FEATURE: Jeff Buckley: The Man, The Legend

FEATURE:

 

Jeff Buckley:

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Anton Corbijn

 

The Man, The Legend

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IT completely escaped my mind that…

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

Jeff Buckley died twenty years ago today. I remember discovering his a few years after his death and was instantly shocked and numb.

You hear him sing and listen to interviews he conducted and get a real sense of a young man who could have changed the world of music, forever.

Dying at the age of thirty is a savage injustice but for someone who had that gift and ability – it seems a huge injustice he should leave us so prematurely. I guess the circumstances of his death were avoidable but, knowing more about Buckley, you wouldn’t be surprised he did what he did. I shall not go into the harrowing details and tragic last moments but focus on the man himself and what he gave the world. There are few who can deny what an impact albums like Grace had on the world. I will go back a bit and talk about the first experience I had of Buckley’s music. His Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) – I shall include songs in a playlist below – album is my favourite live album because of its intimacy and extraordinary performances. I have written about it before so shall not go into too much detail: only to say it is something you need to hear. We all know about his multi-octave, planet-straddling vocal abilities and one can experience his full range in all its candour and power. Back in 1993, in that Irish coffee-house, Buckley took to stage with little more than a Telecaster, amp and microphone.

PHOTO CREDIT: David Tonge

What I love about that double-album is the range of covers and originals. Songs we would hear fully-realised on Grace were still in the experimentation stages. One can witness early cuts of Last Goodbye and Lover, You Should’ve Come Over. Hallelujah is in there as is Grace; there are some beautiful cover versions from the likes of Bob Dylan (Just Like a Woman, I Shall Be Released and If You See Her, Say Hello) and Van Morrison (The Way Young Lovers Do and Sweet Thing). Each song becomes a sermon and a transcendent thing. Buckley did not merely represent the song but transformed it into his own thing. To take a Bob Dylan song on is quite a brave thing but few manage to top the authority and majesty of its author. Buckley had such affection for the material he was tackling it never seemed like he was trying to, necessarily, make it his own – make it more accessible to the people.

He put his heart and soul into every number and ensured an immense amount of love and passion went into the recording.

Listening to that live album and one learns more about the young man. Shortly before heading into the studio and creating Grace’s masterful strokes; one can (for free) hear Jeff Buckley play a staggering set to a few select patrons. Not only did the man produce sensational readings but unveiled his personality. There are quirky asides and improvisations; chats to the crowd and funny observations. You can hear his Miles Davis impression and some on-the-spot renditions of Smells Like Teen Spirit and Moondance; riffs about chair shortages and a one-on-one about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Buckley’s idol and “Elvis”. I urge people to check out the album and get a real glimpse into Buckley’s mind and music.

PHOTO CREDIT: Hideo Oida

Of course, Grace is the album we all know Buckley for and was his sole studio record. It is an album that cannot be overrated or understated: fully warranting its acclaim, stature and reputation. Not only because it introduced the world to one of its finest singers and young songwriters but the legacy and effect it has had on modern music.

One can barely stumble through the list of contemporary male songwriters and avoid Buckley as an influence.

I review and interview so many who count him as an influence: not only reserved to men but many female songwriters, too. I am not sure whether it is the enticing beauty and intimacy or the allure and peculiar potency of his voice – musicians are still stunned and captivated by it twenty years after Buckley’s death. Yes, there are a couple of less-than-miraculous tracks on Grace (So Real is a bit of an afterthought and an inferior rocker; Eternal Life has the wrong tempo and emotional slant) but every classic album does.

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From the title track’s immense rapture and monumental emotionality to peerless covers of Lilac Wine and Corpus Christi Carol; Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’s extraordinary images and songwriting to Dream Brother’s enigmas and personal relevance. What we all associate with Grace is its standout moment: the cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Countless cover versions – of Buckley’s rendition, especially – have shown nobody can touch his unique take and supernatural powers.

I would offer a moratorium to anyone who still feels the need to cover Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen wrote it; Jeff Buckley OWNS it – simple as that, guys! It is a song that brings shivers to every part of the body and buckles the knees with its purity and sexuality – Buckley’s version was the celebration of the orgasm, as he revealed. Take Grace as a whole and it remains a staggering that, tragically, had no siblings.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

Buckley was preparing to record the follow-up, My Sweetheart the Drunk, when he died. Versions of songs and possible inclusions are available on an album (Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk) but it is hard to say how many, if any of those songs would appear on the final record. Buckley was fiercely creative but a perfectionist, too. So many possible songs were scrapped – he thought they were not good enough – so, in other hands, we might have had an album.

Of course, it makes it extra-sad that we never got to hear that album.

Who knows what would have been on it and the effect it could have had?! Best not to speculate but preserve what he did leave and make sure it reaches as many new people as possible.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

Sadly, there is a large core that only knows Jeff Buckley for Hallelujah and assumes he wrote the song – Buckley was a terrific songwriter but no Leonard Cohen! Anyway, Jeff Buckley showed what a talent he was and, if one looks hard enough, you can discover all manner of records and live tracks.

Buckley could easily transfix an audience in a coffee-house but was capable of creating rapture in an arena. He always yearned, near the end of his life, to return to those smaller spaces and recapture some independence.

That said, one need only listen to Buckley’s gigs at The Bataclan and À L’Olympia to hear what a reaction he received. Maybe it was the French audiences but they would scream at the first few notes of a song. Completely dumbstruck and hysterical at Buckley’s mere prescience: the man himself would be awed and seduced by their affection – charmingly, and laughing, calling one audience strange people for being so impressed. It showed what love there was for Buckley and, in turn, how much that meant to him. At a time when we associate big gigs – from mainstream artists – with a slick feel and a lack of audience connection; Jeff Buckley cast all the pretence and ego away and played music to actual human beings.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

The interviews Buckley conducted through his life (as you will hear/see from the YouTube compilation) provided plenty of humour, revelation and vulnerability. That exceptionally sweet and soft speaking voice gets you hooked but one is blown away by the maturity, intelligence and articulacy on offer. Buckley would tell stories and prompt theories; talk about his music past and what his songs meant.

Rarely, and for good reasons, would he discuss his late father, Tim Buckley, and whether he was close to him.

One can only imagine, if Jeff Buckley were alive today the sort of tabloid questions he would receive – not talking about the music; only interested in gossip and personal pain! I guess few of us listen to interviews of our favourite artists and check out that side of things.

PHOTO CREDIT: David Gahr

Unless they are promoting something, would you really bother digging through YouTube or Google?!I probably wouldn’t but, when it comes to Buckley, his interviews are timeless and ever-relevant.

There is wisdom and lessons that have outlived him and should be followed by people today.

I guess it is easy to get sentimental and see 2017 as a rather sad year. In fact, I rarely think of Buckley in sad terms anymore. Sure, there is emotion and reaction but rarely depression and loss. I am a huge fan so ensure I make him part of my regular rotation. Listening to his interviews feels, in a strange way, he is there and always ready to talk to you. I sound like someone who has a final voicemail from their departed lover as a reminder and last fragment of their being. I know Buckley is gone but having those recorded conversations keeps him as alive and here as his music does.

There are other recordings Buckley left, aside from his live albums and Grace so would recommend everyone spend a bit of time getting acquainted with them. There will be a day when everything he ever put his voice to his discovered but I have a feeling there will be more. Like all legendary artists, he seemed to garner greater popularity and attention after his death. Like an old Jazz hero, he was not properly appreciated in his lifetime.

His native U.S. audiences appreciated his music but did not give it the chart and commercial success it deserved.

A few critics were unmoved by Grace and there was a bit of a struggle getting his music spread. Maybe 1994 was a bad year to release a debut album. In a time when Grunge was still going and U.S. Rock was a hot commodity; perhaps Buckley’s tender and emotional songs were a little too watered down and ineffectual for audiences who demanded something raw and body-moving.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

One can argue, were Grace released a few years later, it would have reached dizzying heights and made him an instant household name. The French understood him and ensured he was given proper adulation; British audiences similarly supportive and effusive. It is sad albums like Grace received more widespread acclaim and better understanding after Buckley’s 1997 death.

Now, it is widely seen as one of the greatest albums ever and a tantalising insight into a stratospheric talent.

Rather than wonder what could have come; stand back and witness what was already there. Few new artists can create something as fully-formed and realised on their opening salvo. I apologise for splitting infinitives and stepping over cracks but I cannot give credence to any notion Buckley was overrated and ordinary. I have seen some suggest that and always have this primal and near-violent reaction.

PHOTO CREDIT: Hideo Oida

If you feel he has been raised, unfairly, to near God-like levels then you are not listening to him properly and understand what his music was about. Fair enough people want to criticise but do not expect proper music-lovers to back that notion. The mark of a truly legendary artist/album is the influence it has on future generations.

We can all see and hear the results of Buckley’s existence and how much he means to musicians.

His incredible voice and wonderful work has crossed gender and genre boundaries; raced right around the globe and compelled so many artists to take up music and showed a certain degree of vulnerability and sensitivity. Many, even at the time Buckley recorded Grace, were reticent about showing any sensitivity in their music – fearing it would be mocked by critics and juxtapose the mood at the time.

PHOTO CREDIT: Anton Corbijn

Now, there are no such stigmas and fears: in a way, Buckley helped break down boundaries and ensure musicians were unafraid to reveal their soul through their work. Of course, there are few modern artists who get close to matching Buckley’s magic and talent but there are many who get close. Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s lead, was enormously affected by Buckley after seeing him perform in London. Following his gig at The Garage, Yorke hurried to the studio where he recorded Fake Plastic Trees. The performance we hear on The Bends is the same one that was recorded, by Yorke alone, after that revelatory moment – after finishing the song, he broke down in tears. If it weren’t enough to help create an album like The Bends – Buckley is responsible for the more emotional and beautiful tracks on the record – one need only listen to the radio today. I can hear Buckley’s tones and spirit in our current crop which gives me a lot of heart.

They are not trying to copy him but show their love and thanks for a brilliant young man who, in a short life, gave so much.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

It may be twenty years ago he left us but, whilst sad, it should not be seen as a chance to mourn and feel sad. Yes, he should be alive today and could have done so much more good but that is the way things are sometimes – life can be cruellest to those who warrant the greatest luck and success. Rather than becoming morbid, it is a chance to celebrate Jeff Buckley and, for many, discover him. There are a lot of people who might never have heard his music or only know him through Hallelujah. Trust me; you will have a great and eye-opening time hearing those rare recordings and live gems from the Californian legend.

No matter what mood you are in, there is a Jeff Buckley song that will suit you and provoke a reaction.

I wonder whether we will ever see another singer like Jeff Buckley that has that rare blend of biblical talent and a loveable personality. Buckley was mysterious and complex but, in the way he spoke and delivered his music, simple and open.

PHOTO CREDIT: Hideo Oida

His personal life was off-limits and he did not feel the need to talk about relationships and private aspects. It was about the music and ensuring it was as brilliant as it could possibly be.

I cannot recommend Jeff Buckley enough and overstate how important he is.

We are living in an age where many songwriters are surrounded by producers and feel the need to farm-out creative and writing responsibilities. There are plenty of talented and able artists who are not culpable but Buckley’s music should serve as an example of what a proper artist is all about: no extra bodies or outside forces: a man who defined what a singer-songwriter should be. I shall leave you with a quite by Buckley that seems very relevant and meaningful given the events of the past week. It talks perfectly demonstrates his intelligence and understanding of humans. In the words of the great man himself:

Our suffering is peeling off and revealing a brand new skin, a new power

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikio Argia

LOVE heals all wounds and not just time alone.”

 

FEATURE: The Music Bug: Chasing the Dream

FEATURE:

  

The Music Bug:

 

 Image result for music photos unsplash

 

Chasing the Dream

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YESTERDAY’S visit to Broadcasting House…

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has lit a fuse in me. It was the first time I stepped inside the building – having marvelled at its outside for many years – and a lot different to what I was expecting. After the initial bag search – security being stepped-up and tightened – it was into the reception and the eye-catching array of screens, people and technology. It is, if you have not been in there, a very modern and slick building that is very well run and smooth. You come in and have your photo taken and then, whilst waiting on one of their comfy leather sofas, get to watch people come in and out and all sorts of things happening – journalists and guests escorted around and lots of chatter. It is when you get past the reception area the eyes and mind really start to widen. I did not see the entire building but, going up to the third floor, it was filled with desks (not your average, boring office types) and studios. Once you get past the desks, you get the Green Room and the small studios of BBC Radio 5. It is awesome sitting in the room and listening to a radio broadcast happening inches from you – they play it on a digital radio but the broadcast is coming live from a studio right beside you; so you can see everything happening. My experience at the station was, albeit limited, but a great and virgin experience. I have been on T.V. before but the first time on radio. The initial nerves were, I hope, dispirited when the show started, and it became a more relaxed environment. My reasoning behind being there was to discuss the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the ‘pro’ corner – arguing it deserves its acclaim and legendary status – was Howard Goodall. I have been a fan of his for years and known his work ever since becoming obsessed with Blackadder. He composed music/the themes for the show’s series and has worked across T.V. and film. Whilst chatting in the Green Room, he explained how he was involved in a BBC Radio 2 documentary looking at the album and doing a lot of interviews.

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There was talk of an interview with Paul and Ringo for the documentary but they felt Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was created by young men – it would feel odd looking back on it having aged and moved on. Regardless, Goodall discussed what he has been up to and the complexities involved in unpicking and unearthing all of the album’s outtakes and sounds. Giles Martin, son of the legendary, and sadly departed, producer George Martin tasked himself with the job of collating all this rare material and wading through the archives. All those alternate takes and conversational snippets one can enjoy on the fiftieth-anniversary releases were not easy to find, that is for sure. Goodall discussed the album’s merits and how it first touched him. It was great chatting with a bit of an icon and someone so passionate about The Beatles. In the studio, he and Steve Lillywhite – a hugely prolific and established record producer – who was opposed to the notion Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band warrants such celebration. He contested it was a mishmash of sounds and a very loose, if visible, concept. He proffered it contained awful songs and very few bright spots; the two best songs mooted for the album, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were not included (winding up on the follow-up, Magical Mystery Tour) and The Beatles’ obsessiveness in the studio ‘inspired’ other bands to make something overblown and ridiculous. Goodall observed the fact they spent a long time making the album is not their fault – if other bands create rubbish music then that is because of them. Texts came in during the show and the balance of opinion switched from Goodall’s favour into Lillywhite’s camp by the end. It was fascinating being in middle, as it were, and a ‘Devil’s Advocate’: giving my opinions and why the album is relevant to me.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Howard Goodall

It was very much the titans Goodall and Lillywhite going against one another: I feel Lillywhite had some valid arguments and was a lot more spirited in his passion. Calling from Jakarta, not sure why he was there, I was amazed by Lillywhite’s venom and attack of the album and Goodall’s defence and supplication. It was a fascinating debate refereed and guided by host Will Gompertz – as part of his regular Sunday morning arts section. After the segment ended; headphones down and handshakes completed, Goodall had a car waiting to take him to his next interview whilst I was ejected into the warm air of Portland Place. Reflecting on the day, and the myriad sights and wonderful memories, it has given me that music bug: the need to go on radio more and get more involved. Perhaps not part of a debate – especially against an album I revere so fondly – but a longer show that discusses music or some aspect of it. I am not sure but, believe it or not, there was a smile on my face most of the time – even when Lillywhite was taking rather crude shots at some of The Beatles’ best work (having the gall to turn his nose up at A Day in the Life). Regardless, being in a building like Broadcasting House was immense and I definitely want to spend more time there. Having that feeling of being rather important (even briefly) was a huge rush and being on air, even in a reduced and minor role, was something I want to repeat. It got me thinking about careers in music and how infectious it can be. As a journalist, all of my experiences are written and I rarely get to meet the artists I feature. It is a process I perform because it is convenient and inexpensive.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Will Gompertz

I hope to move in the direction of YouTube and do some recorded interviews/features. It sounds odd but, nearly six years since setting up this blog, it is being outside and away from the laptop that brings the greatest pleasure. A short radio interview has not only solidified my intention working somewhere like Broadcasting House – or Salford’s MediaCityUK –and taking a much more physical approach to music. I am not sure what it is about music but those who are involved in it will endlessly chase that dream and ensure they keep their passion going. A lot of times money and a lack of opportunity cane put people off but there are plenty who doggedly peruse their careers. That is impressive to see in an industry that is notoriously difficult and competitive. Those musicians I review/interview have to battle the odds and often struggle to make ends meet. In any other role, you’d quit and get another job. For artists, nothing else will do and there is no way they are giving in. I feel the same way and, despite the fact I do not get paid for what I do, have that determination to produce as much as I can. Creative fertility aside; it is the rush and joy of finding great new music and getting to learn more about an artist. My creative urges will, invariably, lead me to London or Manchester: somewhere there are those chances available. Regular jobs, practical and necessary as they are, leave me rigid with boredom and misery. If you are going to spend your life in an office, say, then at least be there because you want to be. I have worked and lived pragmatically and ‘responsibly’ and, God help me, it is a dull and lamentable existence. Even if the risks are high, the rewards of working in the music industry are worth every bruise and knock-back.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

It was fantastic being at the BBC and getting to be inside a building I have longed to visit for years. It is, in a small way, recognition of what I do and my work is getting out to people. In a wider, less personal sense, it is always worth sticking with what you are doing – regardless of whether it is in music or another field. I have been going for nearly six years and have a long way to go yet. Touching patronage and requests make me want to keep plugging and setting my sights as far and wide as possible. It will not be easy getting where I need to be but have that clarity at least. Whether I end up in radio or P.R.; settle in London or Manchester, I know music is what I want to do and where I want to remain. Passions should not be denied and should never be called into questions. I am lucky to be surrounded by some very supportive people and have been lucky to grow my subscribers and blogs – ensuring it regularly reaches six continents. The coming months will be interesting and quite important. Determined to get that all-elusive music job and live in an area I actually want to is going to be difficult but necessary. That little window into the BBC has opened the sweet jar and given a taste of what it is all about. I do not want to stop chasing the dream and see no reason to. Other musicians/music peeps should never abandon their hopes and always strive to be bigger and better. I am excited to see what the rest of the year holds and what chances are out there. Maybe they will not be as super-cool and big as a trip to the BBC but I have the taste and…

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DO not want to get rid of it.

FEATURE: The ‘Classic Girl Group’: Time for a Return?

FEATURE:

 

 

The ‘Classic Girl Group’:

 

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Time for a Return?

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THAT might seem like an odd headline…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Fifth Harmony

given the fact we have girl bands performing at the moment. Whilst the likes of Fifth Harmony and Little Mix are in operation; it seems like the ‘fad’ has gone out of fashion. I wonder whether the girl group had its moment and the focus is on other areas of music?!

In 2017, we are seeing a lot of great solo artists and bands being celebrated but very few girl groups.

It might seem quite irrelevant: do we need them and is there really a big gap in the market? I feel, in a way, music is losing a lot of its characteristics and having a detrimental effect on young artists. I am not a fan of boy bands as, to me, they are too commercial and do not have that special ‘edge’ that the girl groups do.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Baby Queens

Right now, there are not many great options and acts you would say are inspiring the young generation. I have reviewed girl groups in the past but the last time might have been a couple of years back – there are few coming through right now that really excite me.

There are a lot of Pop stars and manufactured acts; we have some awesome bands and solo talent worthy of massive love but that girl group dollar seems to be an inactive currency.

Again, many might debate there is not a real need for them: we have survived without them for a long time and there are no big demands out there. Whilst older acts like Bananarama are reforming – maybe a bit of a cash-in rather than a genuinely exciting proposition – there is, I feel, a need to promote and encourage the kind of girl band that inspired and motivated young listeners.

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IN THIS PHOTO: All Saints

Let’s go back to the 1990s when, I feel, we hit the peak and gave the music world the best girl groups ever. I want to mention Destiny’s Child, En Vogue and Spice Girls as an example of girl groups that have left a legacy and really made a mark on music – a bit about All Saints (and) Salt-N-Pepa.

To me, there are few better examples of the ‘genre’ than En Vogue and Destiny’s Child.

Both American acts; between them, they penned some of the most defiant and compelled anthems of the 1990s. En Vogue are still active today but, like Banarama, they are past their best and seem to be prolonging a career that hit its heights years ago. Their 1990 debut, Born to Sing, impressed critics and sported the standout track, Hold On. It has become a staple in their catalogue and spoke to so many young women.

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IN THIS PHOTO: En Vogue (2016)

In fact, I am a fan of their work so it was not a case of campaigning to women: their messages spread across genders, races and nations. All four members of the group – Terry Ellis, Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones, Dawn Robinson – showed they could handle lead vocal duties and were stunning when mixed in harmony. The girls had their own style, sophistication and ethos and were not a marketing force designed to sell records to young women – a cynical case of marketing ‘strong’ singers and seemingly deep messages with the intention of making millions and becoming as commercial as possible. Funky Divas, their stunning second album, was the one that really put them on the map.

There was sexiness, sassiness and strength right through the record.

My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It) was that clear signal to the over-eager man: cool your jets and treat me with respect. That defiant and strong-willed attitude not only resonated with the listeners but inspired similar-minded girl groups and female singers to inject more confidence into their own music – straying away from predictable themes and by-numbers songwriting.

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IN THIS PHOTO: En Vogue

It Ain’t Over Till the Fat Lady Sings boats the histrionic range of the group – some sumptuous harmonies and gravelled vocals in the chorus – whilst Hip Hop Lover is as catchy and body-moving as they come. To me, the album is defined by Free Your Mind: a rebellion against racist and sexist attitudes.

The song, as the title suggests, is a plea to stop seeing colour – as a negative thing and barrier – and seeing behind the person.

Whilst a lot of the girl groups I will mention are black – and there is a political and social element to their finest songs – what marks En Vogue out, aside from their mature and thought-provoking lyrics, is the connection and genuine friendship between the girls. Whilst EV3 reduced the band to a trio; they still proved they could pack a punch and remain a tight unit – Don’t Let Go (Love) one of their staples and best moments. Sure, like Destiny’s Child and The Spice Girls; losing a member weakens the band but it did not destroy them. Dawn Robinson left the band to peruse a solo career but, as we now know, En Vogue will release Electric Café in August.

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It may not have the same clout and relevance of their early albums but is a welcomed return of a group that have shown what a great girl group is: one that is able to appeal to a wide range of listeners and tastes without sacrificing sharp and meaningful lyrics and natural, soulful vocals. Like En Vogue – and I forgot to mention them earlier – TLC arrived in the ‘90s and inspired so many young women with their incredible bond, fantastic songwriting and instantly recognisable hits.

They might seem very similar to En Vogue but, in most ways, that were very different.

Sadly, the group disbanded when Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes was killed in a car crash (in 2002) but the legacy the girls laid down cannot be ignored. In fact, like En Vogue, they are back: in 2015, following touring and new excitement in the ranks, the girls successfully funded their eponymous album after with the help of a crowd-funding pitch. On 30th June, the girls will release their first original album since 2002 – unveiled a few months after Lopes died – and it will be exciting to see them back. It is interesting seeing classic girl bands return and I wonder why – I shall examine that more, later.

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IN THIS PHOTO: TLC

TLC, on 1994’s CrazySexyCool and 1999’s FanMail, created two of the strongest albums of the decade. Despite Lopes’ struggled with alcohol – which created tensions in the ranks – the recording sessions were completed and, aside from those production setbacks, the album gained big reviews and a lot of positivity.

Established producers like Dallas Austin, who worked on TLC’s debut, were back but new contributors like Sean ‘Puffy’ Combes helped bring in new Hip-Hop elements and fresh insight.

The mid-tempo grooves, Prince-esque funk and Hip-Hop beats – combined with rousing, effervescent horns – captivated critics and saw songs like Waterfalls elevated to huge heights. Throw in the provocative and unforgettable Red Light Special and Creep – plus a stunning cover of Prince’s If I Was Your Girlfriend – and you have an album that remains one of the most astonishing follow-ups in music history.

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The girls displayed incredible vocal talents and kinship throughout and, considering the tensions that arose from Lopes’ addiction issues, it is a cohesive and unified work. FanMail received eight Grammy nominations and, whilst only winning three, was another huge commercial success and critically-approved record. The album’s ultra-modern approach – the girls in metallic colours on the cover; futuristic styles and a progressive, forward-thinking sound – was a departure from their previous release. Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, like their previous albums, coined the title and showed, in spite of past issues, was one of the most compelling and consistent voices in music.

Huge tracks like No Scrubs and Unpretty proved they were in no shortage of bangers and many critics were seduced by the contrasts and nuances – steely and strong songs against sweet reflectiveness; woman-of-the-earth consciousness and sisterly defiance.

They are back and, like En Vogue, seemed to define themselves by their independence and strong wills together with songs that were ethical and compelling but had Pop catchiness and were accessible to all. They were not the only girl group of the decade that deserve mention.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Destiny’s Child

We are all familiar with Beyoncé’s solo work but, back in 1998, she helped introduce the world to Destiny’s Child. Although their eponymous debut boasted quite a few producers and helping hands; it is the girls’ talent and connection that resounds and endures. If their introduction was not quite as distinct as other female R&B acts of the time, it gave us a glimpse of what was to come. Rodney Jerkins and Missy Elliott (among others) came in for The Writing’s on the Wall and strengthened the songwriting and sound. The vocals, from all four, were stronger and the tunes – there were some weaker ones – more memorable and instant.

Although there was a line-up shift, too, and some controversy around the album – members of the band claiming that were disproportionately paid – tracks like Bills, Bills, Bills, Bugaboo and Say My Name are anthems from the girls.

Jumpin’ Jumpin’ is popping whilst Hey Ladies is confident and standout track. Throughout the album, themes of empowerment and equality were investigated: the group always eager to promote female solidarity and defiance. It is not cliché and false: the songs stem from four women who use their music to speak to young women and (try to) affect change.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Destiny’s Child

Survivor, like their previous albums, spoke out against cheap women, dishonest boyfriends and doubters but, unless you are looking for extreme depth and philosophy, the songs were effective and hugely catchy – lodging in the mind and shouting their messages every time you listen. Even today, songs such as Survivor, Bootylicious and Independent Women Part 1 are worthy of modern-day updates.

That is the issue really: do we have any act like Destiny’s Child around today?!

Although Destiny Fulfilled (2004) was a disappointing farewell for the girls – too many songwriters and a rehash of their previous albums – what they left behind not only led to Beyoncé’s extraordinary solo career but inspired a generation of girls and young women. Like their peers, their music spoke to men and appealed to a range of other music-lovers; unlike their peers, they have not attempted a reformation.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Salt-N-Pepa

I guess the other girl groups worth a mention were based closer to home. Sure, we had U.S. group Salt-N-Pepa whose contribution to music should not be overlooked.

More of a Rap act than R&B than Pop; their confidence and sassiness really struck on debut Hot, Cool & Vicious.

Maybe not as virtuoso as their Rap peers; the thing about the group was how much they improved and strengthened as they progressed. Their first two albums arrived in the 1980s but Blacks’ Magic came out in 1990. A lot of the song were written by Fingerprints (Hurby Azor) and cementing them as a credible and serious act. Not merely a crossover act with a few good hooks – Push It, perhaps their most-famous track, was more about its synth. hook than the rapping – Blacks’ Magic was them arriving. Empowerment, sexuality (safely-promoted) and self-confidence were all over an album that had more than its fair share of standouts. Let’s Talk About Sex, the song that was plastered all over MTV, was a paen to safe sex and caution; a look at censorship and loose morals. 1993’s Very Necessary continued the great work and helped get their music to new audiences.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Salt-N-Pepa (2016)

Opposite to those U.S. girl groups talking about feminism and female empowerment were British alternatives who made a big impact on the charts in the 1990s.

The Spice Girls are (possibly) the biggest British girl group and, that said, had their own brand of female unity and strength: Girl Power.

That was, perhaps, best represented through songs such as Wannabe. Some critics felt that track was false confidence and too commercial but The Spice Girls’ debut, Spice, was a fascinating and popular work that launched them to the world. Say You’ll Be There was the girls’ bonding and overcoming tough times; 2 Become 1 about lovers so powerful and together they were a single unit – messages about contraceptive and safe sex included. Who Do You Think You Are? about the shallow celebrity lifestyle and needless fame. Maybe the lyrics were not as deep and provocative as their U.S. rivals but, what set the group aside was their infectious fun and irresistible charms. Unlike many of the U.S. girl groups, Spice was not laden with songwriters.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Spice Girls

It was an impressive and addictive debut that was bettered by Spiceworld. It is a catchier and more rounded work that saw the girls trade verses and improve as vocalists – Mel C was especially lauded and praised.

Maybe the ideals of Girl Power were traded for sexiness and a sense of maturity but one can argue that was a reaction to commercial pressures – not repeating themselves but still retaining that sense of strength and feminism.

Spice Up Your Life brings Latin and Bollywood influences – the colours and vibrancy of those films – into a song that, despite some recording issues (interruptions and chaos whilst the girls were trying to get it down) it proved to be a big commercial success. We all know there were tensions in the group and Geri Halliwell’s departure did cause weakness and doubts in the camp. Many felt the group would not survive and that was the end of things.

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Spiceworld was such a huge commercial success and found the girls on nearly every radio station around the world. That sort of pressure, coupled with gig demands and endless promotion, would be enough to strain any bond.

The girls, unlike a lot of today’s girl groups, were not overly-manufactured to sell a brand: there was respect and love among them and a real sense of friendship.

Post-Geri efforts were, for the most part, a bit of a failure. Forever, released in 2000, lost a lot of the enthusiasm and catchiness of their earlier albums and put too many cooks in the kitchen. It was a valiant effort but not fitting of a Pop phenomenon that helped change the face of music in the mid-late-1990s. Those always-rumoured reunion talks have been flying – they might happen one day – but it is best leave The Spice Girls on the rack: one of those incredible groups that, whilst not incredible singers or profound songwriters, created music that got into the head and was bloody fun!

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All Saints, the British-Canadian quarter, released Red Flag in 2016: a harmonious and impressive album that hinted at a new phase of confidence from the girls. In the girl group clash in Britain between The Spice Girls and All Saints – the Blur vs. Oasis of that genre – there was a definite difference.

All Saints were seen as a tougher, more credible alternative to The Spice Girls.

With some bold covers (Under the Bridge and Lady Marmalade) and incredible one-two-three – Never Ever, Bootie Call and I Know Where It’s At – it was a stunning album that might not have reached the heights of Spice but provided a viable option for those who wanted a sexier, bolder version of The Spice Girls. Given their tabloid infamy and meteoric rise; Saints & Sinners (2000) was, to me, one of the last truly great efforts from a girl group – appropriately arriving at the start of a new decade.

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IN THIS PHOTO: All Saints

The superlative singing, incredible sisterhood and unique personalities made the album more than a commercial exercise. The girls were individuals and proved, perhaps unlike The Spice Girls, they were all strong and capable vocalists – providing a honeyed and sumptuous sound when unified. Pure Shores and Black Coffee were not only two of the finest tracks from All Saints but two of the best songs of the early-‘00s.

Perhaps having William Orbit at the helm – who provided a similarly magic touch for Madonna’s Ray of Light – would have seen their debut album much stronger and assured – the same can be said of the follow-up, Studio 1.

In a bid to evolve and stay fresh, the girls employed Reggae and Ska touches and stripped a lot of their identity with it. Although Red Light is a brilliant return-to-form; it seems Studio 1 is a bit of a lumpen statement from a group who needed time to retreat and rethink. Whether you prefer to the fun and addictiveness of The Spice Girls or the more sensual and mature work of All Saints: both groups showed the British (and Canadian) alternative was capable of impressing critics and providing serious, long-lasting work.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Fifth Harmony

Of course, the girl group has been around for decades and not a phenomenon of the 1990s. Whether you are a fan of Diana Ross and the Supremes or The Bangles; there have been options since the 1960s – even earlier, in fact. One can argue The Andrews Sisters, the close-harmony/Doo-Wop group of the 1930s (they endured into the ‘40s and ‘50s) were a ‘girl group’.

We have seen an evolution over the past seventy/eighty years – which is probably not a surprise.

One can argue The Bangles are the finest example of the girl group. Their 1984 debut, All Over the Place, was a stunning introduction to the girls and marked them as a serious musical force. Perhaps Different Light (the 1986 follow-up) was a bit more commercial and less solid but was no failure either. Everything arrived in 1988 and produced one of their biggest tracks in Eternal Flame. Surprisingly, the band produced 2011’s Sweetheart of the Sun and created something that sounded very similar to their best work. It was a modern record but nodded to 1960s Pop and could have arrived in their ‘80s heydey.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Little Mix

I would argue the girl group is a relevant proposition today but has changed nature and sound. Maybe we should not see them, now, as girl groups but ‘girl bands’. There are Pop/R&B alternatives like Little Mix, Fifth Harmony and (Wales’) Baby Queens but, in my view, there is not the same kind of strength and memorability as the 1990s’ alternatives.

Fifth Harmony, to be fair, speak of female unity and independence in 2015’s Reflection.

There are myriad sounds and genres from the U.S. group but, as they were born from U.S. X Factor, one can hear too much gloss and a lack of identity. The girls have incredible voices and their songwriting range is impressive but there is something lacking. Last year’s 7/27 was less fun than their debut but, perhaps, more sophisticated and mature. Regardless, there are elements of 1990s girl groups in Fifth Harmony but that secret ingredient is missing. One can tell they are manufactured – not that some of the 1990s’ groups weren’t – and there are few anthems that can rival the likes of Free Your Mind (En Vogue), Let’s Talk About Sex (Salt-N-Pepa) and Wannabe (The Spice Girls).

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IN THIS PHOTO: Haim

Maybe the times have changed and tastes have with it. It would not be inconceivable to discover a group like En Vogue that could retain those themes of empowerment and independence and couple that with fun and swagger. Groups like that could talk about sex, race and feminism without making it sound like a shrewd commercial move: it was a natural part of their make-up and one of the reasons they went into music.

Now, the equivalent group seems pressured to address these issues in an attempt to seem mature and inspiring.

Maybe the likes of Fifth Harmony bring these ideas to the table but one senses marketing men and record labels directing their sound. Smaller production teams, a tight group and intelligent songs defined the best of the ‘90s and I feel there are few modern alternatives. British acts like Little Mix are proving popular but pale in comparison to the U.S. girl groups that caused such a buzz a couple of decades ago. I yearn for a 2017 girl group that instilled the virtues and potency of Destiny’s Child, En Vogue and TLC together with some All Saints/Spice Girls blends. Maybe talent shows are becoming too popular and threatening to produce the same sort of clones that have been circulating the last few years.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Warpaint/PHOTO CREDIT: Mia Kirby

There have been attempts at genuine girl groups but it seems the form is not as strong as it was. With Fifth Harmony, at the moment, the strongest example on the market; I am seeing a lot of girl band around. The Nyx formed in London last year and are, fundamentally, a fierce and powerful Rock group. Their twin lead songwriters have distinct styles and aim to change perspectives about female artists.

Maybe that is what we are seeing today: a natural evolution and development of girl groups.

There are Pop/R&B options but a lot of the best female groups today are channelling Grunge, Rock and Alternative sounds instead. A minor side-note but I am impressed by the amount of mixed-race girl bands/groups around. In an industry where there are issues of racism and inequality; I admire how many of today’s girl groups – IV Rox, Baby Queens; The Nyx and Fifth Harmony – like The Spice Girls and All Saints, are mixed-race and set an example. Maybe race is not a relevant discussion point for girl groups but it is pleasing seeing fewer all-white groups – too many of today’s Rock bands suffer homogenisation.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Nyx

The Nyx are leading a charge for powerful female Rock bands who are skewing expectations and dispelling preconceptions about female musicians. Honeyblood, Warpaint and Haim are fellow female bands who are not what you’d normally expect. Not to be an iconoclast but it seems like the Pop girl group is an obsolete force now.

There is, as there has been for decades, sexism and inequality in the industry: today’s girl bands are reacting with more force and directness than ever before.

It is interesting seeing those sonic shifts and the way things are changing. Maybe that ‘type’ of girl group – Pop and R&B-sounding – is a product of the 1990s, largely, and would be less effective today. There is a tendency to promote and celebrate the mainstream Pop artists and chart acts: would a genuine attempt at a serious Pop-inspired girl group really stand out and inspire?! It seems like, with this in mind, the best girl bands are picking up guitars and taking a more personal approach to music – writing their own songs and taking control of their art. It is good seeing fewer hands (men, at that) writing and dictating the music; that sense of talent and individuality is impressive too. That rebellion against sexualisation and over-exposure – too many modern female Pop acts too willing to strip and tease without reason – side required and burning bright. We live in a time when there is body-shaming and sexism; racial tension and political turmoil. I love the fact there are so many strong female bands coming through. I always worried Rock and Alternative were too male-dominated and defined by a real lack of diversity and variety. Now, with the wave of female bands emerging; it seems there is a bit of a mini-revolution. It is encouraging to see and will help fight the sexism and misconceptions in the industry.

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IN THIS PHOTO: TLC

I would, however, like to finish by stating there is a big gap left following the 1990s. I know All Saints and TLC are still around but their work is more mature and changed since their golden, early days.

I would love to see a girl group come along that can match the best of that decade and the kind of songs that were emerging.

Given the political state of the world, it is left to solo artists like Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to document subjects like racial tension and solidarity. Maybe there are few Pop/R&B girl groups that have the authority and credibility to pull off a credible attack. Perhaps there is too much commercialisation and preference of the grittier, Rock-based girl band. I am not sure but still think there is a market for a genuine girl group that picks up where the likes of En Vogue left off. It might be the case there is not a huge demand for that music anymore but I am not so sure. I am really pleased there are some fantastic female Rock/Indie/Alternative bands but I miss that sense of fun and addictiveness we saw in the 1980s and ‘90s. Music can be effective and appealing but present a serious message. Let’s see how things go but I yearn for a girl group that can evoke memories of the past but remain current and relevant. Fifth Harmony and their contemporaries produce some good music but seem rather slight compared with the legends we grew up to. If there was a way of reintroducing the classic girl group, with as little commercialisation and manufactured talent show input as possible, I believe that would help create…

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IN THIS PHOTO: En Vogue (2017)

A stronger and more intriguing music industry.

 

TRACK REVIEW: Self Help – Gemma

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Self Help

 

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Gemma

 

 

9.3/10

 

 

Gemma is available at:

https://soundcloud.com/youneedselfhelp/gemma-02

GENRES:

Garage-Pop; Punk

ORIGIN:

Oxford, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

13th May, 2017

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The E.P., Always Trashy in Fillydelphia, is available at:

https://open.spotify.com/album/1obORl32EyoJRx2yuBRUWf

_______

FOLLOWING the tragic scenes in Manchester this week…

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it has got me reevaluating a lot of things. Included in this list are music itself and the nature of togetherness. I think now, more than ever, we are holding together and strengthening as a people – against forces that have tried to divide and destroy us. In looking at Self Help, I want to explore the universal nature of music and how it brings the people together. After that, I will move on to Oxford as a city for music and the importance of distinction and straying from the pack; a bit on lo-fi, raw music and the Garage-Pop genre; things to consider when trying to make an impression and artists we need to promote to the mainstream. I want to look, without going into gory detail, about the past week and how we have had to adapt as a country. If the attack at the Manchester Arena has shown us anything is how unwilling the British public are to be cowed and frightened by terrorism. The bloodshed witnessed following the Ariana Grande concert has pulled people together and we all look to rebuild and move forward. It does not matter the nature of the concert, in terms of the music played and genres, because it has brought all of the music world together in defiance and solidarity. That is the power of people and music: it is strong enough to unify and conquer. It might seem irrelevant when talking about Self Help but, after the attack on Monday, I am looking more deeply at music and how this country will react. There are fears whether we should attend gigs and whether it is safe to do so. I feel we all need to embrace music more than ever but, naturally, show some caution and care. Self Help are a band who have a great live reputation and will not be deterred by events like the terrorist attack in Manchester. We are still hearing the details and emotional stories from people caught up in the attack. Those who died and those still in hospital: people who got away and those who helped those in need. It is a scary and anxious time to be in Britain – and many nations, in fact – but people from all walks of life, and all corners of the music industry, have spoken with that common mantra: we will not be moved or deterred. Looking at a band like Self Help; the guys provide the type of music guaranteed to put smiles back on face.

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Whilst there are few links between Ariana Grande and Self Help, I feel a greater bond to music and celebrating the best out there. I am sure the band have been reflecting, like everyone else, and showing their support. Moving away from gloomier issues and it brings me, rather wonderfully, to Oxford. Usually, when an artist hails from outside a big city, I am hard-pressed to describe the music scene where they are. Recent subjects have come from Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire and, whilst there are a few venues around various towns/cities; it is not exactly overrun with heritage and availability. You don’t need me to tell you the great bands from Oxford: although, if I don’t, this review will be rather short! Supergrass, one of my favourite groups from all time, have put Oxford on the map and, in the 1990s, when a lot of attention was going to other areas, they ensured their home-city was not to be overlooked. The band have split (long ago) but have laid their marker and, in my mind, had an effect on Self Help. Although Self Help have a ‘wacky’/quirky brand of Punk-Pop; one can hear the energy and idiosyncrasies of Supergrass’ first couple of albums. That same lo-fi energy and interweaving experimentation draws a line between, say, I Should Coco, and Self Help’s new E.P. Perhaps there has been a bastardisation of Supergrass’ youthful, charming Punk/Pop blends – or mutated and modernised to suit contemporary needs –  but Self Help remind me of the ragged rabble and addictive rush of Supergrass’ finest moments. Talulah Ghost and Ride are from Oxford but, in terms of young and modern bands, Glass Animals and Foals call Oxford home – although they probably reside elsewhere. I love Glass Animals because of their strange and beguiling sound. Like Self Help; there seems to be this thing in Oxford where one can take from mainstream tastes but add something spicy, colourful and trippy. Supergrass, even in their early days, did things differently: Glass Animals employ lovely electronic sounds and compositional elements that spike the imagination; lyrics and stories concentrate on the less-focused-upon areas of life and love.

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While Radiohead formed, strictly, in Abingdon – eleven miles from Oxford – the Greenwood section of the band hail from the city. Oxford (and Oxfordshire) is synonymous with Radiohead and they, like Supergrass, are one of the huge acts from here. Aside from Foals; artists like Dive Dive, Stornoway and Dance a la Plage come from Oxford: Young Knives, Alphabet Backwards and The Dreaming Spires are adding their touches to the city. I have been looking around the search engines for new bands from Oxford and whether there is a new raft emerging. I guess there are a lot of good ones but there are few sites really shouting about it. I feel the local media need to do a bit more to expose their best artists and those making waves. Self Help are a band who have plenty of contemporaries and can learn from the legacy laid down by legendary bands such as Supergrass and, newcomers, Glass Animals. Always Trashy in Fillydelphia, with its cool name and possibilities, is an E.P. that has a lot in common with the history of Oxford music but is very forward-thinking and modern. I am curious to know whether there are bands like Glass Animals in the city and remaining there. I guess, with the rising rent/living costs, it is becoming less of a choice for artists – they are being forced to look elsewhere. I know London is pretty steep in general but I find, for the resident and musician, there is a lot more choice. I would be intrigued to know more about Oxford but know it has some downsides. Aside from being a cyclists’ Heaven – my idea of Hell, frankly – it is rather conservative and has that reputation as being a bit stuffy. It is a university city, obviously, so has a young crowd and that youthful energy and desire see a lot of its best venues thrive and expand. I have been seeking which bands are coming up through the ranks in Oxford.

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I think Self Help are one of the best in the city and, in terms of the ‘Oxford sound’, seem to fit into that mould. There is a refreshing lack of commercialism and the ordinary in the city: most of the acts like to push the envelope and do not provide anything boring and obvious. Before I move onto my next point; it is worth looking at why Oxford is such a popular place and the sort of locations musicians can play. Bullingdon (or Bullingdon Arms) used to be the Art Bar and has a smaller stage at the front of the place but a larger one at the back – where a lot of artists can be found performing. It has a club-style feel and was refurbished a few years back. There are various different theme nights, and, with its cocktail bar, proves to be a popular option for a varied crowd. The Strypes are playing the venues very soon and are one of many acts who will be taking to Bullingdon in coming months. Go down Walton Street and you can pop into the Jericho Tavern. It promotes Pop and Folk sounds and has a rather unordinary layout. A good-sized area in front of a stage upstairs and, by the bar, there is enough quiet so you can order a drink without hassle. It is a cool and reputable venue in Jericho that attracts many great artists and a real range of sounds. Not only do the new artists come through the doors: Jericho Tavern has assisted some of music’s true heavyweights on their course to fame. 02 Academy attracts a huge array of international artists and houses nearly fifteen-hundred people. It normally plays host to larger acts but, in time, it is the dream local location of Oxford’s finest acts. It is great to see the range of larger and smaller venues: it means established artists play here but there are ample opportunities for newcomers. James Street Tavern, off Cowley Road, has open mic. nights and is an essential pit-stop for fresh acts looking to cut their teeth.

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The Cape of Good Hope, on Iffley Road, has open mic. nights and live gigs; it is another terrific small venues and joins the likes of Old Bookbinders and Harcourt Arms as more intimate spaces – and ones that put on occasional events and live nights. Angel & Greyhound, on St. Clement Street, has acoustic gigs on Sunday and is a cosy pub acts can perform more chilled and laid-back set. Fat Lil’s, despite its classy and sophisticated name, is a bit outside of the city and located in West Oxfordshire. They, in Witney’s Corn Street, provide tribute acts and live artists to enjoy. It has the feel of a comedy club/small boozer but is proving fairly popular with bands in Oxford. Mason Arms, in Headington, has open mic. nights and is a lovely-looking pub that is an attractive option for local artists. We can see there are plenty if spaces that provide inspiration and impetus for Oxford’s brightest new acts. I have stated how there are opportunities for artists to do their thing and pick up crowds but, without that backing and guidance by the local press, one wonders whether we can correlate between the range of venues and the type of artists emerging – what style they play and whether they rely on local gigs or not. Self Help have performed around Oxfordshire but, one would imagine, are looking around the country for further gigs. Like Glass Animals and other bands from Oxford; they want to reach as many people as possible and have the sound to do that. Self Help, as I will explain, are not your usual, limited band and warrant widespread appeal.  It is great to see so many venues survive in Oxford but I am curious whether they will be under threat as the price of living rises. We are told it is one of the more desirable parts of the country to live in but, if the rent is too much, will people move away from the city and other counties – that will threaten the music scene and force artists to go elsewhere.

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Those new acts I am being inspired by are the ones who have a very rare sound and do not, necessarily, fit into the mainstream. It is understandable many want to be relatable and popular, hence a tendency to replicate chart sounds, but those who wish to remain relevant and evolving need to think about a sound that varies from the masses. Lately, there is an explosion of Electronic acts that mix in Pop and darker shades. There are few genuine Punk and Rock bands that get into the head. It is great hearing music that has that nuance and emotion but, away from that, one seeks something a little harder and more vibrant – songs that have a Rock/Punk kick with a little Pop undertone. Self Help are being noted because of their fantastic sound. It would be a disservice to call it ‘odd’ but it certainly does not conform to rules and the charts. There are so many artists that see what is proving popular and copy that. Whilst some add their own spin, and can create their own brand, there are many who do not distinguish themselves from anyone else. Music wants something fresh and artist that have their own mind. Those acts that surprise audiences and do something you weren’t expecting are the ones we should spend more time with. Self Help, in their E.P., have crafted a style of music that is distinctly their own. It may be rather vague saying someone needs to be original and interesting because that can mean something different to a lot of people. For me, I look for artists who can remain accessible and likeable but definitely are not easy to define. I have slated the mainstream a bit because there are a lot of acts who are quite generic and rely too heavily on technology and other writers/producers. I feel, the more people you have creating your music, the less personal it is. The sounds seem rather distant and anodyne and, because of that, seem to appeal more to the younger, chart-raised audiences. As I said, the most interesting acts are those who seem to craft their own little world. What I love about Self Help is the fact they have been acclaimed because of that rather fascinating sound of theirs. I suspect, on future records, they will expand and build it; record albums and E.P.s and add new elements into the pot.

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In Self Help, one hears lo-fi sounds and Garage-Pop mixing with some Punk shades. That all sounds quite vintage and older-days but is becoming more popular. Against the culture of technological advancement and crisp, polished sounds; there are those who prefer to take things back and nod to artists like Jilted John. The band put you in mind of those classic acts who had to make do with what was around at the times in terms of recording equipment and spaces. Because of that, there is no preciousness in regards gigging. They are happy in smaller spaces but capable of enthralling larger-sized audiences. I love big bands that can bring the grit and give you a gut-punch of Rock. Every now and then, I long for something a bit unusual and unheard-of. Whilst Self Help have been compared with The Modern Lovers and Plastic Betrand Band but, not being that familiar with them, judge it on its own merits and am fascinated by all the odd colours and suggestions in their music. When I come to review Emma, as you will see, it is unlike most music out there. I know there’s a danger, when artists separate themselves from the mainstream, to be seen as a bit too quirky and unusual. Before you know it, they are being played on niche stations and confined to those with rather ‘particular’ tastes. That is not the case with the Oxford band who are perfectly understandable and grounded but distinctly skip past the arcs of conventionality and predictable. All of this, combined with their solid live show and fantastic songwriting, marks them out for greater things. Their Always Thrashy in Fillydelphia E.P., as the name suggests, is not your ordinary serving. It has a sentiment and flavour that pleases the senses and encourages repeated listens. I would like to see the boys continue, sonically, down the path they are on but expand their horizons in regards E.P.s – include a few more tracks or shoot for an album. Given the variations and adventurousness of their songs – tied to a simple production sound and wonderfully unseasoned kick – the band have plenty more life and potential in them. What they have planned for the coming months, touring or recording, I would love to see them capitalise on Always Thrashy’ and keep that energy alive.

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I have stated the artists that want to remain and survive are those who create their own sound and innovate but how easy is that in an industry where so many artists are wrestling for success. I have heard a few bands like Self Help but none that have the same mixtures and strands. On that same topic; there is still that demand, in the mainstream, for something quite easy and uncomplicated. How, then, are modern artists supposed to stand out among their peers but fit into a market that is decidedly disorganised and commercial. Self Help are not a band who will compromise their ethics in order to fit into the charts but, at the same time, have that desire for success. Garage-Pop is an odd coming-together that, when in the correct hands, can be among the most pleasing music around. I am a big fan of Garage music and, from the earliest recordings by The White Stripes to a modern equivalent, alway find that lo-fi sound very alluring. Self Help have a bit of Pop shine buffing their music but seem much more comfortable when recording in a very simple, home-made way. I look around modern Rock bands and there is still too much gloss and over-production going on. It is good making sure your music rings clear but there is a loss of authenticity and meaning when things are too refined and machine-fed. The artists who provide something, essentially live-sounding, show a bravery but a nod back to a time when this kind of sound wasn’t optional. Many might say they are being nostalgic and throwback but, to me, it is the blast of fresh air music needs. I am still a fan of your traditional polished song but do find something curious and fascinating about songs stripped-back and basic. In those confines, it can be harder to exact as much potential and force as songs at the other end of the spectrum. In the case of Self Help; they evoke memories of days past but keep everything modern and primed for today’s market.

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Gemma starts with some scratched strings before somersaulting in a concrete mixer. It is like a classic 1990s’ riff going about its own business before being liquidised in a modern-day snarling cement mixer. There is a trip and some sonic festination: it lurches than races with a distinct drunken swagger. It is an unexpected and unpredictable introduction that drags your brain through the left-hand speaker and the soul through the opposing. The introduction is a fantastic and flourishing thing that has a catchiness and consistency that gets right under the skin and will instantly ingrain in the membrane. For those who like things instant and memorable will find much to recommend and bond with right off. You sing along and tap the feet but get drawn into the complexities and colours that burst. The percussion rumbles and races but stops at moments and changes directions. One hears bass and guitar notes that weave and flirt with rapture and sexuality; it then calms and contorts before springing all over the place. The infusions and contradictions make it such a vibrant and fascinating thing. When the vocal does come in, there is a sound of the ‘90s – not sure why that comes to mind but I detect sounds of the Indie and Shoegaze masters of that time – and a real sense of command. The vocal has a haziness and sense of somnambulism which can make it hard to detect some of the lyrics but that does not matter. What one does get is a frontman who is affected by this central figure and someone who is casting her spell. In terms of the origins of the song; it is a little difficult pinning-down where it might have originated but one can hear the emotion and urgency in our hero’s voice. The band conjures a wonderful soundscape and, in terms of sounds, you can hear bits of The Stone Roses, The Levellers and other bands – but never think too heavily of them. It is a wonderful array of classic artists and originality working in unison.

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Into the next verse, the composition is less overwhelming which gives the lyrics a chance to shine more. Our man asks the heroine a question: how she thought things would end. It might relate to a relationship that has hit the skids or a conversation that has turned sour. The hero seems in a good frame of mind and not too aggrieved at what is happening. Whether there has been some sort of natural dislocation I am not sure but there is casualness and cool that starts to come through. The background is less intense which leads me to believe there is some inner-harmony at the very least. Again, the band is terrific as one is bowled by that indelible spring and alluring concoction of notes and nuance. It is a fantastic cocktail of sounds that is never too heavy or under-produced. The band has that lo-fi greatness and a raw edge but there is something professional and fully-realised about Gemma. It is a song that could easily win over those who love their music polished and accessible but thrill others who prefer their music properly epic and live-sounding. I can imagine Gemma gains a great reaction when performed live as, listening to it in the context of the E.P., it seems like you are in the studio with the band. The heroine lives down by the riverside – that is where she resides – and is hiding herself away. One gets the image of the girl as a troll: sitting in fetid water and yelling at people walking across the bridge. Maybe it is something more human and modern: a rebel who spends time there causing trouble or looking for conflict. Perhaps she is reserved and hidden and someone who is best left alone. If you thought you could predict the composition and its course then you are in for a surprise. The track slows and almost stops near the end and has a calm and sense of intimacy to a point. Contrasted against the rushing and abrasive nature of the introduction; it is quite a switch and one that provides the song a greater range and sense of complexity. It is rare hearing a band that takes this much trouble crafting something rounded and considerate.

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Most would sling together a (comparatively) simple composition and not really think about emotional and dynamic shifts. The hero lets his voice stutter and repeat: such a distinct personality and presentation that gives the music such a sense of class and quirk. In a scene where there are few individual and standout frontmen; it is refreshing discovering such a great and fascinating voice. Towards the final moments, the tempo changes pitch and speed and, again, catches you by surprise. It is another unexpected element in a song that keeps things interesting throughout. It will be impossible ignoring the hooky guitar and bass; that rumbling, intriguing percussion and an incredible vocal performance. Even if you misunderstand some of the lyrics or guess its origins – there is no denying it is a fantastic song and one impossible to compare with others. Gemma is the star of Always Trashy in Fillydelphia and shows what a consistent and brilliant band Self Help are. I cannot wait to hear more from them and see where they go from here. I can imagine they’d be an exceptional live proposal so that is something I need to do – go see the band in the flesh. If you only listen to one song – why would you do that?! – then Gemma is a great in-road to Self Help. It is a terrific song and one that will stick in the mind many days after you hear it. That is a tough thing to achieve in a packed music industry: the impressive thing is how easy and effortless the band makes it sound. That might be far from the truth but means many will be interesting knowing what their secret is. Whatever it is, I hope they do not reveal it and continue to record exceptional songs like Gemma.

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Always Trashy in Fillydelphia suggests a band that have a sense of humour but keep their music serious. I have looked into the E.P. and love every track on it. A lot of bands produce an E.P. and have every song sounding similar: trying to create their ‘sound’ and show a consistency. Even if it is your first recording; there is no reason why you cannot be a bit varied and try different things. Gemma is the opener and I wanted to review the song as it kicks things off and is, for many people, the first thing they will hear of the band. The remaining three songs are distinctly the work of Self Help but each have their own personality. Before I come back to earlier points – Oxford’s music and lo-fi, Garage music; distinctive music and artists that are making an original statement; fitting into, but differing yourself from, the mainstream – I wanted to talk about the band and where they might be heading. Taking a look at The Oxford Times’ article at the start of March and Self Help were involved with a very important gig. Quoting from the article:

OXFORD musicians and venues have urged music lovers to take part in the UK’s first nationwide live music survey tomorrow.

Tom Keogh, Rob Maclennan, Jamie Corish and Nat Jones of Flatlands are launching their new EP at the Library pub on Cowley Road in the city tomorrow night. They’re just one of dozens of acts playing across the city have and encouraged gig-goers to join the UK Live Music Census, dubbed ‘Springwatch for live music‘”.

It goes on to say…

The census, a world first, has been orchestrated by professors of pop music at Edinburgh University”.

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That Springwatch-for-live-music event is something that should be done every year but, on that particular gig a few months ago, there was a packed bill:

  • O2 Academy, Cowley Road: Ashanti (R’n’B)
  • The Cellar, Frewin Court: White Kite (ambient synth-pop and indie-funk)
  • The Bullingdon, Cowley Road: Dot’s Funky Odyssey (Soul covers including Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson plus originals)
  • The Jericho Tavern: Masiro + The Hope Burden + Ghosts In The Photographs + Lee riley (Math rock; instrumental post-rock; atmospheric post-rock and drone music)
  • The Library, Cowley Road: Flatlands + Slate Hearts + Self Help + High Tide Royals (Upbeat indie rocking and ferocious grunge noise)

There were coordinating events in Glasgow, Newcastle; Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton; Brighton and, naturally, Oxford, designed to see what challenges face the modern music industry and help it flourish. Researchers claimed Oxford punched comfortably above its weight with bands like Supergrass and Radiohead defining the city. The patrons and acts performing that night agreed Oxford’s music scene was hard to beat – good enough to rival the likes of London and Manchester. I have never visited Oxford so would not know where to head first of all. If recent events show anything: we need to take risks and be bold. Events of the past few days have shocked many but, out of the tragedy, has come this unity and extraordinary togetherness. The music industry has seen its best and brightest join forces to speak against the evils we have all witnessed. Music is a loving community but it is rare to see so many disparate and diverse artists appear alongside one another. The underground music community has been reacting as there is this increased defiance: the desire to keep performing and plug on. There might be some delays with gigs and some fears but before too long we will see things return to normal. Self Help are among thousands of artists who are looking ahead and planning their summer. I would expect them to appear in one of two line-ups but it seems they are getting a lot of reaction in Oxford.

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The group has created a fantastic E.P. that definitely cannot be compared with any of their local rivals. Oxford has those exceptional alumni like Supergrass and Glass Animals but it is the new crop that are really interesting. I opened by asking whether the local press in Oxford and promoting their local artists but it may be a problem with the national press. Usually a music website or publication like Time Out does a ‘top-ten’ of bands from various cities. I am surprised there has not been one compiled for 2017 Oxford. It appears there are some great young acts emerging that need to be highlighted. Regardless, the city itself has that great mix of big venues and smaller spaces for all types of artists to perform. Ashanti, a U.S. R&B star, has played at the 02 Academy recently whereas Self Help have played at more intimate venues. There is nothing to suggest the guys will not be hitting the big arena in years to come and have that right on their doorstep. Maybe the cost of living is quite high so one wonders whether they will choose to live somewhere else in Oxfordshire. There are enough venues around the county but the real buzz and activity can be found in Oxford – easy commuting distance for Self Help should they decide to relocate. Oxford is not a city that dines out on its past glories without being able to offer anything new: plenty of eager and exciting new bands look set to keep the city’s rich and impressive music scene alive. Similar to masters such as Radiohead; the best bands in Oxford are ambitious and experimental but you can imagine their music surviving and inspiring many years down the line. I feel the mainstream media should do more to emphasise the music culture of various towns/cities. Whereas Glasgow, London and, say, Leeds have articles dedicated to their best acts of the moment – there is little on Oxford’s new music by comparison.

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I shall leave things shortly but will talk a little about lo-fi, raw music that puts you, in a way, in a live context. Self Help’s primal but professional Garage-Pop is gaining them new fans but they have a lot of music ahead of them. I can see the guys touring wider afield and tackling international markets. A lot of artists produce glossy and well-produced music and then struggle to adapt it to a variety of live audiences. Replicating that sound on the road, whilst stripping some of the layers back, is a challenge and it can be hard figuring that out. Garage and Garage-Pop is a genre that is perfectly serviceable and popular but I am not seeing as much as I’d like. Self Help have a great sound and attitude and should, one hopes, they inspire other acts to follow their lead. Already respected in Oxford and making big strides in the city; I know the guys will not want to tamper too much with their established sound. I feel there are too few acts who have that lo-fi, exposed sound that appears like it is coming from a gig but sounds professional and nuanced. That is not easy to accomplish so full marks must be given to Self Help for crafting something unique. There are, I guess, a fair few other acts who have that same discipline and way of working but none have the exact sound and quality as Self Help. The band have a distinct and fantastic brand that is sure to see them taken far from Oxford in future years. They are in top form and have created an E.P. that will appeal to those who know Garage-Pop and people unfamiliar.

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I shall finish up by congratulating the band for creating an original statement and separating themselves from the mainstream. They have the popularity and potential to fit into the mainstream but do not really conform to what is going on there at the moment. I guess every artist wants the chance to get under the spotlight and have the acclaim and respect of their heroes. Getting there, sometimes, involves compromising and turning your music into something radio-friendly and foreign. Some are okay with this but I do not think one should dispose of their identity in order to become popular. I can see Self Help being one of those bands who hits a rich vein and finds themselves being played by some of the biggest stations around. Whether that means they will be picked up by a big corporate record label – and asked to change their music – I am not sure but I hope they remain independent – or at least independently-minded. I guess the mainstream is not all about Pop acts and that commercial sound – there are plenty of artists who can retain their own sound and fit into the charts without too much loss of integrity. In the case of Self Help, they have such an original sound, I would love to see how they adapt and acclimatise to the modern mainstream. Until that day, one imagines it is coming, they are doing well in Oxford and lucky to be in a city that has a rich and impressive history. I hope too, when people hear Self Help, they look deeply at the Oxford music scene and the type of artists there. They have this attitude and ethos that shows pride for the city and supports one another: artists often keen to highlight their peers’ good work. Always Trashy in Fillydelphia – and the highlight, Gemma – is a fantastic work from one of those young bands you know will be a big deal down the line. Make sure you catch them whilst their (relatively) inexpensive because, before you can blink, the gang…

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WILL be a pretty big deal.

_______

Follow Self Help

Image may contain: 1 person

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/youneedselfhelp

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/youneedselfhelp/

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/youneedselfhelp

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKzSQ0MwdPob4AJH_XfD3aA

FEATURE: The Summer Hotlist: Ones to Watch: Part Two

FEATURE:

  

The Summer Hotlist: Ones to Watch

 

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kirbanu

 

Part Two

_______

AFTER last week’s list of artists worthy of summer festival domination…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Stephanie Mabey

I am compelled to produce this second instalment – perhaps a third will follow. In this edition, I bring together artists from different nations and genres. These are the acts I feel will be worth a lot of attention as we think ahead to this year’s festivals. Maybe they are not quite at the headline stage but, in years to come, will be big names commanding thousands of fans. This is my run-down of artists worth plenty of time, appreciation and love…

_______

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False Heads

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FalseHeads/

Official: http://www.falseheads.com/

Genre: Snot-Pop

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

January

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/januarymusic/

Official: http://www.januarymusic.com/

Genres: Singer-Songwriter; Alternative

Location: U.K.

 Image may contain: 1 person

Samantha Jade

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SamanthaJadeOfficial/

Official: http://www.samanthajadeofficial.com/

Genre: Pop

Location: Perth, Australia

Image may contain: 2 people, indoor

Chase Gassaway

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chasegassawaymusic/

Official: http://www.chasegassaway.com/

Genre: Singer-Songwriter

Location: Austin, Texas

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Noga Erez

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NogaErezMusic/

Official: http://nogaerez.com/

Genre: Electronic-Pop

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

 

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Catherine McGrath

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/imcathmcgrath/

Official: http://www.catherinemcgrathmusic.com/?frontpage=true

Genres: Alternative; Pop

Location: Northern Ireland

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Rivita

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Rivitamusic/

Official: http://www.rivitamusic.com/

Genres: Singer-Songwriter; Alternative; Pop

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and closeup

Harry Pane

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/harrypanemusic/

Official: http://harrypane.com/

Genre: Folk

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeup

Kat Kenna

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katkennamusic/?ref=br_rs

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KatKenna1

Genre: Indie-Pop

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Alice Avery

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thealiceavery/

Official: http://www.thealiceavery.com/

Genres: Pop; Rock

Location: New York, U.S.A.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Jessica Rotter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JessicaRotter/

Official: http://jessicarotter.com/

Genre: Pop; Alternative

Location: Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Image may contain: 1 person, phone and closeup

Alisiana

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlisianaMusic1/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlisianaI

Genre: Pop

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 2 people

Ooberfuse

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ooberfuse/

Official: https://www.ooberfuse.com/

Genre: Electronica

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 5 people

PHOTO CREDIT: Wolf James Photography

To Kill a King

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tokillaking/

Official: http://www.tokillaking.co.uk/

Genre: Alternative-Rock

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person

Noralyn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NoralynMusic/?ref=br_rs

Official: https://www.noralynmusic.com/

Genre: Alternative-Pop

Location: Brisbane, Australia

Image may contain: 1 person

PHOTO CREDIT: Samar Hazboun

Dana McKeown

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DanaMcKeonMusic/

Official: https://www.danamckeon.com/

Genres: Beatbox; Electronic-Pop

Location: London, U.K.

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XY&O

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/xyando/

Official: http://xyando.com/

Genre: Haze-Pop

Location: Cardiff, Wales

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Lánre

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LanreWorld/

Official: https://lanreworld.wordpress.com/

Genres: Acoustic-Soul; African-Pop

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person

Jack Tyson Charles

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JackTysonCharles/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jackTcharles

Genre: Soul; Funk

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Ivy Mode

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ivymodemusic/

Official: http://www.ivymodemusic.com/

Genres: Alternative; Pop

Location: Belgium

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Richard Maule

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Richard.Maule/

Official: https://www.richardmaulemusic.co.uk/

Genres: Folk; Electro.; Blues

Location: London

Image may contain: 5 people

Baby Queens

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Baby-Queens-523170581048847/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/baby_queens

Genres: R&B; Fusion; Soul

Location: Cardiff, Wales

Image may contain: 1 person

IV Rox

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IVROX/?ref=br_rs

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IVROX

Genre: Pop; R&B

Location: London/Essex, U.K.

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Scott Lloyd

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/scottlloydmusic/

Official: https://scottlloydmusic.co.uk/

Genre: Singer-Songwriter; Folk

Location: Middlesborough, U.K.

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Kylie Hughes

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kyliehughesmusic/

Official: http://www.kyliehughesmusic.com/

Genre: Pop; Alternative

Location: California, U.S.A

Image may contain: 5 people, people standing, shoes and outdoor

PHOTO CREDIT: Rhian Melvin Photographic

Psyence

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/psyenceuk/

Official: http://psyenceuk.com/

Genre: Rock; Psych.-Rock

Location: Stoke-on-Trent, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage

PHOTO CREDIT: @keithoreillly

Ailbhe Reddy

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AilbheReddy/

Official: http://www.ailbhereddy.com/

Genre: Indie-Folk-Rock

Location: Dublin

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

PHOTO CREDIT: Digital-Flow

Emma McGann

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EmmaMcGannMusic/

Official: http://www.emmamcgann.com/

Genre: Pop

Location: Coventry

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, sunglasses and outdoor

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Fribourg

The Molochs

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/themolochs/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/the_molochs

Genre: Alternative-Rock

Location: Los Angeles, U.S.A.

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ARCAVES

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ARCAVESMUSIC/

Official: https://www.arcavesmusic.com/

Genre: Dirty-Pop

Location: Southend-on-Sea, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person

PHOTO CREDIT: Karen McBride

Hayley McKay

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hayleymckaymusic/

Official: http://hayleymckay.co.uk/

Genre: Singer-Songwriter; Pop; Alternative

Location: Darlington, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Kirbanu

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kirbanu/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kirbanu

Genre: Atmospheric-Pop

Location: Heidelberg, Germany

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, playing a musical instrument, concert, guitar and night

PHOTO CREDIT: Projoe Photography

James Holt

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jamesholtmusic/

Official: http://www.jamesholtmusic.com/

Genres: Singer-Songwriter; Alt-Rock

Location: Manchester, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person

Elle Exxe

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ElleExxe/

Official: https://www.elleexxe.com/

Genres: Pop; Dirty-Pop

Location: Edinburgh, U.K.

No automatic alt text available.

Allusondrugs

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Allusondrugs/

Official: https://www.allusondrugs.com/

Genre: Alternative; Rock

Location: Leeds, U.K.

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing and beard

SALT

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saltukband/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/saltukband

Genre: Alternative-Rock

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, plant and outdoor

Harper

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HarperTheArtist/

Official: http://harpertheartist.com/

Genres: Pop; R&B

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: one or more people

Risa Binder

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RisaBinder/?pnref=lhc

Official: http://www.risabinder.com/

Genres: Country; Alternative

Location: Brooklyn, New York

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Delaire

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/delairemusic/

Official: http://www.delairemusic.com/

Genre: Electronic-Pop

Location: London, U.K.

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Blushes

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blushesband/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/blushesband

Genre: Indie-Rock

Location: U.K.

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and text

Ivy Nations

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IvyNationsOfficial/

Official: https://ivynations.com/

Genre: Indie

Location: Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Bree Taylor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BreeTaylorOfficial/

Official: http://breetaylor.com/

Genre: Pop

Location: Toronto, Canada

Image may contain: 1 person

PHOTO CREDIT: Isaac Murai

HEZEN

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahezen/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahezen

Genre: Electronic

Location: Paris, France

No automatic alt text available.

Laura Cole

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauracolemusic/

Official: http://lauracolemusic.com/

Genre: Rock

Location: Ontario, Canada

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Talitha Rise

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/talitharise/

Official: http://www.talitharise.com/

Genres: Art-Pop; Progressive; Folk

Location: Lewes, U.K.

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing, beard and indoor

Sleeptalking

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SSSLEEPTALKING/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sssleeptalking

Genre: Alternative

Location: Bristol, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup and indoor

Novo Amor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iamnovoamor/

Official: https://www.novoamor.co.uk/

Genre: Alternative

Location: U.K.

Image may contain: 2 people, night

Aniya

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aniyasound/

Official: http://www.aniyasound.com/

Genres: Pop; Alternative

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person

After Eden

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EDENJONESMUSIC/

Official: https://www.edenjonesmusic.com/

Genres: Pop; Alternative; Soul

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, beard, closeup and outdoor

PHOTO CREDIT: Beli Klein

Nick Byrne

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nickbyrneuk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nickbyrneuk

Genre: Folk

Location: Marlow, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and closeup

PHOTO CREDIT: Gentle Giant Digital

Jade Jackson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jadejacksonband/

Official: http://jadejackson.com/

Genre: Country

Location: Santa Margarita, U.S.A.

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Bisola

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Bisolamusic/

Official: http://bisolamusic.com/

Genre: Singer-Songwriter

Location: London, U.K.

https://open.spotify.com/track/2ErcUmUdg6u1cjPQ6cbXuH

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and indoor 

The Coronas

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thecoronasofficial/

 Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheCoronas

Genre: Alternative

Location: Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sunglasses, sky, tree, outdoor and nature

Albert Man

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/albertmanmusic/

Official: http://www.albertman.com/music/nonm/

Genre: Alternative Rock/Pop

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Tiger Lilly

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tigerlillyofficial/

Official: http://www.tigerlillymusic.co.uk/

Genre: Pop-Rock

Location: Slough, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text

LINA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lina.offiziell/

Official: https://lina-official.de/

Genre: Pop

Location: Germany

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, night and indoorJoshua Luke Smith

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshualukesmithmusic/

Official: http://www.joshualukesmith.com/

Genres: Hip-Hop; Rap

Location: Bath, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, smoking and closeup

PHOTO CREDIT: Louis Lander Deacon

Lots Holloway

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lotshollowayofficial/

Official: http://lotsholloway.co.uk/

Genre: Pop

Location: U.K.


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Majik

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/majiklondon/

Official: http://www.majiklondon.com/

Genre: Chill-Electronic

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Eckoes

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iameckoes/

Official: http://www.iameckoes.com/

Genre: Electronic

Location: London, U.K.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

Gemma Louise Doyle

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gemmalouisedoyleprofessionalvocalist/

Official: https://www.gemma-doyle.com/

Genres: Pop; Opera

Location: London

Image may contain: 1 person

Rose Betts

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rosebettsmusic/

Official: http://rosebetts.com/

Genre: Folk; Alternative

Location: London, U.K.


Image may contain: 1 person

Ghost Caravan

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ghostcaravan/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GhostCaravan

Genres: Orchestral; Electronic; Soul

Location: Toronto, Canada

Image may contain: 1 person

PHOTO CREDIT: Kriss LOGAN Photographe

Hyleen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HyleenOfficial/

Official: https://twitter.com/HyleenOfficial

Genre: Singer-Songwriter

Location: Cannes, France

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Them & Us

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/themandusofficial/

Official: http://www.themandusofficial.com/

Genre: Electronic

Location: London, U.K.

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Bare Traps

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/baretrapsband/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BareTrapsBand

Genre: Indie-Pop

Location: London, U.K.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Duston Todd

Stephanie Mabey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stephaniemabeymusic/

Official: http://www.stephaniemabey.com/

Genre: Alterative

Location: Salt Lake City, U.S.A.

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Tim Kasher

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TimKasher/

Official: https://www.timkasher.com/

Genres: Alternative; Folk

Location: Omaha, U.S.A.

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Signal

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SignalOfficial/

Official: http://signalofficial.com/

Genre: Hip-Hop

Location: Basingstoke, U.K.

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False Advertising

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/falseadv/

Official: http://www.falseadvertising.co/

Genre: Alternative

Location: Manchester, U.K.

INTERVIEW: Loz KeyStone

INTERVIEW:

 

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Loz KeyStone

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FOLLOWING the release of the single, Livid

Loz KeyStone has unveiled the video to How Is It. Shot at a boxing night in Clapham – on his father’s old D.V. camera – it was at the place his brother fought (and won) his first fight. I was keen to learn more about that family symbolism and reasoning – why adopt older technology and unusual locations. KeyStone descends from rural French roots but grew up surrounded by art and culture in South London. That passion did not last long: he dropped out of Wimbledon School of Art to pursue music. I ask about the past years and education: how South London inspire him and whether his art training has been adopted in his current music.

To Feel Love, KeyStone’s debut album, was written as a reaction to his father’s death – an event that shook him and led to a series of late-night sworded encounters and one-night stands. Out of that intoxication and drunkenness came a focus: put down some music and channel the sadness and confusion into music. I ask about KeyStone’s South London flat and that D.I.Y. ethic; how much of those dark and wasteful nights go into the music and whether he is in a better frame of mind at the moment.

It is an honest, sometimes cagey interview with an incredible songwriter…

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Hi Loz, how are you? How has your week been?

Not great, to be honest.

I’m trying to flog 300kg of potting soil that this guy gave me – as a deposit on a room I was renting in Harlesden. Turns out, the soil is just ordinary mud and no good to man nor beast for the kind of potting I was wanting to do this weekend.

I’ve been round the flat to try to find him but he’s boarded up the doors and windows and I can’t get him on his mobile – and the mud is worthless. I’m in talks with the Citizens Advice Bureau.

I’m hoping it’s just a misunderstanding but I’m starting to think I might have been swindled.

For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please? 

Yeah. I’m a musician from South London.

I’m also a painter and an avid gardening enthusiast.

South London is your home and base. What is the music scene like where you are and how important is the city in terms of your ideas and creativity?

To be honest, the city is great but it’s quite expensive so that doesn’t help with the creativity that much. Most of my ideas are irrelevant to London itself.

How Is It is your new track. What can you tell me about it?

People say I whisper too much when I sing and I think that that is particularly true of this track.

I like it though and someone on Tinder told me they thought it was quite sexy.

Family symbolism lies behind the video for the track. It was shot at a boxing night in Clapham – where your brother fought and won his first fight. What was the reason behind you filming at this location? Was it quite an emotional shoot?

I shot it there because I was going to watch him fight and I needed to get the video together. The night was fu*king mental though.

I was well-nervous for him but he smashed it.

There are D.I.Y. instruments and sounds on the track – matching the D.V. camera-shot video for How Is It. Is it important to you creating something intimate, home-made and simple?

Yeah.

I don’t have enough money to make anything else

You studied Painting at the Wimbledon School of Art. What was the reason for pursuing music instead and does your artistic style/passion reflect in your music in any way?

I sort of float from one thing to the other. I still draw a lot. Music seems to make me happier than most other things I’ve tried.

To Feel Love, your debut album, was written after the death of your father. How tough was it putting the songs together with that emotional reality on your shoulder?

I wouldn’t make something if I wasn’t enjoying making it.

The record was recorded following a year of, what you said, was a series of drunken nights and meaningless one-night stands. How much of that intoxication, sexual inhibition and anxiety go into the lyrics and music?

Yeah. It’s all over it.

I think every song has moments that are quite explicitly about sex. There wasn’t a huge amount of anxiety, though, and I’m not documenting it as if it was a bad lifestyle choice.

It’s not romantic like that. It was quite fun doing all that stuff – but it definitely wasn’t filling the void…

How are things this far down the road? Are you in a more positive mind-frame or do past memories impact you still?

I actually have a terrible memory which I think is quite useful in some cases.

I definitely feel happy right now but it is very sunny at the moment.

Are there any plans to tour your material in the coming months?

Yeah. I’m getting a band together at the moment.

Who are the new artists you suggest we look out for?

Rocheman, Finn Ryder and Swipht.

All excellent.

If you had to select the three albums that have meant the most to you; which would they be and why?

I couldn’t pick three. I love loads.

Off the top of my head I’d go with Mala by Devendra Banhart; Clear Moon by Mt Eerie and Boxer by The National.

But that’s just off the top of my head right now.

What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?

I’m certainly not someone to come to for advice about the music industry.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Thank you.

Go with Squeaky by Finn Ryder

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Follow Loz KeyStone

Image may contain: 1 person, guitar and indoor

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/lozkeystonemusic/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/lozkeystone

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/lozkeystone/

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/lozkeystone

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC11Wjp0QHQ2KlB_GbL8mrTA

FEATURE: The May Playlist: Vol. 4: “I’ve Got to Admit It’s Getting Better…”

FEATURE:

 

The May Playlist

 

 

 

Vol. 4: “I’ve Got to Admit It’s Getting Better…”

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THIS is an odd week for music for a few different reasons…

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Amazons/PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Goff

For one, there is new music from the likes of The Amazons, The Charlatans and alt-J: fantastic tunes from some of Pop’s best and some underground nuggets. Alongside that is the big event: the fiftieth anniversary of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

We are seeing a legendary album share shelf space with brand-new records from some of our brightest young artists. I take tracks from Rita Ora, Bleachers and Dave and sprinkle in plenty of colour, spice and variety. It is another busy and surprising May Playlist

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Harris

The Amazons – Something in the Water

https://open.spotify.com/track/6aXamb2bP63nZmN8Len2Vu

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The Charlatans – The Setting Sun

https://open.spotify.com/track/2KcSbjIdVs6UUjE7dF4Ama

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PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Rudderow

The DistrictsIf Before I Wake

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alt-jAdeline

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Lucy Rose – No Good at All

https://open.spotify.com/track/1zv91MvyaynZz2iigMOIsE

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Rita Ora – Your Song

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PHOTO CREDIT: Phoebe Fox

Get InuitAll My Friends

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Katie LondonKing of Hearts

https://open.spotify.com/track/12shWZPAMElzE6TG8Zppuh

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Lana Del Rey (ft. The Weeknd)Lust for Life

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Gothic Tropic Don’t Give Me Up

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Dagny Wearing Nothing

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Real Estate Stained Glass

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EMA Breathalyzer

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Amber Coffman – Nobody Knows

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Marika Hackman – Cigarette

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PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Krug

Benjamin Booker – Believe

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PHOTO CREDIT: Teen Vogue

Dua Lipa (ft. Miguel) – Lost in Your Light

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PHOTO CREDIT: Rosaline Shahnavaz

The Magic Gang – Your Love

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 – Nights with You

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Allie X (ft. Valley Girl) – Need You

https://open.spotify.com/track/1OjWMRoXwwMgezK1lf7Mzw

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PHOTO CREDIT: @Vanessaheins

Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut to the Feeling

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The Unthanks – Happiness

https://open.spotify.com/track/6eVfsMh0IRcUrXYFcaXSMc

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Charlie Fink – The Howl

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Bleachers – I Miss Those Days

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Enter Shikari (ft. Big Narstie) – Supercharge

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Coldabank – Lovin’ You

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Girlhood – Together

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Grace Carter – Silence

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Halsey (ft. Lauren Jauregui)  Strangers

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Isaiah Dreads (ft. One Acen) – Hot Spice

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Kali Uchis (ft. Jorja Smith) – Tyrant

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Klyne – Sure Thing

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Lion Babe Hit the Ceiling

 

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Little Mix (ft. Stormzy) – Power

https://open.spotify.com/track/4BJ5T8ZZZ3UrPG7k0OVQrp

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Low Island – That Kind of Love

https://open.spotify.com/track/0URpGtRlfLU7NjC40eA0Uz

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Mark Elliott – Good Way

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Melvin Ashong – Powem

https://open.spotify.com/track/5j9eR8mhxaO2dKI3XlWIah

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NEIKED (ft. Mimi) – Call Me

https://open.spotify.com/track/6qUFDGt5RGblU3LqGDXlUW

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Mabel – Bedroom

https://open.spotify.com/track/3YeXzPvp9EOHqkNSV0OYzs

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Dave – 100M’s

https://open.spotify.com/track/5Z1EX2sRJk1e8tQofsFnVW

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Vera Blue – Mended

https://open.spotify.com/track/7tj9bP2fBemdiRo77wCzPw

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Nick Jonas (ft. Anne-Marie and Mike Posner) – Remember I Told You

https://open.spotify.com/track/42NpUvd0I2kdIuMXX4nobE

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Noah Cyrus – I’m Stuck

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ta-ku

Wafia – 83 Days

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Washed Out  Get Lost

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Nu:Logic (ft. Thomas Oliver) – Side By Side

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Wild Youth – All or Nothing

https://open.spotify.com/track/16hdgBIMFc2dK8iWYQCvGz

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PHOTO CREDIT: SHOT BY PHOX

Pale Seas – Into the Night

https://open.spotify.com/track/1m9Y0ylmK6lByLFLrp2FwZ

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PHOTO CREDIT: @TomAdamGreen

River Matthews – Light the Way

https://open.spotify.com/track/3HlWEa0jL2Gw4HvEpaLKa7

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Julia Michaels – Issues

https://open.spotify.com/track/1sXUWdKx03aP9Gmzft58rt

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Novo Amor – Colourway

https://open.spotify.com/track/2oa53bhiNPCz2CGh26AYxi

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Pia Mia (ft. Jeremih) – I’m a Fan

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3LAU (ft. Yeah Boy)On My Mind

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Theo Verney – Mind Fire

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Ryan Sheridan – All of It

https://open.spotify.com/track/10UyYzEWBzSIitDXCv928R

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PHOTO CREDIT: Alice McCall

Samantha Jade – Circles on the Water

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Tiësto & KSHMR (ft. Talay Riley) – Harder

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Tom Joshua – Boys in Cars

https://open.spotify.com/track/1r0ZMjM2VZzitCWhdhIzjP

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Lindsey StirlingForgotten City from RiME

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Sia (ft. Labrinth) – To Be Human

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Brooklyn and BaileySimple Things

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Tender – Nadir

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Meek MillGlow Up

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Popcann (ft. Davido) – My Story

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Postiljonen – Crazy

https://open.spotify.com/track/0kRokKRebaOCdIfTJ8zbJ9

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Dastic (ft. Cade) – Let Me Love You

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Ryan Adams – Prisoner

https://open.spotify.com/track/4t221L17yyQfFe7kRluTew

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AJR – Come Hang Out

https://open.spotify.com/track/3EuL0buAsLnXb1JWtNVleF

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bifean Cartel

Her (ft. Zefire) – Swim

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London Grammar – Oh Woman Oh Man

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Avatarium – The Starless Sleep

https://open.spotify.com/track/3cIxpr7A9NrKOs7FrydXTn

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Justin Townes Earle  – Kids in the Street

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Alestrom – Mexico

https://open.spotify.com/track/6xEcJi5tmXFhaT0m62VZd9

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Lil Yachty – Harley

https://open.spotify.com/track/5MjDHb5bnvY4Jz2Aue17Hj

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Yellow Claw (feat. Moksi & Jonna Fraser) Open

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The Beatles – She’s Leaving Home

https://open.spotify.com/track/1Ipl1kvks5s6GKn6oqgzeY

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Shaikra – Nada

https://open.spotify.com/track/1D8bmUIhLHEO4KMS2SHwUx

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James Vincent McMorrow – Thank You

https://open.spotify.com/track/2WGVb25hoch25nmL4XLzTI

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Ben Ottewell Watcher

https://open.spotify.com/track/6OJLz8qvBwvrYomJOsLiYe

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Skye Steele – Living a Storm

https://open.spotify.com/track/1GYgIr0WvYj2JXE9yXI8jW

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Bryson Tiller – Somethin Tells Me

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Carl Louis – Human Being

https://open.spotify.com/track/4i0yaYLrLtkhnGMrelDvSw

 

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MellahOld Friend

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Ella VosYou Don’t Know About Me

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PHOTO CREDIT: Jonathan Pilkington

Kite Base – Dadum

https://open.spotify.com/track/2mNdgbOSHQS9a5ZJhvh0jq

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ARTWORK: Melodic Virtue

Thunder Dreamer – You Know Me

https://open.spotify.com/track/6xQqcLXcm25CifTQ6IJ8Dc

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Camilla CabelloI Have Questions

https://open.spotify.com/track/3NgCzSW98SsqBdpYcnm4kv

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles/PHOTO CREDIT:  Apple Corps Ltd

It is weird getting a chance to (legitimately) include a track from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Alongside the 1960s brilliance, I have been drinking in the best new music and underground treasures. Let’s hope – as the weather REALLY hots up – music keeps giving us so many treats and unexpected offerings.