Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 80 / the alternative music tabloid
Kate Tempest Compulsion of a poet
+ Marc Almond Soft Hair Patience NilĂźfer Yanya Pylon Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
nilüfer yanya – 12 hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – 14 patience – 16 soft hair – 18 Kate Tempest – 22 pylon – 28 marc almond – 30
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 80 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Kate Tempest Compulsion of a poet
+ Marc Almond Soft Hair Patience Nilüfer Yanya Pylon Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
c o v er ph o t o g r aph y J en n a f o xt o n
At the start of each year, with the best intentions in the world, we sit down and tentatively plan our cover features for the next 12 months. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because even our favourite artists can disappoint us with off-the-boil albums, and that’s if the rumours about their new work forthcoming are even true. Sussing that out can be almost impossible, and even when you are given a strong wink that almost confirms that a new record is coming “around summer”, The Guardian are probably doing a big piece on it anyway.Then there are the albums that drop out of the sky, and the bands you’d never heard of in January who are actually better than the ones you originally had in mind. Music just moves too fast to be planned anything like a year in advance, but one of the artists we’ve chased from afar throughout 2016 is Kate Tempest, who earlier this year published her first novel, The Bricks That Built The Houses, before becoming a Mercury Prize judge. This month she releases her seconds album, ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ – a characteristically lyrical record that very much maintains Tempest’s ambitious standards. Via Dan Carey’s syrupy electronics and Tempest’s glottal stop rapping, it tells the tales of seven separate protagonists who all happen to be awake at 4:18am one stormy night. It’s a record that sounds not only extremely British but specifically a product of south London. So it was Katie Beswick – herself from Tempest’s neighbourhood – who met with the writer, poet and musician to discuss SE4, gender identity and the compulsion to share secrets within stories. There’s a good chance that ‘LetThem Eat Chaos’ will win next year’s Mercury Prize. That’s a ridiculous prediction to make at this time of the year, and after all I said about music moving too fast to be planned a year in advance. Still, Tempest hasn’t disappointed thus far, and it doesn’t feel like any album that falls from the sky will be quite like hers any time soon. Stuart Stubbs
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Sleaford Mods’ JASON WILLIAMSON used to walk around Grantham sipping Perrier water
ason Williamson: I left school when I was kicked out in April 1987, and it was terrible. I started working part time in a supermarket, I signed on for a bit, and I thought about doing a YTS [Youth Training Scheme]. I remember filling out an application for an engineering firm in Grantham and just thinking no, this is not me. I had always been interested in theatre studies so I applied to Grantham College that year, but I’d moved in with my father and it was sort of said that it wasn’t really the thing to be doing, so I got a job in a chicken factory, which he was even more pissed off about, so fuck knows how he figured that one out. I did that for 12 months and I don’t regret that, because it taught me about factory life. It was good life training – fucking brutal. So after a year of doing that I decided to pursue that initial idea of an acting course, and I really enjoyed it. I took it up to A-Level and tried to get into a few drama schools around my early twenties, but clubbing and drugs and the usual things took hold and I kind of lost interest. What I discovered to be my real interest was music. I lived in Grantham until I was 23. As you can imagine, it was very white, kind of right wing – the perfect kind of Brexit town, if you know what I mean. There was a big Asian community, but no Afro-Caribbean community or anything like that. I don’t think anyone had seen a white European either. It was a pretty closed place, and it still is,
A s t ol d t o Stu a rt Stubb s where people have the same values that they had when they were 16. Apart from discovering lager and going out with girls, there wasn’t much to do when I was that age, but, then again, at 16 you don’t really know a lot, so everything is new – earning money is new, working on a shop floor is new, so there was plenty for me to get my teeth into until 17/18, and then it was like, ‘fuck this, I need to get out.’ I moved to London for a year and a half when I was 23, to try and get bands together. But it was 1994 and people were drowning in Britpop. It was terrible. You had to tow the line and wear a trilby and pretend you were born in the East End. I moved back to Nottingham were it was cheaper to live and formed a kind of Small Faces, RnB band with me playing guitar and singing, but I got bored of that. I was obsessed with The Jam from 13 onwards. By the time I was 16 I’d gone through The Style Council and Motown, and I was coming through the other side and playing with pop music in the charts like Mel and Kim, Bomb The Bass, the early onset of rave. By the time this photo was taken, when I was on my way to Benidorm on my first summer holiday to Spain 1988, I was fully indoctrinated into Def Jam and Public Enemy and LL Cool J. My friends were into some of the late ’80s funk that was really interesting, but I took it further. But I didn’t see much of my old school friends – I did a lot of hanging around on my own, or hooking up with new people in Grantham. I
wouldn’t drink either – I’d drink water for some reason, I don’t know why. Perrier water – look at that, like a proper little Tory. I had this idea that I wanted to be healthy and not just walk around and get boozed up and get tattoos like all my mates did. I wanted to strike away from it. And I don’t know if that was some subconscious conservative thing perhaps, but I’d go into WHSmith and look at copies of The Face magazine and wish I was some of these cultured people in it – the kind of daft, wet things that 16-year-old teenagers do. And I didn’t smoke weed or anything until I was 21 or 22. I was a little bit suspicious of it all. It was quite a depressing experience, being that age around that period in 1988. I mean, what do you do? I just wanted to escape the day-to-day, because it was crap. That’s why I viewed acting as the easiest exit from the realities of life in a small town, which obviously I was wrong about. But it’s good that I didn’t discover drugs at that age. I probably wouldn’t have gotten out. I didn’t see music as an escape until later. I was in a punk band when I was 14 but that lasted for one rehearsal because the drummer kept laughing at me shouting. That put me off. I didn’t do music again until I went to do my GCSEs and I joined an indie band – a Wonderstuff type thing – but I got thrown out because I wouldn’t buy a microphone, which really pissed me off, actually.
books + ANYONE CAN PLAY GUITAR
Steven Seagal Reef Younis catalogues the failed music careers of mega celebrities. Illustrated by Josie Sommer. / – Seagal lived out his Guitar Hero ambition. Replete with album covers direct from David Brent’s imagination – Steven Seagal: Musician sat on a front porch, staring into the distance, cradling a guitar like it was his last grenade in a terrorist siege – the least you could have hoped for from this Seagal iteration was more range and emotion than Steven Seagal: Actor. But dressed up with a host of reggae, new world and Satriani-light distractions, no amount of bells and whistles could disguise the fact that ‘Songs from the Crystal Cave’ was like listening to a night of passionless karaoke. Sober. True to his silver screen persona, Seagal’s economical relationship with words extends into his music with a lyrical simplicity – monosyllabic titles like ‘War’, ‘Strut’ and the painfully literal ‘Music’ verging on the guttural excitement of an Aikido throw. Still, I can see Steven Seagal: Musician now, caressing his guitar in a warm, dojo glow, his ponytail fluttering as he croons his way through ‘Girl It’s Alright’ while his guitar gently weeps; the excitement as he pens the rudimentary lesson in spiritual morality that is ‘My God’; the Gallagher-esque tendency to rhyme ‘sky’ with ‘cry’ at every opportunity.
Despite the tough guy exterior, the goatee, the ponytail and the sizeable, leather-clad presence of a Mafia capo, Steven Seagal wants you to believe he’s an artisan. “Any great warrior is also a scholar, and a poet, and an artist,” he said, before ceaselessly trying to become everything he’d listed out. His filmography might read like an ’80s hair metal tribute set (‘Belly of the Best’, ‘Above the Law’, ‘Born to Raise Hell’ etc.) but when the straight-to-video king wasn’t putting his name to energy drinks (Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt), signature long range rifles (‘Orsis by Steven Seagal’), or starring in ‘Steven Seagal: Lawman’ – a reality TV show made possible through his ceremonial Reserve Deputy Chief title in Louisiana – he was also trying to add ‘musician’ to an increasingly confusing resume. Ostensibly, there comes a point in every man’s life where, after sending a circus of movie villains to their death with coup d’états like “I’m gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent – to the blood bank,” you can only find solace in song. “I’ve been a musician since childhood, and music is my first love,” he said. And so, with the two albums under his 7th-dan Aikido black belt – the awful ‘Songs from the Crystal Cave’ and passable ‘Mojo Priest’
b y j anine & L ee b ullman
Jack White: How He Built an Empire from the Blues by Nick Hasted omnibus
According to legend, a sixteen-year old John Gillis, the youngest of ten siblings from Mexicotown in Detroit, once found a copy of Iggy and the Stooges’ ‘Fun House’ in a skip. He went on to become Jack White and ‘Fun House’ might have been the catalyst for the stripped-down, freakedout six-string motor city blues that have become White’s stock in trade. Nick Hasted’s book plots White’s course thus far from the nascent Detroit scene to Glastonbury Festival, via Bond themes, furniture upholstery and the founding ofThird Man Records, (the label that allows him to indulge his fetish for very desirable vinyl). It tells the first half of the story of one of the last true believers.
Shock and Awe by simon reynolds
I am Brian Wilson by Brian Wilson with Ben Greenman
faber & faber
After the hippies’ denim yawn came Glam Rock, the cultural movement that gave us Roxy Music, platform boots,The NewYork Dolls and mainstream androgyny. This is what’s investigated within Shock and Awe with all of the insightful analysis and attention to detail that Simon Reynolds has previously applied to post-punk, rave culture and hip hop. As with his previous books, Reynolds’ immersion in his subject is obvious and his passion infectious. Over six hundred and something pages, Shock and Awe offers a definitive, smart and celebratory account of glam from its (dyed) roots to its ongoing and far-reaching influence, covering all of the main players and key moments in this outrageous and occasionally hilarious scene.
Genius is a word that gets used far too often when discussing pop music, but in the case of Brian Wilson, the epithet fits. As chief songwriter for the Beach Boys,Wilson was responsible for the writing and, crucially, the recording of some of the most beautiful, original and game-changing pop music of the twentieth century. His ride was anything but easy, though, and in I Am Brian Wilson, Wilson is unflinching in his rendering of the euphoric highs and chaotic lows that have made up the last seven decades. His and The Beach Boys’ story has been told many times before and is one we may think we know already, but it has never before been voiced with the clarity, honesty and insight on offer here.
getting to know you
Weyes Blood Natalie Mering has been based in Portland, New York, Baltimore and Philidelphia, but it’s her home town of LA (where she lives again now) that most informs the ’70s Laurel Canyon sound of her outsider folk. This month she release new album ‘Front Row Seat To Earth’ /
The best piece of advice you’ve been given Everyone’s got their own unique struggle. Don’t compare yours to someone else’s. The film you can quote the most of Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy.
Your guilty pleasure Sushi – Sashimi, specifically. One of the worst things for anyone on the planet to consume regularly, but incredibly pleasurable.
Your style icon Crispin Glover has a really far out style that I can relate to. Understated goth with a ’70s twinge. Painfully autobiographical... indulgently weird.
Your biggest fear Fear itself, baby.
The celebrity that pisses you off the most even though you’ve never met them They’re all a little strange around the edges to me. I feel embarrassment for a lot of them.
Your pet-hate Emotionally manipulating advertising. Your favourite word ‘Ululating’. The worst job you’ve had I once worked at a peanut brittle packaging company and monotonously packaged peanut brittle all day long, ending up with sticky everything. I guess now that I think of it, it was a pretty sweet gig.
Your biggest disappointment Global Warming. I used to cry about it more; now I’m becoming numb to the way of the biome. The worst present you’ve received A used Lollipop wrapper sewed to a photocopied drawing of a naked man. Wait... the more I think about it this might’ve been the best gift.
The one song you wish you’d written ‘Seabird’ by the Alessi Brothers.
If you had to eat one food forever, it would be... Steak. People’s biggest misconception of you That I’m not a ham. I am. I like being silly more than I like being sad, but I’m better at making people cry then making people laugh. Favourite place in the world Kyburz in Sierra Nevadas. My great great grandfather built a cabin there, and I was conceptually conceived there one day while my parents were talking on a rock. They decided to have a daughter, and that they would name her Natalie. Suffice to say I’ve been dreaming of Kyburz for as long as I can remember. The best book in the world The Acid Archives – an archive of private press psyche records. My musical bible. The thing you’d rescue from a burning building Probably the most musical things. Guitar and laptop are neck and neck, with the Tascam 388 in third place. Definitely gonna grab my ibanez analog delay pedal, it’s quite small.
The most famous person you’ve met I met Lou Reed on the streets of New York after going to the Occupy Wallstreet protest. He was surprisingly human – he held my hands and warmed them while looking into my eyes and asking me how the protest was.
Your hidden talent “badminton. I’m a shark.”
The worst date you’ve been on I took mushrooms (with romantic implications) with a boy in high school and he completely freaked out – a manic episode. We were getting a ride with our friend to go somewhere more mellow as we started off in a park – he physically forced me to runaway from the car while it was stopped at a red light, leaving our third friend high and dry. We ran into a housing development and sat on the grass while he cried in my lap for a couple hours. Your favourite item of clothing Moon pants, moon shirt, moon shoes – an article with “moon” in front of it, usually very flowy, potentially iridescent.
What is the most overrated thing in the world? Consumerism, duh. What a bust. Heartache. What would you change about your physical appearance? I’d make my eyes lime green, and maybe my tongue split right down the middle. The characteristic you most like about yourself I can feel, and I feel for a lot of people too. Who would play you in a film of your life? Kristen Stewart, hopefully. Hard ass roll. What’s your biggest turn-off? Jumping the gun. What would you tell your 15-year-old self? Kim and Thurston Moore will be divorced... Abandon all hope... Your best piece of advice for others Its important to leave your comfort zone. Let yourself be rejected. It sharpens your knives.
NilĂźfer Yanya How a petty thief inspired a young, understated voice of west London Photogra p hy: Jonangelo molinari / writer: greg cochrane
le f t : N i l ü f er y a n y a at c h el s ea b o o k s t o r e, john sandoe books.
wo years ago Nilüfer Yanya’s bike was stolen from her garden shed. It meant, that day, she couldn’t cycle to work. She was annoyed. A year later, she found it down the road, by the bridge, chained up without a saddle. She thought a lot about the act, the perpetrator’s motivation, and wrote her first proper single, ‘Small Crimes’. “I’m a petty thief / What I find, I keep,” she sings on the track over a trembling, jazzy guitar before an expansive, haunting chorus kicks in. “They’re small crimes / some things I just wouldn’t do.” Today, a few leafy streets away from her family home in west London, she’s sat among the strewn novels and teacups of an independent cafe. In the corner is the table where she planned the ‘Small Crimes’ video with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend (director Patrick Chamberlin). If you haven’t seen it, the clip features the 21-year-old Londoner performing in front of a number of grimey backdrops. There’s a guy violently smashing a chair. Two threatening individuals pace around wearing leather jackets and balaclavas. Nilüfer sits on the back of a stranger’s motorbike in a dicey lookin’ metal scrapyard. As she sings she looks deep into the camcorder lens and grips a baseball bat in a way that says don’t mess. In person, Nilüfer is petite. She offers water around the table, and replies to questions with short, sensible answers. She’s philosophical, polite, quietly spoken, conscientious and kind of shy. She enjoys seeing friends, and at the moment, is reading Life Lessons from Nietzsche. She works a few doors down in a clothes store, and used to do shifts in a fancy dress shop. Not really the hard-ass at all. “You thought I was going to be tough?” she giggles. “Patrick really likes a lot of, like, trap and rap videos,” she explains. “A lot of that came off in the video. Like, the whole bike scene. It feels like a nice contrast to the song. I didn’t want it to come across as soft or, like, weak.” Nilüfer grew up in these parts, a short walk from the pretentious fashion boutiques of Sloane Square where the customers’ dogs have more expensive haircuts than their owners. That’s not her scene though. You’ll sooner find her swimming in the local
leisure centre’s pool, taking in the free exhibitions in the Saatchi and buying books from her favourite local store where we first meet (John Sandoe). “Do I like it around here?” she shrugs, “It’s okay.” “It’s always been posh, but now it’s really posh. It’s like the people here on the weekend, they don’t actually live here. They come in to shop, and then everyone goes away. “It’s just not that fun sometimes, unless you have money. If you have money it’s fun, if you don’t you feel a bit left out.” The night before we meet she’s been drinking in a pub in Shadwell, the following week she’s off to investigate the thrum of Berlin’s nightlife. Not Made In Chelsea, then.
ne of four children, Nilüfer’s parents are the artists Ali and Sandra Yanya. She has an older sister – a youth worker and documentary maker – a younger brother (just off to university in Southampton) and a sister. Her mother plays piano, her father often picked up the traditional Turkish instrument the saz (it looks like a guitar). Growing up, the sounds of jazz and classical music would be playing around the house. At six and a half she started learning piano, until, as she approached teenagehood, she discovered her older sister’s CD collection. “Simple Plan, Blink 182, skater punk stuff,” she laughs with a tinge of embarrassment. “‘Enema of the State’ – it’s a pretty good album!” These days, to relax she listens to Chet Baker and Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley or Leanne La Havas. Her recent obsessions have been with Rosie Lowe (“I love how strong she is”) and Connan Mockasin. With her other siblings learning violin and cello, Nilüfer was keen to pick up something “cooler”, the guitar. “They didn’t really stick with the music. Just me,” she recalls. “Which is a shame because I would love to be in a band with my brothers and sisters. That would be so much fun.” She enrolled for secondary school in Pimlico, because “it had a really good music department”. The school
had funding and employed decent teachers. Little did she know, or care, at the time, but aged 12 she was being taught guitar by a guest lecturer – The Invisible’s Dave Okumu. “No-one knew who he was, everyone just thought he was really cool because he could play guitar and looked cool,” she says. “I remember being in his lessons thinking, wow this is great”. Those sessions led her into the school band where she joined other students playing Stevie Wonder and The Cure covers. “His advice was that he didn’t start singing for ages,” Nilüfer tells me, “and that you should start now. He said, I know it’s horrible but if you start now you’ll really appreciate it when you’re older.” After that, music was all she wanted to do. Post-school, Nilüfer applied to go to Goldsmiths twice but missed out, instead opting for a music foundation course in Stratford. She wrote her first songs and got noticed by DEEK Recordings (releasing a cover of ‘Pixies’’ ‘Hey’ on their compilation), then joined up with her label Blue Flowers. At home is where Nilüfer writes most of her music, in her bedroom, often late at night. It was there that ‘Small Crimes’ came together, up above the spot where her bicycle was nicked. “I was thinking about how it was a small crime,” she explains. “It affected me, but it wasn’t like the worst thing that could happen to me. My life is exactly the same. I was thinking about how smaller crimes always seem to have a lot of stigma attached to them, but like, the bigger crimes can kind of go unnoticed. They happen all the time. “We all kind of accept them,” she continues. “It’s kind of a comparison – ‘Small crimes / something’s I wouldn’t do’. Maybe if I was desperate I might steal someone’s bike but I definitely wouldn’t send bombs to another country, steal data, privacy, or all of those things that happen.” She admits that she sometimes thinks about the person who had the bicycle away. “I sympathise if they were desperate to do that, but I don’t think it’s ok to steal people’s things. It’s not cool. I hope they needed it more than I
do.” She pauses. “There’s so much stigma attached to it. Those people go around in that circle again and again, and for them there’s no way to get out. Prison, it really doesn’t work the way it is now – I don’t think it’s working.” Thinking of others – it’s a theme that crops up a number of times in our conversation. Later in the year, before she plays a number of London headline shows, Nilüfer’s travelling to Athens where she’s a volunteer at a refugee camp. As part of the scheme (Artists In Transit) she’ll run music workshops along with her mother and sister. “We live in a bubble,” she tells me, “especially in London, or even like Europe and the West. It’s so insular and you don’t feel like it’s affecting you. “I just feel like I’ve been really lucky in my life, nothing really horrible has happened to me. If nothing horrible is happening to me, then I kind of don’t have an excuse to not help other people.” Nilüfer’s next single ‘Keep On Calling’ is more of a traditional love song. Well, rather a song that takes aim at timewasting men. Again, the video, like the track, is simple but arresting. It sounds like The xx, a band Nilüfer first heard when she was in year 10 at school. “Boy, I’m getting tired of your games / You just don’t stop speaking / But I’m done with feeling / Boy, I’m getting bored with your games,” it goes. She’s just released the track, as an EP, with ‘Small Crimes’. “It’s lighter,” she says simply, “but still dark.” As the Dictaphone goes off Nilüfer escapes to go and see a friend play a show that night. “You thought I was going to be tough?” she repeats, smiling and shaking her head. “That’s so funny.”
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam The ex-Vampire Weekend/Walkmen collaboration born in a shared hometown during the holidays Photography: charlotte patmore / writer: david zammitt
L- R: h a mi l t o n L ei t h a u s er and R o s t a m B a t ma n g l i j i n central london.
amilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij, together catchily known as Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, are sipping on their coffees outside BBC Broadcasting House in central London. Our national broadcaster is putting that licence fee to good use, filming something for their autumn programming that involves upwards of 30 pooches running riot around town. It’s quite the scene, and the two musicians are looking slightly bemused after a week of promotion and interviews on the opposite side of the Atlantic from home. I, on the other hand, am worried that the recording of our conversation will yield nothing more than a half hour of barks. But with one (former) quarter of Vampire Weekend and a fifth of The Walkmen waiting on me, I decide it’s best to press on. But how, indeed, do two ninths of modern indie rock royalty come to make an album together? Having grown up a mere mile from each other in Washington D.C., they didn’t meet until much later. “We were five years apart,” Rostam, the younger of the two, is keen to point out. “Which is a big deal in high school,” Leithauser agrees. But long after their bands had established themselves a chance encounter on tour saw them bond over the music that they love. From the Beatles to Bad Brains, they found that before long they didn’t even have to ask each other if they liked a band – the answer always seemed to be yes. “We can both reference obvious and obscure things,” says Leithauser, explaining the telepathy that takes over when they’re together. “There’s an understanding that we’ll both want to try doo-wop music, for example, which isn’t the most obvious thing to think when you first meet someone. Like, if I don’t know you I’m not going to assume that that’s what you would like to do. But we did and it worked quickly.” Despite that, however, they didn’t realise that they had the beginnings of an album on their hands. Batmanglij had worked on Leithauser’s solo LP, ‘Black Hours,’ and he assumed that this was the genesis of another similar project. Leithauser says that it was at least six months after they started working on their debut record that it
dawned on them that it was indeed a true collaboration. And while there wasn’t a whole lot of material left on the cutting room floor, there was some healthy experimentation at the start, even if just to figure out what wasn’t going to work. “We had a song that started like a hardcore song,” laughs Batmanglij. “And then we did this weird country, ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ version and we were like, ‘This ain’t us!’” “Yeah, and that Irish song never made it,” says Leithauser, almost blushing. “Yeah, we gotta come back to that one.” And although the punk and country will have to wait in the vaults until album at least number two, ‘I Had a Dream That You Were Mine’ draws on a spectrum of sounds and eras that keep it sounding fresh on repeated visits. ‘In A Blackout,’ the first song they wrote for the record, moves along with a gallop that wouldn’t be out of place over the top of a Spaghetti Western (and yet somehow stays classy), ‘Rough Going’ revolves around a honky-tonk piano motif, while ‘When The Truth Is…’ is an updated take on that shared love – doo-wop (think The Platters meets Vampire Weekend). The theme, it seems, is a desire to take pre-1980s sounds and bring them into the 21st century. “There’s Leonard Cohen in there. You can hear early Johnny Cash on there,” Leithauser muses. “Or even Springsteen,” says Batmanglij. “He crept his way onto ‘In A Blackout.’ In an unexpected way. Maybe the last thing I added to the song was the synth, so it’s subtle.” Leithauser pipes up immediately, stirred as he reflects on the birth of the album. “But it changes the era of it,” he says. “That triplet guitar is straight Leonard Cohen. And I’ve wanted to do a song like that for years and years but it never got beyond the point where it sounded like someone trying to copy Leonard Cohen and doing something that was done in 1967.” Then he tried it with Rostam, a producer with an obsessive ear for the minutiae of a snare sound, the tiniest nuance of a hi-hat frequency, and who can list Frank Ocean, Cass McCombs and even Carly Rae Jepsen on his CV. Says Leithauser: “When I do it with
him, he’s able to bring a new sound to me playing that gives a much bigger, modern effect.”
eing from the same city, the pair found that they were both in D.C. during holidays, meaning that some of the album ended up being recorded in Rostam’s parents’ home, in the bedroom where he grew up. “My parents have always been pretty nurturing of my creativity,” he smiles. “In comparison to being in tenth grade and having drum sets in my bedroom and banging away, having Hamilton croon is a bit easier. And we didn’t do that much; we did a few days around Thanksgiving and Christmas.” “Well, they did enough that I thanked them for it!” Leithauser laughs. “They could’ve been irritated. It was long enough, and we were there late sometimes… And I was singing loud.” Volume, it’s fair to say, isn’t an issue for Leithauser. When the pair decided to work together, Rostam made it his mission to tease out every possible texture and tone from Leithauser’s embarrassment of vocal riches; to make songs, as he says, “that placed the crooner right beside the howler, the screamer besides the whisperer.” It was a collaboration that was buried somewhere in his subconscious for years. “I would listen to a Walkmen album and I would love it,” he says. “I would think it would be so cool to one day do a song that has an organ like ‘Postively 4th St.’ with Hamilton’s voice.” When it came to recording the singer, Rostam was so careful to capture everything and in the right way that he would ask him to sing the same lines over and over again, an octave this way, a totally different way that way. It meant that they made breakthroughs they wouldn’t have otherwise made. Their debut single, the gorgeous baroque pop soon-to-be anthem ‘A 1000 Times,’ for example, contains a first verse which is an octave higher than the second, the inverse of which your ear would naturally expect, but it works beautifully, flying out of the traps and settling into itself, all the while keeping itself tantalisingly taught rather than building up to an obvious climax.
But for a man who can move from choirboy falsetto to guttural yell with what seems like the gentlest sleight of vocal chord, Leithauser is disarmingly coy about his ability. So much so that he didn’t even realise he could sing until he was already in his early 20s. “I was a late bloomer and I wasn’t very big,” he says. “It was the first time I realised I could harness this, like, manly energy.” Rostam laughs like a schoolboy. “It was the first time I had the balls to actually sing and not feel like an idiot standing up with five people in the audience and really go for it with full energy.” Batmanglij takes the opportunity to drop Leithauser in it, asking if this is the interview where they get to talk about his prom night. He sniggers. “I guess I always wanted to be the lead singer,” he says. “There was a band and I was young… and drunk… and I took the mic from the singer and went, ‘Fuck you, fuck you.’” He mimes pointing his finger at the audience. In addition to its multi-coloured approach to genre, a notable feature of the duo’s work is that their songs are stories. There are straight-up love songs, but they don’t dominate, and the record is all the richer for it. ‘The Bride’s Dad’, for example, could sit confidently separate to the music as a standalone tale of a wedding from the point of view of, yes, the bride’s father. “I’d never written a waltz before,” Rostam enthuses. “It was at Christmas so I had this Christmassy melody,” adds Leithauser. “… And you were like, ‘This is too Christmassy,’” says Rostam. “So I thought he was going to give up on it but then a few months later I asked him if he ever came up with anything else and he said, ‘Yes, I’ve come up with something amazing. And it’s all a true story.’” Leithauser sits back, allowing himself what seems like a rare moment of self-praise. “I was really proud of that one, actually.”
Patience London for LA and guitars for synthesizers: the reinvention of Roxanne Clifford Photogra phy: brian guido / writer: joe goggins
le f t : f o r mer v er o n i c a f al l s s i n g er R o x a n n e C li f f o r d a t h er n ew h o me i n L o s a n g el es .
t started as an experiment: I wanted to see if I could write like Robyn.” If you heard either of Veronica Falls’ two albums you can be forgiven if that quote, from their singer and guitarist Roxanne Clifford, takes you aback. Their 2011 self-titled debut was a doomy goth-pop affair, thick with atmosphere and featuring a lead single named after a prominent suicide spot. Their second album (2013’s ‘Waiting For Something To Happen’) was a little lighter, taking its jangle-pop cues from the likes of Camera Obscura and The Shop Assistants, but remaining firmly rooted around the guitar and a traditional band setup. There were melodies for days and no shortage of earworms, but we can safely assume that Veronica Falls were a band that viewed anything electronic as anathema. Which is why Clifford’s first singles as a solo artist, under the name Patience, have disarmed the group’s fans. The vocals are unmistakably hers; honeyed without being saccharine, expressive without being forceful. It’s everything surrounding them that’s changed. ‘x’, her latest release on the Night School label, does in fact sound a bit like Robyn. A programmed beat replaces live drums, and interlocking synth lines take over from breezy guitars. In short, this is all-out electro-pop. Once they finished touring that last album, Veronica Falls effectively disappeared. Their social media pages lie dormant, with the most recent posts dating to 2014 – the Internet equivalent of the post piling up and the grass growing long. Eventually, you have to knock on the door to see if everything’s all right. “There’s nothing official to say, really,” says Clifford over a transatlantic phone line; in keeping with this most stark of transformations, she recently swapped London for Los Angeles. “Patrick (Doyle), the drummer, has left the band, and the rest of us have been doing our own thing. We haven’t really talked about the future of the band, but everything has a lifespan, and the band wasn’t functioning after all that touring we did. I’ll work with James (Hoare) and Marion (Herbain) again at some point, so something will take shape, even if it’s not called Veronica Falls.”
Doyle has not long since put out his first solo release, too, under the name Boys Forever, whilst Hoare has put his old bandmates to shame with his productivity, releasing his third album with Jack Cooper of Mazes, as Ultimate Painting, this month. If things look as if they’ve been altogether more of a slow burn for Clifford, it’s because she’s been through something of a musical identity crisis, continuing to play and write on the guitar whilst increasingly finding electronic textures more enjoyable to work with. “I felt liberated, trying out all this new stuff,” she explains. “It’s funny, because in a lot of ways there’s actually less freedom than you might get with the guitar. A good melody’s a good melody, and with a guitar, you can just play it and sing it anywhere, whereas when you’re using synths and things like that, it becomes much more of a jigsaw puzzle. It forces you to work in a more introverted way.You can’t share your ideas as instantly.” As much as Patience is a solo endeavour, though, sharing her ideas has been crucial to Clifford’s progression. She might never have had the confidence to pursue this particular musical avenue if it hadn’t been for the affirmation of friends and peers, not least Michael Kasparis, the founder of Night School. “He’s one of my oldest friends, so he had to put it out, really,” laughs Clifford. “We used to live together when we were nineteen, so we go a long way back. All this stuff is something I saw as being very jokey and fun to begin with, and definitely not particularly serious. I didn’t think it could be a legitimate project until I started to send it to a few people and found out that they all seemed to love it. It was nice to move myself out of my comfort zone, and not to care about preconceptions.”
lifford hints that Veronica Falls were burnt out by the time they polished off an exhaustive touring schedule for ‘Waiting For Something To Happen’, and confirms that there were attempts to write towards a third record. “We were working on music, and there’s still a lot of unfinished songs,” she tells me. For her own part,
though, she wasn’t necessarily tired of the guitar; it was more a case of wanting to forge another identity entirely away from the band. “I do really miss playing in a guitar band,” she admits. “I’ve actually recorded a whole guitar-based album as well, but when it came to putting it out, there was just something about it that I didn’t feel 100% on. It wasn’t different enough.” Patience, then, has only truly come to fruition since Veronica Falls went their separate ways, although some of the ideas that have found their way into the songs stretch back to long before that point. “Some of the lyrics I’ve had for a while, and a lot of the influences are people I’ve admired for a long time. I mean, the name is a good example of that; I’ve sort of used Patience as a pseudonym for ages, on Internet things. I’ve always really liked that word and its connotations. That was very organic, especially because I’ve always liked how these disco artists tend to have one-word names, like Clio or somebody. And then, there’s lyrics that go way back, like on the first song I finished, ‘The Church’.” There’s something about that first single that feels transitional, as if we’re actually listening to the sound of Clifford putting clear water between Veronica Falls and her new project. Her vocals aren’t as cool and snappy as on ‘The Pressure’ and its B-side ‘Wait for You’, and instead, everything feels a touch dreamier, with the synths slowly undulating amidst a general sense of lo-fi murk that seems to have since gone by the wayside. Clifford has been in transition personally and geographically, too, moving to California and leaving much of her old musical circle behind. “I moved to LA because I’m going out with somebody who lives here, so I was already spending quite a lot of time here anyway. I absolutely love London, but this felt like a new perspective, with new people to be inspired by, in new surroundings. It’s a great city, and somehow is still relatively affordable by way of comparison to the rest of the world. I suppose I was a little bit jaded by Britain, but now, I still feel like I’m on holiday every day. I don’t know when that’s going to wear off.”
The music Clifford made with Veronica Falls always felt very much rooted in the British climate, from the allencompassing gloom of their debut to the subdued introspection of its follow-up. It’s hard not to jump to certain conclusions when you realise her first foray into out-and-out pop comes at the same time as she finds herself waking up to a blue sky every morning. “That does make a big difference,” she admits, “but I think there’s pluses and minuses to it overall. The main thing I miss is the British sense of humour; people are very different here. Plus, it’s not just a case of missing my friends – it’s the way I feed off of them, creatively, which I can’t do long distance. I’m not a sun worshipper, either, and there’s a lot I love about the weather in London, but the surroundings here have been inspiring in a completely different way. You can’t help but be affected positively by the sun being out every day.” The precise future of Patience is yet to be fully determined, with nothing in the way of an album planned as yet, or any hint of live shows. She does confirm, though, that that’s the way she sees the project going – she fully intends for it to be her main focus, and not a side project. “My aim now is to get a record together,” she confirms. “I’ve got absolutely loads of songs, but the key is going to be to try to merge some of the songs from the guitar album that I didn’t release with the electronic stuff. Once I’ve figured that out, I want to get the record done as soon as possible.” After that, she can turn her attentions to getting back out on the road. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot, too. I don’t really like the idea of it being just me with a backing track; I’d want to incorporate live instruments. Things are moving a bit more slowly because I haven’t got such a big network of musician friends out here; I’m only just getting to know some really lovely people now and playing with them. Everything’s still early days, really – things are just starting to take shape.”
Soft Hair Sitting down face-to-face with Connan Mockasin and Sam Dust in East London, I need to take a moment and re-calibrate my perceptions. Over the past few years, New Zealander Mockasin and England-born, Walesbased Dust have separately cultivated profiles as sort of retro-futuristic psychedelic lounge lizards; the former under his own name, the latter as LA Priest (you pronounce it “la priest”, by the way). Promotional shots for Soft Hair – the duo’s sort-of-new project together – see the two of them dolled up like Adam and Eve on Mars, replete with a ginormous yellow snake around their spray-tanned shoulders. Not for nothing do I fully anticipate an encounter with a couple of equally large personalities when I take my place opposite 33 year-old Mockasin and Dust, 27, to discuss their self-titled debut album under their joint moniker. In fact, I’m greeted by a perfectly normal-looking couple of guys sipping on white wine, albeit both wearing hangdog expressions that belie a heavy few days on the promotional trail. Dust is kitted out in a faded black tee with his dark, stringy hair draped all over it and Mockasin, well, he’s wearing what looks suspiciously like a cableknit sweater. Where’s the coyly seductive, moustachioed tease from the cover of Mockasin’s 2013 ‘Caramel’ LP, I wonder? What about the prince of bizarre porno chic on the front of last year’s ‘Inji’ record from LA Priest? Throughout our chat together on a balmy September afternoon, it becomes clear that Mockasin and Dust revel in multimedia theatrical artifice; creative indulgence beyond the confines of their music and lyrics. The surrealistic video for new single ‘Lying Has to Stop’ perfectly encapsulates the pair’s artistic ethos in action. Both writhe around in front of tinfoil-plastered walls, don a series of bizarre outfits and ultimately end up in the shower with Mockasin filming Dust with a hand-held camera as he rubs soap all over his chest. It’s absurd and, fundamentally, it’s all really just about escapism and having fun. “There’s a little bit [of a theme] but not as much as you’d think,” says Mockasin. “We basically had a party at my friend’s house – Joseph Burt, who actually directed it with us – and we turned his bedroom into the silver room and just partied. We always have
The sensible madness of Connan Mockasin and Sam Dust’s new project Photogra phy: p hil shar p / writer: james f. thom p son
parties at his house. Also we had a nice 35mm camera, so we basically filmed the party and directed it a bit.” There’s an unmistakable sense of playful homoeroticism to it all though, I say. “Well, when you get two boys together…” Mockasin begins, offering half a smile before he drifts off. “Actually the record’s a bit like that as well, isn’t it?” “Yeah,” says Dust. “I think more than anything we were surprised very early on when we started working together how people interpreted our relationship, and now we just kind of…” Play up to it? “I don’t think we need to now. We don’t need to do anything; just stand next to each other and people will get that impression. It’s gone really weird actually because if you did that kind of stuff in previous decades nobody would bat an eyelid, now it’s gone back to people being sort of shocked again.” Contrary to an erroneous press release, it turns out that the Soft Hair record we’re here to discuss was actually finished over five years ago – before Mockasin’s first album even hit the shelves. Back then, Dust was known as Sam Eastbourne and fronting dancepunk indulgers and NME darlings Late of the Pier. The foursome invited Mockasin to tour with them but he struggled to play his debut LP live, so Dust leant a hand playing bass on stage behind the scenes. Mockasin and Dust later decamped to the latter’s apartment in Nottingham to collaborate, before jetting to New Zealand and beyond with a minimal setup to finish the record. It’s been waiting for release ever since. Given its relatively fractured origins – and delayed release – the level of consistency across the album is impressive. “It was all over the place, but we had such a simple setup from the start,” Dust says. “We really just stripped it down to one microphone, one instrument at a time kind of thing. It just meant wherever we recorded, you just knew it was going to fit the whole sound [of the album].The travel thing only affects how I see the record now; nostalgically. I remember and have a certain fondness for parts of the record just because of the atmosphere and the emotional feeling.” Emotional interpretation seems to be the best way of navigating the longdelayed LP, because trying to properly describe it is a fool’s errand. Sonically
“Basically, we turned his bedroom into the silver room and just partied” the eight songs seem to paint the blueprint for the two’s releases over the past few years; particularly Mockasin’s characteristic languid blend of seventies AOR, experimental pop and the avant-garde but also Dust’s more energetic, funk-orientated fare. Songs bleed into one another, voices transmogrify throughout and arrangements often contort in unexpected ways. It’s pop music – I guess – but it’s the strangest you’ve ever heard. “I like meeting new people,” Dust sighs, “but I always feel really stupid when they ask what kind of… you know… it’s an honest question: ‘What kind of stuff do you make?’, and I’m just, ‘Uh…’ Sometimes you make stuff up, like, oh, electronic rock, or…” “I just say rock music,” says Mockasin. “It stops the conversation right there.”
hematically, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. Take the third track on the record, ‘i.v.’. The instrumental kicks off with a jolt of organ before morphing into the kind of thing you’d hear on the soundtrack of an unflinchingly bleak sci-fi flick from the 1970s. Once you know the
above : Conna n M o c kas in ( le ft ) and sam d us t in se ve n sist e r s , L o nd o n.
story behind the piece though, all those overbearing vintage synth lines – not to mention that title – take on altogether more significance. “I fell ill, really, really sick for six weeks when we were travelling and making the record,” recalls Mockasin. “I couldn’t get seen to properly by the doctors so I got checked – short and sweet – but they couldn’t do proper tests. We carried on making the record back in Loughborough in Sam’s place and I was still really sick, so I started looking on the Internet for selfdiagnosis and…” Now it gets just a little bit weird. “I had a dream, just before I got sick, where I got pricked on the bus by a man with HIV. So I was convinced I had HIV. I was really unwell for six weeks and all the symptoms were lining up to what I was seeing on the Internet and that was obviously really depressing. Then I finally got the allclear but it was pretty scary.” Dust seems to remember the experience almost wistfully. “The thing is, I’d known Connan for quite a while by that point and it didn’t seem to be in bad taste to make a song that sounds a bit like a death march while he was suffering,” he says, turning to Mockasin mischievously. “I think it cheered you up a bit.” There are elements of morbidity lurking elsewhere on the record too, like a car crash scene, which was to feature as part of a movie for which the record was intended as a soundtrack. In fact, the self-same film
is now on the way, though the two want to remain tight-lipped about it. “Yeah, if we have our way, it’ll be out very soon,” says Dust. “It’s all written, it’s just not started being filmed. That’s the hardest part really, to write something. It’s been sitting on the shelf for years now.” I get a sense of collective artistic restlessness and multimedia ambition between Mockasin and Dust that might well be the basis of the bond between the two. Neither seems particularly enamoured with the idea of just churning out records every couple of years. For starters – assuming people like the record – there are plans for a live show that stretches into the realms of the theatrical, as opposed to a bunch of blokes stood on stage just blazing through the set list. “It would be good to do something where we don’t compromise for once,” Dust offers rather cryptically. “That would be really nice.” What does that mean though – that the idea of a bog-standard album and tour is a bit of a reductive compromise? “If you follow the advice of a typical A&R guy, or ask anybody in the industry, they’ll usually just say, ‘That’s great, all we need are two videos for singles, and you’ve got 10 tracks, and that’s an album’, then they’ll just be happy so long as you fill those criteria,” says Dust. “But conversely, if you do something different to that, the actual people buying or listening to records and finding out about things, they’ll be much more interested in what you’re doing if they see these little signs of change in what you do.” Later on, he elaborates, telling me: “Music was never enough at any point for me. It’s always just been part of the many different things that I’ve done. I’ve gone through times of obsession and only thinking about music, just shutting everything else out and not caring about it, and then other times when I go for ages without thinking about music at all. You know, building things or just planning like a future house, or drawing. It just seems such a waste to limit yourself.” To that end, Dust has certainly lived up to his credo. Over the past few years he’s done everything from building his own musical instruments to studying electromagnetic phenomena in Greenland, not to mention travelling to Iceland, Scandinavia and the USA. LA Priest has acted as a vehicle to express some of these experiences artistically but Dust is searching for more. So too, it seems, is Mockasin. He’s currently developing a soap opera and an accompanying album (“It’s something I’ve been working on for nearly 20 years and I’m finally actually doing it now that I can”), and he’s
exhibiting a collection of his paintings in Tokyo next year (“It’s all really pretentious stuff but it’s fun, I’m enjoying it,” he laughs). Like Dust, he also feels like working with music alone can be stifling. “I know I’ve only released two records but – and it’s different doing this one with Sam, although maybe that’s why we didn’t put it out sooner – I find the whole process just gets boring. I was pretty bored by the second one. I do like making records, I just don’t like putting them out.” Life on the road can be tedious too, he says. “I think we both get discontent, itchy, bored – you know what I mean – with music. I know some people will walk into a venue and it’s, ‘Oh yeah, let’s check out the PA, cool, let’s do a sound check’, and…” “It can be sterile,” says Dust. “I’m jealous of people that get obsessed with music and guitars,” continues Mockasin. “I wish I could get obsessed with guitars! I was into guitars when I was a child, and that’s when I would play every day for two years and that’s how I managed to be able to play guitar, but I wish I was like that now.” I wonder then, where does that place the Soft Hair record within the context of everything else going on? Hearing Dust and Mockasin talk about music, both obviously have ambitions for the project far beyond eight tracks and 32 minutes or so. Combined with the stage show, the film and the music videos, maybe the two are asking for a lot of commitment from their listeners? Mockasin certainly still sees the record as a worthwhile experience on its own. “It’s kind of nice – it’s very nice, actually – for people to just listen to it as a record, without having to have the kind of, ‘Well what’s the story behind that?’ Just to enjoy it for the record, and then later, if they like it, it might make more sense.” “You know, fans really love listening to demos of songs,” proffers Dust. “I like that as well; when I hear a demo of a Prince song, it’s just somehow fascinating in a way. Well we didn’t really have demos for this record – most of these songs are the final master recordings – but in a way the film was the ‘demo’. The film was kind of the starting point for a lot of these ideas. So putting out the film is kind of like giving people the demos. It doesn’t really matter how it comes out, because that’s what it is. It doesn’t matter if the production values aren’t, you know… it’s the sketch pad.” “Great answer,” Mockasin says, affectionately patting his bandmate on the back. “It’s taken me three days to think of that,” sighs Dust. “Well, five years.”
fortress As a writer, poet and musician, KATE TEMPEST has built a foundation of integrity that she’ll protect this month with new album ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’. With fellow South Londoner Katie Beswick, she discusses gender identity, her compulsion to tell a story and her love for her corner of the city. Photography: jenna foxton / writer: katie beswick
hen Kate Tempest performed Brand New Ancients at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2012 it heralded a new dawn in the poetry, music and playwriting career she had been building for over a decade. Though already an established figure on the spoken word scene, where she had been honing her prowess as an MC since her teens, the epic poem catapulted Tempest to the mainstream and won her serious literary and critical attention (including the Ted Hughes Prize for New Work in Poetry the following year). Combining spoken word with a four-piece orchestral score, Ancients was a portrait of South East London’s streets: a delicate tapestry of intersecting narratives that illuminated an overlooked London district. It drew on ancient Greek mythology to position a very contemporary world within the context of human history. The characters in her poem were drawn with such truth and sensitivity that listening to the work was almost painful. Tempest’s extreme, stripped-bare vulnerability as a performer gives her an incredible ability to connect with an audience. The emotional voltage of her performance in Brand New Ancients was such that, after I saw it, I sat stunned. I stayed glued to my seat in the auditorium until an usher asked me to leave; tears wet on my face, totally wrung out — as if she had pulled at the threads of some sadness twisted up inside me. I’ve been slightly obsessed with her ever since, following
her ascent into the music and literary elite with serious awe and not a little envy. I think part of my fascination with her work stems from the fact that, like Tempest, I was born and raised in South East London and my sense of identity is profoundly connected to my home. Four years later and, surreally, I’m sat with Kate Tempest in our native South East London, shielding the sun from my eyes as we discuss her work. “Yeah,” she says, when I mention the impact Ancients had on her reputation, credibility and mainstream appeal. “Brand New Ancients was a bit of a benchmark because it was a turning point in terms of recognition and in terms of completing a big idea. It was the first time I’d really had an idea, seen it through, got to the end of it.” As it has become apparent, it was just the start of Kate Tempest’s big ideas. She’s spent the past few years working prolifically: producing an impressive body of work including a poetry collection (Hold Your Own), three plays (Wasted and Hopelessly Devoted for Paines Plough, and The Glasshouse for Cardboard Citizens), a Mercury Award Nominated album (2014’s ‘Everybody Down’ 2014), a novel (The Bricks that Built the Houses) and now, another album, ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’, which will be released this coming month. I’m quite nervous about our meeting. Despite her vulnerable, compelling stage persona the intimidating volume and force of her work and her well-documented
disdain for “industry slime balls,” as she refers to the sycophantic hangerson in ‘Everybody Down’, mean I am half-anticipating a tetchy interview subject. But she’s great company: honest and open, intense, yes, but kind and articulate too. And while she is uncomfortable with the necessary media attention that comes with a successful music career, she is obviously pleased to be putting her latest record into the world. “I wasn’t really looking forward to this,” she says, looking over her shoulder before heading into our photo-shoot, “but then I remembered this is the first time I’ll be talking about the new album with a British journalist, and I got a bit excited.”
eading a list of her recent accomplishments, it’s easy to assume that Tempest’s success has been effortless. From the outside it is baffling that a person could produce such an impressive oeuvre in less than five years. Yet she emphasises that her achievements are hard won, telling me that her prodigious work ethic is borne partly from a need to prove her talents outside of the industry hype about her work. “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” she explains, smoothing out the collar on her Fred Perry shirt and shifting sideways in her seat, trying to escape the glare of the sun. “The plan was always to build this foundation. Build this base that’s so strong nobody
can question your integrity. Because as soon as you read about someone in a magazine you think you’re being sold something. It’s the hard sell. So you don’t trust it. You don’t trust that this artist you’re reading about is worth anything. Because you haven’t discovered this artist yourself, it’s being thrown at you by the powers that be. You’re just looking at a picture of someone feeling really uncomfortable, probably, in a photoshoot feeling like a dick, and then you’re reading an article. And the thing is, what I wanted to do always was build this fortress. It’s three plays, two epic poems, a novel. It’s three albums. You can’t argue with that. That’s like: she’s serious.” She leans forward, presses her palms into the table. “And ever since I was a kid, and I’d come into the rave or the cypher or whatever, people would be like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I would start rapping and it was like: ‘Oh. She’s serious.’ Like, for a woman especially, it’s a very interesting feeling to have to prove that, actually, you’re serious. And I’ve been trying to prove that all my life and I think I’ll be continuing to try and prove that forever.” We meet in Brockley, a place Tempest once described in an interview with The Guardian as ‘a bit shit and […] never going to be anything other than a bit shit.’ It’s strange, reading that now, because South East London is not the place it was four years ago; certainly not the place it was
fifteen years ago, when Kate Tempest was a teenager just beginning her creative journey. The signs of change, of money – of gentrification for want of a better expression – are immediately visible: I step off at the station and walk straight onto a small side-street dotted with organic cafés and upmarket coffee shops; all gluten free bread and fair trade coffee. The crumbling pubs and greasy spoon caffs of my youth are gone. A man in an expensive suit sits at a stripped pine table; tapping at his MacBook Air, sipping freshly squeezed fruit juice from an elegant glass. It is unrecognisable from the place I once knew — although the empty crisp packets that catch on the wind as I make my way to Jenna the photographers’ studio remind me that home is still there, dirty and familiar, under the surface of this shiny new city. Kate’s voice is another familiar marker of home – her accent is just like mine and the women I grew up with – with the glottal stops, and the way she peppers her sentences with fucking swear words. We spend a bit of time reminiscing about the old South East London, the speed at which it has changed; how it’s much safer now, but that nagging sense of loss tugs at you
nonetheless. Tempest nods. “It’s interesting like, to talk to you,” she says. “Someone who’s from round here. It’s like if you’re not from here you might think this is an affectation. Trying to make out that London’s a hard place or whatever. But there is a sensibility it gives you where, it’s just,
I’ve seen and that has happened. I don’t even have to take that left: I know what’s down there. And for a long time that was extremely comforting and I wouldn’t really like the feeling of not knowing where a road goes when I’m in East London or North London or West London.” She looks around at the
“For a woman especially, it’s a very interesting feeling to have to prove that, actually, you’re serious” life is really full on.” She shakes her head. “But, you know, I think there’s a lot to be said for, just, for example: when I walk down the street in New Cross I know exactly where every single turning off leads to. I know exactly what’s down there. And there’s something instinctive about walking the same roads that you and all your younger selves have walked, thirty years of my life. And all the things that
new development where we’re sitting. “I mean, lots of people really enjoy the feeling of adventure and discovery, but because I’m so rooted to my home I always felt a little bit not quite safe when I was out of my area. But now, because it’s changed so much, it’s not quite the same thing. I don’t feel quite so entwined. But a lot of my pals are still here. It still feels mine. But that’s changing a bit.”
The changing face of our hometown, and the inevitability of change in general, is a central theme of ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’. On the track ‘Perfect Coffee’ Tempest offers an open lament to a neighbourhood lost to flash developments and corporate interests (‘It don’t feel like home no more/I don’t speak the lingo/Since when was this a winery/It used to be the bingo’). But the album is not just about slagging off expensive housing developments; it’s more complex and interesting than that, using detailed descriptions of the South East London locations (‘Up the stairwell/Chip-fat grey and London green with damp/Out on the fifth floor/where the wind grips your jaw and holds you in its clamp/ There’s a red door bordered by mottled glass/And inside/A lighted lamp’) to give way to reflections on the world at large: on politics, war, the environment; on love and intimacy. The track ‘Europe is Lost’ appears at first a direct comment on Brexit and the politics that surround it (‘And about them immigrants I can’t stand them/Mostly I mind my own business/But they’re only coming over here to get rich, it’s a sickness/England, England, Patriotism/And you wonder why kids want to die for religion’). But Tempest tells me she wrote the track long before the referendum. “I wrote it in, like, November last year,” she says, “just
L ef t & B e l o w : K a t e temp est o u t s i d e a n d i n s i d e t he p h o t o g r a p h er ’ s s t ud io , B r o ckl ey , So u t h L o nd o n .
before the Paris attacks. But the thing is it’s like you can see it. It’s all been coming for a long time.” If the artist sometimes seems like a mystic, she says, it’s just because they’re noticing what’s happening in the world. “I did an interview with Don DeLillo recently, for Picador. He’s a novelist who I think’s amazing, and he just wrote a book. And lots of people talk about how in Don DeLillo’s work he’s been like prescient, he’s seen the future or whatever, and when reading him, I thought that rather than being prescient he is just extremely present. He’s just noticing. He’s looking around and just noticing the things we take for granted every day. He’s looking and describing the kind of surreal, bizarre, strange, just hysterical nature of everyday life. But because he then writes it down it suddenly seems like the future. So I kind of feel with something like ‘Europe is Lost’, it’s just happening. I just noticed it and then Brexit happened and now, suddenly, it seems like it was a comment on that.” Would you mind it being understood as a comment on that, I ask. She shakes her head. “Once the thing’s written it’s got nothing to do with you. That’s the thing. It doesn’t belong to me. So whatever people take it for. You’re not looking for those moments [of wider meaning] when you write.You know, all being well, it’s got nothing to do with you. You spend your whole life trying to accommodate the ideas when they come. Improving your facilities, learning your flow, learning your craft. But when the idea comes it’s not you that has it. You just have to deal with it when it comes.”
et Them Eat Chaos’ is a series of connected songs that unfolds around the stories of seven characters in seven homes, the only people awake at 4.18am on a stormy night. Though the lyrics are unbearably bleak, the backing instrumentals (produced by Dan Carey) are upbeat and buoyant; the music feels as if it is a celebration of the terrible reality Tempest is compelled to narrate. In its epic nature and overarching humanist themes, this new record is very much like Brand New Ancients. But although it is character driven, ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ also feels incredibly personal, autobiographical in places. It bleeds into and out of real life as Tempest experiments with blending the storytelling form she has developed in her
more recent work with the rawer aesthetic from her earlier rapping days, which she has sometimes called ‘shouting at people.’ “I suppose all characters begin in a moment of truth or a moment of lived experience,” she says, when I ask her whether she deliberately meshed the personal and the fictional in writing ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’. “Whether that’s your own or somebody that you know and love. So there are moments, yeah, there are moments of autobiographical stuff. But it’s the compulsion to tell. It’s a strange thing that poets and rappers have – this kind of compulsion to speak truth or tell secret things that want to be heard. It’s a really strange, like, grip that it has you in. But then it’s important to me, or it was important to me with this record, that it wasn’t just about me, or the narrative ‘I’. That it reaches out, that it’s about people who are not just facets of my personality. Who are characters. I did some work on trying to make them characters.” She hesitates. “I hope they feel like characters.” They do. “And in the end, through these very specific descriptions of the environment, I want people to be able to locate themselves in it, you know?” Tempest and her band have already started performing the album locally. She tells me that one of the reasons she’s still based in South East London is because the people here understand her journey. “I really like being around people that know how long I’ve been working on this,” she says. “Because there’s nothing sycophantic about their respect. Or in fact their lack of respect.” The first gig at her local pub, The Bird’s Nest, went, erm, well. “It was pretty fucking mental,” she laughs. “It was half one in the morning on bank holiday weekend. Everyone was fucked. It was like trying to do a play fucked. So weird. But we did another one earlier on in the night the next day, in Brixton at this pub [The Windmill]. And somebody said they left the gig and they were walking home, and they were looking at the windows and they were like, ‘Who’s in there? Are they awake? What are they doing?’ And this is the beautiful thing I think about storytelling: it’s that – whether it’s film, or music, or fiction or whatever – it’s that suddenly it positions you more fully in life. Suddenly you’re looking at people being like, ‘oh my God, you’re everything.’ And the whole point of my work is look again.” Looking again at Tempest’s body of
work, one of the things I notice is the progression of her narratives in terms of gender fluidity and homosexual themes. In ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ female characters are openly attracted to other women, and the love interest in her novel, Harry, who had been male when Tempest told a version of the story on ‘Everybody Down’, became a woman in the book. This marks a real shift from her earlier writing, which although always exciting in terms of its experiments with form, often worked with familiar heteronormative narrative tropes. The conservative heterosexuality, of Brand New Ancients and ‘Everybody Down’ particularly, seemed a little incongruous given that Tempest herself is a female rapper with an awkward, boyish presence – an image completely out of step with stereotypical understandings of femininity. She tells me that the path towards non-conventional gender roles in her work has been tough, especially because writing heterosexual males was a way to escape from the uneasiness she felt about her own gender identity in her earlier years. “I have my own particular experiences of gender and
feeling a little uncomfortable with where I sat, extremely uncomfortable when I was younger,” she says, “And music – hip hop, lyricism – being a way out of all of the things that didn’t work about me, do you know what I mean? So my work has been this holy grail that allowed me for a moment to step outside of all the things about my identity, including my gender, that I was judged for, or because of, or that I needed to escape for a minute cos it did my head in. And a lot of the storytelling and stuff was I suppose a way for me not to have to discuss ‘I’ being ‘she’, you know? It was easier for me to write a male character, because I could identify more with one.” She pauses for a moment, contemplating; the faint, fine lines around her eyes and lips illuminated by the early evening sun, her long hair golden on her shoulders. “But as I’ve got older, I feel very close to my femininity actually; in a way that’s very personal and not really bound up with ideas about femininity that are inherited from other sources. I feel like my poetry, my performance – especially my performance – connects me so deeply with my creative energy:
â€˜ Le t the m e at c h aos â€™ conne cts se ve n d if f e r e nt char act e r s all awake at 4:18am one s to r m y nigh t.
my raw, very female self. Which is extremely vulnerable but so strong. And I feel much more comfortable on that stage going there than I ever feel talking to people, or being patronised, being condescended to, being undervalued. These are all the things that I associate with being a woman.” Writing female characters, she acknowledges, is hard. Partly because of the limited ways women are presented in music, literature and art more widely, and partly because she is aware that an explicit, forced gender politics might dilute the potency of her work. “When you begin writing a woman character you have to work really, really hard to give her agency, space, depth. You have to make a fair start on your journey before you can start fighting the inherited conventional clichés that you are party to, in terms of just conceiving narrative. Like Becky [the protagonist in The Bricks that Built the Houses/Everybody Down] I had to work so hard, I had to do three or four drafts to make her not passive. And she’s not meant to be passive – I mean,” she gestures towards me, smiling, “I’ve never even met one! I’ve never met a passive woman. And here I am writing one. And then Harry, because Harry began life as male, just had all this kind of depth and intricacy and selfhood. And obviously I then rewrote the character because now she’s a woman and she’s got these different concerns, but it was a really interesting moment in being like: fucking hell. I’ve met a few women who absolutely blew my mind. Who were so inspiring and cool and queer and just fucking brilliant, and I just thought: ‘This needs to be. I need to write this woman – I really need to write her.’ And I was so fucking terrified about it. But actually nobody,” she bursts out laughing, “no one seems to have a problem with it! And this is what I’m talking about, the conventional traps, the narrative traps. You don’t even realise you’ve inherited this idea of the ‘she’ in the story, even in my own story.” I think it’s important, I say, to write outside the conventional narratives, to make art that gives women more options. “I’ve had my battles with it, you know,” Tempest shrugs. “But also I don’t want every story I tell to be about two women. Because this is the thing as well: if you are too decisive about wanting to redress the gender balance within your narratives then it’s even worse. It’s even clumsier. But then it was quite nice that of the seven characters [in ‘Let them Eat Chaos’] five are women, and quite
different women. One’s a mother. One’s a carer. One’s a professional older woman – that’s how I see Esther. Zoe, the one that’s packing her boxes, she’s a bit younger I see her in her early 20s.” And we’re back to Tempest’s forensic obsession with her writing, that absolute commitment to an idea, to detail, to perfecting her characters. I wonder whether such a ferocious work ethic is entirely healthy, whether she feels like she might need to slow down at some point. “Yeah,” she nods. “Like, I mean, yeah. It’s pretty heavy, my workload. Like, it is knackering. I am knackered. There’re things I’m not able to do with my life. I can’t just fuck off. But I’ve been doing this a long time. And I’m extremely driven by something I can’t really articulate my relationship with; it’s a very huge part of my life, this constant service to an idea. Being able to improve my capabilities to accommodate the idea. This is all it is. Everything you write, as soon as you wrote it, it’s shit. The idea is perfect; the finished thing is shit. This is it. This is the agony of it. This is the journey. So I’ve got this debt to every day of my life I’ve spent doing this, since I decided I wanted this to be my life.”
ver since she was fifteen, Tempest tells me, she’s been struggling to make the next move, to finance her artwork and get to a position where she can do justice to her ideas. But it hasn’t been a painless path. “It does get easier,” she insists. “Because you end up with things like a publisher and a manager. I’ve got a manager who’s really amazing and helps me. But for ages I was self-managed and it put huge, huge pressures on every relationship I had. Because I was just fucking absent. Mental. Stressed. And everything had to revolve around my work. I didn’t really see my family for ages. I was married; that kind of fell apart. It was like, fucking mental the things you have to do to get into a position where you can take yourself, take tomorrow, seriously.” I find myself telling Kate about an artist friend of mine, who struggled with debilitating mental health problems that seemed connected to her need for validation from the art industry – although it’s clear that it’s not only external validation that drives Tempest’s ambition. Her deep need to connect with people, to experience the beauty of the world in all its colour and agony is obvious; the way she
closes her eyes against the light when contemplating a question; the sincerity and clarity with which she speaks about her work. “The temperament that pushes you to make art is one of extreme sensitivity,” she says. “We’re so sensitive. We’re tuned into life on this frequency that is almost unbearably poignant. Things are devastating and perfect. And yes, validation is a huge part of it, because you’re so raw.You’re so open. And then you give your whole life to making this stuff and if nobody wants to listen to it, or if somebody cusses it, or if somebody misunderstands the motives, it’s extremely painful. And I understand what you’re saying about this taking a huge toll on your friend, it takes a huge toll on artists that I know as well. But then there is this flip side of it, which is to remove yourself from that and say: well this is my purpose. This is everything I am. And this doesn’t validate me: this completes me. And there’s nothing else for me to do. I am on a journey to try to get better and it’s natural. If you can remove yourself from the agony of it and celebrate it.” Although her work is mostly celebrated now, there’s still a tendency in some quarters to view Tempest’s output with suspicion or snobbery. She tells me that certain literary characters still wrinkle their noses at her and ask, ‘oh, so you like rap.’ As if it were a dirty, alien, dangerous genre. There’s racism there, maybe (perhaps it is difficult for leading literary figures to respect a form that emerged from a black subcultural movement). Classism, for sure. She rolls her eyes, “Suddenly you’re responsible for their ignorance.” But fitting in has never been the point of it, really, and still isn’t, despite the discomfort she feels in some of the art world’s more elitist spaces. “It’s like, in my experience of moving into poetry, and even some of the spaces where these events would be happening, at the time I was freaked out. And I’d be calling my pals like, ‘I’m at another poetry gig in a gallery.’ And I felt hideous and ugly and I didn’t know where to put my feet. And I couldn’t speak and I didn’t know how to make eye contact in the right way. And there is this thing, like you feel that you don’t belong, that you’re not allowed. But what you get from the work…’ She stops, leans back to take in the span of the sky. “What you get from the work, nobody can give you permission for that. Because, yeah, everything about it made me feel like I didn’t belong – except the art work itself.”
Light bulb Moment The story of Pylon: a true cult band from post-punk America Photography: curtis knapp / writer: daniel dylan wray
n 1987 R.E.M. were named the best band in America by Rolling Stone magazine. For anyone that had seen Athens, GA: Inside/Out, though – the documentary based on the music of their hometown and released the same year – it was clear that R.E.M. would have awarded that accolade to Pylon, even if this local band had already split up four years previously. Such public displays of adoration would lead Pylon to reform in 1989 and support R.E.M. on their massive ‘Green’ tour (their first major label album) but despite such public displays of affection and influence, initial touring circuits with the likes of U2, their records being re-released on James Murphy’s DFA label and their music being covered by contemporary Athens heroes Deerhunter as recently as 2011, Pylon still seem to exist as more of a cherished cult group than a pioneering force of the U.S. post-punk and alt-rock movement. The group initially existed between 1978-1983 and recently the recording of their final show surfaced. A performance recorded at the Mad Hatter Club in Athens, it was for a TV pilot that failed to get off the ground called The Athens Shows. It was recently transferred from tape, mastered and released as ‘Pylon: Live’. The resulting record is a potent document of a band that sound like they are at the apex of their creative powers rather than playing their final, sputtering notes together as a group. The live album is an illustrative performance of a group in which melody and groove rolled out of them as fluidly and seamlessly as the itchy and guttural guitar stabs. Like the finest of post-punk music from the era they were a group in a state of perpetual motion, surging forward and pulling back simultaneously, harmonious melody and discordant expulsions
interlocking and wrestling with one another, spinning and moving in tornado-like trajectories. The core of the group consisted of Vanessa Briscoe Hay (vocals), Michael Lachowski (bass), Curtis Crowe (drums) and Randall Bewley (guitar), the latter of whom passed away in 2009. Whilst she describes Athens as being “like any other small college town”, Hay states that “A sort of perfect storm of creativity happened to our town between 1975-85.” The college town already had a strong art department and in 1976 Georgia native Jimmy Carter was elected president and several major artworks were donated in his honour to the Georgia Museum of Art and many notable artists came to speak with the students during the period, bolstering an already thriving artistic community in the area. During this period many downtown businesses were leaving for out-of-town mall locations or simply closing down and this left spacious (and cheap) loft spaces in the centre, which soon became occupied by artists and musicians. Hay reflects on this period, saying: “The ease of living inexpensively factored into artists and future musicians staying there past graduation.” One central hub of creativity in a cheap location was the 40 Watt Club. Now a revered and legendary music venue in a different location in the city, it was once simply a loft owned by Crowe and it was here that Pylon was born. “It initially was a large decrepit pigeon-ridden loft in the top of a building downtown,” Hay tells me. “Curtis rented the top two floors of this building and sublet the floor just below to artists. It was an old building, which had a dark interior staircase that led up to those two floors. Curtis cleared and cleaned the loft and lived there.
“Sitting on a mattress in the middle of the floor one night and noting a lone light bulb that hung from the ceiling by a wire, Curtis and his friend Bill Tabor dubbed this their 40 Watt club. Michael Lachowski and I rented an art studio directly under Curtis’s loft. This studio is where Randy Bewley and Michael started practicing in the fall of 1978. Curtis could hear the two of them through the floor practicing the same riffs over and over again. Curtis decided that they needed a drummer and knocked on the door and offered his services. Later, I auditioned for their band on February 14, 1979.” The group were voracious consumers of music during this period and a band proud to be the sum of the parts of their influences, many of which came from discoveries at local record store Chapter Three. “Our influences and the ability to be inspired and informed by them was key to us making new music that was both valid and confident,” says Lachowski. Picking up on records by Television, Pere Ubu, Cabaret Voltaire, Gang of Four, Killing Joke, Roxy Music, DAF, DNA, Mekons, Brian Eno and more, these albums were shared through parties in which they’d all listen to one another’s new finds and imports.
wo weeks after Hay auditioned the group played their first show. “People just stood and stared at us,” she says. “They weren’t quite sure of what to make of it. Maybe we were awful, maybe we were too different. “Around our third performance, the B-52’s came to see us play at a house out in the country and it turned into one crazy dance party.” By 1978 the B-52’s (also from Athens) had had something of a hit
single with ‘Rock Lobster’, released via local label DB Records before the group signed to Warner Bros for their debut album. DB turned their attention to Pylon with the aim of putting out their first single, the excellent double A-side of ‘Cool/Dub’. ‘Cool’ was a blistering landmark of a debut single – crashing and crunching guitar eruptions hacked through rolling bass lines and immaculate drums as Hay’s voice rose from a quiet murmur to a raging shriek. It recalled both Buzzcocks and Wipers at their finest but the fresh sense of punch and the almost sexy groove made it stand singularly apart. ‘Dub’ was much more Gang of Four territory, all spiky and restless guitar rattles and throbs and shards of bass as the drums tumbled and rolled whilst Hay’s vocals dominated fiercely. Together, they are a vital and vicious opening statement to the world. They both appeared on the band’s 1980 debut album, ‘Gyrate’ – a record that follows suit, merging spunky almost ESG-like basslines with shimmering guitar melodies and visceral stabs with quiet-to-growly vocals atop. It’s clear that R.E.M. were most certainly listening to Pylon a lot in their formative days. Things began to move quickly for the group in the wake of ‘Gyrate’. “It really snowballed very quickly,” says Hay. “We had, as our original goal, to go to New York and get written up in New York Rocker and disband. Instead we opened for our heroes, Gang of Four, and were reviewed by Interview magazine’s Glenn O’Brien. The B-52’s went out on a national tour with the Talking Heads. When they got to the Agora in Atlanta, they played separate nights and we got to open for both bands. We also opened for PiL at the Agora along with the Atlanta band Vietnam. We also played
Pyl o n , L -R: Va n essa Ha y, Mich a el La ch o wski, Cur t is Cr o we, Ra n d y B ewl ey.
with Medium Medium, the Soft Boys, the Basics, the Tone Tones, Method Actors, Mission of Burma, theScientific Americans and many others.” Most notably perhaps though, was a national tour with U2 as they were working their way from vaguely post-punk Dubliners to mega-bland global superstars. “I honestly didn’t have much interaction with them,” Hay says. “It wasn’t a lot of fun for us and when we were asked to open for the rest of their North American tour, we declined.”
n paper, the group’s existence between 1980-83 seems like a pivotal, almost enviable, one. Two albums released (the second being the also excellent ‘Chomp’ in 1983) touring with their heroes and getting major gigs across the country with an everexpanding fan base, yet there was a feeling of discomfort underneath it all, as Hay very simply puts it. “We had made a pact that if the band ever ceased to be fun, that we would call it quits. “In 1983, everything seemed to be a lot more work and there was a lot of
pressure to do various things that we had no interest in,” she says. Lachowski concurs this feeling: “Because we had gotten to that level of relative success, we found ourselves aggravated by the accompanying expectations: to work on new material, record a new album, tour for the new album, seek out opening slots for big name bands in a strategic bid to move up, etc. Despite all of our experience, we had managed to sustain – and often to reinforce – within the band the notion that we were tourists in the rock and roll industry, artists who were dabbling as musicians; dilettantes in the music business. Somewhere in there we agreed to conduct one last bold move by fulfilling our oft-stated premise: that we would do this band thing as long as it was fun.” “I don’t remember a whole lot about the final show,” Hay says, trying to recall the evening, “but all our friends were there. We played almost everything that we performed live at the time.” Which extends to 20 songs on the recent live album. These tourists of the music industry returned for one more trip in 1989 at the behest of R.E.M (who by this stage had also covered the group’s track
‘Crazy’, a B-side to ‘Driver-8’, and the opening track to their ‘Dead Letter Office’ compilation album) but called it a day once more in 1991. Pylon would once more come to the surface in the mid-2000s, playing sporadic live shows again from 2004 onward. DFA were soon in touch, too, looking to reissue the two albums, as Lachowski recalls: “I had a DJ record store and I had become aware of DFA because of James Murphy bringing the Rapture to everyone’s attention with ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ and I was a huge fan. Around that time Pylon was asking around about what labels might want to reissue our first album. And then out of the blue we got an email from DFA that said, ‘You probably don’t know who we are and you probably don’t care, but we love Pylon and we want nothing more than to reissue your music.’ I was ecstatic and all I had to do was try to convey the importance of that to the rest of the band. I went to New York to meet with them and it was a mutual love fest with James, Jonathan Galkin and Juan McClean. They were exactly the right people to put Pylon’s music in front of people at that time.” The group’s edgy post-punk grit combined with
their melodic cool, seamless grooves and new wave gleam meant they slotted in amongst many other DFA releases with ease. Deerhunter then tackled the group’s debut single ‘Cool’ on a 2011 DFA release, which Lachowski loves. “The immense love of Deerhunter to make such a beautiful version of ‘Cool’, and on that same single having Sasha Frere-Jones and Alexis Krauss – as Calvinist – remake ‘Yo-Yo’, that was a surprise gift so many years later.” These contemporary artists and tastemakers being in awe of Pylon, exposing them to a new generation of listeners, has humbled Lachowski enormously, although the love of the cult band clearly never died to many. “It’s starting to feel like the fandom never went away,” he says, “and maybe it even grew a bit in abeyance. I say that based in part on several chance encounters I had last week at a Kraftwerk show in Atlanta with people coming up to me and saying stuff like ‘you changed my life.’ We’re amazed and grateful that what we created together has been so appreciated and still engenders interest. It’s delightful to be in a position to hear this feedback and to continue the conversation.”
tell me about it
B el o w: Ma rc a l m o n d p ho t o g ra p hed in sev en sist ers, Lo n d o n .
Talk about… pop music Ahead of a new, giant retrospective box set, Marc Almond sat down for a conversation with Sam Walton Photography: ph il sharp / writer: sam walton
The results of a Google image search for “Marc Almond” make for curiously engrossing viewing. As with any pop figure 35 years into his career, there’s an immediate compression of time, as mop-headed Marc, fresh from his Top Of The Pops debut with Soft Cell in August 1981, mingles with unflattering modern pap shots from clickbait websites. Candid documentary photographs of him applying his makeup in front of a dressing-room mirror, tattooed and toned, are interspersed with the results of sumptuously styled shoots. Yet for all the diversity of image, there’s one constant: eyeliner.Almond’s theatrically darkened eyes feel like a springboard from which every mutation has sprung, and well it might: he has named his huge career retrospective box set ‘Trials of Eyeliner’ – though, given its prevalence, it could just as easily be “trails”. Almond’s box set performs a similar temporal compression, albeit on a grander scale. While there’s something rather daunting about attempting to digest nearly 13 hours of music made by one person (especially when five minutes of it – ‘Tainted Love’, the song that catapulted Marc Almond from Leeds Poly into the nation’s living room – is one of the most famous pop songs ever recorded) ‘Trials of Eyeliner’ is surprisingly lithe for its size, never feeling overly weighty or viscous. Over the course of ten discs, you travel from a late-70s post-punk artschool wasteland reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle and early Pulp, through proto-acid house, show tunes, throaty ballads, glam rock, and of course bulletproof pop songs. But alongside the big (and the not-so-big) singles are Almond’s forays into the esoteric. There are rather startling selections from an album of Russian
romance and folk songs, played with local musicians in Muscovite hovels; there are cuts from a song cycle about the 1665 Great Plague of London, ‘Ten Plagues’, that serves as a metaphor for the public hysteria that greeted the emergence of AIDS; there are excerpts from his 1983 double LP ‘Torment & Toreros’, recorded as Marc and the Mambas, which gathered dust until Antony Hegarty exhumed it for his Meltdown festival in 2012. The result is a portrait of a singular musical ambition that dances between unapologetically commercial singalongs and occasionally bloodyminded slices of performance art. It’s also a peculiarly British image of popular music: high camp nestling with the art school, unexpected hits alongside lost gems, and a seam of non-conformity and even selfdeprecation running through it all. “You poor thing!” Almond exclaims, when I tell him I’ve spent the last week listening to nothing but Marc Almond. On the contrary – the result has been rather enriching. “There’s a mainstream public that know me for Soft Cell and those hits”
But I’ve had these two careers going on, so people are unaware of lots of stuff I’ve done. I’m very lucky, because I’ve had this bunch of hits, which has then given me the chance to do these underground, theatrical and experimental things. ‘Tainted Love’ gave me the opportunity to do everything really. If it hadn’t been a hit, I probably would’ve gone off into experimental theatre, and maybe music, but it would’ve been a lot more leftfield, much more the level of the early stuff in the box set. Then again, I’ve still been able to do stuff
like that anyway – I did ‘Ten Plagues’ the other year, and the stuff I did in Russia, which I really value, and I’m working on another thing of my own at the moment. So I’m still able to go into that world if I want to. “I don’t just write abou t seediness and griminess”
I write a lot about loneliness, about yearning and looking for things, about trying to find some place in the world. There’s an outsiderness I think to the music I make, and that’s how I’ve been all my life – just trying to fit in, but never quite managing. As a kid, at school, at home, I’ve never been able to connect with people very well. Even with the whole Blitz Club scene in the early ’80s, Soft Cell were the poor cousins of that. It was always the Human League, ABC and that lot, all the glossy number-one bands, and even after we had a number-one hit we were still the poor northerners. I remember at one of our first gigs down south, we were supporting Depeche Mode I think, and there was another band in the audience, who shall remain nameless, who threw pennies at us because we were the “poor northerners”. We always felt like the rejected people. “I’ve loved pop music since I was little”
Back then, I never thought I’d be able to get the chance to actually go on Top of the Pops, to be a pop star and all that. But my first experience of success was difficult, because I was still very much the art student, and very much in that mindset of wanting to be experimental and subversive, while working with a corporate record company who
wanted to show me how to move on Top of the Pops and bring in stylists to tell me what to wear. “I realised pretty early on that to last in the music business, you’ve got to commit commercial suicide”
When we first had pop success there was of course a pressure from the record company to do more more more of the same same same. But we saw other bands doing that with diminishing returns, and they all burned themselves out. So we thought – and you must remember that we were bastard-minded art students as well, belligerent and totally difficult, with this art school training that Soft Cell was an extension of – if we’re going to last, we don’t want to be written about in Smash Hits. We want to be written about in NME. But we ended up being a Smash Hits band, wearing party hats on the cover of the Christmas special, and it was horrible. We realised that the irony wasn’t really coming over so we had to do something different – we had to move in a way that was more Birthday Party than Depeche Mode. “I did a thing in 1983 called The Immaculate Consumptive”
Which was me, Nick Cave, Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell and Lydia Lunch. It was a sort of alternative dark shambolic cabaret show. I think we only did it two or three times – people always wanted us to do more, but it was one of those things that was best left in myth. Nothing really survives from that project – I think I’ve got a bootlegged cassette that’s been copied
tell me about it
“‘Tainted Love’ gave me the opportunity to do everything really”
none of them are wearing the clothes that they’d actually wear – they’ve all been bought in, brand new, by a stylist! There are no little denim jackets that have been scuffed a bit, it’s all shiny and new, and it’s awful. I’d have never got past the audition stage on The X Factor, unless I was one of those camp novelty acts that they put through who then get voted out three shows before the end: everything in pop now has to be TV-ready and unshockable. It’s as if there’s a mass conservatism, where it all has to be accepted by the establishment, lest someone complains. “They say I’m a national treasure”
about 50 times and done the rounds – but it’s good like that. Nick stole the show when he came on at the end and did Elvis’ ‘In The Ghetto’, and everyone’s jaw just dropped because he was really brilliant and everyone else was a complete mess. “I hate the way London is being half pulled down, and every street now looks the same”
It’s not that I never want anything to change, or to bury myself in nostalgia – I like a mixture of the modern and the old. But you need history to have soulfulness, and what I like about London is that it always felt like a modern melting pot of old history and modern things happening. But I’ve felt that over a couple of years, London was losing respect for its older side, laying waste to all that in favour of monuments to “luxury living”. But the thing is these “luxury” apartments are not luxury living! Luxury is space, and time and air. These apartments are not luxury living, they’re upmarket council flats! I’ve lived in a council flat, and it was better built than most of these apartments. I’ve felt this change a
lot recently. Maybe it’s a getting-older thing, watching different artists you know drop off the edge of the conveyor belt: when someone like David Bowie goes, you feel that it’s not just David Bowie you’re losing, but you’re losing a part of you, and who you are. It’s the same with buildings and places, too, that are part of your identity. They’ve made you who you are, so when they tear them down, they’re tearing down a bit of you, too. “There’s no roughness or raw sexiness left in pop music”
You see these guys and girls on the first audition stage of The X Factor, and they come in looking quite rough and nice, and quite sexy. But even at the first audition, all their vocals are already mixed and put through tuners, and they’ve had a backing track mixed around them, so they just sound like a record from the first minute and there’s none of that bit where you see them grow. And then, once they’ve made it past the boot camp, they’re all coiffured and wearing the same hair gel! They’ve got too much makeup on and look like they’ve had facials! And
Which sounds like the kind of thing you’ve got to put away in a cupboard and forget about, or like some old relic that has to be displayed in a cabinet. I still try to be anti-establishment, though – a little bit against the grain – even though it’s increasingly hard to do that once everyone starts accepting you for being against the grain! That becomes your establishment persona: “Oh he’s anti-establishment, and that’s why we accept him as part of the establishment”! I’ve even started being invited to things and getting awarded for things, which was a shock because I assumed that nobody noticed me anymore. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve been around for so long now that everything else is dead or dying, or has fallen off the conveyor belt, so they’re desperately looking around for anyone that’s left! It’s hard to still be subversive when you’ve been around for a hundred years. “I do those Big Reunion Hits Of The ’80s revue-type shows because it brings in the cash”
I have five or six hits that everyone loves and waves their arms about to and sings, and that’s good. But what I don’t want to do as I grow older is sink into a comfort zone, so I’ve decided that this will be the last year of all that, because I never want to feel comfortable.
I did a couple of those shows this year and it just felt undignified: I was looking at the massive HD screens and thought oh god. I looked around at my peers, and everyone was getting a bit creaky and decrepit, and I don’t want to be on an ultra-HD screen, singing ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’! There are some people who do it really well – the Human League do it brilliantly because they’ve constructed this fantastic show around them, and Phil Oakey is great. But in my 60th year I’m looking for things that are more challenging, more difficult for me to do, and that still stretch me. Because being comfortable is what makes you old. You’ve got to keep training yourself with new things. Being comfortable speeds the ageing process. “No, I’m not a Satanist”
That was a theatrical joke that got a bit out of hand. A friend of mine, Boyd Rice, who’s this experimental musician, was a priest of Anton LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan. Boyd said he wanted to do this ritual where he ordained me into the Church of Satan, and I thought, well why not – so we went into this special little stone place in this garden, and we did this little crazy ritual. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it got a bit out of hand afterwards – for some reason people got really freaked out by it. I just thought it was something theatrical! It was quite fun to see people’s reaction to it, though; people got quite upset. “I love teasing people with swansongs – I love saying ‘this is my last song’”
And I love saying ‘this is my last ever tour’. I like to fuck with people like that, just to see what people’s reactions are going to be. It’s a cruel streak within me – I have to play cat and mouse with my fans and say, ‘I’m not doing any of these concerts anymore’ – everyone goes weeping away, and then I come back the next year! So yes, this is it, I’m done! Bye!
Reviews / Albums
Jenny Hval Blood Bitch s ac r ed b on es
Photography by Tommy Larsen
By der ek r ober tso n. In sto re s se p t 30
From language to sexuality and gender, Jenny Hval’s previous work sought to confront some of society’s most pressing issues, and her experience of them. Possessed of a skittish, cryptic quality, her writing was full of clever metaphors and imagery. “If you have a child you better learn how to bake / I beckon the cupcake, the huge capitalist clit,” she sang/spoke on ‘Kingsize’ last year, skewering not just the patriarchy’s view of parenting but one of the late aught’s most visible symbols of conspicuous consumption. On ‘Blood Bitch’, her fourth solo album (and sixth including those under the name Rockettothesky), the abstract has been boiled down to a more focused essence, where emotional reality is confronted head on by the Norwegian artist. “I don’t know who I am, but I’m working on it,” she sings on perhaps her most
plainly beautiful song yet, ‘Conceptual Romance’ – a truth that, at some point, concerns us all. Ostensibly a concept record involving the investigation of blood (particularly menstrual blood) and the parallel narrative of a female vampire, it also evokes the sense of an artist still wrestling with selfdoubt and edging back towards character constructions as a means of making sense of the world and, ultimately, herself. Rhetorical questions are sprinkled liberally throughout and raked over, like picking an open wound. Intriguing lines of thought open up before ending abruptly, her focus suddenly dragged away. At times, it’s hard to make sense of it all, but I suspect that’s just a clever ploy to mirror the confusion everyone feels in the face of “useless algorithms” and our “land mine of a heart”. It’s
also partly a response to two years of touring, of being “jet lagged and playing late night shows”, a disconnection from reality that many musicians struggle with. She says it’s her most fictional and most personal album to date, and it shows. Musically, Hval has reverted to the more straightforward style of ‘Innocence Is Kinky’. Gone are the pop melodies and boundary pushing that came and went throughout 2014’s ‘Apocalypse, Girl’; the texture here is far more steady and uniform. Lasse Maraug, with whom she coproduces, is still behind the desk, but the lack of rumble and drama seems very deliberate. The music exists more as a frame for her stream–of– consciousness lyrics, and bustles along gently in the background; there are very few flourishes or noisy interludes that suit her voice (and
the message) perfectly. This dreamlike state and flatness helps the words land harder, the relationship between them pulled into a tighter focus, shorn of distraction. Part of the beauty of what Hval does is the way her art takes you to a place you didn’t know existed, but in a way where you don’t notice the journey. Many have confronted the same set of issues with all the nuance of a sledgehammer, but Hval’s gift is to sow seeds of ideas and then leave them to bloom. Her thoughts are opening gambits, not full stops, and are all the more powerful for it. “I want to be just one individual in part of a long and fluid discussion,” she told Loud And Quiet last year, shying away from the role of messiah. ‘Blood Bitch’ finds yet more ways to provoke and question as Hval continues to be an artist streaking ahead on her own.
Danny Brown Atrocity Exhibition wa rp By dav id zamm itt. In store s se p t 30
If this was anyone else, you might say that the pressure is on. But for Danny Brown, an artist who only came to mainstream attention at the age of 30, you get the sense that he’s taking each step with a sizeable pinch of salt. Having followed 2011’s ‘XXX’ – a second LP that saw him step up as the poet laureate of Detroit’s ugly underbelly – with 2013’s excellent ‘Old’, a record that grappled with the chemical-fuelled highs and crushing hangover lows of the ageing process from the perspective of a famous rapper, Brown has earned his stripes as an artist who can do things on his own terms. Not that he would likely do anything else anyway. After all, this is a man who was reportedly set
to sign to G-Unit Records back in 2009, having ticked every box on 50 Cent’s list of hiring requirements but for his jeans. Danny Brown likes his denims skinny, in case you didn’t know, and he wasn’t willing to bend, not even for that elusive record contract. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard the phrase before, the album takes its title from the opening track of Joy Division’s classic ‘Closer’. More than just a beard-stroking nod to post-punk, however, that cold, bleak slab of isolation sets the tone well for Brown’s latest collection. Sparse is a word that’s used anything but sparsely, but this LP seems held together by silence. There’s an early
‘90s ethic to the production, with thin keyboard melodies, eerie synths and ghostly vocal samples weaving in and out, and while he wheels out the festival-scale dance he honed on ‘Old’ to good effect (‘When It Rain’ is a case in point, while ‘Ain’t It Funny’ is as close to disco as he’s likely to tread), ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ sees Brown lay himself more bare than ever. As with ‘Old’, he seems here to have two personalities, with a pair of completely contrasting voices to accompany them, and the record is split between the manic chutzpah of the high-pitched rasp Brown has made his name with and a more natural delivery closer to his own
voice. When he relies on the former, he can still create some absolute crackers (‘Really Doe’, featuring the royal triumvirate of Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt, is even more than the sum of its parts), but it’s when he chooses to deploy the latter, as on ‘Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ and the Kelela-featuring hip hop ballad ‘From The Ground,’ that the results are notched up a level, giving the feeling that Brown is being even more candid than he has been before; finally letting the mask slip. With ‘XXX’ we wondered if it was a fluke, and on ‘Old’ he proved that it wasn’t. With ‘Atrocity Exhibition,’ Danny Brown cements himself as a hip hop great.
GOAT might describe this third release as their “folk” album but truthfully that’s no less ambiguous than saying they usually play rock. Since their 2012 debut record, ‘World Music’, the costume-dwelling, publicity-shy Swedes have coalesced garage, blues and krautrock into an Eastern-tinged form of psychedelia that sounds like little else. Admittedly, the first few songs on ‘Requiem’ do involve the obligatory pan flute and acoustic guitar, with opener ‘Union of Sun
and Moon’ even beginning with birdsong and coming off like an LCDinduced Jethro Tull cover. Instrumental third track ‘Temple Rhythms’ also brings flute to the fore, coupled with piano, a hypnotic drum beat and not much else. Soon though, folkish whimsy gives way to Goat’s 1960s acid rock proclivities: the back end of ‘Alarms’ is drenched in scuzzy guitar, as is the aptlynamed ‘Goatfuzz’. Elsewhere, the band have peeled back some of the static, beefed up the melodies but
left the tribal rhythms locked into place, such that ‘Requiem’ is broadly a more immediate affair than 2014’s ‘Commune’; stuff like ‘Trouble in the Streets’ and ‘Try My Robe’ could have easily appeared on that LP but wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable. All that said, the best thing on here is an instrumental called ‘Goatband’, which swirls its way around a sax solo for nearly eight minutes. More of this, please. You’re not yet done with GOAT.
Goat Requiem R oc ket By james f . T h om p so n. In store s Oct 7
Albums 0 7/ 1 0
Weyes Blood Front Row Seat To Earth
Rats on Rafts / De Kift Rats on Rafts / De Kift
Mr Oizo All Wet
Blue House Suppose
me x i c an summ er
Be c au se
W h ip p ed Cre a m
By kati e besw i c k. In sto res o ct 21
B y a l e x w is ga rd. In sto res o ct 1 4
By reef yo uni s . I n sto res S e p t 3 0
B y chris wa tk e y s . I n sto res se p t 3 0
The title of Weyes Blood’s latest record promises a lot. ‘Front Row Seat to Earth’ is the kind of indelible, poetic name you can imagine an iconic album having. By which I mean I can see myself referencing a title like that in 20 or 30 or 60 years time, the same way I reference ‘Jagged Little Pill’ or ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ today. So credit where credit’s due, the title’s great. And the album itself is not half bad either, as Natalie Mering, after much domestic travel, has moved back to her hometown of Los Angeles to record a fourth album of outsider folk with a West Coast 1970s feel. In places it does feel as though Mering is trying a little too hard, as channeling Laurel Canyon becomes channeling Kate Bush. And although her deeper, delicate vocals (still a little Nico in feel) are the perfect vehicle for this kind of ethereal music, the instrumentals are often a little flat and simple to carry the complexity of Mering voice (on ‘Be Free’ and ‘Generation Why’). Still, the lyrics are divine, and when it’s good (‘Seven Words’, ‘Do You Need My Love’) it is very, very good indeed.
This collaboration between the psychedelic Rats On Rafts and brass nonet De Kift, two titans of the Netherlands’ punk scene, is certainly one of 2016’s more singular releases. Recorded in a month, and devoid of any digital equipment, it never quite settles on a style or a language. ‘Voorbij’ and ‘Swan Song’ could both pass for something off British Sea Power’s ‘Sea of Brass’ LP, at least until De Kift drummer Wim Ter Welle takes up vocal duties by speaking, loudly and passionately, in Dutch. Needless to say that this self-titled collaboration doesn’t present itself as an easy listen, and De Kift’s atonal brass stabs aren’t always welcome. At its worst, the album sounds like a poor man’s Gogol Bordello, or Alex Kapranos’s old cocktail pranksters The Karelia (remember them?). Yet unexpected detours like the dramatic Americana of ‘Dit Schip’, which deftly segues into the breakneck Krautrock of ‘Powder Monkey’, show that more craft went into this collaboration than its sonic insanity initially suggests. Less an outright curiosity than a surprising, if patchy, triumph.
Mr. Oizo needs little introduction. Five LPs and six films into Quentin Dupieux’s often weird and wonderful career, for many he’s still the guy that made ‘Flat Beat’ – a track that took over the world in 1999 thanks to a Levi’s commercial and a hand puppet cruising in a hatchback. For album number six, though, Oizo hits a hard contrast between forgettable collaborations and flashes of the peak. At 15 tracks, ‘All Wet’ is about velocity – a lightspeed listen that ricochets around due to Dupieux’s propensity for sub-3 minute songs. Between the octave-skewed electro of ‘Ok Then’, and the rewound and rewired ‘Oiseuax’, the featured artists here also have their say. Skrillex pops up on ‘End of the World’ with its amen breaks and 2007 electro house switch; Charli XCX lends her dirty pop vocals to the album’s trap tub-thumper ‘Hand in the Fire’, and the teaches of Peaches continue on ‘Freezing Out’ with talk about vaginas and rubbing up and down. As a result, it makes this alchemist’s platter of breaks, trap and electro oddities one you could ultimately live without.
What does the term ‘indie’ actually mean these days? Perhaps in answer to that question, James Howard (formerly of art pop group Fiction) and Ursula Russell (ditto ‘junk jazz’ punk band Drop Out Venus) have come together to form Blue House, and this, their debut album, sees the pair combine to brilliant effect. Opener ‘I Found My Limit’ sets the tone with its sweetly sunny, slightly twee melodies shaped by a lovely, shimmery guitar sound. The duo share (and sometimes combine) vocals; ‘Ear To The Door’ sees chiming harmonies and a soaring vocal line. The beauty of these songs lies in their simplicity and as if overtly acknowledging this there’s even a track named ‘Simple Song’. The hazy ‘Hot Air Balloons’ has an upbeat tempo, and sounds a little like Pavement on sweeteners, while ‘Albert Played The Euphonium’ is a true gem, something akin to an early Morrissey tune sung by Paul Heaton. Of course it’s difficult to define what ‘indie’ really means in 2016, but if it does mean anything, then it’s music like this – a collection of engagingly lovely songs.
Recorded last winter in Oberst’s hometown of Omaha, ‘Ruminations’ was laid down within a period of just 48 hours, which isn’t surprising given how stripped down it sounds. With just his acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica in tow, ‘Ruminations’ is the result of timely happenstance: having never intended on writing during this time, he ended up with “more than enough songs for a record” the results of which recall the kind of wistful melancholy you’d expect from hibernating away during
winter, surrounded by snowy landscapes and wood fires. Oberst, of course, personifies sensitivity, and is no stranger to portraying dejection, but nothing has ever quite sounded as depressing as ‘Ruminations’. His tendency to reveal every thought – from romance to personal philosophy and politics – is a well-wrought quality, but after just a few tracks it runs the risk of sounding overwhelmingly bleak, particularly on the excessively downbeat opener ‘Tachycardia’. “I’m
the one who has to die,” sings Oberst, with a strained, faint crack in his voice as though he’s about to cry. It’s all a little too doom and gloom, even for the most sensitive of souls. Still, Oberst’s craftsmanship is wonderful, his guitar playing typically delicate but deft, lyrics remaining unashamedly contemplative, his experience dealing with anxiety an admirable, prominent theme. Ultimately, though, a little more lively optimism is left seriously wanting.
Conor Oberst Ruminations Non es u c h By hay l ey sc ott. I n sto res o ct 14
Reviews 0 7/ 1 0
Ultimate Painting Dusk
Daniel Woolhouse What’s That Sound
The Wytches All Your Happy Life
tr o ubl e i n mi n d
37 a d ve n tu re s
h e ave n l y
By s am walton . In sto re s Se pt 30
B y gu i a c o rt as s a. I n s t o re s O c t 2 8
By jo e go ggi ns . I n s t o re s s ept 3 0
B y s a m walto n . I n s t o r es o c t 1 4
If Ultimate Painting’s last album was so slight as to be virtually imperceptible, this one – their third – is an exercise in invisibility. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing: the duo of Mazes’ Jack Cooper and former Veronica Falls guitarist James Hoare have written a collection of shyly, slyly insistent pop songs here that don’t so much grow on the listener as infiltrate the subconscious, leaving an imprint less on the ears than on the mind. Melodies quietly intertwine, tracks blend woozily, and the album’s palette, though limited, becomes stickily moorish. The record doesn’t so much as end as just shuffle off, but that suits its stubborn aesthetic: ‘Dusk’ is no vessel for finales or climaxes, but a place as sleepy and hypnic as its title suggests. A brief reprise of an earlier track after a couple of minutes of silence is the last we hear, as if now in dream, then that really is it, the brief reanimation cementing the record’s disconcerting, narcoleptic ambiance. It marks ‘Dusk’ as far weirder than it first appears: an uncanny, softly insidious curio.
After two albums as Deptford Goth, Daniel Woolhouse drops the mask and comes out as his real self, signing ‘What’s That Sound?’ under his own name.This renewed sense of self is tangible in the music, too: the detached essentiality of Deptford Goth’s electronica has now been replaced with a choral and full sound, winking to gospel and soul more than to beats and computers, the only continuity between the two different approaches being the slow and dilated ‘Map On the Moon’, a singularity within the album, especially if compared to the title track’s catchiness and rhythm. Introspection has never been something Woolhouse subtracted to, but this time the drive underneath his songwriting seems to be sharing and letting all his feelings out into the light, rather than reflecting silently in the darkness. Woolhouse should be applauded for that, although this new venture is not wholly convincing. The sound’s consistency turns into a distracting flatness after a while, leaving ‘Graffiti’ and ‘Tomorrow’s Egg’ to do all the hard work.
The debut album from this roughand-ready Brighton-based threepiece, the beguilingly-titled ‘Annabel Dream Reader’ of 2014, found itself stuck somewhere between the unvarnished ferocity of the band’s live shows and a well-intentioned, although ultimately half-baked, desire to turn in something a little more atmospheric and enigmatic. They get another go on ‘All Your Happy Life’, and do an altogether better job. Cuts like ‘Can’t Face It’ and ‘Ghost House’ fall somewhere between big, sludgy riffs and the kind of contrarian, bratty vocal turns that have characterised the likes of FIDLAR’s and Wavves’ recent efforts. They counter that with more measured moments – see the melodic guitars on ‘Bone Weary’, or the subtly shifting pace of ‘DumbFill’ – but whilst both sides of The Wytches are well-represented on here, there’s also the sense that they still haven’t quite figured out how to channel the raw energy they conjure up so readily onstage into the sort of nervous tension that might suit their songwriting style better. Of course, it’s a common problem.
Oscar Powell’s debut album starts with 36 seconds of piercing static, the kind that’s exhilarating at punishingly high volume in a sweaty windowless box, but which is also, unfortunately, just mildly irritating at home-listening level. It sets the tone for the rest of ‘Sport’, an undeniably substantial slab of intelligent, gritty electronica that probably sounds incredible at Berghain but is a tougher listen pretty much anywhere else. That’s not to say the record’s without its intrigue. Last year Powell trolled Steve Albini by publishing a snotty email he received from the Shellac legend on giant billboards, and his prankster humour shines through here too with his choice of bizarro samples: he appends heavy, motorik ‘Junk’ with a northern voice cooing, “that’s better, that’s Mellow Magic” seemingly in reference to every Uber driver’s favourite latenight radio station, and ‘Plastic’’s arrangement of cut-ups is pleasingly peculiar. Ultimately, though, while there’s lots to admire within ‘Sport’’s thudding programming and staticky confrontationalism, an hour of this aggression is rather exhausting.
What does a quarter-life crisis actually sound like? Julia Jacklin’s debut record has to at least be a close approximation. The Australian singer-songwriter took the decision, bright-eyed and not long out of school, to eschew the real world in favour of pursuing a career in music in her teens, but by the time she came to record ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’, she found herself frustrated, disillusioned and stuck in a menial day job whilst her kid sister was doing the grown-up stuff: settling
down, getting married. That context is crucial because it’s Jacklin’s emotional state that makes this record such a triumph; there is a quite brilliant balance between nervous urgency, the realisation that something needs to happen soon, and measured perfectionism, born out of the knowledge that if this is her one shot, it better be the best it can be. ‘Pool Party’ and ‘LA Dream’ are exercises in softly soulful pop, ‘Sweet Step’ leans on pretty, melodic
acoustic guitar, and the murky atmospherics of ‘Same Airport, Different Man’ put Jacklin’s formidable storytelling skills front and centre. Underpinning it all is her achingly sad vocal delivery, which oozes conviction throughout. Jacklin cites Angel Olsen as a major influence (although there are some Ryan Adams melodies in there, too), and ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ should not be forgotten in the wake of the North Carolina native’s recent masterpiece, ‘My Woman’.
Julia Jacklin Don’t Let The Kids Win Tr an s gr es s i ve By joe goggi n s . I n sto re s o ct 7
Albums 0 7/ 1 0
The Early Years II
Marching Church Telling It Like It Is
The Growlers City Club
Regina Spektor Remember Us To Life
s on ic c a the d r a l
sa cre d b o ne s
Wa r n er
By d er ek r ober tso n. In sto re s no w
B y j am e s f. th o m ps o n. I n s t o re s o ct 2 8
By g ui a c o rt as s a. I n s t o re s s ep t 3 0
B y k atie bes w i c k . In s t o r es s ep t 3 0
The concept of the “difficult second album” has long since moved past cliché into something approaching parody, but some bands really do make it complicated. Take krautrockers The Early Years, who followed up some astonishing early singles and their debut with… nothing. “Musical differences” apparently. But here they are, 10 years on with their critical faculties and sense of motorik groove significantly enhanced. ‘II’ is tightly coiled and fizzing with menace. There’s light and dark here, but the band seem much more assured when conducting great swirls of noise and forging on ahead – the pulsating squall of ‘Nocturne’, the incessant ‘Do It (Again)’, and the epic, widescreen nine-minute shoegaze of ‘For The Fallen’. Nothing sounds rushed or forced, and songs unfurl at a pace that sounds completely natural; a hard trick to pull off when dealing in sonic maximalism. Taking their foot off the accelerator a little too early is the only fault here, the lack of a towering finale a shame, but it’s not enough to derail what is a triumphant return.
When Iceage arrived on the scene back in 2011 they delivered everything anybody could want from a post-punk band: almost catchy tunes hammered out with fucked off guitars and whiplash drums at the speed of light. The Danes also had a secret weapon in photogenic front man Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, perfect up front with his earnest caterwauling and complete onstage distain. You can get too much of a good thing though, and while Rønnenfelt’s presence within a band like Iceage makes sense, here in Marching Church – his solo side project – he comes off like a cruise ship Richard Hell, irritatingly gurning his way through nine tracks that you won’t remember once they’ve finished. Beneath the warbling there are actually some half-decent ideas, albeit less than fully formed. The spacey guitar on ‘Up for Days’ sounds like ‘War’-era U2 (no bad thing, for sure, seriously) and ‘2016’ is a bag of tricks but it never quite settles on a refrain. Too often though, ‘Telling It Like It Is’ simply grates on the ear – but at least it’s forgettable. Every cloud…
“I stop trying to make sense of it all,” sings Brooks Nielsen on ‘City Club’’s opening title track. That, more or less, sums up what I’ve been doing myself, listening to the Growlers’ new album so clearly co-produced by Julian Casablanca and out on his Cult Records label. Little or nothing at all of Growlers’ signature SoCal beach goth sound survived the Strokes makeover, to the point that it’s impossible to tell which band is playing on the title track or ‘Too Many Times’, where Brooks sings through ‘IsThis It’ distortion. Only ‘WhenYou Were Made’ is there to remind us of how good this Growlers’ album could have been. The ‘60s inspiration strives to survive while synths, filtered voices and afro percussions find their overbearing way everywhere else, making a clean sweep of all the garage and DIY influences of the band, and taking away the distinctive freshness of their sound. Progress is never something to oppose to, but there’s a huge difference between making someone’s sound evolve and turning someone into one’s own clone. A difference that, here, failed to show.
I don’t know about you, but I am totally over kitschy rhyming lyrics dressed up as musical philosophy. Unfortunately for Regina Spektor, that means that half the songs on her ‘Remember Us To Life’ album were going to annoy me before I even heard them. I’m sorry, but I just can’t see the wit or poetry in lines like, “they can either wake up or go deeper/but it’s so dangerous to wake a deep sleeper” (an irritating refrain from the track ‘Small Bill$’). It’s lazy, paint-by-numbers song writing, even when you’re doing it for irony, which I don’t think Spektor is. That being said, this isn’t a terrible record. It’s an inoffensive mix of ballady, storylike songs that occasionally get weirdly intense (see, for example, ‘The Trapper and the Furrier’). It’s music that sounds like something you once heard before, in sixth form, possibly through a garden window at the winding-down stages of a house party, passing a joint back and forth with your introverted stoner mates, a brief lapse of attention enabling one of their hippy girlfriends to take control of the record player. But no one really minded.
Listen to The Lemon Twigs’ debut album for long enough and you’ll completely normalise to its ADHD, 1970s acrobatic. It should take five goes, which, y’know, might as well be a million in 2016. Teenage brothers Michael and Brian D’Addario, although 17 and 19, respectively, do appear to be from another time, and the opening ‘I Wanna Prove To You’ is a fitting encapsulation for this grab-bag album that’s so blatantly influenced by many sounds of the ’70s, yet
feverishly employs them all at the same time. It starts off like the Minder theme tune only to skip to Wings within 15 seconds. By the waltzing, prom night chorus Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas really should be garrotting each other in Buicks and Mercedes. This completely uninhibited approach continues in exact schizophrenic fashion that’s as daft as it sounds, yet remains almost astounding on account of the brothers’ unquestionable music talents – their influences might be
Classic Rock for Dummies (there’s a lot of Queen’s operatic here, solo career Lennon and McCartney, Big Star and The Bay City Rollers), but ‘Do Hollywood’ plays like a bonkers (a perfect word) show-reel of a fandom match by ability. It’s going to drive a lot of people mad – I mean, ‘These Words’ inadvertently starts off sounding like the Grange Hill theme and the recurring vaudeville circus music is a little over whacky. Five listens and give in to its very nervous energy.
The Lemon Twigs Do Hollywood 4a d By r ac he l r edf ern. In sto re s o ct 14
Brooke Sharkey Wandering Heart
American Football American Football
Vanessa Anne Redd Behind The Wall
Xylouris White Black Peak
Wic h i ta
sh arp attac k
b ella u n io n
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B y r e ef yo uni s . In s to re s o c t 2 1
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‘Wandering Heart’ is the second album from east London-based singer-songwriter Brooke Sharkey, an artist whose talent and distinctive style has long been worthy of greater recognition. What places her on a higher plane than most of her contemporaries is actually pretty simple: the sheer strength of her songwriting, and the truly soulshifting quality of her voice. The slow, stripped ‘Your Tomorrow’ allows that remarkable voice the space to be front and centre, tethered to a cool, slow double bass. Sharkey’s lyrics alternate between French and English, sometimes in the same song, but the melodies and melancholy moments carry with them a universally understood, intensely moving quality; the wordless vocal refrain at the climax of ‘Faces’ is one such moment.There are glimmers of brass here and there amongst these songs, adding burnish or a lightly jazzy feel at well-chosen moments, while the semi-epic, intensely poignant title track is an affecting emotional journey all of its own. This is mature, refined songwriting of the highest calibre.
17 years after they left one defining album, and a pining cult following, American Football’s second selftitled album strikes a familiarly contemplative chord. This time they’ve had years to reflect – and it seeps. Drawing on the emo and postrock that made their debut, ‘American Football’ slowly and imperceptibly draws you in. ‘Born to Lose’ ebbs and drifts as Mike Kinsella’s vocals float into the distance; ‘Give Me the Gun’ softly shifts through playful time signatures; the triumphant ‘Desire Gets in the Way’ acts as the album’s mini-anthem with Kinsella’s voice adding power and volume to rousing key changes. For most bands reconvening after a seemingly definitive end, time passed usually brings unwanted baggage, but American Football’s short history is pretty straightforward: they came, they played, they sort of conquered. Almost two decades and a generation on, the teen immediacy that sparked their slow-burn success has been replaced by something older and wiser. It’s gratifying to see American Football catch up with their own history.
Putting some distance between her previous electronic collaborations and her new solo career, VAR – otherwise known as Vanessa Anne Redd – has assembled what can easily stand amongst the best singersongwriter albums of the year. Her ‘Behind theWall’ is “a simple grungefolk affair” in her own words, but there’s definitely more to it than that, despite the cute, handmade packaging. With bits of Angel Olsen and P.J. Harvey glimmering here and there, the British-German musician has created a brand new contemporary folk, sounding its best in piano ballads, like ‘Road that Drives Us’, and in a more guitar driven songs, such as ‘Twilight’. There is brass in ‘Proof’, and strings in the title track, reminiscent of some Lennon-McCartney grandeur. ‘Beast’ is then a great folk downtempo track, just as ‘Escape’ reverberates an electric Tarantino mood. Redd’s voice is flawless when it hits the higher notes and almost as good in a deep murmur. Ten tracks to perfectly suit a bonfire in the woods (in an unright-on way), an empty room for one, and in a Nashville club.
The minimalist cover of ‘Black Peak’, the second collaboration between Dirty Three’s Jim White and Cretan lute player Giorgios Xylouris, presents it as the sort of brooding post rock you would usually expect from the former. Instead, it sounds like taverna music as recorded for Dischord – fitting, then, that Washington polymath Guy Picciotto went behind the boards for the LP. Having formerly produced the disarming crescendos and spartan folk of the likes of Thee Silver Mount Zion, Picciotto is an unexpectedly perfect fit. White’s lyrical drumming and Xylouris’s orchestral lute and chest-beating vocals fill every corner of the mix, and you’d be hard pressed to think where any more instruments could fit into the arrangements. When they do, though (‘The Feast’ is a stunning duet between Xylouris and his father, Psarandonis) it always works. ‘Black Peak’ stands on its own in 2016’s musical landscape, at once familiar and abstract – postSOMETHING, though you can’t say quite what. If you only buy one Cretan/Australian lute-and-drum collaboration album this year...
Following an implausibly inauspicious introduction – involving misplaced blame for the theft of a fibreglass pig – Connan Mockasin and LA Priest’s Sam Dust began writing together in 2008, whilst Mockasin was supporting Dust’s then-band Late of the Pier. A cursory glance at the artwork for their first collaborative LP – depicting the duo as extraterrestrial sirens in a pastelcoloured Eden – confirms that their musical partnership has progressed down a similarly unorthodox path.
‘Soft Hair’ is undeniably odd, but you’d demand nothing less from two musicians who’ve previously woven electromagnetic drones and bizarre yarns about dolphins into their work. The whole endeavour seems driven by a desire to explore their most idiosyncratic urges, be that embracing alien creative methods, delivering ludicrous couplets like, “I like to watch you run, but I’ll never touch your bum,” or repurposing a previous collaboration from La Priest’s ‘Inji’ LP (‘So Goood’).
For all its disorientating touches, ‘Soft Hair’ feels surprisingly cohesive, particularly when you consider it compiles eight years’ worth of scattered sessions. Continuity comes in its exotic feel – largely rooted in hallucinogenic funk, bar a couple of psychedelic instrumentals – and in the comforting presence of the pair’s distinctive quirks. If you can stomach Mockasin’s helium croon, and are prepared to leave logic at the door, ‘Soft Hair’ makes for a diverting trip.
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Soft Hair Soft Hair wei r d wor l d By gemma samwa ys. I n sto res o ct 28
Bon Iver 22, a Million ja gja guwar By sa m wal t on . In sto re s s ept 30
‘22, A Million’ appears precision engineered to alienate all the couples who became Bon Iver fans when their wedding photographer picked ‘Holocene’ to soundtrack the Facebook video montage of their happy day. The unpronounceable track listing and cut’n’paste lyrics, the densely autotuned vocals and fractured production: it all contributes to a tableau of “piss off” – of deliberate difficulty and distancing from a reluctant arena pop star. But, like ‘Kid A’ most obviously before it, the wonder of ‘22, A Million’ lies precisely in the presentation of that damaged disaffection: this is a frayed knot of an album, impossible
to unpick without destroying its intrinsic worth, distressed, mangled and weather-beaten, but also containing a cracked beauty that would disintegrate were it any more accessible. Unlike its predecessor, accessibility is a long way down ‘22, A Million’’s list of priorities. Through all the thorns, though, what hasn’t diminished is Vernon’s way with a melody. With repeated listens, keening, melancholic tunes make lasting impressions on the fug, and an album of delicate clarity full of rather beautiful songs begins to distinguish itself. Combined with the gently subversive song structures, which hit a peak with the golden borrowed chord 40 seconds into ‘29
#Strafford APTS’, it becomes apparent that Vernon’s production techniques here aren’t a sort of Vaseline-on-the-lens trick, but almost the opposite: the added texture accentuates the attendant substance, encouraging and rewarding ever-closer listening that sculpts the familiar from the foreign. With meanderings close to softrock pastiche and skronking jazz, ‘22, A Million’ is so nearly a complete mess. With its sad-lad balladeering and vocoders, it also sails dangerously near to utter selfparody. That it avoids both these pratfalls so elegantly, however, with neither smugness nor pomposity, is what makes it such a fulfilling record.
The obvious attraction here lies in admiring Vernon’s artistic skill, but the greater pleasure is in the album’s simple honesty: this is the music Vernon felt he had to make – not selfpitying or even particularly sad. ‘22, A Million’ is the sound of a battered romantic coming to terms with the state of his life. It plays out like a slow march towards some abstruse redemption. That Vernon’s sonic catharsis is by turns infectious, therapeutic, poignant and ultimately rather heart-melting makes ‘22, A Million’ that rare thing – a record full of artifice whose high-concept tricks primarily serve an emotional (rather than intellectual) purpose; a brilliant paradox as dreamlike as it is earthly.
Pixies aren’t a decent band. They are, or at least have been, a great band. ‘Head Carrier,’ on the other hand, isn’t a great album, but it’s far from awful, and if you can take the time to divorce this record from the rest of Black Francis et al’s intimidatingly brilliant body of work you’ll find that there are plenty of rewards here. The first album since erstwhile Queen Of The Stoneage Paz Lenchantin replaced Kim Deal on bass, ‘Head Carrier’ pulls together
the group’s experiments with surf pop, country, hard rock and noise to create an album that is something approaching a greatest hits, at least in stylistic terms. If you need some shortcuts, then go first for ‘Bel Esprit,’ a gorgeous indie ballad that overlays that classic, wailing electric guitar sound with a vocal duet that poignantly recalls Francis and Deal at their sultry best. ‘All The Saints’ (“All the saints that I love / some below, some above”) is a tender, altcountry rumination on getting old,
made all the more touching by Francis’s flatter, more muted delivery, sounding hampered but not beaten by all those years of screaming, while ‘All I Think About Now’ is a tender nod to the track that made them superstars years after they disappeared first time around, ‘Where Is My Mind’. A self-conscious appropriation, it’s crucially done with taste, and comes off as a tribute to times gone by rather than a rip-off. “We were happy,” sings Francis. “That’s all I think about now.”
Pixies Head Carrier PI AS By dav id z amm itt. In sto re s s ept 30
is for ‘Anyone on any pinger?’
A–Z guide to End of the Road
When Billy Fuller shouted that at the top of BEAK>’s closing show on Friday two people in the whole of the Big Top cheered their confession. Two! EOTR isn’t that kind of festival. Pingers are kept to a minimum, or at least not shouted about. “Umm, you two are gonna get chucked out,” said Billy in his West Country accent that is comically innocent and sarcastic. BEAK> then cruised through their loose propulsions with more dry/ grumpy wit in between the tracks as Savages danced behind the sound desk.
Despite our best efforts, we’ve never made it to EOTR festival until this year. Turns out we’ve been missing out for the last decade. ph otograph er: tim co chrane
is for Bird Shit End Of The Road’s mascot is a peacock due to the fact that these majestic birds roam freely around the site, posturing for photos and cawing in that otherworldly way. Once everyone was over that, a couple of these show offs decided to gain our attention by soring over the Garden Stage crowd watching the soft country folk of Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop. A beautiful sight. Then, in unison, they shat on everyone. They’re not small birds, peacocks.
is for Cat’s Eyes’ Choir Cat’s Eyes’ opening number, ‘Chameleon Queen’, is a moment of choral beauty thanks to the duo’s accompanying choir. It’s also live confirmation of soprano Rachel Zeffira’s arranging and vocal talents; her impressive range flitting from operatic to bratty Spector girl group from one moment to the next.
is for Disco Ship All good festivals have a tucked-away spot for late-night stupidity and dancing to songs that you’ve known all your life. EOTR’s is the Disco Ship, hidden in the woods, where DJs play Talking Heads from a boat on stilts to hundreds of people in need of a break from discussing their favourite Smog record.
is for Easy Listening There are plenty of moments of abrasive action to be had at EOTR (the experimental electronics of Anna Meredith, say, or Savages’ gutsy punk), but, by and large, the line-up is made up of folk/country/indie rock bands that excel in melodies and musicianship. It’s key to the festival’s take-it-easy attitude and the complete absence of agro.
is for Flamingods Psych features quite a bit at EOTR also, and while GOAT were even a joyous riot in a damp field in Wiltshire Brixton’s Flamingods’ out-freaked the Swedish group with A Clockwork Orange visuals, feedback squall and deep African rhythms. Their shambolic days of pots-and-pans drumming whilst sat on the floor of south London pubs – although charming, communal fun – seem far behind them.
is for Games All of the ‘extras’ at EOTR manage to feel authentic and lovingly conceived where the Pin The Tail On The Honda Civic contest at Wireless somehow feels like a crass marketing tool. You can definitely include the Games area in that, where you can play custom made bowling games, table tennis, and a contraption where you have to hit each other in the face with ping pong balls.
is for Hangover patrol Driving around the campsite each morning is a miniature ambulance providing bloody marys to anyone who got a little too carried away at the Disco Ship the night before (on pingers or otherwise). There appears to be no judgment as the two ‘nurses’ rush to the aid of the inflicted and insist that they don’t get up.
Surrounding the wooded games area are countless other installations hidden in the trees. The cassette tape recording studio, the Eggsville mini village, endless streams of fairy lights and the information point about bees and beehives – to grumble about how twee and ‘nice’ this all is (I mean, bees!) is to completely miss the point of EOTR.
You’re all in it together at EOTR.There’s no back stage bar or VIP wristbands. Let’s face it, they’re the quickest way to ruin a good time.
God, it came down on Saturday.
Vegetarians rejoice! The food at EOTR is, by and large, excellent, with a majority of it fully meat-free. Finding a real-life sausage sandwich in fact turns into a bit of an ordeal on the Friday morning.
There’s a precision and force to John Dwyer’s band that has a similar affect to that of Savages a couple of days earlier. In amongst the predominantly pretty sounding line-up suddenly comes an incredible live rock band. What do you mean we’ve got to all go and watch Joanna Newsom now?
is for Installations
is for Jehnny Beth Savages have spent the summer showing up bands on the festival bills they’ve played. End Of The Road was no different, even before Jehnny Beth walked over the crowd after covering Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’.
is for No VIPs
is for Rain
is for Shopping
is for Thee Oh Sees
Shopping have been playing hoppy post-punk disco for 3 years, usually to small crowds in London’s DIY spaces. To see them play to a full Big Top feels like their just desserts. They refused to shy away from the opportunity, too, with Rachel Aggs posturing on a speaker stack and Andrew Milk slipping in an Oprah reference by shouting “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!” to a bemused audience.
Children at festivals – it’s not normally a great idea, is it, but these didn’t seem to be normal kids. We saw one tantrum all weekend, on the final day. We all get like that after 3 nights in a field, don’t we? And it did sound like Suzie and Johnny were being dicks.
is for Marriage Proposal It’s really difficult to turn down a marriage proposal when you’re asked in front of 7,000 people at a festival, although I’m sure that’s not why Natasha Khan’s friends got engaged halfway through her bride themed set. You don’t think it was those two who were on the pingers do you?
I know we’re all having a lovely, civilised time, but you don’t want to take part in a two-hour spoon carving class, do you? Oh, you do? Well, it starts in five minutes. Run.
is for Workshops
It seems to be quite the thing, performing with two drummers. Three of the tightest jam bands of the weekend do so, Flamingods and Thee Oh Sees joined by King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard who play their cyclical freak rock continuously for an hour. It’s the only time it’s one in/one out at the Big Top.
is for Kids
It’s hard to imagine that End Of The Road would be just as successful on another plot of land. Larmer Tree opened as pleasure grounds for “public enlightenment and entertainment” in 1880, with putting green lawns where the Garden Stage is still situated, besides a Victorian wooden singing stage (sans graffit’d cock’n’balls). It’s hardly Reading Festival’s carpet of dropped noddles.
is for x2 drummers
is for Larmer Tree Gardens
is for Vegetarians
is for Yoga Of course there are group yoga classes every morning at EOTR. We’re not down with this in gyms across London, let alone here.
Bit of a mystery this one, but EOTR operates a postal service, where you can send a letter to anyone else on the site. We never got to the bottom of this, but props to the volunteers running around in hooky Royal Mail garb.
Of the many covers on offer, Bat For Lashes’ take on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gypsy’ has her imitating Stevie Nicks’ voice tremble, Cat Power’s Nico tribute is nice enough, Cat’s Eyes’ unconventional Beatles number, ‘Because’, is a beauty with added hand bells. The Big Moon’s ‘Beautiful Stranger’ is sadly still in their set, though – a song that was the worst thing about Austin Powers 2.
is for Postal Service
is for Q&As It’s nice to take time at a festival to try to learn something, which at EOTR could be done before the bands started at midday by attending one of the literary talks and Q&A sessions. The hour with The Fall’s Brix Smith-Start was particularly enlightening.
is for Tributes
is for Unannounced Guests EOTR loves a surprise performance, which can sometimes mean a bonus show from somebody already on the bill, but can also mean Big Top sets from Wild Beasts and Jon Hopkins.
is for Zen Turn off, tune out and generally realign the fuck out of your chakras with a dance massage from Jags in the healing field. You’ve earned it. Maybe warn him about the peacock shit.
Pop-Kultur Various venues, Berlin
Exploded View Shacklewell Arms, Dalston
3 1/ 0 8/ 20 16 – 0 2/ 0 9/2016
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wr i ter : dan i el d yla n wra y
w r it er : J a m es F . Tho m ps o n
PH OTOG RAPH ER: Rola nd O wsnitzki
Pop-Kultur began life in Berlin’s notorious Berghain nightclub in 2015. It planted itself there for three days and nights and in an unprecedented move, took over the entire club. This year the festival has taken an antithetical approach and moved from the confines of one very singular building to multiple venues all scattered within walking distance along Karl-Marx-Straße. The festival’s geographical expansion feels mirrored in the line-up, too, which this year includes numerous live bands, DJs, talks, film screenings and live scores, resulting in a line-up so eclectic it’s initially difficult to find any undercurrent of cohesion. It soon becomes apparent that that is not really necessary, or perhaps the point. Mogwai open the first night of the festival performing their score to Marc Cousin’s documentary Atomic, released earlier this year. Whilst the combination is not full on Threads apocalypse it certainly contains enough fiery eruptions that reflect the occasional trauma of the screen’s contents (ostensibly the affects of nuclear power/war). The film gets a little muddled and stagnant in the second half but Mogwai’s thoughtful score continues to build and evolve, gaining a momentum that ends in a hissing screech of blistering white noise. Once the festival is properly underway it unveils an enviable selection of venues that range from sweaty underground DIY spots to giant concert halls, to typically Berlin-like industrial spaces. It makes dipping between them all feel like plunging into new atmospheres and energies on each occasion. The second night belongs to Virginia Wing who have very quickly evolved from a Broadcast-like trio into an electronic powerhouse duo. Whilst their set often retains a certain dreamy and floating quality, it is frequently offset by hard, pounding electronics akin to being punched in the face mid-sleep. The set ends in a caterwaul of twisting, thrashing noise that feels like it could bore through the floor – it is both beautiful and brutal. Day two I see Selda Bagcan, the Turkish folk singer who has inadvertently become something of an underground hero in the world of
Annika Henderson might sound intimidating on record but she’s frightening on stage. The BritishGerman singer – better known as Anika – is whippet-thin, dressed in black and jabbing at the crowd with her eyes between moaning reverbdrowned verses about existential angst. Terrifyingly, she’ll even wade into the crowd to confront people face-to-face later on. In the meantime, though, bandmate Hugo Quezada’s guitar string snaps three tracks in and he spends ages sorting it out, threatening to bleed the life out of the show just as Anika drains our souls. He recovers and shares bass, guitar and synth duties with Amon Melgarejo as the band work through their self-titled new post-punk LP in chronological order. For sure, there are ragged edges but then raw primitivism is kind of the point with Exploded View.
Factory Floor ICA, London 2 5 / 08 / 2 01 6 w r it er : do m in i c h a ley
psych rock. At nearly 70 years of age and with her arm in a sling, she quickly slips into a voice that sounds as forceful as anything heard all weekend, soaring atop of the lute-led music that circles in woozy little bursts and grooves. During its finest moments it is truly compelling. Immersion open day-three – the husband/wife project of Colin Newman (Wire) and Malka Spigel, who are joined by ex To Rococo-Rot drummer Ronald Lippok for a very komische-leaning set that swells and swirls in pastoral flushes, sucking in one minute and pushing out the next. It’s an ideal segue into Liars, who are playing a special oneoff show performing music from a new film they have scored, 1/1 (also screened at the festival). In a room with not much more in it beyond flaking walls and a bar, the LA trio stand along a long table. No drums are set up – it’s all pure electronics. It’s a riveting set, too, and one that
bubbles along in quiet fury, often risen by moments of heady euphoria and crumbling hard electronic noise, moving between dance-floor fodder and head nod intensity. Algiers then obliterate any sense of lethargy with a set of largely new material that, at its most potent, ignites with NIN-esque industrial menace merged with the more gospel moments they have now become known for. The enduring charm and success of Pop-Kultur doesn’t just lie in its deeply eclectic line-up and its engaging use of space, but in the details of its curating. It seeks to construct unique experiences, many of which can’t be recreated again. The whole concept of the festival seems to be based around offering something more than what is usually expected, delivering an untradeable encounter that comes from a fundamental belief in supporting new work and new experiences.
Factory Floor may have dropped down to a two-piece in the three years since their self-titled debut album, but if anything it’s only concentrated their sound. The oppressive heat and bare concrete walls of the ICA is the ideal arena for the Spartan minimalism that characterises the band’s second record, ’25 25’. A project determined to completely remove the human element from their sound, Gabe Guernsey has rediscovered his drum kit tonight. This gives a harsh, percussive edge to what should be cold electronica. Songs like ‘Sad Face’ delve into a dark, postapocalyptic space, with Nik Colk Void reeling off text speech like a numbers station complaining about a bad Tinder date. They’ve touted ‘25 25’ as an attempt to recreate the driving, no-nonsense atmosphere of their live show. On the strength of this performance, it looks like they’ve nailed it.
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8 Mile (2002)
I’m sure most of you have seen 8 Mile before – or at least heard of it. It stars Emimen and came out in 2002 when he was at the pinnacle of his career, having released three commercially successful and critically credible records in the previous four years. I have also watched this movie before, twice in fact – although I was high both times and have little recollection of either experience (other than leaving halfway through the second viewing to buy chocolate… whereupon I was laughed out of Tesco as I was too stoned to operate the self checkout). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that 8 Mile is the first band-based film (or rapper-related movie, if you will) since A Hard Day’s Night to reach a mass audience (This is Spinal Tap doesn’t count, of course). In fact, it was so well known that it received the honour of being extensively parodied in Scary Movie 3 (which, given that it isn’t a scary film, doesn’t make much sense). So why was it so successful? Well, let’s watch (without being inordinately stoned) and found out. The first reason is the one I’ve already mentioned: when 8 Mile was released Eminem was very famous, and still making successful records. Of course this doesn’t guarantee your movie will be a success (see Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny),
but it is a good start. The second, more profound reason, is that this film is actually good. Here’s why… 8 Mile is good for the same reason Eminem has always been good: because he is honest. He doesn’t rap about gangster life, accruing meaningless wealth or any of the other inane things most mainstream rap songs are concerned with. Instead, he raps about what he sees with his eyes and what goes on his head. Now that can mean hearing about a rather violent worldview, but it can also mean funny and touching moments too. This film, like his music, is low on the bullshit. Eminem plays Jimmy Smith (aka B-Rabbit), a wannabe white rapper from Detroit. He’s struggling with a crappy job (in a car factory), a crappy girlfriend (who pretends to be pregnant) and an even crappier mum (who insists on shagging his former school mates). Furthermore, he messes up his first big chance in a rap battle when he chokes under pressure. It’s not easy being B-Rabbit, but what he does have going for him is a good group of friends. They support his talent, in spite of his fuck ups, and seem to – dare I say it – love him. They help B-Rabbit overcome his self-doubt and, eventually, he returns to the scene of his spiritual depantsing to
prove that he is a great rapper after all. Hooray! Unlike other rap movies – Get Rich or Die Tryin’, for example – 8 Mile doesn’t glorify Emimen’s crappy past. We see Detroit for what it truly is: a failed city, full of abandoned houses and burnt out cars. There’s something poignant about the fact that in Motor City, once the heart of the American auto industry, all the cars have broken down. It’s a metaphor, innit? Another un-rap-like moment comes when Eminem’s pal Cheddar Bob pulls out a gun during a fight. Now, normally rappers are supposed to think guns are cool, but in 8 Mile everyone shits themselves with fear just like real people would. Bob – who is quite extraordinarily inept – then manages to shoot himself in the leg while putting the gun away. What other rap film would deliberately show people being this uncool? None that I know of. But the real highlight is the climatic final scene where Eminem takes on reigning champion Papa Doc in a rap battle. Rather than insulting his opponent, Eminem instead insults himself: he knows who he is, and isn’t ashamed of it. As far as fist-pumping Rocky-style moments go it’s a good one. It makes you think two things: 1) This is great! Why can’t more
hip-hop be like this? 2) Damn, Eminem can rap! Where the film fails is in its portrayal of women, which you probably expected if you have ever given Eminem’s lyrics a listen. His romantic foil Alex (played by Brittany Murphy) wanders around being manipulated by men, and it is never really explained why she is so attracted to Bunny Rabbit – it is just sort of assumed that she is. The women in the film are powerless, and at the mercy of men who don’t seem to care much about them. Add to that a bunch of other misogynistic and homophobic moments and suddenly this film isn’t quite as good as it could have been. Yes, on the one hand it is honest – rap culture is often homophobic and misogynistic – but does that excuse Eminem? Nope, ‘fraid not. So how can I still say it is good? Because I think its depictions of life in Detroit are true to life, and insightful in a way other band movies simply aren’t. Like I said, Eminem might be a lot of things – a homophobe, a misogynist and a man obsessed with violence – but as I say, he is honest. When we are surrounded by a celebrity culture where everyone has to pretend to be something they are not it feels refreshing. That’s why people relate to him, and that’s why this film works.
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Yeasayer Bobby Gillespie Whitney
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Party wolf how to be a good student: Warnings for higher education
lifestyle & Diet
Do I really need these? Yes. It’s kind of rude to not have friends at uni. Luckily they’re very easy to pick up, simply by extending your arm and saying your name. You are a life raft in a sea of shell-shocked faces muttering ‘what A levels did you do?’.
who do I cull? After dicking about for a year in the leisure prison that is halls of residence you have to move into a house for your second year. Suddenly the toss up between sticking with the kid in the Thundercats tee and your alcoholic wingman is a puzzler.
just call me ‘ace’ University is a time of ultimate reinvention. Nobody here knows about the incident in the school swimming pool, or just how hopeless you are with the oposite sex. That’s right, it’s kinda like a new Dr. Who. Maybe don’t say that, though.
A sensible idea The way things are going, there’s a good chance you’ll never get approved for a loan ever again. Take whatever the Student Loan Company are offering. The full whack. Then plough it into a deposit for a house in Margate. You’re welcome.
hang on a minute... Ah. You’ve noticed that some of your new pals are complete idiots. This is the law of averages that applies to the whole of life, I’m afraid. Remember: If you can’t spot the knobhead on your hall, it’s you.
we need a house for 12 You’re feeling bad about cutting people out, aren’t you? That means you’re a decent person, but c’mon, Ross doesn’t LIVE with Joey and Chandler, does he? But they’re still friends, right? Right. A house for 4, then, tops.
Sausage john by name... Don’t fall into the trap of eating like a stereotypical student by exclusively consuming food made for children. A diet of burnt sausages (the heat’s too high, dummy) will kill you, but not before it’s killed your credibility. Try pasta – it’s not bad.
but what about living? Yeah, good point. If you can’t afford to fund your studies without the loan DO NOT buy a house in Margate. There’s no need to not treat yourself to the occasional mad hoody, though. The university branded one is of course a must. Like they do in America.
But he’s called John too Right. If you share a name with someone else in your new gang, push through a nickname, and quick! They’ll do for you, otherwise. Do you really want to be ‘Sausage John’ from now on? It’ll just be ‘Sausage’ by the end of the week. HURRY!
Why is our house so shit? That’s because you’re a student and you’re being exploited. Don’t worry, the rest of your mates are going through the same thing. Take their lead and invest in pound shop fairy light to polish this turd of a new home.
... but then again Saying that, fuck it! There’s plenty of time to become a functioning adult with world tastes and an Ocado account. If there’s one thing I regret from university it’s not eating more sausages. They didn’t give me heartburn then.
I think i’m going to need to take on a job Whoah. Don’t make any rash decisions before you fully realise that these are the only 3 years of your adult life when you have society’s blessing to NOT work. Let’s talk about it over a sausage sandwich.
AnD my school friends? They’re pretty much dead to you now, but best to keep them on the backburner by not raving on about ‘Gun Ben’ at Christmas. They won’t like it.
Do we still shop in packs of 5 or more? God no. I know that was a pastime in freshers, but just go to Tesco by yourself... ok, take 2 friends. MAX!
We all like a drink But if you ever find yourself strawpedo-ing a Smirnoff Ice it really is time to take yourself home. Ok?
at least There’s no interest on student loans
Yeah, I thought that too. But don’t worry, they can’t make us all pay.
Who DREW it!?
Oh... hey Ben.
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely fictitious
Photo casebook: The unfortunate world of Ian Beale
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