Mike Atkinson

SBTRKT, Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday February 28

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on February 29, 2012

(originally published in the Nottingham Post)

Originally booked to play the Rescue Rooms, SBTRKT were swiftly bumped up to Rock City, due to a level of local demand that seemed to take them somewhat by surprise. This was the biggest date on the duo’s current tour, and their awestruck wonder at the near-capacity crowd was a true pleasure to behold.

Fuelled by the unprecedented lashings of love in the room, Aaron Jerome (the masked drummer) and Sampha (the knob-twiddling singer) rose to the challenge and delivered a masterful set, which infected the crowd with the same sense of wide-eyed delight.

Placed early in the set, current single Hold On triggered the first of many massed sing-alongs, despite its decidedly downbeat lyric (“You’re giving me the coldest stare, like you don’t even know I’m here”). Based on their recorded output, you might not have had SBTRKT pegged as a sing-along kind of act, but this wasn’t a night for moody introspection.  Even the darker, more abstract passages went down a storm, and their sure grasp on dance dynamics never faltered. 

Although there were only two players on stage, and although most of the music was electronically generated, there was nothing sterile about this show, which left you in no doubt of its essential spontaneity. Sounds were looped and twisted at will, and Aaron’s live drumming added a vital extra dimension.

Closing with Wildfire – their best-known track, championed by both Radio One and 6Music – the lads opted for the Drake remix, complete with taped vocals from the unsurprisingly absent rapper (who will be here in his own right on April 25th). And for the encore, they dragged their excellent support act Disclosure back on stage, for an unscheduled jam on one of the teenage brothers’ own tracks. The experiment worked a treat, ending one of the best nights of live dance music that Rock City has seen in a long, long time.

Rebecca Ferguson, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Monday February 27

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on February 28, 2012

(originally published in the Nottingham Post)

Two days ahead of this year’s X Factor tour, Rebecca Ferguson became the second of 2010’s finalists to come to town as a headline act. One Direction were here last month, series champion Matt Cardle will be here next week, and fourth-placed Cher Lloyd will complete the set in April.

In hit-making terms, Rebecca is currently lagging behind the pack. Matt, Cher and the One Direction boys have all had chart-topping singles, whereas Rebecca’s debut release only just grazed the Top Ten. Then again, her platinum-selling album Heaven is still performing strongly in the album charts, and she’s certainly not short of a loyal fanbase. For while One Direction continue to wow the teens and pre-teens, Rebecca’s audience are a notably more mature bunch, proving that The X Factor’s appeal isn’t just limited to the younger market.

On the show, Rebecca made her mark as a soul singer of the classic school: shy in her demeanour, but passionate in her delivery. Her subsequent success hasn’t changed her much; she’s as delightfully down-to-earth as she ever was, and her broad Liverpool accent remains unsweetened by showbiz gloss. She’s less nervous and more polished now, but she remains a somewhat hesitant figure on stage, who never fully lets go and loses herself in the moment.

That said, Rebecca is firmly in charge of her own destiny as an artist, and most particularly as a songwriter. There are no cover versions on her album, and she has co-written all ten of its tracks, drawing on her own emotional experiences. They might not all be future classics, but at their best – the soulfully surging Diamond To Stone, the vulnerably intimate Teach Me How To Be Loved, and most especially the driving, dramatic Too Good To Lose – they’re skilfully constructed and shot through with a disarming sincerity.

Fleshing out the set to the full hour, a clutch of covers ranged from rock (Kings Of Leon, Rolling Stones) to classic soul (Sam Cooke) and a courageous – but not entirely successful – excursion into contemporary R&B (Drake’s Take Care is a great track, but its vocals are perhaps better suited to the Rihannas of this world). But despite the diversity of musical styles, Rebecca’s voice still felt a little limited in expressive range, even though it’s fully developed in terms of pitch, power and control.

Although the audience didn’t rise to their feet until halfway through the penultimate song, the warmth of their reception was unmistakeable. The standing ovation which followed Nothing’s Real But Love left Rebecca wreathed in smiles, and hopefully fuelled with confidence for a lengthy and successful career.

Set list: Fighting Suspicions, Mr Bright Eyes , Glitter & Gold, Diamond To Stone, Shoulder To Shoulder, Knocked Up, Gimme Shelter, A Change Is Gonna Come, Teach Me How to Be Loved, Too Good To Lose, Take Care, Fairytale (Let Me Live My Life This Way), Run Free, Nothing’s Real But Love.

NME Awards Tour: Two Door Cinema Club, Metronomy, Tribes, Azealia Banks – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday February 14

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on February 15, 2012

(originally published in the Nottingham Post)

The annual NME tours have an almost unerring knack of placing the most hotly tipped acts at the start of the bill. Last year, The Vaccines showed us what they were made of, and this year it was the turn of New York rapper Azealia Banks, currently surfing a wave of positive press and hipster hype on the strength of just one single.

Feisty and foul-mouthed, with a quick-fire, helium-voiced delivery that bears immediate comparison with Nicki Minaj, Azealia’s appearance and demeanour stood in striking contrast to her material. Sweet and demure in her high-necked, pussy-bowed blouse and sober black trousers, she could have been on her way to a job interview, rather than the stage of a sold-out Rock City. Her smiles softened the sweariness, making it almost seem wholesome.

The cheers which greeted penultimate number Liquorice – a collaboration with Nottingham dance artist Lone that reworks his club hit Pineapple Crush – suggested that plenty of punters had already sussed the local connection. It was the perfect gateway to 212, the eye-wateringly explicit track that started the ball rolling for Azealia towards the end of last year.

Making up for the disappointment of their cancelled support slot with Dog Is Dead in December, Camden indie-rockers Tribes switched the mood in an instant, carrying the open-minded crowd with them. Although there’s nothing remotely ground-breaking to be found in their music, which treads the path forged by Oasis and the Manics, and followed by The Libertines and Kasabian, the four-piece brought authority and drama to their performance, which felt a good deal more convincing than their recorded material.

With an easy swagger that evoked Keith Richards in the early 1970s – and a haircut to match – front man Johnny Lloyd did commendable justice to coming-of-age anthems such as We Were Children and When My Day Comes, and to the unexpectedly affecting Sappho. Tribes might have their limitations, but they also know how to make the most of what they’ve got.

To a certain extent, the opposite proved true for Metronomy, whose third album (The English Riviera) won them many new fans in 2011. It’s a charming and characterful collection, which wistfully evokes the spirit of the Devonshire coast where band leader Joseph Mount grew up.

Drawing on their past as a more overtly electronic, dance-influenced act, Metronomy shifted the landscape of the new songs, replacing sunshine with strobes, and adding a measure of dance floor wallop. Despite this, something about their performance still fell short. Mount might be a gifted writer, but his diffident delivery did the songs no favours, and the chance to make a direct connection with his audience was lost.

No such problems blighted the riotously well-received set from Two Door Cinema Club, who were clearly the act that most had come to see. In the two years since the release of their debut album, they’ve made steady progress on the touring and festival circuit, building their following in the old fashioned way. Although this was their first appearance at Rock City, they’ve been regulars at the Bodega Social Club for several years, and their delight at having made the transition was written all over their faces.

To the uninitiated, there doesn’t seem to be much variety in what they do. The songs are full of rollicking good cheer, tailor-made for mass participation. Tempos are invariably fast and firm, and the same distinctively chiming, trebly guitar runs dominate every arrangement. It’s indie-pop at heart, but its grasp of dance dynamics makes it incredibly effective in a live setting.

“Who’s here on a date?” asked Alex Trimble, reminding us it was Valentine’s night. A scattering of hands shot up, joined by a sea of fists after the follow-up question: “And who’s alone and single?” Well, perhaps a sweaty night at Rock City isn’t most people’s idea of a romantic evening. But if so, then no-one had told the couple who held each other’s gaze through the chorus of What You Know, mouthing its chorus to each other: “I can tell just what you want, you don’t want to be alone… yeah, you’ve known it the whole time.” Meanwhile, the rest of the crowd heaved, moshed and roared, ending the long night on the highest of highs.

View photos from this event.

Interview: Ronika

Posted in interviews, LeftLion by Mike A on February 13, 2012

(originally published in LeftLion magazine)

Ronika

What was the first pop song that you fell in love with, and how did it make you feel?
Take On Me by A-Ha. It made me feel five octaves higher, and then I turned into a very handsome pencil-drawn animated version of myself.

What was your first public performance?
Tap dancing while dressed as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle when I was about eight. I think I peaked early.

2011 seemed to go rather well for you. What were the highlights?
I gave birth to two EPs, and hand-made some videos for my tracks which involved robot conventions and interrogating synthesisers. I played my first headline show in Stealth, and then later in the year I went to New York to play CMJ, and to Madrid for two weeks as a participant of the Red Bull Music Academy.

What did you get up to in New York? Did it live up to expectations?
My expectations of being in New York were being in a high speed car chase in a yellow cab, which didn’t happen. But I did play two shows at a venue called Webster Hall, which used to be owned by Al Capone and has had everyone from Frank Sinatra to Blondie playing there, which was dead cool. I also laughed my head off on the subway going to Coney Island while reading my copy of LeftLion which I’d taken with me.

Tell us about meeting Bootsy Collins and Nile Rodgers. How did that come about?
That was at the Red Bull Music Academy. Every day we had lectures from our musical heroes and we were unbelievably spoilt: Nile Rodgers, Bootsy Collins, Trevor Horn, RZA, Tony Visconti, Mannie Fresh and Peaches, to name a few. I learnt so much and they were all really lovely people who blew my mind.

In his recently published autobiography, Nile Rodgers explains that all his songs have “Deep Hidden Meanings”. Give us an example of a “Deep Hidden Meaning” in one of your songs.
Well, deep hidden meanings should remain a mystery. But go on, then; Only Only is about how to programme your relationship to last the test of time. Forget Yourself is about trying to overcome yourself in whatever negative way it may emerge.

When you’re working on a new song, what element emerges first: the words, the melody or the groove?
It’s normally either the melody or the groove; the lyrics are the last thing that falls into place for me. After the music is done, then I’m ready to go shopping for words. Or, more often, shoplifting for words.

What songs are on the next EP? Will there be remixes?
There’s Automatic, which is a summer jam with a Tom Tom Club vibe, and Turn It Out, which is dark Italo disco but with lyrics like Craig David. There will be remixes, but I’m not yet sure who from. I might remix it myself, like on my first EP. I like remixing. I recently remixed my living room and moved all the furniture around.

You used to be a sound engineer in Junktion 7. What are your memories of working there?
Constantly trying to wade through a sea of goths and metallers to try and get to the stage, or doing the sound for some of the awesome bands that played there, like Swound or The Smears, or just hanging out with the lovely people that worked there. A lot of the music at Junktion 7 wasn’t really my cup of tea: during one sound check I told one of the metal bands I liked jazz, and in the middle of their set they just stopped and played a jazz guitar solo just for me. The audience were very confused – as was I – but it was lovely. I do like a lot of guitar music, though; I have a varied musical diet.

We also know you like to do a bit of DJing. What are the records that never leave your box?
I’m very fond of playing Stacey Q’s Two of Hearts at the moment, and also Jellybean Benitez’sWho Found Who.

Do you ever play your own records when you’re DJing? Or does that feel a bit weird?
Yeah, I often slip one of my tunes in, then mime along and forget the words. It feels weird. I might blush.

Nottingham’s music scene is in a remarkably healthy state these days. How has that happened?
If we plot on a graph the amount of people making ace music on the X-axis, and then all the ace promoters, podcasts, DJs and press on the Y-axis, we can see Nottingham music accelerating at an alarming rate. Lots of talent and a supportive loving musical community I think is the key.

Who’s making the most exciting music in Nottingham right now?
Wow, there’s so many, so let’s break it down into boys versus girls. On the boys’ team, we have Swimming, Petebox, Joe Buhdha, Kirk Spencer, Neon Jung, 8mm Orchestra, Ben Fawce, Dog Is Dead, Rob Green, Juga-naut, Jake Bugg and We Show Up On Radar. On the girls’ team there’s Nina Smith, Harleighblu, Natalie Duncan, Marita, Fists and Royal Gala. Okay, so the last two aren’t all girls, but I still want them on our team…

We know you love the eighties, but what music from the nineties is closest to your heart?
Oh wow, so much, ‘cos I grew up in the nineties. So everything from The Prodigy, Deee-Lite, Saint Etienne, Baby D, Black Box, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Photek, Paradox, Goldie, Wu-Tang, The Pharcyde, Beastie Boys, Carl Craig, Chemical Brothers, Ninja Tune, Mo-Wax, Acid Jazz, Talking Loud, lots of house, techno and jungle.

Some numpty at the NME said they wanted you to be more like Katy Perry, but I suspect you might have more fitting role models, musical or otherwise. Who might they be?
Katy Perry is obviously my main musical influence, but other than her I’d probably pick Prince, Sly Stone, Bowie, David Byrne, Nile Rodgers, Kool Keith and Madonna.

You’re renowned for being a bit of a herbal tea girl. When was the last time you had an alcoholic drink, and what made you stop?
The last time I had an alcoholic drink was when I was thirteen. I don’t drink because I follow a religion called the Baha’i Faith which teaches the unity and oneness of mankind. But yeah, booze and drugs are out as the Baha’i writings encourage staying in a conscious state of mind.

But we all have our vices. What’s yours?
Stalking pilots.

What’s the plan for 2012? And will there be more gigging than there was in 2011? We’d like some more gigging, please.
2012 is looking pretty rammed already. Automatic is coming out in March, with the album to follow later in the year. I’ve also got some big collaborations coming out very soon, which I’m mega-excited about. Yeah, there will definitely be more gigging in 2012. In March I’m playing the Bodega, plus some other shows around the country, then some festivals in the summer to be announced.

Let’s talk fashion. What are Ronika’s super-hot styling tips for Spring 2012? And what looks should we avoid?
My style tips for spring are vintage sportswear and lots of hairspray. Full body armour should be avoided in spring/summer – it’s too warm.

Style is nothing without substance, of course, so let’s end this interview with some words of profundity and wisdom. What’s the best piece of advice that you can give to your fellow travellers on life’s great highway?
If I may quote the great twentieth century thinker J. Springer; “Take care of yourselves (deliberate pause) aaand each other.”
Ronika will be playing Nottingham Bodega on Friday 23 March.

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Souvaris – Souvaris Souvaris

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on February 13, 2012

(originally published in LeftLion magazine)

In laudable contrast to the messy, acrimonious demise of so many bands, Souvaris have opted to come to an altogether more dignified end, after twelve years together. Following their final show at Nottingham Contemporary on February 17, they will part as friends, leaving this, their third full-length release, as the concluding chapter in their story.

Two years in the making, Souvaris Souvaris is a painstakingly stitched together patchwork of sound, in which the five players explore the full range of their collective craft. Genre-wise, it straddles the boundaries of post-rock, math-rock and krautrock – although to these aging ears, there are distinct traces of Canterbury prog-rock in there too.

Within each of the six tracks, there’s a constant shape-shifting of ideas, which transcends conventional logic. On the opener El Puto Amo, for instance, things kick off in a confidently striding fashion, quickly building in intensity before dipping into more reflective waters. Almost immediately, the tension starts to rebuild, as fuzzed-out washes of sound create a raging squall that eventually resolves into a stately, processional passage. Suddenly the clouds lift, as a simple keyboard line ushers in a friskier, funkier section that briefly nudges towards jazz-rock, before switching to jerky, staccato new wave. It’s a dazzling, tightly executed compression of moods, which sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Following the comfortingly downbeat Mooky, which lulls you into peaceful contemplation, the staggering closer Irrereversible leaves you breathless with excitement, as Souvaris negotiate impossible time signatures with consummate ease, concluding their business in fittingly triumphant style.

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Rubix – Style Wars, Volumes 1-4

Posted in LeftLion, singles reviews by Mike A on February 13, 2012

(0riginally published in LeftLion magazine)

Having dabbled with bass music on Take Me Higher and drum & bass on I Can Reach, Rubix have switched up on us again. In conjunction with Chelmsford’s Alpharatz, who supply half the tracks, the four Style Wars EPs take house music as their starting point, blending a range of retro and contemporary influences.

On Volume 1, Night Life sprinkles perky chiptune melodies over French filter disco, seasoned with hints of Eighties boogie. Things get sweeter still with Runaway, in which Charlie Starr’s vocals and James Hancock’s beats evoke two-step garage’s golden years, until a thundering dubstep throb drags things forward to the here and now.

It gets dirtier and nastier on Volume 2, as Charlie gives Peaches a run for her money on the electroclash-evoking Do Me Like A. Next comes Groove Line, whose comparatively restrained sitar/piano intro is swiftly obliterated by a filthy, rasping “donk”. We’d be nudging into Euro hard trance territory, if it wasn’t for the surprise flamenco breakdown.

Early Nineties warehouse rave dominates Volume 3’s Overload, which couples euphoric vocals (“put your hands up to the sky”) with skittering breakbeats and piano house riffs.  The breakbeats become heavier and the keyboards get more twisted on Dirty Kiss, whose growling bass verges on the demonic.

Volume 4 lightens the mood, as Chicago and House Musik pay homage to the original jack tracks. Vocal cut-ups abound, pitted against deep whoomphing bass and a certain measure of Larry Heard-esque dreaminess. An album follows soon, and it’s sure to surprise us again.

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King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Nottingham Glee, Tuesday January 31.

Posted in gigs, Glee, Nottingham Post by Mike A on February 1, 2012

(originally written for the Nottingham Post)

Some forty albums into his career – no mean feat, considering the first one appeared in 1998 – singer-songwriter Kenny Anderson, better known as King Creosote, has started to receive just rewards for his efforts. Diamond Mine, his collaboration with Jon Hopkins, was shortlisted for last year’s Mercury Music Prize – and as the duo revealed in a recent newspaper interview, the album came within inches of winning, being pipped at the post by PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. Nevertheless, the critical accolades came pouring in, and healthy sales followed in their wake.

Kenny and Jon began their set with a full run-through of Diamond Mine, in its original track sequence. Conceived as “a thirty-minute piece of continuous music with no singles”, the album is a subdued, melancholy affair, in which Kenny’s plaintive singing and strumming is complemented by Jon’s delicately understated electronics. The songs address the sometimes grim realities of coastal life in Kenny’s native Fife, and this acute sense of place is amplified by an array of field recordings from the same area. The same components were reproduced on stage, in a spell-binding performance; as each song ended, our applause almost felt like an intrusion.

The intensity lifted somewhat during the remainder of the set, lightened by Kenny’s droll asides between numbers, and by the time we got to the concluding covers of Song To The Siren and The Only Living Boy In New York, a collective mood of good cheer prevailed.

Support was provided by the intriguing Dan Wilson, who performed as Withered Hand, charming us all with his obliquely witty songcraft.