Author: George

Word on the Street: March 2017

Word on the Street: March 2017

Following another month packed full of quality releases, one musician stood head and shoulders above the rest for me. No, it’s not Drake (although we’ll get to him later). The man in question? DJ Q.

Some of you may be familiar with the DJ/producer from his groundbreaking work in the bassline scene about a decade ago. Q became 1Xtra’s youngest DJ, hosting the station’s fortnightly UKG Mix show, and first came to my attention with his 4×4 mix cd series – my best friend and I used to drive around with the mixes pumping out loud, and I still listen to them regularly now. With the bassline scene hitting its peak in 2007/08, he had undoubtedly his biggest success with the release of his huge single “You Wot” featuring MC Bonez.

Fast forward almost 10 years, and Q’s profile has probably never been higher. His 2014 album, Ineffable, on Local Action Records was a well-compiled collection of productions, including two garage tunes of such astounding quality (“Notice Me” and “Be Mine”), that for me made him the king of the UKG vocal chop

It’s the last 12 months, however, that have really seen his output skyrocket. A slew of singles, mostly using well-known samples (such as Rocky, Bell Biv Devoe and Sonic The Hedgehog) have helped build to an outrageous month in March.

Starting in the first week of the month, East London MC Jammz released his latest single “Who’s That Girl?”, produced by our man of the moment. Once again featuring a female vocal chop, Jammz and Aleisha Lee do battle over a girl that’s possibly caught the MC’s eye – it’s incredibly reminiscent of Dizzee Rascal’s “I Luv U”.

Just over a week later, as part of the supergroup TQD (with Royal T and Flava D), one of my favourite albums of the year so far, UKG, saw the light of day. It’s a perfect blend of huge bassline wobblers, crafted 2-step garage, and grime. Check out their video for “A Letter To EZ”, and marvel at the meticulous attention to detail required to put together such an intricate visual.

Not staying quiet for long, it was only another 2 days until Q gave us his next gift. The intro and vocal on “Naked Truth” left me worried the first time I heard them. I thought it sounded too commercial, and not gritty enough, but my fears were allayed as soon as I heard the bassline for the first time. Once again, he hadn’t let me down.

On the last day of the month, the Yorkshireman had another grime production to showcase, this time in the form of YGG’s “Bad”. Comprised of London MCs PK, Lyrical Strally and Saint, the trio are one of the most exciting groups in grime at the moment, and their appearances on NTS and Radar are always must-listens. Q’s production is tropical in nature, and the perfect accompaniment to what the youngsters offer vocally.

Along with this single, there came the release of the Pure Bassline compilation, mixed by the DJ, along with another bassline legend, Jamie Duggan. It features many of our protagonist’s own productions, and really demonstrates the rude health that the scene currently finds itself in – is it due a renaissance, like the current reincarnation of grime? Whatever happens, I hope Q gets everything he deserves, because no-one has worked harder.

While we’re on the subject of legends in the scene producing beats for MCs, Dubstep pioneer N-Type recorded the first single to be released on the new Go Getter Music label, with South London’s Eazyman. “Work Rate” is a pure slice of UK-style trap, as the orator preaches about his work ethic, and how he’s left behind a life of violence and drugs.

Elsewhere in the UK scene, Spyro and Capo Lee finally dropped their Stop Talk EP. I’d previously mentioned how excited I was for this and it certainly wasn’t a let-down. “Tekkers” followed the lead from “Stop Talk” as a single of stunning quality, and the rest of the tunes are just as good.

Another long-awaited EP, this time from Preditah, was also unleashed. Focussing on grime instrumentals, the Birmingham producer enlisted the talents of his brother C4 for the release’s lead track “Touch Road”. It’s visceral and rugged, and is rightly getting a lot of attention on some of the country’s radio stations.

The rise of afro bashment continues at an alarming speed here in the UK, spearheaded by artists like Kojo Funds, LottoBoyzz and Mr Eazi. This Spotify playlist in particular is worth checking on a regular basis to be updated on the latest sounds – it’s only a matter of time before the scene blows up, and it has to be the sound of this Summer.

One afro bashment name that has so far had a mention in every Word On The Street column to date is J Hus, and his latest, “Did You See” is probably my favourite offering from the genre so far. From his opening gambit of “did you see what I done, came in a black Benz, left in a white one” the listener is captivated, and I challenge you not to shuffle wherever you are!

Finally, before we cross the pond, a word on Toddla T. The Sheffield-born DJ has long been an integral part of the Caribbean-influenced side of the UK’s music offering. His two albums to date, Skanky Skanky and Watch Me Dance, have both laid the foundations for his footing in the scene, which has led to his weekly 1Xtra show being essential listening. So imagine my surprise this month when I checked out his new video for the first single from his forthcoming release, “Blackjack21”. It’s a total departure from his usual sound, but really is an exciting prospect for what is to come. The visuals are stunning, and the beat and vocal will leave a lasting impression. Imagine “You Got The Love” being channelled through a live funk band, and you’re halfway there.

Now the inevitable. On a Saturday in the middle of March, Drake finally aired his latest project, More Life. Having been touted as a playlist rather than an album, and following several delays to the release date, it was no surprise to see it sending social networks into the usual frenzy. I won’t wax lyrical about how good it is (oh, it is) – instead I’ll let you all make up your own minds. All I’ll say is that I generally prefer the tracks Drizzy is singing on, rather than rapping. My highlights? Black Coffee’s production on “Get It Together”, Skepta’s “Interlude”, “KMT” featuring UK road rap superstar Giggs, and leading the way, “Blem”.

Drake took a lot of flak across all mediums following the release, for his appropriation of UK culture. Some British fans seemed outraged at his use of phrases such as wasteman, and even the fact that he named one of the tracks “Gyalchester”. American fans were horrified at the inclusion of what they considered to be inferior British rappers – they really didn’t like Giggs. As far as I’m concerned it can only be a good thing. No, the UK scene doesn’t necessarily need any help, but when was the last time that a huge worldwide artist championed another country’s talent in this way? Let’s embrace his love for our nation, and appreciate all he’s doing to showcase it.

Kendrick Lamar also made his comeback in March with the release of “The Heart Part 4”, and a video for “HUMBLE.”. Both give a hint as to what we can expect from his next album, which must be imminent.

In club culture, one release really grabbed my attention in the last month. Canadian producer Jacques Greene has been consistently making and releasing music since 2010, so his debut album has felt a long time coming. Mixing up a blend of garage, house and r&b, I’m pretty sure Feel Infinite already has the potential to be one of my favourite albums of the year.

For once, I don’t have any other business to bring to your attention, so I’ll leave you to enjoy the usual Spotify playlist below. As always get in touch and let me know what I got right and wrong – astralpenguinsmusic@gmail.com. See you again next month!

Word on the Street: February 2017

Word on the Street: February 2017

Better late than never, here’s the monthly round up of all things “urban”.

February picked up where January left off. This time, in place of Wiley, the spotlight was hogged by another grime heavyweight: Stormzy. For the past couple of weeks, everywhere you’ve looked, there he was. On stage at the Brits with Ed Sheeran, finally dropping his long-awaited debut album, and hitting the DIY PR trail harder than anyone else, with numerous surprise pop-up performances and TV appearances.

The album in question is “Gang Signs & Prayer”, and boy is it good – packed full of grime bangers, interspersed with on trend slow jams, the wait was totally worth it. I’m not the biggest fan of these love songs, but with grime albums they certainly help to break up what would otherwise be an all too aggressive affair. The only problem being that they are all too formulaic these days, whether about significant others, mothers or God.

Putting my struggles with Stormzy singing to one side, there are more than enough highlights to get my attention. “Cold” is grime at its purest. “Bad Boys” lowers the energy levels and packs a serious chorus from one of last month’s big tips, J Hus. On “Mr Skeng” the MC calls out all of those that previously doubted him. His smash hit freestyle “Shut Up” features towards the end of the album, and even though it’s still a massive tune, its inclusion stinks of additional tracks to score higher in the new chart format – an issue that was covered excellently last year by Fact Magazine.

By now you’ll have heard “Big For Your Boots”: Sir Spyro continues his unbelievable purple patch with a beat so energetic and raw that you can’t help but shuffle wherever you are. Stormzy doesn’t hold back on the vocal, and there are bars in here that will be hailed for years to come. The video is the perfect accompaniment, directed by filmmaker Daps, and starring some of the most talented creative women around right now – Maya Jama in the chicken shop makes me weak at the knees!

With the month he’s had, Stormzy will be viewed as a masterclass in do it yourself PR for a long time.

Elsewhere in grime, there wasn’t much action, with the exception of a pair of strong singles.

Grim Sickers led the way with his Mike Skinner approved single, “Kane”. Featuring JME on the remix, all month this one has left me wanting to end every sentence with the same word.

The aforementioned Sir Spyro came good again with the lead track from his forthcoming EP with North London MC Capo Lee. “Stop Talk” features a beat made almost entirely from mobile phone samples, as Capo Lee tells anyone and everyone to shut up.

Staying this side of the pond, a handful of promising releases finally saw the light of day. Last month, I mentioned how much I was anticipating the new album from Devlin. “The Devil In” unfortunately didn’t live up to my expectations. For me it was the shortage of 140 bpm that did it. Devlin’s flow has always been the perfect match for a grime beat, and here it was just too rap heavy for my tastes.

Not to say that UK rap isn’t to my liking. Hot on the heels of his 2016 hit “Trapper Of The Year”, North West London’s Nines released “One Foot Out”. At 49 minutes, and 15 tracks, it’s a blistering statement of intent that sets a new standard for rap in the UK. It’s racking up streaming numbers alarmingly quickly, so make sure you’re not left behind on this one!

Having first heard his vocal talents on Sbtrkt’s 2011 self-titled debut album, Sampha’s “Process” has been a long time coming. Neo-soul is certainly the music industry’s flavour of the month, what with Rag’n’Bone Man’s album riding high as well, but Sampha does it with a difference. He’s appeared on tracks with Drake, Kanye, Frank Ocean and Solange, but it’s nice to finally see him take centre stage, and the high praise he’s receiving for “Process” is well-deserved.

Last month was fairly quiet on the American front (with the exception of the outstanding “Culture” by Migos – you can read my review here), so it was nice to see a flurry of activity in February.

The most active artist was easily Future. Mid-way through February, the Atlanta native released his 5th studio album, the self-titled “FUTURE”. A week later, he surprise released his 6th, “HNDRXX”. Both albums rate highly, but it’s the second of the two that really delivered – Complex went as far as suggesting that the album might turn out to be his masterpiece. One thing’s for sure: Future has further cemented his credentials as a hit-maker. Check out the album’s lead single “Selfish”, featuring Rihanna, below.

Another rapper to have a strong month was Big Sean. Backed with some serious guest vocals – Jeremih, Migos, Eminem, The Dream – “I Decided” is a concept album revolving around the theme of rebirth, exec produced by Kanye West. It might not hit home as well as his previous releases, but there’s a deeper, more introspective feel to the album that adds weight.”Bounce Back” and “Moves” in particular are worthy of your time.

Stepping away from hip hop, there were a few other releases on the other side of the pond that certainly struck a chord with me, the first of which came from The Internet and Odd Future’s Syd. The DJ/producer/singer’s first album sees her leaving the beat-making to others, while she steps up to the microphone solo. It’s got a real 90’s R&B feel to it – a sound I’m always down with, being an Aaliyah superfan. “Fin” might be a step in a different direction, but it feels well-thought out, and might just usher in a new superstar in the genre.

Away from the mainstream, THEY. are a self-proclaimed Grunge&B duo from LA. Stating their influences as Nirvana, Taking Back Sunday and Babyface, and having toured in support of Bryson Tiller, it’s certainly a fresh take on R&B. There’s a hint of The Weeknd’s early mixtapes (and possibly even boybands like Backstreet Boys?), and the group clearly aren’t afraid to forge their own path. I would expect “Nü Religion: Hyena” might just get enough people to take notice, that they’re able to move to the next level.

Speaking of those that are blazing their own trail, February brought the return of Thundercat from a 4 year break. The Grammy-winning, Kendrick Lamar collaborator revealed his latest, “Drunk”. The usual mix of all styles possible combine to great effect, and the result is an album that is serious, fun, groovy and melodic all at once.

In the world of club-friendly music, LA’s Kingdom stamped his mark on a UK-influenced sound that is growing nicely on the other side of the pond. Taking influences from UK funky and garage, and in particular the label Night Slugs (Kingdom’s own Fade To Mind label is an affiliate), we’re treated to a blend of electronica and R&B that will surely see him being called upon for productions for bigger names – indeed, Kingdom has already delivered some of his best work for Kelela and Dawn Richard.

Before I leave you, I should mention one upcoming release that almost has me wetting myself with excitement. On their own, Royal-T, DJ Q and Flava D are heavyweights of the current UK garage/bassline scene. Put them together, and the results are spectacular. Their debut album as the supergroup TQD is available for pre-order, prior to its release on 17th March – click play below and listen to “Vibsing Ting” right now! The night before its release, the trio are hosting an album launch party at XOYO, joined by the excellent Swindle and Skilliam – get tickets here, and find me somewhere on the dancefloor, with my eyes closed and my arms in the air.

Finally, if you have a spare two hours, go and listen to My Nu Leng’s Essential Mix before it disappears in just over a week. They embody everything I want to be as a DJ, and in terms of styles cover everything I love. I assure you you won’t be disappointed!

As always, if you discover something you love, or want to tell me what I’ve missed (or that I’m wrong!), then get in touch via astralpenguinsmusic@gmail.com. Again, most of the tracks mentioned above can be found in the Spotify playlist below. See you all in a month!

It’s Album Time: Max Richter – Three Worlds

It’s Album Time: Max Richter – Three Worlds

Every now and then, there comes an artist who defines a generation in their chosen field. When it comes to modern classical music, many would assume that person to be Ludovico Einaudi. Yes, you’ve heard his music on every advert/TV show/movie going, but for me there is another worth considering – Max Richter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bona fide Einaudi superfan. It’s just that, as far as I’m concerned, Richter has pushed the sound in directions that sound new and fresh, and always excite me, whichever medium the music is applied to.

Maybe I should start with a brief introduction to the composer and his works, for those of you that are encountering him for the first time. With his debut album, and personal favourite, Memoryhouse, Richter announced himself as the future of the scene. Poetry, opera and electronica all collided with traditional classical, along with themes that challenged the listener – in particular the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict.

I first encountered the German-born Brit through the use of his music in the excellent 2010 BBC drama, Dive. Images of wind farms off the bleak North East coast seemed a perfect fit for excerpts from his 2004 masterpiece, The Blue Notebooks. After my first proper listen, it had changed the way I listened to and appreciated classical music, and it was rightly described by Pitchfork as “one of the most affecting and universal contemporary classical records in recent memory”.

Songs From Before, 24 Postcards In Full Colour and Infra further solidified his standing in neo-classical, along with his score for Oscar-nominated, Lebanese war animation, Waltz With Bashir. A re-working of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons followed, before Richter wrote and released an eight and a half hour long composition entitled Sleep. Unsurprisingly, the album was designed to be listened to while sleeping, and was accompanied by several overnight concerts, complete with beds for the listener – unfortunately I missed out on tickets for his performance in London in May.

Most recently, Richter’s score for HBO’s The Leftovers has made up for the fact that at times the show is a confusing, albeit enjoyable, mess. It’s a tour de force that plays with your emotions, and strikes all the right notes alongside the show’s most triumphant moments.

Now, the composer is back with a three-part composition to accompany the new Wayne McGregor ballet, Woolf Works, at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

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As the name suggests, Woolf Works is based on three of Virginia Woolf‘s landmark novels: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. Woven around the themes from the books are inspirations taken from Woolf’s essays, letters and diaries. Given the multitude of influences from the subject’s life, it seems fitting that Richter brings a variety of sounds and methods to the table.

Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations, naturally. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today – that they are stored with other meanings, with other memories, and they have contracted so many famous marriages in the past”

Following an original voice recording of Woolf herself, “In The Garden” blends multiple orchestral sections in trademark Richter style, as we are introduced to the first of Woolf’s novels to be covered, Mrs Dalloway. The violin and cello float around the piano, and the piece reveals itself almost like one continuous flow, not stopping for a moment. “War Anthem” hits a more sombre note. Multi-layered strings evoke images of the First World War, and perfectly illustrate the post-war trauma suffered by one of the novel’s characters. The track is anguished, and yet somehow beautiful at the same time.

“Meeting Again” rounds off the first part of this triptych, seemingly continuing the same sound from the previous two compositions. The piano in particular recalls many of The Blue Notebooks’ finer moments, and truly sounds like vintage Richter.

The next ten tracks all tackle Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando. The composer introduces a more current sound, staccato strings accompanying atmospheric electronica throughout. “Modular Astronomy” gallops along at a steady pace, and is reminiscent of some of Hans Zimmer’s incredible score for Interstellar, as well as Richter’s recurring melody used throughout Memoryhouse. “Transformation” continues along the same epic path, only for “The Tyranny Of Symmetry” to change things up with a discordant and overbearing tone. Waves of synth swim around on “Persistance Of Images” as the electronic influence is ramped up, and “Genesis Of Poetry” continues in the same vein, sounding somewhat futuristic. Interspersed between these tracks are atmospheric interludes, that lend the second portion of the release a necessary structure and pace.

The third and final part of the collection opens with Gillian Anderson reciting the suicide note left by Woolf for her husband Leonard. The words are haunting, and the accompanying soundtrack of waves crashing against a shore are surely a nod to the writer’s choice of ending her life by filling her coat pockets with stones and walking into a nearby river. By covering this last novel, The Waves, in one track of almost 22 minutes, Richter allows an elaborate exploration of only a few melodies, including the introduction of a vocal from British soprano Grace Davidson. It’s a rewarding, and fitting finale, and I can only imagine how moving the conclusion of the ballet must have been.

Max Richter’s compositions have been used time and again in film and television, most notably for Shutter Island, Prometheus, Arrival, and even an episode of Black Mirror last year. There’s a reason for this: his ability to stir the emotions, and heighten the senses, is second to none. Further evidence of this comes in the form of his multiple works for opera and ballet, having worked alongside choreographer Wayne McGregor several times.

With Woolf Works, he has again delivered an astounding piece of work, leaving this listener moved to tears on more than one occasion. I only wish I’d been able to experience these emotions in their intended setting, but due to some date-bungling I managed to miss the live streaming offered by my local Odeon – on the strength of these 66 minutes, that’s a mistake I won’t be making again!

HIGHLIGHTS: “War Anthem”, “Modular Astronomy”, “Transformation”.

To My Valentine…

Dear Music,

Today is Valentine’s Day, and in the absence of an actual human to confess my love for, you are the de facto love of my life.

From the first single and album I bought (The Grid’s Swamp Thing, and Parklife, both in 1994), you’ve always had my back.

As a teenager I grew up in the Britpop era, soundtracking my formative school years with Ocean Colour Scene, Oasis and Shed Seven. In 1996, at the age of 14 I went to my first gig: Suede at the Cliffs Pavilion in my hometown, Southend-on-Sea. Followed quickly at the same venue by one of my all-time favourite experiences a month later: Blur, who at the time were number one with Beetlebum.

I moved into sixth form and you opened my eyes to the world of metal and punk. The Offspring’s Smash and Nevermind (obviously) paved the way for my obsession with nu-metal, peaking when a friend and I skipped morning classes to buy Significant Other on the day of release.

As I reached 17, I started to go out. It was 1999 and Trance and Garage were everywhere, especially in Essex. It had taken a while, but finally you turned my head with something not based around guitars. I went on holiday to Tenerife after my A Levels with some school friends, and spent every day on the beach, listening to Chicane’s Behind the Sun. I became obsessed with Ferry Corsten and DJ EZ, and for the first time dreamed of being a DJ.

Like any teenager, I associate much of what you offered at that time with the ups and downs in my love life. Generally speaking, I’d listen to your dancier side when things were going well, and metal when they weren’t. I listened to A LOT of metal.

I stayed on this path for a while. My first year at uni mostly revolved around Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows – still one of my all-time top 5 albums – and it wasn’t until the same friend from sixth form recommended some bands to check out, that my tastes took another sideways turn. Those bands? Poison The Well, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday and Finch. Emo had arrived.

It took over. I wouldn’t listen to anything else, with the exception of one summer listening to nothing but Twista. I got my first tattoo (probably the most emo tattoo imaginable), and spent every night in Rock City’s Basement singing as loud as I could, and making some of the best friends I’ll ever have. Sometimes I yearn to go back to those days. No responsibilities, just having fun.

Those same best friends also persuaded me to try something different, and by the time I graduated I was fully immersed in grime and dubstep, and thanks to a housemate I’d even learnt to mix using vinyl turntables. It’s not often you hear a completely new sound for the first time, but I still remember walking into Stealth nightclub in Nottingham and wondering what the hell was going on. It turned out it was Digital Mystikz reloading Coki’s Tortured.

The following 4 or 5 years with you were some of my favourites. My life became a blur of clubs and festivals. Two or three bookings a week, mostly on weeknights, and all over the country – all while trying to hold down a 9 to 5. I got to play at Fabric, Ibiza Rocks, and even at Trouble & Bass in New York. We appeared on line-ups alongside some of today’s music heavyweights. I met some of the DJs I looked upto the most, and had some incredible experiences. One night in Barcelona you really delivered, with the craziest, most fun thing I’ve ever witnessed.

After stepping back from DJing, I still couldn’t get you out of my mind, and found myself working in HMV for 3 years. Working in retail is tough, but being able to talk to the public about you all day made it worthwhile. Having said that, there’s only so many times you can have someone singing at you, hoping you’ll know what song they’re after – particularly the time a guy tried to recite an entire piece of violin-driven classical to me.

What followed were several years when we didn’t see each other much. By this time, I was about 6 years into a relationship. I’d decided to quit retail and get a “proper job”, studying and working in finance. It’s not that I’d completely given up on you, you just played a far less prominent role in my life.

I got married. And divorced soon after. I was devastated, and to some extent always will be. And this is where I fell for you all over again. As I battled with my emotions, and in particular the onset of fairly acute anxiety, I became more and more reliant on you. Anxiety can do strange things to your body. It doesn’t manifest itself like a normal illness. For me, I felt short of breath all the time, with a constant tightening of the chest, and non-stop pins and needles. The most uncomfortable sensation however, was the tingling pain I would get in the ring finger on my right hand. Even now, when things are getting to me, I still get it. It doesn’t hurt, but it sure as hell isn’t nice. And it’s when this starts happening that I know I need to turn to you.

You’ve become my crutch. You’re my main coping mechanism. I’m now at my happiest when on the dancefloor in a club, at a gig or festival with my friends and family, or behind the decks (at home or in a venue). I’m lucky enough to work at a creative agency, where you’re always present. When not at work or home, I’ve always got headphones in, usually listening to radio shows (Radio 1, NTS, Radar). I eagerly anticipate every Friday to see what new delights you have in store for me, and at the moment I don’t have enough hours in a week to listen to everything I want to. A nice problem to have.

Right now, I’m probably too dependent on you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re the reason I’m writing for this blog. You’re the main reason I go out at night. And you’re definitely why I’m always excited for my next night out.

For all of the reasons I’ve listed above, and many more, I want to say thank you. I genuinely feel like you’ve saved me. I could have allowed myself to wallow, and never feel better. But you give me a reason to feel again. Life is still hard at times, but you never fail to lift me, whether I need it or not. I know I genuinely couldn’t live without you, and I’ll be forever grateful for the part you’ve played in getting me this far.

And so Music, Happy Valentine’s Day, and here’s to many more years of happiness!

Lots of love

George x