Two weeks since it’s release, Sleep Well Beast is developing into The National’s most interesting and rewarding album yet, with a sense of reinvigoration in their template and songcraft that embraces their core characteristics while adding new digital textures. Matt Berninger’s lyrics about his relationship with his wife (who co-wrote the words) goes deep and real, while musically, they do things with the indie-rock template that feels fresh (Bryan Devendorf’s drumming adds so much too).
Moving away from post-dubstep sound that they made their name with, Mount Kimbie’s third album delves into electronic 80s-inspired post-punk territory, with guests Micachu, King Krule and James Blake adding new shades to an album that sounds inspired by Broadcast and krautrock. There are depths in these layered songs to revel in.
A belated shout out for the Belfast house music duo’s debut full-length which after a series of regular dancefloor bangers that are starting to reach classic status, finds the pair creating 12 original tracks that pare back the bombast in favour of quietly-epic tightly-arranged dance music in the vein of Orbital updated for the 21st century.
No-one quite brings together acoustic sensibilities with electronic arrangements in as a delicate manner as Hundred Waters and their third album feels like they’ve scooped out the inside of a valley and cocooned themselves and their music into the landscape as the aura borealis shimmers above. I’m still in discovery mode with the album but there’s comfort in their music for sure.
The fourth album from LA electronic producer Jason Chung is his most cohesive album thus far. Having provided beats for Chance The Rapper, Kid Cudi and Kendrick over the years, it’s great to hear Chung’s imaginative productions working so well with guest vocalists from Blonde Redhead and Steve Spacek adding focus to these ambient-infused electronic tracks.
Another career best, this time from Italian producer Pietro Iannuzzi on the LA Friends of Friends label. As is that label’s hallmark, this is considered and full-realised electronic music concerned less with sample ingenuity but with isolation and the borders that govern our globe informed by Iannuzzi’s existence near the Italian mountains. As such, the album has moments of glowing vistas and awe in its running time that stands on its own.
After the relative jolt of ‘Everything Now’, Arcade Fire get less dreamy and a bit dirtier with ‘Creature Comforts’ which kicks off like an electro-clash single from 2002 before the AF ‘vista’ comes in to play. Vocally though, both Win and Regine are addled new territory and it reinforces the track’s synth-waving arrangement. The lyrics about self-image, self-esteem and suicide counteract the sonics with a pure heaviness. “She dreams about dying all the time / She told me she came so close / Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record.”
Melodrama is a great followup record for the New Zealand Onion Ring-loving musician. After two full listens, it’s clear that with the album’s deft production details (coproduced with Bleachers lead singer Jack Antonoff), the vocal adlibs and the songwriting is top class. ‘Writer In The Dark’ is an immediate highlight, cemented when Lorde does her best Kate Bush reach on the line ” am my mother’s child, I’ll love you ’til my breathing stops / I’ll love you ’til you call the cops on me.” I’m also loving ‘Sober’ in particular but the entire album is high class Melodrama.
Washed Out – ‘Hard To Say Goodbye’
Ernest Greene is truly back. This is a light house-inspired electronic song that recalls summer vistas and afternoons by the beach.
Laoise – ‘Shooting’
Laoise’s Halfway EP dropped on Friday and ‘Shooting’ is the only song from it we hasn’t really heard from the Galway electronic pop artist.
“Shooting is probably my favourite track off the EP. In comparison to the other songs, it’s quite bare and raw. When writing it, I feel I got to delve into new territories and emotions, which is echoed in the song’s lyrics. I wrote this song with a friend of mine, and we were both going through similar experiences where no matter what we did, we felt we couldn’t grasp and take hold of the things we wanted – be it a relationship or a career path. ‘Shooting with no ammo’ explains the effort you go to finally reach something, only to realise you messed up on the first step, and starting again doesn’t always feel worth it. It’s that moment when you feel so trapped and lost, going around in circles over and over and wondering if you’ll ever break the cycle.”
It’s been some ride for Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson, the Belfast lads who started a blog 10 years ago and over time became one of the most in-demand dance duos in Europe with the precision-made percussive electronic tracks.
They’ve slayed the festivals and gigs and had two songs of the summer so far. Most recently, they’ve been performing live (at Primavera Sound most recently) and now, Bicep have a full-length album of all new tracks ready to be released on Ninja Tune on 1st September 2017.
‘Aura’, the album’s last track, is one that is heard in their sets and sets the scene for an album of all-new material to come. As with their previous tracks, Bicep deftly mix their love of classic house, techno, electro and Italo disco into a modern template.
2017 was my third visit to Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival and my first since 2011. What has changed in that time is an increase of punters (around 35,000 each night) but also an expanded festival site at Parc del Forum. That meant more room for dance music and more room for the larger stages. And more, room for surprises.
2017’s lineup was also one of the best in a long time. Sure, Frank Ocean cancelled his headline set with two weeks to go but the addition of surprise sets announced on the day were a new thing which hopefully the organisers will commit to in 2018. It meant that for many the first surprise was Arcade Fire playing a gig on the festival’s first night, two days before they were due on stage. Haim played a late-night set on the last night and Mogwai debuted their new album in full under the Barcelona evening sun.
The city is a great setting for a festival getaway, hang out on the beach day or night at Barceloneta, eat and drink in the Gothic Quarter or Gracia, solicit late-night cans from the abundant hawking men on the streets, bump into friends late into the night while wandering. Primavera Sound’s late starting time (for most about 7pm or 8pm) and late end time (6am is not uncommon) means there’s always time to explore the city in good weather before the music starts.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t miss things though. Aldous Harding, Glass Animals, Joy Orbison, Weyes Blood and Badbadnotgood were not seen, and I decided to give Arcade Fire a miss in favour of seeing something else (and was rewarded by John Talabot’s disco set). Ditto: Sinkane, Skepta and Grace Jones. Sets from the xx, Angel Olsen and King Krule didn’t do it for me despite wanting them to but there was plenty to love. Primavera Sound pulls you in so many directions that sometimes you just have to not focus too much on the timetable and go with the flow. That’s easier to do in the Catalan city atmosphere than a soggy field in Ireland. I’d definitely come back for a fourth visit.
Here are my highlight sets of the festival.
There’s no way that such subtle sweet jams should work on the second biggest stage on the festival, , but that’s Mac Demarco for you. The Canadian has developed as a cult curio personality, an indie-kid weirdo but as his latest album This Old Dog (fast becoming one of my favourites of the year) has shown, his songs seep into your skin. At Primavera, there was a big crowd ready to lap up both his tunes and his vibe. When the camera panned over the stage to reveal his naked drummer on the drum stool, it was clear it was going to be one of those kinds of sets. While the stage antics got increasingly more attention as Demarco stripped down to his underpants and singed his butt and underarm hair while standing on a guitar amp, the tunes never faltered from some sweet vibes (other than a closing guitar solo). Don’t underestimate how hard it is to write delicate songs this good, the stage show with added “Whitney crowd surf experience” and goofball antics only added to the sense of occasion. As did, Demarco ending the night crowdsurfing sans music stage right after his set.
John Talabot Disco set
I decided to give Arcade Fire a miss this time to go see something different. The Catalan man John Talabot has always had a close association to Primavera as they asked him to debut his first ever live show at the festival so he always does something at it. This time around, it was two shows, one with Axel Boman as Talaboman and one DJ set billed as a disco set (after a great Young Marco set) which ended up being a set that featured crowdpleasing and disco-tinged music from classics like ‘Spacer’ to Aphex Twin ‘Windowlicker’ edit, Red Dragon Band’s ‘Let Me Be Your Radio’ to his own Teengirl Fantasy ‘Cheaters’ remix and my tune discovery of the festival – Akiyo’s Deboule. An edit of the Carribean Zouk tune from 1996 was played in the Talaboman set on the first night and immediately wired itself into my brain. Watch out for that (and let me know if you see one going). Talabot’s disco set was filled with the one thing that many modern DJs forget to pack on their USBS – fun.
Flying Lotus reaffirmed my opinion of him as a visionary producer with his live cube A/V set on the Ray Bans stage on Friday night. At 3am, the combination of Strangeloop and Timeboy’s mindbending visuals and Fly Lo’s mind-altering music productions hit with force and bass so hard that in the middle of the crowd, near the front, the bass made the hair on the top of my head vibrate. It was that good. Musically, we had some of the new stuff, like the Kuso theme (the reviews have said it’s garbage), his Freddie Mercury remix, his Twin Peaks rework, his To Pimp A Butterfly production, his Kendrick feature ‘Never Catch Me’, a Captain Murphy joint and his Los Angeles material. It was a reminder of how great a Fly Lo set can be.
This took me by surprise. 22 A Million is a hard album to love and it didn’t really impact my listening habits last year very much. It was easier to admire and harder to love. But fair play to Justin and his band who have managed to translate this obfuscated object of coded language into a main stage extravaganza that pitched these songs with a larger stature, accompanied by superb sound and a stage show that featured the album’s hieroglyphics in cascading form. The album’s second half – songs like ‘666’ and the Springsteen-esque ‘8’ were late show highlights and four songs from 2011’s self-titled album. He might have spent much of the gig with giant headphones and a baseball cap on behind a bank of gear but a solo a capella version of ‘Skinny Love’ as encore nodded to the the journey Vernon has been on since 2008. It’s a significant one.
The classiest stage show of the weekend went to Solange Knowles. A simple circle backdrop bathed in red with blue lights on the band and singers pitched things minimally. Translating a weighty but delicately produced album such as A Seat At The Table is a tough thing to do but Solange kept things focused and wisely brought in the energetic ‘Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work’, ‘T.O.N.Y’ (from her 2008 Sol-Angel and the Hadley Dreams album) and career highlight jam ‘Losing You’. Occasional choreographed moves benefitted the show in subtle ways too. It was more a swaying side-to-side experience but it suited her.
There was a run of abrasive shows on the opening night of Primavera Sound in 2017 that featured sets from Slayer, Converge, Death Grips (always excellent) and Aphex Twin. A Richard D James show is like no other and he really took advantage of playing the biggest stage at the festival to deliver an uncompromising two hour set filled with diversions into ten minutes of industrial white noise, acid techno, ambient noise, gyrating IDM , jungle breakbeats and electro weirdness. There wasn’t much to recognise unless you were an uber-Aphex nerd but he did play ‘Roy Of The Ravers’ at one point and one tune that sounded like MIA mashed up, smashed into a reggaeton beat and spat out. Visually, the show was crammed with small screens working in unison, and lights and lasers that extended beyond the festival site. His trick of using the faces in the crowd to project AFX imagery and faces makes the audience an integral part of the show, playing on the discomfort of lingering on someone in the front row’s self-conscious face for far too long to create some truly odd art. In fact, it was so intense I couldn’t last the whole show. How many artists can you say that about? No-one delivers a disorientating experience quite like Aphex Twin.
At 4:30am on the first night, Belfast duo Bicep played their live show which served as a slighty beefier version of their live sets naturally all focused on their own material and delivered with the precision and percussive panache that have made Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar house stalwarts. A run of songs including ‘Just’ , ‘Higher Level’ , ‘In Yer Face’ , ‘Dahlia’ sent us home with grins on night one, eager for more from evening two.
Sampha’s piano torch songs don’t feel like a natural fit for a large festival stage but the dude’s been preparing. With three band members helping him build the beats, Sampha Sisay brought some dynamic energy to his set. There was a circle of a drum-off at one point and songs like ‘Blood On Me’, his Drake-feature ‘4422’ and ‘Reverse Faults’ stood out until he was left to deliver the heartbreaking ode to his mother – ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’.
Run the Jewels
You know the drill by now. We Are the Champions. Two Best Friends. Fists and chains in the air. A Blockbuster Night. El-P and Killer Mike’s on-stage camaraderie isn’t even punctured or affected when the entire soundsystem goes dead for 10 minutes, as they mug to each other and run on the spot. A RTJ show is one of the best in rap and it hasn’t dissipated as the size of the stage has increased.
What encapsulates the differentiation between Primavera and many other festivals is that the closing set of the festival on the only large stage left open went to !!! (Chk Chk Chk). The band encapsulate the festival’s early beginnings as a punk-funk rock band into their current guise as a strutting electronic disco act. Primavera know all you need to do is give !!! the stage and they’ll slay and that’s what they do close to 5am bolstered by the presence of Wnglish vocalist Lea Lea on co-vocals and ass-shaking along with Nic Offer upfront. With their seventh album Shake The Shudder just out, much of the set was drawn from that but two personal favourites ‘Freedom 15’ and ‘Syld’ closed out the show.
In the glut of new releases in the past two weeks, Australian musician D.D. Dumbo’s newest on 4AD, may have been overlooked but the album is a weighted mix of African guitar blues, folk and pop music. He also sings a bit like Sting, but you know, in a good way. ‘Walrus’ is the bright album opener.
Waterford-born Katie Sullivan moves into new territory with her third album Salt released today (Irish Times Irish album of the week). While Katie was always an artist who was interested in the alternative and ambient, who brought a touch of the otherworldly to her songs, even if they were stripped back to their essentials, Salt finds her sonic world sunken deeper into the mire.
An immediate highlight is the skyscraping spectral percussion of opening song ‘Ghosts’.
POLIÇA — Kind (Boys Noize Remix)
This Boys Noize remix of Poliça’s ‘Kind’ is totally my buzz.
The original features on the band’s United Crushers LP but just came out alongside remixes by Task Force and Fog on a new EP.
Of the remix, Boys Noize says he was inspired by the vocal to go “90s vogue house.”
“I ended up going for this 90s Vogue House-inspired dub mix because I just wanted to hear [the lyric] ‘fever high, fever high’ in the club.”
It is, a banger.
Poliça are on tour and play Dublin this Saturday night.
German producer Michael Mayer has a new album the influential !K7 Records label called &. As the title suggests collaborations are at the heart of his third album, and guests include Hauschka, Roman Flügel, Miss Kittin, Prins Thomas, Barnt and Kölsch.
The result is a mix of “hypnotic minimal house, soft trance, indie tech-house and twisted disco.”
His first single, with Barnt, ‘Und Da Stehen Fremde Menschen’ is German and tough while the second single ‘For You’ featuring Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard is decidedly more mellow. It’s a love story really.
Mount Alaska (Twitter) is a new project from former Halfset members Stephen Shannon and Cillian McDonnell.
Since the band disbanded Shannon has been working as a producer at Experimental Audio studio and composing film scores while McDonnell among other things, started the label Music/is/for/losers.
Now, the duo have returned to making music together under the name Mount Alaska.
‘Sine, Cosine, Tangent’ is our first listen to the outcome of their creative pursuit, a wavey experimental electronic instrumental to be released on Language Records on Monday, November 7th 2016. A second single featuring The Gloaming’s Iarla Ó’Lionáird is due in January.
We talk about Oisin’s New Jersey upbringing, grown men crying over beautiful songs stuck in traffic, what it’s like to support Grandmaster Flash, the beauty of a basso profundo voice – the lowest you can get, a Hard Working Class Heroes highlight, the tune Oisin would like his kids to associate with him and a couple of Belfast bangers.
The Belfast house duo Bicep have been on some roll of late. Everything they touch has a sense of magic to it.
Last year’s output included two tunes that due to heavy rotation were basically instant classics. The bleeping minimalism of ‘Just’ dominated but their collaboration with Hammer ‘Dahlia’ was equally moving.
For a 2016 reminder, their Isaac Tichauer’s ‘Higher Level’ remix follows the lead of ‘Just’ building from booming house-bass track to a siren synth line over the song’s “at a higher level” vocal sample. It’s music to get lost it.
The Loft Record release with remixes from Hackman, Dorsia and Lancelot, is available on 12″ has sold out vinyl wise but is available digitally on April 22nd.
Today, they’ve revealed the speakers and panels that they’ve lined up for the free conference for the day part of the festival in T13 Titanic Quarter of Belfast on June 4th.
JUAN ATKIN ‘The Origins of Techno + Artist Q and A’
(The originator of Techno, Metroplex Records) This session will cover the origins and growth of techno, Juan’s career, starting a label, as well as advice for fellow producers, followed by a Q&A.
BICEP (Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar) present ‘Transition from DJ to Live Show’
‘Life after Dark’ –The Creative, Cultural and Economic Value of Club Culture
DJ and writer Dave Haslam DJed over 450 times at the legendary Hacienda in Manchester during the late 1980s and is a household name in the club world. He’s the author of ‘Manchester England’, a groundbreaking study of Manchester’s radical and musical history, and three more books; including the latest ‘Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs & Music Venues’ in 2015. Dave will be joined by Mark Lawrence, the director of the Association of Electronic Music, to discuss ‘Life after Dark’ – his book, the culture of nightclubs and the nighttime economy, touching on political and cultural issues that are at the forefront of the industry.
‘Pushing the Dial on Women in Electronic Music’
5 inspirational women from across the electronic music industry on a panel consisting of Lizzy Bowman (Red Light Management), Halina Wielogorska (She said.so, Clintons Law, Boiler Room), Sarah McBriar (Up Productions & AVA Festival Founder) and Shanti Celeste (BRSTL, NTS, Idle Hands) will discuss how women can join together to inspire the next generation, share experiences of how they have progressed throughout their own careers in a space historically occupied primarily by men, followed by the challenges they face.
Equipment & Technology
Ableton Push Playground, Pioneer, Native Instruments and The Beat Emporium
The emerging DJ competition gives the opportunity for an up-and-coming DJ to showcase their skills in a 30 minute mix, with 3 finalists performing in a live final at Belfast Underground Records. The winner wins a slot AVA 2016, feature on the Feel my Bicep Blog and show on Belfast Underground Records Radio.
Unsigned producers can enter the AVA competition to feature on an EP with Extended Play, a feature on the Feel My Bicep blog and mentoring and artist development support from JMX & T-BONE. Submit your track or mini-mix via email to [email protected] add in the subject: ‘AVA Emerging Artist Track – Your Name’ by May 20th.
Life Festival has just dropped its lineup for the event in Belvedere House from May 27 – 29th this year.
Paul Kalkbrenner, 2manyDjs DJ set, John Talabot, Jeff Mills, Virginia feat, Steffi & Dexter, Truss, Jamie Jones, Hot Since 82, Ben Block, Mano Le Tough, Cyril Hahn, Joy Orbison, Bicep, Ejeca, Martyn, Krystal Klear, New Jackson, Sunil Sharpe, The Drifter, Lumigraph, Sias DJ and Barry Redsettaz.
Belfast’s Ava Festival (Audio Visual Arts) is looking like the best electronic city festival on the isle at the moment.
Returning for a second year, on Saturday June 4th in T13 Belfast, Titanic Quarter, the Belfast festival features a conference and live / DJ sets and there’s loads planned for the day.
On the live and DJ front:
RØDHÅD Bicep Live (UK Debut) Mano Le Tough Boiler Room Gerd Janson Optimo Phil Kieran Sunil Sharpe Psycatron Brame & Hamo T-Bone B2B Jmx Terriers Live Guerrilla Shout Misfit Live Hammer Swoose B2B Cromby Jordan Or:La Jc Williams Live Twitch Djs Jika Jika Belfast Music Club Belfast Underground Records
The music happens from 3pm to 1am that night and the conference takes place before and is open to all ages and free to the public who can register at avafestival.com/signup/
Bicep’s live show will be accompanied by internationally revered AV artists Guerrilla Shout.
Bloc returns from 11 to 13 March 2016 in Butlins Resort Minehead near Bristol with an impressive lineup including:
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes / Four Tet / Jeff Mills / Floating Points / Carl Craig – Modular Pursuits / Ben Klock / Nina Kraviz / Omar-S / Evian Christ / Holly Herndon / Motor City Drum Ensemble / Rødhåd / Trade ft. Surgeon & Blawan / Steve Davis ( the snooker player is a keen selector) / Tama Sumo b2b Lakuti / Andrew Weatherall b2b Optimo / Steffi / Ben UFO / Magic Mountain High ft. Move D, Juju & Jordash / Bicep / Daniel Avery / Helena Hauff / Ugandan Methods ft. Regis & Ancient Methods / Midland / Jimmy Edgar / Fast Eddie / Lone / Objekt / Daniel Miller / Demdike Stare / Powell / ItaloJohnson / James Ruskin / Laurel Halo / Lakker / Dasha Rush / Fatima Yamaha / Rrose / Dom & Roland / Sandrien / Kahn / d:Bridge / Shanti Celeste / Ø [Phase] / Aurora Halal / Jane Fitz / DJ Skirt / JoeFarr / Steevio & Suzybee
Early bird tickets are sold out but chalets are available from £179 + fees. More info.
Bicep’s recent siren-synth stomper ‘Just’ found its way into the record bag (or laptop) of the world’s most influential DJs and the hearts of many including me. Here, the Belfast duo flex their muscles with their friend Hammer (Rory Hamilton) on eight minutes of lush piano-house that keeps the groove and hype building.