Editor Mary is in Toronto for CMW 2016 this week.
Ongoing coverage of the event will be on our Twitter and on the site this way.
SXSW 2016 | 2015
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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 12th January 2015 at 12:00 pm
The UK music scene is littered with bands and artists chipping away at the coalface of rock, essentially unwavering at the kind of music they believe is their strength, putting in the hard work of songwriting and gigging. While this approach does eventually pay off for some, it seems for most fledging bands, they’ll not had the luck to be discovered by an A&R bod who just happens to stumble into the pub where they’ve set up to play for the evening. So they continue on as they were. Yet every now and again, you hear a success story in which an artist realised he was going about it all wrong, was able to switch gears and head in an entirely different direction that ultimately paid off.
William Doyle, who now goes by the stage name East India Youth, has such a tale that led to his debut album ‘Total Strife Forever’ to be nominated for the 2014 Mercury Prize. There can’t be much higher praise for a release I have to assume is a friendly poke at Foals‘ similarly titled LP ‘Total Life Forever’, which was also up for a Mercury gong 4 years prior. But the Bournemouth artist’s career in music didn’t start with the electronic music he’s now known for. Doyle previously fronted Doyle and the Fourfathers, a Smiths-esque indie band from Southampton who were championed early on by BBC 6music presenter Marc Riley.
Though the band seemed poised on the edge of breaking into the mainstream, Doyle himself found himself disillusioned by the touring and “playing with hundreds of Oasis-y, laddy, pubby rock bands”. Somewhere along the way, electronica and ambient sounds proved to be Doyle’s saviour, and Doyle re-emerged under the moniker East India Youth, christened after the East India Docks area in east London where he laid his head during his songwriting days for ‘Total Strife Forever’. It was John Doran, founder of The Quietus, who decided to take a chance on Doyle’s new venture, releasing his ‘Hostel’ EP as the Quietus Phonographic Corporation’s first ever issue.
Judging from the kind of attention East India Youth has garnered since the Mercury nom of Doyle’s debut album with the project, Doran had incredible foresight. From the iciness of opening instrumental track ‘Glitter Recession’ to the remarkably soothing vocals of LP standout ‘Heaven, How Long’, from the dancey abandonment of ‘Dripping Down’ and the freneticism of ‘Hinterland’ to the unearthly, quasi-religious tones of ‘Songs for a Granular Piano’, ‘Total Strife Forever’ is a richly textured effort. How Doyle will pull off the many facets of his acclaimed debut in Austin in March at SXSW 2015 remains to be seen but I, for one, am quite interested to see how he’s received.
Toronto alt-pop quintet Alvvays are beginning 2015 as they ended 2014, with a flurry of activity. Their self-titled debut album was released last July and has been lauded as one of the best releases of the year by the likes of NME, the Evening Standard and Drowned in Sound.
The band spent the early part of last autumn touring in Canada and America, then hopped the pond to play in the UK and Europe with Real Estate and Foxygen before wrapping up 2014 with another round of headline dates in North America. Picking up precisely where they left off, Alvvays will open the new year with a full UK tour later this month, followed by European live dates in February and an appearance at SXSW 2015 in March before a spring tour of North America with Colin Meloy and The Decemberists.
Fans of indie pop bands like Belle and Sebastian or Teenage Fanclub will find sonic kindred spirits in Alvvays. The band’s lightly trippy, mildly ironic musicality consists of mid-tempo rhythms and melodic instrumental lines deftly woven into vocal lines that are slightly aloof and removed from the proceedings, both in their lyrics and their restrained dynamic affect. Hints of synthesized keyboards flitter about, keeping a sense of lightness over the full warmth of the bass. Lead singer Molly Rankin’s voice isn’t particularly distinctive except for its consistently pleasant tone, which never falls prey to the strange affectations that many female singers succumb to. Her vocal temperament and the muted production of the vocal effects are a perfect match to the deliberate emotional detachment in her lyrics; for example, the lines “so honey take me by the hand and we can sign some papers / forget the invitations floral arrangements and bread makers” in ‘Archie, Marry Me’.
While Alvvays’ sound seems almost suffocatingly homogenous at first, closer listening reveals subtle degrees of variety. ‘Adult Diversion’, the opening track on the ‘Alvvays’ LP, opens with punchy percussion and a blatantly hooky guitar intro that melts into a muted, understated vocal line. The aforementioned ‘Archie, Marry Me’ and current single ‘Next of Kin’ are upbeat and optimistic, while mid-album tracks ‘Party Police’, ‘The Agency Group’ and ‘Dives’ display a darker, hazier mood. The oddly titled ‘Atop a Cake’ is purely catchy twee pop, sharply constrasted by the starry hypnoticism of final track ‘Red Planet’.
Alvvays’ appearance at SXSW 2014 was a promising introduction for the Canadian quintet, and it proved to be the beginning of wildly successful year for a band whose star is clearly on the rise. The bar of expectation will undoubtedly be raised for their showing in Austin later this year, perhaps giving them an opportunity to expand upon the current limits of their style.
Brolin describes himself on his Soundcloud page as “a bedroom producer, self-taught, self-analysing, into beats, space and melody”, though his music abilities also stretch to vocals, songwriting and remixing. The London-based artist has gathered a large online fanbase and has built up a strong reputation for his formidable live shows, despite choosing to keep his identity concealed with a mask (so that people focus on his music, supposedly).
Further adding to Brolin’s mysterious nature was the accompanying music video for his debut single ‘NYC’, which displayed vintage clips of the Big Apple. Released in October 2012, the track received airplay from Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1, as well as 6Music and XFM. Almost a year later, Brolin launched the ‘Cundo’ EP. ‘Reykjavik’, the lead single from the extended play, was co-produced with electronic artist Luke Abbott and producer David Pye (whose credits include Dido, Faithless and Wild Beasts). This was closely followed by the release of the ‘Portland’ EP a few months later, to coincide with Brolin supporting electronic producer Gold Panda on his UK tour.
Brolin continued to put out new music in 2014 with the launch of his ‘Flags’ and ‘Swim Deep’ extended plays. The lead singles from each of the EPs is expected to feature on his debut album, which is currently pencilled in for a 2015 release. The year also saw Brolin collaborating with a number of UK underground stars, including FTSE, Raffertie and South London Ordnance, as well as producing remixes for the likes of Chloe Howl and Lulu James.
Watch this space as 2015 looks set to be a big year for Brolin. The masked artist is set to release his debut album and is also lined up for a number of festival appearances, which includes a set at SXSW 2015 in Austin, Texas, in the middle of March. For a free mixtape from the man, visit his Bandcamp.
I’m always going to struggle with a band whose name effectively boils down to the practice of obtaining sexual gratification by looking at sexual objects or acts, especially secretively. But if I turned away at every band with a silly or lecherous name, I’d probably have a far blander musical palette. [John also introduced us to Casual Sex in TGTF’s SXSW 2014 coverage. – Ed.]
The Voyeurs are a tricky bunch, fusing art rock and an uncanny swagger that you wouldn’t expect from a band who’ve just released their second album ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’ on Heavenly Recordings. The trio of East Londoners have irrefutably been influenced by other floppy haired bands with silly round glasses who’ve come from the area, ala The Horrors.
But the place where the biggest similarity can be drawn is between this group and another group of rather unlikely British lads who struck gold in America, much in the way I expect The Voyeurs to at SXSW 2015 in March in Austin. They are Franz Ferdinand and if you close your eyes and listen gently then the riffs on ‘Pete the Pugilist’ and ‘Train to Minsk’ can almost correlate perfectly with some of the guitar work on the Scots’ self-titled album and their seminal effort, ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’.
High praise for a group who seem to come up with these melancholy phrases when they please, littering their most recent album ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’ with them. Again, not sure on the name. They’ve got a different kind of mystery to them compared to a lot of the British acts making their way to SXSW, and for that fact are likely to draw a storm. Whether they will look a bit too much like sulky British adolescents, clad in their black turtlenecks and big circular rimmed glasses is yet to be seen; they’ll probably do best to avoid looking like Daniel O’Reilly (Dapper Laughs) when he went on Newsnight too. But their brand of sleazy art-pop is distinctly un-American, so whether it goes down as well as bangers and mash on a warm day in Texas or more like Kentucky Fried Chicken bought when travelling through Victoria Station is yet to be seen.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 6th January 2015 at 12:00 pm
While there’s no 100% guarantee music may become their vocation, there’s no use denying the fact that children of musicians are exposed to a lot of amazing sounds while they’re growing up, which in turn lead to those children to not take a keen interest to music but also to take their genetic predilection and gifts, able truly take a good stab at making music their business. The daughters of famed Cuban percussionist and Buena Vista Social Club member Anga Diaz, Cuban sister act Ibeyi (“twins” in the Cuba-via-Nigeria language Yoruba) are twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. Their father passed away when they were only 11, but the palpable weight of his legacy encouraged the sisters to learn the cajon, their father’s signature instrument, as well as folk songs sung in Yoruba.
Now based in Paris, the twins call on their many influences – from Kate Bush to Nina Simone, from James Blake to the Roots, plus their father, of course – for the Ibeyi sound which, as you can imagine if you were to put all those influences into a blender, is one you can’t put neatly into one genre box. The coolness of the beats and piano in ‘Mama Says’, recalling Mr Blake, might just be why the ears of XL Recordings boss Richard Russell perked up when he received a copy of the promo video the pair made themselves.
Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi, then 19 years old, signed to the Beggars Group offshoot last autumn, then celebrating their 20th birthday in December 2014 playing at St. James Church at Other Voices Dingle, Ireland, calling the experience “a real blessing”. Put together with their eclectic choice of instrumentation that changes from track to track, the sisters’ soulful voices and harmonies that can only really be produced by siblings are what truly set these sisters apart from the rest of the female duo renaissance currently taking place in the UK. Watch for their eponymous debut album to drop on the 16th of February on XL.
Along with artists we’ve covered previously on TGTF James Bay and Wolf Alice, Ibeyi were one of the acts chosen for the VEVO DSCVR Ones to Watch 2015. Judging from the live performance of ‘Oya’ did for them, the sisters will pull off spellbinding, winning performances when they showcase at SXSW 2015 in Austin in March.
At the age of five, Charlotte O’Connor (known by her stage name Charlotte OC) began playing music and started to write her own songs ten years later. Hailing from Blackburn in Lancashire, the singer-songwriter was surrounded by folk and soul music from an early age, with Alicia Keys, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed listed among her major influences.
In her late teens, Charlotte OC suffered from the unfortunate reality of the music industry, having been signed and later dropped by the Columbia record label. Despite the setback, it didn’t damage her confidence and she returned in October 2013 with the release of ‘Colour My Heart’ on Stranger Records, most famously associated with Lana Del Rey. An EP of the same name was launched a month later. To coincide with the launch of the ‘Colour My Heart’ extended play, the singer/songwriter released ‘Hangover’ as a single, a track which was produced as a result of the artist turning up to the studio with yes, you guessed it, a hangover. The EP led to Charlotte OC being heavily “tipped for success in 2014” by both the the BBC and Digital Spy.
Throughout 2014, Charlotte OC made a number of festival appearances in support of her latest EP ‘Strange’ released on Polydor Records, including a set on the BBC Introducing stage at T in the Park in July. The extended play, which was highly praised by fans and critics alike, contains four pop ballads, each of which draws on Charlotte OC’s experiences of love and heartbreak.
The future is certainly looking bright for 23-year-old Charlotte OC, and she is without doubt one to look out for in 2015. The year begins with her supporting TGTF friends The Temper Trap during two special dates in Australia (playing Melbourne tonight and Sydney tomorrow), as well as a scheduled appearance at SXSW 2015 in March.