I don’t know how often you folks clean out your spam folders. Personally, I try to do it a few times a week. Granted, 85% of the time it’s Central African solicitors and Irish Lottery winnings, but occasionally, something slips through. (I often wonder how many of the indecipherable Korean and Chinese mailings are actually press releases for fantastic new bands I’ll never hear because I made the mistake of not learning every language ever.) But it’s the most recent number to be dug from the depths of discarded pyramid schemes which left me nearly breathless from the potential magnitude of such a near miss.
Knickers (I don’t think I need to explain to you why Gmail filed this where they did), are the latest effort from Simon Love (The Loves). According to one interview, by the time The Loves retired on Valentine’s Day 2011, Simon already had plans for Knickers. Still, as the story goes, Sarah answered an ad Simon had posted on Gumtree.com reading “French Girl Wanted”. A few crude demos later, Knickers were formed. To date, the band have only played a handful of gigs (including one last week with Elefant labelmates The School), but word is spreading fast. On my recent trip through the UK, the chat around the record shop circuit (Rough Trade, Spillers, Monorail, Avalanche, etc.) was about Knickers (the band…I checked). I even met a man here in terminally uncool Columbus, Ohio this week who asked me if I knew anything about them.
The word is out, kids – and so is the record – a four-track EP on Elefant Records, that is. And if you’ve ever loved anything on Elefant, it’s an EP you’re going to need – four pop gems inspired by French yé-yé, ’60s garage, and the Velvet Underground. Lead off track, “My Baby’s Just a Baby” is a catchy ode to melodic dirty garage rock. Between a strong stomping melody and a clever video [below] in which Sarah gives the boy bandmates the RealDoll treatment, the lead single makes a compelling case that Knickers are onto something here. And the follow-up tracks are far from filler.
What follows is a fitting tribute to the golden age of pop. “Are You Ready, Girl?” is a crooning cover of what is essentially a lost Kinks tune (written by Dave Davies for an unreleased solo album) and finds singer Sarah channeling Nina Persson at her swooning best. In fact, the hallmarks of the Cardigans’ frontwoman are also a major part of what makes the current EP such a resounding success. Sarah is obviously a woman who knows her way around a hook. It’s her ease of delivery coupled with Simon’s masterful pairing of fuzzed-out and jangly guitars that drives the charging duet of “A Thousand Ways” (a duet that cleverly mirrors the pairing of clean and dirty guitars). And elsewhere, it is the juxtaposition of purity of tone and melody (and doubling glockenspiel) with those same dirty guitars in “Darling” that makes such an indelible impression on the listener and will leave you singing that final hook for days (unless, of course, you’ve left the EP on repeat, as I have, in which case each memorable hook is supplanted by the next, ad infinitum).
Knickers debut EP, My Baby’s Just A Baby, is available digitally and as a limited seven-inch on red vinyl from Elefant Records.
I’ve just been in Toronto for Canadian Music Week (more on that in the coming days), but The Indie Handbook passed a handful of anniversaries whilst I was away. The most timely of those being the anniversary of my first Dimbleby & Capper show. Now, I’m sure most people don’t mark the anniversaries of even the most memorable gigs they’ve attended, but I don’t have a whole lot to look forward to in my life and besides, there’s more to it than that. A few weeks ago, I sent a writer out to her first ever D&C show (the review will be available soon enough). Then, and this really is the most pressing issue, there is the matter of ‘Let You Go’, the new single being released next Monday on TAPE Records. I’ve been in love with ‘Let You Go’—as well as the B-side ‘Raise It Right’—since I first heard the rough cuts back in November.
At this point, it would be a waste of time for me to tell you how much I love Dimbleby & Capper or how confident I am that Laura Bettinson and her ‘Boy Band’ will be carving out a permanent niche for themselves over the next 18 months or so. But if you’re new to this D&C business, you can go back and read those interviews we ran last year and these other posts. But what the rest of you may not know, there’s still a good bit of that interview from one year ago that I never published. What better way to celebrate our anniversary than to let you read it, eh?
The Indie Handbook: You’ve been getting a lot of support from the BBC, haven’t you?
Dimbleby & Capper: Yeah, Huw Stephens, really, which has been fab, but—have you heard ‘Beautiful But Boring’?
TIH: Yeah, I have.
D&C: Well, that was a track that was literally a demo, and I hooked up with this producer Liam Howe—he’s doing all the über-pop stuff at the moment, Marina and the Diamonds—well, we hooked up a year or maybe two years ago and did that demo in, like, three days then suddenly (and that’s the beautiful thing about the internet, but also kind of irritating is that you lose control of stuff really quickly), but basically another blogger texted him and said you should play this and Huw Stephens checked it out. And then he played. And he played it every week, for the whole summer, every show, which is awesome, but also it wasn’t really ready for that. It was just a demo and I hadn’t quite—I was straight out of uni and we went straight on to do the Great Escape, we did Glastonbury, we did Latitude, we did a Maida Vale session, and I went over to L.A. on another project I’m doing and it was too much. I can’t imagine what it’s like when you get to the Ellie Gouldings where it just kind of runs, but even on that little level where you get played every week on a little specialist show and people are listening—and I needed a bit more time to figure it out, because I was just messing around with producers and suddenly realised that I can produce my own stuff—and I would prefer to.
That’s what I’m doing now. And I think some of the ‘Beautiful But Boring’ lovers have since gone Yeah, you’re alright…but then, alongside that, we’ve got a lot more people who are really into it. And there’s a few more things in the pipeline….I mean, I’m not really interested in the massive record label. Essentially, there will be a record at some point, but I have no doubt that it will be recorded before there is a record deal.
TIH: Until then, I suppose it’s just a matter of playing out and writing more and just generally soldiering on. What’s the best gig you’ve ever played?
D&C: The best gig we’ve played was probably Latitude. If you’ve got mates who are around you—like in London I’ll have a load of good mates—yeah, it’s fun, but it’s not really a challenge, but at Latitude, no one was there that we knew. And we were just quite lucky that it rained just as we went on stage, which meant that everybody—everybody—that was standing on the grass just poured in and stayed there for the whole set and they really enjoyed it. And we got so many new fans, just from that little 20-minute set there and people were really really digging it and that was the most satisfaction I’ve gotten out of a gig, because, like I said, you know there is no one there that you know, but you can tell that the energy is really good and that was really fun. And Glastonbury was fun, but not quite on the same level. It was a bit more…I guess there was a bit more pressure, which sometimes can ruin things. If everyone goes in thinking This is going to be amazing—you just don’t need that, really. You’re just going to play what you normally do.
TIH: Would you rather people came with no expectations—that you be something of an accidental discovery?
D&C: Well, I think that’s when people like it more, almost. I mean, it’s slow. The progress is slow, but every gig, we do seem to come away with people who are absolutely hooked and then others who just think it’s alright. But it’s cool. Like you say, there seem to be a lot of people who come and they’re really grabbed by it and some people who really get—well, there’s not a lot to get, really, it’s just a little fun—I think some people think we’re taking ourselves a little bit too seriously, but I really don’t mean to come across that way [laughs]. We’re just having a laugh. Some people really get it, and others—we’ll work on them.
TIH: Exactly. Just give it some time. What about these other side projects?
D&C: Well, the main one—it’s not really in any state of coming out or being released yet—but I’m doing a project with Nigel Godrich and a couple of guys from America (you know, the guy that does all the Radiohead stuff). So I’m doing a project with him that’s really exciting, really cool music. I really dig it, but we haven’t got—I mean, there are a few tracks there, but again, you don’t have the time to put in and finish anything, so there are about ten half-baked tracks there, some that are more like three-quarters-baked and others are only just started. It’ll probably come out when I’m about 25 at this rate. I’m hoping, and he’s telling me, that it will come out before I’m 23 and that’s next year.
TIH: How did that get worked out?
D&C: That came about because Nigel came to one of my solo gigs—which is weird—ages ago, at The Queen’s Head, in Angel. They were looking for a singer, basically, because they’ve got all these beats (they’re amazing musicians), these wicked soundscapes and they’re looking for someone to write over the top of them and that’s kind of what I do, you know. I start with a beat or a loop in general and then I write a song over top of that and add everything afterward. And we saw the method in that and thought we’d give it a go and it’s working out for the moment. So, we’ll see. And I spent a little time in L.A. with him in April last year, which was fun—a complete eye-opener—and then come crashing back down to Deptford in southeast London and the realisation that, ok, this is my life.
TIH: They are somewhat different places.
D&C: Yeah, but I love that. It’s this weird thing that one minute you can be the toast of the party…and then the next I’m back working my minimum wage job. The weirdest thing and quite funny, when I left L.A. in April, I landed back in London at Heathrow and my manager immediately called me up saying ‘How was it? Was it great?’ and I just thought 20 minutes before I left to get on the plane, I was in Beck’s swimming pool with his kids [laughs] and now I’m getting back on the Tube to come home. What is that about?
TIH: No doubt working with someone like Nigel Godrich is bound to be an amazing learning experience, but what about your other influences? I know it sounds like a loaded question—like I want you to pigeonhole yourself—but obviously you don’t exist in a musical vacuum.
D&C: I think, as a kid—well, as a teenager, anyway—I listened to a lot more Smashing Pumpkins (I was a bit of a grunger), and the Crocketts and Placebo and all those kinds of bands. I listened to a lot of Ani DiFranco, actually. I just listen to a massive range and I was—and still am, really—into all the Motown and soul stuff in a big way, which I think you can kind of hear in some of the harmonies that I put together. You get that a lot, they can be quite retro sometimes coupled with that kind of industrial crunch beat stuff makes for a kind of interesting combo. So, I listened to a lot of that, then I came across this band—I think they’re from New York originally, L.A. now—called White and the Writing, I think they might have actually split up, but I listened to them and I thought this is awesome. It’s kind of lo-fi but there’s really something in it, this melody—if you’ve got a good melody, you can put it over anything, really and it makes it stick. I’m a big fan of melody. And so now, I guess I listen to—I don’t know. You always find yourself, when you take your music more seriously that you don’t listen to that much stuff.
TIH: I hear that from a lot of musicians, actually, people who won’t listen to anything while in the process of writing or recording. I think, in listening to your music, I can hear a lot of diverse influences—not in the sense that it sounds like one thing in particular, but that it sounds like everything and nothing.
D&C: It’s like you put everything in a blender on a quite chunky kind of setting.
TIH: As if you’ve processed your entire listening background and poured it all into one place.
D&C: I think you’re bang on it, there. Yeah, because a lot of it is nursery rhyme-ish as well, some of the melodies are. I’ve got this one song, it’s called “Want This”. It’s almost afro—it’s got a lot of this African kind of feel to it, but also nursery rhyme-ish melody and, like I was saying, soul-like harmonies and this disgusting beat and it’s kind of—I don’t know. You get into your own bubble kind of, until you realise that it’s just me. I guess it will be interesting to see what other people think of it.
So, there you have it. Dimbleby & Capper—the whole D&C brand, for that matter—has come a long way in the last year. And now the rest of the digital world is falling in love with D&C like so many of us always knew they would. The added dimension of Tá Na Deptford to the D&C live experience is proving to be a fruitful and thought-provoking conceptual partnership. As far as traditional media is concerned, D&C is receiving some well-deserved attention from the NME these days, including the online premier of the new video for ‘Let You Go’ earlier this week.Things can really only get better from here. For my money, all the impending immense success couldn’t be more well-earned. And I’m thrilled to have been an insignificant witness to it all.
You can buy ‘Let You Go’ b/w ‘Raise It Right’ starting Monday, 21 March. You can watch the video and download these remixes now.
I admit it. We’ve been relying rather heavily on the Swedes around here lately (but can you blame me?). But, in the name of global citizenship, we’re expanding ever-so-slightly southwest to bring you Kites—proof positive once again that the 80s are alive and well in London (even if the majority of the decade’s greatest proponents—myself included—have little to no memory of the original incarnation).
If you follow The Indie Handbook on Tumblr, you’ve already had a very brief introduction to the band and the handful of tracks they’ve posted on SoundCloud. I’ve been streaming their tracks with increasing frequency over the last fortnight. So why don’t you go ahead and check out a few for yourself as you peruse this interview and we get to know the band a little bit better and maybe dispel some myths along the way. (I have to say, I am a huge fan of Taio’s desert island list. Chet Baker is an inspired choice.)
The band have also recorded a brief session for the online arm of i-D Magazine (a personal favourite of mine). I’ll link to that here as soon as it goes up.
Kites are: Matthew Phillips (Vocals, Guitar), Taio Renee-Lawson (Guitar, Bass), Richard Baldwin (Electronics) and Jack Newton (Percussion)
How did the band get started?
Taio – A series of unlikely meetings and conversations. It all seemed to fit into place like a puzzle.
Matthew – There has been a myth circulating that we met on the towering escalator at Angel Tube station in London. You know, the one where you feel like you are plunging into the bowels of hell. We admit partial responsibility for propagating this fallacy. If the truth be told, Kites began as an idea; an idea based loosely and perhaps a little pretentiously, on creative simplicity. I suppose everyone in Kites brings a different flavor to the make-up of the band. We’re also very lucky that we all get on famously.
What do people say your music sounds like?
Richard – It appears that many people lean toward comparisons with New Order and the like. Although flattering, I’m a big fan of New Order, I think that’s quite a lazy pairing.
Matthew – Yes, we do garner many comparisons with Depeche Mode and New Order. There have even been comparisons drawn with The Killers and The Maccabees but this probably has more to do with our aesthetic, rather than our sound. Artists who claim that their sound is entirely unique are pathological liars. I never get offended by comparisons – it is a very natural thing for people to do and helps outsiders to gain a rudimentary, albeit imperfect, insight into our music.
Taio – The press do make comparisons to New Order and Talking Heads. It is a total honor that people relate us to those brilliant bands. It goes with out saying that we have been influenced by them, but also by a wider range of artists and genres. I think we can stand alone from those comparisons and be judged on our own merits.
What do you think it sounds like?
Matthew – I would like to think it sounded like a mirror screaming back at its onlooker with compassion and, very occasionally, with mockery.
Richard – Personally I don’t think we sound like any single artist in particular, as each of us bring distinctly different influences to the table and that is reflected in the music. However, I recently read someone referring to our latesttrack “The Disappearance of Becky Sharp” as sounding like a “melancholy Erasure”. I was most amused by that. Vince Clarke is a genius.
How did the band’s sound develop?
Taio – I think our sound is still evolving and maturing. We know what we are about, and what music we want to make, but I think we are changing day to day, and so the music evolves as we do.
Richard – On our earlier tracks one might notice that the music sounds quite DIY, which indeed for the most part, it is, we have produced almost all our tracks in my home studio, but over the last year we’ve really learned and honed our sound. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for improvement, but I think our learning curve is audible in the words, the music and the live performance. It’s great fun developing as a group.
Matthew – Every song that we work on together feels like a constant evolution in our sound. We have become more dexterous and versatile, and our repertoire has become more dynamic. I am already very excited about our future recordings. It has been a heady journey!
Unlimited artistic freedom or global superstardom?
Richard – I don’t think anyone would claim that what we are doing is so avant-garde that it can’t be genuinely popular. As for ‘global superstardom’ I am not sure that’s entirely up to us.
Matthew – It is my considered belief that a songwriter should, under no circumstances, compromise their artistic freedom. However, I don’t subscribe to the view that artistic freedom and success are necessarily mutually exclusive. As for ‘superstardom’, I am not sure if we are of the right oeuvre.
Taio – I think that the former can sometimes cause the latter.
What can we expect from a typical Kites gig?
Matthew – Unabashed passion and energy. We haven’t yet had the inclination to pick up ukuleles and, in that sense, the sound is very electronic and imposing. We try to actively engage our audiences in our aural ceremonies.
Taio – I do enjoy the live shows and performing. After all the nerves fade, I do enjoy it.
Your dream gig?
Taio – A Kites set on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury or Coachella main stage.
Jack – A Kites show also, but perhaps at Madison Square Gardens in New York.
Matthew – I know I might sound like a broken record when I mention this, as I do so frequently in interviews, but I would give my left nostril to see the Stop Making Sense tour.
You can only listen to one band/artist for a year. Who is it?
Matthew – Patrick Wolf
Taio – I would have to find a way for there to be more than one. Kate Bush springs to mind and Chet Baker does too… as does Joni Mitchell… and Björk. As you can see that’s an impossible question to answer.
Jack – I would go for The National.
Richard – From my own record collection it would have to be Norwegian Ambient Electronica from Biosphere, on account of him having enough material that I could listen to a couple of albums a month without repeating.
Following a string of well-loved singles with an album that has proven to be a favorite of indie pop fans across the world, Allo Darlin’ have been winning hearts everywhere they go, all the while making ukulele-fronted pop bands sexy again. The future is looking bright for Elizabeth Morris and company, especially with the backing of a stellar label like FortunaPop who hit it big in 2009 with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Don’t be surprised to see a similar surge for Allo Darlin’ in the coming year. And if you haven’t bought their album yet, you really ought to give it a go.
These lads from Cleveland spent considerable time building a following all over the eastern half of the US before making their debut in the state capitol with The Black Atlantic back in October to a Wednesday evening record store audience who instantly fell for their own brand of what you might call melodic prog-folk. And after watching them return to town just a month later and absolutely killing at their first proper Columbus headline gig to a captive audience at Rumba Cafe, it’s pretty clear that TLATW are a band that have to be seen to be believed. Luckily, their debut LP is an equally solid performance. So download ‘White Days’ for free here, then go out and buy the rest of it. And if you can, catch them live. They’ll be at SXSW and numerous other places, no doubt, as their stock continues to rise.
I first heard that My Gold Mask were one of the most exciting bands in Chicago from a sound engineer who I met after he caught me interviewing Emilie Simon at a Starbucks on the North Side. About a year later, an article in the Sun-Times named them among a list of Chicago bands on the verge of blowing up. I have to say, I think they’re right. In 2010, the band released two super-sexy EPs and landed some major support slots, including a few shows with the New Pornographers. Check out the EPs on Bandcamp where you can also download (for free) the remix of ‘Bitches’ by the fabled Hood Internet. And, of course, catch them on tour this spring.
It seems like I talk about Dimbleby & Capper all the time and, for the most part, it’s true. But I can’t help myself. Since we were first introduced in March of last year, Laura Bettinson has been busy taking D&C from a one woman band to a full-fledged DIY brand with it’s own unique aesthetic. The first single for Tape Records is projected to be released 31 March, hopefully with a full length LP will be in production in the not-too-terribly-distant future. Oh, and did I mention that Laura also happens to be working on a project with producer Nigel Godrich (producer for Radiohead)?
Islet (Cardiff, UK)
You’d be hard-pressed to find any official information about Islet anywhere on the internets, and that is because, antithetical to yours truly, they do not exist online. Anywhere. But they’ve building an enthusiastic following based solely on their near-legendary local live shows around the small but wicked-talented Cardiff scene, selling out of their first album and no doubt approaching capacity on the second (the first purchase I made on my first ever visit to Wales). And honestly, with a reputation like that, who needs a website? Grab one of their records while you can. You’ll be hearing from them again. (And again. And again . . .)
If you read this blog, you probably have internet access, which means, you probably realise that the music business has changed a bit in the last decade or so. Sure, there are some folks out there who wish things still worked like they did in That Thing You Do (probably all busy suing housewives and college kids on behalf of the RIAA), but I suspect that the majority of you, as I do, see it as a change for the better. But in combination with currently less-than-stable economic conditions the world over, even more adjustments are necessary.
Opportunity does not simply present itself the way we like to think it used to. Back in the 50s, for instance, at the ripe old age of 18, Phil Spector essentially managed to charm his way into an internship at a recording studio and, within a matter of months, he had written and recorded the number one song in the country. But things are different now. We all acquire more skills by accident than our grandparents did in years of study. Talent and “the look” are no longer sufficient. Today, more than ever, we have to create our own opportunities. Enter CounterCulture: a team of twenty-somethings, already experienced concert and festival promoters, with a flair for the unorthodox and an appetite for innovation.
It’s that DIY determination that makes an event like CounterCulture so inspiring. I’m sure you remember CounterCulture from a few weeks ago, but let’s recap. Since late September, an ever-changing celebration of London’s underground and DIY arts culture has been taking place in a pop-up venue beneath London Bridge (7-9 Crucifix Ln, if memory serves). The concept itself is an intriguing one, so it can be no surprise that it has gained the attention of several traditional media outlets, including Time Out and The Guardian, as well as countless blogs around the world. Still, CounterCulture is something that has to be experienced firsthand to get a full understanding. I should know, I’ve seen it.
That’s right, I made the 4000 mile trek to London for the purpose of hanging out under a bridge with scores of perfect strangers. (Ok, they weren’t all strangers. I knew one of the artists performing and brought along another American friend who happened to be in London at the same time. But still.) It’s a major commitment for what, ostensibly, amounts to a few hours in a club, but everything—the financial cost, sleep deprivation, epic layover, humiliating airport “security precautions”, the entirely-too-long interrogation from the lady at immigration, and the pain of trudging several miles a day through the rain in brand new unbroken-in shoes—all of it was well worth the investment.
CounterCulture is a blow to “The Industry”. Surpassing all expectations of those writing it off as ‘just another pop-up venue’ and eschewing expectations, much to the dismay of those looking for a ‘Scene’, the small but passionate team behind CounterCulture have succeeded in creating a laid-back atmosphere where everyone (myself included!) is welcome. It’s that eschewing of image that has made CounterCulture the success that it has become. Because that’s really what we’re looking for, isn’t it. A chance to witness something new and innovative irrespective of what’s cool or what sells. It’s the atmosphere in which art and creativity at their most organic and visceral are highlighted and unavoidable.
CounterCulture was slated to run for 99 days and is now entering its final fortnight, set to come to a close on the first of January. If you are in or around London at any point for the rest of this month, I encourage you to have a look at their upcoming events and head down to London Bridge to check it out for yourself. I, for one, am holding out hope that they will be back around for another go somewhere and sometime in the future, but it would be downright shambolic to miss them now while it’s all at your fingertips.
I’m sitting in a Starbucks somewhere in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace. It’s a great location, I suppose, if you’re the sort of person who pisses themselves over the Changing of the Guard. But if you are, as I am, the sort who prefers to roll out of bed around midday and come limping back home (because your shoes haven’t been broken in, obviously) at 2:00 AM, then you know the curse of a sensible neighborhood. By all of this, I merely mean to excuse myself for not posting this three or four weeks ago. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve just hated everything I’ve written about CounterCulture up until this point.
CounterCulture, by the way, is the reason I am at a Starbucks near Buckingham Palace rather than at a Starbucks near Potbelly Sandwiches. I’ve been going on about CounterCulture on Twitter and Facebook for a couple of months now, but tonight, for me anyway, it is finally happening. After I’ve seen it for myself at DIY w/ D&C tonight, I may be able to write about it more effectively myself. For now, I’ll let one of the organisers, Hannah Cox, speak for herself.
The Indie Handbook: Who are the people behind CounterCulture?
CounterCulture: Hannah Cox, Alex Brooks, Lee Denny and Alison Monk
TIH: What is the concept behind 99 days of Counter Culture?
CC: We wanted to interweave the best of the London arts in our eyes, music, art, theatre and and more in a exciting everchanging space. 99 days seem like a great defining number Edison once said “Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I guess in a way we are working really hard to provide London a new platform and experience thats our 99%.
TIH: Where did the idea originate? At what point did it go from being “just an idea” to a reality?
CC: Lee and Alex run a fantastic Music festival in London and wanted to bring the ideas and ethos of their event to a larger audience. They went to a secret party at the space and everything just came together. I was at a music festival with them in May and that’s when Alison and I came on board to help make the project a reality.
TIH: There are several special guests involved with the planning of the events. Who are some of these guest curators?
CC: We have some incredible curators such as established promoters such as ‘Short and Sweet’ who will be hosting a weekly film, art and creative space. But its also been fun working with people likw Megan Wellington a recent Uni Graduate from Manchester. Shes completely unknown and did an amazing final year project on her grandma. her sister is one of my best friends and she showed me randomly a bit of her work when I visited recently. I love the idea we are giving people a exciting new way to showcase their work – whether its a DJ playing in a incredible space or an artist creating an instillation piece.
TIH: Tell me a little about the venue. Have you had to do anything special to transform it into an exhibition space?
CC: The venue had been used in the past as a warehouse rave space so the basic mechanics of a venue were there like bar space and toilets. We had to completely strip down and rebuild the bars, paint the venue and install a sound and lighting system; The promoters who say the venue before it was painted can’t believe the change. Its still rough and ready but that’s how we like it!
TIH: Time Out recommended the launch event saying, ‘it’s all very cool and hipster’ (or something along those lines). Care to comment?
CC: HAHA!! What’s funny is if you put us all in a line up I don’t think you’d pick any of us out as part of the ‘cool and hipster’ crowd. Londoners will know what I mean by this. Its understandable to label the project like that I suppose and we have taken it as a complement. All we are trying to do is create a nice chilled out environment with no attitude which is what we felt the ‘hipster’ venues in London lacked. The biggest compliment I received at the launch was several people commenting on how nice the crowd was. If we can continue to attract that kind of customer it would be great.
TIH: On the Counter Culture blog, there is a post by Lisa Wright about the idea of counterculture. Now it’s your turn. What is counterculture?
CC: For me its about no hierarchy or exclusion. Its about being open to experiencing new things and your opinion being respected for that. If you don’t know a band or artist not being made to feel stupid but encouraged to learn about them. Its about giving up caring what other people think or what you think is cool and just working out what you like. There’s no agenda with counterculture it can be whatever you make it. CounterCulture has been in full swing for some six weeks now and continues tonight with an event curated by my good friend Laura from Dimbleby & Capper (who you’ve encountered here numerous times before). CounterCulture runs through the end of the year. So, if you’re around London between now and then, give it a go. There’s so much going on, it’s virtually impossible that you’ll nothing to tempt you.
If you’ve been keeping an eye on the goings-on here over the course of the last six weeks or so, you may have noticed that The Indie Handbook is in the midst of a transitional period. Where things are headed, I cannot say because I’m not entirely sure myself. Wednesday’s news that Paste would be ceasing publication of their print magazine further complicates things, raising the inevitable question of relevance once again. I won’t go into my answer here (read the new “About” page if you’re interested) but I do want to address one of the artists who led me to it.
Lisbee Stainton was first featured here about a year ago. Then again, her most recent album, Girl On an Unmade Bed, was released months ago and has been reviewed by publications far more important and, dare I say—relevant—than this one. Why, then, should I bother with it? Haven’t I missed the window? Well—no, actually; The Waste Land is 75 years old, but that doesn’t stop me reading it every month or so. And, while I’m not suggesting that Girl On an Unmade Bed is going to define the next quarter century of music, I do quite like it.
The album begins with a pair of waltzes—a new version of Lisbee’s classic “Red” and the title track—which, together, amount to about six minutes of harmonic seduction (oh, those chord changes!…), before picking things up a bit with “Is Whispering”. The second verse of “Underground” is easily one of the best moments of the album: The man said we’d be free to fight them on the beaches in the night / The shells fall on our shore, rubble, trouble, boil and bubble / Take my hand, oh take my hand and we’ll run to the underground / and hide here ’til the ‘all clear’ sounds.
Other highlights include the coming of age number “Just Like Me” and “Practice Room”, a song that seems to me proof that the lives of music students on either side of the Atlantic are not all that different. Take this, for example: There’s a prima dona in the room behind me / singing opera so that Rome can hear. I can’t say I didn’t become intimately familiar with that sound in my four years of fruitless “practicing”. And then there’s “Harriet”, due for release later this month as the next single from the album. I used to think it would be cool if someone were to write a song about me. Harriet did too, apparently—so cool, in fact, that she asked for one, quite frequently it seems. Harriet! Why did I say I would do this for Harriet / Just because she wants me to? / I’ll write a song all about you / Just to get you out my room. (I am beginning have second thoughts about having my own song.)
Perhaps the death of Paste Magazine is a harbinger of the death of indie music (the beardy-flanneled music genre, that is, not the DIY ethic) as people will undoubtedly be shouting from the mountaintops in the coming days, but singer-songwriters are in the midst of a solid run (about 800 years) and show no sign of letting up. Just like the best of those pioneering minnesingers and trouvères*, Lisbee is currently wandering Europe and the UK on her massive (and first ever) headline tour. And though her name will never be as fun to say as that of Walther von der Vogelweide, she is infinitely more charming and there are eight strings on her guitar. Add to that this brilliant album (which can be streamed, along with her first album Firefly, on her website) and it’s pretty clear to see why there’s no denying that Lisbee Stainton is going places.
How’s that for relevance?
*Technically, the traveling ones were called jongleurs, but I needed the minnesinger reference.
Don’t forget to read the introduction to Dimbleby & Capper week as well as part 1 of the interview, if you haven’t already. If you have–well–enjoy part 2!
TIH: Let’s talk about your stage show a bit. What is it with the masks?
D&C: The masks. That whole thing. I was doing Dimbleby & Capper before I finished my degree (I did my degree at Goldsmiths, the same one Lisbee was on) and in your final year, what you have to do is put on a show or whatever you want to call it—basically, do a set. It sounds piss, but it’s got to be you kind of figuring out what your music’s about—there’s got to be all this kind of conceptual thought behind it and reasons for doing stuff and not just getting up there and playing what you usually play on a Friday night down at the pub. There has to be a reason for what you’re doing. And so, the mask really—for me—it puts up something between myself and the audience. Because sometimes I really don’t enjoy performing; I find it really hard. And other times, I really enjoy it. It was more for me. The whole costume-y kind of thing is like a barrier between me being able to dip into something else before I go over to them if you like. Whereas I experimented,when I was doing the EP (because I recorded and produced it from home) I was basically holed away doing that for ages in between gigs and that, I stripped the costumes out of it and the guys and the masks and things. I was just like I’ll do it naked—well, not naked naked, obviously—and it was exposing. So, when we took it to the gigs, it was just completely different. It showed that the music stands up by itself. That was nice. And the band, they stand up. But something was just not quite—I just didn’t feel comfortable with it—it just puts a whole new level of you, personally, being out there. I don’t know how I can explain it. It’s difficult when you’ve been working on it at home and it’s been all you and then you’re performing them and, like you say, it’s just you and how you look at home and if you don’t get a good reaction…it’s just all too much for me. Instead, it’s like I’m some character saying I don’t give a shit if you like it or not! I used to wear proper gaffer tape clothes.
TIH: Yeah, I’ve seen pictures.
D&C: I might bring them back. That’s why I had gaffer tape shoes on last night, because that was kind of my whole thing. When I was doing my solo stuff, I got—a lot of the sound engineers I encounter are male and you turn up and you’re a girl and it’s something like: What’s your setup? I’ve just got a loop station and a vocal. Right, so you’ve got no instruments? No. So what do you need? And I’ll just plug all my stuff in and think ‘fuck you, man! I know what I’m doing and it sounds good, thank you’. And a lot of them see it and start asking, So, what’s that? Well, this is my vocal splitter. I’ll need two outputs for this and I’ll send one to your main desk. And they’re all like Oh, you kinda know what you’re doing and I’m like ‘Fuck you’. So my tape was kind of that thing of two fingers up to them, wearing the industry’s essential thing—because they’re all like I don’t know how I’d ever get through a live gig without any gaffer tape—and then wearing it in a seductive way on your person. There was something in that for me, anyway. Like, this is me and my machine, but in a slightly seductive way. That’s my weird, strange relationship with my equipment.
TIH: Would you ever think of going the next step and making it full-fledged conceptual show—not give it a plot, necessarily—but a full theatrical production almost?
D&C: I would love to. That was the great thing about doing the degree, you have all this spare time and you have money or a loan coming in and you can meet up with your band and you can spend three days in a row rehearsing without having to worry about going to work—perfect! We used to do all these synchronised movements to all these different songs and it was genius, but we haven’t been doing that recently because we haven’t had time to rehearse it. You know, when you’ve got a gig every week, in between we haven’t been meeting up. We just do the gigs, and, when the gigs have quietened down a bit, then we will go back and rehearse and do some different stuff. But, yeah, totally. We’d love to. We’re thinking about doing a video soon. We’ve got a guy involved who would like to do a video and I’m totally about scratching each other’s backs, you know? We’ve got a lot friends who do fashion and other people that do the more visual side of it, choreography—next door to Goldsmiths, we’ve got the Laban Centre, that contemporary dance place—and people that do costume design and all this. You know, I think there should be a real sense—and that’s what I love about down in New Cross. You know the people and you just need to come together and help each other out because they can use it for their portfolios, you can use it for press, and you all just muck in and get some stuff done.
TIH: Do you think it benefits the overall quality of the music when you have to be really conscious of how much you’re spending and doing the best you can with limited funds?
D&C: Yeah. Well, with what I do, it’s all about getting out of that whole working with other producers thing and doing things by yourself. Because you don’t have the time and everyone else is really busy. I’d say, if you’re an unsigned artist, it’s not necessarily the producers that won’t give you time. It’s their managers who say ‘Well, you’re not getting paid for it, so we’ll just bump that one out of the way’, which is fair enough. But that was so beneficial for me, because otherwise, there never would have been an EP. There would just be a few more pop-esque demos that weren’t wholeheartedly myself floating around and that would be it, really. So that was completely beneficial for me, just having the time and saying to myself no one’s funding this for you so you’ve got to do it by yourself in your bedroom. You’ve got the musicians around you. Yeah, and I really like it. You get a real sense of who’s wholeheartedly in it and, hopefully, it will pay off for all of us. And when it comes to the live thing with the guys, I know I couldn’t do it without them. I mean, I still do solo shows sometimes, if it’s small enough, intimate venues, I still do the solo thing and I love doing them. But when it comes to the band and stuff, they’re great, because we get a minimal fee. We cover our backs—we don’t lose money—but we certainly don’t make any money when it comes to the live thing…at the moment. But it’s nice. We’ve built up a real team of people around us that are really into the project, no matter if it makes money or it doesn’t, and that’s cool.
I first listened to the music of Dimbleby & Capper on the recommendation of the incomparably charming and immensely talented Lisbee Stainton (also a classmate of Laura’s from Goldsmiths College). I was so impressed (and conveniently London-bound) that I rushed to set up an interview. Over coffee in St. James’ Park, we discussed everything from production and influences, to performing and the London club scene. Here is the first of a series of extracts.
The Indie Handbook: Do you think your time at Goldsmiths influenced your sound?
Laura Bettinson (D&C): Oh yeah, for sure. I started—oh, that’s a nice dog! Really cute. It looks a bit like my hat—When I joined Goldsmiths, I lived in the Midlands with my mom and dad and came straight out of doing my A Levels straight into uni. I didn’t take a year off or anything, and I’d been playing quite a lot on the Midlands singer-songwriter scene—Coventry, Birmingham, all that stuff—and I was taking a piano because it was just a voice and piano thing. And then I got to London and I tried doing that for about two months until it became obvious that I can’t take a full, proper weighted piano on the Tube. It’s a joke. I just wasn’t doing it.
TIH: I think I’d pay to see that, actually.
D&C: Well, I did it a few times, but the thing is heavy. It’s just so damn heavy. So I took a little hiatus to figure out how I was going to put all this—all my songs—in a suitcase and be able to get around easily without having to have three men help me carry it up the stairs of Covent Garden tube station. So that’s why I started messing around with electronics. After that, I got into the whole looping thing and samples. At Goldsmiths, you had so many opportunities to perform and it’s a really non-judgmental environment for you to go Alright, I’ve only just started fucking around with this, so my apologies—and everyone gives you genuine feedback. The course we were on was so small with only about 28 people on it, but some amazing talent and the tutors are fab. And the facilities are good—I mean, they may not be the best ever, but that’s kind of the charm of it, because we’re all kind of DIY. And if you can’t do it yourself, then who the hell’s gonna do it for you? Which has almost become one of my mottos, that whole DIY-type thing—stick it together; see if it works. If it doesn’t, find some people who will help you do it.
TIH: So it’s more the sort of environment that fosters and encourages experimentation.
D&C: For sure, yeah. And it’s a popular music course, the one I was on, which is funny because a lot that comes out of it is not “pop”. I loved being at Goldsmiths but it’s a proper bubble, you know? You’re in that bubble for three years and you think I can do all this ridiculous conceptual stuff and everyone thinks it’s fabulous and then you come out and play it to normal people and you realise you’ll have to make a few more user-friendly modifications.
TIH: Have you done much listening to those more experimental artists—well, they’re standard fare now—but the avant garde performers of the 70s and 80s, like Meredith Monk or Laurie Anderson?
D&C: Laurie Anderson. Yeah, I do listen to Laurie Anderson, but only in the last year or so, since being at Goldsmiths. It’s very minimal in some ways, but there’s a depth to it. I do like Laurie Anderson but she gets a bit much at times. I can’t listen to it forever, but I can really appreciate what she does. And also someone said once that watching my growth through Goldsmiths is like looking through Cindy Sherman‘s back catalogue. Because, you know, the idea of reinvention…
TIH: Cindy Sherman is brilliant
D&C: and I like that. I used to take ridiculous photos on my Macbook. I used to dress up and my wardrobe is ridiculous—and I work in a vintage clothes shop now, which has not helped—so I can see the similarities there, the whole idea of characters is one of the strengths that enables me to do what I do, because otherwise I can’t do it, that whole personal thing. It’s no good, I wouldn’t be able to just sit there with a piano now, not for very long. I mean, what Lisbee does with her guitar—it’s just a different level of—I don’t know. It’s just a completely different approach to performance, equally meritable and brilliant, but I think I would find that very exposing.
TIH: I think that’s true of a lot of performers. I know it has been in my own experience. Without something between you and the audience, a rejection of the performance becomes a rejection of the performer.
D&C: It’s gets too much. Totally. It’s a funny old world. But like I said, if you’re going to do gigs like that—when you get bigger gigs and bigger audiences—if it doesn’t go down well and it’s just you, it’s like Oh, fuck. Whereas, I like stepping into something else. It is essentially me, just an exploded version, a bigger version, which can take the hit better than if it was just me.
TIH: So do you think that helps you to separate the performer—the you on stage—from the real you?
D&C: Yeah. Everyone always asks…well, you haven’t asked yet…but the Dimbleby & Capper thing, the name, wasn’t really thought about, but I just needed—the music’s really quite schizophrenic, you know. All the lyrics, I just kind of cut stuff up, you know? I don’t really sit down and think I’m going to write a song about waking up and eating breakfast. I’ll just pick out a word and think Well, that rhymes with that and I’ll just shove that together and we’ll go down that tangent. I fancy talking about cross-dressing. I’ll shove that in there. It’s totally cut and paste. I do some art—well, I say ‘art’—a lot of my ideas come from that collage kind of stuff. There are a few little bits of cut and stick where I just literally take body parts of people, animals, anything, myself—there will be a part of me in there somewhere: a face or a leg or something—and I’ll stick it all together. And I think that’s kind of the approach I take to Dimbleby & Capper. It’s a bit of everything: mish-mash, cut it up, stick it together, if it works, it works, if not…
TIH: So you don’t have, necessarily…
D&C: A method to my madness.
TIH: Not exactly the term I was looking for, but…
D&C: Yeah, that’s my approach. Pretty much everything I do in life has got to be, like, instant, even food. If I can’t have food in five minutes, I’m not gonna eat. It’s like music. When I get my stuff mixed, my boyfriend—he’s a sound engineer—when he gets hold of my sessions, he’s like What the fuck? What have you recorded this at? It’s distorting and it’s awful! But that’s just me. That’s how I do it. That’s how I got that sound. You’re gonna have to work with it. It’s not particularly the most orthodox method, but it works for me. No complaints yet.
TIH: Well, I think it sounds good.
D&C: Thanks. The only problem is, though, you never remember how you got there. Recently, I was trying to remember: Why do the vocals on ‘Slick Maturity’ sound great and I can’t recreate them on any of my other stuff? And it’s because I haven’t got a fucking clue how I did it. I don’t know what settings I was on, nothing, which is pretty irritating. I really should start writing stuff down.
Some people think this job is easy. It’s true that there are those entries that seem to write themselves and those writers who are perfectly content to bang out a post (read: cut and paste the press release) in 15 minutes. But I’ve never been one to do things the efficient way (in high school English, I was reading Fear and Trembling while my classmates read Ender’s Game). Likewise, I am always drawn to those artists who make my job more difficult—and I’ve been at a loss for words to describe Dimbleby & Capper for six months.
Trouble is, Dimbleby & Capper is a paradox. Never mind the fact that Dimbleby & Capper is actually one person (Laura Bettinson) or that she received heavy airplay from the likes of Huw Stephens very early on. What secured my devotion within the first 12 seconds of “Slick Maturity” was the seemingly perpetual quality of the music. It’s a sound so fresh and original, that it’s easy to assume that it’s just like something else. And with the recent explosion in popularity of female artists from Florence + the Machine to Marina and the Diamonds, it is inevitable that an act like D&C will be compared the same.
While it is true that Laura has worked with Marina and the Diamonds producer Liam Howe on one early track (“Beautiful but Boring”), it’s the self-produced lo-fi looped and layered tracks that make D&C so captivating. And while she and Florence Welch both rely heavily on pounding rhythms, Laura has deconstructed the jungle rhythms that struck fear into the heart of David Noebel to something far more dangerous than the quivering hips of Elvis Presley: an idea.
Of course, an artist who can, in the span of four songs, construct a sonic paradigm that sounds at once like everything and nothing you’ve ever heard (as is the case with the debut D&C EP, Slick Maturity) is bound to arouse high expectations in even the most cynical of critics. What I didn’t expect was the lasting effect a woman clad in fur and gaffer tape would have on the way I think about music (and a lot of other things).
If you aren’t already familiar with Laura and her music, now is the time to change that. Good thing we did that massive interview a while back. I’ll be posting excerpts over the next couple of days, but to get you started, you can download an mp3 of the non-EP single “Want This” (in exchange for an email address) and watch the official video below. It’ll give you a better idea just what we’re dealing with here.