ter : Dan i el D yla n Wra y
Mark Lanegan steps on to the stage and is hidden under an (instructed) deep thick red hue, his face almost invisible with all the lights turned down. But for someone that, if they were a boxer, their nickname would most likely be “The Voice”, it seems somewhat apt and understandable. Sadly, a great deal of the voice doesn’t really come through and the clarity and tone of Lanegan’s vocals feel blurred and lost. Material is heavy on recent releases ‘Phantom Radio’ (2012) and ‘Blues Funeral’ (2014) – but not the record that fell between the two: ‘Imitations’ – and whilst some moments shine it occasionally borders a little too heavily on classic rock tendencies. It’s actually the more electronic moments in which the group come alive, such as on a pummelling ‘Ode to Sad Disco’, but those moments are sadly few.
Apostille Picture House Social, Sheffield 26/0 7/ 2 0 1 5 wri te r: S tuart S tubb s P ho togra ph e r: Joh n f o rd
5pm on a Sunday, playing a windowless fringe venue of a city festival that’s happening a taxi ride away, in a town that’s become notoriously tough on live music – it’s not an easy spot for Apostille to be in, but, then, the antipop DIY project of Night School Records leader Michael Kasparis is all about the challenge. “Welcome to the most trying Sunday of your life,” pants Kasparis, having bounced around to his analogue techno pop. The PA distorts, just as he likes it, but the sound isn’t right on stage so he shouts over our heads to the sound man to just turn up the monitors “so at least I have a good time.” If that creates a problem out front, just turn the rest of the PA off. He leaps off and on the small stage, announces his text messages (about tote bag suppliers in Glasgow) and generally give John Maus a run for his manic, confrontational, funny money.
Visions Festival Various venues, Hackney 0 8/ 0 8/ 20 15 wr i ter s : C hr i s Wa tke ys Photogr a ph er : Grah a m T urne r
Having made its debut in 2013, Visions is an event still in its infancy, but on a sunny August afternoon in Hackney it really doesn’t feel like a wet-behind-the-ears newcomer on the festival calendar – more like the punter-friendly, tightly run, urban affair that it is. The fruit of the combined efforts of DIY promoters Bird On The Wire, Rockfeedback and Sexbeat, twenty-seven acts make up the line-up, and once again it’s a well-curated bunch. With a couple of rooftop bars featuring amongst its seven venues, it’s possible to pick up a little of the relaxed vibe you’d get at an outdoor festival, while (in general) there’s none of the panicked queuing for tipped acts that you might expect at multi-venue affairs like this. And of course there’s the obligatory craft beer and street food market. One of the festival’s bigger venues is the Oval Space, next to the canal and overlooking the urban beauty of Hackney’s gas towers. It’s here where in the early afternoon I find Swedish duo JJ doing their saccharine, ultra-sweet, synth-laden pop thing. Their music sometimes verges on twee, and in the sweltering greenhouse that is the Oval Space in the daytime, it has a pleasantly soporific, lullaby-like effect, something like swimming slowly through a warm, kaleidoscopic sea. There are moments of real beauty here, moments that move the soul, and moments that verge on epic. And the beauty is matched with oddity in the form of the topless, shavenheaded guitarist, who looks distinctly otherworldly under the pale blue lights. Hinds, meanwhile, are a blast by comparison. The band formerly known as Deers are purveyors of super-jangly guitar indie; their high energy and spangly melodies belie the fact that, on the face of it, this is bread-and-butter guitar music of the most elemental kind. But these four girls from Madrid are super fun, the musical equivalent of a day out at an amusement park and five ice creams, and the Visions crowd lap it up. Underground venue The Laundry has to be my favourite of the festival – subterranean, almost pitch-black, and with near-perfect sound, it has the feel of a proper club venue. And when the band on stage is
Merchandise, and the place is full to capacity, everything gets very exciting indeed. Their shimmering, dark-hued fuzzy noise – shredded through with urgent melody – reverberates around the walls: an enveloping, encompassing noise. Bay Area (post) post-hardcore band Ceremony, a little later on, hit the same stage for a set that is vaguely doomy, slightly punky, and most of all ultra-heavy amongst the dry ice. Over at the Brewhouse, punters sip on their craft ales while becoming slowly absorbed by the classy audiovisual arrangements of Torn Hawk. It’s a pleasant and diverting half hour in the company of the seriously talented Luke Wyatt, whose layered, instrumental combination of electronica and live guitar sees the crowd drifting in and out. It’s acts like this that provide an antidote to the sometimes wearing serial regurgitation of the guitar and drums format. The one clanger dropped by the festival this year is the delayed access to Jens Lekman’s set at the newly added venue St. John’s church. Maybe the man upstairs wasn’t too keen on this house of god being bespoiled by hordes of music fans with an appetite for idiosyncratic
Swedish indie-pop – or maybe it was the poorly organised bag checks on the door – but three quarters of the crowd are still outside when the set starts. Happily there were no such shenanigans to taint the later arrival of The Antlers, who bring their rich, swoonsome, laconic sound to this most beautiful of venues. It’s an apposite environment for a band whose music has developed over several albums into such a semispiritual affair, and while they appeal to the more ‘mature’ section of the Visions crowd this is certainly no safe, comfortable affair. Drawing their set largely from 2014’s ‘Familiars’, the band display the intensity, maturity and stagecraft that has been honed over the decade or so of their existence. Passages of savage, white-hot guitar cut through the overarching melancholy, while at the centre of the maelstrom, frontman Peter Silberman performs with a soul-deep intensity. Older material gets a new twist, as ‘Kettering’ is slowed down, warped out of shape and given a cataclysmic edge. And as the fading light streams through stained glass windows, the beauty without is matched by the beauty within. Things take a grimier turn back at
Oval Space, when one of the three main headliners, Holy Fuck take the stage. While melodic indie-popsters Camera Obscura and raucous miscreants Fat White Family do their thing elsewhere, the Canadian electro punks – back after a five year absence – put on a show that more than justifies their headline billing. This is music for the gut rather than for the soul; there are several new songs amongst the set, and amidst the dry ice, the darkness and the lights, the crowd pour as much energy into the event as the band. Barring the after-parties, it’s a glorious ending to a festival, which has been as musically diverse as it has been universally appealing. Visions is a festival for true music fans, with a relaxed vibe helped along by the great weather. While the venues, although great in themselves, are slightly too spread out to allow true spontaneity of choice (you kind of have to plan your day) this is true of most indoor festivals. That the promoters manage to put this whole thing together and charge (at most) thirty-five quid a pop for a ticket is a minor miracle, and something to be massively applauded. As an indoor festival it’s right up there with the best.
W r i te r : A n d re w A n d er s on
Big Money Hustlas (2000)
The duo of Shaggy 2 Cool and Violent J have been making music together since the early ’90s, mixing rap, rock and comedy into a lucrative blend that has won them millions of fans and made them just as many dollars. They perform in clown makeup, in a style called horrorcore that is supposed to conjure up the haunting qualities of carnival and cabaret. However, their song titles don’t quite match up to that semi-cerebral billing (they have one called ‘I Stuck Her With My Wang,’ for example). What the band is best known for though is their fans, called Juggalos. Self-branded outsiders, Juggalos are a loosely knit group with a shared interest in rap, violence, and crappy face paint. They’re utterly devoted to Shaggy 2 Cool andViolent J, meaning that Insane Clown Posse’s albums go platinum with predictable regularity. It also means that, back in 2000, the duo had a willing audience for their first movie outing Big Money Hustlas. Before we go any further I need to admit to an error: so far this film series has covered bands playing themselves on screen, and I thought Big Money Hustlas was the same (after all, they are wearing their full ICP makeup in the artwork). However, ICP aren’t actually playing themselves but characters: Shaggy 2 Cool stars as Sugar Bear, while Violent J (who also wrote the screenplay) is Big Baby. But while this film doesn’t quite fit
this column’s usual mould, the characters ICP play are so closely tied in with their real personas that it really makes no difference. In other words: I wasn’t wrong after all. The film is an homage to Blaxploitation films of the ’70s like Shaft, Super Fly and Dolemite (although I’m not sure ICP would use the word homage), with added ICP comedy (by which I mean both Shaggy and Violent J doing their best Blaxploitation accents whilst endlessly repeating the word ‘bitch’.) Set in New York, the film is essentially a prolonged showdown between super villain Big Baby and the police, with Sugar Bear as the Shaft-style cool cop. Big Baby runs various rackets in the town and has the local feds in his back pocket. Distressed by this state of affairs, The Chief (John G. Brennan), decides to call in Sugar Bear, a cop so good that he, “once got stabbed in the balls, dick and ass and still took down the criminal.” Sugar Bear – a mix of Huggy Bear, Shaft and Dolemite – arrives on the scene and, after delivering a series of jibes about the Chief’s weight, proceeds to pummel every bad guy in his path. While this might sound like harmless fun, there is a slight problem in that Shaggy 2 Cool is a white guy pretending to be a black guy while wearing black and white face paint. This strikes me as a tad thoughtless, a word that sums up the
whole film rather well. As a character, Big Baby isn’t much better. In fact, Violent J is exactly what I imagine Cartman from South Park would be like if he was made of flesh and had his humour removed. His hammed-up performance is incredibly tiring to watch for more than a minute or two at a time. Furthermore, he insists on breaking the fourth wall repeatedly to comment on the film’s low budget and poor acting so much that you find yourself shouting, “yes, I get it, this film isn’t very good, please stop constantly reminding me.” About half way in a love sequence ensues between Sugar Bear and Misty, played by Sindee Williams. Misty is very overweight, and her size is the source of many jokes (like when she is lured into a trap by following a trail of burgers and pizza) and the butt of much name-calling. ICP’s unsavoury attitude isn’t limited to obese women, though – all of the women in the film are treated with equal disdain. It doesn’t seem to be done deliberately – it just feels like ICP don’t know any better, and that it hasn’t occurred to them that it might not be okay to portray women only as sex objects (who then get shot). The problem with reviewing this film in serious terms is that ICP would claim it is a joke, and not meant to be taken seriously. As Violent J points out each time he looks into the camera this is a low budget film made for fun, not a piece of art designed for
critical dissection. And just because I don’t find it funny doesn’t mean it is inherently bad. To that I say this: whichever way you cut it, white guys doing bad impressions of Blaxploitation characters while abusing women and wearing clown makeup just isn’t okay. Especially when your audience is as large and dedicated as those of ICP. Which brings me back to the Juggalos. From what I have seen and read it seems like they’re a pretty good-hearted bunch. Yes, they have an affinity for wrestling, terrible rap music and eradicating their own brain cells with a potent mixture of marijuana, cheap booze and laughing gas, but they also value friendship, kindness and acceptance. In many ways (especially the being high bit) they are rather like hippies, only with spider legs instead of flowers in their hair. If you don’t believe me then watch Sean Dunne’s American Juggalo, which captures the thoughts and feelings of people attending The Gathering, an annual Juggalo Festival. It is surprisingly heart warming while at the same time being crushingly sad. They certainly deserve better than the thoughtless, tasteless and brutally irritating film that Shaggy 2 Cool and Violent J are offering with Big Money Hustlas. Note: for those not put off by the above there is also a sequel called Big Money Rustlas. And yes, they are dressed as cowboys.
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Ta me Impa l a Solitude is bliss
Gwenno 50 Cent Alden Penner The Big Moon Let’s Wrestle Mbongwana Star Slime
Father John Misty The day Josh Tillman came to town + Lightning Bolt Ian MacKaye LoneLady Heems Blanck Mass The Eccentronic Research Council
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Girl Unafraid + Viet Cong Ought Ghost Culture Silver Apples PCPC Paul Smith & Peter Brewis Albums of the Year
Karen O They Don’t Love You Like I Love You
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John Grant in Iceland
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From Leeds to Letterman
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Party wolf STudent advice: Going to university? Say what I say, when I say it, and you’ll be fine
final year, this time!
Greetings: “Hey, I’m (insert your real name here) but everyone calls me (go wild – literally anything you like).” Remember, these people have no idea that you’ve been referred to as YP for the past 2 years, or that YP unfortunately stands for Yellow Pits.
Greetings: “Was it me, or did the summer really drag this year? I just wanted to get back to see you lot.” Your old friends don’t understand you at all anymore, and your mum insisted on cooking all your meals for you. Like, what the fuck!?
Greetings: “I thought about not coming back, y’know. It’s not like I’m going to graduate anyway.” Trust me, you are. They should give out special awards to people who go to university and manage to NOT get a degree.
Greetings: “Hey, I’m (insert your old nickname) but everyone calls me (go for it – consider this an upgrade, like you did with your Nokia cellular phone).” So everyone’s a little younger than you now – so what! Forehead John’s currently at work! With a boss!!!
SMALL TALK: “What A Levels did you do?” “What halls are you staying in?” “What course are you on?” All absolute classics, and then, bang! Hit them with the selfreferencing, “I feel like I just keep asking people what A Levels they did!” Putty in your hands.
SMALL TALK: “Let’s go and watch the freshers ask each other about their A Levels!” Stupid fucking freshers!
SMALL TALK: “God, do you remember when we were freshers and I met you in the bar and we were like, ‘I like dark chocolate too’?” By constantly reminding your friends of happy, naive times, it’ll soften the blow when you have to tell them you shagged their ex this summer.
SMALL TALK: “What A Levels did you do?” “What halls are you staying in?” “What course are you on?” Still absolute classics, granted, but be aware that they’re going to come straight back at you. Now, what were your A Levels? Think!!!
Socialising: “No way! I prefer dark chocolate too. This is getting weird now. It feels like I’ve known you forever!” Drop this in around 6 hours after arriving. Living arrangements: “20 of us are going to Sainsbury’s.” If you’re doing your weekly shop with less than 7 friends, you’re losing at university.
Socialising: “Our house is totally going to be the house party house. Sniffer, Magnum PI, Coops and Forehead John are, like, literally down the street.” No, Forehead John doesn’t know that that’s what he’s called. He should have picked his own nickname. Living arrangements: “Let’s cook a roast dinner!” It’s a nice idea, but it’s going to be a fucking disaster in reality. Still, someone’s got to suggest it now that you’re not sharing a kitchen with 15 children. Eat beforehand. It’s going to take 5 hours to ruin this food.
Socialising: “I thought YOU liked Forehead John?!” This is that moment when you realise that you’ve all been humouring the same guy for two years. Living arrangements: “C’mon guys, I really need you to scrape your pasta into the bin before you drop it in the sink.” People are animals.
Socialising: “No way! I prefer dark chocolate too. This is getting weird now. It feels like I’ve been here forever!” You’ve accidentally said “here”, instead of “you”, and you only arrived 2 hours ago. Don’t worry, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a round of jelly shots for everyone. Living arrangements: “I’m going to Sainsbury’s.” Hey, kids shop online these days.
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely fictitious
Photo casebook: The unfortunate world of Ian Beale
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