Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 84 / the alternative music tabloid
jarvis Cocker The gentleman in room 29
Kite Base – 12
I grew up watching Jarvis Cocker on Top of The Pop and trolling Michael Jackson. He always seemed like the only person in the ’90s who was aware of how ridiculous it all was in real time. As I learned more about Pulp, about how they’d formed in 1978, and how ‘A Different Class’ was their fifth album, I thought that maybe that was the reason for Jarvis not taking himself as seriously as Damon Albarn or Brett Anderson. Or maybe he just had a better sense of humour than anyone else. This month I met him – a man who has become so familiar to me and everyone else my age. At one point I asked him if he believes in ghosts. “I’d shit myself if I saw one,” he said. It was a pretty great day, for me. Later, as we discussed his new hybrid-art-form project, ‘Room 29’ (a collaboration with Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzales), he said, “I haven’t got a very strong imagination,” which I challenged. “Not really,” he insisted, “because my words are usually factual, y’know. It’s not really imagination – it’s just stuff that has happened to you.” Of course, he’s right – fanciful though they seem, Jarvis Cocker’s songs have been consistently personal, if not wholly autobiographical. In that sense, ‘Room 29’ follows suit, whilst being informed and inspired by the Golden Age of cinema, and the Hollywood hotel that’s often been at the centre of it all. Whilst Jarvis and I spoke about that, Katie Beswick was arriving in Iceland to attend a band meeting of Reykjavíkurdætur – a 15-piece allfemale hip-hop band who continue to speak out about the issues that affect them as women. As a group who have had to force themselves upon a male-dominated scene that tried its hardest to reject them, their live shows have become notorious for their choreographed madness and gender positivity. And while the group clearly identify themselves as feminists, in talking to Katie, they ask the question that shouldn’t it be the case that all bands do? Stuart Stubbs
Vagabon – 14 Marika hackman – 16 Gnoomes – 18 Reykjavíkurdætur – 20 jarvis cocker – 24 wire– 30 fortuna pop RIP – 32
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 84 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
jarvis CoCker The gentleman in room 29
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You can probably guess how Ripley Johnson of Moon Duo and Wooden Shjips spent his time as a 16-year-old
ipley Johnson: This photo is from 1988. We’re inWallingford, the small town in Connecticut where I grew up. I’m with my friend Josh (on the left), my high school buddy. Back then, with our friends, we would hang out in the woods and the farm fields all the time. We could do whatever we wanted, basically. That was probably our sophomore year, 10th grade. After freshman year you would find your friends and your clique. Ours was the bohemian, hippy thing... people who were into taking drugs, listening to psychedelic music. The Neil Young look was also the New England ’80s look in a way. I still dress the same way as I did when I was in high school. Flannel shirts, jeans or corduroy pants and a denim jacket.The hat was not mine. That was very common back then – part of Neil’s appeal to a lot of people in America is that he looks like a regular guy and he drives old trucks. I suspect we’re high as kites in this photo. We’re probably tripping. When I look at it I have really fond memories of around that time. I’m curious to what we were listening to at the time because almost certainly there’s a boombox just out of frame. That’s the funny thing, we would go out in the woods but we weren’t really enjoying the quiet of nature. We’d crank Jimi Hendrix and have a big party. If we had any weed we would smoke it, if we had cigarettes we’d smoke them. If we had psychedelics we would do those on the weekend. We’d always
As told to greg cochrane return home. It was never very far; it was just on the edge of the school campus. No adults would really go out into the woods, so we had it to ourselves and we could do whatever we wanted without getting caught. We’d have our own sort of Summer of Love experience but just amongst friends hanging out in the woods climbing trees. There wasn’t really anything going on in the town itself. I’ve always been kind of shy, but at that age I was introspective but also very curious about the outer world. You reach a certain age where you start reading interesting books, start listening to music and being exposed to different art. Also, at a certain point I think it felt like you just wanted to get high school over so you could get the fuck out of there. A lot of what we did at high school, me and my friends, was about escapism. I was pretty heavy into a classic rock phase at this time. Wallingford had one record store, which was called Merle’s Record Rack. It was not cutting edge. My exposure was pretty limited in that sense. My friends and I were really obsessed with The Rolling Stones and all the ’60s stuff. Jimi Hendrix and the Velvet Underground. NeilYoung was a huge one. And cassette trading. My friend Jamie had about a thousand Neil Young concerts that he’d recorded or traded with people – we just had an endless supply of bootlegs. I wasn’t writing any songs at this point but I was playing guitar. We had a band that did all covers. A
lot of Velvet Underground, some Stones and Grateful Dead – they were another big one. Neil Young, The Band... we even did a Ronnie Wood song, which was pretty hilarious. Most days we would rehearse in an old gym at the school. I actually just tossed out all my school reports but when I looked back through them a lot of it was ‘you could do better’. That’s the overall theme of my school career. I could do better if I tried harder. I did the bare minimum to get by. I never thought I’d get a real job. I wanted to be a truck driver. It was very romantic. I didn’t have any thoughts of applying any of the things I was learning at school to a job, but I loved art and literature classes.Those were my loves. My biggest idol is Keith Richards so it’s not a great role model for a teenager in a practical sense, because it leads to a lot of partying and drinking. Maybe not the best thing for a 16-year-old! I just remember this sense of freedom and abandon that we could get when we combined the music, the nature and the drugs, to some extent. We would really get pretty far out of our minds… and then we would come back, do what we had to do at school, and then we would go do that again. It was just opening our minds to this possibility of a different way of life. We wanted to be rock ‘n’ roll stars; we wanted to be in the Stones. We modelled our free time on that. This sounds really stupid I know but it obviously had an impact on my life.
books + ANYONE CAN PLAY GUITAR
Jennifer Love Hewitt Reef Younis catalogues the curious music careers of mega celebrities. Illustrated by Josie Sommer. / Records, unsurprisingly, dropped her. It should have been a decisive blow, but nodoubt convinced she could sing as well as any Disney Princess, Hewitt took a sabbatical before returning like a long-forgotten X-Factor winner. There was some success, too, as she realised her chart dream with 1999 single ‘How Do I Deal’ (taken from the I Still Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack) achieving lukewarm acclaim in the US and a lofty number eight in the Australian singles chart. In 2002, the exile was officially over as Hewitt returned with her fourth solo album, ‘BareNaked’, and she continued her chart dominance in Australia, the Netherlands, Germany and the US with places at 31, 72, 75 and 37 in the respective album countdowns. The critics, for the most part, remained split on what proved to be Hewitt’s last tilt at reclaiming the pop stardom of her pre-teens with Q’s eight-out-of-ten review a surprisingly positive highlight: “Admittedly, her FM-friendly singalongs aren’t rocket science, just fantastically effective.”The music magazine chose not to review compilation releases of the Asia-only ‘Cool with You: The Platinum Collection’ in 2006, nor the Brazil-only ‘Hey Everybody’ in 2007.
Somewhere after Madonna and Mariah, but before Beyoncé, Adele, Rihanna and Christina, Jennifer Love Hewitt takes her place in the pantheon of female artists. Now, it might have an asterisk next to it or act as one of the hundreds of thousands of footnotes, but if you’ve taken the time to release four (FOUR!) solo albums, that effort should be recognised, even if it wasn’t by the charts. Back in 1989, a 9-year-old Hewitt could have quit on top of the pop game with Martika’s numberone single ‘Toy Soldiers’, which featured the young Hewitt’s backing vocals. Seasoned by that success, three years later the then 12-year-old Hewitt released her 1992 debut album, ‘Love Songs’, exclusively in Japan where her cookiecutter cuteness gave her the instant pop success she would never quite recreate. Unfortunately for her, the transition from Japanese to American audience was less than seamless, even with her turn as Sarah in ’90s teen drama Party of Five. In 1995, (now 16) she watched the questionably titled ‘Let’s Go Bang’ crash and burn, with the album and three subsequent singles all failing to chart. Her self-titled 1996 follow-up fared little better, and when that album and four singles failed to chart once again, Atlantic
by jani ne & L ee bullman
Sound System: The Political Power of Music by Dave Randall
Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics By Richard Seymour
When Dave Randall first heard the Specials’ song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ he had absolutely no idea who Nelson Mandela was, but by the end of the first chorus he knew he should be free.The moment was an eye-opener for Randall (himself an accomplished musician, playing with the likes of Dido, Faithless and Sinead O’Connor) and kickstarted a fascination with the deep, symbiotic and complex relationship between politics and music. Perceptive, witty and engaging, Sound System charts and explores that relationship (and the power of music in action) from its earliest incarnation to the present day with the understanding of an insider and the zeal of a fan.
Depending on who you ask, Jeremy Corbyn is either the only principled man in a parliament of fools, or a doomed retro throwback with a secondhand plan. Richard Seymour sees him as the former and The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics describes in close-up detail the Labour leader’s extraordinary rise from back bench obscurity via a genuine grass roots movement that saw his party become the biggest in Europe. The book provides context as far as recent British left wing politics are concerned and Seymour manages to steer clear of political rhetoric and instead provides welcome insight and thoughtful analysis, not only of Corbyn, but the political culture he hails from.
Albrecht Durer by Norbert Wolf prestel
Albrecht Durer was the renaissance man with rock star looks who left behind him a body of work and artistic legacy that would go on to influence Pablo Picasso and others. His famous, dark sixteenth century woodcuts dealt in beauty and horror, angels, devils, life, death and all points in between, but as the wonderfully named Norbert Wolf points out here, there was far more to Durer than is widely known. Wolf’s lovingly curated book shines a light on all the areas that caught the artists’ attention and imagination, as well as highlighting how Durer’s love of self-portraits, mass marketing of his own prints and creation of his own logo can be viewed as a blueprint for the exercise in branding which so much of art has become.
getting to know you
Serpentwithfeet There’s not that much out there regarding 27-year-old Brooklyn artist Josiah Wise’, beyond his debut EP of operatic queer RnB. Produced by Haxan Cloak, ‘Blisters’ gets a physical release via Tri Angle this month. For our GTKY questionnaire, Serpentwithfeet is honest in line with his music, and also straight-up funny / The best piece of advice you’ve been given “Make a science of it.” Your favourite word Galvanize. Your pet-hate I don’t have any. I do have a pet shadow. He’s lovely. If you could only eat one food forever, it would be… Gluten free cinnamon rolls... I love chewing soft things. The worst job you’ve had Trying to thrive while in the closet. Oohp! The film you can quote the most of I can’t quote any films but I can definitely sing along and give you MOST of the drama that Diana Ross gives when she sings ‘Home’ in The Wiz. Favourite place in the world Any patisserie in Paris. Cuz who don’t love a French pastry??! Your style icon HIM (from Powerpuff Girls). The one song you wished you’d written ‘Waters of March’ by Jobim. The most famous person you’ve met Björk. We hung out a lot in Brooklyn and she is a dream! Spending time with her was the highlight of my 2016.
The worst date you’ve been on That’s not an interesting story. The best romantic moment I had might be a bit more heartbreaking. Years ago I met a guy online. I fell in love. Took a 10-hour bus trip to meet him. I only stayed with him for 36 hours because I had work. But when I arrived at his house he had a huuuuge breakfast spread of all my favourite foods; a big flower arrangement & bottomless mimosas (because I love mimosas). The next day when I had to leave I wept! I’m talking, shaking, crying! I played Beyonce’s ‘I Miss You’ on repeat for most of that 10-hour bus ride back home.
Who would play you in a film of your life? It would be wonderful to have a woman play me. I’m here for that interpretation. What is success to you? Loving myself fiercely and not apologising for it. What talent do you wish you had? I envy black contemporary ballet dancers. I wish I was one of those Alvin Ailey men.
Your first big extravagance When I got my head tattoos.
How would you choose to die? I live for the necessary drama, so maybe whenever it’s my time I could die peacefully while I’m hosting an intimate dinner party at my house. Let’s imagine I just told a really funny story and everybody’s in tears laughing. While they’re catching their breath I go to the kitchen to refill everybody’s mango mimosas, but I never make it back to the dinner table. Now that’s DRAMA!
The worst present you’ve received When I believed other people knew secrets about me that I didn’t know.
What is the most overrated thing in the world? Misogyny.
The characteristic you most like about yourself My specificity.
What, if anything, would you change about your physical appearance? Hmmmm. I love how I look. It took me a lot of work to get here. But I still use the emojis that are much darker than my actual skin complexion. I looooove dark skin. My best friend teases me about it all the time because I genuinely was in denial that I’m more of a caramel / burnt caramel complexion.
Your guilty pleasure Hmmmm. I listen to Brandy everyday. But there’s no guilt; only pleasure.
Your hidden talent I’m very maternal. But that ain’t hidden. Your favourite item of clothing I have some spicy man panties. Your biggest disappointment I don’t have any. Everything works in my favour.
The thing you’d rescue from a burning building My boo. My boo is the name of my doll. She means so much to me.
The celebrity that pisses you off the most even though you’ve never met them There aren’t any. Everyone’s doing the best they can.
People’s biggest misconception about yourself I think most people that want to know have a fair idea of what I’m about. I’m pretty transparent.
Your biggest fear I fear that one day I’ll lose my appetite. The best book in the world Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
What’s your biggest turn-off? When I can’t self-implicate / when I cant see myself. What would you tell your 15-year-old self? Baby boy, you are a problem. Keep being disruptive! Your best piece of advice for others Unhinge, Unhinge, Unhinge!
Kite Base Two bass guitars, a sense of humour and embracing the absurd Photography: jenna foxton / writer: david zammitt
op p o s i t e: (L - R ) A y s e H a s s a n , al s o o f s ava g es , a n d k en d ra f r o s t i n Sho r ed i t c h , L o n d o n .
hen I reach Shoreditch’s Kamio it looks as though the venue has been taken apart and is being hastily reconstructed around Kendra Frost. As amps, lighting and spools of cable are busily stacked and wheeled towards the stage, she is waiting quietly for Kite Base’s other half, Ayse Hassan, amid the bustle. Having just returned from a 25-date European tour, Frost would be forgiven for being a little jaded, but there’s no hint of that. “I’m grateful every day for this opportunity,” she later tells me with the calm wisdom of someone who has been working hard a music for over a decade. “I’m going to make the most of it.” Suitcase in hand and band merch in tow, she has come prepared, and when an out-of-breath Hassan arrives, she declares that she herself has spent the morning working on a playlist for the night’s show. Their enthusiasm and back-to-basics determination is a reminder of why musicians do this, and, for that matter, why music journalists do this. “One of the main starting points found in origami, a Kite Base is an opening move made with simple folds to generate a firm and fertile foundation for creativity.” So reads the helpful explanation on Kite Base’s website. But for all the geometric order of their origamic logo, Kite Base are not as neat a prospect as they may seem. With both members playing bass, their music sits defiantly at the lower end of pop music’s frequencies. And yet ‘dark’ and ‘brooding’ – descriptors that have been casually applied to them since they formed almost two years ago – do not do their sound justice. Likewise, the lazy comparisons that have been thrown around to date (Warpaint, I’ve even read Florence and the Machine) rely on gender rather than sonic resemblance. Really, this is energetic, electronic post-punk in the spirit of Killing Joke, PiL, Magazine and, yes, Siouxsie and the Banshees. If you’re looking for more modern comparisons, opt for Preoccupations and Liars. If their sound is a fascinating one, it is also one born out of necessity. With only two sets of hands, they are restricted in what they can do in a live setting. And while they do admit to having an occasional third member – their impeccably-behaved drum
machine, Alan – they are loath to rely too heavily upon laptops and prerecorded samples. “You’re allowed to be a lot more creative because you’re not bombarded with options,” explains Frost. “You have to make things from what you have.” Two bass guitars also throws up the very unique possibility that the pair could cancel each other out in a mix muddier than Worthy Farm of a Monday morning in late June, forcing them to think more strategically about melody. Woven more carefully as a result, the songs on their debut album, ‘Latent Whispers’ (released next mont), are richer for this constraint, with bass melodies snaking over and under each other and wrapping around Frost’s silvery vocals. Just make sure you replace your tinny earphones before you listen. But what is it about those four strings? Hassan’s regular 9 to 5 sees her punch in as Savages’ bassist, while Frost has anchored the rhythm section in a string of bands before Kite Base. “It’s the low frequency,” says the former. “There’s something that resonates within myself, and in people in general. I was reading an article that said that people are more receptive to it – maybe it’s something to do with the heartbeat you hear when you’re in the womb.” She pauses and puts it even more simply: “Drum ‘n’ bass gets me dancing and just feeling… something!” “It’s the best of rhythm and melody, really,” Frost says, cheerily, with the succinctness of someone who’s had the chance to answer second, and they both crumple up with laughter.
fter being introduced by a mutual friend and realising that they were both bass players, everything else seemed to click into place quite for Kite Base, and when I ask if that ‘fertile foundation’ found in their paperfolding namesake can be applied to their own creative relationship I’m met with a resounding chorus of affirmation. “Yeah, and I’ll tell you why,” says Frost. “My interpretation of it, personally, was to never throw out any idea, however far-fetched or bonkers it was, because you never
know what that could morph into with further investigation. And we’ve had some crackpot ideas, haven’t we?” Hassan grins and nods. “It was just a dream we had and it was a nice journey to work out how on earth it could be made true.” Based on the shared assumption that mistakes are an inevitable part of pushing boundaries, Kite Base decided early on that risk would be a central tenet of their constitution. “It’s that idea of embracing the absurd,” agrees Hassan. “We’ve both been making music for so long that it’s exciting to try something that challenges us. And this has been such an amazing experience.” She looks at her teammate: “It’s really quite thrilling.” Working in a team of two can be intense in any situation, musical or otherwise, but many of the most iconic songwriting partnerships are as notable for their acrimonious breakdowns as the productive years that preceded them. Morrissey and Marr, Lennon and McCartney, Gilmour and Waters – it always seems that the more fruitful the relationship, the more spectacular its dissolution ends up being. “It’s like any relationship,” offers Hassan, before succumbing to what I learn is a trademark fit of giggles. “Actually… I’ll start again! It’s not like any relationship. We both made choices and we decided that we would make it work together.” She hands the question over to her coconspirator as she composes herself. “We call ourselves yin and yang and it’s true – it’s the same coin but two different sides,” says Frost. “You just have to know that both of you are going after the same goal and no one’s trying to sabotage anything, so there’s nothing to get offended about.” She pauses. “Even if Ayse tells me my dress sense is awful… I’m still crying about my spandex onesie!” The infectious giggles come again. The laughing points not only to a deep understanding between the pair, but also to a way of dealing with the world’s pressures that is very much deliberate and thought-through. Now in their early thirties, Frost and Hassan are aware of their own mental and physical limits and what it takes to keep both facets of their health in check. “I use humour and don’t take
life too seriously,” says Hassan. “You have to embrace what’s in front of you and live in the moment. Ultimately if you do what makes you happy as you’re moving forward, hopefully you get to a point where you’re in a good place, physically and mentally. I make choices when I’m on tour; I don’t drink, I don’t smoke.” As trite as it sounds, it’s nice to talk to two people who are so acutely selfaware; so unbending in their creative and personal stances. “A long time ago I decided I wasn’t going to wear makeup and if I did wear any it wouldn’t be because some photographer told me I had to,” asserts Hassan. “It was a choice that I would make, because that’s the example I want to set. I think that strength comes with age – being able to say,‘This is who I am.’”These themes are brought to life on ‘Soothe’, a standout from their upcoming LP. A sombre yet enormously catchy anthem that is part Britpop, part gothic new wave, it as an ode to stress relief and to taking back control, whether from anxiety or from other people. As the tension builds, Frost’s vocal functions as a metaphor for the control they have achieved in terms of their identity and, as far as is possible, their mental health. They both try to run and hit the gym as much as the limited time and space of a tour allows, but the reaction from others isn’t always understanding. “A lot of people respond quite funnily. It tends to be a lot of the younger bands who are getting pissed and they’ll ask if you’re not drinking. And I’m drinking my matcha green tea.” Quick to point out that she by no means sees it as the a one-size-fits-all solution, Hassan is nonetheless firm in her beliefs. “It’s very hard not to sound self-righteous and it’s just choices that I’ve made… for me. I would be dead; if I started taking drugs and stuff, I wouldn’t be here.” But while matcha green tea and cardio have been lifelines, laughter has been the ultimate saviour when moments of need cropped up on tour. “To have Ayse creasing up with laughter about something that I would ordinarily be quite stressed about is so infectious,” smiles Frost. “We spent a lot of time in hysterics on tour. It’s such a relief to have a different way of letting go of stress.”
Vagabon LĂŚtitia Tamko is the lone Cameroonian indie rocker who never wants to be satisfied Photogra phy: kyle dean reinford / writer: colin groundwater
Op p o s i t e: L æ t i t i a T a mk o aka va g a b o n i n n a s h v i lle, te n n es s ee.
hen Lætitia Tamko begins to speak, she does so softly but firmly. “I’m really shy,” she insists, but when talking about her music, her cadence quickens and her voice brims with an articulate enthusiasm. Confidence and a strong sense of self beam through the introversion. Tamko’s music, which she records under the name Vagabon, works in much the same way. ‘The Embers’, the leading track on Vagabon’s debut album, ‘Infinite Worlds’, opens with gentle chords and the admission, “I feel so small.” But it grows into something tremendous; a guitar-driven anthem in which Tamko proudly announces, “Run and tell everybody Lætitia is a small fish.” Originally titled ‘The Sharks’, the song calls out predators and naysayers in defiant fashion. However small a fish she may be, Lætitia Tamko is prepared to face whatever comes her way, and channelling that spirit,‘Infinite Worlds’ is a powerful and promising debut from one of the most exciting new artists indie rock has to offer. Shyness is far from a rare quality in musicians, especially in Vagabon’s genre. What sets Tamko apart is her determination and diligence. In conversation she continually frames her experiences in terms of challenges met and new ones lying ahead. Consider the album’s title, which she drew from Dana Ward’s The Crisis of Infinite Worlds, a chapbook of poems she would read on her two-hour commute to the studio in New Paltz, New York, where she recorded her debut. “I love how it was challenging me,” she says. “At the time I was doing these very challenging things, and it taught me patience at a time when I really needed patience.” When Tamko was 13, her family moved to New York from Cameroon. Though she has sung casually all her life, her musical narrative began in earnest during these high school years when she started playing guitar at 17. Teaching herself the fundamentals through instructional videos, she mastered the instrument and then put it down to pursue a degree in engineering from the Grove School at the City University of New York. Though music took a backseat to school for a few years, she began to write songs seriously around 2014.
Those tracks would eventually become Vagabon’s debut EP, ‘Persian Garden’, a lo-fi six-song collection rooted in fuzzy guitars and Tamko’s wistful voice. Then, things took off. ‘Persian Garden’ generated serious buzz, especially once Vagabon began playing shows around New York. She was surprised but thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive response to her songs. “I felt really proud of them,” she says. “I was so shocked by how they sounded. I didn’t know I could do that.” The process was a voyage of discovery. Growing up mostly listening to the radio, she was largely unaware of the indie music scene until she was a fully-fledged member of it. She found the experience a liberating one, saying, “I had nothing to compare my music to,” and so she was free to create a sound from scratch. She toured, picked up new instruments, and transformed from a novice to a veteran in an astonishingly short period of time. Then, while performing the songs from ‘Persian Garden,’ Tamko reached an important epiphany about her sound. She doesn’t remember the specific show, but she knows it happened some time in 2015: “It dawned on me that I could do it without compromising.” In thinking about the songs she had written in 2014, she acknowledged that many of them weren’t quite what she had originally envisioned, or, perhaps more importantly, they no longer represented what she wanted them to be. On the EP she describes her former approach as something to the effect of, “Here are my songs, slap on whatever you want to slap on. “After that, I realised the next thing had to be all me.” The realisation triggered a dramatic re-evaluation of Vagabon that resulted in a complete restructuring of the project. “Initially I wanted [Vagabon] to be a collaborative effort, a band in the traditional sense of things,” she explains. “Then I realised that wasn’t what I actually wanted, that maybe that was an idea I’d had out of fear, fear of taking on the responsibility and then taking on the quote/unquote ‘failures’ that happened. So after, I settled for the fact that I wanted to take part in everything I was doing with Vagabon.”
She began to play solo shows, stripping down her sound then building it up in a more accurate reflection of the songs as she heard them in her head. This proves to be the sticking point for Tamko: she wants things to sound exactly as she imagines them, without exception. It was a courageous move for a selfprofessed introvert, but Tamko credits her audience as a crucial support as she stepped out on her own. “I started playing things my way,” she says, “and people were like, ‘This is the best I’ve ever heard you sound!’” She also mentions her peers as a source of inspiration, and specifically mentions her friend Elaiza Santos, the lead singer of rock band Crying. While Santos enjoyed a successful 2016 with her band, Tamko was influenced by 100%, Santos’ solo project. “With 100%, she completely records alone, in her bedroom, with no band. She doesn’t need one. It doesn’t mater what anyone says, she doesn’t care. She just makes music completely unapologetically. That was super inspiring for me to see someone make music so organically.” All this taught Tamko to trust herself to create ‘Infinite Worlds.’
tarting out determined to take a leading role in every aspect of the album, Tamko says, “I had a strong sense of what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get there.” She coproduced ‘Infinite Worlds’ with Chris Daly (who has worked with Frankie Cosmos, Porches, and PWR BTTM), and she’s credited on every instrument that appears on the record. Generally a private person, she didn’t share the work she was doing with many people (her family didn’t even know that she was pursuing music so seriously until she opened for Frankie Cosmos at Webster Hall last November), explaining, “I don’t need to bring anyone into my intensity.” Though the process challenged her constantly, Tamko thrives under selfimposed pressure. Her background in engineering helps her. She describes herself as “analytical” and “solutionsdriven”, undeterred by roadblocks that popped up when trying to reproduce the sounds in her mind.
Three songs (‘The Embers’, ‘Fear and Force’, and ‘Cold Apartment’) have been updated from ‘Persian Garden’, showing a huge leap in production value and a subtler ear for instrumentation. She remembers the closing track ‘Alive and A Well’ as the most difficult song to record because it pushed the upper limits of her singing register, and she refused to sing it any lower than she imagined it. But the album’s finest moment is the juxtaposition of ‘Minneapolis’ and ‘Mal à L’aise’, two spectacular songs that reflect Tamko’s range as a songwriter. The former is a straight rocker that ends with a tremendous breakdown of bass and guitar, the latter a dream pop gem built from airy synths, drum machines, and vocal samples. Tamko describes ‘Mal à L’aise’ as an intentional palette cleanser, but “intentional” goes without saying. ‘Infinite Worlds’ exudes confident craft at every turn. It’s a testament to what Tamko calls “power in growth” – the capacity for a person to develop despite whatever setback they encounter. The secret to growth, she says, is “never being satisfied. If you’re never satisfied, then you’re going to keep grinding.” Ironically for Tamko, the biggest challenge arrived after ‘Infinite Worlds’ was finished. Asked about the hardest part of her career to date, she turns to the present, noting, “There are more people who are watching and listening now.” Her release show in Brooklyn this February sold out in advance. “Constantly being visible, being in front of people, it’s kind of against my personality. “In the little moments where there’s no music happening or I’m tuning my guitar or I’m thanking the crowd for being there, I’m instantly brought back into my body. ‘Oh wait, all of these people are staring at me!’” Indeed, many of the songs on ‘Infinite Worlds’ explore the sense of feeling out of place in one’s body, be it on a bus or in the world at large. The promising sign for Vagabon is that Lætitia Tamko clearly knows herself so well, and she knows that she’s at her best when at the base of a mountain to climb. “I think if something comes really easy to me, then it’s probably time to switch it up.”
Marika Hackman Done with writing sad songs Photogra phy: dan kendall / writer: ian roebuck
op p o s i t e: Ma r i k a h a c k m a n in r i d l ey r o a d m a r k et , D al s t o n , L o n d o n .
oy is Marika Hackman full of herself. I don’t mean that in an arrogant-Marika-knows-best kind of way. This is something different – something charming and life affirming. “Even if people turn around and shout, ‘FUCK OFF MARIKA! What have you done? Why have you changed?’ It’s still a risk I think every artist should take, otherwise what are you doing?” Hackman is laying it all out on the pub table. The reason she is in a bullish mood is because her new album sounds nothing like her old album and it’s quite refreshing. “In a way, if someone did shout fuck off, that might actually be good for me because it would show I have managed to do something completely different and not just get stuck in a hole of woeful, introspective songs,” she says. There is a shot of relief deep within her loud laugh – the laugh of an artist liberated by change. ‘I’m Not Your Man’ arrives two years after ‘We Slept At Last’ and Hackman is startlingly honest about the differences. “I am a lot happier than I was before,” she says. “This record represents me more as a human than the last record did, which seems like more of an artistic endeavour, whereas this feels more like an open, frank and personal thing. I wanted a different sound; I wanted something upbeat so I kind of just let go. When it came to writing I wasn’t over thinking it, I was just letting it flow freely and thinking about how it will translate live and how it would lend itself to a much more fun touring experience – more inclusive for the audience rather than the purely introspective feeling you would have had if you came to see me play before.” I ask if she is excited because she certainly sounds excited. “It is exciting!” she says. “It could be quite scary but only if you overthink it too much. If you’re not happy with what you have done it could be contrived but this felt like a really natural evolution to me. I am just really excited to see how people react. I feel more confident as an artist now. This works with the lyrics as well. I am a lot more frank and I am not hiding behind metaphors, you know, like nature metaphors. I am not hiding who I am or any kind of
deep and meaningful stuff.” In 2015 the reaction to Marika was one of sincerity. Labelled indie-folk (which she openly hated) and consistently bracketed in with Laura Marling (whom she openly loves) the Hackman career road map was seemingly drawn out. Now though, along strides a song like ‘Boyfriend’ to rip it all to shreds. “The response to ‘Boyfriend’ has been the strongest for anything I have released up to this point,” she says. “And it’s nice because when you are changing up something it can be nerve-wracking, but I feel everyone is on board with it, which is cool.” ‘Boyfriend’ fizzes with personality. All sharp edges and overdriven guitars, it’s a song to give indie-folk a bodyslam. No wonder Hackman sounds so self-assured. “It’s a much more upfront and direct listen,” she says. “I am being open about me.” Supposedly a retort fired at all the sleazebag men that have crossed her path, ‘Boyfriend’ doesn’t hold back. It’s a funny song, admits Hackman, who says there’s a much more explicit version of it that she decided not to use. “When it came to the crunch I bottled it,” she says, “but it certainly has humour. It draws on personal experience but exaggerates things for comedic effect. It’s a lot more brazen than you’d expect from me I guess!” That’s the perfect word for it, I tell her. “Thanks, you can use it if you want,” she chuckles.
ntegral to the big, burly sound of ‘Boyfriend’ are Hackman’s backing band, London’s The Big Moon. “It was just one of those things where I had written a song and they were kind of like… this mix of grungy, funky, rocky, poppy. I had arranged it all and I needed a band to play it. By this point in my life I had become friends with The Big Moon, by going to gigs and meeting them, and I asked them if they wanted to be on the record and they said yes, so that was a really great thing for me. As a live band they are incredible to watch and they have this amazing energy – strong but fun, you know, with that ‘I want to be with them’ feeling. I wanted to capture that on the
record. Obviously to bring in a band that I was already friends with, it was just a perfect match really and we had a lot of fun recording it.” It must have been a markedly different studio to the one that she recorded her quiet debut in, although she stuck with her producer, Charlie Andrew. “I remember playing him some demos and he was like, ‘oooh what’s this!?’. I don’t think he saw it coming,” she says. “He obviously was the usual Charlie and he enabled me to make the change I needed to. Bringing in a live band, we had never worked like that before, as it was always just him and me. But playing live to record it was really cool. You lose that control and that’s a great let-go that allowed happy accidents. A lot of screams and whoops and all the noises that you can hear on there really make the record unique and special I think.” We discuss one such scream during ‘Boyfriend’ that really hops out of the headphones. “Yeah that’s Jules (The Big Moon’s lead singer) going, ‘I can’t go any higher’ – that was an accident. I said who wanted to go in and scream and Jules was like ‘Me!’ So she went in and screamed so we left that bit in. The laugh at the beginning was a total accident as well. I think someone says, ‘oh that was a crap take’ at one point. You can hear counting under breath and pedals clicking, too. It’s messy. I was always really keen on it sounding like we were in the room with you as you listened. Charlie always sets it up with loads and loads of mics so you feel like you are in there.” Both Charlie and The Big Moon feature on Marika’s striking album art, too, an unusual choice of painting perhaps for a so-called solo artist. “The artwork is made by a friend of mine calledTristan Pigott,” Hackman tells me. “I have always been a huge fan of his work. When I was writing the album I was thinking about artwork and I knew that I wanted to approach him to see if he was up for doing a portrait. Then I thought the idea of having a group portrait that included the key figures in the making of the record would work well. So The Big Moon are in there. The room is split, rhythm section in the back, then the guitars in the front, which shows how we recorded it, which is cool to factor
in. Then on the table there is a passport photo of Charlie Andrew and my friend Gina is on there as there is a song on the album called ‘Gina’s World’, so we really included so many influences. It was really nice to portray that and not be scared by it. I wanted to give everyone space in the artwork, to be there and show how important it was for me.” Marika’s own background is in Fine Art (after studying in Brighton), and she clearly has an eye for detail, so once we start on Pigott’s painting we can’t stop. Even the fallen cactus lying flaccid on the kitchen table gets a voice. “I am going to be giving away a free cactus with the pre-orders,” she tells me. “It was a sort of group idea. The art work is so important to this record and such a big part of it, maybe because I studied art and obviously there was a lot of cacti flying around and hey who doesn’t love a cactus!? I feel like all of mine are dying though… I can’t really look after stuff!” I ask if deep down there is some apprehension leading up to the launch of Marika Hackman MKII. “Yes of course,” she says. “Somewhere inside. The main emotion is excitement, though, and intrigue. How will people react? “I am so far into this record. I spent over a year writing and recording it, and I have heard these songs a thousand billion times. I want someone to have fresh ears on it. I feel like I have challenged myself and I am definitely not playing it safe. I can sing sad songs standing on my head but this is so different and I am going to have to work hard and that is so exciting for me. I can’t wait to be an animal on stage.”
Gnoomes The Russian psych trio who were forced onto making a drug-free second album Photogra phy: Alisa Caly p so / writer: Daniel dylan wray
op p o s i t e: (l - r ) D i ma Kon i u s h ev i c h , P a s h a F e d o s eev & S a s h a P i a n k o v in p er n , r u s s i a .
eing in prison was quite a psychedelic experience,” says Gnoomes’ vocalist and bass player Alex Pyankov, speaking from his home in Perm, Russia. Despite rather obstructive hurdles like imprisonment, his band have just released their second album ‘TSCHAK!’ via Rocket Recordings, a label that is home to various incarnations and miscreants of psychedelia and esoterica, such as Goat, Teeth of the Sea, Hey Colossus, Gnod and Hills. Gnoomes – a three piece consisting of Pyankov, Pavel Fedoseev and Dmitriy Konyushevich – released their first album on Rocket in 2015. ‘Ngan!’ is a four-track album (two of which take up 30 minutes alone) that burrows deep into the elongated groove template of the psych genre. Through its explorations in repetition it allows ripples of guitar to push and pull the momentum in porpoise waves of swelling sounds, like an extended Slowdive mix at times: rich in texture, dense in atmosphere and with a quiet charge of euphoria trying to pierce through the thick fog of drones that tower above. For album number two there is a distinctly more electronic presence, one that erupts in gusts of industrialtinged brutal noise, whilst other moments ooze in flowing and seamless melodies, with the album shifting from synthpop harmonies to dungeon techno, to cosmic disco in a matter of minutes. It’s a far more corporeal experience than their debut, much more immersive and heady in its wildly chaotic pull, yet this album was made without the assistance of any mind-altering substances whatsoever. “It was a challenge to create an album of psychedelic music without psychedelics,” Pyankov says of the sober experience, “but it proved great for us as musicians because we had clear minds.” The forced removal of substances that so clearly defined the recordings of their debut was due to the band’s arrest and incarceration. “We weren’t doing anything,” insists Pyankov, “we were just walking down the street. We were a little bit high and the police stopped us. It later said in the report that we were apparently looking suspicious because we had denim jackets and hats on.” The police
forced the band into their car and made them take urine tests, which they failed as they had smoked some weed. “We were put in prison for five days for being high. It was crazy.” Pyankov says this with a tone that is half laughing and half despondent. Despite it only being a short period of time he says it “felt like an eternity in there.” They are now all expected to provide regular monthly drug tests, which they have to pass “to prove we’re not drug addicts.” Pyankov himself was nearly plucked away from the band altogether for another reason before ‘TSCHAK!’ was made. “I was a postgraduate student – I’m a historian,” he tells me, “and when I was finishing that the Russian Army said, ‘hey man, it’s time for you to serve,’ and I was like, ‘really? Oh no!’ I have some problems with my health and I successfully managed to avoid having to go in.” It’s a mandatory requirement for all Russian men to serve at least two years in the Army between the ages of 18 – 27. “It doesn’t matter when, you have no real say; they just decide it’s your time. Lots of teenagers just hide, they play hide and seek with these guys but sometimes the police can come looking for you and pick you up. You just have no real choice. There are some extenuating circumstances, like if you’re in the middle of studies at University, or if you’re gay then you’re not allowed to serve, but you have to prove it.” My following question is of course, how do you prove you’re gay? “I don’t know exactly,” Pyankov tells me with a bewildered laugh. “I think they examine your body or something like that.”
espite near misses with the law and the army, Gnoomes finally bunkered down in a studio to record. They were located in a giant old Sovietera radio and TV station building that Konyushevich also DJs at. “On this album we wanted to be isolated,” says Pyankov. “We decided not to involve people; we wanted to create an album that was purely us from start to finish. Thankfully we had a rehearsal space in one of the ancient studio rooms from
the ’70s, so we decided to make a record in that space. We found lots of soviet synths that sounded very crazy.” These discovered synths would lead to the tone of the record being shaped. During the Cold War, Russia and U.S.A became embroiled in manufacturing races of all sorts, which even extended to battles in technological advancements through musical instruments. Whilst companies like Moog began to lead the way and shape the future of music in this area, Russian inventors tried to one-up them, often failing and producing an array of rare and bizarre creations that whilst wildly unpredictable and require constant tuning, also give off distinctly wonky, and often unrepeatable sounds. Gnoomes embraced these antiquated machines they found gathering dust and allowed them to bubble, hiss and gargle their way through the album. “We wanted this album to sound more electronic and we wanted to use the synths because of this weird analogue sound they gave off,” Pyankov explains, which at times sound like they are being transmitted from a bygone era, channelled in through a static hiss, whilst others retain a purity and blinking tone that sounds entirely futuristic. It’s perhaps here where Gnoomes most successfully lock into their own groove on their latest LP, merging the past and the present: capturing the ’80s wash of genres such as cold wave and the whiff of oddball electronics reminiscent of Silver Apples, whilst in other moments they feel like they are hurtling into other stratosphere, intent on leaving the past ablaze in their tracks. Pyankov himself also feels like this album is the one in which the group have cemented their own personality and forged their own sonic identity, for now. “It was fun just to breathe out and feel ourselves,” he says. Whilst Gnoomes’ deeply exploratory yet accessible and infectious sounds slot tightly into a resurgence of German-influenced altpsych currently growing in the UK, they don’t have as much luck winning over audiences back home. “Psychedelic music is not an interesting phenomenon to Russian people,” Pyankov says with a slight sigh and lick of irritation in his voice.
“They don’t really want to hear it. It’s frustrating but we’re used to the situation. We love touring outside Russia. When we went to the UK for the first time it was great – people wanted to buy records, speak with us, to actually be into our art. In Russia people just don’t care.” There was a time when they did win over their fans at home, he says, but that was when Pyankov was younger and playing in covers bands. “We were playing some Britpop songs like Oasis and Blur,” he tells me. “It was quite a big community of people who loved British music in Perm, groups like the Smiths. After that I met our drummer and we played in a garage band and the garage scene was big too. There were plenty of bands that played that style of music but now the scene ceases to be; kids grew up and got jobs and have become adults and don’t want to be crazy any more. “There’s lots of Russian rock music... I don’t know how to explain it but it’s quite similar to Polish pop or Eastern European pop – music with strong ideologies. There’s also a lot of metal going on: black metal, death metal, people are suffering here and they just want to reflect their feelings in the music.” When Pyankov naturally grew out of and moved on from the Britpop covers and primitive garage bands, he didn’t see others follow. “We played lots of gigs in pubs and got drunk very, very often but our lifestyle changed. We started becoming more isolated from society and from people because we felt that we had to move on. We wanted to do our own thing and it became a point of no return. We started to create very personal things.” Aside from wanting to leave behind an aspect of their lives they were outgrowing they were also hit by an influx of new music that changed their outlook entirely. Influenced by krautrock, techno and the consumption of the entire Warp back catalogue, Gnoomes soon grew into a mutated beast of their own and with fans lost in Russia they’ve only gained more in the UK and Western Europe as time has moved on, with their mantra remaining a simple but effective one. “We just want to show our lives, our souls,” says Pyankov. “And what’s going on here.”
Reykjavíkurdætur In Iceland with the country’s first female hip-hop band who are feminists because all groups should be Photogra phy: S p ess i H allbjörn ss on / writer: katie be swick
Le f t : R ey k jav í k u r d æ t u r ( d a u g h t e rs o f r ek j av i k ) in t h ei r h o met o w n , mi n u s 4 o f t h ei r 1 5 memb e r s .
lying low over Iceland, it looks like a country that time forgot – like a digital reconstruction of a prehistoric landscape you might have seen on Time Team. The terrain is hard and incredible: rugged and moss green; pools of bubbling water and spiky mountain ranges dusted with snow. It is mostly uninhabited. There are no human settlements visible on the mainland, just clusters along the coast – tiny pockets of light illuminating the darkness – and no wildlife. “It’s pretty bleak,” I say to Salka Valsdóttir, a member of the hip-hop group I have flown in to interview, and she laughs. “Yes,” she says as we drive through Reykjavik in the dark, the windows steaming up as snow begins to fall outside. “Not very many beings can thrive here.” This unforgiving landscape has given birth to Reykjavíkurdætur (Daughters of Reykjavik), a sixteenstrong female crew who have been creating ripples across the maledominated Icelandic hip-hop scene with their explicit lyrics and electric performances. Salka has collected me from my hotel to join one of their meetings – a weekly event where the band discuss the future of their project, make decisions about upcoming opportunities and refine their vision and mission together, speaking about issues that affect them as a group, and especially as women. I arrive late, and the women are winding down. We’re in someone’s flat (I don’t quite catch whose) and it’s a warm, friendly chaos – the women are chatting and laughing over cups of tea; speaking in Icelandic with the fast, furious, emotionally charged spirit that characterises their music. Like the consciousness raising circles that emerged from the radical feminist movements of the 1970s, Reykjavíkurdætur share their own experiences and work together to find solutions to problems they face. This week, for example, they’ve spent a lot of time discussing motherhood. Two of the women already have children and another is pregnant, and they are starting to think about how they can support one another as mothers within the framework of the band. And it’s not all talk: When I arrive, there is a baby burbling in the corner of the room – her mother has just left for a date and the rest of the
group are taking care of her. “It’s what we do for each other!” They laugh, handing me a cup of tea and ushering me to a seat in the corner. “Baby needs a new daddy!” “It’s something we’ve been talking about a lot,” Salka tells me. “We were thinking of getting a babysitter to come with us abroad. It’s important as a philosophy in general – to have that as a principle. Because we want to support motherhood. And the fact that somebody decides to have a baby concerns all of us. It becomes the responsibility of the whole band.” Steinunn Jónsdóttir, who is cheerful, blonde and herself the mother of a young boy, nods as she speaks over her band-mate (they do this a lot – interrupting one another as the conversation flows, making the job of recording the interview quite difficult). “If we are going to be part of a band we need to bring our babies with us, at least for the first year, or first six months, or if it’s a long trip. That’s going to be a priority.”
eykjavíkurdætur was created in 2013 when Blær Jóhannsdóttir and Kolfinna Nikulásdóttir were heartbroken, unemployed and working in a hotel to make ends meet. “So,” Blær begins, jiggling the baby at her hips, “me and the mother of this child, we had a broken heart and we were both working at a hotel and we had nothing to do. And we sometimes got some weekends off and we went downtown and we drank a lot. So we needed some sort of outlet for our feelings. And also a way to feel big because we felt really small at that time – I think that was a part of it. Not for everyone but for us at least. It didn’t come out of… we didn’t talk about our broken hearts or anything. We always had fun, we were always rapping for each other. Sending each other some sort of raps. We had nothing to do while cleaning the toilets – just listening to Eminem. So finally we had this idea to hold a women’s rap night,” she pauses. “Katrín, you tell it from here.” “Well,” Katrín Andrésdóttir says, “I remember this summer we were playing a festival – me and my sister Anna – we were actually in a band before Reykjavíkurdætur that was
rapping, because we couldn’t sing. Easy solution, because we couldn’t sing and we wanted to be in a band and we had lots of stuff to say so we decided to rap. And we were performing at a festival where the band that Kolfinna was in at the time – they’re doing great, still – were playing. We were talking in the bus on the way back about rap, the whole way. And we were all noticing this common interest between us and many of the girls that we knew. Like, a growing interest in rap. And then a couple of days or weeks later Kolfinna contacted us and asked us to perform in this female rap night that they were having, where they had collected all the women they knew who were interested in rap or were writing lyrics, even though they were just beginners, and that’s how it started. It was supposed to be just a closed event for us to perform to each other but then, at the last minute, they decided to make it a public event, and everyone was so curious to see what was gonna happen, you know girls rapping. So, it became very popular straight away.” Salka nods in agreement. “It was completely crowded, the cellar” “Because it was so popular we held it again,” Katrín continues. “And then for the third rap night we decided to advertise it by making a song all together. And while we were filming the video someone came up to us – the song was called ‘Reykjavíkurdætur’, which means ‘Daughters of Reykjavik’ – and someone came up to us and was like ‘so what’s the name of your band?’ and I think it was Valdis who said ‘oh Reykjavíkurdætur’, and since then we were a band.” “Yes,” Steinunn interrupts, excitedly (if you’re finding it difficult to keep up with who exactly is saying what then you’re getting an accurate impression of what it was like at the meeting). “All of a sudden we were getting bookings and stuff but we didn’t even know we were in a band! It was just supposed to be kind of a thing to hype this event. And I think on the Facebook site it still says ‘we are having a women’s rap night on the 27th of December 2013 please come and see us.’” “I remember you performed with us before you were in Reykjavíkurdætur,” Blær reminds Steinunn, “and I was like, ‘I know you
want to be in the band, I know you do.’ And you were like, ‘No! I can’t handle this there’s too many of you.’ And then you performed with us and you were on the campsite and everyone was really drunk and you were like, ‘OK! I’ll be in the band.’ Because it was so much fun. It’s always so much fun on stage. But when we come together to perform it’s amazing.” She turns back to me. “And at first it was like if you performed at a women’s rap night you could be part of Reykjavíkurdætur. But we had to stop that later because we started to be booked more often. It was hard. It was like, ‘are we thirteen or are we three [people]?’You have to know a number. It was this last spring that we started to think of ourselves as a band, not as a collective, or an art platform or whatever.” Although the women also work separately – several are in other bands and Katrín, a classical pianist, plays with indie-folk musician Sóley – there is a sense of collectivity that runs throughout their process. They are
clear that this project is about collaboration. They enjoy finding different methods of working together. “Maybe there is no best way [to work as a group],” Katrín tells me. “Like, it depends. For the first song, or the first three, we did all together; everybody had to make fifteen seconds of lyrics and just everybody did that and we mixed it together: this one comes after this one. And last summer we all met and everybody just threw in some words and we did one sentence at a time and just passed the computer around.” “We also do duos, and trios and solo songs within the band,” Salka says. “Shows are usually the spotlight going around. So sometimes two people are in the spotlight doing a song that they wrote, while in the group songs we’ve tried to find methods of making songs we can all participate in. But then for the latest song we wrote, two of us wrote all the words and gave each person a verse, so it would be very flowing and wellconstructed. Maybe we’ll try that with
different girls, so it’ll be completely different.”
irmly labelled as feminists by the media and with striking, political lyrics that include verses on the joys of anal sex, Reykjavíkurdætur have had a stratospheric impact on the Icelandic hip-hop scene – with the recent, crowd-funded album ‘RKV DTR’ nominated in the best hip-hop/rap category at the 2017 Icelandic Music Awards, and invitations to tour across the world. But it hasn’t always been easy to fit into the mainstream. “When we started there was no space for us,” they says, “and people who had been doing it for longer than us didn’t want us to do it. But we just took the space. And now we’re just part of the scene.” I wonder how far the reluctance to make space was because they were women. The girls laugh. “Oh yes. This is how we became so famous so quickly in Iceland. And we were all amateurs so it was very easy to criticise
T his page : ( c lo c kwis e fr om top le ft ) S igur laug Sar a Gu nnars d ó tt ir , Katrín He lg a André sdótt ir , St e ine y Skú ladótt ir, Ás t h ild ur Úa Sigu rðard ó tt ir , Salka Valsdó tt ir , Ste inu nn Jó ns d ótt ir , Sólv e ig Pálsd ó tt ir .
us very harshly. But we were also pioneers, because we were the only women in the Icelandic hip-hop scene and we were emerging when that scene was starting to grow. And it has been peaking now for the last two years.” At one early show the band were pelted with cucumbers by a teenage audience, after a male rapper (who they decline to name) tweeted that Reykjavíkurdætur was ‘a nice idea, but it didn’t work.’ The women describe this as a defining moment in their careers. “After we were booed off stage we were in a backstage room and we were just like, ‘Ok. Now we really have to show them, we have to go even further, be even crazier, have our tits out in the next video.’” The cucumber incident led to the creation of their record ‘Ógeðslegt’ (‘Disgusting’), which Salka describes as a “game changer.” “It’s just us rapping about how cool we think we are,” Steinunn laughs. But Salka disagrees. “We had a lot of attention and we had a lot of hate. A
This page : ( c lo c kwis e from r ight) Vald ís Ste inarsdótt ir , Kolfinna Nikulás d ó tt ir , Jóhanna Rak e l, Þ ur íð ur Blær Jóhann s d ótt ir .
lot of people telling us what we should do. And we couldn’t have cigarettes in pictures because we were role models for young girls and all this. And we really, really quickly felt the pressure of that for a while. And we were really paranoid about what we did, and if we were corrupting all the children of Iceland.” She shakes her head. “[‘Ógeðslegt’] was just the first wave in this band. Let’s be women just doing whatever we want to do. To me it was the most feminist song we had made, being sixteen women just rapping about whatever we want, about nothing for seven minutes. We realised if we were going to have to be role models, maybe young girls don’t need role models that are in some kind of box. We are better role models for them by doing things that are not allowed by society. By rapping about nothing, or about anal sex.” Salka stops mid-sentence – holds her hand up to halt the conversation for a moment, circling back to the idea that Reykjavíkurdætur’s feminist politics make them radical. “It would
be very good if you could put in the interview that it would be very unusual not to be a feminist band. We get asked this a lot. And it makes no sense not to be a feminist. It feels weird to me that people label us as a feminist band; it bothers me.” She describes an interview at Eurosonic festival, where a journalist spent forty minutes interviewing them without once asking about the music. “I was like, ‘we have sat in an interview for 40 minutes now as a band that is playing at this music festival and you have not asked us about one song, or anything concerning that we are artists composing and writing lyrics and performing and thinking about that a lot.We have been working as musicians for almost four years and you haven’t asked us a single thing about that. To me that’s very unfeminist.’” Katrín nods. “Every band should be a feminist band. Unless they are like ‘we hate women.’ We didn’t think, ‘oh we’re going to be a feminist band’, but we’re many women, we’re being loud in a male dominated space, talking about things we’re unhappy about – it was the audience and media that labelled us as feminist.”
eykjavíkurdætur’s determination to do music on their own terms, and the wit and humour with which they approach their work is obvious in the energy of the sound – even though I can’t understand the lyrics. Not that comprehension necessarily matters to the girls. Their Facebook page has the tag “shlengideng”, a made-up nonsense word that captures the spirit with which they approach performance. “Who came up with shlengideng?” Salka asks. “Kolfinna? Because when we started rapping none of us had been doing it prior so we were all really bad at it. Often we would forget lyrics and stuff
so we’d be like ‘shlengidengydeng, shlengidengy dang dang dang.’ So that’s why I think the webpage is called that. We can’t change it!” Now though, they are no longer amateurs. The girls have honed their lyrics, content and flow to a place they feel proud of. The abrasive Icelandic language coupled with the rhythmic pace of the delivery is impressive; and it’s easy to see how Reykjavíkurdætur have started to break out on the international scene. I ask whether there is any pressure to perform in English now that so many of their bookings are abroad. “We’ve been told you have to start rapping in English, so you can go to the States and stuff,” Salka explains. “So it’s like, yeah, and then we’re like maybe we should mix it up and stuff. But it’s rapping. And it’s playing with words. We’re so good at that in Icelandic.” She looks me straight in the eyes. “Seriously.You should hear us rap Icelandic, we’re so good. So it’s so much easier for us to do it like that. We can do much more, it’s more clever.” “But I think generally the audience is quite pleased with the Icelandic,” Katrín says. “I think as a live band we project the meaning through our energy and our stage performance and everything – and I think people get it, even when they don’t understand the words. And I think often we introduce the songs – we say what they are about before we start them so that people can get into the feeling. But with Icelandic also, the reason people enjoy listening to it, even when they don’t understand it, is it’s a very harsh language, it has a lot of rhythm in it. Also, Iceland is so ‘in’ right now, so people are ‘oh Icelandic this is cool.’” They laugh for a while and one of the women stands to collect the empty tea cups, signalling that the meeting is almost over. Salka leans forward as I turn my recorder off, not quite ready to finish just yet. “I really like that
people don’t understand what we’re saying. Not because I think that what we’re doing isn’t important, or isn’t good, but because I think that our energy and performance and the way we carry ourselves on stage translates very well. I think the kind of recognition we’ve gotten abroad has proved that. And also because we don’t have the choice of being, you know, preachers – telling people what to think or anything. We have to count on our effort and our presence being enough for people to want to learn what we’re saying. Or are interested enough to try and understand the message – and that’s happened a lot. And to me that is a perfect way to get your message across. Because you don’t have to, in any sense, try to forcefeed it to people. You don’t have the choice. You have to trust the audience completely.”
Do Not Disturb How a mythical Hollywood hotel inspired a new record and stage show from Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales about the magic of cinema Photogra phy: gabriel green / writer: Stuart stubbs
Things happen at Chateau Marmont. Mythical, glamorous, sexy, seedy, wonderful, tragic things that befit the hotel’s location halfway along Sunset Blvd. They’ve written books about it, and Jarvis Cocker showed me two of his – The Chateau Marmont Hollywood Handbook and Life at the Marmont: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Legendary Hotel of the Stars. The latter is a bit more gossipy, he tells me, although I imagine it’s a higher calibre of gossip that sashays through the lobby of Chateau Marmont. Fabulous gossip, surely; from a landmark of the Golden Age of cinema. Resembling a Disney-fied version of the gothic Château d’Amboise it was modelled on (situated in the Loire Valley, France), the Marmont opened its doors first as an exclusive apartment building in 1929, as the arrival of sound in movies was revolutionising Hollywood. By 1931 it had been
converted into a hotel, not necessarily with the express purpose of giving starlets and leading men a private environment in which to drink and shag themselves mad, but that’s how things went for the Chateau. It does, after all, seem ripe for abandon to this day, still boasting of “party-thick soundproofing walls” on its website, to “ensure privacy” for impromptu get-togethers that are seemingly encouraged by the hotel’s notoriously discreet staff. Harry Cohn, the founding president of Columbia Pictures, famously once said: “If you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont,” and countless stars have since obliged. Jim Morrison fell off the roof as he attempted to swing into his room; Britney Spears was banned for smearing food over her face in the restaurant amidst her sad breakdown of 2007; James Dean landed his role as
Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause by jumping through a window to impress Director Nicholas Ray; the way in which Dennis Hopper would host orgies at the hotel was shameless in a way that doesn’t exist anymore. Much of this doesn’t interest Jarvis Cocker so much as the Chateau’s origins at the birth of modern cinema. That’s what his new album with Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzales explores – the fantasy of film and the possibilities that come with checking in to any hotel. And for the real life Chateau Marmont guests that feature on ‘Room 29’, Cocker writes about Howard Hughes and Jean Harlow, leaving the more salacious inhabitants to their perpetual myths. “Of course as soon as I said to anybody that we’re doing a song cycle about the Chateau Marmont, all they’d ask was, ‘Is John Belushi in it?’” he says mimicking a fevered, macabre whine. “‘Is room 29 where John Belushi died?’ I wanted to stay away from the Hello! magazine aspects of it.” Light bulb moment
Keeping to the inspiration of the hotel, Jarvis sourced our meeting point himself; an opulent location house in north London called The French Rooms, which has been authentically filled with every antique imaginable from a grand house in 19th Century France – chairs, mirrors, chandeliers, candelabras, side tables, perfume bottles, birdcages and delicate, pale fabrics. Bar one small flat screen TV in the sitting room you can easily kid yourself that Versailles might be outside the front door you just walked through. It’s kinda surreal, and a little more so when Jarvis arrives, on account of how unmistakable a figure he has become. It’s not as if I was expecting him to turn up in a tracksuit talking like a market trader from Bow, but still I’m aware of how familiar his voice is, and how he’s matched brown corduroys with a black polo neck and blazer in that way he does. Although greying, he looks young, or in good health, at least. He’s dry, of course, and sometimes indicates a joke with the slightest hint of a smile as he tells them. And when he poses for our photo shoot he’s even more like Jarvis Cocker when it didn’t seem possible. Before he jumps on the antique bed and insists, “I won’t do any topless
shots, alright?!” we take a seat on a feathery sofa in the room next door, where he shows me his two books on the hotel. Of The Chateau Marmont Hollywood Handbook he says: “I don’t know why I bought that book at the time, but it made an impression on me, and it was a time when I wasn’t feeling so well.” That was 20 years ago, when Jarvis picked up a tropical disease whilst on tour with Pulp.They dumped him at the Chateau and continued on to Colorado and The Rocky Mountains in an attempt to find another iconic hotel – The Stanley from Stephen King’s The Shining. He’s been carrying the book around ever since, and when Pulp briefly reformed in 2011 he found himself back at the Marmont for the week between the band’s two performances at Coachella in 2012. With the hotel oversubscribed he was upgraded to room 29 – perhaps the only room with its own baby-grand piano. “And that was a light bulb type of moment,” he says. “As soon as I saw the piano in the room I rang up Gonzales very excited and said I think I’ve found the idea that we could do! Because I’d known him for a while and we’d bumped into each other and realised that we both lived in Paris. We’d worked a little bit together and we were thinking of doing a bigger project – we just didn’t know what.” Jarvis’ inspired idea was to make a record of his voice and Gonzales’ sparse piano, inspired by the hotel and some of its classier guests, and in turn reflect the Golden Age of cinema and what it is to fantasise about living in a movie. “With this, it’s basically saying, ‘that piano’s been there, what has it seen?’ Now it’s going to play you the songs that tell you the stories of what it’s witnessed. “But it’s really a record about how films have affected human beings,” he says. “I’ve always been fascinated by that, because I realise they affected me a lot.” Chilly Gonzales has since moved to Cologne. We spoke on the phone the week after I met with Jarvis. “Hi, it’s Gonzo!” he yelled down the line. “When he first told his idea to me, I thought, how perfect! You can just imagine Jarvis sitting in an opulent hotel room having a nervous breakdown, thinking about these things. “He had a very clear idea of making it very personal while at the same time
exploring the hotel. This is something I really liked because most people could have the idea to do a record about all the crazy things that happened in that hotel. Jarvis wanted to get past that salacious surface and get to a deeper understanding of what it is to watch a movie and fantasise about what it is to live inside it.” “That’s nearly 5 years ago and we’ve been working on it ever since,” says Jarvis at The French Rooms. “Gonzales started sending me bits of music, and I started researching. I remembered this book immediately. I remembered that it was in the house somewhere and found it, and I started delving into the stories of it.” The Hollywood Handbook confirmed that Jean Harlow had honeymooned in room 29, so Jarvis wrote ‘Bombshell’ – about the movie siren who also had an affair at Chateau Marmont with Clark Gable, and who died prematurely of kidney disease at the age of 26 as one of the biggest stars in the world. The mythical aviation and movie pioneer Howard Hughes gets his own song, too, as the eccentric billionaire with such acute OCD that it would eventually lead to him refusing to leave a darkened screening room for 4 months, where he’d continually watch movies whilst eating chocolate bars and chicken, drinking only milk, and storing his own urine. He’d spend his time at Chateau Marmont in the penthouse, reportedly spying on the swimming pool through binoculars. To call ‘Howard Hughes Under The Microscope’ a song, though, is misleading. It doesn’t feature Jarvis Cocker, or anyone else singing. Instead, Gonzales’ pretty piano is joined by ‘Room 29’’s third player – film historian David Thomson (“Not Daley Thompson,” smirks Jarvis). In 2014 Cocker and Thomson met at the Chateau; the croaky tapes of their conversations come and go throughout the album, like some ghostly lecture. And while we’re on the point, to call ‘Room 29’ an album is pretty misleading, too. NOT a musical
If both Jarvis and Gonzales impress one thing upon me it’s that ‘Room 29’ is not a musical. Jarvis tells me as much by saying: “I want to stress that it’s not a musical. And I also really want to stress that it’s not an opera.” Gonzales,
who I enjoyed talking to for his exuberant manner, which, incidentally, isn’t unlike that of Gonzo from The Muppets, told me: “Musical theatre is made of cheese, and we would never go there!” ‘Room 29’ is their song cycle, in the traditional sense of the term. “It doesn’t have a story like a total narrative, but there is a logic to it,” says Jarvis, who points out that when they perform it at the Barbican later this month they’ll be doing so playing the tracks in the order of the record. In fact, says Jarvis, it’s the performance that is the project, complete with a stage set and projections of old movie clips and footage that the duo have themselves shot at the hotel. “For a long time we wondered what this was going to be,” he says. “At first I thought maybe it would be a radio series, with a song at the end of each episode. Then I talked to a friend at Warp Films, Mark Herbert, and he said why don’t you make a film about it. So we went and filmed some stuff there. Eventually it’s ended up being a stage show, really. The thing that we’re doing at the Barbican, that’s the thing, really.The record is kind of a soundtrack album, in a way. Or the original cast album.” He laughs. Gonzales later told me: “Jarvis called me and said, in dry ‘Cockerian’, if that’s an adjective, ‘I think we could be on the cusp of finding a new form of entertainment.’ Even in just trying to do that you end up outside of the usual idea of concerts and albums. So you end up with an album that kind of has a narrative but isn’t a piece of musical theatre – God forbid! It breaks you out of the album as a bunch of songs.” Gonzales has been doing this his whole career, perhaps as the only artist in the world able to release rap and electronic records beside classical albums of minimalist piano inspired by Erik Satie. As a jazz virtuoso who began teaching himself to play at the age of three, he’s as comfortable collaborating with Peaches and Daft Punk as he is leading an orchestra in a concert hall or deconstructing the songs of Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift for his Pop Music Masterclass lectures on YouTube. And when you’re that good, stepping on stage and playing a typical show isn’t so appealing. He told me he considers himself an entertainer, first and foremost. I told him what Jarvis had said to me when
“I think we could be on the cusp of finding a new form of entertainment” loudandquiet.com
B el o w : j a r v i s c o c k er a t t h e f r en c h r o o ms , S t a mf o r d h i l l , L o n d o n .
were discussing the live show – “Gonzales can scare some people.” “I like to play with audience’s expectations a lot,” he says in defence. “A concert is a predictable situation – I like to challenge that. I like the idea of transgressing and earning back the redemption. It involves trolling them in some way.” At previous shows this has included Gonzales conducting a Pop Music Masterclass with the aid of a string section. They play a recognisable extract from ‘Eleanor Rigby’, after which Gonazles says to the audience, stony faced, “Of course you probably know that song – ‘Elizabeth Riddly’ by The Rolling Stones.” And that’s it. The masterclass continues and everyone has a lovely time, except for that awkward moment when the piano genius got the famous song wrong in front of 2,000 people. How embarrassing. The following day Gonzales gets his payoff when he checks his Facebook feed to find a host of comments from fans saying, ‘Great show last night, maestro, but one small thing…’ It’s a brilliant gag, essentially because it’s for an audience of one – the teller. But it’s designed to affect the room ever so slightly – to shift the comfort of the predictable situation. “That might be what Jarvis meant when he said that I scare people,” he says. “And what brings us together, other than our sense of humour and love of music, is, when you see Jarvis on stage or me on stage, you get the feeling that you’re witnessing us living out a fantasy. In a sense, to go on stage is to live in a movie, for me.”
he notes. “I mean, I was never going to be a cowboy or a rugby player, was I?” ‘Interlude 2’ is then followed by a song called ‘Daddy, You’re Not Watching Me’, and early on in our conversation Jarvis pointed out that although Chateau Marmont is a place full of fanciful legends and fruitful inspiration, ‘Room 29’ needed to be personal to him, not just a bunch of stories about other people going wild on Sunset Strip. “There would’ve been no point making it a docudrama,” he said. He nods at the flat screen that’s out
The Movies and What They Did To Us. So he’s a good writer on the subject of how movies have affected human beings – it’s got into our DNA, in a way.” He reflects on how moving image must have seemed like magic at the advent of the cine camera, and how we’ve become immune to pictures with movement in the modern age, as we trundle past them on tube elevators as easily as we look at them on our phones for fear of being under stimulated while the bus takes another 60 seconds to arrive. “It’s a shame, because it should still be exciting that
of place in this French period room. “Some people have trained themselves to ignore the TV in the room, but I can’t. Even the fact that that telly is there now is a little bit disturbing, but if it was on, our conversation would quickly grind to halt. Not because I’m not interested in you, but because, it’s like I’ve got a respect for moving images in some way, and it hypnotizes me. I hate when you go into a bar and there’s a telly because I’m sat there thinking, why am I looking at that – I’m not interested in… hockey. And that’s part of what I was talking to David Thomson about. “What got me into him was he’d written this book called The Big Screen:
you can capture reality. It’s almost as if moving image has replaced reality.” Jarvis’ relatable fascination with film and television is only half of ‘Room 29’’s dreamland, though. Chateau Marmont is in the middle of Hollywood, and intrinsically linked to the magic of movies, but in its simple form it’s a hotel, and hotels come with their own fantasies, regardless of where they are. Jarvis tells me: “When I was a kid, and maybe this is one of the roots of this record, I remember at the age of 8 or so, my ambition was to live in a hotel and be rich and have enough money to pay a servant to project my favourite television programs
What the television did to us
“I have a thing in any hotel I stay in now where I try to unplug the TV and put it in a closet,” says Jarvis. “Or I just put a coat over it. I don’t like it. I feel like I watched so much TV as a kid that I’ve done my time; I don’t need to watch it anymore.” ‘Interlude 2 – 5 Hours A Day’ is another David Thomson track, featuring just two sentences from the historian: “The fact of the matter is, if you’re average, you probably grew up watching 5 hours a day. Now, I bet you didn’t spend 5 hours a day talking to your parents.” That was Jarvis Cocker, who, along with the other children of the late ’60s and early ’70s, gorged on the new medium of television. When Jarvis’ father disappeared when he was seven, he says he started to look for clues on how to be a man from his beloved TV that puzzled and thrilled him. “Which is a terrible place to look,”
whenever I wanted, which at that point were The Monkees TV show and Batman. That was my ambition – you’re in a hotel so someone else will make the bed, I’ll just ring down for food and the tray will disappear afterwards. All that stuff. Embarrassingly enough, I think that ambition stayed with me for a long time.” Until when, I ask. “Probably until about a week ago.” He smiles and then laughs. “Of course, now I could do that. I can afford to check into hotels, and I wouldn’t need the servant, because in the interim Blu-Rays and DVDs and streaming were invented. “I don’t know if I’m totally alone in that ambition. It’s that thing of not wanting to commit to anything, and just wanting to slide through life, without having to pick up your own mess or really get involved too much. “You could say that part of this record is exploring that. Where did wanting to live like that come from when I was a kid?” The thing about a hotel room is that it’s a blank page, he says. “I think that’s why people can lose it or break down in a hotel room. Because at some point you’re just faced with yourself.” Jarvis pulls out his phone to read me a quote from British writer Geoff Dyer, which he wanted to use in ‘Room 29’ but didn’t manage to get clearance on in time. He swipes back and shows me some other research photos he’s taken – a Photoplay fan magazine from 1917, outlining a manifesto for Hollywood on how all films should have happy endings, and the stylish Do No Disturb door hang from the Marmont. “Right. Here’s the quote,” he says. “Hotels are synonymous with sex. Sex in a hotel is romantic, daring, unbridled, wild. Sex in a hotel is sexy. Even if you’ve been having a sexy time at home, you’ll have an even sexier time in a hotel. And it’s even more fun if there are two of you.” Naturally, his reading of this is knockout, while ‘Room 29’’s opening title track has Jarvis loudly whispering the rather more blunt, “Is there anything sadder than a hotel room that hasn’t been fucked in?” It’s almost enough to distract you from the line in the chorus that starkly sets out the record’s true reflection: “Room 29 is where I’ll face myself alone.” “I think as soon as you walk into a hotel, you’re already starting to come up with some fantasy of what you should be doing in the hotel. Especially if you’re living in a hotel like the Chateau Marmont, with all this back history. I think that can cause people to have episodes and issues, because it reflects back on you what you are. “I am fine with hotels now,” he says when I ask. “I no longer have any episodes. I enjoy them for what they are. But especially with rock ‘n’ roll things, there’s an idea that – not
trashing the room, because I always thought that was stupid – but that you should be doing something newsworthy.You might just want to be tired and have a lie down.” He tells me that the live show tackles the myth of rock ‘n’ roll excess in hotel rooms, although he doesn’t tell me how for fear of ruining what he describes as “quite a big moment” in the performance. Perhaps it will be illustrated with the ridiculous tale of John Bonham riding his Harley Davidson into the lobby of the Chateau Marmont – the biggest cock-swinging moment in ’70s rock history, which Led Zeppelin would repeat at the neighbouring Continental Hyatt Hotel (‘The Riot House’). And yet a story like that feels a little too low-rent from ‘Room 29’.
you’re fully under the spell of the fantasy, at least. When Gonzales started sending Jarvis some ideas to start work on, he did so in the way that he does when he works with Feist or Peaches or anyone else – Jarvis received short, rough demos; merely a starting point. After a while Gonzales realised that Jarvis was writing his lyrics to exactly what he was receiving, rather than feeding back with how they should repeat x bar twice, add a bridge, speed this up, slow that down – the way songs have always been written. It was a challenge
what a good job his friend did on this record, and how that could have only happened now. “Jarvis’ radio show gave us a new Jarvis that we hadn’t seen,” he said in reference to Cocker’s BBC 6 Music show that he started in 2009. “‘Room 29’ would not have been possible without him doing his radio show and using his voice as an instrument in that way.” He was also right when he said, “Jarvis has always walked that fine line between ridiculousness and depth.” For those that are fans of Jarvis
that Jarvis had set himself, to force him into the odd structures that make up ‘Room 29’, and it accounts for the song lengths ranging from 1:16 to 7:23. He even wrote lyrics to some of Gonzales’ working titles, like ‘Tearjerker’ and the rather silly ‘Belle Boy’ – “a slightly more upbeat one so people don’t kill themselves halfway through the performance.” Gonzales – a man who lives to deconstruct the workings of music – told me how Jarvis’ low, northern register allowed him to prettify his piano (it’s the other way around with Feist, he says, whose voice sores, and so needs to be paired with darker music), and he’s also keen to point out
Cocker for his wit – and let’s face it, who isn’t – ‘Room 29’ delivers with songs about a serving Belle Boy who stumbles upon shagging guests (“Life could be a bed of roses / If it wasn´t filled with so many pricks”), the idea of losing your head – literally – over television (‘Salome’) and that old black comedy goldmine of self-loathing (‘Tearjerker’). “I don’t like art that doesn’t have some element of humour in it,” says Jarvis. “I mean, I hate things to be laugh-out-loud funny. I hate slapstick and all that, but for me, in day-to-day life, a sense of humour, you have to have one. It’s a real essential to survive. So when I come across something
A life in film
The vein of Jarvis Cocker writing songs about the spell that movies can cast upon us goes back at least as far at Pulp’s breakout 1994 album ‘His ‘n’ Hers’ and ‘Happy Endings’ – a song that dreamily builds to a widescreen crescendo having started with the line, “Well, imagine it’s a film and you’re the star.” “We kiss to violins,” he sighs, as if to a black velvet backdrop punctured with light bulb stars on a soundstage in Burbank. By 1997’s ‘This Is Hardcore’, the now famous Jarvis slipped behind a more sexualised silver screen of Bond villain brass and overt voyeurism, purring, “I’ve seen all the pictures / I’ve studied them forever / I wanna make a movie so let’s star in it together.” ‘Room 29’ goes for something less filmic and more intimate in tone. “Hopefully it feels like you’re sat in the room and the piano’s playing and I’m about a foot away from your face,” he says. “It should feel like it’s happening in front of you.” That’s exactly how it feels. Jarvis’ deep voice and Gonzales’ dainty, dry piano – plus very little else on most of the record’s 16 tracks – make for a borderline claustrophobic listen, or “the feeling of containment,” as Gonzales more accurately put it. It’s an atmosphere they created with a dogma filmmaking-like approach, laying out a set of rules and trying to stick to them. So Gonzales’ piano is largely without sustain pedal to blunt the sound and reduce the space, and Jarvis’ vocal is high in the mix and whispered into your ear. The one wide-screen moment purposefully comes at the end of the record, with ‘Trick Of Light’ (an ode to the wonder of cinema), where choral backing vocals and orchestrations signify that you’ve now entered the movie you’ve been dreaming of living in, or that
when there’s no humour at all, it leaves me cold, a bit. “You do run the risk of people thinking that it’s all a joke, and that used to drive me mad in the early days of Pulp. People were always saying, there’s so much irony in your songs. And I always thought there’s absolutely no irony at all. Because irony implies a distance, and if there’s one thing that’s been consistent in all the songs that I’ve written it’s that there’s no distance. Songs are my social media. They’re my way of communicating with people. It’s always been my way of dealing with what I’m thinking and what I think about life. And sometimes there’ll be a joke in there to make it all bearable. “But what people find funny varies,” he adds. “This record is coming out on Deutsche Grammophon [the world’s oldest record label], so we’ve been talking to the people there in Berlin, and one guy there said to me: ‘I really like that ‘Clara’ song’ [about the daughter of Mark Twain, who stayed at Chateau Marmont and married a pianist who died, which is how the baby-grand piano appeared in room 29, in Jarvis’ mind]. ‘Very sad, though,’ he said. ‘Very, very sad.’ And yeah, it is a sad story, because it’s about a woman who loses her husband, and then their kid, who is the last of Mark Twain’s bloodline, is a hopeless, drugand alcohol-addled guy who dies at 40, or something, but for me that song is funny, because I rhyme ‘melodic’ with ‘alcoholic’, and you can’t make that rhyme with a completely straight face. I was excited to find that rhyme, and I know it’s faintly ridiculous. It’s black humour, but that’s the kind I like. Slightly nasty humour.” I ask Jarvis the impossible question of what would have happened if he’d been upgraded to any room other than room 29. “It would have all been about jacuzzis,” he says. Would this project exist without that upgrade? “Probably not. We had been looking for something to work on, but I’m a bit of a believer that ideas happen when they’re ready to happen. I think that your subconscious does a lot more than you’re aware of. I guess that’s why it’s called your subconscious,” he smiles. “A lot of stuff is percolating away. Pulp songs dealt with some of this stuff. I’d had this book for 20 years. So it was ready, and that was the trigger. Room 29 is a place inside your head.”
Eyes Front A potted history of WIRE – a band celebrating 40 years without a nostalgia tour Photog ra p hy: Malka S pi ge l & Ann e tt e g ree n / wri t er : dan ie l dylan wr ay
On April 1st 1977 Wire played their first ever concert as their “classic” four-piece line-up (Colin Newman, Bruce Gilbert, Graham Lewis and Robert Gotobed) at the infamous Roxy Club in London’s Covent Garden. They shared a bill with The Cortinas, The Models and Buzzcocks. With songs rarely lasting beyond two-minutes they hurtled through an often Ramones-like set, but even on this very first outing the set was littered with moments of refined brilliance that would soon come to define them. Intent on antagonistically breaking the norm from the off, they played tracks like the fantastically brooding ‘Lowdown’ and hammered out the infectious stabbing and melodic shuffle of ‘Strange’; songs that would have no doubt been deemed disgustingly slow and out of whack for
the template formula of punk that was fast setting in around this period and within those club walls. Most group’s first ever gigs are intent on winning over the world, a quiet nervousness in which being liked is secretly as important as being good. For Wire, that night they embarked on a career that has now lasted 40 years and in which winning the world over will only ever be done on their terms or not at all. Almost 40 years to the day of that Roxy show, with album number 15 out this month, the group’s founder, singer and guitarist, Colin Newman, still steers the project in a direction permanently locked to forward, although is perhaps a little less superciliousness than those early days. “When we were in our twenties there was incredible arrogance,” he tells me.
“There was no way that anybody in Wire didn’t think that we were the best band in the universe.That was a given.” Across their three first albums ‘Pink Flag’ (1977), ‘Chairs Missing’ (1978) and ‘154’ (1979), though, there was genuine argument for them holding such a prestigious title. The sense of breadth, growth and experimentation across those records created within a mere 22 months remains a staggering feat in contemporary music. ‘Pink Flag’ harnessed the momentum of punk and purified it into a minimalist masterpiece; an album that would go on to influence the American hardcore movement in the 1980s just as potently as it would the American college rock and Britpop releases the following decade. ‘Chairs Missing’ retained the crispness of its predecessor but came loaded with textural and structural
op p o s i t e: w i r e i n 1 9 79 (l - r ) C ol i n n ew ma n , B r u c e g i l ber t , r ob er t G o t o bed & G r a h a m Lew i s . Be l o w : n ew ma n ’ s h o me s t u d i o .
explorations that at times felt like such an evolution that it could be another band altogether – a record that simultaneously feels entirely genreless whilst fundamentally creating a blueprint for one at the same time. ‘154’ emerged to be another beast altogether; a gloomy and murky piece of noir art pop-rock that was also radiant and often glistened. By the end of all three albums the group’s craft for the intoxicatingly melodic and the bracingly challenging was uniform. They had created such an apex in those releases, and in such an energy flash of time, that it allowed little time for the group to take stock and formulate the proper development of Wire. They essentially took a break for five years or so, with solo projects being embarked on, Newman in particular releasing three albums between 1980-82. As a decade, it was a strange and challenging time for the group. “In the ’70s, we were kind of the cool kids,” Newman says, looking back. “We were getting extraordinary reviews, we were the band that was always looking forwards. It was then a bit confusing in the ’80s – people caught up with us but then we were engaged in a different mode, which was adventurous of us but not always successful.” A lack of communication in the group led to some struggles, too, and Newman says: “We never talked about anything ever, in that blokey kind of way, and so many things went unsaid and that kind of spilled over into the ’80s. There was no means to discuss or decide anything as a band, which makes it very difficult for a set of individuals to do anything together.” When they did reconvene, they did so in typical Wire fashion and ostensibly attempted to blunder the past to death. “When we came back we were quite sure that we weren’t going to sound like we did in the ’70s. “In the mid ’80s there was nothing more out than punk rock, to be honest. Hardcore was happening in America but that wasn’t relevant to the UK at all. What was happening in the UK was basically machine music. We got in a room and Bruce said we should regard it as year zero, to rewrite everything from the ground up.” The first full Wire album in the 1980s was 1987’s ‘The Ideal Copy’; a record rooted more in synthesisers, samplers and a glossy, more dance-like production. Whilst scattered with moments of brilliance, it felt like a group trying to settle back into themselves and perhaps not quite finding their own groove quite as quickly and easily. “We got there in the
end but it took us a couple of years,” Newman reflects. “It felt strange as well, because in your twenties you have this insane confidence, like you rule your own world, but you don’t actually even rule your own sandwich. That starts to dissipate as you get into your thirties.You feel more vulnerable, and less like you have any control over how anything works.”
owards the end of the ’80s Wire drummer Gotobed left the band and they dropped the ‘e’ from their name, temporarily becoming Wir. Soon, in 1991, the group went on an extended hiatus and it wouldn’t be until 2003 that the band would release another album – ‘Send’. When Wire reunited with Gotobed back in the band they soon had a temporary setback with original member Bruce Gilbert leaving. They continued as a three-piece for a while before Margaret Fiedler McGinnis temporarily filled a gap. Then It Hugs Back’s Matthew Simms grew from a touring member to a full time one in 2010. By 2011 the group had released ‘Red Barked Tree’, which was as strong an album as they had made in decades. The group sounding solidified, reenergised and locked into a sound that was coated in shimmering yet vicious guitars. Newman’s treated vocals also succeeded to sound both biting and glossy, with a general urgency and melodic intuition that has now set the tone for the last six years, in which the group have released consistently excellent material. The latest is the genuinely brilliant ‘Silver/Lead’.
Important factors in the band’s ongoing success have been their own label (also called Pink Flag) and the way in which Wire now approach things with a more carved-out plan. “It’s a weird thing, nothing succeeds like success,” Newman says of what keeps him going. “I think a lot of artists can be very passive and it used to be this system of having to create demos to impress a man who has money and they give you that money as long as you keep doing whatever it is you’re supposed to do, and then when you don’t fit the bill any more you’re out. That can be quite destroying. Or being on indie labels and just making enough with each new release to get by and pay rent and make another record but never really owning something. But since 2000 we own absolutely everything we have made and we can continue to exploit it in whatever way we want to. “We didn’t really start to see anything for our efforts until the last decade. It isn’t all about money, but there’s something about the effectiveness of what you do – it drives you to do more things. If we’d have just gone back to Mute I don’t think it would have lasted more than a couple of years. We’d have put out the record, it would have done pretty well and Bruce would have still been on the dole.” This autonomous machine that is Wire, the ever-forward looking band, the business, the label, the festival curators (their now annual DRILL series of events), is functioning at maximum efficiency and this leads to creative successes, too. Getting there, though, isn’t always harmonious. Underlying frictions still reside in the band, and after 40 years together as people it’s clear they aren’t going
anywhere. Of the band’s dynamic, Newman says: “I don’t think we’ve ever regarded ourselves as friends, which is a pity in a way. It’s more of a dysfunctional family. The main interest in the band has always been looking forwards, that’s the only thing we have in common to be quite honest.” He says the band are more effective communicators these days, although it’s not always an easy process. “We’re not sitting there stroking our chins saying, ‘hmmm, let’s do this,’” he says. “It is incredibly lively and with a lot of opinions going in different directions, with four incredibly different people with strong and different ideas about how things can be.” And whilst this friction leads to unquestionably interesting results, it’s not always in the manner than people presume it to be, according to Newman. “People used to think that the conflict was the source of the creativity. This is not true. The conflict is a product of the creativity.” Perhaps the most interesting thing about Wire 40 years in is not their frequently celebrated past glories but the fact that they are still a contemporary band in 2017. “There is a fundamental split in the industry of heritage acts and older artists, and contemporary artists, people in their 30s and younger. It’s very hard for someone to be contemporary and older,” Newman says. “It’s gotten easier now but 10 years ago it was an uphill struggle to get people – even if they liked what we were doing – to take us seriously as a contemporary band. I think it’s purely desire to just bloody well do it and get on with it.” On this point, part of the battle has come from the group’s refusal to entertain the idea of doing the nostalgia circuit. “I think Wire is still the most famous group you’ve never heard of,” Newman says with a slight laugh. “There’s still a massive untapped world out there. I mean, here’s a test – look at all the announcements for all the festivals this year, it’s Wire’s 40th anniversary and how many are we on? There’s still a glass ceiling; a point beyond which we can’t go because we don’t play the heritage game.” Which of course leaves a parting discussion on the only thing Wire are ever concerned with: the future. Wire at 40 sees a new album and curated festivals dotted across the globe, so what will Wire at 50 look like? In a manner fitting entirely of the same group that took to the stage at the Roxy in 1977 without a conventional care in the world, Newman says: “When it comes to the 50th we might just be obstinate and just not celebrate it.”
Twenty Years of Trouble A tribute to the family mentality of Fortuna Pop with the help of founder Sean Price and musicians released by the label over its honourably unfashionable history p hotogra phy courtesy o f sean p rice / W RITER : HAY LEY SCOTT
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ne thing comes to mind when thinking about the demise of beloved indie pop label Fortuna Pop, which says its goodbyes this month with a string of RIP shows across London: the notorious announcement of the end of Sarah Records in a 1995 issue of Melody Maker that declared via half page adverts that the label’s 100th release (‘Sarah 100’) would be its last. ‘A Day For Destroying Things’ was blazoned across the top in big, bold type, and a lengthy, passionate denouement explaining why it was necessary read: ‘Nothing should be forever… habit and fear of change are the worst reasons for ever doing ANYTHING. Stopping a record label after 100 perfect releases is the most gorgeous pop art-statement ever.’ Similarly, Fortuna Pop’s founder, Sean Price, decided to announce that his own label would be closing its doors after 20 years by means of a letter to the label’s core proponents in an Indietracks festival programme in 2016. Granted, a less bold and costly way of doing things than spreading the news all over half-pages in music magazines at a time when it wasn’t cheap to do so, but it doesn’t make it any less important or bittersweet. Indeed, Fortuna Pop has a lot in common with Sarah Records. Not only has it released some of the best indie pop records of a generation (including those from Crystal Stilts, Allo Darlin’ Joanna Gruesome andThe Lucksmiths), but it also operated in ways that other labels didn’t, by never interfering with artistic decisions, and rejecting trite notions of indie music being a boy’s club by actively championing women. Fortuna Pop had more bands with women in than not, in fact, although rather than that being a conscious decision, Price argues that it is something that should be normalised as opposed to being a novelty. “I haven’t instigated any positive discrimination,” he insists as he looks back on the label he started in 1996. “It’s not like I have some kind of quota, I just find that boys in the band thing a bit of a tired rock’n’roll anachronism. But yes, I think it was important to me for women to be properly represented on the label, if only because they aren’t on other labels and in society as a whole. “I believe in feminism and equal rights and if you have those convictions you should put them into action”. The idea of this being something of note understandably troubles him. “The very idea that this is notable says more about the rest of the music industry than it does about me,” he says. When I ask Sean outright why he’s decided to close Fortuna Pop now, it’s
clear that the ethos of Sarah Records has been an influence, whether subconsciously or not. “I was going to call it quits after 100 releases,” he says, “but then The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart happened and before I knew it I was releasing FPOP101. As someone who values neatness, the idea of stopping after 20 years and 200 releases was very appealing.” There is a tendency for indie pop fans to get very attached to record labels, collecting everything they put out, and following it like some form of religion. Fortuna Pop draws from the parentage of other now-defunct labels that we look back on with misty-eyed nostalgia and a feeling of reverence, but it meant just as much, if not more, to Sean himself. “[Fortuna Pop] meant everything, really. I grew up in a small town in the midlands and never felt part of anything, but music and art was my great solace, and the label was a way of being part of that.” The same goes for all the bands lucky enough to work with the label. Their fondness for Sean and gratitude for the close-knit way in which the label operated is very apparent when I talk to various bands about what the label meant to them. “It felt like family,” says Silvi Wersing of London noise pop band Chorusgirl. “I found everyone to be really friendly, and Sean really held our hands through our debut release, as we didn’t really have any idea how that worked. He was very supportive and never pushy.” Comet Gain’s David Feck had also nothing but praise for Sean, too. “Because of Sean it was a label that actually meant something – to the bands on it and their fans. Because of the label, it was all about the purity of purpose and romantic idealism.” What he says next confirms the assumption of what the atmosphere must have been like working with Sean: funny, often playful, and similar to that of siblings always trying out new tricks to piss each other off, with a heavy dose of lightheartedness at its core. “To me, it meant a perfect way to annoy Sean and STILL get him to buy you beer,” he laughs. “Cheap, horrible warm beer, but beer nonetheless. It also meant if we jokingly said let’s put out a 12-minute dirge on a 12-inch for giggles he’d put it out – and on red vinyl just to spite me.” “It was always a pleasure to lock horns with someone as grumpy as myself,” says Feck. “Always lovely to watch his beleaguered little face drop as I hand over the latest artwork with coffee stains and bits missing.”
When I ask The Spook School’s Niall McCamley what his funniest memory of working with Sean is, he says: “Meeting Sean for the first time at Indietracks, walking from the festival site to the campsite in the dark. The Todds were walking just ahead and were too shy to look back at him; they didn’t know what he looked like for ages.”
omeone who has worked closely with Fortuna Pop is Mike Schulman of Slumberland Records over in the US. He and Sean started trading releases back in the late ’90s, which led to them co-releasing The Aislers Set’s ‘The Last Match’ in 2000, and then many other subsequent records the following decade. Schulman immediately found a kinship – a label soulmate – in Sean through the fact that both outposts attempted to foster a family atmosphere and due to the pair of them truly valuing the community that they were part of. “I always felt like Fortuna Pop was a lot like Slumberland,” says Schulman. “We put out pretty unfashionable records and basically refused to follow indie trends.” I ask everyone I spoke to about Fortuna Pop what made it different to other labels of its kind. As well as Sean’s loyalty, it’s his tendency to negate current trends that comes up time and time again. Mike Schulman tells me: “Twenty years is a long time to put out records and there is always a tremendous amount of pressure to follow fashion and I think it’s a tribute to Fortuna that it always stuck to its own aesthetic and ethos.” Sean, meanwhile, has his own idea of why Fortuna Pop operated in ways disparate to its contemporaries. “When I started there seemed to be a lot of little labels out there whose idea of promo was to send one copy to the NME and one to John Peel. I was never like that. Right from the beginning I kept press and radio lists and really put a lot of effort into promotion. So I guess what made us different was ambition. Not ambition to make a lot of money, but an ambition to get the music of the artists on the label to as wide an audience as possible. And I think bands saw that and I was able to attract better bands to the label because of it. “Oh, and also a foolhardy indifference to the finances involved in running a label. Everything was a loss leader that was going to pay back
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“It was all about the purity of purpose and romantic idealism” when the next record was a hit. (It never was.)” It brings us to the inevitable discussion of what the future is looking like for indie labels, and the general consensus is that, despite DIY culture seemingly flourishing, alongside the supposed ‘vinyl revival’, it’s never been harder for small labels to survive than it is now. “Of course, the goal of an indie label isn’t to make money,” says Mike Schulman, “but the sad reality is that some of the successes we shared (Aislers, Pains, Allo Darlin’, Crystal Stilts, Joanna Gruesome, etc.) were in some part enabled by being able to sell a certain number and then use that money to pay for radio, press, touring, etc., and to help finance the rest of a label’s operations. Now a lot of us are being forced to scale way back, which is fine in a way but doesn’t help the bands as much, which for me is the whole goal of doing a label.”
Sean doesn’t seem too optimistic about the future of indie labels either, and there’s a sense of relief that comes with stopping right before the onslaught of post-Brexit upheaval. He says: “It’s really tough running an indie label at the level at which we operate and the future only looks tougher. “A lot of indie labels manufacture in the Czech Republic and the devaluation in the pound and the potential for customs fees following Brexit will make vinyl in particular more expensive.” Yet despite small labels struggling to operate financially now more than ever, it doesn’t mean independent, DIY culture isn’t thriving. In fact, there seems to be a particularly large swell of great things coming out of local music scenes everywhere, in part catalysed by the current political climate, as argued by Nathan Stephens-Griffin, drummer and vocalist of the FP band Martha. “The world feels too fucking horrible
and vicious right now, and the future seems too bleak that it seems trivial to talk about record labels. But at the same time, we need to find that light in the darkness,” he says, “and music and culture can be part of that resistance. To paraphrase Pat the Bunny, punk songs won’t change the world, but I can name a few that changed me.” Sean agrees that, conversely, independent culture is in a fairly healthy place. “I mean, that’s a very large thing to cover, but from where I’m standing in London there’s a groundswell of DIY music around feminism, LGBTQ rights/gender politics and anti-racism that has as its base a scene around (formerly) Power Lunches and DIY Space For London, places like JT Soar in Nottingham and Empty Shop in Durham, and promoters like Upset The Rhythm. That feels exciting to me, and I’m proud to have worked with bands like Martha, The Spook School and Joanna Gruesome
who actually do give a shit and feel immensely important to me in a very real sense.” If talking to Sean and some of the bands he has supported has taught me anything, it’s nothing I didn’t already gather from the outside looking in – Fortuna Pop was a label of love, a label that valued its artists and stuck by them despite the hardships along the way. What will I miss most about it? The steady stream of good releases, and the warm, comforting feeling that Fortuna Pop will always be a reliable source of good in a world that too often feels like it’s filled with unnecessary bad. Still, the end of Fortuna Pop is in no way indicative of the death – or dearth – of DIY culture. The cyclical nature of music just means that the label will be filed under ‘inspirations’ for future Sean Price’s – those wanting to make a difference and to be part of something worthwhile.
Reviews / Albums
Father John Misty Pure Comedy Bel l a U n i on By S tu ar t stubbs. In sto re s Ap ril 7
For a short time Josh Tillman appeared to be happy, in his own twisted, cynical way. The record that made him a star – 2015’s ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ – was a love letter to Emma, his new bride and muse, and although it focused on jealousy, anxiety and Father John Misty’s own narcissism, its themes of ugly love and blunt lust were true. He called himself and Emma two misanthropes in the title track, but at least now they had each other. Of course, it turns out that two misanthropes don’t make for one doe-eyed couple who suddenly see everything in Disney Technicolor, and if ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ was a sarcastic title for a record of hard truths, it’s got nothing on the name ‘Pure Comedy’ – Tillman’s 75-minute slow avalanche of ballads that relentlessly nags at the absurdity of mankind. There’s either nothing or
everything funny about ‘Pure Comedy’ – deciding which is the fun and the torture, and when you’re done it’ll definitely tell you more about yourself than Josh Tillman. First you have to get through the thing. And then get through it again. For most, that won’t be as easy as putting on ‘I Love You, Honeybear’ and being instantly charmed by its jaunty ’70s Cali rock ways. ‘Pure Comedy’ is slow, made up of 12 long, mostly piano-led songs that take their cues from ‘Abbey Road’ era Paul McCartney, and one upbeat (brilliant) track called ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ (you can guess what that’s about), which is almost cruelly placed second in the running order and is by far the shortest song here. Still it lambasts our endless hunger for media stimulation and fame from its opening line of “Bedding Taylor Swift,
every night inside the Oculus Rift” to its bitter shame-on-us ending, which is a recurring theme throughout. Of course he’s right, but nobody wants to be put in the corner for 75-minutes, although more tiring is Tillman’s continual bashing of religion. ‘Pure Comedy’ has us all culpable in the technological age, but it’s God that gets it in the neck the most, and it grates by the dying seconds of the lush ‘Things That Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution’. Also for the take down are art and boy bands (or rather the marketing of them and everything to our stupid, willing minds) on a country trundle called ‘The Memo’, and politics and aging on ‘Birdie’, which is suitably floaty, although also the album’s weakest song. The 13-minute ‘Leaving LA’ initially appears to hold that mantle, but on closer inspection
it should be heralded for a selfindulgence that might just be FJM’s biggest piss-take yet, and even if it isn’t, it’s a constant discovery of things to be miserable about. As overwhelming as all this can be,Tillman is still in control of a voice that’s full of empathy, and knockout lines for making this life bearable. “Narcissus would have had a field day, if he could have just got online,” he yells on ‘The Memo’, while “I’ve got the world by the balls, am I supposed to behave?” (‘A Bigger Paper Bag’) perhaps calls into question how much FJM has been fucking with us. ‘Pure Comedy’ is a Black Mirror of a record, less ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, more, ‘Modern Life is A Complete Waste Of Time’. And yet that’s how it needs to be forTillman’s only words of comfort to punch you in the gut so hard – the dead last, “There’s nothing to fear.”
Kelly Lee Owens Kelly Lee Owens small t own s u per s o und By r eef y ou nis . In sto re s M arch 24
Kelly Lee Owens’ story reads like a modern twist on Almost Famous. Growing up in North Wales, she left to train as a nurse in Manchester at 19 before – with her patients’ encouragement – leaving to run local indie festivals, intern at London’s XL Recordings and start a job at the record store Pure Groove. Working at the store she got to know Daniel Avery and James Greenwood (aka Ghost Culture), and it was at this point that her newfound affinity for the subtle, enveloping techno that permeates her self-titled album blossomed. Prior to her vocal and writing turns on Avery’s debut album (you hear her on ‘Drone Logic’, ‘Naïve
Response’ and ‘Knowing We’ll Be Here’), and work with Greenwood on his Ghost Culture debut, Owens and Greenwood co-produced white label release ‘Lucid/Arthur’ and joined forces again on the ‘Uncertain EP’ in 2015 before Owens followed that up with her ‘Oleic’ EP a year later. It’s an unlikely techno trio but a dynamic that runs deep, so it’s little surprise, then, that Avery’s and Greenwood’s fingerprints feature again here, although it’s Owens who makes the dark matter definitively her own with every subaqueous shift in energy; every rolling rhythm; and every creeping beat. What the album loses in overall dancefloor appeal, it gains in her
submerged sensibilities: where ‘S.O’ has drama and sweetness, ‘Anxi’ contorts into a mystical trip; where the Twin Peaks-esque beauty shrouds and slows ‘Keep Walking’, ‘Throwing Lines’ turns up dreamier, pop flashes from her former life as the bassist for shoegaze band The History of Apple Pie. At its heart, however, this is still a record with techno at its core, and it’s demonstrated by Owens’ aptitude for subtlety and nuance. After observing Avery and Greenwood at the controls – and working with sound mixer Mandy Parnell (Bjork, Aphex Twin, Brian Eno) – there’s an essential darkness that drives the album’s key tracks.
On ‘Arthur’ (Owens’ ode to Arthur Russell), she creates the undulating mesmerism of a night walk by the Thames, watching and listening to the gloomy power of the currents’ churn, whereas the tense, minimal sonar on ‘Evolution’ continues the aquatic theme with a kind of submarine claustrophobia. But it’s standout track ‘Bird’ that really hooks you as it seamlessly switches from shadowy ambience to a delicious sub-bass beat that sounds as good in headphones as it will when cranked out at dangerously high decibels from some techno dungeon speakers. Kelly Lee Owens is now far more than a frosty vocal feature: she’s the driving force.
In a world where mainstream pop records seem to be getting longer and more unwieldy by the month, there’s certainly room for albums as taut and to-the-point as the second offering from Washington D.C. native Eva Moolchan under her Sneaks moniker. ‘It’s a Myth’ runs at just eighteen minutes and is a fascinating proposition; Moolchan has emerged not from some gentrified corner of Brooklyn, as you might expect given her minimalist pop aesthetic, but
from her hometown’s iconic punk scene. Look hard enough and the clues are there; her matter-of-fact vocal delivery borders on the spokenword and carries a constant strain of passive aggression, whilst it’s the unremitting depth of the album’s basslines that provide the instrumental backbone. The result is a record that carries a sense of purpose and urgency so often lacking in stripped-back synthpop efforts like this one, and at its very best – take the off-kilter
‘With a Cherry on Top’, for instance, or the burbling ‘Not My Combination’ – there’s an innate conflict between the laid-back nature of the music on a superficial level and the obvious stylistic tension simmering away beneath. Crucially, the stingy running time doesn’t give you enough time to overthink things here (as should be the case with visceral punk music), and leaves you hanging on for LP3 – who knows, we might get a full twenty minutes out of her next time.
0 7/ 1 0
Sneaks It’s A Myth Mer ge By joe gogg in s. In sto res ma rch 31
Albums 0 7/ 1 0
Diet Cig Swear I’m Good At This
Coco Hames Coco Hames
Samantha Crain You Had Me At Goodbye
f r en c h k iss
M e x ica n S u mm e r
m e r ge
f u ll tim e h o bb y
By h ay l ey scott . In sto re s ap r il 7
B y W o od y d e l a ne y. I n st o res ma rc h 2 4
By e ug e ni e j o hns o n. I n sto r es ma r c h 3 1
B y c h r is watk ey s . In sto r es F eb 2 4
When are you too old to appreciate music that’s aimed at the young and disheartened? Diet Cig’s brand of bratty and vulnerable pop punk is an honest portrayal of the grievances of being in your late teens, the frustrations of which being something we can all relate to. Their tenacity for blending cutting and candid lyrics with gutsy, primitive punk is a facet that is deceivingly easy to get wrong, however. ‘I Swear I’m Good At This’ runs the risk of sounding whiny and formulaic, but it’s singer and guitarist Alex Luciano’s defiance and acerbic, lyrical wit that makes Diet Cig disparate to their contemporaries, and, ultimately, wiser beyond their years. The powerful pop melodies of the likes of ‘Pool Boyz’ that made 2015’s ‘Over Easy’ EP so addictive are all-too-often amiss here, although glimmers of that can be heard on ‘Maid of the Mist’ – a track which serves as a potent message about body image and consent and a “fuck you” to those who dare to argue. Largely, ‘I Swear I’m Good AtThis’ is a bold debut that triumphs in its brave and confrontational lyricism.
Andrew White is probably best recognised as the touring guitarist for everyone’s favourite Canadian chain-smoker, Mac DeMarco, or under his solo pseudonym Andy Boay. But it’s with his drummer brother Edwin that his experimental creativity really gels. In their swampy-psych Tonstartssbandht project, the siblings channel the hazy stoner-rock of Sleep’s ‘Holy Mountain’ with hints of The Beatles’ late ’60s output, and ‘Sorcerer’ is the latest addition to their surprisingly vast and stylistically intrepid catalogue. Haphazardly recorded in the living room of their Brooklyn apartment, the album’s 3 tracks have an intentionally raw, lofi quality that a slick studio recording would have otherwise sanitised. Like a pair of cloaked wizards, they summon shimmering, ambient passages and transform them into riffy storms of layered, kaleidoscopic instrumentals. Andrew and Edwin’s voices murmur from amidst the foggy feedback, as if calling out through a smoky mist emitted from a carrot-sized joint. It’s their most mesmerising and best work yet.
As the driving force behind garagepop group The Ettes, Coco Hames journeyed across the world alongside everyone from The Dead Weather and The Black Keys to Kings of Leon. Eventually though, in 2008, the band settled in Nashville. Eight years later, Hames began working on her debut solo album and the heritage of Tennessee’s capital has certainly rubbed off on her. While Hames enjoys playing with elements from a variety of genres, moving from jangly opening track ‘When You Said Goodbye’ to the brooding ’60s pop of ‘I Do Love You’ with ease, underpinning it all is the deep influence of country. Slide guitars and lilting melodies punctuate the album and some tracks, such as ‘Long Time Coming’ or ‘Tennessee Hollow’, are reminiscent of Patsy Cline or Dolly Parton. Unfortunately, Hames doesn’t quite have the same lyrical depth as some Nashville titans. As such, she doesn’t really deliver the emotional gut punch the greatest country singers could conjure. If you’re after some pretty breezy tunes though, Hames can provide that.
Now on her fifth album, Oklahoma’s Samantha Crain is the kind of artist whose brilliant lyrics are usually front and centre of her songs, and those lyrics are invariably one of her strengths. Yet it’s a song sung in her native Choktaw language, its meaning unknown to most ears, which is one of the most moving on this new record. ‘Red Sky, Blue Mountain’ is a sparse voice and guitar track suffused with a threatening, urgent atmosphere. Crain’s vocal diversity is then displayed to touching effect in the Regina Spektor-esque inflections of ‘Oh Dear Louis’, and another such moment comes in the yearning, cracked vocal of ‘Wise One’, a sassy, swinging effort pinned to a thumping bass drum. Then there’s the beautiful, classic dark balladry of ‘When The Roses Bloom Again’ and the lightly jazzy, sweeping piano and violin in ‘Loneliest Handsome Man’. ‘You Had Me At Goodbye’ is a pretty much continuously interesting record, then, and never not enjoyable, but those moments that really hook you in and spark the soul are ultimately sporadic.
Where to begin with The Moonlandingz? Originally conceived as the object of Maxine Peake’s obsession for The Eccentronic Research Council’s superlative ‘Johnny Rocket’ album, the oncefictional band has broken into the real world, Roger Rabbit-style. It helps that ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’ far surpasses the band’s original brief of “cosmic synth Krautabilly group, doing fuzzy Joe Meek-style pop.” With as much regard for genre boundaries as the
fourth wall,The Moonlandingz’ debut has shades of Brill Building balladry, The Glitter Band, Suicide, The Cramps and even nineties cult icons Earl Brutus. Uncharitable ears might find the band’s comedy goth stylings too similar to Mighty Boosh musical interludes, but their best songs straddle that elusive line between ridiculous and sublime. The album’s lewd and lurid highlight struts like Sparks in the prime of their seventies pomp, with guest vocals from the
actual cowboy from the Village People. Its title? ‘Glory Hole’. With such a smash-and-grab approach to style, and without a concept to hold it together like ‘Johnny Rocket’, it’s still a strikingly coherent listen. If there’s any point of comparison to be made, it’s with Jarvis Cocker’s short-lived eyebrowraising glam nightmare duo Relaxed Muscle. Are they for real? Are they serious? Does it even matter? The answer is no, and ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’ is all the better for it.
The Moonlandingz Interplanetary Class Classics tr ansg re ssi v e By Al ex wisga r d. In sto res march 24
Reviews 0 7/ 1 0
Damaged Bug Bunker Funk
Teengirl Fantasy 8am
par t i san
ca stl e f ace
pi nk f l a g
p la n e t m u
By j oe g ogg i ns. I n sto res m a rch 24
B y g ui a c o rta ss a. I n s to res M arc h 1 7
By d ani el d yl an w ray. I n s t o r es M a r c h 3 1
B y reef y o u n is . I n s t o r es M a r c h 2 4
This is the third solo record from Craig Finn and the funny thing about his output away from The Hold Steady is that it’s always been characterised as coming over a little bit more straightforward and focused than his work with the band. On his last LP, ‘Faith in the Future’, he talked about wanting to make something that sounded more ‘ageappropriate’ now that he was in his mid-forties. ‘We All Want the Same Things’ carries on very much in the same vein, with storytelling being the primary aim and the wild tempo and high volume he normally brings to his ‘day job’ falling by the wayside in favour of pretty, chiming guitars on the deeply personal ‘Preludes’ and gentle swells of synth and brass elsewhere, particularly on the thoroughly lovely ‘Tangletown’. As ever, Finn does his best thematic work when he’s sketching out characters and, accordingly, some of the more universal ideas relating to unity in times of political discord fall flat, but even then, he remains compelling. It might just be that this line of work suits him better thanThe Hold Steady, these days.
John Dwyer’s once-electronic nightmares are back and they’re as distressing as they can be. Born as a way to take a break from guitarbased music – a chance to experiment with synths and early digital machines – the moniker Damaged Bug has now become Thee Oh Sees’ frontman’s channel through which his filthiest musical thoughts can flow out. When it comes to unpleasantness and evilness ‘Bunker Funk’ goes a step further than its 2015 predecessor. The early ’80s synth pop/new wave inspiration is now gone, replaced by raw acid rock tracks carved from screaming organs, manic murmurs and dirty guitars. It’s thrown in with flutes, world-beat contaminations, fuzzes and reverbs. The once electronic venture has taken a leap back into the psychedelic realm, at times reminiscent of the mixed ethnic tripping of Goat – as in the lead single ‘Bog Dash’. Elsewhere, it can sound like lost Syd Barrett (‘Gimme Tamanthum’) or Jethro Tull (‘No One Notice The Fly’) songs, but never stepping out of the darkness, which is crucial to its grotty appeal.
40 years on since their landmark debut album, ‘Pink Flag’, Wire may be forever considered a post-punk group given their stature and influence in the genre. Whilst they undoubtedly helped shape what the genre became, though, their ongoing advances in contemporary music should not be overlooked as part of their larger achievements. Whilst there’s always a potent sense of urgency and bite to what this band continue to put out, on album 15 Wire display what now feels like an effortless aptitude for melody, as the group ooze out infectious guitar-pop when they want to – ‘Short Elevated Period’ being a glisteningly catchy example. Colin Newman’s vocals are treated to give a wonky shine to them, one that interlocks with the rippling melodies of the dual guitars. Ultimately, ‘Silver/Lead’ is a harmonically and melodically rich album – with occasional stabs of heavier guitar, brooding bass and lurking drums – and feels like an example not of a rare gem late in the band’s catalogue but yet another example of Wire’s consistent ability to evolve.
The criticism often levelled at Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss has been that they’re too content drifting through their hazy, half-speed world. At times, that lack of coherence has been frustrating but it also turns up some rare moments of beauty. Here, the subtle consistency of ‘Telepaths’, the electro boom-bap urgency of ‘Wet Eyes and Exhilaration’ and the bubbling deep house of opener ‘All TheTime’ give you something to hold onto but ‘8am’ still feels like another set of glossy explorations left to wander. Where ‘Seeds’ briefly emulates Mount Kimbie’s ‘You Took Your Time’ – guest vocalist Khalif Jones’ New York delivery does a solid job of mirroring King Krule’s Landan drawl – it’s tracks like ‘Crash Soft’ and ‘It Was Already Light Out’ that underscore the album’s slow, soft focus with woozy, time-stretched melodies. That lack of development made 2012’s ‘Tracer’ largely forgettable and those same blurred thoughts and faint lines characterise ‘8am’ to the point you feel like there’s continuity, but you end it feeling like you’ve been taken nowhere in particular.
Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory’s career has followed a strange kind of arc. Since ‘Felt Mountain’ wowed critics and confused mainstream listeners back in 2000, they have meandered along a road less travelled and ticked off ambient, trip hop, synthpop and glam rock to wildly varying degrees of success. No one seems to know what to do with them or how to categorise them, and they rightly seem perfectly happy, getting on with their business without grumbling.
Indeed, it seems an unlikely and somewhat impressive success story that the duo are now entering their nineteenth year together despite the fact that no one has ever met an actual Goldfrapp fan. After the folktinged electronics (I’m not using the word ‘folktronica’) of 2014’s ‘Tales Of Us’, ‘Silver Eye’ returns to the more familiar territory of the dancefloor, injecting a bit more muscle with fourto-the-floor drum machines and big, fat synth lines. Think Factory Floor without the bite or, even better, try to
imagine Daniel Avery falling on hard monetary – and artistic – times and having to produce Kylie to get by. This isn’t a terrible album, it’s just so far below average as to make it entirely irrelevant. No doubt it’s being passed around advertising agency desks as I type, and no doubt it will help shift some perfume, or hatchbacks, or sports watches, or shower gel. That Goldfrapp have cooly played their own game for so long, though, makes their actual output all the more disappointing.
We All Want The Same Things
0 4/ 1 0
Goldfrapp Silver Eye mut e By davi d zammi tt. In sto r es M a rch 31
Albums 0 7/ 1 0
The Big Moon Love In The 4th Dimension
BNQT Volume 1
Be ac aus e
Fict i o n
Tr o u ble In Mi nd
B ell a Un io n
By s am wa lton . In store s m arch 17
B y reef yo uni s . I n s to re s A pr i l 7
By s te phen b utc h ar d . In s t o res M a r c h 3 1
B y k a t ie bes w ic k . I n s t o res A pr il 2 1
There are enough entirely disparate threads entwined around French producer Joakim Bouaziz’s sixth album that, were they untangled, they could weave a whole series of exercises in genre electronica. There’s the steady-pulse analogue synth flutter of the album’s opening and closing pairs of tracks, and the ’80s-indebted sophisticated weariness of ‘Numb’ and ‘Late Night New City’, all keyboard squiggles and gauzy, distant saxophone. There are atmospheric field recordings paired with swathes of reedy, new-age synthesised choirs, the kind that Oneohtrix Point Never and Holly Herndon distort with such fascination, and, perhaps most curiously of all, there are excursions into a sort of ’90s boyband balladry, with its straight, snapping snares and singalong choruses rescued from the brink of pure cheese by incongruous sax voluntaries. The stylistic schizophrenia leaves ‘Samurai’ feeling far longer than its 52 minutes, and somewhat like a labyrinth with no centre, but it’s hard to deny the screwy euphoria of Joakim’s musical vision.
The Big Moon sound like they’re having fun. Bright, bold and playful, ‘Love In The 4th Dimension’ captures the kind of happy exuberance you get from watching Pixar films, remembering criminally underrated Brit-pop acts and/or catching a favourite song on an episode of Teachers. It’s the sound of a band undistracted by the attention that marked their out-ofnowhere rise in 2015 and more focused on unabashedly making the big guitar hooks of ‘Pull The Other One’ bounce out of the speakers, powering ‘Formidable’ into the album’s grunge-pop mini-anthem, and glossing ‘Silent Move Susie’ with a scuzzy indie sweetness. One moment singer Jules Jackson is casting a spell in a PJ Harvey cigarette-smoke-swirling kind of way on ‘Bonfire’, the next she’s turning on the dramatics on the title-track and hitting the husky low notes on the sultry ‘Zeds’. On record, ‘Love In The 4th Dimension’ might not hit the heights of The Big Moon’s whirlwind live show but neither does it diminish an instinctively likeable debut.
Even Post-Punk, once a fresh reinterpretation of the punk ethos, has entered a gooey nostalgia phase over the past few years.That’s where Rays come in. An Australian postpunk supergroup – and traditionalists down do the bones – their grimy, lowfi recordings conjure dank basements that have long since crumbled, or have become quaint tourist attractions for local music nerds. It’s a sound they nail; wiry guitars and hollow bass circle around each other, the rest of the air swallowed by clattering drums as the mangled vocals strain to be heard above the noise. Each song feeling as if it was recorded in one intoxicated bender, as vocalists switch from track to track, although it’s hard to make out who’s who underneath the rubble. ‘Made of Shadows’ clears some of the murk of the band’s aesthetic to reveal a tightness not otherwise noticeable, while ‘Drop Dead’ is a piercing fever-dream highlight, but Ray’s steadfast determination to evoke the past has ultimately led to a debut that feels tame and one-note in too many parts, forty-odd years after-the-fact.
BNQT is billed as the new supergroup, although that seems a little grandiose a term for a project fashioned out of the remnants of moderately successful indie bands you probably remember from your teens. This effort sees Midlake’s Eric Pulido (supported by McKenzie Smith, Joey McClellan and Jesse Chandler) merge with Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, and Travis’ Fran Healy. Despite the dreadful name (BNQT, for ‘Banquet’, really?) the result is actually pretty good. It sounds very much like you would imagine music made by a mash-up of late ’90s-early-2000s indie groups might sound: meandering and nostalgic with a clean, crisp production that really showcases the instrumentals. I love the upbeat opener ‘Restart’, and the surreal love song ‘Hey Banana’, in which you can’t quite work out, by the end of the song, whether Banana is someone he wants to fuck or kill. Or maybe actually Banana is the small child who does a cameo midway through. Whatever. I liked it.
As a member of Antibalas, Marcos Garcia already knows a thing or two about the hypnotic swirls to be found spinning deep inside a locked groove. Here, he sidesteps from the Cuban strut of his other group and, via this newly formed LA-based band, Here Lies Man, plunges into riff-heavy psychedelic rock, which could very easily become your local record store’s favourite release of 2017. There is a problem with ‘Here Lies Man’ though, and it is an obvious one – it feels a little late to the party
as the east meets west rhythms unravel in territory very reminiscent of Goat’s recent exploits. There’s a heavy layer of fuzz that coats the record throughout, with the vocals often feeling distorted and trapped, as though coming in from another recording session elsewhere. Such stylistic choices make the more experimental, busy and often chaotic moments from the album buzz with a feeling of genuine mania and intensity, like the sound of the streets bustling with life and
vibrancy. In that sense, it works well. However, a big chunk of the album is also too much of a slave to the riff and can feel a little repetitive, with each guitar riff and keyboard melody failing to offer something deeper with repeated listens over its 8 similar tracks. The album ultimately feels most alive though – and it has some elated moments – when it breaks from the formulaic template that it sadly sticks a little too close to for the most part.
Here Lies Man Here Lies Man R i di n g Eas y By dan i el dy lan wra y. I n store s Ap ri l 7
Laetitia Sadier Find Me Finding You
Lydia Ainsworth Darling Of The Afterglow
Dr ag c i t y
Be ll a U ni o n
Chaz Bundick Meets The Mattson 2 Star Stuff
By sam walt om. I n sto res Ma rch 24
B y gre g c o c hrane . I n sto re s apri l 7
By de re k ro b e rts o n. I n s t o r e s M a r c h 3 1
company B y g u ia c o r t assa . I n s t o r e s m a r c h 3 1
The spectre of Laetitia Sadier’s much-missed first band, Stereolab, looms large over her debut outing with her Source Ensemble. Not that that’s any bad thing: Stereolab’s calling cards of exquisitely spacious production, inviting the listener to probe every strata of each song, stylish updates of 1970s kitsch exotica, knotty post-rock features and none-more-chic Frenchaccented ba-do-bahs still sound as seductive across much of ‘Find Me Finding You’ as they did on ‘Dots & Loops’ twenty years ago. But instead of some nostalgic Stereolab retread, ‘Find Me’ is a sort of modern reimagination. Accordingly, while ‘Double Voice: Extra Voice’ opens with jazzy bossa nova, its yacht-rock coda is refreshingly bucolic. Equally, ‘Galactic Emergence’ is perhaps the sparsest recording on which Sadier has ever appeared, its lone electric guitar and pared-back keyboard tinkles serving to accentuate her frostily sweet vocals. The album’s title suggests a pleading for selfdiscovery, and its contents bear that out: here, Sadier feels like a musician reawakened.
On reflection, there really wasn’t anything else Arca could have titled his third album. Unlike his first two, ‘Xen’ and ‘Mutant’, ‘Arca’ is a blindingly intimate sonic-portrait of the man himself – where Alejandro Ghersi bares his soul in harrowing daylight. Most noticeably, he’s singing for the first time, the Venezuelan’s vocal levitating somewhere between Gregorian monk and Anohni’s cathedral-filling trill. It’s captured in uncomfortable detail, too, the sound of the saliva in his mouth and the tears rolling down his cheeks clearly audible. In particular, ‘Piel’, ‘Anoche’ and ‘Reverie’ feel like dark journeys into his soul. Having painted melodic landscapes for the likes of FKA Twigs and Bjork in the past, he’s found his own space musically, too: a twitchy, grubby, foreboding concoction of electronic atmospherics. The whole effect is something that’s the very opposite of escapist, but rather reflective and deeply personal. ‘Arca’ is an album that’s also a prison – a place where you’re trapped in Ghersi’s compelling, claustrophobic world.
It’s telling that in place of a serene forest, lit by twilight, the cover of Lydia Ainsworth’s second album is a profile shot of her staring boldly at the camera, looking defiant yet angelic. Certainly the clanging bells, piano and synths that open ‘Darling Of The Afterglow’ signify a change – gone are the softer edges and spectral moods, replaced with something altogether more colourful and assured. That’s not to say she’s totally abandoned the dark atmospherics that made her debut so captivating – both ‘Afterglow’ and ‘WLCM’ have a meditative, otherworldly feel – but the eleven tracks here feel like the dawn sunrise after a long night of the soul. “To play it safe is not to play at all,” she notes on ‘Afterglow’, and despite using more traditional elements this time, she’s still restlessly inventive; the Grimesesque trip-pop of ‘I Can Feel It’ and the achingly beautiful cover of ‘Wicked Game’ are but two standout moments. Ainsworth may still be capable of everything, but honing her instincts has improved on what was an already formidable talent.
What happens when chillwave meets experimental jazz? Well, it’s not as bad as you think. Like the formation of a new astronomical object after the collapse of two different units, the dilated mood of the first builds the structure for the edginess of the latter to rest on, creating a cosmic conglomeration held together by the gravity of music, which emits a warm coloured light. When it happens by chance, as this first encounter between Chaz Bundick (aka Toro y Moi) and identical twin jazz duo the Mattson 2 did, the result is even more compelling. Born under the Californian sky, ‘Star Stuff’ is the result of impromptu recordings and fortuitous musical rendezvous. Mixing funk, psychedelia, afrobeat and synth pop, where Toro y Moi’s retromania could be all to evident, the Mattson 2’s timeless jazz removes the time-stamp altogether. For Bundick’s part, his production simply blows away the twins’ conservatism. ‘Star Stuff’, they say, and every track really does sound like a retrofuturist jam session.
Let’s just get this out of the way first up. Look at that cover art. Just take a good long look at it. Isn’t it compellingly disturbing? Beautifully weird? It’s the glossy sheen on his lower lip that gets under my skin the most. The yellow background is a nice garish touch, too. Just be glad that it’s only an inch or so wide; a poster-sized version would be just too much. As an introduction to the pleasingly disorientating world of Turkish weird-pop outfit Jakuzi, though, it’s pretty much perfect.
Forged in Istanbul, this is a band clearly very adept at mixing pop accessibility with just enough weirdness to make things interesting. Their debut record opens with ‘Geriye Dönemiyor’, which is a bold pop song touched with the relentless, slightly trance-inducing groove of good Krautrock, with sparse lyrics (in Turkish, as are all the band’s lyrics, which only enhances the intrigue) and a hymnal organ refrain. The slow-paced pop balladry of ‘Her An Ölecek Gibi’ is then
reminiscent of nothing so much as a slow Super Furry Animals track, while ‘Bir Düşmanım Var’ reeks of cruise ship croonery, though dodging cheesiness via the unlikely escape route of a great saxophone solo. These are pleasingly weird songs; a collection of strange sonic happenings. But don’t think that ‘Fantezi Müzik’ is ironic or novel.This is an album that pushes through any notion of being merely an oddball curiosity – it’s highly accessible and infectious stuff.
0 7/ 1 0
Jakuzi Fantezi Muzik c i t y slan g By c h r is wat ke ys. I n sto res Ma rch 24
Future Islands The Far Field 4a d By d avid zammi tt. In sto re s april 7
Future Islands might well be the first band to have to deal with a difficult fifth album. Having achieved minor success for almost a decade, 2014’s ‘Singles’ became a slow-burning success off the back of the breakout of all breakouts, ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. Propelled to fame in no small part by a notorious chestpounding, throat-shredding Letterman performance, everything converged in an intoxicating mixture of passion, hooks and universality of sentiment so that Samuel T. Herring, Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion became the unlikely soundtrack of a summer. Herring has since said that he was hurt by the sniggering reaction from some corners of the
web to that show-stopping TV appearance, but when he repeated the drill with added libido on Jools Holland a few months later it was clear that that was just him. But that was then, and it’ll take more to compel the average Facebook user to click ‘share’ this time around. It always felt like Future Islands were bubbling under, threatening to erupt – and then they did. But how do they follow it? The answer, it seems, is with more of the same: brawny bass, sweeping synths, gigantic choruses and repeated refrains. While Herring’s voice is an undoubted asset, its distinctiveness amid such a lack of adventurousness only adds to the
feeling of déjà vu. For better or for worse – and I would argue the latter – the second you stick ‘The Far Field’ on you’ll know it’s Future Islands. There are some truly fascinating moments, though; hints of what the group could do if they didn’t revert to type so readily. ‘Ancient Water’ with its discordant keys and staccato synth melody are reminiscent of earlyTwin Shadow and showcase the signature sound of 4AD at its very best, while ‘Candles’ sees Herring et al embracing space for once. A welcome respite, it is the album’s best track as it changes tack from new wave maximalism to something more thoughtful. Rhythmically sensual and melodically complex, it
is a triumph. As it fades and gives way to the Future-Islands-bynumbers ‘Day Glow Fire,’ however, it only serves to remind you that almost everything on this album draws on the same tempo, the same dynamics, and the same vocal phrasing. Since the band shifted from the dark, gothic post-punk of their 2008 debut, ‘Wave Like Home’, to the synthpop polish of ‘In Evening Air,’ Future Islands have avoided change. Since then, while there can be no doubt that they have produced a ream of solid pop songs which can be admired in isolation, taken as a whole body of work, their oeuvre is starting to feel a little staid and disappointing.
If you want to gauge the mood of Timber Timbre head honcho Taylor Kirk on his band’s sixth album, skip straight to first single ‘Sewer Blues’. “Now I’m coming for you, moving through this tomb,” he intones as the dark’n’dirty dirge chugs away in the background. Written as the nadir of 2016 was coming into focus, it paints a somewhat dystopian vision of a society out of control and typifies the record’s tone of, in his own words, “utter chaos and confusion.”This is a good thing for ‘Sincerely, Future
Pollution’, whose nine tracks have a deliciously inky, retro feel, like Nick Cave fronting a bitter ’80s Vegas house band. Kirk does a passable impression of the Murder Balladeer on opener ‘Velvet Gloves & Spit’, but he’s not the only inspiration here; as on previous albums, there are hints of Elvis and Roy Orbison as the music switches between woozy slow jams (‘Moment’), oppressive sci-fi electro (the title track), and sickly, bosa nova lounge music (‘Western
Questions’). And while all that could scan as a bit much, in Kirk’s hands it’s all so stylishly atmospheric that any lingering doubts about its originality or weirdness are soon forgotten. The whole thing feels like coldwave with more of a groove, so much so that ‘Grifting’ is practically uplifting, even if the closing ‘Floating Cathedral’ is a slight Twin Peaks drag. So what if it’s a little strange? Given the world we live in, we could do with more art that reflects such abnormal territory.
Timber Timbre Sincerely, Future Pollution C i ty S l an g By Der ek Rober tso n. In sto re s Ap ril 7
Reviews / Live
Jenny Hval Richmix Cinema, Shoreditch, London 28/ 0 2/ 20 17 wri ter: lu ke ca rtle d g e Photog raph er: C harl ie Gard ner
“I’m wearing my body as a costume tonight. It’s... messy. It’s a good job they invented skin... to keep it all... in.” Jenny Hval’s explanation of her sinewy, red-and-pink outfit rather sets the tone for the rest of tonight’s performance. At once selfdeprecating and artfully calculated, her softly-spoken interjections underline the essential humanity of her work. It is this warmth that makes Hval’s live set such an affecting experience; her fusion of arresting visuals, semi-choreographed movement, gorgeous melodicism and a defiant refusal to shy away from any aspect of her subject
matter, no matter how graphic or self-lacerating this may require her to become, is stunning. Love, feminism, sexuality and menstruation are discussed with disarming, eloquent frankness, all presented to us via the medium of perfectly-crafted, irresistible avantpop (a term which flirts a little too much with cliché, but how else can one describe Hval’s music with a neat genre tag?). Admittedly, Rich Mix is hardly London’s greatest venue; with its slightly underwhelming soundsystem, hair-raising bar prices and abject lack of genuine
atmosphere, it feels more than a little like a hipsterfied primary school hall. Happily, like her recent albums ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ and ‘Blood Bitch’, Jenny Hval in person demands one’s full attention, so such gripes are easily forgotten as we’re transported by the sheer beauty of tracks like ‘That Battle Is Over’ and ‘Female Vampire’. Critics always seem to focus on the politics of Hval’s work, and quite rightly, as she has more to really say (not to mention the talent to do so with astonishing clarity and wit) than just about any other contemporary songwriter with whom she is roughly
comparable. Tonight, though, I am struck most particularly by her extraordinary ability to wrap those politics around songs of such visceral, breath-taking grace. Every hook sparkles, each peak and trough is perfectly timed and weighted. In a kinder, more erudite dimension than ours, this stuff would top the charts. As the final strains of ‘Conceptual Romance’ echo around the room, Hval concludes: “I’m not much good at encores, so let’s just talk about things that matter.”What more fitting way to end this most thoughtful, meaningful of shows?
at heart. Renditions of ‘Let Her Go’ and ‘Let My Baby Stay’ are particularly sweet, especially during the latter when he glances at Kiera for confirmation mid-way through singing the line “Far as I can tell she’s happy, livin’ with her Macky.” Mac’s submerged, hypnagogic guitar hooks wind their way around the room – naturally lending themselves to the nostalgic haze in everyone’s eyes. He backs away from the microphone in reverence of the moment but the calm soon dissipates as he screws up his face and lets out a howling, demon-exorcising falsetto. His voice rules the night – it yelps, quivers, growls, soars, cries and laughs maniacally through old favourites like ‘Blue Boy’ and ‘Annie’ as well as new album tracks ‘This Old Dog’ and ‘Still Beating’. Crucially his voice leads endless sing-a-longs. Specifically, the setclosing, 20-minute rendition of ‘Still Together’. “Breath it in. Don’t laugh or scream, just fucking breath it in,” he yells as he launches into one of the many crooning chorus lines and then into the crowd. Held aloft by struggling fans he waves his arms like a mad, drunk conductor.
Mac DeMarco Nambucca, London 0 1/ 0 3 / 20 17 wr i ter : e mi li e fo rte ss Ph ot ogr aph er : l indsa y melb o ur ne
In between the burps and fake retching, the aborted Eric Clapton covers and Janet Jackson impressions, the hyena howls and swigs of Patron, Mac DeMarco’s songwriting shines through tonight, reminding the crowd gathered in this small pub that his talent and goofball persona go hand in hand. With two nights at Brixton Academy booked in May, these days a 350 capacity solo show like this is a rare event. The fans here know it. They scream “I fucking love you,” at the top of their lungs. They know the words to every song. They know the missing lead guitar parts to ‘Ode To Vice Roy’ and gladly sing them to fill the gaps.They cheer when they learn his girlfriend Kiera is here and lead a chant for his mum Agnes. The whole night is a big love-in but, then, you only have to listen to Mac’s songs to know he’s a romantic
Methyl Ethel Oslo, London
Pinegrove The Deaf Institute, Manchester
0 1/ 0 3 / 20 17
2 3/ 0 2 / 2 0 1 7
wr i ter : C HRIS WATKEYS
w ri te r: w o od y de l an e y
Ph otogr a ph er : ma x phythian
Methyl Ethel’s Jake Webb has a talent for wrenching something very special out of what sounds, on first listen, to be something quite conventional. Standing off to the side of the stage while his bassist takes the limelight, you get the (possibly mistaken) impression that he’d avoid the crowd’s attention altogether if he could. But they’re here expecting good times, because new album ‘Everything Is Forgotten’ is stuffed to the gills with hookladen tunes. Tonight, this music soars and swirls, fiery and melodic, while Webb’s pure falsetto cuts sweet slices straight through the noise. It’s polished and unfussy, tight but immensely organic. These are exceptionally catchy and emphatically danceable songs, which in the live environment especially connect directly with the fuzzy, good-time centres of your
brain. Set-closer and single ‘Ubu’’s criminally catchy, haircut-related chorus is destined to remain lodged in the ears of the crowd for weeks.
It’s been about a year since New Jersey sextet Pinegrove released their exceptional debut ‘Cardinal’, an album of country-tinged, introspective indie-punk should-behits tackling the struggles of lost relationships during the turbulent transition into adulthood. But despite these songs still being relatively young (it took a further 6 months for the album to get a European release), tonight they’re met with the type of reception that is usually only capable of being conjured by more established cult acts. Scruffy-haired frontman Evan Hall seems slightly out of his comfort zone in front of The Deaf Institute’s sold out crowd, but that doesn’t infringe upon his performance, which is refreshingly un-artificial and earnest. A handful of unheard new tracks are scattered alongside old favourites like ‘Size ofThe Moon’ and
the short but sweet ‘Problems’, and between songs the down-to-earth Hall jokes with the audience in a way that makes everyone feel like close friends at an intimate house show. Hall’s face then contorts with unfiltered passion during the set’s uplifting closer, ‘New Friends’ – a song that feels destined to be the band’s anthem. It’s clear that he’s a songwriter who makes music out of necessity, too; as if it’s vital to his expression and to cope with life’s many hurdles. Tonight Hall’s and his band’s optimism, as well as Pinegrove’s music, makes for an infectious, happy-go-lucky college rock party.
Idles Moth Club, London 10 / 0 3 / 20 16 wr it er : li am kone ma nn Ph otogr a ph er : li nd sa y melb o urne
Idles come on like a comedy act, winding each other up to cover the fact they aren’t ready to play. On the day that the Bristol band release their debut album, ‘Brutalism’, the chintzy working men’s club is packed, but Idles take their time. Nobody minds. As the Bristol band tune up they give the impression that they’d be just as comfortable down in the crowd, or on the merch stand. There’s a sense of community, as if it could be anybody’s turn to be onstage – tonight it just happens to be them. There’s no posturing here. There’s even less pretence when Idles actually start to play. They crash through their set, all frantic guitars and half-strangled vocals. ‘Mother’ is already a fan favourite, and a few early stage divers somersault into the audience as the rest of the crowd sing along.
“You know,” says frontman Joe Talbot, “it’s a wonderful feeling to have your songs sung back to you. I know it’s not very cool to say that.” Idles don’t seem overly concerned about what’s cool or not. They are welcoming, literate, and political, basically everything a punk band should be in the current climate. They haven’t skimped on the passion, either. The requisite anger is there in spades, and the depressive’s lament of ‘1049 Gotho’ and the politically charged ‘Divide and Conquer’ somehow manage to be both joyful and furious. The band dedicate the latter to any doctors and nurses in the audience, but, deciding there probably “aren’t any that listen to us, yet,” they offer the track up to the whole room instead. Idles have turned misery and rage into community. Latest single ‘Stendahl
Syndrome’ is predictably popular, but it’s ‘Well Done’ that is the night’s clear highlight. “Here’s the song you’ve probably heard,” jokes Joe. “But I prefer music’s earlier stuff.” ‘Well Done’ tips the set over the edge into truly frenzied, as people bounce across the top of the crowd like beach balls at a festival. Guitarist Mark Bowen is playing in
just his CK pants. Before he jumps off the stage, Joe raises his chin out to the crowd. “Please, please, be kind to your neighbours,” he says. Behind him the band lock into a cycling riff and rolling percussive rhythm. Idles might be singing about brutalism, but their live show is brimming with humanity.
Mitski The Ruby Lounge, Manchester
Loyle Carner Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
0 9 / 0 3 / 20 17
1 7 / 02 / 2 01 7
wr it er : joe gogg ins
w r i t er : g r eg c oc h r a n e
What’s interesting about Mitski is that, in a lot of respects, she’s simultaneously become less intense onstage and more vital at the same time. Back around the time she broke through on the indie scene with her terrifically measured second album, ‘Bury Me at Make Out Creek’, she was making a point of screaming into her guitar at promotional performances of ‘Class of 2013’. By the time she made an end-ofyear-list-bothering statement last year with ‘Puberty 2’ she’d struck a crucial balance between cool reserve and stinging incisiveness. Opener ‘Happy’, for instance, relayed a matter-of-fact vocal about a onenight stand over a beat that screamed discomfort. Tonight, we get much more of that same expert technique – ‘Dan the Dancer’’s grim sing-song over rough, brass-flecked instrumental backing;
There’s something humbling about seeing an artist overwhelmed by the reaction of the crowd. Loyle Carner’s face says he wasn’t expecting this. At one point he falls to his knees, puffs out his cheeks and shakes his head in disbelief. The south Londoner has decorated the stage like a cosy living room – lamp, records, chair, rug – but there are 1500 people losing their minds as if they’re in the club. It’s because his debut album, ‘Tomorrow’s Gone’, has been met with a tidal wave of goodwill.That LP, dedicated to the memory of his father and celebratory of the family and he cherishes, provides a window into his sensitive soul. He shouts out to his mother dancing in the balcony seats, brings out Kwes for ‘Florence’ and welcomes his rap hero Jehst to join him. Loyle Carner is a nice guy, and people root for nice guys. It’s an extended family that just gets bigger.
breezy heartbreak from ‘A Burning Hill’; and a devastating requiem for the dying embers of the American dream in the form of ‘Your Best American Girl’. It feels like a fitting way to come full circle, too, that she closes out the encore with the theatrics of ‘Class of 2013’. It’s a pleasing diversion from
her last Manchester show in October, when she kept things tantalisingly short and wasn’t as generous with the older cuts. Such is the weight of Mitski’s authority on the plight of ethnic minority artists as well as her nuanced view of gender politics, we don’t need her to ooze conviction on stage – that she does is just a bonus.
W r i te r : A n d re w A n d er s on
200 Motels (1971)
Frank Zappa is a rather unusual artist. For a start, although his name is very well known – most people who have any interest in rock music from the ’60s and ’70s will recognise it – his music is less so; ask those same people to name a Zappa track, or even an album, and they might struggle. I’d even say his silhouette (big hair, thick goatee) is more famous than most of his songs. Why is this? I’ll be blunt: I think the reason is that a lot of his music isn’t very good. Or rather, I should say it isn’t so much his music, which is almost always interesting, that isn’t very good, but rather his lyrics. Zappa’s lyrics were for the most part satirical. He poked needles into a lot of overblown balloons: hippies, politicians, political systems, obscenity laws and the posturing of pop stars. This was a worthy thing to do, but like most satire it dated rather quickly. A lot of his mockery of hippiedom actually sounds more corny and clichéd than the flower power tracks he was originally mocking. Further, his lyrics about sex, which no doubt at the time were taboo-breaking, now sound like a seven year old sniggering about willies rather than someone making a serious social statement. In short, today Frank Zappa’s lyrics are at best a bit irrelevant and at worst unnecessarily offensive. I’m five paragraphs into this
article and all I’ve really done so far is criticise Frank Zappa whereas, truthfully, I’m a big fan. His lyrics aren’t always top notch, but you know what – Zappa did what every good artist should do: he took risks, one of the biggest being to make a movie called 200 Motels. The year was 1971, and at this point in his career Zappa had carved out a pretty comfy niche for himself. Since 1966 he’d released 12 albums, a body of work that showed his diverse musical talents; this is a guy who could write parodies of The Beatles (‘We’re Only In It For The Money’) just as easily and brilliantly as he could concoct experimental jazz (‘Hot Rats’). For some people that might mean doing more of the same, but not Zappa who decided to make a film that would be part documentary, part concert, part opera and part absurdist theatre. As you may have gathered from that description, 200 Motels doesn’t really do plot. Instead, the film is made up of a series of scenes that are designed, as Zappa himself says during the opening, to give you an insight into the insanity experienced by bands on tour. To my mind that subject itself is a bit problematic – it’s not all that easy to relate to, and I’m not sure I really empathise with Zappa complaining that it makes him go crazy – but I guess today millions of people give a shit about what Katy Perry or Beyoncé get up to out on the
road, so perhaps that’s just me. In order to get his point across, Zappa places his band members in scenes where they talk to one another about their wants and needs such as ‘when are we gonna get paid?’ and, more commonly, ‘when are we gonna get laid?’. He also has them deconstruct the very fact that this is a film, with band members openly acknowledging and interrupting the filming process. Now, when something is ‘deconstructed’ that’s a red flag that says to me ‘this is not going to be very fun’, and so it proves – these parts of the film really, really drag, and are not helped by the fact that Zappa can’t write dialogue and his band mates can’t act. Speaking of bad acting, I’ve not mentioned two critical cameos: Keith Moon as a nun and Ringo Starr as Frank Zappa. Actually, let me retract that – these cameos are not critical at all, and no doubt came about because, well, who wouldn’t want to hang out with Keith Moon and Ringo Starr while making a ludicrous movie?There’s not much to say about their performances, except to note that in his main scene Keith Moon talks about overdosing on downers, something that has a retrospective sadness. Perhaps the most coherent section of the film is a cartoon part titled ‘Dental Hygiene Dilemma’.The animation is from the Rhubarb and
Custard school (cheap and cheerful), and whereas the rest of the film is brought down by the bad acting, the fact this section is animated means that is not an issue. A feature length Zappa animated film in the style of Yellow Submarine would have been interesting, I’m sure. I’m going to end with a very unsurprising conclusion: 200 Motels is a microcosm of Zappa’s entire career, both good and bad. In the good column we’ve got the music, which ranges from twisted orchestral numbers to big rock songs; the experimental nature of the whole thing, which was worth doing even if it doesn’t really work; and the playful nature in which it is all delivered – it looks like it was fun to make, even if it isn’t fun to watch. In the bad column we’ve got the obsession with (rather tame) obscenities; the disorganised nature of the whole thing, which makes it feel rather like a school play where no one knows their lines; and the fact that the subject matter is a touch self indulgent – ultimately it’s hard to care about the plight of successful musicians. I’d recommend you put down this magazine and put on some Frank Zappa right now – maybe the soundtrack to 200 Motels or one of the two albums I mentioned earlier (‘Hot Rats’ and ‘We’re Only In It For The Money’). But don’t watch this film unless you really have to.
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FanFIction: I’d Like A New Hat, Please
“I’d like a new hat, please.” Joel Arthur Jones looked up from the store order book. Nobody there. “I’d like a new hat, please.” He heard it again. Nothing. J&J Hat Emporium was empty, except for Joel Arthur Jones and serving clerk Crispin Caliver. Crispin was always playing such pranks, because he was a massive flirt. “Har-har, very funny, Crispin,” said Joel Arthur Jones. Crispin, over by the Panamas said, “Huh?” But, then, he would. “I’ve not got all day, mate,” squeaked the whiney voice, a little louder than before. To Joel Arthur Jones’ embarrassment, he had failed to notice the small boy with an old face whose head was just visible above the counter. He smelt like
crisps and had a micro scooter tucked under his arm. “I’m terribly sorry, sir,” he said to the young boy, knowing that boys like to be called ‘sir’ sometimes, “I didn’t see you there on account of you being so sm…” he stopped himself from saying the word ‘small’ due to a look in the boy’s eye. “How can I help?” “Yeah, I need a new hat, see?” said the boy. “No doubt you recognise me, and as you probably know, hats are MY thing.” He pointed at the hat he was wearing that looked like the bollock of a cow. “See?!” “I do see, sir. Well, let me see.” Joel Arthur Jones looked for something suitable. “Our flat caps are very popular at the moment, sir. Very trendy with the younger crowd.” Joel Arthur Jones suddenly found himself
questioning if this young man was in fact as young as he’d first assumed. But, then, he was so very small. “NO!” snapped the boy. “I want that one!” He pointed to the top shelf behind the counter, at the most extravagant hat on display (the one that looked like a cow). “I must say, sir,” said Joel Arthur Jones, careful not to offend, “that is the most expensive hat we have in the store today.” “Don’t think I can afford it, don’t ya?!” snapped the boy. Crispin did his shocked face. “Well, I can afford it! And. I.Want. It.” The boy, confirming Joel Arthur Jones’ second thoughts that he was of age, proceeded to list all the things he’d bought in the past. He seemed to pause for effect when he got to his car collection, which included a Porsche and a Mondeo Ghia. Joel Arthur Jones found it hard to believe that a boy with a micro scooter would also own a car, but he had seen office men in suits going to work on them before, so he held his tongue. “Get it!” demanded the boy, and so Joel Arthur Jones climbed up and retrieved the quite ridiculous hat. “Here you are, sir.” He placed it on the counter, as close to the edge as possible. Seeing that the young man was having trouble reaching the hat (so far he’d managed to grab at a pencil and the card machine), Joel Arthur Jones offered his hand in the matter. “I CAN DO IT!” spat the boy, and sure enough, after just 10 minutes, the hat was on top of his angry little head. “Oh yes,” he said, looking in the
mirror. “I look well pukka, don’t I?” “Indeed, sir,” said Joel Arthur Jones, although his mind was preoccupied with the fact that the young man had used the word ‘pukka’ and therefore had to be at least 45. “I’ll take it!” he cried. “Excellent, sir,” said Joel Arthur Jones. And he started to box up the hat and log it in the store book. “Here’s an idea, actually,” said the small man. “I appreciate you pretending not to recognise me, but as I’m sure you know, I have a new comeback album coming out soon, and with that I’m booked to do lots of promotional appearances, which could benefit your hat shop as much as it could benefit me. What do you say to letting me have this hat for free, and I can wear it on all these occasions? I’m going to be on Pebble Mill next Wednesday, for example. What do you say? Could be great exposure for you.” “I’m terrible sorry, sir, but we don’t offer such a policy here at J&J Hat Emporium,” said Joel Arthur Jones, and not just because he knew that Pebble Mill had stopped broadcasting in 1996. “Fine!” said the little man, pretending not to care. “It’s your loss… FATTY.” By now, such an outburst came as no surprise to Joel Arthur Jones. “Split it across these 4... 5 cards.” Chapter 2 “I’d like a new hat, please.” Colin Wattleby knew exactly who this was. The gentleman next door, Joel Arthur Jones, had only just been on the phone.
( Dear God!
Sooo, funny thing... I slipped and fell, and it just tucked up like that
Why can’t I stop looking at it!?
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely fictitious
Photo casebook: The unfortunate world of Ian Beale