Being Human: Turtle interview

jon cooper

Originally published for The Skinny July 2017 issue.

Scottish producer Turtle tells us about embracing the symbolism of his namesake and finding the light on new album Human

When artists talk about music as therapy, it can often feel a bit clichéd, but for Jon Cooper, aka Turtle, the process of making his new album Human has taken him on a spiritual journey even he didn’t expect.

“I’m getting attuned as a Reiki practitioner so I’m researching frequencies,” says Cooper. “I really want to try and integrate that into some kind of musical healing, not just to heal myself but to heal other people and imprint some love into the sound.”

Human came into existence during a time when Cooper was attempting to confront a dark period in his life. From the opening track Time, the album feels like a rebirth; a washing away of any negativity and a step forward into a new chapter of Cooper’s life. “I was just really trying to find my place in the world and struggling with self-identity so I was using the music as a kind of healing method for myself, which ultimately let the light in,” he says. “It was a cathartic experience, just struggling with personal issues that anybody can relate to.”

But getting to this stage hasn’t been easy. Cooper has been working on the album for nearly two years and it’s gone through various incarnations along the way. A lot of this seems to stem from Cooper’s meticulous attention to detail and his desire to get everything sounding exactly the way he wants. “I’ve had to retrain myself to leave an idea as it is because once you start processing it and using plug-ins, you almost start to sound like 90% of the people out there who are using the same software,” he says.

Following the release of his last two EPs, 2014’s Who Knows and 2015’s Colours, Cooper found the project going down a path he hadn’t envisioned. “I got swept away a bit with the playing live thing,” he says. “It’s very difficult to play the stuff live when you’re just standing with a laptop and tweaking a few filters. It just didn’t feel right, so I called it a day with playing live.”

Initially, Cooper created Turtle as a stepping stone: a means of furthering his way into the sync world, with the final goal being to score music for film. This is something Cooper has been working towards for several years, writing music for various production libraries under his own name. However, with a change of direction in mind, he decided to go by the pseudonym Turtle, he says “so it was less about me and more about the music.

“Somebody gave me the name because I didn’t want to use my own name and I just went with it,” he explains. “Then I started researching the symbolism behind the turtle, what it represents in different cultures and traditions, and it kind of aligned itself with everything I was trying to say in the music.”

There is a distinct film-like quality to Cooper’s work as Turtle: it’s vast, vivid and incredibly emotive. Naturally, this is a result of Cooper’s interest in film, particularly independent, foreign and experimental cinema. “I always sway towards the cinematic. I love atmosphere and it needs to have atmosphere for it to be alive in my personal opinion,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to marry the two and bring the atmospheric, cinematic side into the electronic realm.”

Although based just outside of Glasgow in Clydebank, Cooper says he’s not particularly influenced by the Glasgow music scene, nor does he participate in it much. “I’ve never really followed scenes,” he says. “I can appreciate them wholeheartedly and I can get where they’re coming from but I just kind of did my own thing.”

Instead, he is more influenced by European and American music, which he feels is more in line with his own musical interests. “I’ve just always resonated with European stuff. I think because it’s so far away and it literally does feel foreign,” he says. “When I’m listening to stuff from Scotland, it just doesn’t resonate.”

Now that Cooper has finally found some peace in his life, he is in no rush to jump straight into another project. Rather, he is going to take some time to clear his head and focus on his newly discovered interest in Reiki: a Japanese healing art, which focuses on stress reduction and relaxation.

“It’s been nice to step back and focus on my Reiki stuff, get in that zone and focus on helping others, rather than just helping myself,” he says. “I feel with the album, I helped myself but I really want to help others as well in any way I can so, even though it’s not music-related, that’s really where my head’s at right now.”

In mythology, the turtle symbolises tranquillity, and through the making of Human, it seems Cooper has finally begun to embrace the qualities of his namesake.

Human is out on 30 Jun via Beatnik Creative.

Turtle – Human review

turtle

Originally published for The Skinny July 2017 issue.

★★★★

Album title: Human
Artist: Turtle
Label: Beatnik Creative
Release date: 30 Jun

When it comes to ambient music, the clue is in the name. It is intended to evoke emotion and atmosphere, and that is exactly what Scottish producer Turtle does on debut album Human.

Where his previous two EPs, 2014’s Who Knows and 2015’s Colourshad hints of cinematic tendencies, Human on the other hand is an epic. Following it through, it is easy to imagine it soundtracking a film, from its wistful opening to its dramatic middle and finally reaching its illuminating close.

Opening track Time is as expansive as it is minimal, reaching as far as it can go sonically without ever feeling too distant. This feeling continues throughout the rest of the album, which is layered with subtle yet vivid beats.

Lead single Blood Type, featuring fellow Scot and label mate Eliza Shaddad, almost dupes you into believing it’s a hip-hop track before Shaddad’s dreamy, Parisian-tinged vocal kicks in. Title track Human, featuring Mariam the Believer, is more Eastern-sounding, with its prayer call-esque intro leading into a repetitive, chanting chorus.

While there is obviously a great deal of influence from psychedelia in many of the album’s tracks, there are also more commercial tracks here, particularly on the latter half. Solar and Push would not sound out of place on the radio or in a club and Elephant is a full-blown minimal house banger.

Ending much like it begins, closing track Note to Memory is sparsely decorated with delicate piano chords and strings to take the album’s sonic journey full circle.

Listen to: Solar, Blood Type

https://www.facebook.com/weareturtle/

Noga Erez – Off the Radar review

noga erez

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★★

Album title: Off the Radar
Artist: Noga Erez
Label: City Slang
Release date: 2 Jun

There is a distinct air of chaos on Noga Erez’s debut album Off the Radar, stemming mainly from the experimental, industrial electronic beats. It’s an expansive sound that has drawn comparisons to Björk, M.I.A. and FKA twigs, and for good reason. Working in collaboration with her creative partner Ori Rousso, the pair have created a sonic landscape that stretches across all areas of electronic music. The intensity of the sounds allow the political undertones on the tracks to shine through in an incredibly visceral manner.

Dance While You Shoot challenges the corruption within the Israeli government, and Pity was inspired by the live-streamed gang rape of a woman outside a nightclub in Erez’s hometown of Tel Aviv. The latter sees Erez addressing what it’s like being a woman in a man’s world, using imagery of ‘a skinny cat in a dog’s lap’, over military-style drums and a pounding bassline. There are some downtempo moments though: Worth None is Erez at her most Björk-y, Global Fear merges a trip-hop beat with Erez’s woozy vocals and album closer Junior is a sprawling ambient sonic journey.

Despite being an album filtered with political statements, Off the Radar is by no means a solely political record. Erez personalises her experiences so as not to be preachy and although references are made to political situations, they are never the sole subject matter. For only being her debut, this is an incredibly accomplished record, which carves out a distinct sound that captures and captivates the listener. Noga Erez should really be on your radar.

Listen to: Toy, Global Fear

K.Flay – Every Where Is Some Where review

k.flay

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★

Album title: Every Where Is Some Where
Artist: K. Flay
Label: Night Street / Interscope Records
Release date: 7 Apr

Just a few seconds into the opening track on K. Flay’s second album Every Where Is Some Where and you’ll know whether you want to continue listening or swiftly turn it off.

Hailing from San Francisco, alt-pop singer K. Flay has been heralded as ‘the next big thing’ by many, but it’s difficult to see why. If there’s anything to be said for the singer, it’s that she has catchy pop choruses down, but her lyrical abilities are seriously lacking.

There are several failed attempts at political commentary on Every Where Is Some Where and a lot of clichéd references to not needing drink or drugs to feel high. To top it off, all of this is sung in a squeaky, baby-voice that makes Lorde sound listenable.

There are some tolerable tracks, however. Black Wave is a noisy, grungy piece of electro-pop reminiscent of early Crystal Castles and It’s Just A Lot is a solid dark-pop tune, with some interesting harmonies and instrumentation. You Felt Right is almost good, with its cutesy dream-pop chorus but is sadly ruined by the poorly attempted rap verses, something which seems to be a recurring theme on the album.

K. Flay is definitely a Marmite artist and her alternative take on electro-pop/rock is likely to appeal to a lot of people, but unfortunately for some it will be quite difficult to stomach.

Listen to: Black Wave, It’s Just A Lot

Introducing: Barnaby.

barnaby

Originally published for Notion.

As the year draws to a close, all eyes turn towards the artists who are predicted to make it big in the new year. Southampton-based vocalist and producer Barnaby Atherton, aka Barnaby. (punctuation is important guys), is one of those ‘artists to watch’ in 2014.

Back in July, he caught our attention with the release of supremely catchy, lo-fi RnB summer jam, ‘Fresh Made Lemonade‘, which was followed up last month with the much darker, DREAMTRAK co-produced ‘Bored‘. If 2013 was the year of the RnB revival – at least in alt. terms –  then Barnaby. is on track to keep it moving into 2014, with his smooth, soulful vocals combined with minimalistic beats making for the best kind of chilled-out RnB.

Nadia Younes caught up with Barnaby. to chat about working with different producers on his upcoming EP, being compared to Frank Ocean and his plans for 2014.

PlanetNotion: There was a bit of a gap between the release of ‘Bored’ and ‘Fresh Made Lemonade’ – were you working on the new single between that time or did you have something else going on?
Barnaby: Well ‘Bored’ was actually the first song I’ve ever worked on with somebody else, like co-producing, so that happened a few months ago now. It’s actually just a promotional thing, it’s not really going to be like a proper single because we’re working towards an EP, which should be coming out in the new year. And then I’ve got a couple of features which should be coming up soon so I’m just sort of bridging the gap I suppose between releasing more of a body of work in the new year.

PN: How far in to the EP are you then?
B: Nearly done I think. We should be getting the final mixes today and I’ve got a couple of songs and other bits to round off but almost finished.

PN: How long have you been working on it for?
B: I guess, sort of properly working towards it for about a month, like actually making sure all the songs work together and stuff like that.

PN: There was a big change in tone between the two singles with ‘Fresh Made Lemonade’ really sounding like a summer song but ‘Bored’, by comparison, is a bit darker – do you think about the timing when you’re releasing songs?
B: I guess it felt like the right sort of time of the year for releasing something like this just because it’s getting a bit colder and stuff but, when I was writing it, the tone of the music is how I wrote the lyrics and that’s why it came out maybe a bit depressing I suppose.

PN: You co-produced ‘Bored’, where as you worked on ‘Fresh Made Lemonade’ by yourself – do you prefer producing things yourself or working with other people or does it just depend on the situation?
B: Yeah, I guess it depends. It’s cool, like I’ve never worked with anybody before and it was really good actually. A lot of the stuff I’ve been working on with other people will sound kind of different, but similar, to the stuff I’ve produced on my own so it’s good to get a lot of different inputs because it might all sound a bit too similar if I did it all myself. It’s nice to be able to get someone else’s input on things.

PN: Is that something you’ve done quite a lot on the EP, working with other people?
B: Yeah, I think there’s going to be maybe like four songs and only one of them I actually fully produced myself and everything else is going to be working with others.

PN: You’ve had quite a few people reworking ‘Fresh Made Lemonade’ – do you like that people remix your songs and do you have any favourites?
B: Yeah, I especially like the first one, the Debian Blak one. I like the others as well but that one in particular is my favourite I think.

PN: Have you ever found that anyone’s kind of missed the point of the song and got it completely wrong?
B: Well, this is the like the first time anyone’s remixed any of my stuff so it’s all a bit of a new experience I suppose.

PN: You get compared to people like Frank Ocean and James Blake quite a lot. Are they artists that influence you at all?
B: Yeah, I think my musical sensibility, production-wise and lyrically, is maybe closer to the Frank Ocean side of things than it would be to James Blake’s because his stuff is always a bit more metaphoric and a bit out there, I suppose. But I guess perhaps my vocal sensibility is a bit closer to James Blake than Frank Ocean. So I guess I’m somewhere in the middle, which is not a bad place to be.

PN: What’s your writing process like – do you start with lyrics or a melody or is it just whatever comes first?
B: They kind of tend to come at the same time. Generally I’ll start with the musical side of it and get a general mood to go in and then the lyrics just start coming out alongside the melody, depending on the way I feel or what sort of place it puts me in. One doesn’t generally come before the other really; it’s weird.

PN: So you said the EP will be out next year – do you have any idea of a date?
B: It should be out early next year, hopefully January or February. Well, we hope, but things are nearly there so it should all go to plan. And we’re hoping we should be able to start work on a debut album at some point next year. But we’re not waiting around, we want to keep momentum up and keep releasing stuff. So, at the moment, the goal is the EP and to just keep going really.

PN: You’ve only had a couple of singles out and there’s obviously quite a lot of hype building. How are you dealing with that?
B: Yeah, it’s been crazy but it’s really cool. Six months ago, I was just sat in my room making music so it’s been crazy – like getting premiered on Pitchfork and all that kind of stuff, it doesn’t happen to many people so I obviously feel pretty lucky getting all of this attention so early on. It seems like everything’s going really well which is something that I’ll try and hold on to I suppose.

PN: Is there anything else you have coming up that you want to mention?
B: Well I think the word’s potentially out there but there’s a producer called Blue Daisy, who I worked with on a song and that’s on his EP. The lead single called ‘Psychedelic Love’ is out at the moment and the song that I wrote with him is going to be out early next year and it’s the first feature thing I’ve done, but I don’t know a definite release date for that yet.

Review: Tomorrow’s World – ‘Tomorrow’s World’

Originally published for The 405.

It was always to be expected that, coming from popular electronic acts, Jean-Benoit Dunckel, of French band Air, and Lou Hayter, former vocalist from New Young Pony Club, would produce an experimental album. What started off as a plan to work on a few tracks soon turned in to an album’s worth of material and so Tomorrow’s World was born. Named after the BBC’s popular science and technology show, which was cancelled in 2003, Tomorrow’s World resemble a cross between a 60s girl group and an 80s synth-pop act – kind of like The Shangri-Las meets Depeche Mode. Their self-titled debut is cinematic, grand and very dramatic.

Sometimes albums can be so elaborate, you have to imagine them in context to be able to understand them and not get distracted by all the grandeur. With Tomorrow’s World’s debut, I found it fitting to imagine it sound tracking an independent French film: one about passion and romance but with dark, sinister undertones – something a bit like The Dreamers, but without the whole creepy sibling threesome storyline.

Opening track ‘A Heart That Beats For Me’ introduces the story with a cheesy Shangri-Las-esque monologue: “He took her hand and then they flew / Beyond the impossible / In to the future.” Then, as the song progresses, there is likely to be a ‘day in the life’ montage following the female lead’s dreary, mundane routine – perhaps using time-lapse photography – with the drone on the track emphasising the monotony of the character’s life.

Then we are introduced to the character’s love interest, while ‘Think of Me’ plays – he is probably a tormented poet or artist, it is a French film after all. It is likely the two characters have yet to meet or speak and so the endless reciting of “Think of me” suggests that there is a bit of unrequited love going on here. However, the characters soon meet, with ‘Pleurer Et Chanter’ sound tracking the moment when the relationship is built and the two embark on their fiery, intense romance.

Then we reach the big twist – probably the result of some misunderstood situation which leads to a huge argument between the two lovers. ‘Don’t Let Them Bring You Down’ would accompany this scene, where everything seems to be going wrong in the protagonist’s life, so they go for a long walk in the rain and gawp at all the happy people around them before running home and crying – you know, like everyone else does.

The protagonist then goes on a bit of a bender, probably experiments with drugs, has a few random one night stands and even contemplates taking her own life (I said it would have dark undertones, remember). This would all be mashed up in to a seedy montage, accompanied by ‘Catch Me’, which contains some menacing talking bits, sultry sighs and the resounding chorus of “Dark angel / Take me away.”

But what’s a good romance without a happy ending? There is the big reconciliation moment before the film draws to an end with the lyrics on ‘Inside’ proving that this romance really is the real deal: “I love you on the inside.”

Rating: 6.5/10