Chaka Khan, Gong Gong Gong, Housewives, Jackie Mendoza, Kevin Morby, Lafawndah, Simon Amstell, These New Puritans
Jazz thatâ€™s not all about jazz Ezra Collective
Contents Contact firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Loud And Quiet Ltd PO Box 67915 London NW1W 8TH Founding Editor: Stuart Stubbs Art Direction: B.A.M. Digital Director: Greg Cochrane Sub Editor: Alexandra Wilshire Book Editor: Lee Bullman Contributing writers Abi Crawford, Aimee Armstrong, Andrew Anderson, Alex FrancisAlex WestonNoond, Brian Coney, Cal Cashin, Chris Watkeys, David Cortes, David Zammitt, Daniel Dylan-Wray, Derek Robertson, Gemma Samways, Guia Cortassa, Hayley Scott, Ian Roebuck, Joe Goggins, Katie Beswick, Liam Konemann, Luke Cartledge, Max Pilley, Patrick Glen, Rachel Redfern, Rosie Ramsden, Reef Younis, Sarah Lay, Susan Darlington, Sam Walton, Tom Critten, Tristan Gatward. Contributing photographers Brian Guido, Charlotte Patmore, Colin Medley, David Cortes, Dan Kendall, Dustin Condren, Gabriel Green, Gem Harris, Heather Mccutcheon, Jenna Foxton, Jonangelo Molinari, Matilda Hill-Jenkins, Nathanael Turner, Nathaniel Wood, Phil Sharp, Rachael Wright, Sonny McCartney, Timothy Cochrane, Tom Porter. With special thanks to Adrian Read, Ben Harris, Chris Lawrance, Duncan Jordan, Frankie Davison, Laura Martin, Luke Twyman, Rachael Wright, Trip Warner.
The views expressed in Loud And Quiet are those of the respective contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the magazine or its staff. All rights reserved 2019 Loud And Quiet Ltd.
ISSN 2049-9892 Printed by Walstead Group Distributed by Loud And Quiet Ltd. & Forte
Jazz is impossible, right? Like, if I was to ask if you’ve noticed all the new jazz groups that are around right now, if your answer isn’t, “Errr, mate, there’s been SO many interesting things happening in British jazz for years”, it’d probably be, “I fucking hate jazz”. The second response is directly linked to the first; or at least that’s how it seems; like jazz relishes being the most elitist of all underdogs, and anyone who’s not down is just as dismissive of the thing they find so snooty – so, y’know, “fuck jazz”. Ezra Collective are one of the young groups who operate beyond the clichés that might not even be true anymore. They do it by putting their influences of grime and dance music before the technical rules of jazz. Some of us are going to love them. Maybe more.
Gong Gong Gong . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jackie Mendoza . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lafawndah . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Housewives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . These New Puritans . . . . . . . . . . . . Reviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ezra Collective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Simon Amstell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Chaka Khan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Kevin Morby . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 03
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What is the best way to enter a stage?
Everybody knows that the best part of any gig is the opening thirty seconds. The ultimate worst part is the encore, but it’s all downhill from the moment after the band has walked on. That’s how good those thirty seconds are. Firstly, you’ve got the shock of first sight, which is impossible to replicate. I mean that moment when Beyoncé, say, is suddenly in front of you. You’d never seen Beyoncé in the flesh before, and now, all of a sudden, you have. You are in a postI’ve-seen-Beyoncé’s-actual-skin-with-my-own-eyes universe now, and you owe it to yourself to enter that world at the soonest possible moment, not halfway through her set at the O2 because you were in Five Guys. More than that though, you can tell a lot about a person from how they choose to enter a stage, like when the members of U2 spent a year jumping out of a massive lemon on their 1997 Popmart Tour. Loosely speaking (because I could go on about this forever) performers have five basic templates to choose from, for varying venue sizes. They are:
although it’s still a dick move at 8pm in the Kings Arms, for the fourteen of us watching, it’s super bless.
Just walk on This is the factory setting of stage entrances; so ingrained in 100% of indie bands that you might be thinking I’ve overstretched myself in telling you there are four more templates to follow. What I will say for ‘walking onstage, picking up your instrument and starting to play your first song’ is that that shit is versatile. You can do it in your school assembly all the way up to Hyde Park and it’s not as if anyone is going to say, “It’s a shame the entrance wasn’t more original.” It kind of is a shame, actually, but especially if you’re starting out, probably best to concentrate on which member of your band must have spiked your drink with a strong laxative.
The curtain drop You need to be in the big rooms to work the curtain drop, which is ‘shock of first sight’ operating at something like 5000%. It’s the Big Bang of show starts – first there was nothing; just a big, white curtain. And then, in what feels like a hundredth of a second, the curtain drops, a million torches shine in your eyes, Jarvis Cocker is stood on a box, the band begins as one, what must be fifty paramilitary troops or 2012 Games Makers gather the curtain and vanish into thin air. Your drink also appears to have been spiked with a strong laxative.
Send out the band The smaller the venue, the cuter this one looks. It’s where the band come out and start playing and the singer saunters on sometime later and stifles a smirk when he (and it is always a dude) receives a bigger cheer than his mates did. It’s a cheer that confirms that the rest of his band are complete slugs, that his sunglasses look good, that he was right to demand that this is how they should start the show tonight, here in Luton. It was a dick move when Liam Gallagher made it his own in the ’90s, and
words by abi crawford. illustration by kate prior
He’s behind you I don’t think any band has ever performed this entrance more than once, on account of it being so unbelievably shit. Michael Bublé might have pounded it for a while, but that guy is from a lounge heritage, so fair’s fair. It’s almost like ‘Send out the band’ jumping the shark; where the band play and the singer pops up at the back of the room and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. It’s how Ant & Dec start Saturday Night Takeaway, but watch Mick Jagger’s ‘He’s behind you’ entrance to ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ in Martin Scorsese’s Shine The Light and no amount of loose skin can hide the look on his face that says, ‘Touché, old friends, you’ve made me look like a massive nob here.’ Basically, what I’m saying is, if your singer pulls a ‘Send out the band’ on you, goad him into a ‘He’s behind you’ (it won’t be hard) and watch him fall back inline.
The spring-loaded trapdoor Because most pubs aren’t equipped with spring-loaded trapdoors – and fewer still will allow you to “improvise” with the hatch they drop their beer deliveries through – you’re going to have to work hard to even have this entrance on the table. Then you have to ask yourself if the spring-loaded trapdoor is for you. The big question is: do you intend to be vigorously dancing throughout your show. Well? Because if you intend to pop through that floor with all the promise of a Justin Timberlake or Taylor Swift show, only to walk over to your guitar and start playing your first song, there’s another option for you. Don’t shit on the trapdoor, okay?
Not even our dumb horoscopes are safe from Spotify Starbucks came for our public space. Facebook and Twitter constantly impinge upon our private space. Now, Spotify seems to want to go one step further. In the excellent No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein presents a lucid, forensic and deeply moving study of current societal turmoil as the logical climax of the West’s decades-long political project. One of her key propositions is that late capitalist brand philosophy manages a canny trick of abstracting the brand from the product; Nike don’t make trainers: they subcontract that production to underpaid labourers in faraway lands, before sticking their swoosh on them and selling them as authentic pieces of Nike apparel. Nike have very little to do with the physical object itself, yet their customers don’t care, and continue to see their name, logo, and empowering slogan (“Just Do It”) as marks of quality. People buy into the brand, the lifestyle, not the product. In the 1990s, Starbucks, as the first of the coffee shop mega-chains, operated upon a similar premise. By marketing their shops as a “third place”, neither work nor home, they were able to present a lifestyle brand for us to fall in love with, to cling on to, but most importantly to buy into, both figuratively and literally. We don’t care about their coffee – have you tasted it? – we care about the ritual of “going for coffee”, working on MacBooks to the sound of frothing milk, reclining on cheap pleather sofas, being seen as part of the Starbucks crowd. But wait. That “third place” – neither work nor home – doesn’t have to be Starbucks; it’s the pub, the park, the library, the community centre. There’s such a thing as public space. Why pay over the odds to drink cup after tasteless cup to a soundtrack of clanking coffee machines, wallpaper trip-hop and Damien Rice? Yet every high street is swamped with these places. So, in a context of public space being increasingly co-opted by the corporate sector, what of private space? Well, it’s not as if that really exists in 2019. Our every move is GPStagged, our most intimate moments soundtracked by readymade playlists, our every shred of personal data at once increasingly and decreasingly valuable. Now, Spotify are seeking to go even further: they’re coming for your horoscopes. Spotify are launching “Cosmic Playlists” – twelve lists that have been curated by astrologer Chani Nicholas to reflect the mood of each Zodiac sign’s horoscope for the coming month. Or something like that, anyway. Their statement on the initiative is a pretty confusing, contradictory mess of pseudoscience, new-age spirituality and mixed metaphors, in which everything is apparently measured in that universal unit, “vibes”. This hasn’t been launched in the UK yet but it’s just a matter of time. Now, at first, this might seem a little silly or insignificant. What’s the problem here? Why not let people indulge a bit of hippy tittle-tattle, let off some spiritual steam? Horoscopes are,
after all, bollocks, but that’s another conversation. It shouldn’t bother me. Yet whatever one’s opinion of astrology, it’s a manifestation of that most fragile of human spaces: the one in which we rationalise ourselves, reflect, and seek meaning. I’m not saying it’s a particularly productive way of seeking that meaning, but others have every right to disagree. In 2019’s largely secular west, it’s relatively uncontroversial to point out that there’s something decidedly problematic about the charlatan spiritualists, faith healers and psychics who cynically profit from our internal wranglings with death and loss. Yet that’s more or less what Spotify are doing here: commodifying human imagination and spirituality, along with all the non-trivial emotional baggage that accompanies such stuff, to further consolidate their corporate dominance. Maybe this is all a bit tin foil hat. Who knows, maybe this will never take off, and even if it does, it wouldn’t matter. Yet I can’t get away from another Klein quote here: “What haunts me is not exactly the absence of literal space so much as a deep craving for metaphorical space: release, escape, some kind of open-ended freedom.” The more big business encroaches upon the most intimate elements of our private lives, that craving becomes simultaneously more insistent and less possible to satisfy. Want to escape for a bit? Sure. Companies will help you do that – but they’ll do so on their terms. Call me old-fashioned, but that seems to miss the point a little. Also, and perhaps most importantly, who wants to be told what to listen to by people like Russell fucking Grant?
words by luke cartledge. illustration by kate prior
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Sweet 16: How Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi studied his way out of a town he hated I noticed after I came to London that everybody in the big city starts shagging each other and doing drugs at age 13; no such joy in the soggy, racist backwater I grew up in. The kids in Cookstown, Northern Ireland, had few pastimes outside of football, setting things on fire and throwing stones at ‘the Portuguese’* on their way home from work in the evening. I had moved there from the west coast of Scotland after my parents split up several years before, my mum having married an accountant from the area after throwing in the towel with my dad. I went to a Protestant school as a result. Mandatory school uniform meant that between the ages of 12 to 18 I wore a great big red hand of Ulster out on my chest everyday. Loyal to the core! I remember being asked ‘if l liked the Sash?’** by a group of lads at school around that time; I thought they were referring to ‘Encore Une Fois’ by the French dance outfit ‘Sash!’, which had not long since been a huge hit. I told them I thought Sash! was dog shit; that I was into music with guitars. I’d been bullied and battered a bunch of times growing up but no beating contained such archaic mystification as that one. Alas, I had by the age of 16 become a total loner, with nothing but a deeply entrenched sense of myself as culturally superior to keep me company. I took to rendering my own image in charcoal, gouache and oil paint posturing like Egon Schiele whom I severely admired. I had decided some time ago that I was on my way to London at the soonest possible occasion to study art. Given the complete absence of any kind of social life I was incredibly studious and this proved easy to accomplish. I had seen that film Summer of Sam with Adrien Brody on the telly, who also had a ridiculous nose, and began attempting to recreate his hairstyle. I would spend a half hour each morning recasting those absurd spikes only to be pilloried by the student body and excluded from classes by the staff. I decided that on the basis of my intellectual merits and soaring grades I was beyond reprimand of any kind, that should I choose to humiliate myself rigorously using only my confused self image and a jar of sculpting gel I should be free to do so.
Around this time I met and fell completely in love with a girl from school whom I’d been passionately staring at in the corridors, classes and halls for the last three years. It was the very definition of first love. She was the only person seemingly in the whole vicinity that had interests like my own: she loved music, books and films and had a tinge of goth about her general demeanour. My parents had their own detatched bungalow in a fairly decent bit of town and two cars. My girlfriend’s family lived on one of those Prod estates with the murals, union jacks and red, white and blue curbs. I would go and stay at hers at the weekends. We were both virgins, both really timid; it took us quite a long time before we explored each others’ bodies ‘in full’. Her mother would bring us 6 bottles of Miller beer and order us a pizza on a Friday night. We would smoke petrol bar hash, fondle each other and watch Elvis movies; a phenomenon for which she had a seemingly bottomless regard. Her father was a quiet man who had served in the British Army working bomb disposal. He had an incredible array of records in his living room that me and his daughter would help ourselves to. They were both obsessed with Bob Dylan, whose nasal whine I was completely adverse to. Between them they had the entire back catalogue including all the Bootlegs. It was the only thing I used to whinge about; the constant Dylan. Then, one evening lying on her bed alone while she was in the bathroom next door getting ready to go out, ‘Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie’ came over the stereo, which is basically just a poem about the nature of integrity inspired by Guthrie’s ‘Bound For Glory’. I had never been a words man really but in that moment I was changed forever. A fantasy that I’d spend ten years toying with or trying to kill, that I finally submitted myself to fully only recently, was born in me. Whatever trick Bob had just pulled on me was a trick I had to learn, or at least try to. I bought my first guitar the next day. *Migrant workers from East Timor who’d recently been brought in en masse to work the jobs at the meat packing plants, who the locals considered beneath them. **Loyalist anthem.
words by lias saoudi
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Interview Drummerless grooves inspired by Bo Diddley from Beijing’s noise underground, by Dominic Haley. Photography by Timothy Cochrane
Gong Gong Gong Tom Ng glances at his bandmate, Joshua Frank, before both look down at their glasses with a slight shrug of resignation. “I guess you’ve answered this question a lot,” Ng sighs after a couple of seconds, “it’s my turn to answer this time.” I’d just asked the pair about how they met in Beijing, which, I freely admit is the kind of question Gong Gong Gong must be sick of answering by now. The band has been running a two-guy lo-fi scene out of the Chinese capital for almost five years now, but the fact that they’re an experimental band operating from what’s considered to be one of the world’s most controlled societies is the thing most interviewers seem to hone
in on first. So, yeah, it’s an obvious place to begin an interview, but, hey, it’s as good a place as any. “I moved to Beijing, like, maybe ten years ago to start playing music,” says Ng, launching into the duo’s backstory. “I was getting a bit frustrated in Hong Kong; it’s like the only thing people were interested in was all this commercial shit, so really I moved to Beijing to do something different. I’d say that Beijing actually has a lot more creative freedom than Hong Kong.” “I think that’s one thing that people don’t realise when they imagine what making music or art in China is like,” adds Frank. “We played a show yesterday and someone came up to
us and asked, ‘so tell me, what’s it like making music under a totalitarian regime?’ I was, like, ‘man, you know nothing about China.’ People tend to think about all these restrictions and censorship, and while those things are an element, there is also the same kind of creative freedom that you get from any big, cosmopolitan city. What we’re doing, and what a lot of Chinese bands have no potential of doing, is making any money. It’s just not considered to be something anyone could profit off, so there’s a certain amount of freedom there.” Clearly, if anyone knows about the reality of making music in Beijing, it’s Ng and Joshua. A Hong Konger and a Canadian, respectively, both have been making music in the city for a little over ten years, and not only as Gong Gong Gong. Along with Frank’s brother, the pair founded analogue label Rose Mansion Analog, and play in numerous other projects including Hot & Cold, the Offset: Spectacles and Love Research Institute. In the five or so years they’ve been in a band together, they’ve performed in underpass tunnels, subterranean art spaces and have generally been promoting noise music to any place in China that would book them. Even so, if you’re looking for ambassadors for their Beijing scene, then Gong Gong Gong aren’t the guys for the job. “There was some pretty interesting music happening in Beijing from, say, 2009 to 2011, but it feels like a lot of the bands aren’t really relevant these days,” Frank tells me as we delve into the city’s noise circuit. “There is a Chinese indie scene, but it exists in a way that is very different from the West; it doesn’t really develop very fast and the group of people involved has tended to remain pretty constant. It seems like a lot of the bands we came up with have gotten stuck doing the same thing, which is not really all that interesting.” “It’s also doesn’t help that a lot of the venues are shut now,” says Ng. “It’s not because of censorship per se, but because it’s hard for a venue to sustain itself. It’s still quite traditional in China, so when you get older a lot of people are called back by their parents to get married, have kids and work in some government job. It feels like there’s an attitude that by the time you’ve hit 30 you shouldn’t be doing stupid stuff like being in bands.” — Phantom rhythm — That Gong Gong Gong didn’t follow a traditional path is at least partly responsible for their unique sound. The two have almost psychic-like onstage chemistry, allowing them to really elevate what two people playing stringed instruments can do. All interweaving riffs and cascading rhythms, the band’s hardcharging grooves evoke everything from early rock and blues
to psychedelic drone, Southeast Asian pop and even the structures of electronic dance music. These achievements are even more remarkable when you consider that the duo plays without any drummer or percussive instrument at all – it’s just them and a couple of guitars. In a concept that Ng and Frank call the ‘phantom rhythm’, Gong Gong Gong conjure up an aura of a ghostly kick drum and snare hits that seem to seep naturally from the interplay between their two instruments, even though they’re not there at all. Ask the band how they arrived at this sound, though, and all you’ll get is a bemused shrug. “It’s cool when you see people tapping or even air-drumming along with us,” says Frank after some rumination. “It’s cool that we can have that kind of an effect on people. In a way, it’s an instant validation of the techniques we’re using. I see someone nodding or clapping where the snare drum should be and I’m like, ‘there you have it; you really don’t need a drummer to get people to do stuff ’.” “I’m just so used to being the percussive driver of any band that I’m in that I’ve never really noticed that we haven’t got a drummer,” Ng tells me after also musing on the topic for a few seconds. “I always say our music is often more physical than musical. Good music can be fast or slow but it always has to be something that you can feel.” “I think we’re both really drawn to music that is from different places but tap into the same spirit somehow,” says Frank. “We’re both into Bo Diddly, for example, who has that really stripped down blues and rock ‘n’ roll thing going on. But then, you can also hear the same thing in West African music or South Asian pop. I like the idea of tapping into music that is elemental but it doesn’t sound like anywhere. It’s as if there’s a certain groove that unites everything if you know what I mean?” Gong Gong Gong might be trying to tap into something universal, but the way their going about it is against the grain. Even though they proudly call Beijing home, both Frank and Ng are acutely aware that they’re outsiders, not only within China but also within the western music world. It’s an energy that they seem to thrive on. “It’s cool to be part of a world that’s becoming a much more borderless place. We seem to be in this moment where people are interested in stuff in a way that’s not just about the novelty factor,” Frank beams, illustrating the point. “We have a friend who’s a Chinese rapper based in New York, but can sell out shows in the States and in China, and I find it very inspiring that he can weave all these western and eastern influences together and can play it to an American audience who don’t fetishise it, and take it completely how it is. I mean, we’re not in the same scene as him or anything, but it’s cool to hang out, eat spicy food
“In China, there’s an attitude that by the time you’ve hit 30 you shouldn’t be doing stupid stuff like being in bands” together and figure out how we can make sense of being from two worlds, as it were.” Underlining this point, Gong Gong Gong sing exclusively in Cantonese in a Mandarin-speaking city. In his mournful tales of absurdity and fractured visions, Ng’s remarkably soulful voice adds a rich, almost psychedelic layer to the band’s already hypnotic sound. For Ng, sticking to Cantonese is all about maintaining a level of truthful honesty to his band. “When I was younger, I’d see all these bands in Hong Kong where the singer would try to sing in English,” he explains. “I found that really weird – I mean, it’s not my mother tongue and I’m definitely not confident enough to write songs in English. The same goes for when
I moved to Beijing and I started to learn to speak Mandarin. Either of those languages would probably reach a wider audience, but it just somehow… it just seems uncomfortable for me.” “Do you remember when we played in Chicago and there was that guy who came up to you and thanked you for singing in Cantonese?” asks Frank. “It really means a lot to people – you don’t come across it all that much these days.” “That’s true,” says Ng. “I’m definitely not doing it to please anyone, but if people appreciate it, then that’s cool.”
Upcoming highlights ... Sun 7 Apr Midori Takada & Lafawndah Sun 7 Apr Gabriel Kahane Fri 12 Apr Hauschka 15 & 16 Apr Glen Hansard Sun 12 May Manana//Cuba x Jazz re:freshed Featuring Yussef Dayes, Space Afrika, Hammadi Valdes (Ariwo) and more
Space Afrika ÂŠ Jonangelo Molinari
Thu 13 Jun Andrew Bird
Love song experiments from the border of Mexico, by Susan Darlington. Photography by Tayo Okyekan
Interview It seems apposite to be talking with Jackie Mendoza about her debut EP on the night before Valentine’s Day. Entitled ‘LuvHz’ – pronounced ‘love hurts’ – its six tracks variously deal with unrequited love, navigating long-distance relationships, and unhealthy infatuations. These lyrical preoccupations have been the bread and butter of pop music from its inception onwards; what is fresh and intriguing with Jackie Mendoza is the way in which it’s presented. Tracks have abstract structures in which Latin-driven dance beats skitter to the surface, twinkling ukulele pans from left to right, and synths shimmer and float into the middle distance. These elements are grounded by Mendoza’s Spanish and English vocals, and a love of pop music that means the lack of convention is always reeled in at the point of collapse. “I think it’s what comes naturally to me,” she notes of this fusion from her home in Brooklyn. “Because I love pop and I love having that in my music, but also mixing some less traditional sounds and beats, and I want to get the Latin influence into it. But I always lean towards the pop structure because I like it.” This openness to inventive sounds and ideas is perhaps best observed on ‘Puppet Angels’; the most aggressive dance track on the EP. It came about when Mendoza was in the studio with her producer, Rusty Santos, and they basically took the beat of another song, ‘Loco Flow’, and made something else. She chose to work with Santos because of her love of Panda Bear and Animal Collective, both of whom he’s produced. As someone with Mexican heritage, she was also interested in the fact that he’s starting to work with more Latin artists. “I could see that he was really excited about working with me,” she says. “He helped me out a lot with production and just adding his own little flair to it.” She’s planning to collaborate with him again on an album that’s scheduled for release in 2020 through Luminelle Recordings. “I’m trying to mix and match poppy with more experimental for it,” she says, “and push myself to step even further away from the poppiness and try new structures and new sounds.” — Loco Flow — Aside from her love for classic pop songs (that she then mutates into something harder and far more eccentric), Jackie’s heritage and geographical upbringing can’t help but increasingly politicise her music. She was raised in San Diego, 10 minutes from the border of Mexico – her motherland. So ‘Loco Flow’ stands out on the EP for addressing the current climate in American politics. “I’m challenging myself to write about different things I care about,” she says, “not just love pop songs. I think it’s a challenge every artist faces: what statements do you want to make and what do you stand for?” In today’s political climate, amid reports that people are being attacked for speaking Spanish in certain parts of Trump’s America, it could be said that singing in the language is a statement in itself. Jackie says that it isn’t intentionally, but that “it
does feel empowering to be in America singing in Spanish when people of all races are being discriminated against.” As she wrote in a Notion blog, she also wants to be, “a person Latin queer people can relate to.” She tells me: “I feel like I never really had that example and now I can be an example for anyone who’s like me.” If she’d had such a role model herself, she says, it would have encouraged her to come out at a younger age. “It would have helped her feel less weird or more comfortable. I guess I would have felt like, oh, there’s someone out there that’s like me – I don’t feel so alone.” This evolution in sound and confidence has been ongoing since she got involved in music in 2013. It was then that she joined dream-pop band Gingerlys, who are currently in the process of re-grouping after the departure of a member. In parallel she launched her solo career so that she could be more experimental. Her initial self-released tracks were far removed from where she is now, being traditionally structured folk that was performed solo on a ukulele, which is almost unimaginable when you hear ‘LuvHz’. The tiny instrument is still in the mix, apparently, but it’s completely unrecognisable: warped, spacey, and buried in beats that feel almost out of time to other percussive flourishes. ‘De Lejos’ is the track that marks the transition from conventional ukulele to a more electronic sound. “Because in that one I stripped away all the synth-iness and the regular beat,” she says. “Just using little bursts of sound made it more experimental than pop.” Despite this, she still considers the ukulele to be her key instrument. “I just feel more comfortable writing on it,” she explains. “It’s easier but there’s also room to experiment with it with pedals. I feel it suits my voice really well. It also holds a special place in my heart because I started playing it in middle school.” School is where Jackie discovered her voice, too, in musical theatre, performing in productions of Hairspray and The Pirates Of Penzance. “I was very, very shy growing up, and that really helped me get more comfortable with myself,” she says. “I think from there I fell in love with performing and making music, singing. And then I thought I don’t have to do this on stage like a play, I can do this on my own.”
Lafawndah A global outlook from an algorithm’s nightmare, by Gemma Samways Photography by Gem Harris
For a fiercely independent, multi-disciplinary artist pursuing a singular creative vision, the degree to which Lafawndah prizes community might seem surprising. Certainly stylistically, there’s no obvious peer for the polymath performer, who mines indigenous sounds from all over the planet. But it’s this hunger for connection that drives her to take the road less travelled, both figuratively and literally. “It’s important for me to make links because sometimes I feel quite isolated,” she reveals today, in the verdant surrounds of Hackney’s Conservatory Archives. Certainly geographically, Lafawndah’s heritage is unique, being of Iranian, Egyptian and English descent, and raised in France. She repeatedly describes herself as “an orphan” creatively too, “because my music doesn’t fit in with a thing that’s already going on.” Her 2015 and 2017 tours with Kelela are cited as a case in point. “We only went on tour together because we’re really close friends. Musically, no agent would have put us together, and yet it made it such an interesting tour. “The industry thinks in such narrow ways, in terms of the type of connections that there could be musically,” she continues, increasingly exasperated. “It’s like, ‘So these people are black and doing kind-of gospel: they should go on tour together.’ It’s very narrow-minded marketing, like, ‘I can see that the people that like Solange also like serpentwithfeet,’ and you’re like [slow hand clap]. That’s literally the world we live in – the algorithms are making the circles even smaller. It’s like, why would you want to go to the same show that you’ve already been to?” — A virtuous bet — It was these twin desires to foreground an artistic kinship that transcends genre, and to offer a totally unique live experience, that inspired last December’s Honey Colony show at London’s Southbank Centre. Born from the mixtape series of the same name, Lafawndah assembled an all-star line-up – that included Mica Levi, Tirzah and Kelsey Lu – to participate in a production that fluidly blended performance, collaboration and experimentation.
When I raise her decision to foreground largely female and non-binary artists, Lafawandah cuts me short. “I mean, it so happens that they’re the best artists in the world right now,” she bats back. “It’s not a statement. It’s literally that I want to work with the best people, and they’re the best. It’s a really exciting time to be making music.” “For me the Honey Colony is so many things,” she says. “I think that this economy that we’re working in is isolating us because the hustle is so hard, so [the performance] was an occasion for us to create a context for us to share more communal experiences, because they’re so joyful. And because if there wasn’t a show, to have all these people in one room would have been impossible. “And when you have a show that’s just about kinship and personal connections, rather than just music, the kind of performance that delivers is very dynamic. We didn’t know what it was gonna be. And there was this weird energy in the room. The audience started getting out their chairs and running onstage. Security were confused whether they should intervene, and we were like, ‘No, no, this is what we want.’ It was good anarchy.” Lafawndah hopes it will prove the first in a series of live performances. “People have to book this not knowing what it’s gonna be. It needs to be like that. But it’s a virtuous bet.” — Ancestor Boy — Lafawndah has plenty to keep her busy in the interim. Following last year’s alliance with filmmakers Partel Oliva and veteran composer Midori Takada on musical short ‘Le Renard Bleu’, she’s set to reunite with Takada in April to perform their collaborative work ‘Ceremonial Blue’ at the Barbican. And before that there’s the small matter of releasing her long-awaited debut album. Shared via her own Concordia imprint – on March 22nd to coincide with Persian New Year – ‘Ancestor Boy’ is the producer/ singer’s first solo release since 2016’s Tan EP. It cements her as a sonic auteur in the lineage of Björk, offering an esoteric new permutation of electronic-pop in which fractured club beats
Interview collide with elements of avant sound design. Out of economic necessity, it was recorded between Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York, Paris and London; essentially wherever Lafawndah could crash with friends for free. This nomadic existence proved integral to the record’s global outlook and stylistic range, hopping as it does between hyperactive zouk (‘Uniform’) and hushed devotionals (‘Joseph’). One particularly fruitful recording stretch took place at the studios of NY dancehall label Mixpak. “Mixpak is a label that was created by a bunch of white American people who became the spokespersons of dancehall,” she explains. “At the time [I was] there, they created a lot of dancehall parties in New York and I remember the first time I walked into one of those parties. I was like, ‘What... is going on in here?’ It was literally just a bunch of white hipsters in Williamsburg dancing. There was no-one of colour. No-one. Not DJing, not participating. And that’s where I started working on my album.”
‘Tourist’, the track inspired by the experience, finds Lafawndah singing from the perspective of a coloniser. “Your home is my home now,” she coos in the verses, and in the chorus she yelps, “Want it! Need it! Take It!” It’s a refrain that might sound familiar to anyone with a passing interest in contemporary pop. “Ariana Grande?” Lafawndah smiles. “You know her? She released a song called ‘7 Rings’. Do you know the chorus? The words are the same as ‘Tourist’. I’m not telling you that she copied, I’m telling you because I’m fascinated by how much we nailed the thing. I’m literally writing that song from the perspective of someone who’s entitled. “[‘7 Rings’] is literally a blackface moment, featuring all the signifiers in the history of hip hop. I can hear and I can feel when something is taken. It’s very different than something that has been studied and something that has been mastered and something that has been digested. If you’re adding something to this conversation that you’ve digested, it’s a very different thing than taking a signifier. That song is a signifier of all the songs
without any connection. And she’s talking about buying hair – it’s just so upsetting.” — Concordia — Lafawndah is acutely aware of the potential irony of the fact that much of ‘Ancestor Boy’ was created in collaboration with white men, including Gatekeeper’s Aaron David Ross, James Connolly aka L-Vis 1990, and Nick Weiss of Teengirl Fantasy. “I’m very lucky because I feel like these are the people I will probably make music with for the rest of my life,” she muses. “Previously, I’ve spent so much time massaging egos, and a lot of the time I’ve had to dim my light. I’d never do that now because I know better, and I’ve never had to do that since working with these men. “But again, I think it has to do with economical reasons and race and gender. No person of colour and no woman is available to work for that stretch of time without getting any money back. That’s the reality you know? Also, as first generation kids coming from immigrant parents, there’s a certain level of expectation. There is a very strict idea about success that usually has an idea about being a doctor or a lawyer. It’s a different approach than my white friends who have parents who are like, ‘Yeah! You’re an artist! I love it’ and hanging out at their shows.” This was another motivation for founding the Concordia imprint. “I know so many women who are so talented but who are not well surrounded at all. They’re just still at that stage where they’re dealing with a lot of ego, they’re not heard and they don’t have the confidence to produce. That was me very recently, still. So I think it’s important that this [record label] gives back. “The idea is to create a home for all the orphans of the world. All the artists that don’t sit properly, that are doing things that are challenging, that are not obeying enough of what’s expected of them. Concordia is going to be their home.” This concept of community is further reflected in the recurring motif of the island, threaded throughout ‘Ancestor Boy’. “An island is always in relation to something else because it couldn’t exist by itself,” Ladawndah explains. “The geology of it is really interesting to me, because it’s coming from something that has exploded or shattered. And also what I love about the island is that it’s literally the tiniest, most concentrated amount of land but so much stuff gets produced: the best music in the world, the most insane writers… There’s this resilience, and this clarity. “I think the whole album is about clarity,” she says. “Clarity is a life process, but I’m coming from a period of my life where I had none. At all. I’m coming out of decades of fog, and this album is definitely my first step.”
The band that got out of their comfort zone by moving onto houseboats and writing their new album in a Wetherspoons, by Tristan Gatward. Photography by Matilda Hill-Jenkins
Wednesday morning, All Bar One, Moorgate. It’s not quite the classic Simon & Garfunkel album title. We’re being served Smarties in shot glasses. These treats come with an order of a cappuccino; they come with an order of a pale ale. This is not an advertisement. 11am. The wisps of afternoon accountability creep upon us, nobody touches them. The polite conversation before we start always seems to come back to King’s Cross. It’s where I work most of the time. It’s the accidental Word Art in the background of Coals Drop Yard – a kind of elite companion of Westfield, with more fountains than affordable breakfasts – and the location of the latest press images to accompany the new Housewives album, ‘Twilight Splendour’. If product placement could exist for a neighbourhood, then this is certainly a good working heartbeat of the city – a strange point of exit for many in a daily routine. It pulls a certain interest for a band who abandoned their London rents at the end of last year – one, for a new life with his partner in Sheffield, the others, to live on houseboats. (Not the same houseboat, they emphasise. “We’ve sacrificed everything for this band.”) “It’s nice not being tied to one place in London,” they say, choosing to talk as one rather than individuals, telling me at one point that they’re not themselves when they’re in the band, and that this band is the most interesting thing about them. “Because we move around so much, we end up in places like this all the time. We don’t have much choice. It turns out that a lot of London is like this.” (This being the All Bar One in Moorgate.) “You lose a lot of the complacency you get from living in a house. These kinds of destinations end up being an extension of the home. You have to be resourceful; you have to find most things somewhere else. You can sit in here with one coffee and have at least three hours of Wi-Fi.” More Smarties come out. There isn’t even an accompanying order for this round to decorate. Perhaps the waiters heard the nice words, or saw the implied loyalty card from the ease in which Housewives fit their surroundings. The myth of the artist’s rider – wanting only the blue m&ms from the packet – is replaced fervently with wanting quantity over quality. More Smarties? No one’s complaining. They all seem at home here, unfased by slotting into a social etiquette of how you should view spaces in the city. I promise this isn’t an advertisement. Or a cultural geography essay.
a band who sold their guitars for Midi equipment, sacrificing a homely power supply to become an electronic presence. “But the biggest inconvenience is still the disconnect to everyone. You’re not tied down to a place, which means there is no home. I guess a lot of people feel like that, living in London. Even if you do have a place, it’s always quite secular. I don’t know if that’s specific to living on a boat.” The limitations meant a lot of the new album was written in Wetherspoons. “Among a lot of other places,” they hasten to add. “Places that are cheap to be in, that aren’t uncomfortable, where people aren’t trying to move you on. That’s where you really get enough time to focus on something. And have enough power to do it. Power, as in terms of electricity. Not inner power.” Which is the more important power? “For this album, it’s probably equal actually.” Everything about this record is explicitly digital. Album opener ‘Beneath The Glass’ is about facing away from the mundanity of everyday life by tuning into a mobile phone, a rela-
— Sell your guitars — I remember speaking to a friend of mine who recently made a switch to a houseboat. The lasting image was of her balancing her record collection across either side of the boat: a crate diggers’ Noah’s Arc where you have to make all purchases in sets of two. The band laugh. “We don’t have any records.” Before adding: “We don’t have any electricity.” It’s a slightly more earnest take of the Four Yorkshiremen’s “I used to dream of living in a corridor,” but the move seems to be an impractical choice for
Interview tively easy object that everyone’s pretty accustomed with. You’re faced with the AnCo innovation – the occasional squelchy, industrial interlude of a Tim Hecker track; the dark and brooding production of Oneohtrix; the post-punk vocals similar to Mark Leckey shouting a love letter from an early source of Artificial Intelligence to its user: “Slip with me, under the glass and into the light/ I only choose content that I know you’ll like.” It sounds like an inverted, uncannily submissive chat-up line from Spike Jonze’s Her. Then there’s ‘Dormi’, an eight-minute pulsing expedition to a MIDI choir, and ‘Texu’, a track that has been described as an alien making a mediocre jazz mixtape for its lover. “We’d kind of moved away from guitars because of the limitations. I mean, it was never always about guitars anyway. It was always about making something, and guitars were just the things we knew how to play. It’s more refined than that. It’s as much about doing what we can’t do, and stuff we can’t control – stuff that is only possibly by computer, that we can influence and try to improve. You know. That’s much more interesting to us. You’re not even limited by your ability. You can write the verse and then learn how to play it later.” Even when guitars were in the set – take their performance as part of BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction at End of the Road a couple of years ago – it became a visual feast within minutes. Screwdrivers were being jammed into fretboards, the band almost fully obscured by a backing strobe. We wrote at the time that they started to resemble some sort of 20-limbed sea creature. Two years on and it’s still something that’s as terrifying as it is fascinating. “That’s what we’re focusing on at the moment, actually. We’ve been playing versions of these songs for a while now. The new album’s been created in harmony with computers and coding, and transferring that into a live show is something a bit more complex. We’ll find out how that works at the same time our audience does.” The potential is a whole new world, though. You have to learn and unlearn as you go. “We were making stuff out of presets. And we started to realise there was actually an idea there – we didn’t know what it was – but we started to create
a palette from all these synthesized sounds. We had to think about emotion of these songs in a whole new context, rather than thinking like, ‘ok, this is a sad song so it should have a cello’. “We were performing a lot, we had quite a similar set up for a long time, playing guitar music to guitar audiences. We became used to the responses we were getting. We wanted to shift because there was something lacking in the performance, in that it could only be so intimate. We were going through the motions of it, but it was performed only to men of a certain age. It felt frosty and caged. We were trying to express ourselves but became placed within the confines of our instruments. Now we’ve become open to things in a more holistic way. I just hope people realize that this is for real. This isn’t ironic. It’s at least some version of the truth.” — Leave town — The afternoon moves on, and we’re back to London.More police horses go by the windows, policemen follow on foot at a slightly faster-than-comfortable trot; more businesspeople place foreign language phone calls with heavy duty bags under their eyes and coffee shots slipping through their fingers. “So much of living the way that we do, you notice the routines and the similarities,” the band say. “This city is just mental. Being part of it is mental. You can find the fashions and trends. Oh, this café gets this sort of people. There are zones people occupy.” There’s a common sense of feeling displaced and alienated within ‘Twilight Splendour’. Even the aforementioned press shots show everyone standing next to one another on their phones. They describe as one big feedback loop. “We were all probably just on a group chat with one another.” Everyone in London is here temporarily, they say. “I mean, for me, the reason I moved to Sheffield is because I couldn’t think into the future in London. I just wanted to feel settled.” Can you think into the future in Sheffield? “Absolutely. Ask me anything.”
Totnes + Dartington
24 – 26 May 2019
The Comet is Coming, Gruff Rhys, Lubomyr Melnyk, Gazelle Twin, Bill Ryder Jones, Maps, Black Midi, Du Blonde, Szun Waves, Rozi Plain, Laurence Pike, Anne Müller, Stewart Lee and Michael Cumming present ‘King Rocker’, Will Burns and Hannah Peel, Virginia Astley, Black Country New Road, TVAM, W. H. Lung, Pip Blom, Death & Vanilla, You Tell Me, Deep Learning, The Nightingales, Doomsquad, Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner perform the music of Bagpuss, Pale Blue Eyes, Michael Clark, Lecu, Hearing Aid Beige, Dawn Chorus Ignites and more.
Sea Change Festival
These New Puritans The constant unpredictability of Jack and George Barnett, by Fergal Kinney. Photography by Phil Sharp
“We always joked about doing a Barnett Institute,” says Jack Barnett. “First of all we sit down and meditate for twelve hours. Then we give you a new name and you’re locked in a room with white noise, and we put something over your head. All those techniques.” Though joking, you suspect he could well be serious. These New Puritans have been many things, but nobody could accuse them of lacking any seriousness about their work. The Barnett institute – that is, the twin brothers Jack and George Barnett – are sat side by side in a converted warehouse space in Tottenham, north London’s formerly industrial topography spilling behind them into the aubergine night skyline. George, the elder twin by one minute and the more straightforwardly confidant of the brothers, apologises for their being a little tired. ‘Inside the Rose’, the fourth album from These New Puritans, is their first studio release in six years, and though they’re enthused to be back on the rehearsal and promotion treadmill, they’re also faintly exhausted. Jack, the group’s visionary in chief, though softly spoken radiates a quiet but total intensity. His sense of humour, when it asserts itself, is Ryvita dry – indeed, George spends most of the interview sat at an angle facing his brother, his face oscillating between wry bafflement and genuine curiosity at Jack’s utterances. They edit each other’s sentences, bicker slightly and share gargantuan silences in the way that only siblings do. I put to the brothers that ‘Inside the Rose’ marks something of a consolidation of the band’s previous experiments; making more concise – more pop, even – many of the ideas on their previous three records. George nods, explaining that he found the album to be “a culmination of a lot of the things we’ve learnt”. “Every time you start a new record,” he adds, “you realise how ignorant you were and how foolish you were at the start.” By the time that touring for their last record – 2013’s ‘Field of Reeds’ – had wound down, the brothers were itching to perform another of their creative volte faces. “We’re never consciously turning in a different direction,” says George, “but by the end of an album we just kind of massively want to turn in a different direction. It’s an impulse that we both have.” Some shows were scheduled in 2015, then mysteriously pulled. “We just thought, let’s go away and make a record,” says Jack by way of explanation.
Interview — Hidden in Berlin — Utilising the same process as on 2010’s ‘Hidden’, the pair first recorded the drums for the album in a studio in West London, with long-time collaborator Graham Sutton. Once the drums were deemed satisfactory, they jumped in a van and headed to the studio space that would define ‘Inside the Rose’ – a former Soviet broadcasting studio in a dilapidated industrial wasteland outside Berlin. “It used to be the DDR centre for music throughout the Communist era,” Jack explains, eyes widening. “It was built in the ’50s and everything was done there – radio plays, there’s a huge concert hall. Because of the competition between East and West it meant there was a limitless budget for that sort of thing. After the fall of the Berlin Wall it was taken over by the mafia. There was a hairdresser’s there, a school full of kids, and we got in there when it was still a bit off the map. People would think we were a bit mad for going out there.” The pair are keen to stress that this is, however, not their ‘Berlin record’. Having immediately said that, George concedes to no one in particular that ‘Beyond Black Suns’ “is quite Berlin”. But what marks ‘Inside the Rose’ so notably from the pair’s previous work is its astonishing clarity. Where on ‘Field of Reed’, Jack’s vocal was often little more than a murmur (to quite brilliant effect), here his voice is assertive and to the fore. “I wanted his vocals higher, because I think his voice is just better these days,” says George when I ask if they intended to make such a direct record. “I don’t like listening to mumbly singers,” says Jack, “it’s a cop out.” So why did you do it so much on ‘Field of Reeds’? I ask. “Well…” a silence. “You’re not making the music you want to hear sometimes. My favourite art is always stuff that is really, really clear in the way it’s delivered, but still has something that you couldn’t put down in words – like Francis Bacon. That’s what you aim for, you may fail, but that’s the stuff I like.” Note here George’s decision on how his brother’s voice should be presented – whilst Jack is generally, and fairly, painted as the group’s sonic dictator, George’s role in These New Puritans is more subtle but just as fascinating. His position has been variously compared to that of an editor, which he dismisses today. “It’s more giving it a shape,” Jack explains. “I’ll go off and record lots of vocals and come back, play them for you. You’ll just listen to ten seconds, not say anything, and then press stop. That…” Jack smiles, his brother’s eyes narrowing in curiosity once more, “…is when I know it’s not good. I think that’s so valuable. There’s so many songs that had completely different lyrics or vocals, and I wouldn’t have done that without George.” — A singular position — These New Puritans have always defied categorisation – too avant-garde for the indie crowd, too indie for the avantgarde crowd. It’s no surprise that Current 93’s occult dabbling
“I don’t like stuff that’s deliberately abstract and difficult but there’s no pay off. Anyone can just make noise.”
mastermind David Tibet appears on the new record (“the best lyricist alive” is how George describes him today), and you can sense an affinity with the wilful esotericism of that band. Jack is pleased with These New Puritan’s singular position. “I don’t like stuff that’s deliberately abstract and difficult but there’s no pay off,” he explains quietly. “Anyone can just make noise. Be extreme, but don’t do it in an obvious way. If you want to be extreme you can do something really quiet and really loud but that’s so… easy. And it’s not very interesting after a while. I don’t like music that’s made for an elite audience. With a lot of electronic experimental music, it’s a small group of people and you just get conventions, which becomes exactly like the guitar bands when we first started. It’s another set of orthodoxies.” “I was reading a music magazine for the first time in years,” George laughs, “and it was a thing about some band saying, ‘oh, this record’s really different you know – we used a synth.’ Fucking hell! Are you literally sat around a campfire playing bongos with your uni chums? That’s the mediocrity.” I ask if hatred of mediocrity always galvanised These New Puritans. “No,” George replies. “I think just more now.” Jack leans forward. “It’s not hatred,” he suggests, moderating his brother, “but a real desire to do something that’s not that. This real desire to plough our own furrow… really it’s about a massive desire for a different way of living. It sounds very worthy, but I think the only way to live is with that kind of ambition. It’s paid off in the long run but we could have gone down a much easier route. It was never even an option for us.” This is an understatement. Upon being invited to listen for the first time to ‘Inside the Rose’ I experienced that rarest of things – genuinely having no idea quite what the album I was about to hear might sound like at all. The possibilities were wide open. Which These New Puritans have we got this time? — Beat Pyramid — When they were signed in that last goldrush in the middle of the last decade, These New Puritans were associated with the Southend scene surrounded by the Horrors. They were not signed in the hope that they would become genre-busting disruptors; more likely in the explicit hope that they would not. Consider the class of 2008, flogging their tenth anniversary classic album tours – who else has continued to make such vital and varied output? “We arrived in a very conservative, very guitar based time…” says George. “…But we were influenced by hip hop and dance production,” Jack adds, “and at the time it was just like, ‘why can’t you
just play songs on a guitar?’. People were bemused by it, now it’s common for people to collect lots of different influences. It’s not that unusual.” Though sketchy, their 2008 debut, ‘Beat Pyramid’, carried implicitly a spirit of risk and invention that would be made explicit on 2010’s ‘Hidden’ – the band’s real creative breakthrough. A completely singular album that absolutely nobody asked for, ‘Hidden’ reeked of barely supressed violence and used Japanese Taiko drums, a children’s choir and the sound of sharpening knives. Jack developed a reputation as something of an eccentric, making deadpan incendiary statements such as when he dismissed all music made between 1600 and 2005. (What broke the impasse in 2005, I wonder – the release of ‘Hot Fuss’ by the Killers?) Pulling off such a creative transformation once is good, but These New Puritans did it twice. Immediately after ‘Hidden’ the brothers knuckled down and learnt musical notation, transforming the band into something of a neoclassical ensemble for the wildly ambitious, utterly gorgeous ‘Field of Reeds’. George rolls his eyes at the bemused reaction of their peers and the music press to their learning classical notation – but what others viewed as pretension, George viewed sensibly as “the only way to communicate with a large group of musicians”. “George has got a bit of a vendetta against ‘Field of Reeds’,” Jack smiles. “If you talk to him for five minutes he’ll say something about that record.” George shakes his head, smirking. “I love ‘Field of Reeds’,” he says with a fixed glare. Live shows for that record – documented on the Barbican recording ‘Expanded’ – involved a thirty-eight piece orchestra, so the pair are naturally relishing their new touring line-up as a four piece. “It’s still high concept,” Jack assures me, “but I like the focus on making the music more agile. You can communicate really easy and make changes.” The day of our interview, they’d been rehearsing for the first time the album opener ‘Infinity Vibraphones’. I ask about that track’s lyric about ‘an addiction to the impossible’, which seems to me self-referential. “It’s quite a personal thing,” Jack says. “It’s sort of a personality flaw of mine.” A pause. George arches his head once again towards his brother. “I didn’t know that.” More silence. A smile.
MOTHERS WED 27 FEB OSLO HACKNEY
GHUM THURS 4 APR BERMONDSEY SOCIAL CLUB
LEIF ERIKSON THURS 28 FEB TUFNELL PARK DOME
HANNAH PEEL & WILL BURNS THURS 4 APR CECIL SHARP HOUSE
GENTLY TENDER WED 6 MAR OSLO HACKNEY
KELLY MORAN FRI 5 APR PURCELL ROOM
KEDR LIVANSKIY WED 6 MAR ELECTROWERKZ
STEVE GUNN FRI 5 APR OSLO HACKNEY
GIANT PARTY WED 13 MAR OSLO HACKNEY
ART SCHOOL GIRLFRIEND WED 10 APR OMEARA
PLASTIC MERMAIDS OUT WED S13 OLDMAR THE LEXINGTON
BC CAMPLIGHT THURS 11 APR SCALA
JERSKIN FENDRIX THURS 14 MAR WHIRLED CINEMA
STATS WED 17 APR BERMONDSEY SOCIAL CLUB
ROSIE LOWE UT THURS 14OMAR SOLD OMEARA
THESE NEW PURITANS WED 17 APR TUFNELL PARK DOME
BEDOUINE FRI 22 D OUT SOLMAR PURCELL ROOM
JACKIE CHARLES FRI 19 APR THE ISLINGTON
EMPRESS OF TUES 26 MAR SCALA
THE ANTLERS TUES 23 APRLD OUT SO UNION CHAPEL
SHARON VAN ETTEN OUT TUESS26 OLDMAR ROUNDHOUSE
TIRZAH TUES 23, WED 24 & THURSSO25 T LD OUAPR SCALA
BECKIE MARGARET THURS 28 MAR THE ISLINGTON KARPE TUESS2OLAPR D OUT SCALA
SNEAKS WED 1 MAY WINDMILL BRIXTON ROZI PLAIN TUES 7 MAY OSLO HACKNEY HAND HABITS WED 8 MAY THE LEXINGTON DRUGDEALER WED 15 MAY TUFNELL PARK DOME FAT WHITE FAMILY WED 15 MAY O2 FORUM KENTISH TOWN W. H. LUNG SAT 18 MAY OSLO HACKNEY GEORGIA WED 22 MAY REDON GUIDED BY VOICES OUT WED S5OL&D THURS 6 JUNE VILLAGE UNDERGROUND THE STROPPIES THURS 18 JUL THE LEXINGTON BESS ATWELL THURS 10 OCT OMEARA ROSIE LOWE WED 23 OCT VILLAGE UNDERGROUND
JUNIORE WED 1 MAY 100 CLUB
THU 5TH DEC
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Karen O and Danger Mouse — Lux Prima (bmg) There’s a long, varied history of musical odd couples. Some were surprising ( Jay-Z and Linkin Park won a Grammy for the not wholly offensive ‘Numb/Encore’), some were inexplicable (see Sting’s and Shaggy’s 2018 collaboration on a mid-life crisis) and some will always remain unforgiveable (take a bow Brian May and Dappy). But with lines blurring and genres increasingly mashed together in a desperate major label scrabble for crossover appeal, there’ll always be a string of strange bedfellows, disastrous duos and car-crash collaborations. But then, sometimes, it all makes perfect, unlikely sense. Towards the tail end of last year, Danger Mouse and Karen O emerged with ‘Lux Prima’ – the title track of this album – and, with it, the announcement of their collaboration. In the six years since Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ last record, Karen O has appeared on the odd single, made a handful of guest appearances and featured heavily on the Danielle Luppi/ Parquet Courts album ‘Milano’. By most standards it hasn’t been an unproductive interlude, but for the force of nature that helped define the compelling renaissance of guitar music in the early 2000s, there’s always been the sense that this wasn’t the long-term plan; that there was something more to come beyond fleeting cameos on other artists’ tracks. For Danger Mouse the optics are a little different, with Brian Joseph Burton lending his production skills to a kaleidoscopic rolodex of Beck, The Black Keys, U2, A$AP Rocky, Adele, Iggy Pop and Red Hot Chili Peppers over the last decade. But away from the dials it’s been nine years since we’ve heard a peep from Gnarls Barkley (despite talk of work on a third album in 2017), and five years since Danger Mouse’s name was up in lights
alongside The Shins’ James Mercer as one half of Broken Bells. Based on that, there’s little to suggest that either Danger Mouse or Karen O’s divergent paths would cross, with one the whirling art-rock darling and the other largely known as the producer who initially soundclashed his way into the spotlight off the back of Jay-Z and The Beatles – and a lot of craft, time and patience, obviously. On the face of it, their partnership and, by default, ‘Lux Prima’, seemed to come out of nowhere. According to Danger Mouse, this wasn’t the case. “Karen and I had been plotting on working together for a long time,” he says. “And with no discussions on what the music would eventually sound like, we jumped in.” “Danger Mouse and I wrote this music purely out of artistic exploration and the spirit of collaboration,” says Karen O. “It’s the first music I’ve written since the rite of passage of bringing a life into the world. Having a kid was like communing with the grander scheme of nature, the cycles of life, the transformative power of the mother. These themes felt timeless yet more topical than ever in the modern world, so cut off and abstracted from its origins.” The sweet spot, then, seemed fairly obvious: Karen’s I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude feeding off of Burton’s chameleonic ear for a high-energy blend of pop, rock and hip-hop production. What we have instead is arguably some of the most accomplished work of their careers to date. At its core, ‘Lux Prima’ is all about balance – specifically the way Danger Mouse’s gilded production soothes the force and feistiness of Karen O. But where Danger Mouse offset Mercer’s distinctive, melodic vocal for Broken Bells with a clattering, lo-fi production, here he’s taken a cinematic high ground, with an emphasis on creating something intentionally widescreen (ambiguous, almost) that’s allowed Karen’s vocals to adapt and flourish. There’s still elements of boombap simplicity, but here Karen O feels in charge as she sets the tone and narrative with the control and arresting fragil-
ity that made ‘Maps’ feel so honest and exposed. And it makes for a considered, delicate, often lavish listen that’s established from the outset. “With ‘Lux Prima’ we were really looking for a place rather than a sound,” Danger Mouse says. “It was our first shared destination, so we thought we’d take our time getting there. The song itself is a bit of a journey, but all the parts felt like they needed each other.” The title-track in question is a 9-minute opus; an evolving mini-score in and of itself that pulls in rich, warm bass lines, strings, xylophone and an orchestral repertoire as Karen’s vocal weaves down around her huskier octaves. It’s a classy demonstration of how Burton’s prolonged time behind the production dials has manifested itself as a Danger Mouse main event. Here, and throughout the album, his touch is regal and refined – similar, in shades, to his work with Broken Bells – but infinitely more measured and consistent. And yet, despite the long glittering list of production credits and collaborations he’s racked up, this album feels like a point of context; the point where Danger Mouse can be held up with a different kind of deference because if Mercer and Broken Bells were the testing ground, ‘Lux Prima’ is the realisation of that craft. “After making music for the past twenty years and embarking on making this record with Danger Mouse, I knew a couple things: one was that the spirit of collaboration between us was going to be a pure one, and two was that the more I live the less is clear to me. When you create from a blurry place you can go places further than you’ve ever been. I think we both were excited to go far out,” Karen explains. It’s a concept both she and Danger Mouse reference when they talk about the genesis of the collaboration and the idea of ‘Lux Prima’ being a shared journey to anywhere – no borders, no boundaries, no expectations. More creative intent than wild experiment, their starting point may have been undetermined, but as they’ve worked through to define the blur, the album feels exploratory for both
Albums artists without losing the threads to keep it all connected. That willful exploration gives ‘Ministry’ its wistful depth, ‘Turn The Light’ its glitter-pop melancholy, and ‘Redeemer’ its perky, synth energy. And while collectively it’s a showcase of Danger Mouse’s impressive versatility, on each track, and throughout the album, Karen’s ability to reprise personas from breathless temptress to zealous protestor, pop diva to broken-hearted songstress, is a consistently compelling feature. On ‘Drown’, she’s distant and imploring, her voice drifting and swimming through the dead space, warm bass reverberations and a string and xylophone dynamics that anchors much of the album’s sound. On ‘Leopard’s Tongue’, she’s on a casino stage, red velvet curtains in the background, the spotlight never leaving her mark. On ‘Reverie’, she’s inside Tarantino’s head, soundtracking the Kill Bill wedding chapel scene, her voice regretful, carrying the weight of each lone guitar strum. But it’s on ‘Woman’ where we get more than a flicker of the smearedlipstick, ripped fishnets Karen O, the frontwoman unleashed with high-pitched vocals, ardent energy and sense of release. It’s not as sustained as feverish Yeah Yeah Yeahs glory days, but it still delivers a flash of the knee-trembling falsetto intensity in the context of her beautifully disciplined performances elsewhere on the album. “‘Woman’ came like a bolt out of the blue when we were in the studio,” she explains. “We did a first pass where I was blurting unintelligible words and Danger Mouse and I were like ‘Dang! That was intense. What’s that word I keep saying? Woman.’ The atmosphere was volatile with it being just after the election and a lot of people felt helpless like you do when you’re a scared kid looking for assurance that everything is gonna be alright. I like to write songs that anyone can relate to but this one felt especially for the inner child in me that needed the bullies out there to know you don’t fuck with me. I’m a woman now and I’ll protect that inner girl in me from hell and high water.”
The end result is an album that feels storied, complex and, crucially, intentional. For Danger Mouse, it’s another proof point after his work with Sparklehorse and James Mercer; for Karen O, it’s a brilliant reminder of just how essential she is. As odd music couples go, this one makes more sense with every listen. 8/10 Reef Younis
Fontaines D.C. — Dogrel (partisan) Born from a shared love of Beat poetry, rarely do five former Literature students start with Kerouac and end with anything worth giving the time of day to, let alone a project like Fontaines D.C.. More than just a variation of the Moloch theme, the dogged romantic trawl through Yeats, Lorca, Rimbaud and friends has inspired a debut record with a remarkably poignant and poetic punk reading of lofty ambitions and Ireland’s fading national identity. Take ‘Too Real’, a burlesque reading of T.S. Eliot’s Preludes: stories of the street but with an iconoclastic takedown of the benefactors from the social revolution. Similarly, album opener ‘Big’ is a furiously melodic reclamation of the Dublin streets, with frontman Grian Chatten’s thickly slurred edict (“My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big!”) not yours to dispute. A series of 7-inch singles released pre-album and ‘Dogrel’ is familiar territory in large – six of the eleven tracks have already been aired. But the album cuts of ‘Liberty Belle’ and ‘Boys In The Better Land’ play faster, with frantic vocals and fuzzier guitar lines. It’s all a bit more immediate; a bit more live. The garage-psych standout ‘Hurricane Laughter’ repeats the same dry wordplay between apathy and a general lack of WiFi (“and there is no connec-
tion available”) as a hook for the modern times. The remaining tracks are where the band really show their colours, though. Less in-your-face than steadfast definitions of hypocrites and idiots (‘Chequeless Reckless’), ‘Roy’s Tune’ and ‘Television Screen’ are dazed ’80s rock melodies mourning childhood mythology and Irish storytelling. ‘Sha Sha Sha’ is the grey-suited Irishman’s ‘Vindaloo’ on working-class boredom. ‘The Lotts’ fires a militaristic drum pattern and hallucinogenic outro underneath takedowns of tenement housing, sounding more like The Chameleons than punk high-flyers and label mates IDLES. Permutations on the Dublin rock scene – kickstarted by Girl Band, maintained by MELTS, The Murder Capital, Silverbacks and others – steady an exciting context to ‘Dogrel’. But in its madcap polemicist playfulness and sincerity, there’s a record that starts with all the earnestness of Bobby Gillespie pining for a hit and ends with an exquisitely territorial ballad (‘Dublin City Sky’). You can almost hear Shane MacGowan whistling it to himself as he makes his Sunday morning scrambled eggs. 9/10 Tristan Gatward
Jakuzi — Hata Payı (city slang) Synthwave bands walk a tightrope – too cheesy and it’s easy to come off as charmless and dead-eyed; lean too far into post-punk and it’ll just be ‘Movement’ for people who only listen to YouTube megamixes. Turkish band Jakuzi’s new record does an admirable job of maintaining its balance, but it ultimately feels overwhelmed by the pressure. A lot of the tracks here lack the glitter that defined ‘Fantezi Musik’, which is both good and bad. It’s always
Albums great to see bands grow rather than retreading old ground, and tracks like the driving ‘İstemezdim’ and lead single ‘Şüphe’ benefit from a more serious tone. It’s a shame, then, that when the synthwork becomes cheesy and unconvincing it’s less easily excused as a deliberate aesthetic choice. Comparisons will almost certainly be drawn with Belarusian group Molchat Doma’s similar-sounding ‘Etazhi’, which is a shame. ‘Etazhi’ is a much darker record – not to mention that it’s from an entirely different culture – and so comparing it to the much poppier ‘Hata Payı’ feels unfair. I’m onboard with Jakuzi’s style here even if it isn’t as instantly satisfying as ‘Etazhi’, as this album does offer some fun tunes, although it’s often more rewarding thinking about where the band will go next. 6/10 Alex Francis
Nilüfer Yanya — Miss Universe (ato) Every so often there’s a buzz around an artist and you don’t know quite how it’s got there. For Nilüfer Yanya it comes in the form of a bouncer laughing you down as you turn up for her Great Escape set ten minutes early expecting there’ll be space for you in the venue; in the form of unusually hushed crowds for big name support slots with Interpol, The xx, Mitski and Broken Social Scene; a BBC Sound of 2018 longlist; a starring role at the End of the Road festival’s Loud And Quiet-branded tent (a career highlight, of course); in the stony-faced lines of fans queuing up to buy a limited pressing of her debut EP when the Independent Label Fair comes around; in the lines of fans queuing up to buy a limited pressing of her second EP; in the lines of fans queuing up to buy a limited pressing of her third EP. You get the idea: ‘Miss Universe’ arrives with its own hefty context. But
when she appeared as Loud And Quiet’s first cover feature of the new year, it was all about finding a quiet mind (however contrary to journalism’s elephant in the room that is). Her debut album’s been made in between worlds, with some of indie music’s most-acclaimed producers and two of London and New York’s mostesteemed labels. But she still shared the first single from the album while she was parked outside the neighbourhood chippie before our interview with her. It’s hard to be discreet when the world’s watching, but not if you go and spend some time in Cornwall. The album also comes with a fictitious and over-friendly health management company. “You sign up, and you pay a fee,” she explains in the accompanying press release, “they sort out all of your dietary requirements, move onto medication, and then they’ll work out if anything’s wrong with you, maybe you can get a better organ or something… and then suddenly it starts to get a bit weird. You’re giving them more of you.” WWAY (We Worry About Your) Health also lends its name to the opening track – a conceptual spoken word piece that plays like an automated message on top of sunny steel drum hold music. Users can select possible symptoms: an abnormal feeling of discomfort from the light, a sense of being watched, a sense of being followed, deep paranoia and a longing for validation in others. The punchy second track, ‘In Your Head’, hits with grungy fuzz-ridden guitars and sharp synth singes. It’s several steps away from the soulful pop ‘Golden Cage’-era Yanya, but the jazz inflections are there in the breathy vocals somewhere between Karen O and Zara McFarlane. Its accompanying video is the perfect portrayal of digital identities in different worlds, rotating through glamour shots in swimming pools and wistful desert scenes to cheap Motel rooms showering dollar bills, mayo-soaked pastries and curly fries. It plays like a tongue-in-cheek audiobook of The Downsides to Being a Touring Musician 101. Then ‘Paralysed’ – a hook driven dose of alt-rock that could be a Velvet
Underground cover if Lou Reed found a greater vocal range. ‘Angels’ has the signature short punchy strums of ‘Baby Luv’ before succoring another anthemic chorus line, this one taking inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe and Malorie Blackman, about loving something to the point of killing it. Just as Yanya’s own Turkish-Irish-Bajan heritage, comprising a childhood in Cornwall and a feeling that London is home, has led her to recently unlock more physical spaces in which she feels like she can naturally exist, the grunge-rock stagger of the first half of ‘Miss Universe’ couldn’t be further away from squelchy dance floor tracks and smooth saxophone appetizers that come later. ‘Baby Blu’ is a gorgeous arrangement of plucked guitar patterns, digitised basslines and a minimalist Fugees-soul, RnB production. A 20-second warning foretells our entry to a “high temperature zone” as we’re met by the song she co-wrote with her old guitar teacher, The Invisible’s Dave Okumu; a brooding cinematic dose of bantamweight soul for a modern day Fun Boy Three. Extrapolated sax in ‘Melt’ from school friend Jazzi Bobbi isn’t just a cursory nod to a DIY and Soundcloud heritage, but feels like a compassionate demo take pining after freedom and debauchery. The same balladeering intoning vocals run through ‘Tears’ with a soft italo beat more in-line with a Christine & the Queens disco track than something you’d expect from an up-until-now stationary stage strummer. True to years of writing and recording, this debut album plays like a burst river pipe at the height of monsoon season. More and more songs spill out, 17 of them in all, each tarnished with sharp distinctive hooks and the nasal jazz-pop tooting of Yanya’s voice. It’s full of intrigue and playfulness, a careful but bolshie response to any pressures of expectation. The closing automated message plays through an endless loop; you have finished phase one of your WWAY Health induction and you must now “give up or try again.” These part-fun/part-bleak messages of performance and health have already been perfectly captured in the
Albums album. But the clever concept still hits more with the critically satiric edge of Little Brother’s ‘The Minstrel Show’ than some needless add-on, even if she didn’t have to register with Company’s House. 8/10 Tristan Gatward
Edwyn Collins — Badbae (aed) In 1980 Orange Juice released ‘Blue Boy’ – a frenetic tribute to Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley that carried all the wonky enthusiasm of getting properly drunk for the first time. Orange Juice’s breakthrough hit, 1982’s ‘Rip It Up’, quoted not only the lyrics to Buzzcocks’ ‘Boredom’ but its twonote guitar solo too. Months after Pete Shelley’s sad death this unlikely trilogy is now complete, with ‘Outside’ – the lead single from Collins’ ninth album, ‘Badbae’, and a chiming siren of power pop that could have landed straight from ‘Singles Going Steady’. There’s a certain amount of redemption in all of Collins’ releases since his stroke – documented gorgeously in the 2014 documentary ‘The Possibilities are Endless’ – and ‘Badbae’ is no exception. This is most explicit on ballad ‘Beauty’, a track of quiet dignity, centred on desperation and not giving into it. One of the most giftedlyricists of the post-punk generation, the savage wordplay and long-form character studies that typified records like ‘Gorgeous George’ are now behind Collins. Instead, he’s found a brilliant lyrical minimalism; with a weathered croon such as his, simple phrases carry a wit and a poignancy hard won over his own personal struggles and his enduring relationship with his audience. Sure, there’s not much here that hasn’t been covered on Collins’ last two solo records, but there’s plenty to enjoy nonetheless – not least the Dexys-infused, blue eyed soul of ‘In the Morning’, or the
fuzzy garage psych of ‘Tensions Rising’. The most progressive track on the record is also the most reflective – the funky, LCD-esque ‘Glasgow to London’, which sees Collins looking back on his younger self ‘back in the ’80s/ Wild and free’, whilst appearing glad to shrug off his youth and the English capital, now firmly behind him. “Look at the state of me!” he exclaims, “but I don’t mind.” 7/10 Fergal Kinney
Housewives — Twilight Splendour (blank editions) Plenty of bands excel at generating a sense of menace in their sound. For nearly as many, though, that menace is both reassuringly performative and disappointingly artificial. But with Housewives it’s hard to be so sure: their dank, angular and urgent take on post-punk through the prism of skronking ecstatic jazz, jarring polyrhythm and aesthetically pure snarl is as terrifying as it is fascinating, rendering the attendant threat immeasurably more real. With that in mind it’s something of a relief that their second album is only 37 minutes long, given its nerve-rattling, feral soundworld. Swirling electronics, like toys run amok, introduce ‘Beneath the Glass’, before a thrillingly bare snare hit augers the arrival of ranting vocals. There’s a groove, slinking and stark, then sinisterly detuned ice-cream van chimes, then fuzz and digital decay, mayhem and oblivion, aural darkness and then just silence – all in the first song. Elsewhere, rhythms don’t so much rub up against each other than grate, deliberately and abrasively, and a dissonant restlessness abounds. On ‘Speak to Me’ there’s a little of the contorted panic of Ian Curtis; ‘Dormi’ presents the same sort of fractured techno as Autechre, familiar but eerily astray; lines of instru-
mentation enter and disappear at will throughout, creating a Kubrickian sense of bewilderment. Thankfully, it’s not all bleak: ‘SmttnKttns’ is the roundest thing here, sax drones smoothing out the still-hectic drumming, and some harmonic consonance encourages the impression of a love song, all celestial twinkles and hummable melody. ‘Hexadecimal Wave/Binary Rock’ also makes for a dreamy final track, replacing hits of ugliness with big washes of fractured sound over a glacial seascape and, in doing so, offers a nicely nuanced shape to the LP. In the main, though, it is bleak, and Housewives startling proficiency in this sort of nightmarish deconstruction is what makes ‘Twilight Splendour’ such an engrossing experience. This is the aural equivalent of tasting blood, an acrid metallic sensation that’s alien yet simultaneously utterly internal, nasty but unignorable. Like any good horror, though, ‘Twilight Splendour’ is also essential, vital and rather breath-quickening. Uneasy listening this seductive, radical or authentic seldom has such tang. 9/10 Sam Walton
FACS — Lifelike (trouble in mind) Bless bands with short albums. FACS’ second record is by no means a smash and grab job, but they get in and get out with maximum impact. Using the post-punk sound of their debut album, ‘Negative Houses’, as a springboard, the Chicago-based trio strike a more experimental tone on album two, pulling shoegaze and art rock into the realm of the industrial. The result is foreboding – a disorienting mix of guitar loops and multilayered vocals that seem to herald an oncoming storm. The ominous, axe-grinding effects
Albums on the well-titled ‘Anti-Body’, for example, are riddled with anxious energy, while ‘XUXA’’s detached vocals and bent chords seem to mimic an out of body experience. Throughout, the band deploys a strange sort of minimalism, using few elements but sometimes layering and recycling them almost to excess. There’s a pattern here – the six tracks on ‘Lifelike’ wind tight and then unspool in a furious maelstrom, the multi-tracked vocals giving way to an extended instrumental flood to close. The formula makes for a cohesive whole, but can mean that some tracks mirror others a little too closely. This isn’t always the case, of course; ‘In Time’ is a stand out, with a spacedout vocal that sounds like Beck singing through a sheet of tinfoil in the best possible way. Meanwhile, closer ‘Total History’ can barely contain its own sonic heft, with guitar tracks swarming together. Here on their second record, FACS are a storm in a teacup. 7/10 Liam Konemann
Lafawndah — Ancestor Boy (concordia) Plenty of touring artists would like to consider themselves citizens of the world, but how many of them actually sound like it? The story of Lafawndah’s fledgling career to date is a deeply international one: she grew up between Paris, Tehran and Mexico, is of Egyptian-Iranian heritage, and has lived pretty nomadically ever since she made her first foray into music proper with her self-titled and ‘Tan’ EPs back in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Since then she’s opened for Kelela in Los Angeles, crossed the music-film divide in her work with Japanese ambient giant Midori Takada and, between the studio and the stage, collaborated with the likes of Jamie Woon, Tirzah and Kelsey Lu. Quite the CV, then, and you can
only assume that if she’s gone to the effort of actually putting out a full-length she must have been determined to make a statement with it; after all, she was tripping along quite nicely as she was. Sure enough, ‘Ancestor Boy’ really does feel like a searing setting out of Lafawndah’s stall. It’s a thrillingly eclectic and unremittingly ambitious tear through not only her passport but her imagination, too. The only real connecting thread is a stream-of-consciousness lyrical style that tells a story of self-discovery as she channels the vocal inflections and percussive flourishes of Glasser one minute (the title track) and skewers Soundcloud rap the next (‘Substancia’). This is a debut of rare adventurousness. 8/10 Joe Goggins
CHAI — PUNK (heavenly) Revolutionary garage-pop four-piece CHAI are, without doubt, Japan’s far more enlightened, far more musically polished answer to Bikini Kill. Kick the shrill, abrasive vocals of ’90s riot grrrl to the curb, add a lot of hyperactive J-pop, and you’ve got CHAI. The band’s first proper album, ‘PUNK’, is a melodic yet pointed attack on all things patriarchal and, uniquely, all things connected to Japan’s culture of kawaii. “‘PUNK’ for us, of course, is not the genre of music,” say the band. “‘PUNK’ to us is to overturn the wornout values associated with ‘kawaii’ (or ‘cute’) created up until this point. ‘PUNK’ is a word that expresses a strong sense of self. To be yourself more, to become the person you truly want to be, to believe in yourself in every instance!” It’s true that CHAI’s ultra-pop framework may not, at first, scream rebellion or rage. However, cutting lyricism makes it unquestionably clear that for the members of CHAI – Mana, Yuna,
Kana and Yuuki – enough is enough. It is within this very paradox where the band pack their biggest punch. Nowhere is this complexity made more apparent than on the final track of the album, ‘FUTURE.’ A song at its crux centred upon grasping your own destiny and laying claiming to your own path, it is made up of rock-solid drumming and tumbling guitar notes as steadfast as the band’s core message of nonconformity. Subversive and gleefully progressive, cutesy vocal harmonies and the addition of (somewhat creepy) children’s voices to some of CHAI’s tracks are a pretty satisfying final fuck-you to an element of Japanese culture that remains supremely antiquated and nauseatingly fetishised. 7/10 Rosie Ramsden
Jayda G — Significant Changes (ninja tune) Anyone who’s seen Jayda G’s Boiler Room set knows that she’s passionate. If you haven’t, I’d really recommend it. Her energy is infectious, her taste in soulful Chicago house feels fresh without sacrificing its throwback appeal, and it’s always great watching a sea of awkward techno lads in unreasonable hats try to dance. If you’re familiar with her previous work you’ll know what to expect from most of this album: sunny, approachable floor-fillers that will make a poptimist out of anyone. Particular highlights here include the hazy vocals that flicker around ‘Renewal (Hyla Mix)’’s crisp drum track, as well as the two tracks featuring Alexa Dash. Dash collaborates with Jayda G more than anyone else, and it’s easy to see why – she brings an easy confidence to her vocals on each track that’s irresistible. But it’s 2019, so you’re not going to get out of an uplifting house album without a brutal reminder of how climate
Albums change will kill you because yer da refuses to eat a vegetable. Jayda G recently completed an MA thesis investigating the effects of humanity on the orca population in Vancouver, and a couple tracks here reflect the dire conclusions of that study. ‘Missy Knows What’s Up’ has a particularly biting sample of biologist Misty MacDuffee calmly explaining the problems facing marine conservationists. It’s affecting, and this subject matter might seem unnecessarily harsh in the context of the rest of the record, but I’d argue that it’s a perfect inclusion – the drop of bitterness that makes the rest that much sweeter. 8/10 Alex Francis
Jeremy Tuplin — Pink Mirror (trapped animal) It wasn’t only the ‘Space Oddity’-era Bowie references in ‘I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut’ that dubbed Jeremy Tuplin’s debut an acclaimed exploration of intergalactic space-folk. In the music videos you could see him floating around the atmosphere as a papiermâché potato loosely resembling his own planet. With ‘Pink Mirror’ the surreal, conversational baritone of his first effort returns as sharply and as rigorously syllabic as before, but goes easy on the zero gravity and pulls you back to earth one innocuous conversation at a time. The blissful opening track ‘Can We Be Strangers’ sounds like a Dessnerproduced standard, a dreamlike stumble disillusioned with reality and protracted until Tuplin’s usually centre-stage vocal is completely drowned. On the flipside, the irresistibly catchy ‘Bad Lover’ and ‘Pink Mirror’ fires through Robert Quine-like guitar hooks tinted with astute sarcasm and infectious doo-wop harmonies. ‘Love’s Penitentiary’ is the jealous man’s equivalent of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’, before album highlight ‘The Beast’
narrates a slow plodding detox through shit-filled country fields (the singer having read online that walking barefoot transfers electrons into your body and has health benefits). ‘Pink Mirror’ plays as an autobiographical sitcom; Tuplin the silently comedic protagonist. He’ll be doing an Elvis impression on ‘The Machine’, or talking about his dreams in ‘Pandora’s Box’ despite acknowledging and rejecting the collective inner groans. Each time you think you’re listening to Bill Callahan’s enlightenment, you’re dealt a line that could have come straight out of Flight of the Conchords. The craftsmanship is self-effacingly brilliant. He’s folk music’s Jimothy Lacoste, posing for a photo in front of your bright pink vintage car, doing that ‘cool-musician-dance’ famed by Donny Tourette on Buzzcocks. But it won’t be long before you’re caught offguard and dealt some of the year’s most poignant song-writing. 9/10 Tristan Gatward
Devlin — The Outcast (devlin music) Two years ago, when Devlin emerged from self-imposed exile from a grime scene that he’d spent a few years as one of the leading lights of, he caught listeners off guard; suddenly, the angry young man who’d weaponised fury and made it his calling card was striking a considerably more introspective – and occasionally self-excoriating– tone. ‘The Devil In’ was an album forged fiercely in his own image, without much consideration for the scene’s present trends or for what his audience had come to expect of him. He still sounded prickly on the surface, but the veneer was thinner than before, and what lay beneath was a complex web of introspection and regret. All of which was bound to leave him
at a fork in the road on his next release – continue to tread this newly-routed path, or revisit the kind of territory that made his name in the first place? The title of this fourth LP suggests the former, but in fact the Dagenham native lands somewhere in the middle; for the most part, the blistering belligerence of old is back, but the message is muddled. He spends the opening stages noisily announcing his return, but by track four the violent imagery (‘Scratchlin’) and banal selfaggrandisement (‘Limelight’) is already beginning to wear thin. Once that’s out of his system, there’re flashes of real vitality; he makes a compelling case for his ongoing relevance with ‘Grime Scene Killa’, and the vulnerable ‘Too Far Gone’ offers the most illuminating look yet at the struggles he went through during his four-year layoff, as he voices doubts about whether the scene he was once at the vanguard of has room for him any more. The problem is that there’s not enough of this. Maybe he got his self-examination out of his system on ‘The Devil In’, because much of what we get here is in the vein of ‘Ride 2 This’, the overriding theme of which is, “here’s an aggressive track for you to pound the punching bag to in the gym.” Flashes of the old brilliance remain, but they’re frustratingly fleeting. 4/10 Joe Goggins
Lower Slaughter — Some Things Take Work (box records) The average trajectory of most British hardcore acts always seems to look like this: get together, release a handful of EPs, maybe put out an album, and then implode and turn into an experimental band. Therefore, can I start off by saying that the sheer fact that Lower Slaughter are on to their second album, and have managed to do it while split between Glasgow and
Albums Brighton, is a pretty solid achievement. Mostly, ‘Some Things Take Work’ builds on the ideas put down on the first record, ‘What Big Eyes’. Turning the Motorhead/Pissed Jeans references up to full whack, this record is basically a parade of big fucking riffs followed by big fucking breakdowns. Songs like ‘Gas’ and ‘Into the Woods’ lumber along with the motive force of bulldozers, while Sinead Young’s explorations on mental health, toxic relationships and existential struggles sing out like a raw nerve. With the band living at opposite ends of the UK it comes as absolutely no surprise to find out that ‘Some Things Take Work’ is the product of a longdistance relationship. Writing the bulk of the record by correspondence has resulted in an album that almost feels ‘considered’ when compared to most punk records. While the new sounds and textures are impressive (the band even pull off a Mogwai-like wall of sound on ‘Hindsight’) it does feel like it’s come at the price of some of the vibrancy of the previous record – which was relentless in its intensity. 8/10 Dominic Haley
Pozi — PZ1 (prah) With Brexit turmoil, the housing crisis and soaring poverty rates, it’s a no-brainer why politically-charged young bands such as Pozi have started to emerge. The Londonbased trio – made up of Toby Burroughs on drums, Rosa Brook on violin, and Tom Jones on bass (they all sing) – have continued London’s lineage of producing raucous, post-punk discordance with their debut album, ‘PZ1’. This skittish, often restless collection is typically made up of stressing violins, scruffy basslines and frantic, rhythmic drum beats, with unmistakeably London vocals bouncing over the top,
much like the work of The Buzzcocks, The Clash and Wire. And especially The Block Heads, where the shouted singing goes. By choosing to avoid using guitars, the band remove any potential domineering components, instead refreshingly leaving space for insightful, observational lyrics. While Pozi tend to shy away from a critical viewpoint, contrasting to counterparts like IDLES, they vividly illustrate issues with an empathetic gaze. One fine example is the compassionate ‘KCTMO’ inspired by Grenfell, a tragedy that struck a chord with Burroughs who grew up in neighbouring area of Shepherd’s Bush. The rousing lyrics of, ‘Deadly damages are due/ Less concerning for the few/ Pencil pushers from afar/ Crossing the name off the register,’ colourfully depict the layers of anger felt by both himself and those directly affected. Nevertheless, moments of lightness come from tracks such as ‘Engaged’, a song about falling in love with a mobile phone, and ‘Broken Lights’, which illustrates a wistful romanticism of roaming London late at night in search of fast food. There’s even a nod to one of the band’s biggest influences, Devo, as they play with robot-like layered vocals in ‘Doggers’. It’s this combination of intelligent lyricism and unique instrumentals that really makes ‘PZ1’ buzz along. 8/10 Georgia Evans
Orville Peck — Pony (sub pop) A queer cowboy in tasselled bandit mask and Nudie Cohn style shirt, Orville Peck presents a highly stylised version of America on this, his debut album. The narrative songs are populated with vivid images of desert highways, worn out gamblers and hustlers that have escaped from the pages of Denis Johnson or JT LeRoy.
These vignettes, which dramatise events from Peck’s own past, are rooted in the traditional storytelling of outlaw country musicians. Indeed, his roll call of archetypal characters would be considered pastiche is they weren’t imbued with such genuine affection. The same fine balance between homage and parody is displayed in the music. As conventionalised as the lyrics, ‘Pony’ is dominated by the country-pop of the 1960s. His rich, crooning tenor is heavily reminiscent of Roy Orbison being appropriated by David Lynch. This is especially evident on the lonesome, twanging country noir of ‘Big Sky’, which is an emotive mash-up between the Big O and Lana Del Rey, another artist who’s fostered a carefully calculated image. There are times when these period references are rebooted with classic ’80s production, too, as on the trotting pace of ‘Winds Change’ and the synth twinkles on ‘Queen of the Rodeo’, and deeper cuts into the genre, as on the brief synth interlude of ‘Old River’, which honours the bluegrass of the Foggy Mountain Boys. More esoteric influences also occasionally surface, like the shimmering dream-pop on ‘Turn To Hate’ and the intense, post-punk guitar dynamics on ‘Buffalo Run’. This sound revels in the past with a knowing honesty: ‘Dead of Night’ lyrically puns Johnny Cash, and the soulfully lachrymose ‘Kansas (Remembers Me Now)’ has the decaying crackle of a radio being tuned, which suggests the erasing of memories and history. Yet despite this, only two tracks teeter close to the edge of parody. ‘Hope To Die’ breaks into the overly dramatic key change that was favoured by Whitney Houston, and the slide guitar-driven ‘Roses Are Falling’ features a spoken word interlude (‘Sometimes when I’m around you/ I feel like pure evil’) that brings it dangerously close to The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s ‘Canyons Of Your Mind’. There’s nothing instrumentally on ‘Pony’ that couldn’t just as easily be performed by late period Elvis or Chris Isaak. What defines them is that they’re
Albums played straight and that, regardless of their avowed root in personal history, they rarely expose a chink in Peck’s mysterious persona. 8/10 Susan Darlington
The Cinematic Orchestra — To Believe (ninja tune) When The Cinematic Orchestra released their last studio album, 2007’s ‘Ma Fleur’, the first iPhone was weeks away from reshaping our relationship to technology, Donald Trump was a mere television personality, and nobody had yet uttered the words ‘Brexit’ or ‘Spotify’. How much has changed in 12 years. The concepts behind ‘To Believe’, the new album from founder Jason Swinscoe and long-time partner Dominic Smith, immediately resonate in 2019’s thoroughly transformed era of post-truth politics and aggressive, algorithmically-determined advertising: what exactly do we believe in, and why do we believe in anything at all? These are big questions. They aren’t really answered here so much as rhetorically floated, but the album’s seven extended compositions nevertheless provide moments of transportive introspection, much needed in a world that’s rapidly forgetting how to switch itself off. Textured instrumentation, painterly electronic flourishes and panoramic narrative arcs remain the outfit’s calling card, twenty years on from the downtempo jazz mosaic of 1999’s ‘Motion’. If anything, the production is more sublime than ever. There is, however, a sensation that their years away from the studio, many of them spent performing their back catalogue to sold out audiences, may have facilitated a formulaic, nostalgic approach to songwriting. ‘To Believe’ pretty much starts where ‘Ma Fleur’ left off, with the title track’s sparse guitar and Moses
Sumney’s quivering falsetto delivering a resolution that’s as studied as it is stirring. The slightly laboured route feels a missed opportunity for the kind of serpentine, exploratory vocals that Sumney’s made such a name for. Tawiah collaboration ‘Wait For Now/Leave The World’, with its beautiful, eddying coda, and lush instrumentals ‘Lessons’ and ‘The Workers of Art’ likewise sound like they’re doubling back to a formula last employed 12 years ago, for all their affecting moments. Real momentum comes with ‘A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life’, which sees Roots Manuva’s gruff, urgent verse lamenting confusion and manipulation over propulsive, clattering percussion: “Situation is strange to us/ Stranger things are claiming us”. It’s a shame this high-energy, rhythmic impulse only really appears once on the album; for all the towering majesty of the rest of the songs, their stylistic similarities bleed into one another, causing the album to feel bloated and overly serious at times. Regardless, Swinscoe and Smith have produced a powerful and polished record, cementing their esteemed position in alternative British music. Fans of the ensemble will be sure to embrace ‘To Believe’ enthusiastically, especially after waiting for so long. 7/10 Aidan Daley
Sasami — Sasami (domino) Sasami Ashworth had plenty of time to think during her year-long tour playing keys and guitar with Cherry Glazerr. It provided her with a period of time to write the ten tracks that comprise her debut album; tracks that depict an individual at times riddled with resentment, and at others seeking and perhaps achieving catharsis. “I was a window into something you didn’t like/ So you blamed it on me”
are the album’s opening words, a gauntlet thrown into the void. Ashworth’s vocals are hushed, the treated guitar humming, threatening to break into menace at the slightest nudge. “I lost my calluses for you and you didn’t even think to ask me how my day was/ Now I’m leaving” is the even more savage opening salvo of ‘Callous’, rejoicing in a callous/callus entendre that cannot be underappreciated. If Ashworth is bitter, the Sonic Youth guitar rage of ‘Not the Time’, or the dissonant feedback that starts ‘Free’, do a good job of articulating it. But there is musical range here: ‘Morning Comes’ is a beguilingly lo-fi concoction, muffled but taut, writhing under the strain of its confines, keeping its deceptively sweet melody a secret. There is a reflexive honesty at play too, especially on the restrained and tender ‘Pacify My Heart’, where Ashworth’s tripping, high and low vocals almost invoke Elliott Smith, as the listener leans in to hear her whisper; or on ‘Jealousy’, wherein the voices in her head are made literal, Macbeth’s three witches repeating the track’s title over and over. Now really, who can’t relate to that? 8/10 Max Pilley
Helado Negro — This Is How You Smile (rvng intl) Back in 2017, Roberto Carlos Lange aka Helado Negro played one of NPR’s Tiny Desk gigs and wore his favourite t-shirt; one that brandished the phrase ‘young, latin and proud’ across his chest. It was the bold statement that titled the single off his 2016 album, ‘Private Energy’, and an otherwise defiant catcall towards the unfolding plans of the Trump administration. As his culturally empowering alias suggests, by no means does Negro shy away from his heritage, instead he looks to flaunt it. He
Albums continues to do so on ‘This Is How You Smile’, this time through a familiar scattering of hispanic influences and an intimate reflection of his past. Pensive retrospection defines the atmosphere, something Negro describes as “the soundtrack of a person approaching you, slowly, for 40 minutes”. This advancing comprehension is personified on ‘Fantasma Vaga’ (directly translated to ‘Ghost Knife’) in which, spoken in his native tongue, Negro illustrates a mysterious being treading closer towards us, each step refining his shimmering and distorted figure. Steel drums and Latino strings echo alongside broody atmospherics on ‘Imagining What To Do’ in a vivid account of two lovers entwined during the frosty peak of cuffing season. It’s these cherished relationships that Negro revisits from afar, each time purposely filling the cracks of his wistful exterior. 7/10 Ollie Rankine
Stephen Malkmus — Groove Denied (domino) Much has been made of Stephen Malkmus’s long-rumoured electronic album since its existence was confirmed in January. Buzzwords like ‘Ableton’ and ‘plug-ins’ have been whispered through palm-obscured lips, while the fact that a chunk of it was written in Berlin has been cited as actually meaning something. In reality, the narrative doesn’t fit, with at least half of the album rooted firmly in the lo-fi indie soil to which fans of Malkmus have become accustomed. And that’s OK. What does conceiving an album in the capital of Germany mean anyway? To give the hype machine its credit, side one of the album is a departure for the man recording fully solo for the first time in almost 15 years. Opener ‘Belziger Faceplant’ successfully chan-
nels latter-era Liars, with touches of Black Moth Super Rainbow colouring its delicate, sci-fi keyboard lines, while ‘Viktor Borgia’ is lifted from the Vince Clarke manual of synthpop. These are juxtaposed, however, with familiar sounds. The fourth track, ‘Come Get Me,’ for example, is a pitch-bent, sun-faded negative of a Pavement tune, while track 6, ‘Rushing The Acid Frat’, ushers in the album’s guitar-driven second half with a slice of Starlight Mints-esque psych pop. Throughout, Malkmus’s production shifts between deliberately muddy and beautifully clear to ensure that no song sounds the same. What really matters, though, is the quality of the songs. While this isn’t ‘Kid A’, it is an excellent album, and we should be grateful that, at 52, Malkmus continues to make pop music that is somehow both familiar and new. He’s just a boy with a new laptop, but don’t read too much into it. 8/10 David Zammitt
Ohtis — Curve of Earth (full time hobby) Forming in Illinois but now spread across the US, folk trio Ohtis’ debut album has been a long time coming, borne from periods of highs, lows and miles of separation. Started in his school days, singer-songwriter Sam Swinson had to put the project on hold for several years as he battled his way out of a heroin addiction, with music being a crutch to eventually aid him. With that struggle overcome, the 8 tracks here feel rough around the edges in all the right ways, balancing an aura that’s melancholic yet comforting. Ohtis’ rustic Americana twang and acoustic hum is underpinned by a pensive current, making them feel like something of a darker counterpart to acts like Whitey or Angel Olsen.
Taking influence from greats such as Neil Young, Swinson’s vocals are impassioned and well worn, and his character and experiences come through in his tone as much as in his lyrics. Songs such as ‘Runnin’ are endearing and more than easy to return to, showing the three-piece gelling at their best. But the records penultimate track, ‘Junkie Heaven’, is perhaps the most powerful, showing Swinson venture into his most introspective moment, building to a dreamy closure. For a debut, ‘Curve of Earth’ is remarkably mature – and Swinson’s artistry can’t be denied – evening if it can drift into the background at some reoccurring unadventurous moments. 6/10 Woody Delaney
Priests — The Seduction of Kansas (sister polygon) Released via their own record label, Sister Polygon – which has, thus far, jolted the music world with early releases by Downtown Boys, Snail Mail and Sneaks – Priest’s second album is in equal measures brave and uneasy; a question and an answer. Now into their eighth year as a band, the Washington D.C. group remain an inspired aberration in contemporary music, blending their own brand of off-beat, wacky pop with bold lyricism that cuts to the quick. ‘The Seduction of Kansas’ sees for the first time Priests opening up their creative musical process to external collaborators. Unsurprisingly, then, this album, aided in its conception by the instrumental and song-writing flair of multi-instrumentalist Janel Leppin and bassist Alexandra Tyson, marks a watershed in the band’s musicality. Implementing fresh instrumental textures, and inspired by works – both aggressive and introspective – by the likes of Massive
Albums Attack, Nine Inch Nails and Portishead, ‘The Seduction of Kansas’ questions the realities and mythologies of contemporary America, without conceding to simple answers. The album’s title track is perhaps Priests’ purest pop song to date, and is certainly the zenith of the record. Doing exactly what the band do best – and manage to keep up throughout the entirety of the album – it concurrently stirs the emotion and inspires contemplation. Complex, questioning and thoughtprovoking, ‘The Seduction of Kansas’ provides a soundtrack for the modern age, pulled between persistent anxiety and the desire to just forget about it all and dance. 7/10 Rosie Ramsden
Rozi Plain — What a Boost (memphis industries) The product of a year spent touring the world, ‘What A Boost’ is the sound of watching perpetuallyshifting scenery through fast-moving windows; a blur of blues and greens that you can see but not touch. Prompting a period of reflection and introspection for Rozi Plain, it is a record built on layered repetition rather than obvious hooks – its musical motifs gradually reel you in and its lyrical phrases become mantras when given the time. It’s the kind of album that infiltrates you slowly, catching you off guard when you’re doing the dishes on your third listen. Enlisting a diverse cast including sir Was, Raphael Desmarets and Trash Kit’s Rachel Horwood, ‘What A Boost’ continues a lineage of British folk sounds that stretches back to the likes of Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers, updating it by welding it to looser jazz forms and subtle electronics so that it nods to the past while stepping forward. Though more than the sum of its parts, and best consumed as a
whole, there are some undoubted standouts here. ‘Old Money,’ for example, grows from a simple guitar line to a luscious patchwork of prog organs and woodwind as Plain’s delicate vocal glides in and out. Elsewhere, ‘Quiz’ recalls the gentler elements of the Canterbury Sound, this time foregrounding multiple vocals as the world drifts inexorably by the narrator. All in all, this is a beautiful album that grows with time and space. Give it enough of both and you’ll find that you’re rewarded. 7/10 David Zammitt
The Comet Is Coming — Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (impulse!) Both the title of The Comet is Coming’s second LP, reading like the work of an online Sun Ra album name generator, and its release on Impulse! – home to such luminaries as John and Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Mr Ra himself – might combine to signify it as another chip off the old (and increasingly fashionable) block of revisited cosmic jazz. However, characterising ‘Trust…’ as a straightforward album of throwback blustery sax drones and spaceborne wistfulness would be a category error; instead, Shabaka Hutchings, alongside keyboardist Dan Leavers and drummer Max Hallett, have conjured an album as much in love with grime, punk rock and G-funk as it is with the textural longing of classic spiritual jazz, and the result is a wonderfully bracing, forward-facing melting pot. Accordingly, ‘Birth of Creation’’s striding bassline flicks spatters of dubstep, both in frequency and groove, at Flying Lotus’s postmodern interpretations of soul music, while the fuggy, subterranean slink of ‘Timewave Zero’ gives way to clean, crisp synths, seemingly made from straight lines and neon,
and then to a dancehall-imbued drum lick that almost suggests a jump-up reimagining of lovers rock. ‘Summon the Fire’, too, corrupts post-punk, Hutchings’ sax resembling less an instrument and more the inchoate shouts of an angry lead singer, to the extent that its final minute becomes pure football chant, beery and belligerent, like Sleaford Mods trapped inside a saxophone. And then there’s the album’s centrepiece, ‘Blood of the Past’: an eightminute dystopian movie soundtrack featuring Kate Tempest at her most downtrodden, with Hutchings, as her foil, adopting the lazy flow of Snoop Dogg over grungy, driving synth pads. Oftentimes, a lone vocal on a record of instrumental music can be an awkward fit, but here the track becomes the album’s heart, and a cipher for what surrounds it, pulling in influences from the past 60 years of countercultural music and flinging them forwards with force. Elsewhere, ‘Trust…’ carries plenty of nods towards its cosmic jazz forebears, not least in the album’s bookends, which swell with celestial synths, tumbling drumming and yearning, soaring sax, and on ‘Unity’’s pastoral cheer. But the real debt to Sun Ra, the Coltranes et al here is not how the record sounds, but the band’s approach: in taking the music around them and repurposing it for something more futuristic, The Comet Is Coming have made a mini masterpiece; exhilarating, authentic and, most importantly, a joy. 9/10 Sam Walton
Weyes Blood — Titanic Rising (sub pop) Natalie Mering’s sound has slowly evolved over the course of three albums and hook ups with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink. On her fourth album, the LA-based musician has drifted further
Albums away from the ’70s Laurel Canyon of her early years and towards soft rock. It’s a move that sees her scoring increasingly sophisticated self-harmonisation and layers of strings that, at times, sound like they’ve been drawn from Hollywood’s Golden Age of cinema. This is particularly evident on the swirling psych-pop arrangements on The Beatlesy ‘Everyday’. These swooning textures have formerly been offset by ripples of sonic dissonance but here they’re kept to a minimum: the background scraping on ‘A Lot’s Gonna Change’ and the rippling synth on ‘Movies’. A slow-burning highlight, the latter turns into Julia Holter-style experimental pop while the melancholy in her voice marks a gentle sea change in the album’s mood. Although still luxurious, the second half admits the welcome presence of downbeat shadows that conclude with the short, baroque instrumental ‘Nearer To Thee’. 6/10 Susan Darlington
These New Puritans — Inside The Rose (infectious) It’s now been just over a decade that These New Puritans have been working together. Currently consisting solely of twins Jack and George Barnett, the brother’s musical connection dates further back to their shared upbringing, with the pair learning to deconstruct Aphex Twin and attempting to emulate Captain Beefheart. With such musical eclecticism present during their development, it offers an understanding of their defiance in being constrained by the classification of rigid genres and categories in their discography to date. This is the follow up to their divisive third album, ‘Field of Reeds’. And while we’ve come to anticipate maverick
innovation from TNP, ‘Inside The Rose’ is their most immediate and open-handed album to date. The title track is both tender and intuitive, but also brutalist and utilitarian. The determinedly benevolent ‘Where The Trees Are On Fire’ offers indulgently soft brass and twinkling percussion, all masterfully layered together in a fashion more expected of a post-rock track. The austere and postmodern electronics of the title track cut through warm string arrangements and pensive vocals, to construct something that sounds like it could provide the title theme to Trainspotting 3. On previous releases, the group’s multi-hyphenate approach may have proven troublesome for some. But here, at least, it feels like they’ve discovered a formula that means ‘Inside The Rose’ will comfortably prosper for a casual listener whilst also contently existing in the most conceited of concert halls and dancehalls of decadence and hedonism. 7/10 Tom Critten
Shana Cleveland — Night of the Worm Moon (hardly art) Judging by the psychedelic, ’60s album artwork, its title, and Shana Cleveland’s origins as frontwoman in twisted LA retro-pop outfit La Luz, you might have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to encounter on this record. Such preconceptions are borne out on its floaty, serene opener, ‘Don’t Let Me Sleep Too Late’ – a short, sweet song that feels like neither a bad trip or a good one, but one which could suddenly veer either way. Then there’s the lap steel guitar and shuffling horse-trail rhythms of ‘Face Of The Sun’, and there’s something vaguely grungy about ‘A New Song’, which sounds something like an acoustic Nirvana b-side.
Continuing in this vein, any outstanding, uncomfortable notions that ‘Night of the Worm Moon’ is all psychedlic pastiche are dismissed by the gentle joy to be had from stopping and really listening to this album. Throughout, even under the sweetest melodies (as on the short, hypnotic ‘Invisible When The Sun Leaves’), there’s a microscopic undercurrent of darkness, and it’s this dash of uneasy noir that makes the record so appealing. These are luscious, beautifully layered songs, more sunset than sunrise, and Cleveland has achieved a sweet, simple whole from something that is actually beguilingly complex. 8/10 Chris Watkey
Crows — Silver Tongues (balley) North London quartet Crows were a well-kept secret for too long. Thrashing around pubs and clubs, amassing a masonic cult following, they have eventually been signed to Balley Records, the label run by Idles frontman Joe Talbot. This album is a confident debut, imbued with the impatience of being forced to wait. Crows are defined by their thunderous, Richter-scale-bothering fundamentals, and their title track here invades the same muscle-bound, bluesy terrain that still hails Black Sabbath as its great colonial leaders. Much like Pigs x7, the band represent the next wave of heavy British guitar groups, but in this case their hooks squelch in the flesh of psych and punk too. The latter is exemplified by ‘Demeanour’, with James Cox’s Lydonesque quivering sneer corralling the rest of the band to chug along at a Summer of ’76 pace. ‘Empyrean’ allows the acid-tinges to bleed in, although their aesthetic tends to be light on the tie-dye,
Albums Cox’s vocals now echoing in the cavernous space carved out by Steve Goddard’s layered guitar and Jith Amarasinghe’s and Sam Lister’s industrial rhythm. If any of this is memorable or breaking new ground is up for debate, but this is easily enjoyable for those with a heavy palate. Guitar solos only occasionally emerge from the solid black miasma, like at the climax of ‘Hang Me High’, but the real departure is ‘First Light/False Face’ which channels some of the occult of Nick Cave’s deep, nihilistic declarations. It is a sacrificial slow march, its restraint wavering but never snapping, proving that Crows may have more shades to offer in the future. 7/10 Max Pilley
Mdou Moctar — Ilana (The Creator) (sahel sounds) Many musicians face the age-old problem of how to get their music “out there” but none have achieved it quite like Mdou Moctar. Back in 2013 he’d recorded an eight-song album but not officially released it, yet his music still managed to make its way throughout West Africa via a network of mobiles and memory cards as it took the Sahel region of Africa by storm. Jump forward a few more years, and a few more albums, and Moctar’s spaced-out blend of shredding guitar and traditional songwriting grips as strongly as his backstory. Born and based in Niger, he sings about religion, love and peace in his native language, but it’s his adaptation of Tuareg guitar music that transports tracks from desert sessions to wailing, stadium-sized solos. Opener ‘Kamane Tarhanin’ feels like the meeting of worlds with its hypnotic incantations set against Moctar’s dexterous, fluid fretwork, the fleeting ‘Inizgam’ moves with a Zeppelin-esque weight and groove, and the melodic ‘Asshet Akal’
layers lick after guitar lick of as Moctar sings a missive for the Tuareg youth. And while the energetic ‘Tarhatazed’ speeds things up with a quicker, punkier pace, it’s ‘Ilana’ that restlessly steals the show with Moctar finding the balance between slick solos, scuzzy psychedelia and the kind of rhythm that makes you wonder what might have happened if Jimmy Page had been born in Tripoli instead of London. Few have stories as compelling as Mdou Moctar but, as ‘Ilana (The Creator)’ testifies, he also has the Saharan sounds to back it up. 7/10 Reef Younis
The Proper Ornaments — 6 Lenins (tapete) James Hoare (Veronica Falls) and Max Claps (Toy) have been through more than most to reach their third album. Both have traversed the turbulent indie pop scene that flourished in post-millennium London while simultaneously pursuing side projects of longstanding illness, divorce, drug abuse and this minimalist psychedelic project. The initiation of this record was no different to the usual tumult, with an infectious disease leaving Claps unable to do little else than pick up a guitar. Despite the influence of virulent ailments, this record is distinctly more upbeat than previous work. Slick songwriting proficiency is laid plainly across the duration, with additional impetus provided through subtle tips of the hat to psychedelic forefathers, creating a profound thump of quaint English nostalgia that Pink Floyd wouldn’t be unfamiliar with. Refined progression is also discernible in their sound, with increasingly glossy sonic sensibilities now co-inhabiting with tried and tested lo-fi analogue attitude. While it doesn’t remotely reinvent
the wheel, ‘6 Lenins’ does provide a noteworthy and agreeable listen. From the earworm worthy ‘Please Release Me’ to the rose-tinted technicolour ambiance of ‘Song for John Lennon’, there’s certainly enough to convince both new and old listeners. 6/10 Tom Critten
W.H. Lung — Incidental Music (melodic) Treat ‘Incidental Music’ like an investment. The tracks on W.H. Lung’s debut album aren’t exactly bite-sized, and nor is this the sort of record for fits and starts. Once you’re in, you’re staying in for the long haul. ‘Incidental Music’ is glam and cinematic, an expansive piece of work that shares similarities with Future Islands, The War On Drugs and Anohni. It is also by turns dark and uplifting, retro and futuristic. Opener ‘Simpatico People’ conjures images of an ’80s club scene, with it’s shiny beat and people-watching lyrics, while ‘Bring It Up’ veers towards new wave, a post-punk vocal mixing with psychedelia. Based in Manchester, the band have taken their time with their debut album, spending two years slowly building something they can stand behind. And their pacing has paid off. Almost every shoegaze-y track here is crafted to the point of being a spectacular addition to your soaring rock collection. On ‘An Empty Room’, for instance, dark synths build like a swarm of wasps, then give way to a minimalist guitar and eerie, poetic lyrics that hint at a psychotic break. Then, there’s ‘Second Death of My Face’ – the record’s penultimate track, which belongs at the end of a John Hughes movie, when everyone has grown as a person and suddenly have the strength to face the world. This is stunning work that’s more inventive than it may first appear. 9/10 Liam Konemann
Live Big Joanie HQI, London 15 February 2019
Neneh Cherry Stylus, Leeds University Union 12 February 2019
With Mabel currently in the UK Top 5 with ‘Don’t’ Call Me Up’, Neneh Cherry can be forgiven for being a proud namedropping mother. ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’, she notes, was written in a hotel room in Leeds while travelling with her youngest daughter. Its simple, repetitive bass line and shaker is unlikely to have endeared her to fellow guests, but it is indicative of the slow groove of her fifth album, ‘Broken Politics’. A reflective release that sees her collaborating with Kieran Hebden, with whom she also worked on 2014’s ‘Blank Project’, its blend of brooding RnB and electronic dub jazz is tonight played in full. Layered with delicate tendrils of pizzicato harp, vibraphone and minimal beats, it has a subtlety that’s not well suited to the venue’s poor acoustics. In this context the tracks that work best for her six-piece band are those with immediacy or familiarity. The trip-hop ‘Black Monday’, which is a response to a pro-abortion march in Poland, and the despondent dub of ‘Kong’ are reminiscent of Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’, even before the realisation that the latter was co-produced by 3D.
Former single ‘Natural Skin Deep’ also sneaks into the subconscious, Cherry busting a couple of dance move as she intones “my love goes on and on” over a steel drum and misjudged air horn. One of the few new tracks that have got a pulse on the dance floor, the laid-back approach of the material is far removed from the sassiness that was associated with her as a trail-blazing hip-hop act in the late ’80s. Cherry’s expletive laden banter nonetheless retains an endearing lack of self-consciousness, aborting ‘Faster Than The Truth’ when she loses her place in the chorus and getting the audience to chant messages of self-empowerment. There’s also an admirable openness about her refusal to conform to expectations, her scant musical output over the last three decades showing a disregard for industry pressure. This ambivalence towards longterm careerism and nostalgia (“I kind of hate it but I kind of love it…”) results in a loose-limbed, sub-karaoke version of ‘Buffalo Stance’, and the down tempo smoothness of ‘7 Seconds’ is spoiled by the non-complementary foghorn voice of the deck-twiddling maestro. The attitude has, however, also seen her constantly evolve and find a comfortable groove in which there’s ‘slow release, no pressure, no pressure…’. Susan Darlington
Taking over an new venue within White City’s Television Centre, Big Joanie christened The Rotunda with a plethora of anthems from their first album, ‘Sistahs’, a few older tracks, and a cover of Solange’s ‘Cranes in the Sky’. Moments of raw punk energy come from songs like ‘Used to be Friends’, displaying frontwoman Stephanie Phillip’s ability to omit a cool animosity through her vocals, as bassist Estella Adeyeri and drummer Chardine TaylorStone layer chants behind her in classic girl group fashion. But it’s 2016’s single ‘Crooked Room’ that feels particularly poignant – a chaotic track inspired by Melissa Harris-Perry’s theory of black feminism, which tonight sees the combination of spiraling vocals, jumbled drum beats and screeching guitars vividly depicting a sense of trying to figure out a world that’s working against you. Considering Thurston Moore created a record label for this band, the show is a reassuring glimpse into the talent this DIY punk band possess. Georgia Evans
Massive Attack O2, London 22 February 2019
“Give up on the future” beam projections behind Massive Attack as they mark the 21st anniversary of ‘Mezzanine’. If that doesn’t seem like the usual barrel of laughs of your standard classic-albumplayback show then, one suspects, that’s sort of the idea. After all, this tour has been pointedly trailed as a “recontextualisation/deconstruction” of ‘Mezzanine’, in which the album and songs that contributed samples are pulled apart and rebuilt semi-live (a backing track
photography by maggie koo
Live does most of the musical heavy lifting tonight) with a 2019 framing – surveillance society, unaccountable globalisation, political populism, all the fun of the fair – evoked by a procession of creepy newsreel clips and discomforting slogans (“Conspiracies are a conspiracy to make you feel powerless” etc.) curated by documentarian Adam Curtis. At its peaks – ‘Dissolved Girl’’s paranoid melancholy and the steely ‘Angel’, ‘Inertia Creep’’s menace and the seething, slithering ‘Group 4’ – the gig masterfully and rather innovatively navigates the hinterland between stadium show and large-scale performance art project. Elsewhere, unfortunately, lengthy intersong blackouts strip the performance of fluidity, and the decision to pepper the gig with cover versions, while conceptually ingenious, gives the impression of a tacky variety concert: a soundworld as distinctive as Massive Attack’s just doesn’t adapt to acts as diverse as the Velvet Underground and Ultravox. The visuals’ sloganeering, too, quickly grates: there’s a limit to how often you can cheerfully accept being told you’re but a complacent pawn of the dataindustrial complex while sanding in a hall emblazoned with phone ads. Indeed, the expertly chosen images of Blair, Britney and sundry other premillennial dystopiana, coupled with Massive Attack’s own conjuring of unease, is more than enough to set the mood, and in ramming their point home so heavily, the band rather blunt the effect: an album as subtle as ‘Mezzanine’ deserves a more nuanced tribute. Sam Walton
Ian Sweet Yes, Manchester 7 February 2019
Long-time listeners to the music of Ian Sweet might be surprised that we even got here. After debut album ‘Shapeshifter’ was released in 2016, the band dissolved under a misogynistic cloud.
Jilian Medford, always the lone founding stone of the outfit, announced that she would continue as a solo artist under the same name, conjuring the underrated album ‘Crush Crusher’ in 2018 as proof that she was better off alone anyway. Gone is the howling purge that defined the previous incarnation of Ian Sweet; the version that greets the Basement at Manchester’s twinkling new venue Yes tonight finds Medford at ease enough with her discomforting impulses that she doesn’t need to expunge them at the soonest and loudest possibility. Instead, there is the kind of introspection that comes with age, the kind that more readily takes root in the cultivated pastures of dream pop than the feral rage of thrashing guitar angst. Tonight’s set, just forty minutes in length, is not entirely free from the latter, but the splurges of electric frenzy are, if not controlled, then at least given a designated slot. The dominant tone, as on ‘Crush Crusher’, is of reflection and focus, seasoned with a melodic sweetness that Medford clearly has a capacity for, but that she would rather suggest at than embrace. Tracks like ‘Holographic Jesus’ show off the newfound softness in her voice. ‘Spit’, which moves one audience member to cry out “That’s my favourite song!” as its final chord hits, is her shot at indie radio glory, thrashed out tonight with a spunky righteousness that can only come with knowing that the song has hit its intended target. Medford is a consistently entertaining raconteur between tracks, spinning us absurdly trivial tales of their European tour involving Oreos, and how to exactly pronounce of our city’s name. The end comes all too soon in the form of ‘Your Arms Are Water’, culminating in the most hedonic instrumental freakout of the night, wherein Medford channels no less a player than Marnie Stern as she leans back into the fuzz and drifts upstream. It still resides in her, that guitar animal, but she has trained it well. It now plays fairly with the quieter, more expressive writer that Medford appears to have become. Max Pilley
Low Barbican Centre, London 1 February 2019
Usually a place of modern refinement, the dimmed lighting of the Barbican Centre is only disturbed tonight by what looks like three louver shutters behind Mimi Parker’s drum kit. This isn’t the first time that Minnesota slowcore giants Low have sold out this venue, but they seem to have done so remarkably quickly in support of their latest full-length. In a week where England is already stationary with the first snow-day of the year, tonight is a night where slowcore turns into shoegaze and then turns back into slowcore, but even slower, and everyone has an excuse just to stop and watch it. 2018’s critically-acclaimed ‘Double Negative’ was a megalomaniac, genrespanning, synth-driven beast of an album marking 25 years of the Duluth trio. There are no synths to be seen on stage, though. The band’s set-up brings a comforting sense of familiarity with the last three records despite all the changes in sound. Starting with ‘Always Up’, Alan Sparhawk and Parker’s harmonies have an ageless, acapella sparsity to them with none of the showy annoyance. ‘Always Trying to Work It Out’ becomes a light monochromatic ballad; ‘Poor Sucker’’s instrumental builds could have belonged to Film School or Galaxie 500. The live version of ‘Tempest’ showcases an obtrusive Red Panda Particle softened only by a sweet vocal line trembling on top of the reverb delay. Although you then become smothered by a ten-minute drone and strobe interlude into the pits of hell on ‘Do You Know How To Waltz’, you’re welcomed out of it with folksy bass jam ‘Lazy’. Stepping away from last year’s work, they encore with ‘When I Go Deaf’. And then it’s just guitars again, and ‘Murderer’ becomes the perfect ending of loud and quiet: a song about the Christian principle of obedience to a flawed individual and a flawed God, who offers to murder every single one of us. Tristan Gatward
Film and Books
Under The Silver Lake (a24) The knives are out for David Robert Mitchell’s third movie, perhaps because it was meant to keep up with his superior horror breakthrough, It Follows, but more likely because of the pasting it got at Cannes last year: the pummeling knocked its UK release all the way back until now, and now no one wants to say that they enjoyed it. Under The Silver Lake’s criticisms aren’t unfounded: David Lynch has already
made a lot of this film at least once, and its gratuitous moments do it no favours, masquerading, as they do, under the banner of ‘indie realism’, so we countlessly see topless women as if it were made in 1985, while Andrew Garfield wanks off only for us to realise that we didn’t want to see that as much as we thought we did. Needless to say, such points conspire to give this neo noir detective story a nagging sense of a film school end-of-year project. You can also chalk up the impossibly hip world in which Under The Silver Lake is set, while the real kicker for some appears to be what a complete mess the story is – two grumbles that seem to miss the real appeal of the movie. It’s hard to work out what is more ridiculous – the film’s plot of a million loose ends, or the east L.A. it depicts, where everyone’s a bit-part actor and even the most unwashed of characters (you can practically smell Garfield’s sad anti-hero, Sam) party on rooftops and stroll into Hollywood
mansions with a sense of entitlement. David Robert Mitchell seems to be challenging us to choose, knowing full well that it’s impossible, stacking up layers of metaphors and irony to obscure any true meaning. Similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (another polorising film in recent years), there’s certainly no point trying to second guess where things are going in the stoned narrative of Sam’s search for his missing neighbour, Sarah. He floats around town, obsesses over conspiracy theories, assaults a minor, watches a squirrel draw its last breath (I’m not making this up), fucks and spies, and the sleazy story continually unfurls, on and on. Of course it’s an unlikeable film; one of a grubby type of young wealth, a lack of responsibility, and, eventually, plain misogyny. But you get the feeling it knows what it’s doing, even if it’s not telling anyone else. The ridiculousness isn’t accidental. The squirrel must have died for a reason! Stuart Stubbs
Wrote for Luck — Shaun Ryder (faber) Shaun Ryder doesn’t consider himself a poet, but the best ones seldom do. By his own admission, the Happy Mondays and Black Grape frontman started writing lyrics not out of a burning need to express himself, but out of necessity, because someone in the band had to. The songs he came up with collect together disparate scenes and skewed incidents that sit well on the page and work without the revolutionary, sleazy, time-lapse funk that provided their backbeat. Annotated throughout, the collection offers insight into one of the leading lyricists of his generation. Just don’t call him a poet. Lee Bullman
This Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else: Joy Division: The Oral History — Jon Savage (faber) In This Searing Light, Jon Savage draws on thirty years of interviews carried out with band members, confederates and co-conspirators of Joy Division to tell the story of a group whose flame burned bright but short and who were eventually touched by the cruel hand of tragedy. The music remains though – the dark alchemy that resulted in a late ’70s four-piece that sounded like a sparse, bleak orchestra – and Savage’s touching and funny book tells the very human story behind that unearthly, ethereal, unforgettable sound. Lee Bullman
Motown: The Sound of Young America — Adam White with Barney Ales (thames and hudson) Motown, Berry Gordy’s Detroit record company that notched up more hits than the Stones, the Beatles and the Beach Boys put together, just turned sixty. The Sound of Young America is a fitting way to celebrate such an auspicious occasion: it’s a beautiful, bright book that lovingly collates rare and unseen photographs from the Motown archives and interviews with everyone from Smokey Robinson and Mary Wilson to Gordy himself. Motown operated within a changing America and influenced the rest of the world. Here’s how and why it happened. Lee Bullman
NEW RELEASES OUT NOW
SHANA CLEVELAND ‘Night of the Worm Moon’
DANIEL THORNE ‘Lines Of Sight’
Hardly Art LP/CD Shana Cleveland has been beguiling listeners for years in her role as the superlative frontwoman for elastic surf rockers La Luz. Now Cleveland is evolving her sound on the new solo full-length Night of the Worm Moon, a serene album that flows like a warm current while simultaneously wresting open a portal to another dimension
V/A ‘Moodsetters: Music From The Amphonic & Soundstage Libraries’ Buried Treasure LP
From the archives of Syd Dale’s Amphonic & Sound Stage libraries, Moodsetters presents a stellar lineup of big-hitters from the world of British production music including members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop & The Art Of Noise. "this album is so, so good - great music!" – Nick Luscombe, Late Junction / BBC3
THE OH SEES ‘The Cool Death of Island Raiders’
Castle Face LP/CD “We here at Castle Face are not afraid to get our shins dirty mucking around in the stacks and we’re well aware of an out-of-press gap of Oh Sees releases right before 2006 when we started the label with Sucks Blood. We’re rectifying that and first among these is The Cool Death of Island Raiders.”
HELL FIRE ‘Mania’
Riding Easy LP/CD Hell Fire’s third album and proper debut on Riding Easy Records, warmly condenses elements of influences like Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, Rainbow, Exodus, Metallica, Riot, Virtue and Diamond Head into 10 tracks of headbanging MUYA anthems.
LADY LAMB ‘Even In The Tremor’ Ba Da Bing! LP/CD
Erased Tapes LP/CD The invigorating and powerful debut solo album Lines of Sight by Australian-born, Liverpool-based composer, saxophonist and founder of Immix Ensemble, Daniel Thorne.
Even in the Tremor signifies the arrival of her most sonically soaring and brutally honest album to date. Recorded with producer Erin Tonkon (David Bowie/Blackstar).
HOLIDAY GHOSTS ‘West Bay Playroom’
Out Records LP/C Radical rock group UT originated in the downtown NYC No Wave scene and were inheritors of the collision between rock, free jazz and the avant-garde. ‘Conviction’ is their first studio album from 1986 now reissued with photos, lyrics and introduction by Stewart Lee.
“Falmouth’s finest blend primal garage rock, rock n roll, DIY Punk, blues and giddy, exuberant tunefulness ****” – The Guardian
CHERRY PICKLES ‘Cherry Pickles Will Harden Your Nipples’
V/A ‘ Jobcentre Rejects – Ultra Rare NWOBHM 78-82’
Conceived over a bucks fizz binge in Birmingham UK early 2018, Cherry Pickles comes at you like the base-ment band you always wanted to start. “cheeky fun for fans of The Cramps, Beat Happening and The Gories” – Brooklyn Vegan
Twelve tracks licensed from rare and hard to find New Wave Of British Heavy Metalsingles originally released in England 1978-1982. Kind of a Nuggets, Pebbles or Killed By Death for NWOBHM.
HARE & THE HOOFE ‘Hare & The Hoofe’
Kent 2LP Pitched somewhere between The Who, The Stooges, ELO, Sparks, Pink Floyd, Voivod, Pete Townshend, Brainiac, Bowie and Judas Priest, The Terror of Melton is a headspinning,ambitious journey. "Like a drugged-up wizard on a BMX" – Prog Magazine
On The Dole Records LP/CD
ELA ORLEANS ‘Movies For Ears
Night School LP/CD A retrospective collection of works by Polish-born, Glasgow-based artist Ela Orleans whichnavigates almost two decades of songwriting in the heart of the global pop underground. “..her illuminations feel important and hopeful. A stubborn light; someone making great timeless music out of the humdrum of the everyday.”- Stephen Pastel
Influences As everyone gets hooked on jazz, Ezra Collective are the group most locked into a groove, and the band least restrained by the genreâ€™s elitist rules, by Mike Vinti. Photography by Gabriel Green
Valentine’s Day, and the South Bank branch of Pizza Express is packed with an unsettling mix of couples sneaking in a lunch-break date, a nd groups of children on school trips to the BFI. I’m here to meet and eat with Ezra Collective. Right now, the group have plenty of cause for celebration. In the past couple of years they’ve gone from jazz-head obscurity to being featured in The New York Times and touring the world. With the help of peers such as Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, Kamaal Williams and every project touched by Shabaka Hutchings, Ezra Collective have not only been reviving the London jazz scene, but redefining it also. Today, the band – with the exception of bassist TJ Koleoso – are running late. While we wait, the group’s manager, Amy, takes it upon herself to order seven people’s worth of pizza for the four of us who are here – myself, Amy, TJ and the group’s PR, Ben. The waiter is a little confused but obliging. They take away the rose and special Valentine’s menu from the middle of the table. As the pizzas start to arrive so too do the band’s remaining members: first saxophonist James Mollison, then keysplayer Joe Armon-Jones and finally, having been held up in the barbershop for most of his morning, drummer, brother of TJ, and defacto band leader Femi Koleoso. Dylan Jones, the group’s trumpet player, will join them later for our photoshoot. As soon as the group are all together jokes fly and stories are swapped. While they’ve been together as Ezra Collective for almost seven years, every member balances their work in the band with a side project, day job or gig as a touring musician. Joe begins filling his bandmates in on the details of his solo tour, which he’s in the middle of the day we meet. He’s just got back from a date in Dublin, although Ryanair didn’t make the process easy. He’s been awake since 4AM, not that he really went to sleep before then. I start to feel guilty that he’s been forced to spend his one day off with me and a Sloppy Giuseppe. I needn’t worry, though; it soon becomes clear that Joe and all of the group’s members are happy to be here. The day before our interview, the group announced their debut album to the world and shared lead single ‘Quest for Coin’. It was premiered as Annie Mac’s ‘Hottest Record in The World’ on Radio One; no small feat for an instrumental jazz track. However, Ezra Collective would probably be in equally high spirits had no one played the single. As the title of that freshly announced album suggests, ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ is a record from a cheery and supremely chill bunch.
been with these bredrins when we’re reasoning together.” When it came time to put together their debut album, he says it “felt natural” for the group to put that energy at the project’s core. “A lot of musicians will tell you that when they’re in a sad place it helps them make music, but for us, it’s the opposite,” says Joe. “The best music we make is when we’re in a good place.” The strength of Ezra Collective’s music, then, is also testament to the strength of their friendship. The group met just down the road from where we are today, at Tomorrow’s Warriors, a youth jazz programme run by bassist and all-around British jazz icon Gary Crosby. Having initially come together for a competition to play at Ronnie Scott’s, the band became firm friends, and after a few line-up alterations they haven’t looked back since. “It was essentially a school project we fell in love with,” Femi laughs. As such, the group buzzes with that chemistry that’s unique to school mates. Crammed into a booth, they jostle with one another and pick at the remains of lunch as we talk. Our conversation frequently erupts into fits of laughter, drawing a couple of sideways glances from the kind of couples whose romantic ideal is a Pizza Express within walking distance of Waterloo Station. At one point I look across from me and realise that Joe has been covertly rolling a joint under the table. Like the best of friendship groups, the members of Ezra Collective aren’t afraid to show their appreciation for one another. “Being with these guys, it’s given [me] a chance to be real and comfortable,” says TJ. “When you’re with your friends you’re comfortable, and there’s no façade that you’ve got to put on.” He admits that while the group have always been close, Ezra Collective hasn’t always been as laidback a project as it is today. “In the early days we tried other things, but they didn’t feel good. We tried to wear suits; it didn’t feel good,” he says, looking around the table at his bandmates who are dressed in a mix of streetwear, afro-centric jewellery and pieces from high street retailers. “It came down to the fact that we just enjoy playing music together, so we took that and ran with it. It was only recently, really, when we realised that we were going against the narrative” “The narrative of a young man in London is so often portrayed as negative in every way,” his brother elaborates. “They’re angry; they’re depressed; there are so many issues that surround being a young man growing up in London. Even though most of us are subject to these things that make life difficult, London’s a happy place, I would argue for that. Regardless of what’s happening on a daily basis, the fact we can go to Steam Down freely and have a dance and have fun, or go to Fabric or Wireless, or whatever it is, [makes us happy].”
— The good place — — Why you mad? — “Everyone has an emotion or feeling that they evoke. For us, there’s an energetic joy,” Femi says of the group’s dynamic. “We’re trying to get people to dance and have the best day of their week at our shows. Some of the happiest moments of my life have
The three institutions Femi highlights tell you a lot about Ezra Collective. Steam Down, a jam session that takes place in a Caribbean café in Deptford every Wednesday, has been
“The narrative of a young man in London is so often portrayed as negative in every way, but London’s a happy place, I would argue for that” a meeting point for the scene’s best talents, while Fabric and Wireless speak to the heavy influence that both dance and rap music have on Ezra’s sound. Having either grown up across London or spent a lot of time in the city thanks to Tomorrow’s Warriors, the members of Ezra Collective are as united by their love for grime, soul and hip hop as they are by their passion for jazz. Femi’s first career break came as a live drummer for veteran rapper Pharaoh Monch, and alongside his duties in Ezra he plays in Jorja Smith’s band,
touring the world with the singer. On Twitter and Instagram last summer he shared a picture of himself, along with the rest of her band, chilling backstage with Snoop Dogg. It’s an approach that underpins not just Ezra Collective’s sound but the sound of London’s young jazz scene as a whole. Moses Boyd, a drummer, friend of the band and fellow Tomorrow’s Warriors graduate, has a residency on Radio 1Xtra. Kamaal Williams teamed up with grime MC Mez for a rework of the Yussef Kamaal track ‘Strings of Light’. Meanwhile, Theon Cross, the tuba player in Sons of Kemet and a respected solo artist in his own right, joined Kano as part of his band for the Made in The Manor tour. Whereas once jazz was seen as stuckup and over-intellectual, in London, and increasingly further afield, it’s a progressive part of youth culture – increasingly so since Kendrick released ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ in 2015. There’s little doubt that Ezra Collective is the prime example of this. Go to any of the group’s shows and the number of young people will usually far outweigh the older, more purist crowd that you’ll find in any of the city’s jazz clubs. Joe explains that while the jazz tag still puts off some people they’re usually won over after watching the band play live. “A lot of people when they come to the shows – especially in the early days – they would say, ‘my mate told me to come, I was against it because I didn’t like jazz, but I’m glad I did because I didn’t know that could be jazz.’” And as they’ve attracted a younger, more open-minded audience, Ezra Collective have been able to become bolder in their experimentations. Fan favourite tracks like ‘Mace Windu Riddim’ or ‘Pure Shade’ fuse intricate playing with an energy that’s instantly recognisable to anyone who’s ever stepped foot in a nightclub. Rather than bombard the listener with dense horn passages or overly complex polyrhythms (something that a band like The Comet is Coming do so well), Ezra Collective prioritise groove.
Interview In fact, so danceable is Ezra’s take on jazz that the group’s cover of ‘Space Is the Place’ has become something of a dancefloor smash. “There was one club that played it as their New Year’s Eve track going from 2017 into 2018, they played it at midnight,” Femi says, to his bandmates as much as to me. That club, as it turns out, was Dalston’s Café Oto, one of many venues that have become vital spots in the network of London jazz. “That must have been a weird party!” saxophonist James laughs. “Can you imagine the brers that turn up there? Café Oto on New Year’s Eve…” Sometimes even the members of Ezra Collective can’t quite believe that they have people dancing to Sun Ra. On ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’, the band only improve on that grove-centric approach. In the first three tracks alone they run the gamut from ’90s boom bap through to heavy-stepping reggae. Even when the blistering free-jazz solos of second track ‘Why You Mad?’ are at their peak the band never misses a beat. While the group’s previous EPs, ‘Chapter 7’ and ‘Juan Pablo The Philosopher’, have been essential to their success, ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ feels like the first record that truly defines what Ezra Collective is about.
Pizzas finished and plates cleared, the waiters start to hover in a way that suggests it’s time for our interview to end. It’s just as well, as Gabriel, Loud And Quiet’s photographer, has been patiently waiting to shoot the group for the last half an hour. Before we’re turfed out for good I ask the group for their favourite moments of Ezra Collective so far. Femi picks their headline show at Ronnie Scott’s; TJ their show at Islington Assembly Hall. “For me it’s the album cover – that moment,” Joe says, alluding to the photo that adorns the front of ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’. Taken at the end of the group’s sold-out show at KOKO in late 2018, it features all five of them, arms around each other, sweaty and revelling in the biggest show of their career. “That’s why my face looks like that,” he laughs, prompting his bandmates to start howling, “that’s what I look like when I’m having the best time of my life.” It’s a sweet moment, at once celebratory and self-effacing, that leads to an even sweeter admission from James. “Every time we roll anywhere, even when we’re not playing, just walking down the street as a team, it feels so sick.” — Thriller money —
“Jazz education, particularly at conservatoire level, almost uses jazz as a weapon against freedom”
As we leave the restaurant and head out onto the concrete plains of the South Bank Centre, James sidles up to me and casually mentions that his favourite moment may actually be the time that Quincy Jones invited the group to perform at his birthday party last year. I try to follow up, searching frantically in my bag for my Dictaphone, but before I can retrieve it he’s ushered into a group photo. The next week, I meet up with Femi and TJ in North London to listen to the test-pressing of ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’. Blasted at full volume through studio-quality speakers, the record’s energy is undeniable, and its hidden complexities fill the room, demanding constant attention. As soon as the record playback is done, I ask them about Quincy.
“So, I get a message from our manager, Amy, like, ‘you’re not gonna believe this’,” Femi starts, a huge grin forming on the faces of both Kolesoso brothers. “‘Quincy Jones want you to play his birthday party, it’s in Montreux, I’ve got an email. You’re available, you’re all free, so we’re going.’” Jump forward to the day of the show. TJ sets the scene: “We’re playing Moseley Jazz and Funk festival in Birmingham. It was the pengest day of the year, it was so hot.” “We left the festival and went to the business class lounge, bruv,” Femi picks up. “That’s an open bar. So, it started from there. We were a little bit whacked already. We went in, it was Swiss Airways, they give you little chocolates… anyway, we get there… do you remember the hotel blud?!” he shouts, kissing his teeth for emphasis. “This hotel was co-rect! We were like, ‘this is ‘Thriller’ money’. You had a view of Lake Geneva… there was a Lamborghini right outside the venue. “Quincy sits right in the front row,” he continues, “so you know if it’s going well or not. You’re looking him in the eye, and he was vibing. Then Jorja [Smith] was gonna play Montreux jazz fest the next day, so we asked her to come up, and we played a version of ‘On My Mind’. That party didn’t end… it was light before I got to my room.” I ask them who else was at the celebration. In previous years Jones has had everyone from Paul McCartney to Lady Gaga perform. “Mos Def jumped up; that was pretty cool…” TJ says absent-mindedly. As if struck by lightning, Femi sits up in his seat. “I played the drums with them!” he exclaims. “There was Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, Terrace Martin, Derick Hodge, Talib Kweli, Mos Def and then they were like, ‘go and play the drums.’ “The moment I walked up Mos Def looked at me. I met Mos Def when I was eighteen and I was on tour with Pharaoh Monch, and I’ve met him about three times since then, so I wouldn’t say we’re bredrins, but he looked at me and he started singing ‘Space Is the Place’ – the Ezra Collective version!” Ezra’s PR Ben and I look at them, stunned. “It was one of those days where you wake up the next morning and you’re not sure if it really happened,” TJ laughs capturing the mood of the room. —The new jazz establishment — Safe to say that life has been good to Ezra Collective recently. While the group aren’t shy about their successes, they’re not ones to rest on their laurels either. Femi, Joe, James, Dylan and TJ know as well as anyone that to make it as a young musician in London, let alone a young jazz musician in London, you have to work hard. “We’ve had gigs where people are coming from three different continents to make an Ezra show,” Femi says matter-of-factly.
Part of that hard work has been a constant fight against the very institutions that helped them earn their credentials. Back at Pizza Express, Femi and Joe pointed out time and time again that the snobby image of the jazz world as isolated and somehow ‘above’ pop music is all too often an accurate one. “A lot of the curriculum said to me it wasn’t ok to like Skepta because there’s no 1-6-2-5-1 turnaround at the end of his verse,” Femi says forlornly. “Jazz education, particularly at conservatoire level, almost uses jazz as a weapon against freedom quite often,” he continues. “That’s where my rebellion came from. It’s not even a rebellion, it’s just an understanding that the reason Charlie Parker is so hip is that he allowed his influences to come through, and it’s the same with Dizzy, Miles and Coltrane. Suddenly, when it comes to educating people, they don’t talk about those influences, they focus on the technical aspect.” Outside of the jazz world, the group had the opposite problem. While they have their criticisms of conservatoire education and the jazz establishment, the genre is still their first love. ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ opens with the group’s second rework of ‘Space is the Place’ and closes with a cover of Fela Kuti’s ‘Shakara’. Their approach is one that seeks to reform the jazz establishment, not reject it. As teenagers growing up listening to Duke Ellington and watching Chris Dave videos on YouTube, their passion could isolate them from their peers at times. TJ is one member of the group that didn’t study music, opting instead to complete a degree in physiotherapy. “I looked at jazz in the same way a lot of people in the audience might,” he tells me. “When people asked you what you were listening to, they didn’t want to hear John Coltrane they wanted to hear Skepta or HeadieOne.” It wasn’t until they got turned on to artists like Robert Glasper, and then later when Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ came out, that the members of Ezra Collective saw anything that resembled a template for what they wanted to do. “Glasper was playing at Ronnie Scott’s but covering J Dilla beats. That was exciting for us,” Femi says. It set the band down the road of combing their influences. “I really like ‘Caravan’, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like ‘No Security’ by Skepta, how do I get the two in the same song? That was the vibe,” he continues. Listening to ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ it’s hard to argue that they’ve been anything other than successful in their attempts. Whether it’s the Latin flavour of ‘Sao Paolo’ or the laid-back boom-bap of Loyle Carner collaboration ‘What Am I To Do?’, the record’s diversity is it’s strength. However, even post-TPAB it wasn’t until the group started playing live regularly that they realised there was a growing audience for their sound. “To be honest, the moment you say that you’re a jazz band and more than eight people show up,
that means there are no boundaries...” Femi laughs. The hint of exasperation in his voice suggests he’s only half-joking. All of this has only served to strengthen the group and, as a result, ensure that their debut album is one of the best records to come out of the new jazz scene. ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ was formed over years of playing together, to audiences of all persuasions, all over the world. Its songs were tested in front of audiences as far away as Kazakhstan, its solos perfected in sweaty studios in Croatia, yet there’s no doubt that London is at its core. Take that closing cover of ‘Shakara’, for example; a collaboration with fellow Londoners KOKOROKO. It may have been written decades ago in Nigeria, but played by these two groups together it’s the sound of years spent practising at Tomorrow’s Warriors and evenings dedicated to blowing the roof off Steam Down. The whole idea to record the cover in the first place was born when Ezra Collective performed Fula Kuti’s most loved hits at a Church of Sound show. It’s a result and celebration of everything that makes the London jazz scene so unique right now. Having seen their peers land radio shows, get nominated for major, non-jazz specific awards, and even land top ten records (Kamaal Williams’ latest album ‘The Return’ debuted at number eight in the album chart last year) Ezra want to see just how far they can go. As the album’s release draws closer the thing that excites them most is that it will allow them to do more. “We’ve got to keep that tunnel vision of looking ahead,” Joe says when I ask if they’re starting to feel like they’ve made it, “that’s what got us here in the first place.” “I remember thinking the greatest achievement we could have in music was headlining Ronnie Scott’s,” Femi agrees. “When that offer came in, I thought we’d made it, but the moment we put our instruments down we realised there was more.” “Early on, someone told me you’ve got to be the most ambitious person in the room,” TJ says thoughtfully. “Was it DJ Khaled?” Joe chimes in sarcastically, prompting another howl of laughter from the band.
“I really like ‘Caravan’, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like ‘No Security’ by Skepta"
It’s a moment that sums up Ezra Collective nicely: at once wildly ambitious but also cautious of avoiding the po-faced seriousness that has blighted jazz music for the last half-century. Once the album drops, things will get more intense, especially as the scene’s profile rises with them. Femi and Joe both play in saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s band, James plays in several other projects, as does Dylan, and Joe has already sold out Village Underground as a solo artist. As much as they’re ready to take their modern jazz worldwide, Ezra Collective know that the pressure is rising. “As we go forward it’s going to get harder and tougher,” Femi admits. “But if we can continue to cherish the moments we play together – that feeling of joy of being together – that’s what matters.”
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can afford to do this for is £3 per month for UK subscribers. If you really start to hate what we do you can cancel at any time. The same goes for European subscriptions (£6 per month) and the rest of the world (£8 per month). For that amount you will receive: Our next 9 issues delivered to your door. Entry into our monthly vinyl giveaway draw. Our subscriber’s Spotify playlist. Invites to our live events before anyone else. As our physical issues get picked up quicker and quicker each month in any case, we hope you consider this a good deal and the best way to keep Loud And Quiet in your life without its content or independence suffering. Thank you for reading and your support. Stuart Stubbs (Editor)
In Conversation A long talk with the former GamesMaster contestant, by Stuart Stubbs. Photography by Tom Porter
Simon Amstell Powerful images from Simon Amstell’s past include him asking Craig David what his favourite genre of sausage is; him shouting questions at Lemar from the other side of the world’s largest car park; him interrogating the Strokes via a horse named Richard; and him weirding out Gwen Stefani when he asked if she wanted to put her hand in his pocket full of cheese at the Brit Awards. Popworld was full of brilliantly surreal moments like this, and Amstell’s ultra sarcastic take on the role of television presenter only snowballed during his time hosting Never Mind The Buzzcocks, peaking, it seemed, most famously when Preston from the Ordinary Boys walked off the show halfway through recording an episode. For some, Amstell may forever be (fondly) rendered in those two images, even if they did end in 2006 and 2009, respectively; while plenty of others have been getting to know something resembling the real Simon Amstell over the ten years that have followed. During that time his body of work has been selective but increasingly personal, from his BBC Two sitcom Grandma’s House – where his mother, played by Rebecca Front, seemed to constantly be trying to persuade him to go back to a career of fame based on upsetting popstars (“you were good at that,” she’d say) – to his standup show ‘Numb’, which zeroed in on his real life anxiety. His latest project – his biggest yet – continues to draw directly from the life he’s led. Benjamin, Amstell’s first feature film, opens in cinemas and on digital platforms on March 15th. It features a soundtrack from James Righton (also available on the 15th), and tells a beautifully anxious story of a young gay filmmaker trying to replicate his previous career success and learn to finally share his life with someone else – in this case, a young French musician named Noah. It is very funny and as dry as you can probably imagine; heartfelt, too; and, obviously, repeatedly awkward. Although Amstell didn’t cast himself in the film, he admits that the titular character is basically him from ten years ago. I invited him to my house to talk more about that, how he went from asking Craig David what his favourite genre of sausage is to directing movies, and all other things related to Benjamin.
Congratulations on Benjamin. I saw it at the weekend and loved it. How are you feeling about releasing your first feature film? Yeah, I’m weirdly calm. I think because I like it. And also when we premiered it at London Film Festival the reaction was so good. Everyone laughed and seemed to feel things at all the right times. Unlike Benjamin, who is an anxious lunatic – or a bit like the anxious lunatic that I was a few years ago – it’s not life or death to me. Did you study film? No. I did Media Studies A Level, and part of that was film, but no, I didn’t go to film school or university at all. I’m very unqualified. Could you tell? No, not at all. Well, that’s ok then. I definitely worked with people who had been to film school. And all the actors had learned to act. In Media Studies I remember watching Blade Runner and learning the words ‘juxtaposition’ and ‘semiotics’, and that was all I needed to make a feature film. So no, I didn’t go to film school, but I feel like, in terms of writing it, I’ve been writing things for a long time – whether it’s sketches or jokes or longer stories or bits of very personal standup – so that didn’t feel like such a leap… I don’t know what to say… I didn’t go to film school… but I could. I could still go if I wanted to. I suppose what I meant to say was how did you get into directing? James Righton, who did the music for the film, asked me to direct a music video for one of the songs from his first solo album under the name Shock Machine. We got on really well and I thought that he’d be a lovely person to work with, should, at some point, a film need some music. And I directed a film for the BBC called Carnage [set in 2067, when the UK is 100% vegan]. What’s nice for me about directing is that I am finally allowed to be the person that I’ve been all along. Which is the guy who is in charge. Y’know, I’ve been working in TV from about the age of 18, and when I first started I had to constantly find a way to make the thing that I was doing the way I wanted it to be, because officially I wasn’t the person who should be making those decisions. So it’s official now – I’m the guy who gets to say yes or no to things.
In Conversation So did you always want to be the director, then? Was that the end goal? I’m trying to think… I went to a Saturday morning stage school when I was 13, and I remember writing for the annual variety show two short plays, because I thought then I’d be able to give myself a good part… Also, when I was 10, my little sister was born and a camcorder was purchased to document her growth, and I stole that camcorder and started making little films with my brother, of puppet shows and things. Maybe that’s the moment. I was fixated on television, initially, although the references for the film were Woody Allen and John Cassavetes, in terms of the metropolitan, anxiety-fueled humour and the rawness of the performances in Cassavetes’s films – I thought if I can get some of that in this, that’d be quite good. This is a little bit of a spoiler, but your film starts inside Benjamin’s own film, which is clearly trying too hard. When the film started, I thought I’m not sure I’m going to make it through this, and I’ve got to meet you today to talk about it. So I was very relieved when it transpired that that was not your film. I know, I know. Imagine being sat in the audience watching it with people. Did you feel their sense of relief at that same moment? Yes. There was a big laugh when the first title card came up, I think because the character said something funny, but ultimately because it was such a relief that the film they’d been watching up to that point wasn’t the film. You mentioned you were fixated on television initially. It is true that when you were a kid you went on GamesMaster? It is, yeah. I was 12 or 13. I feel like I lost a tennis game very badly, to someone from Romford. My team was the Essex Allstars and his team were the Romford Raiders. That’s my memory of it. And he did his game first and got a very good score, and he said to me, very aggressively, ‘beat that!’, which really threw me. But I wasn’t good at games.
But you were on GamesMaster? Partly I just wanted to be on the television, but also I just wanted to see how television worked. So I would often go and watch TV shows being made, as an audience member, to see cameras moving across the floor. It was so silly – we went to see the Lottery once, which was 15 minutes long. My mum took me. It was Carol Vorderman presenting it, and I think Dolly Parton performed. And then they read out the lottery numbers and we went home. I suppose similarly, when I decided that I wanted to direct this film, I started turning up to different sets, to check I was capable of doing it, and I went to one film set in New York where I witnesses such a badly written film being made, by a director that everyone seemed to dislike, and I thought, oh, I think I can write something better than this, and get on with people better. It kind of took the mystery out of it for me. What kind of director are you? A brilliant one! … Maybe I’m an actor’s director. I really like working with actors and finding people who are brilliant, and letting them do the thing that they can do. I tend to just say ‘go nuts’ to people. With James for the soundtrack as well; he asked me what it should be and I said, ‘I don’t know – just go nuts’. So you’re not a director who shouts at everyone? There’s no shouting. That would just be horrific. You’d just end up with really bad performances, I would think. It’s so important for the actors to feel safe, so they can reveal themselves on screen. The idea that you’d be screaming at them is so insane. What made you decide to cast someone else as Benjamin rather than yourself? Well, I wrote it five years ago, and I was thinking then that it would make sense if I was Benjamin because I’d written him in my voice. But then, having directed a couple of things that I wasn’t in, I felt very much at home directing rather than being in front of the camera. It was a real relief meeting Colin Morgan who made me laugh and also made me feel for him, which meant that I could tell this story without needing to be in it, and potentially make the film worse. I’m much more comfortable directing – acting was always a struggle. You were good in Grandma’s House. Well it depends who you ask. I don’t know what would have to happen for me to do that again. It’s an obviously thing to say, but it seems like there’s a lot of you in the character of Benjamin. I wrote it trying to figure out what was wrong with me. What had happened in my 20s? What were some of those relationships about? What was I doing that meant that I wasn’t finding love very easily, or very easy? And I learned through writing the script that I was someone who was terrified of intimacy. Because that’s Benjamin’s problem – he’s a person who is so obsessed with how
“I wrote Benjamin trying to figure out what was wrong with me, and I learned through writing the script that I was someone who was terrified of intimacy”
people perceive him, as this filmmaker guy who made a great film once, that he’s unable to do anything else. He’s a person who’s used to going to a lot of effort in order to get some love. He’s not used to just being present with another human being without feeling like he has to be someone better. And that’s his journey – this beautiful musician character, Noah, comes and very patiently undoes all of his manic ego. And how about the character of Stephen – is there any of you in him? Well, he’s a standup comedian, so I guess there is a bit. Because he’s also an awkward guy who seems to be grappling with anxiety. Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, I’m definitely in Stephen and Benjamin. Benjamin is hirer status, because he made something once that was a real hit, and Steven has never had a hit. One of Steven’s lines is, ‘all that’s happening is I’m getting older.’
He says that just after the scene where he bombs on stage, which is probably the movie’s most awkward moment. Have you ever bombed as badly as that? Yeah, I think worse. Because he’s quite self destructive. It was going quite well and he kind of ruins it. And it’s because he’s not there joyfully. He’s there trying to heal a wound. And that was always the problem for me. It used to be that when I was on tour it wouldn’t feel completely satisfying, a show going well. That wouldn’t be enough. There would have maybe been 3000 people all in a room laughing and then they would leave. And if you’re not on that stage already feeling whole, but rather trying to get an audience to fill some void in you, even if the show is the best you’ve ever done, at some point they leave and you’re alone again. And the contrast is too horrific. So I’ve self-destructed like that on stage. I think it’s because you unconsciously know that the love that you’re receiving is conditional; that you have to do this trick in order that they stay, and there’s a part of you that thinks, ‘why do I have to make this much effort in order for you
In Conversation people to like me?’ And then there’s some aggression towards the audience because fuck them for making you do this party trick. But once you get well, then it’s ridiculous, because this is the thing that you love doing, and they’re here because they want to be here, and it really is just a room full of love. And hopefully you’ve got some love in your real life so when they leave you’ve got something that means that you don’t require them anymore. How, then, do you deal with people in street saying that they love you? Is it hard for you to accept that they’re telling the truth? It’s always different. It can range from people saying, ‘oh, you’re that guy; you’re that guy’. They don’t know who I am, but they’re pointing out that they’ve seen a guy. It can go from that to, ‘this very specific thing that you did was very important to me’. But I can see the differences now. At the end where someone has been really effected by something, I really appreciate hearing about that connection. It makes me feel less alone in the world. I feel useful, and it’s like, ‘oh, that’s the reason to be doing this.’ And then the other guy is nothing to do with me. That’s just a guy who’s recognised an image that he saw previously. Are any of the scenarios in the film autobiographical? Definitely all of the emotion is emotion that I have felt. There’s nothing in there where I wasn’t sure what the character would be feeling but I’ve sort of guessed. I don’t trust anything unless I’ve felt it. There are a few scenes that are similar to things that have happened in my life, but that’s quite rare. It’s more that I’ve wanted to express something I’ve felt. So you’ve not been mistaken for a competition winner before [as Benjamin is on a film set]? No, but I have felt that feeling that he has, which is of being not special in that moment when you thought that you were. At what age did you start doing standup? Thirteen. I retired when I was eighteen and started again when I was twenty-one. Thirteen! Jesus Christ. I know.
doing before but there was a looseness and silliness that came through me, and I thought, oh wow, this is a more joyful way of performing. Obviously I can’t take magic mushrooms every time, but I think I can remember this feeling. I think I realised that I was a bit ridiculous and that’s why it was funny, whereas before I was too in it – I was too protective of myself.
At what point did you arrive at the style people would now recognise as yours? Between 13 and 18 I did a few gigs in some variety shows, and I entered some competitions in comedy clubs. I was a weird child, so it was like seeing a novelty act, although I was very committed to the craft – I was just in a child’s body. I was Ben Elton for a while. And I was Eddie Izzard for a while. And then, at 21, I would say it took me about 5 years on the open spot circuit to find my voice. After then I felt like I knew how to write material. I was lucky enough to have some magic mushrooms on the day of a gig. And I thought they’d worn off but they hadn’t, and something happened. I was doing the same jokes that I was
I can’t imagine that you’d every want to go back to presenting, but is there anything from those days that you miss? There’s something about the atmosphere of a studio. But It feels like something I did as a kid. When we premiered Benjamin, there was a Q&A afterwards, and someone asked Joel Fry [who plays Stephen] what I was like as a director, and I quite like what he said – that I seem like someone who’s lived several lives. And that really rang true – I guess I started doing stuff very young, so now, at 39, some of that stuff feels like a whole other lifetime, where I was such a different person. I feel very grounded in what I’m doing now. It makes sense. I don’t feel like I’m trying to get to anywhere else. I feel like I’m doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing.
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Tell Me About It
Chaka Khan 62
Tell Me About It A soul legend talks about singing and not singing, in a pretty aggressive tone, by Sam Walton. Photography by Renell Medrano
Chaka Khan is a singer. At least, that’s her job. When she’s not doing her job, though, she’s a grandmother (and legal guardian of her 18-year-old granddaughter) and a TV fan called Yvette Stevens, with no interest in taking the office home with her. Indeed, she uses the language of addiction to describe how she interacts with music, chastising those who give in to “the itch” of constant listening and playing, and preaching the virtues of abstinence. Not that it’s always been that way. Over the past five decades, the balance between Khan’s personal and professional lives has been more unsteady: from the effervescent funk of Rufus and ‘Ain’t Nobody’ to the groundbreaking Prince collaboration ‘I Feel For You’, and into the new century as a diva house touchstone, Khan’s life has been marked by both serious substance addiction and exploitative record contracts, to the extent that she holds a clear scepticism of her biggest songs, resentful, as she sees it, of having had greatness thrust upon her. It’s a situation that leaves her alternately prickly and proud in conversation, reminiscent (perhaps appropriately, and entirely understandably) of a survivor of a traumatic past: the focus of her tangential speaking style is self-affirmation coupled with mild indignation at those around her, all at the expense of much in the way of empathy or dialogue. Over a crackly phone line to Amsterdam, where she’s just flown from LA to play a private show, she’s reluctant to engage on all but the most superficial aspects of her music, talking only briefly about her new project, the excellent, uplifting and rather moreish ‘Hello Happiness’, which she’s just completed with songwriter Sarah Ruba and producer Dave Taylor, aka Switch from Major Lazer. “I’ll be interested to see if you ask any questions that I haven’t heard before,” Khan pre-empts me before we start. After our half-hour is up, I wonder if she had any intention of listening to them in the first place. “I just sing” It’s what I do for a living. I sing in a studio, I sing live on stage, I don’t mind where. I just like to sing, period. I like to sing good stuff, okay? I don’t care if it’s for an audience of one, or none, or a million. If I’m going to sing, I want to sing stuff that I love to sing. In the past, I’ve had to sing stuff that, shall we say, I didn’t love. I didn’t love ‘I Feel For You’, but it’s not just that one. There are 25 or 30 songs that I feel like that about. I didn’t pick it, and I’d have never picked it to be a single, but that’s why I’m not picking singles! In the era of big labels, I had to stick to a formula, which I didn’t really appreciate, so I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that crap anymore.
“After I’ve done my vocals, I don’t want to be around – it’s as boring as anything” On this album, how it worked is Sarah and Dave played me tracks, I picked the tracks I liked, we recorded my vocals, and then they did their mixing or whatever. I don’t really know how they put it together – they sort through the vocals and pick what’s going where, and it’s crazy: they’re building a song as opposed to singing a song. They find great excitement in that, but for me it’s all terribly boring. I just want to go in there and sing. So I put my vocals down and it turned out magical. “For me, all musicians and artists speak the same language” It has nothing to do with where they’re born, you understand? Nothing to do with their country. We all speak that one language, the language of the angels, meaning I can sing pretty much anything! Obviously, I’m a multicultural singer: I’ve sung in German, in French, I’ve sung in many languages, but music is one common language. For example, I just finished a song for Gandhi’s birthday celebration, in Hindi, I think, or whatever language it was [it was in Gujarati]. Anyway, singing in Hindi is a totally different discipline – I felt like a spaceship had landed from a different planet – but the one common thread that I hung onto is that it was a prayer song, so that got me in the right mood. I had a singing coach with me for the correct pronunciation of the words, but it turned out beautifully. “I don’t listen to music at home, I don’t sing at home” When I’m home and I’m off, I’m off. I don’t have a studio at my house, I just do the telly. Me and the telly, and family, that’s it. When I go on the road, I do music. When I have to – when it’s time, whenever the occasion insists – I go in and I put down music, but it’s my job, so I don’t overdo it, which keeps it fresh. I don’t want to get bored or tired of an art that is so unique and pure, or drag it in the dirt, know what I mean? Some people get the itch, and then lose the love and respect for a thing, and when that happens, everybody knows. But the way to remain in love with music is to abstain. I don’t have music at home, or go out to clubs and jam every night. I pay as much respect to the nonsinger in me as I do to the singer. “Singing is not me putting on a mask” It’s just me, I don’t put on any fake gloves or costumes or any fake anything. I’m the most realistic, real person – one of the most real that you’ll ever probably talk to. I’m all about truth – it’s at a premium these days and I’m all about honesty, and with the living I make, I’m like a carnival trying to bring honesty –
Tell Me About It
“The way to remain in love with music is to abstain. I pay as much respect to the non-singer in me as I do to the singer.”
friends, and I have her blessing, and I’m running everything by her before it’s released, and that’s that. When you hear my takes on her songs, I think you’ll be impressed. You’ll really like it. “I grew up listening to a lot of jazz” My dad was an avid jazz fanatic, and named me after a Stan Getz song. My mother was into jazz too, and opera, and everything in between – Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield, Charles Stepney, The Rotary Connection – so I have a very rich musical history, but jazz, that’s my foundation. It’s higher-mind music, it’s esoteric music. I like to call it thinking-man’s music. It’s intelligent stuff, and that’s why I love it so. It appeals to my intellect, and to my musicality, and that’s a win-win for me in a big way. honesty in a carnival setting. Sure, Chaka Khan is a stage name, and absolutely there’s a difference between Chaka and Yvette: Yvette’s the bass note, she’s the one who brought me through all the crap. She’s the strength, so when I go home, I hang Chaka Khan in the closet, and I become Nana, and Yvette. “I’ve been a Joni Mitchell fan since I was a teenager” I’m drawn to her intelligence, number one; her lyrics are off the chart, she’s so honest and real, and she tells stories, paints pictures with her music. She’s a visual singer, and I love that. She’s the first songwriter that sent me to a dictionary – which says a lot, by the way – so I just respect the hell out of her. I love her choices, and her style, and her music, and I love the way she sings and plays guitar and piano. She’s remained true to herself musically, and not let anyone else influence her to the degree where it’s stressed out her music, or reshaped it or recoloured it into something that’s false or fake, or something that will appeal to the “popular ear”. “I’m just finishing up a CD of my tribute to Joni Mitchell, my favourite songs of hers.” What are they? I’m not going to go down the playlist for you, honey – just put that they’re my favourite songs, okay? I just picked ones I love – ‘Hejira’, ‘Man from Mars’, ‘Two Grey Rooms’ – and there are a hundred others I love too. But Joni and I are
“I didn’t commit myself to singing until I was 16 or 17” Before that, I wanted to be a botanist, or a biologist, or a lot of things, but I ended up running away from home and joining a band. I still love science, and I have a garden at home, so if I decided I wanted to get a degree in botany, I could do that easily. You can go online now – if you can read, you can teach yourself, and you can learn. “I used to be in the Black Panthers, but I’m not an activist anymore” I’m not a pacifist either, though, okay? I just happen to know exactly what politics is, and what kind of people are keeping poor people poor, and the rich people rich, and I don’t even want to be associated with this madness and this sickness that is politics, okay? So, I have no love for what Man is, but I’m not going to go back out on the streets with a gun and start shooting people, or any shit like that, because that’s not the way to fix things. “I lived in London in the ’80s and ’90s” The thing I liked most about London originally was the fact that the bobbies don’t carry guns. I thought it was very humane, and speaks volumes. I loved the weather there too. Not everybody likes rain, but I love rain because I love weather – it moves me and inspires me. I hate the weather in LA because there is no weather in LA!
The BesT New Music
sLeePeR The MODeRN AGe
hAND hABiTs PLAcehOLDeR
The FAiNT eGOweRK
shLOhMO The eND
heLADO NeGRO This is hOw YOu sMiLe
Sleeper release their first album in 21 years, ‘The Modern Age’. The band spent summer 2018 recording ‘The Modern Age’ with their long-time producer, Stephen Street, and the result is the outward looking sound of a band revitalized and refreshed. ‘The Modern Age’ retains sleeper’s classic pop sensibilities with a shiny, new, contemporary feel.
Hand Habits has returned with ‘placeholder’, out 1st March on Saddle Creek. Meg Duffy, a long-time member of Kevin Morby’s touring band, sounds more assured and confident than ever on their new album. ‘Placeholder’ is the work of a meticulous musician ready to share their singular vision with the world.
Electro-punk pioneers The Faint’s seventh studio album, ‘Egowerk’, arrives 15th March on Saddle Creek. ‘Egowerk’s focus is on the current social state of the internet: an amazing world of free knowledge, communication, and opportunity proving to be a toxic battleground and breeding ground for hate speech and bullying.
The Los Angeles electronic producer and WEDIDIT founder returns with his first new album since 2015.
Helado Negro’s ‘This Is How You Smile’ freely flickers between clarity and obscurity, past and present geographies, bright and unhurried seasons. For his sixth album, Miami-born, New Yorkbased artist Roberto Carlos Lange embraces a personal and universal exploration of aura – seen, felt, emitted – for his most realised collection of songs yet.
Du BLONDe LuNG BReAD FOR DADDY
sPeLLLiNG MAZY FLY
LAFAwNDAh ANcesTOR BOY
MODeseLeKTOR LAMBchOP THIS (IS WHAT I WANTED whO eLse Monkeytown TO TELL YOU)
‘Lung Bread For Daddy’ - the new album from Du Blonde (aka Beth Jeans Houghton). Veering wildly between proto-punk, psych rock and the wholesome song writing of the 1970’s, it takes the listener on a journey through the landscape of her past.
‘Mazy Fly’, the second fulllength by the Bay Area artist SPELLLING, and first for Sacred Bones, explores the tension between the thrill of the unknown and the terror of imminent destruction.
Friends Of Friends
“The album is vaguely about the end of the world, but from the viewpoint of smoking on the couch during the extinction event. Reading a nice book while the meteor hits.” Shlohmo
Available on limited edition cream vinyl in all good independent stores.
Includes the singles Angel, and Buddy.
“Like Solange looking in a haunted mirror.” – The Guardian
A bracing statement of intent, heralding an artist unbound in scope, scale, and intensity
“Immersive and thought provoking” - Mojo aaaa “Kurt Wagner delivers his most affecting album since IS A WOMAN” - Uncut “It’s remarkable how it sounds simultaneously them and not them” - Ira Kaplan, Yo La Tengo
This is the new album by Modeselektor. It’s a record offering essential Modeselektor, a record formed by experience, self confidence and the usual madness. It raises a question and answers it straight away. ‘who else’ is yet another counteraction to boredom and formulaic approaches. Somebody’s gotta do it. Who else?
Available on limited edition coloured vinyl in all good independent stores.
Support Your Local Independent Retailer Check www.republicofmusic.com
Kevin Morby A refuge from the road, and a video prop warehouse, by Stuart Stubbs. Photography by Rachael Wright The drummer of X once told Kim Deal that should she ever make any money through music, she should buy property. She told Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, who told Kevin Morby, who bought this place in 2015 with his first advance from Dead Oceans. “There’s something cool about buying a house in your hometown,” he says. “It alleviates some of the sting. Because as an artist you’re constantly thinking what if it all goes away and I’ve got nothing to show for it. So it’s good to have a house – at least I have that.” Morby grew up all over the Midwest and spent his teenage years in Kansas City, then a “burnt out, lawless wonderland” that was good for a warehouse show; now an American city reformed by a growing tech industry. He says it changed a lot in the 12 years he was away, living first in New York while playing
in Woods and his own band The Babies, and then in L.A. around the time he went solo. The house he owns on the Kansas side of the city was an impulse buy from his father. It’s in the downtown district of a quaint suburb full of buildings from the 1940s, including an original clock tower and a one-room movie theatre. He says it adds to the feeling of his home as a refuge from tour life; the place he returns to to write his next record, like ‘Oh My God’, Morby’s fifth solo album (his first double LP), released April 26th. He paints in his dining room, writes in his study and demos out back in a studio lined with pine-paneled walls. He has the kind of well-worn instruments that you’d expect to find in an alt. country musician’s homes, and a ton of curious props from past and upcoming videos, some of which feel like optical illusions.
My Place Typewriter I use my typewriter all the time. I love typing but when you write on a computer it takes some of the magic away. There’s something archaic in the hammering of the keys. I primarily use it when I’m stuck on a song and the lyrics are 75% done but I need to get out this last part. Then I’ll usually take it to the typewriter. I get a lot of fan mail too, and I address that right here. I put my PO box on my Instagram – I didn’t think I’d get as many letters as I did, but I got, like, 500. I’ve just sent those people personal messages about my new album. I saw that you did one of these with Meg Remy from U.S. Girls. We’ve been friends for a long time and we actually only communicate through letters on our typewriters. Cowboy hats My favourite is probably the grey one. I bought that in a sort of cowboy town in Hawaii, and it was the first one I bought. Until then I didn’t have the guts to wear something like that. You’ve to be careful with a cowboy hat, but I was born in Texas so I think it gives me something of a right to wear one. Recently, I went into a bar, and was wearing a jumper, Birkenstocks and a cowboy hat, and all of these people kept coming up to me to ask if I was the guy selling cocaine. “I’m not, but looking at me, I definitely understand why you might think that.” James Baldwin candle I should mention that I inherited the desk from my grandmother, Dorothy, who left it to me when she past away, but here is my writing zone, and my favourite writer is James Baldwin, so I have this religious candle that is of him. And I also have this picture of James Baldwin writing. That’s something that I like to do – through in my room, when I wake up in my bed, I look over, and there’s a big picture of Nina Simone in her bed. She’s a huge influence of mine.
Guitar case coffin This is from my video for ‘Dorothy’, from my ‘Singing Saw’ album. There’s a scene where I’m at a funeral and a friend of mine is laying in this guitar shaped coffin. It’s really nicely made and makes my house feel like Willy Wonka’s. In the bottom, the flight safety card is from another video that’s coming out next week, and I’ve got these lyrics of ‘Pretty Pimpin’ by Kurt Vile. I sing on that chorus with him and that’s the lyric sheet he wrote out for us when we were recording it in the studio. Pump organ I’ve used this on a lot of stuff, and really love it. It’s a World War Two traveling pump organ that folds down into a suitcase. I found it at an antique mall here in town and I’d always wanted a pump organ. I thought it’d be around 1000 dollars but they wanted 200 buck for it.
My Place Cigar box guitar A good friend of mine who I went to elementary school with in Oklahoma, who I hadn’t seen in over 20 years, my mum told me that she’d ran into a friend who was like, “Oh, Kyle Reid is in town, and he’s a musician.” I looked him up and he has a website, and he makes these cigar box guitars. And we met up, went for dinner, reconnected, and I bought this guitar from him. It sounds amazing. You can plug them in and they’re slide guitars. There’s a really good Ted Talk that you can go and watch about it – just look up Kyle Reid.
Two Leonard Cohens My girlfriend Katie bought me the one on the right, and my friend Kyle from King Tuff bought me the other one, which is of the cover of ‘Death of a Lady’s Man’. It’s from a school in L.A. that our friend used to work at that’s for mentally disabled people, so it’s a pretty cool painting.
Phil Elverum print This I’m really excited about because I only got it recently. I’m a lifelong fan of Phil Elverum [aka Mount Eerie] and his aesthetic really inspired me in getting my studio made and wanting to make it kind of cosy with the wood paneling, and making this place where I could do home recordings, like he does at home. I realised all of that while I was building the studio, so I went onto his website and bought this print for it to be the mission statement of the studio.
My Place Painting I’m a pretty amateur, probably bad painter, but it’s something I got into a couple of years ago, literally as a therapy. This one is called ‘Halo on the Mountain’. I’ve sold paintings to fans, and I’ve used them a lot in music videos that are about to come out. I want to do a show sometime, but on my last record I did a painting for each song and sold them to fans. They all sold, which I was pleased with.
Books I try to read as much as possible. It’s usually fiction, although right now you’re catching me at a non-fiction time – I’ve just watched The Wire for the second time, and there’s a character in it called Snoop who’s amazing, and I’ve just read her autobiography. It’s called Grace After Midnight, and it’s a crazy read. She killed someone when she was 14.
Record blender Sometimes my house feels like a movie prop warehouse, and this will be in the last video released before the record comes out. It’s exactly what you see – it’s a giant blender that blends records. I got ahead on this record and made a point to get everything done, so tracks that need videos are all decided and the videos have been made.
I know that I don’t really need to ask this, but I will anyway: looking at this cover, is your eye drawn to the exact point that mine is? It is, isn’t it. And you’re a little offended, right? And you know that you should expect this kind of shit by now, but still, it all feels so unnecessary in 2019. Same. It’s the arrogance of it more than anything. But it’s there, and we’re all looking at it, so let’s just say it out loud at the same time… ‘Vol 3’. The word ‘Vol’ and the number ‘3’. ‘3’! ‘3’???!!!! Last month I was forced to admit that I’d taken my eye off the career of Busted; this month I have to hold my hands up to being unaware of the Robbie Williams’ ‘Under The Radar’ series; “a collection of brand new tracks that never made it onto a full album, but Robbie has always wanted you to hear,” to quote his online shop. Still, I’m sure I’m as excited as you are to find out if track 5, ‘Indestructible’, is better or worse that track 6, ‘Indestructible (Project Money Remix)’, and to unpack the hidden meanings in songs like ‘No F**ks’ and ‘Reality Killed The Video Star’ with close friends. Visually speaking, I’m going to shoot from the hip here, because I know that Robbie (who’s 45-years-old, by
the way) will be able to take it. This is a bad one, Robbie. Sorry mate. It’s like looking at nothing, isn’t it? I mean, I can clearly see all the elements that make up this picture, but they’re all the worst versions of what they are. There’s a balcony, but it seems to be on the roof of a new regional theatre. There’s a couple of reclining sun loungers and some patio furniture, but they’re definitely the ones that show on the first page of an Amazon search. On a day-to-day basis, I can’t say I pay too much attention to trees, but this image makes me wish that trees never existed. And as for the skyline, isn’t that Basildon? But it’s the sky itself that really says it all. Considering that every single picture taken of clouds looks 10 times more underwhelming than it did in real life, this might have been the most forgettable day to ever happen on Earth. Of course Robbie (45) has gone for the font used on Jason Statham movie posters – it makes total sense for reasons you already know. Other than that, there really is nothing more to say about this sleeve. I’m sorry I shared it. Here are some lyrics from ‘No F**ks’: “That was the summer of no fucks given/ Live fast, die young, stay out of prison/ When you’re high with your friends/ And you’re having a love attack/ Tack tack tack tack tack.”
Police are looking into what happened to 83% of us 15 minutes into watching the Brits 2019
illustration by kate prior
03/19 MOTH Club Valette St London E8
Saturday 9 March
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CHRISTOF VAN DER VEN
FEELS Tuesday 12 March Tuesday 12 March
MOZES & THE FIRSTBORN
Wednesday 13 March
UNGE FERRARI Saturday 16 March Wednesday 13 March
THE LEGENDARY TIGERMAN
BILL BOTTING & THE TWO DRINK
Wednesday 20 March
JAMES ALEXANDER BRIGHT
MINIMUMS Monday 1 April
Saturday 16 March
PINK TURNS BLUE Wednesday 20 March
BAYONNE Saturday 23 March
ALEX ZHANG HUNGTAI Wednesday 27 March
RINA SAWAYAMA + GEORGIA Tuesday 2 April
LE BUTCHERETTES Wednesday 3 April
Tuesday 19 March
RINA MUSHONGA Wednesday 20 March
POZI Thursday 21 March
UGLY Friday 22 March
BLEIB MODERN Saturday 23 March
IMMERSION Monday 25 March
DAVID NANCE GROUP
PAIGE BEA Friday 5 April
[KSR] Saturday 13 April
GIRLS IN SYNTHESIS Wednesday 17 April
JESSICA WINTER Friday 19 April
SPILL GOLD Tuesday 23 April
Studio 9294 92 Wallis Rd E9 5LN
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THE FLYING LUTTENBACHERS Tuesday 16 April
Shacklewell Arms 71 Shacklewell Lane London E8 shacklewellarms.com
Thursday 7 March
Wednesday 27 March
The Waiting Room
Saturday 9 March
175 Stoke Newington High St N16 waitingroomn16.com
Thursday 7 March
SAVOIR ADORE Friday 8 March
Saturday 27 April
TEST PRESSING FESTIVAL: MOON DUO, A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS Thursday 23 May
Ezra Collective / Lafawndah / Chaka Khan / Jackie Mendoza / Kevin Morby / Housewives / Simon Amstell / These New Puritans / Gong Gong Gong
Published on Mar 8, 2019
Ezra Collective / Lafawndah / Chaka Khan / Jackie Mendoza / Kevin Morby / Housewives / Simon Amstell / These New Puritans / Gong Gong Gong