Shura – one of my tips for SXSW 2015.
Published in the SXSW 2015 Festival Programme.
Shura – one of my tips for SXSW 2015.
Published in the SXSW 2015 Festival Programme.
Hinds – one of my tips for SXSW 2015.
Published in the SXSW 2015 Festival Programme.
She has propelled forward with a narrative that builds upon itself unlike any other figure in modern music. That it’s taken this long for a book (of sorts) to pay a tribute to her in a manner appropriate to this isn’t that surprising. Were it not for the catalyst – a mid-career retrospective that opens this month at New York’s MOMA – then it’s doubtful that Björk: Archives would have reached us as it is: an eccentric but effective package of texts.
The wider world has struggled to get a handle on her: the swan dress, the airport freakouts, vocal shrieks and the odd appearance among high class metropolitan nightlife still feed tabloids while Kristen Wiig’s SNL impressions saw her reduced to a giggling ball of surreal twee. Only David Bowie has really managed to inspire something near in terms of misplaced parody (not to mention artistic sleight-of-hand) and it’s fitting that Archives has shades of the V&A’s Bowie Is… exhibition.
It’s not a biography. If anything, Archives feels as much a part of Björk’s output as the Hacienda was to Factory records. Her career – solo, it should be noted – provides the scope and Archives is placed firmly as a companion piece to her musical productivity; a surrealist and sometimes demanding Cliff’s Notes to her output over the last twenty-three years. The “complex, multifaceted” characters she has created on her first seven albums, exhibition curator Klaus Biesenbach tells us, form the heart of this “exploration”.
“Björk is a groundbreaking pioneer in connecting many different creative practices in and around her work,” clarifies Biesenbach. “[She] is driven by instinct and intuition, but at the same time methodical and scientific in her ways of exploring new form and character.” His introduction to Archives provides an illuminating backstory that picks up many of the ideas Nichola Dibben centralised in her 2009 Icons of Pop Music book. Dibben returns to contribute an essay to Archives but Biesenbach’s focus isn’t really the cultural significance of Björk but the creation of a collaborative event that reinforces her creative processes. Indeed, while Vulnicura lies out of scope, a commissioned work for the exhibition – “Black River” – connects it thematically.
“The cult of the solitary genius is alien to her,” writes New Yorker music critic Alex Ross – the most illuminating line in his essay Beyond Delta: The Many Stream of Björk. “Something in her work rejects a cultish fiction,” he adds, “…as a performer, she does not strive to dominate.” His point about Björk, the collaborator is pushed hard but it’s well made and related with warmth, intelligence and clarity. Dibben picks up on collaboration for her feminist reading Björk Creating: Myths of Creativity and Creation, expounding on the the threads that place nature, technology and gender central to her creative process and output.
Some previews of Archives have called it impenetrable and obscure – it’s neither. While the final two texts provide a foray into less traditional territory, Björk aficionados won’t struggle to enjoy them.
Taking metaphysics professor Graham Harman’s Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) as a reference point, This Huge Sunlit Abyss From The Future Right There Next To You… records an email exchange between Björk and academic Timothy Morton. “I have been doing a little reading and trying to find folks who could help me define what “ism” I am,” she explains to Morton. What follows is both a fascinating insight into the thought processes of Björk as much as her personality. A generous, childlike warmth permeates her enthusiasm and undercuts pretension throughout, with the effervescent Icelander bouncing off Morton’s take on the animist philosophy. “Earth needs more magicians”, suggests Morton early on in their exchange and by the time his correspondent is rhapsodising over Russian minimalist Vladimir Martynov we have a very clear picture of the shared passions that unite these two bright sparks.
Occasional collaborator Sjón provides the text for Archives‘ main event. The Icelandic poet’s relationship with Björk dates back to the eighties and as the lyricist on some of her best known songs (including Post’s “Isobel” and Biophilia’s “Cosmogony”) it’s poetically fitting he’s involved here too. A long form poem acts as a “Psychographic Journey” through her work from Post to Biophilia and read like a parallel reality to Biesenbach’s introduction. Sjón’s description of Björk as “nature’s participating audience” sets the scene for his own interpretation of the artistic and life events that have shaped her output. A photo scrapbook of video stills and defining (and now iconic) images place the narrative.
Archives is bold and ambitious and it’s easy to forget we’re reading something that has its roots in an exhibition catalogue. The presentation is immaculate and crucial to the impact. Weaved around the involving writing is are timelines, sheet music and a kitsch poster pull-out of perforated stamps that record her physical output, release by release. There’s no doubt the work here supports the real world experience of the MOMA event but the greater impact is another artefact of Björk work. One can’t imagine a similar undertaking as transformative and impressive as this.
Bjork: Archives is out now via Thames & Hudson. MOMA’s retrospective of Bjork runs from 8 March – 7 June 2015.
“Still a world easy for someone to adapt to. A world providing the listener to start reflecting and finding its way into.”
The 20-year old first cut the demo for “Used To Be” three years ago when she met producer Andreas Grube. Taking time out to concentrate on her studies, she explains in typically Scandinavian fashion: “We had to let this project rest and grow in its silence.”
Felicia found her way to music via a move to Stockholm in her mid teens, swopping a figure skating passion for a guitar. “Music was never my main subject in school, but quite fast I started to find myself entering different musical forums in Stockholm. I joined the school choir, then a gospel choir.”
When she began writing her own songs and playing them live at Stockholm open mic nights, things started to click. “Singing and music became a natural source of expression for me,” she says. “Depth, meaning with strong words yet with a sensitive touch is [a] tool in my writing. Things that get you to start thinking and reflecting. ”
“Used To Be” sees Johannes Berglund (The Knife, Shout Out Louds, I Break Horses) on-board with mixing duties and drummer Mikael Häggström (Ane Brun, Jennie Abrahamsson and Jenny Wilson) on percussion. The song’s powerful swell “Do you remember how it used to be,” cuts both dramatically and poignantly as Felicia’s stunning vocal draws the melody together in a way thats commanding, heartbreaking and somewhat epic.
“A key word in our dialogue through the process of creating is filmic,” she explains. “I have always listened to music through a filmic world; visioning the music in scenes and pictures before me.”
Published on The Line of Best Fit
Debut long-player Pearl Mystic fizzed with an energy and vigour that didn’t compromise their live reputation and was among the year’s best records.
“The way we saw it is that no one really gave too much of a shit about our band before the album came out,” explains bassist MB, “and then all of a sudden we actually had an ‘audience’, so to speak.” “That really piled the pressure on in terms of making the new record [the follow up to Pearl Mystic is, we’re promised, out before the end of the year] and I’d say that was the defining theme of 2014: we spent the first half of the year procrastinating over the second album and finally finished it in June.”
The Leeds five-piece still operates with the same egalitarianism, honesty and aptitude they set out with despite their obvious achievements and the doors opened by Pearl Mystic‘s success – not least signing to Domino imprint Weird World. “Over the last couple of years the band has really grown arms and legs,” agrees MB, “and I think that if we really wanted to we could probably go full-time with it in terms of the workload… it’s a really delicate balance between the band and our day jobs at the moment, but it seems to be working out ok.” “Any money made by the band gets reinvested, either on gear, the studio or getting merch made.”
MB – who has played End of the Road before with an earlier band recalls, “the forest full of fairy lights was particularly beautiful”. Do you think there’s something very special about playing here? “I completely agree that it’s very far removed from the majority of UK festivals, the atmosphere is very relaxed, and you can tell that a lot of love goes into the preparation.
“We’re hopefully going for the whole weetend, so I’m looking forward to seeing Yo La Tengo, Woods, British Sea Power, The Gene dark Band, the Radiophonic Workshop and our buddies Mazes.”
He’s justifiably upbeat about how the band’s live show will go down with the End of the Road crowd despite a sprinkle of self-deprecation. “I’m sure that everyone says this, but we genuinely just started this band for ourselves, for our own amusement, so the fact that anyone pays to hear our music is still a mindboggling concept to me,” he says. “I think it’s a very cathartic release for us all when we play, and hopefully for anyone watching too.” “I guess the intention of our live show is to try and induce euphoria through volume and repetition… we’re extremely thankful that anyone comes to watch us at all, it means the world.”
Published in the End of the Road Festival 2014 programme
Platform: YouTube/The Line of Best Fit
Client: Secretly Canadian
Platform: The Line of Best Fit
Yes, Hinds are that good – but you have to push beyond the few brilliantly raucous snatches of sound they’ve dropped to date. The immediacy and fun times of songs like “Bamboo”, “Trippy Gum” or “Castigadas En El Granero” is only a blueprint for the finer qualities of these four friends and their intoxicating, limitless potential for musical salvation. Even conversations with them are like a smooth, elegant serious of synchronicities and upbeat, no-nonsense sentimentality.
“We know we aren’t big musicians. We know that,” explains Carlotta Cosials – all smiles – and without apology, “so we do this music with what we have – and that’s love. We are friends and we have smiles and we try to share a good time with each other.”
“We’re transparent on the stage…” adds Ana Perrote.
“If we makes any mistakes out there, we just laugh. That’s it,” concludes bassist Ade Martin.
The four piece began as a duo, with founding members Cosials and the half-French Perrote (vocals and guitars) meeting through each other’s boyfriends. A trip to the coast with a pair of six-strings in tow a few years back led to a cover of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and the embryonic Hinds dynamic began to take shape, still under the band’s original name of Deers. Bassist Ade Martin came on next and Holland-born drummer Amber Grimbergen – the youngest Deer – completed the line-up.
“I was in my house with a friend when they called me about the band,” says Martin. “I heard ‘Trippy Gum’ [“the first person who heard it,” interrupts Cosials] and I was so impressed.”
Hinds’ first show – as Deers – followed two months of non-stop rehearsal – “no sleep, nine hours a day of playing,” says Perrote. Some of the band’s early tracks were cut by Diego Garcia, frontman of The Parrots, a band that are inextricably part of the HInds story. “They are a big, big influence on us,” explains Perrote.
“Alex, the bass player, he bought me my guitar,” says Cosials.
“…And he chose my bass too,” adds Martin. “He just called me up one day and says ‘okay, I found your bass, come here and buy it!’. We’re so connected to them.”
“We still see them play live and we realise we have so much work to do,” gushes Cosials. “We supported them in Cadiz this year and, you know, it was not a good show, not a bad show [but] then they came on stage and we looked at the audience’s reaction and realised we were shit!”
The foursome grew up on the same music; behind the beautifully scuzzy reverb lie tastes that jut from Kendrick Lamar to Matt DeMarco to Dinah Washington. As teenagers they went to shows with the same friends who would later become part of the Madrid garage rock scene.
So why has taken so long for someone to break out of the Spanish capital’s vibrant musical bubble?
“I think it’s how people see Spain,” offers Martin. “I think English people can’t imagine something is happening there. Our influences come mostly from North America too so it’s very different from classic Spanish music.”
“Maybe our sound would be the same even if we were living in Vietnam,” laughs Cosials. “Maybe it’s not the Spanish music sound that influences us but the country itself. We played Spanish nylon guitar early on in our songs, you know.”
“I think the little scene in Madrid doesn’t exist elsewhere. In Catalonia it’s more noisy. The little garage scene in Madrid…it’s become the garage city of Spain and Barcelona has become the electronic one. I don’t know why.”
Perrote is quick to stress the band’s connection to their home: “We do listen to music that’s coming out of Spain though,” she nods.
How has Madrid and the rest of Spain taken to the attention you’ve gotten from the UK and American press?
“They don’t care so much,” shrugs Martin, “they’re not looking at what we’re doing as much as England. It’s a pecera (a fishbowl)… like a bubble, you know what I mean. Everyone talks about the same thing, it’s all the same bands. No-one takes risks.”
“We don’t trust the press in Spain, we don’t trust the writers,” says Cosials, matter-of-factly. “Bands don’t play outside of Spain very much, they’re in that bubble. One of the questions we get in Spain is why we sing in English. It wasn’t really a decision. English words just came out when we started writing songs. It’s the langauge of the music we listen to.”
Martin laughs: “We get people asking ‘how is your little group coming along?’, ‘Are you playing concerts?’, ‘Do you have your own songs?'”
The band’s landmark show – at London’s Corsica Studios – was an industry-heavy affair that saw competing labels, pluggers and promoters eyeball-to-eyeball. So far, they’ve stuck with quality indies Lucky Number (UK) and Mom + Pop (US) for their sole two single releases. When I speak to Lucky Number’s Nathan Roberts, he’s quick to pin down what it was that led the label to work with the girls: “I was struck by the easy-going immediacy…of both ‘Bamboo’ and ‘Trippy Gum’. Michael and Steve (label bosses) felt the energy too, and once we’d all spoken on Skype the girls’ energy came out of the screen even more; you just want to meet them!”
“We flew out to Madrid shortly after to see the debut four-piece show, and these strong feelings were both confirmed and embellished. The show had so much positive attitude.”
Cosials and Martin laugh at the praise heaped on the band after the Corsica show. “Nice people smiling,” says Cosials. “That’s what playing to people in London is like.”
No-one dances from Monday to Friday, I joke.
“We’re getting our minds ready for the album now,” laughs Cosials. “We’re gonna have to do a lot of things at the same time. We want to have eleven songs. We like that number [laughs] but we’re gonna have to tour and write at the same time. You can’t imagine how much work we do for this band!”
When we meet again to talk more, it’s late one Saturday night. The band serenade the East London streets with a medley of Disney numbers and a perfect rendition of the Jurassic Park theme before staying up until sunrise to pore through the far-flung corners of Spotify and YouTube, devouring tune after tune – everything from Deptford Goth to Kurt Elling.
They are, definitively, a group of friends united by a love for music – all music – and herein lies the secret to why they’re better placed than most to be the saviours of guitar music in 2015.
Without a shred of fakery or inauthenticity, Hinds are the real deal.
“There was a lot of corruption when we had tests so you just pay a fee and they let you drive…although more people are dying every year in traffic accidents than drugs wars so maybe it’a not working so well…”
Nothing can prepare you for the traffic in Mexico City. It’s different to every other South American capital I’ve visited and lived in. La Paz has its traffic zebras and colectivos; Buenos Aires is all grids, pollution and a jaywalker’s nightmare. Mexico DF, as the locals call it, is something else entirely.
And it’s not the baffling one-way systems that snake and intersect like overlapping moebius loops nor the constant succession of near-scrapes at every turn or lane merge. It’s the ordered chaos: the pulsing open veins of this beautiful, mad city aren’t a barrier but a reflection of functionality and necessity over circumstance. People get where they need to be (eventually). In a city of ten million people – a number that more than doubles when you figure in the outer parts of DF – the streets become an endless, brilliant blur of colour, graffiti, and typography; framing pocket after pocket of aphrodisiacal, sensory beauty.
I’m in Mexico here hoping to discover a little more about how the ninth biggest city in the world is taking to one of its biggest imports. The largest festival in the country is sponsored by the country’s most famous cerveza and this year’s Corona Capital is the centrepiece of my visit. The line-up reads like a festival junky’s wet dream: Beck, Jack White, Damon Albarn, Weezer and St Vincent at one end of the spectrum; Chvrches, Haim, Tune Yards, Gus Gus, Metronomy and MØ at the other.
Over two days at the city’s Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez – an expanse of sports grounds and racetrack better known for grand prixes – sixty thousand people will attend this curious hybrid of Reading-meets-Coachella. On this particular weekend they will brave earthquake, hurricane and a mud and water combo that reduces the festival site to a mini archipelago. Mexicans are, I find, the most unfazed crowds in the world. Watery disruptions push set times and force power cuts. They create vast lakes between front rows and stage barriers but the people resolutely shake it off with a positive belligerence that Brits would do well to adapt.
I had hoped for some homegrown sounds at Corona Capital but even before getting a passport stamp, I’m told “There are no Mexican bands playing I don’t think,” by my savvy border guard. I find that surprising, I say. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to try and mix them up on the bill? “Most of the people who play music here will be going to the festival I guess,” she says curtly. “Why would they want to play?”
It’s a disappointment of sorts and something of a strange dichotomy that becomes more pronounced as I dig away at the reasons why there isn’t at least a tokenistic Mexican artist amongst the line-up. The journalists I talk to are positive about the festival itself – citing a thriving music industry, with magazines like Indie Rocks catering for audience turned on by British and American sounds – but one offers an explanation: “Mexico is still learning a lot of things.We get asked by a lot of extrañeros about why there’s no latin, no Mexican bands on the festivals…but you know how to bill your own artists and where they fit. We don’t know yet how to fit them within a festival like this alongside our own bands.”
It’s not so much of a letdown though. Beneath the somewhat violently branded festival site there’s limitless excitement this weekend – and debuts are a big deal here. It’s Beck’s first ever show in Mexico. More than one person recounts to me how huge it was for The Pixies to come here a few years back for theirs. As it turns out, Haim scoop up a lot of the love this time, including a Selena cover (“Como La Flor”) in their inaugral Mexican outing. The highlights are all about context – as they should be.
Biffy Clyro pitch up with something to prove as relative unknowns. With an awesome power and belief in every single riff and line that the Scttish trio spit out, a dedicated mass grows throughtout the set and leave conerted. The Julie Ruin are another highlight and one redoubled by a chance backstage encounter with Kathleen Hanna that will forever make the jet lag worth it. Chvrches show why they’re slowly conquering the world and Belle & Sebastian continue to be one of the greatest live bands we’ve seen in the last three decades.
And then there’s Sam Smith.
Over the course of my five days in Mexico City, I barely walk down a street without hearing some incarnation of the loveable cheurb-faced crooner. On the metro from Velodromo to Tacubya, he’s there seeping out of an ipod on the Naughty Boy track. When I eat at a taqueria for the first time, Disclosure’s “Latch” is on loop in the background while tour footage of The Clash in America plays silently on a television; a weird juxtaposition made bearable by some frankly incredible food. In total. I hear “Money on My Mind” at least twenty times during my stay. The man is ever-present and his festival set is predictably a Very Happy Moment for many people.
When the dulcet tones of Smith finally leave me, it’s something of a culture shock: my final day in the country and I head on foot from the classy, expensive barrio of Polanco to the less salubrious La Merced. After stumbling blindly up a caged staircase and through a discount shopping arcade that sits suspended above a motorway, I emerge into the one of the oldest parts of the city. It’s a surreal inverted-Narnia moment, pushing through stalls of fabric and following glimmers of daylight, finally setting foot on street again to the strains of a winding electro-cumbia melody from a nearby shop. Sam Smith is not to be found anywhere here.
This is the South America I know- the part of every big city below of the US border where bright colours, commerce and great food sit hand-in-hand with poverty, decay and crime. The kind of barrio where the cross-country coaches end their journey and an urban dustiness is ever-present. This could be La Paz or Santiago de Chile or Cusco or Medellin: a sense of purpose is everywhere.
“Go find the witches market,” a friend said and so I enter the vast Mercado Sonora at the center of Merced, which houses hundreds of tiny concessions around a tight indoor grid. I pass through the livestock and pet section (everything from cows to kittens) and find an endless path of two etre cubes housing potions and herbs. There are all manner of dried animals, icons and Día de Muertos paraphenalia. It’s unthreatening, somewhat kitschy but at the same time utilitarian.
Among the more questionable bottle and boxes there are thing you’d see in any Holland & Barratt but I have my eye on a particular prize: sangre de grado, an amazonian tree sap akin to a liquid bandage that once healed a half-inch deep animal bite on my hand in twenty four hours. I buy a vial but the stall holder seems perplexed I haven’t come here for something more novelty. She pushes an altar box my way – three garish skeleton figures in mariachi garb inside – and some candles, which I buy to keep the peace. She beams at me as I leave, offering a blessing.
For my final meal in the country, I head out for a torta, Mexico’s own spin on a sandwich. Supposedly invented by an Italian immigrant adapting a panini to whatever was available, I’m told the best is to be found at Tortas Been, a stall housed in a covered shopping passage five minutes from the Zócalo (República del Salvador 152 if you’re tempted to find it).
I’m uncompromising in my choice: I want to eat a Cuban sandwich, or at least the version of the torta cubana they serve up here. The calorific treat sees the filling assembled on the plancha; a heady mixture of meats (different cuts of pork and beef) along with cheese, peppers and a sour cream-doused soft baguette, fried with a little butter. Less than ten minutes after ordering, I’m tearing into the beautiful, fat-soaked chunk of beauty and hearing the first bars of “Latch” rising out from a passing car. It’s a perfect ending.
The best succeeds by effortlessly concentrating epic bursts of mood and emotion into slinky three and a half minute packages.
Not just any mood or emotion – we’re talking truisms here. That particular type of heartbreak: absolute, final, without redemption. The joyous release following an escape from dire circumstance. The fluctuations of a life lived find their way into every snap and click, hanging neatly in the space before the drop or curling tightly on syllable and rhyme.
Songs that drip heavy with emotional mirrors are there when we need them, reflecting the week, month or year by the beat, the density of sound and every single vocal inflection. Pop can matter when it needs to.
Jessie Ware has flourished with this emotionally relatable dynamic and her own take on finessed, mood-driven pop is what binds Tough Love together. Ware’s always been consistent as a reflection of the depth of her songs. Like them, she’s grounded, almost absurdly human. Responding to heckles after referencing her recent marriage at last month’s iTunes festival by telling the offending fan to “fuck off” underlines everything she’s about – shot through with a dash of self-preservation.
Tough Love may hang its weight on an intimacy that was missing in parts from her debut, but it’s actually the elements around her vocals and lyrics that delivers the album’s biggest punch. The analogue glitches framing “Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe” and “Desire”; the rudimentary percussion and bursts of lush sequenced melody in “Want Your Feeling”; the shuddering curves and layers of the title track…these subtle edges deliver texture and form. It’s a masterclass in how not to fuck up a record and one that many could learn from. Where there’s an opportunity to overplay it, Ware and her producers do the opposite, imbuing intelligence over excess. Tough Love both caresses and respects its audience – a hard thing to pull off in this day and age.
That’s not to say it doesn’t demand some investment. While the title track is an easy departure point, the finer points of the record need time to connect with one another. It’s an album in the traditional sense, and taken on its own merits, a modern British pop classic. As the second step in Ware’s career? It’s even more exciting.