We are halfway through 2016 but you'd be forgiven for thinking that we're further in – it has been a roller-coaster of a year so far. In amongst the non-stop throttle of crazy news stories and a seemingly endless supply of celebrity deaths to mourn, we've actually had a phenomenal dose of new music to gorge upon. We invited our writers to offer us a shortlist – a favourite album of 2016 that they have reviewed for us, a favourite live show in Brighton they have attended and a favourite album that we somehow missed! Here's what they had to say…
Metronomy aka Joseph Mount, is a former Brighton resident who went about making music on an old computer in his bedroom whilst a teenager living with his parents in the alternative living utopia that is Totnes in Devon. Seemingly without any ideas of taking his music out on the road, Metronomy has risen the ranks to become a cult star, a maker of extraordinarily bitter-sweet ‘dance’ sounds like no other.
Aided by a clamour to employ his services as a remixer he started to develop a name for himself, shaping his early love of alternative techno, electro, hip hop and new wave into a music all his own. His first album (Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe Me)), released in 2005 while Mount was living in Brighton following a stint at Brighton University, was almost entirely instrumental. But by the time of Nights Out in 2008, and partly thanks to his remixing work where he would sometimes employ his own voice in shaping these remixes, Joseph Mount had discovered his singing voice, and with a new deal with the Because label, the demand for gigging and touring had become so great that music was suddenly becoming a career, and a way of life. And, instead of being a laptop DJ act, he wanted to have a band. “I was doing some shows on my own, which were pretty crap, so I thought it would be better to get a band thing going on,” he has said. With an endearing playfulness on stage (including super cheap push-lights to wear on stage, to dressing up in funky looking suits), Metronomy have over the years gradually developed into a popular act around the globe.
Roll on 2016, and he’s about to release his fifth studio album, Summer 08, the follow-up to the Top 10 album Love Letters, and which included the title song and brilliantly inventive accompanying video, an infectious Motown-soul inspired stomp that helped to raise their profile even further.
American Kacey Underwood met Brit Alice Costelloe whilst living in London in 2010, teaching her some songs on the guitar. Not only did love blossom but so did Big Deal, the band they formed as a duo. They quickly released the lo-fi acoustic/electric grunge-pop Lights Out the following year, followed by June Gloom, released on the legendary Mute label in 2013. Around this time they expanded to a four-piece, bringing in drums and more guitars, with Jessica Bator on drums and Jesse Wong on bass. But, despite touring with Depeche Mode and winning critical and popular acclaim, Mute, in an ever-challenging financial world, decided not to renew their contract. This, however, only gave them the impetus to move forward.
“We parted with our label, Mute,” says Kacey, speaking on the phone while the band make their way to Leeds for the first date of a UK tour. “Our contract was up, and we didn't want to wait around. We just went back in and made a record. We generally try and take things in our hands. The only way we could do that was fund it ourselves and then shop it around to labels afterwards, which is what we did. It was nice. We didn't have people from the label coming down to check on us, and giving us any deadlines that created any extra stress. Funding it ourselves gave us a bit more freedom.”
How did you raise the money? “We thought about raising the money publicly, doing the whole crowd-sourcing, social media thing. But that gives us the heebee jeebies. So, we borrowed the money from our parents, and luckily our parents are fans.”
How about those Disclosure brothers? They've done good, haven't they? From nowhere to international jet setters in the blink of an eye; from playing guitar and the usual paraphernalia of teenagers, they switched overnight to all things electronic, posted a few things online, and voila! Their timing could not have been more perfect, with the house music re-revolution coming like a tornado through the dying hinterland of EDM, they've been huge catalysts in re-igniting a scene that was fast decaying and had become, frankly, rather boring.
It perhaps helped that they had no previous in dance music. Guy Lawrence was a drummer in a guitar band, who listened to some hip hop and his younger brother Howard listened to singer-songwriters, funk and soul, for instance Seal. It was only when Guy turned 18 and started to venture into clubs, some in Brighton, and hearing sets from the likes of Floating Points, Burial, James Blake, and Joy Orbison ("forward thinking music," says Guy) for the first time, that he persuaded younger brother Howard to make electronic music with him, Howard learning how to make beats on a laptop. But with the help of their rock guitarist father turned auctioneer they used a room above an auction house to practise in, to make some noise, Guy ending up mixing and producing what Howard had done on his laptop. Somehow they found management and a record deal almost immediately after putting their earliest experiments on Myspace. So inexperienced were they that early meetings dealt with how to clear samples and how to get hold of the isolated acapella vocals they needed to make remixes. At the same time they were being offered big money to get behind the decks, despite the fact that neither of them had DJ’d in their lives.
The Southampton-based Band of Skulls were the prime movers in kick starting a British back-to-basics rock'n'blues approach that saw the likes of Royal Blood recently take full advantage, although of course it was the American White Stripes and Black Keys who helped to pave the way for all concerned. They in turn can trace their ancestry to the likes of Led Zep et al. Such is the great turning wheel that is rock'n'roll.
Their no-nonsense approach, allied to a bag of great tunes, helped them to get out of the blocks quickly back in September 2009 with their critically acclaimed debut album Baby Darling Doll Face, released just barely months after they decided upon the name Band of Skulls. In fact, as I mention to lead singer and guitarist Russell Marsden, upon the release of that album they were still playing small venues such as Latest Bar in Brighton. "I remember that one," he says. You worked on a ticket sales split I say (hands up: I booked the band). "Really?" he says with a note of disbelief. "Well it was only a few miles from Southampton," he laughs. It was right on the cusp when interest in the band started ballooning, to become one of the biggest guitar bands of the last few years.
As part of the preparations for album number four, By Default, which is being released at the end of May, they've just done a couple of similarly small warm up shows, helping to get the train chugging along once again. "In the last week, we've just done a couple of warm ups, secret shows. We played up in Guildford, a really small show. If you can do that, you can do anything. If you can play those small clubs you can play a big stage," he reasons. "You've got to be able to convince a hundred people before you can convince any more than that. You do miss it when you're in the studio, to get out there and do some gigs. Sometimes those small ones are the best, everyone is close to each other.
"It's the calm before the storm," continues Russell, who along with drummer Matt Hayward and bassist Emma Richardson, make up Band of Skulls. "The weather is nice, isn't it? It would be very easy to go to the pub, but I'm doing well not doing that," he laughs. "We've been working on the record intensely, and now it's just a little moment before it comes out, and it goes crazy. It's the calmest moment you have got me at!”
But, it’s still exciting? "It's still exciting. It's a funny thing, with the first record you don't know what to expect. Just talking to you, knowing that we'll be coming to Brighton soon, you start to feel it and look forward to it. The moment of sharing that on the record never goes away, it’s always quite a thrill."
“We’re at our studio, working on some music today, the same place where we made our album. We’re working on a cover of a European band that are on the same label as us, a Dutch band called Pauw, a psychedelic proposition. They’ve done a cover of one of our songs. It’s like a musical exchange.”
So says William Rees, guitarist and founder of Mystery Jets, along with childhood friend Blaine Harrison, and Blaine’s Dad, Henry. Not only is there that rare combination of father and son in a band, but they’ve been making music ever since William and Blaine can remember, despite the fact that Blaine was born with spina bifida.
“We decided that we wouldn’t make my disability an issue, the same way we didn’t make a big deal of my dad (who whilst no longer performing with the band, is still involved with songwriting) being in the band,” Blaine has previously said. When you factor in the legendary Eel Pie Island, their home for many years, and the fact they recorded an EP with Aswad producer Nick Sykes before Blaine’s voice had even broken, the Mystery Jets story is a little bit different from your average meat and two veg rock band.
After plenty of messing about and development as musicians and writers, the band achieved notice beyond the oasis that is Eel Pie via both their legendary ‘The White Cross Revival’ parties and the release of their first singles and debut album Making Dens, which came out ten years ago in March. “We threw parties there because we couldn’t get booked in London, and actually didn’t want to get booked in London,” says William. “A lot of our friends were under-age and couldn’t get in, and when they did get in they’d be charged a lot of money on the door. It was like they were discouraging you from doing music. It was ridiculous. We thought ‘fuck that, we’ll do it here’. Have more fun with it. And we did.”
William then goes on to give me a potted history of Eel Pie Island, “Eel Pie Island is an island in the River Thames, in Twickenham, near Richmond. It was named Eel Pie Island because in the 1600s, Henry VIII used to stop off there on his way to Hampton Court to see Cardinal Wolsey, and eat eel pie. The island has always had inhabitants, but at some point someone moved onto the island and built a hotel, which also had a jazz club in it. That started life as a middle class holiday destination. It was all polite and nice and suburban. And then in the late 50s it went bankrupt and became derelict, but the jazz club remained and became a haunt for bohemians and beatniks; lots of young people would clamber over the foot bridge onto the island and dance the night away, and drink, and listen to jazz and smoke pot, or whatever. And then it became an R’n’B hotspot for bands like the early versions of The Rolling Stones, and John Mayall, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd and The Who. They all played there. So, it’s got this incredible musical legacy.
Eagulls. An unlikely name for an unlikely band. Do people ever struggle with your name, Eagulls? "Of course they do!" says singer George Mitchell. "I like that. It's a nonsensical word. It’s a joke that's gone too far. And it's still there. I find it funny."
You don't know what to expect with a name like that, I say. "Yeah. It's like a deterrent. Why would I want to listen to a band with that name? You know what I mean? In a sense, it's the people who are going to listen to a band with that name who had to really want to even give it a chance. I wouldn't want to be clicking on a link, and listen to this band called Eagulls. Fuck that!"
This is the thing about Eagulls. They are funny, acerbic even, but also deadly serious, as they channel the spirit and sound of 80s post punk into the here and now. They are a band respectful of an era they weren't alive in, rather than chained to.
The Leeds five-piece were initially formed in 2010 by Henry Ruddel (drums) and guitarist Mark Goldsworthy (aka Goldy). They then recruited Liam Matthews on guitar, before Tom Kelly arrived on bass, followed by singer George Mitchell. “We had faith in him ’cause we knew his character and had seen drawings that he’d done,” Mark has previously explained. “All of that was what we wanted to project with our lyrics. We didn’t want them to be too deep or too serious. Not loads of metaphors, just something real.”
"Before the band I did used to write nonsensical poetry, whilst I was drawing," says George. "I've always been more of a drawer than a writer. I used to write words that I liked and rhymed them with things. Like Dadaesque rhymes, really.
When I heard the news last week that Prince had died it just didn't seem real – friends were struggling to come to terms with it, conspiracy theories were flying around that it must be some sort of hoax. It has been a year full of celebrity deaths, and we're not even through April yet, but you compare Prince to Bowie (who we lost in January) and you'd be forgiven for thinking The Purple One was in rude health. Bowie had withdrawn from the live arena long before his death but Prince was insatiable. His output of albums never slowed and it seems like only yesterday that he was guerilla gigging in London on the HITnRUN tour, announcing shows at the last minute, playing several concerts a day. This did not appear to be the behaviour of a man on his last legs and Prince looked, sang and played like a man much younger than his 57 years with his doe eyes and razor-blade cheekbones. A week before his death I was looking up live shows on YouTube and stumbled across his 2007 half-time Superbowl performance – it was phenomenal. A torrential downpour would have sent most artists running, but Prince wasn't like other artists – he asked if they could make it rain harder and finished with an appropriate and mind-blowing rendition of 'Purple Rain'.
The strange narcissism that we've come to expect from a celebrity's untimely demise was on full throttle that week, met by an equally alarming backlash. Those who loved Prince felt a profound loss and filled their social media feeds with tributes and personal memories – so many people had their own Prince stories and everyone who didn't seemed enraged by what they considered over-share. My newsfeed was a confusing spectacle; I was a fan but not a true devotee, although I did find myself far more upset than I ever would have expected. I found myself in the midst of a war of rant and counter-rant, even in death the man had the power to polarise. I had speculated with friends that Prince may have been suffering from AIDS, for, although he seemed youthful he was also undeniably slight and he was well known for being promiscuous during a time when the disease was rife. Sadly the news emerging today seems to be confirming those fears. It's alleged that Prince was diagnosed with AIDS six months ago, apparently refusing treatment as it was against his faith as a Jehova's Witness. So at a time like this, when the music world is in mourning, it's worth asking that question – what made Prince so special?
To be making great music 25 years into your career is a rare thing. Most bands fall off a cliff eventually, or at best fade away, creatively speaking. Not so Tindersticks, who have never released a sub-standard album, nor anything that sounds dated. And so it continues with the recent release of their tenth studio album The Waiting Room, another work that apparently arose out of little in the way of ambition, according to two of the band's main protagonists, frontman and baritone singer Stuart A Staples, and keyboardist David Boulter, who along with Neil Fraser, remain the core of the band that began life in Nottingham in 1991.
"I think we have never made music to be famous, or to achieve anything really," says Boulter, rather nonchalantly, and who has lived in Prague for the last 17 years. Perhaps this helps to explain their status as one of the most intriguing and unconventional bands of recent times; a band who make intimate music that subtly reveals its layers of sophistication; warming yet with much darkness, sadness and melancholy within their soul. And all the while, there is a stillness, a peaceful quality to their work that once immersed can feel like a tonic for weary souls.
Initially called Asphalt Ribbon, the band re-christened themselves Tindersticks after Staples found a box of matches with that name on a Greek beach. "(Making music) was something that came from music being the only way you could express yourself," says Boulter. "When it takes over your life from having to make a living from that, it fractures it. You're not really sure how you are supposed to do that. It means when we do make music we do discover things. We're always trying to push ourselves, that surprise you in some way."