Festival coverage, including that from SXSW 2017 and BIGSOUND 2017, can be read through here.

SXSW 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
Sound City 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Great Escape 2015 | 2013 | 2012

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Live Review: TENDER with LANNDS at Songbyrd Music House, Washington, DC – 24th September 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 26th September 2017 at 1:00 pm
 

As you read my continuing coverage of BIGSOUND 2017, you’ll see that electronic music in Australia has been evolving and the lines between electronic and other genres have become blurred. Naturally, we’ve been observing this phenomenon in the UK as well, the birthplace of synthpop in the late ‘70s and popularisation. The number of UK acts in this category is now astonishing. Is it their track record in synthesiser-led music as a country that cause us to run to their music in droves? Or do us Americans subconsciously favour our cousins across the water? I’d like to believe streaming services and blogs like TGTF are the reason Sunday night at Songbyrd saw a good turnout of music fans interested to see what North London-based duo TENDER and their live band were all about. Those who made the trek to Adams-Morgan were not disappointed. At this point, TENDER had been touring our continent for over 2 weeks and so far had not succumbed to homesickness.

The opener for the night was another all-caps wonder, LANNDS. Originally from Memphis, it sounds like Rania Woodard’s move to the far sunnier climate Jacksonville did her good. Like a lot of story-driven, synth-driven music, hers is a solo endeavour that comes alive in a completely different way live. I’m going to presume she didn’t want anyone to comment on her fashion sense. Seriously, who wears a winter hat when it’s 90 degrees out? Look at the photo on the top of her Spotify profile, it’s all part of her image.

LANNDS Washington DC September 2017

And yet, this knit hat somehow made her performance all that more precious, as if we’d been invited into her living room. On her single ‘Hourglass’, she emotes with a powerful sadness in the booming chorus, “if you were only mine / if I were only good enough”, echoing the pain of losing a connection to someone once loved. Electronic bedroom producers, yes, they are a dime a dozen. But LANNDS’ relatable tales of love and love lost are set to a seemingly effortless dream pop backdrop, the perfect thing to sway along to with a loved one on an unseasonably balmy, supposedly autumn night in the Capital.

The Sweet have a song of theirs one of the best descriptions on why it’s human nature to be addicted to love: “Love is like oxygen / you get too much, you get too high / not enough and you’re gonna die”. On their debut album ‘Modern Addiction’ (I reviewed it here) that was released at the start of this month, singer James Cullen of TENDER tackles the various stages of a break-up of a relationship. Why is it such a compelling listen? Because as painful as heartbreak is to the person experiencing it, the release of deep emotions, whether they are those of joy or sorrow, is a beautiful thing. Cullen and his bandmate Dan Cobb have figured out how to convey these feelings with slinky electronica, accented with wailing guitar and funky bass and percussion.

TENDER Washington DC September 2017

Much like a silk negligee, their songs ooze with mood and eroticism. There’s bursts of bombast, sure, but they’re used effectively to punctuate their sultry, yet uncluttered melodies that won’t leave your mind anytime soon. With its driving chorus, recently released single ‘Machine’ was a clear crowd favourite; as I scanned the room, fans sung back the words as their heads bopped, mesmerised by TENDER’s rhythms. ‘Nadir’ leading into ‘Erode’, placed smartly near the end of the set, was like a one-two punch of perfection. On ‘Nadir’, the combined force of Cullen’s emotional voice and the instrumentation at the defining lines in the song, “who are we kidding? / this is our divide!” translate to a incredible crescendo in the midst of a catchy melody. These are the kinds of moments you will remember from shows, when punters raise their swaying arms in solidarity with the artists on stage playing the songs they love and connect with.

TENDER play tonight at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. Shows at New York’s Public Arts tomorrow (the 27th of September) and Boston’s Great Scott Thursday (the 28th) will follow. To catch up on our past coverage of the act here on TGTF, including my interview with them from the road in North America, go here.

James Cullen TENDER Washington DC September 2017

After the cut: TENDER’s setlist.
Continue reading Live Review: TENDER with LANNDS at Songbyrd Music House, Washington, DC – 24th September 2017

 

Interview: TENDER

 
By on Thursday, 21st September 2017 at 11:00 am
 

Have you heard about TENDER, the electronic duo from North London? In case they haven’t made it to your radar yet, here are the basics. Singer/songwriter James Cullen begins the sketch, if you will, of a new TENDER song and hashes out the skeleton from which he and Dan Cobb work from. Dan then refines the production and arrangement, moulding each song into a finished product.

At the start of this month, they released their debut album ‘Modern Addiction’ on Partisan Records. As noted in my review of it, the electronic duo’s first big impression on the general public is “admirable work”. They are currently in North America on a tour to support their new release, having already been on the West Coast of our continent before heading east and playing tonight at Beat Kitchen in Chicago. James and Dan were nice enough to do this interview with me from the road.

Originally from the south coast of England between the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth, it was 3 years ago that TENDER made their way to the big smoke. Both had spent time in guitar bands before, so I asked James if it was difficult to move into electronic from their previous projects. “I think the translation was fairly smooth and organic. With guitars and writing, you’re always trying to make the instrument sound different and new, so stepping over to synthesisers and electronic music was just a progression of that… I think it was just a new avenue for us to express ourselves. The sounds and methods feel new and exciting for us. I really enjoy finding interesting samples that I can cut into the song or make and instrument out of then allow that to dictate the way the rest of the song is written.” It sounds like, too, that their musical influences reflect an affinity for both rock and electronic: “We’ve always been influenced by bands like Air, Tame Impala, Justice, the National, The War on Drugs, plus many more.”

We turn our attention to ‘Modern Addiction’, which felt to me like TENDER were striving for a minimalist approach, reminiscent somewhat to what we first heard from the xx. I was curious about their approach to songcraft. James replied, “Yeah, for sure, that’s the approach we took. When we first started TENDER, we really wanted to craft songs that used just the right amount of instrumentation and layering without overdoing it. As time has progressed, this has changed slightly, but we still very much feel our songs have the room to breathe like they did in the beginning. Using organic bass and drums with some light synths and samples as embellishment, we can allow the vocal to work as an instrument and have the space [it needs].”


TENDER in LA from FB
TENDER and their touring band last week in Los Angeles (from Facebook)

Another interesting thing to note about ‘Modern Addiction’ is while there are clearly songs about various stages in a painful romantic breakup James went through –smartly taking the emotions and focussing them in a constructive and creative direction, I might add – they explore the decidedly more clinical topic of consumerism in their single ‘Machine’. The latter isn’t a common subject in pop music, so I asked James how the two tied together. “We feel the subjects go hand in hand, in the sense that a lot of the songs are love songs. Modern love and relationships are often dictated by technology and the ease of communication, which of course is a good thing, but I feel can lead to throw away relationships and the need for constant approval.” All good points.

As you listen to ‘Modern Addiction’, it’s impossible to escape the deep, often raw emotions in Cullen’s lyrics. Does putting his deepest, darkest thoughts on display keep him awake at night? “I can’t be entirely comfortable”, he admits. “It’s hard to listen back to for me sometimes and feels too personal, but at the same time when writing it, [it] just came out. The process of writing about it is a release and came naturally at the time. Being able to do so also allows me to look back at a moment in my life and remember how I felt.”

While some electronic music can be too cerebral to the masses, ultimately, James and Dan have a simpler message they want to relay to those listening to their new record. Dan says, “Don’t overthink things. The music is about wanting to create an atmosphere that facilitates connections. We want people to feel primitive about the album. Basic instincts of lust and dance are what we’re looking to evoke in people. The lyrics are open to interpretation in many ways for people to fit them around their own world.”

Speaking about their current North American tour, their very first, James is terribly excited. “We love playing the music live and being able to show people a different side of the band. Being able to travel to such great places and meet fantastic new people is one of the biggest motivations for being in music. America is such a diverse place we just can’t wait to see as much of it as possible.” After playing Chicago tonight, TENDER will cross the border once again for a one-off show in Toronto before returning to America for stops in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. To get a taste of what they’re like live, check out their live performance filmed at Low Four Studios at the old Granada Studios in Manchester on the day of the release of ‘Modern Addiction’.

 

Album Review: TENDER – Modern Addiction

 
By on Thursday, 31st August 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

TENDER Modern Addiction album coverI’m sure it is to some folks’ grievous disappointment, but I don’t think it’s such a surprise to see the field for the race to the Next Great British Guitar Band crown shrinking. We’re living in a period of continually evolving music technology and like it or not, this technology is here to stay. It affords to artists new ways of expressing themselves and the ability to try out so many more new sounds and styles than ever before. James Cullen and Dan Cobb were classmates and both had begun their interest in music playing guitar, having participated in different bands before working together in TENDER. The name of their debut album for Partisan Records out this week, ‘Modern Addiction’, drives home the idea that the modern world we find ourselves in makes it all the more difficult to keep relationships alive, whether that be physically or psychologically.

In the glut of today’s commercial pop, TENDER’s approach to telling their stories is refreshingly minimalist. Like the original form of the xx before them, Cullen and Cobb’s brand of synthpop isn’t intended to hit you over the head with grand gestures, overblown production or pretension. The term ‘slow burner’ would be particularly apt here. The rhythms and effects they’ve chosen to use throughout ‘Modern Addiction’ add varying shades of colour, helping to illustrate Cullen’s own mental deterioration as he experienced the destruction of a long-term relationship first-hand. Themes of dependency, surrender and resoluteness are all examined here. Frankly, if it weren’t for the hypnotically seductive rhythms and the interesting choice of instruments, this would be a hard listen. The lyrics are akin to those of Elena Tonra’s of Daughter: cutting commentary on a life ripped apart and emotions run high when a heart breaks.

The LP’s preview singles were chosen well, as they’re winners. The repetitive xylophone notes introduce the oddly up tempo ‘Nadir’. “Tried to go the distance but we’re only wasting time / who are we kidding? / this is our divide”, sings Cullen, pointing out the breaking point of the relationship has been reached, and there’s no turning back now. In the more solemn bridge, he continues with “with all I’ve done and all I say / I’ve been loving you in a different way”. Heartbreaking. ‘Machine’ is about going through the motions in life and not having as much free will as us humans like to think we have. With its irresistible beat and Cullen’s sufficiently delicate vocals, the stark reality of the song’s meaning dissolves into its catchiness. A similar theme is revisited later on the slow jam ‘Sickness’, full of battling synths and seeming to point to depression brought on by what’s happening in the world today.

On ‘Erode’ (NSFW video below), Cullen compares himself to an island, its sand and constitution being worn away by his lover’s ocean-like pummeling. The song’s sensual, slow ooze matches Cullen’s own toxic dependency on her, offering up the words, “if you want me like that, that’s who I’ll be / if you’ll love me right back, I could be anything”. Conversely, on ‘Blame’, he’s firm in his insistence that she won’t break him and he won’t come crawling back, as the lead synth line buzzes along with similar confidence.

As you might have guessed, the ‘80s driving number ‘Powder’ is a blistering denunciation of a drug-taking fake friend who only comes around when she needs company. Like the fallout from a broken relationship examined elsewhere on ‘Modern Addiction’, its central theme is satisfying relatable on the grounds that more than ever in this age of social media and smartphones, we’re surrounded by fair weather, superficial acquaintances who don’t really care about us. That’s more problematic on a psychological level than most people will admit. ‘Trouble’ closes the album with a plaintive guitar line, a bluesy feel that reminds us that all taken together, this is a pop record that just happens to be synthesiser-forward.

For a debut, TENDER have done admirable work on ‘Modern Addiction’. Instead of falling back on guitars or booming percussion to add texture, they’ve used synths well to create suitably moody backdrops for James Cullen’s lyrics. While a bit slow in places, it’s the kind of ‘grower’ record that synthpop fans will gravitate to.

7.5/10

‘Modern Addiction’, the debut album from London synthpop duo Tender, is out tomorrow, the 1st of September, on Partisan Records. For more of our coverage here on TGTF on Tender, follow this link.

 

Video of the Moment #2416: Tender

 
By on Friday, 4th August 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

I’m sure many of you have been in this boat: you’re super excited to see a band play at a music festival you’ve got tickets to, only to find out that as time gets closer to the event that said band won’t be appearing. That’s what happened when I found out Tender‘s name got removed from the list of SXSW 2017 showcasing artists. Here’s to hoping they’ll appear in Austin next year. I think the odds are good (or at least pretty good), and I’ll explain why.

It’s an exciting time for James Cullen and Dan Cobb. The North London electronic duo will be releasing their debut album ‘Modern Addiction’ on the 1st of September on Partisan Records. And you know how much I love electropop. They’ve revealed the music video for ‘Control’, which was directed by Cobb and was created to be purposely conceptual, not literal, as he explains: “we wanted to put together a more abstract video for this song made up of video clips and visuals rather than an orthodox music video. I’d been watching some great documentaries by Adam Curtis a few weeks before and I’d cite ‘Hypernormalism’ as an influence on this. We felt that the lyrics covered quite a lot of different themes, but in the end, all eluded to the same feeling of people not having control of their habits and the way they live their lives, ultimately. The song is about consumerism, entertainment, advances in technology and blind addictions. It’s a look into a dark world that feels like a simulation, where our real job now as humans, is shopping.” If you’ve ever contemplated Elon Musk’s hypothesis that we’re living in a video game of our own creation, you’ll relate to the song and the video. Watch it below. For more on Tender, check out our hopefully growing archive on them through here.

 

Video of the Moment #2392: Tender

 
By on Monday, 3rd July 2017 at 10:00 am
 

Electronic duo Tender have some exciting news. They’ll be releasing their debut album in 2 months’ time. ‘Modern Addiction’ will be released on the 1st of September on Partisan Records. To celebrate the upcoming release, the UK act have unveiled the promo video for the upcoming LP’s lead single. “I hate it when you touch me / but I kept it under wraps”, sings a frustrated vocalist and multi-instrumentalist James Cullen on ‘Nadir’. It’s an upbeat, r&b-infused slice of electronic soul and its promo takes advantage of the feel with a sultry presentation. Basically, the video is of two dancers using their art to show what it’s like being in love. Or is it a reflection of the turmoil of love in trouble? Watch it below to find out.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2017: London electronic artists and DJs showcasing at this year’s SXSW

 
By on Tuesday, 21st February 2017 at 11:00 am
 

As you might imagine, London leads the charge with the largest number of artists one city in the UK is sending to SXSW 2017. In this post, we introduce you to 11 acts from London Town specialising in electronic music and DJaying. The summaries of acts below were written by Mary Chang, Rebecca Clayton, Steven Loftin and David Wriglesworth. Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2017 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and artists and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change. To learn when your favourite artist is playing in Austin, we recommend you first consult the official SXSW schedule, then stop by the artist’s Facebook and official Web site for details of any non-official SXSW appearances.

Anna Meredith
Composing isn’t usually the most orthodox starting point for someone wanting to venture into a career in pop, but that’s exactly where Anna Meredith started her foray into music, and to great success. Before releasing her debut album, Meredith spent time as composer in residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, composed for the Proms, and gained a Masters at the Royal College of Music, amongst many other accolades.

In 2016, Meredith released her debut album ‘Varmints’. Her music draws on her classical history, combing grand electronic sounds with synth strings. Meredith’s LP is as unusual as it is impressive, and creates an immersive musical experience for the listener. ‘Nautilus’ is a must listen. (Rebecca Clayton)

Aquilo
Deeply emotional and airy synthpop, fit for a darkened, heartbroken night: that’s Aquilo (pictured at top). They don’t just have their heart on their sleeve, they’re grabbing it and shoving it in your face. Starting off with a couple of Soundcloud singles in 2013 that were picked up by various outlets, they then went on to play only their fourth show ever at Glastonbury 2014. Not a bad start for the duo, not bad at all. 2017 sees them finally releasing their debut album ‘Silhouettes’ and an opportunity to make waves at SXSW. (Steven Loftin)

DJ Yoda
Duncan Beiny, better known as DJ Yoda, is a multi-award-winning hip-hop DJ and producer, who has worked with pretty much everyone, from classical composers to neuroscientists. In recent years, DJ Yoda was asked by Dr Dre to record a guest mix on his inaugural Beats 1 show for Apple Music, and he was one of the artists to perform at Banksy’s pop-up bemusement park Dismaland.

DJ Yoda pioneers new forms of audiovisual entertainment, chopping and splicing classic movies with the hands-in-the-air clubbing vibe. In 2014, DJ Yoda was commissioned to rescore classic films as part of BFI’s sonic cinema event, and he produced a mash-up of BBC Radio 4’s entire station, remixing The Archers, the shipping forecast, John Humphries and more.

In 2017, DJ Yoda is taking his ever-evolving DJ sets, which take in a diverse array of styles, genres, decades and continents, all over the world, with shows at SXSW, Snowbombing (Austria) and Hideout Festival (Croatia). (David Wriglesworth)

Draper
Producer James Draper has been around a while: he’s already released a whole host of EPs, including his eighth, ‘Luminous’ (out now on M:UK), which Steven reviewed for us on TGTF last month. Lest you think Draper is a one-trick pony, think again. Not only is the Kent professional highly sought out producer, he has collaborated with and written pop bangers for big names like Ellie Goulding, Twin Atlantic and Rita Ora. It won’t be his first rodeo – Draper has been to SXSW before – so perhaps past experience will make his performances stand out from all the newbies? (Mary Chang)

Fifi Rong
Fifi Rong is London-based, but lived in China until she was 16 when she was enrolled in a boarding school in Bristol. She self-released her debut album ‘Wrong’ in 2013, and since then has worked with the likes of Skepta, featuring on his 2016 album ‘Konnichiwa’. In 2016, she released an EP, ‘Forbidden Desire’, which she funded through Pledgemusic.

Fifi Rong’s voice is husky and distinctive, and her tracks involve beautiful and unearthly electronic sounds, which focus on love and relationships. (Rebecca Clayton)

Jamie Isaac
Croydon-born and bred, Jamie Isaac released his debut album ‘Couch Baby’ last year, a following two EPs released back in 2013 and 2014. Isaac attended BRIT School along with contemporary and sometime collaborator King Krule, but rather than following in the footsteps of the likes of Adele and Jessie J, Isaac is carving out a much different path.

Isaac focuses on pared-back, dreamy electronic rhythms and a gentle tempo that is both captivating and seriously chilled. ‘Couch Baby’ is an album that can only be described as easy listening, the type of album that you can put on in the background and relax to. (Rebecca Clayton)

Reeps One
Of the many young artists coming out to SXSW 2017, few can say they’ve already been nominated for an award, let alone won one. Harry Yeff, better known under his stage name Reeps One, is thus special because he’s a prize-winning beatboxer.

Even though the only instrument he uses is his own voice box, I’ve put him under the electronic category because SXSW has and I would venture to say they consider his voice as peerless an instrument like a synthesiser. Lest you think that his musical style is reminiscent of those spitting dudes in the ‘hood back in the ‘80s, I’ve included a more melodic example of his beatboxing below. (Mary Chang)

Rude Kid
London-based producer and DJ Rude Kid is heavily entrenched in the grime scene, being able to cite the likes of Skepta, Wiley and Shy FX amongst his collaborators. Passionate about music, Rude Kid, who at one time was signed to Sony Music, released and experimental EP ‘One Week’ in 2012 which he created in just a week, before sharing as a free download.

He’s released a fair bit of music in his career so far, and spent much of 2016 showing his prowess as a DJ, and even started hosting his own grime radio show on Kiss FM. Rude Kid’s music features darker elements of grime, when compared to AJ Tracey mentioned in our review of the pop acts from London headed to SXSW. His 2015 EP ‘653’ in collaboration with Ghetts features the popular ‘One Take’, which has racked up millions of listens on Spotify. (Rebecca Clayton)

SOHN
Christopher Taylor is the enigmatic producer and electronic singer/songwriter, who I suspected could be a hooded, yet groovy polar bear live in concert 3 years ago in DC. A lot had changed for Taylor following his well-received debut album ‘Tremors’ in 2014, and the extensive touring to promote the LP took its toll on him as well. Decamping temporarily to a house in sleepy Northern California to write and record follow-up ‘Rennen’ did him good: read my album review from last month for more details. How will a producer who favours dark clubs fare in sunny Austin? We’ll have to wait to find out. (Mary Chang)

SWEAT
Electronic in all the right places and all the right ways, SWEAT are one of the brightest stars in the upcoming UK music scene right now. Filled with crisp beats and youthful romantic tales, they’re onto a real winner. ‘Stay’, for example, features a beautiful composition that trundles along, disappears and then returns with even more grace and melody. (Steven Loftin)

Tender
Life-long friends Dan Cobb and James Cullen comprise electronic duo Tender. From the basement of their North London home, they’ve produced three EPs, ‘Armour’, ‘Tender EP II’ and ‘Tender EP III’. To coincide with the duo signing with Brooklyn-based label Partisan Records in July 2016, Tender released ‘Outside’, the first single to be taken from their third EP. Since its release, the single has been streamed over 4,000,000 times on Spotify.

For the year ahead, Tender look set to embark on a number of live dates, including shows at SXSW and a headline show at Oslo Hackney in London, before finishing off and releasing their debut album. (David Wriglesworth) [As of 21/2, Tender are no longer listed on the SXSW Music Festival schedule.]

Youngr
Dario Darnell is no stranger to the electronic scene, having previously been in Picture Book with his brother Lorne Ashley. While Picture Book appears to be on hiatus at the moment, Darnell has struck out on his own as a one man multi-instrumentalist under the moniker Youngr. You could say that his career in music was pretty much assured: his father is none other than August Darnell, aka Kid Creole of Kid Creole and the Coconuts’ fame.

Darnell has taken a page from his father in writing and performing catchy pop tunes with a soulful r&b vocal, though in his case, he also takes advantage of a full synth setup and plenty of electronics in the absence of a backing band. He’s in the middle of a European tour at the moment and will be touring North America around his week in Austin. (Mary Chang)

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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