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 Bowie had withdrawn from the live arena long before his death but Prince was insatiable.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."
Brighton Music Conference (BMC) has well and truly cemented itself as one of the fundamental industry events for dance music and all that goes with it. With a musical history that boasts so strong, it is remarkable that the UK has only just established itself with one of the core annual industry events alongside the likes of the Amsterdam Dance Event, the Winter Music Conference and the International Music Summit.
In 2014, the BMC became the UK’s first annual dance music conference to be run by the industry for the industry, providing a relaxed yet professional environment for both industry professionals and consumers to meet and network. Building off the successes of last year’s event, we were treated to the best in new tech, organisations, showcases, Q&A’s, talks that covered all areas in dance music, and of course a whole host of different networking parties.
It is easy to see why Brighton, of all places, was chosen as the host for an event that is so vital for a blossoming genre to move forward. As well as Brighton being a forward thinking place in itself, musicians such as Norman Cook, John Digweed and Cristian Vogel made Brighton a dance music stronghold in 90s. Now with a revitalised pulse of new acts and companies in the UK’s dance music industry, every spring Brighton entertains the genre’s glitterati and fans who converge on the Brighton Dome.
With so much happening over the two days, it’s hard to know where to start; the exhibition room in the Corn Exchange with masses of different equipment and businesses on show, the upstairs bar of the Dome where Native Instruments had workshops, or the four conference rooms (Dome Studio Theatre, Corn Exchange, Igloo Theatre, Dome Founders Room) holding interesting talks. On the Thursday I decided to immerse myself in all the insightful talks held by the industry figureheads about education, trends and issues within dance music, then delve into the fantastic array of different technologies and showcases on show.
No better place to start than with the first talk of the event, a subject that effects every aspect of music; Key Note – Save Our Clubs. At the tail end of last year, figures were released reporting that 50% of the UK’s nightclubs have closed since 2005 – a startling fact. Is it because young people are not going out anymore? Being a young person, I can safely say it isn’t. A panel of some of the world’s best club owners discussed that it is due to the UK’s old narrative on clubbing laws. Why not take note from the majority of Europe which have found a happy mediun, with the likes of Amsterdam, Paris and Zurich leading the way by introducing a “night-time mayor” (a role that bridges the gap between businesses, residents and the council).
At the Love Supreme festival last year, a four-piece band really stuck out. Not only were they relatively young, they were alternative looking; the lead singer adorned in all sorts of piercings, tattoos and psychedelic-cyber-punk threads, the rest of the band like a collection of beach dudes. They stuck out. Not like a sore thumb – whilst predominately appealing to the generally more well-heeled, Love Supreme is actually stuffed full of brilliant, often left-field music – but because teenagers/youngsters suddenly came out of the woodwork to watch this phenomenal act, many of whom then courteously lined up for a personal meet and greet and signing session straight after the gig. It was a surreal sight, but rather cool.
Still somewhat under the radar, and barely talked about in the UK press, Hiatus Kaiyote are a word-of-mouth phenomenon. They are but one of a long line of acts throughout rock'n'roll history who have made it without a helping hand from the music media, whose ego can sometimes dwarf the size of the musicians it otherwise writes about. How can this be, when presented with such a band? A band who have developed a sublimely intricate and ultra-sophisticated musical palette that in general could be called progressive future-soul. A band who are quite simply stunningly imaginative, and breathtakingly musical. A band whose essentially hippy heart sits uneasily with a surprisingly conservative music media, who are still prone to wheel out tired cliques and ignorant rubbish when confronted by such people..
Formed in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011, Hiatus Kaiyote are made up of Nai Palm (vocals, guitar), Paul Bender (bass), Simon Mavin (keyboards) and Perrin Moss (drums, percussion). “’Kaiyote’ is not a word. It’s a made up word," says Nai Palm, "but it kind of sounds like peyote and coyote. It’s a word that involved the listeners creativity as to how they perceive it. So it reminds you of things but it’s nothing specific. When I looked it up on online it was like a bird appreciation society around the world, so for me that was a great omen, because I’m a bird lady. A hiatus is essentially a pause, it’s a moment in time. So, to me, a hiatus is taking a pause in your life to take in your surroundings, have a full panoramic view of your experiences and absorbing them, and ‘kaiyote’ is expressing them in a way that involves the listeners creativity. The name is designed to evoke a sort of Native American Indian shamanistic vibe."
Bellowhead, an 11-piece band that plays traditional folk-dance tunes, sea shanties and folk songs. They have a four-piece brass section. And a four-piece string section. Their first album, Burlesque, featured material from the American minstrel movement, the Napoleonic Wars and sea shanties from Brazil. Surely, that would never work?
Well, work it did, and now that the band are bowing out, there are a lot of annoyed people, according to founder member John Spiers, whose main instrument is the melodeon, and is known in his local Oxford circles as Squeezy. "A lot of people are very cross with us, I have to say," he says sincerely. "The people who have supported us on this journey at different stages are some of the most dedicated fans. Lunatics even," he laughs. "Some of them are coming to their 50th gig or something… We know them well enough to call them by their names. It looks like such a big thing but it also feels like quite a small thing sometimes."
From the outside they are big. As well as being an 11-piece, their third album, Hedonism, became the biggest selling independently released album of all time, while their last album, Revival, was released on the iconic Island label, and made number 12 in the charts, their highest ever. They've been featured in both The Simpsons and The Archers, and their last tour sold out well in advance, as has this, their 'farewell' tour, including a final date at the place where it started, Oxford Town Hall, on 1 May. "It's difficult," says John. "It feels like it's going to be harder than I thought it was going to be, as the time approaches, and you start looking over the music. It normally feels like an on-going process, but it does feel like it's really final," he laughs. "It's quite unexpected, all the emotions, about not doing this again. On the last tour (the first part of their 'Farewell Tour') it seemed to be a lot more emotional for the audience, as we played each place for the final time. The last gig will be quite different."
The seeds of Bellowhead are perhaps reason enough for them to have been loved and admired by so many. Sitting in a traffic jam one day, Spiers and Jon Boden were drawing up a list of musicians they thought might be good for a big band project, that was in the draft stages. They'd been playing together as a duo since 1999, releasing albums, winning the Best Duo category at the BBC 2 Folk Awards in 2004, and joining Eliza Carthy's band, touring around the world. As fate would have it though, "Our plan at the time was the creation of the Spiers & Boden Big Band. We were helping promote the Oxford Folk Festival for Tim Healey (Dennis Healey's son) in Oxford Town Hall, and he basically came up to us and said, 'look guys, I've been wracking my brains. I want to headline with an English band. Who can I book'? And I said, 'book us!' We'll do it'! So we kind of put the pressure on ourselves. We already had this idea of the Spiers & Boden Big Band, and now we were forced into a deadline."
So, the calls were made and the first rehearsal booked. "We had to do a photoshoot before we even did our first rehearsal, so that there was a picture of us in the programme! "laughs John. Along with Benji Kirkpatrick, Rachel McShane, Paul Sartin, Pete Flood, Brendan Kelly, Justin Thurgur, Giles Lewin and Andy Mellon, the band came together with little idea of what to expect. "We played through the arrangements that Jon had written while on a Eliza Carthy tour in Australia; the scores for everyone to play. Some of them sounded good, some of them less good. Nobody could really see what was going on. But we played all day and got through the rehearsal and went to the pub in the evening. The first actual performance we did was a wedding ceilidh in a barn in South Oxfordshire. It was a great success. The next day, the gig happened. It was incredibly nerve wracking. There was a big audience and a lot of expectations. I've got a recording of that gig and it was dreadful. But the people who were there saw some promise. But by our standards some of it was shocking!" he laughs again.
Los Albertos are a six-piece ensemble of ska-dance protagonists who’ve been transmitting their hi-energy tunes to the nation since their formation in 2002. Christened by the barmaid at their debut gig in the legendary Prince Albert, their fistful of grinning 2-tone skank with a twist of funk, punk, Klezmer, rock and dub has drawn attention from far beyond the pebbled beaches of their hometown Brighton.
With three albums under their belts, they are about to unleash a new vinyl and download only EP, This Is A Serious Party, featuring three brass-powered floor stompers that have never seen the light of day, as well as a brilliant cover of ‘Sweet Dreams’. It’s dance music, Jim. But not as we know it.
Legendary might be an overused word, bandied about towards many undeserving of such accolades, but in the case of Los Albertos, it is fully deserved. Very much an underground, word-of-mouth band, for those who know, know. They know what a brilliant live band they are; one who has forged a truly unique sound, that combined with an ability to write memorable, dance-floor friendly songs has ensured they will remain in the hearts of many of those who have seen and heard them. And with a history that includes street performance/busking and the sponsorship of a local Sunday League football team (called appropriately enough, Los Albertos) they have endeared themselves to tens of thousands, maybe more. And yet, they are like a best kept secret…
Part of a loose 2000s alt-festival scene that included the likes of Babyhead, Zen Hussies and Don Bradmans, Los Albertos were (and are) an in-demand band because of the energy and fun-loving spirit they are able to deliver on stage, so infectious at times that their gigs often turn into hugely animated affairs that has seen many a stage invasion. They literally lived and breathed the music they made, playing hard and working hard as they went along. As one reviewer put it at the time: “The perfect, “Fuck art, lets dance!” festival band.”
“I believe November 2002,” says founder member, guitarist and singer Mark Crawford, ” about the time of the formation of the band, with their first gig at the equally legendary Prince Albert pub in Brighton, “I believe that is the party line,” he says, the passing of time obviously casting a fog on the ole’ memory cells. “We didn’t have a band name, and we were playing the Albert pub and I think we decided to call ourselves The Alberts. One of the bar staff wrote Los Albertos on the board outside and it stuck. The problem with band names is that you inevitably hate them,” he muses. Whatever the case, the name was in keeping with their less-than-serious music. Nic Tribe (bass), Tom Livingstone (trumpet, melodica, sousaphone), Martin Andrews (drums), Tim Herman (sax) and Mark comprised the original five-piece band, that lent more on jazz swing at the beginning, before they really found their feet with songs such as the dub-ska brilliance of Beer Panic, a song that remans an integral part of their set, one of their many signature tunes, as well as tracks such as Cheeky Rascal, Bossman, and Mr Chip, blueprints for their brass powered seaside ska sonics, and featured on their 2004 debut album, Los Bop. As one wag put it, Los Albertos have… “more good vibes than a dancing monkey handing out tequila shots.”
Just as important to their sound is their singing. All but one of the band sing on stage, with up to four of the band alternating lead vocal duties, whilst their harmonies provide further glorious uplifts to the invariably infectious rhythms. “We all sing, except the drummer,” says Mark. If you know Martin it’s very important he’s not given a microphone,” he deadpans. “He’s alright at singing, it’s more what he says is the problem. He would be the first person to admit that,” he laughs.
3:30 Blick Bassy
4:15 The Island Club
6:15 Holly Macve
7:00 Sam Jordan And The Dead Buoys
8:30 Fragile Creatures
9:15 The Magic Gang
10:15 Los Albertos
* these times may be subject to change
Friday 20th May 2016 – Free Entry
After an incredible Brightonsfinest debut at The Alternative Escape last year – where we took over the Latest Music Bar to create a legendary day and night of music, featuring the almighty Tigercub back to back with headliners Demob Happy and the Electro Afro Caribbean partyer Kuenta i Tambu who closed the late night slot in emphatic fashion – we are back for a second year and we are going bigger!
If you aren’t aware of what The Alternative Escape is, it’s a FREE festival which runs alongside the busy happenings of The Great Escape Festival, showcasing local and global acts in an array of different spaces. Brightonsfinest.com is taking control of the One Church at Gloucester Place to bring you the best emerging Brighton and international acts (as well as a super special headliner) in an incredible setting with delicious craft wines and beers. The line-up is as follows…
Love that name. I can only find one instance of a well-known Aldous, and that is the male writer Aldous Huxley. It is a very rare name, but one that has only helped give the New Zealander Aldous Harding a distinctiveness. It’s certainly memorable, more so than her birth name of Hanna.
From the timeless folk sound of the beautifully intransigent ‘Stop Your Tears’ (I will never marry my love / I will die waiting for the bells / Death, come pull me underwater / I have nothing left to fear from hell) to the fiddle-infused ‘Hunter’, and the utterly hypnotising ‘Two Bitten Hearts’, Harding’s music is perhaps best described as gothic-folk, full of haunting prose-tales that speak of tenaciousness in the face of bloody reality. This latter song from her début album is just her, a quivering voice, an acoustic, and occasional snatches of ghostly bowed saw over six and a half minutes, the rhythm of the guitar unchanging throughout, the effect intoxicating and quite beautiful as she sings as if in a trance.
She has said that her music is primarily motivated by fear, “It’s been the same fear I’ve had for… years. I don’t know where it comes from, but I don’t think the drugs in my youth helped. It doesn’t debilitate me, I can still charge around and I don’t feel so alone in a crowd. I had to figure myself out after I lost it. I had to figure out why I got there and once you’re in that sort of place you don’t have a choice.”
Harding has shown herself to be mature beyond her years, her music recalling the likes of Sandy Denny, Vashti Bunyan, Joanna Newsome, and early inspirations Nick Drake and Neil Young, although her music is hardly directly influenced by any artist in particular; “The Aldous Harding record isn’t easily placed because it wasn’t trying to sound like anything. It was quite organic,” she says.
After a massive blow-out celebrating its first decade of existence, this year The Great Escape turns the grand old age of 11. It still remains the closest thing Britain has to a SXSW. The best place to see the next big thing before they blow up, or find a new cult favourite amongst more established and well-loved bands playing.
We like to think last year we gave you the most comprehensive view of the festival possible, covering over 100 bands between us. Unfortunately we still haven’t assimilated into a Borg-like hive mind, so the number for each of us was a bit lower. This year we’re planning to give you more in-depth coverage than ever, by letting you know about the artists we’re most excited to catch. We’re then going to hone in on them in our Spotlight interviews and New Music Q&A’s as we countdown to the festival.
If there’s one problem with The Great Escape, it’s that there’s so much music on offer, and so much of it entirely new to you, choosing who to go and see can cause a bit of anxiety. Resulting in you eventually giving up completely and choosing a band based on a funny name (Strong Asian Mothers anyone?). So to help you out, we’ve decided to kick things of with 16 picks from the festival’s line up so far. To make your decision process that little bit easier. Expect to see some of these acts and many more being featured in the coming weeks leading up to the festival on this very website. On top of that, look out for more information about our Alternative Escape show, where on 10th May we’ll be taking over the One Church for the whole day, giving you ten amazing acts, picked from both the core programme and Brighton’s local scene. And it’s totally free! Don’t say we don’t know how to treat you.