Monday, 26 January 2009

Fever Ray Interview

Karin Dreijer is no stranger to success. As one sibling half of The Knife, the thirty-three year old Swede has released three internationally acclaimed albums, won a string of Grammis (the Swedish equivalent of the Grammys), and been awarded Pitchfork’s album of the year for 2006’s ‘Silent Shout’. While previous work sans brother Olof has included recording with both Royksopp and dEUS, Karin will release her debut solo album this year, under the new moniker Fever Ray. She caught up with Gigwise recently to talk about going solo, professional priorities and making a stand…

Karin Dreijer’s vocals are anything but apologetic. They are razor sharp, emanating from an underworld, burning through slick electronica as crystal salt on frozen ground; beguiling like the invented mystique of her musical persona. Her music videos show her masked, painted, impersonated: essentially faceless. “I think it’s very important to separate the person behind the work from the music,” she explains. “I’m sure that Fever Ray contains a lot of personal elements, it’s a part of me, but every person has different roles in their own life. You’ll be a different way in your professional life to the way you’ll be with your family, and again with your husband or partner. I feel like Fever Ray is one of my different roles in life.”

Although thirty-three and a mother of two, there is an unexpected unsteady element to her conversation. It might be simply a matter of language barriers and unfamiliarity, yet Karin is softly spoken, humble, and slightly shy as she talks intelligently about her work. The Dreijer siblings have frequently avoided media attention in the past. They didn’t perform anything live until five years after debut album ‘The Knife’ had gone triple platinum, and once famously sent friends in gorilla costumes to collect their Grammi Awards as a protest at the white, male dominated music industry of their home country.

“I don’t think we try to be anonymous, but it’s important to make priorities between doing promo or working in the studio.” Karin says of her musical preoccupations, which come as cold water to the face of a British music industry sold all too frequently on the skin-deep. “We weren’t into doing performances for the first six years or so because we concentrated on working in the studio, which we were good at. The shows we did in 2006 were very much a project for us, working out how we could do a live show. Since then we are a bit more open about it, when we talk about future Knife things we also think of it as a performance act.”

For now though, Karin’s making waves on her own in the wake of a Knife hiatus. “When The Knife finished touring in 2006 we had been working together for seven years, and I think both of us needed some time off and to do something else. I started working on my own and it turned out as Fever Ray a bit later. I love sitting by the computer and programming, and I’ve been using a lot of analogue equipment.” Kristoffel Bari and Van Rivers helped produce in the final stages, and a live band has been put together for the touring that will ensue this spring.

Fever Ray is indelibly marked with inherited sonic elements from The Knife, but there is darker matter at hand here, too. Of her influences, Karin explains: “I was very into the Jim Jarmusch film ‘Dead Man’ during last summer especially, which expressed a more primitive and primal element I wanted to capture. Also I’ve been listening to a lot of Tomahawk, an Indian inspired album called ‘Anonymous’. I feel like that album especially is very free and inspiring. Fever Ray is still very electronic, but maybe a little more organic than previously.”

The video for first single ‘If I Had A Heart’ runs as a short film across mist-covered rivers and into wooden houses hung with antlers, where Karin lurks, painted as a skeleton. It is a haunting backdrop to the sinister throb and dark, writhing vocal of the track itself, although not all of the video’s early audiences were affected by its horror-like supernaturalism: “My eldest daughter didn’t think it was scary! She said, ‘Mum, you look just like someone from KISS!’ She’ll soon be six.”

It is hard to identify the proud parent that Karin suddenly becomes with the fragile preconstructed image of her as the elusive, in-demand heroine of Swedish electronica. But if she eludes the restrictions of labels she does so in an industry that is becoming increasingly receptive to the individual. Karin is optimistic about the future of music, saying, “Now that big, powerful record labels are beginning to disappear, something good will come out of it. Especially with the internet, artists can reach out to a new audience without going through older, more conservative ways of releasing records.”

And of her own future? “I know that during 2009 I will be doing this with Fever Ray, some touring, and finishing the music for an opera that The Knife is working on. I love making music most of the time, but I don’t know about the future. I don’t plan that much ahead.” If her album receives anywhere near the recognition it deserves, Karin might find she has a busy few years ahead of her.

‘Fever Ray’ is out now on digital download via Rabid Records, and is set for physical release in March.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

We Have Band Interview

Times are hard in the music business. With the high street stripped of music stores, distributors holding CDs to ransom, and majors issuing pay-offs and lay-offs faster than you can flip a vinyl, the only thing you won’t find a shortage of is the sob stories of the suddenly jobless. But while most of the recently redundant are spending their time crying into the shrunken Guardian Media section, three names new to the EMI alumni are taking matters into their own hands…

Thomas and Dede WP are no ordinary husband and wife, as bandmate Darren Bancroft will testify. “They’re the most unique and special couple I’ve ever met. Sometimes we’ll have been together for five days and I’ll get home alone for the first time in ages, and then Dede will text me going ‘I’ve got some lyrics for a song,’ or something, just when I think I’ve got nothing left, I realise there’s always more.”

Together, the self-dubbed ‘disco-rock trio’ make We Have Band, the name that has been hovering on the lips of taste-makers and the electro-savvy for the last few months, ever since 50 Bones released 300 limited edition vinyl copies of their debut single ‘Oh!’ in November. Their sound is as equally DIY as their origins – they mix mucky, dark bass lines reminiscent of the raw post-punk of ESG with the brighter feral funk of Can and the more modernist, electro-pop hues of New Pony Club or Hot Chip. A sound which, let’s be honest, there’s quite a lot of around at the moment in various electro-pop-band guises.

“I’m not going to claim we’re doing something totally different,” Darren says of ‘the scene’. “I think that’s unnecessary. We don’t really care much about all of that stuff. People are always attaching themselves to any given scene, but I think it’s just what people have decided to focus upon at any given time, you know?”

For the moment, it’s what these three ex-EMI colleagues have decided to focus on, at least. We Have Band was conceived at the leaving do for another EMI associate, just as all three members took their redundancy from the label. “Sometimes when you’ve got nothing to lose, it’s like, let’s just do this,” Darren explains of the decision. “Tom and Dede already had the name of the band and everything, and we all knew we wanted to do something. The first time we got together we just all sat down, had some dinner so we were all really relaxed, and then we wrote a song, and that’s why it’s so easy for us – we just all really get on.”

There’s a definite magnetism between them off and on stage that has seen them attract attention from all the right angles. “All the people that have discovered us and started working with us tend to be the bravest magazines and radio stations. Even our manager hasn’t done loads of stuff before but he just really liked the band and went for it,” Darren says.

As far as record deals are concerned, they’re keeping their cards close to their chest and staying unsigned. “There genuinely isn’t the space to think about these things,” Darren says of the paperwork. “All our energies are in writing lyrics and recording. I think everyone is super scared at the moment, understandably so. Big labels will sniff at anything, and then the smaller labels sometimes take a bit longer. But we’re still recording the album, and the single we put out, it wasn’t rushed, but it was one of the first things we ever did, so also we don’t want to do everything so quickly. We just want to give things time to breathe I guess.”

It seems We Have Band are a three-way electro love affair that everyone wants a piece of, so taking that time out to hone their sound could be essential. “I’ve no idea what I’d do if it went wrong!” Darren exclaims of the future. For now, there’s a lot of buzz about We Have Band, emanating from inside the intimate adrenaline-fuelled threesome, and surrounding their dirty, tight electro-punk. They have band, and now they have a lot to prove. We have high hopes.

Kill 'Em All @ Fabric 23/1/09 featuring We Have Band + Yuksek + Brodinski

Kill ‘Em All is the club-night cum pet-project of DJs-turned-band Filthy Dukes. Olly and Tim of the ’Dukes have been attracting some of the biggest names in electro to their resident Fabric nights for five years now, including Erol Alkan, Simian Mobile Disco, Justice and Chemical Brothers. Tonight, they showcase buzz-trio We Have Band’s Can inspired take on DIY electro-pop, followed by a heavy slice of some of the dirtiest bass available, courtesy of the beautiful Yuksek, and fellow Frenchman Brodinski – a line up easy on the eye if nothing else.

There’s no dallying with subtlety where We Have Band are concerned, especially crowd-density is considered in Fabric’s Room Two tonight. Considering one of them had never been on a stage five months ago and they’re all pretty new to the whole band thing, We Have Band aren’t doing half bad. The three-piece was conceived when all three members took redundancy from EMI, trading major-label anonymity for a speedy ascendancy in the ranks of a busy British electro scene. Now the trio are taking a bite at the music industry from a different angle and this time they’re leaving teeth marks.

Their sound is borne of a savvy, slick musicality that manipulates digital instrumentation as krautrock acts like Can did with the band sound in the seventies. They squeeze keys and electro beats all over fat, repetitious bass lines, overlaid with a triple vocal that sets them apart from their solo vocal contemporaries. Thomas and Dede WP, the married couple in the band, seem to rely heavily on the on-stage persona of the magnetic, buzz-cut sporting Darren, who grins his way through the whole set. If smiles were karma, Darren’s enthusiasm would help to offset Dede and Thomas’s stony, stylised vacancy, but as it is the pair of them seem slightly caught in the headlights of a rowdy audience who have abandoned all shyness at the door, and just want to dance.

Dede is pretty but cold-faced, centre stage, robotically hitting a tambourine and supplying vocals that verge on a cat-like yawp, especially in the band’s first single, ‘Oh!’. She comes off better in the slightly less obvious ‘Can You Hear It In The Cans’. Their set doesn’t overwhelm, but for a breaking act they certainly seem to be pushing all the right buttons and making all the right friends. They close with a cover of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘West End Girls’, in a tongue in cheek eighties-revivalist twist that sets the floor pulsing.
The rest of the evening is left to veteran DJs Yuksek and Brodinski. Both impossibly handsome Frenchmen, their order of ceremonies for the evening splits the crowd fairly swiftly. Yuksek mashes up heavy bass with French electro-house, standing centre stage to execute the vocals from tracks from his 2008 EP ‘Tonight’ amongst other electro favourites.

Meanwhile in the main room Brodinski reveals minimalist preoccupations from his caged booth at the back. He does away with the instant gratification of his bass-heavy electro contemporaries in favour of a good hour of hypnotic and addictive techno, before breaking into mixes of everything from LCD Soundsystem to Metronomy. Between them, it becomes quickly apparent that the UK has some catching up to do where dance music is concerned. But if in the meantime we get to learn a few tricks from two of France’s finest, there are sure to be no complaints.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

News: The Brit Awards Launch At Camden Roundhouse

Coldplay and Duffy take four nominations each

The BRIT Awards were launched in an hour long ceremony at the Roundhouse in Camden last night, hosted by Fern Cotton.

The launch, which was later shown on ITV1, featured performances by Gabriella Cilmi and Scouting For Girls, both of whom have received nominations, for Best International Female and Best Live Act respectively.

Florence And The Machine, who has beaten White Lies and Little Boots to the Critics Choice Award, flung roses into the audience just before performing ‘The Dog Days Are Over’.

In the other categories, Coldplay and Duffy head a surge in British talent, receiving four nominations each. Radiohead receive one nomination for Best British Album for ‘In Rainbows’, which will see them go head to head with Mercury Award Winners Elbow.

Meanwhile, Kings Of Leon are up for Best International Album and Best International Group, and Pet Shot Boys have been chosen to receive the Outstanding Contribution To Music award.

The BRIT Awards will be hosted by Kylie Minogue, James Corden and Matthew Horne on 18th February, and feature performances by U2, Kings Of Leon, Duffy and Girls Aloud.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Live Review: Twisted Licks presents Deathray Trebuchay and Acoustic Ladyland @ Borderline 17/1/09

Twisted Licks has been in the business of innovative and eclectic line ups for a while now, championing everyone from The Brute Chorus to A. Human. Tonight though, promoter-in-chief Tamsin McClarty has outdone herself – matching the joyous rambunctious brilliance of festival staples, Deathray Trebuchay, with the avant-garde jazz-punk invention of Acoustic Ladyland. Borderline is beyond sold out and the crowd contains everything from bespectacled middle-aged jazz aficionados to infectiously excitable teenagers in day-glo – a reflection of the universal appeal of the bill.

Deathray Trebuchay are the warm up and within seconds Borderline’s basement walls are thick with condensation from their contagious energy. Latecomers descending the stairs break into grins, witnessing the band bouncing around each other on the stage in tank tops and sunglasses, wielding brass instruments. Their sound has developed from Balkan-eqsue gypsy punk reminiscent of Gogol Bordello into a more polished jazz-tinted and ska-tinged melting pot of influences. There is still the emphasis on solid musical structure and the odd whoop and shout thrown in which makes their set infinitely catchy – those in front of the stage are dancing with sincere abandon. But as noisy and haphazard as it sounds, it is clear that Deathray have mastered their craft in the course of recording their album and can afford relentless energy throughout that has band members on the brink of collapse at the end of each song.

Deathray are surely the ultimate warm up to Acoustic Ladyland – critically acclaimed and musically gifted as they are, Ladyland sometimes risk alienating your average gig-goer with artistic brilliance that verges on arcane. Tonight, however, Deathray are like the chart-hungry gateway to their enigmatic elders, and the audience couldn’t be better prepared for the aural assault that awaits. Ladyland appear newly assembled with guitarist Chris Sharkey putting in a mindblowing debut live performance, doing justice to the Hendrix-association of their name. Pete Wareham cuts a towering figure as their endearingly humble frontman, and couldn’t look more the part in a leather pork-pie hat as he squeals and honks and seduces with luxuriously shifting textures on tenor sax. Sebastian Rochford, the drummer renowned for his time with Babyshambles and the Mercury-nominated Polar Bear, and to the lesser-musically-concerned for his enormous wonky afro, looks totally unperturbed as he smashes and rattles his way through what we are told is mostly new material.

Their sound is enervated to the point of chaotic, much like Melt Banana or, and they are capable of shifting gears and executing such furious pace that there are points where, for their calm exteriors, the music seems implosive, were it not for bassist Ruth Goller sonically underpinning everything with unshakeable precision.

Acoustic Ladyland are a marvel – there is the sincere sensation of having witnessed a kind of underappreciated genius after one of their gigs. They have an album, ‘Living With The Tiger’, due for release in the coming months, but from tonight’s performance their restless jazz-punk is bared as something that it is surely uniquely possible to appreciate live. On record, they are perhaps destined to stay the critics’ darlings and elude the mass. Yet in the flesh, there can be no disputing that Acoustic Ladyland are universally enchanting.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Electrocrap: In Defence Of Indie

Does anyone else out there think that Lady Gaga’s video bears a striking resemblance to the Use A Condom Adverts gracing our TVs at the moment? You know, the everyone’s-having-fun-now-but-in-the-morning-she’ll be-pregnant-with-deformed-quintuplets-and-he’ll-have-stage-three-syphillis ones. (Incidentally, just how creepy would it be if every time you got a girl’s knickers off the voice of responsibility issued forth a whispered “gonorrhoea” from her fallulah?)

Anyway, she must be doing something right. The writhing, bewigged mannequin that is Gaga has stormed to number one this last week in what a load of people are saying is the start of the female electro-twat invasion. Sorry, I mean electro-pop.

All the major record labels have got a girl in their clutches for this latest fad. Fiery-haired soul-singing Florence and The (money-making) Machine is in the clutches of Gaga’s own Island, while Polydor goes redhead to redhead with La Roux, and Warner will be hoping Little Boots has a fighting chance as most people’s more credible outsider.

The majors aren’t signing bands anymore, because apparently guitar bands are dead. (Perhaps this explains why the market is awash with reissues and boxsets from yesteryear, all promising ‘never-heard-before’ material in pretty packaging for a pretty package of your hard-earned cash, too?)

The truth is, the majors are wrong, and have been about most things for some time now, which is why they’re in so much trouble. In fact ‘indie’ music (read: guitar bands signed to independent labels) is alive and well – and there’s plenty of ribcage rattling evidence to the contrary in some of 2009’s biggest and best indie hopefuls. Here’s who to look out for:

Prog-pop pschedelia was reinvented for the kids by Brooklyn’s finest, MGMT, last year. There are going to be plenty of people riding this colourful wave in their wake in the next twelve months. The (major-signed) Amazing Baby will be filling more than a few column inches, but there’s better to be had with Cambridge’s (the other Cambridge’s) Passion Pit (right), who concoct dreamy electronica of marginally psycheledic influence, that still feels somehow born of MGMT. And if that isn’t psychedelic enough for you, Perth’s Tame Impala will knock you out with their lysergic guitar riffs and intoxicating vocals. This attractive three-piece have got an album in the pipeline this year, which, if last year’s EP is anything to go off, will be just about as good as it gets.

The other big thing last year was wonky toytronica in the vein of Metronomy and Late Of The Pier – if you liked it, refer yourselves immediately to We Have Band and the slightly less sonically nonchalant Cats In Paris. Ragged indie rock is still about and sounding pretty spectacular in the form of Tigers That Talked and gig-circuit veterans Bombay Bicycle Club – you might think the latter have been going at it for an indie-epoque, but it’s only know that we’re finally sniffing an album release (smells good).

If you like your indie thick with nu-age modernism, School Of Seven Bells (left) make silken, looped psych-pop with laptops and twins. No, really. Meanwhile, Dinosaur Pile Up is the best grunge-revivalist act to hit the airwaves since the real thing, and Ten Kens are a must-listen, much blogged four-piece of staggering inventiveness and guile whose music grins from the darkest corners of American alt-rock.

And, though they don’t fit anywhere, if you liked the whole Marling nu-folk thing last year, for goodness sake listen to some of her contemporaries to hear some of the most humble, sincere and organic sounding stuff out there – this scene really is the antidote to Gaga and her gaggle. Mumford & Sons especially are ones to watch as they work towards an album release in 2009.

Apologies for the way in which the last few paragraphs are organised like I just vomited band names onto a page – but this is absolutely a reflection of the prolific, diverse and downright fantastic stuff about (most of it indie). Gaga and the viral popularity of outspoken, synthetic and stylised marionettes might dominate airwaves and column inches thanks to the gawp-and-swallow lowest-common-denominator consumer. But don’t let any brainwashed major marketing man convince you that indie is dead – one listen to any of the above will convince very much to the contrary.

Friday, 2 January 2009

The Factory Box Set released 19/1/09

The Manchester music scene has long been the stuff of legend. It survives on the life stories of its two greatest egos if nothing else – Tony Wilson, the industry svengali whose reckless intelligence was responsible for transforming a moment in mancunian musical culture into the cult of Madchester; and Ian Curtis, ill-starred Joy Division frontman and the antihero of the hour. At the epicentre of the legend was a haphazard industry based on the musical whimsies of Wilson and his Factory confederates.

Factory was never grounded in a solid business ethos, and this, in many respects, was its undoing – even Wilson had to resort to charity to pay for his cancer treatment towards the end of his life. Yet this ill-advised label formula, directed almost exclusively by profitless passion for indefinable genius, was the magic of Factory. As a truly spirited independent it gave a voice to the dark pneumatics of Joy Division and the unhurried, inflated rattle-shake of the Happy Mondays, all of which rotated around the centrifugal cultural cyclone of the Hacienda nightclub.

2008 marked Factory’s 30th birthday – an anniversary commemorated by the release of ‘A Factory Box Set’ this month (January 2009). The box set comprises of four CDs of chronologically ordered Factory history from the fuzzed opening bassline of Joy Division’s ‘Digital’ right through to Happy Monday’s ‘Sunshine and Love’, the last ever Factory release. Many of Factory’s highlights feature here – from the apogee of New Order ingenuity in ‘Blue Monday’, to Joy Division favourites ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Transmission’, and Happy Monday’s ’24 Hour Party People’, the song that later gave its name to a highly fictionalised film about Factory’s heyday.

While the box set isn’t definitive, there’s enough here to thoroughly educate those with an interest in the label whilst satiating fanatics with meandering detours through the lesser known back-catalogue – including one-off appearances from James, The Railway Children and Miaow, to name but a few. Notable Factory exceptions include ESG, the post-punk/house Bronx sisters who played the opening night at the Hacienda, but who couldn’t be featured due to licensing problems.

Wilson’s favourite Factory track, Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’, is also omitted. But then, maybe that’s because Factory was about more than the self-stylised career of Wilson, a career that was increasingly dominated by an obsession with techno in the latter, ‘madchester’, era of the label. It’s indisputable that when Tony Wilson died in August 2007, a lot of the Factory spirit died with him – just as Ian Curtis’s death was the loss of Factory’s boy-wonder, in a tragedy that pre-empted the lurching inspirations of the entire Factory venture.

There’s still plenty to be gained commercially from stoking the embers of the burned out Factory phenomenon if 2007’s monochromatic ‘Control’ is anything to go by. In its crudest form, the Factory box-set does little more than just that. And yet, as the music industry limps forth into 2009 trailing the wreckage of countless bought-out and gone-bust independent dreams, now may be a more important time than ever to remind people of the wondrous woolly mammoth that was Factory – a financially shot musical empire built on the fucked-up musical fanaticisms of Manchester’s party people.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Top Tip for 2009: Mumford & Sons

Mandolins, banjos, waistcoats, male part-harmony, the ability to induce impromptu jigging from twenty paces – Mumford & Sons are ticking all the right new folk boxes. They’ve already released two EPs in the last 12 months and have scheduled an album full of aural treats for 2009. If Laura Marling’s too morbid and Noah and The Whale are too twee, Mumford & Sons are likely to be what you’re looking for. And if you really want to be blown away, catch them live. There’s something that can only be described as hearty about their music – from Marcus’s muscular growl to guitarist Winston’s gyrating to bluegrass. And as 2009 kicks off with loads of hotly tipped female electro-twats on most peoples ones-to-watch lists, this is just what the industry needs: a heart.