This month marks the 10th anniversary of my arrival in Manchester, and it seems fitting that I’m introducing a new band tipped by Dan Parrott, one of the many unsung architects of the modern music scene here. We first crossed paths back when he was working as music producer on Channel M – a much missed local station that gave debut television broadcasts to the likes of Deerhunter and Laura Marling. His label Love & Disaster, released early tracks from Everything Everything, Dutch Uncles, Delphic and the criminally underrated Airship.
Now running Low Four; a multifaceted music project utilising a beautiful and iconic recording space in the old Granada Studios – Parrott is once again putting his energy into helping new artists. With a focus on music programming/online streaming, it’s undoubtedly going to help re-affirm Manchester’s international reputation, as well as give a home to some of the city’s brightest talents. Having already recorded a live session there on the basis of a handful of demos, synth pop act Koalas are one of the first to benefit.
Led by composer and vocalist Samuel Jones; it’s clear that Koalas songcraft has been patiently and lovingly honed, with debut track Home Heart immediately hitting all the right notes. Co-produced by Brendan Williams (Dutch Uncles/GoGo Penguin) the hidden complexities of the track slowly reveal themselves, fluttering between ideas and textures fluidly to create a reassuringly warm and nostalgia tinged sound. Influenced by Caribou and Boards of Canada; an appreciation for sonic experimentation is balanced delicately with the desire to tug at heartstrings with gorgeously subtle pop harmonies. Vocalist Rachel Waters hushed words merely tease at her true abilities.. but then a little bit of mystery only adds to the allure. In contrast Jones’s chorus swoons and shimmers, dancing nervously around, waiting for an opportunity to break free.
“If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?”
– Voltaire, Candide
It was always going to take something truly magical to awaken me from my writer’s hibernation. With every passing month, it’s felt harder and harder to find the right words. I bought a desk in an attempt to commit myself, but the desk soon became littered with half-finished articles and a sense of frustration. I kept making excuses and finding new distractions…. and I think for a while, I might have even fallen a little bit out of love with music. That seems like such a strange and horrible thing to admit now, because in truth, it took just a few seconds of ‘Candide’ by Parade, to know that this was THE song to make everything right again.
A beautifully imagined debut by one of Manchester’s most promising new artists; ‘Candide’ is seemingly seeped in an old fashioned romanticism, a celebration of regret, despair and longing. Every moment is tenderly crafted by an artist determined to find hope in the darkest of places. Produced in the now mythological SWAYS Bunker.. or for the unenlightened, the spiritual home to some of Manchester’s greatest modern outfits (MONEY, Kult Country, Bernard & Edith and PINS) it seems like the stars might be aligning for Parade to break beyond the confines of the crumbling white walls that stand defiantly opposite Strangeways prison in Salford.
Having been a member of the confrontational and enigmatic post-rock outfit, Hartheim; a band which ended in the most tragic of circumstances with the untimely passing of guitarist Gaz Devreede, one could have almost forgiven Parade’s Nic Townley if he had disappeared off the radar completely. But this is a fascinatingly personal vision, full of hunger, desire and a dream-like innocence that clings lovingly onto every piano chord. With a vocal tone reminiscent of the unashamedly emotional quiver of Jeff Buckley, Townley has a remarkable ability to draw the listener into his world, and keep you there. Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek invited Townley to sing on stage with him during last year’s RNCM show; an unreal moment for an unknown artist, but one taken confidently. Candide is one of the most heartbreakingly perfect pieces of work I’ve heard in forever.
It feels somewhat appropriate that I’m writing an article about Mancunian hip hop artist Abnormal Sleepz at 4am in the morning, having spent most of the night tossing and turning because my brain wouldn’t have the decency to silence itself for a few hours. Luckily for me, Reece Samuels has the sort of voice with the ability to heal – introducing himself with 2015’s The Meditape – his debut mixtape demonstrated both intelligent wordplay and a love for experimental production.
It’s sequel The Meditape Two is an engaging, fearless and lovingly crafted piece of work that points to an artist of serious promise. Nearly every track on The Meditape Two has a different producer, yet it still manages to retain a cohesive atmosphere throughout… and this surely isn’t by luck. Samuels has cherry-picked and surrounded himself with some of Manchester’s most exciting new talents (G.S One, HMD, Piddy Py and Two4Kay) and brought them together to form a close-knit unit. His willingness to collaborate is by no means unusual within Mancunian circles, but by consistently pushing his ideas to new places, feelings and situations – I get the impression Samuels is not going to rest on his laurels.
It would of course be brutally unfair to compare Samuels to Kendrick Lamar, but there’s enough to be found here to connect the dots together – they certainly share a similar delivery style for instance – although my love for Samuels undeniably northern English tone and dialect is endless. The Meditape Two focuses on a person’s capacity to recover, learn and grow – it’s a refreshingly positive collection of material to enjoy and unravel, reaching deep into his personal experiences. The question remains, what direction will the Sleepz project take in the future… there’s a lot of darker subject matter out there to explore, and with everything going on in the world, we need artists like Samuels to try and make some sense of it. For now though, close your eyes, relax and discover a sleeping giant.
Sometimes all you need is a spark. When Grey Collective’s Adio Marchant (Bipolar Sunshine) and Gaika started expressing a keen interest in the music of HMD, it led to an interview on Manchester’s influential underground radio station Reform Radio. As a regular listener of late night show ‘The Witching Hour’; I was immediately drawn to the story of Hamdi Hassan, who spent his formative years in a small rural town in Denmark. Hassan was kicked out of art school for disruptive behavior in music class, and then consequently became addicted to MTV whilst he waited an entire year to get another placement. Eventually finding his way to his now adoptive home in Manchester; he discovered hip hop, grime and a supportive musical community – as well as his first recording studio, which was stationed above legendary nightclub Sankey’s in Beehive Mill.
HMD is beautifully representative of the new Mancunian order, where a growing number of young black artists are finding their voices being carried far wider than the limits of the city borders – and slowly dismantling any outdated perceptions of what a Mancunian artist should look and sound like. Latest release Dayz, a tender collaboration with Ruby-Ann Patterson (another artist making a name for herself with hip hop/soul band Family Ranks) feels like a breakthrough moment for both of them . HMD’s sparse but pretty production gives them both the freedom to showcase their rich vocals. Remiscent at times of Sampha, this is raw, emotive and utterly magical. Sometimes all you need is a spark.
When my facebook feed was suddenly overloaded this evening with beautiful images of ethereal landscapes, dilapidated boats and a towering volcano over a field of green, I knew that one of my friends had been visiting Iceland. The friend in question happened to be underground music journalist Cath Aubergine, who in all honesty has been one of the most important (and unsung) figures for promoting new artists in the last 15 years. She was in Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves Festival, and I thought I’d be foolish not to explore some of the many gigs she had been documenting. It was here, hidden within her photographs, that I discovered the heartwarming story of Steinunn Jónsdóttir.
Making electronic music under the playful name of asdfhg, Steinunn Jónsdóttir’s debut EP ‘Steingervingur‘ (2015) was written and recorded in her parent’s basement at the tender age of 16. Pseudonymously uploaded to bandcamp and shared with just a few close friends; it was accidentally unearthed during a late-night listening session by one of the judges of the Kraumur award – an Icelandic grassroots art prize. After a little investigation, Jónsdóttir found herself revealed and catapulted into the spotlight, unexpectedly winning one of the awards against some of the more established names. Now, just a few months on, and working with fellow musician Orri Úlfarsson, the project has taken on a life of it’s own, with 2016 already seeing the release of two stunningly crafted EP’s in ‘Skammdegi‘ and ‘Kliður‘.
The delicate dreaminess in September’s ‘Kliður’ is surely evidence enough of their remarkable talent together, but with a growing confidence in her voice, it seems like Jónsdóttir is tantalisingly close to producing something that breaks beyond Iceland and into the larger musical world. ‘Steypa‘ is the track I keep coming back to; hypnotic in it’s movement and an eternal state of innocence in it’s sound. But don’t be fooled by that, there’s a darkness here too… a lonely, insular sort of feeling that separates her from the whimsical and into the magnificent. Perhaps it wasn’t so accidental for Steinunn Jónsdóttir. Some things are meant to be.
Thanks to Hrefna Björg Gylfadóttir and The Reykjavik Grapevine.
When modern icon Kendrick Lamar performed a surprise secret show in Manchester recently, he also found the time to cypher with local talent at a workshop organised by Brighter Sounds. Clearly inspired by the opportunity to impress K.Dot; 21 year old Layfullstop rose to the challenge, holding her own on the mic against the Grammy-award winning star. It was the kind of attention-grabbing statement that she could only have imagined making the night before… but for those in the know, it’s just a matter of time before the spotlight takes on a more permanent fixture.
Currently one of Manchester’s best kept secrets, 21 year old Lay Nathan has already been exciting audiences with her genre-defying performances; experimenting with elements of neo-soul, jazz, electronica, hip hop and grime. Living in a city which naturally encourages collaboration, it’s no surprise to discover her recorded output is equally as expressive; as a member of urban collectives Roots Raddix and Cul Dé Sac, her talent is clearly being nurtured lovingly by those around her.
As a solo artist, Lay. has continually played with her artistic identity; there’s a real sense of freedom to her work, which from a purely technical perspective, displays a high level of skill and confidence… but, it’s the emotions behind her voice that truly make her something special. Latest release Angel Halo feels like it could be breakthrough moment, a track that mixes old school soul and injects it with modern hip hop – harking back to those 90’s R’n’B halcyon days, when Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill and TLC were ruling the charts. Produced by Keziyah, the intelligently subtle and sophisticated production gives the track breathing space and allows her to reach for moments of beauty with her sultry and distinct velvet harmonies.