UNDER CITY LIGHTS // RareFM magazine issue 2
Estrons @ Boston Music Rooms Photo by: EJ Oakley
Jake Crossland Design Nikol Chen Contributors EJ Oakley Jamie Walker Hughie Rogers-Coltman Abdul Rashidi Bianca Bana Felix Harvey-Jefferson Matt Solomons Rosie Todd Lucrezia Alfonzi Hannah Abrey Joe Bell James Witherspoon Max Thomas Alice Field
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UNDER CITY LIGHTS TEAM
NOTE FROM THE EDITO
photo by: danielascodelario
Hi there, It’s Under City Lights - again. We’re back and looking to simpler times throughout this issue, be that EJ Oakley’s ‘Blur’ retrospective, or our collective favourite albums from 2007, or even just a couple of weeks ago to some of our favourite shows. We’re still looking to the future too though - there’s interviews with Amber Run, Wedding, Zak Abel and UnCL’s Ones to Watch Totally plus a roundup of all the gigs you should be getting yourself to soon AND all the other good stuff you’ve come to expect from us. See you on the flipside, dudes!! Stay lucky, Jake Crossland Radical editor-in-chief
photo by: a__factory__girl
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Rewind Mallory Knox: Wired
Circa Waves: Different Creatures
J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only
Los Campesinos! Sick Scenes
Stormzy: Gang Signs & Prayers
Blurring The Lines
The Importance and Transience of
Lights At The End Of The Tunnel
The Best Of 2007
Like A Version
Fast Forward 54 56
The UnCL Mixtape You Have To Be There: Gigs to See
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Artwork by: EJ Oakley
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Mallory Knox’s third album explores new territories and brings back with it a new personality.
f I had been asked in 2013, when British alternative rock / post-hardcore band Mallory Knox released their first album ‘Signals’, whether the band would have still been famous today, I would have probably answered by saying that it would have been difficult, looking at their lyrics and the strong influence of bands like Deaf Havana, Fall Out Boy, Sleeping with Sirens, and Don Broco, haunting their first album.
But these guys from Cambridge have gone through a massive evolution and improvement in the years (both in terms of sound and lyrics). They started from ‘Signals’, their first album, which could be seen as the period when they were perhaps insecure and too young; passing through ‘Asymmetry’, their second album, when we start to see something beyond break up songs and where lyrics start to mature, as well as music; and arrive at ‘Wired’, their new work, where the progress reaches its climax. ‘This album documents a journey of self discovery’ states frontman Mickey Chapman. Alternative rock is still there, as a genre, but sounds seem more sophisticated and less post-hardcore than in the past. Mallory Knox seem to have moved from caterpillar to butterfly, realizing their potential and emerging with a new and unique personality.
Lyrics now deal with a greater variety of topics, and this can be seen immediately, starting from the opener ‘Giving It Up’, with falsetto vocals in the chorus, representing a new side to their music. The song ‘illustrates that when you keep all the frustrations and anger inside, it leads you to a breaking point of desperation where you feel like you might as well just ‘give it up’’ explains bassist Sam Douglas. Interesting, the video, recently released on YouTube, reminds me of ‘Black Mirror’, but perfectly matches the song, as it represents (surreally) the necessity to find an escape, to unplug ourselves from life and find a better place, when reaching a breaking point. There are two songs on ‘Wired’, which are particularly moving, as they deal with a topic Mallory Knox have never broached before: mental illness, and in particular, depression and anxiety. Indeed, ‘For You’ tells the story of someone who needs to take pills to feel better, to be ok, as the lyrics demonstrate through lines like: ‘I’m so lost from who I was/ that it stops me showing/ all the love inside I feel that I’ve been hiding’ or ‘I shy away and day by day I can’t help feeling down’ and the chorus goes on by saying ‘I’m sorry but it won’t work/ these pills make my head hurt/ but I’ll try to make a fresh start for you/’. It’s about depression, but also about the desire to keep going on and have strength, not to let the illness dominate one’s life. To pair music with the song, it’s suitably more relaxed,
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less aggressive and very emotional. ‘Better Off Without You’ deals with similar subject material. What’s interesting is that it deals with a real experience, that of the bassist of the band, Sam Douglas, who suffers from anxiety. The lyrics are touching (‘You think I’m indestructible/ but I can tell you right now/ with losing my mind I’m losing my money/ and I’m feeling sick/ but I think I’m getting use to it/ and I’ve been taking trips, out of my head and out of my body/ losing myself and loving no one/’) and so is the music that accompanies the song. The song’s video is impressive in its narrative, as it shows how anxiety can be to a person who needs to cope with it on a daily basis. The album however, also presents more light-hearted songs such as ‘California’, ‘Come Back Around’ or ‘Lucky Me’, dealing respectively with summer, adventure and daydreaming, making the album easy to appreciate: mature and varied. Lastly, through ‘Wired’ we really get to know the band, their true emotion and sometimes their life stories, as in the case of Sam Douglas’ anxiety. We understand that Mallory Knox have grown up, and are no longer afraid of delving into new territories, proudly showcasing their new and true personality.
photo by: a__factory__girl
‘Wired’ will be available in stores from Mar. 10th.
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Los Campesinos! return with a mature, bittersweet sixth studio effort that sees the indie darlings grow up and settle down, without losing any of their inherent charm. “‘What I’d not give just to have another week,”’ sings lead vocalist Gareth, on the seventh track off ‘Sick Scenes’. The maudlin, sentimental air that the single line itself evokes is not a one-off. In the same song alone, there are plenty more nostalgia-laden references to “‘the good old days”’. There is the mention of a song from their previous album, and a list of streets that frontman Gareth and guitarist Neil lived on during their time at Cardiff University. The track is even called ‘Here’s To The Fourth Time!’ – an obvious longing for old times; an ode to a past viewed through rose-tinted glasses that makes the pain and the pleasure effortlessly meld into one seamless vision. This vision is what defines their sixth album, which is testament to their veteran status as musicians, and as adults approaching their thirties – something rarely seen in today’s youth-dominated indie music scene. The bittersweet tone present both lyrically and musically on ‘Sick Scenes’ couldn’t be further removed from the carefree, riotous noise on their debut album, ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’. The yesteryear that the band look back on has very much been left in the past. ‘Sick Scenes’ sees the Welsh septet exhibit a more controlled and mature sound; swapping raw vocals sometimes bordering on spoken-word and out-of-time yelling for smoother guitars, melodic hooks, and a more conventional sound than ever before. It is not a step forward from previous album ‘No Blues’ – rather, a step sideways. The band seem to have switched tracks into the more commercial-friendly, semi-pop vein of indie rock that burst onto mainstream radio internationally around the start of this decade; pioneered by the likes of The Temper Trap and The Naked and Famous. Ten years on, Los Campesinos! have finally done what all youngsters never see themselves doing – they’ve grown up, settled down, and begun to shape the future with their oh-so-bright past. And they’ve done a damn fine job of it. The cover art for ‘Sick Scenes’ seems to be indicative of the aesthetic that runs throughout the album’s entirety. Rendered completely in a 012 // UnCL
pastel shade of pink, the illustration is of a fallen girl, lying on a supermarket floor as a puddle of milk from a spilled jug creeps towards her. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the spilled milk symbolises. Yet the utterly resigned expression on her face; the complete lack of worry that she exhibits, is the key to the underlying themes on ‘Sick Scenes’. It encompasses the sense of oddly subdued contentment that the album evokes; the same type of nostalgic gloss that memories seem to have whenever one looks back on all they’ve done. This feeling is most notably exemplified on standout track ‘Got Stendhal’s’ – a yearning love song that shambles shyly into existence, but blossoms into an exultant chorus of guitars and shimmering keys as Gareth repeats shakily, “‘At least when we’re encased in concrete we’ll be safe”’. ‘Sick Scenes’ stands as a preservation of old times wrapped up in a new sound, and Los Campesinos! have undoubtedly mastered the art of looking backwards while moving forwards. Opening track ‘Renato Dall’Ara (2008)’ seems to have maintained just a smidge of the band’s former cheekiness in its backing vocal asides, which include lyrics such as “‘a part time grass, but a full-time asshole”’. The track, named after a stadium in Bologna at which England scored a comeback victory against Belgium in 1990, serves as an allegory for the band’s own ups and downs; in Gareth’s words, “‘taking the piss out of ourselves and our 2008 heyday, and how we’re still chugging along”’. This lyrical intelligence that is so signature to Los Campesinos! continues on throughout the album, masterfully conjuring up any emotion that Gareth should choose to invoke on a particular song. “‘The extent of my ambition is a lawn to mow… behold the once and future me,”’ laments second track ‘Sad Suppers’, a tongue-in-cheek jab at the banal mediocrity that suburban life has to offer. Meanwhile, the story of a trip to the doctor’s on ‘5 Flucloxacillin’ invokes the response that “‘my hangover’s always chronic anyway”’, in a sarcastic critique of the older generation’s unsympathetic response to deteriorating mental health amongst the youth of today. Standout track ‘A Slow, Slow Death’ completes the emotional spectrum with the heart-rending and angst-ridden account of a breakup – a former lover is “‘a lilo on an island in the Pacific”’, while the song’s narrator is nothing more than “‘face-down in a puddle on the high street”’. There is something for everyone on this album, which is so heartfelt in its sincerity and relatability that it becomes impossible not to love on the first listen.
‘Sick Scenes’ also has distinctive undertones of a teenage coming-of-age movie soundtrack about it, but Los Campesinos! expertly rein in any saccharine tendencies that one might be expected to adopt on an album primarily based around nostalgia. This is particularly evident in the album’s singles – on one hand, there is ‘I Broke Up In Amarante’, a joyous, straight-up pop-rock ditty accompanied by a chorus of children singing “‘it seems unfair!”’ in time to feverish percussion and energetic riffs. On the other, there is ‘The Fall of Home’ – a sweet, tinkling ballad soaked in wistfulness, complete with violins and all. There is even some exciting, unconventional experimentation on ‘Here’s To The Fourth Time!’, which boasts a tonal switch to a completely different song just over halfway through. This is where Los Campesinos! truly lose themselves in the ecstasy of the music, with thudding drumbeats and fuzzed-out distortion on everything from the swelling guitar line in the background to the eponymous, squalling victory cry of “‘Here’s to the fourth time!”’. Six albums in, Los Campesinos! may be older and wearier, but they are no less formidable a force. ‘Sick Scenes’ is a thoroughly enjoyable listen; both a throwback to better days and a hopeful paean for what is yet to come. “‘But what if this is it now?”’ asks closing track, ‘Hung Empty’. “‘What if this is how we die?”’ If this is a hint at ‘Sick Scenes’ being one last watershed for the band, it will be nothing less than a tragedy for music. But if this is truly where it ends, one thing is for sure – they will have gone out not with a whimper, but with a bang.
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Circa Waves: ‘Different Creatures’
by: James Witherspoon
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pening with a heavy kick of a riff, Circa Waves’ ‘Different Creatures’ definitely arrives with a bang. And, indeed, it’s an explosion that lasts for around 40 minutes. Combining vocals reminiscent of Bombay Bicycle Club lead Jack Steadman, a distinctly Genesis echo, and some sort of ‘punk-lite’ guitar style; Circa Waves aren’t exactly bringing us anything new to the table, but what they do bring is like a block of Pablo Escobar’s finest: addictive, energetic, and fun. ‘Fire that Burns’ is a track that’s perfectly built to be played live – a catchy and addictive verse chord progression, leading into a foot-stomping chorus complete with Kings of Leon-style hard(er) rock. It’s nothing revolutionary, but the addition of small features (such as a looping echo and retro alt-rock feel) keeps the song separate from other commercial fare such as Imagine Dragons. But, indeed, the Waves aren’t planning on sticking to a rigid style. ‘Goodbye’ gave me, strangely, Jake Bugg or country vibes from its vocals – but, at times, a ‘Resistance’-era Muse level of operatic riffing that proves to be endlessly satisfying. ‘Out on my Own’ once again takes another tonal change – to more of a traditional Led Zeppelin-style ballad, which has a chord progression remarkably similar to Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’. But there’s something distinctly modern about the track… Perhaps it’s the musing of the millennial affliction of loneliness, or perhaps it’s the modern indie-vocal style. The backing itself is assuredly classic.
Just when you thought it was over, ‘Different Creatures’ takes an electronic and minimalist beat (similar to Muse track ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System’) and adds what turns out to be a pretty standard alt-rock tune. But on an album where we haven’t really had anything like this yet, it’s more than forgivable. This one proves the most self-consciously ‘indie’ of the tracks – devolving into one of those tropical-ish drum segments that the genre so regularly produces (you’ll know what I mean). ‘A Night on the Broken Tiles’ falls down the Arctic Monkeys route in its verses and ‘Without You’ feels like an adrenaline-shot with its Vaccines-esque
melody with raucous singing to the catchiest beat of the album. ‘Old Friends’ acts almost as the comedown of the piece, as instantly calming and effective as the sunrise over your windowpane the morning after an incredible night out. There are, of course, issues. There’s nothing to suggest we’ll remember ‘Different Creatures’ in 10 years time. We certainly won’t in 50. It slows down a lot in its middle section: a song like ‘Crying Shame’ (at the halfway point) feels a little dull, especially given the reinvention that’s gone on before it. The acoustic ‘Love’s Run Out’ shares the Biffy Clyro curse of bad lyricism (‘I will love you till my love runs out’), and none of the lyrics really verve away from relationships, drink, and partying.
“Skilful, varied, catchy, and with enough idiosyncrasy to form a cohesive identity.” In retrospect, none of the elements of ‘Different Creatures’ deserve special praise – but together as an album they create a supreme piece of popular entertainment that works on a ton of levels. A lot of people mentioned to me how harsh I was in my review of Deaf Havana’s ‘All these Countless Nights’ but ‘Different Creatures’ demonstrates just how this sort of music can be done right: skilful, varied, catchy, and with enough idiosyncrasy to form a cohesive identity. It’s about the good times, chilling with friends in the sun or dancing in warehouses till it’s socially acceptable to wake up for work. It’s about love, youth, and beer on beaches. It channels the spirits of the Strokes classic rock, and modern indie with such gusto that it sidesteps the criticism we can throw at it. It’s not smart, it’s not revolutionary, and it’s not unique: but it’s a fucking blast.
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Stormzy: Gang Signs & Prayers
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ang Signs & Prayer’ plays like an oscilloscope on crack; or an LSDfuelled vision of Jesus dual-wielding diamond encrusted colts. It’s an album of contrast, where the smooth astral-funk spaceship of Childish Gambino collides violently into Trellick Tower, and spews some sort of new religion from its radioactive rubble. Contained within its temple is an unholy mix of grime, RnB, spoken word, gospel, classical, dance, rock, and God knows what else. Following the barnstorming success of Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ at the Mercury Awards, the particularly potent strain of London grime has been free to thrive in the mainstream of critical positivity – garnering respect and sales in equal measure. It seems like an eternity since we first heard the exhilarating ‘Shut Up’ from Michael Omari (AKA Stormzy) – but finally we’ve got the rest of an album to go with it. ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ opens on a rainy day with the aptly titled ‘First Things First’ – a semi-futuristic, classic grime hard-hitter. In it, Stormzy jumps from his recently-disclosed depression to the allegations against him of knife crime, to hating on his haters in an eclectic caffeine-shot of an opener. It sets the scene for what I imagined ‘GS&P’ to be and therefore opens the door to the surprise elements that fly in later on. Indeed, we’re treated to ‘Cold’ immediately after. This one’s a lot harder, a lot dirtier, and a lot more angry at the political establishment that has marginalised the poor and minority groups. Nevertheless, it hints at obscenely warped humour – ‘So tell Boris Johnson ‘suck your mum, we don’t care’’ – and
a coke-addicted beat that help to propel it to the standard that it needs to fit the rest of the album. And it’s here where the formula begins its slow radioactive decay into the kind of prodigal madness that most artists can only dream of evoking. Opening up with a faux-classical riff on ‘Bad Boys’, and leading into an ominous choral beat – connoting some sort of apocalyptic mass in a death cult – is no easy move, but it’s made with minimum fuss. Seemingly discontented with this tonal insanity, Stormzy dials the energy back about 200 degrees to arrive at ‘Blinded by Your Grace, Pt. 1’; a gentle, sung track with a backing melody that sounds remarkably like ‘All I Ask’ by Adele. Except, of course, if Adele was so waved on Grey Goose that her song blurred into an almost vaporwave syrupy mess. It’s gospel, but strictly in the Kanye sense – whom interestingly Omari himself has referenced as an overt inspiration for the song. Its positioning and uniqueness lend humanity to the album in a similar way that ‘Same Drugs’ formed the emotional heart to the beyond-incredible ‘Colouring Book’ by Chance the Rapper. All this boils down to the tune feeling a little derivative – but when this kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic neon gospel sound is executed right, it’s magical. And here, most certainly, it’s the perfect kind of sorcery. And then, just like that, we’re shoved into a time machine and thrown back through a wormhole to some classically harsh and abrasive grime with ‘Big for Your Boots’. Stormzy
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may be living in the future, but he’s unwilling to abandon or forget his influences and upbringing. Indeed, even its placing is an effective little magic trick: pushing the most acidic and unhinged element on the album after its quietest and most reserved. Dazed and confused from that particular state of events, we arrive in the cosmic R&B of Thundercat or Anderson.Paak by way of Watsky spoken lyrics – leisurely, as if over ice. ‘Velvet/Jenny Francis – Interlude’ proves slow, hypnotic, and colourful. It feels like we’ve crossed turbulent seas, but we’ve arrived at some mysterious and fantastical island. And it’s an island that proves to have its own radio station too; with DJ Jenny Francis talking us out gently, and coercing us into ‘Mr Skeng’ in an ingeniously meta twist.
of BGMedia artists). We even hit a full gospel choir a-la ‘Ultralight Beam’, complete with classic rock guitar riffing on the second part of ‘Blinded by Your Grace’. And, as a happy ending, we receive perhaps what we were waiting for all along: ‘Shut Up’. Although, there’s something different – something retrospective – about it this time around. No longer are the abrasive insults and defiant chanting so defining of Stormzy. No longer are the gang signs and dancey rhythms of the past so indicative of his character, or his story. A song like ‘100 Bags’ – a prayer and an ode to his mother, who can lead a better life now that he’s got a bit of money – seems more reflective.
“All this boils down to the tune feeling a little derivative – but when this kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic neon gospel sound is executed right, it’s magical.” From here, ‘GS&P’ alternates between gentler, drunken tunes and more rabid grime fare – but it’s most certainly all about comedown sounds. Not a bad comedown, mind you: more like the feeling of being in Ministry of Sound at 6am than crying after waking naked in a wheelie bin. Intoxicated – but not drunk. There’s an impressive range of collaborations to be found as well – with Kehlani, MNEK, and Raleigh Ritchie among others. Hell, there’s even a beyond-obvious ‘secret’ collab with Lily Allen which will instantly raise a smile. It’s charged, pointed, and at times angry; but it’s contemplative, and pleasingly devoid of the kind of infantile bile that the genre can often spew (see for example the infuriatingly stupid lyricism
There’s something poignant, kaleidoscopic, and meditative about the overall impression we’re left with. Sure, the world is filled with strife and violence – but there’s beauty in i too. It’s a wonderful, unique, and iconic slice of grimy gospel: a neon-clad church filled with hope. Bask in its glory.
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Can we please stop using numbers instead of words and spelling things with a ‘z’ rather than an ‘s’? Please?
By: James Witherspoon
J. Cole 4 Your Eyez Only
rammatical cringiness aside, J. Cole’s latest sonic odyssey is quite something remarkable: a smooth, cutting, and overtly listenable record – if not quite as original as it might think it is. Shades of our old friend Kendrick Lamar abound as neosoul/jazz melds seamlessly with the seedy environment of trap – and what constitutes a typically blazed 00s style of verse on the opening cuts ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and ‘Immortal’. I found myself involuntarily head-bobbing to the drugged-out lyrics of these tracks which follow an almost Flylo-esque mediation on death… but tonally differ completely; more accurately resembling the disappointment and futility best conveyed by The Weeknd in his Trilogy project. This combination of styles and influences may not be completely original – but done right, it creates that beautifully perfect ambience of this generation’s stoner hip-hop: an expertly calculated pessimism that somehow calms and uplifts in equal measures. Surprisingly, the album begins to undergo a sonic shift throughout the next three songs ‘Déjà vu’, ‘Vile Mentality’, and ‘She’s mine Part 1.’ to something resembling a 019 // UnCL
mashup of Pharrell’s chilled smooth crooning and Watsky’s talkier efforts. Indeed, it seems rather too easy to lose oneself in these tracks without being an active listener. Nevertheless, this is perfect music for chillout, working, or just walking around the city. Even more jazzy is ‘Changes’ which sounds like Kamasi Washington took a guest spot – and as y’all know, that can’t be a bad thing. Cole brings us back to earth with a crash landing on ‘Neighbours’ – blending the kind of racially motivated songwriting of Lamar, the anti-fame spin of last month’s Starboy, and just a touch of trap-trash like godawful moaner Fetty Wap.
cialism and danger in the modern world that his daughter has been born into – whilst also acknowledging that her very existence is what fuels his own existence. For the first time in a long time, I’m hearing rap about the love between a parent and a child; as opposed to lamenting a drunken one night stand with a randomer in a nightclub. It’s a beautifully honest and resolutely modern track that I think would have made an excellent closer. As it stands, however, we have one more cut to get through – the title track. Again, it’s a direct snap out of the previous tone and back to an Anderson. Paak style of hard-hitting lyrics spat in a disarmingly leisurely fashion. It’s a long-ass 8:50 closing track, but
For the first time in a long time, I’m hearin g rap about the love between a parent and a child;
as opposed to lamenting a drunken one night stand with a randomer in a nightclub.
I guess this is the first time the record sounds more like a ‘conventional’ rap album (if that exists), and it’s nice as a tonal change which prevents the total zoning out that would have been promoted by having all the tracks smoothjazz their way to snoozeland. This continues with the “hey, hey” and Daft Punk-y funk of ‘Foldin Clothes’. Not sure what the message is here, when the lyrics consist of a menagerie of domestically bland actions (folding clothes, duh; pouring almond milk on his oatmeal; Netflix etc). Probably about love or something…. Who knows. A little knowledge of Cole suggests that ‘She’s mine Part 2.’ is about his daughter. Perhaps ‘Part 1.’ was about his wife? This cut’s a lot more upbeat, a lot smoother – more akin to Hiatus Kaiyote than the darker jazz from earlier. Although Cole starts out optimistic, he becomes resolutely depressed as he discusses the rampant commer-
it handsomely takes its seat in the hall of fame of great long-ass closing tracks. Like a narrated legacy of Cole’s life, black politics, policing racial bias, and fame, it’s a testament to the overwhelming power of storytelling, and an appropriate one-punch finale to what turned out to be quite an album indeed. There’s no real single here, no real ‘mad beats’ or whatever the fuck people these days call them… And I suppose that’s an indicator that there is no real commercial intent or motivation to ‘4 Your Eyez Only’. Overall, it’s a rather subdued piece which suggests being submerged under water rather than hovering over a crowd as Kanye did earlier this year; and that should be taken as a complement. Sure, it may not add a whole lot that’s unique to the world. It’s not ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. It’s not ‘Trilogy’. And it’s not ‘You’re Dead’. But it is ‘4 Your Eyez Only’, and that’s enough.
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photo by: a__factory__girl
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Artwork by: EJ Oakley
blurring the lines Examining the legacy of reinvention that Blurâ€™s self-titled album left in its wake, in the month of its twentieth birthday By: EJ Oakley
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Blurring the Lines
f you wanted to know how the members of Blur were feeling about their career at the end of 1996, you’d need to look no further than the cover artwork of their self-titled album – a supine patient being wheeled into A&E, nothing more than a bleary white smudge starkly framed against a hospital corridor, rendered in tones of oversaturated sepia. The image is ominously symbolic. Initial praise for previous album The Great Escape was not only tapering off, but morphing into disillusionment and detraction – Q Magazine gave the album a five-star review, but later withdrew it; and even issued an apology for doing such. The Great British Public, as a whole, had begun to shift their sympathies away from ‘upper-middle-class toffs’ to instead favour rivals and working-class heroes, Oasis. And the members of Blur themselves were not short of bitterness for each other. Guitarist Graham Coxon’s steady descent into the doldrums of alcoholism was punctuated by his growing disdain for bassist Alex James’s increasingly flamboyant lifestyle, and his resentment of frontman Damon Albarn’s often unrelenting vice-like grip over creative control of the band. A performance on live TV in Italy only served to highlight that the band was falling apart – Coxon neglected to turn up in favour of staying in London and going flat-hunting, while James missed the show after partying too hard the night before. They were replaced by a roadie and a cardboard cutout respectively. Meanwhile, as this bitter infighting continued, Oasis were playing their decade-defining gig at Knebworth, and shifting 100,000 copies of What’s The Story, Morning Glory? per week in America. Blur may have won the Battle of Britpop in 1995, but it was beginning to become clear that they were nowhere close to winning the war. Blur, the band’s fifth studio effort, marked the
beginning of a new musical era for the group. They had finally reached ‘the Afterlife’, as it is fondly dubbed by fans today, referring to their deviation from the musical styles of previous albums Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife, and The Great Escape (also known as ‘the Life trilogy’). Even from the record’s packaging itself, it’s evident that Blur had just undergone a massive identity crisis. The cover artwork of a dying patient couldn’t have been further removed from the ridiculously camp image of muscular men on a speedboat that had adorned the front of The Great Escape. No solace was to be found on the image on the back of the record – a bleak and barren ice field in Reykjavik (where part of the album had been recorded). Additionally, the band’s well-worn tradition of publishing lyrics and chords in the accompanying album booklet had been thrown out the window – the time for child’s play was clearly over. ‘I didn’t want to have to go through explaining what the lyrics are about,’ said frontman Damon Albarn, ‘because they’re quite odd to explain.’ And indeed, they were. Songs about alcoholism, panic attacks and recreational experimentation with cocaine hardly seemed ideal material for guaranteeing record sales to the hordes of screaming teeny-boppers that Blur’s previous material had attracted. Food Records thought as much, warning the band that this complete departure from previous musical and lyrical styles would essentially amount to ‘commercial suicide’. Neither were their fears completely unfounded. Compared to the band’s previous cheeky knees-up-Mother-Brown routine – which had proved to be a fan favourite since second album Modern Life is Rubbish – the content and substance of Blur did not seem poised to recapture the same success. Some of this new material might as well have come from a whole other band. Gone were the jubilant trumpets of ‘Country House’ and the
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Blurring the Lines bouncy synths and catchy bass hooks of ‘Girls & Boys’. ‘Blur’ had been borne of strife – Coxon was heavily influenced by American garage rock bands such as Pavement, and more experimental artists like Beck; he wanted this fifth album to be influenced by noise and distortion. While Albarn initially disagreed with the change, the band did end up on stranger ground after all. This is evident in the guttural, shuddering guitar loops that open eight-minute spoken-word behemoth ‘Essex Dogs’, and the sweat-drenched basement moshpit of a song that is ‘Chinese Bombs’. Even more conventional numbers would prove to set up future musical ventures. ‘On Your Own’ boasted echoing spaceage synthesiser beeps that would become a familiar recurring theme on ‘13’, and later on, in Albarn’s Gorillaz. Albarn himself described the single as ‘one of the first Gorillaz songs’; and its monosyllabic refrains are certainly reminiscent of the virtual band’s most popular songs like ‘19-2000’. The sonic experimentation present on ‘Blur’ was clearly a sign of progress – the band was leaving behind all previous associations with quintessential British parody, and finally growing up. However, Coxon’s desire to ‘make music that scared people again’ did not fully culminate on ‘Blur’; it became the ultimate sweet spot between the saccharine kitsch of ‘Parklife’ and the untameable explosion of experimental psychedelia that made up the band’s next album, ‘13’. The adoring masses of teens were hardly sent running by tunes such as the album’s lead single ‘Beetlebum’, which reached the top of the UK charts in the week it was released. And, of course, who could forget the infamously catchy ‘Song 2’? Instead of driving fans away as Food Records had feared, ‘Song 2’ did quite the opposite – it kicked off Blur’s success in the United States; and ensured that Albarn’s jubilant cry of ‘woo hoo!’ would be
unavoidable: a staple on nearly every radio station, car commercial, and drunken karaoke night for at least the next two decades. Albarn’s lyric-writing process had also matured in the process – or, as Coxon graciously put it, he’d ‘gone off his head a bit more’. Previously, he had narrated his own experiences to listeners through farcical proxy caricatures, such as Tracy Jacks, Ernold Same and Dan Abnormal (an anagram for his own name). On ‘Blur’, there were no more masks. ‘Beetlebum’ recounted Albarn’s heroin habit in an entire to-the-point, albeit sleazy, manner, while the pensive ‘Strange News From Another Star’ hinted at a growing weariness in the frontman (that possibly culminated in the dissolution of his long-term relationship only a year later). Albarn even looked across the pond for inspiration – the cheerfulness on ditty ‘Look Inside America’ masked the lyrics’ otherwise obvious jab at rabid American consumerism and brand culture. It also possibly served as a continuation of Albarn’s fascination with commentary on the USA that was evident since ‘Parklife’ (and with it the similarly-themed ‘Magic America’). Even Coxon was eager to tell a tale of his own. Acoustic ballad ‘You’re So Great’ told a story of love in the time of alcoholism. Heartbreakingly sincere in its gritty, lo-fi production, it documented Coxon’s own self-awareness of his growing inability to handle his vices. This marked another start for the band – where the guitarist had once resented Albarn for his iron grip on creative control over Blur, ‘You’re So Great’ opened the door to greater participation in songwriting for Coxon, and could even be considered the prelude to the smash hit ‘Coffee & TV’ that he would go on to pen and perform in 1999. Amusingly enough, Coxon was also not used to the attention that writing and recording a song of his own would bring – he reportedly spent the entire recording process for the song hidden under a table with the studio
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Blurring the Lines lights turned off, playing and singing completely in the dark, because he was shy by nature and felt too self-conscious. But the feeling isn’t completely unwarranted. Lyrically, ‘Blur’ bared the souls of its members to the public. It was a much more personal album than they’d ever previously written, and as such, was met with critical acclaim. Even the band members themselves still look on the album fondly – while Albarn disowned 1995’s ‘The Great Escape’ for being ‘messy’ and ‘a big mistake’, Coxon is still fond of ‘Blur’ now, calling the album ‘one of their best’. On a more personal note, I’m inclined to agree with him. ‘Blur’ resonated with me for numerous reasons, in spite of its release nine months before I was born. The album smoothly transitions between genres; from American grunge pastiche to joyful pop-rock anthem to melancholy ballads – there’s a song for every mood on the album, yet it still doesn’t even venture close to degenerating into wild inconsistency. And in terms of tracks themselves, I still find plenty to love about the album with every listen. As someone whose idea of fun was not, contrary to popular opinion, getting wasted at a friend of a friend of a friend’s house, the brooding ‘Death of a Party’ spoke tomes to me. A tale of lonely teenagers, it leads listeners on a dreamlike journey through reverberating guitar hooks and a wonderfully slinky bassline from Alex James, whilst hinting at the vacuous nature behind hedonistic youth culture that has endured from the 90s to the present day. Social commentary aside, it’s also hard not to enjoy the utterly nonsensical yet nonchalantly fun ‘Country Sad Ballad Man’, and the equally louche ‘I’m Just A Killer For Your Love’. Plus, it would be wrong to claim I’d never to have listened to ‘You’re So Great’ while lying in bed on a lazy Sunday morning; heartsick over unrequited love and existentially despondent at just sixteen years old. ‘Blur’ was one of the albums
that soundtracked the highs and lows of the emotional rollercoaster that was my adolescence. To look back on those times today and see how much I changed as a person, much like the stylistic transition the album itself heralded, is nothing less than poignant. If anything, ‘Blur’ defied expectations, widened the band’s fanbase, and ensured they remained household names even as the entire Britpop genre met its timely demise. It was a much-needed evolutionary step in the band’s discography; if they were to survive the winds of change, they had to match more sonically daring bands like Radiohead who were being ushered into the spotlight. It was also a welcome change to Blur’s style and genre, one that briefly halted Coxon’s slow sliding off the rails and allowed Albarn’s songwriting to branch into both the searingly personal and surreal, Burroughsian styles he is known for today. Arguably, ‘Blur’ also sparked Albarn’s penchant for experimentation, without which the diverse range of genres and international styles present on successive albums ‘13’, ‘Think Tank’ and ‘The Magic Whip’ would not exist. While the album is not a definitive culmination of all Blur’s musical efforts, it is the transitory point that launched them to greater heights and ultimately preserved them in the annals of music as one of the most creative bands of all time. Onwards from ‘Blur’, nothing was the same again. It’s said as much in the album’s penultimate track, amidst frantic guitar riffs and raucous backing vocals signature to the album – ‘cause this is the music; we’re movin’ on, we’re movin’ on’.
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photo by: a__factory__girl
The Importance and Transience of Avant-Garde Artists
By Alice Field 028 // UnCL
he term avant-garde was first used in 1863 at the Salon des Refusés, French for “exhibition of rejects”. However, these rejected artists symbolised the beginning of a cultural revolution. Avant-garde became a mark of innovation and experimentation. Innovations such as the World Wide Web have indisputably transformed society. Without this, society would surely stagnate and decline. The same fate applies to music, as without avant-garde and experimental artists, music would remain static in time and no progression would occur. The incentive behind avant-garde is to rebel against the masses and the societal lens of normality. Avant-garde music is rather absurd at times, but brilliant in its endeavour for originality. John Cage’s “4'33” is a prime example of the absurdity avant-garde music is capable of. The 4 minute and 33 second piece consists only of silence and has been praised for its simplicity. This may seem like the only positive artistic criticism one could possibly make on silence, but the art itself is embodied in the audience who come to watch it being performed. They are confronted by the silence, it is out of their control and unexpected. This consequentially challenges the actual form of music by positing the question - “What is music?”. This is questioned further with the concept of ambient music, another form of avant-garde. This becomes clear when we look at the implications of such music in creating new directions in the musical world. In the Western art tradition at least, music depends upon notes. However, ambient music does not always consist of notes or even contain recurrent rhythms. Instead, the sound being produced is fractured and defies conventional musical structures. Brian Eno exemplifies the meaning of ambient music in his “Discreet Music”. The whole album is a process of evolution with continuous variation that entices the listener to feel a sense of serenity. This surely represents the essence of avant-garde as it liberates music from the need to use notes for it to be considered so and therefore transcends traditional definitions of music.
gorisation and confront mainstream music with its uniqueness. I feel The Velvet Underground puts this case in point. The band received little in the way of commercial success because of the peculiarity of their music, and only earned credit after their years in existence. Their music presented innovative new musical formulas that included white noise and fuzzy sounds which heavily feature in their 1968 album “White Light/White Heat”. The idea was to consciously reject conventional ideas of beauty. This musical experimentation was incredibly influential in progressing the genres of rock and alternative music. Today, The Velvet Underground can no longer be considered Avant-Garde because they have been propelled into the mainstream. They are now too familiar to the mass audience. That is not to say they did not once fulfil the meaning of avant-garde by pushing the boundaries of the rock music genre, but they have now fallen victim to categorisation. They have served their purpose of revolutionising the musical world. However, the impact of avant-garde on modern music is not to be undermined. Artists may not always merit an eternal avant-garde status, but the influence of their music continues to inspire upcoming artists to embrace their individuality.
The Velvet Underground & Nico album art by Andy Warhol
The question arises however, of whether avant-garde music serves an ephemeral purpose. It is characteristic of avant-garde to resist cate029 // UnCL
LIGHTS AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
As the landscape of London’s nightlife suffers blow after blow, Printworks offers a glimmer of hope to the capital’s party people. By: Felix Harvey-Jefferson
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Photo by: Danny North // Fanatic
As the name implies, Printworks is a redeveloped printing factory. Located in Canada Water, the building is as industrial as they come and this aesthetic has been retained in the interior, perfectly suiting the roster of parties set to happen over the coming year. The two features of the venue that separate it from the rest are the lighting production and the physical size. The latter is what first strikes you: the hangar door entrance gives way to an enormous space named Reel Storage (where the paper for the factory was once stored) and the size is driven home again when moving through to room one - The Press Hall. This long chamber, again with a high ceiling, adds a cavernous atmosphere to performance. In all, the footprint of the rooms cover 5 acres in total, which puts the venue head and shoulders above others.
The Press Hall is the playground of the light technicians. The space’s lighting rig provided the best visual show I have experienced outside of a full blown festival. Lasers running the stretch of the entire room are coupled with a multitude of disco balls and finally the most impressive aspect - the lighting gantry. Usually, the lights would be fixed, some with the ability to swivel. At Printworks, the very framework on which the overhead lights hang has been utilised to add to the show. The bars themselves light up, glowing from within, and at the peak of a performance, incredibly, start to move. Each bar is individually controlled and as they lower down and tilt, an incredible kinetic aspect to the visuals is unleashed, appreciated by woops from the crowd below. When a new venue opens in London, especially in a climate in which we repeatedly see threats of destruction of club culture, inevitably excitement will lead to expectation - but Printworks easily exceeds them. It has demonstrated itself to be a space in which events can be fully realised and I look forward to seeing how it will shape London’s music scene in the years to come.
Photo by: Max Meichowski // Fanatic Creative
ew spaces are few and far between in London’s clubland, and those that have come around in the last few years have tended to be smaller, more intimate venues that cater for a certain kind of night. As far as large scale architecture for big audio-visual shows goes, we haven’t seen something like Printworks for a number of years.
By: Bianca Bana
Like A Version Confession: when I was younger, I loathed covers. Whenever I’d hear a band or artist perform a song I knew and loved, I would roll my eyes and head for some fresh air. Schoolgirl me was a music snob. Thankfully my views have changed since then and I can appreciate the artistic integrity and imagination of an inventive cover, but I still keep seeing a lot of people affirm their hatred for them.
So why don’t people like them? It’s hardly surprising that we all think covers are unlikely to live up to the power of their originals. There is a certain nostalgia about hearing an Arctic Monkeys riff over the radio that only Alex Turner can create, anything else that’s not in his Sheffield style feels fake. That’s not to mention that only doing covers seems like an easy way to be in the music industry without adding anything new to it or taking any creative risks. As Madame Yevonde said, ‘Be original or die’. However, whilst professing their dislike for covers, some people forget that a few very famous songs (and karaoke bangers) were originally made popular by someone else. Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ was originally released by Otis Redding, and Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ is a Prince song. These versions had immense success compared to the originals, and left their mark on music history. To fully appreciate a cover avoid comparing it to the original. Don’t expect a musical carbon copy of your favourite song, because you’ll just be setting yourself up for disappointment (unless we’re talking about a damn good tribute band). Instead, try to appreciate how the covering artists attempt to make the song their own. Some bands might bring discrete changes to the melody, others might change the genre
completely. That’s the beauty of a cover: it can completely transform a piece and make you appreciate it in ways you never thought possible. Yes, I said it, a cover can be better than the original. It all comes down to personal preference. For example, I adore the French cover band Nouvelle Vague, who brilliantly succeed in giving a South American twist to famous hits from Joy Division, Ramones, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, etc. They take gems from various genres and offer them a quirky transformation, nearly convincing you that they’re novel tracks. Their work is definitely worth listening to, especially if you’ve ever wondered what ‘Guns of Brixton’ would sound like as Brazilian bossa nova. I’m not saying that all of them are good. I often encounter versions that are almost painful to listen to. You can love a cover or absolutely hate it, but perhaps make that decision only after listening to it instead of immediately dismissing it upon realising it’s not an original song. So the next time you’re invited to a gig because somebody’s mate’s cover band is the opening act, don’t say no just because they won’t be playing any new tunes. Tag along, show some support, and you might even realise that early 2000s song you weren’t a fan of actually sounds amazing at the hands of someone else.
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Home Run Amber Run @ O2 Forum Kentish Town Saturday 25th February
British four-piece Amber Run didn’t have the easiest time after their debut album. After racking up almost thirty million views on the YouTube video of their single ‘I Found’ and their debut album 5am breaking the UK top 40, Amber Run were dropped by their label and drummer Felix left the band. Despite this, Amber Run rallied and are back with their introspective sophomore album, ‘For a Moment, I Was Lost’ plus a headline UK tour. I caught up with them to talk about the making of the new album, performing live and the future of the band before seeing them perform at a sold out 2,300 capacity O2 Forum in the evening.
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photo by: a__factory__girl
By: Joe Bell
UnCL: Last night of the tour tonight – how are you all feeling? Joe: Yeah it’s tiring man! But we were saying before, you can be tired, you can be halfway to death but the adrenaline kicks in and you still just get up and smash it, we all just really want to do it. Henry: Also, going to be draining going back to normal life. We’re literally paid to drink beer and meet people who enjoy our music. Tom: Paid is a loose term… [Everyone laughs.]
UnCL: Has it been a good feeling to play all the new material live? Henry: It’s such a good feeling – especially when you play a new song and people go ‘Woooo!’ like that. It’s great that they already know all the words and stuff. ‘No Answers’ is an especially good one for that. Joe: Someone said Will’s guitar part was ‘iconic.’ Tom: Well we did say that when we were writing it…
UnCL: Is ‘No Answers’ the favourite to play live then? Henry: I actually really like playing ‘Fickle Game’ live. Joe: It’s really hard but yeah it’s wicked. The new album is really hard to sing – I really, really, really pushed the boat out there and when you’re thirteen shows deep and your voice is shattered it’s really quite tough! At the same time, it’s a beautiful song [‘Fickle Game’]. I really do enjoy playing that – the sentiment of it is really close to home. It’s a song we wrote about how we felt about the industry. Now we’ve been playing to 1,000 people – two and a half thousand here – it
really feels like quite a gratifying middle finger. I really enjoy it. UnCL: The new album really feels like a cohesive project. Did you go start writing it knowing how you wanted it to sound and what you wanted to say, or was it just written song by song? Tom: It just came from a specific time when we were all in a very similar mind-set. The first album came over three or four years, maybe even longer. Some of the songs Joe had written when he was quite young and we pieced them together and put them on the album in as good an order
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as we could. This was all written in the period after that, where we were struggling with what was going on with the industry and all kinds of things, which is why it feels quite thematic – it came from a really concentrated place. UnCL: The album has a different feel to the first one. Do you feel like you’ve found your sound now or are you still experimenting? Joe: I think we’re definitely getting closer to the kind of things we enjoy doing and working out what we’re good at. At the same time I think if we said we’d ‘found our sound’ it would be a bit boring! Half the fun of being in a band is the experimentation and the collaboration, and not everyone in the band is going to be on the same wavelength the whole time but that’s fun and creates chemistry and kind of why we think we’re good! Will: I think for the next album I can see us going for something quite different as well. The first album was what it was because we weren’t really thinking about what we were doing. The second one was much more pre-meditated because we knew about the sort of sound we wanted to make and what we wanted to say. I think we’re all up for experimenting and trying new things out – the more we challenge ourselves and pick up other instruments and things the better. Joe: I think we have a great fan base who appreciate that kind of thing. We’re not just trying to give people what they want with easy pop – we are trying to challenge people, definitely lyrically. A song like ‘No Answers’ or ‘Perfect’ wouldn’t fit on the first record. We want to keep challenging ourselves.
the shit really hit the fan – being dropped by the label and Felix leaving. 95% of the album was written before all that. It wasn’t so much we get into a room and go ‘I can’t stop crying let’s write a song until we stop.’ It was much more about channelling how you’re feeling into what you’re doing – the kind of vocals Joe was doing, the kind of guitar Will was playing, stuff like that. And the particularly sad bassline that Tom’s written.
“The more we challenge ourselves and pick up other instruments and things the better.” Tom: [Laughs] That was particularly emotive. Henry: It was much later on – when we were recording the album – that it really started to come together and we really began healing. Recording the album, we were looking back in a different frame of mind and thinking ‘I am so much better than I was.’ It’s nice to look at the people in the band and say that I like these people so much better than I did before. To be honest, I didn’t like being in a room with almost everyone here before.
Henry: At the same time though, it is all the same people, minus Felix [former drummer]. The next album’s not going to be one fifty-minute track Brian Eno style - no bass, no drums, just synth. It’s going to be the same kind of style but we still want to push ourselves.
Joe: I’m not going to disagree with anything Henry said. With the lyrical stuff, I found it quite cathartic to write. You only start to realise things issues are there when they subliminally start to come out and you end up talking about them. When things start to really get codified and written down you start seeing what you’re really thinking and realising there are issues.
UnCL: You’ve said there was a lot of difficult stuff going on when you were making the album. Was it especially rewarding to find a way to channel that into making music? Henry: The weird thing is it was written before
UnCL: Any songs you particularly enjoyed making on the album? Joe: For me I think ‘Haze’ was a great one. Not because it was a particularly fun one to record, but just because we’d been overcompensating on
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the writing process, saying we have to have this and we have to have that. We were trying to put instrumentation everywhere and be really clever – it was Tom that actually said it’s a beautiful song, let’s just pin it back and let the sentiment come across. Tom: My one’s probably ‘Dark Bloom’ or ‘Insomniac.’ I really enjoyed making the album – the recording process was quite different to the writing process. The recording felt so nice, tight and collaborative from all of us. We had real family vibes and I really enjoyed it.
Joe: It was great to see so many songs brought to life. I was dead proud of everyone, and it was amazing to have all the lads turn up and really get involved in the writing process in a way that perhaps I didn’t let everyone on the first album or it just didn’t happen – it felt a lot more collaborative and I felt a lot less pressured to do stuff by myself. Everything people came out with was really great. UnCL: What’s next after the tour? Henry: Fulfil the suicide pact we made. [Takes everyone an uncomfortably long time to laugh.]
Joe: We’re going to have some time to breathe – a few of us are going on holiday, Henry’s got to finish his dissertation! Then we’ll start writing and rehearsing again. The evening was kicked off by charming folkpop duo Meadowlark, who were followed by four-piece ISLAND, also due to play a headline show at Heaven in May. Both put in great performances, and a lot of the crowd knew the lyrics to several songs. Meadowlark enchanted the crowd with sweet vocals and piano riffs com-
plete with electronic drums, whilst ISLAND’s echoing guitar riffs and indie-rock inspired vocals went down very well with the Amber Run audience. Amber Run emerged onto the stage to a song from their debut album, ‘Spark’. Despite earlier talk of tiredness and (jokingly) suicide, Amber Run were energetic and looked like they were having a great time throughout. Joe’s vocals were fantastic and songs difficult to imagine live such as ‘Haze’ were flawlessly recreated, with slick harmonies provided by the rest of the band.
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I thought songs from the first album such as ‘’Just My Soul Responding’ sounded ten times better live, with Amber Run’s energy and musicianship on stage benefitting their older songs hugely. It was a strange contrast to listen to the optimism of songs such as ‘Spark’, which had all the audience singing along to ‘let the light in’, to the newer, darker material such as ‘Fickle Game’ and ‘No Answers’. Despite the difference in tones, Amber Run’s two albums complemented each other well, as powerful and heavy-hitting songs from the new album were broken up with catchy, poppier anthems from ‘5am.’ Particular highlights were ‘Fickle Game’ and the last three songs ‘Haze,’ ‘I Found’ and ‘No Answers.’ Amber Run sang and played with real emotion, and took several breaks to thank the audience for their support over the last two years, seeming sincere and in genuinely in awe of their supporters. Joe finished the set standing in the audience and ascending into Dave Grohl like vocals in the latter end of ‘No Answers’ over roaring guitar and bassline. The powerful music from the new album sounded even better live, and despite some issues in the last couple of years, we can be optimistic that Amber Run will continue selling out bigger and bigger venues with or without the backing of a major record label – who needs one nowadays anyway? Their fan-base certainly seemed happy enough. Amber Run’s second album ‘For a Moment, I Was Lost’ is available now.
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Incred-Abel Zak Abel @ Scala, 8th February 2017
After quitting school at the age of 17 to pursue a career in music, Zak Abel is now 21. His debut album ‘Only When We’re Naked’ is set for release on the 10th March and he has already collaborated with artists such as Gorgon City, Avicii and Wretch 32. I caught up with Zak on the phone to talk about the new album and the rest of his 2017 plans. By: Joe Bell
photo by: a__factory__girl
irstly, a word on the support act. It’s a rarity for the crowd to appreciate a support act as much as they did Dan Caplen, who gifted us with a few originals and a fantastic cover of ‘Blinded by the Lights’ by The Streets. Singing and playing the piano, he had the crowd clapping along and wooing at his soulful high notes, sounding close to a male Adele. Dan could have performed at least another 5 songs before the audience grew impatient, and was a fantastic lead up to Zak. Zak Abel finally bounced onto the stage with enthusiasm to ‘Running From Myself’, a song he released in 2015. The audience knew all the words to his older material, and Zak glided across the stage with immense presence, riffing soulfully and employing some Michael Jackson inspired dance moves over funky drums, soaring piano riffs and bluesy guitar. Everyone was dancing and the venue was full of energy. Highlights from the new album included ‘Awakening’, ‘Deserve to be Loved’ and ‘Beautiful Life’, upon which someone next to me commented ‘It’s already a banger.’ Zak’s recent single ‘Unstable’ also sounded fantastic live, and prompted the whole crowd to jump around and belt out the lyrics back to him. The whole gig felt lively and the time flew by. Zak even brought out producer Tom Misch and fellow artist Kwabs, performing alongside them for the last 2 or 3 songs. It was refreshing to listen to lively dance music that doesn’t sound like every other overproduced track in the charts. A particular high was Zak’s performance of 2016 single ‘Everybody Needs Love’, which saw Zak making some great shapes across the stage and hitting some awesome high notes. Zak came across tremendously well, and looked as if he was enjoying every moment. His subject matters were mature, talking of the message behind ‘Deserve to be Loved’ as preaching equality, no matter what race, religion or sexuality someone is. The gig was fantastic and full of energy throughout, and Zak exhibited natural stage presence and all the signs of a great performer. You’ll definitely be hearing more of him when his album drops next month. I caught up with Zak on the phone the day after to talk about the new album and the rest of his 2017 plans.
UnCL: Your gig was amazing last night – it must have been great to hear the new material go down so well. ZA: Yeah. Yesterday and the day before were the first times I played a lot of those new songs live. I was really interested to see how they were going to go down and I was really happy with the response from the audience. UnCL: Can you tell us what to expect from the new album, is it different to anything you’ve done before? ZA: I suppose so yeah. It still has a lot of soulful influences, but I think on the new album I really wanted to have a play around with highlife kind of inspired stuff. I love highlife music and I know Drake used a lot of highlife-influenced stuff on his album. The way the production went on ‘Unstable’ led me to try out a load of different ideas on the rest of the album. So yeah, I suppose there’s a lot more African and Caribbean influences on the new album. UnCL: Did you have an overall vision when you began working on the album or did you just take it a song at a time? ZA: Um… At the start there wasn’t really a vision for it, however after making ‘Unstable’ it kind of all pieced itself together. That led the direction for the album and it came relatively quickly after that. UnCL: The album’s released around your birthday – not a bad present! ZA: Almost! It comes out on the tenth and my birthday’s on the first. (Laughs) UnCL: The video for ‘Unstable’ was shot in South Africa, what was that like? ZA: That was amazing! I was going to go on holiday to South Africa anyway, because I have a friend out there who I’ve been saying I have to go and visit for ages. I got told that whilst I was out there there was an amazing video director who would also be out there just by chance, and would I be interested in doing a video? I was like ‘of course!’ It was all done, on my part anyway,
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in just one day and it was really beautiful. It felt like everything happened all at the right time and it all came together – I’m so happy with the video. From the feedback I’ve had other people really like it as well. So I’m happy! UnCL: It was great when you brought out Tom Misch and Kwabs last night, and there’s a new song on the new album with Wretch 32 as well. Is there anyone else you’d really like to work with in the near future? ZA: I would love to work with loads of people! I’d like to work with Ella Eyre; I’d love to work with Stormzy or Skepta. Producers - I’d love to work with Pharrell – there’s so many! I’d love to work with Childish Gambino as well. I think his new album is so dope! You can tell there’s Sly and the Family Stone influences on there as well. He made a proper modern soul album, really creative.
UnCL: What’s next? Any plans for after the album? ZA: I would really like to do a tour, so hopefully that will be on the cards. There are some festivals – Secret Garden Party and some uni balls. I’m sure there’ll be more but those are all I know about at the moment! (Laughs) Zak’s album ‘Only When We’re Naked’ is available to pre-order now, and will be released on the 10th of March. The video for ‘Unstable’ is out now.
UnCL: You left school at 17 to pursue a music career – any advice for people who are not sure whether to commit and thinking of going down the same route? ZA: Yeah I suppose so! Me personally I’m a plan A kind of guy. I think if you’re only investing 50% of your energy into something and someone else is investing 100% of their energy then they’re probably going to do better than you. I think if you want something go for it and just don’t look back. That would be the first thing. The second thing I’d say is figure out what you want exactly – be very specific with your goals and surround yourself with people who you think can take you to where you want to go. The last thing is plan – how are you going to get there. If all those things are in order then the only thing that can stop you is yourself. UnCL: All paid off then! Are you excited for the album to come out and everything? ZA: Yeah man, super excited! (Laughing) I have no idea what’s going to happen after I’ve dropped the album! But yeah I really put into everything it and I’m really happy at the end of the day and now I just have to let go and hope that people like it.
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Something Old, Something New...
Recently I interviewed Thomas Craig, the frontman for the band Wedding. Previously playing guitar in Charles Howl, Thomas formed the new band with a guy he met off craigslist, long-term friends and people he met when he moved to Manchester. By: Hannah Abrey photo by: a__factory__girl
istening to their first release from last year, ‘Ruth’, the band reminded me majorly of Mac Demarco, making extremely listenable music. The video that compliments Ruth portrays simple shots of the band doing everyday things that endear you towards their catchy, yet unusual music. Their latest single, ‘18’, from their new album, ‘Mania Whatever’, begins like a King Krule classic would: with a melancholic and yet charming sound. Craig’s lyrics sound effortless, much like the whole production of the song, to create music that he calls, ‘weird fuzzy pop.’ During the process of getting their first album out, they have encountered endless hurdles. I caught up with Thomas and asked him about how they have successfully overcome these obstacles to be releasing their first album this March. UnCL: I realise you were previously playing guitar for Charles Howl, how was working in that band? How did you transition from that into Wedding? TC: I started Wedding after I finished CH. I’d been in London for around 4 years, and then I joined CH when I finished uni. I was there for a couple of years, then moved to Berlin and that’s when Wedding started. Yeah it was really fun [being part of CH], I think that was how I learned to do music properly. Danny who’s at the front of CH has a really strong worth ethic. We would often practice 4 to 5 times a week, starting really early in the morning. We were just grafting… just trying to get somewhere. UnCL: How did you guys all meet to form Wedding? TC: So I was in Berlin with my friend, who I met on craigslist. I was looking for someone to play with in Berlin, because I didn’t really know anyone and he replied to my ad with a very long, eccentric email… He’s a Jewish New Yorker with lots to say. So, the band started with him and then I moved to Manchester and things started to happen. Me and Rich, who plays bass, we went to high school together. Joe, he plays drums; I’ve known him since I was 4 or something. Plus the other guys, I just met them in Manchester. UnCL: Around one month ago you were on tour; how did the dates go? TC: The band we toured with, the Proper Ornaments, they’re a band I really love. The 2 guys from CH actually play bass and drums for them.
It was the first proper little run of dates we’ve done. UnCL: Will those dates prepare you for the dates you’ve got coming up for the new album, like your London gig at the Shacklewell Arms? TC: Yeah I’ve played there, [The Shacklewell Arms], lots and lots with CH, so it will be nice launching our record there shortly. It is sort of nerve-racking releasing the record; it’s been a year and a half in the making. UnCL: I realise that you guys have encountered quite a few niggles during the process of recording the album. Can you explain what happened? TC: It took a bit longer than we had expected. It’s really hard being in a band anyway, trying to make money. I mean Manchester is a cheap place to live, but it’s still very difficult to actually get by. I was on welfare for a bit and then they realised they had been giving me too much… [even though] I was only just getting by anyway. So in the middle of recording I got a bill for around £1,000. It sucked. We also had fleas infesting our studio. My girlfriend’s old housemate had a cat, and she refused to give it flea treatment. I didn’t realise that fleas can live in carpets and stuff, and also how far they can travel. That was in the middle of recording as well. [At this point I comment how grim that must have been, and Thomas reaffirms my thinking, saying; ‘Yeah, it was really grim.’] UnCL: Looking back at all that adversity, are you happy with the final product? TC: It kind of added to the whole thing. Also how crap last year was kind of made us want to escape. The whole album felt like escapism; there are different worlds in which you can feel happy in the song you’re making. UnCL: Okay, so on first listen to ‘Ruth’, I thought you guys sounded like Washed Out, meets Acid Tongue, crossed with Mac Demarco. What do you think about this comparison? TC: The lead part of that song is pretty chill. It’s like most people at the moment, even if indirectly, they’re influenced by what Mac Demarco has done. TC: This record is an amalgamation of what we were trying to do on the EP. That EP was recorded really badly - we were basically making demos at my apartment in Berlin and we thought let’s release this. It was the best way to
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get it out quickly. Whereas with this new album, we’ve been playing these songs for a year or something. I mean with 18 [the band’s most recent release], I wrote that whilst I was in CH. That was actually the first song I demoed when I moved to Berlin, but I couldn’t get it right. So we’ve had a long time to figure it out. It’s representative of what I’ve been trying to do and haven’t quite done for a while now…! UnCL: What artists do you draw inspiration from? TC: I like the band Girls. [This gets me really excited; I love Girls. I named my radio show on RareFM after a Girls song… So we chat for a bit about Girls.] TC: I draw inspiration from a lot of my friends’ bands, like the Proper Ornaments. There’s also a band called DUDS from Manchester. [They recorded their first EP on the same label that Wedding are signed to, Maternal Voice]. I’m also into a lot of older stuff. I got into some of Phil Spector’s older production, including the Leonard Cohen album he did, and George Harrison album. UnCL: How would you describe your sound? TC: I guess I’d just compare it to Girls, or Foxygen. It’s weird fuzzy pop. [I tell Thomas that I reckon he has created his own genre here of ‘weird fuzzy pop’. He replies, saying ‘I’ll take it’.]
UnCL: You chose some of your lyrics to convey difficult issues you’ve encountered in life, such as bullying at school. Will the lyrics on this new album vocalise more of these big issues? TC: Everything is basically autobiographical. I find it very hard to write about other people’s stories and stuff. The album is all my lyrics; the other guys mess around with the sound. Most of the record is about me fucking up when I was in Berlin: running out of money and having to come back to the UK. I was in Berlin for 7 months, doing random jobs I found on craigslist. I was done with London. I needed somewhere that was a big city, but not as fast-paced. I met a girl and she wanted to get away from London as well. I was on holiday in California and I messaged her, ‘if I go to Berlin, will you come with me?’. She stupidly said yes, and we moved to Berlin. [If anyone is wondering, that lovely lady isn’t Thomas’ current lovely girlfriend who was part of the shooting of the new video.]
Wedding’s new album is being released March 23rd on vinyl [Thomas says ‘the vinyl is the best way to hear it’] & it will also be online on Spotify etc. via the label Maternal Voice. You can also check them out live at the Shacklewell Arms on the same day - it’s free entry and the album launch night, so it’s not one to be missed.
UnCL: What’s next for Wedding? TC: Just the album coming out, and we’re collecting up shows for the rest of the year. We’re going to record again around Spring/ Summer time, and try to put something out at the end of the year. We took a long time doing this album. Basically, last year was just downtime and we want to get a catalogue going. We want to get stuff out there so people figure out who we are. UnCL: Next week you’re putting out a video for your latest single, 18. What’s the story behind the video? TC: We filmed it in my house. We basically tried to recreate a similar vibe to the press shots we released for this record. My girlfriend took these in my housemate’s room because she has a cool room full of plants and that. So we took those and recorded the video in her room again. I get into songs more when I can see a music video for them, so it’ll be nice having a video done properly for 18. 043 // UnCL
Totally Ace Totally’s 2016 was beyond exciting - after slipping only a few demos online, and with no big PR or label behind them, they managed to bag support slots with Weaves and Juan Wauters and even snuck into Art is Hard’s Pinpal Singles Club with the soothing ‘Falling Apart’. Jade (vocals), Susan (drums), Fran (bass, backing vocals), Fliss (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Laurel (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) combine beautiful R&B harmonies with loose DIY tendencies of acts, producing something completely unique yet undoubtedly stunning. After nabbing a spot in our Ones to Watch for 2017, I sent Jade an email and we managed to find a time to chat about their music and plans for the rest of the year. By: Jake Crossland
photo by: a__factory__girl
UnCL: How and when did you guys get together? Why did you get together?
UnCL: Were you surprised by the success of the songs you’ve released?
Jade: I decided I might be able to sing & asked around to see if any friends wanted to join me in my first ever band. Luckily, a few really great people were into doing something DIY with guitars, harmonies and a total newbie! I think we formed because we all wanted to do something new and fun with the added bonus of having scheduled hang time with each other once a week!
Jade: We were squirrelled away working hard on our set without any feedback for about 8 months so it’s been so lovely to find out other people seem to be into our mash up of different influences and styles!
UnCL: Who are your band heroes?
Jade: Firstly, their Singles Club is great! So wanting to be a part of that was a conscious decision. I think getting any creative project out there can be a nerve wracking experience so it’s important for us to work with and be part of a community which encourages and supports the little guy.
Jade: I’m not sure we have any collective band idols but a Totally playlist would probably include Angel Olsen, Destiny’s Child, The Roaches, Arthur Russell and Azealia Banks. I think we can all agree it’s gonna be a banging playlist.
“There’s always a tricky situation or strong feelings to be worked through in our songs”
UnCL: Was the choice to release with Art Is Hard a conscious one? - is a DIY ethos important to you?
UnCL: Finally, where is the band heading next? Jade: A new single, an album and maybe even a tour or some festivals in the summer - very excited. UnCL: Sounds busy! Good luck with it all, and thanks for talking to me.
UnCL: How do you write your songs? What inspires your lyrics? Jade: Me or Laurel will usually write a melody and words (hers with chords, mine without). Then we’ll bring them to practice and get everyone to gradually add their own parts to build the a full track. We all love working on new material, it’s really fun. Our lyrics are generally inspired by an emotional reaction to something - whether that’s relationship troubles, a really interesting short story or a friend in need. There’s always a tricky situation or strong feelings to be worked through in our songs. 045 // UnCL photo by: @jonnyldavies
22 0 0 0 0 7 7 the best of
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2007 was a crazy year. The smoking ban was introduced, we got a new Prime Minister, and the UK maintained its proud tradition of coming second from last in the Eurovision Song Contest. The
hacking scandal was uncovered and economists around the world were slowly beginning to wake up to collapse of the sub-prime market: part of the reason weâ€™re all in crushing amounts of student debt. Now, to look back on a gem year in the 00s tiara, weâ€™ve chosen a few of our favourite albums 10 years on - enjoy.
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Radiohead Radiohead -In In Rainbows Rainbows Hughie Hughie Rogers-Coltman Rogers-Coltman ‘In Rainbows’ is often overlooked in the Radiohead canon. In the standard fanboy debate about ‘the best’ Radiohead album, ‘OK Computer’ or ‘Kid A’ tend to come out on top. Yet for me this album epitomises everything that makes the band one of the greatest of all time. Ultimately it isn’t the pioneering instrumentation and experimentation that makes ‘In Rainbows’. Nor is it even the ground-breaking ‘pay what you want’ release model that anticipated the trajectory of the music industry over the last decade. What makes this album great is the fact that every song on it is a tortured masterpiece with some of the most beautiful melodies ever committed to record. It proved that in a digital age a guitar band playing real instruments could still produce something truly original. That’s why ‘In Rainbows’ remains, and will always remain, my favourite Radiohead album.
Babyshambles Babyshambles -Shotter’s Shotter’s Nation Nation Jamie Jamie Walker Walker ‘Shotter’s Nation’ is a shambolic and rambunctious record, held together by gaffer tape and spit, with a sound harking back to the mid-70’s punk-rock scene. Babyshambles, Peter Doherty’s musical project in a post-Libertines world, and subsequently ‘Shotter’s Nation’, shook up the stagnant indie scene, and for better or for worse, re-injected that steadfast ideology of hedonism and romance. Interlaced with poetic abstraction and clanging guitar melody, the album, when listened to in 2017, allows the listener a path of escape from our current musical soundscape constructed on synth and samples, and to dive headfirst back into the realm of simple rock’n’roll.
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The The Cribs Cribs -Man’s Man’s Needs, Needs, Woman’s Woman’s Needs, Needs, LCD Soundsystem LCD Soundsystem - Whatever Whatever Sound Sound of of Silver Silver EJ EJ Oakley Oakley Jake Crossland Jake Crossland Arguably one of the best albums ever made (at least in my eyes), LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Sound of Silver’ built on the promise of their debut’s punk electronica, written with a live band in mind and doubling down on the sublime songwriting. Take ‘All My Friends’ - regularly voted best song of the decade, using only two piano chords it swells into a chasmic and heart-breaking paean for mates of old and the tragedy yet to unfurl post-30. The album’s beauty lies in this masterful balancing act, gracefully walking the line between misery and elation. As we gaze into the void, could there be a better album to soundtrack 2017?
Ten years on, The Cribs’ ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ (their third album) lives on in the hearts and headphones of many, but at the time saw them packed off to Canada to record with producer Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand fame. More than just another knockoff indie band looking to capitalise on the tsunami of success that bands like The Strokes, the Jarman brothers proved themselves better lyricists than most – who’d have known that songs written ten years ago could still be so relevant today? The album, as a whole, is a many-faceted wonder – a more-than-adequate explanation as to why its legacy endures today.
In the words of Gary Jarman himself, the album “brought them to more people”; propelling them further in the charts than most of their peers and left the band with no shortage of famous friends. Perhaps the biggest testament to the effect it had on the music world is the fact that Johnny Marr (yes, that Johnny Marr, from The Smiths) joined the band after the album came out. Need I say more? I doubt it. 049 // UnCL
M.I.A M.I.A -- Kala Kala Abdul Rashidi Abdul Rashidi Taking a two-year break after her debut, ‘Arular’, M.I.A returned with ‘Kala’ named after her mother to the previous “masculine” album titled after her father, infusing UK grime with her own Tamil culture. With lyrics focusing on popular culture and global issues, arguably the most noticeable track from ‘Kala’ was ‘Paper Planes’. Produced by Major Lazer, co-written with Diplo and sampling The Clash, the catchy and upbeat chorus jumps on the calming and serene instrumental. Even 10 years on, memories flood back. ‘Jimmy’ samples an Indian hit - M.I.A maintains the original vibe but adds her own twist with a late-70s disco beat surrounding sultry, pitched vocals: a golden, kaleidoscopic daydream. Full of electrifying, upbeat indo-grime combos, each song on ‘Kala’ makes use of M.I.A’s off-the-norm vibe with the proud Asian beats and lyrics that push the conversation on the multiculturalism and materialism - a conversation still relevant 10 years later.
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Kanye Kanye West West -Graduation Graduation Matt Matt Solomons Solomons ‘Graduation’ was my first exposure to the self-proclaimed era-defining genius that is Kanye, and I loved every second of it. Listening to the album a decade on provokes deep nostalgic feelings, but nostalgia alone can’t carry an album. From the incredibly energetic ‘Good Morning’ to the introspective and powerful ‘Big Brother’ – which bizarrely ends with five minutes of silence (rendering it impossible to put on any playlist) - the production draws worldly, European influences, and Kanye’s skill as a producer is highlighted in ‘I Wonder’, a candid, tortured masterpiece of soft piano, ethereal sounds, and powerful strings. The diversity of the songs on the album is incredible, from electro-house banger ‘Stronger’ to the hard-rock power chords that underlie finale ‘Big Brother’: it’s impossible for this album to bore. Is it his best album? No. Though, unlike many fans of Kanye I wouldn’t consider it his worst either. It lacks the authentic feel of ‘College Dropout’, and isn’t as elaborate as ‘My Twisted Dark Fantasy’ but since most artists would kill to produce an album this good, it’s safe to say Kanye’s third album is a triumph.
Sure, these other albums might have been critically acclaimed and have stood the test of time blah blah yada yada - but how many Top 40 Bangerz did they produce? Did any of them contain 44 smash-hit singles beautifully curated across two discs? Can you claim none of them had any filler tracks? The album of the year was obviously Now That’s What I Call Music! 66 (Now 66 for those in the know). The surefire litmus test is to pick a random song and play it to a crowd of drunk university students who were wee younguns in 2007 - ‘Man’s Needs’ by the Cribs may have NME’s third best song of the year, but do teens today remember it over Calvin Harris’ ‘Acceptable in the 80s’? Would the lead single for Sound of Silver receive more shouts of ‘FUCKING CHOON’ than even one of Now 66’s deepest cuts, such as ‘Golden Skans’ by Klaxons? Can you even name the lead single for Sound of Silver? To get a real sense of the music scene of 2007, we need to look at the tracks Johnny Vaughn was spinning on Capital Breakfast, and Now 66 proves more than any other album it was truly glorious.
Various Various Artists Artists -Now Now That’s That’s What What II Call Call Music Music 66! 66! Max Max Thomas Thomas 051 // UnCL
King Nun, 7th March, @ Scala Photo by: EJ Oakley 052 // UnCL
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1. Gabriel Garzón-Montano - Fruitflies Chosen By Big Nothing Listen to Big Nothing here: soundcloud.com/bignothinguk
2. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy 3. Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White - Look At What The Light Did Now 4. Bas Jan - No Sign 5. Bastien Keb - Pick Up 6. Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker Tearjerker 7. Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains Grand Dérèglement 8. Alex G - Bobby 9. Hand Habits - Book on How to Change 10. Real Estate - Darling 11. Thundercat - Show You The Way 055 // UnCL 055 // UnCL
YOU HAVE GIGS TO SEE Elvis Depressedly
Kamio, April 26th
Scala, May 3rd
Good name. Music okay. Indie rock stuff. Would recommend if under a tenner, and it’s £9 so sure, give it a go.
Following the release of their first good (finally) single, ‘To The Door’, London universities’ best export (fuck off Coldplay) hit up Kings Cross. HMLTD are 100% a live band, so shows will be filled to the brim with kitsch stage presence. Do not miss the chance to see this band before they hit the ‘big time’. Expect to pay 5 times as much for a ticket next year.
Los Campesinos! KOKO, May 1st On the better/more thoughtful end of the indie scale, this band is what can only be described as ‘quite okay’. Their instrumentals are better than the vocals, but I think that’s the point. If pseudo-intelligent indie music is your thing, then you’ve found your favourite band in Los Campesinos!.
Trudy and the Romance Shacklewell Arms,
The Coronet, 25th May The Growlers bring their woozy lo-fi vocals and bright garage-rock guitars to England - catch them if you wanna see a now ten-year-old band, well-rehearsed in a live setting and with plenty of material (old and new).
Trudy and the Romance are more of a studio band (sound wise) according to me, which is disappointing considering their stuff seems pretty good. Part rock-n-roll, part indie, they seem to be heading in the right direction at least, but need to polish their live act a little more.
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TO BE THERE BY ROSIE TODD The Parrots
Oslo, May 10th
Garage rock is alive and kicking. From Spain The Parrots come, retro guitar-ing and funky vocals follow. Would thoroughly recommend.
Girl Ray The Lexington,
The nasal-voiced soundtrack to a thousand field-drinking-weekends and ‘homework sessions’, check out The Wombats to relive those painful early teen days. Except don’t, because this band is shite.
23rd May They went to the same school as The Kinks. That’s probably the most exciting thing about them. Failing that, their adolescent wise-before-their-time thing is relatively intriguing. Combining 70s style with girl group harmonies, I expect they’ll grow with time.
King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard June 15th, The Forum Potentially Australia’s weirdest export. Breaking the monotony of current music, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard offer psychedelic jams - and their live shows are anything but boring.
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Swet Shop Boys Scala, June 1st Do you want to be in the queue or do you wanna be on the rides? Riz Ahmed is the nicest man in Hollywood, and is performing in London as part of his rap-duo alongside Heems, who seems alright too. They’ve written songs which are clever, relevant, progressive and actually funny. People like this are good enough to remind you that not everyone is a knob. Rubber dinghy rapids bro.
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WANT TO WRITE FOR US? Send us your ideas at email@example.com. We don't bite, say hello!
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ÂŠ Under City Lights MMXVII The views expressed in this magazine do not necessarily represent the views of the editor, Rare FM or UCLU. 060 // UnCL
Includes interviews with Amber Run, Zak Abel and Totally alongside our 'Best of 2007'.