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LIVE: Sleaford Mods @ Manchester O2 Academy

WORDS BY NATHAN BAILEY         PHOTO BY VISION HAUS MUSIC

A rather well dressed Parisian man once told me that he liked Sleaford Mods because they talk about real life. It is anyone’s guess what Messrs Fearn and Williamson would have to say about reflecting life in the city of light. However its probably a safe bet that, like most things they do, it would be worth listening to. Last weekend at the O2 Academy they certainly were.

Before the Mods took to the stage however, we are treated to post-punk pontiffs LIINES who have been supporting them on this tour, how nice of them. I first saw LIINES in the wonderful Ferret in Preston. Rather amazingly, if memory serves, they were on first in the little gem of a pub. They absolutely battered it in the Ferret and the big step-up in size here did not seem to daunt them one bit.

They were perfectly at home on the O2 Academy stage, fringes all to the left saluting the flag, dressed in funeral black. I’m not sure who’s funeral it was but judging by LIINES performance they must have had a keen ear for hell for leather drum beats and riffs that make you want to do that half jump thing when you’re on your tiptoes at gigs. You know the one.

Angry and sophisticated, their set is a fitting birthday present to singer Zoe McVeigh’s dad, how sweet. A highlight of their set was the last song on the night: Never There. It’s got this strange tough-but-catchy quality to it, like a big concrete net. The whole of last years debut Stop-Start is, in fact, a big concrete net. Go and throw yourself in.

And so it was. There we were. Full speed ahead for the Sleaford Mods. They are the best double act since Torvill and Dean and you know what, they have got better moves too. Andrew Fearn trots on stage wide-grinned with the oversized backpack of a graffiti vandal and his now, surely certified ICONIC baseball cap. We couldn’t spot the Guinness officials but Andrew waves his way through the quickest soundcheck of all time as he plucks his computer out of his bag and (presumably) crosses off all them annoying McAfee ‘EXPIRED!’ warnings. He briefly disappears only to return with Jason and off they go galivanting through Into The Payzone, Subtraction and Flipside, all from their fantastic latest offering Eton Alive. 

Williamson is immense through all of this. He can-cans about like Liza Minelli’s edgier brother, leans out over his microphone stand like Raw Power-era Iggy Pop, and dances gracefully like a young Brazilian Ronaldo’s harder twin, bearing down on the defence.

It’s easy to forget when listening to the serious subject matters and snarly interviews what a laugh Sleaford Mods are. But that is the point of them. They are a band of contradictions. Their set contains genuine Saturday night spinners like BHS and Tied up in Notts as well as swear-hinged toasts to kebabs. Sleaford Mods openly bear disdain for music with a ‘social conscience’ whilst having a go at it themselves. Don’t like punk but they have a go at it themselves. They have a go at themselves.

 

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Cheer up @sleaford_mods, you played a frigging blinder last night #manchester #workingclasselectronics

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Their songs are lacing social satires and personal tales of addiction healing at once and then neither. Sleaford Mods seem to have that intangible quality of a band you can’t ignore but make it look as though they couldn’t ‘give a monkeys’ if they did. They scream for your attention as sneer mongers and then pat you on the back for giving to charity. They claim they’re influenced by the Pet Shop Boys! They’ve got your head in a vice and they’re not letting go. If you’re feeling tense then fear not as one look at Andrew, seemingly the happiest man alive, will put you at ease. Good Cop Bad Cop anyone?

The set was an absolute stormer, a great selection of the newer tunes and a healthy dose of the classics. What a joyous world we live in where there is classic Sleaford Mods. This review could have gone on and on happily but Sleaford Mods reminded us that ‘it’s just new music magazines lying to us’, so like Jason we will leave you as he left us pirouetting proudly off the stage like Nijinsky. Go and have a McFlurry.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Squid – ‘Houseplants’

WORDS BY: KANE MARTIN

“To hell with poverty, let’s get drunk on cheap wine” bemoaned Leeds monoliths of Post-Punk Funk, Gang of Four in 1978. With the latest Brexit statistics of meat and cheese prices skyrocketing but wine being okay. It’s a nihilistic response to a cultural crisis, but with the release of Squid’s latest single Houseplants we’re summoned to have a bit of a fucking boogie, chugging down lambrini to a motoric beat whilst everything turns to toss. 

 

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SAFE. @sxsw

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Houseplants, a follow up to the bands Dan Carey produced hyperventilating instant classic The Dial furthers the already established ironic yet earnest explorations in tight funk rhythms, ear-worming repetition and splashes of post-rock textures. Yet this time around we’re welcomed with more immediacy and we’re lauded into the groove that smacks your jaw like an on-time train from Northern Rail. This train that’s just hit you in the face we can imagine that the passengers look something akin to the lost souls in a Hieronymus Bosch painting except they’re reading all Sunday Telegraphs TV times supplement, updating their linkedin profiles and sorting out cocaine for the weekend whilst bleeding blue and yellow goo from their pours without realising it. 

 Absurd right? Well as is the genius of Squid. With Houseplants we see a claustrophobic attack on middle England, we as listeners are attacked with the unfortunate pedestrian concerns that we haunt ourselves with daily I.e. careering, buying a house, children’s television. Whilst the familiar is screamed at you by the band’s lead vocalist / drummer Ollie Judge, you begin to realise just how absurd the whole thing is.

It’s cruel optimism and the results of ongoing destruction of our souls daily by the neo-liberal agendas beyond our control set to a pulsing beat and infectious groove. It’s brilliant and exactly what we need right now it such times of divisions. Frustrations we can dance to. Squid seem to hold similar lyrical and sonic concerns to many of this new emerging sound of rhythm fuelled post punk (black midi, Handle, N0v3l) and with Houseplants, another jewel is added to this tapestry of militant post-funk resistance. Viva La Squid!      

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SINGLE RELEASE: FKJ – ‘Leave My Home’

WORDS BY: MWIKA BULAYA

Leave My Home is the brand new single released early this month as an ode to changing your surroundings for something new. The single isn’t worlds away from French Kiwi Juice’s (FKJ) previous works, prior fans of the artist should expect the same attention to detail that has been given to his other projects.

The Tadow singer references how he has to change his surroundings after being in the same place for so long. The ascending vocals may be representative of this journey beginning at one place that is comfortable but reaching another that is much more fulfilling. The French multi-instrumentalist did not disappoint with this track. A simple yet faultless production and fusions of jazz and electronica take centre stage to create a piece that is perfect for any mood.

 

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🙏🏻 Paris

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Much of the single is focused on the music as many of the lyrics are repeated, with little distinction between the verse and hook. Yet, this doesn’t seem to matter so much as the vocal harmonies that run throughout the track hold their own. In true FKJ style, the track transcends you to a place of utter relaxation where you can free your mind of all worries for the next 4 minutes.

Honourable mentions of this brand new single have to go to the steady percussion, soothing bass and the guitar solo that demands to be heard. Vincent Fenton, better known under the moniker of FKJ, has kept to his reputation of making music that you can vibe to alone or with friends, and this single is no different.

With this new single, FKJ shows no sign of slowing down. The 29-year-old is reinventing the music scene, blending your favourite genres into one that only he has found the key to. The French-artist will be making another appearance in the UK this year at Lovebox festival which is sure to be unforgettable.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Loyle Carner- ‘Loose Ends’ (Feat Jorja Smith)

WORDS BY: MATTY PYWELL

Loyle Carner‘s debut album Yesterday’s Gone was a fantastic record that established Carner as one of the UK’s most intriguing rappers. He writes biographical and often poignant lyrics which take an introspective look in to his life. His flows are at a slower pace than other MC’s, as if he’s taking as much time as possible to choose the perfect word, or the perfect line to best describe a thought, observation or moment.

On his latest single, Loose Ends, Loyle has enlisted the help of Jorja Smith, who recently won the Brit Award for ‘British Female Solo Artist’ after her critically acclaimed debut album, Lost & Found. The track starts with Smith’s typically striking vocals, she has a habit of making her high notes seem effortless. There’s a remorseful and emotive feeling to the song, created by the downcast piano notes and the simplistic, rhythmic drumming track. Loyle‘s vocals take centre stage, he uses his conventional, thoughtful flow, paced expertly by his habitual “uh’s”, which are little bits of vocalisation he uses to help space out the lyrics.

The track sees Loyle speak about some of the downsides of his success, which has seen him fly all over the world, but means that he hasn’t been able to keep up with friends and loved ones as well as he’d like. “I feel ashamed, I know there ain’t no savin’ away. They went astray, I went to Australia, so what am I supposed to say to ’em?” Overall, Loose Ends is a fantastic blend or soul and rap. It’s brought together two of the UK’s finest young talents and is one hell of a powerful match. This is the third single Carner has released in the last five months, and he’s heading out on tour next month, which is hopefully a sign that he will be releasing a follow-up to Yesterday’s Gone soon.

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LIVE: James Chance and Die Contortions @ Soup Kitchen, Manchester

WORDS BY: PATRICK PRESTON

It’s quite the ‘chance’ encounter – best to get that out of the way early – to have the no wave legend and jazz-punk curmudgeon on these shores, let alone in the stark basement of the Northern Quarter’s Soup Kitchen. Many of tonight’s gig-goers, themselves possibly survivors from the scene’s experimental ‘80s heyday, seem aware of the bill’s implausibility, as well as highly discerning – so particular is Chance and his Contortions’ smoky jazz-bar vibe that it calls for a support act that’s similarly fully-realised, which on this occasion is found in Glaswegian six-piece KAPUTT. Featuring sharp saxophone and two intertwining percussionists, it’s an intriguing set-up, which suddenly jerks into life with blocky beats and a tangle of summery guitars.

A wiry, besuited front man holds the crowd’s sway with nonsensical barking, propping up demented instrumentals with a vintage swagger; his coarse, repeated vocal stabs play off the anxious-sounding melodies, and pleasurably interlock with the skittery dual percussion. Pleasingly, the song Highlight lives up to its name, leaving tonight’s most gratifying impression with its wobbly bass line, jumpy cowbell and frantically-traded vocal parts (“Highlight”/”HIGHLIGHT!”). Long before the group’s set ends, the audience act as visibly enraptured as their wildly hopping saxophonist, finding a shared joyousness in the bouncy, yet deeply cerebral grooves.

Soon enough, the crowd’s eagerness becomes palpable, with masses huddling to the front of the stage to catch a glimpse of Chance’s diminutive, scowling figure. Suddenly, the world-weary Contortions are finger-snapped into a rigid post-punk beat, which supports Chance’s own strangled lounge-singer yelps, and instantly showcases the group’s skilfully layered percussion, elastic-sounding bass and a mesmerising guitar talent. Following this is the menacing, yet measured Gil Scott-Heron cover Home is Where the Hatred Is, which leads with Chance’s deftly slinking saxophone, and builds over a strutting bass foundation; at his signal, the shrill instrumentation slowly fades to just a passage of muted percussion, heightening the existing tension and forcing the crowd’s focus onto his eerie, confrontational lyrics, before slicing through the atmosphere with razor-like sax parts. The set then swerves into dissonant organ jamming – a genuine vintage Hammond, as I’m reliably informed by my companion – before settling at the darkened crawl of the provocatively-named Sax Maniac, whose relatively thin structure carefully reinforces its unsettling nature.

Chance masterfully controls his band’s flow throughout wildly expansive and more restrained sections, sometimes multiple times in the same song, yanking it back with a snarling ‘c’mon fellas.’ It’s at the point of lovelorn ballad The Days of Wine and Roses – which plays off the guitarist’s busy, effortless chords with the mournful leading sax – that my friend most feels like he’s walked into an episode of Twin Peaks, and with good reason; the song’s vintage instrumentation and tender crooning truly encapsulates the mood of an intangible bygone era, and its dedication to Chance’s wife Judy, who ‘sadly couldn’t be here tonight’, only adds to its emotive charm. Further pushing this energy is a smouldering Sinatra cover of That’s Life, which abandons all of its original triumphant melody for a disaffected and dissonant post-punk interpretation.

A broken guitar string threatens to halt the night’s simmering tension, but stands no chance against Chance’s signature track (and most well-known ‘hit’) Contort Yourself, which harks back to his explosive no wave bandleader days – its paranoid, jerky grooves elicit the greatest amount of recognition and movement from the audience, who exude a relief that the night ends with a bang, rather than a whimper.

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LIVE: Self Esteem @ YES

WORDS BY: MATTHEW PYWELL     PHOTOS BY: JOANNA BRADTKE

Due to growing frustrations and worries of a career seemingly stalling, Rebecca Taylor, formerly one half of Slow Club, left behind folk to create a pop/R&B music project. Thus, Self Esteem was born, with Rebecca releasing her debut album Compliments Please on March 1st, to critical acclaim.

They band come out and go straight in to Rollout, the stage is lit in a radiant red and so are the band in all red top/trouser combinations. Every member apart from Rebecca is wearing a t-shirt with the phrase, “believe in women” and female empowerment is a key theme throughout the set. Rollout sees Rebecca assert a dominant stage presence, she is front and centre, as they begin going through choreographed dance sections, that aren’t exactly strenuous but none the less are perfect visual aids to the grooves of the songs. It was interesting to note that when the backing singers weren’t needed, they stood perfectly still and expressionless, as if they were androids in low power mode. This suited the mix of electronic R&B on wrestling perfectly.

The longer the set went on, the more endearing Taylor became, her sense of sarcastic humour winning over the crowd by being naturally disarming. At one point saying, “this is the Self Esteem live experience, lets keep doing it I suppose”. At one point she notes that she’s been going through the set too quickly, so resorts to asking the crowd what they for tea. Out of the various answers, Risotto is the answer that strikes her as the oddest, the whole moment feeling like a off-kilter fourth wall break.

Taylor still hasn’t quite left behind all of her folk roots, the track Girl Crush sees the singers lay down finger clicks as a kind of makeshift bass line, mixed with some soaring fiddle parts in the backing track. A lot of the tracks off of Compliments Please dealt with Taylor‘s sense of identity, in both a sense of doubt and contrastingly in a sense of self-positivity. Self Esteem‘s live show focuses more on the positive aspects, in fact it is an experience of unbridled joy.

The performance of In Time is a monumental moment of bliss. Rebecca‘s vocals are completely transparent, she sings with a booming, crystal clear clarity. A singalong starts and Taylor breaks her composure occasionally to laugh in disbelief at the overwhelmingly positive reception from the crowd. “I feel like Robbie Williams“, she exclaims before starting The Best. There are further moments of disbelief and outbursts of laughter before they go off for the encore. The reciprocal joy felt between both audience and artist was quite remarkable to behold.

Taylor comes back, almost in tears and says, “is this what getting married feels like?”, the first track in the encore is Favourite Problem, which has a gloriously anthemic chorus, especially with the triple threat of the vocalists in full swing. The highlight of the night was the final song, I’m Shy, which was performed in the middle of the crowd acoustically. It was a truly special moment to end a special night, a real focus on mesmeric vocal highs that brought the room to a standstill. The band members form a makeshift conga line and leave the room. It was a stunning set that gathered more and more joyous momentum the longer it went on, it was a shame that they had to end their set.

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ULTIMATE PLAYLIST: The Vanity Project

Flora Jackson and Rob Paterson are the duo that makeup one of Manchester’s most-promising, and incredibly unique bands, The Vanity Project. With an emphasis on performance, the duo sit somewhere between pop clowns and cabaret cult leaders – if you can imagine such a thing. Using infectious pop hooks and drawing you in with tales of hallucinogenic soft drinks and fascistic seaside towns, we can’t wait for the two-piece to join us at Band on The Wall for our latest Free Vibes takeovers.

But what can you expect? The Vanity Project have not only been championed by the one and only Marc Riley on his 6Music show, but Everything Everything frontman Johnathan is also a big fan, citing that ”they put on a great show’. And of their set? It promises to be a live performance full of monologues, costumes and the occasional dance routine. If they’re good enough for Johnathan & Marc, we cannot wait to see what they’ll bring to the night.

Joining them on the bill, the two-piece will be wonky-psychedelic Springfield Elementary, Garage-punksters Chupa Cabra and the mysterious weird-funk of guano on Thursday 25th April at Band On The Wall. Our last Free Vibes SOLD OUT the 600 capacity venue, so make sure you RSVP now!

Before then, and to give you more of an idea of what you can expect from The Vanity Project, we asked Rob & Flora to pick out 10 tracks which best describe them… see you there!

I NI SOGOMA – Dinosaur Feathers

Dinosaur Feathers are a New York band we discovered a year or so back, and the way they balance strange off-kilter rhythms with catchy melodies is something that we’ve often tried to emulate, to variable success.

HAPSBURG LIPPP – Everything Everything

EvEv are definitely who we started off as, and it’s still difficult for us to shake the desire to break into a Jonathan Higgs falsetto at any given opportunity. He name-dropped us once in an interview with a Cumbrian local newspaper. True story.

THAT’S REALLY SUPER SUPERGIRL – XTC

If we started off as an EvEv tribute band we’re metamorphosing into an XTC one. Rob and I fell in love with Skylarking a couple of years ago and both that record and English Settlement have massively influences our writing styles.

BABOO – Pixx

Pixx‘s record The Age of Anxiety was one of the most underrated releases of the past couple of years, and the willingness to experiment with weird sonic pallets while still always remaining pop is something we try to replicate.

Radio Silence – Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby‘s been a musical touchstone for both of us for ages, and although in general, he’s a lot synth-ier than us, this track, in particular, fits our vibe pretty well.

Oily water – Blur

Blur‘s a weird band to cite as an influence because it could really mean anything. Are you a straight Britpop band? A Kinks-a-like? Heroin addicts? Do you just know Song 2? We went for this angular oddball cut from Modern Life Is Rubbish.

The City – Dismemberment Plan

The Dismemberment Plan changed a lot of my perception of chords; they love 7ths and open strings and taking one shape and moving it up and down the fretboard for eerie effects. One of our songs was even just called “D-Plan” until we eventually found a name for it.

NO PLACE – Ezra Furman

Transangelic Exodus was Rob‘s favourite album last year (my favourite, Daphne and Celeste Save the World, is maybe not appropriate for this playlist). This track has a brilliant atmosphere to it, but the real reason we picked it is we’ve just launched our night called No Place, so think of this as its unofficial theme song (tho, cough cough, we came up with the name way before, ahem ahem)

THINGS IT WOULD HAVE BEEN HELPFUL TO KNOW BEFORE THE REVOLUTION –  Father John Misty

We’re both big FJM fans and though musically we walk different paths, the defeatist humour he uses in his lyrics is a strong influence on ours (though I like to think we’re at least slightly more optimistic…)

HEY LIFE- TUNE-YARDS

Finishing off the playlist comes Tune-Yards, who along with Owen Pallett taught us that you can do things with a loop pedal that isn’t just, well, loop pedal music. And by melding frantic but catchy melodies with weird rhythms, we’re right back where we started…

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SINGLE RELEASE: Blue Bendy – ‘Closing Sound’

WORDS BY: TOM BRANFOOT

Closing Sound is an amalgamated oeuvre, halfway between a late night jazz fusion orchestra and a New York no wave song. Blue Bendy are a relatively new sextet from South London (one could only imagine how hard it is to coordinate schedules). Opposing the fast-paced, vulgar imitation of the current South London scene, Blue Bendy appear to be gifting unto us a different perspective from The Wasteland. Having done the rounds at South London’s obligatory The Old Blue Last and The Five Bells as well as a magnetic show at Manchester’s own institution Gullivers (for the launch of Yellow Thursdays zine), at which I also performed, Blue Bendy have been on the radar but also careful enough to not release any music, an eagerness that lets many new bands down.

With the introduction of this debut single sounding like a lo-fi hip hop interlude, the song constantly evades clear definition. Front man Arthur Nolan decorates the desolate jazz-punk orchestration with gloriously dismal poetic crooning – think Iceage, Horsey, King Krule – counterpointed by keyboard player Olivia Morgan’s dissonant vocals, in a dystopian Nancy & Lee type fashion. 


Closing Sound is a song where every instrument has its place, autonomous yet providing the same wave of energy to propel the song forward. Angular bass lines and janky guitar riffs sit below the light and seemingly hopeful keyboard motif in the latter half. Trapped under the cacophonous whooshing and feedback, turning the wheel towards its logical but untimely end – as Nolan mutters some inaudible proverb. It’s a bleak and untameable song, clearly coloured by London itself, the gurgling, inescapable black mass. Whilst hard to define, it doesn’t beg the need to be defined, it’s a black cloud of collisions with a crack in the sky and an orange street light glowing. 

Closing Sound by Blue Bendy was released by London record label Permanent Creeps on 22/02/19.

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The Flame That Keeps Burning: Keith Flint

WORDS BY BENJAMIN CASSIDY

The Prodigy were cool in a different way than other bands that found mainstream success during their reign as unique figureheads of the alternatives and dissenters – as well as being a crucial part of the soundtrack to the last pre-internet-generation of music fans. They’d established a dedicated following well before that though – via desire to listen to them, dance and nothing else. Being part of a movement back then happened without online chat-rooms, or, any other form of internet based-promotion. People came, heard and told everyone else what they were missing. This often took place in old, industrial areas at illegal raves, or at within the networks of parties, that people had. Spaces simply had to be found, because the thought of not getting together to celebrate what being alive is really about – shaking off the drudge of the working week and the stifling constrictions of nine to five just wasn’t feasible.

The big sound, packed full of fuck offs and meaty beats, injected the power of being alive into you. The party well and truly started as soon as people heard those unmistakable sounds of The Prodigy. Mayhem and love met. They brought people together, as the experience was always better shared. Many wild nights were made more-wild by watching your mates take it all in – it was as if you needed to observe someone else, at times, just to make sense of the sheer power and force occurring. They watched you too. It was reciprocal; the magic of it kept the wonderful self-fulfilling loop of it going. A rocket-fuelled ceremony on repeat.


Even when they hit big, and were at their commercial peak, The Prodigy still maintained a status as separate. They celebrated many punk attitudes both in their sound and image: raw energy, individuality and sheer love of the music, amongst other attributes that never fail to mobilise new listeners within a generation. So much more than that though, they reached people of varying tastes, penetrating clicks and usually closed off clubs. If you were Oasis or Blur didn’t matter. The Prodigy offered something else entirely and were too likeable to not enjoy. They were immersive and immediate. Everyone knew. Contemporaries watched and learnt, even if they didn’t give the praise The Prodigy deserved. It didn’t matter to them. The sound and the fans did – making as much of an impact as possible, whenever and wherever they could.

Their enigmatic front man, who originally joined as a dancer, epitomised what music can offer, exploiting perfectly via the electronic sermons, that he was the divine instigator of, harmony, happiness and collective expression. Keith Flint achieved the rare accolade of being the coolest person in music without any accusations of selling out. The man simply wasn’t capable of that. Yes, he changed, but only in so much as the party got bigger and better, and he adapted for that. He dressed for the occasion, but not for marketing purposes or to sell an image.

He was genuine, and that’s what people wanted to emulate more than anything. He was adored, but not with sycophantic adulation. His achievement was the total respect of those who knew how dull and flat life can get without someone to get things blazing. Keith wore the uniform of self, proudly, and taught others that they could too, and should. He wasn’t interested in being shocking or making statements. He was too intelligent for that, and simply not interested. He just liked to dress that way, so he did. Of course, there was some theatricality in his peerless performances, but that was the music flowing into him and pouring back out. He caught the energy of the crowd – a filter for the moment. It was clear he loved making people happy by doing what he loved.

One way to measure bands, a method that separates forgettable from legendary, is how they hold up in a live performance. The Prodigy were made for performing, and if they were there, so were their army of followers – many from the early days – Keith was well known as “that dancer”, at the parties that stemmed from the early nineties’ own Summer of Love. First up and last off the floor, no doubt. Some of the future crowd probably spent time alongside him, although none could compete. He was the public talisman of the group, the face that let everyone knew they were creating something. Bonding. Mattering. It was the Holy Grail for many, to go and see The Prodigy live.

The inclusion of their track, Mindfields, from The Prodigy’s seminal 1997 album, Fat of The Land (it was a landmark record that stands up today and paved the way for so much) on the soundtrack to The Matrix (1999) is entirely unsurprising. It shows how culturally relative they were, somehow tuned in to what people needed, not just wanted. If anything is going to jolt you out of a fugue-state it’s Keith’s sneering vocal, to the backdrop of an impossibly clever array of noises that collectively, could cure zombification in an instant, by the sheer musical excitement.

His delivery incites a sort of static-shock, absent from mainstream music today. If you’re ever unsure of what’s real and what’s not, then listen to that and watch the hairs on your arms start tingling and dancing. It’s honestly just not an option to stay still when you play their music and hear Keith make the announcement “This is Dangerous”. Indeed, in the best possible way. You can’t ignore it, even if it’s not for you. The stuff it’s made of won’t let you. Those crashing battering rams of drumming, the sublime, synthesised sonics of reverb and bent notes.

Following news of Keith’s death, even with him gone from mortal form, his light will continue to make many sparkle and fizz with heat and never want to be extinguished, for even a second. An absolute icon and cultural phenomenon. He’ll be much missed. Though his death may cause many, for a while, to feel that a flame within them has been extinguished – for older fans perhaps seemingly snuffing out that eternal burning combustion that is youthful reminiscence, the inevitable tears won’t stop him starting fires for long. They mustn’t and can’t. There are too many parties yet to first discover him and the petrol of his song. Once they do, like so many before, they’ll burst to life, ignite and make the night go boom.

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IN CONVERSATION WITH: Cory Wong

WORDS BY: JOEL MALLEN

Funky, fun and full of cartilage, Cory Wong is fast becoming a global leading light in a renaissance of uptempo funk. A consistent collaborator with Vulfpeck (to the point where they have a full track reserved just for him as an album closer), he is making a noise with his giddy, positive vibe and bafflingly loose spider hands, somehow sounding tight and rich in musicianship. I had the honour of catching up with him over a vegan burger and sweet potato fries, just before his headline show at Gorilla.

What would be your blurb? How would you describe yourself?

I am a musician that plays music to spread joy to the world. A lot of guitar-led bands, it’s about the guitar player – it’s about “look what I can do”. For me, my guiding light is not about showing off flashy moves. If those come out, great! But my guiding light is to leave my show and listening to my records thinking “Oh wow, that was really fun”, or “oh wow, that put me in a good mood”. It might sound cheesy, but that really is a thing for me.

How does your right hand just, like, do that? Is it dislocated?

Well, I am able to have it very loose but in control – I have a very flexible wrist, and I guess I’ve just practised a lot.

Growing up in Minneapolis, you’ve mentioned how Prince was a real influence on you – did that influence your style from a very young age?

Yeah, I mean I started as a punk rock and ska kid: Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, that sort of thing. But Prince is just kinda everywhere; it’s in the water, it’s in the air, you can’t really avoid it. It’s just how it is.


Was your main source of development rooted in experiences with rhythm bands growing up, or more from discovering artists like Prince?

It’s more from discovering artistry. Even developing my own sound and style was a by-product of learning so deeply the catalogue of Prince, Pat Metheny, Earth, Wind & Fire. Learning it so intimately, and then completely abandoning it to find who I am. I had some mentors that were like “Dude, you gotta stop sounding like Prince, you’ve gotta sound like you. That’s what people wanna hear – nobody’s ever gonna be as good as Prince at being Prince, just as no-one is gonna be as good as you as being you”.

What’s your main impression of the Manchester scene and the UK scene? I know you do a lot of work with the RNCM, masterclasses and the like.

It’s fun to see that there are so many scenes, from all over the world, that have a vibrant arts culture and music business culture as well. The UK in general is such a thriving area for musicians. It’s fun to experience and see this music college that reminds me so much of my own school; it’s very global now.

Your last album The Optimist came out last August – what was your favourite moment or song to record?

My favourite one on there is 91 Maxima. It was a fun song to record, I had an idea of what I wanted to do video wise. I just had some fun little tricks I wanted to do, I didn’t think I would pull it  off, but I did! I really enjoyed Jax and Light As Anything, because I was able to pull off the palindrome, a two drummer drum-kit, a lefty and righty with one kick in the middle. That was a fun, cool thing.

What’s the next step in terms of your recorded music? Are you planning on getting more adventurous with your sound?

I have a bunch of music already recorded for my next record that I feel really good about. Some of this upcoming record is some more collaborations, which I’m really excited about: some that have already happened, some that are coming up which I can’t believe are going to happen. I don’t wanna jinx it, but there’s some big ones, some heroes of mine. I wanna continue to step out as a guitar player led ensemble, in general that’s adventurous to me as a non-shred guy.

Your music seems a very positive force, would you consider that more of a release from you and the music justifies the means, or would you consider that just your outlook on life?

I consider myself a positive person in most areas, but yes I do believe there is a bit of that feedback loop thing, it grows and grows. But I’m mainly just a positive person.

 

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You’re famous across the pond for your jam night in Minneapolis. How important is jamming? What would you say to any young player that is a bit tentative to get on stage?

I’d say it’s formative to them. The word “jamming” can mean a lot of different things to different people.

Because in the higher jazz circles for example, it’s viewed as more like a “cutting session”. Do you think it should be competitive?

Well I’m always out for blood, but I’m not gonna cut any heads. I’m always looking for great musicians to play with. I try to push myself and others in those situations to see how great of a moment we can get. But I think it’s a good thing for growth. The other thing is just to go and hang and be part of a scene, I think that’s the most important thing, and finding a scene that you belong in musically and personally, seeing who you align with.

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