Mike Atkinson

Daft Punk – Digital Love (Virgin, 2000)

Posted in The Stylus Decade by Mike A on February 26, 2010

This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.

Its narrative plays out as a dream sequence: emerging from slumber at the start of the track, and retreating to it at the end. During the introductory vocal section, the dreamer recalls his dream, willing it into life. Behind him, the music sounds inside-out: a negative image of the dance track you’re itching for it to become. A curling Pepperland trumpet enters, escorting you to the threshold. The bass thump kicks in, there’s an explosion of colour—and then you’re off and away, spinning around in a world beyond language, jumping from bridge to bridge, dipping into the calm waters of a Supertramp piano figure, then spiralling skywards with a Frampton-esque talk-box cadenza. As the freak-out peaks, you’re turning somersaults in the clouds, freed from accepted notions of good taste—or at least, the notions of good taste which prevailed in 2001, before the widespread aesthetic rehabilitation of soft-rock and symphonic pop. Daft Punk might have had a quiet decade thereafter—but for helping to remove guilt’s hold over pleasure, we should salute them.

Advertisements

Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Parlophone, 2001)

Posted in The Stylus Decade by Mike A on February 26, 2010

This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.

Like so many great pop records before it, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” represents a graceful collision of contrasts. It is both participative and private, matching perky singalong sections with intimate confessions, worried pleas, and moments of blissful surrender. Beneath the archetypal gay-disco bounce, an electric piano sketches a melancholy counterpoint, adding blue notes to the primary coloured template. A soaring, swooning glide of strings is subverted by a series of blaring electronic miaows, which in turn remind us of those strange purring noises which greeted us at the start of the track. Do they subliminally reinforce our image of Kylie-as-sex-kitten, or are they there to satirise, and gently debunk? We could chuckle at the arch wryness of it all… or we could dismiss all these jolly trappings as misleading flim-flam, a smokescreen for the “dark secret” which lies at the heart of the composition… or we could simply de-tune from the detail, yield to the magic, and luxuriate in its utter perfection.

Kelis – Milkshake (Virgin, 2003)

Posted in The Stylus Decade by Mike A on February 26, 2010

This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.

At a time when mainstream pop was becoming ever more hyper-sexualised—a journey which took us from the transgressive highs of Britney’s “I’m A Slave 4 U” to the reductionist shallows of Christina’s “Dirrty”—the obliquely suggestive riddle of “Milkshake” came as a welcome counterpoint. As we puzzled over its definition, our imaginations doing the dirty work on her behalf, Kelis offered no further clues. Artfully offhand, like some sort of sphinx of the schoolyard, she spun her teases and taunts over a lean, lithe arrangement: lurching, buzzing bass in the foreground, sparse acoustic slashes in the background, pattering beats, the occasional bell chime (“Time’s up—next!”), and not a fat lot else.

Kanye West – Through The Wire (Roc-A-Fella, 2003)

Posted in The Stylus Decade by Mike A on February 26, 2010

This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.

Although helium-voiced “chipmunk soul” soon became one of the decade’s more irritating fads—Akon’s “Mr. Lonely” standing out as a particularly pointless example of the genre—this early deployment still feels artistically justified. As Kanye recovers from reconstructive surgery—jaw wired shut, meds coursing through his veins—a hallucinatory vision of mid-80s Chaka dances around the edges of his consciousness, her pitched-up vocals heightening the sense of other-worldly remove. Meanwhile, at a more earthbound level, the patient raves and drools, cracks jokes, gives thanks, spits in the eye of misfortune, and—as the world was soon to see—turns “tragedy to triumph.”

Rihanna – Umbrella (Def Jam, 2007)

Posted in The Stylus Decade by Mike A on February 26, 2010

This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.

It’s a snowball of a song: accruing power as its arrangement steadily builds, its anthemic status boosted by each week spent at the top of the charts (seven in the US, and a decade-besting ten in the UK). Even as late as January 2009, we could still buy into its happy-ever-after sentiment—as demonstrated on the last Chris Brown tour, where Rihanna habitually strolled out unannounced, dressed down in sweater and jeans, for a re-worded duet (Brown: “You can be my Cinderella, ella, ella.”) But as the fairy tale fractured, key elements of the track’s magic drained away, perhaps diminishing its stock value in polls like these. Well, didn’t we all expect it to place higher than 70th?

Twista – Slow Jamz (Atlantic, 2003)

Posted in The Stylus Decade by Mike A on February 26, 2010

This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.

The track’s unwillingness to stick with Jamie Foxx’s opening brief, which positions it as a fond celebration of ladies’ choice classics, and the dynamic tension arising from Kanye’s and Twista’s increasingly lewd attempts to subvert his mission (“Imma play this Vandross, you gon’ take your pants off”), is central to its fascination. On Kanye’s album version, the balance lies more in Foxx’s favour—even if his attempts at feminine empathy eventually flounder in typically blokey list-making (“Smokey Robinson, Freddie Jackson, Ashford and Simpson….”) But on Twista’s single version, the late-to-his-own-party rapper gets the last word, his quick-fire flow obliterating all lingering traces of the original premise.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL, 2008)

Posted in The Stylus Decade by Mike A on February 26, 2010

This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.

Ubiquitous to the point of nausea for most of 2008 – hell, even Mickey Rourke’s daughter in The Wrestler had the poster on her wall as a token of presumed “edginess” – it seems almost indecent to disturb the refractory period that big hitters like this require. And as an early convert – primed by blog leaks of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kawassa” and “Oxford Comma,” then blown away by the very first full-length play – it feels almost embarrassing for me to revisit the source of such giddy joy.

But “blown away” I most certainly was. Halfway through “M79”, and I was already composing superlative-stuffed emails – just like that golden afternoon when “Hey Ya!” and “Milkshake” surfaced on gabba.net, leaving me too hyped up to get any work done for the rest of the day.

Instant hits can yield diminishing returns, of course. I delayed the decline by deploying the album as a social soundtrack. It was hook-rich enough to work subliminally as easy, buzz-fuelling background clatter. (“This is nice, who is it?” “I’ll get a pen, shall I?”). But “Blake’s Got a New Face” first crossed the line that separates an agreeable earworm from a bothersome pest. The CD was duly shelved, then retrieved a few weeks later, ahead of an unsatisfactory gig. The venue lacked intimacy. The band didn’t scale up. Freshness and finesse were smothered in the soupy mix. And where were the strings, dammit?

For while much has been made of the album’s occasional African excursions (whose detractors seemed curiously unable to identify which genre was being so ignorantly mis-appropriated – soukous, high-life, township jive?), it was the crisp, crunchy, mock-Baroque string arrangements that first reeled me in: florid but concise, dainty without being prissy, and arguably the most effective pop/classical marriage since ELO. Perhaps that’s why the string-drenched “M79” first drove me to evangelical, missive-firing frenzy – and perhaps that’s why it remains my favourite track, nearly two years on.

Elsewhere, I’m still chuckling at the lyrical juxtapositions (lamas, butlers, Lil’ Jon! Vuitton, reggaeton, Benetton!) and revelling in the cloistered New England preppiness of it all (I’m English, I get to mythologize these things), and, I admit it, drifting off a bit during the second half (when you’ve thrilled to “A-Punk” and “Campus,” “Bryn” to “Corrected” is a comparatively dull run).

A played-out, dissected, consensus choice, or an era-defining future classic? It might still be too early to judge, but I already know which way I’m leaning.

Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules & Love Affair (DFA, 2008)

Posted in The Stylus Decade by Mike A on February 26, 2010

This review originally appeared as part of The Stylus Decade, January 2010.

Grounded in disco, routing forwards via UK synth-pop and Chicago house, and reaching back through brassy Seventies funk, Andrew Butler’s project seems conscious of its place within the lineage of New York dance – and yet the music easily and confidently transcends its influences. For other members of his collective, Butler’s awareness of historical context barely registers. As vocalist Nomi explained to me in 2008, “I never listened to disco, really. It’s strange, but when I listen to the record, it relates to me just as a modern, futuristic, mainstream electronic pop record. I don’t have those references in my head, so I can’t really refer to it as disco. The way it registers in my ears is just as some new kind of pop.”

Nomi is one of four voices on the album – two male, one female, one trans – although given Antony Hegarty’s contributions, which thread through five of the ten tracks, perhaps we have reached a land that lies beyond the boundaries of mere gender. Although Antony’s vocals sit well above the funky horns and disco bass, he doesn’t so much play the disco diva as adopt the persona of a lamenting deity, gazing down upon the mortal world with ineffable sorrow and yearning. His defining moment comes with “Blind”: the album’s centerpiece and emotional high water mark, casting a shadow from which its second half never fully emerges.

For having spent the first half ascending towards “Blind”, we now find ourselves inexorably ebbing away from it, despite some belated attempts to nudge us back into the party. Following the contemplative “Iris”, the crepuscular “Raise Me Up” and the frail idealism of “This Is My Love”, a returning honda-honda bassline suggests a girding of the loins – but the lovelorn Hegarty is having none of it. (“Life danced right out of me”;”I will never dance again”) The chirpy camp of “Hercules Theme” already feels like a distant memory, and not even the breezy swoop and bounce of “True/False, Fake/Real” can take us back to where we once were.

Interview: JJ Burnel, The Stranglers.

Posted in interviews, Metro, Nottingham Post by Mike A on February 26, 2010

(A shorter version of this interview originally appeared in Metro and the Nottingham Evening Post.)

A Stranglers greatest hits collection (Decades Apart) is about to come out – well, maybe not a greatest hits collection, but a retrospective collection. What’s the story?

It’s not entirely a greatest hits collection. We aborted one about eighteen months ago, called 4240. That was going to be all 42 of our Top 40 hits, but this one’s more… I mean, we didn’t have hits in the Nineties! So it’s going to cover all the periods.

The track listing suggests a good even spread, covering the entirety of your career.

Yeah, it’s a bit scary. I think the title stretches the credibility to a certain extent, because it’s talking about five decades: the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, Noughties and the Teens. But there are two new tracks as well, so it does bring us right up to date.

One of the new tracks, Retro Rockets, is also your new single. What’s the message of the song?

It’s a protest song. It’s a song about all the banal music, fronted by pretty – or what people consider to be pretty – front people. It’s about the state of music now.

Do you think we’re in a particularly parlous state? We’ve always had vapid, pretty people singing pop music.

Of course, and all hail the power of pop music. I’ve not a problem with that. But it’s just the mediocrity of it now. They talk about nothing. It’s cheesy, it’s dominated, and maybe that’s why there’s a reaction. People are going to gigs more these days then almost ever before – apart from the old pub rock scene, when people were actually going to bars and seeing bands all the time. A lot of people, including ourselves, did our apprenticeship there.

It does feel like we are living in a golden age for live music.

And thank God for that! Also, I get the impression that a lot of people are quite cynical about what’s made accessible to them, whether on TV or radio, and there’s a kind of a backlash. So you have people who want to see something actually real and live.

Absolutely – it’s the one musical experience that you can’t obtain digitally. And it’s the last place you can hear analogue sound.

And they don’t want it lip-synched, either.

Some of them try.

In China, lip-synching is illegal. And funnily enough, two famous Chinese pop stars were [recently] arrested for lip-synching at a gig! (Laughs)

I didn’t know the Chinese were so rockist. OK, so you’re having a bit of a dig at the new breed, and there are lines in the song such as “Where’s the melody? Where’s the identity?” Are we not veering dangerously close to Grumpy Old Man territory here?

Absolutely! And? You say it as if there’s something wrong there!

It was a charge that was levelled at your generation of bands, when you first broke through in the Seventies.

Well, we were grumpy teenagers – so I think we’re being true to ourselves. No, listen: there is some kind of seriousness behind it. If you think that every single human being is unique, and that the output from all those human beings often is not unique, there seems to be some kind of disparity there. All our fingerprints are unique. Our voices are unique. So why is the creative output from those unique individuals not always as unique as it could be?

There’s a pressure to adopt the formula that’s currently selling at the time.

It’s almost the tail wagging the dog, isn’t it? “Oh, I want to be famous, what shall I do? I shall do this thing that’s happening now.”

I’m aware that there is a bit of a Facebook campaign to get Retro Rockets into the charts. I’m reliably informed that to crack the Top 40 in the current climate, you need about 7,800 sales. Do you think that’s doable?

I’ve no fucking idea! (Laughter) But it is doable, yes.

You do have a particularly strong relationship with your fans, as far as I can tell. There does seem to be an unusually strong sense of community there. They even arrange coach trips…

They do, yeah. They do it amongst themselves. Because of the longevity of it, I’ve seen people become couples through meeting at Stranglers concerts. I can only say this. In the past, we’ve been demonised, and we’ve found ourselves ghettoised – so we’ve developed a sort of siege mentality. I think a lot of people who liked our music and identified with us felt strongly too. So they developed that same “us and them” attitude. So every time we have a small victory, they feel part of it. It is some kind of symbiotic relationship. But without the fans, we’re nothing. We’ve grown up together, and there are new people coming all the time. There are loads of teenagers checking us out now.

I suppose you get Stranglers families turning up. Families in black…

Yeah, I suspect you do. But also I think you get the fans you deserve. I like to think we have pretty intelligent fans. They’re smart, and they’re also quite hedonistic people. (Laughs) And why not, you know? They’re alive. Our fans are alive. And kicking.

At your shows, I guess you must attract two different groups: the nostalgia brigade who want to hear the old hits, and the diehard fan community who want to hear the other stuff. Is there a kind of juggling act, and does it vary from tour to tour as to how you balance it?

It does, of course. But as you get older, and as you accumulate more material, there’s even more of that – because we don’t always want to play the old stuff. Some songs, you get sick and tired of playing them. You’re just going through the motions. So you stop. We stopped playing Peaches for twelve years, because we’d had enough. Then we resurrected it, because suddenly we enjoyed playing it again and seeing the reaction on people’s faces. But the dog must always wag the tail. There’s nothing worse than going through the motions. You might as well be a karaoke band, or a covers band. That’s no good.

Looking through your touring schedule, I see you’re playing Hammersmith Apollo for the first time since 1983, as there was a bit of an incident there last time. What happened?

Oh, the guys in the monkey suits… um… (Long pause)

Why am I looking at this? I’m looking at a magazine called Attitude. It’s got Gareth Thomas on the front. (Pause – sound of pages being turned) Why is that in front of me here?

I wouldn’t have thought The Stranglers would be part of Attitude magazine’s remit.

I’ve never heard of it.

It’s a gay magazine.

It’s got a lot of… I can see that. Oh! Hmm. Anyway! Where were we?

I was plugging you for details on the 1983 Hammersmith Apollo incident.

Yeah, sorry! I got taken aback! The guys in the monkey suits were being a bit macho and turning their backs on us, and we’d had enough of that. The old-school bouncers weren’t very smart; they were just local thugs. So we had a set-to with them, during the first of our two nights there. As I recall, they had to draw the curtains. The audience were on one side, and we were on the stage with the management and a few heavy bouncers, and saying: listen, this is not the way we want to continue our concert, you’re being rude and aggressive to our fans, blah blah blah. So we carried on the show without the bouncers. Inevitably there were a few seats damaged. The next day, the management unilaterally cancelled the concert. And we weren’t booked again.

I guess people will have calmed down a bit since those days. But you were tagged at the time as having a sort of – how can I put it? – troublesome reputation. There were run-ins with journalists, and stuff like that. Was the reputation deserved?

No, not really. I think our reputation came before us, and some people reacted to that. So to be honest, we gave as good as we got. But if people were civil and nice to us, we were civil and nice back. We were quite defensive at one point, because we were selling more records than anyone, and we were getting slagged off by people saying we weren’t toeing the party line. We didn’t fit the punk orthodoxy and we had done it outside of the box, so the daggers were out for us. A lot of the so-called punk aristocracy were in cahoots with their media friends, and we didn’t have any media friends. And there was the fact that we had a keyboard player and we were – God forbid – using synthesisers, which was considered a new heresy.

Too many notes, you see.

Too many notes – and we were striving to play well, and to do arrangements, and we weren’t trying to be as loutish as possible. And we weren’t hiding our past. I didn’t hide the fact that I was educated, like some people. (Laughs)

There were quite a lot of ex-public school punks, as I remember.

There were. There were so many phoneys. Even someone as illustrious and as lovely as Joe Strummer slummed it a bit. He was an ex-public school boy whose Dad was a diplomat, and he was giving himself an accent. Shane MacGowan went to Westminster, for Christ’s sake. So they all hid that, and we said: no, we just want to improve our musicianship. We’re educated; we can talk about stuff, and not just slogans that have been fed to us.

People thought there was some kind of dichotomy between [what they saw as] pseudo-intellectualism, and being physical. Or violent, in my case. In some parts of the British media, you’re either intellectual or a thug. You can’t be physical and also strive for some kind of intellectual goal.

So we didn’t fit into any of those things, and we were still selling more than the others, and the accusation was: ah, they’ve sold out. Well, yeah – we were selling out everywhere we went! That upset a lot of people, so we started taking our revenge on journalists; those who we [had in our] black book. Le droit de réponse, you know?

Another charge has recently been laid at you. Apparently, you were directly responsible for turning a young Simon Cowell away from rock music. His girlfriend took him to a Stranglers gig, and he found the whole thing very distressing. Is that a heavy cross to bear?

It’s such a heavy cross to bear, but I shall bear it with equanimity. (Laughs) I think he’s got his facts slightly wrong, though. He was accusing me of spitting at his girlfriend, but I never, ever spat at anyone. I found that pretty cheap.

Initially, we had one song (School Mam) on our second album, No More Heroes – slightly based on the truth, actually – that was based on a schoolmistress who masturbates herself to death. In the process of this song, the singer – it was Hugh (Cornwell) at the time – would simulate masturbation on his neck, until he ejaculated by spitting.

Oh, so the spitting was artistically justified?

Completely! When we did that for the first time in 1976, at a club called Dingwalls, they had fifty-odd letters of complaint. So we were never booked there again. And that’s where we think that started. But I think at one point, the audience were spitting because they had read in the News of the World that that’s what you were supposed to do. So he’s probably got his facts wrong. But I don’t mind taking the blame.

Jet Black (drummer) is getting on a bit now (he turns 72 in August), so might this be your last big tour?

I hope not; I don’t see any reason. It might be the last one with Jet, but we’ve been saying that for years. I mean, he’s not with us all the time. We (recently) played in Greece, and that was without Jet. He wouldn’t have been able to take it. They smoke more than any other country in the world, I think. It’s incredible. It’s funny how quickly it looks shocking to us, in the space of two years since the smoking ban.

A lot of the shows that we’ve been doing for the last three or four years, we’ve done without Jet. But then he comes back and plays. He’s had some health problems. He was on life support only eighteen months ago. So any time he plays with us, it’s great. And when he doesn’t, his little Dauphin (Ian Barnard), who’s been with us for eight years, replaces him. But we’re definitely assuming that Jet’s playing with us on this tour.

Noisettes – Nottingham Rock City, Monday February 22.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on February 26, 2010

For a pop group with only two hit singles to their name, and an album which has been around since last May, Noisettes have shown remarkable staying power. The singles have each notched up around six months on the charts, and the album continues to sell well to this day. With no new product to promote – indeed, only one unreleased song got an airing last night – the band are back on tour, surfing the wave of their continued success.

“Rock City, at last! It’s taken us five years”, exclaimed singer Shingai Shoniwa, clearly delighted to be with us. (The band were in fact booked to support Maxïmo Park last May, but never showed up.) Shingai radiated pop star glamour, topping her black and white outfit with a banana worn as a headdress. No matter how hard she threw herself around the stage – even leaping barefoot into the crowd on occasion, and dancing her way right to the back of the main floor – the banana stayed securely fixed, a triumph of engineering.

If you have only seen Noisettes soundtracking the credits on TV chat shows, then you might have expected a polished but somewhat tame show. In the face of Shingai’s astonishing performance, any such expectations were swiftly trashed. Part coquettish showgirl, part rowdy rock chick, her commitment to having the best time possible on stage was all-consuming and awe-inspiring. She could make the transition from pop starlet to mainstream light entertainment personality any time she liked, and achieve even greater success – but right now, such temptations are clearly the last thing on her mind.

For the first song of the encore, Shingai reappeared at the top of one of the balcony staircases, perched precariously over the railings. “I have no fear”, she warbled, leaning backwards until her entire upper half hung upside down over the crowd below. Seconds after the song finished, she was back on stage. “Ooh, someone tried to cop a feel!” she squealed. “That’s OK, because I’m single…”

“You’re the best crowd we’ve had”, gasped guitarist Dan at the end of the set, visibly overwhelmed by our warmth. Meanwhile, Shingai launched into an impromptu rendition of Dame Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, rasping the lyric in an exaggerated Cockney accent. “I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day – HAVE A BANAAANA!” And with that, she was off.

Hot Chip – Nottingham Rock City, Monday February 15.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on February 16, 2010

Having just released their fourth album One Life Stand – their most mature and consistent sounding record to date – Hot Chip are back on the road again, consolidating their success on last summer’s festival circuit. For this tour, the five full-time members have been joined by their original drummer Rob Smoughton, who took centre stage for a reworked version of Alley Cats from the new album.

Guitarist Al Doyle also has a new musical role, having learnt to play steel pan especially for the tour. This slotted well into the band’s current sound, which draws percussive influences from Caribbean soca and the burgeoning “UK Funky” dance scene. These influences came to the fore on new numbers such as the excellent We Have Love, which climaxed with a powerfully insistent Italo-Disco workout.

The set reached a peak of intensity halfway through, with a fine run of crowd pleasers: Ready For The Floor, current single One Life Stand, and a storming version of Over And Over. These set the mood for a dance-oriented second half, as the crowd lost itself in the superbly crafted wash of sound. Hot Chip may not be the most demonstrative of performers, but they displayed a precise, instinctive grasp of dancefloor dynamics, sending ripples of pure pleasure across the room.

Thieves In The Night, the new album’s synth-laden opening track, started the show, while its closing number Take It In brought the main set to an exultant conclusion. At the end of the two-song encore, the players took a formal bow. For the audience, it had been an uncommonly good-natured and joyous experience, served up by a band operating at the peak of its powers, which left most of those who witnessed it wreathed in smiles.

Interview – Al Doyle, Hot Chip.

Posted in interviews, Metro, Nottingham Post by Mike A on February 12, 2010

A shorter version of this feature originally appeared in Metro and the Nottingham Evening Post.


(Photo by joshc)

Your new album (One Life Stand) feels notably different from your previous work. Do you see it in terms of a musical progression?

We can’t help but move forward in some ways, I suppose. As an album, it has its own identity, and it hangs together well. All those songs really belong to each other, if you know what I mean. We probably worked in a more concentrated way, and for a longer amount of time, on this record than we have on the previous two. They were sandwiched into the touring schedule, whereas last year we took a break from touring. So we had pretty much the whole year. We were busy doing lots of other things, but one of the things that we were concentrating on was recording this album. So we had eight weeks in the studio, and I think that comes through on the record. It feels as though it was made at a certain time.

So this was more studio-recorded, whereas your earlier stuff was more home-recorded?

Two songs on the record were still recorded in Joe (Goddard)’s bedroom, but the majority of the record is recorded in the studio that I run with Felix (Martin) in East London. It wasn’t really the five of us playing in a room so much, but it was definitely like setting up camp in a room and having all of our toys plugged in and ready to play with. We felt very comfortable there, basically. It was a nice way to make some music.

So it was over a concentrated period of time, where you weren’t doing anything else?

Yeah, but the songs were still written over quite a long period of time. It was about two years between the earliest one – which was probably Take It In or Alley Cats, which was actually played on the previous tour – to the newer ones like Keep Quiet, which was written in October last year. So they were written over a long period of time, but the recording process was quite concentrated.

Was there any prior discussion as to what direction you’d be taking?

Well, it wasn’t ever going to be like a strong concept record, or anything like that. We definitely had this idea of keeping the album quite concise, so we decided quite early on to have just ten songs on the record. And also to be a little bit less range-y in our musical mood. Made In The Dark [Hot Chip’s third album] is still a record that I really like, but I think it was quite confusing to some people. A third of it was slow-ish, introspective music, and then two-thirds of it was quite balls-out dance or rock music. So we decided to reduce those extremes.

You’ve reined in some of the more overt wackiness, I suppose.

Yeah. There are still some songs that have that kind of lightness of touch to them. A song like Brothers isn’t some sort of wacky comedy record, but it’s still got that kind of lightness. It’s probably the wrong word to use, but it does seem like a sort of music hall song.

We Have Love is also very stylistically diverse. You’ve got all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, but it still feels logical. It has quite an emotional vocal delivery, but you’ve also got these pitch-shifted chipmunk voices, and vocal cut-ups, and you’ve even thrown in an organ break for good measure. So there’s a sense that you’re still having fun experimenting, but in a very clear direction.

That was a funny one. That was actually the one I was trying to remember. There’s a kind of end-of-the-pier style organ in it, which was quite strange, and then the rest of the song is quite heavily influenced by current UK dance music, like this funky house movement that’s around at the moment. So there are these big bouncy basslines. Joe’s a big fan, so he was keen to reference a few of those things.

You’ve drafted in some guest drummers along the way. There’s a steel pan guy called Fimber Bravo, who crops up all the way through the album. How did that come about?

He’s somebody that we worked with before. He did the steel pans when we recorded a cover of Joy Division’s Transmission, about a year and a half ago. He’s actually one of the most in-demand steel players; he’s played with Brian Eno, and he’s been on the scene for many years. So we had him in for a couple of days, and we’ve ended up doing a little bit of production work with him on some of his own stuff as well.

And then we played with Charles Hayward, who is the drummer from a band called This Heat.

I’m amazed that anyone remembers This Heat; I’d not heard anything from them for years, so where did you dig him up from?

Alexis, how did you meet Charles?

Alexis Taylor: I went to watch him play once, and the gig was cancelled. He was standing outside the venue, saying that the gig had been cancelled, because the venue had been destroyed. And I just said, oh, I came to see your gig! (Laughter)

Alexis has actually been playing with him in his own side-project band, called About. He’s been to a couple of gigs since then, and we had a great day with him. The drum sessions were just one day with each drummer, so we had to really cram it in. He’s got an amazing kit that he’s built up over the years. It sounds very particular and he sets it up in his own particular way. He’s an amazing musician; he’s capable of doing extremely straight stuff, really powerfully played, but he’s also capable of doing incredibly rhythmically complex things.

And then the third person was Leo Taylor, [drummer from The Invisible], who played live with us for a whole year prior to working on this record, so we were very used to playing with him. Again, he’s a very technically proficient drummer.

Are any of them going to come out on tour with you?

Well, we’ve actually gone for a third option, which is a guy called Rob Smoughton. He’s actually the original drummer in Hot Chip, and he now has a solo project under the name Grosvenor which we’ve been championing for a good few years. We’ve asked him many times when we’ve gone on tour if he’ll drum with us, and he’s always not been available, but this time he is.

Have you played any of the new songs live yet?

The only one is Alley Cats. That’s actually changed quite radically from what it was – so no, we haven’t played any of the new songs. In fact, that’s the funny thing about the way that we go about recording. We couldn’t play any of the songs until (last month), because they weren’t recorded in that way, if you know what I mean. We’ve actually got to re-learn all of the songs. When they’re recorded, we’re recording track-by-track, and also a lot of the time we’ll be using instruments in the studio that you won’t necessarily want to take out on the road, like old analogue synths that aren’t very stable. And working out how to do all the percussion, and that kind of stuff live, is totally different.

So that could potentially take the songs in different directions?

Yeah, everything’s a little more stripped back and a little more raw and powerful, and I’ve had to learn how to play the steel pans.

I’m glad they’re getting an outing. That fits in well with your UK Funky influences, because there’s that kind of soca element to the percussion.

Yeah, definitely. They’re fun to play.

But you haven’t completely left behind references to Eighties synth-pop, either. During the first track, Thieves In The Night, I kept hearing a bit of the chord sequence of Visage’s Fade To Grey.

I think in retrospect, if you had to say something about the album, it is relatively Eighties; there’s a lot of arpeggiated synths.

I link that more with Nineties dance, actually.

Yeah, maybe, but maybe I’m thinking more of (Giorgio) Moroder, and Italo-Disco.

The Eighties revival never went away for the whole of the last decade, but it seemed to come to a head commercially last year. There was an awful lot of it about in terms of chart pop. Do you feel any sort of connection with what’s been going on there?

I think there’s a big difference between being influenced by bands that happen to be in the Eighties, and sort of “cod” Eighties, when you’re deliberately trying to label your sound in that way. There are bands we like that span the decades, like Joy Division and New Order, and then into Brian Eno and Talking Heads, that have always combined synthesisers with guitars. Or even something like Leonard Cohen, who uses a lot of synthesisers. An album like I’m Your Man is incredibly Eighties, but it’s also its own thing; you can’t reduce it to being that label, if you know what I mean. So we never felt as though we wanted to be some kind of retro band.

There’s an emotional warmth in there, which I think sets it apart, and I think that’s maybe the quality I’ve picked up on most. A lot of it is quite uplifting and positive and joyful, but it’s also quite plaintive and yearning at the same time.

There’s a stability that’s come from being married and having houses and families and that kind of thing, and being the age that we are – which is not tremendously old, but it’s still older than a lot of the young kids that are coming through. And so automatically we’re not going to be talking about going out and partying; it just wouldn’t make sense to do that. But at the same time, we’re still in the business of making pop music, so it’s got to feel like a bit of a party somehow.

Even before we’d written the record, Joe was saying that he would quite like to make an album of end of the night songs, which is quite a good way of thinking about it. Songs that aren’t necessarily quite as upfront as something like Ready For The Floor or Over And Over from the previous albums, but have that kind of euphoric sensation that you might get from finishing a big night.

The way that the tracks have been sequenced, that would certainly fit. The more euphoric, upbeat stuff tends to be more in the first half of the album. Then Slush is your big ballad, and then there’s a kind of a wind-down that goes from there. So you could put it on when your feet are still twitching a bit.

Well, that’s just the major label front-loading making it like that! (Laughs) But we wanted it to be that as well.

Miike Snow – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Wednesday February 10.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on February 11, 2010

Although they have barely grazed the lower end of the charts in this country, Sweden’s Miike Snow have enjoyed a slow burning, word-of-mouth ascent, aided by steady support from Radio One and BBC 6Music. A capacity crowd at the Rescue Rooms greeted them with warm curiosity, as the six band members took to the stage in near darkness, their faces obscured by white dummy masks.

The masks stayed on for the first two numbers, before being cast aside halfway through recent single Black & Blue. This also marked the first appearance of lead and bass guitars, which added texture to the otherwise keyboard-dominated arrangements. The songs sounded heavier and more dance-based than their recorded counterparts, characterised by thickly throbbing synth riffs and brutally simple kick drum patterns. A melodic electric piano cut through the murk, offering counter-balancing sweetness.

Andrew Wyatt’s lead vocals were mixed low – one assumes deliberately – adding to the overall air of mystery, which was heightened by the low lighting and copious use of smoke. The players were lit entirely from the back of the stage, rendering them all but invisible from the back of the room. With little to concentrate on visually, we were left free to immerse ourselves in the intensity of the music. This worked best on beefy numbers such as Plastic Jungle and the band’s best known track, Animal, which spiralled to an ever-quickening climax before cutting to silence.

The hour-long set finished with a lengthy instrumental jam, which progressed from a free-form, beatless drone (inviting comparisons with Animal Collective) to a seemingly endless and oddly static dance workout, which didn’t quite hit the mark. Given that there was no encore, it made for a strange end to a performance which confounded many of our expectations.

JLS – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Tuesday February 2.

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on February 3, 2010

When you’re a new pop act, setting out on your first full-scale tour with just one album under your belt, stretching out your material to fill a ninety minute show can be quite a challenge. To their credit, JLS pulled the trick off rather well, adding some well chosen covers – Boyz II Men, Rihanna’s Umbrella, a Michael Jackson medley – and giving their nifty four man dancing troupe time to show off during costume changes. All but two tracks on their debut album got an airing, and Beat Again – their first hit single – was reprised for the encore, to the eardrum-shattering delight of their mostly young female admirers.

The four lads – Aston (the pretty one), JB (the flirty one), Marvin (the lanky one) and Oritsé (the chunky one) – performed without the aid of backing musicians, save for a lone guitarist called Steve who joined them for just one song. Although this could have turned the set into little more than a souped-up club PA, the high production values of the video backdrops compensated for the loss – and at least we were spared the tedium of the customary “meet the band” section.

Appearing first on a raised platform, then slowly descending down four individual staircases, JLS began their show decked out in leather, studs and straps. One by one, they removed their shades, greeting us with looks of amazed wonder, as if our combined beauty was almost too much to behold.

Home made banners were everywhere: an illuminated “WE LOVE JLS” at the front of the circle, “1 KISS & MY HEART WILL BEAT AGAIN” in the balcony, and an optimistic “ORITSÉ’S NEW GIRLFRIEND” in the stalls, complete with helpful arrow.

The chaps lapped up the attention, milking us for every squeal. The choreography was sexy, but never lewd. T-shirts were regularly hoisted over nipples, then quickly yanked back down again. Marvin began the encore by ripping his shirt from his immaculately sculpted torso, then hurling it into the crowd. Moments later, he was fully clothed again. Shameless teasers, the lot of them.

On the way out, a lad pointed to his companion’s freshly bought poster. “You’ll have to take your Shayne Ward down now”, he reminded her. For former X Factor finalists, the road ahead can be a bumpy one – but on the evidence of last night’s show, JLS look set to enjoy a longer, smoother ride than most.

Set list:
Private
Heal This Heartbreak
Kickstart
Beat Again
If I Ever
Crazy for You
Close to You
Only Making Love
I Want You Back (Aston)
Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough (JB)
Beat It (Oritsé)
The Way You Make Me Feel (Marvin)
One Shot
Keep You
Only Tonight
Umbrella
Beat Again (reprise)
Everybody In Love