Monday, 27 January 2014

Feature: MiNNETONKA (Liverpool Echo)

When Emma Leatherbarrow chose to name her project MiNNETONKA, it was probably to try and prevent people like me from writing pieces like this. I mean, after two hours of research, you could ask me almost anything on the suburban Minnesotan City by the same name, or even about the Minnetonka Moccasin shoe made popular in post-war America. I couldn’t put two sentences together about the profile of this Manchester singer, however.

Or maybe she just hasn’t got around to it yet. Either way, the three songs on her soundcloud speak loudly enough on their own. Desert Days is a dreamy number, reflecting that kind of serene tiredness you get after spending all day in the sun. Bird of Prey is similar in conception but different in results, using some interesting synth and percussion as the atmosphere alternates between warm and unnerving. 

These songs are disconcertingly interior as if you are eavesdropping on something quite private, thanks largely due to an inherent lack of any harmonic motion. The layering is precise and more significantly; patient, as the parts are given the time and space to fill your mind naturally like water finding its way across an undulating surface.

MiNNETONKA’s appeal is in her stark, scintillating contrasts. That jarring synth in the middle of Bird of Prey, those rolling hi-hats towards the end of To Be Just Where You Are; evidence of an artist not comfortable being played in the background.    

Having already contributed vocals to the excellent By The Sea LP last year, MiNNETONKA is currently working with Bill Ryder Jones as she prepares an official release over the coming months.  


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Feature: Låpsley (BidoLito!)

Låplsey’s hushed whisper on her recordings is often mistaken for shyness or timidity, and it might even be a fair assumption, given the kind of hood up, heads-down stage manner of so many of her predecessors. But there are moments in this brief interview that Låpsley, or Holly Lapsley Fletcher, becomes quite animated: “I’m actually a very open person. I just want to be myself, so I’m not going to pretend to be shy just because it sounds appropriate for the kind of music I’m playing” she says, sounding suspicious. Holly might have to start getting used to this kind of probing, though, as she attempts to balance on the colossal wave of acclaim swelling behind her right now. Nearly a month ago, her newest song - the soft and unassuming Station - quietly appeared online. And whilst it would be unfair to discredit her previous works entirely, this very much feels like a debut single for the 17 year old singer: “I’ve been producing for like four months”, she explains, “but I’ve written writing songs for about three years, doing gigs with just a guitar and piano. After some time working with local producers Drohne, I got a feel for it and wanted to see what I could do with that kind of aesthetic on my own”. Songs like Crosses (which you can still hear on her Soundcloud) do indeed sound unfinished, but they still serve as significant signposts for the artist we see today. “I still write all my songs on a guitar or piano, and then chopped the parts up and take certain verses or certain sections of them. So the final productions are just electronic versions of these if you know what I mean. Station began as an acoustic song called Walk You Back to The Station, and then I took a few parts from that and cut it down and it became the final version we can hear now”.

Låpsley’s transformation from acoustic crooner to electronic beatmaker is a telling reflection on what it means to be a singer-songwriter in 2014. At the turn of the century, as dubstep started to wobble from a Croydon record store and Jamie Cullum made his four-hundredth appearance on Jools Holland, singer-songwriters were still chained to their pianos or their acoustic guitars, constructing songs based purely around natural and organic sounds. Similarly, DJs and producers were still confined, at least in mainstream media terms, to wastemen with some form of synthetic drug addiction or socially awkward computer geeks flicking between World of Warcraft and Protools. At some point though, between Kanye discovering auto-tune and James Blake discovering ceiling protectors, it started to become ok for singers and songwriters to fuck around with their voices. We are at a stage now where producers and solo artists are starting to meet in the middle. The likes of Sohn, Sampha, even Jai Paul – three of the UK’s biggest rising solo artists – are writing, performing and producing their own tunes, fudging the boundaries to the point where you don’t even ask who wrote or produced what track anymore because really; it doesn’t fucking matter. And these are still the same songs of love, hate, loss and regret, just shaped with electronics and producing more complex and more versatile results. Låpsley’s development as a songwriter began with just that - songwriting. And now, as she’s matured and looked for more flexible ways to express herself, we are left with this quite brilliant piece of music; a subtle, simple song, framed stunningly by the lightest touch of electronics. “I knew when I finished writing Station that this was what I wanted to sound like. I was still experimenting before, playing around with different beats, techniques and tempos”. Yet despite the new reliance on technology, the finest moments of Station and those that speak the loudest can be found in the silences. Those hushed intakes of air, that tiny patter of static, all allowing that touching refrain of ‘I could walk you back to the station’ to resonate as affectingly as possible.

Half way through the interview her phone rings. She stares blankly at a number she doesn’t recognize. ‘I’ll get that later”, she says tiredly, “I’ve had a load of managers and people I don’t know ringing me recently. It’s all getting a bit mad”. It would be easy to put a comment like this down to a bit of harmless bravado. That is, if you had managed to avoid the Internet for the last two weeks. Her twitter timeline is flooded with blogs from all over the world, all picking up on Station with some astonishingly high praise. The term overnight success is inherently flawed, but having bumped into Holly on New Years Eve when she tentatively suggested I check out her new song that was “getting some good early coverage”, its difficult not to include that kind of throwaway phrase in this piece. I mean, at the time of writing, Stations has accrued over 100,000 plays on Soundcloud, most of which have been in the last fortnight. That, by anyone’s standards, is mental. Especially when you consider that she’s done next to no promotion for it: “Yeah, I’ve gone from 46 followers on Soundcloud to over 2000 in less than a month. It’s really weird, because Station took me like two hours to make. I don’t even feel like much thought went into it, I just wrote this chilled track, added some synths and some claps, and then all of a sudden everyone is trying to emotionally dissect it. It’s a really simple song though, and I think I quite like that”.

Pigeons and Planes call Station one of their ‘favorite tracks so far this year’, whilst The Line of Best Fit go a step further, calling it ‘exquisite’. And it must be difficult, the notion of everyone scrutinizing and analyzing these tunes when for a long time, it must have felt like no one was listening. “Yeah, its very strange, as your songs are a very personal thing”, she says cautiously, playing with the ice in her glass of orange juice. “I mean it is all quite hectic, but hopefully I’m managing it alright at the moment”. With several label meetings in London this week, the details of which she is wisely keeping under wraps, Holly will need to work hard to give herself the space and time she needs to develop her sound naturally. “I’m not going to do much music until the summer now, as I’ve got my A Levels coming up, she says assuredly. “I was just quite anxious to get Stations out there, so I could show everyone what I’m about before I took some time away to proper nail it down”. Almost everything written about Låpsley so far has been preceded with her age. And whilst it may seem like lazy journalism, the mention of her A Levels is a sobering reminder of just how fucking young 17 actually is. However, when balanced against how exciting her coming of age is going to sound, I'm pretty sure it will only be a momentary lapse into sobriety. 

Mike Townsend


Join The Club - Liverpool's Emerging Clubnight Scene (Liverpool Echo)

On their most basic (and probably oversimplified) level, you can consider clubnights as made up of two types of audience members: those going to see an artist perform and those looking to get fucked up. Obviously there is plenty of overlapping, and its not as if either has the right to be there any less. But in Liverpool, for a club night to reach stratospheric, £20+ ticket value levels in a city so densely populated by students, they naturally lean further towards the latter, meaning that innovation is sacrificed for consolidation when it comes to lineups. I mean it’s happening right now. Take Abandon Silence as an example: after three unrivalled years as Liverpool’s best small clubnight in the intimate Shipping Forecast basement, they made the permanent move to the larger and polarising East Village Arts Club, meaning that the pressure to fill these larger spaces had to be offset by more wide reaching, repeated (and therefore risk-free) bookings. Others, like the Cardiff import Shangri-La have attempted to dive straight in at the top, with mixed turnouts for the heavyweights like Duke Dumont and Jonas Rathsman. It might be a shame, but at the same time it’s all good booking a DJ with three unlicensed edits on Soundcloud if you have got the patience to watch your core audience develop slowly. And of course, it’s a big ask to expect promoters to barely break even for a year when you understand the work that goes into putting nights like this on. There is always an expiry date, though, when following this kind of lifespan. And you can argue that when events put on by the likes of Chibuku and Abandon Silence continue to sell out, then everything is all good. And sure, there is room and necessity for these bigger events. But in terms of identity, these aren’t anything close to the nights they were when they first started.

Liverpool’s live Electronic Music scene continues to progress like Russian Dolls, as established nights like Abandon Silence and Chibuku, not so much stagnate, but head towards a safer and more mainstream booking schedule, consolidating that area at the top of the market, whilst smaller nights, with more focused and loyal attendees form in their ashes. It’s been this way for years, its just all much faster now. Take new HAUS residents RELEASE, headed by student Callum Wilkinson, who veer towards Liverpool debutants in an attempt to become flag bearers for the exciting and new. Acts like Klose One and Paleman were both greeted warmly by a healthy number on its opening couple of events, proving that there are rewards to be reaped if you trust your audience’s knowledge. Other smaller, more genre orientated nights are also appearing, like the aptly named Analogue only night Analogue Bubbles, and the grime adhering GO!, founded by Chibuku and Abandon Silence resident DJ Rich Furness. Techno committed upstarts Less Effect have perhaps managed one of the best bookings of the year so far, landing Hessle’s Objekt to unanimous approval for what is only their second ever show at the end of February, suggesting that there are still cult followings to take advantage of for those brave enough to put their faith in them.

Liverpool no longer has to rely on the same couple of clubnights, which creates a competitiveness that means that we can be demanding of our promoters. And with smaller, more versatile venues cropping up over town, like the excellent Kitchen Street Pop up in the Baltic Triangle, there is now a platform for promoters to book artists based on taste and not just potential ticket sales, and more importantly, to be able to operate under more modest expectations. Electronic music is one of the most competitive, the most exciting and perhaps even the most discussed cultural movements in the city right now. And if you spoke to anyone living here a few years ago, the fact that we’ve got almost a weekly selection of clubnights not just for electronic music, but for smaller sub-genres of electronic music, is a huge - and at one point unthinkable - step forward, evident of a scene holding its own with any outside of London.

Friday, 3 January 2014

2013 In Review: Top 50 Albums


Kelela - Cut 4 Me


Special Request - Soul Music


Quadron - Avalanche


Jessy Lanza - Pull My Hair Back


San Fermin - San Fermin


Smith Westerns - Soft Will