Thursday, 20 March 2014

Feature: Drohne (BidoLito!)

The first time came across Drohne, the live electronic duo of Luke McCulloch and Richie Craddock, was as they supported Factory Floor at The Kazimier last December. Vocalist McCulloch growled over a frenetic, warped collection of sounds that almost resembled a beat, whilst the jarringly silent crowd fidgeted awkwardly in some kind of confused trance as they tried to get their head around what the fuck was happening in front of them. Like myself though, every pair of eyes was fixed firmly on the two shy, sketchy looking lads nodding their hood-enclosed heads assertively on the stage, at one in our intrigued, fascinated and mesmerised bewilderment. “Yeah, that’s exactly right”, Luke laughs, recalling the gig warmly. “People do seem to know us as that band Drohne with their heads down and our hoods up”.

Drohne have nearly a years worth of demos available on their Soundcloud. And even if Luke is keen to remind me that these are old songs, and not necessarily a strict reflection of the band in front of me, they do still act as interesting signposts for how the duo have progressed and what form their music might take in the future. T.M.R (The Mother Road), which gave them their first taste of radio airplay with the help of an excellent Harvey Brown remix, uses cloudy and saturated textures to enclose and swallow the faint residue of a melody. Suppression, equally as restless and deliberately uncoordinated, simmers contently as parts slip in and out of line with each other with controlled abandon. Throughout these songs, McCulloch’s vocals are so impossibly singular that they sound profoundly alone, drenched in despair as if they are the last cry from a man who has resigned himself to madness. It’s a powerful and moving display of humanity from a genre where technology so often dominates. “I don’t just see myself as the guy who sings in the band though”, Luke quickly reminds me, keen to move away from the idea of his voice as a structural centerpiece. “With our new songs, I like the idea of my vocals being more murmured and ambient, almost blending into the soundscape rather than jumping out at you as they have done in the past”. The effects of this can be seen already, in the grooving, more immediate track Soul-Jo. It is certainly the closest Drohne have come to danceable, with a rolling beat and twinkling synth work creating a tranquil, summer’s afternoon atmosphere. Everything is so gorgeously calm and lo-fi that you’ll hardly even notice the brittle vocals of McCulloch nudging the song gorgeously towards a conclusion in the closing moments. The musicality of Soul-Jo in the midst of all the dissonance and tension that underpins their body of work is almost jarring, and highlights their ability to expose the contrasts between the digital abrasion of their production and the natural warmth provided by tone and melody with disarming consequences.

With limited recorded material available online, Drohne have gathered most of their support based on a handful of live shows around the city. Support slots for the likes of East India Youth, Slow Magic and the aforementioned Factory Floor have enabled them to present themselves as a live electronic act, rather than just a production duo. And whilst workstation software obviously is obviously important, they are keen to remind me that first and foremost, they are a band: “We don’t really consider ourselves as producers”, Richie explains cautiously. “We get bored of it quite easily, as its just there on a screen. Making the music has to be a more visceral experience for us I think. The way we write a song is that we’ll have an idea and just jam with it for a while, lay it down, build on it, tweak it, add and change some vocals or guitar, and then until it just emerges into this sort of brainchild. It’s a very natural process”. It’s telling that Drohne don’t consider themselves producers. It’s not that any note that isn’t strummed, plucked, bowed or blown is a purer form of expression than say, one produced from a box of wires. Richie’s idea that songwriting needs to be visceral though, that they need to feel each tone and melody before they subject it to digital manipulation, is essential to their musical backbone in the sense that it provides them anchorage to the strange, unpredictable results that emerge at the end of their creative process.

Despite aforementioned demos and a healthy collection of live performances, we’ve still yet to see an official release from Drohne. Their future is far from uncertain though with an EP due out imminently, and this concept of using your live show to shape your recordings has allowed them to develop it around how they want it to be experienced, rather than how they want it to sound. “We’re planning on going to Amsterdam for a bit”, Luke says confidently as he explains their plans for the next twelve months. “There is a place we’ve got our eye on right in the center of the city. It’s a huge brickwork building, and you can pay to rent out one of the floors for a month. It’s unbelievably big, like one hundred meter squared of this open space. We would just set up all our equipment over there and write an EP. It would be a different vibe completely living over in Europe, which would have an interesting effect on our music and the way we sound”. Whilst it may sound ambitious, that notion of locking yourself away in isolation as a means of creative stimulation has shaped some of the best albums of our time. And you get the feeling that, given the emotion and care they clearly invest in being Drohne, this kind departure from reality that will allow them to harness it into a singular piece of work that they feel can adequately represent them.

Drohne aren’t afraid to dodge convention, happy to arrive not fully formed, but in a state of constant development. And I don’t just mean in the literal sense – they have shaken off two former members over the last year – but musically as well. Their brief collection of songs, like their live shows, sound strikingly incomplete, as if they are a collection of ideas rattling around like loose change at the bottom of a bag. They wilfully resist cadences and conclusions, pushing their music into gentle spins that slow down, speed up, slow down again but never quite stop. In age of constant output and reproduction, Drohne are embracing the negative space between expectation and reality to ensure that their relationship with their audience, and with their own music, remains in an ongoing and enthralling state of flux.


Mike Townsend        

Live Review: Metronomy (GetIntoThis)

O2 Academy
13th March 2014

Metronomy, alongside the likes of Foals and Bombay Bicycle Club, have slowly and unassumingly found themselves among the biggest bands in Britain. Just as comfortable on the front cover of NME as they are on the bedroom walls of sixth form girls, they’ve joined this new breed of mainstream youth culture icon based on a combination of great, populist leaning songs and just the right amount diversity, at least musically, to make them worth shouting about. Three albums in now, you can safely call them a mainstay in British guitar music. They will probably never be the type of band who will headline Leeds festival or play at The O2, but could bet your life that in six years time they’ll still be nestled comfortably between Jools Holland and Zane Lowe’s playlist not breaking new ground, but sitting contentedly on paths already laid out.

New album Love Letters, as the title might suggest, is about love, lust and all the rest. The accompanying polo necked riddled press shots that supplemented the launch lends itself towards a more nostalgic, schmaltzy kind of love though, as they turn down the beat and turn up the new wave to present their idea of romance through a soft-focus lens. The O2 Academy feels different for their show - which is the first of their UK tour – this evening. The drum kit is colourfully illuminated, the backdrop is a fuzzy pink set of clouds, the lights are dimmed to a deep shade of red as the whole thing starts to feel an eighties porn movie director’s attempt to make things cinematic. Metronomy have always played with the notion of being cool and iconized with an obvious, self-reliant indifference that balances them between reluctant icons and cult heroes tenuously, but effectively. The matching burgundy suits they wear tonight ridiculous, of course they do, but like almost everything with these guys, you feel like you’re in on the joke with them.

This is reflected musically as well, eptiomised by the excellent The Bay, as Joseph Mount lingers on Berrrlin as if he is coaxing a cat towards him whilst smoking a cigar in a velvet dressing gown. The Look, another highlight from second album The English Riviera edges up the tempo, demonstrating their ability to strip funk and disco right down to their bones into something bracingly thin whilst remaining impossibly catchy.

And you wouldn’t go so far as to call Metronomy minimal, but throughout the three albums - all of which are generously dipped into tonight - their music has been characterized by a simplicity that makes it entirely effortless to listen to. This allows the finer, yet absolutely essential parts of their songs to act as centerpieces throughout the records and throughout tonight’s performance, like that noodling synth on Reservoir, or the ‘Shoop-doop-ahhh’s in current single I’m Aquarius. These are little touches and nuances that are so distinctly and indisputably Metronomy, where not a single note feels waste or forced, graciously offering themselves to anyone who wants them like a show dog that enjoys affection but doesn’t rely on it. Great music doesn’t always have to sound complicated, even if is.   

Metronomy’s coherence sounds remarkably consistent tonight. I mean, I remember seeing them at Korova in 2008, as they struggled to pair two parts of the same song together in one of the messiest and loosest performances this side of a psytrance rave. It very much feels like a victory lap here in the Academy this evening, both for EVOL - who are celebrating their tenth birthday - and for Metronomy, who are reaping the rewards for being gleefully, completely and unflinchingly themselves.

Mike Townsend

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

GIT Award Profile: Evian Christ (GetIntoThis)

The fact that the whole Yeezus thing, despite being less than a year old, feels like a tired narrative for Evian Christ, is a testament to what he’s already laid out for himself as a solo artist. It is worth retelling though, as it serves as a significant signpost in what has been an astonishingly steep trajectory for the Ellesmere Port producer. The story goes - as he revealed to XXL Mag in June last year - that after hearing some of his work, the G.O.O.D. Music team got in touch with Leary’s label Tri-Angel Records over email, tentatively suggesting that West was putting a team of producers together for his next record. Eventually, after sending some beats over to the studio, he was invited over to the states to contribute to the recording of I’m In It, a highlight of what was one of the biggest releases in the world. It is a remarkable story, one that is almost impervious to hyperbole (despite my attempts by the looks of it), and has allowed Joshua Leary to command a wide, global audience for his first set of official releases this year.

Signposts, though. At the start of 2012 Leary linked up with the New York based Tri-Angle Records to release his Kings and Them mixtape, exploring the boundaries between hip-hop and electronic music over the course of eight raw, frantic, blistering tracks. The steady, simmering Drip, or the more abrasive Snapback Back, spliced elements of witch-house, early dubstep, trap and any other sub-genre of hip-hop and electronic music you can think of to frame affected rap vocals, turning even the most rudimentary self-conscious hip-hop phrases into powerful and bold centerpieces.

Towards the end of last year as the Yeezus dust was settling, Salt Carousel - the first cut from upcoming Tri Angel EP Waterfall - appeared on his Soundcloud. As the first post-yeezus release he left nothing to speculation, laying some warped, frantic synth and vocal work to an absolutely vile, stomach-churning beat. Second track Waterfall, which dropped last week, goes in even harder with dementia inducing industrial percussion work annihilating its way through some ambient melodic touches. The song reaches no-holds-barred territory by the end, doubling up on percussion and refracting that Yeezus aggression into his own warped, twisted prism.

The songs have rightfully earned praise from all corners of popular music, turning Leary into the kind of artist that can transcend festival tent, MDMA fuelled hysteria and lights down rehearsal space within the same piece of music. And this isn’t aggression for the sake of aggression, or volume for the sake of volume, because despite the maximalist, loud as fuck approach, he never loses control of the billions of little parts crisscrossing all over his songs. The EP, released on the 17th March, is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated UK electronic music debuts in recent years, and the thought of Leary presenting his vision of electronic music within the boundaries of a singular body of work is one of intriguing possibilities.

In a recent interview with Fact Magazine, Leary spoke openly about a feeling of detachment and disillusion with the music scene here in the North West: “It’s wild to me that I can play a show in Iceland or the middle of Canada, but I can’t play a show in my home city, which maybe suggests that there might not be much of an electronica scene in Liverpool”. And it’s true; Evian Christ still hasn’t performed here in Liverpool despite a number of headline shows in London and Manchester. There is a danger of taking these kind of comments too personally though, allowing judgment to be clouded and the way his music is experience to be skewered. And whilst I wouldn’t attempt to presume the motives behind it, I think we can all relate to a cynicism of the town we grew up in. Leary’s relationship, or lack there of, with Liverpool’s music scene doesn’t have to hinder our ability to celebrate him as a flag bearer for the city’s arts culture. I mean, directly or otherwise, Evian Christ’s ascent last year has absolutely benefited local electronic music. Regional press will have spotted and written about it, turning their gaze away from guitar music and making them more open to emerging electronic acts. Students and those skimming the surface of scene will have used it as an excuse to delve a bit further in, increasing the demand for club nights and live shows. And even on a more basic level, young producers will have been inspired to get down and create something of their own with a newfound belief in their city’s ability to affect national trends and tastes. It doesn’t take an anthropologist to spot the links between the local electronic music scene’s recent resurgence and the global success of artists like Evian Christ. And the importance of this – regardless of the influence the city has had on Leary as an artist - should not be understated.

Mike Townsend

Live Review: TOY (BidoLito!)

East Village Arts Club
28th February 2014

Whilst two albums in as many years might sound like a recipe for the unspectacular, London based quintet TOY are operating enviously close to the top of the UKs emerging guitar acts this year. Forming from the ashes of Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong - a band who managed to garner such unanimous hatred that you have to admire their courage for not moving to another continent altogether – their reinvention into the ambitious, psychedelia leaning band that appears in front of us is certainly interesting, even if it might appear insincere for those on the wrong side of the bed and all that.  

An appearance at Sound City last year is well worth remembering, as they held their own in the eyes of God in the incomprehensibly large Anglican Cathedral to produce one of the standout performances at the festival. Their second album Join The Dots has been released since then though, as they attempt to cross the tenuous gap between UK buzz band and regional festival headliner before their time is up and we all move on with our lives.

The whole thing is intensely stylized, from the clothes and the hair, to the buckets of reverb on the guitar and vocals and the sepia tinged light show behind them. Their commitment to the cause is certainly admirable, at least, barely uttering a word with their collective gazes fixed firmly at the floor throughout the performance. Guitarists Baron and O’Dair share vocalist Tom Dougall’s disinterested deportment, as they work purposefully through the likes of Colours Burning Out and Left Myself Behind so stoically that you’d be forgiven for assuming they’d taken the whole psycedelia thing to literally and were losing their minds on an acid trip.

The line of MBV indebted indie bands is threatening to become a landfill at the moment, as more and more guitarists sync Loveless to their iPods and straighten their shoulder length hair in an attempt to maintain any sort of staying power beyond their Zane Lowe Hottest Record in The World. The problem TOY face is that by tentatively offering these challenging, dense shoe-gaze textures but keeping their musical emphasis on melody, they find themselves nestled awkwardly between feet shuffling art-rock and screaming sixth form girl indie darlings. The contrast between the sprawling, nine minute psych freakouts at the end of Kopter and Fall Out Of Love and the punchy, immediate It’s Been So Long is too vast, castrating their obvious ability with a melody and their striking levels of noise and leaving them awkwardly in the middle. We are shown two sides of TOY tonight, and whilst both might be impressive in their own right, their attempt to distill both of them into a singular entity leaves them coming up short on both fronts.

Mike Townsend