Photograph by Hrefna Björg Gylfadóttir
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.
In what might be perceived as a linguistic nod to their Melbourne peers HTRK (pronounced Hate Rock), emerging electronica trio RKDA (pronounced Arcadia) have named themselves in a similarly obscure and minimalist fashion. As first impressions go, debut single ‘Spaces’ left it’s mark by playing with industrial textures in a dark seductive atmosphere. It was a bold artistic statement that (whether knowingly or not) referenced the work of Karin Dreijer Andersson, blurring together elements of femininity with machinery, and avant-garde pop music with experimental noise.
New release Quartz is a beguiling creation that hints at a more organic progression, whilst retaining much of what made ‘Spaces’ so intriguing. Beginning with a freshly discovered tenderness, and underpinned by an almost Joy Division influenced post-punk drum sample, ‘Quartz’ builds quickly in both tension and depth, managing to delicately balance melancholy with a powerful primal feel. These are tiny steps towards a bigger world, and RKDA are making them with a growing confidence in their own identity, and a defining clarity in their ideas.
Quartz is taken from forthcoming EP CS, which will be released digitally and on vinyl via Riot Expert Records at the end of April.
I sometimes like to imagine a Black Mirror-esque world in which a group of distraught music bloggers have set up permanent camp outside XL studio’s, hoping to catch a glimpse of the future lord and saviour Jai Paul before they die. As the years go by without any sight, the bloggers survive by writing viral content for BuzzFeed, and one even takes a part-time job at Morrison’s, much to the dismay of the others. In 2022, an album of half-finished demo’s are once again “accidentally” uploaded and removed within the hour. A media frenzy follows, forcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to hold an emergency meeting of Parliament. Broadcasting exclusively on the Skyplayer the next day, Johnson issues a strong warning to XL recordings demanding an official album stream be released online within 24 hours or he’ll aim the now re-armed Trident missile towards Richard Russell’s mansion. Meanwhile, Jai Paul, watching the chaos unfold from his bedroom in Rayners Lane, eats a packet of Pom-Bears, then masturbates frantically to the sound of Prince, confused and lonely.
With all the added pressure of that admittedly ludicrous introduction, I’m excited to unveil Manchester’s Jamaal Monarch; a promising electronica artist that could potentially fill the Jai Paul shaped void in our lives. Debut track Horses displays all the hallmarks of a future-pop classic, from it’s intoxicating dark sensuality to the woozy chopped up production. The immediacy found in Monarch’s beats will make him an intriguing prospect in the internet age, where even the most cynical of us should be able to recognise great songwriting and hype are not mutually exclusive. Sure, it’s a long road ahead towards mainstream consciousness, but is it so hard to imagine when The Weeknd recently hit number one in multiple countries. Remember the name folks…
Sheffield’s 65daysofstatic opened up a brave new world to me nearly 10 years ago, with their now seminal second album ‘One for All Time’, which pounded at the senses in such relentless fashion that my ears nearly exploded with joy. The pioneering instrumental outfit rightly made the national headlines this past week, after receiving a grant from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and responding to the Government’s PR posturing with a scathing critique of their support of the arts (or rather the lack of it). It seems somewhat fitting that directly after reading their article, that I should discover John Douglas aka Gloams, an exciting grassroots artist based in Manchester, who shares a similar musical DNA to 65dos, combining elements of post-rock, electronica and drum ‘n’ bass.
‘Who’d 4Get U‘ is an elaborate and intricate composition, beginning with a single lilting guitar, before quickly growing in pace, like hurried footsteps running towards the one you love. The echoing thump of a bass drum frenetically rises in and out of the shadows, before it reaches it’s ultimate crescendo. ‘Pheromone‘ is quite simply an expansive masterpiece, featuring some of the most beautiful textures and soundscapes I’ve heard outside of Sigur Ros – this is music at it’s most widescreen and colourful. Seemingly out of nowhere, Gloams has unveiled a debut collection of tracks that demonstrates not only a technical brilliance, but an undeniably ambitious and emotional approach to songwriting – we should embrace him with an open heart.
Lint EP Free Download http://gloamsmusic.bandcamp.com/
I read an interview recently with No Fear Of Pop’s Henning Lahmann, in which he discussed the current state of music blogging. I don’t wish to sound bite, because it’s definitely worth reading the article in full, but it certainly made me reflect on my own approach to music writing and reinforced my reasons for doing it. The joy for me has always been in the act of discovery – I would simply not be comfortable being another regurgitating industry-fed voice. I’ve always believed in championing the new, the obscure… the kind of artists that don’t have a PR company behind them from the beginning.
With that in mind, I’ve been keeping this one to myself for a couple of weeks now… a secret I’ve been wanting to share but couldn’t quite find the right words to do it justice. A collaboration made in Manchester, ‘It’s All Over‘ is a truly magical composition between electronic producer THeory (Tom Hallett) and singer Zoë Violet (Zoë Mcnamara). THeory’s glitchy and glistening beats are both subtle and engaging, underlying a delicate piano led piece that is brought to life in startling fashion by Violet’s soulful, Morcheeba-esque vocals. Her performance feels effortlessly controlled, with enough space and light in it to highlight a rare fragile quality, and a small glimpse of this future star’s true ability. It’s hard not to get excited by two promising young artists that clearly compliment each other so beautifully.
Photograph by Gabrial Deacon