Originally Published on Plastik Magazine
Chatting to Gareth, lead singer of Los Campesinos! before their superb return to gigging at Clwb Ifor Bach in December, it’s clear they are a band excited by, yet at ease with, their continuing development. Five albums in, you’d be forgiven for expecting a group with their committed cult following and several lineup changes in their history (founding member Ellen left before No Blues) to experiment or change direction. However, Gareth is perhaps surprisingly unself-conscious in his enthusiasm for their work-
“We’re content. Every time someone leaves the band a lot of people think ‘that’s it then,’ or for some reason it’s ‘less’ Los Campesinos! than before, but from our side of things everyone who’s been involved in the band has been because they’re a friend and each incarnation has just solidified our belief Los Campesinos is something worth doing.”
Though he begins the opening song ‘As Lucerne/The Low’ theatrically facing away from the audience, the fervor that spurts forth when the euphoric opening line “There is no blues that could sound quite as heartfelt as mine” is sung shows there’s no doubt the excitable pride Gareth has of the band,
“I’m very blasé about the band sometimes because it’s something we’re just grateful to be doing but when we got the new vinyl and put it next all our records, it was like “f**k, I’ve actually made these! It’s almost like a legacy. It’s nice to think they outlive us really,” he says.
The audience share his wide-eyed ardour – the mix of older Pavement fans and 16 year old girls tumblr-ing their appreciation for Gareth’s tales of adolescent woe at Clwb shows not just universal appeal, but the band’s remarkable ability to draw love for their idiosyncrasies.
One example of which is Gareth’s extended proclivity for condensed, google-at-the-ready football reference on No Blues.
“I think it’s a natural thing to purvey pop music. All pop music is about death and love, glory and despair and they are all rooted in football so it’s a natural tool to voice some of that.”
Whether you’re a Football Manager fan musing on the meaning of ‘Portrait of a Trequartista as a Young Man’ or as Gareth says “a 15 year old American who’ll hear ‘we connected like a Yeboah volley’ and think ‘what’s that?’”, there’s no doubt left of the intense romantic reasoning behind the lyrics. Not many bands could garner a mass terrace-esque chorus of “ex boyfriend give us a song, ex boyfriend, boyfriend give us a song” as a ballad-ending chant with such aplomb.
Gareth mirrors part of the reason their fans have such generous personal investment in the band – the belief their rich, excitable pop sensibility means something. Equally, it’s perhaps why it may be a slightly confounding idea that we’re now far enough down the timeline that agreeing that their fantastic new LP is a ‘mature’ work can no longer be pointing out a blossoming or emergent quality. For those of us whose teenage experience coiled itself so tightly around the impetuous, contradictory indulgence of identifying with a band from “not the scene you’re thinking of” whilst dancing to songs as unabashedly catchy as those on Hold On Now Youngster, that their enthusiasm may be filtered by adult life rather than vice versa could baffle.
In the broadest terms, the co-ordinates of No Blues are familiar; shamelessly catchy choruses, the obsessions with romance and death, all wrapped in lead singer Gareth’s verbose and evocative lyrical humor. While all present and correct, ignoring the extent to which the band have traversed the bleak, post-relationship laments of Hello Sadness and shot it through with a focused and potent melodic melancholy is to ignore why the new album feels so definitive.
“Hello Sadness was written when I was pretty unwell and in a bad headspace so it made sense it was written the way it was…In hindsight it was a bit serious, but it had to be as that’s where I was at. I think the subject matter in No Blues is as downbeat, even more so, but the way it’s delivered and talked about is in a much more conversational, entertaining manner. Hello Sadness was very literal whereasNo Blues has a lot more metaphor and winks and nods.”
He’s always transcribed his romanticism with densely packed allusiveness, but on songs such as ‘Avocado, Baby,’ the taut focus and immediately indelible melodies allow the words to have an aggregate quality. In many ways the chorus describing friends with “blood on their hands from/shards of a heartbreak” could be melodramatic but, infectiously sung, it’s an exuberant embrace of misery. Asking whether this singular focus on the record could be put down to a more serious approach to recording from losing members of the original band, Gareth disagrees –
“We did approach it differently this time, but more due to timescale than changing lineups. We knew we wouldn’t be gigging soon this year, so rather than recording it in February as we could’ve done, we did it in June. I think we approach it more seriously than we have done in the past, but I think that’s just natural because at first you’re making an album and then you make another and another and it’s like ‘this is what we do now’, so you take more pride in it.”
As much as anything, Gareth puts an emphasis on guitarist Tom’s songwriting abilities as a catalyst to their continued development.
“When we formed the band, it sounds weird, but he didn’t really play guitar. He just had this ability to write the guitar parts. He just hears different things to what I can hear – he can listen to a song and break it down into its composite parts whereas, I just hear songs. He’s more and more capable of dealing with electronics and samples and sequencing so that’s something which will continue to influence our work…underneath the songs, when you listen to what’s at the base of them, there’s some amazing grooves and beats.”
Chatting about their varied influences from electronic sounds to post-rock, it should be pleasing for any fan to hear the band’s ambitions remain resolutely grounded in making music that they love, rather than left-field experiments. Gareth laughs when remembering early gigs – “We were way more post-rock at the very start. Our first 7 or 8 gigs had two instrumental songs…there was one in the middle called Chord Vs Dischord, with Aleks reciting Russian poetry from a book over the top – like the most ludicrously, cringily pretentious thing and we moved on from that – it just wasn’t as fun as playing stuff with words in”
“It is a cliché in itself being exactly the same, but I feel like we’ve evolved enough that it’s not just us impersonating ourselves. It’d be contrived if we did just an electronic album.”
We should be glad of it. No Blues is probably their best album because it has Los Campesinos-ness strewn purposefully across it. The black emotional residue of Hello Sadness is given a richness by a more playful, outward looking framework. If second record We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was an act of post-adolescent catharsis, then this is a release in both senses borne of, yes, maturity – that makes the band seem sound fitted to their purpose more than ever.
As Gareth said, “If I ever wanted to do a solo album, I’d think who I’d want to write for me and that would be Tom, and that’d just be a Los Campesinos album really. I’d think, let’s just do another one of them. I’m happy to just do that.”
An Interview with Mr Scruff, originally published in Sŵn Festival 2013’s Magazine. Read the original here http://issuu.com/swnfest/docs/swn_festival_2013_screen__1_/1
It may perhaps be a point fit for a wide-eyed, patronising head-nod, but one can’t stress it enough anyway; that seeing Andy Carthy, aka Macclesfield’s finest export Mr Scruff (sorry Nick Robinson) live, is utterly vital to understanding what has made his flavoured mix of funk and sprightly soul so arrestingly unique and popular for the best part of 15 years. Yes, It’s a musical critique with such startling obviousness, it’s deserving of a Nic Cage “You don’t say?” meme, but really, it is a testament to the finely tuned, sweetly blended timbre of his records that one can forget much of his career has been spent playing live and on the road. Combine his whimsical humour, potato-people populated cartoon artwork and a back catalogue of music that veers from the free-groovin’ springy saxophone-inflections on Trouser Jazz to the soulful electro-pop of Ninja Tuna, and his charms are immediate and make sense on their own– dance music that doesn’t feel mediated or compromised on record.
But of course, such perceptions ignore that his musically literate compositions are borne of years making a name for himself in the clubs of Manchester and across Europe in the 1990’s before his self-titled first release, in 1997. Carthy is yet again on a stretch on his Keep It Unreal tour, which surely rivals Dylan’s ‘Never ending Tour’ for dedication. It’s a tour that seeks to recreate the atmosphere and open-doors music policy in his club night of the same name, started in 1999. He opened it in response to be forced to comply with restrictive other club nights, taking it around the country to be able to “play more than the standard 2 hour guest slot”
Interviewing him, it’s obvious his well-earned live stripes are worn proudly. Previous gigs in Wales are remembered fondly - “I first played at Clwb Ifor Bach about 15 years ago…There is always a good crowd in Cardiff … a mixed and down to earth crowd at every gig”.
Hearing about his career and a much anticipated studio album toward the end of this year, his pragmatism about each gig and venue belies not only his experience, but implicit enthusiasm for the live experience. “I look for a venue with decent sound, a good layout and a good, varied booking policy. We do put a lot of effort into making the venue look, sound and feel right, so having a venue with a similar approach to us, or who are eager to get involved & make the gig work, really helps.”
Considering he often brings along a tent with which to sell his own brand tea, it’s pleasing to know there’s an abundance of venues who share his offbeat ways. Caffeinated concerns are far from his locational pre-occupation though – as suggested he freely admits to being a very technical DJ, keen to find venues with the varied tonal nooks and crannies that make the set more subtle yet give them a physical, immediacy that technological kicks can sometimes curb. Despite his specific venue specs, the tunes he includes on given evenings is somewhat less regimented. “I’ve played all different types of festivals before, city festivals in Ghent, Bruges, and Bristol. My set depends on the surroundings and mood on the night though, so I come prepared with all kinds of music and freestyle it on the night”.
It’s obvious though that his love of the live experience has fed back into his recorded work; he tells me he’s excited the new album will be focused on “a lot more live/synth instrumentation and less sampling” and keen to test the sounds he said “the record won’t be out before Sŵn, but I can’t wait to get there and road test some of the tunes”. For those more attuned to the wonderfully euphoric and sensual signing of collaborators such as Alice Russell and Andreya Triana, the album is also set to feature much more live vocals than previously, so there will be something for all in there.
Similarly, although there may be more newcomers to his flavoured funk at Sŵn than usual, he’s keen to stress he won’t be assuming there’ll be anyone impervious to his set- “I’m always careful not to judge people …I’ve been surprised in the past by what people can deal with musically. Once, in Liverpool, I was playing a Sun Ra record early in the night, and 3 ladies who were very dressed up came heading towards me. I thought that they were coming to complain about the crazy jazz, when in fact they were the first people on the dancefloor!”
Image: Press Shot
Photo by Luke Taylor
"…you don’t want to spoil the hermetic buzz with other sounds or chatting after Fuck Buttons. Stunning."
Photo by Catherine Farmer
Listening to his two records, Obaro Ejimiwe’s Ghostpoet moniker could scarcely be more apposite. They’re a mixture of fractured electronic beats and intelligent yet disquieting production; they both conceal and reveal a subtle spoken word vocal style that explicates anxiety with an off-beat, part-rhymed subtlety. The spectral suggestiveness of the name fits beautifully on stunning new LP Some Say I So I Say Light, an album whose words flicker with love and loss but are always liminal – a part of the world of his songs which invites multiple listens. The songs less defy definition than ignore it completely.
It’s an approach which has seen him labelled as everything from Electronic Indie, dubstep to Hip-Hop, the latter something he’s rejected out of hand. When I speak to him, it is clear the record’s ambiguity is indicative of an approach central to how he makes music.
“I never try to be deliberately abstract. I think it’s a subconscious thing but I’ve just never wanted to be creatively direct in the sense that you spoonfeed an audience music that is listened to in a simple way.”
On Some Say I So I Say Light’s lead single ‘Meltdown’, the amalgam of disparate ‘genres’ is agonizingly affective. It’s driving, percussive beat lays underneath and opposite Ejimiwe’s languid vocals which part weary, part wise, speak of “Egg shell hearts just cracked/Crying on the train”. Underwritten by sparse pianos and set against beautiful female vocal refrains, there can’t be a more understatedly beautiful yet mesmerizing single this year, and one you can hardly call Rap.
However, for those looking to brandish labels, you can’t deny that the most immediately conspicuous element of both his records is his vocal style. Publicly admired by Mike Skinner, he’s been compared most closely with Roots Manuva and could perhaps be clunkily filed to both but when I ask where it comes from, it’s something he justifiably sidesteps. “I can’t think of anything I thought ‘I want to sound just like him’. It just started out from wanting to vocalise individual tracks and allow my voice and lyrics to form around them. I don’t really write standard melodies, I’m very specific in that way. I sit down with a song and I’ll tailor the words and vocals specifically.”
His insistence that his voice is subservient to sound may be something surprising to fans who’ve found his songs littered with strangely formed, and arresting observations on his “bus-stop reality”. But Ejimiwe is right – his are words which don’t scream for attention; lines like “And volume maximum/ I’m feeling like Maximus/you know in that film? Film4 Tuesdays” don’t disengage; instead they’re shared nods, textural details that add to the feeling of the words being encased in the song.
The total way approaches his music is something that he equates with how he emotionally engages with music himself. “I think my approach is trying to be honest and aiming for an emotional honesty to the song. I think honesty is important in music – not simply telling people what you think in lyrics but the whole song feeling honest. All the music I love feels that way.”It’s why later on he says he enjoys reading his reviews, even if they do call him a rapper. “I think I’m just a nerd! I just like to be aware of what people think. Some of them make me laugh but in a good way – I like that it stirs discussion. At least people are listening and are able to bring their opinion to my music – I wouldn’t want it to be simple that it was the same for everyone and you can file it away in a cupboard after two listens.”
“I try and make music which isn’t easy to label because I don’t think people connect with music because it’s a certain genre or label.”
Live, those ‘genres’ meld and change even more. “any live event is great because you can take different elements – a part of the song or instrument and use them to reassemble the song. I like that feeling of putting them back together.” If he’s able to dissect and rebuild live half as well as he puts music together to begin with, his show will be unmissable.
This was originally published in Swn Festival 2013’s Magazine, which I was Editor of. Read the original here http://issuu.com/swnfest/docs/swn_festival_2013_screen__1_/1
Images: Kmeron, https://www.flickr.com/photos/frf_kmeron/ & Press Shots
So, it’s finally here! WOW kicks the doors of our cinematic minds open from tonight, as it celebrates, commemorates and considers the Chilean landscape, political and literal, in the light of 40 years since Allende’s government was overthrown by General Pinochet. A trio of beautiful Chilean works will be showing tonight (15th March) at Cardiff’s chapter arts centre, and with demand meaning the films have migrated from the planned 59 seater to Chapter’s full auditorium, there is a sense of buzz around the vital, insightful and delightful movies.
In addition, audiences in Aberystwyth (21st March) and Mold (3rd, 4th April) will get to glimpse the 3rd of Pablo Larrain’s set of films about Pinochet era Chile, in No. It has been variously been described as the “Chilean Made Men” as well as “bloodpumping, arthouse yet ambivalent”. If those multiple descriptions lead you no closer to understanding its thought-provoking drama-cum-marketing satire, then our review up in the next few days will.
We are particularly excited to see Nostalgia for the Light's tale of Astrology, Philosophy, Politics and Tragedy at 6pm tonight. It's a meditation on the Atacama desert's dual tales - one of its position in the late 1970's as a key place for Astrological studies, yet conversely, as the site of bodies of political prisoners buried in the sand as a result of the Chacabuco concentration camps.
The former offers metaphysical comfort to those who have lost loved ones, the almost Malickian images of the sky and desert offering an irreducible beauty and vastness that subsume the deeply felt personal tragedy which is painfully clear. Nonetheless, Astrology is not a metaphorical sleight of hand by director Patricio Guzman - the pain of those who are interviewed, still searching for family members bodies is stark - there is little comfort in searching the immense grandeur of the desert for them.
The evening is being accompanied by Chilean food, drink and music, all presented by Chilean 40 Years On Network and EL Sueno Existe festival. See you there!
My review of National Theatre Wales first production on their 3rd season on Buzz Magazine’s website
I saw Take This Waltz a week ago, which has gathered seemingly ubiquitous critical acclaim for it’s honest depiction of romance and love but which utterly bemused me. You can read my review of it on lightscameracardiff.wordpress.com/
Turksib opened WOW last Sunday in an enthralling and captivating performance of the 1929 Russian documentary on the clash of man, nature and machine in the building of the Siberia - Turkestan railway. The performance was given a frenetic beauty by Bronnnt Industries Kapital's stunning live score, composed especially for the film. So we thought it right and proper to find out from the band themselves the influences and inspirations behind BIK's interpretation of the film. Lloyd Griffiths talked to Guy Bartell of the duo on the Chapter performance, the thematic ambivalence of man, nature and machine in the film and tried to work out what hypnagogic means.
What’s your background that led you into such a specific form of performance?
Film soundtrack music has always exerted the biggest influence on BIK, so it was no surprise that I’d venture into actual soundtrack composition and performance.
Were there any specific filmic inspirations that you consciously brought to the soundtrack?
I have a particular soft spot for 70s and 80s European exploitation film soundtracks, which have (perhaps thankfully?) not been a big influence on this particular soundtrack.
Did you come to composing the score with specific ideas of how you wanted to shape the film?
I definitely wanted to exploit the contrasting elements of the film, especially the perceived conflict between man and nature, and the ambiguity as well; the film is a paean to man’s mastery over nature, but at the same time the technology becomes increasingly animated as the film progresses and the division between nature and the machines of man begin to blur; enormous cranes appear to yawn and roar like captive animals. Many of the sounds you hear which are used to convey industry and the machines were produced by normal musical instruments, wrestled into dissonance by being played in unconventional ways.
How does Turksib compare with your other soundtrack projects?
I previously composed a soundtrack for the 1922 film Haxan, a Swedish silent study of superstition and the history of witchcraft. That score had a far more hypnagogic quality to it; the film mixes a quasi-historical narrative with vivid dramatisations of the Sabbat, and the soundtrack attempts to match this with a ritualistic, spectral ambience. Turksib is both cinematically and musically more grounded in the corporeal world.
Does the international nature of the film effect the performance or composing of the score?
The film focusses intently on the effect of the Soviet technological ‘advance guard’ on the native peoples of Turkestan (a historical region comprised of present-day Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan). A notable scene shows a nomad elder remarking at the “Devil’s Chariot” that the Turksib surveyors are riding (an automobile). With this in mind, the music attempts to suggest a collision of cultures; the placid solo instruments and folk drones of Central Asia entangled in the wheels of Turksib’s machine, sent spinning through a prism of rotating drum rhythms.
What were the things that struck you from the film as important to highlight and represent in the score?
The director Victor Turin was astonishingly good at montage editing, especially considering the technology available to him in 1929. The scenes are choreographed and spliced together with a remarkable sense of of rhythm and pace, and the film seems to posess a natural tempo that I actively tried to harness and utilize as much as possible with the score.
How is playing the score live for you compared with a typical concert?
It’s more daunting from a performance point of view as you can’t exactly stop the film! We swap instruments a lot during the show so there isn’t much scope for messing around. But by the same gesture it’s also comforting having less control and being dragged along on Turksib’s journey.
How did you enjoy the first showing at Chapter - do you think the performances will vary depending on the audience/cinema?
The Chapter show was amazing - we actually heard there were a couple of people from Kazakhstan at the screening who thoroughly enjoyed it. We’re really looking forward to the forthcoming performances.
Last Friday, I saw Wild Beasts for the second time in three days. Somehow, in spite of my rigorous stalking, the band remained a captivating listen both times, bringing an beautiful intensity to the Coal Exchange. Above is my full review on the Buzz magazine blog.
Craig Finn, leader of the bar-room bombast of The Hold Steady has released his first solo album this week, Clear Heart Full Eyes. Read my review on the Stool Pigeon website, after the click.
Forthcoming film Resistance is set in the Olchon Valley in 1944- during a reimagined WW2 in which D-Day fails and the women of a small village wake up to find their husbands gone. It’s a fantastic production starring Michael Sheen, Tom Wlaschicha, Iwan Rheon and based on Owen Sheers award winning novel. I interviewed Owen, Iwan and Tom to get their thoughts on the adaptation, collaboration and the transcendent power of the film.