Nicola Roberts, a.k.a the best one out of Girls Aloud, threw her debut single into the melting pot of the pop world this Monday, and I’m not being hyperbolic in saying that it is probably the best pop song of the year. With production from Diplo (prodcuer for Kid Cudi, Rolo Tomassi, M.I.A. as well as one half of Major Lazer), relying on that familiar Pon De Floor sample that found its way onto Beyonce’s last single, “Beat Of My Drum” is a slice of technicolour, hyperactive electrothat grabs your attention and does what every great pop single should do; get you dancing and make everything seem great for the length of its running time. It’s a million miles away from the trashy, boring “in the club” fare that a certain Ms Cole will be hocking until GA regroup, and all the better for it. Whilst “Beat Of My Drum” may be a little too “out there” for some palletes, but in a sane world, this would be shooting to Number One right now.
Seasick Steve You probably don’t know any of his songs, but watching a 60-something former hobo rocking out with some of the most badass guitars whilst knocking back a few drinks on a hot summer afternoon? Who could say no to that?
The Joy Formidable Slowly but surely, The Joy Formidable have been growing into one of the most exciting rock prospects to come from Britain in a long time. A sonic mix of Nirvana, the Manics and My Bloody Valentine, if you haven’t heard of them, you are undoubtedly missing out. Blending grungy dynamics with stadium rock riffs and a dynamo frontwoman in Ritzy Bryan, the Welsh noiseniks look set to blast the cobwebs away opening the Main Stage on Sunday.
Madness Two words; Baggy Trousers. Another three words; House Of Fun. It’s probably worth missing Everything Everything and Glassjaw just to see the Nutty Boys on Sunday.
Dananananaykroyd/Fucked Up A double selection here. Dananananaykroyd are a perfect opening band, their unrestrained enthusiasm and wholly upbeat pop-punk ideal for a Friday lunchtime slot, whilst their Wall of Cuddles (as opposed to a Wall of Death) idea will make a welcome change from the crowd shoving and kicking ten kinds of shite out of each other. Fucked Up on the other hand fall more towards hardcore punk than the pop-punk of Dana… So get ready for a angry, overweight, possibly naked Canadian named Pink Eyes to bellowing from the NME Tent, backed by raucous guitars and crushing drums. Not to be missed.
Henry Rollins The only Alternative Stage act on the list, Henry Rollins is an idol to many (including me). As singer of the legendary Black Flag, Rollins helped blaze a trail through the American punk scene in the 80s, influencing a whole host of future acts. Nowadays however, Rollins is known for his spoken word and stand-up which is hilarious as it is thought-provoking. Without a doubt, he’ll be the funniest thing on the site the whole weekend… after seeing girls on lads shoulders getting hit by clying cups of piss. Rollins clashes with My Chemical Romance and 30 Seconds To Mars on the Main Stage Saturday night. I know who I’d rather see.
The Horrors I’ve gone from despising The Horrors to being completely in love with them. Their first album had its many, many detractors (myself being one of them) and it’s still not very good, but returning with something as brilliant as Primary Colours made them the darlings of the indie world. With their third album Skying set to be released in July (The track “Still Life” from the album can be heard below) the Festival Repbulic Stage is sure to be packed out when the Southend five-piece headline on Saturday, and with good reason
Pulp I’ll let Jarvis do the talking for this.
Elbow Despite still being seen by some as a mature Coldplay, Elbow are one of the finest British bands for at least a decade. They’ve got musicianship, sublime lyrics and the big big anthems to fit the Main Stage. Of course, the younger Reading & Leeds audience will probably trundle off to see The Streets or Pete Doherty but those who stay are in for one of the best live bands I’ve seen.
Friendly Fires Two instant classic albums within three years, Friendly Fires are making their way up the top, no doubt about it. A set packed with euphoric dance hits will surely win over any sceptics and get even the most stone-hipped doubter tapping their wellies. Quite why they’re playing before miserablists Interpol is baffling. It’ll be like watching Barcelona then going to a Stoke game.
OFWGKTA Naturally, they’ve got to be on here. All it takes is watching one Youtube video to see how exciting and dangerous an Odd Future show is. There’s a punk rock feel to the group and their live act which is sure to be a wake-up call and be a talking point no matter what happens. Get there early though, the NME Tent is likely to be packed out by fans, hipsters and those seeing what the hype is all about.
Packed with a cute, folksy vibe, Panda Su’s I Begin heavily utilises the understated vocal and instrumental sound that fans of female-fronted acoustic-indie acts adore. However, whether purposefully or not, founder Suzanne Isabel Ferreira tends to stumble down the path of irritating over-simplicity that Zooey Deschanel employs with She & Him, conveying a similar kind of loveliness but without the same sense of honesty necessary to make it believable.
Whilst the EP plods along nicely and has its hum-along moments every now and then, it’s very hard to feel like this hasn’t all been done before. ‘Bee Song’ doesn’t really do a huge amount from start to finish, and displays a bland and somewhat careless vocal effort with next to no thought for melody or development. ‘I Begin’ is a more interesting track, employing softly cooed vocals and a warm, relaxing timbre throughout. The song’s outro somewhat lessens its calm allure, with a chorus of voices painfully drawling the same line until it becomes almost unbearable. ’Alphabet Song’ begins beautifully, with a gorgeously plucked guitar line and subtle electronic rhythm building into a Morcheeba-like ambiance. The vocals, however, massively take away from the track by once again not seeming to care for dynamics or melody, eventually droning through two renditions of the alphabet with a maddeningly dull monotony. Thankfully, the whole EP is saved by the closing track ‘Facts and Figures’, in which we can finally hear the true charm of Panda Su begin to shine through, with a genuinely endearing melody accompanying clearly emotionally invested-in lyrics, hovering steadily above a piece that dynamically moves, develops and climaxes wonderfully.
I’m left feeling a little downhearted and frankly nonplussed by the attitude present on this EP. It certainly isn’t that Suzanne is talentless in either vocal, instrumental or compositional prowess – one listen to ‘Facts and Figures’ or ‘Éric Is Dead’ from Sticks & Bricks will make that starkly obvious - but after a few listens to her voice on I Begin, I can’t shake the feeling that she simply doesn’t care about what she is singing. Merlin Jobst
Tyler, The Creator. If you’ve been on the internet this year and you’re under the age of 30 and haven’t heard those three words, well, you must have one hell of a page blocker. For the uninitiated and just plain forgetful, Tyler is a 20 year old rapper and producer from LA, and leader of the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective (OFWGKTA for short). The group have gained mountains of blog & press attention, and notoriety as of late, for a number of reasons; Tyler’s track Yonkers and its iconic video, their punk rock-esque live shows and, mostly, offending nearly everyone.
Subsequently, Tyler has become the figurehead of a rebellious youth. He is already iconic, not for his musical output, but for his style, his attitude, his “swag”. All you need is to do is browse Tumblr to see that he is as instantly iconic to today’s youth as Rotten, Strummer and Ramones were to disaffected and disillusioned kids in the late 70s. In a short few months in the spotlight, Odd Future lready have a mythology, an attitude, a look that is easily identifiable and easily affected. Hell, even I’ve found myself doodling their inverted cross logo on my college file and throwing “swag” into everday conversation. To do all this on the back of one or two songs (and it is mostly just one or two songs; the tracks “Yonkers” and “Sandwitches” providing an entrypoint for at least 80% of their current fanbase, including myself) is nothing short of outstanding.
However, for every new fan won over by Tyler’s rhetoric, there’s at least one other person who’s morally outraged. Homophobia, sexism, misoginy and the n-bomb are all evident in modern rap, that’s a given. But Tyler takes it to an extreme level. Admittedly, out of OFWGKTA’s members, only Tyler and the currently AWOL Earl Sweatshirt delve into the darker realms with their lyrics; the nuermous others in the group provide far easier listening. Despite the graphic and disturbing nature of the lyrics (“Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome” being a choice one), Tyler constantly refutes the claim that he and the group are “horrorcore”, going as far to rally against the notion at the end of “Sandwitches”. Tyler has stated that he writes from a persona, called Wolf Haley as well as the perspective of a “serial killer from thirty years ago who was a white male” (quite who this killer is remains unknown); in his words he’s “not just talking about raping a bitch, it’s a storyline”. He has something of a point. In the same interview, Tyler defended his music, saying that the people complaining about him rapping about “socking some bitch in her uterus” ignore the horrors of the wars in the middle-east and ever-growing tally of death, both of civillians and soldiers. Whilst I don’t think they’re ignoring it as such, he’s kind of right, in that his opposers are choosing an easier target.
He just wants to piss people off. He’s a 20 year old black skate punk from LA, brought up in the George W Bush era, on MTV, with an absent father, surrounded a rising banal celebrity culture and living the internet, who’s been called whitey by his fellow black classmates for simply wearing a Slipknot hoodie. He’s lashing out. Lashing out at the shit and mediocrity, perhaps a little misguidedly, but at 20 years of age, he’s not going to be a fully formed popstar giving the media what it wants and say the right things. He’s taking the piss, as would most disaffected kids in the same situation. In response to an open letter from Sara (of Canadian pop duo Tegan & Sara), decrying the misogyny of his work, Tyler tweeted “If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!”. Yeah, it’s immature, childish, possibly offensive, considering T&S are lesbians, but I personally found it funny. Maybe it’s part of my odd sense of humour, but it raised a chuckle out of me, the same way that Frankie Boyle jokes do. You know you probably shouldn’t laugh, but it’s too late, you already have.
Yes, homophobia and misogyny are reprehensible things. Discrimination for something you can’t control or have no choice over is an awful thing, even if we’re all guilty of it to varying degrees. Both pop up often in Tyler’s music. There’s no real way to defend them, especially if you’re guilty of one or both. The words “gay” and “faggot” (the apparent virtues of the latter have been extolled by both Louis CK and Chris Rock) are used by kids all over the western world as both an insult and a term of endearment, as is the word “nigga” by kids who are whiter than white. In a world where you can see some extremely sick shit (sometimes literally) just by searching on Google or even going to the movies (see A Serbian Film, Antichrist et al), I guess calling someone homosexual or a bitch has lost a bit of its impact to the younger generation. I can neither condone nor defend Tyler on this since I, along with pretty much every young person I know has called someone gay in our relatively short lives. It’s the way things are. It’s not perfect, it’s not nice, but it happens.
To quote Tyler himself, “why when a black kid says it, it’s such a big fucking deal?” Not to start chucking accusations of racism at those who decry Odd Future, but there is some validity there. Black metal bands sing… well, not quite sing but shout about some dark shit, yet have a sizeable audience. Tarantino movies are shocking, exploitative and occasionally disturbing, yet he’s revered as a great director and his films are referred to (by some) as art. You just need to watch one interview with Tyler to see that he’s a clever lad. He understands how to push people’s buttons, how to work and wind people up, he knows what he’s doing and knows what he wants to do. This is simply all he’s doing in the media, pissing off as many people as possible. There are more than a few parallels with a certain Marshall Mathers a decade ago.
Maybe it’s just difference of opinion, or maybe it’s a generational gap. I know for sure that I couldn’t play anything by Tyler to my parents or the older generation of people I know. They’d be shocked and quite possibly appalled. But I could send a song or two to my peers without question (as I’m planning on doing, as I’m not watching OFWGKTA on my own at Leeds Festival in summer), knowing that the likelihood is they wouldn’t be offended or as offended as those of the previous generation. But despite his potential to offend, Tyler has repeatedly stated his desire for awards, recognition, the guy wants Grammies, he wants fame. I may be alone on this, but it’s refreshing to hear an artist say they want that level of success but stick to releasing what they want to release. In some ways, Tyler’s ideals are similar to those of the Manic Street Preachers in their early years; releasing fierce, polarising music but aiming as high as possible on the commerical scale. It’s refreshing to say the least, in comparison to weedy indie bands just “doing it for the music”.
Speaking of the music, I personally am undecided on Tyler’s musical output. I love Tyler the icon but, similarly to Nicki Minaj, Tyler is a better popstar than an actual artist. “Yonkers” is genius, an instant classic. “Sandwitches” is in a similar vein. Radicals is a furious, brilliant rhetoric (“KILL PEOPLE, BURN SHIT, FUCK SCHOOL/I’M FUCKIN’ RADICAL NIGGA, I’M FUCKIN’ RADICAL” goes the chorus. It ain’t getting on Radio One anytime soon) although it lacks something in its recorded version. “Bastard” is darkly brilliant, whilst the album of the same name is an alright collection of modern hip-hop at its most playful yet vitriolic. However its follow-up, “Goblin”, released this year, pales in comparison, with poor production, a lack of good beats and it’s just too long. It does contain some moments of brilliance, there’s no doubt about that. It’s just that those moments are a handful of diamonds in a whole load of rough.
In conclusion, it’s horses for courses, I guess. Cop out or what, eh? Either you enjoy Tyler and can block out the dark stuff Or even enjoy it (somehow) or you’re morally offended and are ready to fetch your pen of rage in order to write a furious missive to the Daily Mail. Regardless, Tyler, The Creator doesn’t give a fuck.
Here it is, the first of hopefully many Hitsville U.K. mixtapes to wrap your ears around. First compiled by me for Siobhain on her trip to Hong Kong (hence the title), it’s now up here for download. Go ahead, it’s brilliant. Do you like it? Do you hate it? Let us know either way!
Alex Turner - Stuck On The Puzzle (Intro)
Noah And The Whale - Paradise Stars
Dog Is Dead - Young
The Teardrop Explodes - Reward
Editors - No Sound But The Wind (Live)
David Lynch - Good Day Today
Teen Daze - Let’s Fall Asleep Together
Childish Gambino - Freaks & Geeks
Toro Y Moi - Causers Of This
jj - New Work
Bob Dylan - Moonshiner
Elbow - Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl
Segal - Last Of My Kind
Editors - No Sound But The Wind (Full Band Version)
British Sea Power - Who’s In Control
The National - Think You Can Wait
Edwyn Collins - A Girl Like You
Gold Panda - Same Dream China
Spiritualized - Soul On Fire
Childish Gambino - Bitch Look At Me Now (Two Weeks)
Patrick Wolf - The City
Woodpigeon - A Slight Return Home
LCD Soundsystem - New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down (Live)
It’s great what iTunes Shuffle can do. There you are listening to James Blake, falling asleep and then this pops up. A long lost Nirvana classic, released eight years after the death of Kurt Cobain, I believe it’s the best song they ever wrote. Unpopular opinion, I know. From the eerie discordant intro to Cobain’s larynx-shredding vocals, “You Know You’re Right” is pure punk rock and a perfect epitaph for any band.
Easily one of the most eagerly awaited releases of the year, The Horrors’ third album marks another step in the evolution in the band, moving from shoegaze to a more synth-driven sound. Whilst Primary Colours was critically adored and loved by fans, Skying looks set to achieve an equal status, or perhaps even eclipsing their sophomore effort.
You can hear Still Life, the first track to appear from the album, below
Since Kanye went mega-ego-popstar a few albums back, rap has been without a crown prince of the geek persuasion (I’m not counting Lupe Fiasco). Almost out of nowhere, Childish Gambino has arrived. Gambino a.k.a Cheezy is the stage name of American comic actor (and star of the brilliant sitcom Community, which I’m going to keep recommending ‘til everyone is watching it) Donald Glover, who’s been plugging away with his hip-hop side project since 2008, giving away all his music for free from his blog, an admiable decision for someone without a a huge amount of fame of money to fall back on.
Whilst his earlier albums Sick Boi and Poindexter often veer into Lil Wayne-lite parody (Glover has also dismissed his earlier work as that of “a decrepit Drake”), his more recent work, such as the I Am Just A Rapper mixtapes, Culdesac album and his untitled EP have all gained cult classic status with a quickly growing fanbase. Gambino’s tracks are often littered with hilarious one-liners, showing just how talented he is at comedy, delivered at 100 mph, backed by some rather slick beats. For example, choice hilarious lines include “You can’t go H.A.M, you’s a Jewish nigga”, “Is it too soon for Japanese girls to tsunami?” and “I’m heading West like I’m fuckin’ blowin’ Kanye”, and they’re just from Break (AOTL), a reworking of Kanye West’s All Of The Lights. Of course, typical hip-hop bragadoccio is there (“An elephant never forgets, so my dick remembers everything” and “My dick is too big, it’s a big bang theory” popping up in Freaks & Geeks alone), but more often than not, Glover bears his soul lyrically, stating on My Shine “in fact, I swear the track I lie on’s my last track”.
He also has a damn good singing voice, as evidenced on My Shine, Be Alone, and the fierce Lights Turned On. Switching between family matters, bullying, suicidal thoughts, alcoholism, relationship troubles, homophobic taunts and sex (boy, is there a lot of sex), Glover’s song topics make a very refreshing change from the stock hip-hop idea of being in the club. Currently, Glover is working on his fourth as-yet-untitled LP, due in September. I’d suggest now is a perfect to time to hop on this bandwagon.
The entire Untitled EP
New Prince (Crown On The Ground) (from the I AM JUST A RAPPER mixtape)
Jamie xx’s Rolling In The Deep remix, featuring Childish Gambino
All of Childish Gambino’s music is free to download from his blog, IAMDONALD