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I approached Vision Fortune with a sense of trepidation rather than excitement. Any band which decides to shroud its song titles in a series of Roman numerals, either by trying to be too avant-garde and arty for me, are obviously far too clever for a simple mind like myself to comprehend. Throughout the 3 and a bit hours I spent listening to these guys, I was left feeling like I really didn’t understand what was going on – lots of head scratching, bouts of melancholy – generally just feeling like whatever concept these guys are going for has gone completely over my head. It wasn’t pleasant to say the least.
I’m normally a big fan of anything prog/industrial. But throughout my time listening to the London band, I was just left a bit baffled. For example, during ‘XVII’ I felt like I was beamed up by some kind of creepy Roswell-esque / X-Files-style aliens. When I first dived in with this group, I was immediately thinking, these guys sound like a beefed up version of Tall Ships. However, when they move away from the Roman numerals on tracks like ‘Black Ocean Glow’, they do manage to create a rather pleasant soundscape, plodding through a desert in a stoner rock fashion.
They’re nothing like what I’ve ever encountered recently, with their sound flipping wildly between the understated picking rhythms and thudding, whining tunes that sound more and more like a swarm of bees every time you hear it. Often it seems as if for vast swathes of tracks, the band have just left a tape in the machine and let it get stuck on a specific section for a good 2 minutes, as it jerks and squirms in the machine. You know that sound? Surely if I’m old enough to remember tapes, you all can too?
As a live outfit prospect, I’m intrigued to see how this will all work and I can see Vision Fortune somehow being a very popular draw at SXSW. I mean, music with seldom any obvious lyrics has worked incredibly well in the case of Public Service Broadcasting, whilst the mystery factor was enough to push 2014 breakout duo Jungle into the wider public’s eyeline. You only need to do things a little differently to get noticed and at SXSW I sense this is the kind of act which will draw lines snaking out of the venue, with the entire crowd formed up of industry trendsetters in their lens-less glasses, lumberjack shirts and nipple-length ginger beards. Hipster fodder they may be, but with such a distinctive sound Vision Fortune are difficult to ignore, despite the fact I’m now trying to.
Vision Fortune’s debut album ‘Country Music’ is out now on ATP Recordings; a trailer for the off-kilter LP is below. The band will be heading out on a UK tour in March, just prior to their scheduled appearance at SXSW 2015.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 26th January 2015 at 12:00 pm
The deadmau5 vs. Paris Hilton feud and equipment aside, electronic dance music (EDM) could easily be argued as globally the most level playing field of all current musical genres. All EDM artists, no matter how many of there you are in your group, if you’re male or female or where you’re from, you’ve got one goal: get as many people out there to dance to your music, whether it be on a sweaty dancefloor, down the street while they have you in their headphones, or in the privacy of their own bedrooms while listening to you on speakers.
Moreover, except for maybe the artists with swelled heads and swelled egos, the request for and the process of creating remixes is considered a sign of respect. Up-and-coming EDM producer and DJ Howie Lee might call Beijing home, but after he got a call in 2012 from none other than Snoop Lion (the Rastafarian formerly known as the rapper Snoop Dogg) to do a remix of his new reggae track ‘La La La’, the size of Lee’s world and consciousness grew, and the “future music of downtown Beijing” as Lee calls his style is and will be all the better for it.
Having been heavily influenced by the UK bass music scene, Lee left Beijing for school, working on and graduating with a master’s degree in Sound Arts from the London College of Communication. He used his time there to further experiment with the type of bass music sounds that brought him to blighty in the first place, recording the shuffles and frantic beats of ‘Borderless Shadows’ in what SmartShanghai deemed as #2 on their list of best mainland China albums “a sublime rhythmic mix on the headier side of intelligent bass music” that Lee created for his qualifications.
Now back in China, Lee has no doubt taken what he learnt in London and the new ideas he brought back to come up with some truly inventive music in the last quarter of 2014. His most recent release, December 2014’s ‘Swallow’ EP released on Shanghai’s arty SVBKVLT label, is a three-pack of rhythmic goodness. You can barely take a breath listening to first two tracks ‘Garret Jungle’ and ‘Flea'; one can only assume from the song titles and the title of the release that the general idea was to follow the frenetic motion of these creatures. If I’m correct, this is done really well, and the idea that anyone would be able to recreate these tracks live under the microscope at SXSW 2015 is a challenge, but one I am sure Lee is keen to take on when he appears in Austin in March.
Header photo by Hollie Fernando
Southampton dream pop quartet Pale Seas formed in 2011, when frontman Jacob Scott was inspired to drop out of university and follow his songwriting muse. Their first studio endeavour resulted in a single, ‘Something or Nothing’, which was released in March 2012 and received radio attention from BBC Introducing later that year. On the strength of that single, the band played their first headline tour as well as landing support slots with The War on Drugs, Beach Fossils, The Lemonheads, and TGTF favourites Stornoway.
They quickly recorded a follow up, the double A-side single ‘Bodies / My Own Mind’ with producer Paul Butler (The Bees, Devendra Banhart, Michael Kiwanuka), who contributed a tapestry of “thick, luscious soundscapes” to fortify the wistful melancholia of Scott’s songs. The single was released in September 2012 with the assistance of Communion Records, and ‘Bodies’ kickstarted Pale Seas’ ascent, garnering over one million online plays.
In their brief history, the band have already faced a couple of lineup changes, including the departure of Scott’s former girlfriend and backing vocalist Zealah Isabella Anstey and the addition of drummer Will Hilliard. Having apparently settled in their current incarnation (Scott on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Graham Poole on lead guitar, Matthew Bishop on bass and Hilliard on drums), the band recorded their first EP ‘Places to Haunt’ with Butler once again at the production helm and Poole and Bishop collaborating on the songwriting. The EP, which features guest vocals by Alessi’s Ark, was released in August 2014 via Native Pop and includes the following track ‘Evil is Always One Step Behind’.
After spending the better part of the last 4 years establishing themselves as a band and cementing the direction of their sound, Pale Seas are poised to make a mark on the indie music scene in 2015. Their scheduled trip to SXSW 2015 in Austin in March is their only announced live appearance since their UK tour in October of last year, but I predict that we’ll see more of them, either on stage or in the form of their anticipated debut album. Just below, you can watch the video for ‘Blood Return’, which is taken from that effort.
Modestep are a tricky band to categorise, because they alternate between several different musical styles – dubsteb, grime, drum ‘n’ bass, heavy metal, and even straight pop – often within the same song. And while such stylistic confusion is one reason why it’s this writer’s sober wish never to hear their music again, there are no doubt plenty of listeners out there for whom Modestep’s magpie tendencies perfectly suit their iPhone-generation attention spans.
Their debut album ‘Evolution Theory’ runs to an ambitious 25 tracks on the deluxe edition; padded with various remixes and bonus tracks, that’s almost 2 hours of Modestep. Surely not even the most ardent fan could feel short-changed for quantity. It kicks off with the overwrought ‘Show Me a Sign’, dedicated to “the ones who care”; said dedication can apparently be demonstrated, not by perhaps helping an old lady across the street, or even sharing ones Polo mints with the office, but by holding a lighter in the air, an act of little practical use. Modestep throw the kitchen sink at their opening gambit – brostep, faux drum ‘n’ bass, and finally heavy metal riffing – conspiring to make a right old racket.
The title track is a bit more interesting: four rappers talk about which music has influenced them, namedropping profusely (Wiley, Dizzee), although it all inevitably descends into metal-step carnage towards the end. Similarly, ‘Praying For Silence’ has potential: it’s introduced by a news report on the 2011 London riots, and one would be forgiven for looking forward to a musing on that divisive episode from people closer in age and outlook to the rioters than your average man on the street. Sadly, there’s little social commentary, and the central refrain, “we’re praying for silence / now we’re burning with violence,” makes little sense. The rest is simply recycled brostep filler. An opportunity missed.
As an aside, what is the actual point of dubstep in 2015? Fair enough, when it was first invented, nigh on 20 years ago, it sounded edgy and novel, a break from the ubiquitous four-to-the-floor house scene, and probably heralded a move away from ecstasy to a novel plethora of barely-legal acronymic nightclub intoxicants. But now, with the advent of U.S. brostep and the ensuing mass cultural appropriation, the edge has gone and all we’re left with is the sound. Which, unfortunately for the genre, consists of deeply unpleasant bleugh, skweeeeek and wawawa noises. In other words, nothing to hum.
‘Time’ stands out like a black sheep – it’s a straight-ahead stadium ballad, with Hammond organ, piano, and real, heavily-reverbed drums. A jarring interlude in what is otherwise a dance album. And ‘Burn’ actually a pretty decent track, due to the contribution of a proper grime crew, Newham Generals, who actually have something decent to say, and say it well. But, yet again, the track is built around a bland platitude, in this case “can you feel the fire?”. Yes I can, and it’s in my ears. By this point, the album’s only halfway over. If you can stand to listen to the rest you’re a braver soul than I.
Let’s give Modestep the benefit of the doubt. Young listeners trying to work out exactly which genre floats their boat might listen to this and discover a previously unknown appreciation for drum ‘n’ bass, for instance, and end up seeking out some Roni Size and Goldie records. But whichever genre Modestep visit, and there are many, one can nominate a band that specialise in it… and do it better. If they chose one niche, and stuck to it, they might be more successful.
Brianna Price, who is better known by her stage name B.Traits, is a DJ, record producer and radio presenter from Nelson, British Columbia, Canada.
At 18 years old, B.Traits made a name for herself at drum & bass club nights across Canada, having been taught to DJ by a friend. This led to regular bookings throughout North American and Europe. During her travels, she met Shy FX (best known for his re-edit of DJ Fresh’s ‘Gold Dust’), who signed B.Traits to his Digital Soundboy label in 2007, making her the first female artist on his roster.
Nevertheless, we had to wait 5 years for the release of the Canadian’s debut single ‘Fever’, which featured vocals from Elisabeth Troy, who recently featured on Clean Bandit’s cover of the house classic ‘Show Me Love’. ‘Fever’ charted at #36 in the Official UK Charts to give B.Traits her first top 40 UK single.
In April 2012, B.Traits hosted the “In New DJs We Trust” show on BBC Radio 1, appearing as part of a 4-week rotation. She later secured her own weekly slot as part of the Friday night line-up, broadcasting underground dance music to wee hour ravers from 1 to 4 AM. Her work for the radio station was recognised when the 28-year-old Canadian was nominated for Best DJ at the 2014 Bass Music Awards.
Most recently, B.Traits turned her efforts to television presenting, as she fronted a BBC Three documentary entitled “How Safe Are My Drugs?” The programme, which was broadcast in December 2014, explored the reasons why drug-related deaths in the UK had suddenly increased, and how much of that was down to the rapid growth of legal highs.
Looking ahead to later this year, B.Traits has more singles and a debut album in the pipeline. She is also appearing at a number of music festivals throughout the year, including SXSW 2015 in Austin.
If you’re interested in experimental folk, Norfolk’s Reuben Hollebon might be an artist to keep an eye (or an ear) out for in the coming year. Hollebon came across our radar at TGTF when he was announced as part of the lineup for SXSW 2015, and a quick Internet search revealed that he is working on a full-length album, also expected for release this year.
Hollebon’s first EP ‘Clutch’ was released on Akira Records in December 2012. Combining tremulous, echoing vocals with stark, often discordant instrumental parts, the seven tracks on the EP are instantly reminiscent of Bon Iver. Standout track ‘Skin Addict’ features a minimal arrangement of piano, percussion and ethereal layered vocals along with equally minimal, bluntly emotional lyrics, including the relentlessly repeated chorus “get out of my head, get out of my bed / get out of my mind, give me back my time / get out of my skin, my blood needs thinning”. Hollebon shows a deeper, more soulful side on ‘Home’, where the solidly grounded bass line and more traditional acoustic guitar melody contrast his pervasive and unique falsetto vocal style.
In August 2013, Hollebon released his latest single ‘Faces’, which continues in the same gracefully refined yet slightly bizarre musical vein. Hollebon’s vocal effects here remind me of Eddie Vedder, not in the actual vocal sound but in their ability to convey the idea and emotion of a person balancing just on the edge of sanity. The video for ‘Faces’, directed by Emma Rozanski, visually captures the anxious tension of the percussion-driven musical arrangement.
The end of 2013 saw Hollebon playing live shows and sharing stages with TGTF favorites Cocos Lovers and Nathaniel Rateliff, among others. In February 2014, he was invited to play a solo show for Sofar Sounds in London, where he recorded the exquisitely haunting performance of ‘Fields for Fields’ featured below. A glance through Hollebon’s Facebook page reveals that he and his bandmates Jacob Hollebon and Jake Wheeler spent much of 2014 in the recording studio, interspersing their studio time with a few one-off live shows. Their scheduled appearance at SXSW this March will likely provide a sneak peek at what to expect from Hollebon’s anticipated album release later in the year. In the meantime, you can stream Reuben Hollebon’s currently released songs on his Bandcamp page.
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