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.

Quazarz and Beyond: Shabazz Palaces interview

shabazz

Originally published for The Skinny July 2017 issue.

Ishmael Butler tells us about the Palaceer of Shabazz Palaces’ encounter with the sentient being Quazarz and how it came to influence the duo’s two new albums

Few artists have gone as far to create an entirely separate universe around their music as Shabazz Palaces, and their latest project is no exception.

Told through the perspective of Quazarz, a musical ambassador sent from another planet to ‘The United States of Amurderca’, the duo take us on a journey over the course of their two new albums where we learn about his experiences on Earth and his observations of our planet. “It was like being in a movie, where you’re immersed in the character and you’re doing it so much that you lose yourself until you get back to yourself,” explains Ishmael Butler, one half of the duo.

Butler developed the idea during the recording of what was to become Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines and was so inspired that he decided to release another album, Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star, alongside it. “I was trying to think of a perspective to come from with the music and the lyrics,” he says. “That’s why I came up with Quazarz as this alternate personality so that I could be an observer and present my discomfort with things.”

This is not a two-part album, however. Both explore separate themes and ideas, with the only constant being that they are both told from the perspective of Quazarz. “It’s just like the new approach, the Quazarz approach, so these are two different albums but with that approach in mind,” says Butler.

Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines focuses on our obsession with modern technology, specifically personal devices and social media. Butler takes a very negative view on this side of technology and sees it as incredibly damaging to society.

“I feel like it’s a very dangerous path that we’ve taken and a choice that we’ve taken as human beings to rely so heavily on these devices and let them permeate our world and give them to our children,” he says. “These are products that are meant to prey on idle-minded people that just need something simple and titillating to do and spend a whole bunch of unnecessary time on so it’s kind of like a dumbed down newness of technology.”

Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star, on the other hand, is more observational and explores a wider critique of modern society. “Being in the States, with the political climate, I started feeling more alienated so it was kind of like being a person who lives in a place but doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s home or that they’re a part of it,” he says. “I’m not out here talking about things specifically but the overall feeling that is evoked when thinking about it and living in it is definitely in the albums and soaked in it pretty deep.”

But Quazarz doesn’t just address politics. Observing the music scene, Quazarz notes being immersed in the “ethers of the Migosphere here on Drake world.” This isn’t Butler’s way of addressing the current state of hip-hop though, rather it’s him observing the current state of commercial music on Earth as a whole.

“Migos is sort of the oxygen in the atmosphere, at least here in the States, so I was basically saying that we were offering our musical contribution to this current place,” says Butler. “And it’s Drake’s world, so it was just a play on words and a sci-fi approach to the current musical landscape.”

The futuristic, sci-fi influences in Shabazz Palaces’ music have always been a notable attribute, but with the Quazarz saga Butler has taken that influence to a whole new level. Alongside the double album, the duo will also be releasing an accompanying illustrated book by Joshua Ray Stephens, which visualises the Quazarz story.

Stephens contacted Butler via email to suggest they work on something together and once Butler saw Stephens’ work, he knew he wanted to collaborate with him in some way. “I looked at his stuff and I was like ‘damn, this shit is dope,’” he tells us. “He was originally going to do a cover for the album but then the ideas started growing and growing and we finally arrived with this illustrated book, which came out pretty smashing.”

And it doesn’t stop there, with potential Gorillaz-esque live visuals also on the cards. “We plan to do a tour where we incorporate the music with the book and the illustrations and go to special places and do special events,” says Butler.

In fact, like Gorillaz, Shabazz Palaces is as much its own world. Butler reinvented himself from Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler to Palaceer Lazaro and joined forces with Zimbabwean multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire to form Shabazz Palaces in 2009. This was almost fifteen years after disbanding from jazz/hip-hop trio Digable Planets, whose 1992 single Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) won them a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

Initially, Butler refused any interviews and there was a great deal of speculation as to the true identity of Palaceer Lazaro. “I don’t really go for the whole ‘I want my credit and I need people to know that it’s me.’ I like the ambiguity and the mystery to what’s behind artistic stuff,” says Butler. “I was hoping to put the focus back on the music really. Plus, it’s just another way to be creative and add another layer to the product.”

Palaceer Lazaro is to Butler what Sasha Fierce is to Beyoncé: it’s a way of presenting Butler’s weirder, quirkier, more progressive musical side under a new persona. “If you come into each thing with the same perspective and the same outlook, you are probably going to be running on a treadmill, making stale stuff,” he says. “It helps to get into that frame of mind too: change everything around, rename stuff and come from a different perspective.”

Both prominent members in the Seattle music scene, Maraire and Butler each have their own projects outside of Shabazz Palaces. Maraire is one half of Afro-hip hop duo Chimurenga Renaissance and Butler is part of production duo Knife Knights with Erik Blood, who has worked on every Shabazz Palaces album with them. “I listen to him implicitly,” says Butler. “I trust him and I believe him, but I know what I like and what I want to try to do and he helps me to get there really.”

The duo collaborated with Blood once again on the Quazarz project, with Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star recorded over two weeks at the Protect and Exalt Labs: A Black Space he and Butler share in Seattle. Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines, however, was developed and recorded over a longer period of time, which allowed Butler to travel to Southern California to work with Quincy Jones’ grandson Sunny Levine.

Butler though is hyper-critical and a perfectionist of the highest order; so much so, that he finds it almost unbearable to listen to his music once it’s completed. “I don’t really listen to my music because it’s just not relaxing and comfortable,” says Butler. “I’m just listening to what I’m perceiving as flaws or mistakes mostly, so it’s not that enjoyable of an experience.”

When it comes to his music and the messages he puts out provoking change, particularly with such a heavily political project, Butler is reluctant to overthink things. He does, however, seem to see the Quazarz project as more of a catalyst for change rather than as his own personal attempt to create change.

“When you do something and it’s your emotion and your instinct and you release it, it’s almost like a chemical reaction and it’s unknown how it’s going to do anything or change anything,” he says. “I don’t kick back and be like ‘I’m about to change the world with this one’ or something, but I know that we dedicated a lot of time, energy and passion to it so somebody will probably hear it and have some feelings about it and maybe it will do something for them.”

Butler may want to play down the impact Quazarz could have out in the real world, but in Shabazz Palaces’ world, Quazarz’ landing has set off more than just a few ripples.

Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machine and Quazarz: Born Under a Gangster Star are released on 14 Jul via Sub Pop.

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.