Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 86 / the alternative music tabloid
Charlotte Church Inside the Pop Dungeon + Lice Lifestyle Gotts Street Park Young M.A Peter Perrett Richard Dawson
LICE – 12 LIFESTYLE – 14 GOTTS STREET PARK – 16 YOUng M.A – 18 Charlotte Church – 22 peter perrett – 28 Richard dawson – 30
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 86 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Charlotte Church Inside the Pop Dungeon + Lice Lifestyle Gotts Street Park Young M.A Peter Perrett Richard Dawson
c o v er p h o t o g raphy g em h a r r i s
Charlotte Church should be older than 31. That’s how it feels to anyone of a similar age, at least. Time seems to move in slow motion for people in the public eye, and considering Church became famous at the age of 11, the impression is that she’s been around forever, and then a bit more. Like Macaulay Culkin – that guy has to be 45, minimum. But he’s not – he’s 36. Of course, when you’re busy being Charlotte Church, 31 years feels like 31 years, even if you switch up your career in such a radical way that others see your life in two halves. When I met Charlotte for this month’s cover feature, she told me that people under the age of 23 have no idea who she is. Others might remember the moment she retired from classical singing (usually to US presidents and royals) at the age of 16. Her final concert was in Hong Kong in 2002. Then she turned her back on the glamorous world that had made her a star and, to be blunt, loaded. So that was classical, ‘Voice of an Angel’ Charlotte, and then there’s her life since, which isn’t so easily categorised, featuring mainstream pop albums, a ton of tabloid harassment, her own Channel 4 chat show, self-released EPs of experimental electronica and alternative rock, an avant-garde theatre production of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and political activism inspired by speaking at The Leveson Inquiry in 2011. Plenty there to merit her cover feature here, from the boldness of a career so offbeat to her political obligations alone – something that I admire even more having spoken to her about why she puts speaking out about the threat of Tory rule ahead of the misogynistic abuse she receives for it. Really though, the fundamental reason for us featuring Charlotte Church is her Late Night Pop Dungeon – no ordinary covers band, first premiered at Stewart Lee’s ATP in 2016. Since then, I’ve only heard people speak about the show with giddy, unaffected glee that I now know is entirely warranted and practically unavoidable. Stuart Stubbs
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thurston moore quit playing flute in his high school band because they wanted him to wear a bow tie
hurston Moore: I’ve always held on to this photo. We took it at a friend’s house while we were clowning around with an instamatic camera. I remember thinking what could be the most demented thing I could do? I know, I’ll be sniffing glue and playing rock ‘n’ roll! So, there I am, with glue in one hand and a maraca in the other. I particularly like the Crucifix on the wall. It’s kind of askew and gives the thing an extra sense of derangement. It was like I was trying to find every symbol of vice in this kid’s bedroom. It was our last year of Catholic school. I remember being really excited to be finally graduating into public life.The year after we’d be in a school that wasn’t so religiously orientated and we’d finally be free and liberated. I seem to recall felling more than ready for that at the time. I think I was happy at high school, but I was definitely a geek. I was like this tall, skinny, freckled faced kid. I mean, sometimes I was a bit of the class clown, but I didn’t have an imperious or confrontational nature at all. So I wasn’t involved in sports because it was too aggressive. Not that I’m anti-sports; I remember trying out for the basketball team. I was tall, so they liked me until they realised that I was completely uncoordinated. I also played flute in the school band, and I was pretty good at it. Well, until I had a concert and they asked me to wear a bow tie. I just quit; much to the chagrin of the band master who was telling me I
As told to dominic haley was the best. I’ve always felt a bit bad about that, because I think I really bummed him out. But there was no way I was going to wear that bow tie. I’ve always taken his words to heart, though. He was the first person who told me that I had some musicality and I’ve always held on to that. It all sort of changed when I hit 16. I started seeing things that I wanted to get involved with, especially the stranger, more marginalised end of rock ‘n’ roll. Bethel, where I grew up, is a small place, and I had something of a small-town life, but it’s an hour from Manhattan. That meant that I was always exposed to images of things that interested me; like the New York Dolls and Kiss. I remember buying the New York Doll’s album and realising that I was probably the only person in my school who was into it. If I’d shown it to anyone they’d think I was kind of funny. It was around that age that I really started getting these signals that something cool was happening in New York. By the age of 18 I was visiting the city regularly and had really started seeing things, and by the time I was 19 I’d moved there. So, in a way, the summer we took this photo was one of discovery for me. It’s when I first started to come across things that resonate with me to this day. I first found the records that were significant for me; like the first Stooges album, Can and Captain Beefheart. Suddenly rock ’n’ roll became this big draw in my life. I was starting to grow out
of comic books and records were the only other thing that interested me. I had an older brother who was bringing records to the house, things like ‘Abbey Road’ and Jefferson Airplane, but I wanted to buy my own. The first things I bought were from his era: Iron Butterfly and the Rolling Stones, but there has always been something about weirder music that appeals to me. The reason I probably bought those records was because they were so inexpensive. The only real money I could get was from mowing lawns so I only ever had pocket change and that meant that I’d have to get what I could find in the cheap bins. I mean, these were the records that no one was buying and most of them were really terrible. But in amongst all the dross there was some avant-garde curiosities, even though I didn’t know what they were when I bought them. I found things like Amon Düül, Can and certainly the first couple of Stooges records in bargain bins. I have this theory that a lot of the people who got into punk rock only got into it due to the economy. The records we could afford were the records that were cheap, and those were the records that really informed us because the cheap records are mostly the weird records. Back then, though, all I knew was that I wanted to freak out. This photo really pronounces that desire – with a tube of airplane model glue in one hand a maraca in the other.
books + ANYONE CAN PLAY GUITAR
Michael Cera Reef Younis catalogues the curious music careers of mega celebrities. Illustrated by Josie Sommer. / the World (a film he played the lead in in 2010), following a cover of the aforementioned Moldy Peaches track ‘Anyone Else ButYou’ in Juno – Cera and Ellen Page twanging their acoustics in a twee duet – and then, finally, his full-length debut album ‘True That’ arrived in 2014. Featuring 21 tracks (only two were covers), Cera channelled his inner Elliot Smith to create a 50-minute collection of instrumentals and melancholic ballads that chimed and charmed in the similarly honest, bashful way most of his characters get cast.There’re songs about girls (the detuned whistle and twang of ‘ohNadine (you were in my dream)’ and the soft lament of ‘Ruth’), melodic little ditties (‘What Gives (…I can’t live like this)’), loose piano interludes (‘Of AThursday’ and ‘Gershy’s Kiss’) and the slightly warped California sound of ‘Steady Now’, all which lend the album a pleasantly haphazard, carefree spirit that neither compels nor offends. In other words, ‘True That’ was as on brand as Greg Wallace releasing an album about puddings and an annoying friend who eats with his mouth open. It’s essentially the solo album you’d expect Michael Cera to create: curious, creative and cultured – less Superbad and actually sort of good.
Sometime after he poked the Pillsbury Doughboy in the stomach and became synonymous with the painfully reserved George Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, but shortly before he became perennially confused with Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Cera was already proving he could do more than just play guitar – he could play the mandolin, instead. It was those lute skills and a lifelong love of Weezer (Cera’s favourite album of all time is ‘Pinkerton’), that saw him feature alongside Rivers Cuomo and band on ‘Hang On’, become the touring bassist for sort-of indie rock supergroup Mister Heavenly, and form The Long Goodbye with fellow actor Clark Duke (of Kick-Ass fame – the guy who played best friend Marty). WithThe Long Goodbye’s basic structures and lo-fi sound a tidy reminder of the naivety, humour and tenderness that made The Moldy Peaches so inexplicably likeable, and the band’s defunctlooking Myspace page yielding little (a cursory Youtube search for ‘Can I Call You Mine?’ provides all you need to know) you’d think Cera’s musical endeavours ended there. They didn’t. His bass and backing vocals made it onto the silver screen on the soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs.
by jani ne & L ee b u llman
Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars 1955-1994 by David Hepworth
Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World By billy bragg
Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy by mike love
Faber and Faber
faber and faber
Rock stars used to be magical, mythical, rarefied creatures who lived out lives of glorious dissolution on our behalf whilst creating the soundtrack to our ordinary existence. They were glorified and turned into idols and when they didn’t make it, their deaths added to their legend. Having been writing about music since the ’70s there is little in the world of rock ‘n’ roll David Hepworth has not seen. He watched the world he describes close-up, whether it was bedecked and preening in shimmering finery or depressed and screaming in downbeat flannels and beat-up boots. In Uncommon People he picks forty rock stars from forty years and zeroes in on the moments that defined them, and in turn, us.
In its 1950s heyday, skiffle was the home-grown musical youth movement that took washboards, tea chests and cheap guitars and turned them into lo-fi proto rock ‘n’ roll. Everyone who was anyone in the first wave of British rock served their time in a skiffle band, like Jimmy Page who, in 1958, introduced himself to the world when he appeared onTV as a greazy haired 14-year-old singing ‘Mama Don’t Allow’. In Roots, Radicals and Rockers Billy Bragg has created an affectionate pre-history of British rock ‘n’ roll. In it, he examines the influences of jazz, American jug band blues, folk and country that informed and inspired, and how skiffle went on to light the fuse for much of what was to follow.
Like all great bands, the Beach Boys wouldn’t have worked so well were it not for the tensions that existed between its members. At times it seemed like they were a band of two halves. On the one hand, there was the much-vaunted fragile genius of Brian Wilson; on the other was Mike Love, without whom moments such as ‘California Girls’ and the perfection of the song that gives this book its title would not exist. Good Vibrations is Love’s side of the fifty-year Beach Boys story; a selfaware, open and candid reflection, which features intra-band court proceedings, transcendental meditation, endless California sunshine and, of course, Charles Manson. Surf’s up.
getting to know you
Aldous Harding Following her selftitled, self-released debut album of 2014, the New Zealand folk musician has made ‘Party’ in Bristol with John Parish, out this month on 4AD. Harding’s likes include, Withnail and I, dancing and feeding seagulls, even if you hate her for it. /
The best piece of advice you’ve been given Never apologise; never explain.
Your hidden talent Dance.
Your favourite word ‘Rats’.
Your favourite item of clothing My white jeans.
Your pet-hate Being asked what I’m up to and when, because I never know.
Your biggest disappointment My fringe.
If you could only eat one food forever, it would be… I want to say the thing that I like but I would inevitably get horrible scurvy. I’ll go for something healthy – maybe a fish salad. The worst job you’ve had Making Biltong [dried, cured meat] from scratch. I did everything but kill them. I loved the work at the time but now that I don’t eat meat it fills me with sadness thinking about the drains, the brains. The film you can quote the most of Withnail and I. “We’re coming back in here!” Favourite place in the world Woodbury, New Zealand. That’s where my family home is. There are at least seven white goats and a swimming hole.
The celebrity that pisses you off the most even though you’ve never met them Nicole Kidman. I’m sure she’s lovely. Your biggest fear Going only half insane. The best book in the world The Master and Margarita. People’s biggest misconception about yourself That I play the guitar well and that I’m a words person. Who would play you in a film of your life? An actor hopefully. What is success to you? Loving someone more than you love yourself.
Your style icon Me.
What talent do you wish you had? I can’t spell properly.
The one song you wished you’d written This is too hard but I’m going to say ‘Single Pigeon’ by Paul McCartney.
How would you choose to die? I’d be shot in the chest by a madman in a public park.
The most famous person you’ve met John Parish. He produced my record. He was a gentle wizard. He also has wonderful taste in cheese.
What is the most overrated thing in the world? Actors.
Your guilty pleasure Feeding seagulls. People hate that. The worst present you’ve received A credit card. I use it to buy all the presents and then get a lovely present from the bank telling me I’ve bought too many presents considering my present situation. The characteristic you most like about yourself Empathy.
What’s your biggest turn-off? Real cruelty. What would you tell your 15-year-old self? Just relax, love, everyone’s pretty useless. Your best piece of advice for others Never apologise; never explain
LICE That end-of-uni, making-it-up-as-you-go-along feeling Photogra p hy: dan kendall / writer: Katie Beswick
op p o s i t e: (L - R ) G a r et h , s il a s , a l i s t a i r & b r u c e, th e memb er s o f l i c e in b r i s t o l .
listair is late. The lead singer of LICE, the Bristol band starting to make a name for themselves on the national stage – opening for The Fall and Fat White Family – finished his university finals the night before our interview, and he is nowhere to be seen. Fortunately for Alistair, I have brought my recently adopted dog, Edna, to Bristol with me and she keeps the rest of the band occupied for forty-five minutes, before we all begin to really worry. Alistair is still not here and neither he nor any of his housemates are answering phones or Facebook messages. “I’m sorry about this,” Silas, LICE’s guitarist and founder member, says as he, I, Edna, the photographer and the other, present, band members (bassist Gareth and drummer Bruce) shuffle around the city in search of a photoshoot location. “Alistair is a bit of a liability.” “Will he turn up?” I ask, concerned that a photo-shoot sans lead singer might not result in the most spectacular feature. “Oh he’ll turn up!” Gareth laughs. “Just at the very last minute.” “And watch out,” Silas says. “Because he’ll try and charm you. He’s so charming; it’s actually ridiculous. He works people really well. He’ll probably kiss your neck or something. He’s done that before. Sometimes we wonder whether he might actually be a psychopath.” True to their word, Alistair pulls up in a taxi twenty minutes before Dan, the photographer, is scheduled to leave. Wearing a crisp white shirt and looking like a slightly crumpled, overfed Draco Malfoy – bearing the effects of what he describes as “two sleepless nights” – he steps out of the car, shakes my hand and apologises profusely. “I’m a big fan of your publication,” he says as the other boys roll their eyes behind him. Wayward band members are something of a defining feature for LICE. Their first drummer, Isaac, left the group after a microdosing experiment went terribly wrong. “He used to try microdosing ‘shrooms,” Silas tells me. “But he fucked it up and was just high constantly. And he’d come into practice with playing cards and he’d, like, hand them out to us. It was weird.” “Yeah,” Gareth says. “He’d throw
them around the room. And he had designs for railguns and stuff.” “What even is a railgun?” Asks Alistair. “He showed me a lot of diagrams but never actually explained.” “It’s a piece of heavy artillery.” “Jesus Christ.” “And he had a tag, which was LICE in Japanese, and he’d go around until 5am spraying it. Anyway, he left us because he was off the chain and we got Bruce who’s far better and it all worked out great.” “I feel like Bruce kind of made us a band,” Alistair cuts in. “Because we were as loose as shit and now we ave this undercurrent, like a semblance of rhythm.” LICE began life as Silas’s side-hustle. Having performed in a few cover bands at school he arrived at university “just really wanting to get a band together.” “A friend of mine called Henry knew I was into stuff like The Birthday Party and wanted to do an official kind of band, so we started jamming in his room with a few guys. After a couple of practices that fell apart a bit, but Isaac and I kept playing together in my room in second year, to my housemates dismay because it was a) really bad, and b) I just had a really shit drum kit and an amp. So me and Isaac used to jam in there for hours. Eventually we were like: ‘we should get a singer and a bassist or just stop.’ So I wrote a really bad advert and he replied to it,” he gestures towards Gareth, then Alistair. “And so did he.” “It was on the University of Bristol’s music society Facebook page,” Alistair says. “And it was: ‘Guitarist and drummer looking for singer willing to do and say horrible shit.’” “I listed a lot of bands, which at the time I don’t think you knew.” “I knew Fat White Family and that was it.” Silas turns to me. “It was just classic post-punk bands, The Birthday Party, The Fall, Pop Group, Bauhaus – all those touchstones.” Alistair nods. “I kind of felt… like definitely we knew The Fall and that was pretty much it, basically. Every other band – The Birthday Party, Psychic TV – Silas got us into them. He was like the impetus.” Unsurprisingly, considering their musical influences, LICE have a classic
post-punk sound, although they’re uncomfortable with the punk/postpunk label that is often applied to their music. “[Punk] was a word that was created to describe a particular era of music,” Silas explains, “and other words have got tagged onto the front of it, like pop-punk, which is really just despicable – it’s reused and glamorised for all the wrong reasons. When new bands get labelled punk bands I just think there must be another word for it. Like we get labelled post-punk and again that was a very specific time, post punk music. And admittedly we sound like bands like that, but it’s not the same.” Alistair raises his eyebrows. “Eloquently put.”
ICE’s method of writing is a little unconventional, especially Alistair’s approach towards lyrics, which, he explains, was borne out of the writers’ block he experienced when he first joined the band. “What I do isn’t really melody based,” he says. “It’s more about kind of, like, rhythm. So originally, in the early days, I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about; I didn’t really have any ideas for lyrics. I’d try writing lyrics and they were always fucking terrible. Like these guys said they were good, but they didn’t fit properly. And so for a long time I was so discouraged. I’d turn up to practices and wouldn’t want to be like, ‘sorry I don’t have any lyrics’ – I didn’t want them to find out – so I’d hold the microphone dead close to my mouth and just slur and make phonetic sounds, and add loads of reverb and stuff because there was a mixer in the practice room. And these guys didn’t know. I’d always record on my phone and afterwards these guys were like, ‘Oh I couldn’t really hear what you were saying but it sounds good man.’ I’d get back home and literally just have noted down in dots and dashes where to put the syllables and stuff. So I’d be like, ok, if that line has seven syllables and I add the stress there and there, it doesn’t really matter what I say. As long as it fits in there it’ll sound good. I was really, really into the Teasers and I wanted to have a go at
writing satirical stuff, so after months of not having lyrics for this song I wrote the lyrics in half an hour. And ever since then that’s basically been it. These guys play a song, I record it in practice, go home, work it out, come back.” Silas nods. “In terms of music in general, Gareth will have an idea for a bass riff, I’ll have an idea for a song and we just give it time. We don’t tend to jump in straight away. Obviously with Bruce we’ll jam out a bit, but we don’t tend to jump in straight away. I find if I walk away from a practice and I hear an idea and I’m still thinking about it when I get home, that’s the point where ok, maybe I want to do something with this. We’re good at letting things sit.” It’s an approach that appears to be working. Their first single, ‘Human Parasite’, received airtime on Radio 1 after its release on new label Big Score and was described by the music blog Vapour Trail as “one of the most exciting things to happen in the history of Western art.” (“And we don’t even think he was taking the piss! He fucking loves our song.”) “What I’ve learned is that you can spend months honing a song in your bedroom and think it’s perfect, and you release it and no one will listen to it,” Silas shrugs. “But if you know people who know people it’ll get played on Radio 1 and it’s fucking awesome. And you kind of think it’s amazing but do I deserve this?” After graduating university in a month or so, the LICE boys plan to spend a year working on music. They’re touring the festival circuit this summer and then they’ll be gigging and writing, although they are circumspect about making any big plans. “We’re gonna try and do the band basically. I didn’t think we’d even play a gig or write a song, so it’s a constant surprise that anyone wants to come and see us.” After our interview, Silas, Bruce and Gareth will head home to revise for their final exams, and Alistair, I presume, will sleep off the remainder of his hangover. “Anything else?” I ask, draining the dregs of my drink before we leave. Gareth smiles, lifting my dog from his lap. “Yeah,” he says. “Shout out to Edna for keeping spirits up today.”
Lifestyle The comforting South London dub project whose brand new mixtape is already out of date Photogra phy: Gem harris / writer: david zammitt
op p o s i t e: (L - R ) A d r i a n , l e w i s ra i n s b u r y & l u k e br en n a n s i n D o c k la n d s , Lon d o n .
couple of days before our meeting, I’m CC’d into an email thread with Lewis Rainsbury and Luke Brennan, aka Lifestyle. It’s a fairly standard formality and something I’ve done a hundred times; “Does 6 o’clock work? Where suits you?” The usual. What I notice, however, is how quickly the guys reply, and how much thought goes into their responses. What’s more, they even have their own ideas for the photo shoot. What’s more, the ideas are really good. They’ve thought about the lighting, they’ve thought about alternative locations based on the time of day. Indeed, the second I emerge from Bermondsey station I have a call from Brennan telling me the pub we agreed to meet at is closed, and that I should go to another one down the road. A punctual musician is a rare commodity – and something I’m immediately grateful for – but there’s something more going on with Lifestyle than just good timekeeping. As Brennan later explains, the pair (who have recently been joined by third member Adrian) have made a decision to approach this project with the same discipline and rigour as they would if they were punching in for a 9-5: “Every day we sit and we start answering emails before we go through all the songs that we’ve done.” “We push each other to do shit,” agrees Rainsbury. “You’ve got to do something. Keeping our brains healthy is something important for both of us.” For the latter, this is a second bite at the cherry. One third of erstwhile dream poppers Vondelpark, he worked as an A&R scout for the group’s label, R&S Records, all the while developing the hazy, RnB-infused pop that has emerged on Lifestyle’s forthcoming debut mixtape, ‘Calm FM’. Brennan, on the other hand, is newer to the industry and his enthusiasm shines through straight away. Having played in various punk bands, he always found that working with Rainsbury felt more natural, and ultimately much more worthwhile. “Me and Lewis have been making music for about ten years; since we were kids. We wanted to do something that helps people be positive,” he says, his eyes creasing into a smile behind his sunglasses. “That was the first thing – rather than
wallowing. The last band I was in I was a teenager being extremely angry.When you’re locked in a tiny room with four other guys, you’re angry and you’re making other people angry. Now we dance all the time in the studio.” While the relationship has undoubtedly been productive from a creative point of view, their strict approach to the development of their art has also helped them psychologically. “Your brain’s just a muscle and you’ve got to use it,” says Brennan. “If you don’t have the discipline of something like school, as an artist you’ve got to be able to have discipline in what you’re doing.That’s something that’s come with time. The more you engage your brain – the more you read and stuff – the stronger it gets.” As I become more attuned to the dynamic between the pair, it’s clear that Brennan is the more outspoken, with Rainsbury happier to sit back and take it in, usually chipping in to sum things up in one succinct sentence. “It’s a coping mechanism in itself,” he says of the music they make together, and it’s obvious that he means it. These days a lot of bands tend to mention the sorry state of politics as the inspiration for their work. Trump and the Tories are tossed around haphazardly as artistic currency, even if there is seemingly no connection between them and their music.Though Lifestyle are certainly no fans of the above, the stimuli for their music is subtler, taking the internal as their muse. Mental health is clearly a subject that is top of mind. “It’s so hard to put labels on people and say that they’re a paranoid schizophrenic or they have bipolar disorder, when really every brain is so different,” says Brennan. “If you use a blanket drug to cure each one, it isn’t the right approach. It’s trial and error with the drugs and they need to make the mistakes to learn. It’s in vogue or whatever but it’s a huge issue for this generation and I think people are stepping up.”
sychological wellbeing is key to Lifestyle’s work, and the importance of coping is a topic which runs right through ‘Calm FM’. Benefitting from warm, luscious production, this mix
of instrumental tracks and others that feature nearly-there ghost-vocals is the sound of coming back from the club on a wet, freezing night and sticking the heating on and lighting some tealights. But while the mellow dub sounds showcased here may be comforting, ‘Calm FM’ doesn’t sugarcoat. Instead, it chooses to confront painful memories and still raw emotions throughout. Youth, family, beauty and friendship are explored, but always against the backdrop of time’s unstoppable march. It gives the collection a melancholic feel that stays with you long after the music fades. “I think nostalgia was something that both of us needed in order to evolve, but I’m actually over nostalgia now,” says Rainsbury. “You can’t dabble for too long. You need to move on as a human.” “‘1998’ definitely is a song to our fathers,” explains Brennan. “It’s about ’90s living, being driven around in the back of a BMW as a kid and the attitude that goes with a guy who drives a BMW in the ’90s.” Rainsbury opens up and goes a little further, albeit briefly. “We both had pretty rogue fathers,” he admits with a slightly sheepish grin, “and I think, with me and Luke, that’s what separates us from a lot of people and also drives us. We both had the luck and lost the luck and now we need to make our own luck.” He tails off for a second. “But we won’t go too much into that!” The thing with ‘Calm FM’, though, is that, as Brennan and Rainsbury say, it’s already out of date, and it’s not out until June 16th. Constantly working on the evolution of their sound as well as their psyche, the mixtape serves as a snapshot of the last year, and they feel their sound has developed considerably in the first half of 2017. “We’re really excited about the new stuff,” says Rainsbury with boyish excitement. “The warm sound thing is great – the mixtape was like wearing a warm jacket or something – but the new stuff is more... glassy. It’s about getting people’s attention, the vocals are at the front of the mix.” He goes on to say that a lot of sedatives were taken while they were making the music but Brennan interrupts him: “Speak for yourself, sir!” If you want to get a preview of what
the new, sedative-free Lifestyle sound like, the fruits of their recent labour can be found on their Bandcamp. ‘DLR,’ a meditation on loneliness, human fragility and surviving amid the desolation of East London is yours for just £45 (“We thought someone with an expense account might buy it,” jokes Brennan), although you can stream it for free. With its pitch-shifted vocals and stuttering percussion, it sounds like what might have been a young Mike Skinner at his early, pensive best, signed to Hyperdub. All trap beats and sub-bass grooves, it’s certainly a lot less warm, and yet it’s no less infectious for all the coolness of its understatement. Audio output is just the start, as the now-trio set their sights on Lifestyle becoming a multimedia collective. “It’s not just a musical thing,” Rainsbury asserts. “We really don’t want to just be a musical thing. We’re getting more and more involved in film stuff and more content for the project.” Free from the constraints of labels or publishers, Lifestyle can express themselves as they see fit. However, it also means that there’s no safety net if it all goes wrong. “And that’s scary,” says Rainsbury, “but it feels so much more important than anything we’ve been involved in before.” Brennan is similarly clear on where he stands. “The industry restricts you and you rarely get to exert your own vision,” he says. “I’ve seen it with so many artists who have been manipulated in the way that they look even. Honesty is the main thing.” But how do two musicians survive in London without an income, I ask. “The same way as lots of great artists before us have,” says Brennan, “like Vivienne Westwood and Brian Eno; advocates of the benefits system!” As Brennan’s laughter dies down, Rainsbury is careful to downplay the romance. “We’re doing more than surviving at the moment – we’ve not jumped into it. It’s cool. We’re not stupid.”
Gotts Street Park In a bad part of Leeds, a jazz-schooled hip-hop collective are making â€œsmackie-soulâ€? Photogra phy: danny p ayne / writer: greg cochrane
op p o s i t e: (L - r ) Jo s h C r o c k er , T o m h en r y , Joe Harris & Adam N ic o lle i n l eed s .
t’s daylight, and that’s kind of a relief. Around the corner from the townhouse that two members of Gotts Street Park share, a man is slumped on some concrete steps drinking a gold can of Skol. A couple of drug dealers barely conceal their afternoon rounds as their car crawls along the road heading towards the local KFC. A dog with shoulders like Vin Diesel strains on its leash, the animal’s polo-shirted owner barking into his phone. In front of a boarded up doorway, two expressionless builders knock down a crumbling brick wall, tossing the rubble into a pile of nettles and rank bin bags spilling onto the pavement. Even in the sweet, bright spring sunshine, the neighbourhood still manages to feel like a grey, uneasy maze of ominous passages and shady alcoves. This is Armley, a tough part of Leeds, 15 minutes on the bus west of the town centre. There’s little sign of the gentrification that’s fanned out across the rest of the city the past few years. The craft beer bars, pricey coffee shops and fashion boutiques haven’t made it here (yet). In fact, there’s not much at all besides a greasy spoon, a Chinese takeaway and a dodgy looking bookies. No surprise then that Josh Crocker takes care to lock the back gate behind us as he welcomes me into his studio and home. Gotts Street Park’s HQ is an imposing terraced house, an unexpected spot for a jazz hip-hop collective to base themselves. Out front, a steep slope overlooks four lanes of burbling traffic. Across the way, there’s a set of allotments and in the distance the greenery of Gotts Park – historically the home of industrialist Benjamin Gott, but now a golf course. “It actually looks alright on a day like today,” says Josh, before later explaining that his girlfriend moved into the house recently, only to leave again after a month because she didn’t feel safe. “We do live next to a convicted burglar,” he says. “There’s kind of a lot of smack heads. Dealers are pretty blatant around here – there are constant drop-offs outside. But weirdly, I’ve never had any trouble in Armley. It’s like people are too depressed to even bother.” Despite all this, or because of all this, Josh’s principal musical project can
exist and is beginning to flourish. The main reason? Rent is cheap and no one hassles them. There’s space and time to make music, although they keep their recording to a daytime schedule out of neighbourly politeness. Inside, it’s roomy. A tall set of stairs leads to a first-floor room overlooking the road. It used to be Josh’s bedroom – there’s a fireplace and wardrobe. Now it’s his studio, where one corner is taken over by a beautiful vintage cream drum kit, and two guitars stand in the other. A pile of vinyl rests against a desk strewn with plants, ornaments and ashtrays. Rugs cover the wooden floorboards and patches of purple soundproof foam creep up the walls. There’s analogue kit everywhere. Heaven for a classic sound enthusiast. Reel-toreel recorders, Ribbon microphones and tube amps. A pair of speakers on a sound desk. It’s an intimate recreation of the mythologised studios of the ‘60s, like Sun and Stax in Memphis, or FAME and Muscle Shoals in Alabama, but in a deprived corner of urban Yorkshire. Josh produces and plays bass. He hands me a coffee as his bandmates Adam Nicolle (drums) – who also lives here – and Joe Harris (guitar) arrive. Fourth member Tom Henry (keys) is working today in nearby Bradford.
otts Street Park were brought together through different music institutions. Josh and Adam met studying music in York., Joe and Tom were doing a similar thing in Leeds. They all became immersed in Leeds’ experimental jazz scene before realising their combined passion was actually more for hip-hop and soul, a love of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. They each worked individually as jobbing session musicians and producers, but would join up to record with other artists like a traditional backing band. However, after a while they realised often what they were creating – led by a perfectionist pursuit to capture the atmosphere of old soul records and the feel of early hip-hop – was actually their sound; something more than a signature skill-set to hire out. “It’s that heavy, old, saturated vibe,” explains Josh, rolling the first of a number of cigarettes he and Adam
chain smoke in the next hour, “but giving it a more modern hip-hop feel.” For four years they’ve met up, away from the day work, once or twice a month. Quickly they began to stockpile a bunch of material they loved. Eventually, they decided to make it an official project, and give it a name – an amalgamation of local landmarks: Gotts Street Park. “We just like the sound of it. It conjures up a bit of a dark New York thing for me,” says Josh. “When we started the project, all the images we had in mind for it were very urban, seedy – this area is like that, too. “We always describe it as smackiesoul,” he smiles, “but it’s not like depressing. You can walk around Armley, and it definitely fits it. “It probably helps the productivity,” adds Joe, leaning back into an armchair. “In that it’s less tempting to leave the house.” The essence of what they do is based around the kit that surrounds them, the admiration for old philosophies of recording and the trusting chemistry between the four players. “The idea of doing things live, with a small group in one room was really important. Our identity in the music evolved from that,” explains Josh. “Modern music tends to be where everything is layered, written in parts. But with this, if you’ve got four guys in a room who’re writing the music on the spot, it can take as long as it takes to end up with a record. It’s how they used to do it.” While they all continue to work on individual projects and other types of music (Josh has produced Cosima’s EP, Tom plays keys in Mabel’s band), increasingly GSP is becoming their main “satisfying” focus. “In a way, it’s almost like a little ‘fuck you’ to a lot of the industry,” exhales Josh, dragging on another cigarette. “I started doing sessions years ago, where people would think that they want that sound, but when you’re in the studio or you get notes back from the A&R, in fact that’s not the sound they want at all. A lot of the time you’d have artists, people who had a genuinely awesome soul voice, and yet, they wanted to do this really generic polished pop.” Gotts Street Park isn’t that at all. The blue, murky instrumentals they put down are somehow lazy, meandering
but also sharp; a moody, authentic concoction that summons the feel of 50 years ago, but also, more recently, Portishead’s ‘Dummy’, Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. That’s what has led them to record with the likes of Rejjie Snow, Kali Uchis and Yellow Days in the past – artists searching for that classic sound. And now their work to date has been crystallised into a self-titled, 10-track EP, released via Blue Flowers on 16 June. It features guest vocalists Dielle, Grand Pax and British MC Benny Mails. Given their sacred approach to sonics there are no plans to perform it live. In fact, they’ve only ever taken the band out of the studio and onto the stage on a couple of occasions. “I’m not sure it’s going to be that satisfying to do it in a live capacity, especially in a bigger place,” says Adam. “If there was no PA and it was all backline and you’d still be getting the sound of the amps, or a kit that’s warm and nice, that’s OK. But I think the minute you start relying on frontof-house sound, it’s going to sound like a rock band playing soul tunes or hip-hop. We kind of want to make music rather than play stuff we’ve already made.” So, then, they’re already thinking about the next recording. “I’d love to be doing full lengths with one vocalist, one artist, and really explore some territory,” suggests guitarist Jo. We’re making a list of guests at the minute,” Josh confirms, “ but the point where we feel like we have to change the sound of it is probably where it’ll end,” he says. Drummer Adam picks up the point: “The minute someone asks us to layer over 808 drum sounds, polyphonic synths and tropical house sounds… it wouldn’t happen. “It’s not just about this place,” he says, gesturing at the room. “We won’t be like, ‘Right, now we can afford to record at Abbey Road’, because that just wouldn’t be right. But if we were in a position to, we might get an old building and set that up how we’d want it. Our own space with a bit more flexibility would be good. “Yeah,” he nods, “and not run the risk of getting stabbed everyday…”
Rig ht : Ka t o ra h Ma rrero a ka Yo un g M. a in b ro o kl yn , n ew yo rk. she pl a ys MIA’ s mel t d o wn o n jun e 17.
Young M.A The New York champion of hard-nosed freestyles about being a woman Photography: dustin condren / writer: Colin Groundwater
oung M.A doesn’t care for your bullshit. On ‘Same Set’, from her new EP, ‘Herstory’, that bullshit is rappers who pose in foreign cars: “In the Yams with some Jordans, on our scooter bikes / They was claiming that they do it but don’t do it right / It’s not about what you got, it’s about who you are / ‘Cause we don’t need foreign cars to get foreign broads.” As the beat rides out, she cackles about it with her team: ‘But nah for real, we really be in the Yams on them scooter bikes bro.We got the Jordans on the back of them and all that.Then we see these niggas comin’ down the strip in foreign cars.And we be laughin’,‘cause when you look inside of them, it’s just niggas. No girls – niggas… We them niggas.’ It’s classic New York rap paired with familiar nononsense punch line, the type you can imagine Chris Rock delivering to a crowd of hundreds. But on the track, M.A (born Katorah Marrero) is just chilling with her friends rather than delivering a sermon; her performance is assertive, but casual enough to feel more like passing thoughts than a showy performance, where we’re welcomed into that personal space to enjoy her company. Being genuine through her music is a focal point of our conversation. “It’s just real. It’s realistic. There’s no bluffing. There’s nothing fake about it,” she says. Fittingly, though talking through the impersonal filter of an international conference call, Young M.A is giving all sides of herself, stunningly open in a way some people would be hesitant to do with longtime friends, let alone strangers – and white boy suburban strangers at that. She’s keen to reiterate, deliberating over every word so it’s felt over the phone: “I speak my mind. I’m blunt. I’m straight to the point, and I really
don’t care what people think. It’s just something that a lot of people can relate to… a lot of people will come up to me and tell me that I inspire them, because I’m so bold about myself.” You can see why M.I.A. has asked her to perform as part of her Meltdown Festival at London’s Southbank Centre this month. This boldness is front-and-centre within most rap, but that doesn’t make how Young M.A does it any less vital. She’s a self-made artist and businesswoman who rose through sheer talent and willpower, using hardnosed freestyles rather than buzzy features, all while refusing to censor herself. Her music often speaks of this self-belief, as well as a trust in her family, her faith and her identity as a young, black, gay American. One of her favourite topics is women – her ‘Sex Issue’ freestyle for the Fader turned heads for its blatant references to a wild night with a girl, and a nine-inch helping hand – brash to some, significant to many other fans, who are her lifeblood. “Sometimes it’s still surreal to me to see somebody crying over me,” she says. “Like, to me, I still feel like I’m just me!... But they don’t look at me like that. It’s deeper. It’s bigger than that. And I’m starting to understand that. “That’s my motivation, man. They keep me in high spirits. This world can definitely be real cruel, very disrespectful, but these people… it just makes me feel like ‘you’re here for a reason, you’re doing this for a reason, and this is what God had planned for you. This is why you’ve loved music for so long.’” As a unique figure in the current hip-hop landscape, Young M.A has her
fair share of detractors. The comments underneath her biggest freestyles are quickly poisoned by slurs and homophobia, though this isn’t something that fazes her. “Come on, man. I’m not trash,” she smirks. “A lot of people [know that] M.A is one of the hottest artists, so when I see people say that, I know what it really is. I know that they really don’t like me as me. I can respect that more because I know that it’s not about my music, it’s just that you don’t like me as a human being. “Nobody’s never, ever came to me, face to face, and said anything disrespectful to me… People sit here crying in front of me, so I could never let a little comment on the Internet make me feel like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do.”
hough just twenty-four, Young M.A has had this steadfast vision for some years. She started rapping at the age of nine; her early early verses signal the same confidence, even before she refined her technique. The cover of her new EP is a candid shot of a fourteenyear-old M.A counting dollars, taken by her uncle, and that unfiltered tone is carried forward to now. Even when she writes a radio smash, she does it her way. Her breakout hit, ‘OOOUUU’, has no chorus, no hook. Just a vibe and a collection of giddy observations. (Despite her confidence, she’s open to admitting her shock at the legs it grew: “I knew it was gonna be big, but I didn’t know it was gonna be this big …”). If she’s going for a woozy party
atmosphere, you can bet she’s partying at the time: ‘I ain’t gonna lie. I’m a little smizzzzzzzz. I’m a little drizzzzzzz,’ she confesses at the beginning of the song, her words soaked in Hennessey and charisma. For her, the atmosphere surrounding a recording is just as intertwined in the creative process as the writing. “I do have beats where I hear and I automatically lock it in, like when I did the ‘Hot Sauce’ record,” she says. “I sat on that beat for, like, a year before I even wrote something to it. “There’s not always a time where you hear a beat and you wanna write to it right away. You don’t even know what the hell to say on it, but you know there’s something about that beat that’s gonna be make you put something very creative to it. And then I’ve had those times where I’ll hear a beat right then and there and I’ll be like ‘oh no I’ve gotta write for this right now’. You’ve gotta be there in that moment. “Writing is not easy, man. People think, y’know, that when you know how to rap, for that person, that writing is easy for them, and it’s not. It’s very difficult when you’re not in that mood or in that format… You find yourself repeating yourself sometimes.” M.A is just back from her supporting stint with 21 Savage, the biggest set of stadium dates she’s done yet. Progress is on her mind afterwards. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” she tells me. “I was able to bring my whole team with me – we learnt a lot; we grew a lot.” Main stage touring is still relatively new to her. When she got the call from Beyoncé’s team to open for her in NYC
“Sometimes it’s still surreal to me to see somebody crying over me. Like, to me, I still feel like I’m just me!”
she had only played clubs. And despite her conviction, this isn’t something that comes naturally. “My mom used to try to make me perform at, like, family reunions and stuff like that, but I was shy. That was the only thing that I was shy about – performing in front of people. Anything else – I used to play football, I used to do all these things… basketball was no problem, but performing in front of people was really my issue. “When I got older, and really got serious with the music, I noticed that when you get on stage, you had to almost not really look at the crowd, like you were looking around… You know these people came to see you. And if they came to watch you then obviously, they love who you are, and they’re gonna listen… I wanna give these people a show, so they aren’t gonna ever forget me…” She pauses. “And I wanna really talk to them. “It’s almost like therapy,” she says. “You’ve been holding so much in that when you get on that stage, you just release it. That’s how I learned to look at it, and that’s what helped me. You’re releasing all that frustration, and whatever you have built up, you’re giving it all to the crowd, and they’re
just enjoying every moment of it. And it feels good when you’re done, and you can drink a bottle of water.” She laughs.
oung M.A’s unsureness, in her stage presence or in her writing process, is a side that has only peeked through so far, musically. Her new EP gives us pieces of her, but the thrill lies in what she chooses to give and what she chooses to leave out. ‘Bonnie’ touches on the gooey honeymoon period of a relationship; references to her family, her past and her surroundings are laced throughout, but buoyant summer energy is the overwhelming feeling. Something deeper lurks under the surface. “That’s really what I focused on,” she says. “Giving summertime music, but still making it about me at the same time. When the album comes the album’s gonna be a little more personal, a little more involved with who Young M.A is. “There’s so much I have to say, and I’ve got to say, that’s gonna inspire people so much more. I can’t wait to give them a body of work, a storyline. It’s almost gonna be a documentary on an LP... There’s a story that a lot of people aren’t familiar with on my
end… Even though I’ve dealt with struggles like every other type of person, I also have other issues that I deal with just by what I represent. I want to express that to people. “I’d rather them see the real me than the radio and the ‘OOOUUU’, y’know. That’s the fun part, that’s the clubbing. But I really want people to understand that it’s deeper than that. There’s so much more to me than that.” So why release the EP in the first place? M.A freely admits it’s marketing, and a will to survive as an independent figure. Though this has been a learning process. “I can never sit here and say I’ve got it all together. It’s difficult. When you’re independent… you make more of the decisions. When you came from not knowing nothing about the business to ‘now you’re in the business’ and now you’re dealing with everything all at once. I’m really grateful that I do have a team that I can rely on. “I’m still not where I wanna be,” she says. “Yeah, there’s a lot of people that know me, but there’s still a lot of people that don’t. I feel like that’s just giving me more work to do.” It’s clear that being ‘real’ to M.A differs from what a lot of artists would
call being real. To her, being real is being human. It’s messy, multifaceted, rich and rewarding, just like her music. Though that doesn’t mean she won’t change herself to get where she believes she’s meant to be. Her brother died as a result of gang violence, and it’s clear that the weight of this affected her art. She tells me: “When I used to make songs and freestyles a couple of years ago, I was a little more on the violent side of things, just talking a little too aggressively, and I had to really grow up and tell myself ‘let’s calm it down a little bit, let’s minimise that a little bit’… and let’s focus on music that’s gonna sell, and that’s gonna get you to radio and where you need to be.” In 2014, a viral video for her song ‘Brooklyn Chiraq’ generated negative attention for its arguable glorification of violence. The vivid ownership of her experiences hasn’t been dampened as she’s decided to make her music more positive and palatable. “My life has changed too, so a lot of those things that used to happen don’t happen now, and I don’t need to speak about it as much… but when it comes to WOMEN, and stuff like that, I really don’t care. I’ll say whatever I think...” She trails off, laughing.
Hits How the unpredictable career of Charlotte Church has led to political activism and an unpretentious covers band “carefully crafted to bring maximum joy” Photography: gem harris / writer: stuart stubbs
harlotte Church laughs when I remind her that she published her first autobiography at the age of 14. A preposterous thought with a title to match. Or maybe not. By the time My Life (So Far) was released in 2001, Church was already three albums into an unprecedented crossover career that had started with her singing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Pie Jesu’ down the phone to Richard and Judy on This Morning. It would become the opening song on her 1998 debut album of arias, sacred songs and traditional pieces – the ultimate parent stocking-filler of the day, ‘Voice of an Angel’. As the album continued to sell into its multi-millions – regimentally followed by Christmas-ready records in 1999 and 2000 – Church toured the world like an opera star should, performing for Heads of States and dignitaries, including the Queen, the Pope and a couple of US Presidents: first Clinton, and then George W. Bush, who asked Church what State Wales was in when she told him where she was from. In 1999 she first appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2001, immediately after Bush’s inauguration, she sat one of her GCSEs in the White House. It seems that My Life (So Far) was in fact a read. And then, two years later and at the age of 16, Charlotte Church retired from classical singing to embark on an increasingly lawless
career of doing whatever she likes. And what she likes right now is dressing up with 8 or 9 friends and performing virtuoso versions of tightly rehearsed chart hits in a covers band called Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon. So I don’t first meet Charlotte in a palace or presidential home as once I might have; I meet her in Digbeth, Birmingham, on a wet Friday night at the O2 Institute, where the Pop Dungeon is about to make the weeks of 400 people in a room that resembles a good student union. By the back door I enter through with Charlotte’s tour manager, Gethin, there are three autograph hunters that I wasn’t expecting. They say that they’ve been waiting since 10am (it’s now 7pm) and convince Gethin to take their books inside for Charlotte to sign. “It’s always the same demographic,” she says of the 50-year-old men, although it is out of the ordinary for them to come to a show these days. Charlotte is feeling terrible with a bug that’s hit her that day. She’s also pregnant with her third child. Her boyfriend, Johnny, who plays guitar in the Pop Dungeon as Curtis Fridge, keeps her company as the rest of the band (“a bunch of complete hedders,” says Church, who also have ridiculous stage names) drift in and out of the extremely unglamorous green room before taking their per diems to the pub. They return as photographer Gem
is shooting Charlotte, who looks great but clearly feels unwell and doesn’t speak much. She insists that the show won’t be a bust, though. “Music heals, and all that.” The nine members of the Pop Dungeon walk onstage in a camp parade of who can look the most fabulous/ridiculous/magical. There is no clear winner. Backing singer ‘Shirley Daddy’ is inexplicitly dressed as Kermit the Frog, with ‘Purple Pussy’ to her left in leopard print and red tights, and, to her right, ‘Glitoris’ looking like a cosmic ’70s mum in robes and greenlens glasses. On the end of their line is ‘Camel Joe’ – a Viking with no shirt but a silver waistcoat. Drummer ‘Bongo Fury’ almost looks underdressed as a lost member of Dexy’s; keyboardist ‘Buddy Analogue’ takes the Nathan Barley fluro bomber jacket and moustache route; the bottom half of ‘Curtis Fridge’ is Beetlejuice while the top half is of a glam-rock flamenco dancer. Which leaves the big-bearded ‘Galacto Love Spoon’ (definitely my favourite name) – the Pop Dungeon’s bass wizard, in terms of how well he plays and the fact that, in a gold cape and with glitter in his grey chops, he looks actually like a wizard who could be in Wizard. There’s Charlotte too, in fishnets, gold sequin hot pants, gold tasselled top and a vintage army jacket she bought when she was 18. And then they start to play, and if
the unbridled, growing appeal of Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon isn’t realised by the first couple of bars of Prince’s ‘Get Off’, it is by the segue into ‘Get Ur Freak On’, which slides into Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’, what with this being Birmingham, and all.Those three numbers, over within 3 minutes, let you know a few things about what will follow for the next quick hour. 1.) The band are incredible, 2.) That includes Church’s voice, even though she’s spent most of her life smoking, 3.) The song choices are varied far beyond what you’d probably expect, 4.) Whilst this would be the greatest wedding band of all time, the Pop Dungeon is not a dusty covers band who play songs note perfect to their meant-to-be, tidy ends; in their snippets and mixes they’ve more in common with 2manydjs than the Bootleg Beatles. “It really pisses me off when people say that it’s like karaoke,” Church tells me. “It’s not Karaoke at all! It’s a really carefully crafted set to bring maximum joy.” It certainly works. Proudly kitsch and with no big secret beyond the unpretentious glee of seeing these songs performed so well, the band are having the most fun of all, with Church a generous host. In turn she introduces Purple Pussy for a star turn on Amerie’s ‘One Thing’, welcomes Shirley Daddy to perform ‘Paper Planes’, which she
adds her own daft verse to, and pulls Glitoris into the spotlight to scream ‘Killing In The Name’ mixed with ‘Independent Women’. Curtis Fridge and Galacto Love Spoon get theirs on the “You don’t remember…” section of ‘Paranoid Android’ and, the most surprising track of the night, Nirvana’s ‘Aneurysm’. There’s also a moment when Church goes full opera and performs the theme to E.T., which is accompanied by a silhouette paper puppet of a bike sailing crossing a full moon. She rolls her eyes at us for cheering so hard. “Yay, the ’80s,” she mocks – a reminder that Charlotte Church likes to take the piss. They end on an R. Kelly medley of ‘Bump N’ Grind’, ‘Ignition (Remix)’ and ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, although Charlotte later tells me: “I’m starting to question the morality of that medley. It’s a shame, because they’re such tunes, but to me he’s a bit of an evil human being. I’ve been trying to
ignore it, but our drummer Dave [she means Bongo Fury] came in and said, ‘You know what, you need to look at this R. Kelly shit – it’s really not cool; we should stop doing it.” Pockets of the room chant: “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte fucking Church,” as they have done on and off all night. Then we all have to go back out into the Birmingham rain.
he following Monday I meet Charlotte in Dinas Powys, the village she’s lived in for the last six years, a few miles outside of Cardiff. We order pots of tea and sit in the window of a small, traditional café. She feeling much better and as far as the whatyou-see-is-what-you-get notion of Charlotte Church goes, it’s true. She’s instantly familiar; from the way she might refer to you as “my love” to how she describes her genuine loved ones
as “lush”. Due to her pregnancy she’s kicked smoking (she thinks for life) and is off the booze, but she still revels in bad language, and it’s quite a gift how naturally she can slip “fuck” into a sentence without you noticing it. She’s frank and funny and, after 20 years of public scrutiny and increasing abuse, she has no intention of holding her tongue when it comes to the issues that matter most to her – chief among them the threat of Tory rule and the danger of a Conservative landslide in the upcoming General Election. But first: the happier subject of Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon. She says that Friday night was a pretty good show, “but at others the crowd have been mental from the getgo. Mainly up North.” I mention how diverse the crowd was in Birmingham. On the barrier was a solid line of slightly disconcerting 50-year-old men, one filming the
entire performance on his phone, but behind them a mix of all sorts danced and got pissed together. From the lone bearded dude behind me to the group of mums in flats in front, it felt almost alien to be at a show so inclusive. “The people I see at Pop Dungeon gigs are the people who really need it,” she says. “That’s how it feels to me – people who are like, ‘oh God, please, this life is just so fucking harrowing,’” she laughs. “And there is something of a balm to it; there is something soothing and re-energising. That’s not how we meant it to be, it’s just developed like that. I mean, I don’t do it all the time because I need to be in the moment and feel it, but sometimes I do little spiels throughout, like whispering ‘fuck the Tories’ or some stuff about communal heartache.” (In Birmingham she introduced Beyoncé’s ‘Sorry’ by slowly saying: “This song is for anyone who’s had their heart opened up and literally shat in.”.)
L eft : (L -R) Ca me l jo e, Glit o ris, Shirley D addy & P urpl e pussy. B elo w: Cur t is Fridge (left ) & G ala ct o lo v e spo o n .
“Sometimes there’s a bit of self-love too,” she says. “Before ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ I’ve said before that life is tough and really hard and sometimes you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘well done, you’re doing really well.’ I say this because it’s what I do. “You’ll have broken people there; you’ll have people who are off their tits on drugs there; you’ll have drunk people there; you’ll have aggressive people starting fights – we’ve had a few fights in the audience while we’ve played. I’m thinking for the festivals we’ll add a slow dance section to calm everyone down.” She’s also planning a ‘diva-off’ section, where she’ll play herself. It’s a festival that we have to directly thank for the Pop Dungeon. And not some mobile phone provider’s corporate day event that thinks a craft
beer tent will disguise the fact that you can also win a Volvo at the VIP bar. Charlotte Church devised her shameless pop party specifically for ATP in April 2016, at the behest of that year’s curator, comedian Stewart Lee. Lee and Church had become friends some time before, and so when he got the ATP job he asked her if she’d like to perform. Anything, he said. Church hasn’t released any music since her 2014 alt. rock EP ‘Four’, though, so that was out. “And then we thought about how chin-strokey ATP was going to be, with Stewart Lee and his free jazz, so we were like, let’s do something that is really kitsch and so full of joy that it’s going to be impossible not to love. You need that release at a festival like ATP, which is very intellectual, and that’s exactly what we were. “We were after The Fall – everyone
had had a shit time at The Fall – and we couldn’t believe it. The reaction was completely mad – not what we were expecting. And then we just kept getting booked again and again. And every time we did it, it was better. We thought it was going to be a weird one-off for Stewart Lee at ATP. I thought people would be mad at us. We did ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – a beautiful, deconstructed version of it – but it’s almost a hymn, that song, so we thought people would hate it. We did Neutral Milk Hotel as well, so cult bands and songs that people really hold dear.” The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, with the Pop Dungeon heralded as the hit of the weekend. Charlotte and her band celebrated by getting shit-faced. The praise for the show keeps
coming, and its reputation is why I travelled to Birmingham to see if it really could be as much fun as people had told me. Part of the reason that it is, is down to the band’s choice of songs. Cover bands at your local black box venue – it doesn’t sound good. And the term “pop hits”, for me, at least, equates to the cheese clubs that I can’t stand – ‘Living On A Prayer’, ‘I Am The One And Only’, Culture Club, Steps. The Pop Dungeon rescues pop music from a preconception of complete and utter naffness with songs by EnVogue, Prince, Destiny’s Child and the half-forgotten Blue Boy. And they’ll also throw in Can, Funkadelic and Nine Inch Nails.That it’s presented so proudly, and executed so well, you can’t imagine that anyone would be down on it. “We had one guy who Tweeted at us saying we need to check our fucking
“The NHS is ours, not a ‘we’re lucky to have it’ situation, which is what people will have us believe”
straight, white privileges, saying that we were culturally appropriating things, because it was an all-white band,” says Charlotte. “So I started a conversation with the guy to ask if he could pinpoint some of his issues, because he had some form of a point, I get that: yes, the band is all white, it could definitely be more diverse. I mean, I didn’t design it like that, but then again, if we’re looking at a society where equality means not treating people the same, it means helping some people more than others, then he’s got a point. “He said his piece, and I said I’d think on it. To feel like that about the show, though, you do have to be searching for problems. Yes, there is a ember of a point there, and I’m sorry for that, but you’ve missed the point.”
eople have never had a problem telling Charlotte Church what they think of her. “Whether it’s because of my weight, or I’m a shit singer, or I’m ugly, or Cheryl Cole is better than me.” It’s disputed whether it was at the hand of The Sun newspaper or an anonymous website, but in 2002 a disgusting and predatory clock appeared online counting down the days to Charlotte’s 16th birthday and the moment she would be “legal”. Around the same time, the Daily Star ran a photograph of the then-15-year-old Church in a tight top under the headline ‘She’s A Big Girl Now’. The only thing more unbelievable than the story and its use of lines like “looking chest swell” is that on the same page the paper branded the Brass Eye paedophile special as “sick”. After that, Church spent a few years being chased around by paparazzi to encourage swathes of the population to judge her for having a good time like every other teenager on the planet, and certainly no more than you’d expect from a highly successful child star millionaire. Cue thousands of cheap headlines about ‘Fallen/Hell’s Angel, Charlotte’. As Charlotte’s fame has lessened, though – with music releases on the back-burner and with her becoming a mother who is no longer the partner of a Welsh rugby star (she has an 8-yearold son and a 9-year-old daughter with Gavin Henson) – the rise of social media and her newfound passion for political activism has exposed her to more abuse than ever before. Trolls love to harass Charlotte, just as they love to harass any opinionated
person in the public eye, especially women. I find her approach to the whole depressing thing commendable and rare. Like the guy who to told her to “check your fucking straight, white privileges”, she responds to them all. In part it’s to defend herself, but it’s also to engage with people; and not simply to shout them down and prove herself categorically right. It can eat up her day, but she says it gets to a point where she simply can’t ignore it. Still, I argue, there must be times when you want to dismiss a comment as that of a moron who you’re never going to be able to reason with. “No,” she says, “because then if you felt like that, you end up being on the other side – ‘this person is a moron, they don’t know what they’re talking about.’ Everybody is worth trying to talk to. It’s worth trying to make them understand. “And I think lots of it isn’t real,” she says. “I’m not saying that everyone loves me, like I’m Sally Fields, but I think that there are so many online presences that aren’t real profiles, which are controlled to sway public opinion. Especially all of the political stuff, and all of the horrific misogynistic stuff, it doesn’t feel real to me. And when it’s all directed at you, you start to see patterns, then. Like, all the profiles that are calling me ‘a feminazi whore cunt who should get raped by immigrants’ etc., a lot of them have a profile picture of a really pretty young girl who’s a Conservative Activist or a Republican, and I just don’t believe it – none of it makes sense, and it’s not well constructed enough.” She says she loves having deep conversations with taxi drivers and talking to people with opposing views to her to better inform her viewpoint and take away her prejudice. “If somebody is saying: ‘I can’t stand Jeremy Corbyn; he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing; he’s a bumbling fool’, instead of saying: ‘I disagree with you on that and here are the reasons why,’ it’s more like: ‘Why do you think that? How have you come to that conclusion? What do you read? How is Theresa May better? Are you left or right, then?’ It just better allows you to argue your point. And you are then constantly, slightly remoulding what you think, which is how things should be. It should never be a case of, ‘right, I’ve spent all this time honing my perfect set of beliefs and it’s been the same for 10 years.’ That’s not progressive. Life is fluid.” Charlotte detractors would probably read that and dismiss it as
naïve and ideological. I’m sure she wouldn’t care if they did, but sat talking to her you can’t miss how impassioned she is by it all. What’s ironic, then, is that the same people who bemoan ‘Charlotte Church the champagne socialist’ for appearing on Question Time and speaking at anti-austerity marches are the same people who bemoan the younger generation for not being politicised and not giving a shit. That used to be Charlotte Church, until as recently as the last General Election, when she voted for the very first time in 2015. The catalyst for her, she says, was when she spoke at The Leveson Inquiry as one of the victims of the News International phone hacking scandal. (The Murdoch-owned organisation was ordered to pay Church £600,000 in damages.) “It’s because I was appalled at the corruption and injustice,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe it. And once it’s laid out in front of you like that it becomes impossible to ignore, and then I had to get involved as a moral obligation. As Dumbledore says in the last Harry Potter book, ‘there’s what’s right and there’s what’s easy.’” I point out that that’s the third reference Charlotte has made to Harry Potter today. (Earlier when she talked about the dark arts of Cambridge Analytica, the digital data company that supported Trump’s presidency campaign and the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign, she says: “You start to see these Internet data forces behind right wing ideology… It’s like they’re all Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix is totally fucked!”) She laughs. “Well, I’m quite a simple person,” she says, “or maybe it’s about simple philosophies as everything is getting more and more complex with the amount of information – it’s about rationalizing it for yourself. But it does seem very simple at the moment – either you care for other people and the wellbeing of other humans, and that’s regardless of the fact that they are stupid or a different religion to you, or had a bad education, or have 15,000 kids. Either you care for other people and you want to see the general betterment for everybody, or you see that as unrealistic and ideological, and so therefore you go, what life is forcing me to do is survival of the fittest and I have to concentrate on looking after my own family because that’s the only way we’re going to survive. I understand that point of view – that comes from a place of deep love for your family and a fear and a want to keep them safe, but
in order to achieve that you have to do it at the exclusion of others, because there’s only so much space and so many resources etc. So whilst I don’t think that’s abjectly wrong and makes you a dreadful human being for thinking like that, I just don’t think that that’s the right way to go. “Conservatism is about shrinking the state, and it’s important to go back and remember who the Tories are – they’re not the party of the workers. I’m not saying that Labour are or that Jeremy Corbyn is the guy, but these people aren’t who they claim to be.” Like most of the country, Charlotte expects a Tory victory on June 8th; she just hopes that it’s not a landslide, for fear of Britain becoming a oneparty state, and the very real threat of the NHS being the first institution on the bonfire. Having come from a community that typically doesn’t vote, this morning she’s been trying in vain to write a script for a video to encourage people to register and do so. “The NHS is the best thing about this country,” she says. “It’s the only thing fucking keeping me here. “It’s very unlikely that Labour’s going to win, but I really hope it’s not a Tory landslide, I really do, because I think it would be the end of our society that’s been built by our families and by our money for years. Because the wealthy have been avoiding paying their fair share for many, many years. So this whole society – the NHS, our institutions, our schools, everything – it’s been built by our families, our parents and their parents’ before them, by everything that they’ve paid in and by working in these institutions. They are ours. They belong to us. This isn’t a ‘we’re lucky to have them’ situation, which is what people will have us believe. “And although I know I’m going to get a fucking shitload of crap [for this video], and eventually I might be on the losing side, it doesn’t matter, because for me it’s what’s right.”
mmediately after the Pop Dungeon had left the stage on Friday night, Charlotte was back in the green room, out of costume, shattered and still ill. Impressively, she’d made it through the show, but that image of her couldn’t have contested more the perceived impression of Charlotte Church the perma-pisshead fueled by Cheeky Vimto (Blue WKD mixed with port). Just moments before, as the O2 Institute
emptied, I heard two girls weighing up whether to wait a little longer to see if Charlotte might come back out to meet some fans. “Oh c’mon, this is Charlotte Church,” they reasoned, “she’s probably already getting pissed at the bar.” When I ask Charlotte if she’s ever felt a pressure to live up to the persona that has stuck with her since her late teens, she lets out a loud laugh of disbelief. “Oh no,” she says. “I’ve never felt any pressure. I did that all by myself very easily. But everything about me is sort of like that – it’s proper what you see is what you get.” I ask if that means that there are no misconceptions about her.
“How much my wealth was exaggerated really pissed me off,” she says, referring to the recurring estimate of her being worth £25 million. “At my height I was worth £7 million, and now I’m worth far less than that because I’ve spent loads, I’ve given loads to my family – I bought everybody a fucking house – I’ve lent loads of people money, I’ve given loads to charity and I’ve paid my fair share in taxes. So whilst I’m really comfortable and will be for the rest of my life if I don’t earn any more and I’m reasonable, I’m not worth what the average Tory politician is worth. “Some people see Pop Dungeon as
a fall from grace,” she says. “Doing ‘Tissues & Issues’ and ‘Back To Scratch’ [her two pop albums in 2005 and 2010] I was trying to carve out my own thing. After ‘Tissues & Issues’ the record company [Sony] was being fucking awful, so I tried to find a different way of doing it, with private investment and not being under the thumb of a label. That didn’t go quite as well as I planned and ‘Back To Scratch’ didn’t do very well. So the EPs [‘One’, ‘Two’, ‘Three’ and ‘Four’, released between 2012 and 2014] were starting from scratch again, recorded in my garage and released through my own label. So I’ve tried to
carve my own path. “I don’t know if I ever could recreate my early success because what I did was really commercial and was fluky and I was a commodity. It was a real time and place thing. It was immediate and mad and completely out of leftfield. So that’s completely unsustainable anyway.” I suggest that rather than seeing Pop Dungeon as a fall from grace, I imagine people are thinking why the fuck is Charlotte Church playing down the road tonight to 500-odd people? Surely she doesn’t need to do that. “And I don’t,” she says. “If I wanted to go and present on an ITV daytime programme, or be a judge on X Factor for a million pounds, I could. But that’s not what I want to do – that’s not what I’m searching for. Success for me isn’t about earning the most money and being the most famous I can possibly be. I’ve had that and it’s quite empty. It doesn’t make you feel good, especially when so much of it is somebody else’s vision, and a lot of the time that somebody else is a finance person and their vision is cash. “I was offered X Factor and I went for the meeting out of curiosity, to see if I could sabotage it somehow, and it turns out that I absolutely couldn’t, and there’s no control there at all.” Instead, Charlotte has spent recent years interviewing Pussy Riot at Glastonbury; as a member of Hacked Off, campaigning against the intrusion of the press and their unethical methods of reporting; speaking on Newsnight and Question Time in support of Jeremy Corbyn; protesting with Greenpeace against Shell’s drilling for petroleum in the Arctic; and staging a modern dance production of ‘The Little Mermaid’ in 2016 (called ‘The Last Mermaid’), complete with an experimental electronic score, 3D projections and a gender-fluid whale. The Pop Dungeon is essentially an accident that’s too good to stop now, although Charlotte is aware that it has a lifespan. “I don’t know how long that is,” she says, “but I definitely know that it’s this really sparkly, beautiful little thing, and it needs to be treated with care and really nourished, and then it needs to be done.” She can do without the fame but not the singing, which she “fucking loves.” It’s pretty niche, being Charlotte Church, I say. “Really fucking niche. I haven’t been an artist all the way through. I’ve done really shit things. My path has been really odd. It’s great – I’m having a lovely time.”
Peter Perrett Almost 40 years after The Only Ones defined themselves with ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’, their leader is about to release his debut solo album Photogra phy: phil shar p / writer: dominic halet
Peter Perrett is one of the great ‘could have beens’ of the punk era. An enigmatic force fronting The Only Ones, his songs combined a razorsharp sense of melody and a dark, sardonic wit, making him one of the more unique voices of the late seventies. By rights, The Only Ones should have an honoured place in punk’s pantheon, standing alongside The Buzzcocks, The Jam and The Undertones. They bridged the gap between the genre’s original shock troops and the more melodic new wave acts that followed. It wasn’t to be. A familiar tale of excess and addiction (particularly heroin and crack cocaine) curtailed the band’s career. Despite releasing three well regarded albums between 1978 and 1980, The Only Ones have become a pop culture footnote. The band’s big hit, ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’, is a soaring riff-laden memorial to a band with so much promise who never really gained the notoriety they deserved. As for Perrett, he continued along the path of nihilistic decadence laid out in that song, spending almost twenty years in a drug fuelled exile. Notwithstanding a brief comeback in the mid-nineties, it looked like Perrett was done with music, but in 2007 The Only Ones were asked to reform on the behest of The Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who had been asked to curate an ATP. Although he wasn’t well enough to really enjoy it, it did relight the need to make music again, and Perrett’s wife Zena struck while the iron was hot and quickly booked him a short solo tour. Playing some new material and appearing on stage with his kids Jamie and Peter Jr, the shows attracted passionate audiences and glowing reviews. Spurred by this new sense of momentum, forthcoming debut solo album ‘How The West Was Won’ is the fruit of Perrett’s first studio sessions since 1996. Due for release on Domino later this month, it’s a remarkable, rawsounding piece of work, blending stripped back, mature pop with sarcastic cynicism. Conceptually, it’s a record that covers a lot of distance, with songs
tell me about it
tackling issues as diverse as mental health, addiction, mortality, US cultural hegemony and Kim Kardashian. If Perrett’s tale is a cautionary one, it’s also one without woe or regret. Many might think that ‘How The West Was Won’ is an exercise in redemption or making up for lost time, but Perrett doesn’t really see it like that. You get the feeling that his life has always been a choice between hard drugs and music; it’s just that now, at the age of 65, he’s picked music once again. I met him near his home in north London. “I didn’t go out of the house for a few decades”
… and probably didn’t get out of bed for a few years, so actually doing stuff has taken some adjustment. It’s all been a shock to the system. This week I’ve been shooting videos, playing gigs in Berlin and editing, so I probably won’t have the energy to do anything by the time the weekend rolls around. I’ll be quite happy just to lay on the bed and recover. Doing nothing isn’t the best way to live your life, but it’s the choice some people make. I much prefer to be making music. I’m really pleased that it’s the only passion in my life now. It’s so nice to be able to do it properly. When you’re young you have other passions in your life, like girls, drinking and partying and stuff, and music becomes a bit of a side-line. On this album, it feels like the first time that I’ve been able to concentrate on it properly. “I hadn’t even played the guitar in years”
I only picked up the guitar again when The Only Ones reformed in 2007. Warren Ellis from Nick Cave’s band was curating an ATP and asked if there was any chance of us getting back together to play the festival. We did it but I felt that I was there physically, but I wasn’t there mentally. I don’t think I was strong enough to do myself justice. It was only in 2015 when I got myself healthy. I stopped smoking cigarettes and joints and that helped me to recover a bit of my energy. My wife booked four gigs in Amsterdam, London, Manchester and Bristol, and just playing the guitar with the renewed energy of being slightly healthier than I used to be was a revelation. “I think if I hadn’t gone to sleep in 1980 then maybe it would feel a bit more like a job by now”
I’ve never approached music in that way. I’ve never really had the chance to become this jaded musician because I’ve only ever been a musician for short periods of my life. I think I’m quite fortunate to be in the place I am now, because it’s like starting again. I just do what I do. I go into the studio, play live, and hope the songs come across. On the new album, I’ve consciously tried to make it as naked as possible by having the vocals mixed up loud. I think that my individuality is in my voice and my lyrics and it was important that these came across. Yeah, there’s room for great musicianship as well, but it’s important that the playing didn’t submerge the lyrics. “If my sons were rubbish musicians, I wouldn’t play with them”
If you let guitarists get away with it, you’ll always end up with guitar pyrotechnics. All guitarists like to show what they can do, so you have to rein them in a bit. So, when it’s your sons it’s a lot easier to rein them in a bit, mainly because I’m used to having the last word. If they were rubbish musicians I wouldn’t go near them in the studio. It’s because I respect them both as being masters of their instruments and having the taste to compliment the material. I think when they were little they were a bit intimidated, but now they’ve grown up and we have a give and take relationship. I always have the last word though. For example, ‘Living in my Head’ was done in one take, so it’s almost live. My son Jamie wanted to do some more takes, going, like, ‘I can do better, let me try some different stuff.’ I’d fallen in love with that one take,so I didn’t let him. It just flowed so beautifully. “People can function drunk and high, but I don’t think you can do your best work when you’re distracted”
It gets in the way of music, that’s the problem. Some people don’t need to do their best work and people will still lap it up anyway, but who am I to pontificate on such things? Both of my kids were in Babyshambles for about three months. It was good experience for them but they were never going to last that long. They had different lifestyles to what was going on. They’d grown up seeing stuff like that from a very close perspective and have never been enamoured by that kind of lifestyle.
They don’t think of it of romantic and glamorous at all; they just aren’t impressed by it. Some kids want to think of their idols as living on the edge and doing things that they’ll never do. I can understand the attraction of it, but I think it sort of takes away from the music. “I’m what most people erm an extremely political animal”
I don’t think people are going to listen to me if I start preaching. It was bad enough when Fidel Castro died; I got into so much shit on social media. We live in interesting times, but you need to maintain a sense of humour, even if it’s just gallows humour. You’ve either got to laugh or cry about stuff and I always think it’s better to laugh. You’ve got a president who is like a serious version of Andy Kaufman – a comedian who took the joke one step too far. I think the political songs in the punk era came from the fact we were all young kids; and when you’re young, you tend to be angry about stuff, even if you don’t really have anything to be angry about. I mean, The Clash released ‘Sandinista!’, which was a profoundly political album about what was going on in Nicaragua at the time, but what was going on in England compared to now was like a utopia. Maybe there’s been a reawakening recently. I’ve only just been introduced to the joys of social media, but there seems to be a lot of angry people on there. I don’t think ‘How The West Was Won’ is a political record compared to a lot of the songs I’ve written, but I’d probably never really put them on an album. I don’t think you can change people’s minds with a song. If you’re too serious and ram things down people’s throats then people will turn a deaf ear to it. You can’t bombard people. It was Mark Twain who said that you can’t turn iron ore into gold; it’s futile to attempt to do so. “It was a real journey of discovery to figure out who Kim Kardashian is”
What makes me different from everyone else is me. I don’t think of songwriting as confessional, it’s something that I do. When I write a song, I don’t think, I’ll write about such and such. I start by playing the guitar, then I’ll start playing a chord sequence, then a melody forms and eventually comes the words. Nowadays, I edit the words a bit. I’m trying to get
the words so every line is great, but what I’m writing about sort of just comes out of my head. Sometimes I surprise myself. For example, there’s a verse on How ‘The West Was Won’ that’s about Kim Kardashian that just came out. It shocked a lot of people. Some people thought why is he even mentioning this person? It was like it was beneath me or something. It’s like I’m tarnishing the song. But for me, it was a real journey of discovery to figure out who Kim Kardashian is. About four years ago, I learnt to use the Internet. I’m a big Tottenham Hotspur fan, so I used to Google Tottenham Hotspur and check out the news. As I was doing that, I kept seeing this news that Kim Kardashian had broken the Internet. I was like, what? I thought the Internet was like this infinite space with no limits? I was a bit concerned to find out that someone could break it. That’s when I first found out who the Kardashians were. Suddenly, they had become a part of my psyche. “I avoid mirrors like a vampire – they tend to bring me back to reality”
There’s part of me that likes to shock people, even though I’m at a venerable age and I behave myself in most ways. The punk era was a fantastic time to start a band – it was like ground zero. It really cleared the decks, so if you were any good at all you got attention. I’m grateful to punk; that environment was great if you were an artist who wanted to say something a bit different. Finally, we were being listened to. I don’t think I’m growing old disgracefully, because in my head there’s a part of me that still thinks I’m 25. That’s the trouble when you head goes into an internalised fantasy world. When I emerged again I still thought I was 25 – there was no real emotional development at all. Even now, I avoid mirrors like a vampire – they tend to bring me back to reality. I’ve kind of faced facts now, and I’m really enjoying life. I feel like I’m functioning well on something that I’m actually good at without all these distractions. I can’t wait to be back in the studio and record some new songs.
At home with Richard Dawson Photogra phy: gaelle beri / writer: daniel dylan wray
Richard Dawson is the sort of musician that every city in the UK has: the guy who works in the record shop and makes a bit of music at home in the tiny bit of spare time he has when not listening to other people’s music; someone entrenched in the underground scene of their city; someone who quietly creates utterly idiosyncratic and staggeringly inimitable music loaded with a deep knowledge of the esoteric, obscure and avant-garde. These are the sort of people who often go relatively unheard outside of fellow head circles, who never go beyond 500-run small label album releases and who play to rooms full of people that can probably vary between 20 to 100 depending on the night of the week. They are immeasurably important and interesting but rarely celebrated on anything resembling a larger platform. Richard Dawson aligns with many of these scenarios but recent years have seen him slip away from the obscurity that sadly so many artists like him are often left to thrash around in and reach something resembling the mainstream, or at least the alternative mainstream. He began making records – some solo, some collaborative – ten years ago. Some people began to pick up on the momentum of him and his work through 2013’s ‘The Glass Trunk’, a discordant, experimental folk record in which Dawson searched a local database for unusual tales of death to bring to life. (Anybody that has seen Dawson perform in recent years will know the profoundly moving yet darkly funny tales such as ‘Poor Old Horse’.) However, for many the entry point into Dawson’s world was through a disastrous school trip as told in the superlative 16-minute opus ‘The Vile Stuff’ from 2014’s ‘ Nothing Important’, a piece of music that unravels and broods with such a rising intensity and fierce, absorbing narrative that it’s akin to
experiencing something on the scale of a novel or a film. Aside from the crippling potency and blinding brilliance of that song, the album was also on a new label – Domino offshoot Weird World – meaning a lot more people had their eyes opened to Dawson and could buy his music easily. ‘Nothing Important’ remained a fairly out-there exploration of something far more in sync with the avant-garde world than the mainstream, yet five-star broadsheet reviews followed, along with a front cover appearance on The Wire magazine and high placing’s in multiple 2014 endof-year lists. It means that his forthcoming 2017 album, ‘Peasants’, is an album loaded with genuine anticipation in a world much, much larger than his leftfield origins may have ever seemed possible. This isn’t coincidental, though. Dawson – whilst undeniably rooted in the experimental – has more than a degree of accessibility to him. The first single from the new album, ‘Ogre’, is awash with melodic charm and a glowing choral chorus that toils closer to the area of avant-pop than the often unhelpful folk label that has been placed upon him over the years. It has a broader appeal in the same mildly unexplainable way that someone like Joanna Newsom has, in which the clear talent and innovation supersedes its genres and the perceived mainstream acceptance of them. ‘Peasant’ is the best album Dawson has ever made and is alive with innovative ideas, be them in the form of the wild, loose, unravelling structures that seem to gloriously contradict one another in their colliding of the accessible and the discordant, the always engrossing lyrics or the narrative concept of the record itself, which tells the story of a functioning society through characters and scenarios. Each song is an
ostensible character in this evermoving society (‘Soldier’, ‘Weaver’, ‘Prostitute’, ‘Begger’) and whilst conceptually this may take place in pre-medieval times, there’s an allegorical function to them that keeps the record far from being a history lesson. “This is about the future. If people think this album is about the past then I have absolutely failed,” he tells me when I arrive as his home in Newcastle. It’s a new place that he’s only just moved into, and is still stacked with boxes. “I didn’t tidy up for you because I thought that would be dishonest about who I am,” he says with a hearty chuckle as we sit down and he talks me through some items of significance in his life.
There’s a local songwriter called George Welch – he’s like a local legend, an absolute prince – and he had left his guitar in this little shop to be sold and I saw it and thought I’d like to have that, to have a piece of Newcastle music history, but I got it home and realised the scale was all wrong for me – I couldn’t get to the top of the neck. I’m trying to scale down so I took it back to get my money back and then got three bloody gongs instead. They’re really beautiful. One of them (the middle one) is an Indonesian gong; the top one is a Thai gong and the lower one is Burmese. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone, to think about them for recording, particularly with Hen Ogledd [a project that Dawson does with Rhodri Davies] but also they are nice to hang on the wall.
04. Absinthe dripper
I write the music at home and try and play guitar every day. It used to be hours but now it tends to be half an hour to an hour. It’s good for me; it’s like eating. Everything fits into place when I’m playing. Writing words, I go into the Lit & Phil, which is like a private library here in Newcastle. It’s open to anybody but to use the quiet room you have to pay a membership and you can use this room with really plush, beautiful architecture. It’s quiet and it’s so hard to find quiet anywhere in Newcastle. The city library, the first time I went to write there, there was a guy having phone sex in the booth next to me. It was horrendous – people reading newspapers really loudly. Awful. The Lit & Phil is great but they’ve fixed the antique clock in the reading room and now it really loudly ticks, so now I have to go in and wear ear defenders to work. I
thought it was going to be really quiet here [in the new house] but the neighbours at the back just play crazy, crazy music with speakers out in the yard full blast. It’s great – it’s like Pakistani orchestral pop with vocoders. I’ve never heard anything like it, but it’s very loud and they just shout at each other, like 10 of them.
away from me all the time. I gave collage a go and got really sucked into it. A lot of it feels like writing a song – it’s problem solving. The best ones are always just done in a day though.
It’s funny with collages. The one on the right, the little blue one, took months and months and the one on the left took a day, yet I think the one on the left is stronger. They are all from books. Magazine paper is too thin and shiny but you can get those nice prints from the early ’80s where the saturation of the colours is pretty nice. I just go to the charity shops and buy stuff. I always liked to paint but I wasn’t very good. I never had any control over the molecules, matter just flies
This is Sally’s, my partner’s. It is designed to drip water into your absinthe. I’m not quite sure how it works – it’s wild. I’ve had absinthe before but I’m not really a drinker of it. I remember having some and afterwards when I was half asleep I could just hear a high hat. I was audio hallucinating a high hat. It was horrible. Maybe it just induces fever or something, I’m not sure. 05. Painting of a lady in a field
This is a very important painting to me. It’s a painting that is in the Laing Art Gallery. It’s called The Stone Pickers [by George Clausen]. I just really love it. I’ve spent a bit of time in the gallery off and on over the years, and I’ve spent a long time looking at this painting. I love it because at first you start to think maybe the figure in the background is her mum and it changes so much between being solemn to maybe she’s day dreaming about something wonderful. It really oscillates between so many things. Then I started to think, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch, that this secondary figure is maybe her way into the future. The more you look at this figure the scarier it gets. It can almost look like a tongue coming up from out of the ground too.
The Hindu mask came from a little antique shop in Rathmullan, the Atlantic Causeway in county Donegal. Just a beautiful area and this shop faces out onto a lock there. It was a beautiful little shop. I picked it up for £10 but it’s absolute quality and a beautiful little thing. It’s papier-mâché but it’s very nicely done. The other mask is from a shop in New Orleans. I spent the tail end of January this year doing a road trip through the southern states. It’s funny isn’t it, you try on a number of different masks and you just know which is for you – your whole body changes when you put it on. It was meant to be. The mask always owned me and I always owned it, we just hadn’t met yet.
The Theo Parrish one I haven’t had that long. It’s a great record and was just on my mind. It’s a great cover; quite a simple photo. It’s all about the shirt – it’s a beautiful shirt. I did put out a Sun Ra one too. This is a surprising record for me too, Parquet Courts, it’s such a beautiful design job and I really like the record but I don’t know much about this sort of music. There’s also Arthur Russell, more Sun Ra (I have about 40 of their records), lots of dance stuff, Dean Blunt, Ex Easter Island Head, Fatima Yamaha, Ricardo Villalobos, The Black Madonna. I’m doing a night this weekend as a fundraiser for [Newcastle venue] Star and Shadow. I’m DJing at that. I like to DJ. I like to be in control.
09. Wooden belt
This is my granddad’s ship. I think it was my uncle Derek’s before that but he died quite young so it was always at my grandparent’s house and I was fascinated by it. I’ve only just got it off my mother for the new house. There are some very fond memories attached to this ship for me. I just used to stand and gaze at it. It’s funny that it’s here now.
I bought this from a man at the top of a mountain. Isn’t that wild?! It’s so good as a belt. Just quality. It was hilarious. We’d climbed, like, 600 steps to the top of this mountain and there was just a bloke sat there at the top selling beads and these wooden belts.
11. Cuban clay pots
12. Care bear
13. Whistle instrument
Hennessey is in the decanter. I know there are finer drinks but I like the way it tastes. The rum I brought back from Cuba. Then we have some vodka, rice wine, Laphroaig whiskey and then Wild Turkey bourbon.
We picked these up in Cuba. They are traditional to Trinidad and are just little clay pots for drinking various boozes out of. They are really nice; I should have bought more of them.
That’s my bear from when I was a kid. That’s very important to me, although absolutely not a unique item. I’ve had it since I was 4. I called it lucky bear. I really loved that bear. I still do. He’s quite cheeky now, quite disturbing, although he’s not going to get washed. Then there’s a crass Irish drum. It came from my sister’s school and I forgot to give it back.
It’s not panpipes; it’s a Chinese or Thai instrument, I think. I can’t really play the thing [blows it]. It sounds like traffic. It’s a traffic maker. It’s for people who live out in the country who miss the city.
Reviews / Albums
0 7/ 1 0
Laurel Halo Dust hy per d ub
Photography by Phillip Aumann
By s am wa lt on . In sto re s june 23
After seven years, five EPs and now three albums, Laurel Halo’s love/ hate relationship with her own voice shows no sign of abating. On her debut EP, ‘King Felix’, she placed it front and centre, untreated and seldom harmonised, allowing it to soar with almost operatic zeal. She then desecrated it spectacularly on ‘Quarantine’, her masterpiece first album, stacking multiple strident takes of strange melodies vertiginously above burbling, blissful synths. And most recently, on 2013’s ‘Chance Of Rain’, she silenced her voice altogether, opting instead for two sides of disorientating and inky instrumental techno. On ‘Dust’, Halo’s vocals reappear, but reinvented once again as several hired guns, moulded and kneaded like putty into each song’s frame, sometimes severely pitch-shifted, other times tightly tessellated to
create synthetic robot choirs, and, on ‘Moontalk’, pushed into a quasi rap and flanked with clips of hysterical laughter. The effect is magnified, too, by ‘Dust’’s personnel: having worked in relative isolation on previous albums, Halo now presents an ensemble cast of voices and musicians that she manipulates into curious, satisfyingly not-quiteright shapes. That’s not to say that this is particularly difficult listening, though. The opening pair of songs are woozily addictive slices of wriggly RnB, all playground-chant melodies and subtly funky percussion that retain their spring even as Halo progressively deconstructs each one. The secondhalf run of ‘Like An L’ to ‘Do You Ever Happen’, too, returns to the nagging, airless rhapsodies of ‘Quarantine’, and even the three instrumental
pieces, while all markedly more abstract and shorter than their vocal contemporaries, hint at the existence of brawny hooks lurking just beneath the surface. And then, in the middle of it all, there’s ‘Moontalk’, the most accessible song on ‘Dust’ and also Halo’s brashest bid for the mainstream to date. Opening with an insistent drum figure that’s one lightup dancefloor removed from Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’, then building through familiar synth stabs to an earworm chorus straight from the Neptunes’ box of on-point RnB, it finally climaxes with a sweepingly phantasmagoric and deliciously wrong-footing orchestral flourish. While an almost perfect example of screwy, ecstatic post-pop, perhaps ‘Moontalk’’s only flaw is its context: surrounded by the rest of ‘Dust’’s
deconstruction and occasional murk, something so direct is somewhat dislocating. That sense of stylistic jumpiness isn’t a one-off, either. Although Halo’s first two albums were stylistically distinct from one another, each was focussed on its own soundworld, presenting just one or two long ribbons of music over its duration. ‘Dust’, by contrast, replaces that focus with a diffusiveness that’s initially jarring but, by the end, almost resembles a comforting, habituated tic, like restless leg syndrome in musical form. Crucially, however, the effect is a little alienating too. It makes for an album that often feels more like a computer assembling human parts than the other way around. Despite the return of her voice, on ‘Dust’ Laurel Halo appears to be less a singer and more a ventriloquist.
Chastity Belt I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone h a rd l y a rt By Hay l ey s cott . I n store s June 2
‘I wanna feel like nothing’s wrong,’ sings Chastity Belt’s Julia Shapiro on ‘Complain’, a song that denotes unashamed pessimism – or “being a negative Nancy,” as she called it in our interview with the band last month. In the same interview, we also discussed a mutual fondness for happy melancholy, as she cited the likes of The Beach Boys and Elliott Smith as primary influences and masters of the happy/sad juxtapositions in indie music, a theme that’s as pervasive as it is typically triumphant. While ‘Complain’ is downbeat in comparison to the woozy buoyancy of the rest of the band’s third album, the best thing about ‘I UsedTo Spend
So Much Time Alone’ is indeed its propensity for blending lyrical dejection with musical optimism, a theme that was prominent on previous albums, but is manifested better than ever here. This album coalesces all the best aspects of everything they’ve ever done, while simultaneously sounding like a relatively mature version of Chastity Belt, making it the most accomplished and realised thing they’ve ever done. Because of music journalism’s tendency to lazily pigeonhole female bands that remotely share a similar sound, Chastity Belt have often been likened to contemporaries Best Coast. But while Bethany Constantino’s lyrics were often
child-like in their simplicity, Shapiro has a meticulous approach to songwriting that’s devoid of clichés and platitudes. Best Coast for adults they are not, though: Chastity Belt reside in their own world, avoiding the subject of love whenever possible. Instead, Shapiro depicts everyday life with self-depreciating astuteness, making the mundane sound interesting, contemplative and often profound. Make no mistake, however – they are still very much a pop band, relying heavily on hooks and perfect guitar melodies. Of course, pop music often has a hard time of convincing music snobs that it’s a form of art, but getting it right is a deceivingly
difficult task. Here, Chastity Belt prove that pop music can have substance. It’s not without its flaws (while the opening ‘Different Now’ is the sound of the band at their life-affirming best, the dragging likes of ‘It’s Obvious’ could be easily omitted without any real loss), but for the most part, this record feels like a defining moment for the band, via a blend of pop melodies and unfamiliar subject matters that make for a refreshing take on tired indie rock. Shapiro’s smart, relatable lyrics act as comfort in times of personal crisis, and what’s more, I suspect that this will only be Chastity Belt’s peak until their next album.
The narratives of ‘Peasant’’s eleven tracks take place in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bryneich. They do not, however, harbour the same fetishisation of pre-Medieval Britain apparent in contemporary cultural artefacts like Game of Thrones. Rather, there is a brooding earthiness to them more akin to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels. Like Peake, alt. folk musician Richard Dawson tends towards a wending prose style full of screwball
minutiae. Characters are carefully drawn here, from their freckled jowls to the ‘dumm[ies] of puke’ that they choke to death on. In addition, the works also share a calculated stuntedness of expression. There are times when Dawson’s ramblings, backed by his knotted guitar playing and brutish synth interjections, as well as the dervishfolk of the band, appear too pigheaded to save themselves. It is from these positions that, as with the chilling reveal of ‘Hob’, their ultimate
intentions come forth to shake you deeply. And just like Peake, Dawson uses an alien society as a mirror for our own. When, on ‘Prostitute’, his narrator cries ‘How is it so that a child can be bought for a year’s worth of grain in this day and age?’ it is to be read as Dawson lamenting the injustices of our times, because it ‘happens again and again’. ‘Peasant’ is a potent and mournfully beautiful meditation on humankind’s inability to fix itself.
Richard Dawson Peasant wei rd wo rl d By Fred mi ka rdo-gre av e s. In sto re s june 23
Photography by Kyle Johnson
Molly Nilsson Imaginations
The Drums Abysmal Thoughts
H. Hawkline I Romanticize
Peaking Lights Fifth State of Conciousness
N i gh t S c h ool
H e ave n l y
t w o f lo w e rs
By R ac h el R edf ern. In stor e n o w
B y k ati e b e s wi c k . In s to r es j u n e 1 6
By al e x wisgar d . I n s to r e s j u n e 2
B y r eef y o u nis . In s t o r e s J u n e 1 6
At her melodic best, Molly Nilsson poses a recurring question of just how good (BIG) she could be with access to Sia’s studio, or if she was happy to let major label artists sing her songs. From her adopted home of Berlin, if the Swedish musician has reinterpreted pop music it’s by decluttering it of contrived image and big budget campaign-trail tricks, either by design or necessity of making everything in her bedroom. Pop has never been all about the music but in Nilsson’s fiercely DIY hands it gets pretty close, especially here on ‘Let’s Talk About Privileges’ – Nilsson in ‘Immaculate Collection’ mode, if Madonna had sung ‘Crazy For You’ with detached resignation and a slight cold tremble in her voice; Nilsson’s calling card over her previous seven albums. Calypso and tango rhythms still propel most of the processed saxophones and Coldplay-on-a-shoestring bells (‘Memory Foam’), while anti-greed anthem ‘Money Never Dreams’ goes for something more overtly ’80s and sparkly for the first time. It’s still a small toolbox for Molly Nilsson, but she does a hell of a lot with it.
The track titles on The Drums new record are, unsurprisingly given the album title, pretty depressing. See, for example ‘Blood Under My Belt’, ‘Head of the Horse’, ‘Are U Fucked’, and my favourite, ‘Shoot the Sun Down’, which is pretty much just the refrain ‘I put a blanket over my face’ repeated for three and half minutes. It’s the kind of song you want to play on repeat when your wife has left you and you’ve lost your job and your bank account is empty. The pessimistic vibe is hardly surprising given that the record was written after Drums’ founder Jonny Peirce moved to LA following the break up of a relationship. He lived all alone in a great big apartment for months on end, dwelling on the loss of his love and at a professional crossroads (The Drums had just completed an album cycle). What is surprising is the way that the upbeat clean guitars – still typical of this beach band – and the nonchalant delivery, which is extra Morrisseylike on ‘Mirror’, make life’s hard times seem almost bearable. It makes me optimistic, despite all there is to feel crap about.
As part of the same hypercollaborative Welsh psych scene as Cate Le Bon and Sweet Baboo, H Hawkline (aka Huw Evans) always cut a more suave figure. His songs are a little cuddlier and more approachable than his fellow travellers but, a consummate tunesmith like Harry Nilsson, there’s always salt around the rim. ‘I Romanticize’ carries on in this vein; tracks like ‘Television’ and ‘Salt Cleans’ are smooth as they come (the album was recorded in LA after all) but the tricksy chord changes and unexpected lyrical twists could have only come from a mind like Evans’. And of all the sources of inspiration to be found in 2017, ‘It Means Much’, the mellow slideguitar-laced groover that opens the record, might be one of the most necessary, and unexpected. ‘I get all my kicks from sympathy,’ runs its chorus. ‘I’m running to police my apathy.’ As calls-to-arms go, it’s pretty chill. It’s hard to tell if ‘I Romanticize’ is comfortingly unsettling, or just unsettlingly comforting; you’ll definitely want to listen to it again to make sure.
Five albums deep and Peaking Lights’ hypnotic take on psychedelic pop is well practiced. Shifting between the lines of blissed-out beats and washing melodies, ‘The Fifth State of Consciousness’ is a quixotic mix of carefree West Coast spirit and cold distance that Aaron Doyes and Indra Dunis frequently allow to creep in. From recording melodies on tape machines backwards, before playing them in reverse, to breaking electronic gear to create their own sounds, the layers run characteristically deep and dubby but the intent isn’t always fathomable. Sometimes it feels as if that’s the point. Sticking with the murky synth noodling at the beginning of ‘Que De Bon’, you’re rewarded with a late bloom of seductive, electronic haze; sit with ‘A Phoenix and a Fish’ for long enough and Dunis’ unaffected vocal slips into a hypnotic angel chorus. It makes sifting through Peaking Lights wandering complexity a prerequisite, and while they remain determined to move to their own beat, there’s little stopping album number five drifting off into the ether.
If Algiers’ belligerent, self-titled debut of 2015 taught us anything, it’s that Franklin James Fisher doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve – it comes in an incendiary, gasolinesoaked Molotov. Charged with the same spirit and breathless urgency, ‘The Underside of Power’ is as vital as it is volatile with Fisher’s fiery vocal providing the bulk of the force and the fury. Wasting no time, opener ‘Walk Like a Panther’ is an instant clarion call of Algiers’ intent – all harrowing,
distorted vocals and industrial beats; ‘Cry of the Martyrs’ comes alive with gospel energy, handclaps and twisted spirituality; and titletrack ‘The Underside of Power’ hits on a steamroller soul that’s more forceful than uplifting. It forms the core of a band whose righteous indignation never quite promises revolution but, instead, provides weighty reminders as to why it should happen. So where the breakbeat-driven, call-and-response electro stomp of ‘Cleveland’ cracks
with the rage felt in the aftermath of the Tamir Rice shooting, and ‘Animals’ snaps into a taught, venom-spitting, megaphone berating punk anthem to rile the most neutral soul, Algiers also switch gears on the haunting piano balladry of ‘Mme Rieux’ and on the equally subdued, but no less harrowing, ‘A Murmur. A Sign.’ From the political and ideological to the guttural and anthemic, Algiers angry voice remains a protest sound for these restless days and nights.
Algiers The Underside of Power Matado r By reef y ou nis. I n sto re s ju ne 23
Ride Weather Diaries
Dauwd Theory of Colours
Ulrika Spacek Modern English Decoration
pn ks l m
wichi t a
te c hni c o l o r
t o u g h lo v e
By al ex wi s gard . In store s j une 2
B y s te phe n b utc h ar d . I n s to r e s j une 1 6
By Fre d mi kar d o -gr e ave s . I n s t o r es J u n e 2
B y w o o dy del a n ey . I n s t o r es j u n e 2
Don’t let the old school rock and roll album sleeve fool you – the debut album from Swedish auteur ShitKid could only have been released in 2017. Åsa Söderqvist’s postmodern approach to pop music has echoes of Le Tigre in its fuzzy electro-surf riffery, the unexpected arrangements and found sounds of tUnE-yArDs and Shamir’s scattershot approach to genre norms.The murky production across ‘Fish’ is a world away from the shimmer and gloss that usually emerges from the Gothenburg indie scene, with nods to Iggy Pop and Suicide amongst the rockier moments. Söderqvist certainly has a way with an intriguing turn of phrase (‘Drive fast, that’s immortality,’ she sneers on the nursery rhyme-like ‘Two Motorbikes’), but her songs often pull in too many directions to quite catch fire. A lot of the tracks here can’t decide if they want to be lullabies, punk anthems or dirty electro, often settling on an unsatisfying mix of all three. While Söderqvist shows undeniable promise, particularly on the sultry closer ‘Gettin’ Mad’, ‘Fish’ simply casts her net too wide.
Just weeks after Slowdive’s revitalising comeback, another shoegaze heavyweight returns. It could be Christmas for fans, or an obvious comparison of quality, nervously awaited. The genre has always been one with a nostalgia streak, its bright, bleeding guitars capturing a moment as ephemeral and visceral in the same guitar stroke, like old film footage both overexposed and faded with time. New faces have looked to ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Going Blank Again’ not just for that sound, but for a lesson in songcraft. A wide-eyed approach to sound design meant that an unexpected turn in a melody felt gargantuan. It was too elegant to be off-the-cuff, but wrapped up in Mark Gardner’s rough, boyish vocal, the emotions felt tangible and everyday. ‘Weather Diaries’ stays true to the band’s textured presentation and time-worn melodies, but it also smooths over some of the edges that could have made it essential. Comforting is not the descriptor you want from the homecoming of a great band, but that’s what we get from these familiar jams.
Dauwd’s debut LP following six years of music making takes great care in fostering a lights-low, eyesnarrowed, stood-at-the-edge-of-thedancef loor-smok ing-a-Gi t anes ambience. The curation of samples on opener ‘MacadamTherapy’ brings to mind Jan Jelinek’s Loop-FindingJazz-Records, with a widescreen synth giving way to a delicate shuffle. There isn’t much in the way of progression over the track’s six minutes, but as a slow-burning house bit it’s nice enough. Things work best when Dauwd spools out his pieces with just the right amount of restraint. ‘Leitmotiv’ has a lovely ache and sigh to it, with off-stage strings and woozy pianos dovetailing over another micro-groove.The title track, though a little heavy-handed in its homage to vintage Eno, is a fine computerised torch-song to round the record off. However, cuts like ‘Murmure’ and ‘Glass Jelly’ drift aimlessly, hoping that the mere introduction of new textures will pass for continued sonic intrigue. ‘Theory of Colours’ is an admirably careful record, but one that loses points for self-indulgence.
Ulrika Spacek was conceived by songwriters Rhys Edwards and Rhys Williams while travelling in Berlin, and introduced to us with last year’s debut album, ‘The Album Paranoia’. Now settled back in East London with a solid band alongside, they’ve wasted no time in returning with a new record that builds upon their fast-growing universe of astral artrock. Recorded at the quintets shared house, its 47 minutes offer an intimate aesthetic, submerging you into their environment by capturing everything from the hum of feedback to the distant whirling of sirens from the street outside. The instrumentation moves from wrought to oceanic, casting a hypnotic mood with layered, intertwining passages. ‘Mimi Pretend’ and ‘Victorian Acid’ grow from ethereal electronics and ghosting vocals to a noisy yet melodious collision of post-punk and shoegaze. It’s where the the reverbsmothered touchstones of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine meet, with added nods to Slint – a window into Ulrika Spacek’s world; an introspective house of absorbing alienation.
Apt that a band named after a keyboard shortcut found themselves headlining festivals so quickly after the release their debut album. Apt, but also unexpected, because alt-J aren’t typically that sort of group. They make slow-burning music, the kind that’s supposed to grow steadily. Yet, there they were prophetically surfing their own (awesome) wave of hype. They were already rocketing before their 2012 Mercury Prize win nudged them into a few more Coldplay fan’s CD
collections. All of which is great, because alt-J are strange, weird and the ‘big rock band’ tag is still illfitting. Second LP ‘This Is All Yours’ smuggled singles like ‘Left Hand Free’ and ‘Every Other Freckle’ but was largely expansive, tangential and pastoral. The mission on ‘Relaxer’ seems to be to trim away any excess fabric. There’s no ‘Intro’, fewer interludes. It’s just eight songs long. It’s not all killer (their cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is of course
unessential) but most of it is. ‘In Cold Blood’ and ‘Deadcrush’ are the closest things to a ‘Breezeblocks’ single. Ellie Rowsell’s vocal adds a demonic twist to opener ‘3WW’. ‘Adrenaline’ is a gorgeous ballad. Most exciting though is ‘Hit Me Like A Snare’, where the trio transform into a vampiric punk band, half The Cramps, half Pixies. ‘Fuck you. I’ll do. What I wanna do,’ they chant. It’s that commitment to selfsatisfaction that continues to serve alt-J so well.
Alt-J Relaxer i n f ec ti ous By greg c oc h ra ne . I n store s june 9
Big Thief Capacity
Noga Erez Off The Radar
Azizi Gibson Memoirs of The Reaper
Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly Planetarium
S add l e c r eek
ci ty s l a ng
p re h is to r ic
By david z amm itt. In sto re s june 9
B y k a ti e b e s wick . I n s to re s j une 2
By j o e g o ggi n s . I n sto re s j u n e 2
4 ad B y sam Walt o n . In s t o r es J u n e 9
‘Capacity’, like its predecessor, the sardonically-yet-actually-quit eaccurately-named ‘Masterpiece’, takes self-acceptance as its central theme. A 40-minute meditation on the peace found by embracing life’s bright and rainy moments, it is a gorgeous collection of songs that explores not only the deep resilience of the human psyche but every nook and cranny of the folk rock spectrum. This feels like an album that’s had tears shed over its conception; been obsessed over long into the night as songs are retried in countless ways. While its melodies float weightlessly, the songs are taught and full of unreleased tension. The production is deft, and ‘Coma’’s segue from a lofi acoustic number to a wave of luscious layers shows just how far the NewYorkers have come in a short space of time. This music comes from a great American lineage that goes back to the early folk revivalists, but that has been shaped by sounds fired in the kilns of Dylan, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, et al. I do not say it lightly that with ‘Capacity’ Big Thief can proudly sit as worthy baton-carriers of such forebears.
Noga Erez sounds like an Israeli, millennial Annie Lennox. Throaty and seductive, her whimsical, contralto voice, combined with the fractured, experimental production of ‘Off the Radar’, creates a record that sounds like a classic, even though it’s brand new. The opening track, ‘Balkana’, is a trippy, winding number that I can imagine playing over the closing credits of a road trip movie, while the soft, slow ‘Worth None’ showcases that deep, sexy voice to its fullest. The song ‘Pity’ – with its classic electro-pop sound – was influenced by a sexual assault where bystanders filmed the attack on smartphones instead of intervening. This is politically infused music that takes sound seriously. The instrumentals are complex and surprising – the strangely compelling, heady, digitally enhanced beats on ‘Dance While You Shoot’, for example, seem to have been composed for a club remix. It makes this for a debut record that’s not afraid of combining pure fun with heavy topics, despite the occasionally baffling lyrics – ‘skinny cat in a dog’s land’, anyone?
Personally and professionally, everything about Azizi Gibson’s story suggests an existence that’s been both nomadic and whirlwind. He was born in Bangkok, raised in Frankfurt and now resides in LA, via Maryland. In terms of his hip-hop career so far, he’s signed with imprints run by both Flying Lotus and Waka Flocka Flame, only to now go it alone with ‘Memoirs of the Reaper’. More conceptually detailed than anything he’s done before, it heavily features his newly-developed Grim Reaper persona, which is by turns stirring (on the eerie ‘Lost’, for instance) and misplaced, as is the case on the muddled ‘Freak’ and ‘Sex Message’. By turns personal and flippant, you get the impression that Gibson wasn’t ever entirely sure what kind of album he wanted to make here, and the juddery, repetitive beats begin to grate after a while. Still, there’s no question he has plenty of potential – he just might be better focusing on, say, the chilling atmospherics of ‘Nintendo King’ than on some of the more traditional hip-hop themes that rear their head unnecessarily elsewhere.
‘Planetarium’ began life in 2012 as a live show for a string quartet and trombone septet about various celestial phenomena, with Sufjan Stevens providing the lyrics and vocals. Five years on, the material has been rearranged in the studio and the result is akin to staring into a planetarium’s dome: bewildering, sporadically beautiful, frequently baffling, and not quite as satisfying as experiencing first hand the thing it’s depicting. Given Stevens’ love of a thematic album – his two US states albums are masterpieces, and ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’, his song cycle about the Chinese zodiac, is an engrossing experiment – this sort of territory should be a happy hunting ground for him. And when he’s left alone, it is: ‘Neptune’ and ‘Mercury’ are Stevens solos and are both rich, poignant and elegant in a way that the pieces in between subjugate. Several songs start promisingly but are then bludgeoned by bizarre electronica, and elsewhere the tenderness of Stevens’ melodies is undermined by rather ambient, overlong washes that float by aimlessly.
Underground cult artist Philipp Gorbachev may be renowned for his solo electronic material or his partythrowing antics in Moscow (that usually end in the police shutting them down, and has recently forced him to move to Berlin) but for this latest venture he has assembled a band in the form of the Naked Man for a spontaneous, scrappy and seductive debut offering. The album is a peculiar mix of strutting grooves and discordant eruptions, with funk-tinged bass
lines rolling smoothly throughout as echo-laden vocals howl atop of manic drums and wildly whirring synthesisers, creating a sort of spasmodic disco, like ESG being given electrocutions. While it’s undeniably chaotic, occasionally messy and constantly unpredictable, it makes for a persistently curious listen, as chasing its tale becomes a wild and spiralling pursuit. The chaos of the whole thing has a loose root in the Butthole Surfers, at
least in tone, which makes even more sense once you learn that Paul Leary of the group has produced it. Despite all the album’s turbulence from beginning to end, there’s a prevailing sense of fun to it all, too; whilst it’s structurally interesting, texturally vast and stylistically twisted, it still feels like a bit of a lark. The clear camaraderie of a group of new people getting together for the first time and just seeing what happens shines through brightly, consistently and successfully.
Philipp Gorbachev I Don’t Give A Snare Ar m a By daniel dy l an wray. In sto res june 9
James Brandon Lewis No Filter
Pixx The Age of Anxiety
Kane Strang Two Hearts And No Brain
Com Truise Iteration
se c re t l y c a nad i a n
G h o st l y i n t er n a t io n a l
By davi d zammi tt. In sto re s jun e 30
B y Gui a c o rta ssa. In s to re s j un e 2
By J o e g o gg in a. In s to re s j un e 3 0
B y c h r is wa t k ey s . In s t o r es j u n e 1 6
James Brandon LewisTrio make free jazz for 2017. Driven by the tenor saxophone of the group’s founder and namesake, the group’s modus operandi revolves around capturing a moment in time and moving on. Recorded in a single 8-hour session, ‘No Filter’ draws on the same palate as the likes of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, while also creeping its sonic tentacles out of its sax-jazz roots and into the spheres of hip hop, soul, funk and RnB. Lewis wears his influences on his sleeve and you can hear Mos Def and A Tribe Called Quest between the lines of ‘Say What’ and ‘Zen’, with their recurring brawny bass motifs, while ‘Y’all Slept’, which features rapper P.SO the Earth Tone King, is an extended homage to the eclecticism of East Coast hip-hop’s golden age that morphs into a hypnotically melancholy jazz lament. Elsewhere, ‘Bittersweet,’ with its tender falsetto scat, courtesy of Nicholas Ryan Grant, demonstrates Lewis and band’s acute awareness of their musical heritage and their own shifting place in an ever-evolving lineage of black music.
You need to reach the end of ‘The Age of Anxiety’, Pixx’s debut album, to find some of the sounds she magically crafted on her notable first EP, ‘Fall In’, a couple of years ago. Something that was defined as “folkinfused”, but refused to sound like any folk at all, if not for the atmosphere, made the then 19-yearold Londoner amongst the most interesting genre-benders around. Now signed to 4AD, Hannah Rodgers has been taking her songwriting even further in the 12 tracks of this new record. Borrowing the title from W. H. Auden and starting from her own personal experience with early anxiety, she gave voice to all the issues and concerns of her youngerMillennial generation, unafraid to unveil their struggle with both personal and universal matters. Away from a few too safe moments, and reminiscent of her label mate Grimes’ latest collaborative project with HANA, Pixx plays with New Wave, ’80s inspired pop, experimental electronic, world music, ’70s RnB and delicate vocals, creating a new and unique narrative for the contemporary world.
Superficially, it’s easy to pick up on the perceived similarities between Kane Strang and some of his contemporaries. If his first record since signing to Dead Oceans, ‘Two Hearts and No Brain’, is anything to go by, he’s making vibrant, punchy indie rock in the vein of Car Seat Headrest and Ty Segall. Beneath the surface, though, there are signs that he’s very much his own man, with clear indications that he’s already begun to move past the lo-fi aesthetic that he favoured earlier in his career in favour of something richer and more measured. It’s not that the Dunedin, New Zealand native doesn’t rattle through some oldfashioned rockers here – ‘It’s Not That Bad’ is a case in point – but elsewhere, such as on the reflective title track or the sumptuous standout ‘See Thru’, it’s quickly obvious that he gave himself some time and space to expand his sound this time around. It doesn’t always come off (and do we really need another indie rock dude like this?) but his efforts to constantly try to break new ground from start to finish on ‘Two Hearts’ should be commended.
‘Of Your Fake Dimension’, the opening track of this record, sets out ‘Iteration’’s musical agenda – robust, pounding electronica with a vintage tinge, like the soundtrack to a tense action scene in an eighties crime thriller. This album is the follow-up and companion piece to Com Truise’s ‘Galactic Melt’ debut, released way back in 2011. By now you’ll have picked up on the sci-fi flavours of these titles, but the backstory to this record – that this is the soundtrack to a journey that space traveller Com Truise makes through far-flung galaxies – feels somehow like a very well used one. The overall result is laid-back, fairly conventional synth-based electronica, pedestrian in tempo and lightweight in impact, although the title track, which is also the album’s closer, does wash back and forth in pleasingly layered waves. What ‘Iteration’ does, it does really quite well, but it also feels very much like a piece of background music; something which exists outside of your full consciousness. A journey through space is weightless, but what about the excitement?
Marika Hackman signalled her intention to abandon the nu-folk of her 2015 debut album with ‘Boyfriend’. The lead single from the Leonard Cohen-punning ‘I’m Not Your Man’, it opens with a hearty laugh before its shimmering guitars wrap around ’90s alt-rock hooks. There’s a similar directness to the track’s sardonic lyrics, with the animalistic metaphors of yore replaced with no-nonsense sexuality (‘He knows a woman needs a man to make her shout’). It’s a shameless stab at grungy
indie-pop that’s continued on the girl group ‘sha-la-las’ on ‘My Lover Cindy’ and ‘Eastbound Train’, while the infectious chorus on ‘Time’s Been Reckless’ is Hinds covering Nirvana. Tremendous fun, they warrant the London-based musician’s decision to employ Big Moon as her backing band on a number of tracks. Yet if their influence is a little too transparent at times, the transition to a raucous sound is more nuanced than this suggests.
‘Round We Go’ and ‘Cigarette’ sit at Warpaint’s hazy juncture of shoegaze, marking a continuum with her erstwhile dreamy, minimalistic compositions. Closing track ‘I’d Rather Be With Them’, meanwhile, could have been an outtake from debut LP ‘We Slept At Last’ if it wasn’t for the self-deprecating yet unapologetic assertion that she’s ‘so fucking heartless.’ It’s a statement that this album roundly contradicts, being warm-hearted and emotionally liberated throughout.
0 7/ 1 0
Marika Hackman I’m Not Your Man AM F By su san dar li ngton. In sto res j une 2
Wesley Gonzalez Excellent Musician mos h i mos h i By r ach el r edf ern. I n sto re s june 30
Having spent 10 years fronting a London DIY band that so clearly took their cues from US college rock and British post-punk bands like Swell Maps and Wire, ex-Let’s Wrestle singer Wesley Gonzalez’s debut solo album is an anti-indie record. It might take you a while to realise just how true to its word it is. The guitars you think you can hear, you can’t – Gonzalez has banned them, learnt how to compose songs about depression, scoresettling and his girlfriend on a Korg synthesiser and has become pretty obsessed with the saxophone. Aided still by his self-taught selfsufficiency, the result is a record that superficially, at least, feels like a
working men’s club performer passionately retelling his comic/ tragic life to a half empty room at the end of a pier, where house spirits are doubled for an extra 30p. Beneath that instant assertion, it becomes increasingly clear that Gonzalez may be a raconteur in a forgotten, kitsch, British kind of way, but he’s far from a total chancer. He makes do with a limited vocal range, but that you can hear how much effort is going into his singing adds to the charm of a record so personal, conceived at a time when he was sailing close to cocaine addiction and drinking heavily. On the straightest ballad here – the pianoonly ‘Don’t Try & Take Me Down’,
about reflection and paranoia – Gonzalez sings genuinely beautifully, descending into Harry Nilsson-ish crooning doobs at the end. Other tracks are about hanging with the wrong crowd and falling out with a particular unnamed friend. On ‘Just The Same’ Gonzalez is brilliantly catty with his Korg set to a spiteful, wiry tone – “A song to sing / A song to be blunt / When did you start living life as a cunt?”. ‘Snake In The Grass’ later addresses the same problem with a more positive bossanova beat (jolly music to grave lyrics is a recurring technique here), while it’s difficult to not feel proud of Gonzalez come ‘Not That Kind of Guy’ – a song of self-acceptance that
comes late on in the record: it’s ok, he finally decides, not to be cool. What is never in question here is Gonzalez’s gift for tune: the kind of odd melodies and un-schooled structures that can only come from a musician teaching themselves and being bold enough to show those songs to the world. In microcosm, that’s ‘Quarantined River’ – at first as shrill and annoying as a first song composed on a new instrument should be, until it’s not wrong sounding at all, with the arrival of a swelling chorus of triumph that comes with trying. Of course it helps that Gonzalez can write lines like “I’ve been waiting for a reason to breathe before I consider my options.”
It feels like Kevin Morby is eager to reach a new horizon, musically speaking. Ex of Woods, The Babies and several other bands, this is now the Kansas man’s fourth solo album, and each has struck a different tone. Though this new record is pitched as the urban-inspired companion piece to last year’s country-led ‘Singing Saw’, drawing from the city landscape rather than the bucolic, there is nothing here with the brassy energy and exuberance of a song like ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’.
Rather, these are, for the most part, introspective, laid back songs about feeling lost in a crowded place. The opening ‘ComeTo Me Now’ is darkly atmospheric, organ-haunted and Nick Cave-esque in feel, while ‘1234’ fuses the ghosts of The Ramones with the living corpses of The Strokes. Elsewhere, atypically, ‘Aboard My Train’ rides on squally riffs and a rough, buzzy melody. The homages to Morby’s heroes are starkly obvious at times, from Lou Reed to Patti Smith.The languid
vocal style on ‘Night Time’ is then clear-as-day Leonard Cohen, sliding easily over a lazily plucked steelstringed acoustic guitar before, later in the song, a beautifully relaxed piano part. This is a very natural sounding record, effortless in form, stylistically distinct and completely coherent. Sepia tones ooze from every groove to make ‘City Music’ suit warm, hazy Sunday afternoons; a glimmer of light reflected on spinning black vinyl that shimmers with a lazy cool.
Photography by Jonangelo Molinari
Kevin Morby City Music dead o cean s By ch r i s watk eys. I n sto re s june 16
Reviews / Live
Bill Callahan Hoxton Hall Hoxton, London 0 4/ 0 5/ 20 17 wr i ter : Dan i el D yla n Wra y Photogr a ph er : Ma x phythia n
The opening performance of Bill Callahan’s four date residency at Hoxton Hall sees him inconspicuously trundle onto the stage, characteristically saying very little, swiftly picking up an acoustic guitar and – accompanied by a seated Matt Kinsey on electric – begin the gentle strokes of ‘Riding for the Feeling’. He then plays a set that lasts the best part of two hours. Callahan’s voice is a frequency of its own and it rumbles a golden low grumble, his face tweaking and contorting in an array of ways as he squeezes out words and intonations like they physically need to leave his body. Kinsey’s role is crucial in support; his guitar goes from moments in which it provides nothing
more than a static ambiance for Callahan to glide through to moments in which it plays the bass line. At other points it’s there for eruptive shredding and defined solo parts, as beautifully displayed on tracks such as ‘Ride My Arrow’. This display of continual restraint allows Callahan’s journey through his back catalogue (heavy on the songs of Smog) to be one of continued poise, delicacy and potency. Underneath the phlegmatic-tothe-point-of-appearing-belligerent front of Callahan lies a man with more humour than he’s given credit for. His tell comes alive in songs like ‘Ex-Con’ and occasionally in the very minimal in-between song talk, as he advises women that in order to deal
with the perpetual greyness of England they should paint their nails sky blue because “it’s cheerful”. Truthfully though, Callahan doesn’t need to talk much because the narrative and emotive depth he can plunge to within a four-minute song renders anything beyond that superfluous. He is a performer and songwriter who understands the great depths and power of both words and sounds and the simple “tssst tssst” that punctuates the ever-driving ‘Drover’ exemplifies this power in his voice, even without words. Quite simply, even the sounds of him clearing his throat remains a captivating part of the performance because of its unshakable force and pull – his voice
makes you stand still. Callahan’s profound love of, and ability to describe nature is everpresent in connecting the dots of his work that were created years apart and songs flow into one another like the proverbial rivers that glisten and glide through so much of his work until we arrive at the end in ‘The Well’, Callahan’s sprawling, often silly but utterly joyous and captivating seven-minute song about, well, a well. He fires out, once again with his face contorted, twisted and stretched, allowing a tiny sardonic smile to creep out, ‘I guess everybody has their own thing that they yell into a well. I gave it a coupla hoots, a hello, and a fuck all y’all’.
Joan Shelley Glad Café, Glasgow
Ho99o9 The Sebright Arms, London
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wr i ter : steph en butcha rd
wri te r: T ho mas Ga ne Photo g r a phe r: a nt a d a ms
Joan Shelley’s set officially starts with ‘We’d Be Home’, Nathan Salsburg at her side, their fingerpicked guitar lines intertwining, filling the bare corners in one of tonight’s many hushed folk songs. It’s a humble introduction, though Shelley has never been one for boisterousness; Salsburg’s supporting set saw her sat behind him, there to provide a lilting harmony or a smile. As she bobs onto the stage for her headlining set, she’s quick to wave off any air of pretension. The Glad Café is a perfect space to house such delicate folk tunes, designed to be shared in an intimate space, feeling lived-in for generations. Shelley can play both the home-bird and the wanderer, and her long partnership with Salsburg makes for a level of comfortability, in terms of interplay and stage presence, that adds wonders to this low-key performance. From the stately, enchanting ‘If the Storms Never Came’ to the gentle plodding of ‘Where I’ll Find You’, the duo find subtle depth in these unassuming ballads. While a song like ‘Over and Even’ builds with a rare proper chorus, it’s her reworking of the traditional song ‘Foreign Lander’ that stands out the most. Shades of melancholy, anger and sentimental passion are drawn out through fluctuating intonations. “We only have mid-tempo…” she jokes when taking encore requests; like most great folk artists, in taking her time, Shelley soaks up the world around her, and takes the audience with her.
The ceiling is stained with thrown drinks. Sweat hangs in the air as if it had been sprayed by a crop duster. A line of blood trails down from the sodden, sticky hair of a tall man heading back into the pit. Still people push forward. It’s getting unbearably hot. The smell of weed still cuts through. We’re just 20 minutes in. Ho99o9 took to the stage following a DJ set that included ‘Like Glue’ by Sean Paul, ‘Bump’n’Grind’ by R Kelly and two classic 50 Cent tracks (‘Candy Shop’ and ‘In Da Club’). There was a healthy fear in the basement of The Sebright Arms and presumably the DJ thought the tension needed to be countered. Or maybe he just really liked Fiddy. The crowd Ho99o9 attract is diverse, both in terms of demographics and tribes. There are
St Pauli and Miner’s Strike emblems on denim jackets. Iron Maiden, Krokodil and Guardians Of The Galaxy t-shirts. British folk artist Frank Turner was among those staggering into the smoking area afterwards. The first half of the show passes in a blur. The opening songs from Ho99o9’s recently released debut album, ‘The United States Of Horror’, have a ferocious rhythm, pace, and, beneath the brutal distortion, hooks you can latch on to. ‘War Is Hell’, ‘Street Power’, ‘Bleed War’, ‘SubZer0’ and ‘Face Tatt’ turn the basement into a warzone as the double bass drum sends ripples through the floor and the duo seamlessly switch between a hardcore punk delivery and gritty, baritone rap. Ho99o9 sound like The Dead Kennedys, The Stooges, Spark
MasterTape, DMX, Odd Future,Trash Talk and Death Grips all at once.They take these disparate sounds and create something dark, visceral and furious that targets the police, religion, race, class, politics, Trump and economics. Throughout the album and the show, however, a sense of humour and theatre remains. On fan favourite ‘DeathKult Disciples (999 Anthem)’ theOGM calls for complete darkness as he dons a headlamp that flashed into the crowd like a searchlight. When the energy dropped a little he chided the audience; “that was just alright.” By the end of the show Ho99o9, and a good chunk of the crowd, are topless. The band take requests for an encore and Eaddy throws himself into the crowd. Seemingly dissatisfied with how long he was kept up, when he was returned to the stage he jumps right back in, causing a rush to the front and a stage invasion that lasts until the end of the show. In a 2015 Loud And Quiet cover feature, theOGM spoke about how a sense of fun was more important than intimidation, saying: “we just go out there and perform and love having fun and having a good time.” This is immediately clear during and following the show. If there was a sense of anticipation and fear beforehand, the feeling afterwards is catharsis and deliverance. There was violence, but more so there was camaraderie, such as theOGM pausing the show to reunite lost keys with their owner.
faces. All of which is fair enough: if one record represents best the late20th century boom in album-length house music, with its far-reaching ambitions and ecstatic zeal, it’s probably ‘Leftism’, and tonight it’s given a 21-gun salute. Handily, nearly all the album’s original vocalists reappear in the flesh, helping elevate proceedings
above mere album-playback to something both more nostalgic and more present: Earl Sixteen’s and Danny Red’s throaty dub voices have seemingly improved with 22 years of spliffs, and Djum Djum’s cosmic gibberish on ‘Afro-Left’ appears even more startling in a post-grime world. Indeed, the night’s only true disappointment is the strange
replacement of Curve’sToni Halliday, Leftism’s finest singer and lone female voice, with a thin-voiced belly dancer. Extending an hour-long album into a two-hour performance, too, causes inevitable bloat. Then again, for those who have already shelled out for a childminder, every extra coda represents another reason to hug a stranger.
Leftfield Brixton Academy, London 12/ 0 5/ 20 17 wr i ter : S am Walto n
Anyone needing short-notice childcare in South London tonight is likely to be out of luck: all local babysitters, by the looks of Brixton Academy, were booked up long ago by 5,000 dewy-eyed forty-somethings now waiting to relive the hedonistic ’90s, bottles of water clutched in hands and expressions of off-theleash mania encroaching upon their
Japandroids Gorilla, Manchester
Caves DIY Space For London, Peckham
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writer: Joe g ogg ins
w r it e r : Th o ma s Ga ne
“Was anybody here at The Deaf Institute? How about Sound Control? Were you all at the Soup Kitchen, too?” It might have been a hard-to-believe five years since Japandroids last played a show in Manchester, but frontman Brian King – who’s wearing a Morrissey t-shirt – has forgotten none of their storied history in the city. After an exhaustive touring schedule in support of 2012’s ‘Celebration Rock’, they took their time with its follow-up, ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’. The central intrigue tonight was always going to be how the new cuts from January’s comeback LP go over on stage, given that they eschew the Toronto-via-Vancouver
duo’s rough-and-ready punk approach for something more controlled and electronic. The answer is they mesh really well, more lively and less atmospheric than on the album, although – with the exception of the epic ‘Arc of Bar’ and scuzzy closer ‘In a Body Like a Grave’ – the most feverish audience response is reserved for the classics, with ‘Wet Hair’ and the dead last ‘The House That Heaven Built’ encouraging widespread crowdsurfing. For the band’s part, they just look delighted to be back in front of a packed club after so long in the wilderness – the passage of time certainly hasn’t eroded any of their irrepressible energy.
Richard Hawley The Devil’s Arse, Castleton
Shame The Dome, Tufnell Park, London
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writer: da n i el dylan wra y
writ er : g e mma sam wa ys
Caves launch into tonight’s show with ‘I Don’t Care, I Don’t Care’, the opening track from their classic 2013 album ‘Betterment’. It’s a two-minute burst of energy with lead singer and guitarist Lou Hanman shredding as she screamed; “I don’t care, I don’t, go fuck yourself.” It set the tone for the rest of the show, where ‘Betterment’’s tracks feature heavily, with ‘Rubino’, ‘Koala’ and ‘Betterment’ all being thrashed through at breakneck speed.The band have been separated geographically recently when Hanman moved to Philadelphia, and they clearly love playing these old tracks as much as the audience loves hearing them. Cave’s latest album, ‘Always Why’,
was written across the Atlantic, then, leading to a less frenetic yet deeper and more developed sound, and these songs (‘Need It Most’, ‘16’) give the set some breathing space. There’s also a particularly powerful rendition of ‘Sad’, the opening track to 2014’s ‘Leaving’ LP, which Hanman describes tonight as being about “fucking up the gender binary.” The group then launch into their final four songs (“we can bosh this out in ten,” the singer jokes), ending with the short, sharp ‘Work’. Caves have been one of the UK’s most consistent and under-appreciated punk bands for years. It’s a shame these tours are now few and far between because few can match them on our shores.
P ho t o graph e r : Ho l l y Wh i tak e r / h o l l y-w h ita k e r .c o m
“This one’s for all you people who voted for Brexit... dickheads,” says Richard Hawley only a few songs in, to a surprisingly split audience. A half cheer/half awkward silence echoes through the air longer than usual because he’s playing inside a giant cave in the Peak District near his home city of Sheffield. However, it also means that Hawley’s voice and simple, largely acoustic set-up lingers that little bit longer too, as the deep resonance of his vocals bounce around the walls in between all the ducking and diving bats that fly manically around the cave. The acoustics lend themselves to the more powerful tracks such as ‘Standing on the Sky’s Edge’ and ‘Just LikeThe Rain’ but it also allows Hawley to play some of his quietest, slowest, material, letting the gentle guitar strums and creamy vocals to simply float through the space. Although those who attempt to talk through such gentler moments are swiftly called “cunts” and “people who can afford to come to gigs and talk through them”, everyone is friends again come the encore, as Hawley departs on a warm and vocally apt cover of Sanford Clark’s ‘Son of a Gun’.
If tour posters depicting a demonic Theresa May crying blood hadn’t already betrayed Shame’s antiauthoritarian stance, tonight’s performance ought to have done the trick. Striding onstage to ‘Fuck Tha
Police’, striking a crucifixion pose and launching his pint into the frenzied front section, singer Charlie Steen is on the offensive from the get-go, smirking, “Hello London, we’re currently on vacation from our
modelling jobs.” Subtle Shame most certainly aren’t, but it’s difficult to tear your eyes away from Steen’s Ian Curtismeets-Lias Saoudi stage act. He violently swings his arms, scales the speaker stack and crowd-surfs stripped to the waist. The audience reciprocate his energy, whether that’s by bellowing back ‘Tasteless’’s snotty “I like it better when you’re not around” refrain at tinnitus-inducing volumes, or by clambering over the barriers during the sleazy distortion of ‘Gold Hole’, resulting in a 30-person-strong stage invasion. “Fuck Theresa May and anyone that supports her,” Steen sneers pre ‘Visa Vulture’, and cheers ricochet around the room. Tonight the fivepiece have proved themselves brutally effective preaching to the converted, and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare outside of their echo chamber. Win or lose, they’ll give it their all, you’d imagine.
Video Nasties 01
Nickelback. It’s a dirty word. It’s bland. It’s a band. It’s Chad Kroeger. It’s a joke. It’s awful. Video Nasties is a look at the evolution of musicians through the egotistical medium that is the music video. First up, I’m taking the good ship Loud And Quiet for a trawl through the history of Nickelback’s, dredging up their bottom dwellers and dissecting them on deck in an attempt to discover just who they are, how they see themselves, and what it all means for us living alongside them on planet earth. Founded in 1995, Nickelback are four Canadians who make very popular music. Chad Kroeger, a denim-dressed everyman for the empty, is their leader. In 2001 their first big hit ‘How You Remind Me’ sold approximately four trillion copies and is the most played song of all time (probably). Since then they’ve plopped out another half dozen albums and become an integral and oft-mocked part of popular culture.
1. How You Remind Me
Clear your mind. Now think of the word ‘Nickelback’. What do you see? If you’re like me it is probably an image of Chad Kroeger (Choader to his friends) in a dark room taking big strums on a guitar while shaking his dime-store-Jesus hairdo. In other words, it’s a scene from the music video for ‘How You Remind Me’. Directed by the Brothers Strause, ‘How You Remind’ sets the rules that all subsequent Nickelback videos follow: Rule #1: The band must play with constipated expressions on their faces. Rule #2: The visual metaphors must be as obvious as those in Kroeger’s lyrics. Rule #3: Chad must be at the centre of the plot (if there is a plot). Rule #4: The audience watching them play must be surprisingly sparse. Here’s what I reckon the directors pitched to the band: “Chad looks sad in a bathroom because his girlfriend has left him. He sees her in his house, in the street, and then at a concert he is playing, but she keeps dissolving before his eyes. Every time that happens all the colours go blue because he’s sad. Then you guys play the song using your best big strums, constipated expressions and animatronic movements to a crowd of about seven people.” At the time of writing ‘How You Remind Me’ has been played 280,000,000 times on YouTube (really).
Four years and two albums later along came ‘Photograph’, their biggest selling single since ‘How You Remind Me’. This one has a special place in my perception of Nickelback, because it is the first time I was truly shocked by their blatant lack of talent. It begins with Chad holding up a photograph – in fact, the one he is describing in the lyrics. “Look at this photograph… every time I do it makes me laugh,” he says – although he doesn’t laugh. Instead, he pulls a face as if to say ‘ah, those were the days’. Chad can’t act. The band then rocks out with obligatory big strums in Kroeger’s old school in front of no one because, as he growls in the lyrics, “This is where I went to school, most of the time I had better things to do”. Finally, they run around in long grass and drive pickup trucks – items taken from the semantic field of ‘wistful’. It follows all four of the Nickelback music video rules, and therefore must be considered a success. But what would happen if Nickelback took a risk? Well, it would probably look something like ‘She Keeps Me Up’.
3. SHE KEEPS ME UP
One thing that has always impressed me about Nickelback is their ability to expand the outer limits of awful. There’s an old expression that goes “you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter.” Well, that’s exactly what director Nigel Dick (who has directed 14 Nickelback music videos in total) did with this one. Featuring mirror-ball guitars, shiny thin-lapelled suits that look like they were stolen directly from
the shelves of Burton, and some truly atrocious dance moves, the video for ‘She Keeps Me Up’ looks like a nightclub as imagined by someone who has A) never been to a nightclub and B) never had any fun. “We tried to get a little funky” said Chad’s brother and Nickelback bassist Mike Kroeger, explaining the song’s origins. Obviously, Nickelback are about as funky as a band made up of George Osborne on bass, John McCririck on drums and Ed Sheeran on everything else. To that end, this video succeeds: never mind a little funkiness, it conveys a total lack of any at all.
Conclusion Nickelback’s videos have shown me that they are risk-averse people who make something sweet and safe for equally scared people – the musical equivalent of cheap milk chocolate. And that when they do try something a bit different, they expose a staggering lack of imagination. But, for all that, I’m not sure they are bad guys. In a complicated and frightening world, they fulfil a need – namely, for reassuring but ultimately meaningless music. In the end, we have two options: we can either solve the world’s problems and the fact they really do seem to love this band, or else we must prepare ourselves for more lyrics like “Funky little monkey, she’s a twisted trickster” and “Kim’s the first girl I kissed, I was so nervous that I nearly missed.” The choice is ours.
Digital back issues Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 85 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 66 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 84 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
jarvis CoCker The gentleman in room 29
Father John Misty
Man Vs Indie
The day Josh Tillman came to town + Lightning Bolt Ian MacKaye LoneLady Heems Blanck Mass The Eccentronic Research Council
Kevin Morby | Drahla | Chastity Belt Dave Gahan | The Bug Vs Earth
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 83 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 59 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 63 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
+ Slowdive La Sera
HMLTD Polarisation Express
Pissed Jeans | Kelly Lee Owens | The Magnetic Fields Sleaford Mods | Idles | Kadhja Bonet | Rejjie Snow
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 80 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Kate Tempest Compulsion of a poet
Karen O They Don’t Love You Like I Love You
Trash Talk Luke Abbott Olga Bell Matt Berry
Run The Jewels Arthur Russell Virginia Wing Ariel Pink Weyes Blood Alan McGee
LOUD AND QUIET ZERO POUNDS / VOLUME 03 / ISSUE 28 / THE ALTERNATIVE MUSIC TABLOID
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 49 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
A F T E R F I V E
THE BULLITTS DELS
L O N G
Y E A R S
B A C K ,
THE HISTORY OF APPLE PIE
l o u d a n d Q u i eT aT P r i M av e r a s o u n d w iTh
S o la n g e Merchandise Th e h a x a n c l o a k Pa nTh a d u P r i n c e killer Mike M eTZ G o aT disclosure P l u s: Jon hoPkins BishoP nehru Te r r o r B i r d
Nilüfer Yanya Pylon Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
FanFIction: My shed’s better than your shed
“Rat-a-tat-tat,” Samantha said as she simultaneously knocked on the shed door. “David, the gentleman from the BBC is here for the story about Margaret.” David popped out his little red face. “Splendid. Show him through. Oh, and darling, maybe while this hack is around we should refer to Margaret as ‘the shed’ or ‘the gypsy caravan’. You know how wicked the BBC can be.” “As you wish, darling. A little porky pie between us,” she winked. “And don’t mention pork.” Samantha nodded and mimed buttoning her lip shut. She left and returned with a reporter named Martin. “I’ll leave you boys to the ‘man cave’,” she said. “There are a couple of Blue Riband chocolate
biscuits in the draw.” She winked again. David rolled his eyes. “Sorry about that, mate. Thanks for coming. So, yeah, this my new shed. Or gypsy caravan, if you prefer.” “It’s lovely,” said Martin. “Your wife said you’ve called it Margaret?” David was clearly fuming. “Ha, really?” he said, pulling his face into a crooked smile. “Just a little joke, that. Haha. Quite funny, but probably not worth mentioning in your piece… Let’s go in.” Inside David flumped down into one of those collapsible green camping chairs that parents take to Glastonbury. “Kick back,” he said. “I’ll put some tunes on. What do you fancy?” “Well, I guess we’re not allowed to listen to The Smiths,” quipped
Martin. David pretended not to hear him. “Ed Sheeran is so crap, isn’t he?” said David. “I know, let’s go for The xx.” David closed his eyes to the sound of ‘Intro’ for what felt like longer than the track lasts. “So this is where I get away from it all.” he said. “It’s a really nice shed,” said Martin. “Do you mind if I ask how much it cost?” “Do you mind?” winked David. “Errr, no?” said Martin, although he wasn’t really sure what he was meant to say to that. “No, it’s not about how much my shed cost,” David assured him, “it’s about what I plan to do in my shed. Do you want a beer?” “And what’s that?” “Well, plenty of this,” he said, cheersing Martin’s bottle of Peroni. “And I’m going to write a book, about my time at number 10.” “Oh, brilliant,” said Martin. “You could called it ‘I Was Looking for a Job and Then I Found a Job’.” “Errr, yeaaah,” said David… “Sorry, what?” “You know, because you’re a Smiths fan… The line from ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’.” “Oh, right. Yeah, I knew that. Ha. Very good. Or I could call it ‘This Charming Man’. Ha.” “Or ‘I’ve Got Everything Now’, instead of ‘You’ve Got Everything Now’,” countered Martin. “Yeah. I think ‘This Charming Man’ is good though.” “Or ‘Miserable Lie’,” smirked Martin. “Or ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’.” “Oh yeah, but come on, ‘This
Charming Man’ is clearly their best song.” “‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’.” “‘Lovecats’!” yelled David. “Or how about ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’?” “HEY!” snapped David. “That’s enough!” The atmosphere in Margaret plummeted. Martin sipped his beer. “So,” he finally said to make peace, “I bet your mates like hanging out here.” “Oh, Christ yeah,” said David. “George was over just yesterday. He’s always around. My wife calls us Ant & Dec. (I’m Dec.) He’s around so much we joke about how he ever gets any work done.” “At The Evening Standard, you mean? Or at all of his other jobs?” “Errrr, yeah…” David was thinking. “Oh, hang on, it couldn’t have been yesterday George was here. Come to think of it, it must have been at least a month since I saw him last. Damn shame really, but he works so hard… Jeremy loves it too, of course, because it’s got wheels, although I won’t tell you the joke he makes every time someone refers to it as a gypsy caravan... And that’s me, really. Just out here enjoying a modest, quiet life with the few pounds I was fortunate enough to squirrel away.” Samantha came down from the big house with a tray of tea. “It’s a lovely shed,” said Martin. “Isn’t it,” she said. “And for as little as £25,000... Oh, and David,” she said as she walked back across the lawn, “George called to say he’ll be over again tonight.” “That’s a different George,” said David.
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How about a game? Shall we play a game?
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