Ever since I saw East India Youth, or William Doyle as his Mum calls him, support Wild Beasts in Bristol’s 02 Academy earlier this year, the inclination to interview him was fortified very sturdily in my head. Having seen the hype about his album Total Strife Forever in gushing reviews on respected fountains of musical knowledge such as Drowned in Sound & The Quietus, I’d listened to some of his work, notably the cathartic house influenced euphoria of ‘Heaven, Too Long’ without ever fully throwing myself into experiencing the album. More fool me, because witnessing it live committed the breadth and ambition of TSF to my mind and I’ve been utterly hooked ever since. In just a 30 minute set, the density of musical ideas was almost baffling. It is really rare to have so many moments of musical revelation, of exhiliration at such well thought out creative brilliance unfolding – on what is ostensibly a debut. Despite being packed with a variety of genres, emotional tones and working at several paces, there are thematic arcs which emerge.
Amongst the droney, almost industrial electronic sounds, neo-classicist motifs build the album into more than the sum of its parts, locating the human amongst the digital noise. It’s what makes the standout moments so transcendent – when Doyle sings “find new love, dripping down your soul” in the harmonic chorus of ‘Dripping Down’, it is so vital as the albums moments of lyrical and musical clarity are beautifully momentary – set against extended, almost overwhelming musical motifs. Aiming to work out what brought about such a brilliant record, I asked Will for his thoughts on the records influences, his approach to playing it live and what’s next.
Q: Just for anyone who doesn’t know, could you say about the circumstances that led to you making Total Strife Forever and how it fed into the feel of the album? My life was at a crossroads. I’d decided it was the end of my previous band that I’d spent 3 years being involved with and I had a massive backlog of more electronic inclined stuff that I felt more emotionally invested in. Everything was in a huge state of flux around me at this time, both positively and negatively, and the music I was making was a definite reaction to this. Bringing what I had on my hard drive together, stuff I’d been recording for 2 years, and realising that I nearly had a whole album already was a huge revelation and brought with it a great sense of achievement. TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER, to me, feels like it explores both the anguish of the time it was made in but also the feeling of freedom and empowerment of having made it.
Q: For people going to Green Man who’ve maybe not heard the whole album, can you explain the influences and sound behind the more ‘neo-classical/electro’ stuff that forms much of it? It’s quite a stylistically scatty album. It doesn’t sit in one place for too long. I suppose because it took about 3 years to make that it ended up being that way. There are more instrumental tracks than there are vocals which might be a jarring mix for some people. The album moves through minimalist and neo-classical, to techno, krautrock, synth-pop.
Q: Even though there’s a lot of ideas and genres on TSF, they do seem to tie together somehow – Aside from the Total Strife Forever songs, was there any overall theme or idea that emerged as you were making the album? I don’t really know if there was. There’s a certain atmosphere in my mind when I look back on the album, but I think that’s all been retrospectively formed. I guess there’s certain emotions that come through on the whole thing, a feeling of isolation, but also euphoria crops up quite a bit too. It wasn’t my intention to make a concept album or anything, but there was a certain degree of work put into the sequencing of the tracks to make sure there was some thread to hang onto in light of all the erratic shifts going on over the course of it.
Q: I was really pleased when I saw you reference Age of Adz as one of your favourite albums – is there something similar in the full-on almost overwhelming nature of the music and emotion on that record that you wanted to invest in TSF in your own way? Absolutely. It was a huge influence on the album. It’s one of the most intensely emotional albums I’ve heard in recent years. I loved the almost ridiculous grandiosity of the arrangements. I definitely wanted that to be something that came across in the sound of my album. The way I always thought about it was that sometimes your emotions are these imperceptibly massive things to you, but really, in the grand scheme of everything and everyone around you, you and and your emotions are so small. That dichotomy is something I feel like is explored on Age of Adz, and a few other albums like it. This little voice versus this huge feeling.
Q: What did you mean when you said you had to work against your instinct whilst making the album – was that to get yourself in the right songwriting headspace to get down ideas? I’d just been so used to being ‘a songwriter’ for a few years leading up to this that I’d started to develop conventions that I would rest upon and that I would use to take lazy routes out of creative problems. One of the main examples of working against my instinct was the removal of vocals or the need to sing over every shred of music made. That simple subtraction created entirely more emotional results both in the lack of singing but also the carefully selected moments where it was necessary.
Q: Was it similar when you started to perform it live – did it seem like a natural thing to perform it for you? Christ, no. I had to rethink everything I knew about performing. It’s been a really interesting challenge developing the live show and my approach to performing this. I think I’ve worked out how to play TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER live now. It’s going to be time to move on and redesign the entire thing again next year. I’m happy with the almost austere look of everything on stage at the moment, but I’m starting to feel shackled by my table I play on. Standing behind it was a defence mechanism when I started EIY, but I’m longing to be free of it now that my confidence has grown.
Q: Has playing more headline sets and festival sets to bigger crowds allowed you to develop the show as you wanted – in terms of sound and visuals?
You learn what makes people tick I suppose. But actually it’s been the support slots that have allowed me to really know how it works. Playing to someone else’s audience is always harder and if you manage to make a connection with someone who has never heard or seen you before then it is those moments that you should analyse. What draws the stranger or the neutral person in? What turns them away
Q:It was interesting when you said you may just turn your keyboard off and wander over to see Mercury Rev at Green Man, because TSF and Deserter Songs are two albums I’d love to see performed in full. I was listening to Deserter Songs Instrumental versions and it actually made me think instrumental and especially electronic albums often work better when bands play albums in full, which I guess is closer to what you do live. Is showing the album as a whole important when you play live and were there any moments seeing people play live that influenced how you chose to?
If you see your album as a whole body of work in itself and not just a collection of songs that make up a whole, then I think it’s important that you preserve that the best you can. I play my album in a different order live because I’m aware that the dynamics of a live show are wildly different to listening at home with your headphones on. Having said that, I’ve seen very few, if any ‘play your album through’ shows that I’ve been impressed with. The Flaming Lips playing ‘The Soft Bulletin’ was something I was really looking forward to, but it was a massive disappointment. They should have played it start to finish without much talking in between. Wayne Coyne jabbering on in between each song is not how I listen to that album and it ruined the flow of something that I think is near perfect. So in a weird way, I suppose that show influenced me in a strange way. I try to shut the fuck up and get on with it. There’s plenty of time to talk and reflect afterwards but while the show is going on, I want to create an atmosphere and space that I will try to keep unbroken for the duration. It’s a shame I’m going to miss Mercury Rev as they’re playing at the same time as me. I’d be really interested to see how they handle that one. It’s a beautiful album.
Q: How is new stuff coming together – has it been harder to get in a singular mindset as I imagine you might’ve been when making TSF? I’ve had less accumulative time to make the next album but weirdly I’m nearly finished with it. I think after I’d finished the mastering of TSF and it was a sealed deal, a finished packaged, then the flood gates opened and I was straight into sifting through my massive bank of ideas that I’d been making since I finished the initial tracking and mixing of TSF. I won’t say too much about what I’m working on now but I’m very excited for it. If it all goes to plan it’s going to provide another great year for me.
Q: It’s a generic question I know, but been as there’s a particularly strong lineup at Green Man this year, is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing (Mercury Rev sadness aside)? I Break Horses. I really love their last album that came out this year and I don’t think it got the due attention it deserved. Would love to see how they play it live. Caribou. I only saw Caribou for the first time this year, after years of being a fan. It was absolutely mind blowing so there’s no way I’m going to miss that. I might try to watch The War on Drugs if I’m not needed backstage before my set. ‘Under The Pressure’ is one of my favourite songs of the year so it’d be nice to see that in the setting of Green Man. That’s all off the top of my head but I’m really excited for the whole experience generally. It’s one of only two festivals I’m camping at this year (Beacons was the other. 10/10 for that one) so I’m going to make sure I see as much as possible.
For those in the audience more intimately acquainted with Wild Beasts’ unique synthesis of infectiously lyrical guitar tunes and the raw, enclosed intensity so mesmerically developed on last LP Smother, one could understand mild bemusement at the sight at Bristol’s O2 Academy of impressively orchestrated lasers, beaming across the audience seven songs into their set. Held back to the shuddering electronic breakdown of ‘Daughters’, they gleam and criss-cross the crowd with a deliberative precision fans are perhaps more accustomed to hearing on record rather than in outward stagecraft.
Maybe they’re there to help fixate the crowd after a double-false start, after they come on to rapturous applause - only for the band’s newly prominent synth-heavy setup to stutter on their first song. “Maybe we should just stick to guitars,” Hayden Thorpe jokes, but the music thereafter is anything but coy about its electronic leanings, which works with a confidence matching the glimmering histrionics.
Whilst on their last tour, the extended smouldering of ‘Burning’ and its moaning, flickering keys were the lengthened preface as the band entered the stage, this time there’s no need to settle amongst the aural scenery. ‘Mecca’ is an apposite introduction, the glacial beauty of Thorpe’s falsetto soon re-emerging amidst electronic flourishes that pulse and oscillate to dynamic drumming with bold colour.
Settling into their new material superbly, the pleasing aspect of their set is that in spite of electronic instrumentation coloured by producers who’ve worked with such stadium-rock luminaries such as Arcade Fire and The Killers, new album Present Tense is anything but an overreach. ‘Sweet Spot’s synths grab attention as they puncture the verse mid-song, but the drama they lend is as usual given depth by the dualised vocal twists of Thorpe and Tom Fleming. Nonetheless, there is a directness and assurance to this and many other tracks’ construction, with ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ in particular standing out - it’s simplistic synth-pop a permeable 2 minute frame the singers give graceful vocal contours around.
At moments, some album tracks are stripped of their context, ‘Pregnant Pause’ feeling too stripped down and its plaintive strengths struggle to hold up live and when not following the harsh, elementary ‘Daughters’. This can hardly be said for many though, as most tracks are greeted and treated with aplomb, ‘Wanderlust’ careering into the start of the four-song encore with poise and impudence.
Whilst most seem to engage positively with the enjoyably direct tone syncopated classics such as ‘Hooting & Howling’ and ‘Fun Powder Plot’ are given in the presence of their new material, personally there were some songs which didn’t feel of the piece. Put it down to nostalgia if you like, but either way, it’s a credit to Wild Beasts insistent, subtle honing and recrafting of their sound that each of their albums feel so compellingly singular. Equally, it’s a testament to the quality of Present Tense that this gig feels like a brighteningly new show in every sense.
Whilst the content has developed steadily since their brash early sound, their lyrics now are full of the emotional drama that lay at the edge of their carnal tales previously. Lines such as, “Between the hurt and the tender song/Between the flash and the thunder’s drum/There is a godly state, where the real and the dream may consummate,” may have been previously sideswiped by non-converts as affected but taut and direct, they strike beautifully, with no need for melodrama.
All of which tells you why their continued distilling of their sound, with added electronic help, feels such a daring step forward; and puts into context their lasered theatrics – a bold framing of Present Tense live, a setting out of their stall Thorpe confidently spoke of whilst referring to usual British Indie diffidence- “No, f**k it, stand up. Be prepared to be judged.” On this evidence, they have no need to worry.
Returning to Cardiff for the second time in as many months after a support slot at The Globe with Temples and a raft of NME-induced hype surrounding their hazy and shoegazey take on modern Indie, it would be perhaps forgiven of the audience to anticipate a rawness as Childhood took the stage at Clwb Ifor Bach. The youthful immediacy that previous singles such as Blue Velvet have oozed on record, aligned with the fact they look like The Strokes had swapped instruments and invested in a more summery wardrobe could lead one to surmise the brightness of their early output is a mere adjunct of their fresh-faced age – but to do so would ignore a polished yet sinewy set of intriguing maturity.
They follow a predictably engaging set from Rhodri Brooks – a captivating live presence around Cardiff who you can also see at Gwyl Pili Pala Fest in Swansea the weekend of 16/17 May. Performing now alongside a live band, the subtleties of his lo-fi take on Americana to come to the fore with a fullness of sound that matches the defiant and at times, enjoyably melancholic drawl of his bassy vocals. With a stack of albums already self-recorded, it’s once again a circumscribed treat to enjoy an artist moving at his own languid pace.
Childhood stride on stage looking relentlessly cool, helped no doubt by lead singer Ben Romans Hopcraft’s balmy murmurs which are hypnotically reminiscent of Jim Reid of The Jesus & Mary Chain – especially on ‘Blue Velvet’ where the dark, rich tones of his voice in the verse quickly shimmer when melodically set against the uptempo jangle at the centre of the song.
Not that they ever seem like an impudent presence – in spite of plentifully-scribed hoopla around their previous singles – many of which seemed destined to be crudely pared into some Spotify festival advertising slice – they aren’t a band who look like they think simply being in a band is cool, rather given the authentic gratitude on show to their influences, they look they want to be – in the best sense, in a cool band.
There’s a pleasing similarity in their melodic sensibility to Tame Impala for example – their best songs share with them overarching opaque yet beautiful tones, built not on throwaway hooks but dreamy songs stretched into fascinating shapes by the expressive bass-led rhythms, set against woozy guitars that on occasion give way to anthemic lilts. Live brings out more of Romans Hopcraft’s subtleties and their sometimes too slightly too eager over-production of his vocals on record dissipates here, giving a purposeful clarity that suits more and more as they begin to thrash up the intensity towards the end of their set, notably on a pleasingly ripped up version of Solemn Skies and others which hint at the scuzzy-summery vibes of Surfer Blood.
It’s no mean feat to display a sound that feels so expansive yet buoyant live, especially in Clwb Ifor Bach’s dingy surrounds and it’s the way they have already balanced such nuances that makes their next moves so intriguing. They may have a plethora of hype-worthy and marketable attributes fitting the media framework around them, understandable given their superficial similarity to all kinds of artists, from Stone Roses to Palma Violets – but their texturous vibrancy feels like their debut LP scheduled for this summer, will be not one of stationary sentimentality, but closer to something more interestingly and indefinably vital.
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 Bluesare 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.”
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!”
Sometimes, you have to take yourself apart from the wonder to truly understand it. Lloyd Griffiths looks back at Green Man to recall the electro brilliance amongst a stellar folk and Indie line up.
Blame it on all manner of excess if you will - drink, late nights or vigorous dancing. But for me, the field-to-field quality of the line up at Green Man has made me take my time over this review. Pragmatically, it’s been simply difficult to recall individual moments aside from the hermetic whole, which says much about not only the superbly put together lineup at Glanusk Park but also to take in the new, slightly more mystical feel of the place this year, which suited the late-night electronic line up superbly.
There’s always been a weird-out after dark side to Green Man, with throbbing late night bass pulsing from the Far Out, the highest part of the site and across the fields where pleasant hippy vibes abound in the clear of day; and of course it’s always welcomed innovative oddity such as Super Furry Animals and The Flaming Lips. This year though, there was something more visceral and intense from the off, helped plenty by the new symbology adorning each stage and area of the festival with pagan intrigue. Such feelings are solidified when a band as arresting as Fist of the First Man are very first on the Far Out stage on Friday.
Photo by Luke Taylor
Fresh off the back of their Welsh Music Prize nomination, they manage to make their scuzzy three piece post-rock riffs cinematic and even ethereal, with visuals equal parts kaleidoscopic and creepy complementing the bombast. Their cerebral artistry never gets in the way of an intense set of songs though, and in fact there’s something about their approach which makes the songs all the more wrought with tension, a feat not to be sniffed at 1pm.
Later in the evening, a sizable crowd were at the Main, Mountain stage for Matthew Houck’s Phosphorescent. Sadly, whether because of sound or performance, it was a set that didn’t show off the warm subtleties of latest LP Muchacho. While on record slight electro tones gives a space for his well crafted songs to breathe, live, it felt a little strangely flustered, although some of his major key melodies did shine through. A few hours later Midlake shook off the recent loss of their lead singer Tim Smith to flutter beautifully between delicate acoustic pastoralism and the rock of more classic sounds such as Head Home and what’s surely their masterpiece, Roscoe. At first listen they may sound like any one of the flurry of Fleetwood-influenced soft-rockers, but there’s an enclosed feel to much of their work which feels both reflective and at points even besieged, but is ultimately compelling.
There’s no doubt that the defining set of the weekend came last one at Far Out, with the return of dance-drone two-piece Fuck Buttons. How does one dance to it? The dark, drone textures call for eyes to be closed to let them permeate your head. Yet their electro-euphoria throws everyone into a repetitive frenzy, as somehow-an-Olympics-song Surf Solar is dropped early, foregrounding an fervour that doesn’t relent. New album Slow Focus is perfectly pitched but there’s little more to say other than it’s time for bed straight after - you don’t want to spoil the hermetic buzz with other sounds or chatting after Fuck Buttons. Stunning.
"…you don’t want to spoil the hermetic buzz with other sounds or chatting after Fuck Buttons. Stunning."
Across the rest of the weekend, there’s plenty more electronic wonder to get into, notably Saturday at the expanded Chai-Wallahs tent which hosts Mr Scruff collaborator Andreya Triana early evening, her electro-soul perfectly pitched which looped vocals and a rhythmic sound, capturing the imagination just as the evening’s headliners begin to draw nearer. Later, I manage to catch a few songs from the side of the cinema tent, of LCD Soundsystem’s Shut Up and Play the Hits. Being relatively full though, one feels almost rude to enjoy only parts of the seminal concert/documentary, so after the beautiful All My Friends, I exit to leave the more dedicated watchers take it in.
Photo by Catherine Farmer
Public Service Broadcasting pull a huge crowd at the Walled Garden stage, managing to maintain funny crowd interaction whilst remaining quiet, their use of samples saying their computerised hellos for them. They’ve been accused of being too conceptual by some, but live that idea is dissipated - mixing public information film samples with Neu style rock and electro, to thrilling, often euphoric and even creepily uncanny effect. There may be an element of nostalgia to their approach on record but seeing them live is really what is required to understand them, with visuals contextualising the samples and allowing the music to gain it’s own momentum.
It was straight from there to the weekend’s final band, British Sea Power, similarly giving vision to a lost Britain at points in their career. It’s a fine segue from one band, with BSP brilliant as an encore in the small, imagined lost-britain-art section of the day. Their vision feels perfectly appropriate for Green Man, combining exhilaration and a kind of imagined nostalgia at once. Songs such as Carrion invoke a subsumed wonder at nature, but far from being an arch conceit, they are as usual a rhapsodic, rocking, taut live outfit (even if Swans baulk at said song’s super-encore length!) and are greeted like old friends, it being their 3rd time in Glanusk park.
It’s all the more ecstatic this year, as the whole tone of the festival seemed to feel all the more edgy and weird. Even if it’s a subjective assertion, it’s nonetheless realisation of a truth that’s always been bubbling at the fringes of the Green Man line up and it’s a damn fine sight to see even more people embracing it this year.
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.
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!
The Go Global issue of Quench I edited earlier this year - includes articles on Kony2012, Cardiff Subculture, International Food, Script Slam, Erasmus as well as festival previews and arts, film and music reviews.
The Cyborg issue of Quench, which I edited earlier this year. Including - Future Fashion, losing our face on Facebook, the future of food, Tacita Dean’s FILM exhibition at the Tate, techno-travel to Japan, Autotune and Motion-capture films.
The Speed issue of Quench which I edited earlier this year - focusing on the Speed of modern life, with features on Pop up shops and creative neighbourhoods, the ‘Slow Living’ movement, Twitter controversy, Street Food, flashpacking and film remakes.
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.