INTERVIEW: Glam Skanks

INTERVIEW:

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 Glam Skanks

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THE captivating and eye-catching quartet of Ali, Veronica; Cassie and Millie…

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makes up Glam Skanks. They have been described as an all-female band-version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Their album, Glitter City, mixes theatre and spectacle with mixes of older-days Glam-Rock with the sort of mainstream sensibilities that makes them an accessible option. It is their infectiousness and unique personalities that are alluring audiences and marking them out for big things.

I talk to the U.S. band about supporting Adam Ant and lending Alice Cooper their make-up. They talk about enviable Rock and Roll memories and how they hope to redress the gender imbalance in music; their favourite albums and songs and their treasured memories of the road.

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Hi, girls. How are you? How have your weeks been?

Glam Skanks: We’re great!

Just got done filming a new music video.

 For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?

Yeah. We’ve got Ali on Lead Vocals; V. on Lead Guitar; Millie on Bass and Cassie on Drums.

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Can you tell me how Glam Skanks got together? Have you been friends for years now? How did that band name come about?

Glam Skanks started when V. and Ali met on Craigslist...

They had both posted, almost identical ads, looking for female musicians - for a Glam-Rock-inspired band. After a few years of playing with other girls, Millie and Cassie - who had been playing in bands together since their early-teens - joined up.

The band name came when we booked our first gig. We didn't have a name and knew we needed something to start promoting. After a friend joked about making 'lamb shanks' into ‘glam shanks’, the name ‘Glam Skanks’ came up - and we thought it perfectly fit our vibe.

I know you played Camden Rocks. What was that experience like?

It was incredible.

The whole experience of going to England - and playing in another country - was amazing enough and then, to add playing such a well-known festival, was a dream come true.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Cox

Any more dates coming later this year?

We’re working on something...

We have a gig with Adam Ant at The Roundhouse (in London) in December - and were hoping to book a tour around it.

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Some have said Glam Skanks are what a Rocky Horror Picture Show house-band would be like. Do you think that is a fair assessment? Is that film/show something you girls are a fan of?

That’s a great description of us...

We’re huge fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We grew up going to midnight showings all dressed up - and always thought we would be a great fit to play before the movie started.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Cox

In addition to opening for Alice Cooper; you supported Adam Ant on his U.K. tour - and you’ll be back to open his show at The Roundhouse in December. What is he like to work with? How did that invite come about?

He’s great to work with: a true showman and an absolute professional.

We share some mutual acquaintances with Adam and, when they had shown him our videos, he liked us enough to ask us to come along and tour with him.

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I heard Alice Cooper asked to borrow your make-up. What was your response to that?!

At first, we laughed, because we thought he was joking!

When we found out he was serious, we, obviously let him use whatever he wanted.

In Kevin Smith’s film, Yoga Hosers, you had one of your songs featured. You have hung with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. How do things like this happen? Is there a standout memory from all these crazy experiences?

We’re lucky that we have some connections that run in the family. V’s dad, Bruce Witkin, is a member of the Hollywood Vampires and has produced and worked with a lot of famous artists.

One standout memory was the night we opened for the Hollywood Vampires. We got to jump onstage with Alice Cooper and sang School’s Out with him and the whole band.

Glitter City is the new album. What can you tell us about the themes and ideas that compelled the record?

There wasn’t really any particular theme or idea: we just wanted to make a record that sounded like the music we love - but with our own twist.

That said, there’s definitely an underlying tone of female empowerment. Even though there are not many songs that are explicitly about that; we went in with the mindset of wanting to inspire other girls and women with our music.

Veronica. You grew up in a unique Hollywood Rock and Roll family. Was it possible to have a ‘normal’ childhood or was it quite strange? What is Hollywood like for a young and ambitious artist?

I don’t know if anyone, technically, has a ‘normal childhood’ - but mine didn't feel that different from anyone else’s.

Hollywood is hard for any young artist but I was at least lucky enough to have a bit of a head-start since I'm from L.A. - and have the advice and help from my dad.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Cox

Millie. You almost didn’t join the band. Why was that and what changed your mind?

I was super-busy with other bands and had just moved to Los Angeles - so, I wasn't sure about joining another group.

The girls won me over with their passion and drive for music and fun personalities - so I gave it a shot.

Listening to you girls play, your music and power can match any male band. Why do you feel there is still gender inequality and sexism in music? Is that something you are keen to tackle?

Thank you...

Unfortunately, there’s still gender inequality and sexism everywhere in our everyday lives - so music isn't going to be any different, especially when Rock ‘n’ Roll is considered a boys-club.

That’s something we hope to change, not just in the music industry, but everywhere - so all girls and women are treated fairly and equally no matter their race, social status or sexuality.

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Your brand of music, 'Glitter-Rock', has changed since the early days. What have been the main changes and do you feel more bands should play in the genre?

It’s funny because, to us, Glam and Glitter-Rock aren’t really a sound but more of an attitude and, in that sense, it’s never changed.

It’s about the stage-show and the spectacle - and that is one thing that more bands these days could use.

I can imagine you have your fair share of touring anecdotes! Any particularly vivid or ‘memorable’ ones?!

Yes!

We had a night in Manchester where we stayed at a sort of tavern and we were immediately thrown off when we walked in - because there were Christmas decorations up in the middle of May. We didn't think too much of it but, later that night, we noticed our door didn't really lock and, when we tried to move our beds together, we found blood splattered on the walls.

We decided to not-so-gracefully sneak out at 4:30 A.M.

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Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Right now, we’re into The Lemon Twigs.

They put out a great record last year.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Lemon Twigs/PHOTO CREDIT: Riku Ikeya

If you each had to select the album that has meant the most to you; which would they be and why?

Veronica: That’s so hard because there’s so many that have had a huge impact on me, but, I guess I’ll have to choose The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie.

Every song on that album is perfect and the concept of youth and alienation still hits home.

Ali: Probably Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

I just feel so happy and inspired when I listen to it. Every song is perfect. I never get sick of listening to it.

Millie: I never have just one album that I fall back on because I'm always changing what go-to album – but, for sure, one of my favorite albums is Panty Raid by Fabulous Disaster: an all-girl Pop-Punk band from San Francisco - where I grew up and saw as a teenager.

They have inspired me to play music and get in an all-girl band. Their songs sing about heartbreak, annoying preps. (and etc) - everything I can relate to!

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Cassie: I would say Deloused in the Comatorium by Mars Volta

Just like Millie; it's hard to pinpoint one specific album or artist because I'm influenced by so many different styles of music - but this one is definitely top-five because of the instrumentation. It really influenced me to push my drumming.

What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?

Just go for it!

Don’t be afraid that it might not happen or ‘I might not make it’: you can’t start a revolution if you don't go out and try to make it happen.

Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Veronica: Anything by David Bowie

Ali: Please play It's Late by Queen - this song is brilliant

Millie: Please play Free Money from Patti Smith

Cassie: Please play Take a Chance on Me by ABBA

That’s our backstage pump-me-up song whenever we're on tour.

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Follow Glam Skanks

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INTERVIEW: Farrago

INTERVIEW:

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 Farrago

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FARRAGO are an exciting and rock-solid…

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Alt-Folk/Indie band that marries lush cinematic sounds with powerful acoustic guitars and silky bass – plenty of expressive percussion and epic vocals. I talk to lead singer Ian (in the photo above) about the band’s career and recording their E.P., Oh, Beautiful Darkness, at Abbey Road Studios. He tells me about arriving in London in 2012 – having started his music lust in Brisbane; having walked out of a fruit-picking job – and how they all found one another.

I learn more about the E.P. and what one can expect on 7th September at The Finsbury – where the video for Better Than Real Life will be projected during the performance. Ian discusses the musicians that matter most to him and each of the band picks a song to end the interview with.

ALL FARRAGO PHOTOS: Sebastian Trustman (unless indicated otherwise)

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Hi, Ian. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi! It has been great – and hectic.

Lots of exciting work going on with the new E.P. - which is being pressed at this very moment.

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?

I’m Ian Bennett: lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of Farrago – an Alt-Folk band made up of myself plus Tina Longford (on Violin and B.V.s); Simone Feroci (on Bass and B.V.s) and Jack Robson (on Drums).

The music is a real mixture of Folk, with Rock, Indie; Jazz and Blues thrown in for good measure.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mr. Fizzy

I am interested in Farrago’s origins. I believe it was 2009 and a busking outfit birth? Can you expand on that and how you became the band you are now?

Farrago was born on the streets of Brisbane, Australia - after walking out of a fruit-picking job.

It was just two of us back then – me on vocals and guitar and my partner, Ruth, on melodica. It was amazing, to me, people were more into our original tunes than the covers. There was a real thirst for hearing new music.

We played our way around Australia and New Zealand, in venues and on the street, then, spent some time in India writing new material and making some D.I.Y. recordings.

But, I really missed having a whole-band-sound; so we came back to England to keep the project growing. The line-up we have now is just what I was hoping for!

Big, dynamic and bold.

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You arrived in London in 2012. What compelled that decision and how influential is London to your music?

I’m from London, and so, coming home was always on the cards...

London is hugely important to my music: I love the vibe and variety here. I love that London draws people in from all around the world. I’m always meeting inspirational musicians from all walks of life. Also, London pushes you hard!

To get anywhere, you have to work like crazy - which certainly keeps the standards high! I met all my band-mates whilst playing various live shows in London - so I have a lot to thank this city for!

The E.P., Oh, Beautiful Darknesswas recorded at Abbey Road Studios. What was it like recording at such a hallowed space?

Man...it was incredible.

I felt like a kid in a sweet shop – so much great gear that has been used by some of the best musicians in the world. It was humbling and unbelievably exciting to be there for a while. We recorded the E.P. in the main studios but I have to thank the Abbey Road Institute for making it happen. We worked with two fantastic students – Noah Dayan and Lucas Cristoff – who took us under their wing.

The future of the recording industry is in safe hands!

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mr. Fizzy

Can you tell me how that opportunity came about?

Myself and Simone were playing a few tunes at an open mic. at The Magic Garden in Battersea and Lucas happened to be there in the audience. It’s a great open mic. for meeting other serious musos – a night called Sing for Your Supper; run by a very passionate poet and friend called Carl Chamberlain. I got chatting to Lucas and the rest is history!

I met Noah at the Institute and we hit it off immediately. They co-engineered - and Noah mixed the E.P.

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When will the E.P. be launched? I understand the video for Better Than Real Life will be shown for the first time there? What can you tell us about the video and its storyline?

The E.P. will be released on 7th September - with a launch party the same night at The Finsbury pub (in Manor House).

The Better Than Real Life video is going to be projected during the performance. It has been great fun making it with director Daria Lanz; actress Stephanie Cannon; Director of Photography Philip Moran and the band. We’ve been messing around with L.E.D. lasers; paint, masks - and confusing members of the public in the process!

Better Than Real Life is about a character that prefers to live in the digital world - rather than reality – so, all the scenes are about the tension and release this creates.

Uncle Onion Records is the band’s label. What was the decision behind releasing the E.P. on your own label? Did it provide a freer creative construct?

I decided to create the label, back in 2014, for the release of our first studio-E.P., All Beginnings Are Illusions.

It was, mainly, so that we can build-up our own catalogue of music without any external forces coming into play. It has been a steep learning-curve but it has been useful learning more about how the industry works. I love the ethos of D.I.Y. and community building - so I wanted Farrago to reflect this.

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How do songs come together for Farrago? Do you all collaborate or will someone write lyrics – the remaining members pitching in with the music?

I’m constantly writing new material at home.

The ones that stick I bring to the band. By the time they hear the songs, they already have a structure and lyrics. Tina, Simone and Jack bring their musical magic to the songs at this point. This way, I can filter out the songs that don’t make the grade - before the others spend any time on them.

It’s a pretty productive way of working, I find...

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mr. Fizzy

Are other there any tour dates later in the year? Which dates are you most looking forward to?

We’re holding off on new dates until after the launch.

My next focus is on getting festival bookings for 2018…so keep an eye out! The odd gig will creep in though, I’m sure.

Keep an eye on the website for dates...

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Do you have anything else planned in terms of more music? Do you think ahead to the next record or are you very much focused on the latest E.P.?

There’s always plenty of new music in the pipeline.

Once the launch has happened, I’ll be working with the band on a handful of new songs that I’m focusing on at the moment.

I’ll be looking to record another E.P. or album in 2018.

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How do Farrago unwind and is there ever a chance to break away from the music?

That’s a good question!

 I’m around music, pretty much 24/7. I spend most of my free-time seeing my mates play music or going to music community events. My favourite way to escape for a bit is to go to a festival – preferably, a very chilled one, like Womad or End of the Road.

Last year, I saw The Shins, Joanna Newsom; Teleman, Ezra Furman; Savages and Kevin Morby all play on the same festival bill. It was incredible!

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Who are new acts you recommend we check out?

I am lucky enough to have some very talented mates...

Russell Joslin is a Folk music tour de force. He sings with Sarah McCaig and they are simply stunning together.

Tom Hyatt writes and performs a lot in London. Well worth checking out.

My friend, Mary Erskine, has a band called Me for Queen. She is incredible (Russell, Sarah and Tom will be playing with us at the launch).

(Probably) the artist I most admire at the moment is Scott MatthewsHis songwriting and voice are truly inspirational. He won an Ivor Novello for his song, Elusive. It gives me shivers just thinking about it!

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If you had to select the album that means the most to you; which would it be and why?

I’d probably have to say Grace by Jeff Buckley.

It completely blew me away the first time I heard it and has been a benchmark ever since. As far as I’m concerned, it has everything an album should have: incredible dynamics, feeling and depth…and, of course, there’s his voice.

My god; what a voice.

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What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

My advice would be to always get what you want from it. It’s a weird time we’re living through - with consumerism ruling everything - but the craft of songwriting takes time and perseverance - so enjoy the ride and trust yourself.

Everyone will have their opinion about what you should do but, ultimately, it’s what you want from it that matters.

Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Ian: Elusive by Scott Matthews

Simone: Beautiful Freak by Eels

Tina Longford: Play Dead by Björk 

Jack Robson: The Bronx by Booker T. Jones (ft. Lou Reed)

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Follow Farrago

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FEATURE: Taylor Swift and the Social Media Blackout Phenomenon

FEATURE: 

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 PHOTO CREDIT: EPA/Justin Lane

Taylor Swift and the Social Media Blackout Phenomenon

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IT seems, as we have been hearing in music news, Taylor Swift

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is, most definitely, up to something. There has been buzz, speculation and conspiracy given the fact she blacked her social media pages out. It might be the case, before this even goes out, she has announced a new record. It seems there is a trend for artists making a grand statement when releasing new material. Well, actually, it is not quite THIS big but the art of promotion and build-up is becoming more of an event. Radiohead – always the promotional pioneers – started a bit of a revolt with their pay-as-you-like strategy when In Rainbows was released in 2007. Last year, for A Moon Shaped Pool, they took down their online portfolios and channels – casting a black curtain and confusing fans. It was a moment of excitement that strayed from the rather predictable modern promotional strategy. Taylor Swift, one assumes, is doing ‘a Radiohead’ when it comes to her latest album. The Oxford band, when announcing A Moon Shaped Pool, were back in action pretty soon and, before you knew it, the first single, Burn the Witch, was before us. There is a danger, before I hit ‘Publish’, the announcement has been made. One presumes Swift is teasing material – if the social media blackout was an error then it makes this piece rather redundant.

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She is a megastar that commands millions of dollars each year and has legions of adoring fans around the world. She could, easily, sit back and release an album in a more conventional sense. Nowadays, one releases a statement or vague announcement. There might be cryptic messages and little concepts – Arcade Fire invented their own (fake) corporation/business when promoting their latest, Everything Now – or something original. Then, the singles arrive one-by-one. Often, one might have heard four or five songs before an album is released. In a competitive market – where streaming and electronic distraction channels are replacing retail – artists have to think of ways to adapt and conquer that dynamic. In a bid to send statements and show distinction: even those as big and famous as Taylor Swift is shutting off the spotlight – leaving the audience in anticipation. Whether an album arrives by the end of the week – one would assume so – it is interesting to see what form the material takes. It might not a surprise of epic proportions but, perhaps, it is a big single or something else. Who knows what it could be - but I am curious why there is the need to create such a sense of theatre and drama! There is something operatic and definitive about blacking out your social media channels. Yesterday, when talking about the twentieth anniversary of Oasis’ Be Here Now; I was filled with nostalgia recollecting the queues that formed around its release.

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That was at a time when we still went and bought physical albums. It may seem like I am an old man wishing things were like they were back in the ‘good old days’ - what I mean is; the quality of an album could bring people out in droves! There was no need for hype and endless promotion. There are albums, in this day and age, that get big reactions but music is relying more and more on extravagant and overly-precise promotional campaigns. Every band or artists have a single release schedule: making sure they are introduced to the world at specific times: launched at the perfect time to gain maximum impact. It is clear something is happening in Taylor Swift’s camp but it will be interesting how this will manifest itself. It seems Timeless – a single, by the sounds of it – will be released. Maybe that is the title of an album but, as Vox explained; there have been other developments and theories abound:

“…then, yesterday, she posted a grainy video of a snake on every account she owned. Rumors flew that she was planning to make an announcement at 2 pm Eastern, just as the solar eclipse was reaching its peak in New York, in what would have been the ultimate power move.

The eclipse came and went without an official announcement from Swift, but a page didappear on Genius for a Swift single called “Timeless,” and timeless.com has been registered and is “coming soon.”

We’re still waiting for the official announcement. But right now would be the perfect time for a new Taylor Swift single, for a few reasons. Let’s break ‘em down.

It’s is the perfect way to build suspense for Sunday’s VMAs

MTV’s Video Music Awards are this Sunday, and while Swift isn’t technically on the roster, it’s widely rumored that she’ll be making a surprise appearance. It would be a very Swiftian move, if so. The VMAs were the site of Swift’s infamous 2009 encounter with Kanye West, which was the moment in which Swift was perhaps most thoroughly in control of her publicity narrative, and they’ll be hosted this year by Katy Perry, with whom Swift has a well-documented feud — all of which would mean headlines galore for Swift. By releasing a song now, Swift is in the perfect position to give it its live debut at the VMAs this weekend, summoning all the associated publicity that would come with it.

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 If you’re planning to release an album in October, August is when you drop the first single

Historically, Taylor Swift has released a new album every two years in October. Following that pattern, she was scheduled to release a new album last fall, but she skipped a year. If she’s planning to return to her traditional schedule this year, she’ll need to release a new single about three months before she plans to release her album in order to build buzz — in other words, she needs to release new music in August.

It’s been just over a year since the #KimExposedTaylorParty

Last July, Kim Kardashian West released a series of videos online that appeared to demonstrate that Swift had signed off on Kanye West’s controversial “Famous” lyrics (“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous”), despite Swift’s claims to the contrary.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kim Kardashian West

The Telegraph had other theories around the reptilian-video-tease and other possibilities:

Others have suggested that the creature in the video isn't so much a snake but a dragon or a lizard. The pop culture science website Inverseconsulted six (!) different herpetologists for their analysis of what the video actually depicts, with all coming to the conclusion that it probably isn't a snake.

"That is not a snake, nor other reptile," Joseph Mendelson, Ph.D., director of research at Zoo Atlanta, told the site. "It actually changes the length of its body, which is what worms or octopus tentacles do. Snakes, even the couple of really odd ones out there, can't technically accomplish this."

Others have suggested Swift may be planning a dragon-from-the-ashes video, something involving an octopus, or may just be a huge Game of Thrones fan. These suggestions makes sense, but they also aren't half as much fun to speculate about.

In further far-fetched speculation, it has also been claimed that Swift may have deliberately coincided the release of her new single with this week's solar eclipse as a reference to "shadow bands" – thin streaks of light which appear to shimmer on the ground ahead of and in the wake of an eclipse. These "shadow bands" are also known more colloquially as (dun dun dun) "shadow snakes".

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She might be planning a collaboration with Katy Perry

There have also been rumours that Swift will perform her new single live at this Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards, though that has not been confirmed. An interesting aside to that bit of speculation is that the ceremony is being hosted this year by Perry's one-time arch nemesis Katy Perry.

Perry will also be performing her single Swish Swish, a diss track written in response to Swift's Katy Perry diss track Bad Blood.

The fact that both women will be in the same venue has also led to speculation that the pair might bury the hatchet and perform together, particularly after Perry has expressed her wish to put aside their feud in recent months. However, she has denied that they have a collaboration in the works.

"Listen, I'd love for the beef to end, take it off the barbecue," Perry told SiriusXM's radio show The Morning Mash Up yesterday. "I'm down, but I haven't heard anything of it."

That is a lot of spice, flavour and additions to the overflowing rumour-cauldron! Katy Perry has claimed not to be in conversation with Swift so, is that a deflection and bluff?! The Pop market lacks a certain excitement and originality so, when it comes to releasing new material, is the event and build-up more memorable than the actual song?! The song will be called Timeless, it seems. Snakes/snake will be part of the dynamic/video and, given the rumours around Katy Perry - it seems two Pop superstars will join forces. Maybe the song will be a summer-defining epic but, it seems, it is not going to depart too much from Swift’s previous material. Her schedule regarding releasing albums every two years suggests, whatever arrives, will be the start of a new album, one suspects.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Katy Perry/PHOTO CREDIT#StevenKline 

Maybe the snake represents a slimy ex-boyfriend. Relationships and empowerment are going to be important factors in the song – maybe they are merely red herrings. All of this chatter and brew has done what the label and management intended: get the millions interested and build up that immense sense of anticipation. Even people like me – not a huge fan of Swift but an admirer of how she conducts herself – are intrigued by campaigns that differ from your usual strategy. I mentioned how, back in the 1990s, there was a more standardised and low-level campaign. Singles would have been released but few artists would spend so much time and energy creating cryptic messages and teasing videos. Maybe we have reached an age where the spectacle and allure take precedence over the actual music. I am fascinated by the sensation of the social media blackout and why artists do it.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Barlow

When Radiohead silenced their channels; many assumed it was them disconnecting from fans and getting away from the chatter. When the lights were brought back up; new music arrived and, in a strange way, it seems like a much bigger thing. We had been plunged into confusion and many had gone into panic-mode. That sense of relief seeing music arrive created a more intense and visceral reaction than if the band had done it in a straightforward and unimaginative way. Radiohead have always been pioneers and keen to do things differently. Taylor Swift is, perhaps, a less innovative songwriter but is part of a culture that understands the power and importance of social media. That blackout, like Radiohead, saw the Internet go into a tailspin. The rumours were fulminant and it has, for better or worse, seen fans chatter and share their opinions.

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We are piecing things together and guessing when a song might arrive. She could have, three years after 1989 – got my two-year theory wrong! – have released an album like everyone else - but her celebrity and cachet has grown to such gargantuan heights; that could never be. It has been a little while and there has not been a mass of material from her lately. Bad Blood (featuring Kendrick Lamar) was released two years ago, is one of the most-viewed videos ever and has been seen over one-billion times. One suspects, if the ‘snake teaser’ were on YouTube; it would get the same amount of views given enough time. One of the reasons Swift has decided to do this blackout is to get the tension and sheer explosion of fascinating to its fever-pitch best. If she had done what, say, Lorde had done and released her album after a run of singles – with a comparative lack of circus – would that be fitting for a mega-famous artist under constant scrutiny?!

It would be have been a risky strategy going for the single-teaser-single-photo-single-album configuration three years after a huge-selling record. There is a timeliness about a possible single/album release. Recently, Swift won $1 (a symbolic amount) off of former D.J., David Mueller, who assaulted her by groping. Swift, after the photoshoot with Mueller and his girlfriend, has said ‘thank you’ and blown off the assault. She won the case and has had to deal with something traumatic and deeply upsetting. Not that new music is a way of profiteering from a high-profile court case but one feels that blackout was a reaction to the tension and furore around her name – she could not simply do something casual and minor. She is a fired-up woman right now and wants to make a statement. There is a sense of calculation throughout everything that suggests she is constantly being guided and advised. Artists as big as her cannot release an album when they want and decide which singles to bring out – choosing their own promotion techniques and choosing their level of involvement.

Not that Swift is consorting with evil spirits: she is a successful businesswoman and performer and is not going to be controlled. It will be interesting seeing the results of all this cloak-and-dagger, smoke-and-mirror stuff. It is interesting seeing how meticulous and grand a promotional campaign can be these days. Smaller artists do not have the status and reputation to be able to do this – very few can take down all their social media sites and have people stick with them. That complete blackout could backfire but, for someone like Swift, it is has been planned and discussed to ensure it is the very best way to promote her new music. Timeless, it appears, will be that music and, whether a single or album, is creating so much talk and rumour - right across international media. On Friday (perhaps); we will get to see what all the build-up is about and, with it, one of the most talked-about and hyped-up music promotional campaigns…

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OF this decade.

INTERVIEW: I Am Willow

INTERVIEW:

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 I Am Willow

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THE Valetta-born artist I Am Willow shows the stunning brand of music…

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coming out of Malta (she is now based in London). Time Out and Annie Lennox are fans of her music; she has been featured by BBC Introduction - and someone who can hold an audience spellbound by her voice alone. There is something simple and effective when one hears songs like Oceanful and Hearts in the Night (the new single from the talented singer-songwriter). I speak with her about the song’s story and how her music comes together; the musicians that have inspired her and what the music scene in Malta is like.

She talks about music and childhood; whether there will be an E.P. arriving and how big relationships and the personal are to her songwriting – and a couple of new artists we should all be aware of.

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Hi. How are you? How has your week been?

I’m feeling pretty good - now that I’ve finally started to share my music with the world. The response so far has been incredibly encouraging and I feel particularly inspired.

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?

I’m a girl that loves to go to my 'safe space': under a willow tree; looking out at the world and then writing about it. I’m human and definitely have my flaws - and this all comes across in my music. I love books and films so you could say my music carries a certain cinematic atmosphere.

However; the Pop princess inside of me always finds a way of showing itself.

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Talk to me about the single, Hearts in the Night. What is the song about and was it an easy creative/recording process?

Hearts in the Night was the result of a completely improvised session with Benbrick - my co-writer and producer. We had never worked together before and we had no specific targets on the day we did. This song was an incredibly organic result of our two creative souls coming together and trusting each other.

Funnily enough, the song is actually about trust and allowing someone to show you the way. Imagine being blindfolded and allowing someone to take you by the hand - and cross you over the busiest street in New York.

That’s what this song is about: trust.

It follows the popular and impactful, Oceanful. How do you think the tracks differ and, in terms of sound and lyrics, were you keen to create something new and distinct?

When I work with producers; there’s always an element of trust involved.

I have to believe that they will bring something that I wouldn’t even have thought of to the song and that it will take the song to a much better place.

The beauty of Oceanful and Hearts in the Night is that they were the result of the first session with both sets of producers. In the case of Oceanful; it was Zeke McUmber and Ron Haney. Both songs were written on the day of production and neither session was meant to be an 'I Am Willow session'.

Indeed, I Am Willow didn't even exist when Oceanful was written: it was the seed that started the whole project. And, to answer your question, lyrically the songs differ immensely - because I was in a very different emotional place. The mood is, especially, more intense in Oceanful (boy problems), for example.

However, the main difference - which I find beautiful - comes from the fact that I am working with different producers. They each bring their own individual stamp to my music. It’s completely real, raw and organic. 

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Is there going to be an E.P. or album arriving at some point?

Let’s just say there’s much more music coming your way….

How important are personal relations and experiences to your songwriting? Do you take a lot from your own life and write about what you go through? How much is fictionalised and abstract, in that sense?

Everything I write about is absolutely genuine and true.

I write about my own experiences, my strengths and fears – and, sometimes, I’ll take lyrical inspiration from books.

But, to me, songwriting is a form of therapy.

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Listening to your latest track, and the reception you are getting, it seems like you are in a good and creative period. How do you think you have developed as a songwriter the last year or so?

All I know is that the music people are responding to all happened as a result of trust.

I wasn’t trying to please anyone. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. So, I want to continue to throw myself into completely organic situations and trust that sometimes we will have similar results.

One thing I do feel is that I trust myself a lot more.

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Born in Malta; you are based in the U.K. What is the music scene in Malta like – compared to the U.K.? Are there a lot of great artists making waves over there?

Malta is a really beautiful setting for a creative person…up to a point.

It’s a very small place, and with it, comes very few opportunities - which is why, I feel, like there’s a lot of potential that doesn’t really reach its maximum. But, the potential in those waters is evident - even to the highest-trained experts.

I’ve heard it said so many times before: “There’s something in the water”.

Can you tell me about the musicians you grew up listening to and your idols?

I grew up on Classical music. I was playing the piano from the age of four and my grandmother was my teacher. Even on Sunday picnics; the first things she would say to me was “Did you practice?”.

But, I have very fond memories of dancing to the Spice Girls with my mum and then, later, being completely mesmerised by Kate Bush, and then, Tori Amos.

Later, I collected a few more idols like Goldfrapp, Radiohead; Beyoncé, Jungle; alt-J … it’s a funny list - but I have a pretty wild selection.

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Annie Lennox is a big fan of your music. Is it weird getting love from someone so huge?! Have you ever performed with her – or is that something you’d like to do?

It’s weird and it’s not...

We often look up to these icons and forget they’re just human beings, like us. I write music from the heart - so it’s bound to resonate with someone. It just so happened to be Annie, which, don’t get me wrong, is the honour of all honours. Performing for her was as amazing as it was terrifying. I will treasure it forever.

If I ever get the chance to perform with her; I would take it in a heartbeat!

You are classically-trained and have a cinematic and emotional palette. How influential are culture and the arts with regards your music? Do you connect film, literature and finery with your own personality and way of working?

Yes.

I would have to say I am very influenced by any other creative form: art exhibitions, film and dance (and all sorts). But, I would say, the primary source is (definitely) literature. When I find a good book; I am transported so completely that I can step back at any time – and, sometimes, lose my train-of-thought, mid-conversation. It’s very annoying to some. Haha.

Of course; it is inevitable that this has some effect on my songwriting.

Are there any tour dates later in the year? Where can we see you perform?

Keep an eye out on my social media pages/@iamwillowmusic for news of a performance on 16th Sept.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Roatana/PHOTO CREDIT: @nicolebusch

Who are new acts you recommend we check out?

I would have to recommend Rotana

An amazing artist that I work with.

Also...JP Saxe

A mutual friend and incredible musician (and songwriter).

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IN THIS PHOTO: JP Saxe

If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?

Goldfrapp Felt Mountain

They introduced me to production as a state of mind - and I have always wanted to try the same thing.

Ludovico Einaudi La Scala Concert

I’ve seen his music used in film and it is (just) stunning. I have recently started composing some piano pieces that this album has inspired.

Blur Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide

Because it has such a sense of identity and freedom (I, simply, love it).

What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

Stop trying to be who you think everyone wants you to be and just be you - it will surprise you!

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

ODESZA - Kusanagi

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Follow I Am Willow

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FEATURE: Be Here Now at Twenty

FEATURE:

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 Be Here Now at Twenty

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THE twentieth anniversary of Oasis’ Be Here Now has provoked a lot…

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of discussion and division. I shall come to the album’s qualities/negativities – and the people who are all having their say – but, in 1997, there was a huge amount of attention on Oasis. In the Britpop battle with Blur: advantage had switched to the Manchester band – Oasis’ What’s the Story (Morning Glory?) toppling The Great Escape in 1995 – and they were, in their own words, immortal gods. That braggadocio and confidence was typically cocky but deserved. Having produced two of the 1990s’ best albums: many would forgive them for thinking they were indestructible. The band seemed to articulate a sense of freedom, togetherness and revelation – songs that connected with people and articulated a sense of hope. Oasis’ first two albums – their debut, Definitely Maybe, certainty – was chocked full of anthems and era-defining songs. A working-class band from Manchester able to bring the people together – it sparked the fire of Britpop but, more importantly, introduced the world to one of the greatest bands of the past couple of generations. Before providing my thoughts and why Be Here Now’s release was a historic milestone - a look back at the record’s release and themes. Oasis’ management, Ignition, knowing how well-received their previous albums had been - were concerned about the level of attention Be Here Now might receive – wanting the media to tone things down and keep the promotion to a minimum.

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Almost stealth-like: the company wanted minimal airplay and a calmer sense of proportion. Naturally, this backfired spectacularly and, maybe consciously, created hype and speculation. Sensing something monumental was about to arrive; radio stations, fans and publications were heavy with rumour and fascination. This sense of what-if created more momentum and attention than if the band had promoted the album in conventional ways.  The album sold 424,000 copies on the first day of release alone – becoming the fastest-selling album in British chart history. The album’s creation was marred by drug abuse and arguments and, as Noel Gallagher revealed to Kirsty Young during his Desert Island Discs appearance (2015) – they had recorded three albums in as many years and all of it was recorded under the influence (Liam and Noel the biggest partakers). Typical of the band: the previous year was filled with over-confident proclamations and successes.

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Noel Gallagher was invited to 10 Downing Street – he revealed, in the same Desert Island Disc interview, it helped usher Labour into government – and the celebrity status the band were afforded, as you’d expect, went to their head. That belief that they were God-like figures, coupled with drug use, was never going to result in a modest and focused album. So proved to be the case because, the winter before its release, Noel Gallagher revealed he was suffering writer’s block.  Most of the songs on Be Here Now, lyrics at least, were taken from before the time Oasis got a record deal. Gallagher was idling and thinking; looking for something that could match the magic of What’s the Story (Morning Glory?).

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PHOTO CREDIT: Jill Furmanovsky

Joining album-producer Owen Morris; the two laid down eight-track demos on a TASCAM recorder – drum machine and keyboards for the most part. Morris, looking back at those demos (recorded in Mustique) realised he had made a mistake. Rather than use the demos – Noel’s bass, guitar and percussion notes – they went with the album sessions. The album, as a result, was bloated and overblown but, as explained, I shall come to that later. Having performed two concerts at Knebworth House in August 1996; there was a creative and confidence high that got to them in a good way. Of course, with that much love behind them, they would feel pumped and eager to release new material. Perhaps the pressure and demand meant Be Here Now was rushed. Exploits away from the studio were impacting the strength of Oasis’ bond. Liam was going further off the rails and, aside from taking jabs at Noel, was partying and getting into scrapes. There was tension and the belief Liam would leave the band – I think Noel wanted him out as he was bringing the wrong kind of attention the way of Oasis. There was a consensus that, if the band has recorded the album in summer 1996 – at the villa in Mustique when the songs were laid down in rough form – then that would have been a happier and more focused environment. Maybe wait a year and let the pressure settle but, like The Beatles in the 1960s; that enormous need for something new forced them into a bad decision.

Many saw those villa recordings and the pre-Knebworth House period as the last hurray for the band. Those epochal concerts were career-high moments that started a decline. The anthem nature of their previous two albums was all in place. Whereas records like Definitely Maybe were energised; there was tightness: songs not really going on too long but able to convey so much in that time. Be Here Now was Elvis in his final days: bloated, troubled and lacking any control. The cocaine-fuelled – perhaps literally and sonically – meant tracks ran on and on without much reason. Some cuts repeated lines inanely whilst endless guitar solos and layers gave it a full-on and suffocating feel. D’You Know What I Mean and All Around the World drag and bore; My Big Mouth employs over thirty layers of guitars.  Lots of top-end frequency tones and experimentations – a little more freewheelin’ and indulgent than previous albums. The compelling sing-along that defined earlier breakthroughs like Live Forever was replaced with sub-pub-anthem-chorusing that seemed to indicate there were few in the ranks that had the courage to question Noel.

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PHOTO CREDITSteve Double Photography

Maybe there was too much rush, tensions and distraction. Whatever the truth from within camp: Be Here Now was released to the world on 21st August, 1997 and was, by all accounts, a phenomenon. The album itself can be split between those diehard fans and those experiencing the band for the first time. From my perspective; Be Here Now is a confident record but one that fails to capture the same quality and focus as their first two. The band was keen to try something new – in terms of sounds – and keep that lyrical simplicity intact. They did this but, fuelled by pressure and growing fame, their sense of economy abandoned them. Noel Gallagher freely admits there should have been judicious edits and greater self-awareness. Maybe, cropping a few of the longer songs would have been beneficial – some songs merely repeat guitar lines and aimlessly find Liam repeating the same codas/words with zero resonance.  

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The band had shown, on songs like Champagne Supernova, they could do something long and explorative without losing interest. That song ends What’s the Story (Morning Glory?) and is a classic Oasis anthem. Songs like that, Wonderwall and Live Forever should have acted as guidelines in regards quality, running time and themes. Circumstances had changed so it was understandable Noel Gallagher would not be at the same standard he was on the previous two records. He had, as he confessed, said everything he wanted and was going through a dry-spell – making things up when formulating the songs for Be Here Now. I love Stand By Me and, whilst it is a long song, it has an effective and memorable chorus that seems to reflect the finest points of What’s the Story (Morning Glory?). All Around the World has a big chorus but suffers from excess and over-long running-time.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Stefan De Batselier 

There are a few fillers but, take it on its own merits, and it is a classic three-star album: not a disaster but hardly a modern-classic. Compare it to Oasis albums to that point and it can only be viewed as a failure/missed opportunity. Unfortunately, given the hype and expectations of the time, critics listened to it with blinkers and rose-tinted glasses. The same way they had done two years previous with Blur’s The Great Escape: there was the assumption, without listening, the album would be as good as their previous best. The mass positive reviews were generated as a reaction to the huge speculation and build-up Be Here Now received. When the festival has died down, and there was relative quiet, more realistic and considered reviews were generated. Some remained positive others retracted previous praise and provided a more constructive criticism. The change in cultural dialectic between Oasis’ Britpop-period and their distancing from the common man was lost in translation. Ego and enormous self-belief had stripped away the qualities that made the band such heroes.

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the real reason I wanted to celebrate Be Here Now’s twentieth anniversary was to reminiscence and reflect on a time when a single album created such a buzz. Today, I have seen articles talk about the album and interview those who were queuing to snap it up twenty years ago. Being a Blur fan; I wasn’t among the thousands that lined the streets to grab a copy when shops opened on that exciting day. Maybe the quality of the album meant a lot of the prominence and prestige its release accosted made the reviews a little unreliable and one-sided. There was a huge wave of excitement one got swept up in. Reading a fascinating article from The Quietus (from last year); it was argued Be Here Now had some clear qualities:

While critics often cite the chorus as an exemplar of the vacuity of the album, they tend to ignore the different rendering of it the second time through, which reveals its true purpose (the "All my people right here right now/D'you know what I mean?/Yeah, yeah" of the first reading goes from opaque to transparent when the "D'you" is replaced with a "they" for the second run through). The final lines achieve the near miracle of dragging some sort of unifying and relatable lessons from the personal pain of the past, the song turning an image that may in itself be an echo of that abuse when exhorting listeners to "Get up off the floor and believe in life/No-one's ever gonna ever ask you twice". To be able to take something universal and uplifting from that kind of experience is an achievement deserving of the highest respect”.

It is worth reading the remainder of the piece as it does give a new spin – that seems to contradict and challenge the retrospective reassessment the album has received. It was amazing seeing the news the day the album came out. People excitedly packed into shops and chatting in queues. There was a community and spirit in the air we have not really felt since. Yes, there have been big albums that saw huge queues – nothing gathered the same momentum and attention as Be Here Now. It was Oasis’ Beatles-moment – the retail equivalent of Knebworth, if you will.

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If the album was not quite deserving of the immense sales; it was wondering seeing people come together - and music meaning that much to others. The digital revolution means we will never again see that same sort of thing happen on the streets of Britain. Our pavements are becoming synonymous with danger and protest: the simple joy of camping out for a long-awaited record seems a distant memory, sadly, we cannot recapture. I feel Be Here Now’s release, for all its warts and faults, marked a wonderful time when the art of buying music was at a rare peak. There is an anhedonia when purchasing music today – if, indeed, you actually do buy something. Gone are the days when a single record could bring together the masses. We are more concerned with streaming and seeing if we can get something for free on Spotify. It is an inevitable evolution but one I am not happy about. Oasis, twenty years ago, did something extraordinary. The controversy and ambiguity of the build-up; the ferocious excitement of the release – the deflating, if slightly funny, bump to Earth. It was a turbulent and wonderfully exciting thing to behold. I have been listening to Be Here Now for a few hours and am appreciating things I missed. I can appreciate the confidence of the band and the sheer dramatic emotion of the movements – those extra-ultra-confident anthems and the layers of guitar. It is very different from anything Oasis attempted but is, by no means, their worst album. It marked a need to make a change and move on: compete with the end of Britpop and the embrace of American guitar music. However you assess it - and whatever you feel about it - one cannot ignore the fact Be Here Now changed the face of music…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Jill Furmanovsky

IN so many ways.

FEATURE: The Peel Session: Celebrating the Legendary Tastemaker

FEATURE:

 

The Peel Session:

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 Celebrating the Legendary Tastemaker

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I am not the biggest authority when it comes to John Peel but felt…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

it was only right acknowledging the master as his birthday approaches – 30th August would have been his seventy-eight birthday. It is a tragedy he is no longer with us – more on that later – but one has all those treasured memories and takeaways. Before I share my memories, and why he is such an important figure in music; an overview from Wikipedia:

John Robert Parker RavenscroftOBE (30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004), known professionally as John Peel, was an English disc jockey, radio presenter, record producer and journalist. He was the longest serving of the original BBC Radio 1 DJs, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004.

He was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio, and he is widely acknowledged for promoting artists working in various genres, including popreggaeindie popindie rockalternative rockpunkhardcore punkbreakcoregrindcoredeath metalBritish hip hopelectronic musicjungle and dance music. Fellow DJ Paul Gambaccini described Peel as "the most important man in music for about a dozen years". In 2012 he was among the British cultural icons selected by artist Sir Peter Blake to appear in a new version of his most famous artwork – the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.[1]

Peel's Radio 1 shows were notable for the regular "Peel sessions", which usually consisted of four songs recorded by an artist live in the BBC's studios, and which often provided the first major national coverage to bands that would later achieve great fame. Another popular feature of his shows was the annual Festive Fifty countdown of his listeners' favourite records of the year.[2]

Peel appeared occasionally on British television as one of the presenters of Top of the Pops in the 1980s, and he provided voice-overcommentary for a number of BBC programmes. He became popular with the audience of BBC Radio 4 for his Home Truths programme, which ran from the 1990s, featuring unusual stories from listeners' domestic lives

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My first exposure to John Peel was hearing my favourite artists performing the famous Peel Sessions. The idea was an act would come in and perform four songs for Peel. It was a pre-recorded show that meant you could edit and remove any swearing – it might be a risk doing it today, considering some of the acts he had performing for him. I have fond memories of everyone from The Smiths to Jack White. One can get a complete rundown of The Peel Sessions here (there is a complete playlist at the bottom of the piece) and, if you want NME’s consideration of the ten best Sessions – one can glean them here. The reason I wanted to start with this side of his career was the fact those Sessions, not only produced some fine performances and legendary recordings but allowed Peel to connect with an artist. I have been listening to PJ Harvey on BBC Radio 6 Music and, during the feature; there was a snippet of her speaking with John Peel and her career to that point. Peel always came across as someone who did not mince his words but had an affectionate and tender side. That blend of characteristics brought the best from his guests and, in the comfort of the recording space, one experienced tremendous and one-of-a-kind performances.

During the thirty-seven-years Peel was at the BBC; there was in excess of four-thousand sessions recorded by over two-thousand artists. That is extraordinary and one can argue it spearheaded similar live sessions like BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and, in fact, every other live session on national radio. Every D.J., in a sense, wants to carry on Peel’s legacy and the way he connected with artists. I will come to his tastemaking legacy but, to show what exceptional taste the man had, a feature regarding his appearance on Desert Island Discs. It is no surprise seeing such an eclectic selection but even less of one finding The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks spoken about in such revered tones.

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That is, as we know, Peel’s favourite song and a big reason it has been passed down to new generations. I must admit, the first time I heard the song, maybe in the 1990s, and it opened up my eyes to The Undertones and singer Feargal Sharkey. The next song I heard from Sharkey, conversely, was his cover of A Good Heart – songs that look at very different aspects to love! It is amazing how we discover older and rare musicians through contemporary D.J.s. One of the big reasons John Peel leaves such a vacuum in music is because of his endless passion and curiosity regarding music. A piece in Evening Standard, five years ago, looked at how Peel’s archives and records were being made available to the public:

Music fans will be able to rifle through the contents of John Peel's record collection as the late DJ's huge archive begins to be opened to the public from today.

The Radio 1 presenter - who died in 2004 - amassed a colossal treasure trove of vinyl during his four decades as a champion of new music.

His collection is now being placed online with details of 100 albums being added in alphabetical order each week over the coming months as part of a digital arts project.

At one stage there was talk of Peel's collection being saved for the nation to give the public access to his records through the National Sound Archive.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Peel Acres

But now it will be opened up through an online project The Space, which is being launched by Arts Council England and the BBC.

The first batch of albums - with artists beginning with the letter A - was being placed online today.

The list begins with Mike Absalom, who has called Peel "the musical Maypole around which we all danced".

Creators of the site say it will allow visitors to browse through the records and the DJ's index cards as well as letting them view personal notes, home movies - including footage from his 50th birthday - and archive performances.

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 Peel amassed more than 25,000 vinyl albums and 100 will be added weekly until October.

His widow, Sheila Ravenscroft, said: "We're very happy that we've finally found a way to make John's amazing collection available to his fans, as he would have wanted.

"This project is only the beginning of something very exciting."

Users of the site will see his collection includes releases by acts such as Philadelphia new wave band The A's and industrial electronic act AAAK.

The first batch of albums, for which Peel had typed out track listings to aid his cataloguing, also includes more mainstream selections. It features the first three albums by ABC - The Lexicon Of Love, Beauty Stab and How To Be A Zillionaire.

There are features and programmes that have marked Peel’s death – and what his passing means to musicians and music-lovers alike – but every year we mark his life; there is a sadness, for sure. Whether marking his death or birthday, I feel there is endless currency when it comes to exploring Peel’s legacy. The reason I bring him up is because, in an age where so much of our music is digital and immune to promotion, his presence is needed more than ever. We have D.J.s and people promoting new songs but there are far less of it. So many of us discover music through sites like Spotify and YouTube. Social media plays a big part but the role of the D.J. is becoming less relevant.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The White Stripes

The reason I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music is that they value the necessity to bring people the best new music on a one-on-one basis. They play the songs and talk about the artists: they do not provide links to Spotify and leave it there. One gets a very direct and passionate group of D.J.s bringing all the best sounds around. One of John Peel’s sons, Tom Ravenscroft, is a BBC Radio 6 Music D.J. and has the same hunger as his father – even if he hasn’t aged enough to have the same legacy. William, another son of Peel’s is a music journalist/broadcaster. Both seek out the best new talent around and have learned a lot from their father. Another radio titan, Terry Wogan, died a few years ago and was another incredible tastemaker.

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He was considered, at one point, the most influential man in music and, on his BBC Radio 2 show, constantly had musicians perform for him. Both Wogan and Peel were both incredibly influential and have had an incredible effect on my generation. Another reason I miss John Peel is the way he pretty much broke The White Stripes in the U.K. It is no secret John Peel loved The White Stripes and it is debatable how many of us would have been aware of the American duo were it not for him. Afflicted by the quality and originality of their earliest recordings; he featured them on his show and had them play as part of his Peel Sessions. The duo was still in circulation when Peel died in 2004 but would have appreciated what he did for their careers. There is no telling how long it would have taken The White Stripes to be taken to heart in this country the way they were – it might never have happened, to be honest. They are not the only act that has Peel to thank for making them successful but they are the most famous.

John Peel left the world, as we know, in 2004 (aged sixty-five) and was on a working-holiday in Peru at the time. It was an immense shock and something we are still getting used to. Before I wrap this up; a little Wikipedia input regarding Peel’s legacy:

Since his death various parties have recognised Peel's influence. A stage for new bands at the Glastonbury Festival, previously known as "The New Bands Tent" was renamed "The John Peel Stage" in 2005, while in 2008 Merseytravel announced they would be naming a train after him.[25]

The John Peel Centre for Creative Arts opened in Stowmarket in early 2013. The main purposes of the centre is to serve as a live venue for music and performance and as a community meeting point.[43][44]

In 2009 blue plaques bearing Peel's name were unveiled at two former recording studios in Rochdale – one at the site of Tractor Sound Studios in Heywood, the other at the site of Suite 16 Studios – to recognise Peel's contribution to the local music industry.[45]

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 On 13 October 2005, the first "John Peel Day" was held to mark the anniversary of his last show. The BBC encouraged as many bands as possible to stage gigs on the 13th, and over 500 gigs took place in the UK and as far away as Canada and New Zealand, from bands ranging from Peel favourites New Order and The Fall, to many new and unsigned bands. A second John Peel day was held on 12 October 2006, and a third on 11 October 2007. The BBC had originally planned to hold a John Peel Day annually, but Radio 1 has not held any official commemoration of the event since 2007, though gigs still take place around the country to mark the anniversary.[46][47][48]

At the annual Gilles Peterson's World Wide Awards, the "John Peel Play More Jazz Award" was named in his honour.

In Peel's hometown of Heswall, a pub was opened in his honour. Named The Ravenscroft, the pub was converted from the old Heswall Cottage Hospital, Peel's birthplace.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Rex Features

Several Peel-related compilation albums have been released since his death, including John Peel and Sheila: The Pig's Big 78s: A Beginner's Guide, a project Peel started with his wife that was left unfinished when he died, and Kats Karavan: The History of John Peel on the Radio (2009), a 4 CD box set. Rock music critic Peter Paphides said in a review of the box set that "[s]ome artists remain forever associated with him", including ...And the Native Hipsters with "There Goes Concorde Again", and Ivor Cutler with "Jam".[50] A sizable online community has also emerged dedicated to sharing recordings of his radio shows”.[51]

In ten days, we will mark the seventy-eighth birthday of a hugely influential figure. Nobody since his death has managed to exert the same impact on modern music. There are some important tastemakers around but none that will have the relevance and legacy as John Peel. The number of vinyl the man left the world – one can imagine it filling an entire house – speaks volumes about his voracious passion for music. We need to remember John Peel even more at a time when people are discovering new music through streaming sites. I am not sure what he would make of the digitalisation of music but I am sure he would still be acting and one of the champions and bastions of the physical release – getting artists to perform and scouring crates for rare vinyl. It is sad realising he has been dead for thirteen years but his importance and legacy will never diminish. When his birthday does come, I feel we should make an extra-special effort to celebrate and commemorate one of music’s…

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TRUE giants.

FEATURE: Globetrotting (Part Two): Thirteen Artists to Watch

FEATURE:

 

Globetrotting (Part Two):  

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IN THIS PHOTO: Tash Sultana/PHOTO CREDIT: @hellomikeamico  

Thirteen Artists to Watch

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THE second part of my feature looks outside of London...

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IN THIS PHOTO: YONAKA/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Bronowski

well, for most of the acts – and recognises artists emerging from other parts of the planet. There are three more installments to come so, in this second segment, I take my sights to artists I feel will be making some impressive-sized waves in the coming months.

This list looks at some quality American acts with the finest of British; some treats out of Canada and France – a variety of sounds and treasures for the ears. There are a couple of Australian wonders and a real compendium of awesome music and intriguing personality.

Over the coming weeks, I will delve further into new music and collate the brightest and rarest music specimens around – those primed for big things as we creep longing towards 2018…

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The Aces

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Location: Utah, U.S.A.

Genres: Pop; Rock

Essential Song: Baby Who

Reasons to Watch: In June; the girls released their E.P., I Don’t Like Being Honest. They are playing in the U.S. right now but, on 27th September, they play Hoxton Square Bar & Grill and It will be a chance for the British crowds to see the band and what they are all about. The E.P. mixes 1980s-Pop and the sort of Pop/Indie of Haim and Shura. It is an intoxicating brew that is perfect for the summer weather – powerful enough to bring heat and good weather to the British crowds!

Follow: https://www.facebook.com/acesmusic/

The Wild Things

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PHOTO CREDIT: Marcus Maschwitz

Location: London, U.K.

Genre: Rock

Essential Song: F.I.A.

Reasons to Watch: One of the biggest regrets, musically, this year – aside from not punchy Ollie Murs when he passed by me in London one day - was when I missed The Wild Things play The Lexington recently – I was afflicted with a nasty cold so felt best not to spread it to them and large sections of London. They claim, the coolest line in a review (of theirs) was "Boiler suits and swaying hair move deliciously with slide guitar" – it is a pretty good line. The guys have news planned and it seems like something big will be going down before we close 2017. Led by siblings Syd and Cam; Rob and Pete amply provide oodles of grit, swagger and talent – they are a kinetic, eclectic and assured Rock band that is among London’s most promising.

Follow:  https://www.thewildthings.biz/

Pillow Queens

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Location: Dublin, E.I.R.E.

Genres: Rock; Alternative

Essential Song: Rats

Reasons to Watch: Those who have seen the Irish band perform live – I am among them – can attest at how charming, loveable and explosive they are. They are one of the most passionate bands around but charm crowds with their between-songs banter. Calm Girls, their 2016-E.P., is a stunning three-track everyone should get involved with. This year has been a successful one that has seen the quartet play their first London gig – important steps and big successes are sure to follow.

Follow: https://www.facebook.com/pillowqueens/

Bishop Briggs

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Location: Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Genre: Alternative

Essential Song: The Way I Do

Reasons to Watch: There is something alluring and captivating about L.A. songwriter Bishop Briggs. The ponytailed hair and intense stare – a lyric forming there… - mixes with an incredible voice and songwriting gift that makes it hard to compare her with anyone else. Her eponymous E.P. (released this year) bursts with confidence, incredible passion and one of the strongest voices in modern music. She is a unique and captivating artist whose blend of quirky and loveable personality is almost as remarkable as her fresh and phenomenal music.

Follow: https://www.facebook.com/thatgirlbishop/

Sonia Stein

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Location: London, U.K.

Genres: Alternative; Pop

Essential Song: One of Those Things

Reasons to Watch: I will be seeing Sonia Stein when she plays my night at #Blogtober (5th) in October. Before then, she is enjoying the love her E.P., One of Those Things, is receiving. Sixes & Sevens, the last of the singles from her E.P., has been unveiled and it seems like Stein has a busy few weeks ahead. There are gigs and promotional duties; I am sure she has plans for more music in 2017. There are few that have the same set of ingredients as Stein – one of those artists that can assimilate popular demands and integrate her own heartbeat and personality into the music. Her beauty and sensuality feed into the music and combines with vibrant and emotive compositions. There is plenty of movement, fizz and energy in her compositions. A musician and human that makes music for the people – even when the songs stem from her personal pages. Someone to watch very carefully.

Follow: http://soniastein.com/

Happy Hollows

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Location: Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Genre: Indie-Rock

Essential Song: Feel the Moon

Reasons to Watch: The guys have just released the new single, Meteors, and are preparing for the album release party on 29th September. Concordia is a record you will want to get a hold of because, the songs the Los Angeles group have put out, are incredible. The Art-Rock duo is, as they admit, an unlikely match: two polar-opposites consisting Northern California’s Sarah Negahdari and graduate student/bassist Charlie Mahoney. They met when Negahdari was ready tarot cards at a strip mall (yep) and, since that peculiar meeting, have performed hundreds of shows to adoring crowds. They are better known in their native America but it cannot be long until they are a huge fixture in this country – and the rest of the world!

Follow:  http://www.happyhollows.net/

Tash Sultana

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PHOTO CREDITDara Munnis Photography

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Genre: Alternative

Essential Song: Murder to the Mind

Reasons to Watch: If you have not heard this Australian treasure; you owe yourself the pleasure of discovering her music. In an industry where there are few genuine originals: Tash Sultana is a magnificent artist whose mix of sounds and incredible voice puts her music directly into the brain. There is the same dexterity and eccentricity one notices in Nelly Furtado’s voice but that would sell Tash Sultana short – she has so many different sides and is a lot more accomplished as a musician and lyricist. She started with homemade videos and busking the streets. Now, the Melbourne resident is on the cusp of the big-time and has a series of international tour dates approach. I will have to catch her when she comes over next month – her final date here is 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 14th.

Follow: https://www.tashsultana.com/

Tonight Alive

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PHOTO CREDITJordan Knight Photo

Location: Sydney, Australia

Genre: Rock

Essential Song: World Away

Reasons to Watch: Like country-mate Tash Sultana: Tonight Alive have a busy tour diary but are performing in Australia-only, it seems. They have international appeal but are keen to make their stamp on their native population. They have seen their music featured on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and are a Rock band that brings energy and intensity to every song they perform. Led by the phenomenal and compelling Jenna McDougall; it seems there is a big future mapped out for the Sydney quintet. I hope they do come to the U.K. as there is a lot of love waiting for them here!

Follow: https://tonightalive.com/

XamVolo

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Location: London/Liverpool, U.K.

Genre: Electronic-Soul

Essential Song: Old Soul

Reasons to Watch: In a lot of ways; there are similarities between XamVolo and the ethereal Benjamin Clementine. Both have natural cool and modesty; a voice that defies gravity and beauty – able to lacquer darkness and provide light to the impossible. The differences like in the sonic backdrops. Whereas Benjamin Clementine has a more poetic and preacher-man calm: XamVolo is a raw and energised prophet whose voice is propelled and backed by teasing beats and swirling electronic vapours. With new material brewing – an acoustic version of Old Soul was unveiled last month – it is only a matter of time before an album/tour is announced.

Follow: http://www.xamvolo.com/

Charlotte Cardin

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Location: Montreal, Canada

Genre: Alternative

Essential Song: Dirty Dirty

Reasons to Watch: Washington, Philadelphia and Boston are upcoming dates for Charlotte Cardin. A remarkable musician whose voice, often, is backed by crackling beats and moody pauses – atmosphere and epic possibilities from an artist who is capable of tender consideration and out-there confidence. Accompanied by Mathieu Sénéchal and Benjamin Courcy; it is a musical proposition that fits perfectly into the Canadian music scene. Further dates across the U.S. follow and, after releasing the incredible Bad Boy E.P., there is a lot of demand for Cardin and her music. I hope she is another artist planning a sojourn to Britain – the reception she would get would be immense.

Follow: http://www.charlottecardin.com/

Odd Couple

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Location: Berlin, Germany

Genres: Rock; Classic-Rock

Essential Song: Gone Solid

Reasons to Watch: I have reviewed these guys and was lucky enough to dive into Flügge and a modern Rock masterpiece. The band is unconcerned with the generic and shallow Rock music of today. They nod back to the bands of the 1970s: a time when there was genuine spirit and innovation in the genre. As such; one gets dirty and instant riffs; songs that address the world around them and more originality than most artists of their ilk. The duo is playing Europe in the coming weeks and, one suspects, they will have time to pop to the U.K. They have played Luxemburg and Norway and are amazing and rocking crowds on the continent. A musical force you definitely need in your life!

Follow: http://www.oddcouple.de/

YONAKA

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Location: Brighton, U.K.

Genres: Alternative; Alt-Pop

Essential Song: Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya

Reasons to Watch: Led by the incredible and nuanced voice of Theresa Jarvis; the Brighton four-piece headline The Borderline on 14th September and will be their biggest London show yet. Things are getting bigger and better for the band. There are singles being dropped here and there so it only seems natural they will collate into an E.P. I am not sure what the guys are planning but, judging by the reaction their live shows are getting, there is a lot of demand for them. Their hooks and songs consort with darker forces but there is something accessible and mainstream-ready about them. A deep and exciting brew of sounds and scents that singles the band out for great things. Make sure you follow their careers – there are big things ahead of them.

Follow: https://www.facebook.com/weareYONAKA/

HEZEN

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PHOTO CREDIT: Isaac Murai

Location: Paris, France/London, U.K.

Genres: Electronic; Trip-Hop

Essential Song: Smoke & Mirrors

Reasons to Watch: Sarah Hezen has gained comparisons to the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead; the inventiveness and quirk of Björk but, comparisons aside, what one hears is a unique artist that has a very impressive story. She has been performing dates in London and divides her time between genre and France – HEZEN is a French artist but is finding opportunities and love in Britain. Her E.P., Stigma, was released earlier this year and it is clear there is more afoot. One only need take a brief hit of her music to be stunned and taken somewhere else. It is so evocative and physical it moves the mind, body and soul. Another artist with a very clear and prosperous future ahead – there are few quite like HEZEN.

Follow: https://www.facebook.com/sarahezen/

FEATURE: Early Risers: The Artists Who Never Bettered Their Debuts

FEATURE:

 

Early Risers:

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IN THIS PHOTO: Arcade Fire (whose debut, Funeral, stunned critics in 2004) 

The Artists Who Never Bettered Their Debuts

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IT might seem like a rather negative title and one…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Björk (one of the few artists who has improved and evolved her music after a stunning debut release)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jean-Baptiste Mondino

that employs a modicum of schadenfreude. The idea behind this is to highlight some of the best debuts ever but show how hard it can be topping something so revered and celebrated. Maybe certain acts go in so hard they cannot better themselves. When critics do get behind a record and elevate it to stunning heights: so few manage to go on to record better material or take that kind of pressure. Rather than mock those who have failed to live up to their debut-release stage; I have collected some of the finest introductions from giants of the music scene.

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The Stone RosesThe Stone Roses (1989)

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The Manchester band have talked about a third album but, as it stands, they have only released the two. It may seem insignificant and pointless saying a band that has created only two albums cannot be judged too harshly for not topping their debut. Such was the impact and strength of their eponymous debut; songs like She Bangs the Drums and I Am the Resurrection became the cornerstones of the 'Madchester' scene. Critics noticed its blasts of 1960s-music and Psychedelia; invention and swagger from the band. They failed to capture that same spark on the ironically-titled, Second Coming - similar-sounding to their debut but minus the timelessness and magic. Maybe the fact it arrived in 1994 – right in the middle of Britpop – made it an ill-fitting outsider. Regardless of its disappointing follow-up: few can deny the potency and legacy of The Stone Roses.

The StrokesIs This It (2001)

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Bands like The Libertines were keen to capture the same sort of energy, Punk rawness and youthful abandon like New York’s The Strokes on Is This It – perhaps not as potently done on The Libertines’ debut, Up the Bracket. Arriving a year into the '00s; the album seemed to represent a feeling that was in the air at the time. The songs, all penned by leader Julian Casablancas, resonate and connect the moment you hear them. They do not have the polished and vapid sound so much of today’s music does – the songs are edgy, raw and underproduced; allowing their true spirit to shine. Their 2003 follow-up, Room on Fire, was an impressive record but could not live up to the standard they set on their phenomenal debut. The band’s current record, 2013’s Comedown Machine, was met with mixed reception – it seems the best days for the band have passed. There have been diminishing returns but Is This It represents a single moment and snapshot perfectly captured by The Strokes. A timeless classic!

Arcade FireFuneral (2004)

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There are debates as to whether the band’s follow-up, Neon Bible, is their best offering but I feel nothing rivals Funeral. The Canadian band’s latest, Everything Now, has been met with critical coldness. They are a band, like The Strokes, who have gone in hot and have been unable to reach the heady peaks of their first offering. Rebellion (Lies) is, perhaps, the best-known song from the album. Wake Up is a classic whilst the ‘Neighbourhood’ songs – four tracks with similar titles that form a sort of suite – show there is a conceptual arc to the narrative. It is a wonderfully rich and beautiful album that mixes Art-Rock strands in such an interesting and unique manner.

Pretenders Pretenders (1980)

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The legendary American band launched the 1980s with a timeless album packed with classics. They have released as recently as 2016 but, on Alone, it is more a solo project for Chrissie Hynde. The band’s introductory statement contains Precious, Brass in Pocket and Kid – three staples from the band that showed what they were all about. Pretenders debuted at number-one on the U.K. album charts and stayed there for four weeks straight. It is seen as one of the best albums of the 1980s and, to many critics, one of the finest albums ever. The fact the group never scaled the same peaks as they did here is not a reflection on their talent and consistency – such was the gravitas and ambition they put into their debut. It remains a startling album that has influenced a number of bands through the years.

TelevisionMarquee Moon (1977)

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There are few albums that rank alongside Television’s debut, Marquee Moon – let alone debut releases. The incredible songwriting of Tom Verlaine makes every song seem like an adventure and epic. The sonic overdrives and explorations; the lyrics complicated, intriguing and arresting. An essential album in the American Punk-Rock movement defined the times and highlighted Television as natural leaders. Their 1978 follow-up, Adventure, is a startling work but doesn’t quite have the same genius and durability of Marquee Moon. Listening to Marquee Moon forty years after its release means one has fresh ears and perspective. It is timeless and ever-relevant. The music does not age and the performances, if anything, reveal fresh nuance after all this time! 

The Velvet UndergroundThe Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

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1967 was a year that saw celebratory and pioneering works like The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That Summer of Love and feeling of rebellion was in the air. Along came an album that addressed heroin, sadomasochism and sexual deviancy – prostitution and loose morals – to challenge that order and balk against the conventions of the day. That was not the intention of the group but, with the likes of John Cale and Lou Reed in the ranks, they were never going to provide a traditional and toned-down record. It was, at the time, given bad press by critics and embroiled in controversy and lawsuits. Retrospective acclaim has seen the album given the kudos and acclaim it deserves. Their follow-up, White Light/White Heat, got great reception but, after splitting with Nico and artist Andy Warhol; they wanted to create better albums sales and fewer controversies. Nothing compares to the influence and original spirit of their debut – another album that has had an immeasurable impact on modern music.

RamonesRamones (1976)

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Again, many might tussle against the assumption a band like Ramones peaked on their debut. Their first four albums are all exceptional and faultless but there is something extra-special about the eponymous debut. The fact it came first and, in my mind, contains stronger songs, means it is the finer record. The band barely recorded a sub-standard record in their career but there was nothing to rival the first four years of their career – before they headed into the 1980s and saw a slight dip in impact. Ramones created a simple and direct album that addressed drug abuse, relationships and the far-right – songs that rallied whilst others went straight for the groin. The fact there are few adornments made the album connect with critics and the public easily. Great Punk albums would follow – The Clash’s London Calling in 1979, for one – but this is the spearhead and godfather that showed their peers how it should be done. British bands like Sex Pistols were listening closely as, one year after Ramones was released, they put out Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. It is clear what an effect Ramones’ debut has and how it helped define and shape the Punk movement.

OasisDefinitely Maybe (1994)

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What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? is a classic Oasis album but, in terms of its timeliness and impact; I feel Definitely Maybe is their peak. Released in 1994, at a time when huge bands like Blur and Radiohead (and Pulp) were coming to prominence; there was something refreshing and direct about Oasis. The Northern, working-class equivalent of Blur – closer to Pulp, in that sense – the Gallagher brothers-led band penned a classic in Definitely Maybe. Tracks like Live Forever gave hope to a generation and became a festival anthem. The album reflected the voice of the youth: those with few stresses and the need to embrace everything in life. Supersonic, Cigarettes & Alcohol and Slide Away are remarkable songs that, like all great tracks, have not aged or lost their edge. Oasis, as we know, fell victim to the tensions between Liam and Noel and were unable to sustain the pace and genius of their first two tracks. What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? marked a confident and consistent step from the band but it is Definitely Maybe that announced them to the world - and proved the equal (or superior rival) to Blur’s Parklife.

Norah JonesCome Away with Me (2002)

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Norah Jones might not be everyone’s cup of tea but there are few that can deny the place Come Away with Me  holds in music. An alluring and sophisticated batch of Jazz-Pop songs that highlighted an incredible voice and accomplished songwriter. Gentle and serene throughout – its mood and personality do not alter much through the record – proved popular with many but it was the standout song, Don’t Know Why, that everyone remembers. Day Breaks, Jones’ album released last year, marked a slight return-to-form (following a fallow period) but she never matched the beauty and soothe of her incredible debut album.

Dizzee RascalBoy in da Corner (2003)

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There are strange comparisons between Dizzee Rascal and Norah Jones. Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in Da Corner arrived a year after Jones’ debut: his current album, a year after her latest (Raskit was released a few weeks back). Both peaked on their debut album but that is where the similarities end. London’s Dizzee Rascal created a Grime classic on his initial outing. A teenager at the time of its release: the record displayed slick and impassioned raps; incredible wordplay and consistently confident performances. There was a period – before Raskit; after Showtime – where Dizzee started to lose his edge and identity. Too many collaborators going into the mix; themes moving away from the manor and more needless profanity. He has regained his Grime crown this year - but Raskit cannot begin to capture the same majesty and brilliance of Boy in da Corner.

Weezer Weezer (1994)

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Weezer put out their eleventh album, Pacific Daydream, later this year and it is going to be another exciting release from the American band. They are a group that, in my mind, provided their best work right at the start of their career. Pinkerton, the sophomore album, gained some negative reviews – getting retrospective acclaim and appreciation – but it was their eponymous debut (or their ‘Blue Album’) that provided those rich vignettes (from Rivers Cuomo) about video games and Kiss posters; self-depreciating wit and classic standouts – Buddy Holly has become their signature tune. In a year (1994) that produced more classic albums than any other year: it is a compliment to say Weezer ranks alongside the finest of them.

The DoorsThe Doors (1967)

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Again, like 1994: 1967 was not short of incredible albums. The Doors arrived on the scene and were like nothing else out there. The poetry and sexuality of Jim Morrison; the incredible fusion of Jazz and Rock – a band that was solid and exceptional right from the off. It is hard to believe a single album contains so many world-class and famous songs. Light My Fire, The End and Break on Through (To the Other Side) are a trio of examples. Future albums like Strange Days proved popular but there was nothing that gained the same sort of love and adulation as The Doors. The raw vocals of Jim Morrison and the incredible performance-connection of Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore was a unique brew that made every song absolutely essential.

Pearl JamTen (1991)

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One could say Nirvana never topped their debut, Nevermind, but I feel In Utero is its better. There is no doubt Pearl Jam’s Ten is the summation of their career – and arrived right at the start of their career. The 1991-release contained pearls in Jeremy, Black and Even Flow; Alive Oceans and Porch. It is a Hard-Rock classic that arrived at a time when Grunge was taking hold. Eddie Vedder’s powerhouse vocals and impressionistic lyrics differed from a lot of what was out there. Singers like Kurt Cobain went for more scorched and unsophisticated vocals; lyrics that were more direct and unambiguous. Vedder’s semi-operatic delivery raised the songs to new levels and, in Ten, helped create a 1990s masterpiece. One of the strongest and most talented bands of that era: the Seattle band went on to release some fine albums but nothing lived up to the standard and brilliance of Ten.

The xxxx (2009)

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I See You is the recent, Mercury-nominated album from the incredible trio. Many would say their latest album matches their debut but nothing can quite equal the beauty and unexpectedness of xx. It was released in 2009 and found few like-minded records at the time. Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith showed an incredible chemistry and connection that made their dreamy, near-flawless Pop songs shine. An unconventional and truly original album; xx saw many new bands copy the xx and throw the same elements into their music. The reason I See You is not as impactful is, because, the xx, to avoid repeating themselves, have changed their sound – the fact so many ape them means they cannot replicate the same sounds as heard on their debut. Whilst they continue to make music of the highest order: they hit a rich, gorgeous and rare vein on xx.

Supergrass I Should Coco (1995)

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The same way Ramones amazed with a stripped-down and simple album: Supergrass burst into music with a direct and uncomplicated album - that still managed to throw in musical sophistication. Their key tune, Alright, became a summer anthem and one of the essential Britpop gems. Caught by the Fuzz, Lenny and Mansize Rooster are epic and rousing – showing how the band could create Rock and Pop songs that differed from anything out there. The boys would go on to create sensational albums like In It for the Money and Supergrass - but it is their first flourish that really stands the test of time. It arrived at a time when the likes of Oasis and Blur were tussling for chart superiority. The cheeky chaps were unconcerned with getting involved and provided the world with an album that could match the quality of Blur and Oasis - but didn’t have to compete with the same levels of stress and media attention.

Patti SmithHorses (1975)

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If one has to mark out the debut that betters the remaining body of work: maybe Patti Smith’s Horses is the quintessential example. Of course, she went on to produce some world-class albums but such was the standard and quality of Horses that it washes everything away. Even in 1975; Rock had not encountered anyone quite like Patti Smith - one could argue Joni Mitchell had the same impact on Folk. Placing prominence on words and delivery; the poet-cum-musicians turned the art-form into something new and incredibly vivid. Her reinterpretation and elongation of Van Morrison’s Gloria opens the album – it is split into two parts: the first, she wrote and the second is a more traditional cover of Morrison’s song – but songs like Free Money and Birdland are incredible works. Smith is someone who continues to write music and there is that undeniable passion and dedication to her work. One listens to Horses and it is an aural experience that gets into the mind and takes your imagination somewhere truly wonderful.

ABC - The Lexicon of Love (1982)

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A New-Wave/Pop masterpiece of the 1980s saw ABC arrive in music with something elegant, sophisticated and emotive. The album went against the plastic and manufactured nature of a lot of the day’s music and created something more natural, symphonic and honest. Martin Fry’s stunning voice and personal lyrics gave one a window into an enigmatic singer wrestling with relationships and their meaning. The Look of Love (Part One) – no parts two and three, you’ll notice – is a classic track of the 1980s. Poison Arrow is no slouch - and the entire album has a solidity and consistency that hit critics hard. Many place it among their favourite records of the decade. The Lexicon of Love has inspired bands and songwriters since 1982.

Guns N’ RosesAppetite for Destruction (1987)

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In 1987; Appetite for Destruction became the biggest-selling debut album ever. It has sold over thirty-million copies and remains the finest record by Guns N’ Roses. The guys are currently touring and it appears there might be new material in the future. To be fair, it is going to pale in significance compared with their epic and astonishing debut. Slash’s explosive and sensational guitar work perfectly matches Axl Rose’s dark and sexual lyrics. The album was vital because it helped shepherd away from the Hair Metal bands of the time to a more credible option. Guns N’ Roses were in no mood to prance on stage and perform cheesy ‘anthems’. They were a gritty and hardcore proposition with coruscating riffs, incredible strings-percussion unity and some of the most impassioned vocals in the world. Appetite for Destruction is one of the finest albums from the 1980s and remains the apex of Guns N’ Roses eventful career.

TRACK REVIEW: Rews - Shine

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Rews

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PHOTO CREDIT: Jonny Finnis /COPYRIGHT: Marshall Records

 Shine

 

9.6/10

 

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 Shine s available at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZE2DDWEBWT8&feature=youtu.be

GENRES:

Rock; Alternative; Indie

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

18th August, 2017

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I have had to reorganise the order of my reviews…

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because it is best to capture the freshness and energy of Rews’ latest single, Shine. Rather than leave it, like a doughnut, in the box to get a bit stale and hard – have a quick sniff a few days down the line – and, when taking that first bite, put it in the bin with regret: best to dive in to its warm, sugary and jam-filled goodness and get it at its purest. That might seem like an odd way to describe a song but, when listening to Rews, one is filled with different emotions and words. I shall come to assess the girls soon but, before then, talk about duos and women in music; the bond that ties musicians and how effective it can be to music; classic songwriting and why music lacks that right now; the first album and looking at the modern-day promotional campaign; getting to festivals and how that can build a song – the future of Rews and how they can translate and grow in the coming year. This is not the first time I have featured Rews so forgive any repetition in this review. Many, who follow the band, know the duo consist Collette Williams and Shauna Tohill. Their coming-together and friendship is one of the reasons why many people are fascinated. I am not sure how that initial meeting came to be but, with Tohill a Belfast resident – Williams based outside of London – it would have seemed unlikely. The fact they have been performing together for a long time – and seem stronger than ever – is a testament to how connected they are. One can argue many bands/duos have that say strength but I have not seen it as obvious. I wanted to look at duos because there is a surfeit of those sticking in the mind. I have lauded the duo and explained how it is the perfect number of people.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Rees Photography

You do not have the crowd and mass of a full-band nor the solitude of being solo: it is tight and focused and, if you are in a duo, you have to have that closeness and trust. Most duos, that I have found, are very close friends or, in a lot of cases, lovers. Despite the fact so many duos are around; I am finding few that are being heralded and enduring. To me, I think the media is still focusing on bands and solo artists – that established stock is what they cling on to and has that commercial value. Maybe there is something unknown and new about a duo. In terms of the mainstream; there are those like Tegan and Sara and Royal Blood – more on them later – but, in terms of the big releases, I feel solo artists have taken the top honours. In my view, the duo is that concise and fascinating combination that can, if done right, provide the same depth and sound as a band – more marketable and enduring than a solo artist. Your lone artist has to take care of everything and has to expend twice the energy as a duo. It can be a struggle getting everything together, promoted and performed. Naturally, many burn out, which is why I tend to stick with a duo – as they have that potential to remain on the scene and provide more consistent results. That is true of Rews who, as I type, have not long come off the stage of another gig. It seems like they are among the hardest-working acts around and they thrive from the energy and reaction the crowds afford them. Given the rise and popularity of duos like Royal Blood: there are a lot of people looking for like-minded artists that have the same sort of allure and power. The duo is much more complicated and can play Rock/Alternative; there are Folk and acoustic-based twosomes; those that perform Electro-Pop and R&B. It is not as rigid as one might think and, unlike a four-piece band, it seems there is more variation and nuance when it comes to sound and genre. Tohill and Williams have struck a chord and seem to be very much in demand – I have tried booking them a couple of times and they are definitely in the bigger leagues at the moment.

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I have talked about women in music and still, in 2017, have to argue and fight. It is not a natural thing to speak of a female artist without feeling a slight sense of guilt and anger. There are more female duos coming through but it is only the last couple of years when female bands – that are not girl groups – have gained a critical ear. The morals and equity afforded male bands/artists have not been applied to female artists. Look at bands like Honeyblood, Haim; Warpaint and…well, I couldn’t think of a fourth, you see. There are so many great female bands coming through: so few that make it into the critical columns and get the attention they deserve. The acts I have mentioned are stunning and potential festival headliners. Yesterday I wrote a piece that highlighted Dua Lipa and her recent achievement: her song, New Rules, is the first female number-one single since Adele’s Hello – that song was top of the charts back in 2015. There is still an obvious imbalance and sexism in music but, without lecturing regards the festival issues – I shall address that in the conclusion – it is amazing there are fewer opportunities for women in music. Rews are a force of nature who is not concerned with being seen as second-best. They have been getting a lot of great gigs and gaining momentum. I wonder how far they would have come were they men. Their sheer talent and hard work have got them where they are: perhaps they would be a few steps up if they were male. That seems like an odd assumption but there is a definite preference, for festivals and bookers, towards male acts. The reason for addressing this point was to show how influential Rews are. They are not your manufactured and primed duo and, whilst they have a label behind them, they are not dictated to and defined. They have a lot of artistic freedom and do not have to compromise their ethics.

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PHOTO CREDITNick Kent Photography

There are a lot of female performers in genres like Folk and R&B but we still see the majority in Pop/the mainstream. That is an area of music where things get murky and unsettling – how many of those big Pop stars have their own say and are being marketed because of their music (their looks and sex appeal being proffered). I have explained how female Rock bands are coming through but it is a recent development and one we need to keep going. With some claiming Rock is dead – or its pecker needs a few blue pills and a few nights at a Paris hotel – any representation that imbues a genuine Rock spirit, and has that ability to evolve and survive, should be taken the bosom. Whilst other Rock acts are climaxing early, taking a cold shower and crying their way out of the hotel door – it is duos like Rews that are…well, I’ll drop the line of thought as it seems to lead us in rather a heated direction. In any case; I feel there should be as much focus paid to the girls of Rock as the boys. Maybe there is an institutional aspect to the argument: it has always been the case Rock/Alternative is a boys’ club and it seems strange the girls are coming to prominence. I wonder whether stubbornness is leaving many doors closed: I am hearted by the fact Rews are a guiding light for upcoming bands and a real source of inspiration for female artists. They, in an industry that is still make-dominated, showing they can mix it with the best of them. With every release and step, Rews continue to carve themselves out as a force to be reckoned with. There is no doubt they will be mainstream treasures very soon but the way they have grown the past few months is very exciting. Critical kudos and big gigs mean they have grown in confidence and seem more determined to push themselves as much as possible.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Rosie Powell

There is a tight and unerring bond that glues Rews to the ground. It seems like Tohill and Williams are meant to be together and have that true simpatico. One sees it in some bands but you wonder what happens behind-the-scenes. If you have a quarter; how solid is every member going to be? There might be one or two that do not get on with the others quite as well – various bands will have issues at some point. Sure, there are a few that are rock-solid but it is a rarity. With Rews, one knows there are never any cross words and issues. One hears and sees the duo in-time and of one mind on the stage. When they come off, looking at their social media accounts, they hang together and have that shared love. The photos that come through are filled with smiles and posing. Like best friends or sisters; the girls are rock-solid and unbreakable. This might seem all very nice and sweet but it has a huge impact on the music. When you have musicians that are close and comfortable around one another; the music is a lot more free and genuine. I hear bands/duos and know the members are not quite as together as you’d imagine, Maybe there are fracture and frictions and that can compromise the nuance and promise of their music. Rews are fairly new on the block but I do not perceive growing success to be detrimental to their friendship. If anything, the bigger they get, the more excited and tighter Tohill and Williams become. It seems they are born to the stage and have been dreaming about success for a long time. Collette Williams is one of the best young drummers around and, apart from being a brand ambassador, has the power and ability of the best male stick-wielders around. I have seen a few bands that have a woman on drums – Saints Patience among them – and, I don’t know…there seems to be something different and exciting about them. Not to say male drummers are a spent and obvious force but one gets a different cadence, sensation and playing style with female drummers.

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PHOTO CREDITNick Kent Photography

Not only do Rews have a world-class and hungry drummer/singer in Williams: Shauna Tohill is a singer/guitarist/songwriter with few equals. She co-writes lyrics with Williams and, between them, they are incredible young writers. Touhill's shredding skills perfectly complement Williams’ percussion. There is a rawness and potency but they are, in every song, have that deep understanding. Without looking at one another; they are in-time and in-step. It sounds like they have been performing for decades and have that incredible tightness. Tohill and Williams are original songwriters who can pen a classic/arena-ready song but pen from their own perspectives – without falling into clichés and being too rigid. That ‘classic songwriting’ and style is something lacking in music. A lot of artists are producing great albums but there is nothing to tie them – in terms of themes and style. Whether a fantastic Hip-Hop record or a Pop nugget – one cannot easily draw a line between them. There is something about Rews that nods to the classic Rock legends but has a contemporary skin. The hooks and compositions are forward-thinking but will resonate with those who have that love of the giants of Rock. I am not sure what the record collections of Tohill and Williams look like but it is obvious they have affection for the biggest and boldest bands of all time; those legendary songwriters and the best of the modern market. It is not only Rock artists that feed into their music. One hears elements of Pop and Folk in their quieter portions. The girls have a deep knowledge of music but, rather than replicate their favourite acts, they sprinkle little bits here and there. Put all that together and one gets something memorable and familiar – instilled with a unique energy and effectiveness that cannot be understated. They are not a rigid act that produces the same song time and time again: every new jam has an original intent and goes in a different direction.

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Tying into my next point, I wanted to address comparisons critics have made between Rews and Royal Blood. I might have fallen into the trap myself but there is something dangerous about comparing artists with others. It is flattering, I am sure, for Rews to hear they remind people of the Brighton duo but there are inherent flaws. For one, I feel Royal Blood’s latest album lacks any distinction and they are, rather worryingly, treading water on their second record. One wonders how their third album will fare if they rehash their latest effort – which is a slight tweak of their debut. The good thing about being compared with Royal Blood – D.J. Mark Radcliffe has made the comparison – is the fact the duo (Royal Blood) are doing so well. The boys are playing sell-out shows and are one of the biggest acts in the world. Many critics have reacted positively to their latest work and highlighted it as one of the year’s best. Being ranked alongside them can do no harm, for sure. The girls must buzz from that and the fact that Radcliffe quote is the one that is sent to people like me means they do not object. I find myself reaching for other quotes because, as much as anything, Royal Blood are a lot more limited than Rews. The girls project the same amount of force and rock as hard as the boys – that is where the comparisons end. In terms of songwriting; the Rews girls are much further ahead and more nimble. Royal Blood tend to focus too narrowly on love and the fall-out of relationships. It is a predictable and rather depressing hearing the same set of lyrics spread across an album. They could address the state of the world or something outside the box – the fact they do not, shows there is a very limited mindset which means they are not going to endure as long as they should. Rews, in Tohill and Williams, have songwriters that take from life but do not obsesses over broken hearts and wrong-doing boyfriends.

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They address odd characters and observations from life; brief encounters and strange feelings. It is a heady concoction that means the songwriting palette of Rews is a lot broader and more exciting than Royal Blood. Another issue I have with Royal Blood is their compositional rigidity. There is nothing engrained in the Rock Rulebook that says it needs to be all meaty riffs and nothing more. The duo has been compared (unfairly) to The White Stripes who, in spite of the fact there were two of them, varied their sounds and stepped into Blues territory; used piano, marimba and other instruments – every album and song had its own identity. I know Rews will expend the same sort of character and variation down the line but there seems to be so many acts coming through that do not stray past the drum-guitar-vocal-with-big-riffs-and-steely-drums songs that the likes of Royal Blood keep churning out. Rews’ latest, Shine, is an emphatic and stunning track but one wonders whether their upcoming album, Pyro, will employ different instruments/sounds. Its title suggests fire and explosion so that would suggest a pure Rock experience. As phenomenal as Rews are; I feel comparisons to Royal Blood will do them more harm than good. There are many artists that are copying and duplicating Royal Blood’s sound which leads to a rather one-dimensional and stodgy brand. Rews deserve comparisons with the most-popular artists around but are a lot more appealing and malleable than Royal Blood. Their sound and connection is different; the songwriting vastly so and their music digs deeper and remains in the memory for longer. I shall not labour this point but feel they should have another quote on their P.R. emails/releases – one that recognises how unique they are and the fact they are going to last longer than Royal Blood. My point is the fact they have a fantastic sound that is not easy to link with anyone else.

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PHOTO CREDITNick Kent Photography

Before I look at Rews’ latest track; it is interesting watching the promotional campaigns of modern artists. Back when I was younger – many years ago, now! – a song got radio-play but then, after that, an album would sort of come out with little fuss. Aside from the odd T.V. spot here and there; it arrived and people would buy it. Now, it seems things are more much structured and elongated. I have been arguing with myself whether that is the best way to do things but, in the case of Rews, it seems perfect for their music. Their sounds and instant and fast but, if they promoted their music the same way, it would be damaging to their career. The modern market demands a certain savviness and strategy and, when they release a new single, they put maximum effort in. One might get a teaser clip on Facebook and a few photos on Instagram. The girls will provide status updates and keep their fans informed and instructed. They are very smart when it comes to promotion and do not over-do things. I see too many artists strike a poor balance and ruin a promotional campaign. So many provide too many updates and endlessly drag a song/album out. By the time the song is out you are bored of it – they keep sharing it afterward - and it gets rather grating. There are others who do not do much promotion and keep their music confined to places like Spotify – not making videos or provided few updates. This is just as damaging and detrimental as doing too much. Rews, as said, have a team behind them but take charge of their social media. They know the right balanced and do not suffocate people with piecemeal information – drip-feeding a song until we are all fed-up of it. They do not relax and are constantly looking for ways to get their music to new people. The fact their music has reached people like Mark Radcliffe is down to them and their talent – and the way they promote everything they do.

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PHOTO CREDITPaul Reynolds

I feel the future of Rews is very bright and prosperous. I will touch on this in the conclusion but know the girls have lots of dates coming up. They have already played festivals this year but, before summer ends, are getting themselves out there and taking advantage of the weather. Pyro is out on 3rd November and will be getting a lot of reviews when it is released. I am not sure how many new songs are going on the album – or whether they are putting all their previous singles into the mix. I guess it will, likely, be a collection of eleven/twelve songs that has a balance of older and brand-new. All of their songs hang together so they can sit on the album in any order without damaging the flow and personality of the record. Shine seems like a natural mid-album inclusion; Shake Shake to open; Death Yawn second – Miss You in the Dark and Can You Feel It? towards the end of the record. I know they will have a running order in mind but it seems, when the album is out, it will propel them to new heights. They have performed around the world but, in terms of international dates, the possibilities are endless. I can see a lot of American dates following and gigs in continents like Asia – maybe a few Australian dates in the pipeline. It is clear Rews are on an upwards trajectory and when the album comes out, it will do them a lot of good. Singles are great but many people move on rather quick. Having all that music is one place, and there being a physical product to buy, means the music will get into new hands and endure – those demands will increase alongside the popularity. The girls are a modern phenomenon and, as such, can choose their own path. They will want to take advantage of the gig demands but remain at home as much as possible. There are lots of spaces in London they have not played and areas I feel they have yet to conquer.

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One is in no doubt Rews mean business from the opening seconds of Shine. Anyone expecting a Take That/Aswad-style song – given the title – are in for a shock because it is a stone-cold chugger that rocks and swaggers its way to the forefront. The guitars churn and drill with intent and force. Tohill creates something intense and menacing but there is melody and control at work. Rather than swing out of control and provide an aimless riff: she has penned something that compels the body to move but gets the mind working, too. Williams backs her with a solid backbone and driving percussion. The two show how connected they are and, looking at the video, so much emotion and expression goes into their performance. They are not lazily tossing a song out. Every note has meaning and they put their everything into it. The chorus, as one might expect, takes the song’s title to hand and projects it in a different way as one would imagine. The vocals, unlike previous songs, have a more dirge-like quality. It is an intense song and one that has a lot of emotion at heart. Previous jams like Shake Shake have been looser and contained Pop edges. Shine suggests something positive and sunny but, as Tohill sings, she cannot make a person shine. They have holes and rough edges; maybe it is a lover or downcast friend – someone not paying dues and showing respect that expects the heroine to life them up. Shine is a grittier and more serious track that previous Rews offerings. Tohill, all smiles on previous songs, is in no mood to suffer a fool. It seems like someone has been messing her around or asking for too much. Unlike previous tracks from the girls; there is an emphasis on the rugged and serious. There is a physicality and sexiness but a definite sense of control and gameplay.

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Tohill has a huge emotional range and, as a singer and songwriter (with Williams), she demonstrates how wide-ranging her skillset is. Here, one gets recollections of Garbage’s first two albums. If many have compared Rews’ chug-and-slam to Royal Blood: the Scottish band comes to mind when hearing Shine. Elements of Version 2.0 (Push It; When I Grow Up) and Garbage (Supervixen; Stupid Girl) come through and one gets an interesting blend of 1990s Alternative-Rock and modern-day Alternative. One is amazed and intrigued by the shift in sound and the new influences being incorporated in the music. Tohill, as a writer, might be addressing a failed relationship or showing distain to someone too clingy and dramatic. Williams articulates a sense of sexuality and seduction. Her drumming, in the chorus, has the intensity and a singularity but possesses flourishes, roll and fills – a technical drummer who can matches emotion and intuition with a variety of expressions and asides. It is a fascinating performance that matches Tohill’s intoxicating guitars. I can see, listening to the guitar, where the Royal Blood comparisons come in. There is that same Grunge-cum-Rock blend that has a swampy and dark hue. It rumbles and groans but, if one listens closely enough, there are big differences. Shine seems, in a way, like a song that has a Pop/mainstream appeal. Its lyrics, one can compare to someone like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, let’s say. The girls might balk at that but Shine is, as it is revealed, about a figure that turns head but can’t get any love. It has that sensibility that means it can be extrapolated and understood by teenage audiences – as well as older listeners. Both, in the video, exert an immense sexiness and intensity. Shauna Tohill, as a frontwoman, is commanding and a dominating presence. She has a tough and fiery skin but someone who exudes immense sexuality and intensity through her performance. The same goes for Collette Williams who summons a riot of sticks and pummel at the back. Both propel the song to immense heights. Whether the heroine gets satisfaction has yet to be seen.

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Maybe there is that sexual coming-together but, thinking about the song’s title, it might refer to happiness and self-fulfillment or something closer to the bone (an orgasmic feel; unable to get the guy off). That might be a very male perspective so I’d like to assume, listening to the lysis, the guy has a slight anhedonia. There is a definite need for directness and satisfaction. Maybe the guy is complicated and it is not as simple as it seems. Tohill wants to get satisfaction but, given the guy is an enigma, that road to satisfaction is not easy. Maybe I am over-reading and it is from a third-person perspective. There is evidence to suggest the song’s hero reflects a general feeling of dissatisfaction and frustration. Tohill and Williams are lyricists who have always reflected their own stories (and the people they meet) – making me wonder if this is taken from the scent of her pillows or the back-pages of her imagination. Williams, always the nuanced player, creates some incredible fills and patterns that help augment the lyrics and give the song new drive. Rather than aimlessly pummel; she continues to plug and search – coming up with little inventions and avenues other drummers do not know about. Tohill’s guitar remains viper-like and beer-fuelled. I have mentioned Garbage as a possible influence but, listening to Shine, it could easily have fitted into the best of the 1990s – albeit, there is a lot more polish to the production compared with Garbage. “If you’re a stream/don’t let me in” it is said – our girl need an ocean to wade through. That is an intelligent line and one that can be interpreted a number of ways. Maybe that refers to a sexual challenge or the wholeness of the man – someone who is not quite the full package. Given the fact Tohill strides and growls in the song’s video – one cannot shake off that desire she has to be fulfilled and enriched, in body and mind. The song changes pace and mixes solos with the consistent chorus. There are drum runs and guitar firework: every new stage provides a different flair to the song. The video sees the girls daubed in glitter and tossing their bodies and hair; shots cutting quickly and both balancing sexuality and tease. It is an eye-opening and unforgettable shoot that perfectly fits the song’s energy and intoxicating spirit. It also shows how varied and progressive the duo is – always bettering themselves with every fresh release.

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I have dug deep into Shine and, comparing it to their previous material, there are definite developments. I hear new shades and colours in their latest single and it seems, with every release, they get tighter and more confident as a unit. The production is perfectly suited to the song’s ethos and variations – not too polished or ragged. The girls combine beautifully and it seems like this song will be a standout from Pyro. I cannot wait to see whether they release another song before the November release-date or if they are going to stick to performance. Few can deny the magnitude of their music and I feel, as highlighted earlier, there is a mixed blessing being compared to the likes of Royal Blood. To highlight the fact is writing them off too easily. I am not a big fan of the boys and have grown a bit weary of their music – they have not adequately adapted and seem content to trot out the same songs time again. The most promising comparisons is when looking at live performances. Regardless of how samey their songs are: the way they translate them on stage is a biblical hurricane that blows away most of the competition. It is that link that excited me most. I have seen reviews of Rews’ live performances but yet to see them up-close. That is one of the ambitions for this year and, if I cannot catch them in 2017, will make sure I do soon after. There will be an album launch so I will do my best to get there. Before then, the girls have more dates coming out. They played The Belfast Empire last night and, presuming they are still there now, will be taking advantage of the city and enjoying its wonders – this is where Shauna Tohill hails. Rews play Graze Festival a week today – sounds like a rural-cum-hippy hoedown – but it might be an interesting date. From recent dates like London’s House of Vans to festival appearances at Glastonbury – they are a duo that gets themselves about and do not turn their nose up.

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PHOTO CREDITNick Kent Photography

They perform as much as they can and, with every date, seem to grow stronger and confident. The fact they play to a mix of small and large crowds, means they’re preparing themselves for the variation of the road and will get no big shocks. If they performed to festival crowds, they would get a shock when they are faced with smaller crowds. If it was the other way around, the girls would have quite a challenge. No doubt the girls are ready for the bigger festivals but their music is able to connect with those in a smaller, more intimate space. I will end this in a bit but wanted to urge the girls to keep pushing and dreaming as, right now, they are among a handful of female artists getting recognition. There is still that imbalance and female acts have to shout a lot louder to get heard. The likes of Rews are guiding lights for fellow artists who might feel they will not be seen. Rews’ confidence and exceptional songwriting mean the big reviews and gigs are putting them on the map. They are an organised unit that promotes their music and ensures the fans are kept updated. They are prepared for the challenges of modern music and, in Shine, show they are capable of evolving and shifting their music without losing focus. Rews do not repeat themselves but have a very clear sound that defies any easy comparison. In a music world that seems to lack originality and edge: Rews are a duo that blows the cobwebs away and mark themselves out as a mainstream act of the future. When they get there, they will not sell their talent and ethics for money and fame. You listen to their music and know it comes from the hearts and is not designed for charts and marketing men. Few like them exist so, when Pyro comes to the fore, it will show just how intent and promising they truly are. Shine is a bright, burning and prefaces the approaching fire and…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Rosie Powell

KEEP that spark alive.

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Follow Rews

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FEATURE: New Rules: The Singles Chart in 2017

FEATURE:

 

New Rules:  

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IN THIS PHOTO: Dua Lipa/PHOTO CREDIT: OfficialCharts.com/REXShutterstock 

The Singles Chart in 2017

________

THE first part of the feature’s title refers to the song…

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by Dua Lipa that sits at number one in the charts. It is notable because it is the first British female number-one since Adele’s Hello claimed the spot back in 2015. The charts are announced weekly and have only seen two female artists in two years reach number-one. Metro assessed the news like this:

Not only has she shot to the top of the charts and received a well earned number one, she’s the first UK solo female to hit the top spot since Adele’s Hello in 2015. That, quite frankly, is mind-boggling.

Little Mix were the only women to score a number one in that time – other than that, the charts have been dominated by male artists.

Hopefully Dua’s achievement marks a change in the tide.

The likes of Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Zayn’s breakout solo single Pillow Talk and James Arthur’s comeback all dominated the charts last year.

Dua Lipa, 21, has broken that trend, having also garnered 108 million views for the video for her chart-topping track”

There are cynics that could view that as a reflection on the quality of Lipa as an artist. That sounds like an odd sentence but is it the case that her album has hit minds and hearts at a very precise moment – rather than an indication regarding a change in the air. I have written many pieces about equality in music and the need to effect change and evolutions. Dua Lipa is an artist that has a very fresh and urgent sound but, in many ways, seems perfect for the charts and mainstream – in the sense she knows what has come before and how to add her own personality to it. She is a very vivacious and warm artist; someone who engages with her fans and has a very grounded personality. She is undeniably beautiful and attractive and, in an age where there is a lot of talk about sexual exploitation and sexuality.

She is not someone who wants to bare flesh to get streaming figures and video views high – she is an artist who shows pride and defiance; using her beauty as a form of expression and empowerment. The fact she has hit number one has been received with a mixture of congratulations and condemnation. The former, because the young artist has achieved something wonderful and wholly expected. Her eponymous album has been one of the surprises of 2017. Where Pop albums by Katy Perry and Kesha have been met with mixed reviews: Dua Lipa has managed to seduce critics and win hearts with her blend of fiery summer-ready jams and sweaty-inducing anthems. Her songs assess relationships and gender roles; the need to win a sense of independence and go out into the world on her own terms.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Adele/PHOTO CREDIT: Vogue

New Rules seems ironic and wholly appropriate given the rare honour Dua Lipa has been afforded – the chance to, not only inspire more female artists to claim the same prize, but raise questions about how the charts are regulated and run. Despite the fact there are co-writers and various producers on Dua Lipa’s debut: critics have noted how strong and memorable her voice is and how the songs get into the brain and demand repeated listening. One should not be shocked to see Lipa get to number one but, considering this is the seventh release from her debut album, why did it take so long?! It is not her fault but is New Rules a stronger song than, say, Hotter than Hell, Be the One or Blow Your Mind (Mwah)? Those songs are the equal of New Rules so it seems strange they did not get to number-one – and makes one wonder why her latest single managed to get to the top spot. The component of her lyrics – self-empowerment, sex and rising about the fray – have resonated with a generation seeking a genuine and promising artist.

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There is no denying the potency and attractiveness of Dua Lipa’s music but one could argue she should have hit the number-one position a lot sooner – many British female peers deserved that same success since Adele in 2015. The fact the charts are so male-dominated makes me wonder whether more needs to be done. There are no more men in music than there are women – maybe a few more men here and there – but, in two years, why would we only have one British woman claiming a spot at the top of our charts?! I know there have been American successes but, if one looks at a month-by-month rundown of the charts, it is male-dominated and genre-specific. There are a lot of Pop and Dance number-ones and it makes one wonder why genres like Folk, Hip-Hop and Soul are not quite as well-represented as more mainstream tastes. There have been stories we have all reacted to. Ed Sheeran, very recently, saw many of his songs in the charts because of the relevance of streaming – counting towards the totals which meant, because his music was streamed more than other artists, he saw his tracks get comfy in the charts.

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Before I go on; a look at the new guidelines introduced and why they have come into effect.

The changes are designed to ensure the chart continues to be a showcase for the new hits and talent which are the lifeblood of UK music.

The key change will be to allow artists to have only their 3 most popular tracks (based on sales and streams) to feature in the Official Singles Chart Top 100.

The move will make it easier for new hits and artists to feature in the chart by preventing multiple tracks from popular artists dominating the singles chart. The move will minimise double-counting of album tracks between the Official Singles and Albums Charts and make the two charts more distinct. The new changes are expected to boost the number of chart hits by around 10%.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran

In the past 12 months, artists including Drake, Stormzy, Kendrick Lamar, Chainsmokers, Little Mix, The Weeknd and Ed Sheeran have had multiple tracks in the Top 40. The changes will limit the domination of such artists, with streaming of tracks (as music fans listen to their favourite albums) spilling over into the singles chart.

The most high profile example of this came in February when all 16 tracks from Ed Sheeran’s Divide album featured in the Top 20.

An additional adjustment will see the introduction of a new streaming ratio for older tracks which are well past their peak and in steep, prolonged decline.

The aim of both changes will be to support new talent, giving new hits the freedom to progress up the chart, without being inhibited by older tracks which have passed their peak, or album tracks by big name artists.

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In recent years, streaming has grown dramatically as the consumer’s favoured way of accessing music – from around 600m audio streams a week in January 2016 to 1.2bn a week today. As a result, streaming’s share of the singles market has grown to more than 80%

While this represents a revolution in choice for music fans – with 40m tracks available to stream across a wide range of services at different price points, alongside traditional music purchase – it has also changed the music landscape and the consumption reflected by the Official Singles Chart.

Calvin Harris, before Dua Lipa, held the number one spot and marks a depressingly familiar pattern. He, with guest vocals from the likes of Rihanna, penned a rather generic and predictable Dance track that needlessly stuffed guest spots – to make it more popular and stream-able – but, once heard, falls out your back-end within minutes. There was no shock to see him go to number-one but, a few days later, when Dua Lipa hit the top of the charts with a superior offering, it was groundbreaking and shocking.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Calvin Harris

Her song got there by its quality and popularity but it showed the charts is more keyed towards a certain style and gender – not as open and quality-driven as once it was. I am old enough to remember the days when people actually bought singles – think the last one I purchased was, tragically, Madison Avenue’s 1990s banger, Don’t Call Me Baby. I used to love scuttling down to HMV – Our Price existed back in the 1990s, too – and snapping up something that cost a few quid. As unwieldy as it is to have a pile of singles festooning a C.D. rack; there was something noble and worthwhile knowing you had contributed to a process. Because of you, and several thousand others, you were the reason an artist went to the summit of the charts. Not only that but, because you had a pile of C.D. lying around, you would play them again and enjoy them long after they were released. I am baffled why they stopped releasing physical singles – they have albums on C.D. so why not singles?! – and go entirely digital.

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That is where the downfall has come in! I appreciate the fact it is a more open and equitable chart than once was. Back, years ago, you were in the charts because you had a record deal. Now, an unsigned act can make it in. The fact charts reflect digital downloads means, in theory, The Beatles and Kate Bush could still get into the charts. That might seem rather pointless but it means older music is more visible to younger generations – who might have otherwise forgotten about it. Given the fact Ed Sheeran – the man who helped spark the change in chart guidelines – has been derided because of his Mercury Prize nomination has given many critics pause for thought. We can questions whether award shows are reflecting the true quality of music: is the charts culpable of celebrating the most commercial and least impressive?

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I can safely say that none of my favourite singles from this or last year have made it anywhere near the top of the singles charts. My tastes, if I do so myself, are impeccable so it would not be far-fetched were one or two of those tracks to make it to number-one, no?! There are those that would argue the charts, for many years, have been redundant and unimportant. To an extent, I agree, but they are a portal and port-of-call for many who want to discover the ‘best’ of new music. Dua Lipa’s success reflects an anomaly, of sorts. How long do we have to wait until another British female artist gets a number-one?! Rather fittingly; the lack of female British number-ones are taking the piss. The only way we are going to ensure the finest music is preserved and promoted by new generations is to have a look at the way the charts are run. I do not follow them at all – irrelevant and anarchic as they have become – but worry that there are many who do stick with them and get all their new music from there. A couple of articles, written over the past couple of years, ask whether the charts are still relevant in a streaming age.

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The BBC spoke with songwriter Billie Marten, who had this to say:

"And Spotify are really helping me out by putting my music onto playlists. They're really exploiting that in a great way. I'm really thankful for that because I think, otherwise, people wouldn't listen."

Indeed, curated "new music" playlists on services like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and Google Play could be the key to breaking the chart gridlock - although there is some concern that these playlists are programmed globally, potentially putting UK artists at a disadvantage.

Arctic Monkeys manager Ian McAndrew agrees: "In my experience, streaming serves as a platform through which music is being discovered. So while it may distort the charts, it serves as an access point for new music, and I think that's got to be a good thing."

Perhaps it means the charts are becoming irrelevant - at least as the gold standard of success. Bands now look at ticket sales, or engagement on social media as indicators of their reach and impact. And those are the things, rather than hit singles, which traditionally sustain careers.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

The Guardian’s Kitty Empire, back in 2015, explored it from a new angle:

More pop change is afoot. From July, singles and albums will no longer come out on Monday in the UK, but on Friday – a move that will bring worldwide release dates into harmony. After more than 40 years on Sunday nights, BBC Radio 1’s chart show, to be hosted by Greg James, will move to Friday evening, from 4pm to 6pm. Not only that – as of 10 May, kids’ TV channel CBBC will play host to The Official Chart Show, a magazine programme studded with videos and gossip, and hosted by Cel Spellman, a successor, of sorts, to the much-missed Top of the Pops.

With charts as accurate as they have ever been, both the top 40 and what you might call chart-watching as a national pastime are now under scrutiny. The move to CBBC speaks volumes about the need to hook a younger audience into consuming pop in ways an older audience would recognise. (Quite how young that audience might be was slightly misunderstood by NME recently, who weighed in with jokes about Rastamouse, a show on CBeebies, the channel aimed at pre-schoolers).

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Thanks to the internet’s endlessly personalisable technologies – YouTube channels, streaming, you-name-it-on-demand – pop has been at the forefront of a seismic change in listening. The past couple of years has seen Radio 1 lose millions of listeners as it attempts to retune to a younger audience. Much has been written about this decline in broadcasting, where many once witnessed the same thing at the same time, and the rise of what we do now: stacking up podcasts, Sky+-ing content and streaming the latest obscure remixes on Soundcloud, as and when. “Narrowcasting” describes the endlessly niche way in which we watch and listen. With everyone off doing their own thing – especially the young – what is the role of the mainstream charts and, indeed, of mainstream chart shows, in this age of fragmented, bespoke consumption? Our young interviewees, stopped and quizzed in Camden last week – not a scientific sample but reflecting a range of ages and tastes – seem to point to the charts’ redundancy, certainly as a tastemaking exercise. But is it telling that more than one commented on the rise of a rock band, Royal Blood, to No 1 as being significant?

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Maybe music has become more of an album’s game but it seems, given the fact so many artists lust over big Spotify streams and YouTube figures – is it simply the case we are refusing to follow the charts and buying the music we want – rather than be guided by something many consider arbitrary and homogenised? It is not the case music has modernised to the extent the charts are archaic and out-of-touch. The fact they are not all-encompassing and fundamentally flawed have made them seem far less relevant over the past few years. I am not willing to accept we abandon the charts and simply make our own minds up. The charts are not a way for people to be annoyed: it is for artists to see their songs acknowledged and given proper dues. In an age of streaming where we do not provide feedback or thanks: the singles charts is a way of getting that recognition and approval.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

I argue passionately again the assumption, as some see fit, the charts have not been popular or purposeful since the 1960s. I think, in an age where we want something quick and unquestioning: it is worth addressing the charts and restructuring it in a way that means it regains its importance. I listened to the charts through the 1990s and early part of the last decade. I always looked forward to seeing whether a song I purchased has made it into the top-ten. Now, we go to Spotify or wherever and get a song we want and that is the end of that. The fact physical sales are being replaced is another tragedy – one that will have to wait for another day – but we are taking far less care with music. The album charts are still relevant so why should music be quantified by mass rather than quality? The fact an album is made is down to the fact an artist has a collection of songs – do we simply release an album and ignore the individual songs that go onto it?! You can’t bring an album out without releasing singles and seeing how well the songs do.

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The more we ignore old ways and embrace technology and the digital: the more music starts to lose humanity and relevance. We are buying fewer albums than we do digitally; buying more albums than singles and choosing to stream for free – rather than pay for our music. Artists are not being compensated fairly and there is a great divide between the artists of Spotify and the mainstream-heavy charts. Given these inalienable facts; can we argue, with any judiciousness, claim we should scrap the charts and see music slip further into the tar-pit?! I propose we retain the singles and album charts and make the ins-and-outs less pugnacious, controversial and complicated. Keep the new rules as they are – to ensure no artist can have more than a set number of tracks on the charts. Keep the streaming element but ensure guidelines are introduced to ensure the charts reflect gender and genre.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Freepik

We cannot have so few females getting to number-one and genres like Dance and Pop stealing focus from other avenues. Albums sales should be part of the equation and, maybe, compartmentalising the charts into various genres, perhaps? There are so many great artists who do not have a record deal and do not have the advantage of Spotify promotion and success. I review so many acts that have their music on SoundCloud, BandCamp and Spotify and, while not getting as many streams as the bigger acts, create better music. There need to be other considerations aside from streaming figures as it does not reflect quality and diversity. Many people stream a song because it is trending or fashionable. There are great acts gigging around the country and those who release great songs to the world – to see them get modest success and viewing figures. It is a complex brew and one that will not be settled soon.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

I think the charts need to survive and grow as they are responsible for music lasting and inspiring this long. If we scrapped the singles charts back in the 1960s, it would have enticed fewer musicians to the world and led to a much more ignorant and poor scene. The fact we have evolved too far and abandoned the physicality and heritage of music means we are weakening its structure and compromising its rich history and legacy. There are so many different and great acts out there: all of whom deserve a chance to battle it out on the singles charts. Artists should not be making the news because of their gender: they should be doing so because of the quality of their music. Dua Lipa is a woman and an exceptional artist but, one wonders, why it took the buying public so long to get her to number-one. She is not the only British female artist who has warranted a number-one. The fact artists like Billie Marten see Spotify alone as more relevant than the charts might stem from a lack of confidence – the fact she would not get a high chart position and many of her fans would not follow the charts. That is sad to hear but, sadly, a sign of our times.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

The more we allow digital streaming services to rule our purchasing and listening habits; the less relevant and unified music will be as a whole. I dread the day we abandon albums as a physical form and get all of our music via Spotify. The singles charts is an institution that has remained for decades and can regain the importance it had decades ago. We need to take a pragmatic and progressive approach to a side of music that is fading away and being broken apart. As I said; the new generations need to be taught where music came from and the industry is eclectic, equal and fascinating. If we create a singles chart that reflects a gender and racial quality; recognises the importance of all genres and artists. Dua Lipa’s news-making number-one single has opened a lot of eyes but sparked debates. Many will see this achievement as an argument the charts are outdated and irrelevant – rather than the fact she takes heart from that number-one and many artists like her value it hugely. With some thought and activation, the charts can get back on an even footing. Let’s ensure the singles chart makes history for…

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THE right reasons!

FEATURE: Originality in Contemporary Music

FEATURE: 

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash  

Originality in Contemporary Music

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THE Go-Between says the past "is a foreign country"…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

but, with our nation keen to separate itself from other lands; it seems ironic there is a greater internationalism in music. I will drop the analogy as it seems to be leading us in the wrong direction but my point concerns originality and pushing music forward. One of the reasons I am bringing this up is because there seems to be a lot of new artists coming in who seem unconcerned distinguishing themselves from the pack. That has always been the case but I have found, when listening to various singers/bands; I often confuse them for another. That is not me being old needing to un-wax my ears: there are so many artists that are indistinguishable from one another. I listen to new artists like Phoebe Bridgers and, whilst her lyrics are unique, the vocals can be compared with our very-own – she is American – Lucy Rose and Billie Marten. Other musicians tread too carefully and closely to familiar sounds.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Phoebe Bridgers/PHOTO CREDIT: Morgan Martinez of Hooligan Mag

I wonder whether the sheer number of artists out there means it is becoming harder to forge something unique? There is an argument that certain genres are culpable. Modern Pop music is split between those primed for the charts and the ‘outsiders’ who have mainstream potential but not need confine themselves to the generic and commercial. A couple of articles – published back in 2015 – raised reasons why a lot of modern music, especially Pop, lacks distinction and originality. The first looked at generic pitfalls and why music is being dumbed-down:

A new study, surveying more than 500,000 albums, shows simplicity sells best across all music genres. As something becomes popular, it necessarily dumbs down and becomes more formulaic. So if you're wondering why the top 10 features two Meghan Trainor songs that sound exactly the same and two Taylor Swift songs that sound exactly the same, scientists think they finally have the answer.

The study: In a recent study, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna in Austria studied 15 genres and 374 subgenres. They rated the genre's complexity over time — measured by researchers in purely quantitative aspects, such as timbre and acoustical variations — and compared that to the genre's sales. They found that in nearly every case, as genres increase in popularity, they also become more generic.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash  

"This can be interpreted," the researchers write, "as music becoming increasingly formulaic in terms of instrumentation under increasing sales numbers due to a tendency to popularize music styles with low variety and musicians with similar skills."

So music all starts simplifying and sounding similar. Not only that, but complexity actually starts turning people off of musical styles. Alternative rock, experimental and hip-hop music are all more complex now than when they began, and each has seen their sales plummet. Startlingly few genres have retained high levels of musical complexity over their histories, according to the researchers. And ones that have — folk, folk rock and experimental music — aren't exactly big earners. Unless, of course, they fit into the Mumford & Sons/Lumineers pop-folk mold”.

Another piece examined how cheap recording devices and the increase of electronic influence resulted in a rather homogenised and stale scene:

Ever wonder why you find yourself constantly asking “why do all these songs sound the same?” Because they do. The emphasis is no longer on music theory or the ability to read and comprehend music, but to lazily rely on the same programmed machines that inevitably see each of its users repurposing the same sounds over and over and over. This is best exemplified by a recent Facebook post from indie-electronic rock project, RAC, who explains “the proliferation of cheaper recording devices and marketing tools has blown off the doors to the music industry.” The post continues, “Any kid with a laptop can build an empire with an internet connection. More artists means more competition, which means the product has less value.”

This isn’t to say that great music can’t be produced using the technological advances bestowed upon today’s bedroom “musicians” but at what point do we completely and utterly lose the human element in music? The human error that highlights the beauty of artistic imperfection. With The Prodigy recently telling Rolling Stone the current EDM climate is “lazy” and “monotonous,” one has to ask: where do we go from here? Electronic artists like Porter Robinson, Disclosure, Duke Dumont and Gorgon City, among others, are spearheading the current push for a live element when performing – not only because fans are demanding it, but they too are afflicted by the scene’s growing stagnant artistry”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Macworld

As I said; there are two sides to Pop: the big-stream-hunting artists who are more rigid and less imaginative with their music. Others, like Lana Del Rey and Lorde, for example, represent a more credible and ambitious approach to Pop – if one truly classes them as ‘Pop’. I find a lot of Electronic/Pop music gets a bad reputation because there does seem to be a set formula. If a song/artist has a success with a song; others, seeing that, try to reproduce that for their own music – assuming little endeavor and going for something easy. Maybe it is a generational thing – I will return to this – but, in terms of sounds, it is not only Pop artists who come across samey. Rock and Alternative have not been in the best shape.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Royal Blood/PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Davies

This year, hotly-tipped albums from The Amazons and Royal Blood have left many, myself included, a bit miffed. Those albums, which could have been groundbreaking releases, did not really live up to the hype. Royal Blood’s How Did We Get So Dark? was a rehash of their debut album – albeit, with one or two additions. The Amazons’ eponymous debut seems to be a by-the-numbers approach to Rock – one that left me wondering where the originators and pioneers were. Maybe there was, in those cases, a desire to fit into a particular mindset – knowing other bands have had success and done well. I am seeing more and more Rock bands, in the mainstream, disappoint and not really show any originality. A fair few underground acts seem promising but, if they look at the current ‘best’ and see how they are doing things – are they inclined to abandon their own dynamic and go with what seems ‘popular’ and established. There is ample evidence to suggest the new breed might produce a few treasures but, when it comes to the mainstream Rock acts; why is there a surfeit of excitement?

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lana Del Rey

A recent article by Forbes shed some light:

There’s tangible proof of what people are listening to right now, and rock 'n' roll ain’t it. I make this evaluation based on the Billboard Hot 100 and Spotify Global charts as both commercial evaluations of songs and indicators of cultural impact.

Let's look at 2016 for example. According to the Nielsen year-end report, Drake's Views set an all-time record for most streams from an album, with over 245 million streams; there were 12 occurrences where an album’s songs had over 100 million audio streams in a week, led by Drake, J. Cole, The Weeknd and Beyoncé; Chance the Rapper had the first album to surpass 500,000 with streaming-only availability. Rock still does well in digital sales, but digital sales are declining.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

"Top 40 radio, which has always been for teenagers, is mostly devoted to post-rock pop and hip-hop. In 2016, rock is not teenage music," writes Bill Flanagan. "Rock is now where jazz was in the early 1980s. Its form is mostly fixed."

Those of us who grew up in the mold of rock are in a tough position, not just because the style we learned has become out of fashion, but because the skill set needed for pop music in 2017 has transformed into something radically different:

Songwriting is no longer words and music—but words, music and digital production.

Gone are the days of changing the world with three chords and the truth. Now you’ll need three chords, the truth, and an engineer’s ability to make your song sound like the radio. The most successful songwriter of our era, Max Martin, goes to work every day doing a very different job than Lennon-McCartney did”.

Maybe the proliferation of streaming sites and radio stations means we often hear the same songs repeatedly – ingraining it into the mind and not providing a true overview of music’s diversity and depth. When a new song is released and being promoted; we do get a lot of exposure to it. Does this repeated assault approach to marketing negatively impact and mean it is harder for musicians to follow their own course? I feel digital promotion and the easy accessibility of recording devices (and sounds) mean a lot more musicians are coming through.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Brooke Baili

When one only got to the studio because they had a record label behind them; it meant quality control was tighter. Now, anyone can get a record made so it is harder to determine what is good and worthwhile. I feel the general oversaturation is flooding music. The more artists who come in the more likely we are to see repetition. One should never discourage artists from coming into music but we need to celebrate those who are truly worthy and impassioned. Artists like Brooke Baili and her new track, Louder, embrace infatuated but, in her lyrics and visuals – goes the extra-mile and provides originality and potential. There are artists in all genres that show nimbleness and new aspects. They can subvert the clichés and stereotypes to produce music of the highest caliber. In terms of the artists one needs to keep their eyes out for; in my mind, there are a couple of genres adding freshness to music – and the odd band that is worth attention. If one wants to intellectualise why there are restrictions of movement and expression in music – there is an article that explains things better than me:

This is important because when one breaks down music to its most basic components, it becomes clear that originality is more limited than might be supposed. Steel comments that “the use of prescribed scales, keys and structures to fashion melodic lines gave rise to a listener’s dependency on Western tonality in order to make auditory sense of the sounds.” The result is a set of rhythms and melodies that can be often found across several songs in a genre or time, as audiences become used to specific combinations that are in fashion at the time. Steel argues that cultural experiences affect both the creative process and the consumption of music, and universal themes emerge during certain periods.

Given the extensive similarity of musical composition across an era, the originality requirement in copyright law becomes difficult to satisfy in musical works. Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not that idea. The problem is that many common elements in musical creation could be considered ideas if they are widely shared across compositions of a similar genre. To the untrained ear, all music of one genre sounds much the same, so it becomes the task of the trier of fact to try to draw the line of where a work has passed from using the ideas of a genre into the infringement of the expression of the ideas. Blurred lines, if you may. But drawing these lines is not the only challenge because judges and juries must also determine if the copying has been substantial, and therefore worthy of being declared copyright infringement.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Grovemade

How important is originality and is it – in the age where digital music and accessible music-making is suffocating – a possibility? Mainstream music is becoming more predictable than ever be there are a few bands at the moment, such as Glass Animals and Everything Everything that is able to convey unique sounds and keep their music likeable, if odd at times. Restrictions when it comes to sampling – and the stringent laws being imposed – is limiting the scope and possibility in genres like Hip-Hop and Rap. These are, to my mind, the natural leaders of the modern world and are providing truth and guidance. Maybe it is truth and plain-speaking missing in modern music. In an industry where there is too much reliance on love songs and marketable themes: those that address what is happening outside their own bedrooms are, oddly, a rarity.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kendrick Lamar

Of course, not all members of the Hip-Hop community are inspiring and pioneering. Over the last couple of years, it is hardly a surprise albums by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar have been ranked highest by critics – the former topped end-of-year lists with Lemonade (2016); Lamar amazed and ruled with 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly. It seems Lamar’s current album, DAMN., might well scoop honours when the year’s best is revealed. Not only do these artists – and their finest peers – have attitude, passion and incredible songwriting ability: voices that resonate and strike; backed by compositions that mix in so many genres. To me, it is the lyrics and compositions that make genres like Hip-Hop and R&B so refreshing. Kendrick Lamar, in To Pimp a Butterfly, employed Jazz samples and the building blocks of an inspiring genre – something the likes of Loyle Carner are doing too. Soul, Rock and Alternative shades go into the albums (Beyoncé, Lamar etc.) and it seems there is a lot more flexibility and maneuver. Less concerned with instant three-minute hits or that processed sounds – the artists here are more bothered about texture, nuance and quality.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé

Perhaps it is too deep an issue to simplify in a single article but I worry there is a problem with originality and surprise. It has been a while since I have truly bonded with a new band. Often, I hear a debut album and am impressed but find, further down the line, things get regular and conformist. There is that modern-day pressure to be marketable and commercial – you can get the stream and big YouTube figures; only if you provide something fit for chart consumption. It is no surprise the genres that promote depth and directness are making a bigger impact than any other. It is not a binary thing to say Rap/Hip-Hop/R&B is right and everyone else is wrong – there are wonderful artists in Folk, Pop and Rock that deserve more respect. Perhaps there needs to be less concern with streaming counts and following the pack.

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The flip-side is the comparative lack of monetary value and commercial appeal – a risk that many should take. The underground is proffering artists capable of kick-starting a mini-revolution but, looking at the current state of the mainstream, is it going to be easy to overhaul and sanitise? That is not for me to decide but, the fact so many artists are lasting only a short time means there is fear music is not a viable long-term career. The industry hasn’t changed radically in the sense those best and brightest have to fight harder – the sheer mass and proliferation of new artists make it tougher to easily discover the strongest artists. Maybe there is a long-term solution but we need to stop giving the mainstream such regard and cut those artists out that go for something easy and cynical. The ones that are only concerned with figures and profit; those who chase fame and something quite shallow. From there; highlight and celebrate the artists/genres that go out their way to be original and inspiring – I still feel Hip-Hop is seen as a niche and uncommercial brand. If we can make small changes it means the approaching generations think differently and have different aspirations. Driving away that need to be ‘successful’ – the wrong type – and go for respectability and true talent is what needs to happen first off. If we can get the ball rolling, and start to cut away at the fat, it means future-music will be…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Pixabay

SOMETHING to be truly proud of.

INTERVIEW: Couling Brothers

INTERVIEW:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Gordon Couling  

Couling Brothers

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AS I jettison and embargo certain types of interviews…

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it is great to receive a rare one to the inbox – not accepting interviews where an artist has very few photos, I mean. Couling Brothers, in a sense, are one of the last acts who I take in whose online portfolio is not as stocked and illustrative as many – there is a slight aversion and distance from social media. I talk to Toby and Ollie about their musical bond and their upbringing; what stories and explorations go into their songs.

They split their time – and bodies, a lot of time – between the U.K. and Australia so I was eager to learn whether there will be any tour dates; insight into their fantastic album, // REDDA //,  and the musicians/albums that have inspired them to write their own material – and the other musicians that help give // REDDA // its candour, personality and wealth.

ALL PHOTOS (EXCEPT WHERE LISTED): Ollie Couling

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­­Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

What’s up, Sam.

Very good, thanks, mate.

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?

Ollie: Hi. We are Ollie and Toby - Couling Brothers.

Toby: Sons of the same mum and dad; brothers and best mates: currently living in London, England and Melbourne, Australia.

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How did the decision come together to form Couling Brothers? Was there a moment when a song sparked something or was it a more gradual process?

O: As brothers; our partnership formed thirty-two years ago - when we first met.

We have always been extremely close and into the same things - so this project was (just) a good excuse to join forces.

T: It probably started after a recording session at The Fold Studios - where we used to work and live. I used to have my drums set pretty much full-time, so, after recording sessions for other bands, using the studio, we used to just hit record and jam.

On one of these nights; we came up with the piece of music for Sad Night - we both went completely mad until very late that night/morning trying to work out these crazy timings – but, what appears on the album, is basically unchanged from that jam.

I guess it was, at that point, I knew we would have to have that on a record - along with some other ideas that had been brewing for a while.

O: The reason for (actually) getting in the studio and doing it was a slightly more practical one. I had a long-running injury to my wrist and needed surgery, so, before my operation, we decided to book a week at a studio. We really wanted to work with Owain Jenkins at StudiOwz; so we just went for it with very little agenda and a few pretty sketchy ideas.

That week produced 90% of the tracks on the album – plus, a few more that didn’t make the cut. However, it took over a year before we went back to record the vocals. The break did work out nicely, though, as the final track - Dear My Home - was written in that period and has turned out to be a special song - that really completes the album and puts a massive full-stop at the end.

Can you remember those early days and the kind of music you were playing?

Yes; very much.

We come from a very musical family. Our mum is an incredible pianist and we both learnt a lot about music from just listening to her play - and absorbing her sound and use of harmony. Later on, in our late-teens-to-early-twenties; we both played in a band together called 8Fold - for a bunch of amazing years. It was a great time of discovery in which we all lived and breathed music.

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Toby and I used to jam together in our basement almost every day - and I think a lot of the core ideas that appear on the album was a result of this time experimenting. We used to love just locking in on a groove together and could do that for hours.

// REDDA // is your new album. Can you talk to me about the title and the kind of themes you address within?

We went to Iceland in June last year and saw the word ‘// REDDA //’ printed in a magazine. We didn’t know the meaning of the word at the time but I think Toby just liked the look of it.

T: I looked up the meaning and it translates to something like ‘to fix’ or ‘to work through a problem’. It fit the concept of the album, so it kind of stuck.

O: The theme of the album is about the transition from your late-twenties into your thirties.

It has a lot to do with the claustrophobia of living in London and wanting to get out, basically - but always getting sucked back in.

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Listening to the music; you observe real life and mix the spectacular with mundane. How much of your day-to-day experiences go into the songs?

Absolutely everything.

This was literally the soundtrack in my head.

T: I think as perceptive, creative-thinking and empathetic people; we can’t help but pick up and absorb life, in both its mad and mundane ways.

Ollie and I know each other on such a deep level, too - and the music is a parallel symmetry of both of our minds.

Talk to me about the track, Stripes on the Table. It is a song that intrigues me. Is there a story behind that?

O: Yes. There is story behind all of the songs.

Stripes' is based on how a quite a long and complicated event unfolded. I was in business with a very good friend for about five years, but, when I decided I needed to move on; working things out got very complicated between us - and our friendship was massively tested, as a result. The song is about how difficult I found it afterward: trying to start out again on my own when up to that point I had only done music. I didn’t have any academic qualifications to my name and felt really unemployable - so it’s about freaking out about that.

I think that it must be something that a lot of people who make a commitment to art or music go through at some stage. Having gone through it - and come out the other end - it made me realise that the skills you learn as a ‘creative person’ are so valuable - and far more practical that what you learn at university (I went to uni. afterwards).

I wish this kind of stuff is better recognised in society.

Toby and Ollie. You wrote the songs but there are one or two musicians who appear on the album. Was it quite a smooth recording process and how did you come to meet the other musicians that feature on // REDDA //?

T: We were always sure of who we wanted to play on the record and what instruments they would work with.

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Rob Lamont played most bass parts as he just understands our brotherly rhythmic flow - and just makes things feel great. He also played some great keys parts – especially on Life Without a Hat. Matt Park is such a talented musician who oozes emotion and compliments our music perfectly with his pedal steel-playing. We knew his sound and performance would feature heavily on quite a few tracks – one, in particular, being Dear My Home.

Our mum is a huge inspiration for us both; so we were extremely happy when she came to come visit us in Wales to record on the last studio session. Will Rixon has been on the scene in London even before I moved here so we were super-chuffed to have him shred some trumpet on Sad Night. Thom Sinnet was chilling at the studio in Wales when we needed bass on Life Without a Hat - so he stepped up and completely nailed what we had in mind for the bass part.

Owain Fleetwood recording the songs. What was it like working with him?

He is an absolute badass!

He is a good friend, a very skilled engineer and knows all his equipment, instruments and studio like the back of his hand. He understood what we were looking for and always helped us get something sounding how we imagined or better.

O: We must also mention Matt Wiggins - who mixed the entire record. He did such a great job taking the music and lifting the mixes to a higher place. 

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Is there going to be a video or single-release soon? What are your plans for the album and its promotion?

There are no plans to make a video or to release a single: it was never like that. We would love to do some live shows at some point with all the guys who played on the record - but that’s going to have to wait until I get back from Australia.

Hopefully, we can work something out for spring/summer 2018!

T: We both (just) wanted to make an album for us, really.

It was a perfect way to spend time together with a focus. Looking back now, it almost feels like it was some sort of audio-therapy.

O: As far as promotion goes: we would love to try and get a bit of radio-play in the U.K. and Australia.

There is an awesome radio station out in Melbourne called PBS - that is really good at supporting new music and giving unsigned artists, airplay. It’s a community-funded station with volunteer D.J.s, so they have an amazing range of genres. There are a few D.J.s who have shown some interest in playing some of the tracks off // REDDA // so, hopefully, we might be able to get a little buzz going in Melbourne. Maybe, we could even convince all the guys who played on the record to fly out to play some shows over there…that would be insane!

You can listen to PBS online at www.pbsfm.org.au. I, literally, can’t rate it highly enough!

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There is no Facebook or Twitter account for the Couling Brothers. What was the reasoning behind that decision and do you worry it threatens a sense of anonymity?

For now, we have decided to stay off social media… leave Facebook alone for cat-lovers and Twitter for Donald Trump.

Haha!

T: I think we are both happy that it is on BandCamp – which, we believe, has a better sound-quality than most other online music platforms. Like you mentioned in a previous question, we “observe real life” - so that’s what we’ll keep doing with this project for now.

Toby. You are a drummer and producer. Kevin Spacey has praised your playing. What is it like getting praise from him? How did you first come to bond with the drums?

Haha!

That was a surreal and funny experience. I was playing at Ronnie Scott’s with Tony Allen, Speech Debelle and Roots Manuava one evening. After the show, I was packing my drum kit down, when I noticed a pair of shoes turn up in my peripheral vision. I looked up and it was Kevin Spacey!

I was quite overwhelmed to see a face I knew so well in front of me. He introduced himself and then said some nice comments about my playing style. I led him to meet the other guys backstage and we all had a nice post-show hang.

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I think, rather than drums specifically, I think rhythm has always been important to me. I have always felt rhythm in all things and when I had the opportunity to learn the drums (age eight), I jumped at the chance. It gave me a new voice and understanding in life. I have spent a lot of my drumming career in recording studios, so, have picked up lots of things and learnt and observed a lot about the techniques - emotion, social structure and nature of a studio situation.

I am involved with many projects as a drummer/producer and feel that all that experience gave me a great platform and understanding of how to approach the album. Ollie is gifted with a large knowledge of production and engineering too – so, we feel as a team we have a good balance and knowledge base to create new music.

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What is coming up for Couling Brothers? Any tour dates approaching?

O: Toby is coming over in January 2018 and we are going to do some walking in New Zealand. That’s the next thing in the calendar for Couling Brothers.

T When the time is right to play live; we’ll play our hearts out. It will happen!

Who are new acts you recommend we check out?

O: At the moment, I’m really into a Melbourne-based artist called D.D Dumbo.

I’ve listened to his album every day for about two weeks straight, now. Check out his album, Utopia Defeated.

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T: (I also absolutely dig D.D Dumbo).

A band called Tweed & Hyenas released an album called Yates quite recently - which is wicked!

(Also, the recent Bon Iver album, 22, A Million).

If you each had to select the album that means the most to you; which would it be and why?

That is a hard question…

I think the band that gave us both the inspiration to pursue music when we were young was probably a band called Reef. Their first album, Replenish, is amazing - and will always be amazing!

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 What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

O: Just be yourselves…

T: Yea…be yourselves, bold and trust your instincts.

Collaborate with people and practice hard at the beginning, middle and the end. 

Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

O: Pleasure Universal  

T: Tweed & HyenasNorðasta Horn

________

Follow Couling Brothers

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E.P. REVIEW: Signal - Progression EP  

E.P. REVIEW:

 

Signal

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PHOTO CREDIT: Steph Brown Photography   

 Progression EP

 

9.5/10

 

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 Progression EP is available at:

https://open.spotify.com/album/6ioLiXqaPlLUZeghGz8xaq

GENRES:

Rap; Hip-Hop

ORIGIN:

Basingstoke, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

11th August, 2017

TRACKLISTING:

Progression

What Goes Around

Down

Something to Say

Basic

Down, Part 2

DOWNLOAD:

Down; Basic; Down, Part 2

STANDOUT TRACK:

Progression

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:

Jay Picasso

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THE reason I come back to certain artists...

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is the fact they have progressed and are doing something great – since I last headed their way. Avowedly dedicated to promoting the best and most progressive music; it is back to Signal and an artist who has made big strides over the past few years. I will come to him specifically in a bit but, right now, wanted to address the Urban explosion and how vital those genres/styles are. I will take a nod to originality and the development of Hip-Hop; collaboration and economy – when not too crowded but essential to the flow – and freshness music needs to remain relevant. I will take a gander at British artists rivaling American sounds and acts putting their first E.P. out – finishing by taking some time to examine London and artists who have a proximity to the capital. It is interesting the way music has transformed the last year-or-so. I have been watching closely but am seeing a shift in more mainstream tastes and those artists on the periphery. If one considers a time, not long ago, when Pop used to rule the roost. Now, could you not argue, it is those of Hip-Hop/Rap that is starting to make the bigger impression. I can extend that to Grime and see a clash between British and American styles.

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PHOTO CREDITSteph Brown Photography 

Of course, other acts like Sampha are not really in the Hip-Hop mould but, through his beautiful and personal songs, speaks the truth. Truth is an element essential when it comes to making genuine and long-lasting music. I find it is Urban artists articulating this in a fascinating way. One album that has sparked my mind this year is Dizzee Rascal’s Raskit. It is a return-to-form for the Bow master – someone accused of lacking edge and potency his past couple of albums. His sixth is stripped-down and returns to the kind of sound that made him a star – back when Boy in da Corner arrived in the world. Raskit is such a stunning album because it documents the struggle and divisions in the country but has that central voice that gets into the heart. Dizzee’s lyrics are as sharp as ever and always amaze me with their confidence and intelligence. He is a writer that is capable of mixing humour and savage attack and keeps his messages on-point. I cannot urge people strongly enough to get hold of the album and see what I am talking about. In any case; it is artists like him that are defining this year. Grime is a genre that has always been underground and, hearing acts like Signal rise, there is hope it will get wider appeal very soon. Naturally, Dam Amps’ alter-ego is more Rap/Hip-Hop but there is that grittiness and street-level mandate one hears in Dizzee Rascal’s work. Any artists who speak from the concrete and highlight that is happening around them, in some way, can be seen to be Grime. One of the things that amazes me about Signal’s music is the self-confidence and ambition in the music. The songs look more at sexual amore and artistic ambition; nostalgic nods and the voice of a man making his way in the world – maybe he will look at political issues and societal breakdown in future releases. I will come back to this later but, right now, a quick look back at Hip-Hop.

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PHOTO CREDITAlex Sunshinesoul Douglas

I have mentioned Dizzee Rascal but, in guidance and example, I can bring in others like Loyle Carner. He, like Signal and Dizzee, are part of a spectrum of British artists that is taking control and showing the mainstream the possibilities of truly original and meaningful music. What impresses me about Carner’s (Mercury Prize-nominated) album, Yesterday’s Gone, is the way the young maestro talks about where he comes from – and where he is going – but fuses it with extraordinary scores and some incredible stories. It is such a confident and developed work for a young man on his debut record. One gets swathes of Jazz horns and some breakbeats; tales of working-class struggle and music not evolving sufficiently – tales of fakes and posers; modest and charming allusions to the importance of his mum. It is a mixed and busy album that, in my mind, should win the Mercury. I mention this because; in the way Dizzee is carving back territory and reclaiming his Grime crown: Carner is a leading light in the British Hip-Hop scene. There is no denying these two are part of a large scene that is taking dominance away from the mainstream artists – those manufactured and over-calculated. The naturalness and confidence one hears in Signal sits alongside contemporaries like Loyle Carner. What makes Signal intriguing is the fact he sits alongside other Hip-Hop artists but seems to straddle American and British sensibilities; has that confidence and ability to get people involved. BBC Radio 6 Music has recently put a feature out on Hip-Hop and the fact it turned forty-four. It is interesting watching the evolution and albums that have made the genre so important. I am a big fan of Hip-Hop and wonder whether, given the state of the world right now, we will see a lot more artists come to prominence. We require artists that can talk about what is happening in the world but, in a sense, produce some form of escapism. I find so much of what is happening in music bland and uninspiring right now. It is not good enough producing songs that seem to be good and have a quality to them – there are so many artists providing wishy-washy sounds that fade into obscurity. With many artists being accessed of lacking originality: I am pleased Signal has produced an E.P. exciting, consistent and fresh.

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I have not mentioned collaborators in the credits of the Progression EP. One can go to Spotify and find out – and I shall mention them when reviewing – but it is interesting seeing the names Signal brings into the work. Producer and friend Jay Picasso features on most of the tracks. Blizzard arrives on the final track; EClipse makes an appearance and Chelsea Jade has a stunning turn. Like Dizzee and other artists of that ilk; Signal manages to recruit other voices but does not make the work too crowded. One of the reasons Dizzee’s music was getting flack – especially The Fifth – is the fact too many players were in the mix; the music was being watered-down and Pop-like. Now, on his follow-up, he keeps his voice true and singular but manages to introduce a few others into the mix – an album that is very much Dizzee’s voice but has some welcomed (outside) additions. I have been following Signal since the start and know how keen he is to ensure his words and voice is the ones that stick in the imagination. He does not want to be one of these artists that recruit legions of singers to help make his music pop. Progression EP benefits from having a few other vocal sounds but does not suffer from being too crowded and bloated. I am writing a piece this weekend that strikes against artists that have so many cohorts in their songs. I am finding, especially with Rap/Hip-Hop/Urban sounds, one discovers songs that have endless names on them. I see no point having four or five people on a single track. It means the central artist gets overlooked and those collaborators are not adding anything worthy or necessary. I agree we need to have duets and combine artists but there is an insanity cramming as many people into a song as you can. Signal, on his E.P., brings in the perfect number of bodies and those who naturally fit into the sound. He has bonded with these people and knows they will bring, as they do, quality and relevance to his work. It is not a lazy sense of tossing other people into the music – a carefully considered approach that ensures the songs get that extra bit of quality and potency. That is something other artists should learn from and it would have been so easy for Signal to have endless collaborators in every song. Luckily, it is the man himself who stands out and makes that huge impact. I will address this more in the conclusion but want to talk about Dan Amps’ attitude to work and promotion.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Steph Brown Photography

I see his social media feed and get the impression of a young man for whom success and longevity mean everything. He does not want to be in music for a few years: there is the desire to remain and inspire for a lot longer. I know this will happen because he keeps promoting and pushing his music out there. He does not let a team do all the promotion and sit back: constantly engaging with the public and ensuring his songs get an airing. I have seen photos of him at charity events and playing clubs; niche events and strange nights that ensure, in some way, his music gets to new crowds. On social media, there are lots of updates and photos of the man. One of the biggest gripes I have about musicians is the fact so many ignore the relevance and importance of photos/images and updates. They think remaining anonymous and modest will get them into the public forum. This is counter-logical argument and one that really annoys me. There is no such problem when reviewing Signal. His music is fresh and explosive; his social media is well-stocked and he is someone that provokes plenty of thought. I am pleased he has this energy and is not lacking any drive. Few artists have that same level of determination. Let’s hope this all pays massively as, I think, there is a lot more from the man. He started at local-level and playing around Basingstoke. Gaining attention from the local press – every article complete with cringe-worthy ‘signal’ puns – that backing has given him the impetus to push and provoke. The ambition and determination from Dan Amps mean he does not want to remain a local hero. He is still based in the same area but it is only a matter of time before he makes a permanent move to the capital. That is something I will talk about but, looking at Signal from start to finish; it seems the prodigious work-rate will reap rewards. I have mentioned how the artist plays different clubs and gets his music to a range of people. Campaigning around the South; I wonder whether Signal has the promise and appeal to get his music heard further up the country. I know there is a big demand for Rap/Hip-Hop and those acts that strike hard. I am interested seeing where Signal heads in the coming months but he is gaining kudos and respect in London.

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I feel those who live away from the big cities will struggle for any true and worthwhile attention. One needs to supplement that sense of detachment with a healthy and consistent attitude to work – getting the music in as many hands as possible. Signal is spreading the word and making sure Progression EP is played and spun by a range of stations. I know the songwriter is keen to get international exposure and can only imagine this will be around the corner. He is taking such an impressive and impassioned approach to promotion that that attention is fully deserved. There are too many resting on their laurels and assuming the music will take care of business. Music is such a competitive and busy market; nobody can afford to relax and assume they will get success. It is beyond naïve to assume you are the best out there and do not need to keep getting the work out there. Signal knows this and, every week, is out to the people and delivering his messages to the masses. I have discovered few that rival his physical and determined ethos – someone who never relents and consistently engages with the people. That marketing and promotional attitude is not reserved for performance. I have mentioned social media and how Signal puts status updates and photos out there. One cannot deny how effective a marketing tool social media is and why acts need to keep theirs refreshed and relevant. Signal has provided fans updates on his E.P.’s release and always ensures one is informed and happy. Giving some great images and nuggets of information: a guide on how it should be done and why so many artists are struggling to gain recognition (if they do not do the same as him). I shall end this section but wanted to nod to a young man who has that approach to music. It means everything and you can just tell it is not about the streaming figures and awards. Sure, those are part of it but the main objective is to get his personal and stunning songs out to the fans – making sure they hear them and understand where Signal is coming from. He does not write for the charts and record labels. Here is a pure and personal artist that wants to forge a career and mark himself as one of the biggest voices in British Hip-Hop. Because of this, the promotional campaigns and engaged strategy is coming from a very good place.

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I have talked about freshness and how the best British albums of this year have been marked by a sense of purpose and originality. One cannot underestimate how important it is providing the public something new and unexpected. Signal’s E.P. is raw and essential. It brims with life and has sick and slick raps. It is a work that projects images and clear designs; words that remain in the mind and performances overflowing with ability and confidence. It is not a work that works by-numbers and follows anyone else. The best albums of this year – Loyle Carner and Dizzee Rascal among the leading pack – have that edge and attitude that elevates them above the (boring) mass. The determination and allure of the central voice mean every song engrains itself in the imagination and lasts for a long time.  I am still spinning Raskit and Yesterday’s Gone. They are works that sound new and are hard to compare with anything out there. Among the indeterminate sludge and bulk of run-of-the-mill artists out there: that desire for something proper and decent obsesses my mind. I am pleased Signal has released his Progression EP and is making a stand. He is someone who gets where I am coming from and has such a sense of dynamism and attitude. I love his music and cannot wait to see how his stock rises. Here is a young man who has worked his way from the local clubs and is making strides in the capital. The only way music is going to progress and inspire the new generation is if we have a look at what is being put out – and whether we are seeing too many sound-alike acts and vague artists. I hope Signal gets a bigger reaction in the coming years because his music warrants incredible passion. he is putting the legwork in but there are countries and corners to be conquered. Right now, he is going a long way to ensure those plaudits come his way.

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Let us consider, before coming to the E.P., those artists that put out an E.P. and are relatively new to music. This is not the first offering from Signal but it is his first ‘big’ work. His Make It Happen E.P. was out last year but I feel this is the E.P., now, that represents his true sound. I love Make It Happen but feel Progression EP is the young songwriter at his peak. In any case; he is fairly new to the blocks and it is always nervous and unsure putting that E.P. out. You are never sure how it will fit into the market and how it will rival your peers. I will combine two points and look at America vs. Britain when it comes to Hip-Hop and Rap. Okay, well…it seems there is a clear gulf, in terms of sound and quality, between British and American artists. In terms of the Hip-Hop/Rap coming from the U.S.; there is a lot more quality and durability, in my mind. Maybe it is the fact the artists are more hungry and angered – given the race riots and political divides there – or those genres are more established and better supported. I have name-checked a couple of British artists that are making sure our Hip-Hop scene is kept busy and alive. We are better at Grime than the U.S. and have a lot more agile and appealing examples – I am not sure whether Grime is that big in America. What strikes me about the two nations is how the mainstream best are so far ahead in America. The newer scene is a little closer but when you look at those established acts: it is America that is ahead of the pack and showing how it should be done. I am not sure the exact reason behind this but maybe it is as simple as talent and media support – the writers and music journalists giving proper affection and support to genres like Rap and Hip-Hop. I will come back to this more but, in a way, abandoned the E.P. debate I started. Progression EP is Signal’s second E.P. (I think) and shows he has made changes and grown in confidence. Signal has sharpened as a songwriter and bringing more compositional elements into his sound. The privation of quality in the music industry is worrying but we must champion and celebrate those artists like Signal – not only original and impassioned but able to improve and grow with every new release.

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My last point will be about London and how, given his closeness to the capital, it seems like a natural stopping-off point for Signal. He has gigged a lot around Camden and other areas so it only seems natural he will spend more time here in the future. Whether you live close to London or not: it seems like the Mecca for anyone who wants to make a stab of music. Manchester is another essential base so, if one can get themselves to either; that goes a long way. I cannot understand why many overlook London and understand that is where music’s heartbeat is loudest. There are few that have the same talent and attitude as Signal: London seems ready-made and waiting. I am sure it is part of his design but, given his new-found attention and developments, maybe basing himself there would be a sage move? He has access to like-minded peers and so many great venues. He has a love for Basingstoke and will not forget where he came from. There is a definite need for the best Urban artists to stand up and tell it like it is. I have mentioned, and will do still, how Signal talks about the personal and, in a lot of cases, sexual – this might change on future E.P.s. He is at the stage where he is addressing youth and the daily life of a Rap/Hip-Hop artist. It is the sound of a cosmopolitan and worldly chap that has such curiosity and hunger. This cannot be satisfied and fully fed living outside of the capital. It is good he lives so close by but one can tell how much affection and connection Signal has for London. Maybe he will move himself there soon but it is interesting how artists change and grow when they get to London. There is that opportunity and breadth of people; the world at your feet and so many waiting ears. This is something Signal needs to consider because, I think, his music has that appeal and enormous potential.

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Racing out the blocks is Progression. The E.P.’s title-track has bubbling beats and electronics. It has gorgeous backing sounds and urgency that leads to a fresh and bouncing vocal. Signal talks about performing in Camden and spending his days dreaming of bigger things – Wembley and getting those huge gigs. Looking back at 2016 – and the promises he was making and dreams he had – there is this renewed desire to make it big and be among the chasing pack. The “verbal grenade” is being thrown out there and the young songwriter is laying down his messages. Life is hard and it is a struggle getting your name out there. Signal is humble and modest but has that ambition at his heart. He recognises how he is mentioned in the back pages – a bit too mouthy or controversial at times – but it getting love from contemporaries like John Newman. This progression means he is going from the local press and getting talked-up by some of music’s hottest new artists. Little kids and players are trying to attack Signal and take his crown. He is not taking this and, above it all, promoting progression and common sense. Jay Picasso adds backing vocals and adds weight to a song that perfectly kick-starts the E.P.

After talking about not giving up and being determined: What Goes Around has a sharper and more attacking vibe. It seems to address a karmic vibe and those people who diss Signal. The man’s girl has been checking his (Signal’s) socials and liking photos. She has been respecting his rhymes and seems to be into him. Maybe the man in question has been slagging-off Signal and claiming he is a bit weak. There is a sense of battling a foe or someone who is not treating Signal with respect. Name-checking Carrie Fisher – showing this is one of the most-recent songs written – it is a track that has lush and busy production. There is so much going on and the man in question is chasing a dream. He is cutting back on costs and tightening his wallet. Starting with the “same team”; he has been working for nothing and preparing himself for the mainstream. This work ethic can determination will see the balance being redressed. It is a bold and confident attack from a young man who knows his time will come. What goes around, it seems, will come back around. That single-minded approach to success and triumph makes the song one of the standouts on the E.P. It is a club-ready anthem that many people can relate to – those who need to have the strength in their bones to know things will work out.

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PHOTO CREDITSteph Brown Photography 

Down, a previous release, is one of the finest works from Signal and one that drips with sweat. Playing a bit of Ken and Barbie – smoking weed in the penthouse – there is that sense of chase and success. Our man is pursuing the girl and keen for some side-boob action. He, with EClipse as the heroine, is documenting a single night where he is getting the girl into bed. The song casts away from the business of success and musical ambition and goes straight to the groin. It is another confident and energised song that crackles with tripping beats and an incredible lead vocal, Signal lays down his intentions and touches his body to the girl’s. EClipse adds sweetness but there is a raw and hungry attack from her performance. It seems they are evenly-matched and there is that inevitable coming together. Rather than present a crude and simplistic account of a one-night-stand; the hero teases and adds exposition and explanation. He is texting and sending cheeky messages; guiding her to his room and charming with that wit and confidence. Mixing great wordplay and memorable lines – Sega and Mighty Morphing Power Rangers; the man sticking his sword in her “chamber” – it shows Signal is an original and exciting lyricist. EClipse is not giving herself away that freely but definitely wants something to happen. It is a great clash of voices and personalities, one expects, ends with an inevitable coming together. Always slick, controlling and oozing charisma – the song has that blend of sexuality and tease. It is a very modern-sounding song – some processed vocals and club-ready production – and could easily slot into the mainstream. What separates it from the lesser example out there is the addictiveness of the song – and the talent of Signal. It weaves into the brain and one will sing the song long after it has ended.

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PHOTO CREDITSteph Brown Photography 

Something to Say offers another dimension and story. The man comes back to hopes and dreams. Studio fees and the BBC are mentioned. Signal, in five years, wants to me selling-out venues and making a go of things. He does not want to be chained to a desk and someone who cannot be confined and defined. A dope and epic performance from Signal – a song that gets right into the brain. It is fresh from the streets and shows there is no short-supply of ability and confidence in the artist. He knows where he wants to go and, with Picasso’s production and guidance, creates a song that swaggers and sway. It is one of the more hard-hitting and bold songs on the record. It has catchiness and captivation that means it is another standout. The testament of a songwriter who does not want to limit himself or play it modest. He has the ability and agility and wants people to know that. It is a song that brims with determination and a clear view. There are processed/strange vocals that add a deep-voiced allure to the song. It is a tough and ready song that flexes its muscles and drives the streets with speed.

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Basic, bringing Chelsea Jade into the E.P., starts off with some calm and beauty. Signal comes to the microphone and it sees the hero casting off fake friends – a new mate needed and looking back on easier times. Back in the day, when it used to be simple and easy, Signal had that promise and hope. Weed used to grow in the garden and it seemed like life, at times, was hard. MCs moved from Reading and torched the man. Megadrive and Sega is back on the scene and we get a view of Signal’s life – and the people that came into the life. Illegal drugs and club nights are laid out; attacks and those trying to put Signal down. It is a song that challenges all foes and shows the king will not be put down. Chelsea Jade comes in and provides a relaxed and beautiful vocal – one that adds needed control and calm to proceedings. It is almost a two-hander between lovers and explanation where they both came from. Signal mentions his hometown and where he came from; how things have changed and the way life has changed over the years. He is in a better place but it seems there are plenty of challengers who want to take him on. Chelsea Jade looks at bitches around her and people who want to degrade her. There is a slight mystery to the song and whether Chelsea Jade and Signal are lovers taking on the world – or from two different sides of the tracks. A fascinating song that adds another dynamic to Progression EP.

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Down, Part 2 brings Blizzard and EClipse together on the swansong. It is another interpretation of the song and provides fresh insight to the lyrics. Maybe it is the heroine bonding with another man and moving away from Signal – the same ideals and conquest but with a new man. An interesting take and song to end things on but it is good to see Signal give the reigns to others and ensure they bring the E.P. to its conclusion. Progression EP is a deep and challenging work but one everyone can appreciate. I hope, in time, Signal tackles issues around him and the affliction the U.K. – the same way Loyle Carner and Dizzee Rascal are doing. His latest E.P. addresses success and the way he has made his way from the basement. Songs look at successes and conquest – either in music or the bedroom – and show there is a need to be better and bigger. The hero knows what he wants and is out there trying to get it. Few can fault the quality and consistency throughout the work. The collaborators (and Jay Picasso) bring so many different qualities but it is Signal himself who defines the E.P. It is a stunning work from someone whose best years are still ahead. The lyrics and performances are slick and professional and the production ensures everything connects and hooks one in. A fantastic work that marks Signal out for big things.

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I will end the review without revoking earlier points – as I have covered the songs quite heavily – and wanted to look at Signal’s future potential. He has gigs coming up but it seems like there is potential to get the music heard up and down the nation. People like Jay Picasso are in his corner and, with his tutelage end expertise, can get the young man heard right around the U.K. I have mentioned how the world is waiting for him: Progression EP can be taken to heart by audiences in other nations. I am sure there will be albums and future E.P.s but, right now, it is exciting seeing a fantastic artist make those first steps. Signal has been on the scene a bit but is making his finest and biggest tunes right now. I have loved investigating Progression EP and the sheer confidence one hears throughout. It does not repeat what is already out there but reminds one of the finest Rap out there. Signal is a performer who is always in control and able to weave original poetry throughout. He talks about childhood and computer games but can mix that with sexual conquest and the desire to rule the scene. His spits and slams are primal and he has the ability to weave and alter his voice in accordance with the lyrics. The production is polished but has that raw skin: meaning the music is not too professional-sounding but everything comes together perfectly. Collaborators like EClipse and Chelsea Jade add to the dynamic and ensure various songs have nuance and allure. It is good seeing Signal bring others to the party but he does not make it too busy and crowded. I have explained a lot earlier and shown what makes Signal such a great artist. He has the talent in his heart and I can see him going very far. Progression EP is a fantastic work from someone who will continue to strike and evolve. That incredible work-rate is what makes him such a fantastic and promising artist. If Signal remains on-point and focused; he can get himself into the international consciousness. He gets a lot of love from the local press but I can see him going further than that. Let’s hope worldwide sources feature Dan Amps and give him some love. When that happens; it means his music will resonate with a whole new world and let’s hope, when that does happen, he gets the stardom and attention…

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PHOTO CREDITSteph Brown Photography 

HE fully deserves.

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INTERVIEW: Adam & Elvis

INTERVIEW:

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 Adam & Elvis

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THE strangeness and savagery Adam & Elvis brings to their music…

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has got critics standing like meerkats sensing a tiger looming large – if those two animals even share a continent! In any case; the band have been vibrating stages and propelling bodies with their intoxicating sounds. I speak with brothers Thomas and Patrick Malone about the latest single, Wasting Away, and what it is about.

They chat about Reading – where they are from – and what the scene is like; how the four of them came together and what they have planned for the remainder of this year.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Been pretty dang amazing in a global context.

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?

We're a five-piece Alternative-Pop band from Reading that is interested in releasing good albums as often as physically and emotionally possible - and seeing what's left of us at the end.

Wasting Away, in addition to its cheery title, deals with life’s brevity and the human condition. It is an upbeat song – considering it could be seen as quite pessimistic. What was the reason for creating a song so uplifting and hopeful?

I think there's proximity between the somber and the hopeful: they breed one and other.

What impacted the song’s creation? Was there a general feeling you needed to write something like this or did a particular event compel that drive?

No. I think about death a lot, or as much as everyone else does, but I have too short an attention-span to be distracted by distractions.

There is a refusal/dismissle of the afterlife; a need to do everything we can in this life. Is there any one thing each of you has always dreamt of doing – maybe a dream holiday or musical goal?

I'd like to write a to-do list and do all the things on it.

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An Adam & Elvis album is out later in September. What can you reveal about the themes and songs that will appear on the record?

Bits about weddings on fire; artists only working on the weekends; people eating mosquitoes to spite lovers (etc etc.!).

Where does the title, Through Snow and Small Talk, come from?

Chose the art for the album; saw the snow and the drudgery - and supposed playfulness - of winter weather reminded me of small-talk.

Patrick and Tom; you are brothers. Did you share similar tastes as youngsters and what was the decision behind forming the band?

We were sh*t at football so thought we had better start a band - or no one will ever think we're important.

How did you come across Steve and Dan? What is it about the guys that meant they were made for the band?

Dan served us drinks; Steve went to school with Tom.

You, like The Amazons, are based out of Reading. Is it a fertile place to make music? What is it like getting gigs in the town?

Yeah. There are lots of people making music in Reading. There's some nice people who put us on and then give us a pittance and some beer.

The Amazons are very boring though. I'm sure they're nice but I imagine you have to listen with a toaster balanced on your head in a bath-full of water - so there's the potential that something edgy might happen.

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What do you guys do when not performing and recording? Do you all get much time to hang out? Anyone have any hobbies in the band?

We spend most of our time practicing together; getting drunk talking about music, films; politics or the normal jazz.

Do you have any tour dates approaching? Where can we come and see you play?

We've got three release shows: 30th September, (Reading) Oakford Social Club; 6th October, (Oxford) The Wheatsheaf and 7th October, (London) Finborough Arms.

We've had a lot of people trying to get us back up North after the last time we went there – so, we'll be back there before the end of the year.

Who are new acts you recommend we check out?

Love Wesley Gonzalez, Meatraffle; Phobophobes and Pit Ponies.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Photophobes/PHOTO CREDITHolly Whitaker Photography

If you each had to select an album to take to a desert island; which would it be and why?

Thomas Malone: Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man

Patrick Malone: Pixies Bossanova

What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

Find a day-time job you can do tired - and allows you time to scribble lyrics on paper during the day because, if you're going to make interesting and subversive music, you will have to pay the bills with another job

Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Patrick: Wesley Gonzalez - Not That Kind of Guy

Thomas: Leonard Cohen - Everybody Knows

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INTERVIEW: Benjamin Stevie

INTERVIEW:

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 Benjamin Stevie

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IT would be easy enough to throw jealousy…

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the way of Benjamin Stevie. The Edmonton-born, Toronto-based songwriter has a very spiritual and relaxed approach to music: in the sense, he allows the environment and landscape around him to influence his music. That is how the seeds for Yellow Bird - his new single - were planted. I learn more about the song’s gestation and his forthcoming album, Cara Cara. He talks about American under Trump and the music he was raised on.

I ask him about the music scene in Canada and some of the artists he recommends; what is was like recording in the idyllic spendour of Joshua Tree – a desert studio not far from the iconic spot – and what kind of gigs are approaching.

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Hey, Ben. How are you? How has your week been?

I’m great, thanks!

The week has been really beautiful. I played my first show with this new band and it was really special. Toronto is really a special place in the summer and this summer has been incredibly revelatory - and I’m overjoyed to be surrounded by so many beautiful people.

For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself, please?

Sure.

I’ve been playing music in various projects since I was thirteen; starting in the Punk scene in Edmonton - where I grew up - I played in the same band for twelve years. I moved to Toronto around ten years ago, where I started to do stuff on my own.

While it took me a while to find my stride with the solo stuff; I feel really happy with where it’s all at these days. In the last few years, I’ve been able to connect with so many beautiful people and had a wonderful time doing it.

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PHOTO CREDITAnthony Tuccitto

Can you tell me about your new song, Yellow Bird? What is the story behind it?

Sometimes with lyrics, the melodies and words just come and you kind of find out what they’re saying, afterwards. The song, to me, is about shedding falsehood, ego; attachment and gaining freedom through that. It was definitely a reflection of my own personal experience.

Our unique experience of this existence is not to be defined and measured as it has maybe been told to us. But, the truth can never fully be told.

How did you come to work in the desert near Joshua Tree? What was the experience like?

So. I had come to the high desert in California after visiting my parents in British Columbia - where I came up with the first lines of the song while strumming on their deck.

A yellow bird flew past and I just started singing the first couple lines. When I got to California, I was a bit nervous as Adam and I had never worked together - and I didn’t know if I was going to bring the noise you know.

The location of the studio was a windy, expansive plateau on top of the desert mountains - right in between Joshua Tree and Big Bear. It was serene, magical and a bit foreboding (and harsh). I can still remember the feeling of being up there as inspiring a sort of calm and sense of solitude that forced me to evaluate my life in a real way. Also, in places like that; music resonates in a clearer way than in the city.

The song came out of those hills and right through me. That’s the best way I can explain it. Haha.

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Your album, Cara Cara, will be released on 22nd September. It seems like it will be very eclectic. What themes are addressed within?

Yeah. The album is a very eclectic mix of music that really came together organically.

After being in so many situations in the ‘industry’ - that were looking to control the creativity and felt like they were choking me out - I was happy to kind of freely create with no real agenda other than getting the work done. I guess, in a sense, the lyrics reflect that energy as well. Obviously, there are songs about love, loss; joy and pain - you know...the basic stuff.

But, I think there is some clarity to it in a way for me. The themes, overall, are about appreciating where you are in the knowledge that you’re only here and now; never there and then - finding peace and truth through acceptance and love.

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What sort of emotions and ideas compel your music? How important is the environment and natural energy of the location to your creativity?

I look to cultivate a sense of truth and light in my life which, I guess, could be called spiritual - and music without heart is just noise. I do my best to put that in it because the music that touches me is always wholehearted. The environment and landscape inevitably enter into the music - simply by the impressions of your daily life being filtered through you at any given time and place.

I do my best to remain empty and still in the mind and find when I can get to that the inspiration can flow through much easier. Humility and honesty are goals I strive for every day - and I find with that comes just a little more peace.

Tell me how the album came other and what the experience was like.

The album was recorded in a bunch of different places over about a year but the bulk of it was at one studio in Toronto, over the summer. We would go in with either a rough idea of a song - or a full song and work out the arrangements (etc.) in the studio. Different people would be involved on a day, other producers; players (etc.) who would lend their ideas as well.

A few times, we would inevitably come up with an idea on the spot and work on that. Like Mind Movie; I just started playing this riff one day, and for three days straight, we worked on the whole thing until it was done. It was amazing to have that luxury of time in the studio to try ideas out and be able to realize them without too much stress.

Also, I guess you could say we did a lot of post-production making a lot of small changes or additions to things - after the actual studio work was done. All in all; it was one of the best times I’ve ever had making music.

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PHOTO CREDITAnthony Tuccitto

What do you make of the situation with Trump and the way America is headed? How do you assess the current political structure in the U.S.?

I grew up in a politicized household and in a highly-politicized music scene where I was exposed early on to ‘radical’ ideas which I think of more as common sense, humanistic ideas - so I pay some attention to what is going on. For myself, I tend look at the longer arc of things more than what’s going on day-to –day - so I see the current situation as more symptomatic of the downfall of this tragically misled society.

We’ve lived on borrowed time for so long and the people have been fed so many lies for so long that we’re physically, socially; culturally and spiritually malnourished- starving to make some sense of things; so we easily fall victim to divisive hateful political messages. If I could say anything, I would say anger breeds hate on both sides. But, the more productive and powerful thing would be to turn disgust and anger into empathy and love.

How musically-minded were your parents? What is your first memory of music?

I remember my parents had Whitney Houston’s first album when it came out - and I have this vivid memory of being about five and dancing in the living room with these girls my mom babysat. I lost my mind and felt entirely free in that moment.

I guess it was probably How Will I Know, as that’s the most dance-y but, really, that whole album has a very special place in my heart. I’ve been looking for that moment of freedom and musical connection ever since.

Have you got any gigs coming up? Any plans on coming to the U.K.?

Doing some shows this side of the world in the next little while but I definitely have my eye on the U.K. and Europe – so, fingers-crossed, I’ll be there before long.

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

I live in my little box where I don’t see too much of what’s happening musically these days but my friend, Matty Tavares - who produced some of the record - just released the first single, Embarrassed, off of his new album.

Hmmm…also, Charlotte Day Wilson is another Toronto artist making some beautiful stuff right now.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Charlotte Day Wilson/PHOTO CREDIT: Devon Little

What is the advice you would offer to new artists emerging?

I’d say: do your best to connect with and develop your own intuitive sense of the music. Work at it and be as honest as you can with yourself; yet, gentle with yourself at the same time.

You’re not going to be amazing at certain things at first but, if you cultivate the connection between your heart and your music, one day, hopefully, you have a garden full of beautiful flowers.

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INTERVIEW: Shanghai Blues

INTERVIEW:

 Shanghai Blues

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THERE are a lot of bands out there; most of whom are described as…

PHOTO CREDITAnt Adams Photography

‘promising’ and ‘worth your time’. This can, in a lot of cases, by hyperbole and myopic. When it comes to Shanghai Blues; those words would fit them comfortably – I have no doubt they will make strides very soon. I talk to them about the single, Those Three Words, and what it is all about. They tell me how they have developed as a band and the importance of East London as a base.

Looking ahead; the guys discuss their plans and gigs; look back at the artists that have made an impact on them and provide a couple of names we should be aware of – those musicians that will be making an impact very soon.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Great!

Loving the reaction we're getting for the new single.

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?

We are just four guys from East London.

We drink beer, eat chicken and play really fuc*ing loud.

You have been around for quite a few months now. How did you all come together? Can you remember the first song you laid down as a group?

We all met at school but played in different bands growing up. We decided, last year, to all come together and give it a go - and we're-super excited about how it’s going. Some of those early songs are not worth remembering!

Sick was one of those very early ones that made it out there!

Where does that band name, ‘Shanghai Blues’ stem from? Does it hold cultural and personal significance?

It’s homage to a dingy Chinese restaurant that is, sadly, no longer with us. That’s about as significant as it gets.

Those Three Words is your new single. Can you tell me about the origins and what compelled the single?

The song revolves around a broken heart reminiscing (of) ‘when things were easier’ - when it was just the protagonist and their partner. All the songs we write are very personal to us but this one, in particular, was written from a broken heart within the band.

How easy was it putting the song together? Did it flow naturally or was it assembled over a course of days/weeks?

Once we had the main guitar part down; all the other instruments fell into place - as well as the lyrics - so it was one of the more natural songs we've written.

Oz Craggs produced and mixed the song. What did he bring to the recording in terms of guidance and talent?

Oz is a fuck*ng gun.

We always have so much fun with him in the studio. One thing he did bring was a sweet new sofa. Anyone who's been in with Oz knew about the bench. Haha.

Aside from that, we always find him so easy to work with and everything happens very naturally. He gets us and our sound.

Working with him has influenced a lot - down to what guitar pedals and amps we use.

Your social media numbers are growing. Your fans seem to connect with your music. How much does that mean to you?

It means so fu*king much!

I don't think we really knew what to expect when we started the band – but, to see the reaction from so many people, from all over the world, is great. 

We've always got time for the fans so hit us up!

Critics are really pushing the music. That must be humbling getting such acclaim, right?

It's great to have a positive reaction to the music - whether its critics or not. We just want to make music we enjoy and, if other people enjoy it, too, that’s even better.

Is Those Three Words the catalyst for an E.P. or album? What do you guys have planned?

We may or may not actually have another single coming veryyyy soon.

Keep your eyes peeled!

Can you reveal the sort of bands and artists you grew up listening to? How important was music to all of you during childhood?

I would say we all have a pretty eclectic selection of music that we grew up listening to - from Grime to Metal.

Nothing is ever set in stone and I think that’s been a big influence on our style and music.

How inspiring is East London – where you are based – to your creative drive? Is it providing a lot of gig opportunities for the band?

I think East London has influenced us and inspired us in different ways.

We all grew up and still live here, rehearse here; get battered here. There isn’t much of a music scene here to be totally honest - but you’ll always find little hidden gems now and then!

What kind of tour dates do you have approaching?

Can’t give away too much, but we’ve got a massive show that we’ll be announcing soon - going to be our biggest one yet!

PHOTO CREDITAnt Adams Photography

Who are new acts you recommend we check out?

Our boys in Glass Peaks are slayyyying it at the moment.

Obviously, if you haven’t seen what J Hus has done - you should deffo check him out.

IN THIS PHOTO: Glass Peaks/PHOTO CREDITAnt Adams Photo

If you had to each select the one albums that mean most to you; which would it be and why?

Reece: Probably Grace by Jeff Buckley

It (just) has so much feeling and emotion.

Mike: Never Mind the Bollocks… by the Sex Pistols

The first record I ever owned and, the second I put it on, I knew that all I wanted to do was music.

What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

Keep going and don’t give up. It’s a long, hard journey that we’re only just starting out on ourselves - but it’s so worth it.

Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Reece: Jay Som - The Bus Song

Mike: Nilüfer Yanya - Keep on Calling

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INTERVIEW: Robot

INTERVIEW:

 Robot

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THE moniker might suggest an artist who detaches emotions from music…

and creates something processed and calculated. That couldn’t be further from the truth with regards Robot. Its ‘creator’, Robbie Moore, started like in the U.K. but is now based in Berlin. I ask him about that transition and whether life is better over in Germany – and how, having his own studio, he gets to welcome a variety of interesting musicians.

He talks to me about his forthcoming album, Vedgdbol, and whether it differs from his previous, 33.(3) – if new components have come in or there has been an emotional transformation. I was interested to know more about his most-recent video, Bones – from the 33.(3) album – and whether visuals (it is a very arresting film) are important to him.

ALL PHOTOS (except album cover): Elsa Quarsell 

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Hi, Robot. How are you? How has your week been?

It's been pretty crazy.

Finishing off Jesper Munk's new album while trying to learn how to make an animation for my next music video - stop-motion, Terry Gilliam-style; using bits of paper instead of the computer (why do I always make life so difficult for myself?!).

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?

My name is Robbie Moore and I try to make melodic, intensely-emotional Pop music (using wooden instruments).

I am also very interested in human emotions and the way that people behave as a result. It's, as though, our brains are somewhat robotic in nature: following the programming that our emotions set out.

I find it endlessly fascinating and I try to put my observations of myself and people dear to me into my music.

On 27th October, you release the album, Vedgdbol. What can you reveal about the type of songs and themes explored on the record?

My first album, 33.(3), took me a long time to make. I played pretty much everything myself; locked in my studio - whenever I had a break in my schedule. I'm very proud of that record, but for this one, I wanted to explore a more spontaneous and upbeat approach. I had an idea that it should be something like a 1960s' Dance record. So...I sat down for two days and wrote as many chord progressions and riffs as would come out - without spending very long on each one.

I ended up with forty sketches: some had quickly turned into proto-songs; others remained (just) a basic idea. Then, I booked some of Berlin's finest players for three days in the studio. I fed them the sketches (basically turning them into robots) and we rattled through fifteen songs in those three days.

I, then, spent a further three or four weeks myself - writing vocals, overdubbing more instruments; editing and finally putting the finished album together. I think the concept worked well and I'm already planning the next album which will take it a step further! You'll have to wait and see, though!

Thematically and lyrically, this one deals with the pressure that artists feel when having to find a meaningful outlet for brains - which are very often completely overloaded with emotion - as well as social themes like gender identity and finding your place in the world.

Bones is the first single from the album. What is the story behind the song and will there be more singles from the album?

Actually, Bones was on the last record!

The first single (end of September) will be called Anybody Else (But You).

What was it like making the video for the song? Do you get quite involved with every stage of a video?

Well, the Bones video involved me being covered completely in black latex body-paint for ten hours - while my friend Armando Seijo painted a skeleton on me!

As I mentioned before; the video for my next single, Anybody Else (But You), is an animation...very time-consuming but I'm very interested in the art-form; so I'm enjoying the process.

I do generally get very involved in this!

What is the origin of the title, Vedgdbol?

The title, Vedgdbol, came from the feeling I often have that the pressures of life's work and art are turning me into a metaphorical 'vegetable'. It's an English saying: describing somebody who's brain doesn't work too well. I wanted it to be spelled wrong, too - as if I couldn't write it properly anymore.

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I figured I would ask my six-year-old son to help me - and that's how he spelled it first time...so that's what I used.

I think it's perfect.

How does your new record, released less than a year ago, differ to 33.(3)? Have you taken in new influences and gained more confidence in that time?

Well. I'm definitely more confident.

As I said; the last record took a long time and it was such a relief to finally finish it. It can become a real nightmare when a piece of art takes too long to accomplish...like a writers-block, times-one-hundred!  I'm feeling pretty inspired and motivated right now. I think there's a lot of stuff that's been waiting to get out!

On Vedgdbol; you embrace more of the 1960s/Garage sounds. What compelled a bit of a sound change?

I've always loved that kind of aesthetic and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to start off in that style - and then bring in my natural more thoughtful stuff on top. I also see 33.(3) as the birth of the 'Robot' character...all those songs are written from an extremely innocent standpoint: like a child is observing the human race and is able to keep notes on their behaviour.

I see Vedgdbol as the Robot becoming a teenager: letting its hair down - but, the experience of living as a human is beginning to take its toll! Plus, I wanted to have some more upbeat songs to play live. I think it makes a pretty interesting set now.

The songs from 33.(3) have a new lease-of-life as we play them with a new type of energy, too.

Who are the artists you grew up on and compelled your move into music?

I was always obsessed with The Beach Boys as a kid...then The Beatles, Bowie; all the usual stuff. I've always considered myself a student of songwriting, primarily. I was never interested in musicianship, really. I always felt that the biggest challenge was the writing process - so that's what I spent my time practicing.

I can play a lot of instruments in an emergency but I don't know any scales or any music theory. It keeps it mysterious to me, which I like – and, also, forces me to use my ears!

Robbie Moore is your real name. You started life in Britain but are in Germany now. What compelled the move and how do the music cultures differ between the two nations?

Britain is a difficult place, artistically, these days - especially London.

It's way too expensive to allow a relaxed artistic approach – and, as a result, the music scene is extremely cluttered, desperate and self-conscious. I had an idea that I could, possibly, get something good going in Berlin; so I took a chance...and it paid off, really. I've been way more productive since living here.

It's a wonderful place for the mind; very little judgment from others; everyone has a spirit of adventure - the opposite to London, I'm afraid!

I believe you have seen a lot of bands come through the doors of your Berlin studio. What is it like hanging with cool bands and do you have any favourite memories?

In many ways, it is a total dream-job: people come to work with me, specifically because of the little musical niche that I occupy - which means, I generally get to do a lot of playing and I'm generally really into the stuff that I work on. As a result; I usually get on well with the people I work with. It is, also, sometimes very challenging, though!

Helping somebody to realise their artistic vision in the studio can be a tricky process. There usually isn't too much money around for people to spend months in the studio; so we have to work quickly.

But, as hard as it can be...I do love the challenge! The relationship between artist/producer/musician in, the studio, is an incredibly intense one - very good, deep friendships can be quickly formed. You become like a family for a brief period of time, and, of course, often those friendships last after the job is done!

Recently, I've done things like the new L.A. Salami album. He's brilliant and getting a lot of attention at the moment. Also; the new Jesper Munk album...it's sounding really amazing - very excited about that one!

Are there any gigs/tour dates coming up at all?

We are doing a tour with Jesper Munk and Lary in October (15th - 18th): Munich, Hamburg; Cologne and Berlin...and then some more dates in November in support of Vedgdbol's release.

Who are new acts you recommend we check out?

Check out L.A. Salami!

IN THIS PHOTO: L.A. Salami/PHOTO CREDIT: Ken Abrams/ What's Up Newp

If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?

Probably Pet Sounds

Because it combines unbelievably creative songwriting with a bunch of studio musicians at the top of their game - all playing live together, very inventive instrument combinations; topped with the best vocal arrangements The Beach Boys ever did.

Then...Hunky Dory

Because it was (just) at the perfect moment between 'Folk (David) Bowie' and 'Glam Bowie'.

Then, probably, Marquee Moon by Television

Just…because!

What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

Don't do what you think you ought to do.

First: make yourself as weird and crazy as you can; push yourself into an unknown place; challenge your own ideas of what music can sound like (it can sound like anything). Then, afterward, sift through the chaos and try to guide your favourite bits back down to Earth - to live as a human moment on record.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

How about Mack the Bomb by Pete Seeger

Seems appropriate somehow - which is a shame - but it's an amazing track!

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INTERVIEW: IIDimensionz

INTERVIEW:

 IIDimensionz

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BEFORE being a congratulator: I have to be a prevaricator and critical instigator…

of the IIDimensionz boys. I’m sure that’s a flow they can appreciate – apologies for syntax and grammar fracture - but Nathan and Jermaine have, in my mind, created something interesting and original with Closer – a summer-ready banger than samples/is influenced by Rosie Gaines’ smash, Closer than Close. The lads have a huge connection (being cousins) so I hope they put more images on their social media - and transfer them from Instagram to Facebook. One of my ball-busting demands is for musicians to become more aesthetically-minded so, luckily, they project interest and physicality in their music...

I talk to them about their latest song and what we can expect from their forthcoming E.P., Love from Above. They open up about their musician dads and their influence; the importance of East London and how they manage to mash old-school magic from the 1980s and '90s - with the modern-day sounds of Funk and Dance. They are an interesting and ambitious duo that is ready and primed for future successes...

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Nathan: Hi. Thanks so much for having us!

We’ve just been busy promoting this single - and in the studio, as well.

Jermaine: Hi! We’ve been great, thank you.

Yeah. Just working a lot.

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourselves, please?

Nathan: I’m Nathan Williams.

Jermaine: I’m Jermaine Williams, and together, we’re IIDimensionz.

Closer is the new single. Can you tell me what it is all about?

Nathan: Well. It’s about a relationship I was previously in. Such a complicated situation where we never actually fell in love but we spent a lot of time together; enjoying each other’s company and just creating memories together.

I’m thankful that it ended on a positive note, though!

It samples Rosie Gaines’ famous song, Closer than Close. What is it about that song, and Gaines, that made you want to sample it?

Jermaine: When Nathan and I create music; the main aim is to create a sound that bridges the gap between old-school and new-school music.

Closer than Close was one of our favourite Garage songs from the '90s growing up - so we just reworked a short segment using that famous melody - it all happened so naturally.

Nathan: Yeah. As Jermaine said; we grew up listening to that track and it’s an all-time classic. We grew up in an era where Garage was quite a dominant genre in the house-party scene. With Jermaine D.J.ing at house parties; it was always a favourite to be played.

Plus, Rosie’s voice, melodies and vocal range were just phenomenal!

Has she heard Closer yet? What does she think of it?

You know what; we’re not even sure!

If she has listened to it, I think she would enjoy it and be proud of what we’ve done with our interpretation of the song. So, if you’re reading this, Rosie: take a listen if you haven’t already and shout us!

*Both laugh*

I get the sense you two love 1980s and '90s R&B/Pop. What is it about those decades and genres that appeal to you?

Yeah. So, I was brought up on '80s Motown, Funk; rare Groove – that real old-school sound – by my father.

So, that was my foundation. It also helped me to become a better and more versatile drummer.

Jermaine: I was mainly brought up around 90s' R&B by my father - so that played a heavy part in the musical side of my journey.

Nathan: We both love their musicality and truth in their songs. Plus, the music was always positive and had a vibe to it that made us bust a move!

*Laughs*

Love from Above is the upcoming E.P. What kind of songs and stories will one discover on the E.P.?

Love from Above is all about bridging the gap between old-school and new-school – so, the 80s' Funk/Motown and 90s' R&B meeting the new-school R&B, Hip-Hop and Funk sounds.

We share our experiences through our lyrics. It’s just a feel-good body of work.

Jermaine: Hopefully, you guys feel the same way about it - when you finally get your hands on it!

Mark Asari and rapper Nick Brewer appear as vocalists. How did you come to meet them and what did they bring to the EP – in terms of style and dynamics?

Nathan: Well. I knew Mark from playing as a drummer for a Gospel group - and he was their backing singer at the time. I always took a liking to his vocals so he just came to mind when thinking of a singer to feature on this record.

Jermaine: Yeah. Nathan suggested Mark when we were thinking of singers. Nick, we knew through the church/Gospel circuit.

He actually went to the same secondary school as us, as well! So, that just added extra musical chemistry between us.

Nathan: Yeah. They both brought their unique vibe to the record. You know they’re so talented but what made it even more special was the fact that we all understood what the end goal was.

Based in East London; can you tell me how you formed IIDimensionz? As cousins, have you always shared a love of music?

Jermaine: Yeah. So, obviously, we’re cousins – our fathers are brothers.

Our fathers are both musicians - as well being involved in the music business. Nathan’s dad plays bass and my dad plays guitar.

My dad had a studio at home and was constantly rehearsing for shows – so, growing up around that inspired the both of us to find a deep interest and take a serious liking to music.

Nathan: Yeah. It happened very organically. Timing was everything.

We spent a lot of sleepless nights in the studio trying to figure out how our sounds would blend. But that soon took shape and, boom, it just clicked! That was the day that direction and passion both gelled together perfectly.

How instrumental were your dads and their music tastes? They both work in music. Do they still give guidance and support?

Jermaine: They were very instrumental – to say the least!

As we mentioned earlier, they introduced us to the whole world of music and classic records. Timeless music.

To this day, we still listen to it. We do still get influenced by it and vibe with their music.

Nathan: With guidance and support, they are extremely supportive.

My dad is our manager so he’s there to guide us every step of the way – keep us in line, as well! *Laughs*.

But, yeah, both of our fathers are so supportive and push us to be the very best that we can be.

Of course, as a production duo, you take care of everything yourselves. How important is it having that control over your work?

We wouldn’t say everything: we have to give credit where it’s due - we have a good friend, Nathaniel Ledwidge. He mixed our records. The artists you hear - as vocalists on the records on the E.P. - as well; they all contributed individually in their own unique way.

But, as for production and the general consciousness of our duo; we love to have creative control to a certain extent.

Jermaine: We do love to learn and take constructive criticism as well.

At the end of the day; that’s how you progress and improve your craft.

Are there any tour dates later in the year? Where can we see you perform?

Nathan: Yeah. That’s all going to happen.

For now, we’re just focusing on rehearsing for live shows and preparing for live performances.

Jermaine: You can stay up-to-date with all of this information by following us on social media - mainly our Instagram page (@2Dimensionz) - for our latest information.

IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Misch

Who are new acts you recommend we check out?

Nathan: We recently listened to a guy called Tom Misch - and his track, South by the River.

I’m not too sure if he’s up-and-coming but he’s new to us; he’s dope! Would love to collab. with him.

Jermaine: SZA, as well.

She’s real cool; great artistry!

 IN THIS PHOTO: SZA

If you each had to select the album that means the most to you, which would it be and why?

Michael JacksonOff the Wall

M.J. has been an influential artist throughout my life growing up - and there’s just so much that I take from that album.

Nathan: I’d say Marvin SappGreatest Hits

Simply because each song speaks to me. It reminds me and lets me know how God sees me and values me and who I am in him.

It’s important for us both, really.

What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

Nathan: Remember that your WHY is far more important than WHAT you do.

Remember that you’ve been gifted with life on Earth to make a change for the better and, through your gift/skills that you’ve been blessed with, you have the greatest opportunity to succeed!

Jermaine: Never give up or take ‘no’ for an answer!

If you get knocked back; just keep a strong faith and believe that this isn’t the end.

Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Jermaine: Aaliyah Back & Forth

 Nathan: Michael JacksonRock with You

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INTERVIEW: Vivienne Chi

INTERVIEW: 

Viv1.jpeg

 Vivienne Chi

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ARRIVING in the U.K. and laying down her mark as…

one of the most intriguing new artists on the block; I speak with Spanish-born Vivienne Chi about her move to Britain and whether, having come to a new country, there is a sense of displacement and identity struggle. Her songs deal with issues such as this and JUNK – always dislike an upper-case song-title, but there you go! – so I ask about the song and what compelled its creation.

She talks to me about her influences and how important London is to her; the music she grew up with and, with new material in her pocket, whether we can see her perform in the near-future.

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Hi, Vivienne. How are you? How has your week been?

I’m great, cheers.

Could do with some sun, sand and sea.

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?

Hello. I’m Vivienne Chi.

I’ve been writing music for about ten years; working with different artists producers and musicians. It’s been an amazing, tough industry - but I’m embracing that aspect of it. 

I’m a bit of a loner: keeping the creative flow going is my constant goal. I’m really enjoying where I’m at the moment; putting songs out there and moving on to the next…

What is the story behind the single, Junk? Tell me more about it…

Junk is about the balance between freedom, happiness and madness.

As humans, we have delicate relationships with our minds, mental health and a responsibility for our own mental hygiene. I think we also put ourselves under immense pressure to earn, work; socialise, follow the rules; break the rules, be cool; be relevant - and it’s never-ending. I remember watching a homeless lady in Camden who appeared mad - but also free and happy.

Maybe a little madness is the answer? Who knows?

In terms of sound; how would you say the song differs from the single, Vivienne? Did you make any big changes in terms of style and approach?

I’m lucky enough to work with an amazing producer called Harry Tarlton. We get each other, creatively.

I wanted gypsy-liberated layered noise, pots and pans; festival sounding with big drums…to reflect the idea of the song….like theatre; a story.

Vivienne was the same in the way it has an aggy chorus and a delicate verse - to sync. with the dual -personality of the song.

Your songs talk about belonging and personal realisations. Having moved from Spain to the U.K.; do you feel you struggle with identity and your place in the world?

Absolutely.

Especially, trying to get into the music industry - where you are rejected and questioned and pick apart ALL the time. It messes with your head. When I moved back from Spain, I knew no one in London - so had to start from scratch - I grew up fast. I’m naturally a shy person, so it was tricky. 

I’m at the point now where I’ve found some amazing people to work with (and friends). I’m just doing my thing and loving it.  

What compelled the move from Spain to Britain? Is there a marked difference between the music scenes in both nations?

I moved from a small town in Spain where there was no opportunity for music for me - apart from bar gigs.

London is completely multicultural with so much to offer, music-wise. I knew I’d learn a lot and get something going much easier here.

 How important is London and its heartbeat to the rhythm and dynamic behind your music?

I keep saying I’d like to get out one day but I’m basically sucked in now!

All my work, friends (everything) is here and I travel enough for London to stay fresh. I know so many people putting on nights, making amazing stuff happen - it’s hard to leave. 

The people I work with have been conditioned, musically, by London - the standard is so high that I’ve been able to make some good music.

When you arrived in London, you had to juggle working various jobs with recording. Do you still need to do that or have things got ‘easier’ since you starting getting attention?

It’s a case of spinning plates: keeping different projects going; staying in the loop.

I’ve never had a nine-five so I’m used to being proactive. I guess things have gotten easier, yes…my time in London has given me the chance to establish myself as a performer.

How important are those plaudits and praise to your passion and determination?

It’s really amazing to hear lovely compliments. It does mean a lot to me.

I do music to feed my soul but I also want people to feel it and like it and identify with it. I’m putting parts of my life down on tape - including my struggles. If I can, in some way, help someone who’s having those same troubles then that’s amazing.

Can you give me an indication regarding the artists who you grew up with? What kind of music did you hear as a child?

Prince, Massive Attack; Leftfield, Kate Bush; Jeff Buckley, Björk; Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu; D’Angelo, ZZ Top; Portishead, Layla Hathaway and De La Soul

Is there an E.P. or album coming in the future? What does the rest of the year hold?

I’m putting out an E.P. towards the end of the year…

What tour dates do you have approaching? Where can we come and see you play?

I’m not playing live until next year…

I’m independent, so I have to manage my time really carefully. I’m going to focus on this E.P. release.

Then, next year, I'll do the festivals …

Who are new acts you recommend we check out?

I’m obsessed with a band called Honeyfeet. I think they’ve been around for a while. I caught their set at Wilderness festival and then Boomtown. The front-lady is out-of-this-world-incredible. Her voice is something else.

I‘m also listening to Julia Jacklin, BADBADNOTGOOD and Methyl Ethel.

If you each had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would it be and why?

Lenny Kravitz - Mama Said

The first album I owned. My cousin bought it for me. I was so thrilled.

Prince Diamonds and Pearls

Changed my life.

D’AngeloVoodoo

For obvious reasons.

Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

I sang, sang (and sang) to this album. Fave track: Tell Him.

What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

Dig deep, keep creating; don’t rush to put music out. Wait until you’re one-hundred-percent happy with it. 

Work hard. Exercise!

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Lover, You Should’ve Come OverJeff Buckley

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FEATURE: Imagery in the Social Media Age

FEATURE: 

IMAGE CREDITYsabel LeMay

 Imagery in the Social Media Age

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I encounter so many artists on my travels who feel…

IN THIS PHOTO: Annabel Jones/PHOTO CREDIT: Pip

there is nothing problematic about having few images appear on their social media pages. The reason I wanted to bring this up is that, having so many interview requests, I have to turn down artists regularly. I am getting stricter at it for good reason: so much of what I do relies on imagery. Most of my interviews, at least, are long and require, I’d say, a minimum of eight images. That would fill any gaps and allow the piece to have a much more aesthetically-pleasing element to it. The image above – desperately trying to find a credit for it but will have to add one when it comes to light – shows what a difference an image can make to a piece. One might say music is an audio industry, where sound rules.

PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Many others might say image and aesthetic are causing issues: too much flesh being bared or endless Instagram photos being shared to people – many of whom could not care less. I am happy to accept we have been flooded with photos as a generation. It is said more photos have been taken in the last few months than the rest of time combined. That might be a slight exaggeration but, since the advent of the Smartphone; everything is being snapped and shared for public consumption. There are downs and advantages of this flood in so much as people have access and view to parts of the world they might not normally have – able to connect with others in a different way, I guess. Of course, one must draw the line when it comes to what they post online. Lewd and inappropriate content will not be tolerated: those who photograph their entire day should be discouraged and chided. Given the fact one can, without expense, post countless photos of great quality, it makes me wonder: why are musicians not doing this?! I, myself, have a few self-portraits on my social media but have a reluctance to capture myself – a lack of photogenic appeal and the fact I tend to take photos of myself with no company (it can appear sad after a time).

IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Black

That said, I can go anywhere and have a photo taken via my iPad. From there, I can apply filters and share it with the world – it costs nothing and, before you know it, I can have an entire photoshoot on my pages. I feel photographer is an industry that needs support and welfare. I mention this topic because there are many who feel music photography is a dying industry. A 2015-piece,  by photographer Pat Graham, shared his experiences:

Sadly most of us in the world of art cannot afford to just share what we create without receiving anything in compensation or return for what we have created. This just means that all of us must be very creative and think of other ways to gain income through other activities. As for music photographers I think it’s very rare that one becomes a music photographer and remains the music photographer until the day they die. For more reasons than one. My work is based in music photography and that is what inspired me to want to be a photographer. I still enjoy music photography, and I do receive some income from these jobs, however it would never be enough to live on solely, and I think it would be very rare to find anyone being able to live off that on its own. Most people are of course helped out by working with related fashion brands or doing corporate jobs and that is what pays the bills.

If you look back at what people call great music photography a lot of it is based on pictures of bands before they were famous, or at very small venues when no one else knew what was happening. So to go back to the original statement I definitely think that we have not lost a whole generation of talent in music photographers. The most exciting music photography features young bands doing new things and usually the photographers taking pictures of young bands are also young and very excited by what they’re seeing. I think the last thing they’re thinking about is a paycheck at the end of the gig in somebody’s house.

PHOTO CREDIT: Pixabay

When I first started taking pictures of bands I never really thought of it as a career. I never thought about how I could make money or sustain myself by taking pictures of bands. I was obsessed with getting a great photo and being able to print that photo in a dark room the next day. My pursuit was of great music and performers who really had something to say in their actions and music. I was driven by photographing bands that gave me and the audience something to look at. Something I wanted to freeze in a moment so I could remember and also share with others

There is a clear passion among photographers and, when writing a feature about the best music photographers at the moment; I was struck by the quality and beauty of their shots. Maybe digital methods (Smartphones etc.) have made photographers less necessary – people able to produce their own pictures for nothing. There is something to be said about the traditional and established methods. One gets a better quality image and takes a band/artist to an interesting location. I find a lot of the self-produced photos lack atmosphere and compositional nuance. One does not see the same attention and depth you’d get from a professional. It makes me wonder why the good-old music photographer is seen as less relevant? Maybe there is the cost associated: artists not able to make enough money to afford photoshoots. There is an interesting article that sheds light on how costs are calculated:

IN THIS PHOTO: Polo/PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Bentley

Charge by the Shoot

This is the strategy that most band photographers use when they first start charging for their services, because it's easy and straightforward for everyone involved. There aren't any surprises or hidden fees, which keeps the client happy, and your bookkeeping work on the back end is minimal.

However, the simplicity of this pricing strategy is also it's biggest weakness, because it doesn't give you a whole lot of flexibility for situations where things don't go exactly as planned.  Like when your scheduled 3-hour shoot ends up going twice as long because the drummer shows up an hour late, the guitar player wants to change shirts 13 times, and the lead singer can't decide which is his "good side".

Or what happens when an up-and-coming band suddenly catches the attention of an indie label, gets a recording contract, and now they want you to retouch twice as many images as originally planned (plus design an album cover)?  Do you create an awkward situation by trying to negotiate a new agreement after the fact, or do you just cut your losses?

IN THIS PHOTO: Photographer Nabil Elder/PHOTO CREDITJaesung Lee

With all of that said, I do still use the "Charge by the Shoot" pricing strategy when I'm being hired to shoot a band's live show-- even though I fully understand that concerts rarely start and end on time.  The main reason is that it's tough to make much money shooting live music photography, so I really only view those types of gigs as a means to an end.

In other words, I'll usually only shoot a band's live show as a way to get to know them better, and then hopefully parlay that relationship into a promotional shoot at some point (for more detail on this strategy, check out my eBook entitled Shoot for the Stars).

So in a nutshell, the "Charge by the Shoot" pricing strategy is okay for situations where you're reasonably confident that you'll be fairly compensated for your time and effort.  But if you think there's a high likelihood of "unforeseen circumstances" cropping up, then you'll probably want to use....

Itemized

This pricing strategy offers the best protection against getting ripped off, because you can basically put a price on just about everything you do for a client.  In other words, all of the time that you would normally spend--  from preparation, to shooting, to retouching (and beyond)--  can be broken out into separate line items on your invoice, right alongside any physical (or digital) goods that you deliver to the client. Everything is spelled out in plain sight, so there should be absolutely no surprises at the end of the process.

Even better, many clients really appreciate this approach because it provides total transparency, and it helps them to budget accordingly. They'll take comfort in the reassurance that they won't get hit with a barrage of hidden charges when they least expect it.

IN THIS PHOTO: Los Angeles trio, The Vim Dicta

That is quite business-like but it shows there is an affordable option for anyone’s needs. I feel photography is an industry that is threatened by the ever-present domination the ‘Instagram Generation’.  A fascinating article by Eric Perret shows how many photos we’ll be uploading this year:

How many digital photos will be taken in 2017?  It’s predicted there will be 7.5 billion people in the world in 2017, and about 5 billion of them will have a mobile phone. Let’s say roughly 80% of those phones have a built-in camera: around 4 billion people. And let’s say they take 10 photos per day – that’s 3,650 photos per year, per person. That adds up to more than 14 trillion photos annually (14,600,000,000,000). Much more conservatively, if only one billion people have cameras or phones, and take less than 3 photos per day/1,000 pictures per year, that’s still 1 trillion photos captured every year.

How many digital photos will be taken in 2017?

InfoTrends’ most recent worldwide image capture forecast takes this conservative route, estimating consumers will take 1.1 trillion photos worldwide in 2016. This number will grow to 1.2 trillion photos in 2017. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2016 to 2017 will be 9%”.

I bring in these statistics; because there is a clear sign that shows we are becoming less physical/tangible and more disconnected. Maybe the expance and development of technology mean our curiosities and wanderlust are being indulged – we are able to encapsulate and represent more of our world than ever before. Because of this; I wonder what excuse there is for musicians being so naïve?! I am not singling people out but I see so many promising artists that put a few photos on social media – some are poor-quality whilst there might be two or three half-decent ones. Those that take the trouble to put a range of photos on their social media/official website know it is a way of attracting people to your website. Photoshoots allow artists a chance to express themselves and capture some wonderful images. I get frustrated hearing musicians say they let their sounds do all the talking: why do we need to bother with photos? I look at it the same way you’d set up a dating profile. How likely are you going to contact someone with no image – or a few poor ones that you can barely make out?!

IN THIS PHOTO: Jake Mattison/PHOTO CREDIT: Pip

Music is no different to dating: you are selling yourself, to an extent, and trying to attract people in. It doesn’t matter how good your personality/music is: if one is greeted to an imageless profile; they are not going to be that interested. There is no financial or physical reason an artist cannot have images made up. Those that have a full and thorough spread always make the mouth water – I understand they are in the minority. It seems there is not a link between our obsession with photographing everything and professional duty. I see musicians – those without good images – take plenty for their own profiles but do not show that diligence when it comes to their music pages.

IN THIS PHOTO: Stray from the Path/PHOTO CREDIT: Thomas Brooker

I will end this because I am aware it is turning into a ‘constructive rant’. It seems strange that, in an age where we are photographing the internal details and external manifestations of our day: so many musicians are ignoring a fundamental necessity of their career – promoting themselves through a visual medium. It might not be feasible for an artist to get some great photos together right from the start – they are shy of money and unsure what image they want to project. Once you are sure enough to have an idea – excuse the jumbled grammar! – then you’ll be ready to take some images. So many are providing a scarcity of anything vaguely useable! I think Metal bands, for some reason, seem to be the worst offenders. They may take a lot of shots but they, with few exceptions, tend to be blurry or inferior – maybe that scrappiness and under-cooked look suit their musical ethos and rebelliousness.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Femme/PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Bentley

If you are a young female singer or a great male band: getting a range of photos out there is paramount! All the bands/artists I have included in this feature (their images) have provided a selection of images for any potential fan/journalist. People like me, who wants to interview and review the best artists, are like moths to the lightbulb. We all want to see the face(s) behind the music – having that visual anonymity is frustrating for so many reasons! Again, like a dating profile; everyone will skip by if there are no photos. My reviews and interviews are quite deep so, to fill gaps and give it a good look; I do need to insert images. Not only does it flesh a piece out but makes it look professional and interesting – not only words and a block of text. Many musicians do not realise the effect they cause being ignorant of that desire. I am turning away more and more artists who do not ‘fit the bill’; bollocking P.R. companies who bring me acts ill-equipped and ignorant. That, in turn, means I am sour and sceptical of the new generation of musicians. There are a lot of exceptions: many hungry artists provide stunning images and plenty of choice. The same way original music and ambitious is key to success and attention – making yourself visible and photographed is equally essential. I will end it here but want to urge offending artists of the need for change. For all musicians coming through who think the music will do ‘all the talking’, believe me… it won’t.

IN THIS PHOTO: The Novellos/PHOTO CREDIT: Pip

Paul McCartney and Kate Bush are better than you and, funny enough, they have produced, between them, numerous images. Hot new acts such as Royal Blood crank out some stunning images and realise it is important; not only to give their fans a diary of what they are up to – provide journalists options and that visual allure. I am not a massive fan of Royal Blood’s music but, given the fact they are image-heavy, would interview them just to have those photos on my site. It should be a lesson to every musician but I fear so many are naïve about photos – thinking it does not make a difference. It does and, if they rely on the music to do all of the talking; they will find the remainder of their career will be…

IN THIS PHOTO: Hinds/PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Bentley

VERY quiet indeed.