Back to the top
zooming-background

Sophie Billington

IN CONVERSATION WITH: Songhoy Blues

WORDS BY SOPHIE BILLINGTON

Songhoy Blues is a four-piece band from Mali in Africa. Three members hail from the north of the country. One of them is from Bamako in the south where the band met. I met Songhoy Blues in their dressing room at Band on the Wall. They were due to play there that evening. All but one of the men wore hats. Not one of them seemed remotely interested in making a pizza order. One voice was exasperated, ‘I know nothing about pizza!’. Briefly introducing his group, lead singer Aliou Touré named Garba Touré as the guitar player, Oumar Touré as the bass player and Nathanael Dembélé as the drummer. Because he was ‘more chatty’, he was to speak with me the most.

Aliou started off describing the chance beginnings of his now world-famous group. ‘We met in June 2012 at the worst moment of the political situation in Mali’. This was the moment at which the militant Islamist group Ansar Dine took over the north of the country. Aliou explained that music was banned in the three biggest cities in the area emphasising that ‘nearly half of the country wasn’t allowed to play music’. All of the musicians in the north were exiled to the country’s southern capital where Aliou, Garba, Oumar and Nathanael came together.

Describing Bamako as a ‘party-town’ he explained, ‘we went to see a band play one day at a club called Domino and this is where we all met’. Though two of the men were from Gao and he was from Timbuktu, he described a certain nostalgia: ‘if you’re all from the same place and you meet somewhere else, you’re definitely gonna speak about it’. They became friends and started jamming together. It wasn’t long before their first live performance took place at Aliou’s cousin’s wedding, ‘I told her, “I don’t have a band right now but I have a few friends, I can get a mercenary band together’. It was at this wedding that the band clicked into place: ‘The wedding was like a [normal] jam session for us but the crowd really had fun and it was really interesting’. The four men decided to rehearse every day and put their own setlist together, ‘we thought, “how about we put out an album one day?”’.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Yeahhh! @songhoyblues banginnnn

A post shared by Laura MC (@lauramac271) on

The band has gone further than to reach their goal of putting out an album. They have put out two, the latter featuring the likes of US superstar Iggy Pop and UK grime artist Elf Kid. However, not one of the quartet has lost sight of issues at home. They told me how they often use their performances to encourage support for refugees between songs.  ‘We got parents and friends from our home town that are still living in refugee camps around the border of Mali, so we kind of feel concerned about that situation. As artists, we have to talk about it’.

On the topic of how it felt to go from political exile to widespread recognition in the West, Aliou stressed the extreme change that it literally involved.  Using the climate as a metaphor for the experience he commented, ‘The feeling is like when you take something from the microwave and put it in the freezer. Can you imagine someone from Mali used to 30 degrees to 40-degree heat coming to negative 0 in London in December?’ He even remembered the date, ‘8th of December 2013 was our first time here, and that was a huge change for us. It was the starting block for everything. Right then [at that moment] we looked at each other and agreed to keep doing what we were doing’.

So what did the band think brought them here? ‘Music, it’s the music. In one word right there it’s the music’. An angry passion shot through his next sentence, ‘I don’t think I could ever be in London if I wasn’t a musician,’ pointing at his bandmates he continued, ‘He, never. And he, never! It’s like destiny to be a musician and to go and be in Europe and be touring and talking to journalists and media and stuff. We are lucky actually’.

Although Songhoy Blue combines so many different genres in their music, they describe their music as ‘African groove’. Garba commented, ‘We’re from Africa, and we always listen and try to give a flavour of our traditional music. We are part of a technological generation though, and we try to add more energy to this traditional music’. Aliou, chatty as ever, continued,  ‘Simple answer, it’s African music, Malian music that’s it’. He elaborated that six or seven African countries border on Mali, adding that ‘Algeria in the north is an Arabic country, [and has a completely] different culture to Dakhar in the south or the Ivory coast for instance. Even within Mali, there are 13 languages, tribes and types of music so you definitely find rock, blues, reggae, whatever else living in these types of music. We link all of that music together. We link them from the south in Bambara, to Dogon in the middle and Songhoy up there on the desert. So when you put all of those flavours together you get something like Songhoy Blues out’.

Countless reviews have spoken of the band’s energy on stage. Nathanael Dembélé spoke out for the first time, ‘We live in Mali, if we come from Mali in the north, the north doesn’t save [its people who are] living in fear, it is hard for us to enjoy [ourselves] and [be full of] love on stage. We need to be very ener[getic] very powerful in our message and that[’s] the kind of feel we have.’ The band-member continued on in order to explain the rebellious nature of their infamous energy. ‘We can just enjoy [ouselves] and play love music because we didn’t [come] from love… [This is] sedition from the heart, sedition [found in] rock and roll, the blues, the reggae [and the sedition found in] hip hop’.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

@songhoyblues – @bandonthewall

A post shared by @ brandontaylorphotog on

Aliou joined his band member’s passion. He described how coming to fame fanned the flames of resistance in the minds of his group and offered an apt metaphor: ‘[It’s] like when you take someone out of jail. It exposes something that blows his mind. He’s definitely going to enjoy the liberty, the new life. [We’ve spent] more than twenty years of our lives in one of the poorest countries in the world with everything missing, liberty, everything, with war, and when you see yourself…  living your dream, [you can only be] happy and energetic. [But there’s] also the anger, to take that out of ourselves, expression, cos we kind of wish people could understand what we’re talking about but we can’t, so… we share that energy with people. They always take that away from seeing us play’.

On the subject of what the band felt was amiss from their life of fame, Garba Touré spoke: ‘We miss that moment, our time in north Mali.  We miss our family.’ Waving a bag of peanuts the guitar player continued, ‘Mali is not like this, these “nuts” kinds of things. I never got myself food in Mali that is like what we eat here’. Home comforts meant a lot it seemed.  Aliou’s face became pensive as he contributed, ‘Your hometown is unlike anywhere else. It’s where you feel better.’ Perhaps it was the humanity of this statement that brought tragedy to what followed: ‘but right now [instead of our home in the north], we live in the south of Mali ‘cos we have no choice you know. There is no embassy in the north, everything is in the south, the airport, visas, everything is in the [southern] capital’.

This led to a discussion of Songhoy Blues’ latest album. ‘The name comes from our journey you know, it comes from our music in exile. If you knew the whole story, the reality of Mali, you would understand why we decided to call this album Resistance’. It became clear to me that the lives of the band members were entangled in the politics of their home country. ‘They say that the north was occupied by jihadist guys, so we say to people to be resistant. You should never be scared of bad people because if you come together, one day you will fight them. The name ‘Resistance’ is meant to imply that when we fight, we will win’.

‘When the whole situation [in Mali] started, the musicians were the people who took on the most pain. When the people in a place understand that there is no security there, nobody is going to play music. So how do those musicians get to live, get to eat? They have families and kids, they’re just people’ ‘Music is really powerful. Extremists tried to forbid it because they know that. Music is a way of communicating important information, and everyone can hear it so quickly’. It struck me that what Songhoy Blues tried to communicate in their performances was a picture of hope. When I finally saw them on stage that night at Band on the Wall, that picture is what impressed me.

Like this? Read up on all of our blog posts HERE 👀

75

LIVE: Jon Hopkins @ Albert Hall

WORDS BY SOPHIE BILLINGTON

I had been looking forward to seeing Jon Hopkins play his latest album live ever since I had first heard and reviewed the album back in April. Since the Manchester leg of the ‘Singularity’ tour completely sold out, it was clear that so had everybody else. This is evident in the huge queues that snake around the block as I arrive, just after Kelly Lee Owens finishes her supporting set. Jon Hopkins is arguably deserving of his vast and committed fanbase. He’s been playing both as a professional artist and in the public eye since the tender age of seventeen, having successfully auditioned to handle the keyboard and samples for Imogen Heap’s tour in 1998.

In the venue, the prestigious Albert Hall, the noise of Hopkins’ loyalist fans began to gather high up in the rafters. It was a friendly crowd, despite every man’s unspoken commitment to a dark jacket. Coming closer to go time, a terse atmosphere began to loosen as blue lights began to sweep up and down, bathing the masses. Then it begins. Ambient and low, a chorus of voices lulls a very excited and chatty crowd into serenity. This is a positive and relaxing beginning to the gig. A notice on the projector screen appears ‘No phones’, creating a traditional air to the show. This is not only reflective of Hopkins’ mature and somewhat serious crowd, but also the grandeur of the show to come. My friend Lawrence gets on his phone and takes a photo, quite naturally.

A horizontal neon green line spread across the projector screen as the eponymous track ‘Singularity’ comes in to experiment with Hopkins’ patient crowd. A thrumming electronic note quavers its way into a full-bodied strength. It’s not long until the show really kicks into motion. The zipping notes that fizz into strength are full of energy and bring a sense of a new dawn. The horizontal line on the screen jolts and becomes a heartbeat in time with the beat. Lasers rise up and out of the projections screen and onto the roof and top floor crowd. There’s a sense of unwinding as the beats hit in hard, but it allows the crowd to remain light and dancy.

Who knows what will play next. The sucker punch beat slowly stomps on until it is brought to a standstill. Noise vibrates outwards in all ways and directions until it juts into a rhythm and brings everyone dancing again. Hopkins is the master of this process whether he intends it or not. We encounter it in the next track and the next. As the drama reaches a momentum I think about how many people Jon Hopkins had got to leave their homes to see him through a through a cold November Thursday night. He got them all buzzing, moving and dancing. All sorts of electronic feedback make a heady pathway for hard-hitting techno. It comes through the thrumming and punches its way into its beginning once again. But there are many more layers of sounds to process. Some people don’t like the acoustics in Manchester’s echoing Albert Hall, but you can enjoy that there is so much noise going around. With the rich texture of Hopkins’ sound, you are able to choose whether to lose your thread in it and allow yourself to be lost in a daze, or sew yourself in and get stuck into it.

Every fourth beat is a crash in the next track, which is accompanied by dangerous red lights that make it an experience of a crash landing. As the structures fall and scream, high notes emerge. This is a song of crisis. Jon Hopkins is all hands on deck, or all hands on his decks to save his crowd and guide them through his soundscape. He steers them clear of caution with soft panpipe like electrical melodies and slams the breaks down hard with a filthy return.

Soon, the intricacies of Hopkins’ work are revealed. Dim sounds move on a minute level, just so many notes shifting only slightly from their original points, all moving together as a collective. Visual entertainment becomes a focal point at this stage of the show. It works closely with the music to emphasise its emotional effect. Twinkling stars on the screen above move to form the molecular structure of psilocybin above blue lit mountains; As mentioned in my album review of ‘Singularity’, Hopkins has explained that the album’s tracks are reflective of a psychedelic experience. In keeping with the idea that ‘Singularity’ is an experience rather than just an album, he offers a constellation of sounds not long before fine lasers shine the projected constellation of stars up on the ceiling for all to look up at in awe, standing in Hopkins’ imagined universe. When the visual treat finally disintegrates, Hopkin’s beats integrate. Moments like this highlight the surprisingly relaxing nature of Jon Hopkin’s upbeat set. The last song plays out and the lights come back up signalling the end of the show… but as the star of the show proudly bows, my sixth sense about an encore seems to grow.

As the music jumps back into a pattern, so does the crowd, all of whose movement is heavy and slow. Nothing lasts forever, however, and towards the end of the song, it becomes very emotionally intense in a way that is rather painful and sudden. BBC News-like notes shout out in protest – this is the sound of letting go, of ending and loss. I had thought that this was the sure and fated end, but no, it was all back in with a rolling bass to start, and the surefire of bullet-like beats hitting a sound-wall over and over. Unexpectedly, the final song is the one that I dance to the most – in between the production of a series of illegible and simply pointless written notes. Hopkins is to end his performance on a swinging, romantic note, one of those that felt like it would never end. Every electronic blow pulsed through the audience as lights and lasers of every colour danced. Finally, as smoke curls in the lasers the noise dies down, and a blurry piano is left to pluck its way out of the soundscape one last time.

Read more about the latest music news and reviews over on our blog 👀

109

LIVE: Beach House @ Albert Hall | 19.10.18

WORDS BY SOPHIE BILLINGTON          PHOTOS BY MANC WANDERER

Beach House’s appearance at the Albert Hall begins with a blue fog that had been imperceptible until the guitars start to jangle. Both the music and the smoke floats through the open air, meaning that both the audio and the visual elements of the performance partake in creating the impression of drifting through space.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

BEACH HOUSE WITH ANOTHA HOME RUN #beachhouse #evergreen

A post shared by Krishan Bourne (@decent_that) on

The screen behind the band becomes a dark forest sky. It’s all a-green melting into a velvety black. The vast expanse lights up with a hundred glittering stars all of a sudden, amazing the audience in their timely combination with the punching drums and swinging guitar. Victoria Legrand’s friendly voice chirps, ‘Happy Friday’ before the third song in the set – ‘Dark Spring’ – is cheered into play. This time a deep autumnal glow sweeps the screen.

The performance seems to roll from song to song and the Baltimore band caress each note during these transitions. Melancholic but optimistic, Legrand and guitarist and keyboardist Alex Scally become dreamlike silhouettes, fully immersed in their hair-swinging performance.

A couple more songs into play, ‘Myth’ sounds into a largely still crowd, it has been on the edge of everyone’s memory throughout the performance and is much awaited. The keyboard is set to effect as piano keys, which provide the track with its intense lift with their ethereal consistency. At one point in the performance, the keyboardist’s midriff appears doubled on the screen. Their deft fingers are boasted by their punky outfit, every button a glowing blue. Never, before then, had I ever described trousers as hypnotic.

Deep into the concert, I recognise a feeling evoked by a sharp and certain tremor. I realise that Beach House brings with them a heavier rock sound than I’d ever noticed when I’d listened to them through speakers. Surprised by how subtly their harder sounds had entered the hall, I pondered the idea that with Beach House, you don’t know what you’re listening to until you’re fully immersed in it.  A soft block red background reflects how heated the room has become. It’s suddenly obvious just how many people are in the room, all under Beach House’s spell.

Recently interviewed by Stereogum, LeGrand mentioned “We want to be able to play a song live and not have a huge part of it be missing. We do care about that. The energy live is really important. We have to have a certain energy. We are a band, we’re not DJs. We have a responsibility as musicians to do that. It means a lot to us.”

The band proved themselves right when they played tracks from from the new album, ‘7’. Howling guitar screamed through the quiet to begin ‘Dark Spring’ and at its close, a discomforting yet enticing crashing aeroplane sound effect. These are the kinds of details that are not missed or could even be made especially for live performances. One of the most admirable dream pop groups of twenty years gone is a hypnotic mixture between Mazzy Star and Massive Attack.

Read more about the latest music news and reviews over on our blog 👀

175
singularity

ALBUM REVIEW: Jon Hopkins – Singularity

Singularity is ‘intended to be listened to in one sitting, as a complete body of work’. Unfortunately, upon my first listen I didn’t have a solid hour spare to do this, and I was too impatient to wait until I did. I have since been able to listen to the album both in bits and in its singular body as intended. These experiences have proven fruitful, for the new release is undoubtedly powerful. As a result, I offer that it’s well worth a devoted listen both in fragments through pretty-much broken earphones, or embraced in its full body on state of the art speakers, as well as anywhere in between. Hopkins’ first release, Immunity, was an album that took its listeners journeying far out to meet his talent. Singularity shows them around.

This is a strangely diverse collection for what you’d imagine an album intended to be listened to in one sitting. If there’s one thing that I can say of Jon Hopkins is that his work is cinematic – typically involving adaptability for many environments a handful that I can imagine being the dusky countryside, the city night or timeless space. This is a result of the way that Hopkins wrangles some more organic sounds into his hard-hitting techno soundscapes. Upon first listen, one might not realise that the early tracks implement solid woodland drums and flutey influences. Though in a way these components are almost folk-like, they are given strength, revealed to possess a strict, innate structure and prove durable for all weathers. A combination certainly making for a versatile album to listen to. Full of dream-like soundscapes, Singularity involves the emotional journey of its talented producer, which he expanded on as something of a ‘psychedelic experience’. Of course then – in its entirety – the record involves a narrative of a hard buildup to deep exploration and eventual release. In this journey, there are naturally many sights but seemingly no stops.

The opener is eponymous to the album Singularity. The titular release is a pressing techno track – looping, developing and spiralling, with the barrelling tunnel of sound that you might have listened faithfully to on Hopkins’ last album. Eased into a near-uncomfortable level of depth, as soon as you are used to it a slow down occurs – around 4:14 – producing a distinct feeling of let-go and loss. However, this is picked back up in a new hard-hitting, reflexive industrial environment. Pushed around bouncing off the walls with a big techno drum being hit again abandoning you for an echoing void.

Not one to leave anyone in the cold, however, Hopkins picks the intensity back up and grants the listener their existence in a new, industrial context.

Towards the latter end of the album, ‘Luminous Beings’ begins with what sounds like train tracks. A mystery is created by its junction with a murmur of life, the distant hum of human activity. The buildup holds a pressure that gently allows you to prepare for more. I’d offer that this track in particular is reflective of the record – whilst ‘Singularity’ is containing (and by and large rather pressing),  its industrial electronic elements are never too overbearing; Hopkins’ sound-manipulation encompasses a gentle guidance through the harder times.

Equally, Hopkins’ consistent use of solo, acoustic piano is never too melancholy and his lighter tracks send you adrift, adding a sense of echo and dissolve to the Singularity experience. What I like about Jon Hopkins’ music is that while it explores a number of avenues,  it’s never ‘too’ anything.

For dedicated fans of Hopkins’ debut Immunity, there is some allusion to the tunnelling tones of the past. However, Singularity is far more optimistic and willing to jump out – it is at the same time willing & ready to calm down. In ‘Luminous Beings’, the coordinated crickets of the electronic world lightly shake from side to side. They obediently fade out, allowing the humble piano to return to centre stage playing out in the moonlight.

Jon Hopkins’ nurture of nature produces a serious body of controlled work, with playful and exceedingly wild undertones. This shines through in ‘Neon Pattern Drum’,  six minutes gradually disjointing SIngularity‘s rainy beginnings granting access to really get into the swing of things. When the track kicks in, one can see that it is light and dancey in nature, but also somehow situated on a motorway with great purpose. Listening to ‘Neon Pattern Drum’ is like seeing flashing lights whilst you kick up sand in the desert.

Strangely familiar, and yet like nothing you’ve ever heard before, this album is really ideal for use as a cinematic score. Indeed this release is a solid score for the likes of Jon Hopkins, who using Ableton, seems able to draw upon his vast musical experience yet is free enough that he – with minimal risk – can test the musical waters however he so likes. Singularity is like being left isolated on a sort-of distant planet, only having been given the ability to float around. Here is a small world of strange and beautiful surroundings to learn from and take in.

The album starts and ends with the press of the same piano key. However, whilst the listener is put back where they started, they’ve come full circle with completely new attitudes, perspectives and outlooks.

167
love international

Gig Review: Love International @ The Warehouse Project

Ask anyone outside of Manchester how they expect Manchester’s nightlife to be and they will undoubtedly mention The Warehouse Project. Year on year it produces several nights with huge lineups, and people fall over themselves to go thanks to their high-calibre  – it is without much doubt that the brand’s popularity draws the guys that run the events under a great deal of pressure. It undoubtedly faces a high risk of condemnation as ‘overhyped’, and that’s without any further weight from a 10:30 pm last entry. Luckily, I fell in love with Love International. For the duration of the night the warm warehouse air was full of high energy, as well as a well deserved appreciation – clubbers were able to find themselves taken back by a faithful permeation of dark samples through a computerised atmosphere.

Love International

Kicking off all festivities, Crazy P kept it cool. More than a mere disco band, the outfit was an absolute madness. Featuring Danni’s soft vocals, and a keyboard that wouldn’t leave your attention alone, their rounded performance was noteworthy on its own. It’s a joy to think that this was just the beginning.

Even the toilet queues were full of fun. I can quote wittier-than-your-average toilet-queue-members should you wish to ever discuss toilet tactics with me. Note that with multiple queues, success in the competition for cubicles requires unsurpassable planning, and either a high degree of patience or some worthy companions. I was pleased to have the latter. I feel that the crowd really played to the ‘love’ in ‘Love International’, and were pleased to make room for anyone who seemed to be having a good time.

There were many highlights of my experience this time round at The Warehouse Project – Craig Richards and Larry Heard both offered strong sets worthy of a lot of up and down movement. However, the all-time absolute for me was Joy Orbison. Inky and hard, Joy O sent over some absolute shakers. Forceful and cosmic for a disco-ey night, Love International certainly wasn’t light.

Mid-way through the night, Denis Sulta held the floor in Room 2. Having heard Tuff City Kids drop the beginnings of an acid-infused ‘I Feel Love’ at the main stage, however, I couldn’t leave it for the next ten or so minutes (thankfully though I did eventually make the transition over to Sulta’s hissing and complex disco edits). The speedy, clear-cut mixes were entirely transformative of their components. In a barely-softer moment, Sulta got grooving away to Duck Sauce’s ‘aNYway’ after a furious loop. The chorus came hard and fast at the audience: ‘I can do it any way that you want it’. He evidently was doing it the way that everyone wanted it, for the room was the busiest of any through the entire night. Having played fan-favourite mix, ‘DKY (But I Do)’ on several occasions this year, the DJ used it to close his fast and furious ‘Love International’ set. The DJ’s take on Thelma Houston’s all-too-relatable screamer is to be released ‘soon’. When Sulta’s lights went out, Laurent Garnier closed it all in red.

 

There was definitely a particular sound to Love International. We just don’t have the vocabulary for it. Unfortunately, the closest that one can get is ‘heavily electronic’. Robotic doesn’t cut it, it was something blacker, deeper – more insidious. This was a pounding night and yet one full of travelling uplift. With its undertones of acid, perhaps ‘barrelling’ describes it better.  Love International was classic and familiar and at once futurist and emergent in tone. I imagine that it’d be hard to find anyone who didn’t leave the night in high spirits.

72
Art Box - Funraising - Manchester Minds - Art exhibiton - MCR Live Blog

EVENT PREVIEW: ArtBox by Funraising

Funraising is a new Manchester-based platform that promotes creative, charitable activity. Whilst the collective primarily produces journalism around organisations, events and social issues, they are putting on their first event series this December in aid of Manchester Mind. ArtBox is a not-so-silent art exhibition and auction which is taking over Solomon’s in Withington, South Manchester. The event will feature loads of original pieces from a range of local artists and could be your chance to get your hands on some amazing work just in time for Christmas.

Manchester Mind is an amazing mental health charity which aims to help those in the local area. Sadly, the charity has said that they no longer have the funding to provide free counselling for those who need it. It’s a cruel reality that many organisations simply don’t have the resources to be able to provide the guidance that so many are in need of. In honour of the cause, the ArtBox artists are working with the theme of emotion. This theme aims to demonstrate the relevance of mental health issues ongoing all around us and expressing this through the beautiful medium of original artwork.

Art Box - Funraising - Manchester Minds - Art exhibition - MCR Live Blog

The selection of art at ArtBox is diverse. All the artists are currently busily working on canvas, screenprints, original drawings and even small-scale sculptures. The auction is silent by definition, but not in actuality. Both your eyes and ears are in for a treat with the wonders and wares of ArtBox. Bids for the artwork will be taken down on paper, meaning that all the while Solomon’s will be hosting a jazz band upstairs, and some chilled music in the basement.

And the music won’t stop there. Funraising is hosting an afterparty at Indigo straight after. Get ready for PostBox. Featuring the likes of DJ Dijon, DJ English and Frenchie Wholegrain (yes, they’re all named for mustards) Indigo in Withington is about to get spicy. With a bespoke projection mapping light-show and experimental sounds from the Funraising crew, you won’t regret popping down.

Art Box - Funraising - Manchester Minds - Art exhibition - MCR Live Blog

Funraising has tried to tailor their events to the needs and the wants of the people of Manchester. They aim to get talented people together for good causes and offer a creative take on raising money. If you’d like to help them carry on going, you can donate here.

Both PostBox and ArtBox are taking place in Withington. ArtBox is running from 5:30pm until 9:30pm at Solomon’s on the 14th December. For more details on the auction, head to the ArtBox event page. PostBox will take you on from there from 10 pm till 2 am, just down the road at Indigo. So, if you like to get down, have a look at PostBox’s event page too.

(Words by Sophie Billington and Jenny Knowles).

92
daphni

SINGLE REVIEW: Daphni – ‘Carry On’

Earlier this year Daphni (aka Caribou) received critical acclaim for his FABRICLIVE mix. Yesterday he announced the release of Joli Mai, an album available on the 6th of October. This will include extended versions of those on FABRICLIVE alongside a number of original songs.

Leading single ‘Carry On’ made its debut appearance on the FABRICLIVE mix in its shortened form and is set to be the third item on the new album out THIS FRIDAY. It starts off in layers of catchy percussion making you feel a little bit antsy; right when you think you want a change, it does. Pop-y, house-y drums kick in with a full-bodied sigh. It’s a sung-sigh that gives you shivers and marks the song throughout. Its first act of leadership is to take you through to funk – tracks are quite rarely funky and eclectic at the same time, but this is not the only thing that makes this one special – it’s also light, sensual and a bit unpredictable to the point that it actively engages a sense of fear. It’s actually quite a creepy song, one that’s ghostly in the most modern way possible. Daphni samples a confusing range of familiar sounds throughout, an example being an infuriating electronic feedback which niggles and claws at the back of your head. What’s worse is that this feedback noise is indistinguishable from the twitter of a bird.

This may sound like a nightmare, but it’s all very tasteful. The track’s subtlety means that it hugely grows on you with every listen. In a way, ‘Carry On’ is seductive. Stormy samples darken the track but also make it suitable for a rainy-day listen. Daphni uses nature to paint an atmosphere – he takes the world that we live in, and manipulates in such ways that we feel distanced from it, but appreciative of its estranged beauty. To finish, some hollow drums work on offbeats to complement each other and they do so quite wonderfully.

‘Carry On’ leads you through a wide tapestry of samples, tactfully scrapbooked and loosely pinned together. They aren’t of the same story, some of them aren’t even of the same universe. However, this mismatching is what works really well on the track. If you let it, ‘Carry On’ will use the realms of nature, technology and your own nostalgia all take a gentle hold of your mind and guide you to an all-important deep, thinking space. A listen to Daphni’s ‘Carry On’ is synonymous with a dream of robotic space.

133
Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Adventuring in Utopia: Shambala Festival Review 2017

Shambala Festival began a week today, on Thursday the 26th of August, and finished jubilantly on Sunday the 27th. Shambala Festival is a tiny one of mere thousands, but its reputation precedes it, as one of the most socially conscious and sparkly events in the whole world. With a crowd which spans all ages and the presence of crafts, this family festival is similar to WOMAD, but its looser, cheekier attitude is what I think differentiates the two. I volunteered at Shambala last year and had an amazing time, but buying a last-minute ticket a year on, I didn’t know what to expect. The weekend was full of surprises.

I approached the campsite on Thursday night, and crippled under the severe weight of my bags, Childish Gambino’s ‘Redbone’ blared out of a cafe speaker and kept me plodding on. My first interaction was with a fifteen year old asking for a cigarette. As she left I took in the scene in front of me. Even on the Thursday night I noticed more than a couple of costumes. The costumes only grew in multitude across the weekend, complete with wigs, balloons and attachments. What I’m trying to convey here is just how fun it is just to people-watch at Shambala, as creepy as that sounds. My favourite costume of the weekend stands to be a 1960s sea diver who stood deep in the rave. Shambalans were evidently a special kind of people. I’m sure you’re wondering what attracted such an amazing crowd, so I’ll tell you now…

Macka B - Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blogMacka B at Shambala 2017 ©  George Harrison. All rights reserved. 

FRIDAY AT THE SHAMBALA MAIN STAGE: MACKA B AND THE ROOTS RAGGA BAND

Straight off the bat,  I saw Macka B perform at the main stage. This reggae legend has been active for thirty years and is out to spread good vibes with many exclamations of ‘yo, yo, yo’. Heavy dub from the Roots Ragga Band married optimism in Macka B’s promotion of healthy eating with his song ‘Big Mack’ and the viral sensation ‘Cucumber’. He amused me with quips such as ‘fast food can sometimes be too fast’. It’s difficult not to enjoy reggae under the glorious sun, let alone reggae which preaches a ridiculous level of positivity.

Louise Roberts - Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Kamikaze Tent at Shambala 2017 © Louise Roberts. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY AT THE SHAMBALA MAIN STAGE: VADOU GAME

The afro-funk band Vaudou Game began with an amusing statement: ‘We are called vaudou because we love voodoo’. They weren’t joking, the lead made the crowd chant, ‘voodoo is awesome it is amazing’.

‘Religious shit’ aside, this rock band offered a real tropical sound. The bass teased the song along, lifted by trumpets. Plain, honest and desert-dry songs somehow provided a fluid electricity. The legs of the lead were flared sticks of bright green. Vadou Game may have played some typically pleasant tunes, but with their mystic energy they were also full of intrigue.

Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Kamikaze Tent at Shambala 2017 © Louise Roberts. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY NIGHT IN THE KAMIKAZE: ZED BIAS + MY NU LENG

Garage mastermind Zed Bias was an absolute experience. Kicking off Friday’s nightlife, his beats remained jumpy and energetic from start to finish. He made everyone feel good (good good) with his low and sinister backing tracks and casual demeanour. As he finished, the adoring audience was treated with a very truthful statement: ‘Shambala Festival is one of the nicest festivals in the whole fucking world. Let’s spread love, let’s spread unity’.

Zed Bias’ urban vibes  were swiftly followed by My Nu Leng. Although My Nu Leng have become a staple appearance, their appearance at Shambala was slightly different. This was a bassy, space age experience in which lights and smoke worked together to leave a lasting impression of awe. Brightly coloured lasers expertly captured the smoke swirls at every beat and drop as the music turned and progressed. The MC confirmed the mood, ‘everything nice everything blessed’ – that is, before he hit everyone with what he accurately describes as ‘dirty, dirty bass’.

Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Chai Wallahs Tent at Shambala 2016 © . Carolina Faruolo. All rights reserved.

SATURDAY NIGHT IN CHAI WALLAHS: HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE

Chai Wallahs is a spacious open sided bar tent with the oft-fulfilled potential for big crowds, and plenty of room the groove in. I was thrilled to see Hypnotic Brass Ensemble here, because its undefined, open space was a great place for their experimentalism to flourish and fly around. Hypnotic Brass  draws influence from many genres, and really dips into jazz, funk and hip-hop. Although they’ve got some serious MCs, when the brass-players stand in a line and play together, they are indeed hypnotic. Stood in a crowd, you look at the cool Chicago-based band with a certain awe. Their set-list at Shambala was certainly well thought through. The most innovative covers were Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s ‘Baby I’ve Got Your Money’, and Childish Gambino’s ‘Redbone’, which was delivered deliberately and seductively. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are timeless, accurate, and they work together very well.

Louise Roberts - Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Oumou Sangare at Shambala 2017 © George Harrison. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY EVENING AT THE SHAMBALA MAIN STAGE: OUMOU SANGARE

This African band was probably the sweetest act at Shambala Festival. Muffled rainbow lights shone softly on a huge audience as they shuffled quietly to the music.

The lead singer proved herself needlessly humble for her talent. Between songs when she spoke she apologised for her ‘terrible’ English as coloured lights swam from behind her. The instrumentals that accompanied her ringing voice were pleasantly gentle. Oumou Sangare are a striking and fantastic port of entry for those who have not before heard the traditional sound of Mali.

GH DJ Dazee - Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

The Kamikaze at Shambala 2017 © George Harrison. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY NIGHT IN THE KAMIKAZE: AUNTIE FLO AND CLAP! CLAP!

With due respect to Awesome Tapes From Africa, on Sunday, the Kamikaze remained rife with world x electronic fusion. Auntie Flo was a real treat. Almost classifiable as afro-futurist, his housey mixes encompassed a subtle appreciation of other cultures. His delicate approach made such a flirty mix appear natural and even familiar.

I’ve written about Clap! Clap! before, as a highlight of WOMAD. Clap! Clap!’s performance was of equal quality to his last, but it was also virtually unrecognisable from his last. Whilst at WOMAD Clap! Clap! was tribal and wild, Clap! Clap!’s Shambala take was more futuristic and new age. One thing that did not change between the two festivals, and that was that the Italian producer properly goes in on stage. It’s definitely a good thing to see an artist enjoying themselves as much as their audience. It gives new life to their songs, especially when they’re as eclectic and interesting as Clap! Clap!’s.

Louise Roberts - Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Botanical Disco at Shambala 2017 © Louise Roberts. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY NIGHT IN THE BOTANICAL DISCO

This packed bar-yurt had an atmosphere like no other. Adorned with floral tresses, the lightwork appeared to present a ceiling of chemical liquid in constant movement transformation. I felt it necessary to agree to spend something like £7.50 on a double rum and coke. In retrospect, I kind of want slap myself for this, but at the same time I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that I’d be more willing to spend such an outrageous amount of money than Shambala Festival. Whilst I spilt my drink everywhere, the following songs struck me:

The Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight for your Right’

Pulp’s  ‘Disco 2000’

Prince’s ‘Kiss’

These songs for me, wrap the universe of Shambala up nicely. It’s an anarchic, fuck everything kind of world, it’s a familiar storytelling kind of world, and it’s a sexy kind of world. Prince’s lyrics were especially seductive and could have been spoken by Shambala Festival itself: ‘You don’t have to be rich to be my girl, you don’t have to be cool to rule my world’. Shambala is open to all, it doesn’t care who you are, and it cheekily invites a good time.

Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Barrio Afrika at Shambala © 2016 Carolina Faruolo. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY NIGHT AT BARRIO AFRIKA

Barrio Afrika is a tent stage which hosts many afro-infused and world music acts. This softly lit, warm, colourful environment is rarely less than full and is certain to warm the souls of its entrants. Although the tent is sweet and wholesome, Shambalans in here can get a bit shovey and excitable- it’s good fun. Roughly half an hour of my Saturday night was spent in Barrio Afrika in between acts. The act didn’t come on before we left the tent for new adventures, but strangely the in-between tunes got me dancing enough to claim the title of the highlight of my night.

On Sunday night there was actually a band on. The atmosphere was spritely, friendly and best described as mellow. Fluttery and gentle afrobeats meant that this was the perfect place to be in between doses of intense electronic beats. I could’ve stayed for hours had not other diverse wilds of Shambala come calling for me.

Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

© 2017 George Harrison. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY NIGHT IN GIN PALACE (THE HIDDEN CLEARING)

At some point deep into the night, I was led to a secret clearing for another boogie. I was fully settling into ‘Baby Love’ by the Supremes when my friend shook her head in a dismissive fashion. ‘Dad DJs!’, she exclaimed. She wasn’t wrong to be fair. ‘We’re er, getting a bit confused by this contraption… bear with us’, came booming over the mic. I fully enjoyed Gin Palace anyway, before I found myself swiftly whisked away by my friend (and the rest of the festival).

Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Enchanted woods at Shambala 2017 © Louise Roberts

THE ENCHANTED FOREST AT NIGHT

At festivals, forests tend to house the genre of psytrance. Shambala Festival is no exception to this rule, and the Enchanted Forest was a place of magic. The use of lighting alone was a spectacle to be seen, let alone the incredible treehouse stage on which its DJs performed. In my exploration of the forest I learnt that the stage is built in such a way that the trees bear no stage-weight whatsoever. This thought, care and fantastic execution is classic of Shambala Festival. The use of  technology in aesthetic partnership with nature is truly inspiring and enjoyable for those of all ages. The element of variety is also key to Shambala Festival, which I realised when psytrance unexpectedly lost its place in the forest to some midnight reggae.

Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Sankofa’s at Shambala 2016 © Samantha Milligan

SUNDAY NIGHT IN SANKOFA’S: THE NEST COLLECTIVE

After traversing the Enchanted Forest, I made my way to Sankofa’s for a rest. Normally I don’t rate places where you have to take your shoes off but it was definitely worth doing so to sit in the cleanest, loveliest place in the world. Below a huge mobile I was able to lay and contemplate. I haven’t appreciated a disco ball so much in my life- decorated with licks of peacock feather, its sequins shone a million reflections onto the surfaces of the yurt in slow rotation. I sat up to see that beneath the thrum of deep, and barely-there discussion, fiddlers were a-fiddlin’. A Tim Burton-esque folk band jauntily performed, keeping their audience’s spirits as high as their cheekbones. The moment was so surreal that one could have thought that the band was an animatronic display. Motiveless and encapsulated in contentment, this seemed like the fated end to the magic of Shambala Festival, until a mobile exchange occurred. On 1% charge, the dying phone whispered its last piece of advice to us: go to Swingamajig.

Shambala Festival - Festival Review - Festival Season - Summer - MCR live blog

Sankofa’s at Shambala 2015 © Samantha Milligan. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY NIGHT IN SWINGAMAJIG: MANSION OF SNAKES

I arrived at the Swingamajig tent to some slow, jazzy swing music. The act seemed to personify Swingamajig in all of its mature and laidback glory. After bopping around all night, this was the perfect act to close my musical experience. Seductive brass remained a constant for adventurous guitars that surged high and low. The band seemed sound as well. Mansion of Snakes has been a part of a fundraising event called Refugee Rhythms in the past, and they seemed pretty down to earth on stage. They asked, ‘Anyone got any beer? We’ve been given a box of wine’.

I hope that I’ve managed to make it clear that this ‘Top Twelve Review’ isn’t even really a top twelve, and more of a collection of memories. I think that this works to reflect the true spontaneity of Shambala. This unique festival is the best to flit around, to float free, and to experience things as they come. With an open curiosity and willingness about you, you’ll have an exceptional time. The festival itself is curious and willing to explore. Passing the main stage on Friday night I heard a brass band cover Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ in an exaggerated and over-the-top fashion. Missing anything is honestly the biggest of your worries at this fantastic weekend event.

There’s so much going on at Shambala Festival that memory alone will inevitably fail to retain it all. The Sunday night was possibly the most fluid and busy night of my life. In order to grasp a vague timeline for this article, I quite embarrassingly felt it necessary to take notes throughout. Tragically I forgot to take any paper out with me, so I felt obliged to scribble on my left hand. On Monday morning I copied the blurry words into my notebook at camp. I waited for a crumpet to fry over my friend’s homemade stove (there was a build your own wood-burner stove workshop the day before), and  found one scrawl particularly hard to transcribe. I have no idea what the specific context of my writing here was, but it read ‘Shambala is a place where everything just works out → I just found my pen!’. When I started walking to my friend’s car, unburdened by much lighter bags, ‘Redbone’ played, just as it had when I’d come in. I savoured this unusual moment as I left Shambala behind. There’s a reason why people of all ages and backgrounds return to Shambala Festival year on year, it’s one of those ‘if you know, you know’ kinds of places. The theme of this year’s Shambala Festival was ‘Adventures in Utopia’, and I’ve never been anywhere that fits the bill so well. Escapism is truly made possible in this glittery liberal land, so if you want to witness true freedom, you know where to head next August.

549

WOMAD 2017 WAS THE CRAZIEST FESTIVAL:

MCR Live: Top 10 Highlights

One week ago MCR Live set foot in the World of Music and Dance. WOMAD has been running for over thirty years, but this is the first year that MCR Live has been able to check it out. Although its reputation and demographic tell you that’s it’s a family festival first and foremost, you could easily describe WOMAD with the words of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires: ‘It is a really crazy festival, 50,000 party animals, people come from countries far away tuh help us celebrate Carnival Day’. To rephrase, I’ve never seen a festival that caters to so many age ranges and tastes. This is the most experimental event I’ve ever come across. It was also the muddiest. The volumes of mud spoke volumes for the muddling of music and the crowd. Cultures and genres of all kinds came together in one big pool to create a squishy, malleable, wonderful experience for all. Everyone was knee-deep in the same cultural mixtures, and everyone loved it. To create this weird wacky world, of course it had to rain. And boy did it rain. Only upon my departure of the site did the sunshine emerge and remain. As bags on legs made their way past me I heard pure delight. ‘The best WOMAD in years!’ was just one exclamation of many.

goat-womad-2017-mcr-live

Since WOMAD is a world festival, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I wasn’t mentally prepared for the range and quality of the food at the festival. I spent hours surveying stalls because there was just too much choice. Falafel, thai curry, dumplings, everything the world has to offer really, what was my poor brain to do? It was the rain that saved it from overdrive. Whilst I cowered in a bar-tent, I noticed the most sensational smell. My body became the vessel of my stomach: I found myself asking and listening after the mystery dish: Tibetan stew. I’d advise anyone to follow in this man’s footsteps.

Stage-wise, WOMAD was all abustle all day long, but I found that a routine tended to fall into place. I’ll take you through a day in Charlton Park. During the day, I found myself most often at the tent stages. These are great massive things where everyone is free to boogie, and they include the Big Red Tent, the diverse and wonderful Siam Tent and the Bower and Wilkins tent, which I’m eager to tell you has the best sound system that I’ve ever encountered. At night, bars become more lively, for example Lizard, a latina-vibesing tent, and Molly’s Bar, which offered speakeasy-grade swing, jazz and the likes of Dutty Moonshine. And all the while, the massive Open Air stage was ablaze with top quality acts and orchestras, both big and small. Now, let’s explore some of these sites with a trip through my WOMAD top 10.

TOP 10 HIGHLIGHTS

CLAP! CLAP!

SUNDAY AT 19:15 AT THE BIG RED TENT

If you read my WOMAD preview post, then you might know how excited I was for Clap! Clap!. He did not disappoint. The Big Red Tent fell under the cover of sheer madness. Now Clap! Clap! has a range of songs, but everything that he played at WOMAD was ‘boot-off’ tribal. I advise you to listen to ‘Black Smokes, Bad Signs’ at full volume on your speakers for a taste of the show. The crowd was animalistic, wild and free. Even press and stagehands were leaping around. Shout out to Callum for getting my camera shoved backstage so that I could join him. At one point Clap! Clap! danced so hard that the entire table that he was mixing on completely fell off. The music stopped, so naturally I assumed that the set was over and started clapping. Great set y’know, shame it was a bit short. Realisation only dawned upon me when my cameraman came over, ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED!’ I was only half mortified – the heavy drumbeats kicked off again and all movement reignited. Luckily my team captured the gig on 360, so stay tuned for that.

KATE SIMKO & LONDON ELECTRONIC ORCHESTRA

SUNDAY AT 17:00 AT THE BIG RED TENT

kate-simko-london-electronic-orchestra-womad-2017-review-mcr-live
Photo: Kate Simko

This electronic orchestra was both aesthetically and audibly brilliant. Featuring a harp, two cellos,  two violins,a bass and a keyboards, the performance explored the realms of deep house and breathtaking techno. The high point of this highlight was Kate’s cover of the Hacienda classic, ‘Voodoo Ray’. Eclectic and beautiful, the notes surged past me, never quavering, never withering. By this I mean never in the passive sense, for they had the potential to wither audiences in the active sense. It’s special when a performance is simultaneously floaty and powerful, and I can easily deem this such an experience.

 

ROY AYERS AND SEUN KUTI

SUNDAY AT 21:30 AT THE OPEN AIR STAGE

roy-ayers-seun-kuti-womad-2017-review-mcr-live

I very nearly missed this headline act because the campsite was separated from the Open Air Stage by a couple of hundred feet of deep mud. A couple of footsteps into the trek it became apparent that my trainers weren’t going to hack the rest of the festival. Somehow I made it to the largest act of the weekend, a tribute to Fela Kuti by Roy Ayers Ubiquity and Seun Kuti with Egypt 80. The crowds went back for miles, and understandably so. Even though everyone’s feet were stuck firmly in the ground, the energy of the percussion and traditional dancers took them out of a tempting standstill. A solid effort was made to move in time with those of the glistening traditional dancers who shimmied and shook onstage. Time barely seemed to pass as the tracks continued, the only semblance of it passing seemed to be in the colour of the sky, which gradually deepened. By the time ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ came on, the horizon was a mystical, clouded navy. The satisfied wonder of thousands of fans was obvious. This is shown up by the fact that none of the swaying masses seemed to care about the complete lack of sunshine, and the overbearing presence of darting raindrops. Soon, Seun Kuti took the stage and the high energy of traditional Africa emerged. It was a joy to see this embraced by the wet, frigid air of the English countryside. That all encompassing mud took my foot in in the same way. The glue that held my soles to my shoe predictably deteriorated. Eventually it clung to the tip of my trainer’s toe. I decided to sacrifice my sole to the hotchpotch and tore it off so that I could dedicate myself to the dance. This performance was beautiful in every way. Musically diverse, and a bridge between cultures and generations in multiple ways, it seemed to release the spirit of WOMAD.

!!! (CHK CHK CHK)

SUNDAY AT 16:00 AT SIAM TENT

!!!-chk-chk-chk-womad-2017-review-mcr-live
© Photography by Jim Holland

I stumbled across this one by way of complete accident. In between acts on the WOMAD 2017 app (which was insanely useful, might I add), we decided to have a quick look at what afternoon entertainment Siam Tent had to offer us. Lots. Its electric guitars blasted an intensity that didn’t frighten, matched onstage by !!!’s flapping hands which beckoned ‘come at me’. I’d like to call this funk punk, which is not at all what I guessed it would be from its name. What its name does reflect however, is !!!’s high energy. Bowie-esque dance moves took the stage in the form of its two leads. The female lead was as fluid and effortless as the early 80s that she represented.  And the male lead wore a duck-egg-blue school boy’s suit, obviously open and shirtless. I wasn’t sure right, but I’m convinced that his shorts featured a wet patch around the crotch. Stain or no stain, !!! presented real teenage angst and attitude at its most mature. Everyone was dancing like they were on a mission, which only goes to show that !!! brought a real stage presence. Disco is a crowd-pleaser on its own, so you’d be correct in assuming that !!! brought the house down with this crowd.

BLUE LAB BEATS

FRIDAY AT 20:30 AT THE BOWER AND WILKINS SOUND SYSTEM

blue-lab-beats-womad-2017-review-mcr-live

Blue Lab Beats were a find of my director’s mother, who had met them shortly before they performed. Chilled and fresh, their hip hop sounds couldn’t have sounded clearer or cleaner than they did from the Bower and Wilkins sound system. The group definitely had neo-soul talent and expert timing – they made every instrument look eaaasy. You might call Blue Lab Beats a modern, J-Dilla-esque take on coffee-shop music. I could’ve stared at the lights and visuals for hours, if I hadn’t been so excited by the lineup changes, which included a saxophonist. The saxophone is the sexiest sounding instrument, there’s no arguing with that.

 

SHOBA LEADER ONE

SATURDAY AT 19:00 AT THE BIG RED TENT

shoba-leader-one-womad-2017-review-mcr-live
Photo: Shobaleader One

Funnily enough, I didn’t make it to this one, but I’ve been convinced that Shobaleader One are really worth putting in. This was a live band performance by Squarepusher’s side-project. I’m gutted to have missed this because I imagine that the track ‘Iambic 5 Poetry’ was a real treat live, let alone the fact that the band-members played wearing LED masks. These masks were synchronised to the music, which I’m told was  ‘like funk, metal and jazz on crack’. I’m feeling proper sorry for myself just listening to them, and very bitter writing this, so I’ll keep it short. These ‘masters of their instruments’ may very well have been a WOMAD highlight, and it’s highly unfortunate that they weren’t one of mine.

 

KING AYISOBA

SUNDAY AT 14:00 AT THE BBC RADIO 3 CHARLIE GILLETT STAGE

king-ayisoba-womad-2017-review-mcr-live

King Ayisoba weren’t familiar to me prior to my seeing them. Two words. Rhythmic, drums. Entranced, I started taking notes down – I had to find out who was onstage so I asked the guy standing next to me. He told me they were called Toko Telo, so I wrote this down. Good thing I worked out that he’d looked at the wrong day on his timetable, but I can vouch and say that the music was way too interesting for anyone to be giving me a correct answer. I reckon that getting the wrong answer was karma for my distraction from the performance. Anyway, King Ayisoba was simply different. There were a bevvy of mystery instruments in hand, being powerfully handled and played in ways that I’ve never seen, or heard. This unique and colourful group made for a memorable and impressive experience. Traditional percussion is something which is underappreciated by the Western world, I feel. At WOMAD it was recognised and given due attention. So was King Ayisoba’s political message: ‘If you want to be a leader, you have to be a good leader. No corruption’. Musically and politically, King Ayisoba are as simple as that, but they ring true.

Shout out to Toko-Telo-guy who recognised me as ‘notepad girl’ at 5am the next morning and said hello. Those little moments always make for a beautiful festival!

JOEY NEGRO

SATURDAY AT 23:00 AT THE BOWER WILKINS SOUND SYSTEM

joey-negro-womad-2017-mcr-live

I’m just going to say it. Joey Negro is the best DJ I’ve ever witnessed in action. And he’s a grand selector. A combination of these two attributes makes his reputation as a deejay practically invincible. The set traversed a disco, funk and soul and house, and although each part of it spouted some well-loved hits such as Gwen Mcrae’s ‘Keep the Fire Burning’, I’ve never heard them mixed so smoothly and so interestingly before. You’d think that I couldn’t gas the Bower Wilkins Sound System any more, but you’d be wrong, because the thing just enhanced and solidified the growing appreciation that I found for every song choice, every drop and every transition of the legendary artist. I might have mentioned that WOMAD found the time to appreciate the home of MCR Live, I might have mentioned that the acid house scene and the Hacienda were given consistent tribute throughout the festival. Now, Joey Negro gave Manchester a nod with a couple of Hacienda bangers, but the nod became a pumping fist when he landed ‘Fools Gold’ by the Stone Roses. Everyone was ecstatic – good move Joey Negro. An equally good move would be to go and see him do his thing.

SEU JORJE: THE LIFE AQUATIC

SATURDAY AT 20:15 AT THE SIAM TENT

seu-jorje-life-aquatic-womad-2017-mcr-live
© Photography by Jim Holland

Anyone who’s known me for longer than five minutes will know that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is one of my favourite movies. For this very reason, Seu Jorje has been on my radar for a long time. I was surprised to see that he was on everyone else’s too – the tent was jam-packed. Seu Jorje fully deserved this respect however, because his renditions of Bowie’s songs and the Life Aquatic soundtrack were truly magical. Even though I was amongst so many, the gig felt truly intimate. Seu Jorje was more than worth crawling out of a tent and through buckets of rain for. I only wish that I could have caught his performance for longer than his final song, because somehow Seu made swaying in a sea of wet shoulders feel super special.

LOYLE CARNER AND THE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER

SATURDAY 18:00 AT SIAM TENT

loyle-carner-womad-2017-review-mcr-live

Loyle Carner was one of the most widely anticipated acts at WOMAD, despite the fact that he’s a lot younger than a lot of them. He’s also one of the nicest. Not only did he shout-out his mother who was in the crowd, but he also took the time to offer his appreciation for his sign-language interpreter. He detailed his excitement at the option to have her on the stage. Literally just before the performer did this, I’d been watching the interpreter work.  It was fascinating to see her stylishly delivering the words of Loyle Carner. She had skills, let me tell you. I met Loyle Carner for a very brief minute after his performance, but I wish I’d met the interpreter too to be honest. On meeting the rapper, I can tell you that I had absolutely nothing of value to say. I resorted to telling him that he’s a lot nicer than I thought he’d be (???) and asking him where he was going next. I think he said Amsterdam. I should’ve at least told him how heartfelt his deliverance of ‘Florence’ was, or how much fun it was to finally hear ‘No CD’ live. I stand by these claims wholeheartedly.

ifriquiyya-electrique-womad-2017-mcr-live
Ifriquiyya Electrique at WOMAD 2017 © Photography by Mic Elmes

To sum up, WOMAD is the cool aunt of festivals. It’s easily one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to, and definitely one I want to return to. It’s chilled, deceptively chilled in fact, because it’s actually so easy to get into the groove. You can make WOMAD whatever you want to make it, and you don’t feel pushed into doing anything you don’t want to, or prodded into being anyone who you don’t want to be. This is a festival where everyone is free to be themselves, and to enjoy things that they’ve never seen or even heard of. Since my experiences were largely music-focused, I’ll lift a line from Byron Lee and the Dragonaires once more, and conclude my personal opinion of WOMAD: ‘Music hot, you ain’t go’ get enough’.

A super special thanks to my film crew, Samuel Pilbeam, Harry Matthews and Mic Elmes for enhancing the magic of WOMAD and for supplying enough chutney for the whole weekend. And thank you to the Institute of Engineering and Technology and The 360 Company for providing all of our equipment.

Photo credits to Mic Elmes, Jim Holland and Borkowski.

Credit to Simon Crosbie for our featured image. This is a brushpen drawing of Ladysmith Black Mambazo at Siam Tent at WOMAD this year.

For more on the latest gigs, events, club nights, interviews and more, check out The Rundown with Skiddle every week.

363
Farr festival-2017-review-mcr-live

FARR FESTIVAL REVIEW AND TOP FIVE HIGHLIGHTS

The very same weekend as we explored the land of Beat-Herder, MCR Live also took a trip down to Farr Festival. You may have seen some of our adventure to Hertfordshire on Instagram, but here I present you with a fuller account of it, and my festival highlights. So if you want the lowdown on the Farr Festival experience,  then keep reading. I’ve never been to a festival smaller than Farr. Compared to Boomtown, Parklife and even Shambala which is meant to be quite mini, Farr was absolutely tiny. I think that this worked to Farr’s logistical advantage as well as its detriment.

It’s always nice to have a small festival environment, especially in the campsite. It makes it incredibly easy to find friends, fill up with water and most importantly, do that early morning toilet rush. At Farr Festival this is certainly the situation. To get to the main arena there’s just a  ten minute track that veers slightly uphill. Once you get to the golden gate, security is reasonable – sometimes friendly, sometimes not, they search bags, but not people, so if you’ve got pockets then you can glide straight through. That is, unless you’re smuggling cans in them – I saw many an optimistic festival-goer caught out on this one. Nice try. Anyhow, at Farr it’s hardly a drag to get to the music, which is great.

Music-wise, there are five notable stages at Farr Festival. There’s The Factory, yurt stage Campfire Headphase, and three stages in the woods: The Shack, Adventures in Success, and The Hidden Palace. There are also a couple of yurts and bars dotted about before you get to the forests. I don’t want to reveal too much about the experience, but I’ve got a couple of insights to make about the stages. I think it’s lovely having three woodland stages, it makes for a wholesome and intimate backdrop for every kind of electronic music, be it world or disco. The trees make you forget about grey skies, they shield you from the rain, and when the sun comes out (which was very occasionally this year), woodland clearings are really quite beautiful as you can see below.

Farr Festival 2017

However, I also think that the forest stages are where Farr gets a little bit confusing. The locations of the stages, stage sizes and set-ups are really similar. Furthermore, you can access two stages from one clearing and from the third stage, but you have to enter the third stage clearing from a separate entrance. As a result, it’s a little bit of a struggle to work out which stage is which, who’s on where, and where your friends are. In a way this is nice because all focus comes back to the music at the end of the day. The wow-moments of the festival really do come from the artists. Considering this, I was definitely happy with the forest stages, but I wouldn’t shout down a decision to make a couple of tweaks to ‘em.

The Factory is a brand new addition to Farr. The official Farr Festival website offers the following description:

‘[A] super-size main stage comprised of 52 shipping containers arranged into a rectangle formation that will accommodate 2500 of you beautiful people. The Factory will also shelter a monumental custom-built L-Acoustics sound system, apex stage, pulsating LED lighting rods plus a video mapping system to truly bring the shock and awe to Farr Festival.’

This stage is certainly unique. Not only in its larger size and volume, but also in its decor. The Factory is a likely tribute to the acid house scene via. the pastiche of the Hacienda, its likely namesake, and it works very well. This stage hosted cult favourites such as the incredible Todd Terje and Booka Shade. However, the stage also welcomed some diversity in the form of Mungos Hifi and General Levy, who I’ve heard were received very well. I was impressed by the Factory for sure and it added something great  to the festival experience. The only thing that I might add is that, since it lies near the entrance to the arena and hosts acts of equal calibre to the forest stages, it doesn’t feel so much like it’s the main stage. For all its superiorities, The Factory is still somehow on par with the others, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The soundsystem was definitely a big plus point here, although this unfortunately did not allow Farr to escape criticism about the lack of volume at other stages.

This is something that I think it is important to discuss. This year, Farr Festival acquired a new license which allows them to increase sound levels and ‘keep the music pumping much later’. I feel that this went unappreciated by a lot of newcomers to the festival, including myself at the time. For big names on late nights, for example Helena Hauff, the sound was sketchy with periods of low levels of volume. Some were left disgruntled and unable to get into a proper dance. Because this occurred across a range of stages, I think I’d say that the experience of music was erratic as a result. Some acts that people were highly excited for were slightly let down. It’s a shame, because there’s nobody at fault here, but certain sets just seemed to miss something for a lot of people.  Luckily, the quality of other performances made up for this setback, and acts such as Omar S and funk and soul legend Sadar Bahar were able to exceed expectations by miles.

That brings me onto the Farr demographic. The people at Farr are mostly in their mid-twenties, although you could also say that there was your fair share of students and elders. Age doesn’t matter so much as personality though, and I’d say that everyone at Farr was sweet, friendly enough and up for a laugh. It was a very confident crowd, and they were justly catered to. Outside of music, Farr can be best described as niche and attractive. It provided a bustling boutique area full of glitter and beautiful wares. Though there’s plenty of clothing is on offer for those interested, the food was even more desirable. Everything comes at a price, but I think it’s pretty well thought through. The food and alcohol on offer is all interesting, high quality, decent stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted better curly fries.

To conclude, Farr Festival 2017 was a lovely time and although it’s not massively escapist, everything, everywhere is high quality. Overall, Farr is a wonderful way to spend a summer weekend.

TOP 5 HIGHLIGHTS

YOUNG MARCO

young-marco-mcr-live-farr-festival-2017

Ironically, I’m going to kick off this review with the close of the festival because, for me, it was truly unbeatable. Most of the set was light and engaging, never boring. There was no two ways about it, this was a remarkably decent mix. Everyone was happy, and that’s all you can ask for.  Little did we know that it would be brought to a memorable end. Maybe it was something in the air that night, but when he dropped ABBA, the crowd reacted incredibly. And I know you’re desperate to know what song he pulled out of the bag, so I’m telling you straight up, it was ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)’. As the sky got light the forest remained full. So did the spirit of the crowd- it was lovely to be a part of. Things took a turn for the silly, but arguably silly good, when Young Marco followed this 80s hit up with not one, but two Christmas miracles. When WHAM’s ‘Last Christmas’ dropped I couldn’t quite place whether he was taking the Michael, but at the time I didn’t care. What was going to come next? It was Paul Mccartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’. You can see it all on Youtube. It was ridiculous but amazing. The tech-house crowd gets a bad rap about image and looking cool, but it doesn’t always adhere to it. And I don’t know whether this is about to damage my personal street cred, but I thought that Young Marco dealt with the Christmas hits very pleasantly. You just can’t argue with a well timed bass drop.

CHAOS IN THE CBD

chaos-in-the-CBD-mcr-live-farr-festival

I have heard Chaos in the CBD’s performance called ‘the best set all weekend’, and I don’t disagree. The sibling-duo were the first act that I wanted to see on the Friday, and they did not disappoint. For the duration of their two and a half hour set, Chaos in the CBD had Hidden Palace absolutely packed. Everyone was grooving away to what they were given, which included house from all over the board  like Fast Eddie’s ‘Git on Up’, and a mix of the instrumental from Janet Rushmore’s ‘Try My Love’.  Since I put Chaos in our Farr Festival Top Picks article, I’m just going to say ‘I told you so!’ because they brought the deep house and they were brilliant at it- lively and exciting all the way until the end.

WOLF MULLER & CASS

Closing yurt stage Campfire Headphase at 5am on Sunday morning, Wolf Muller took to a unique, ambient set. Most survivors were splayed out (or at least chilled) on the floor, but the resounding vibe was gentle and DMC suitable, making for a memorable and meaningful experience.

FLOATING POINTS

© Photography by Jake Davis for Here & Now (fb.com/wearehereandnow)

This might not be a shocker to any of you, but Floating Points really did his reputation justice at Farr this year. It doesn’t come as a surprise that he has a PHD in Neuroscience, because he’s great at creating a mood. At times ambient, buildups were subtle and when things sped up, the crowd was wowed. Mesmerising lights were joined by a mesmerising set. I think just about everyone who was in can agree it was amazing, even those who can’t quite remember it. Dark, spacey and fantastic, this Manchester man never fails to induce awe.

RUNNING THROUGH THE FIELD OF SUGAR BEETS

farr-festival-2017-sugar-beets-mcr-live
Photo credit to Josh Smallwood. Shout out to Sebastian Appleby, who is the unofficial record-holder for the consumption of sweet beats at Bygrave Woods. Rumour has it that, with a can always in hand, he engulfed each and every sweet beat that came his way at Farr.

 

From day one, the air of the walk up to the festival arena was hot with discussion. The ten minute trek was rife with intense debate about the large field that accompanied it. Just what lay under its leafy bundles? What was it that grew beneath it’s earthy midst? I heard a multitude of responses, people’s cries through the air, ‘Turnips!’ ‘Cabbages!’ ‘Parsnips.’ Naturally, we took on the case of investigation. Mere hours after our arrival at Farr Festival, my photographer sampled a bite of the suspicious produce. Now, Simon, aka Softeyes, is a man who knows his vegetables. (He’s from Sheffield, for one). Although he was half on board with the turnip train, he was stumped. ‘It’s sweet’, he commented, frowning forlornly. Friday was a day of rest for our investigation, we had no new leads. We never gave up, however. Keeping our peepers open, we finally saw, or heard the light on Saturday, around 4pm. A middle aged man, grizzly, brown haired, around 5ft 8 walked ahead of us, twenty metres up the muddy track. ‘Have a guess what these are!’ he roared. Ashamed, we reported our invalid findings. As we neared the subject, it became clear that he was mid-munch. ‘Sugar beets’. Thankful though we were, we remained wary. It was just that so many theories had been proffered, and who was to say that this was not another shot in the dark? Hours of turmoil continued until we were able to Google the sugar beet. (Internet access at Farr was but a rare occurrence). Of course. It all made sense. Sweet beats, the native fruit of Farr. It only made sense to run through them. with the wind in my hair and the hissing of hi-hats somewhere in the distance, I must admit that I’ve never felt naughtier.

And let me tell you, at Farr, there are sweet beats aplenty. Sometimes pumping, sometimes soothing, Farr is full of diversity if you know where to look for it. There are a fair number of special sets at this festival. It’s a pleasure to see them, and it’s almost as nice to reflect on them as you quietly sit in the curious, dry, sky-facing fields.

For more on the latest gigs, events, club nights, interviews and more, check out The Rundown with Skiddle every week.

Photo Credits to Here and Now, Sophie Billington and Josh Smallwood.

168