Cardiff-based singer-songwriter Gwenno released her latest album Le Kov on Heavenly Recordings last week. It is a really wonderful collection of music that I reviewed for Caught By The River.
Part of my review:
“The album … speaks to all displaced peoples who have ever dreamed of returning home, however impossible that might be. By the end of 2016, the number of displaced people in the world had risen to 65.6 million – more than the population of the UK. These people may end up living for the rest of their lives away from the countries of their birth, dreaming of homelands and speaking languages that may soon no longer exist.
When Gwenno sings “A tongueless man / A tongueless man has lost”, my only thoughts were about those homelands disappearing (and the rich cultural history contained within all languages disappearing too). It made me think a lot about refugees in general, and more specifically about my own parents, who escaped Iran before the revolution, and their brothers and sisters, who left at the same time, scattered across the globe. None of them can ever go back home – the Iran they grew up in (the Iran they would call “home”) is not a place that exists anymore. I grew up as a first language Farsi speaker in Wales – communicating in a language that was imbued with nuance and poetry drawn from a land that I would never live in.”
Spent last weekend in magical, tropical Cheshire at Blue Dot Festival. Got sunburned, super drunk, listened to loads of music, missed all the science talks, and operated the third largest telescope in the world. It was amazing.
Stayed at a Travelodge near Crewe the night before to break up the journey. I can confirm, no one ran through this field of wheat.
The whole festival site is based around the amazing Lovell Telescope. It dominates, like some weird 50s sci-fi prop. At the time it was built, it was the biggest telescope in the world. It’s currently third biggest.
My favourite thing bar none was the interactive sound and vision experience with the telescope after dark. There was a control panel that allowed you to change the projections going onto the telescope and the sounds accompanying them. The AV show was created by artists based on radio frequencies received by the telescope from pulsars (dying stars out in space). This was data that had been received over long periods of time, but there was also a LIVE FEED INTO SPACE that you could choose.
It was absolutely mind blowing.
Me by the scope, being super impressed with it.
Preece and Natalie CONTROLLING SPACE.
The view from the campsite, Lovell glowing eerie off in the distance.
The next best thing we did was explore the Luminarium. This is a giant inflatable structure made of rubber. It’s got multiple rooms and you can walk around inside it endlessly. I went in with a couple of people that had smashed some mushrooms and some acid. It was so hot in there I came out after about 20 minutes. I think they were in there considerably longer.
Back out in the festival itself, it was a baking hot weekend. We spent most of it outside, listening to music and enjoying the general atmosphere. It was a lot cleaner and less sketchy than most festivals I tend to frequent (no weird krusty hippies causing chaos), which double edged for me: nice to be in such a safe, comforting place – but at the same time, I always like a bit of chaos …
This was one of the best things I saw all weekend: Nightmares on Wax DJ set. It had been a long, hot day – we’d just been in to see Max Cooper do Emergence which was INCREDIBLY INTENSE – me and a couple of others bailed, and ended up listening to this wonderful two hour journey through disco, funk, electro and housey house. It was upbeat and uplifting and very fun.
Other great things of note that we saw through the weekend:
FRIDAY – Leftfield (pumping tunes – shame they were on at 6pm and the crowd was full of parents with very upset looking children ramming their fingers in their ears, trying to leave, being forced to stay … darkside); Jane Weaver (amazing space pop kween); Pixies (who I saw at Glastonbury and bored the balls off me – but I loved them here!); Vitalic, who did THE BEST TECHNO EVER.
SATURDAY – Goldfrapp; Orbital; Factory Floor.
SUNDAY – Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band; Rival Consoles (he was AMAZING); Warpaint (which I left because they were SO BORING); but then I went to Shobaleader One (MUCH BETTER – Squarepusher LIVE!); Alt-J (really, really boring … I left after about five seconds and went and found a cocktail bar by the telescope that was rinsing out really loud, funky old school drum and bass and breaks classics. BEST TIME EVER, full of really friendly and lovely people from Manchester. Big love, MCR).
Loved Blue Dot. Would definitely recommend for parents – lots to for babies, with kids, and for adults with an interest in the world around them. Loved it, would definitely go again.
I’ve been a professional journalist writing mostly about music for far longer than I’d actually care to remember (since 2001, if you must know…). I’ve written for Rolling Stone, NME, CRACK magazine, as well as various titles that have come and gone in that time (Sound Nation, Plan B, Kruger). I also wrote the first unofficial biography about Lady Gaga, published by Orion in 2010.
Bit of a misleading title seeing as the GREATEST FESTIVAL ON EARTH was nearly two weeks ago now. It’s taken me THIS LONG to recover and manage to write up my experiences. If you’ve no interest in reading about HOW AMAZING GLASTONBURY IS, then you best toddle off and read something else.
Photo by Andrew Allcock
So. Firstly, a confession. Or an announcement. My name is Helia Phoenix, I am 33 years old and up til this year, I was a Glastonbury virgin. There are a lot of reasons – I wasn’t allowed to go as a teenager, early 20s I was too chicken to jump the fence and I couldn’t afford a ticket, blah blah. All the powers of the universe converged this year to allow me the disposable income for a ticket, and a friend who managed to get through and get me one. So, I was in. Signed up. Ready…
Last night, I went to a rather marvellous gig at The Gate in Cardiff, featuring Cate Le Bon, who I’ll happily claim as a local artist (okay, she’s not really from round here, but she cut her musical teeth here over the past six or whatever years). I’ve been to see her before, many years ago at a Kruger show. Last night’s show reminded me of a great interview that we published in Kruger (a local music magazine that I used to write for, that sadly no longer exists).
Luckily for YOU, the article still exists on Kruger’s Issuu page, so you can read it there. The wonderful Lisa Matthews wrote it, and the photography is flipping ACE too. Click on the picture below to go read!
Interview with Jon Hopkins, co-written with Adam Corner for CRACK Magazine.
Me and my pal Adam Corner have written a couple of things for CRACK Magazine before. This was the first time we’ve tag-teamed on interviewing someone. I think it worked out really well. Once I’d stopped squealing about Jon Hopkins and actually got down to writing, that is.
If you’ve not heard of Hopkins or his work before, I recommend you stop everything you’re doing, watch this video, and then go and buy everything in his back catalogue. Don’t worry. There’s still time.
The June issue of CRACK is still around at the moment – the cover looks like this…
Damn, I’m pigeon toed sometimes …
JON HOPKINS FEATURE – CRACK MAGAZINE, JUNE 2013
Born from the depths of his subconscious, Immunity is the finest work of Jon Hopkins’s astonishing career.
Nothing good ever came out of endlessly ploughing the same furrow, as Jon Hopkins can tell you.
He’s a man who understands contrasts. He revels in them. If your first encounter with his music happened to be searing new single Open Eye Signal, you might describe him as an electronic artist in the vein of Apparat, but then you’d have to explain his Mercury Prize nominated album of acoustic balladry with King Creosote. With Coldplay production credits under his belt, you could peg him simply as unassuming soundscaper to the stars, but that doesn’t really capture his film scores and soundtrack work. In fact, the guy rarely gets through an album without changing direction half a dozen times: mournful piano riffs, twinkling electronica and the unsettling pulse of metallic techno are all likely to make an appearance. And so, when Crack spoke to him in advance of latest solo album Immunity, we were only too happy to be schooled in the art of doing a thousand things at once; aka, being Jon Hopkins.
“This record definitely feels like a change of pace for me” begins Hopkins. “I spent a few months doing all these incredibly chilled out shows with Kenny (Anderson, King Creosote) where everyone was sitting down, I was playing piano and harmonium. I started feeling this energy inside me that needed an outlet. I thought it was probably time to get back into some beats and rhythms and focus on that more.”
From the opening track of Immunity – the crisp, clipping rhythms and pulsating bass that form We Disappear – it’s pretty obvious the beats are back. Immunity is essentially a techno album, albeit one punctuated with moments of quiet fragility. The same bass heavy, distorted rhythmical style that he perfected in parts of his previous solo album, 2009’s Insides, are still present, but have been augmented with a blissful and hypnotic groove that swirls through this new record.
“It’s important for me to keep the contrast in everything, and jump between activities as much as possible,” he says. “Even within a record I’ll have very heavy bits followed by very quiet bits. That’s something I’ve always loved in life – not all of the same. Lots of changes.” And when it comes to his solo material, Hopkins’ writing process is expectedly erratic. Insides, for example, was written over the course of four years, fitting around the rest of Hopkins’ varied projects as a producer a film scorer. “With Insides there was a lack of flow between the tracks” he states, “because tracks like Wire were written in 2005, while Insides itself was written at the beginning of 2009. There was a huge amount of time between them so they sound different.”
And despite enjoying the juxtaposition of such varied work, Hopkins admits that it’s not easy to jump between one thing and another. “There’s no switch in your brain” he says. “There’s always a week of me fucking about, sitting in the studio, unable to start again and despairing, and then one day it clicks. The amount of time it’s possible to waste like that! Film work is particularly hard because there’s a big time pressure on it. I’ve really struggled when shifting between that and other things, but with Immunity I really feel like I gave it the time it needed and allowed myself to say no to everything else to get on with it. It was the most satisfying experience I’ve had musically so far.”
If Hopkins is increasingly happy with his own output, the musical landscape around him leaves something to be desired. As he explains, it’s not so much that standards have got lower, but that it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.
“There seems to be an exponential increase in the amount of stuff that gets released, with crazy amounts of hype for a lot of things and unjust ignorance towards others. I find when writing music the best approach is not to think about that, just to pretend that there’s no other music at all and then just to release into that vacuum, and hope that people are into it. The internet’s changed everything, in the way that the reactions are so instant. Everything’s so easily accessible, you don’t have to work for anything, you can just have everything. You can have all knowledge, you can have all films, you can have all music, and that takes a little bit of the magic out of it for the listener. But it is the world we live in, and y’know, people still fall in love with music.”
Hopkins also has a unique personal antidote to the hyperspeed of the digital age: self-hypnosis. “I started doing it about 12 years ago”, he explains. “I was struggling, pretty broke, it was a very stressful time and I was trying to look at techniques for bringing my tension levels down. I started learning what they call ‘autogenic training’, which is a self-hypnosis using visualisations to guide yourself into a different mind space and to relax the body. I started thinking about how that could be applied to music. It’s an amazing feeling, the sort of feeling where you don’t have any thoughts, where the voice of the practitioner will be echoing around from left to right, sometimes repeating, getting quieter and quieter. If you focus on that you get completely hypnotised. I was actively putting sounds like that into my songs to see if they would have that effect, hopefully without people noticing. I almost want it so that by the end of the music you could be asleep! You can listen to music when you’re asleep and it can infiltrate your dreams and it has these amazing powers at levels underneath the straightforward consciousness. I’ve been going for that on this record.”
Jon Hopkins isn’t – in case you haven’t noticed – your average studio geek. Too often when an artist (or, more likely, their record company) bangs on about going on a ‘journey’, it’s no more than a metaphorical flight of fancy. But Jon Hopkins walks the walk, taking the relationship between the inside of his head and the world around him seriously. “One of the reasons I include so many sounds from the real world in my recordings is because it’s an actual journey into the mind of the artist” he says. “I’ll be outside the studio door with a recorder picking up exactly what I’m hearing while I’m writing it, so the listener is where I was, in a way. It’s an attempt to move it away from one dimensional computer sounds into something you can feel is alive, or built out of some sort of physical structure.
“I try to be open for everything I see in the world to find its way into the music. I was on a journey back to London, in a car with a friend who was driving me back from a studio out in the countryside, and it was pissing down with rain. I started to doze off, the windscreen wipers were going once every five seconds and this track was playing – a track that didn’t make it to the record. Somehow the music I’d recorded synced up with the windscreen wiper. It became this incredible accidental rhythm that I got swept along by. I’ve tried to recreate that in so many different tracks in different ways – things like that – certain states that my mind slips into.”
Looking to the future, Hopkins doesn’t have much time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labours. As well as shows booked to promote Immunity throughout the rest of the year, he has two film scores that need “tidying up” (the first one being a Kevin Macdonald film called How I Live Now, due out in September). He’s also worked on a cover version of Goodbye Horses by Q Lazzarus (as per Silence of the Lambs fame) with Hayden Thorpe from Wild Beasts, due out in July. That’ll be a pretty eclectic bunch of achievements wrapped up in just one year. And strangely, Hopkins argues that it was the slow start to his solo career which motivated him to embrace other projects. “Had it gone well with my first two records, I would have just carried on with that and made a lot more solo records” he muses, “I think it’s been for the best that it’s been such a slow burning thing”.
If the response to lead single Open Eye Signal is anything to go by, though, Hopkins’ slow rise might just be about to accelerate. But that’d just be another contrast in the career of an artist defined by them.
– – – – – – – – – – –
Immunity is available now via Domino. Jon Hopkins plays Simple Things Festival, Bristol, on October 12th, as well as Green Man, Glanusk, Wales (August 17th) and Bestival, Isle of Wight (September 6th).
I wrote a review of Green Man 2012 for Plastik Magazine. You can read the full review here (with embedded videos/images) or see below for text.
Green Man 2012 – festival review
Disclaimer. You’ll see by the photographs, this was a fairly muddy festival. It didn’t rain all weekend long (in fact Saturday and Sunday afternoons were blazing hot). But there was enough rain to make it pretty squishy underfoot. I’ll try and keep the mud and rain descriptions to a minimum and concentrate on the “festival experience”. Mkay?
You all know how the weeks leading up to any UK festival go these days. Every morning, you check the weather. Before you go to bed, you check the weather. The week before, you check the weather at least three times a day, and usually on at least three different websites before assuring yourself – no, it’s not going to be a mudbath this year…
In the week leading up to Green Man, there were no such happy thoughts. I’m a 100 per cent fair weather festival fan – I’ve never relished the idea of wading around through mud soup for three days. So it was with some trepidation that I arrived at the festival site on Friday afternoon, right in the middle of a three hour downpour, to go and fetch tickets and then park my campervan in the live in vehicle field. (See? Told you I was a fair weather festival goer. No tent for me).
After managing to dodge various caravans and horse boxes that had got stuck in the mud around the live in vehicle area, my companion and I parked up next to some friends, who were having their first weekend away from their two young kids since before the first one was born (around four years ago). (Their family situation will become relevant later, so read on).
They had already put away the best part of a bottle of rum by the time we got there, so we hurried on with the wellies and ponchos, packed away some bladders of cider in a rucksack and headed into the festival.
For those of you who’ve never been before, Green Man festival is situated in the beautiful Black Mountains near the River Usk. The site is in the middle of beautiful rolling countryside, mountains and hills. Even with a touch of light drizzle, it’s blimming beautiful.
Friday was spent doing that first exciting ‘let’s explore the festival!’ for a couple of hours. This consisted of hiding from the rain in every bar tent we came across, before making it up the slippery hill to the Far Out! tent, where the Friday night line up was a breathy, electronic indiepop affair, with Errors, Lower Dens, Cass McCombs and Junior Boys providing the warm up for psychedelic rock headliners, The Bees. Highlight of this tent was definitely Glasgow band Errors – a pleasingly noisy start to Friday night.
We then headed to Chai Wallahs for some of New York’s finest, rapper and beatboxer Joe Driscoll.
After we’d got a bit funky to that, we thought we’d investigate some comedy, as Robin Ince was on in the Comedy Stage. Unfortunately, due to usual amounts of ‘buying drinks/buying food/need to roll a fag/need to buy some chewing gum/can I just eat a pie’ faffing, we got to the stage just as the throngs were leaving as Robin Ince had just finished.
We made the journey back up the hill to Chai Wallahs to see Bristol funk band Yes Sir Boss. I had so many plans – going to see main stage headliners Mogwai, going to listen to the sweet sweet voice of Cate le Bon. But no. Without the responsibility of their children for the weekend, my friends (remember them?) went a bit nuts. They drank their cider, downed a bottle of rum, drank every warm drink on offer in Chai Wallahs (chai brandy, whiskey coffee, rum hot chocolate … mmm …). They wanted beats, dammit! So the sludgy ground and orange candle glow of Chai Wallahs became our home for the next six hours.
I’ll run you briefly through the excellent acts we saw: after Yes Sir Boss was Solid Steel new school talent, DJ Cheeba, who played an excellent DJ/AV set. All your standard big party tunes with accompanying visuals and effects. After Cheeba was Hackney live hip hop band, Lazy Habits, followed by a dark and bass heavy set from DJ Switch – electro, house, classic hip hop, dubstep – it was all there, plus a tent full of friendly people who were fairly mud free – apart from one girl who was trying to do some rock and roll dancing with a guy she’d just pulled, and ended up instead doing a face plant into the mud. Ouch.
At five am, we dragged ourselves round the entire perimeter of the festival trying to find our way back to where we were camped, to try and sleep and get ready for round two.
There aren’t many mornings where you can lie in bed and listen to the sounds of Cardiff’s Sweet Baboo playing his first set with a full live band as the songs waft up the hill towards you. Saturday was one of those mornings. Sweet Baboo must have been the busiest musician on the Green Man roster for 2012, with five appearances in total (by himself and also in other bands). When he plays solo, his tunes are quirky and intimate. With a full band behind him, they’re warm and inviting, and wrap themselves around you like an off kilter cuddle at 3am. In short, it was very good. If you get the chance to see him play like that, I’d recommend it.
Given the epic Friday night session we had had, Saturday was a much more relaxed affair. Highlights were beatboxer and guitarist Philip Henry with violin player Hannah Martin (truly amazing), experimental electro-rock duo Rocketnumbernine who scared the crap out of everyone with their stage show (that consisted of a young boy wearing a tiger mask and doing weird movements to the music), lovely American folk from Dark Dark Dark, and upbeat Senegalese rhythms from Nuru Kane.
I’m pretty ashamed to say that by about seven pm on the Saturday, my resolve to see everything on that night was starting to fade. We headed back to the campervan for some booze and food, but got distracted by the prospect of a warm, log fire-heated shower. We were, of course, absolutely stinking with mud by this point. So we fetched towels and headed to the Buddha Field where I enjoyed the best festival shower ever. Best two pounds I spent all weekend.
After getting back to the campervan and getting clean clothes on, I realised there was no way back out for me. So I got a cup of hot chocolate, got into bed, opened the windows and listened to Yann Tiersen and Metronomy as their sets rolled up the hill and into my van. It was most, most agreeable.
One of my favourite parts of any festival is the festival radio. Lying around in your tent on a Sunday morning, trying to muster the energy to get up and eat a Mars Bar or at least drink some Lucozade. Unfortunately there was no festival radio at Green Man this year, so Sunday morning’s soundtrack was the plinky plonky folk of Seamus Fogarty followed by a walk around Einstein’s Garden.
Einstein’s Garden is one of my favourite parts of Green Man, where there are stalls and stands around with learning activities for kids. When I say ‘learning activity’, you think – ‘boring’. But actually there were stands called things like ‘The Egg and Sperm race’, and Cardiff and Bristol Universities teaching kids about the solar system and about how molecules in corn flour and water work. There were also enormous hula hoops to play with. It was awesome. My friend Matt compered at the solar stage there, and did some freestyle poetry about Higgs Boson. I’m not even kidding.
Einstein’s Garden was followed up by some time spent sitting on a wall listening to the wonderful rhythms of Ghostpoet and then some serious headnodding to Alt-J, Cardiff band Islet, and Three Trapped Tigers all up at the Far Out Tent (and it was, truly, far out).
This was my first festival experience with kids in tow, and although the line up for this year’s Green Man wasn’t as strong as previous years, it’s still for my money the best UK festival of its size, in no small part down to all the extra little bits that you can do if you’re there with family. We spent ages in the Future Generations area playing massive Hungry Hungry Hippos and listening to a samba drum workshop – but the festival is small enough to walk across in about ten minutes. A great time at Green Man, as expected – let’s just pray for less mud next year!
Been a while since I did one of these. A mixtape for the spring. Right click on the image or this link and save to download.
Ronny Jordan – The Jackal
Radiohead – Lotus Flower
Django Django – Hail Bop
Holy Fuck – Lovely Allen
Martha and the Vandellas – Nowhere to Run
The Jam – Town Called Malice
Azealia Banks – 212
Queens of the Stone Age – Go With The Flow
Talking Heads – Burning Down The House
We have a load of stuff to catch up on… firstly, back in March, I went along to see my friend Lincoln do an in-store performance to promo his new album. Lincoln is a drum’n’bass DJ who goes by the name of High Contrast, and we used to work together in Catapult (ten years ago now!)
I made a little video of his performance, including an interview with him and also Hospital Records boss, the lovely Chris Goss.