Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 60 / the alternative music tabloid
Charles Bradley How is this man still smiling?
Plus Erol Alkan & Daniel Avery The War On Drugs Sylvan Esso Molly Nilsson Mark E. Smith Jonathan Poneman Rustie
Mark e. smith – 12 Erol alkan meets daniel avery – 16 jonathan poneman – 18 rustie – 20 sylvan esso – 22 Molly Nilsson – 23 The war on drugs – 24 Charles bradley – 28
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 60 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
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How is this man still smiling?
Plus Erol Alkan & Daniel Avery The War On Drugs sylvan Esso Molly Nilsson Mark E. smith Jonathan Poneman Rustie
c o v er Ph o t o g r a phy G a b r i el G r een
Based in Brooklyn and strictly recording their artists to tape in a studio built to be old fashioned, the plight of Daptone Records has been a noble one since 2002. It’s where AmyWinehouse recorded ‘BackTo Black’, with house bandThe Dap-Kings, in order to achieve that authentic retro soul sound, but Daptone have always been more concerned with lifting aging should-be-stars out of obscurity than chasing around twenty somethings new to the disappointments of the music industry. It’s a remit that’s made Sharon Jones the label’s figurehead – a soul singer now 58 and overlooked until well into her 40s – and relative stars of Lee Fields and Naomi Shelton. Most recently, and with the biggest crossover success to a younger audience yet, is 65-year-old Charles Bradley, an ex-James Brown impersonator whose dramatic story goes a long way to proving how worthy Daptone’s cause is. Bradley released his debut album 3 years ago, and the much loved ‘Victim of Love’ last year. There was a film in between also, Soul of America – a heart-breaking documentary that mapped out Bradley’s life, one tragic turn at a time. Musically, Bradley is as old school as his faith in the Lord. His songs sound like soul standards; his voice like Otis Reading and the Godfather of Soul who he used to imitate to pay the mortgage on his mother’s house. It’s perhaps not the kind of thing you’d expect to read about in Loud And Quiet, nor is it the kind of thing we expected to be covering, in all honesty. Like many others, we came to know Bradley via ‘Victim of Love’, and the true extent of his life of hardship through Soul of America. It wasn’t until Primavera Sound this year that we would experience Bradley’s unwavering faith, first hand, though. That performance answered in 60 minutes how a man this downtrodden could refuse to give up on everything. As he told Daniel Dylan Wray this month, “I just want to get on stage and open my heart.” Stuart Stubbs
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The vie ws ex pressed in Loud And Quiet are those of the respective contributors and do not necessari ly reflect the opinions of the magazine or its staff. All rights reserved 2014 Loud And Quiet LTD. ISSN 2049-9892 Printed by S harman & Com pany LTD . Distributed by loud and quiet LTD. & forte
Yorke’s Notes The month’s hidden headlines, revised / London’s Barbican Centre has annouced a gala screening of 20,000 Days on Earth, the long awaited nearly biopic of Nick Cave, on September 17. Cave will also perform an hour-long live set at the event, while the film will be live broadcast to 150 regional cinemas on the night. www.barbican.org.uk London Auctioneers Ted Owen & Co. will, on August 7, be taking bids on 6 unheard Nick Drake tapes, recorded in 1968. The tapes are currently owned by Beverley Martyn, a folk singer who mentored Drake. The lot is expected to sell for £250,000. www.tedowenandco.com
Try this at home
Illustration by Diogo Mendes Freitas
Fear the Reaper: John Ford’s 7-day diet of jazz / I share a small office with a man who’s the complete opposite to me. He’s a good guy who lets me have control of the stereo 95% of the time, due to my needs as a music writer. I’m a good guy because I steer clear of playing music he hates when he’s around (anything electronic, urban, punk, discordant and/or overtly amateurish, however charming or arch). It leaves us The Smiths and not much else outside of indie pop that… y’know… jangles. He really took to the second Veronica Falls album. The other 5% of the time feels like a lot more, when he plays jazz – the classic 1940s and ’50s stuff. Modern jazz and cool jazz. It’s an easy target, jazz. I don’t fully buy the old adage of it being music that’s enjoyed exclusively by those performing it, though. The really bat-shit bebop stuff, maybe, but not modern jazz and cool jazz. Maybe that’s something of a victory from a week spent listening to Thelonious Monk and Chet Baker versus Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker – I can now confirm that modern jazz is a listenable genre of music… if you’re after that mid-afternoon trip to grandma’s feel, hands on laps and the deafening tick of a decorative clock partially muted by the heavy heart of Ella Fitzgerald. That’s what modern jazz does; it makes you feel thoroughly unmodern, like the war is finally over but the end credits are just as endless and unhappy, performed by the always tragic Billie Holiday, bleated through a gramophone that sounds like it’s always the other side of a wall. ‘Gloomy Sunday’ says it all. Cool jazz, I soon realise, is a similar kind of shtick, with the added worry that the Pink Panther could walk in at any minute and say something like,
“Man, this cat can blow.” He’d have a point regarding the likes of Chet Baker and Miles Davis, of course, but the unnerving melancholy of a forced nostalgia remains, bolstering jazz’s recurring theme of being constantly of another time and damp, as if it should only be listened to on rainy days. ‘Kind of Blue’ says it all, although it’s when listening to that classic Davis LP that I drift off into a world of Private Eyes and no good broads, and briefly embrace the drama and old glamour of jazz, however specific that may be. Respecting jazz has never been a problem for me, and I suspect it’s the same for many others. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the one style of music that’s respected more than it is loved or even liked. I find it glum – tedious where the pithy swish of brushes on drum skins are concerned, and the unimaginative upstairs/downstairs walk of the double bass – but the Panther is right; the guy in the spotlight can always play. Jazz trombonist J. J. Johnson once said, “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will.” He must have meant the music’s genetic make up, there, because as my week turned into a sepia smear of novelty brass and irritable piano solos, I realised that jazz will always be before my time. It’ll always make me feel like I’m in a mock up of a 1940s kitchen in the Imperial War Museum. It’ll always be ‘old aged’, even when I’m 80 myself, perhaps; always cloaked in death, which is probably the crux of my issue with it, unless one day I grow into it and my own mortality. I finish the week giving Chet Baker another go. ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ says it all.
London indie label Sonic Cathedral have published their first (mini) book; an illustrated collection of a spoof NME column from the early ‘90s. Memoirs of a Shoegazing Gentleman is the work of critic and comedy writer David Quantick, under the guise of imagined public school boy Lord Tarquin. www.soniccathedral.com Pink Floyd will release a new, “mainly ambient and instrumental” album this year called ‘The Endless River’, written in 1993/94, when the band – post-Roger Waters’ departure – released their last record, ‘The Division Bell’. www.pinkfloyd.com It’s taken Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and EazyE’s widow, Tomica Wright, 5 years to approve the principle cast for NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, but it seems they’ve now agreed on who should portray each of the artists in the movie, which starts filming next month. O’Shea Jackson Jr. will play is father, Ice Cube. As of next month’s issue of Loud And Quiet (in stores August 30), we’ll be stocking the physical paper in an extra 40 UK universities as well at UK airports London Heathrow and London Gatwick, on purpose built display stands. Dom Yorke
books + second life
Good Gourd! Reef Younis investigates what rock stars do next No.2: Faith No More’s Jim Martin / shaved bollock. Enticed by the spoils of competitive pumpkin growing – where entrants earn upwards of $6 per lb, depending on the event – Jim’s new-found passion yielded some relatively quick success. He turned pro in 2000, entering contests where the fruits of his labour consistently tipped the scales at over 600lbs, and he eventually ranked as one of the best giant pumpkin growers in America. A 1,087lb monster won first prize at a contest in California in 2007 – a decent effort when you compare it to the class of 2007 on bigpumpkins.com – and he followed that up with recognition at the premiere giant pumpkin growing event: The Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. After briefly resurfacing in 2010, his 2011 appearances with Metallica, as well as a few performances elsewhere, suggested that the world of performance-enhancing pesticides and Jack-O-Lantern-cavorting groupies might have taken its toll. Jim once talked about dealing with “the dark underbelly of competitive pumpkin growing.” For a man who’s lived in both (surprisingly) debauched worlds, it seems he decided that hanging with Metallica was the cleaner-living alternative.
You can touch it, smell it, taste it so sweet But it makes no difference cuz it knocks you off your feet You want it all but you can’t have it It’s in your face but you can’t grab it - Faith No More, ‘Epic’ As the lead guitarist in Faith No More for over a decade, Jim Martin sold millions of albums, inspired thousands of fans, and even earned the lofty position as Sir James Martin, Head of the Faith No More Spiritual and Theological Center in 1991 cult classic Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.Two years later, he was out the band, out of the public eye, and outside in the back yard attempting to fill an insatiable rock’n’roll void with compost and a trowel. Probably. After a few years of solo work and intermittent touring, Big Jim made the transition from global guitar shredder to pumpkin farmer. Juggling his time between his family’s property development business and six intensive months of farming, Jim wasn’t going to be just any pumpkin farmer: his pumpkins had to be bigger. We’re talking gargantuan, vein-poppin’ monsters; 1,000lbs of wrinkled, malformed flesh that looks like a giant
Fishing in the Aftermath: Poems 1994-2014 by Salena Godden
Future Days: Krautrock and the building of Modern Germany by david stubbs
Ten Years in An Open Necked Shirt by John Cooper Clarke
Faber and Faber
Salena Godden has acquired many strings to her bow over the years, including spoken word trailblazer, posh establishment broadcaster and literary shindig hostess par excellence, to name but a few. But as Fishing In the Aftermath ably illustrates, she is first and foremost a poet. Spanning the first twenty years of her career, the poems included in this collection are multi-layered, darkly comic, brutally real and endlessly imaginative. Godden lives in the same world as the rest of us, but she sees it slightly differently. Her Fishing In the Aftermath is a stunning and timely collection from one of our most original and talented poets.
1960s Germany was a troubled country; one still coming to terms with its past whilst trying to navigate its way into the future. While much of the West was happily losing its shit to four on the floor blues-based rock’n’roll, the musicians coalescing in the new Germany were digging an altogether different, more experimental seam, and in the process creating music that would go on to influence everything from post-punk’s spiky twitch and jerk to dance music’s more blissed-out excesses. In Future Days, Stubbs has produced a book which is smart, accomplished and engaging and which will prove indispensible to anyone with even a passing interest in the subject.
30 years ago, John Cooper Clarke was the Dylanheaded, Cuban-heeled, sharp-tongued and modsuited counter-cultural poet in residence. These days they study his poems in GCSE English and invite him onto TV panel shows, while Arctic Monkeys all but covered ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ on 2013 album ‘AM’. Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt is a big part of the reason why. Reprinted as it was when first published, and available once again, it is now an absolute, bona-fide fucking classic. The poems on its pages snap, crackle and bop with an edge that time has not dulled while Clarke’s unique and important voice still rings clearly throughout.
Blowback by Lee Bullman and Michael Forwell, published by Pan Macmillan available now. www.leebullman.com
by ja nine & L ee bullm a n
getting to know you
How To Dress Well Since his 2010 debut, ’90s RnB enthusiast Tom Krell has aimed to be popular without being popularist, via three albums that are essentially very sad. Here he fills in our Getting To Know You questionnaire in an attempt to prove that recording artists are people too, and that he is not as glum as his music might suggest /
The best piece of advice you’ve ever been given “Attention is the natural prayer of the soul”
The worst date you’ve been on Doing so much press is like going on a ton of dates, especially when I have, like, 15 interviews in one day – it’s like speed dating. It’s always brutal when someone is just incapable of having a charming conversation, in dating and press. Your guilty pleasure See my pet hate.
really understand why Taylor Swift hasn’t called me yet to work, and I’m a bit annoyed that I wasn’t invited to Ye’s wedding, but I don’t really hold grudges. The best book in the world Right now, I’m into The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamieson.
The worst birthday or Christmas present you’ve received All presents are nice presents! The characteristic you most like about yourself My friends.
Your biggest fear “Death”
Your favourite item of clothing Acne sweat-shorts. So reliable. Your favourite word And. Your pet hate The idea of guilty pleasures. If you could only eat one food forever, it would be… Burritos from L’Patron in Chicago. The worst job you’ve had Noodles & Co. lol
Your hidden talent Rapping. lol. Your biggest disappointment To be honest, one doesn’t really come to mind. I feel incredibly blessed in life – lucky boy :) The celebrity that pisses you off most even though you’ve never met them Celebrities don’t really piss me off! I mean, I don’t
The most famous person you’ve met I’ve met some really famous people, but William Basinski was more important than all of them combined.
What talent do you wish you had? Wish I could drum. What is the most overrated thing in the world? Selfishness. What would you change about your physical appearance? Nothing. it’s just not something that would cross my mind.
Favourite place in the world With my girlfriend, anywhere. Your style icon My friend Simon.
What is success to you? Respect and love and support.
The one song you wished you had written
What would you tell your 15-year-old self? You should be much nicer.
‘H.A.T.E.U.’ by Mariah
Your best piece of advice for others Do you or whatever.
The thing you’d rescue from a burning building My cat.
What’s your biggest turn-off? Manic people.
Tell Me About It
Mark E Smith This month, The Fall will perform at Beacons festival on the Loud And Quiet/Last.fm main stage. Daniel Dylan Wray spent a night drinking with the band’s obliging leader and enjoyed being spoken at pho tographer: T OM C OCK RA M / wri t er: D AN I el d yla n wray
No other group is like The Fall. Not one. To me, they were once an unconquerable mountain that I looked at enviably from afar. No matter how many times I stood at the foot of The Fall’s gargantuan incline, ready to pounce and climb my way up, I would always soon stumble, finding myself crumpled in a heap at the bottom once more. For years I simply didn’t ‘get’ The Fall, as much as I wanted to. Sure ‘Totally Wired’ and ‘Mr Pharmacist’ would play out in the indie disco’s of my younger days and I’d love hearing them, but the 6CD Peel Sessions boxset I got for my twenty-first birthday took until I was about twenty-four before it really made sense. As a fan,The Fall make you work.To devour their entire back-catalogue is to sweat. It is at times unadulterated adulation, littered with revelatory explosions and knock-you-sideways, head-fuck moments, yet it can also be tiring, frustrating and a grinding, crushing disappointment. And still it is always, always unpredictable. For a group once synonymous with the exclamation of the three R’s (‘Repetition, Repetition, Repetition’) they have – for now nearly forty years – done a rather remarkable job of never repeating themselves. Even a
failure in the hands of the Fall is a triumph against the banality of comfort and predictability. And at the helm of this mighty outfit, its one and only constant member is of course Mark E. Smith. Like the music that he conducts with autodidactic, anticonventional venom, he too is completely unpredictable. In interviews over the years he has been accommodating and helpful one day, and difficult and vicious the next. I arrive in the bar we are due to meet at, located in central Manchester (Piccadilly Gardens). The pristine interior and young professional postwork vibes are a long way from the grotty, smoke-imbued Salford boozer I had expected to find myself in today, where hardened ale-drinkers greet the regular Smith. “I love coming here because it’s a complete freak out,” he tells me later. “Who are these people in here? Do you know? They’re fucking weird. Who the fuck are they? I always meet the group in here. Who the fuck are they!?” My plan to arrive twenty minutes early to get a drink, get sat down and mentally prepare are completely shot when I realised that Smith is already here, sat down with a beer and a whiskey in front of him. He’s
characteristically well turned out; a crisp shirt sits under a suit jacket, one with dark brown elbow patches. A pack of ten Benson & Hedges sits in front of him and in the chair next to him he has a solitary carrier bag, which prior to our meeting would have been full of money as he’s just been doing the rounds, paying cash wages to roadies and working associates of The Fall. Of course Mark E. Smith doesn’t do Internet banking. We get on well and speak at length; the first two hours are a joyous blast with much gargled laughter and encouraged involvement coming from across the table. As the booze kicks in (for both of us) and we head towards hours three and four, things get a little darker in subject matter as we gradually sink headlong into incoherent ramblings and inconclusive statements (some completely libellous about a music icon who’ll remain nameless), but most of this is (thankfully) never recorded because my battery died about 2.5 hours into the interview. Smith then bundles me into a taxi to Salford but not before calmly strutting across a road of oncoming traffic without looking once in the direction of the horn-blasting cars. There is a knowing swagger to his
dangerous stroll that somehow knows they would stop, either that or he doesn’t care if they don’t. In Salford we enter a recording studio, the gentleman who runs the place cracks me a beer open and Mark disappears next door. “We’ve got some business to discuss.” Within ten minutes he comes back out. “Here’s what’s going to happen, Daniel. I’m a bit drunk so you’re going to get in a taxi and leave.” “Okay,” I say. We shake hands and I leave.
“It’s called ‘Location, Location, Winter Sun’. Or summat like that.”
It’s a live LP. It’s from all over the joint. Nah, it’s good. I selected it but it was really horrible trying to fucking compile a live LP. Anyway, it’s done and its good. I’ve never listened to the live recordings before, it’s fucking horrible. It’s finally done, which is a load off my chest. The new LP is coming along though; the last one was our first top 20 LP in years.You wouldn’t know it though. “There is a new sort of youth who do like The Fall. Good for me.”
A lot of them are nineteen, twenty. You hear a lot of shit from The Fall people on the net but from looking at it when I play – and it might be because of the… whatever it is [types fingers mimicking keyboard strokes] – but there’s a lot of eighteen to twenty year olds. The group’s young now though – they’re under thirty, do you know what I mean? Nostalgia – it’s depressing isn’t it? I’ve never liked that at all. It’s sad. The Fall’s always had that
thing [of looking forward]. My group are so good, they don’t even know who Sonic Youth are. We’ve played festivals and they are right next to you and I don’t even fucking acknowledge them either, so they don’t know. They don’t want to know. The Fall is The Fall, I don’t see it as a group like everybody else. It’s weird but I don’t. When people go ‘oh, you’re not as good as…’ I’ve had it for years. Like, ‘this group’s very big and you’re not’. It’s just goes through me, it’s like a psychotic thing. I’m a big Fall fan and I don’t see us as relevant to anything else.
the Melody Maker that nuclear weapons were a good idea,’ and I did. Well, I did think that then. I said to him, mister fucking big head and Genesis, Pete fucking Collins, five generations of your family hasn’t fought and died in wars like mine has. I said: ‘this is good, it’s a good thing. “Even when we were getting in the top 20 in the 80’s and people were getting their champagne out, to me it was just nothing.”
“Vic Reeves said, ‘I’ve bought all your LPs’”
“I’ve been banned from Glastonbury for years.”
But people don’t like that, do they? But you’d head down to the Hacienda and there would be a five-day party because the Happy Mondays got in at number fifteen or something. I never understood it. That’s not what I set out to do.
“When the NME gives you an award like that it’s time to fucking change.”
I went back and did it with the Gorillaz. Fucking Snoop Doggy Dog’s walking around, fucking smoking dope with women all wearing nothing. [Backstage] is full of all the newsreader’s daughters and politician’s daughters who have spent a thousand pounds to get there. I never liked Glastonbury. When it started out I said I didn’t agree with dismantling nuclear weapons and all that. This is before your time, but I got hauled before the court of Glasto. They said: ‘you said in
grief they gave me, the grief the guitarist and the drummer gave me going, ‘you’ve got to do it like this,’ saying things like, ‘oh, it’s not commercial’ or ‘oh, it makes no sense’. Then two or three years later you hear, ‘I wish I was back in The Fall again’ – well it’s too fucking late.
“I call it the two and a half year gap.”
People who get fired or leave The Fall saying, ‘oh, I didn’t realise how great it was. That music we were doing at the time…’ and I go, ‘ohh, that’s lovely,’ but when I think back, the fucking
I said: “Fuck off and don’t ever say that again in public.”
It’s like the Grammy awards, whatever that is, it’s like the kiss of death isn’t it? I was very uncomfortable with it – it sounds ludicrous now. That was the start of the war but it did us good. Do you know when I fucking had a go at her (Jo Wiley – Mark told her to “Fuck off” during a television interview at the awards ceremony where he was awarded ‘Godlike Genius’ by NME in 1998) she wrote a letter to everybody, to all record companies… I’ve never
Tell Me About It
told anyone this before. An A&R man I was working with had it framed on his wall. A lot of A&R men and journalists in London had it framed. It was something like ‘Dear A&R man…’ ‘Dear Record Company man..’ etc I am starting a new radio show and I am looking for new exciting bands on the indie scene like Pulp and Shaun Ryder and also black and upcoming groups and all this. Blah blah, basically she says everyone in the fucking universe, indie bands who can’t sing, indie bands with no fucking legs, she even mentions wanting unconventional singers but in brackets she put ‘but definitely not Mark E. Smith’. Yours, Jo Wiley. It’s fucking great, boosted my career no end. Wish I had a copy of that. “I hate Mark Radcliffe by the way… and that fucking Maconie.”
I did an interview with radio 6Music. I had to bring in ten records to play, so I brought five. But then they tell me they can’t play vinyl. No record player. The phone calls that were coming in from the listeners, you only hear half of them when you listen to the show. It’ll be Albert whose wife’s left him and he’s painting the fucking house. I thought it would be Fall fans but it was so sad, the calls that come in, it’s like ninety year-old women but I really enjoyed it, being sat there in this super Dr Who studio that doesn’t even have a record player. I’ve never liked Maconie even when he used to work for NME. It reminded me of being in an Army interrogation centre. I’ve got a very long memory. I remember doing a session for Mark Radcliffe and he thought he was going to depose John Peel. He came along to a session once and I told him to get out because Peel never used to come to a John Peel session and I said to him, ‘what you doing here? Fuck off.’ He’s one of those that have tried to be everything and he’s ended up being fucking nothing. Did you ever watch those TV programmes? The ones were they catch people fiddling the dole? It’s him writing them for the BBC. Since Peel we’re never going to be played on the BBC again anyway. I was offered that Iggy Pop show you know? The fucking cheek of it – stand in for Jarvis Cocker while he goes for a year’s holiday to France?! “There’s like three people on Facebook who pretend to be me.”
There are a lot of people out there who pretend to be me for some strange
recordings. People forget, when that Fall documentary came out [BBC – 2004] you couldn’t give a Fall LP away for a quid, do you know what I mean? You could buy ten Fall LP’s for a fiver. “Nobody can cover a Fall song. They can’t do it.”
They try to do it and have a nervous breakdown. There was this fucking group connected to Nirvana, they tried to do ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ live [the entire album] for three nights in Seattle. It fucking broke down I think. I mean, I couldn’t even do that. Although they had it note for note, apparently. God bless ‘em, they thought they’d get to it. It’s impossible.
reason. The weird thing about it is that you have no rights, no rights at all. It sounds daft but if it was a sixteen yearold girl being harassed you’d have the coppers turning up. I got someone to ring the Facebook boss in California, they said they could do nothing, they aren’t bothered. One of them, it got a bit out of hand in Ireland for instance, where they have very serious laws. He was getting like 12,000 Likes. Anyway I’ve had one, I’ve had his head kicked in. I’ve got Salford mates, do you know what I mean? They tracked him down and he got his fucking head kicked in. There’s one of them, he talks like me in 1982 and he has like 15,000 whatever it is and half of them are in Ireland. I thought it was really horrible because in Ireland out in the countryside they think they’re talking to me.We’re going to get him too. You could get a bit obsessed with it, I’ve got one of them to say ‘I am not Mark E. Smith’ – that took about a year. I’ve had the Times getting stuff wrong because of that, the Guardian came up here and asked me, ‘have you had a sandwich of lard this morning?’ They don’t say they read it on Facebook but they’re sloppy, they’re doing their research on the train. “I’m sorry to interrupt. You’re one of my musical heroes, can I buy you a drink?”
“Why?” “I’ll just get you an ale in, like” “I wouldn’t mind a whiskey, please” “Mark, for what it’s worth, ‘Hilary’, ‘L.A’ and…oh god, my mind’s gone blank, I’m overwhelmed, I’m a big Fall fan…‘Industrial Estate’. I love The Fall, I always have done, I’ve seen you a few times. A whiskey was it?” “Yeah”
“Who likes ‘Industrial Estate’? It’s a great song, I fucking love that song.”
There’s only you, him and me that like that song. The three of us. I thought he was going to ask for a fucking selfie. “Shift Work changed my life, you’re a great man Mark.”
He’s the one [the guy who has just bought Mark a drink]. “Shift Work changed my life”? –‘ Shift Work’ changed my life too, it got me kicked off a record label! ‘Shift Work’ was like ‘your career is over’. It got us thrown off Phonogram. He’s the sort of person who should be picking greatest hits. There’s all these wankers on the Internet going on about ‘my favourite Fall song’ they’re all rubbish. They ought to get someone like him. “I had to listen to fucking ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ because Beggar’s Banquet want to fucking reissue the thing again.”
They’re retarded. They’re fucking retarded; it’s that south London thing. But what do you do? Generally what happens is I have to try and stop them reissuing it. I must have signed LP’s off to every fucking label going. No, really. Ten years ago I would have been like, ‘oh, you like ‘This Year’s Saving Grace’ [mimics signature] two grand, cheers. Sign here. They think they’ve got them but what’s wrong with that? It’s my property. The shit’s going to hit the fan though, Daniel, I tell you. When everybody thinks they own the same
“Getting Shane McGowan home and trying to get Nick Cave back to wherever he was, you get no fucking thanks.”
[Talking about a three-way NME interview – 1989]. They both took about eight Es. I’m from Manchester, I know what Es can do and you don’t take about eight, Shane. I was screaming at him, “where do you live? where do you live? Nick, do you live near fucking Shane?” James Brown [interviewer] has fucked off by now of course, the smart arse, and I’m left with them going, “where do you live, Shane?” I last thing I wanted was them all dead. Shane was [starts gargling and mumbling, impersonating him] taking fucking twenty at a time, you don’t do that. Them two, they thought they were indestructible. “Smith is a man who believes the pen is mightier than the sword but has not always had a pen to hand” – Robert Chalmer The Independent
What’s that supposed to mean? I always carry a pen. A pen is better than a knife. A pen is more than a weapon. It is actually; I always carry a pen with me. A biro is better than a knife, physically, up the nose. It’s better than a switchblade. [Mark E. Smith then, quick as a flash, pulls a biro out of his jacket pocket and thrusts it at my face towards my nostril.] Don’t get fucking funny with me! It’s good innit? It’s good for when you’re carrying money. People move. They do.
n a time past, a name pairing like “Alkan & Avery” could easily be a quietly diligent high street solicitors firm, or an architect’s practice in a sleepy provincial town, known across the county for helping a small community improve their lives thanks to their specialist expertise. In 2014, of course, those names are synonymous with staying up late and listening to loud music – Erol Alkan as the veteran DJ and founder of the ground-breaking Trash night and Phantasy Sound record label, and Daniel Avery as his youngbuck protégé wunderkind whose debut was out on Phantasy last year – but the same community-serving spirit nonetheless endures. In the midst of a summer’s festival bookings that finds the pair DJing everywhere from Victoria Park to Mexico City, via Croatia’s Unknown festival and, of course, Ibiza, we sat them down together to try and work out what exactly makes the DJ – second only perhaps to the guitarist as music’s most enduring fixture of the last 30 years – a relevant entity today. Sam Walton: Let’s start by defining our terms – what is a DJ in 2014? Is a guy playing videos off YouTube at a house party a DJ? Erol Alkan: Well he’s a DJ in the same way that if I pull out some art books and start showing my guests some pictures, I’m an art gallery director. It depends on how they do it, and how good they are. Daniel Avery: Yeah. Like, everyone can tell a joke, but not everyone’s a standup comedian. So much time and effort is required – if you know what you’re doing though then you’ll better serve the audience. EA: But if you’re playing to your friends and to the people you feel represent your circle, that’s the most important thing, and then you’re doing the same thing as most successful
DJs: you’re serving a community of like-minded people and looking to inspire them and introduce them to new things. Regardless of whether you’re a club or a radio DJ, or playing to your mates, you’re pretty much curating the music that you believe in, to the people who believe in you. DA: To take that further, I think you assume something of a responsibility within that community too. I don’t mean that in an overly heavy way, but as you say, a DJ should unite and inspire that community. It doesn’t matter how big that circle is, whether you’re playing a krautrock club in Whitechapel to 30 people, or to 2,000 at Fabric, it’s all about uniting likeminded people, not about preaching to huge masses. EA: Definitely. For me, some of the greatest DJs I’ve seen have been from the smallest, most unrecognised clubs, playing in back rooms somewhere. There’s something about just entering places like that where, even if you’re not a connoisseur of that music, everything just sounds amazing, and I think that’s all about how somebody presents it to their audience: it’s the unspoken energy that’s generated between DJ and audience that brings you in, in the same way that you can walk into a party and you’ll know within seconds whether you want to stay. And it’s all the work that’s done outside of that moment – building a trust and relationship – that creates that energy. DA: Yeah, it’s building a world, isn’t it – and the DJ’s only one part of that world. They’re a very important part, sure, but the crowd is too, especially if it’s a regular weekly or monthly club. Like Trash – I went there and I met people whom I’m still good friends with now, ten years later, because we all believed in that cause. Actually, “cause” makes it sound preachy, and that’s not right, but it’s...
EA: It’s a sense of belonging, isn’t it? I think that’s what great weekly clubs have. Like Trash or the Heavenly Social – it’s a third place: not work, not home, it’s where else you go and you feel like you belong. SW: Can you put your finger on what kind of talent the DJ needs in order to create this world? Is there a technical ability, or something more intangible? DA: I think that there’s an aspect of technical skill, sure, but it’s certainly not the only aspect of it. You can go and see someone play ska or dub and they’re not mixing at all – they’re just playing one record after another. In the end, though, the record is king every time, and the soul of DJing is about putting great records together in an exciting way that makes sense. For some, that can be extremely technical, and for others it can be pressing play and pressing play again, but it doesn’t really matter. The word I always return to is that it’s about energy, about creating an energy in the room – it doesn’t have to be a hyped-up energy at all – and you can do that in numerous ways, technical and not. EA: Yeah, I think if you adhere to the basic principle of reading the room and making sure the music is right for the situation and for the people, that’s it. For all the technique, if you have no control over the room, it doesn’t really matter. For example, with someone like [the Avalanches DJ] Dexter, his technical hip-hop ability was just aweinspiring, but it was the fact he was marrying all these entirely different styles and throwing in curveballs, taking all those references that I understood, and presenting them in a way that I would never have thought of, that was really crucial. DA: And I think there’s actually a similarity between sets full of curveballs and ones that take you on a kind of tunnel-vision journey: even when you see DJs throw in unexpected things,
there’s a linearity to it, and I think linearity is very important. Like, when you, Erol, were playing at Bugged Out, you’d play ‘Seven Nation Army’, but it’s fundamentally a techno record so it made total sense at the time. I guess I play with a bit more tunnel vision, but that goes back to what we were saying earlier about creating this world with a certain energy: you go in, forget the outside, and you lock in. As a punter that’s what I love doing too: you go there and you forget about everything else. SW: How does DJing at a festival differ? Is there still a sense of collectiveness and energy at a festival? DA: You can get it, definitely, at the best festivals. You just need the same things you have in a nightclub – setting, proximity, and also a big thing is what the festival has created in itself. Something like Field Day is a good example: they clearly have very good taste in what they book, and they stick to that, and that’s years of hard work in the same way that we’ve put in years of hard work building our own thing. A good festival is almost like a weekly club night somewhere, it’s just that it’s a yearly club weekend. EA: At Unknown last year actually, you got the sense of that – it was fantastic weather, and line-up – it just felt like such a treat. If you can imagine the best elements of UK festivals, but in fantastic weather, that’s Unknown. DA: Yeah, you can walk around at 4am on the beach and find a little clearing and you’ll be like, “what’s that stage?” and Daniel Bandelli or someone will be playing to 200 people. That sort of stuff is amazing. EA: I came away from there thinking exactly that. This year, I think we’re both on the same stage I played on last year and the setting is fantastic: right by the sea, and just the perfect amount of people for an outdoor thing – about six or seven hundred – so it’s big but it’s still intimate.
Erol Alkan & Daniel Avery Ahead of their separate performances at Croatia’s Unknown festival, and with a little help from Sam Walton, the backbone of Phantasy Sound discuss the art of DJing in 2014 photographer: Jenna foxton / writer: sam walton
SW: Do you use the same tactics to get a club audience going as you would a festival one? EA: Pretty much. It’s still the fundamental rules: 50% the records you chose to bring with you, and 50% how you read the room. DA: Exactly. I mean, the fundamentals of DJing are very basic: it’s just putting one record on after another in a way that’s exciting. EA: True. And in fact some of my worst set-backs have been when I’ve overthought things: you might think a record makes incredible sense in a particular scenario, but actually no one gives a fuck unless it makes sense to them, and so you’ve just got to be thinking about sound-tracking the occasion rather than it being smart. Fundamentally it’s about maintaining the energy and the mood. DA: That liveness is something I’m really interested in at the moment actually. Everyone keeps asking me when I’m going to start doing my “live” show, and the answer is no time soon, because since I’ve realised quite how live DJing is I’m enjoying it now more than ever. The idea that you can
lock into a room or a tent and get a crowd on your side – that’s an incredible feeling. And I know it’s difficult to make people see what a DJ’s actually doing on stage, but I genuinely believe that if someone’s really up there doing it, in the moment, then it will come across. SW: With increasingly instant access to all history’s music, it feels like there’s been a rise of eclecticism as DJs try to play as wild a variation of genres as possible in one set. Has stylistic broadness come at the expense of depth, do you think? Is that a good thing? DA: Well it goes back to how we began: the reason that someone like Harvey or Four Tet can do that genre-hopping thing is because they’ve built something through every production, remix and DJ set they’ve done: they’ve made their own world that people want to be a part of and which people want to get locked into, and even if Harvey were to play a disco record that no one else would even touch, there’s still a reason he’s done it – it’s not eclectic for eclectic’s sake. He feels that it’s a part of him and therefore it deserves a place in
his set. It’s not a random thing or just a cheap trick. I think it’s just like there are different kinds of painters really, it’s as simple as that. EA: There are too many DJs – literally – too much music and too many parties to worry about whether it’s a good thing or not. DA: There’s not enough time to worry about it either! EA: Yeah, true. One of the things that I’ve realised in all my time DJing is that a lot of the worries that you have don’t really matter! SW: Do you worry about anything before you play a big set? DA: I never feel nervous, but because you believe in all this music that you’ve discovered, and want to share it with however many people – it could be 50, it could be 5,000 – you just want to make sure you get it across in the best way that you can. So there’s pressure on yourself in that respect... EA: But measuring success as a DJ is such a strange thing because it’s such a weirdly intimate thing to do. It’s like trying to measure your friendship with someone – it’s all based on the kind of thing that you can’t describe.
SW: When you think of your favourite sets from the past, what do you think they have in common? EA: More often than not, it’s been about sticking to my guns, doing something unexpected. I’ve thought, “you know what, I’m going to play this, whatever”. I remember times at Trash, in the middle of the night, 2am, pulling out ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ by Dusty Springfield, which you just can’t dance to – you just have to hold someone – and it gave everyone a buzz. DA: Yeah exactly that, really – the best sets are just when you feel that connection with the audience. You could sit down afterwards and write down what worked, but if you turned up at the next gig with that same bit of paper, it wouldn’t work, and that’s the real beauty of DJing – it’s always different.You require the energy of the crowd as much as they require you. A rock band will have a repertoire of, say, 50 songs that they’ve practiced, but with DJing you can take it in so many different ways. When you’re allowed to do that, and feel the trust, that’s when the beautiful moments arise.
Jonathan Poneman With its origins in a late ’70s fanzine and subsequent cassette tape series, no label is more synonymous with its hometown than Seattle’s Sub Pop. Talking to Ian Roebuck, company co-founder and continuing figurehead Jonathan Poneman discusses his love for the city and why he’s still going to work, despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2013 p hotogra pher: kyle john s on / writer: ian roebuck
An hour with Jonathan Poneman leaves me black and blue. I’ve been reprimanded on my questioning (“What are you getting at here, you’re talking about grunge right?”); I’ve been encouraged to seize the day (“I’m super healthy apart from my Parkinson’s disease, I figure I could get hit by a car before I get hit by anything else”). Yet despite Poneman’s intensity, when we say our goodbyes I realise a grin has been present all along. A Chevy Chase-like dryness falls from every sentence Poneman constructs, including the first time the chief of Sub Pop Records opens his mouth to speak to me. “Well, to be held on a par with our peers is flattering enough, but to be seen as the quintessential American indie label is almost too much to bear. That’s OK though,” he explains slowly, “I will deal with it.”
Poneman has been dealing with Sub Pop for around a quarter of a century. Along with his friend and cofounder Bruce Pavitt he transformed this little label from Seattle into a selfproclaimed “medium sized label, still from Seattle.” It’s a joy to listen to the 55-year old discuss his business so wholeheartedly. “Well, the genesis is that Sub Pop actually began in the late ’70s as a fanzine published by Bruce and there were two records released under the Sub Pop label before I even got involved. We celebrate our anniversary based on April 1st 1988 and the reason for this was because that was the point that Bruce and I went into this on a full time basis, rather than y’know whenever.” Poneman stops again; most of his sentences have long pauses. “April Fools day seemed to be a date
that was suitable for celebrating Sub Pop records.” Most of his pauses work to good effect. The two friends responsible for such seminal acts as Nivana and Soundgarden set out to focus on a scene that existed outside of the national grid; inside Seattle was their inspiration. “Bruce and I really had an intention to focus and make an effort in that. Bruce is now a friend of the label but he is not involved in any capacity anymore, his philosophies, though, still apply to how we function and we are very proud of our region.” Just hearing Poneman talk about his hometown is humbling; the roots of Sub Pop and the label’s location resonate in every release. “There is a great legacy of artists coming from this region and there is a, what’s the word, sorry I am not having a particularly
articulate day, there is a catalogue, I guess – there is another word I am sure and it’ll come to me – but yes, a catalogue of records from this region that make up a body of work and continues to have a meaningful impact on the culture at large.” No band had a bigger impact than Nivana and, credited with creating a genre in grunge, whether they like it or not, no label had more sway at the time of ‘Nevermind’ than Sub Pop, even if the band had moved to Geffen for their monster hit record. We pussyfoot around this with Poneman for much longer than necessary before a prickly reply stops us short. “The thing is, that word had been used to describe raucous rock and roll long before myself and Bruce got into the record business. We didn’t do anything other than market and promote Nivana
and the other bands who were playing this kind of music in this region, at a very critical time. You know Sam Phillips didn’t create Elvis Presley, he didn’t create rock’n’roll; he was simply an impresario and an entrepreneur. That’s what Bruce and I did – we didn’t really create anything, except the company, which served as the platform for you know, advancing these careers. We also helped shape the context – I mean, I’m continuing to do that through all my conversations, like talking to you now for instance.” For a brief moment I get the feeling Poneman would rather not be talking but the moments passes. We get back on to Seattle and the conversation flies once again. “I don’t want to get all Kumbayah and falsely paint Seattle as some kind of utopian colony because it most certainly isn’t, but it is a very dynamic and cooperative, focused community, and it’s one that has a lot of very obvious influence on the world at large; not necessarily its artists but with its entrepreneurial culture, be it companies like Sub Pop, or companies like Amazon and Microsoft. Obviously, we are on the low end of this scale, but these are all businesses that start off with an idea and an ambition and move forward to its realisation by staying in Seattle and being true to our region. So a significant part of Sub Pop’s success is our relationship with our hometown, it’s something I don’t think can be overstated.” Poneman mentioned Microsoft before we did. Even Bill Gates’ multinational software company has a place in the Sub Pop story. The corporation offered $4 million for the label in 1994 in an attempt to “be a bit more hip” (Dana Giacchetto’s words, not mine – the Sub Pop label associate who is claimed to be the inspiration for Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in recent film The Wolf of Wall Street). Gates’ bid apparently insulted the high-flying lawyer who also revealed that Geffen bid 8, Sony 5 and Universal topped the lot with 25 million dollars. Poneman went with Warners for 20 – not bad going for a niche label that began selling fanzines. It was a deal, though, that ended a partnership. The story goes that Poneman pushed for it as Pavitt pulled away. “The funny thing is…” [another dramatic long pause] “… is that it is actually the other way around. Bruce, I believe, was very interested in getting a payday because he had a young family. He got tired of coming to work and I don’t mean to suggest that he didn’t love the label, he really did, but we had a real struggle for the first few years. It wasn’t just a
struggle as in starting a business struggle; we had the heartache of having bands move on to other labels. The thing about being in an independent label, particularly one that’s a start up, is that you have relationships with these people that become your friends, you party with them, you work with them and then suddenly when the issue comes where there is a cheque bigger than the one that you can write, their loyalty seems to move on. So Bruce found that particularly disappointing and I can understand that. It was not something that I thought was very pleasant but I always had a feeling that talent comes and talent moves on and if you love what you do and want to have a career in it you can’t be too married to one artist for reasons of sustaining your business – there are always going to be more artists, y’know? Bruce was over it and so we had the opportunity to sell a portion of the company where we could maintain control and get a sizeable payday. I think where your understanding is coming from is that I felt once we were in the relationship I didn’t want to go away, I didn’t want to retire and play golf or raise a family, all of which are fine pursuits and pasttimes, respectively! I was interested in taking these resources and maintaining this new relationship. Hopefully having the resources and muscle that a large label would have but still having community orientation and the cultural understanding that more
intimate labels have; labels that are more closely aligned with their communities and the culture that the communities represent.” I tell Poneman that with Sub Pop he seems to have achieved his goal. I believe that, but I’m not convinced Poneman believes I believe it. “Well thank you,” he says, “but we have made a lot of mistakes on the way! Mostly by honouring who we are instead of continually searching for the new thing and trying to stay vital.” But isn’t staying vital part of having a successful independent label, especially in the current state of the music industry? “I think vitality is a natural byproduct of being engaged and enthused with the culture,” he says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily dictated by how many young bands you have on the label or how many hot bands you have on the label, it’s just a natural reaction to engaging with one’s community, with the bands and the culture at large. The history of the music industry is driven by hits and some people milk an artist for their hits and for their profile and toss their career potential into the garbage once, y’know, the one hit wonder phenomenon kicks in .We obviously love having hit records and love having that association and the revenue and the profile but we are an old fashioned record label in that we are building careers.” With bands like Mudhoney on the books for 26 years and counting
“We are an old fashioned record label in that we are building careers” loudandquiet.com
(albeit on and off), sitting pretty alongside such subversive modern artists as Shabazz Palaces and Goat, Sub Pop have remained both loyal and pioneering, and Poneman is at the heart of every decision. “I think if you were to interview some of the people working at the bigger corporate labels they would say: ‘why sure, we have the same motivation,’ but with Sub Pop I am the managing partner and majority shareholder and I get to dictate the way the corporate culture manifests itself here.” Poneman still has the enthusiasm too. “They’re so fucking awesome,” he enthuses about Shabazz Palaces and their forthcoming, second album. “It’s a dense album, haunting, beautiful, sexy,” he says. “It’s the sort of record that you will go back to over and over and over again. “Goat – in many ways is kind of the opposite, but it really is such a great piece of art. If you’ve seen them, they are the ultimate live band. So you know, we see ourselves as a classic record label. Whether we are independent or whether we are some other form of… whatever our ownership status is or whatever our partnerships are at any one particular time, we have a lust for getting the music out and getting the music heard and championing the bands that we love.” For all his achievements, Poneman continues to travel to the same desk, day by day. An easy decision to make, perhaps, but not when you consider he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s this time last year. “God forbid something else will get me before the Parkinson’s does,” he says. “What it has done is taught me that life is indeed short and that wasting time is probably the worst thing you can do because when you have the opportunity to do something that brings you joy, love and passion, whether it’s through a pursuit or a person or both, that is the thing that you should be doing always and anything that sets you back is a no no. That is something that people should avoid at all costs.That’s what I am trying to do; I am trying to stay with it.” I imagine Poneman for a second and all that he’s been through and how easy it would be just to pack it all in and enjoy the city he loves so dearly. “You know, I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day who brought up the idea of whether or not I would ever retire and I said I am already retired because what I would do in retirement is spend my time doing the thing that I love, which is what people in retirement strive to do right, well I am already doing it.”
For all his acclaim, Rustie wants you to have a good time whenever his maximalist dance music is played in your club. And yours. And yours. And yours photographer: gem harris / writer: david zammitt
It’s not uncommon to encounter a musician who’s a bit weary at the end of a ‘press day’. Enthusiasm for an album that’s been years in the making can evaporate in a matter of hours as questions are repeated and poses are requested ad nauseum. The sort of reluctance I sense from Russell Whyte, aka Glasgow electronic maverick Rustie, however, is endearing. He seems genuinely – and surprisingly, given the impressive rise in his popularity – shy, and he speaks of his music and its success with a string of qualifiers (“I’ve had a bit of success and people kind of know who I am”) that makes him instantly likeable. Not that it matters, of course, when the music is this good. Anyway, he isn’t too bothered himself. “I make interviewers really awkward,” he grins. Dropping his second album at the age of 31, Whyte is somewhat of a late bloomer in an industry where youth is seemingly prized above all else and pursued with fetishistic zeal. He says: “I don’t know what it is, especially with the music and media worlds. They just seem to be fascinated with having young artists. I guess it’s because they see more longevity in making money out of them. It kind of worried me for a while but actually not so much now that I’m in my 30s. I don’t really know why.” Whyte was still doing night shifts in a BP garage when he got the call from Warp Records, and the break came more as a relief for an artist who, in his late 20s, was struggling to get by on the fruits of his labour alone. It’s a remarkable story that has played out over the last four years. “I was running about my room – jumping about – when I got the first email from Warp asking me to do a remix for one of their artists, Jamie Lidell. I was just so excited to be doing something for the same label as Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre, Boards of Canada, all those artists I fuckin’ loved. It was really surreal for me.” But even that didn’t mean he could hand in his notice at BP. “I was just doing whatever I could for money. And I kept doing that for a while until I started getting decent DJ money.” That was the easy bit. Making his first album, 2011’s ‘Glass Swords’, was a tough process for Rustie as he found himself having to answer to a label for the first time. “I was sending versions
of the album and they were like, ‘We don’t like these tracks,’ or, ‘These tracks are not dancefloor-friendly enough.’ This time it was a bit more enjoyable and I had a bit more space and time to get my own message across without it being diluted or dictated by the label. I guess they had more faith in me because the last album did kind of quite well.” Kind of. ‘Glass Swords’ achieved universal acclaim, picking up the Guardian’s First Album award and made it on to the shortlist for the Scottish Album of the Year. That overwhelmingly positive reaction went some way to allaying any fears he had when starting out in the industry. “Maybe I’m overconfident from the success of the last album but I’m not really bothered about it anymore,” he says. And since crossing that looming 30 line, he has reached something approaching Zen. “That’s definitely what happened,” he nods. “Once you get there – you’re worrying about it, that it’s all over – and then you get there and it’s not as bad as you think it’ll be. Just coast it out. Fuck it.” While that personal milestone passed without fanfare,‘Glass Swords’s’ resounding achievement means that the pressure, like it or not, is now on like it never has been before. “It was quite a big surprise, how positively received it was,” saysWhyte. “Especially with the whole Warp history and stuff like that. The album was pretty poppy and a bit cheesy, maybe, so I was kind of surprised how well critically received it was.” In 2011, anything was a bonus for the DJ in the petrol station; today there is the sense that Rustie has something to lose when the public get their hands on ‘Green Language’, released August 25. “It was a bit daunting because I’ve gone in a bit more of a – I don’t really know what the word is – but maybe a grainier focus. It’s not quite so melodic as the last album so I’m a bit worried that it might fall short of previous listeners’ expectations.” Listeners, quite clearly, matter. Rustie has said in the past that he’s the kind of DJ who wants his audience to enjoy themselves instead of just playing what he wants while looking down at a sea of blank expressions, and he doesn’t see the point in restricting himself to a niche. “It is important for
me to reach a wide audience,” he says. “Without wanting to sound as if I’m having delusions of grandeur, you want to touch as many people as possible and connect.” Rustie opens up a little, touching on his own life philosophy. “I think the world is at a bit of a turning point. A lot of people are waking up and stuff like that. I think something’s happening where… I dunno, people are realising that we have more power than we’ve been led to believe. There’s something special about being human and being alive and I think music can awaken that. So it’s important to touch as many people as possible in that way.” He trails off in embarrassment and laughs, eyes flitting downward. “I dunno…” In striving to achieve his goal, Whyte has added a host of playmates to ‘Green Language’. He hasn’t held back on the roster, with Danny Brown heading a bill that also features Redinho, Gorgeous Children and D Double E across its dazzling verses and muscular choruses. ‘Glass Swords’ took the same hip hop-influenced electronic maximalism made popular by the likes of Hudson Mohawke, Lunice, Night Slugs and Fade To Mind, et al, and injected a helping of quirk (the sounds of computer games jump out around every corner) and shining, synthesised technicolour. But for all its brilliance it was never going to trouble the charts. This time, it’s easy to imagine Rustie going viral. By pairing glittering arpeggios and synthlines to massive, speaker-melting percussion, Rustie’s music hits you between the eyes, but when I ask him what drew him to this unique sound, he’s circumspect, careful not to paint himself as existing outside the dance music lineage or as any kind of revolutionary. “I think dance music’s always been like that. It’s a necessary part for it to be fairly loud and primal and rhythmic. The loud aspect gets your adrenaline going and the rhythm makes you dance, I guess.” When he puts it as simply and as eloquently as that, it does make the question seem a little redundant. Lead single ‘Raptor’, a pummelling four minutes of in-your-face melodies and pounding snare drums, picks up where ‘Glass Swords’ left off, drawing from the Detroit techno palette of
Drexciya and Underground Resistance and a sprinkling of ’90s trance magic dust. He could have released one of his big-name collaborations to announce his comeback, of course. “But I kind of don’t want to play my best card first,” he says. “Where can you go if you put out the best track first? It’s kind of a hype enough track but I think there’s still better tracks on the album to follow. It continues on from ‘Glass Swords’ or the ‘Slasherr’ EP, so it seemed like the right one to do first.” One thing ‘Green Language’ doesn’t feature is Whyte’s own vocals and he laughs at the suggestion. While taking the mic was necessary three years ago, there was a queue of vocalists this time around. None of what listeners will hear is the product of a studio collaboration, however, with everything on the album a product of interactions across the internet. “All of the ones that made it on to the album were just email-based or direct message sort of things. I did go into the studio with a couple of people but those tracks didn’t really work out. It’s not something that I’m used to so I’m a bit more uncomfortable with that.” Having moved back to Glasgow (“A little bit because I missed it, but the main thing was the money. It’s cheap as fuck, basically.”), after a flirtation with London, Whyte’s life is now shifting more and more on to the road and the coming months are looking hectic. America, Australia, and Asia are all on his list of promotional stops, but while he knows that it’s much bigger than anything he’s undertaken in the past, Rustie isn’t quite sure what the itinerary is. “I think I’m doing maybe two tours in America. Australia is early next year. And I think I might be going to…” He trails off, as though he’s forgotten what the question was. “Fuck, nah. I’ll fuck it up - I can’t remember!” Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Games this summer, and since Fuck Buttons had their music plundered by Danny Boyle for his London 2012 opening ceremony, I ask if Rustie has been approached to soundtrack the event in his home town. “I think I might’ve done actually,” he smiles and I’m not sure if he’s taking the piss. “But who wants to be part of the budget Olympics?”
Get Up Get Down
Sylvan Esso discuss making an unashamedly accessible, cliché-free pop album photographer: Dan ken d all / writer: d avi d zammitt
Like the mystical computer game creature from which the band take their name, Sylvan Esso’s ascent has been superhuman. Belied by an assured sound, the still-infant project grew out of a chance collaboration less than two years ago. Multiinstrumentalist Nick Sanborn was approached to remix a track for vocalist Amelia Meath, and the rest is fairly recent history. In those short months, however, they have managed to craft one of 2014’s most acclaimed debuts. As soon as I encounter them, the electricity between the pair is remarkable. The ease with which they relate to each other is noticeable from the off, with most conversations degenerating into mock fights and guffaws of laughter, and I get the sense that they’re already itching to get stuck into album number two. But while their dynamic seems relaxed, it isn’t to say that they’re taking their chance for granted. “I feel successful already,” says Sanborn, in one of our conversation’s more solemn moments. “I mean, we’re here on tour with tUnE-yArDs, we get to do this whole thing for six more weeks and we have another headlining run that brings us back through Europe and the States in the Fall.” He eagerly rhymes off a list of ways in which his life has improved over the last few months. “And I don’t have to bartend right now, which is awesome! If it stays right here I will be totally and completely satisfied.” For those unfamiliar with their
backstory, Sylvan Esso are somewhat of a supergroup, if duos can be classed as such. Meath, in another life, forms one third of Vermont vocal trio Mountain Man, while Sanborn creates his own brand of Four Tet-esque electronica as Made of Oak, as well as playing as part of psych-folkers Megafaun. It’s hard, though, to imagine that either of them could have more fun working with anyone else and when I ask if it just clicked, I get a resounding chorus of, “Yeah!” Besides, working as a duo, Meath quickly pipes up, is, simply, “easier.” She goes on: “Also, Nick is good at everything that I’m abysmal at. So the roles are easy to see because we both have our strengths.And arguments are just infinitely easier to have because there’s only two sides instead of this weird rogue that’s chiming in.” They laugh, but it’s clear that there’s an earnestness to the mutual appreciation. “I really trust her opinion and I think she trusts mine,” says Sanborn. “So when Amelia disagrees with me, my first reaction isn’t, ‘Fuck you,’ it’s actually, ‘Oh, well, maybe I might be wrong about that.’” The Sylvan Esso gossip isn’t quite as juicy as I’d hoped. “Well we are really good at fighting,” Meath grins. “And there are personal insults.” The singer claims she knew they were on the same wavelength from the moment she saw Sanborn dance while performing as Made of Oak. “The dance itself can only be described as herky-jerky and totally dorky, but it
was that he was so into it that he couldn’t help but move around. It involves a lot of whole torso jerking around. I thought I should at least buy this guy a drink and hang out!” Sylvan Esso’s music is simultaneously soulful and danceable, in the vein of Hot Chip, SBTRKT or T.E.E.D, but if you paired the sultry rawness of Fiona Apple’s voice to Modeselektor at their synth-driven best, you might begin to get a more accurate picture. It’s music that’s firm in the treatise that an absence of plaintive guitar strings doesn’t translate to a lack of feeling. Of course, there are more fractured, tender moments, but in the main this is a confidently modern pop album that roots itself very much in the present rather than affectedly grasping for some hackneyed rehash of a classic sound. “We figured out quickly that that was naturally the kind of music that we made together,” says Sanborn. “And once we figured that out we decided to totally go for it, and do something that was unabashedly accessible.” Meath is also keen to align Sylvan Esso’s music with modern pop, a genre that many musicians are either afraid to touch, or wrongly insist that they are. Cerebral music, she asserts, can be catchy. “Pop’s become a dirty word, which I understand to an extent because now pop’s become synonymous with fancy watches or selling cars.” Sanborn’s love of pop sensibilities spills out as he laments the
lack of quality in recent years. “We just really wanted to make a pop record that we would like, but we often talk about how we’re overly forgiving of pop records because we want to like them so bad. So I overlook atrocious lyrical choices and really cheesy, polished production choices because I want a pop record to like.” Thankfully, they’ve stayed away from the awkward sexual metaphors of, say, Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke. “Yeah, it’s moments like that! We wanted to make the other kind of pop record, where there was more to chew on the more time you gave it.” As 2014 pans out before them, and with their first LP barely pressed, Sanborn and Meath are determined to keep listeners guessing as to their next move. “We purposely made the choice of putting ‘Come Down’ as the last song on the album because we purposely wanted to…” Quick as a flash, Meath finishes her partner’s sentence: “…To keep the door open.” That track is a gorgeous, almostAppalachian ballad, entirely a cappella but for a static background buzz that grows stronger as the song builds and splinters with light-fingered restraint. “I’m a huge fan of albums that end on a question mark,” says Sanborn. “Hopefully no one would listen to this record – including us – and say, ‘I know exactly what their next record will sound like’.” “It’ll prepare the world for our metal album!” says Meath.
photographer: G raw Böckler / wr i ter: joe gogg i ns
definitely don’t want to suddenly end up recording in studios, with professional musicians. It’s just not what I’m about.” Molly Nilsson is about as DIY as pop singers get these days; when she released her first record, ‘These Things Take Time’, in 2008, she hand-burned five hundred copies of it to CD. Since then, she’s worked with an independent label – Night School Records – but that’s as far as she’s willing to go when it comes to surrendering creative control. It’s actually almost disarming, in the current climate, to listen to pop music like Nilsson’s and realise that it really is completely the product of one person, one mind, with no interference from money men or even producers; the shadowy, lo-fi electro-pop sound that she’s been cultivating these past few years – ranging from sinister spins on chillwave on ‘I Hope You Die’ to the claustrophobic minimalism of ‘Whiskey Sour’ – is entirely genuine, and entirely her own. “It just seems really, really boring,” she elaborates when I quiz her on her studio comment. “For me, writing the songs involves recording them as you go along – that spontaneity is important. If I’d already written a song, and then I had to take it into the studio later on, it’d feel like a funeral. It’d be like I was dissecting something, rather than creating it.” This kind of unyielding forthrightness from Nilsson is a defining feature of our conversation
when she speaks to me from her Berlin home (she hails originally from Stockholm). “I’ve been here ten years now, but to be honest, I didn’t come here to make music,” she says. “I came here because I couldn’t find anywhere to live in my hometown. Berlin’s a great place to try things out, because you’ll never be the weirdest creative person here, but as far as the arts scene goes, it isn’t really that special any more.” Perhaps that’s what prompted Nilsson to head to somewhere entirely different to work on her latest release; ‘Sólo Paraíso’ is an eight-track EP written and recorded in Buenos Aires, and inspired by the summer time. “I have a real following there,” she says, “and somehow, I managed to land a two-month residency, which was ideal. I needed to work somewhere that was totally unlike Berlin.” For Nilsson, it’s unlike anything that’s gone before it; previously, she probably hasn’t fielded many accusations of being sunny in her disposition, but there’s a genuine touch of the tropical to the likes of ‘Blue Dollar’ and ‘Summer Cats’ – her vocal delivery, granted, is as impassive as ever, but sonically, things suddenly sound a little bit chirpier. “It was very, very inspiring, musically, just because I met with so many other creative people and fed off of their energy,” she explains. “Being in totally new surroundings, and seeing things with new eyes, is an incredible feeling; everything can become poetry when
you don’t understand it.” Despite spending most of her time in Argentina in the company of other musicians, though, Nilsson didn’t actually collaborate with any of them on the record; like all of her work, it is well and truly a solo project. She says she did work on ideas with other people, “but they didn’t get finished, in the end.” “I’d love to collaborate more with other people, but it’s difficult; so far, I haven’t really had the patience. It’s really just a matter of the way I work, I think. It’s either really, really fast, where I finish everything on one night, or it takes forever. It’s very hard to find people who have that same rhythm.” The thing that really strikes me about Nilsson is just how starkly honest she is; she cuts through the bullshit in admirable fashion. “Part of me thinks I didn’t have enough time, but the truth is, I probably wasn’t disciplined enough, either,” she says when I ask her why ‘Sólo Paraíso’ didn’t ultimately become a full-length. “Being in a place like that, there’s so many distractions. You want to experience every minute of it while you can.” When I revisit the topic of her DIY beginnings, too, she sticks to her guns as far as ‘professional’ recording techniques – and, in turn, major labels – are concerned. “You know, I’m really happy with the level of things right now. I don’t
All By Myself The one woman would-be pop-hit factory of Molly Nilsson
want things to spiral out of control; I feel like I need to take care of everything. It’s naive to think that anybody else will ever care about your music as much as you do, so it’s not a good idea to give it over to other people to treat as they want, you know? Night School are really special in that respect, in the way they respect their artists’ freedom. That’s perfect for me, because I never want it to be like a job; I couldn’t work with a label that wanted me to deliver something specific. The only reason people do that is for money and fame, and I’m not interested in that. It’s more important to me to challenge myself artistically.” She’s pragmatic, too, about the demands on her to tour her records. She admits that it involves a tricky balance, rather than offering me any platitudes. “The recording is definitely the thing that makes me happiest,” she reveals, “that’s my first love, musically. I do love traveling and moving and being inspired on the road – you’re constantly learning, because you’re meeting so many new people – but a big part of the reason I do it is because I feel I need to, to open myself up creatively. After a while, it gets frustrating, because I’m filling up on inspiration, but I can’t record on the road. I know that it’s just the nature of living as a creative person, but I can’t pretend I don’t struggle with it; I need to do everything on my own terms, and that’s never very easy.”
Trench Warfare As The War On Drugs, Adam Granduciel’s personal battles are long and enduring, yet without them there would be no ‘Lost In A Dream’, his best record yet, and biggest personal triumph ph oto grapher: phil sharp / w ri ter: to m fen w ick
I’m deep in the middle of a sell-out show on Brighton seafront when Adam Granduciel takes the stage. It’s hot and the assembled crowd juggle drinks and jostle elbows for space. In two days time Granduciel and his bandmates will play the Pyramid Stage for a performance that isn’t simply their Glastonbury debut, but a career milestone that caps off a troubled but productive period. Granduciel has been on something of a journey, from wrenching anxiety and paralysing self analysis to the release of what many will consider the album of the year. The last time The War on Drugs played in Brighton, Granduciel could have died, from the seismic electric shots coming from his microphone. While the show was stopped to fix the fault, the band went to their green room, picked up their rider, returned to the stage and shared it out amongst the crowd. “Looking back, it was a really good time”. Tonight’s atmosphere is surprisingly joyous, considering most of the songs from the project’s third album, ‘Lost In A Dream’, encompass depression, fear, anxiety, loss and self-doubt. The next time I see Graduciel is the following afternoon, when we meet in the breezy confines of a beachfront café. The added danger here comes from flying volleyballs from a series of sandy courts adjacent to our table. In person Granduciel is an eloquent, friendly and insouciant figure, taller and younger than he looks on stage, with a mop of dark curly hair, a well-
worn T-shirt and a clear speaking voice that belies the gruff, wistful tones of his recordings. It’s fairly fast that talk turns to last night’s performance and Granduciel’s enjoyment of the live experience. Nowadays, The War On Drugs are a taught act, but this wasn’t always the case. “Back in 2007, me, Kurt (Vile), Dave (Hartley) and some other drummer would go to New York and play, but we wouldn’t even practice,” he says. “People would show up at our gigs and write about how unprofessional and awful we were but… I mean, they were right, we were shitty. We didn’t know how to play half of our songs, we were out of time and while there might have been a few moments of magic, for the most part it was a train wreck to watch. But last week we played an outdoor show in NewYork to four and a half thousand people and it was excellent. It made me feel like we’ve come so far, which is great for all the people who’ve stuck with us from the start.” “I mean live, even if we are just blasting through songs and it sounds like shit to me it still sounds good, because I have a great sound guy and I’m surrounded by great players. “I had an awful Primavera experience, for example. Everything about it was super fucked up. I couldn’t hear myself, I was pissed off and I played the whole set thinking I’d embarrassed myself. Then I watched a video of the gig and we were fucking incredible.” He pauses for a moment. “Y’know, this band is like a rare
commodity now... we’re a real rock and roll band and I think people appreciate that” “I guess I’m just constantly selling myself short or think that everything is fleeting, but I’m just starting to recognise – like in the last two months – that this is something that won’t be fleeting thing in my life. I always assume that if we have a bad show then everyone will just write us off. But looking at it now, I feel like we’ve worked hard over the years to build a fanbase of people that love the music and the live shows, and that’s great because they’re the people who’ll stay with you for a long time.” Granduciel’s disbelief in his own achievements is an endearing trait in the face of the near universal acclaim that ‘Lost In A Dream’ has generated. “I couldn’t rely on an income from music until maybe two years ago, so I guess it still feels like kind of a surprise,” he says. “Before then I had a bunch of jobs, but my favourite was in a carpet store, where they manufactured, imported and sold rugs. I worked in wholesale and I think I was pretty good at it, I was just this kid who chained smoked and sat on the phone all day; it was me and these two women who’d worked there for fifteen years and were always bickering.” Granduciel talks highly of his past employer and his commitment, not only to the sale of rugs, but to the high quality of the product. It’s clear that it’s the kind of integrity to the creative process – be it making a rug or making
an album – that he admires. “Oh no, I’m never going back,” he laughs when I ask if he liked the job enough to return to it one day. Born Adam Granofsky, Granduciel grew up in Dover, a small town 40 minutes southwest of Boston; a place where by his own reckoning there was “literally nothing going on.” The middle child of three, he found his own way into music rather than through his parents or siblings. “My dad is 20 years older than my mom,” he says, “so he was into classical music, and big band Jazz. Frank Sinatra was probably too renegade for him and free jazz was just hippy shit. “My mom was a child of the ’60s, so she listened to Roy Orbison and George Harrison. I remember when I was a teenager I uncovered her record collection at my grandmother’s house and was like, ‘Ooooh shit, this is where all the good stuff is!’ And for a while, I felt weird, cause I would always meet other musicians who’d had this musical inheritance ingrained in them from their family and I’d think, maybe there was something wrong with me, maybe I’m not supposed to do this because it doesn’t come naturally or it’s not in my blood or something. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be that way.” He pauses for a beat. “I mean, maybe my Mom and dad had it too, but they just never tapped into it, right?” Granduciel didn’t go straight into music after leaving home and instead took the path to college, he says, at request of his father – a man who was big on education. He studied art history and fine art, with a love for painting but without the patience for it. “I wanted to step straight into the role of the tortured artist,” he says,
“but y’know, you can’t just start weird, you have to have technique and form before you can get weird. It’s like music too – there’s still a lot of techniques I could get better at but I don’t mind the journey, unlike painting where I lacked the discipline. It all worked out, because what I was studying has influenced the way I work now, and I try to approach music the way some of my favourite Modernist painters did, by throwing a bunch of paint on a canvas to get a really big wash of colour, then scraping away at it until they had something that worked.” After graduating, Granduciel went to California and started to actively pursue a career in music in between waiting tables. A restless couple of years followed, before he was ready to move on again, this time to Philadelphia, the place that – a decade on – he still calls home. And while this move wasn’t prompted by education or adventure (it was for a girl), it saw him fall in with Philly’s burgeoning music scene. “I hadn’t grown up in a place where music was a career option. I mean, aside from listening to music and going to shows, no-one I knew was doing it. Even kids at high school who were super serious about music ended up going to college and getting real jobs; it was never something they would pursue for a living. But in Philly I’d go to local pubs like The Kyber and see my friend’s band playing and they’d sold out the hundred capacity venue, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. I would think, these guys are going to be huge, and of course they weren’t, but on a Friday night, in that bar, in that town, everyone thought they were fucking awesome. And later I’d see them around town
and be sort of intimidated by these guys in these tiny rock bands, because there’s wasn’t a world I’d come from.” It may not have been a place that felt natural to Granduciel but, after a chance meeting with Kurt Vile, the pair began what was to become a long time collaborative friendship, and the genesis of The War On Drugs. The pair formed the group’s first incarnation in 2005, when they selfreleased a debut EP.
ost In A Dream’ is a stunning album by any normal standards; swirling guitars and densely packed layers of synth jammed into ten of the most cinematic, straight-up guitar songs you’ll hear all year. It feels like the next evolution for The War On Drugs; if ‘Wagonwheel Blues’ – written in collaboration with Vile – set up their humble beginnings, and ‘Slave Ambient’ (Granduciel’s first album working alone) applied its focus on crafting dense soundscapes, then this is the first LP in his catalogue to feel like it has a genuine authorial stamp. It’s something Granduciel intended. “At the time, ‘Slave Ambient’ was the most experimental record I could conceive, just because how it was done and the amount of time it took, but you can only do something that way once. So for ‘Lost In A Dream’ I wanted to step out as a writer instead of just a front man of an indie rock band and make a record that might change and evolve over time. I wanted to see if I could write songs that could stand alone and didn’t need to be locked into sounds and samples.
“It’s all about the mood in these songs; that’s what I tend to chase.That’s not to say I want to keep them small and lo-fi or anything, I just want to capture the feeling I was in at that moment. And it’s those sounds that excite me – something mysterious, dark and a little bit melancholy but can also be crafted into a larger work, which sounds like a full band. “After the second record, I knew in my heart I was a musician and how seriously I took the process of creating those songs,” he says, “but I wanted to take the writing side a little more seriously too and really think about what I was saying, or what I wasn’t saying. All my favourite artists are singer-songwriters, with, for better or worse, an on-going story. I don’t know what my story is yet necessarily. “I read recently that some people think that once artists find their muse – that first thing that forced them to create, whether it’s a feeling, an emotion or a relationship – that’s what they always go back to and I am still going back to that moment when I was in California and feeling directionless about my life. I still feel like I am trying to capture whatever I was feeling back then.” Much has been made of just how personal ‘Lost In A Dream’ feels, which is in no small part due to Granduciel’s openness about the issues he experienced with anxiety and depression during the recording of the album. There’s a darkness to the record that belies its upbeat tone and carries the listener on a journey from dark to light; from the chaos of instability to serenity in the unknown. It’s such a strong through line on the album, you have to wonder, with everything that’s been written, if this sequencing wasn’t thoroughly intentional? “I guess the first half is a little... errr... not dark, but it’s certainly about tension and then as the album progresses it becomes about opening yourself up to the world, or opening yourself up to whatever might happen in life. I could tell there was a story in my song cycles, but I guess it was unconscious because I was so close to the music. “Looking back, it’s funny because I’d had already given names to the songs ‘Under the Pressure’ and ‘Suffering’ long before I was feeling stressed. It’s not like I wrote those songs specifically about what I was going through. I didn’t write ‘Suffering’ because I was in the middle of a panic attack, but when I was listening back six months later I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I’ve been working on this song and only now I’m in this fucked up state.’”
“I thought if I could be focused on the music, then I wouldn’t be focused on the sensation in my neck that I was convinced was cancer” Granduciel’s period of illness was spurred on by a confluence of events, as he found himself in the middle of a break-up from his long term girlfriend, adrift from his community – years spent on the road (not only with The War On Drugs, but as part of Vile’s backing band The Violators) left him feeling isolated from his friends in Philadelphia. And it began to affect everything about the way he once worked. “I just wasn’t losing myself anymore,” he says. “I had a studio in my house but I wasn’t staying up at night getting high and fucking around on my tape machine because I was too scared to smoke weed in case I had a complete nervous breakdown. I was resigned to not leaving my bedroom and just listening to a handful of demo’s I’d finished before I went into this mental collapse and I started having physical manifestations of this panic and anxiety.” Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone as determined as Granduciel, this period didn’t totally prohibit him from working, although it’s clear the single-minded way in which he wanted to get things done fanned the flames of his health. He explains: “I was still actively writing, I just didn’t want to be at home and I didn’t want to have a fucking bunch of half baked ideas recorded on tape. I think that my anxiety fed into wanting to work on the album all the time in a real studio and make it sound awesome. I wanted to come up with ideas, practise at home, go into the studio six weeks later, have six songs to work on and know what I wanted to do on those songs. I thought if I could be super focused on the music, then I wouldn’t be focused on the sensation in my neck that I was convinced was cancer. In my house, working on music when it’s only me, I had too many fucking distractions and those distractions were fucking me up. “I found the wait in between sessions awful. I originally thought we were going to block out four months so we could work on the record, but because of scheduling for Jeff (Ziegler – Granduciel’s long-time engineer) we just couldn’t. All we’d have was four days and no more time for two months. I just felt upset that I could only work on the thing I wanted to devote all the
time to in little blocks of four days or six days. I mean, I love Jeff – he’s my closest musical confidant, closer than anyone in the band. I trust him to make decisions that make the music sound awesome; he’s the only guy I would ever let have any influence over my vision. I hope to work with him for a really long time, and I’d like to think he knows that. But at the time I felt like, ‘I’m your biggest fucking client right now and you’re fucking me!’ “Of course, none of this is unique to me, a lot of people deal with it, but it’s a crazy way to live life. I mean, it’s not gone away, I still get weird moments, but now it doesn’t send me into a cave like it would have a year ago. I’m just trying to think more rationally and less emotionally. You have to just get to that point where you feel that twinge in your neck and you ignore it, because it might be a brain tumour but it might be nothing, and you can’t do anything about it either way.” With such a turbulent and elongated period of recording and realising the album in its finished structure, one of Granduciel’s biggest
worries was momentum, and much like the restless movement in his youth, he found himself losing focus on what excited him while he got too comfortable in one place. “There was a point in the summer when Jeff and I had been working on the album for over a year, but I was worried all the life has been sucked out of it. “I mean, it’s my music and I can’t expect everyone else to be interested in the never ending possibilities of a song. I realised that if I wanted stay enthusiastic, I would have to go somewhere else to finish it, so I went to the Rare Book Room in New York and that was where the songs took their final shape. “So much good came out of those sessions,” he says. “I mean, ‘In Reverse’ was basically written in mixing through a series of beautiful coincidences, while I hated the version we mixed of ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ so much I re-recorded it from scratch over a two and a half day period. It had gotten away from me and I knew exactly what I wanted it to be so I went back to the original demo and started again. I think everyone thought I was crazy, but I’m happy I did it because it’s an entirely different version of the song. I guess I’ve just learned to trust my instincts a little more now and to take advantage of whatever enthusiasm you have, because you might not have that forever.”
It’s an interesting thought and one which I press Granduciel on – was there ever a time when he thought the album might not get completed? Was there a moment when it seemed insurmountable considering all the mental effort he was devoting to it? “I never really felt like I wouldn’t finish it, no, but I wanted to make sure that I finished it the way I wanted too and that was by being excited about each song right up to the very end of the process.” When I mention the record’s clear success a wry grin breaks across Granduciel’s face. “Oh man, yeah... okay so I’m grinning because I get embarrassed” he laughs. “I guess I’m coping with that by forcing myself to remember what made it so special, remember the opportunities that that has opened up for the band now and to not necessarily take those things for granted. And to still respect why people are connecting with it. I have to remember that people dig ‘Red Eye’, for example, not because it sounds like Springsteen, but because I spent a year and a half working on the arrangement before I recorded a note of that song. I suppose what I mean is, while I am thankful for the acclaim and I love that I can do this for a living, I can’t forget that none of this comes naturally to me. I’m not the guy who sits in the back of a tour bus, writes a song, plays it for my friends and it’s amazing. This takes some time and a lot of effort” “Some people are raised with a lot of self confidence but for some reason I have this fear... like crazy fear, and maybe it is as black and white as I don›t want to fail. But I just want to be as awesome as I can be and I think that will always be there. I mean, it would be nice if I could just make a record, think this is what it is and I hope you like it, but I still have to go through that process where I capitalise on as many moments of inspiration as I can and that will hopefully translate onto my music.” Granduciel and I wander back to the tour bus outside the venue and catch a few moments of tUnE-yArDs soundchecking for her show this evening. We say our goodbyes and he heads off to explore the town. The following day he’s on my television, on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage. ‘Red Eyes’ has reached its chorus and, in one of those fortuitous moments that only happens at Glastonbury, the sun broaches the clouds and lights up the site. It’s a moment that both the crowd and the Granduciel seem to find surprising, and as the crowd cheer and the band come alive I’m reminded that we’re all just scratching away at the surface. ᐧ
Soul It took Charles Bradley 63 years to be discovered, which left a lot of time for him to experience more heartache than any one person deserves. In London to play a special Soul Revue showcase for his record label, Daptone, the former James Brown impersonator discusses how his mother was right â€“ he could do with hardening his heart a little Photographer: Gabriel Green / Writer: Daniel Dylan Wray loudandquiet.com
ou’ve only got to look at Charles Bradley to see that he has suffered pain in his life. His face, at sixty-five years of age, is a strange amalgamation. At times It’s boyish, laced with a mischievous smile and a wide-eyed sincerity, yet it’s also weathered, tired, fear-drenched and sags with an overwhelming aura of sadness and hurt. For each deep-set, aged wrinkle that scores across his forehead like a knife wound, behind it lies a tale of unimaginable pain. Not one to hold back on his feelings – both personally and musically – Bradley’s face is an accurate embodiment and projection of what he holds within. To stare into the eyes of Charles Bradley sobbing, is to see the physical manifestation of a lifetime’s worth of anguish and pain erupt in a human being. However, not always is this the prominent manifestation of Bradley. On stage he is a never-ending giver of pleasure, a non-stop dancing, thrusting ‘screaming eagle of soul’ and to see him lost deep in the midst of his performance is a transformative and occasionally nonparallel experience. Professing a message of love, peace, spirituality and equality, he soaks up the audience’s adoration and hurtles it
back at them. (The first time I saw him, at one point his arms were outstretched towards the audience, as he screamed with every ounce of his being “I love you!” for what felt like ten minutes). Bradley’s voice, at its incendiary peak, tears through you like the news of death – a scorched and ravaged Otis Redding. On his two albums, 2011’s ‘No Time for Dreaming’ and 2013’s ‘Victim of Love’, his voice is moving, gritty and raspy, yet it’s melded amongst the smooth retro soul groove of his impeccable backing band The Menahan Street Band. It is on stage that his voice truly comes alive, though; a whirlwind force that I’ve seen bring people to tears instantaneously as well as leave them flabbergasted and lost for words. Seeing Charles Bradley perform at Primavera Sound earlier this year, in what was one of the greatest performances not only of the weekend but of the six year’s I’ve been going to the festival, along with tonight’s performance at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, as part of the Daptone Records Soul Revue Tour (also on the bill: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Antibalas, The Sugarman 3, Saun and Starr, Binky Griptite), it makes perfect sense to see him mesmerising audiences and owning the stage he dances and stomps around, but the journey that
brought him here was a tough one. In many senses it defies belief, and it also took him most of his life.
radley’s Grandmother raised him in Florida until he was eight years-old when he was then reunited with his previously absent Mother and moved to Brooklyn with her. By age 14 things weren’t going too well and Charles ran away from home, struggling to put up with his poor living conditions that included a small bed on a dirt floor of a dimly lit basement. He slept on the streets and would ride the subway through the night, sleeping between stops until the hard rattle of a truncheon would wake him up – a signal for him to get the hell off. He would then switch subway lines and ride the train again, repeating this night after night, sleeping as much as he could before being turfed off the train once more and before the morning light broke free and the crowds of people began to flow. It proved a testing time. “Everybody around that time was using drugs, shooting up and getting high,” he says. Thankfully, despite temptation, he
avoided that road. “I was afraid of needles and my faith in God kept me afraid of needles so I never took any drugs.” Bradley admits to a mild flirtation with sniffing glue and smoking weed, which was enough to realise that drugs weren’t for him. At sixteen he signed up for Job Corps, a free education programme where he would learn cooking skills. This period was instrumental for him and has become one of his fondest memories in life. “I was living in a dominant black neighbourhood and I went to Job Corps and there were whites and other races there and I was afraid because I never seen that living in a black neighbourhood all my life,” he says. “Job Corps always showed me love and was nice to me. Now, down in the hood, when someone was nice to you, something was wrong, so Job Corps, when they were nice to me, I was wondering ‘Why? What do they want from me?’ and all they were trying to do was be a friend and I didn’t know that. When it came time to graduate I wanted to stay but it was time to leave.” It was during Job Corps that Bradley’s musical side crept out. At fourteen he had been taken to see James Brown at the Apollo and was so taken with the performance he would begin to impersonate him at home. After then, being told he looked like James Brown at Job Corps and given a little gin to loosen him up, he eventually overcame his shyness and sang for people in public. Taken aback by his talent they literally forced him on stage. He then formed a band but this would be short-lived as every member, bar Charles, got called up for the Vietnam Draft, ending the group after five or six shows. Bradley ended up working as a cook in upstate New York at a mental institute in Wassaic. “I was feeding 3500 peoples a day,” he recalls from this period. (Bradley has a charming habit of putting an s on the end of all his words, perhaps part due to local colloquialisms and part due to the fact he was illiterate and only began to fully learn to read, write and spell in very recent years). “Looking at 3500 disturbed peoples a day, and then at the girls side they’ve got 4000 disturbed peoples – and I’m living on the grounds with them – I just couldn’t take it anymore. Some of the stories they [the patients] told you were just some sad stories, stories that will touch you to your heart.” He drifted from city to city, ending up in California for a twenty-year period, playing small shows and
making ends meet doing odd DIY jobs. His mother got back in touch around this period and asked that he move back to Brooklyn to reconnect their relationship. He did so. However, upon returning he got incredibly sick with a fever and was admitted to hospital. They filled him up with penicillin, which he is deeply allergic to and things took a turn for the worse. “I saw myself leaving this world,” he says. “I nearly gave up.” He says that a visit from his brother was a pivotal moment in his change of attitude to hanging on in there. “He came and he said, ‘Charles, if you don’t want to live for yourself, brother, then please live for me. Charles, I love you brother, you’re my heart.” Bradley transferred hospitals, where they noticed the near-lethal levels of penicillin he had been given and packed him with ice in an attempt to break the still unknown fever. He was given several spinal tap (lumbar puncture) procedures, often as many as four in one day, a procedure he recalls as the “most painful thing I ever felt in my life.” Sadly, there was more pain ahead. “What hurt so bad is when I got well and out of the hospital, my brother who loved me so much and
took care of me, he got killed. He got shot in the head.” We don’t speak about this in detail tonight but he once explained the horror of witnessing the situation. “A detective was standing in front of the door. He said: ‘You’re Joseph’s brother, ain’t you?’ I said: ‘Yes, I am.’ He said: ‘Son, please, don’t go in there and see your brother until we clean up.’ I said: ‘How can you tell me I cannot go in there? That’s my brother. I want to see for myself.’ God knows, man. When I walked in there… they shot my brother… they shot my brother with a hollow point bullet. God, I wished I didn’t go in there. I ran outside. I ran in front of every car and no car would hit me. Everybody stopped. I wanted to die. I wanted to leave this world. I could not take the pain. I loved my brother so much.” This horrific moment is recalled in his song ‘Heartaches and Pain’. After his brother died, Bradley took on full responsibility of looking after his mother, who was then sick and getting older. He also took on the financial responsibility of paying for her upkeep and her mortgage too. After he’d moved back to Brooklyn, he began to perform as ‘Black Velvet’, a James Brown tribute act, after fully
realising his ability to mimic the Godfather of Soul’s voice, moves and actions. Word – and video footage – spread and some years down the line Gabriel Roth, Co-Founder of Daptone Records, expressed an interest. During the 2000’s he worked with a few different backing bands, recording a handful of songs, before cementing a successful writing relationship with the pivotal Tom Brenneck and his Menahan Street Band, which finally led to his debut album release, at the age of 62, in 2011. It was successful, a documentary was made on Bradley’s amazing life (2012’s Soul of America) and his follow-up album in 2013 opened more doors as he gradually toured the world more frequently and, for the first time in his life, finally was able to make a little money from the thing he loved most in life. A deeply spiritual man, Bradley feels that God finally heard his prayers and gave him this late break in life.
n 2014, as I sit backstage, propped up on a medical bench in a makeshift interview room that is actually the emergency room of Shepard’s Bush
Empire, with Charles Bradley, I expect a buoyant, on-top-of-the-world artist to be beaming ear-to-ear after yet another astonishing performance. Instead I find someone unable to escape a degree of pain that has punctuated so much of his life and while he is doing everything in his life to give out positivity and extending an unremitting degree of love to his fans, friends and family, he still has an up-hill battle against him. “My mom just passed away five months and seven days ago,” he tells me. “It’s like an emptiness because every time I come home I would always go straight to her.” I wasn’t aware that his mother had passed and it throws me off guard. To have watched Soul of America again only the night before, and to see the bond and importance his mother had in his life, and then to find out she has just passed, is silencing. “The day she passed away they told me: ‘Charles, you’ve got a sold out concert,’ and I don’t know how the hell I did that concert.” He reflects on the moment. “I was in bed sleeping and my niece came knocking on the door but I was too asleep, I didn’t hear her. I always keep the phone next to me in bed, so she called and said ‘Nanna’s not breathing’ – oh my God, that was the worst thing I’ve ever heard. I jumped up, ran upstairs and went in her room and her eyes were just like this [pinches fingertips together] and I touched her and she was still warm and she looked at me before she passed. It was like a nightmare to me.” Typical to Bradley’s amazing spirit and sense of resilience, he managed to take a moment of excruciating pain and transmute it through his art. “I said if I go on stage I’m going to fall apart. I went downstairs and I got into my old spirit and I spoke to my mom and she said: ‘Don, go into your dreams. Go out and do it.’ I said: ‘How I am I going to do it? If I get on stage I’m going to cry.’ I went out on stage and everybody gave me two minutes of silence. Everybody knew, I didn’t know how but they knew and I said: ‘God, give me strength to do this show’ and that was one of the best show’s I did because I would look out the corner of my eye and it was like my mom was standing right there. I know that was my fantasy and my belief but it really seemed like she was there and that’s how I got into that show and wow, it was one of the shows that everybody is still talking about today.” It’s very easy to get bogged down in the seemingly never ending assault of sadness that has plagued Bradley’s life, but the genuine positivity and love he believes in and projects
“When I walked in there… they shot my brother… they shot my brother with a hollow point bullet” during his performances, in spite of the aforementioned hurt, is inspiring. “Everything I do I try to keep it clean and honest,” he says, “so I can give them [the audience] the love. So they can look into my spirit and see no negative – that’s what I’m trying to teach.” Bradley’s never-ending stream of love has, unfortunately, before now, made him less than steady on his feet. “I’ve always been that sensitive guy,” he admits. “My mom always told me that she worried about me. She said I was too easy going and that she didn’t worry about her other children as much because my heart was too sensitive. She said: ‘Harden your heart a little bit son, because the world will see you coming.’” It’s a situation that appears to be coming somewhat true in the wake of his success. He says: “Sometimes I’m afraid of myself. Sometimes when I get a lot of love coming towards me, my heart will be pulling in so many different ways and I want to give to them all. That scares me because I won’t have anything left for myself. I get that way, I have to run some places and hide and recuperate, go into my thoughts and find a way to come back out again and face the world. When I’m home, sometimes I don’t want to come out. I go in that basement and I stay in that basement because now I have a lot of musicians pulling on me, saying: ‘Charles, we can give what you want in the music because we see that you are lacking in certain things and we can give you this…’ And they are coming in with their heart and it scares me because I don’t want to hurt what I’ve got so what I do is I run and hide because everybody is hitting on my spirits so hard.” Coming from the projects in Brooklyn (a home he often had to leave when “things got too crazy” – in the documentary Soul of America we see his neighbour’s house plastered with bullet holes) he now returns something of a hero but that too has its downside. “Everybody thinks I have a lot of money but I don’t have a lot of money,” he says, sadly. “My mother [when she died] left the mortgage to me and I have to pay that and my mother has a sister who isn’t really stable. My momma asked me to watch over her
and I watch over her. And I have a niece – her mother died when she was an infant and so our mother raised her and now she’s 22 and I tell her it’s now time for her to find a life for herself but she’s too afraid; she’s now leaning on me. I’ve got brothers that all think I’ve made it big in the music industry and are hitting on me and I say: ‘Wow, what do I do? Where do I go? What do I say?’ Sometimes I feel like maybe selling the house but then I say ‘no, no’. I’m in a moment in my life where I don’t know whether I want to go that way, that way or that way. I know that the music world and the business of the music world is a treacherous life – me, I just want to get on stage, rock the people, show the people my love, open my heart. But the music world is all about the greed of money and using me to get money from me. My music is built on my love – it’s the love that is pulling the crowds, not the money that is pulling the crowds, but they see that and they see that I’m a humble person and it’s scary sometimes; I don’t know how to deal with it. Sometimes I feel like saying, ‘no more music, no, I can’t take no more’…When they talk to me, now I’m a quiet person. How you and me are having a conversation now, that’s how I like to talk to people, but when they talk to me they talk like with more power, talking at me. Then I get quiet, I close up. They are saying, ‘Charles, I put you here, I gave you this opportunity’ – No! It’s my love [that got me here]. I thank them for it though, the journey, the love they have given me and the opportunity to get out and give people my love at these shows.”
radley’s second album, ‘Victim of Love’, seems an unbelievably apt title. Does he, I enquire, care too much for his own good? His voice breaks and drops very quiet. “I don’t know how to change it though. Sometimes it’s hard.” He stretches out the word “haaaaarrrrrd” to almost agonising lengths, his voice scratchy and breaking and his eyes lock deep into mine. “At the age of 65 it’s hard to change. I want to change,” he says, “I
want to do what my mom says and harden my heart a little. I try, I do my best then I see one person, spiritually, that needs love and I open my heart.” He pauses. “I want to be able to give you some good laughing stories sometime but it’s not ready to come out yet.” It’s at this point Bradley also informs me that his uncle died four or five days ago. “We had someone film my mother’s funeral and he died watching that, he had a heart attack and passed right there. I think he was mourning and he left.” The more and more you consider Bradley’s life combined with his exorcising-like performances, you realise just how much of a physical toll having to go through those experiences night after night must have on a person. “Sometimes when you see me running to hide that’s when my filter is full and I have to run to recuperate my mind again and find love again to give,” he says. However, even when he returns home he’s not always allowed to rest. “The guys in New York that had me doing James Brown still want me to be doing James Brown because they were afraid to lose me. There are a lot of people down there [in Brooklyn] that don’t have the money to go to concerts and in the clubs I was doing they could come and pay $5 and come and see me sing but now they’ve taken me out of that crowd and put me in a crowd that can afford to go see the show. So some people have got a little angry with me – they say: ‘Charles, you’re turning your back on your peoples’. I said: ‘No, I’m not doing that. I’ve got to make a living, I’ve finally found a way that I can make a little money and pay the mortgage. “I worry about my nieces and the kind of people they bring in the house, I don’t want those kind of people in the house but I see they are all coming around because they want to know who I am and they are getting in through my niece to try and find out who I am.They know that I am a singer and have seen me on the Internet and think, ‘oh, he must have a lot of money’, so they are trying to come toward me but I don’t want them to. If I see them on the streets I like to show my love and say, ‘how you doing,
young man’ and a lot of them don’t want to work and a lot of them say that they want to work but can’t find work so they say Charles, if you need any work done for you in the house I will do it for you and they want to do things freely but I don’t take nothing for free. Me, I like to go home, into a nice quiet home – my main escape, I love listening to a tape I have of nature and sounds of the ocean and I will go home, get out of my clothes, make it dark, put the tape on and then I don’t want to go out and see that world out there. I know that I have my own space inside and if I open that door it’s a whole different world outside.” Will there ever be a time in his life that his music can come from a place that is not pain, I ask, or is there just too much? “I’m seeking that place inside of me,” he says. “I’m trying to find the light where I can come from the
darkness and grow into the light and let some good memories come out of me but there’s not too many.The things that I’ve seen and lived through – there are not too many things in my life that I can say I can laugh about and look at them and say ‘wow, that was a good moment’. (He has at one point even said to an interviewer: ‘I’ve not even told you half of my trials and tribulations, some of it I just can’t speak.’). The best moment in my life I think was Job Corps, Job Corps was a beautiful moment.” He speaks movingly to me about his time in jail, his first sentence for a dispute over a stereo that got him thirty days and the second for something far more serious. Working as a burger chef in a fast food place he confronted a customer who had complained about all three (separate, replacement) burgers she was given. He went out front and asked someone
else how their burger was, the owner then told him not to come out and bother the customers. “You’re all alike,” she said to him, shortly followed by, “I’ll fix you.”The next day a big guy comes in the kitchen, throws Bradley against the wall, knocking him out cold. He refused to listen to Bradley as he pleaded, he then pushed him over the large, sizzling burger grill. He was overpowering him so Bradley grabbed a knife and swung at him – he didn’t cut him, but he did cut through his shirt. Broken free, Bradley then slipped, the guy continued to beat him, Charles found a pick fork on the floor under a freezer, seeing this the assailant then jumped off him – in the meantime the police arrived, put a gun to Bradley’s head and said, “if you move, you’re dead.” He spent “two to three months” in jail while the attacker was let go. “All my memories I take to heart, good and bad, because I know that I am not
personally out to hurt or play with anyone’s intelligence, so I keep the truth and honesty of the person who I am and try and live that life,” he says, “but when things happen to me and people do me wrong, it hurts because like right now I have to go to Canada pretty soon and every time I go to Canada I got to go through all this high-tech stuff for something I never did to get a pass to go to Canada… for something I didn’t do! “It’s something that happened in 1977 and they still give me a hard time to go into Canada. That’s still on me today and it hurts and sometimes I feel like saying, ‘no more! I ain’t going through this no more for something I didn’t do’. I’m getting brutalised for this all my life. I feel like saying, ‘no, I stay home’. The government is still saying that what I did was a felony but all I was doing was protecting myself, this guy was trying to kill me and all I was doing was trying to protect myself, when he pushed me over that grill and I felt the heat on my back, and this guy’s about six feet something, two hundred and seventy pounds, what are you going to do? You’re going to do something to get him off you, but the world is still holding that against me today.” He pauses, clearly in pain. “It’s not fair… it’s not fair to be hurt like that,” at which point he breaks down entirely into a sobbing fit. The only sound to be heard above his crying is the sound of his heavy silver chain slink down his wrist as he holds his hands over his face, shaking, as I sit there in silence.” I apologise for bringing him to this state. “It’s okay,” he says softly, “It helps me to talk about it and get it out.” It’s difficult not to be lifted by Bradley’s resilience and forward momentum, even if it still seems to stall him constantly. “Through my trials and my tribulations.” he says with a soft smile, “I’m still going and I’m still strong.”
Reviews / Albums
Shabazz Palaces Lese Majesty sub p op By Davi d Zamm i tt. In sto re s July 28
Since their low-key arrival just over five years ago, Shabazz Palaces have trodden a decisively singular path towards the outer edges of a sound that seemed to have already emerged astonishingly fully-formed and unique. Back in 2009, their prismatic brand of jazz-infused future hip-hop stood so deliberately apart from the rest of the modern rap canon that every time Ishmael Butler adopted his Palaceer Lazaro moniker and teamed up withTendai ‘Baba’ Maraire the result was something dumbfoundingly new. Indeed, their sounds were so disorientating in their freshness that Butler, an erstwhile member of defunct NYC hip-hop group Diggable Planets, went out of his way to remain unidentified, hoping that the duo’s music would speak for itself untethered by his previous work. He needn’t have worried. The cutting
edge electronic sci-fi of 2011’s debut LP ‘Black Up’ followed two extraordinarily incongruous EPs that were produced – and embraced – before Butler’s cover was blown, and the group were greeted with a gasp of critical approval, which preceded the deluge of question marks over how a project of such youth could push the envelope with such relish and yet sound so deliberate and polished in its execution. And so it should come as no surprise to followers of a pair who have always sought to disrupt that after a gestation period of nearly three years, Shabazz Palace’s latest ornate offering not only weighs in at 18 tracks, but is also carefully divided into no less than seven individually titled suites. Described in its press release not as an album but rather a “sonic action,” ‘Lese Majesty’ is intended to dispel the myth that,
“sophistication and the instinctual are not at odds.” In doing so, it stretches the format of a modern hip hop record to its limits, creating a weaving, intricate journey of narrative and texture packed with a perfect balance of quirk and substance. The first section, entitled ‘The Phasing Shift’, sees the collection come to life slowly as it wipes the sleep away.You can feel the first light of the Egyptian sun moving across your closed eyelids as the somnambulistic ‘Dawn In Luxor’ builds, gradually, into something approaching a leaden, staggering groove.The pace is upped slightly on ‘Forerunner Foray’ as Catherine Harris-White of THEESatisfaction’s hazy vocals intertwine dirty nightclub bass and synth lines before first single ‘They Come In Gold’ kicks into the off-kilter rhythms the group
have made their signature and in 10 beguiling minutes, the album moves deftly from horizontal to upright. If the initial quality is high, the bar is notched gently skyward. From the unsettling, politicised dystopia of Suite 2, ‘Touch & Agree,’ to the love letters the duo pen to carnal desire on ‘Pleasure Milieu’’s pair of tracks, the album covers an astounding range of human feeling and stimuli as its pithy lyrical statements dissect power structures, spirituality, and what it is to be human. Even the album’s shortest pieces – ‘Solemn Swears’ and ‘Noetic Noiromantics’ are two of many tracks that clock in under 2 minutes – leave an indelible mark through haunting mantras and icy, dislocated electronic motifs. I could go on but let me summarise: few words can do justice in paying tribute to a record that is one of 2014’s only true greats.
FKA Twigs LP1 Yo ung Tu r ks By Dai sy Jon es. I n sto re s August 11
Right now, there’s a lot of music floating about that sounds a bit like FKA Twigs; slow, glitchy electronic beats, silky smooth vocals fused together with nocturnal melancholia. It’s sometimes got a touch of late90s Aaliyah-like minimal R&B and it’s the sound of Sasha Keable, Alpines, Billie Black, Oceaán, Jessie Ware – it’s basically the sound of the noughteens. It’s also on the verge of being overcooked, like a dry old chicken. Luckily for London-based artist FKA Twigs, she’s in no danger of sounding like a chicken and although this debut album sounds like much of the above, it’s hard to deny that she possesses quite a bit extra. Her
falsetto is truly astonishing and the layering of her voice in many of the tracks makes for a deeply rich sound. She also frequently, and almost surprisingly (for somebody billed as the future sound of R&B), sounds exactly like ‘Sensual World’-era Kate Bush. And like Bush, her voice is both mystical and sexual, moving between powerful and breathy in the length of a line. She, too, uses space in her songs as an instrument. It sounds like something crafted on Venus itself. Lyrically, she is directly sexual and bewitching. “When I trust you we can do it with the lights on,” she sings in second track ‘Lights On’, a song constructed with disembodied
beats and beautiful pauses. “My thighs are apart for when you’re ready to breathe in,” she sings in ‘Two Weeks’, a brilliantly filthy and lavishly pop-sounding track that could easily be the best on ‘LP1’. Although, you do get the impression that this is the kind of album that will reveal a different favourite on each new listening of it. It’s also coherent as an entire piece. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the fact that ‘albums are dead’. Apparently, in an era in which digitalism rules everything and people only listen to Spotify, we should be more engaged with playlists instead. However, ‘LP1’ is best experienced in its entirety, as an
album, and is a triumph for its sequencer as much as anything else. From the densely layered, sweeping melodies of ‘Pendulum’ to the skeletal, Portishead-like beats of ‘Numbers’, it’s a lucid record in its disparities, like a mosaic made of mirrors. To chop it up and inject it into playlists would be like showing just one section of a painting. Needless to say, FKATwigs’ ‘LP1’ is an exceptional debut that both references the past but pushes forward like none of Twig’s peers currently mining ’90s RnB. Spellbinding and artful from the off, she manages to tap into something in her mid-twenties that not many people manage in a lifetime.
This is certainly no criticism of Bella Union – because their success rate, signing-wise, is beyond formidable – but they really, really like their dream pop bands, don’t they? It’s no surprise, perhaps, given that founder Simon Raymonde was in the Cocteau Twins, but it’s still something that jumps out from their roster, especially when giving Ballet School’s latest a spin. ‘The Dew Lasts an Hour’, superficially at least, sounds absolutely immaculate; for the most part, the Berlin trio lean on
a pretty minimalist sonic template, with singer Rosie Blair typically stretching her vocal muscles over relatively sparse beds of synth. Early cuts ‘Slow Dream’ and ‘Pale Saint’ are cases in point; there’s plenty of energy, but with fairly low-key electronics and rudimentary beats backing them, there’s no shaking the sense that there’s something missing. There’s certainly standouts – the washed-out guitar on ‘Heartbeat Overdrive’ is a masterstroke; ‘All Things Return at Night’ channels
eighties electro-pop in glorious fashion – but ultimately, the record tends to veer between tracks that are too understated for their own good (the groove on ‘LUX’, for instance, could’ve stood for some fleshing out) and others that simply sound halfbaked (‘Yaoi’). There’s flashes of promise – sonically, at points, they have eighties retro pop cornered as convincingly as I’ve heard for a while – but there’s no question that Ballet School are going to need a little more bite next time out.
Ballet School The Dew Lasts an Hour Be lla U n i on By Joe Gogg i ns. I n sto res August 25
0 1 /10
Adult Jazz Gist Is
Spoon The Want My Soul
Craft Spells Nausea
Sp ar e Th ou g ht
Se cre t l y Canad i an
A n ti
C a ptu r ed T r a c k s
By J Ames F . Th om pso n. In sto re s A ugust 4
B y Ti m Wi l s o n. In s t o re s A ug us t 1 8
By Sam Wal t o n. I n s t o re s A ug u s t 4
B y T o m F enw ic k . I n s t o r es A ug u s t 4
Any Adult Jazz coverage begets the question of how many words will pass before Wild Beasts are mentioned. In this case, the answer is 14. If the comparisons are partially valid, they’re also reductive; a more rounded frame of reference might be some combination of Four Tet, alt-J and calypso-pop outfit Beaty Heart. In any case, the Leeds quartet’s sound is utterly their own. January’s hugely impressive double A-side ‘Springful / Am Gone’ laid out the Adult Jazz blueprint: off-kilter polyrhythmic beats, jittery bass lines and fractured pitch-shifted vocals that coalesce into a majestic whole. In truth, that song pairing probably still represents the strongest material on this debut full-length but the aesthetic permeates the whole record. Reputedly entirely recorded with vintage equipment in an isolated farm up on the Scottish borders, there’s a singular vision at work here that means even weaker tracks, like the overlong opener, ‘Human Gone’, are beautifully, sparsely produced and feel part of a grander statement. This is a skeletal art-pop triumph.
After blog fawning and honed anonymity in their early years, Swedish boy/girl duo JJ appear to have bared all on their latest LP, ‘V’; their third since 2009 debut ‘jj no. 2’. You’ll really wish they hadn’t. Lyrically, it’s like those phrases disseminated by cliché-autobots, postcard-pap for morons – ‘It’s my party I’ll get high if I want to/Life’s a party I can die if I want to/God is here, say hi if you want to’. Elsewhere it’s as if Elin Kastlander has swept up rejected material from the cutting room floor of a particularly awful Disney film: ‘I’m up in the club/I won’t be up in these drugs/but if you show me love/you might get a hug’. EH, KIDS! Night out with this lot, eh! Although the music’s more cloudy, nestled with field sounds and hush-prone rather than standard vanilla-tripe commerciality, the mawkish vacuity of it all wins out, beaming like beauty-pageant anathema. Fluffy, acridly-‘perfect’, rife with bedwetting tedium and inane confessionals, it’s what I imagine the aftermath of downing cheap perfume would be. Fucking unbearable.
In 2010, Spoon were announced as officially the best-reviewed band of the noughties after a five-album run of uncontroversial, quietly intelligent and impressive American indie rock cast them as the decade’s most reliably 4-star band. ‘They Want My Soul’ is their first album since that run, although, as befits a band famed for consistency, the four-year wait doesn’t seem to have affected their sound. Accordingly, we get juicy heartland-rock Springsteenisms (the title track), motorik krautrock diversions (‘Rainy Taxi’) and the kind of synth-driven tuneful epic destined to soundtrack the credits of the next soppy/angsty Michael Cera movie (‘New York Kiss’), all delivered with impeccable musicianship, sleek production and the kind of enjoyable self-confidence only possessed by a band eight albums into its career. Unfortunately, though, Spoon’s professionalism is also their undoing: however well-chiselled, accomplished and tasteful ‘They Want My Soul’ might be, there’s an uncanny sterility to its proficiency that makes it hard to imagine anyone truly falling in love with it.
A product of Jack Vallesteros’ bedroom tinkering, Craft Spell’s debut album, 2011’s ‘Idle Labour’, mixed synthetic drums and layered reverb into an inspired collection of lo-fi dream pop. ‘Nausea’ distances itself from its predecessor’s muted mystery by taking a more full bodied approach to arrangement, but loses some clarity and charm in the process. The first half of the album holds most of the highs, from the lush twinkling orchestration of ‘Nausea’ and the softly swirling chorus of ‘Changing Faces’, to the delicate piano breaks on ‘Dwindle’ and ‘Twirl’’s gentle garage-rock crescendo. But by the halfway mark there’s the nagging suspicion you’ve heard this before only in a more engaging effort from the likes of Washed Out or Wild Nothing. ‘Breaking The Angle Against The Tide’ aside, the album’s second half meanders too long, its lack of definition leaving what could have been a gareat EP as a flawed album. While its early highs are enough to stave off the titular nausea, the second half might leave you feeling like a narcoleptic.
The concept of preternaturalism succinctly captures the uncanniness of psychedelia: referring to naturally occurring phenomena that nonetheless appear magical or mysterious, the preternatural is where the familiar becomes strange, where our beliefs in the empirical and rational are troubled. Grumbling Fur’s third album is nothing if not well titled, then: its druggy, Englishaccented ambient-pop pulsates as if issuing directly from Brian Eno’s echo-chamber. But where ‘Another
Green World’ unsettled its own portrait of pastoralism via the dehumanising filter of technoutopianism, ‘Preternaturals’ locates the grain of the strange within the pastoral itself. Songs proceed mantra-like as billowing textures of soft-focus electronics and languid strings envelop half-chanted vocals: “you knew it before you gave it a name,” goes the chorus of standout ‘Mister Skeleton’, evoking the barely perceptible spectres that haunt the duo’s politely eccentric music. Lead
single ‘All The Rays’, meanwhile, issues from an eternal present of almost eerie pleasantness. This is a record tinged with a faint sense of unease, if not quite surrealism. Indeed, on occasion its reserved demeanour feels excessively tasteful, as if straying too far towards the former in its marriage of the mundane and the mysterious. At its best, though, it finds Grumbling Fur continuing to make refined art-pop that derives considerable force from gently destabilising the familiar.
0 7/ 1 0
Grumbling Fur Preternaturals Th e Qu i e t u s Ph o no gra phic C o r po ra tio n By T h omas May . In sto re s Au g 11
James Yorkston The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society
The Wytches Annabel Dream Reader
Morton Valence Left
He ave nl y
Basta rd R ec o r di ng s
S im b u s
By Daisy J o ne s . I n sto re s Augu st 2 5
B y J am e s We st. I n st o res A u g ust 1 8
B y J A m es W est. In sto r e s A u g ust 1 8
If Birmingham’s Swim Deep are the long hot summer,The Wytches are the holiday blues. Or even the holiday angers. Unlike much of the hazy, garage-psychadelic revivalists that have been littering the place recently, this Brighton-based trio (originally from Peterborough) paint a slightly darker picture with their downer psych (or “surf doom”, as they call it). Think flies in your lemonade. Recorded in the space of two days in Hackney, the band’s debut album sounds how Jack White would if he were as goth as he looks, or like the Pixies’ Black Francis on one of his more manic days, or, even, like how The Horrors used to, when they were at their most primal. “You sit there and laugh while my dignity collapses,” frontman Kristian Bell drools in ‘Wire Frame Mattress’, the swaggering Sabbath-like sixth track on ‘Annabell Dream Reader’. It’s an impressive first LP and, unlike many of their fuzzpedal-fond contemporaries, the tracks appear in short, varied bursts that manage to deflect the propensity to get samey. It’s music best enjoyed whilst drinking a warm Jack and Coke in some dingey basement.
Morton Valence have a habit of referring to themselves as an “urban country” act, as though they’re the Flying Burrito Brothers in snapbacks and hi-tops. In reality, the Londonbased quintet are scarcely anything of the sort. Granted, there’s an acoustic sensibility evident here, but if anything, this third release is missing any kind of cohesive thematic narrative. Ironically, this inconsistency has itself become a running theme throughout the band’s discography; a whole that’s less than the sum of its parts. Here, for instance, several songs channel spaced-out bossa nova, ‘Thank You and Goodnight’ is a slice of latenight easy listening and, apropos of nothing, ‘Old Punks (Part 2)’ is an incongruous blast of ’80s hardcore. Individually there’s nothing wrong with most of these songs and some, such as Kinks homage ‘The Return of Lola’ and epic slow-burn opener ‘The Day I Went to Bed for 10 Years’, are really quite excellent. All the more’s the pity that they’re buried on such a patchwork album thats randomness is confirmed by it’s cover art of Joseph Stalin.
Nevermind the sanctuary of the coffee shop or the loneliness of early hours trips to the golden arches,The/ Das’s self-proclaimed ‘techno tenderness’ belongs on the vivid sprawl of the dancefloor itself. On this glistening debut album, the Berlin-based partnership bolster their emotive core with a fidgety electro spin on the airy, after hours jams of Sohn and Deptford Goth. Lead single ‘My Made Up Spook’, a departure from last year’s ‘Speak Your Mind Speak’ EP, proves both intimately bare and brashly glossy, with Friendly Fires-aping magnetism that outweighs the genre’s more insular excursions. However, elsewhere, they’re Delphic-like in their penchant for the progressive (‘Miami Waters’) and occasional purveyors of a Metronomy-ish kookiness (‘Operation of Chance’), which all combine to make for a curious first showing. There’s a darker side on show too, with futuristic and mysterious instrumental moments that recall Daft Punk’s ‘TRON: Legacy’ (‘Somebody Is’), something which teases potential future exploration.
For a man so infamously aloof, J Mascis’ debut solo album, 2011’s ‘Several Shades of Why’, felt awfully vulnerable. The acoustic sound that few expected from a man so tied to his electric guitar, the hushed vocals, the finger-picking – all these duped us into assuming the LP was personal. But beneath the surface, Mascis, as ever, was hiding behind lyrical ambiguity: “Got to wait this time/ Why should I have time to answer?/ Several shades of why/ I can’t go back, it’s faster,” he gently
sang on the album’s title track. ‘Tied to a Star’, his second solo effort, drops the confessional guise entirely, mostly replacing the gentle acoustics of ‘Several Shades’ with hearty, American guitar playing, and odes to living like humans do – with anxiety, fear, love and hope. It’s all the more cohesive because of it. Whilst the Dinosaur Jr frontman’s ear for hooks has never really been in doubt, ‘Tied to a Star’ brings a beautiful (and perhaps unexpected) emotional honesty to bear. It’s filled
with little moments – like when Mascis questions himself on ‘Better Plane’ (“Will I be there to see?”), or when his vocals soar hopefully on opener ‘Me Again’, or when ‘Drifter’’s guitar line breaks off, only to accelerate through its heady three minutes of joy – where the man, rather than the musician, takes a front seat. As a man so socially awkward, Mascis is imperfect as a rock star, yes, but also familiar and beautiful. Just like ‘Tied to a Star’.
Do min o By C h ris Watkey s. In sto res A ug ust 18
James Yorkston’s musical constancy and tendency towards open-house collaboration is an impressive and remarkable thing. The title of this new album is a nod to his approach, and here the self-styled ‘Scottish gent’ invites KT Tunstall, amongst others, to add zest to his folky stew. This, as ever, is slowly immersive music; music that washes over you gently, drawing you into its autumnal colours. ‘Feathers Are Falling’ is a delicate ballad, which engenders images of padding softly through a warm forest glade, while ‘The Blues You Sang’ is as soothing as a lullaby. Yorkston’s clever and literate lyricism is strongly in evidence throughout the record, from the tongue-in-cheek folk duet of ‘Fellow Man’ to the typically beautiful and bittersweet ‘Broken Wave’, where he gently intones “I promise I will remember you as a man full of love / And not this broken wave”. At over an hour, though, it feels slightly overlong, and one gentle, carefully constructed composition tends to blend into the next, with few discernible seams.
J Mascis Tied To A Star S u b Po p By Jo sh sun th . In sto res A ug ust 25
King Creosote From Scotland With Love
Soft Walls No Time
Erland & The Carnival Closing Time
D o mi n o
Tr ou b l e In M i n d
Ho us e Anxi e t y
F u ll T im e Hobb y
By C h r i s Watkeys. I n store s now
B y J ame s W e st . I n s tore s A ugus t 4
By H ayl e y Scott . I n s tore s A u g u st 1 1
B y To m F en w ic h . I n s tor es A u g u st 2 5
Kenny Anderson is now many, many albums into a career in which he has consistently served up well above his rightful share of inventiveness, emotiveness and sheer musical quality. This latest record, written to accompany a ‘poetic documentary film’ (a composition of archived footage on themes including emigration, employment and war), opens with a typically plaintive organ refrain before Anderson’s instantly recognisable, beautifully lilting vocals begin floating over gently shifting, major to minor chords. It’s further proof that King Creosote isn’t just a songwriter – he’s a composer, a constructor of beauty. Witness the last minute and a half of ‘Leaf Piece’, which is a warm, orchestral vignette all of its own, while on ‘Miserable Strangers’’, slow-building, layered harmonies are weaved with soulstirring strings to moving effect. From the jaunty, slightly ramshackle runaway folk of ‘Largs’, to the ethereal two-minute instrumental ‘Crystal 8s’, to the hugely emotive, triumphal call-to-arms that is ‘Pauper’s Dough’, ‘From Scotland With Love’ is consistently superb.
Faux Discx Records owner Dan Reeves (also of Cold Pumas) has conjured a soundtrack for the quarter-life crisis generation on this new solo record. ‘No Time’ is a slew of musings about the ticking clock; a foggy, 8-track haze of wishy-washy psychedelia that feels as lackadaisical and dispirited as the audience it shoots for. Sadly, it’s almost drearily precise in its aural portrayal of life stage mediocrity and frustration, which ultimately makes for a somewhat lacklustre listening experience. ‘Won’t Remember My Name’ is drab, post-trip comedown music; the kind that all-tooaccurately fits a depressing scene in a dark room, with a pants-clad twenty-something gawping at his own reflection and longing for his innocence. It’s out-muscled by the apathetic strut of ‘The Big Nod’, but despite some revitalising rhythmic drive, the whole thing still proves a tad un-enjoyable. Kaleidoscopic thrills and surprise lilts sprinkle magic over similar releases in 2014, a fact that marks this as a mite meandering; like time spent cooped up inside on a drizzly weekend.
In the instance of music criticism, it’s always best to never trust your initial impressions: while some of the greatest albums ever recorded don’t sound particularly good on first listen, others with immediate appeal often reveal themselves to be hollow at the core. Childhood’s debut album pertains to the former: on first inspection, ‘Lacuna’ sounds like a paradigm of every indie record this side of the 21st century; opener ‘Blue Velvet’ is musical bait for every journalistic cliché that the term ‘indie’ has appropriated – lo-fi, jangly, blissed-out – and with that it becomes a direct counterpart to Real Estate’s ‘Days’, an album that, for all its merits, suffers from a languid aesthetic that has seen countless imitations. On closer inspection, however, this debut album has a hidden depth that is manifested within its genre defiance. From the tightly packaged pop of ‘Solemn Skies’ to the electronic experimentation of ‘Tides’, an affinity for the ’80s and ’90s is distinct, but it hints at more varied influences, and it’s this aptitude for melody and nuance that prevails.
Erland & The Carnival’s third album pushes the collaboration between Erland Cooper and Simon Tong away from their established schtick for modernising folk traditions, with the portentously titled ‘Closing Time’ showcasing a more personal collection of songs. Tong’s arrangements take in a broad range of influences from sweeping pop (‘Closing Time’, ‘Is It Long ‘Til It’s Over’) and baroque folk (‘Wrong’,’They’re Talking About You Again’), to the meandering country of ‘Quiet Love’, while Cooper’s adaptable vocals offer up a rich foil for the infectious rhythmical flourishes, working best in the subtle psychedelia of ‘I Am Joan’, the almost-saccharine-but-actuallyrather-heart-warming ode to fatherhood ‘Daughter’ and album centrepiece ‘Radiation’. The latter’s deceptively simple form incorporates an undulating piano with call and response vocals that feel utterly bewitching, on a heartfelt album that sees the group flourish, hopefully turning them from curate’s egg to genuine concern for the first time in their decade long career.
Adorning the cover of Cosines’ debut ‘Oscillations’ are the curvilinear forms of the Legendre polynomials; solutions to a set of problems devised by the French mathematician of the same name. Fittingly, the London-based quartet self-define as a “mathematical pop” group, yet, their not-quite-twee indie is a far cry from the pompous complexity of math rock. Throughout ‘Oscillations’ interlocking synth and guitar lines recall Stereolab and ‘Parallel Lines’-era Blondie in equal
measure, although not with quite such uncanny force. And when motorik beats and guitar scuzz do surface it’s always in the service of the cute rather than the kosmiche. There’s an endearing amateurishness to ‘Oscillations’ – from the back-of-an-envelope lyrics down to the boxy, lo-fi production – but its blocky melodies and song structures too often creep from the simple into the simplistic. Perhaps those polynomials traced across the album’s cover provide an instructive
analogy: presented contextless – solid lines on tasteful brown background – the curves are stripped of their considerable mathematical import, their function merely decorative. Indeed, where math rock’s shallow complexity felt like an orgy of intellectual posturing, Cosines’ meeker “mathematical pop” employs its ostensible subject only as a source of quaint, prettified regularity: in both cases the idea of “mathematics”, regrettably, serves little more than contrivance.
Cosine Oscillations F i ka By Th o mas May . In store s July 28
Reviews 0 7/ 1 0
By The Sea Endless Days Crystal Sky
DZ Deathrays Black Rat
War R oom
Inf ect i o u s
Be l l a U ni o n
The Electric Würms Musik, Die Schwer Zu Twerk
By Davi d Zammi tt. In sto res A ug ust 18
B y Sam C o rnfo r t h. I n sto res A ugu st 1 8
By D aniel D yl an W ray. I n st o r es A u g ust 1 8
B e lla U n io n B y Ree f Y o u n is . I n sto r es A u g ust 1 8
This mysterious Wirral dream-pop five-piece have been attracting quite a bit of attention of late and it’s easy to see why. The footprints of their North West forebears are evident throughout the debut LP’s 10 tracks, with shimmering jangle guitars reminiscent of Jonny Marr, vocals that invoke the sensual, detached diction of Ian McCulloch and a collection of wistful themes which reprise the sugar-coated teenage romances brought to life by The Stone Roses. ‘Emily Says’, for example, stirs that same sense of longing that the pens of Messrs Brown and Squire conjured up in ‘Sally Cinnamon’ in June 1987 and it could well be a leftfield indie anthem 27 summers on. However, while the choruses are strong, ‘Endless Days, Crystal Sky’ would undoubtedly benefit from more variation. A throwback sound which also draws heavily upon The Cure and The Psychedelic Furs means that By The Sea seem to find themselves perpetually looking over their shoulder and they’ll need to move beyond that if they are to hold attention spans beyond this record.
The description of the video for ‘The Mess Up’, an early DZ Deathrays song, reads, “2 guys, 1 bottle of Jägermeister, 3 minutes,” and inevitably ends in a load of spewing. This intoxicating, lively and ramshackle behaviour characterised the spontaneous set of songs from their live set that made up their debut album. Despite being a very slightly more measured affair, which was specifically written as an album, their follow-up, ‘Black Rat’, still manages to fizz away at your insides like a concoction of energy drink, cheap alcohol and Lucozade tablets provoking hyperactive energy (best illustrated on the album opener and title track, which is like a hard shove into a mosh pit). There are also signs of progression – ‘Gina Works at Heart’ and ‘Ocean Exploder’ are their most gigantic songs to date and best show the clever song structures they conjure up. ‘Black Rat’ proves DZ Deathrays are just as scuzzy and fun as before, but the party is beginning to drag on and this Aussie duo need to do some maturing soon, especially at DFA 1979 are on their way back this autumn.
‘Albumin’ – the forth album from this Baltimore group – is a waltzer ride of a record. Within the first three songs it transforms from the opening Nine Inch Nails-like synth stabs of ‘Razor’s Edge’ to the Hammond Organ-drenched ’60s jazz-rock of ‘Walk On’. It’s a template that sets the tone for the rest of the record; it’s varied but it can’t quite find out what it wants to be. The nicely executed vocals of Katrina Ford are the one constant exception throughout, but it’s an album that gets too bogged down in trying to find its feet. In trying to be several things at once it often results in staying put in the middle ground of fairly uninspiring trad-rock. Perhaps it’s something in the Baltimore air but echoes of both the Beach House and Lower Dens style (even if Celebration pre-date both of them) can be heard floating around. However, where the former push space and atmosphere to the forefront, ‘Albumin’ seems intent on filling every available space, which can result in both an overwhelming and clumsy experience, such as the funk-soulwaltz hybrid of ‘Chariot’.
After fifteen studio albums and thirty years of noise under The Flaming Lips’ banner, the quirk, confusion and general space rock weirdness permeating Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd’s addled minds seemed to be veering towards a bleak disintegration. Picking up on those dark, experimental drone grooves as Electric Würms, this debut release is a pulsing, puzzling plunge into a psychedelic prog-folk K-hole. Opening with ‘The Bat’, busy lo-fi production, circuit-breaks and creeping vocals drift in from the ether before ‘Futuristic Hallucination’ slows things to a Xanax crawl with slurred electronics that play out somewhere between The Field and the Mars landing. ‘Living’ picks up the pace with a restless Motorik beat, ethereal vocals and dystopian Vangelis atmospheres but it’s the wailing, frenzied static of ‘Transform!!!’ that is this album’s snapshot. So obnoxious it needed three exclamation marks, it crashes the jazz fusion, pop confusion and rolling prog intent into a closer that’s weird, wild, and fleetingly wonderful.
Echoes of ‘Vespertine’ in the electroacoustic backing; vocals closemic’d, speak-sung: “Hey babe, how’s your day been? No, you first. Oh, what? The delay’s quite bad. Yeah, sorry.” And as if to make an obvious point even more so, the track’s entitled ‘Telemiscommunications’. Not unlike Damon Albarn’s (admittedly better) ‘Everyday Robots’, what might be called the emotional heart of Imogen Heap’s fourth album, ‘Sparks’, engages in a critique whose supposed profundity
is somewhat dubious. The villain: technology; the victim: relationships. This all treats the digital medium as an intruder into everyday experience, but isn’t it actually inextricably entwined with – even inseparable from – ‘real-life’, creating new spaces, new forms, even whilst it erodes those of old? Stopping somewhere short of glitch, Heap’s dramatic (over)production incorporates digitalia as mere exoticism, a signifier of the contemporary kept largely at arm’s
length. And the authenticity of the physical – indexed most forcefully by her vocal acrobatics – predictably wins the day. The phone call continues: “Can I call you back? Yeah, everything’s fine. Why, am I? I don’t know why. I probably just need sleep, it’s been a busy week.” Somewhere, at a dinner party in middle England, ‘Telemiscommunications’ is skipped for being a little depressing. I’d just forgo the whole lot and enjoy the sound of cutlery.
0 4/ 1 0
Imogen Heap Sparks Me gaph on i c By T h oma s May . In sto res Aug u st 18
Merchandise After The End 4A D By Joe Goggin s. In sto re s Au gust 25
This being a print publication, I haven’t got as much room as I’d like to talk about ‘After the End’, so rather than discuss the apparent fluidity of the Merchandise lineup, their denouncing of the Tampa hardcore scene that birthed them or speculate as to what it was about previous mini album ‘Totale Nite’ that captured the imagination of the popular press, I’ll instead jump straight into an appraisal of the record at hand. Merchandise are on 4AD now. These are the indie big leagues, so there’s an expectation that, sonically speaking, they’ll respond in kind. Sure enough, ‘After the End’ isn’t just considerably crisper than the
releases that have preceded it; it’s a fair bit more urgent, too. Opener ‘Corridor’, admittedly, represents a gentle introduction – an acoustic guitar-driven instrumental that shimmers away, with only the odd burst of ominous percussion to puncture the haze – but thereafter, there’s a palpable sense of boldness in terms of the record’s progression from the mope rock that’s gone before. Suddenly, we’re firmly into retro pop territory. ‘Enemy’ is a case in point – Carson Cox’s lackadaisical vocal floats over decidedly nineties, La’s-esque acoustic guitars, rather than early Morrissey electrical swoon. It’s a recurring change for the
Floridian group, and irrespective of how the band preceded ‘After The End’, there’s no denying that it has a very clear sonic identity of its own amongst the burgeoning Merchandise catalogue. ‘Little Killer’ is one of a few tracks that’s driven primarily by very eighties guitar tones. You can clearly hear The Cure and The Smiths in them (‘Green Lady’ and ‘True Monument’, too), and neat, understated vocal turns on Cox’s part. Elsewhere, there’s experimentation. ‘Life Outside the Mirror’ goes without percussion, instead backed by a subtle synth line and washed-out acoustic guitar, whilst ‘Looking Glass Waltz’ takes almost the opposite stance – there’s
bursts of eccentric, off-beat drumming, with a gentle, fauxanthemic organ taking the listener the rest of the way. In terms of stepping away from the frenetically paced, often chaotic material of old, ‘After the End’ ticks most of the boxes; the slow burn of the title track, with plucked electric guitar simmering over a casually constructed soundscape, is probably the most convincing example. As pop throwbacks go, in fact, it’s a fine record. My only concern, though, is that Merchandise might very well have shed a little too much of their character in making it. That was probably what made them so interesting in the first place.
DJ Harvey is the man everyone wants to have play their house party. Subversive hedonist with a gurning grin, clubbing elder statesman whose very face tells of a lifetime’s euphoric excess, he’s the real-life Jeff Lebowski: the laid-back libertine bum, stoner philosopher, California personified, even if he is from Cambridge. ‘Wildest Dreams’ is Harvey’s rock-band incarnation that aspires to the same spirit he brings to his DJing – loose, spontaneous, psychedelic and sprawling – with its
primary appeal being to act as a window into Harvey’s seductive lifestyle. It’s no surprise then that ‘Wildest Dreams’ succeeds and fails based on exactly how seductive that lifestyle appears: at its best, on the soulful, swaggering ‘She Loves Me Not’, the throaty cackles, wild wakkawakka Hammond and flailing drums make Harvey’s brand of bluesy swamp rock sound delicious. Elsewhere, however, particularly on the four separate 7-minute plus proggy instrumental outings, the
excess just feels tiresome: the noodly heads-down boogying might be a blast to play, but any lingering debauchery contained within is extinguished by the meandering tedium invoked by listening to it. And ultimately that leaves Wildest Dreams with a problem – its creator might be the life and soul of the party, but listening to a recording of even the world’s wildest rave is nothing on being there, and ‘Wildest Dreams’’ resulting dislocation is just rather tantalising.
DJ Harvey Wildest Dreams S mal l to wn s u per s o un d By sam wal ton . In sto res July 28
Reviews / Live
Conor Oberst Koko, Camden, London 0 9 / 0 7/ 20 14 wr i ter : j oe g oggins Ph oto gr aph er : El inor Jo ne s
There’s probably plenty to be made of noted agnostic Conor Oberst playing a show in a cathedral, and there’s certainly a degree of neutrality to its suitability as a live venue, the beautiful surroundings and impressive acoustics usually cancelled out by the poor sightlines that the building’s intimidating pillars guarantee for large swathes of those gathered. That this show is a sell-out, unlike Oberst last solo performance in Manchester, six years ago, in a similarly-sized room, is perhaps
indicative of the upswing he currently finds himself on, professionally at least – ‘Upside Down Mountain’, released back in May, is his finest full-length in quite a while. Backed by Dawes, who open proceedings with an uninspiring set of their own, Oberst brings a thrilling urgency to a slew of new cuts, with opener ‘Time Forgot’ suddenly a rollicking affair and ‘Zigzagging Toward the Light’ a touch moodier than its light, airy studio counterpart. A man whose appearance seems to change so frequently that he has
more faces than the cathedral’s clock tower, the smartness of his current haircut and blue blazer is offset by a rough beard that suggests he forgot to bring a razor on tour. Similarly, he blends the new material with classic Bright Eyes tracks intelligently tonight; rather than just throwing in the fan favourites, he mixes jauntier efforts that match the upbeat sound of ‘Upside Down Mountain’ – ‘No One Would Riot for Less’, ‘Old Soul Song’ – with moments of tender poignancy that the environment positively demands,
with ‘Poison Oak’ and ‘Lua’ delivered gorgeously late on. A smattering of songs from his excellent, self-titled LP – including ‘Get-Well-Cards’ and the fabulously evocative ‘Cape Canaveral’ – bring home just how strong Oberst’s catalogue is; he’s still just thirtyfour. To be able to revert back to this territory so quickly after last year’s successful Desaparecidos reunion suggests he’s one of modern music’s true renaissance men; rather like the cathedral itself, his preservation seems essential.
Luke Abbott St. Pancras Church, London
Sleigh Bells Village Underground
26/ 0 6/ 20 14
02 / 07 / 2 01 4
wr i ter : S am walto n
w r it er : T h o mas Ma y P h o t o g raph er : Lee G o l d up
What on earth can make this sort of unabashed maximalism ok? On Sleigh Bells’ 2010 debut ‘Treats’, irony did: lead singer Alexis Krauss’ bubblegum vocals expressed just enough knowing distance to undercut the music’s machismo. But there are no tongues in cheeks at tonight’s show, Sleigh Bells’ former mischievousness replaced by exhortations to throw ya hands up and party like this kind of brutalist rockrap is within the realms of good-taste. Through such unceasing excess, the group’s attempts to provide instant gratification morph into a tragic erasure of the concept of gratification itself: despite its hysterical pretence to the contrary, it’s basically just really boring. And whilst the earlier tracks on the set-list retain some of their offkilter charm, there’s not much that could make this, for even the most generous definition of “ok”, ok, ok?
To what must be the most intimate of London’s church venues, Luke Abbott brings his most pagan music to date. Hunched over an altar of throbbing machinery that seems to spend the entire set straining at its master’s leash, the Norwich-born composer/producer generates an hour of impressionistic sonic art that glides from darkly ritualistic bass thud to warmly enveloping synth patterns, all the while giving the impression, much like a computerbased Battles, of a musician less performing his work, more discovering it for the first time there and then. Occasionally it veers towards a 4/4 beat, although more often than not that nod towards accessibility feels like a miss-step rather than a concession; indeed it’s when Abbott’s at his most abstract that his music really sparkles.
Brian Jonestown Massacre The Roundhouse, Camden
Blank Realm The Lexington, Islington
0 1/ 0 7/ 20 14
02/07/ 2 0 1 4
wr i ter : J ames F. Tho m pso n
wri te r: S a m Walto n P hoto gr aphe r: S A M WAL TON
It is both heartening and discomfiting to see Anton Newcombe and his band turn in such a consummately professional performance. It feels churlish not to afford Newcombe this valedictory tour of his back catalogue, after what has been an unbelievably tumultuous three decades, yet anybody expecting the chaotic maelstrom evidenced on 2004’s warts-and-all documentary ‘Dig!’ is in for a disappointment. Nowadays the psych-rock eight-piece are a welloiled machine, effortlessly navigating between new favourites (‘Vad Hände Med Dem?’) and old anthems (‘Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth’) with nary a hint of discord. There are shades of the band’s uproarious past on display – Newcombe is properly furious when some aerial detritus finds its way to the stage – but tonight’s set is otherwise about as grown-up as the audience.
If bands with lead-singing drummers – think Genesis,The Eagles et al – are often characterised by high musical ability but the charisma of a teabag, then Blank Realm appear to be inverting that trend with aplomb: despite looking like he’s just come from work, leader Dan Spencer yelps and squeals over both his kit and the rest of his band with palpable delight, and the entire Brisbane-based, simbling four-piece’s chaotic, energetic and charmingly sloppy stage presence is so warmly engaging that it more than trumps the lack of discernable musicianship on display. Sure, winning smiles only go so far, but Blank Realm’s are champion, and what’s more, on the occasions that they actually do justice to their recorded output of hazy, summer-coloured noise, the results are a broad-smiled joy, full of krauty meander and cosmic texture.
We type, and we type, and we type. We get up in the morning, and we type. We go to work, and we type. Then we go home, and we type some more. The monotony of modern life. Days of repetition, repeated each week. Sometimes you need to escape from it all and take a trip to a new world, one without development opportunities and complex pay structures. Tonight Fucked Up invite The Cluny into their world, causing a few burst eardrums along the way. The group rattle through the majority of their recent ‘Glass Boys’ record, bashing each and every face on a shimmering wall of sound Kevin Shields would be proud of. Despite being on the receiving end of this aural bruising, it’s impossible not to feel glorious in the presence of Mr Pink Eyes. Our host for the evening dives into the action after a few short minutes, hugging each and every soul he can get his hands on, and crushing beer cups on his head. The last time hardcore was this happy Macaulay Culkin was being left home alone, again. So the next time it all gets too much, don’t panic, just hit up some real Canadian punk. Fucked up: The remedy to working life.
Fucked Up The Cluny, Newcastle 16/ 0 6/ 20 14 wr i ter : Ja ck Do he rty Photogr a ph er : Le e Goldup
James Holden Southbank Centre, London
Beth Orton The Barbican, London
Eels Royal Albert Hall, London
Parquet Courts ULU, Bloomsbury, London
17/ 0 6/ 20 14
03/0 7/ 2 0 1 4
30 / 0 6 / 2 0 1 4
2 5 / 06 / 2 01 4
wr i ter : S am Walto n
wri te r: C h ri s Watk e y s
wri te r: S am Wa l to n
w r it er : J a m es F . Th o m pso n
On the one hand, the Purcell Room is ideal for James Holden: intimate and with perfect acoustics, both the subtleties and rawness of his current live set-up – modular synth plus drums – are beautifully realised. On the other, though, it’s a bit of a stitchup: the stuffy classicism of the place, all comfortable seats and hushed reverie, are completely at odds with Holden’s addictively loose techno. But with a strict no-standing policy that makes tonight’s show one to be enjoyed more cerebrally than viscerally, it’s a relief that Holden and his extraordinary drummer’s compelling musical chemistry offers so much to admire. Grappling with their instruments and bouncing improvisational ideas off each other, the pair translate Holden’s sinewy flights of fancy into muscular bangers that feel pleasingly subversive in the surroundings.
Artists performing live retrospectives on their key album looks to have passed from novelty, to vogue, to an accepted norm. Whatever your opinion on this, it tends to get bums on seats and tonight Beth Orton revisits ‘Central Reservation’. During opener ‘Stolen Car’, Orton’s nervousness is palpable in her cracked voice. But as the show progresses, in the warm glow of the crowd’s enthusiasm and positivity, she almost appears to physically grow in stature; certainly that remarkable, soaring voice starts to unveil itself, set against the assured, often muted backdrop of her band. Orton is at her most moving when her music is stripped bare. Late on, with the solo acoustic rendition of ‘Pass InTime’ everything crystallises into beautiful, shocking clarity, but tonight these moments are few and far between.
Bookending a show with two of pop’s most bulletproof songs (‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’) would be bold even if, unlike Eels, your last few albums hadn’t been largely forgettable, maudlin affairs. But what could’ve spelled disaster is rendered as a masterstroke tonight by Mark Everett’s ineffable performance presence, pitched halfway between comic depressive and stoic, hometruth raconteur, which both emboldens the slushy standards with the searing honesty of Eels’ best songs and, likewise, sprinkles Everett’s own compositions with the invincibility of the classics. It helps too that Everett selects his finest rather than newest songs tonight: heavy with 2000’s ‘Daisies of the Galaxy’, that undeniable songcraft fills the Albert Hall with a lifeaffirming rush of reassuring joy.
Are Parquet Courts in the midst of an identity crisis? Where 2013’s breakthrough LP ‘Light Up Gold’ was a sinewy spin on ’70s New York postpunk, this year’s ‘Sunbathing Animal’ is nowhere near as sure-footed, oscillating as it does between the taut riffs of yore and a cavalcade of indistinct dirges. Quelle surprise, tonight’s sold out performance is an inconsistent affair, with the Brooklyn outfit playing six new songs before landing the familiar one-two punch of ‘Master of My Craft’ and ‘Borrowed Time’. That said, the playing is tighter than a snake’s backside and tracks like ‘Always Back in Town’ zip by, sounding closer to Mission of Burma than Jonathan Richman. Unfortunately, tedious indulgences such as ‘Raw Milk’ and ‘Into the Garden’ betray a foursome confident in their chops but rather less certain of their sound.
Cinema 10/ 10
A Walk on the Wild by Darren Chesworth
Some Like It Hot di r ecto r : B illy W ilde r Star r i n g : J ack Lemmo n , T o n y C u r tis , M a r ily n M o n r oe
Cinematic history is littered with boys dressing as girls and vice versa. Some Like It Hot might be the greatest cross-dressing movie ever, but there’s plenty more where that came from.
10. The Dark Knight (2008) Given superheroes’ propensity for tights it’s little wonder that a superhero movie makes the top ten cross-dressing films; that the film in question is the macho The Dark Knight is more surprising.The best of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it includes one particularly memorable scene in whichThe Joker (Heath Ledger) wanders around in a nurse’s dress, blowing up a hospital as he goes.
09. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex… (1972) The kind of broader humour Woody Allen practiced before he became obsessed with neurotic New Yorkers can be seen in this portmanteau piece. In the episode Are Transvestites Homosexual? a middle-aged married man secretly tries on his hostess’s dress while at a dinner party, then, after climbing out a window to avoid detection, has his newly acquired purse snatched.
08. I Was A Male War Bride (1949) The only way French soldier Cary Grant can get a visa to travel with his wife, American officer Ann Sheridan, is under the War Bride Act – with Grant as bride. But at the ship his story is not believed so he disguises himself as a nurse and stows aboard. As it turns out Grant pretending to be a woman is far more convincing than Grant pretending to be French.
07. The Crying Game (1992) Jody, a British soldier taken prisoner by the IRA, asks his captor Fergus to visit his girlfriend Dil and tell her what happened to him. After Jody is killed Fergus heads to London, meets Dil and falls in love with her. But when they’re about to have sex Fergus discovers Dil is biologically male. While the twist feels sensationalist the film deals intelligently with issues of race and gender.
06. Pycho (1960) How often filmmakers equate crossdressing with psychopathy: Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, the serial killer in No Way to Treat a Lady, the murderer in Freebie and the Bean, and the daddy (or mummy) of them all Norman Bates in Psycho. Hitchcock’s male characters often had strained relationships with women, but none as complicated as that between Bates and his mother.
05. Jules et Jim (1962) Perhaps the most famous sequence in Truffaut’s Nouvelle Vague classic sees Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) dressed as a man, complete with drawn on moustache, racing through Paris with the other two thirds of the love triangle, Jules (Oskar Weiner) and Jim (Henri Serre). Both the film’s subject matter and style signalled a new freedom for cinema.
04. Shakespeare In Love (1998) Women not being allowed on the Elizabethan stage added an extra dimension to Shakespeare’s crossdressing plays, such asTwelfth Night. Here were men, pretending to be women, pretending to be men.
Shakespeare in Love appropriates the plot device with Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) disguising herself as a man so she can become an actor. Later Joseph Fiennes’ Shakespeare disguises himself as Viola’s female cousin.
03. Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, who after being diagnosed with HIV smuggles pharmaceuticals into the U.S.A for himself and to sell to other sufferers (most of whom are gay or transgender). Eventually the previously homophobic Woodruff goes into partnership and becomes friends with Rayon, a trans-woman played by Jared Leto. Both McConaughey and Leto won Oscars for their performances.
02. Orlando (1992) Sally Potter’s sumptuous adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s classic novel tells the story of the eponymous Orlando, born a male in the 16th century and still living in the 20th century having metamorphosed into a female. Tilda Swinton is excellent as the male/ female Orlando, while Quentin Crisp’s cameo as Queen Elizabeth I, given Crisp’s life story, is a nice touch.
01. King Hearts and Coronets (1949) There is a tradition in British cinema of men dressing in drag for comic effect, from Old Mother Riley, through St. Trinian’s, to Mrs. Brown’s Boys. But it reached its zenith in this Ealing masterpiece with the great Alec Guinness playing all seven members of the aristocratic D’Ascoyne family, including the suffragette Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne.
The cinematic rerelease of Some Like it Hot reminds us just how modern the film still seems, and just how old-fashioned – Modern, in that its charms are as discernable today as they were at the time of its release; old fashioned in that it includes a near miraculous poise unattainable to any subsequent generation of filmmakers. Part gangster flick, part musical, part comedy-romance, this brilliantly written, directed and acted movie tells the story of musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) who go on the run disguised as women with an all-female band, including ukulele player/singer Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), after witnessing a mob hit (the Valentine Day Massacre). There is a tension throughout between the old and new, the innocent and knowing, the naïve and sceptical. On the one hand we get the roaring twenties setting, the adorably simpleminded Sugar, and the boy meets girl love story; on the other we get world-weary protagonists, the duplicitous Joe and Jerry, and the boy meets boy dressed as girl ‘love’ story. It’s the same tension we find in all of Wilder’s many masterpieces. Here is a writer/director who worked in the studio system, adhered to classic narrative structure, and who turned out ‘entertainments’ on an almost yearly basis, yet whose films, even the comedies, are always hard-edged and thematically dark, and whose ‘artistic voice’ is detectable in whatever genre he worked. Nowhere is this more in evidence than the film’s famous ending. Joe and Sugar are given the conventional live happily ever after treatment, but when Jerry explains to millionaire suitor Osgood that he can’t marry him because he’s really a man, the unflustered and undeterred Osgood replies: ‘Well, nobody’s perfect.’ No film is perfect either, but Some Like it Hot comes pretty close.
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wa r pa i n t a l l yo u n e e d i s l ov e , d e a t h a n d da n c e
From Leeds to Letterman
+ Martin Creed Planningtorock Wild Beasts Simon Raymonde Liars Angel Haze
+ albu ms of the year da r k s i d e c at e l e b on ho ok wor m s Ja m e s bl a k e kelela fa t w h i t e fa m i ly n e w wa r b a r ry ho ga n & at p
Connan Mockasin AnimAl chArm
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EMA Daniel Miller Slint
Fuck Buttons richard Hell no Age san Fermin Melt Yourself down Fair ohs scout niblett MoneY
School of Language 65Daysofstatic Lizzo Lorelle Meets The Obsolete
Poliรงa ShyneSS iS niCe
It must be love
lyn c h dreaming big
+ Slowdive La Sera Trash Talk Luke Abbott Olga Bell Matt Berry
John Grant in Iceland
S oCi ety M i kal Croni n J ohn W i zardS J eS S y l anza bi l l Cal l ahan
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Cabaret Voltai re
+ Tom Vek Sharon Van Etten Jeanette Lee The Space Lady Little Dragon Resident Advisor Quilt
jeans Waxahatchee / Vision Fortune / Mount Kimbie Gold Panda / Adam Green & Binki Shapiro Plus The Loud And Quiet guide to Primavera Sound
Party wolf idiot tennis Game. Set. Twat.
thought sport The front line of the Tour De France 1 3 2 4
MOST LIKELY TO SAY
“How much for my arse?”
“Not my arse!”
LEAST LIKELY TO SAY
“Guess what I speak out of...”
The ‘my arse’ thing, it’s a bit annoying
IDIOT POWER PLAY
The ‘Ricky Wilson’ thing, it’s a bit annoying
GAME, SET & MATCH
crush hour Finding love in a hopeless place
1. Baby Spice 2. Spotty Spice 3. Geri Halliwell 4. Lance Armstrong
To the tall guy in the Kaiser Chiefs T-shirt at King’s Cross, a sense of humour is a huge turn-on for me Blonde girl in blue dress
Oh come on! He backed into me!!! #A&E : Reply
To the hunky Meatloaf look-a-like at Ilford Station, I would do anything for love. Like, anything! Even that. Murder, right? Single girl
Wow. Like, he is REALLY gud!!!!!! : Reply
To the fit girl who really noticed me on the Victoria Line, God my chair was squeaky, wasn’t it? Shy guy in brown trousers
Damn! Boy is gud! Takes after his favourite uncle. Lol : Reply
To the girl on the tube, watching YouTube, in a boob tube, I’ve written a song about you Liam Gallagher
Playing ProEvo with my nephew : Reply
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely fictitious
Photo casebook “The inappropriate world of Ian Beale”
( This has definitely gone down today
Charles Bradley / The War on Drugs / Rustie / Erol Alkan & Daniel Avery / Mark E. Smith / Sylvan Esso / Molly Nilsson / Jonathan Poneman
Published on Jul 25, 2014
Charles Bradley / The War on Drugs / Rustie / Erol Alkan & Daniel Avery / Mark E. Smith / Sylvan Esso / Molly Nilsson / Jonathan Poneman