Thursday, 11 July 2013

Feature: Outfit (BidoLito!)

OUTFIT (page 10-11)

“Welcome to our abode” says David Berger, drummer and producer for Wirral five-piece OUTFIT as he beckons me into their home studio. Hastily taped together soundproofing, old analogue synths and a deer’s head draped in headphones surround me; I get the feeling that cabin fever may have settled in during the four months spent recording here. It’s been a long road for Outfit since their debut single Two Islands landed in 2011, and as that album never arrived and the months turned into years, an increasing sense of expectation, or doubt (probably depending on how long you’d lived here), started to force its way underneath the narrative of one of the most promising bands to emerge from the city in a decade.

In 2011 the NME named them the sixth best new artists in the world, echoing national media by citing their elusiveness and mystery as a significant point of interest. Berger himself even admits that they played up to it for a while, but as the interview continues it becomes clear that over the last two years since Two Islands, they haven’t really been laying low at all. “It was never even a conscious decision to stay away. We were just very cautious”, Berger explains. “I think you can get to a stage where everyone is talking about you and it's all happening very easily. But unless they can quickly come up with a clear way to capitalise on it then it's best left alone. We’d built up a load of these great contacts with labels, but none of them were throwing millions at us. And there was even the EP last year (Another Night’s Dreams Reach Earth Again), which was all set up to be released via another label another label until that all went tits up”. Fruitless label meetings, a failed EP release and a even tentative UK tour where “no one really turned up”; all salient features of a band trying to make themselves heard among a sea of people who just might not be listening. It’s easy to assume that when someone is keeping their cards close to their chest, they’re holding a pretty strong hand. And it’s true; as they sporadically put out new best-of-year singles at the drop of a hat (Everything All The Time, Dashing In Passing), you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a band in complete control. Underneath though, there is a more simple and familiar story of a new act struggling to get a break. “I guess we thought it would be easier to make money from all this”, Berger says tiredly, echoing Mercury Prize nominees Field Music’s admission in The Guardian last year that they only make around five grand per annum.

We love to give bands a narrative though, contextualising success in a way that’s aspirational for us, yet completely unattainable. Almost every interview with Outfit has focused largely on their time spent living in The Lodge (a twenty bedroom, almost rent free manor just off Smithdown Road), throwing parties every week, hanging out with other musicians and having an unbelievable time in some sort of impossible utopia where no one has to work, pay tax, settle bills, or get an overdraft. Outfit’s tenuous relationship with the media seems to have been built largely on this, which has, perhaps more so than they’d like to admit, worked in their favour. “There has been times where we’ve worried if anyone even gave a shit anymore or if anyone even knew we still existed,” concedes Berger. I’m not so sure his fears are justified, though. I mean, this could have been a master-class in PR if Outfit were contrived enough to have done it all on purpose. With a full length record soon to be available, critics, fans and casual listeners all have a chance to nail Outfit down and figure out what they mean to them. It’s easy to be iconic when you’re enigmatic and have the luxury of keeping everyone at arms length, so it certainly will be interesting to see how the band develop within the margins of a singular body of work.

Their debut album Performance comes out in August via Double Denim Records, where their ability to of shift from woozy jams to straight up funk-fusion in the space of just a song is palpable as ever, resulting in a record that is wildly erratic, yet continually entrancing. Even when the album does shift in feel, the changes still feel organic, exemplified by one of the strongest tracks Elephant Days, which begins as a fidgety, awkward shuffle and slowly evolves into a sprawling build and release knockout. If there were a thread going through the album it would be interrelated by an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. Vocals negotiate their way across gaping intervals, dissonant harmonies and demonic chord progressions like in the uneasy Spraypaint. On the steady chant of House On Fire, an almost arpeggiated melody attempts to wriggle free from stabbing synths, revealing the bands ability to make abrasion as musical as possible without sacrificing any tension. These songs are bolder without being unnecessarily complicated, and the nuances and the energy of early singles, which were impressive but still sonically limited, are present but just concentrated in much tighter places. “The singles sound more straightforward because they were recorded in a very straightforward way”, explains Berger. “To me, I don’t feel like the song writing for the album has changed, but the way we’ve recorded it certainly has”. With their home studio, Outfit have had the chance to spend time with these songs, experiment with their constraints and really challenge them. There is even a new, beefed up version of Two Islands, where a more distant synth arrangement makes the cry of ‘I don’t know anyone else in here’ sound less like a statement of defiance and more like a profound, very moving cry for help.

“There’s an element of disillusionment in everything we’ve done. Life doesn’t turn out the way you plan it most of the time, and recently life has got a lot harder for most people”, Berger laments, in a statement that sounds much less general than perhaps he had hoped. It’s been a long, arduous wait for Outfit, and the release of the album has clearly served some sort of cathartic purpose for them.

However, you do get the feeling that even if they can’t force away the darkness completely, they can at least find some solace in the shadows. Performance is a brilliant record, more complete and more substantial than anyone could have expected, and certainly one of the best to come out of Liverpool in the last five years. They haven’t said nearly all they have to say, though. And despite the years since their arrival, this very much feels like their beginning.


Live Review: Matthew E. White (BidoLito!)


Leaf Tea Shop

1st July 2013 (page 20)

I love Matthew E White. If you’re looking for any objectivity or impartiality then I’m afraid you won’t find it here. Since its UK release in January this year, White’s debut Big Inner has founds it way to the top of my own, and the Bido office’s CD Pile with no sign of falling.

One of the finest qualities of Big Inner, and what makes it an instant Americana Masterpiece are those moments of restraint. These delicate, diminutive songs sprout little wings and float away, gently nudging towards those moments of bliss that they quietly assure you they are capable of. It is one of the most intimate and most captivating listens of the year so far, reaching deserved levels of acclaim both sides of the Atlantic. What’s strange then, is that tonight’s best moments come when White and the band are their most unhinged. Opener Will You Love Me is leveled by a clatter of drums, whilst One Of These Days sees White step two paces back from the mic and yell ‘You give me joy like a fountain deep inside of my soul’ with the most stunning upper register. For those who have spent the last six months captivated by White’s hushed whisper, this is comparable to watching Enya do pig squeals. It really is very moving though, like watching your favorite, stone-faced movie protagonists break down in an unexpected display of human emotion; bewildering, unimaginable, yet reassuringly human. Big Love is turned into a sprawling, psych-rock epic, with gliassando’d piano, power-stance inducing guitar solos and mountains of drum fills culminating in a ludicrous display of rock and roll indulgence. It’s impossible not to get lost in it, though, and witnessing these songs performed with such urgency and such flair is enough to make you reassess everything you thought you knew about the album. Melancholy is for idiots, and there is no sign of it tonight.

Following a cover of Randy Newman’s Sail Away, White warmly introduces his increasingly cramped looking five-piece band. This plethora of gifted musicians are all, as he describes animatedly, a product of a ten-year-old musical community in his home state of Virginia, the results of which culminating in his debut album. And throughout the evening, as the bass player closes his eyes, as the drummers share a smile, as the keyboard player quietly sings all the lyrics, its clear that whilst it may be Whites name on the front, this is far from a solo album. These are their songs, built upon a decade of love and appreciation for each other and for the music they are creating. This is what makes tonight’s performance so special. There is a telepathy running deep beneath each symbol crash, every pull back and sudden crescendo. It feels as if we are watching them jam in their living room, but we’re not intruding, we have been invited and welcomed like old friends.

Live Review: Gottwood Festival (BidoLito!)


Anglesey, North Wales

20th – 23rd June, 2013 (page 26-27)

Larger festivals, despite their mammoth budgets and capacities of a small country, have disassociated themselves with youth culture to the extent where half the acts are older than your Dad and half the crowd have brought their kids with them. Now it’s easy these days to bash the likes of Glastonbury, and you might argue that there isn’t an issue when it continues to sell out months in advanced. But there is a problem here, in that thousands of young people want to go and get fucked up in a field and listen to their favourite electronic music without having to take out a mortgage for it. I know that sounds crude, but festivals that brand themselves as ‘smaller’ like Festival No. 6, Green Man, End Of The Road, usually justify their size at the expense of being a ‘family festival’, whilst Electronic Music festivals like Creamfields and Waveform are either too full of dickheads who are going to kick your head in once they’ve eaten a plate of two pound pills or are just, well, too shit. Gottwood, with its two and half thousand capacity, on the ball lineup and an astonishingly cheap £95 four-day ticket fills a cavernous gap in the festival season, allowing a bunch of broke idiots like me to have a nice little holiday.

Gottwood’s best attribute, and what they rightly lean on when it comes to branding is their festival site. Situated in the aforementioned hills of Anglesey North Wales, it certainly isn’t the easiest place to get to, but what meets you upon arrival is certainly worth the journey. The campsite is basic, with a burger van, toilets and a large ‘chill-out’ tent providing solace for anyone who’s managed to stop gurning for five minutes. At the edge sits a rare opening in thick woodland, doubling as the entrance to the festival arena. Densely populated trees and a hastily hacked away bush land give the impression that we’re going down the rabbit hole, where vintage clothes stalls, gazebos, drinks huts and a giant swing awkwardly frame a footpath leading you towards the stages. Venture through this area after the sun goes down though, and you really start to understand how special this festival is, as fairy lights and multi-coloured beacons sit stunningly among the top of the trees, reminding us that despite the debauchery on show there is still some beauty left in these woods. Somewhere.
Thursday night acts as a warm-up, with a thinly spread lineup slowly easing us into proceedings. Manchester’s TCTS, from Bondax’s JustUs label, provides an early highlight, with the piano house grooves of 1997 and an excellent remix of Snakehips’ On & On keeping things upbeat for those early revelers. Hessle Audio co-founder BEN UFO and Belfast’s EJECA have been operating at the pinnacle of UK electronic music this year and together spearhead Friday’s offerings, with the former seamlessly blending house, techno and garage, as well as Dem 2’s Destiny (!!) to provide the most focused set so far. Ejeca’s jersey-style deep house falls on grateful melody starved ears, with his own The Way I Feel and Different Rules providing that sort of fist-pumping euphoria that makes you want to dropkick everyone around you. Tunes inevitably overlap as the weekend progresses, with Saturday heavyweights WAZE & ODDYSEY’s Bump n Grind getting a run-out from MARIBOU STATE, which alongside their recent remix of Fatboy Slim’s Praise You provides one of the most joyous, tuneless sing-alongs this side of Rolf Harris. The feet are still moving deep into Sunday, where BICEP generates that sort of weird, analogue-leaning house that made their Stash EP a 2013 highlight. Musically, the weekend keeps up with electronic music’s relentless momentum, ensuring that any of the crowd who has managed to salvage at least a few brain cells will be leaving with a basket of new favourite tunes. With one of the strongest and most consistent lineups of the summer though, its as you would expect.

The hills, the lake, the seclusion, those fucking fairy lights; all create the impression that we are in some sort of twilight zone completely separated from the rest of the world. This isn’t real life, these aren’t real people, and I know it probably sounds like I was high as fuck but I bet if you asked the organisers, an escape from reality was exactly they had in mind. Post Gottwood blues is a phrase synonymous with the two weeks that follow, as daily lives resume and we all strain to remember a time where we were back in some weird little woodland, dancing on hay-bails and screaming R Kelly songs.

Mike Townsend