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.
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.
Liverpool’s latest success story, Holly Låpsley Fletcher doesn’t really need my love in the way some new artists do. It’s not like she’s an unknown at this point struggling to get heard… having deservedly found her way on to the Radio One playlist in the space of a few short months. What Holly does need though is genuine and continued support, because inevitably the hype will die down and her music will rise above it. Latest release Falling Down is a stunning arrangement, one that breaks my heart with every little nuance and sound… her vocals reaching places others are unable to, the very depths of my soul.
Just over a year ago, I promoted Glasgow’s Holy Esque to a packed Manchester audience… their performance was impassioned, raw and with just enough vulnerability contained in Pat Hyne’s vocal to bring you close to understanding why Holy Esque might just be the real deal. Afterwards my memory is a little scant but a few badly taken photo’s did at least give me some insight into the fun we had. Honestly, never drink with Glaswegians on tour… you WILL end up passed out.
Sovereign marks the beginning of an exciting new direction for Holy Esque, moving from a guitar led sound to a more electronic one. What is exciting is they’ve managed to retain the dark elements from their original material, adding a certain seductive quality within the dense textures. Hyne’s voice is again the focal point, his delivery a masterclass in holding your attention… leading you towards that climatic and devastating conclusion.
Dark to the point of being genuinely disturbing, the crushingly bleak witch beats of DMR aka Daria Ramone seep silkily into your soul, extracting all colour until all that remains is a strobing montage of monochrome ghostly detritus. Debut long-player The Falling Body follows on from a string of excellent EP’s which themselves are well worth exploring; this time out however something feels more taut, more focused.
There’s a sumptuous weighty density to Eleven, cold slow beats striking unholy accord with an articulate mesh of sustained gothic synth sounds. The key choral vocal lines sweeping the track to it’s all-too-soon denouement are devastatingly spooky – like the more melodic sections of James Cargill’s Berberian Sound Studio soundtrack turned up a few notches.
You’re not going to find any stock can-tricks here, it’s just pure unadultered sonic malevolence.
Molly Beanland – not a name you’re likely to forget. Her sound is a cross pollination of US and European pop flavours, processed beats, keys and multi-layered vocals. Molly’s influenced by the likes of Kate Bush, as well as contemporary artists such as Lana Del Ray – you can hear it in her lyrics, vocal delivery and the nostalgic, retro-styled production.
With a solid grasp of pop song craft at work throughout, the anthemic Night Dreams sounds like an eighties movie soundtrack, all glitz and glamour, a subtle, slow building verse giving rise to a big, bombastic chorus. Notable for its clever use of mood and dynamics and minor to major key shifts, this track’s like a guilty pleasure – one you’ll revel in. It’s fun and catchy pop of the highest calibre – nothing self-conscious about it. Get ready to bust some moves in front of the mirror.