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/

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.

Iceage @ Summerhall, Edinburgh, 5 Aug

iceage

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★

Iceage frontman Elias Rønnenfelt is frequently compared to Nick Cave, and those comparisons are not wrong. The problem is that Rønnenfelt attempts to emulate Cave a little too obviously, and doesn’t quite pull it off. He comes swanning onstage in a blazer and button-down shirt, proceeding to imitate Cave’s hand gestures and stage persona like he’s been studying the body language of the Bad Seeds frontman for years.

When the first chords of The Lord’s Favourite are heard, the front half of the crowd quickly alters from polite, head-nodding observers to moshing, stage-diving punks. This seems to please Rønnenfelt for the first time during the band’s set, and he leans forward into his loyal followers, singing directly into their faces. As soon as they get too close, though, he smacks their hands away with a sour look on his face, as though he detests their adoration.

This again is another common Cave trait, but one that doesn’t work in Rønnenfelt’s case. Cave can get away with this kind of behaviour because he is an actual Rock God; Iceage’s vocalist, however, is still far too early in his career to even hope to reach the same heights.

Between the frontman’s moans about needing a new snare drum (after drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen breaks his own one song in) and looking like he’d rather be anywhere else, Iceage actually prove themselves to be quite a promising live act. Rattling through a selection of old and new tracks, the Copenhagen quartet are actually quite an engaging live band. If only they showed a little more respect to their ticket-paying, album-buying fans, it might be a little easier to give them the credit they deserve.

Kate Nash @ The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 1 Aug

kate nash

Originally published for The Skinny.

Teasing us early on with a brief version of Foundations (it is the second song on Made of Bricks after all), it’s pretty evident there are more than a few ex-indie kids in the room: the type who, ten years ago, carried copies of the NME around in their Gola satchels and were still trying to come to terms with The Libertines splitting up. It’s clear Nash is saving the full version for later though, once the crowd has been fully warmed up.

Following this up with an epic, punk rendition of Mouthwash, any disappointment at Foundations being cut short is quickly forgotten. Nash thrashes around the stage, belting out the words in an exuberant scream, making it clear she’s no longer the delicate piano-playing indie princess she was ten years ago.

Coming towards the end of her set, we finally get the full version of Foundations we are all waiting to hear and it can only be described as suitably rapturous. Not for the first time tonight, the crowd sing every word back to Nash at the top of their lungs, in between turning to their friends to do the same.

With the encore largely made up of Nash’s newer material, it’s clear to see how much she’s grown as an artist. Behind her cute exterior, there is a real punk within Kate Nash and those who doubt that simply need to witness her live to be proven wrong.

http://www.katenash.com/

 

Going for Gold: Kobi Onyame interview

kobi onyame

Originally published for The Skinny August 2017 issue.

For over ten years, Glasgow-based musician Kobi Onyame has been gradually making a name for himself, under numerous different guises, as one of the most promising hip-hop acts in Scotland; but for his new album GOLD, he’s going back to his roots. “I wanted to challenge myself to do something that I haven’t done before because I feel like I did the hip-hop thing and I didn’t want to just make another boom bap hip-hop album,” says Onyame. “I’ve kept the hip-hop undertones but it incorporates a lot more percussion and that whole West African, Ghanaian highlife feel.”

Born to Ghanaian parents, Onyame’s earliest memories of highlife music come from hearing his mum and dad playing it around the house. It wasn’t until he spent three years doing his undergraduate studies in Ghana, however, that he became fully immersed in the Ghanaian music scene and met many of the artists who he went on to work with on GOLD. “For those three years, I started a hip-hop crew in Ghana, so I know M.anifest, M3NSA and Wanlov (the Kubolor) from those days, from 1998 or 1999,” Onyame tells us. “Each time I go out to Ghana, I try and make time to network with artists, soak up that energy and collaborate.”

Onyame’s interest in pursuing a more highlife-leaning sound though, stems mainly from his time working with Ghanaian producer and head of production company/record label Pidgen Music, Panji Anoff. “They’ve got artists that are very authentic to highlife and Panji’s a very big influence on my music,” says Onyame. “Just working with him and getting that vibe, I wanted to create something that reminded me of the old Fela Kuti, slightly over-saturated sound: that tape, almost vinyl sound, so the whole album was recorded that way.”

Rather than go down the route of a traditional album release format, Onyame decided to release GOLD track-by-track via streaming sites such as Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud to build up more of a buzz around the album before its actual release. “I feel like in this day and age, albums come out and just get lost,” explains Onyame. “I think the whole album structure only works for superstars, like Beyoncé and Jay-Z can put out a whole album and everyone gets excited about it but for lesser known artists, sometimes the whole release date thing makes the album get lost.”

Taking a leaf out of one of his hero’s book, Onyame’s method of releasing GOLD is much like the way in which Kanye West promoted his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In the months leading up to the album’s release, West released a new song every Friday as part of his G.O.O.D. Fridays project, four of which turned out to be alternative versions of tracks that ended up on the album.

“I finished recording the album round about the start of December last year, and basically what I’ve been doing is putting out alternative versions, so when the album finally comes out some of the tracks will be different to the single versions I’ve actually released,” says Onyame. “I really believe that the album is something special and I’m saying quite a lot on it so I didn’t want an album release date to just come and go.”

Initially starting his music career as a producer, Onyame believes that being allowed time and space to develop on his own away from London, without the demands and pressures of record labels, has helped him grow into a more rounded artist and performer. “Up here, labels don’t have the time or money to develop people anymore so I guess we’re developing away from them and by the time they notice that, we’re way ahead of their acts,” stresses Onyame. “I would never say no to the right label or the right situation but I think in this day and age, being independent is the strongest position you can actually be in.”

Since moving to Glasgow to do his Masters degree at Strathclyde University, Onyame has found that being based in Glasgow has benefitted his music career, as there are just as many opportunities to get yourself noticed but there’s not as much competition between artists. “I’ve always thought that being up here gave me an advantage because it’s kind of like being away from the hub that London can be sometimes,” says Onyame. “Obviously, there’s a disadvantage of being so far away from where everything happens but at the same time, there’s the advantage of being able to develop and being unique to your sound.”

Success may feel like a long time coming for Kobi Onyame, but if patience really is a virtue, then GOLD might just see him end up in first place.


GOLD is self-released 1 Sep

http://www.kobionyame.com/