Interview: Hella Better Dancer

Ahead of their January gig at The Lock Tavern in Camden, I caught up with London four-piece Hella Better Dancer in a (loud!) café down the road. Find out what the guys had to say about being back on the stage, abusing instruments, and why they have unfinished business with Lauren Laverne:

Check out more on the band over at http://hellabetterdancer.tumblr.com/, and don’t forget to check out a quick video from the gig below.

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Five For Friday Podcast (Free Download): 18/01/13

This week’s brand new instalment of the Five For Friday Podcast, featuring five hot tracks for your ears, and available to download for absolutely free!

FREE DOWNLOAD AT SOUNDCLOUD

Tracklisting:
1. Foals – My Number (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs Remix)
2. Cold War Kids – Miracle Mile
3. DRGN KING – Wild Night
4. American Royalty – Honey & Queen
5. Chet Faker – No Diggity

Five For Friday Podcast (Free Download!): 11/01/13

The first installment in a brand new weekly podcast, featuring five hot tracks for your ears, coming at you every Friday!

FREE DOWNLOAD AT SOUNDCLOUD

Tracklisting:
1. Bastille – Pompeii
2. Gabrielle Aplin – Salvation
3. TCTS – 1997
4. Hella Better Dancer – Brother
5. Mt. Wolf – Climax

Review: Spector and Of Monsters And Men @ Village Underground

Problem: how do you best promote your latest range of high-quality audio accessories? Of course, the obvious answer these days is to make them out of toy-grade plastic, slap on the moniker of a famous rapper, and ship them over to the discerning ears of pro-footballers and half-wits worldwide. Thankfully, the good folk at Logitech and Ultimate Ears had a better idea: to show you care about music sounding good, why not put on a night of good sounding music?

And what a night it was. Choosing Shoreditch’s fantastic Village Underground as the setting, the hosts lined up impressive visuals, moody-blue lighting, and top warmup DJ Rory Phillips to whet the appetite of the crowd. The scene then set, Spector began the evening’s proceedings, rattling through the hits from their “critically…reviewed” debut album, ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’.

Tonight, singer Fred Macpherson and his gang are in buoyant mood and on top form, injecting energy into the crowd and feedbacking off it even more. Tracks like ‘Celestine’ and ‘Friday Night, Don’t Ever Let It End’ are played at full throttle, with spiky guitar chords, Rock ‘N’ Roll guitar solos and 80s-synth-pop sounds providing the recipe for a party. Over the course of the set, slower moments like ‘Grey Shirt & Tie’ and epic-closer ‘Never Fade Away’ show that under all the indie-punk energy and Macpherson’s braggadocio, there is still emotional depth. Above all, despite a live performance that is at times shambolic, Spector showcase why they are one of the most sought-after guitar bands on the live circuit at the moment, and deliver the crowd with an outrageously fun experience that the night’s hosts no doubt have banked on.

If the support came off as a somewhat of a rabble, headliners Of Monsters And Men are anything but. Despite taking what seems like an age to arrive on stage, the first bars of atmospheric opener ‘Dirty Paws’ are enough to make anyone forget any complaints they may have held. The Icelandic 7-piece band bring to Shoreditch an enchanting set that travels from joyous full-band chant-a-longs to stripped-back tales of romance, citing the best parts of Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons along the way (and with none of the grim melancholy or tediousness).

Experiencing Of Monsters And Men’s live show tonight is almost like experiencing a play. Two talented lead singers are backed by a supporting cast of wonderful instrumentalists, taking to the front of stage periodically to rally the crowd into chanting, clapping and dancing. Of the leading duo, Nanna Hilmarsdóttir supplies a charm that lead the troupe through their tender moments, while her counterpart, Ragnar Þórhallsson, provides a stunning power that cuts through the warehouse space on ‘Your Bones’, stunning the crowd into silence only to rally them back up again with the forthcoming single ‘Mountain Sound’. Despite perhaps being the lesser known of the evening’s two bands, it is clear that Of Monsters And Men have earnt their headline status through their brilliant musicianship and great connection with the crowd.

And so, the end of the night’s proceedings bring us back to our original question: is this new range of headphones any good? After two very special sets, perhaps the crowd no longer remembers, or cares. But, present any of them with a pair playing back either of these two performances, and I guarantee they’d say yes.

Record Store Day 2012

Record Store Day 2012

“…even in our era of file-sharing and blogs, you can’t replace the actual look on someone’s face when they are playing something they really rate and think you should listen to it too. It’s special.”

Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz)

Saturday 21st April sees the next of the most important dates in any music fan’s calendar. With more anticipation than your birthday and Christmas combined, more surprises than Bonfire Night and more resurrections than Easter, the date sees the return of Record Store Day to our shores, a celebration that the the record industry is still very much alive and kicking.

Established stateside back in 2007 and expanding to the UK the following year, Record Store Day was established in a partnership between artists, labels and music shops alike. By setting up a day of extra-special releases and dealing direct with independent stores, fans were able to get their hands on something truly unique, while stores gained stock the bigwigs like iTunes and Amazon could not get their hands on.

Fast forward to 2012 and this year’s offerings do not look set to disappoint: top picks include Arctic Monkeys’ fantastic one-off release ‘R U Mine?’, special edition releases by everybody’s favourite The Black Keys and new exclusive releases from the likes of Coldplay and Elbow. Newer artists from the class of 2012 are represented by Lianne La Havas, Dry The River and more, as well chances to own modern classics by the way of re-pressings from Bloc Party’s and LCD Soundsystem’s first singles. Even gems from years gone by are on offer here, with limited edition releases of The Beatles, Bowie, The Clash and, bizarrely, Abba.

Beyond the chance to own an exclusive bit of wax however, there lies a more important cause of celebrating record stores. In Manchester, we’re quite lucky to have a healthy music scene that has enabled local independents like Piccadilly Records, Eastern Bloc and Beatin’ Rhythm (all of which are participating) to weather the storms of both the recession and threat from commercial giants. For places like these to survive, we need to remember why they are so important in the first place. Sure, music straight to your iPhone with a click might be the easiest way to buy these days, but where else offers you a chance to rack the brains of other music enthusiasts, or enjoy such a diverse range to browse through? Plus, students, most of these stores have bargain bins that have earned me some classics for a mere £1- you wouldn’t get that on iTunes!

It’s all about the “ceremony” that going out, buying, and collecting records provides. Pretentious? Perhaps, but you wouldn’t say so for other mediums: the rise of the Kindle has helped in the convenience of reading PDFs on the go, but it’s not about to kill off that sense of satisfaction you get when dusting off a good hardback, and so goes the same for music. The commonplace task of Google’ing for that new hot track ‘+ Mediafire’ has become a soulless experience in a digital age, done without a second thought and leaving music as quickly forgotten as it’s obtained. Somehow, the experience of popping down to a shop and rifling through the shelves until you see a cover art that intrigues you, well, that’s an experience we cannot, and should not digitise.

So, if exclusive releases, saving the plight of record stores and the satisfaction of building your own collection sounds like the thing for you, then I shall see you on Record Store Day, down the front of the queue, bright and early!

Review: XFM’s Next Big Thing – February 2012

As everyone knows too well, the month January, with its post-festive blues, might as well be written off the character. Just as well then, as last week it fell to XFM to kick off February, and indeed 2012, good and proper with their ‘Next Big Thing’ night down at HMV’s The Ritz, featuring their pick of ‘ones to watch’ over the coming 12 months.

Kicking off the proceedings was the hotly-tipped self-professed ‘entertainer’ Willy Moon. Arriving to the stage in an all-white suite flanked by two female musicians, Moon’s performance begun shakily, due in-part to technical difficulties, but more due to every crowd member having their own “what the f*ck” moment: the music fell somewhere between bluesy rock n’ roll fused with glitchy hip hop beats, this unlikely mashup being fronted by the gigantic ‘entertainer’ dancing like a dad at a wedding. Get used to this however, and you’re in for a treat: single ‘She Loves Me’ shows the audience that once Moon gets it right, any the cynicism seems to get left behind in favour of appreciating just what a rare entertainer this man really is, while the rawkus vibe of ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ means Moon left the stage with more than a few of the audience converted to his strange vision.

Next up was Ren Harvieu, a lady who, if she didn’t have the edge on the other acts tonight by being a local lass, definitely won the crowd over with a blinding performance, taking the audience through bombastic Motown-laced jams, down to a chilling standstill and all the way back up again. Highlights included a spine-tingling stripped down cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Cryin’’, proving to all that Harvieu has the substance to back up the style, while the sultry ‘Through The Night’ served to blow the roof off The Ritz. Backed by her fantastically skilled and tight band, this is one act who we definitely haven’t heard the last of in 2012.

It was then the turn of Spector to stake their claim as a ‘next big thing’, and what a claim they made: with an opening barrage of spiky guitars and pop keyboards, the five-piece from London were relentless in serving the buoyant crowd their first real slice of fun for the evening. Forthcoming single ‘Chevy Thunder’ proved that this group might be so much more than ‘this year’s Vaccines’ and is no doubt a future indie-dancefloor classic. Tonight, it and the rest of the set are given the perfect delivery by frontman Fred Macpherson, who bounces around the stage with all the charisma of Jarvis Cocker but enough awkward banter to keep the crowd engaged through the second technical failing of the night. Closing the set, ‘Never Fade Away’ is an ambitious marker that these boys could soon be filling venues twice the size, time will tell.

The reaction of the crowd down at The Ritz showed that Dry The River took to the stage ahead of an eagerly-anticipated set, and for good reason: on a good night the band, who’s sound can only be categorised as ‘indie-folk with balls’, are easily one of the best live bands in Britain. Sadly though, tonight was not a good night. Whether it was down to illness, further technical problems or the difficulty of winning over the crowd, the set seemed somewhat lack-luster in comparison to previous performances. The anthemic opener ‘No Rest’ showed a glimpse of just what the London band are capable of, with its beautiful blend of indie rock and folk and capped by Peter Liddle’s heart-wrenching lyrics and vocal delivery. Meanwhile, ‘Lion’s Den’ starts off just as delicate but tonight descends into a brutal cacophony that would even make My Bloody Valentine jealous, and showing just how unique this band really are. Not the strongest of performances given, but the band certainly show enough promise here that in the past has earned then high praise from the likes of the BBC.

Rounding off the evening’s proceedings are Stoke-On-Trent’s All The Young, who tonight tick all the right boxes to prove that they are indeed worthy of headline status. Northern sensibilities? Check. That raw brit-pop sound? Check. The endearingly-arrogant sunglasses indoors look? Check. While it would seem easy to write the band off as another Oasis imitation, tonight All The Young prove that they are so much more than emulations of Liam & co. Opener ‘The First Time’ shows that alongside driving drumbeats and jangly guitars turned up to 11, the bold yet honest delivery of singer Ryan Dooley ensures the four-piece make a strong connection with the audience. Clearly spurred on by the strong reaction of the crowd, the band take this energy and run with it, keeping up the pace throughout with tracks like ‘Another Miracle’ and ‘Quiet Night In’. Even when the tone drops slightly with recent single ‘The Horizon’, there is clearly enough depth here to keep the audience hooked.

While the whole point of tonight is to flag up bands that are ‘ones to watch’, you needn’t worry about these guys. Instead, my advice would be to keep your eyes on Ren Harvieu on Spector. After all, you’re going to need to preoccupy yourself until those All The Young arena tour 2013 tickets go on sale.

Review: Annie Mac Presents @ KOKO

Annie Mac Presents @ KOKOAnnie Mac is a name that has grown to mean so much more to the student population of Manchester than just ‘the Radio 1 DJ’. Indeed, for many, her mashup shows and legendary DJ sets sum up the musical mentality of Manchester: so long as its good, anything goes. Having not seen the DJ in these parts then since brief encounters at the most-recent Warehouse Project season, so a trip down to Koko in Camden last February was in order to check out if the magic was still there and what we can expect back in Manchester ahead of her Parklife festival appearance this summer.

It was clear on the night why Annie Mac Presents has gone from a side-hobby to a full blown phenomenon in little over a few years; The venue provided the perfect blend of a space that allowed you to get down and dirty, while at the same time emphasising the grand sense of occasion. Meanwhile, the clientele themselves were on form, everyone encouraging everyone else to appreciate and ponder the strength of the track selections, while still not refraining from cutting lose the music. And what music it was:

Arriving to the sounds of Liverpool wunderkid Melé, the crowd was given his unique take on the bass-ier side of the dance music spectrum. At only 19 years old, the DJ blended effortlessly from the freshest of Jackin’ tracks, while at the same time respecting their genesis with the inclusion of Grime instrumentals, House and Bassline classics from yester-year, and capping it all off with the producer’s own remixes and edits. From fast paced beats all the way down to hip-hop jams, the crowd kept up with Melé’s energy through the entire set, proving there there is definitely star quality in this boy (of course, there would have to be for anyone dubbed one of Timeout Magazine’s ‘DJ Stars Of 2012’ or featured on the legendary Boiler Room broadcasts). Best believe the hype then; tonight showed it was well and truly deserved.

Picking up proceedings without dropping a beat were Swedish electro ensemble Niki & The Dove. The evening’s performance saw the BBC Sound of 2012 shortlisted group on top form, the extra set time and opportunity granted by such a high-profile billing allowing them to really develop their live sound and segue from one dark-pop flavorings to another, much to the delight of the crowd. Radio-friendly singles ‘The Drummer’ and ‘DJ Ease My Mind’ tonight became intricate and progressive electro jams, with Malin Dahlström’s ethereal vocals rising over the top all the way to Koko’s upper levels. The set marked a perfect marriage between the world of dance music and live performance, something the Annie Mac Presents brand is now widely respected for.

After tonight however, there is no doubt of what this club-night-turned-brand is really about, and that is of course its namesake; taking to the stage with the most modest of entrances- at the side of the stage and dressed casually in a plain T-shirt- tonight Annie Mac is all about the music. Tonight she shows the crowd why her Friday-night shows have become a showcase for the state of dance music today, blasting out of Koko’s speakers everything that’s hot in the world of Disco, House and Dubstep, while still keeping the seasoned ravers happy with Garage classics and even a sneaky remix of Janet Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’. Gone are the days of when you might have seen the Dublin-born DJ bounce around the stage and compromise with cut-and-paste mixing; tonight, the blends are so precise like they were engineered in a lab, while the track selections are sublime.

Later on into her marathon near-3-hour set and Annie continues to works the crowd masterfully, producing hard techno sounds of artists ZZT and the Turbo Records label, sounds that wouldn’t typically strike well with your average Radio 1 listener, mixed into modern dance-floor classics like Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Heads Will Roll’.

The night ends with a tribute to the then very recently deceased Whitney Houston, and while ‘I Want To Dance With Somebody’ soundtracks the lights coming on inside Koko, the remaining crowd can reflect that while one musical hero has passed, they have witnessed Annie Mac’s progress onto becoming a musical hero of a different kind.