Anna of the North – Lovers review

anna of the north

Originally published for The Skinny.

Album title: Lovers
Artist: Anna of the North
Label: Different Recordings
Release date: 8 Sep

Norwegian-born Anna Lotterud’s vocals sound wistful and fragile over New Zealand-born Brady Daniell-Smith’s minimalist 80s-influenced synth-pop beats on this debut record under the Anna of the North banner. On lead single Someone, Lotterud sings, ‘I’m only human baby / Need someone to come and save me,’ and it sounds like she really means it. Like any great pop vocalist, Lotterud’s vocals have a truly authentic sensitivity to them that works even on the more upbeat tracks.

Ironically, however, the more upbeat-sounding tracks are the more scathing lyrically. ‘Don’t want your body / Don’t want your love / She just wants your money, honey, open up,’ sings Lotterud in an almost rap-like flow on Money, highlighting the duo’s hip-hop influences. The sharpness of the production and the pace of the vocal delivery is a contrast to the whimsical nature of the rest of the album, as is the case on the tropical house-influenced Fire.

Anna of the North succeed where so many other synth-pop acts fail, in being able to produce expansive electronic pop that is both poignant and uplifting. Pop sensibilities meet with emotive lyrics on Always and Feels, blending sadness and hopefulness in a way that the duo continually manage to execute so well. Loversmay be a break-up album, but it’s one full of optimism, and more than a few catchy pop choruses.

Listen to: Money, Feels

https://www.facebook.com/annaofthenorth/

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Sløtface – Try Not to Freak Out review

slotface

Originally published for The Skinny September 2017 issue.

Album title: Try Not to Freak Out
Artist: Sløtface
Label: Propeller Recordings
Release date: 15 Sep

Heavily influenced by the riot grrrl movement, Sløtface’s lyrics have a pretty obvious feminist slant. All their songs are written from a female perspective and many address issues that affect women, despite frontwoman Haley Shea being the only female in the band.

On album opener Magazine, the band challenge modern-day body image ideals and beauty standards for women, asking ‘what the hell is an ‘it girl’ anyway?’ and reminding us that ‘Patti Smith would never put up with this shit.’

Not all the songs are political though; many of them revolve around the mundanity of being young and not knowing where your life is going. On Galaxies, Shea sings ‘All we ever seem to talk about is puking our guts out,’ and on Pitted, about being ‘Dressed in black / Bitching on a kitchen counter in the corner with my girls,’ at a party she didn’t even really want to go to.

Sløtface’s songs reach out to a disenfranchised youth, much like the pop-punk bands that dominated the airwaves in the late 90s and early 00s did. Although the band members may be too young to remember that time, they are doing a good job of making those who can nostalgic for it.

Listen to: Magazine, Pitted

I Predict a Riot: Sløtface interview

slotface

Originally published for The Skinny September 2017 issue.

Back in the early 90s, Bikini Kill frontwoman and riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna would go on stage with ‘slut’ written on her stomach in lipstick in an attempt to reclaim the word. Now, over twenty years later, Norwegian four-piece Sløtface are still fighting that exact same battle.

“If you had something with dick in your band name then I don’t feel like it would be interpreted in as harsh a way,” says frontwoman Haley Shea of the band’s decision to change their name from Slutface to Sløtface in April last year. They were forced to make the change following struggles with social media censorship, as a result of having the word ‘slut’ in their name. “It was really frustrating to us but it was also an interesting process to go through and the discussions we had to have around why we thought it was important to keep it made things really clear to us,” says Shea.

Shea, along with guitarist Tor-Arne Vikingstad, bassist Lasse Lokøy and drummer Halvard Skeie Wiencke, formed the band aged between 16 and 18 in their hometown of Stavanger in Norway. Initially, the name was merely intended as a bit of fun and wasn’t to be taken too seriously but it quickly grew to become more of a statement than they had first intended. “We wanted to be provocative and edgy and keep some kind of weird, messed up punk ethos alive,” says Shea. “But as we started to write more feminist-oriented lyrics and we learned about slut shaming and the SlutWalk movement, we thought it fit the themes we were trying to write about. Then it became a really important cause for us to keep it, which was ironically when we had to change it.”

The band struggled to gain any real exposure early on in their career because of their name, due to the lack of access to daytime radio play in English-speaking countries, continuously being flagged as pornography by Facebook’s algorithms, and being unable to be advertised for upcoming gigs and festival appearances. “In the end, it was just causing us so much trouble that we felt like we were spending more energy on that than actually writing music,” says Shea. “We thought if we make this small change then we can still reach a lot more people and the message in our songs comes across just as clear in the music as it does in the name.”

Now all in their twenties, the band have graduated from writing songs about their teenage angst to writing songs that address the confusion and anxiety that comes with figuring out adulthood. Their debut album, Try Not to Freak Out is jam-packed full of catchy pop hooks and clever, witty lyrics that prove them to be far more advanced than their years. ‘Patti Smith would never put up with this shit,’ sings Shea on album opener Magazine: a clear sign of the band’s feminist, punk influences. The track is intended to sound like “an early 2000s rom-com high school movie soundtrack,” says Shea; and that it does.

Although Sløtface are too young to remember the late 90s/early 00s pop-punk golden era, they are one of the bands currently leading its resurgence. “I think there’s definitely some of that in it but it’s just hard for us to know the bands that people compare us to because we weren’t alive when they were really big,” says Shea. “We obviously hear some of the 90s and we think a lot of the sarcasm and irony that we use has a very 90s sensibility about it.”

It wasn’t until the band discovered the riot grrrl movement though, after watching Sini Anderson’s 2013 documentary The Punk Singer, documenting Kathleen Hanna’s legacy and her struggle with Lyme disease, that they really seemed to find their voice. “That’s when I feel like I understood more what the whole movement was about,” says Shea. “It was the first time I felt like I’d found punk music that was directly discussing issues that I was dealing with in my everyday life, regarding being a woman and feeling like you didn’t have the space you deserved in punk and in the whole scene.”

Since then, they started writing songs told directly from a female perspective, with titles like Angst and Shave My Head, and joined the likes of fellow DIY punk bands Diet Cig and Adult Mom in campaigning to make their gigs safe spaces for women to enjoy live music. “I think for me, and a lot of women, it’s just been one of those things – you’re trained that you have to accept people touching you inappropriately if you want to be in the mosh pit,” says Shea. “Mostly, we just think it’s really depressing because it’s exactly the same thing that riot grrrl fought for in the 90s and it’s been twenty years and it’s kind of slipped off of people’s radars.”

In recent years, many bands have spoken out against sexual harassment at gigs, and it’s not just female-fronted bands. Most recently, Brendan Ekstrom of Circa Survive walked off stage mid-song during a gig in St. Louis in July this year to help a woman in the audience who he witnessed being sexually harassed. Peace, Drenge and Slaves, amongst many others, have also taken to social media to condemn any kind of sexual harassment they have been made aware of at their shows.

This sparked the Girls Against movement, created by five teenage girls in the UK in October 2015, following one of the founding members’ experience of sexual harassment at a Peace gig in Glasgow. The movement encourages anyone, not just girls and women, to share their experiences of sexual harassment or unwarranted attention at gigs in order to establish a discussion around the topic and introduce a change in the way certain people behave at gigs.

“We want to make sure that we talk about it as much as we can and try to be really concrete about protecting people at our shows but also talking to other bands and getting new ideas about what we can do,” says Shea. “We were in the States at SxSW and we did this interview with a feminist radio station based in DC called Femchord. They told us about how Speedy Ortiz have a phone number that’s posted around at their shows that you can text to get in touch with security anonymously if you want to tell them about something that you’re not comfortable with that’s going on.”

The band have since trialled the method at some of their gigs but believe they could be a lot stricter about putting their own rules in place at their shows and be more explicitly clear that their gigs are a safe space for everyone to enjoy live music. “There are people who have been pretty accommodating and have printed out signs for us and set up a designated person, but we feel like we might need to be even more strict about it and print out our own signs and hang them up,” says Shea. “We’re just going to try to be even more DIY about it for the venues that are maybe too small to be able to accommodate it because of their time or budget constraints, so we’ll just take it into our own hands even more.”

It may have been twenty years since riot grrrl fought for the same issues but with a new wave of DIY punk bands like Sløtface willing to continue the fight then hopefully it won’t be long until people stand up and listen again.


Try Not to Freak Out is released on 15 Sep via Propeller Recordings 
Sløtface play Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, 9 Oct and Broadcast, Glasgow, 10 Oct

https://www.slotface.no/

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017: Adam Hess @ Heroes, The Hive

adam hess.jpg

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★

Setting up a storyline early on about the saddest day of his life on 28 October 2016, Adam Hess begins to tell the story before getting distracted by another joke that seemingly has just popped into his head.

This theme continues throughout the rest of the show, with Hess going off on tangents right, left and centre, failing to ever bring it all back to making sense. Much of the show is conducted with Hess jumping backwards and forwards from one story to another without any fluency or clear narrative. His delivery also appears nervous on stage, jittering, stumbling on his words and telling jokes at a lightning pace. For many, the distractions and rapid fire execution is part of Hess’s appeal, but for others it borders on the incomprehensible – as it does for this reviewer today.

It means that tales of his personal failings or embarrassing incidents never elevate above the mildly amusing, his delivery of them is far too frantic for them to have any lasting impact – and only the intonation is memorable.


Adam Hess: Cactus, Heroes at The Hive (Cave), until 27 Aug, 6pm, £6/PWYW

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017: Elf Lyons @ Underbelly Med Quad

elf lyons

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★★

Elf Lyons is dressed in a parrot costume; that is by no means the weirdest thing that she does in this show. She also conducts the entire show speaking in Frenglish (a combination of broken French and English), dons a shark head mask and green feather duster, serenades the audience with a crocodile hand puppet and ends the show in a lobster costume, while the crowd blow bubbles and throw snow tissue paper back at her.

This all features in scenes from Lyons’ somewhat deconstructed version of the ballet Swan Lake. She reenacts the ballet scene-by-scene and act-by-act, with a little help from the audience for props and ambience, and jokes about the madness of the story behind it in between.

It is hard to tell whether Lyons has put a lot of thought into this show or very little at all. It is probably the former while she makes it look like the latter. Regardless, Swan is hugely entertaining – and rather insane.


Elf Lyons: Swan, Underbelly, Med Quad (Clover), until 28 Aug (not 15), 9.30pm, £8-10

Benjamin Clementine @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 10 Aug

benjamin clementine.jpg

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★★

Aside from technical difficulties causing the show to be delayed for over half an hour, once things gets going the production values throughout are incredible. Lights dim and shine on Benjamin Clementine and his backing singers, who are lined up behind the band at the back of the stage in similar fashion to Solange’s staging of her recent wave of shows.

Initially, Clementine appears quite nervous on stage, but only when communicating with the crowd. He twists dramatically from a shy, sensitive character when chatting between songs to a confident, captivating performer when playing. He appears to grow more comfortable though, once he builds more of a rapport with the audience and by the time the show draws to a close, he’s cracking jokes and engaging more with his fans.

After a somewhat excessive period of chat, he acknowledges that he is perhaps talking too much and claims he would rather just play his songs. This doesn’t seem to be the case, however, given the amount of talking he actually does throughout the show.

Benjamin Clementine is a true talent and even in such a formal setting in a massive venue, his performance feels as intimate and captivating as it would in a tiny club.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017: Jon Pointing @ Pleasance Courtyard

jon pointing

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★

Jon Pointing gives an impressive performance as self-righteous, egotistical acting coach Cayden Hunter in Act Natural.

Seemingly drawing on his own experiences of acting workshops, Pointing mocks the pretentiousness of the craft and those who study it. The concept of the show is that we, the audience, are Hunter’s students, witnessing a self-proclaimed triple threat at work and, naturally, we are to feel privileged to have been given the honour to learn from him.

Pointing depicts the character brilliantly, right down to Hunter’s movements and mannerisms; he realises the actor stereotype through him. There is a particularly funny moment when Hunter goes off on a rant about a chair being more than a chair and Pointing perfectly grasps the melodrama of it all.

At times, the show can feel overly-scripted, which causes some confusion for the audience, who too frequently seem unable to decipher what is meant to be a joke and what’s not. The script, however, is clever and Pointing’s performance is flawless. The irony of it all is that Pointing is a talented actor – and probably the kind of actor Hunter thinks himself to be.


Jon Pointing: Act Natural, Pleasance Courtyard (Below), until 27 Aug (not 14), 7.15pm, £8-11