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Monthly Archives: March 2013

bastille

[Originally written for the Trinity Ball Guide]

In the wake of their incredibly successful, chart-topping debut album, Bad Blood, it seems difficult to fathom the fact that up until just three years ago Bastille’s musical oeuvre consisted of the solo bedroom recordings of Londoner Dan Smith. “I basically started making songs in my bedroom,” Smith concedes when he speaks of those early days, “But I’d always wanted Bastille to be a band – we started rehearsing as a four piece at around the same time I was writing all the songs”. The three members who were recruited were Smith’s friends Chris Wood, Will Farquarson and Kyle Simmons; from that point, it seems fair to say that Bastille haven’t looked back.

After a couple of years of building themselves up in the indie circuit, 2013 has seen Bastille rise to the fore – but even with that said, battling it out with the likes of Justin Timberlake for the number one spot on the UK singles chart is possibly not something that they anticipated during their formative years. “It was very weird”, Smith says of that week where their single ‘Pompeii’ was contending with Timberlake’s ‘Mirrors’, “But we were (and still are) away on tour, so felt quite removed from it all. It very much felt like it was happening to someone else and we were just watching on.”

In which case their debut album taking the number one spot in both the UK and Irish charts must have felt very surreal indeed? “Yeah it is completely surreal”, Smith confesses, “We all feel a bit detached from it as well. It wasn’t something we ever really aimed for or even thought about so it’s taken us massively by surprise.” Then again, is chart success something that they’ve been aspiring to, or does Smith define success in a different way? “I’ve never really thought about how I’d define success, I guess we’d always just hoped we’ll be in a position to keep doing music full time. Here’s hoping that happens.”

Given the public reaction to their eclectic brand of intelligent, electro-tinged indie pop music, it certainly doesn’t seem as though they’ll have too much to worry about on that front. When asked to describe the album in question and what it means to them, Smith says, “It’s a bunch of songs that we’ve been working on over the last few years. Now that the extended version of the album and all our EPs and mix tapes are out, everything we’ve ever done for Bastille is now available. That’s quite a good feeling I guess.”

Looking at their output so far, there does seem to be something of a similarity in all of Smith’s lyricism in that his songs seem to tell stories rather than personal experiences. “I try not to write too autobiographically and I try to write about situations that interest me, or to use characters that interest me as a way into a song… if that makes sense.” That would explain the existence of songs such as ‘Icarus’. “I’m not massively interested in myself, so I’d rather imagine someone reacting to another situation.”

Continuing on the subject of his song writing, Smith brushes off the idea that he might have been aiming for a particular, distinct sound with Bastille’s music, “There wasn’t really a conscious effort to aim for a particular sound. I’d wanted to try different things from song to song and bring in different sounds that interested me, so there are loads of strings and big epic drums on the album, but also loads of electronics and harmonies.”

This inclination towards electronics and harmonies is certainly apparent on the mix tapes that Bastille have released as, I note, they seem to display a particular interest in slickly-produced early 2000s R&B with covers such as TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ and City High’s ‘What Would You Do?’. “Those are songs that I heard when I was a kid, so in some ways they are burned into the back of my mind.”

Smith tells me, “I was looking for songs, particularly with City High, that people would know and find themselves singing along to, but have no idea who they were actually by or how they knew them. I also wanted to take songs from hugely different contexts and then produce them as if they were our own songs. Making the mix tapes was just quite a fun way to mess around with production.”

Aside from the R&B of his youth, then, what other music would Smith say has influenced Bastille’s sound? “I have no idea”, he admits, before tentatively going on to describe a rather impressive range of artists, “Everything from Antony & The Johnsons to Simon & Garfunkel and Yeasayer.”

And, more generally, whose music has he been listening to lately? “At the moment I’m listening to the new James Blake songs that are emerging from his second album (which I can’t wait for). I loved the Everything Everything album as well, and To Kill A King’s record Cannibals With Cutlery is brilliant.”

I tell Smith that I’ve read elsewhere that Bastille are looking to improve the visuals of their live set and ask what exactly that’s entailed and how it might affect their performance at the ball. “We’ve got a new lighting set up that is a lot of fun to play with. Unfortunately we’re not able to take the cinema screen we sometimes use round with us everywhere we go, but hopefully further down the line we will be able to. I really like incorporating visuals into the show – anything to distract from us is always a plus.”

Bastille will be playing at Trinity Ball for the first time this year, but it won’t be their first time playing on the Emerald Isle and so I take the opportunity to ask for Smith’s thoughts on how Dublin crowds weigh-up against other audiences in the world. “The last gig we had in Dublin was loads of fun, the stage was low so it felt like we were in the crowd and everyone was jumping around. It was definitely one of the livelier gigs we’ve done.”

One suspects that ‘lively’ might end up being something of an understatement when it comes to the crowd at Trinity Ball and, though they might still be humble and surprised by all the attention, it seems fair to predict that whatever tent Bastille are playing in this April 5th is going to be jammed.

khushi

In Hindi, “khushi” means happiness or joy or something along those lines – my questionable ability to speak my mother tongue aside, there is certainly something that’s quite joyful about listening to the music of London born singer-songwriter Khushi.  Part of the excellent aforementioned Strong Asian Mothers, his solo work has less of their lithe electro stylings, instead opting for some soothing, wholesome acoustic pop that is kind of lovely.

His vocals are impressively varied, with a falsetto like a caress and a lower range too that’s perfectly intimate and endearing as he sings poignant lyrics about romantic things.  The instrumentation is really nice too, with swathes of piano and fluid undercurrents of pretty guitars and a soft patter of drums.  Sometimes the music is upbeat and quite euphoric (‘When You Start’), sometimes it’s much more withdrawn and slow (the beginning of ‘Phantoms’); there is always something a bit different about it though, something that makes it different from that standard middle-of-the-road label that tends to come with being a singer-songwriter.  Perhaps it’s in that hint of his electro background in moments like the vocal loops and the brass samples in ‘Magpie’; whatever it is, it’s exciting.

Khushi has recently started playing live shows in London and it can only be a matter of time before his soulful sounds start attracting more attention.  As of yet his music is great to listen to, certainly, even if there’s not very much out there as of yet.  There’s something about the four tracks he has put out, though; something that seems to be implicit of something exquisite to come and I guess that in itself is quite happiness-inducing.

young-wonder-941x1024

When I ask how she is, it is with a ripple of laughter that Rachel Koeman, one-half of Cork-based duo Young Wonder, responds with the confession that she is a little bit hung over. She’d been to a gig the night before, and while she can’t remember the name of the band she says that they were very good, before proceeding to tell me with enthusiasm about what other music she’s been listening to lately: “Disclosure are unbelievable! Alunageorge as well – like, they’re amazing. Really good producer and her voice is just really different.”

Of course, Koeman herself has a singing voice that could be described as really different; on all of Young Wonder’s releases her vocal range is stunning to listen to – powerful, raw, and sometimes almost feral. Combined with bandmate Ian Ring’s slick production, Young Wonder’s music is kind of magic – fantastical, strange, glitchy electro-pop that isn’t quite like anything else out there at the moment.

“You know what, it’s really hard to describe our sound,” Koeman says with amusement when I ask her to do just that. “Everyone always asks us this question, but we don’t actually have an answer. Put very plain and simply, it’s electronic pop music but there are so many other sounds in there it’s hard to pin it down. There are a lot of cultural sounds – I think we’ve always just liked to experiment, [to] look at other cultures.”

On the subject of the influence of other cultures, we discuss the headdress that Koeman often wears in their music videos and photographs. How does she respond to YouTube comments accusing her of cultural misappropriation? “People are gonna find something, no matter what you do,” she says, a tinge of exasperation in her voice. “The way I see it, I just took a headpiece that I thought was really beautiful and I wanted to wear it and appreciate it. I’m sure if I wore a different headpiece people would find something wrong with it – that’s just the internet. It doesn’t bother me and, you know, I would never want to offend anyone.”

Other cultures aside, do they see themselves as being at all influenced by Ireland? “We’re definitely influenced by Irish artists and our friends in Ireland – so many amazing artists are emerging from Ireland. But I think on a bigger scale Ian is influenced by, like, Jamie XX and Disclosure – those sorts of acts. And as a girl in the music scene I tend to go towards acts that have a girl in them – Grimes, Purity Ring, Cults. It’s not like we’re modelling ourselves on boy-girl duos, but you do have to look at other acts.”

Fresh from a recent support slot in London for Alt-J (“It was amazing – like, literally, I was star-struck, it was kind of embarrassing”), March will see the release of Young Wonder’s latest EP, Show Your Teeth. “I cannot wait”, the singer gushes. “I guess it’s a more mature sound than our last EP in that I think it’s a bit more developed and thought-out. It’s maybe a tiny bit more experimental in some songs but more mainstream pop on other songs.”

The EP is sure to see a surge in interest for the exciting duo, but Koeman is hesitant to define popularity as success. “I don’t think you can base it on how many likes you have on Facebook – it’s a very personal thing. For me, if we’re making music and people are enjoying it and we’re enjoying it – then I think that’s successful in its own right.”

Originally published in tn2 Magazine.

howlings

My life is becoming consumed with essays and deadlines and social obligations – I’m not necessarily complaining about any of these things, but it has made sitting down and actually writing something more than a passing comment on what I’m listening to a bit difficult.  But, currently sitting in my new home – the library – I’ve just discovered the music of San Francisco’s Isaiah Williams – better known as Howlings, and felt the urge to share his music.

Sweeping, slow, strange electro that surrounds your ears and is surprisingly emotive (notably the beautiful and disarming ‘Don’t Leave Me’, embedded below), there’s not necessarily anything groundbreaking or hugely different about Howlings’ music.   Yet, there’s something undeniably pretty and worthy about these often quite sad songs and they’re kind of lovely to listen to; all gentle, starry beats, sublime, glittering instrumentation and occasional delicate, whispering vocals.  I suppose that time will tell but, as far as the stuff that’s up on his SoundCloud goes, it seems like Howlings might be onto something quite special.