What I Need
The track, What I Need, is available via:
31st August, 2018
ON this outing…
I get to look at a track that has been out there for a little and get to focus on that rarest of musical opportunities: resonance, nuance and time. To be fair, the reason I have only just arrived at the feet of RUEN is a busy diary – this has been in there since August! RUEN is the moniker of Margate-based producer Rhiannon Mair and it brings me to the topic of female producers; artists whose music strikes chords and reveals itself over time; L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and equality in the industry; those who have managed to create a solid foundation and gain respect in the industry; a little about female artists coming through who have the potential for longevity – I will end by looking at RUEN’s future and where she might head next. I am familiar with Rhiannon Mair’s work in the capacity of production and have reviewed a fellow producer, DIDI. DIDI is the professional name of Lauren Deakin Davies and the two of them have worked together in the studio. I covered a few of the same topics when reviewing DIDI but I feel it is worth revisiting on this occasion. RUEN, despite the four-letter, upper-case name, is a different artist to DIDI so there are other areas to explore. Another reason why I have held this review back for a while is to allow What I Need the chance to settle in and do its work. With reviews, you are charged with that immediate reaction and distilling a song in very few words. Artists spend time crafting music and labouring overs its sound. They will go through hours, days and weeks – sometimes longer – of fettling and retuning before they arrive upon something that, to them, sounds just so. It is a hard process getting a song from your head and making it sound perfect on the page. It seems odd that people, whether critics or the public, spend such little time with that end result.
Maybe they will keep the song in their mind but so many of us give it a quick glance and then, once we have heard it once or twice; the song is then archived in some playlist or it is forgotten about completely. In a way, music is being treated like wet wipes or tissues. There is that sense of the disposable, I mean. You see fewer and fewer people really returning to music and exploring it down the line and that is a shame. In the case of RUEN; I have been following her for a bit but it is only recently that I have given her music a good listen and explored it from different angles. I think we all need to allow music the chance to unfold and seduce without giving it a brief window for impression. If we try to capture its essence in a brief window and are reluctant to let it swim around the head then how are we going to do that artist proud? Is it fair they should spend the time on the song whilst we, for free, pass it by without much of a glance?! I don’t think so. For that reason, it has been good to give What I Need a proper shout and let it work away. I will explore the song in detail later but, before I get there, I wanted to finish on this point of nuance and time. Music is huge and growing; we are seeing more and more artists come through and I do wonder, in the future, how many of the current crop we will remember. It is a shame we are so keen to flick through tracks and get onto the next one – there are so many great sounds that are worthy of fonder investigation. I have been listening to RUEN and, after a little time, you can hear that production experience and intuition come in. A lot of artists self-produce but there is a greater awareness and skillset in the bones of Rhiannon Mair.
I need to talk about equality a bit because, whilst the music is the most important thing; look at the imbalance in the industry and it does raise questions. I have been campaigning for ages for festivals to think carefully about their booking policies and why so few women are selected as headline acts. I feel festivals like Glastonbury will go down the same path next year as they have through time. We can all rattle off a list of female artists who have made a huge impact on music and are doing so right now. They are visible and out there but, for some reason, overlooked when it comes to those headline spots. It is frustrating but I hope there are positive changes sooner rather than later! In terms of production and women in studios this, too, is an area that is of concern. I know so many female artists who self-produce and then there are producers like Mair who has worked with some exceptional talent. She has worked with Bryde, Laura Marling and Emma McGrath and is one of the hottest producers on the circuit right now. When people talk of producers, invariably, a man’s name is mentioned and we often overlook the fantastic female producers. Maybe the imbalance is due to this feeling the studio is for the boys and there is no space for women. Some studios are like that but I feel there is a lack of exposure and education. If you use people like Rhiannon Mair as examples of fantastic producers who are doing sterling work; how long before we see young women/girls getting into music production? If one simply ignores the problem then there will be no resolution. I know there is a slight shift in terms of men-women as producers but it is quite gradual. Mair is one of those producers who will be around for years and get to work with some wonderful artists. People know about her work but there should be this drive to promote gender equality and emphasise the fantastic female producers around.
I feel RUEN’s music has this advantage because of the two personas. You have this artist who has a particular sound and vibe and the producer who has worked with fantastic artists. Being able to have that knowledge of the studio and sound is a big advantage. I feel all artists should get some basic background regarding production and learn the skills needed to succeed there. It is okay working with other producers but why wouldn’t you want to give yourself the chance to producer your own material? I think having this option is invaluable and can give your music so much potential. Producers are the unsung champions and pioneers and we need to show greater respect to them. I know there is a lot of love for Mair in the music world and her skills as a producer means the music has that effortless and professional sound. Mair has gained a lot of respect as a producer but, as an artist, it seems like RUEN is turning plenty of heads. BBC Radio 6 Music has got behind her and there is a lot of positivity flying about. This is no surprise but I hope she capitalises on this. Maybe there will be another single soon but, as it stands, it seems like new songs will come next year. One thing I do bring up with artists is the matter of social media and awareness. This is another review where I have to, briefly, concentrate on two common themes: photos and updates. In terms of the former; there are some shots out there – most are used in this review – but there is so much brilliance in the music of RUEN that can be exploited and explored through photography. It is nice for artists, in general, to have some updated snaps and explore with different settings. Most of RUEN’s shots are black-and-white and, whilst this might be part of an artist vision, it does create this somewhat grey wallpaper and visuals alone can put some people off. I am not saying there needs to be a lot of colourful photography but there do need to be some fresher shots out there.
The same goes for updates. RUEN is a fantastic artist and is making strides but there have been few updates on social media in the past few months. Even if you are between singles or not touring at the moment, touching in with followers is crucial. It does not need to be a ramble or vague comment: letting them know about your plans or sharing your material (so that fresh ears are alerted) is an essential consideration. There have been few updates like this from RUEN and, as we head into 2019, there will be people looking around for artists to follow. Given the fact she is this producer and rising star; it is paramount she puts something out before the end of the year or ensures people are aware of her music/name. I do have this fear, in spite of great music, it will be hard to recruit new fans and radio stations if there is not a more regular promotional drive. Perhaps she has a team behind her doing this but, before we get to 2019, a few more updates and bits of news would be good to see. Those are my only criticisms because, regarding the music, there is not a lot to fault. I have talked about the production side of things and how impressive it is to see artists produce their own work. Whilst there is a distinct sound you get with RUEN; Mair’s work as a producer and the artists she has worked with sort of feeds into her own material. I can hear little bits of others, Laura Marling for sure, in What I Need and that is pleasing to hear. Next year is going to be a busy and exciting one and I know RUEN will have plans regarding new material and movement. Although sexuality is not often explored in music; I wanted to briefly look at the subject and why, again, it is an area we need to focus on.
Rhiannon Mair is an L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artist/producer and someone who has not felt stigmatised or excluded because of her sexuality. Although it has not been a big issue for Mair in the industry, I feel few people concentrate on L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and give them as much footing. One might say by highlighting them you are implying they are special or deserve extra footing. What I mean is that there are fewer L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and producers being given a platform. I speak to artists who feel that they are unable to express their sexuality freely through fear of judgement and ignorance. It is a shame that, in 2018, there are some quarters unwilling to embrace sexuality as this natural thing that has no barriers and is the same. Why there is this unacceptance and ignorance regarding sexuality is beyond me but, in music, I am often concerned the mainstream is not set up to accept messages around homosexuality and bisexuality. Throw in asexuality and other preferences and could that really nestle alongside the predominantly heterosexual makeup of the industry?! Whilst RUEN does not hide her sexuality and feel it is a barrier; I wonder whether the music is a muted in terms of what she wants to express. One hears so many artists talk about sex and relationships without much coyness and hesitation. It is not often I listen to the radio and hear love songs and sexual expression through the lens of an L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artist. A lot of songs have disguised tones and ‘she’ is often replaced by other words. Maybe some are not concerned with response but there are many who feel, if they were true and open in their music, that would cause some repercussion. RUEN has felt, as a producer, there is that need to prove herself but has not felt hindered and ignored because she is a woman. I do wonder whether sexuality is one of those ‘taboos’ that the music industry is not willing to discuss.
It is okay to write songs of love and sexuality without being too overt and explicit but it is rare one hears sexual variation in the mainstream. We get a lot of heterosexual perspective but, childishly, there is sniggering when we hear songs of two women in a relationship. You either get a juvenile and male reaction – they are aroused or immature – or some feel it is a salacious and attention-grabbing ploy. If a male artist was frank and passionate about a love and put that out into the world; would that get the same airplay and appreciation as a song that talked of a heterosexual relationship? Maybe I am pushing this a bit far but, with the likes of RUEN breaking barriers and showing incredible skill, there needs to be discussion. She herself has said her sexuality and gender is not much of a barrier and she works as she pleases. That is good to see but I have this inkling there is a part of her brain that is being blocked by conventional demands in music – that L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists are open but not TOO much. The respect Rhiannon Mair/RUEN has gained in the industry cannot be ignored. CLASH magazine have praised her and there is a lot of love for her music. Having worked alongside the likes of Laura Marling is no minor achievement. RUEN, in her latest song, does put a female energy into the world and talks about sexuality so I feel, to an extent; there is this lack of hesitation. Maybe we will see much more openness and a lack of judgement in music in years to come but there is a distinct determination, sense of expression and confidence one hears on What I Need. I feel she can lead other artists who, before, have felt the need to be reserved regarding songs of lust and pure passion. I know there is a huge amount of respect for RUEN’s music and what she is doing and I know 2019 will be a big and exciting year indeed.
I have not really mentioned the sound of her songs and voice. There have been comparisons made to PJ Harvey and singers like Karen O. That would be a good place to start and I feel, as I have discussed festival headliners and quality, these women have been trailblazers and icons for change. PJ Harvey, especially, is that endlessly inventive and bold artist who creates music like nobody else. I feel, actually, if you need a Glastonbury headliner then she would be someone to keep in mind. I am not sure what my exact point is but I just needed to throw that in. Actually...I feel that PJ Harvey-like sound is one unexplored in music and has a very pleasing and exciting quality. RUEN has her own voice and dynamic but you can detect that smokiness and sharpness; a raw ability to get into the heart and open up the mind. I have talked about the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. and a lack of willingness (from others) to allow expression to come through but, on her latest single, RUEN is rather unafraid to talk about hooking up with an ex and that sense of regret – or just getting something off of her chest. Mixing these themes with a voice that has so many different colours and emotions is wonderful. I hope there is a lot more material next year and I feel there are very few out there like RUEN. Make sure you get involved with her latest track and explore her social media. I guess I better get down to reviewing What I Need and its wonder. Before I do, I wanted to implore the industry in general to look at the mainstream and those at the top and the sort of sound being put out. Maybe this is a futile effort but still, in this day and age, we are bowed and obedient to a rather one-dimensional heteronormativity. Most songs are about heterosexual relationships and I feel there are so many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists waiting out there who feel reluctant to be truly honest in music. Look at the imbalance and under-appreciation of female producers and these are things that can be explored and discussed. I shall leave things there but I felt it was needed and vital to talk about some of the problems in music. Let’s turn to the positives and get to grips with RUEN’s new (newish) song, What I Need.
What pleases me most about What I Need and its opening is the sharpness and sense of clarity that emerges. A lot of songs are either too polished and its gives the vocals a rather unnatural and false quality or the vocals are mixed so far down they are unable to connect. From the very first notes, it is like RUEN is right close to the microphone and we are hearing her sing into our ears. That might sound off-putting but there is a tangible closeness and sense of physicality that comes right through. Eliciting sighs, hums and a smoky wordlessness; the heroine talks about her ex and the fact there is this powerplay. Maybe her lover is not missing her and says that everything is fine since they split. One senses that is a bit of a lie and there is that need to play games and call the shots. RUEN is wise to this call and feels like there is a coyness and sense of seduction. It seems RUEN has power in the relationship and there was equality; there was a definite lust and love when they were together but now, for some reason, denial is coming through. I am not sure what has caused this breakup and sense of push-and-pull but there is that spark still. There is little instrumentation and encroachment in the opening. It is RUEN letting her voice twist and seduce as the words come out. Just as you think you have the song figured out and know where it is heading, it explodes into life and kicks in the groin. There has always been electric guitar strumming but, as we head to the chorus, there is a slam from the drums and the guitar steps up. You get a real burst of electricity and drive and you are stood to attention. It seems there will be some begging and sense of control and you sense too distant lovers who are playing games and not willing to surrender.
RUEN talks about how things used to be when her girl used to be under her feet and there was that satisfaction. Now, for some reason, things have changed and there is a more combative tone. Maybe this is all part of the tease and gameplay. The composition is bold and rampant and the combination of strings and percussion provides that stamp and swagger. It is a big and meaty sound that is perfectly thrust forward by RUEN’s voice. There is spark, captivation and boldness on her tongue and you can feel the sweat and tease mix in this rather potent and frantic cocktail. I love how crisp and clear the production is and how there seems to be this perfect mix. The instruments do not bury the voice and the vocal is not resigned to the back. Instead, you have this equal footing and equalisation that means the song sounds more fulsome and balanced. RUEN has her regrets and doubts but she has won the right to own this. I love how there is an oblique and teasing nature where you are not told what causes this divide and why there seems to be this new game folding out. There are shades of PJ Harvey, Sheryl Crow and Karen O when we hear the heroine talk of the relationship and how things have changed. Maybe the sex and that lust took precedence over more emotional clarity but I cannot be certain. I am making guesses but it seems like there has been a quarrel and bad time and the two are drifting. Rather than moving on and denying the bond that was there before; there is a sexual flame that is still burning and different stories emerging.
It seems like the sweetheart has forgotten the heroine and is denying how good things used to be. It is impossible to ignore the strength and physical nature of the song. Whatever has happened before; RUEN is willing to surrender to the tension and, if needed, she can compromise. It might not go as far as begging but there is that definite tease coming from the girl. It is exciting picturing that playfulness and the swagger from RUEN. The big and chunky composition gives the song its sexual flair and kick and you are helpless when it comes to its charm and pull. By the end notes, you have that hunger and thirst that needs to be satisfied – coming back to the song and learning new things. It is an exceptional and confident offering from RUEN. Rhiannon Mair has been producing for years but, as an artist, RUEN is fairly new. There are no nerves and loose edges and you have this song that sound unmatched in the modern scene. I know PJ Harvey is still recording but there are not a lot of other female artists who have that same sound. I am eager to see where RUEN heads next and what direction she takes. Make sure you are aware of what RUEN is putting out and get involved with What I Need. It is a late contender for my song of the year – from new artists – and I am glad I got around to reviewing it!
Rhiannon Mair will be winding this year down by chilling a bit and producing but, in musical terms, I wonder what will come next. It is exciting to see whether she is working with any big names in the studio in 2019 and what she has in mind. I would like to see more RUEN music and, maybe, an E.P. I know it is early days for her and she has put out a couple of singles so far (Bad Behaviour is her other one). If she can get a few modern snaps on social media and keep the followers abreast of developments on a more regular basis then that will help keep that intrigue there and mean new people come through. There is so much competition out there and I feel RUEN has natural advantages and edges. Not only is there that production quality but you have a songwriter talking about something genuinely fresh and under-explored. I hope we get to see the exciting, bold and pioneering voice of RUEN explored more in 2019. Being a solo artist is hard and, with so many others out there, putting your stamp into the world can be challenge ring. RUEN has already captured some big ears – I meant prominent radio stations rather than Gary Lineker or Martin Clunes! – and that will carry on next year. What I Need is another confident and compelling work that warrants a lot of love. I am glad I got to review the song a couple of months after its release because it allows all the layers and tones to fully come out and do their work. Make sure you get involved with RUEN and follow what comes next. It is a great time for her and I am pretty excited to see how she follows What I Need. If you are need to of musical direction and a new path then I suggest a brilliant...
ROAD to RUEN.