Citadel 2016 – Festival Review

17th July

After a successful opening year in 2015, Citadel returned to Victoria Park.  The Great British sun was shining and we prepped ourselves for a Sunday of good food and great music.

The festival prides itself on its individuality, featuring arts and comedy, as well as a roster of outstanding musicians.  There are already countless existing London festivals, yet Citadel have tapped into a unique opportunity: a one-day Sunday festival.  Gone are the drunken folk, stumbling field to field.  Pure smiles and lots to do, made it an attractive destination for a sunny Sunday.

With three main stages and a further five to choose from, there was plenty to see.  Of the main stages, the Communion stage provided an ideal line up for me, I could have stayed there for the entire day.

BBC Sound of 2016 nominee Billie Marten caught my attention as I wandered around Citadel in search of exactly what I found. The 17-year-old folk singer from Yorkshire has a dusty but pure vocal tone, hitting every note without hesitation. Her guitar playing is striking and emotive, as if she’d been playing for 30 odd years. I got chills on multiple occasions, which felt ironic in the 26-degree heat! Surely a star in the making, she reminds me a lot of Lucy Rose. Her shy presence was endearing and captivating.

After a disappointingly long queue for the bar, I found the Big Top. Maribou State performed their largely electronic set with the help of live drums and star-of-the-show Holly Walker on vocals. I’m standing by for some solo work from her, another British female singer with heaps of potential.

Tom Misch and his band of insanely talented musicians were up next on Communion stage. Over the last year Misch’s credibility has exploded. After releasing Beat Tape 1 and 2, and hitting the festival circuit last year with solo DJ sets, his live show has developed into a fully-fledged performance, with violin solos from Tobie Tripp, Alfa Mist on keys and Misch’s trademark guitar improvisation. There were guest appearances from Laura Misch on sax, singer and EP collaborator Carmody, and Jordan Rakei graced the stage for their dulcet track ‘Wake Up This Day’.

With barely enough time to queue for another drink, Matt Corby was up. This guy… Jesus. I’ve seen him three times this year already and would jump at the chance to see him again.  I have never heard vocal control, projection and variation like it.  I can’t work out why he is not a household name yet, possibly because his debut album only came out this year, after scrapping the original version in 2014 and secluding himself for 6 months to re-write it.  Corby is a rare entity, oozing calmness and spirituality; his stage presence is so god-like.  An artist of our generation.

Back to the Big Top for some Submotion Orchestra, a band I first saw five years ago, in their birthplace, Leeds. Powerful electronic music with Ruby Wood’s entrancing vocals.  Their music is a unique blend of live instrumental dubstep and soaring melodies, a style I expected to see explode with the upsurge of dance music in the mainstream scene over the last few years. It’s not happened quite yet, but hold tight.

Lianne La Havas (above) was the highlight of the day for me.  Even in these tough Brexit times, she makes me proud to be British. She is an insanely charming and professional performer, making every audience member smile throughout.  Technically brilliant on guitar and vocals, tracks from her previous two albums sounded wonderful and her new material even better. Excited for new releases from her.

The day was topped off by Sigur Ros’ impressive, ethereal light show.  The sound on the Main Stage was a little quiet and the audience looked ready for bed by this point, but it was a great way to sum up the festival and a weekend of sunshine.

The strangest thing about the festival was the ghostly echo of Lovebox, held on the Friday and Saturday in Victoria Park. Half of the bars were closed and some of the stages empty.  I understand Citadel is a smaller festival, but the extra bars would have been handy and it needed something specific added to contribute towards the “boutique” charm.  Overall though, a brilliant day out.  I would thoroughly recommend it for all those music and arts lovers who fancy something different from the average London piss-up.

Half Moon Run – Live @ Oslo

Half Moon Run

As the brightest half-moon shone over East London (I kid you not), I headed over to Oslo for a show I’d been waiting for, for quite some time.

Half Moon Run are a four-piece indie band from Montreal. Their sound is influenced by an array of genres and their multi-instrumental set up makes for a rich experience. The band’s 2012 album, Dark Eyes, brought a considerable amount of critical acclaim and lead to a worldwide tour in 2013, along with a number of festival dates including the mother itself, Glastonbury. Now on a European tour promoting the release of their sophomore album, the first of three London dates was at Oslo Hackney on Monday 21st September, and I was ecstatic to finally see them live.

Fellow Canadians The Franklin Electric graced the stage first to limber up the audience.  The alternative folk-pop band embodied the sensitive side of Half Moon Run. It was a solid performance but I didn’t find them as quite as stimulating as their successor.

Half Moon Run landed on stage with dramatic lighting and a hitting percussive instrumental. We were introduced to some new material: ‘Turn Your Love’ and ‘Figure It Out’, followed by two of my favourite Dark Eyes tracks: ‘Nerve’ and ‘Unofferable’. Their lightly harmonised vocals and sophisticated guitar lines effortlessly captured the unanimous crowd.

The band is made up four talented musicians: Devon Portielje on lead vocals, guitar, keyboard and percussion. Dylan Phillips on the drums predominantly but also keyboard and vocals. Conner Molander on guitar, keyboard and vocals, and Isaac Symonds on guitar, bass, keyboard and percussion. Quite a setup to say the least!

After another few charming tracks from their forthcoming sophomore album, ‘Sun Leads Me On’,which is due for release on 23rd October, the four brought the venue alive with the second single from Dark Eyes, ‘Call Me In The Afternoon’. It is one of their more pop-influenced tracks and judging by the number of “backing vocalists” in the audience (myself included), it is a clear favourite.

Throughout the set the band displayed innate musical skill, interchanging between instruments and nailing vocal harmonies. The four-piece were unified on stage, although there was little direct communication between them. You could tell the set was carefully planned and well-rehearsed, and this certainly paid off.  Boldly influenced by Radiohead, and subtly inspired by Bob Dylan, Fleet Foxes and James Blake, every song has its own twist and the variation kept the crowd on their toes.

Drug You’ is my absolute favourite Half Moon Run track, so I was thrilled that it was included in the show. Every time I hear it I find myself lost in the continual guitar motif and Portielje’s faultless falsetto. It has almost psychedelic qualities.

Following on from this we heard four more tracks from Sun Leads Me On: ‘Everybody Wants’, title track ‘Sun Leads Me On’, ‘The Debt’ and ‘Consider Yourself’. All interesting and varying from their debut album. I’m intrigued to listen to the record in its entirety, as I think it will bring something fresh to our Half Moon Run palate. The crowd were delighted with the performance, expressed through rapturous applause as the band departed.

They were encouraged back to the stage and graced us with their first single from Sun Leads Me On, ‘Trust’. Considerably influenced by electronica with a mellifluous and touching chorus, Portielje’s vocals sounded almost Bono-esq. Tying the encore up nicely, the four performed their début single ‘Full Circle’. Released in 2012, it received significant attention from BBC Radio 1 and remains their only UK charting single to date. I can happily say I will never get bored of this rhythmically beautiful track.

My only critique is that more than half the songs in the set were unreleased. I really enjoyed them, but they didn’t evoke the same emotional memory that tracks from Dark Eyes do for me. Having said that, I’m really looking forward to purchasing and digesting the new album, and I hope it brings me as much enjoyment as Dark Eyes has.

 

Jordan Rakei – Live @ 100 Club

RakzHaving seen Jordan Rakei perform at St Pancras Old Church earlier this year, I was eager to get myself down to Soho to witness his second London appearance. Originally from New Zealand, brought up in Australia and recently set up post in London, Rakei has been quietly growing over the last 6 months, soaking up the creativity London provides. He has now firmly established an instantly recognizable sound and showcased this at the legendary 100 Club on Friday.

100 Club has been a renowned London venue since the 40s, hosting the likes of The Rolling Stones, Louis Armstrong and The Clash. The interior hasn’t changed since the 70s, which complements its simple charm.  It was the perfect platform for Rakei; the show was impressive and the history of the venue made it feel like the unveiling of an artist who I expect will become increasingly prestigious over the coming years.

7-piece band, Retrospective For Love kicked off the gig with a compelling and driven performance.  Sicilian singer, producer and rapper Davide Sciortino joined forces with Parisian singer Leslie Phillips, along with an array of talented instrumentalists, to form the self-dubbed “symbiotic creative collective of enlightened minds”.  Evidently influenced by a huge range of genres, the band infuses dub, hip hop and of course, soul. They have an infectious sound, which had the audience grooving from the get go.

After a swift change over and a quickening of audience excitement, Jordan Rakei and his band hit the stage. They were tight off the bat, with complex rhythmic patterns and bluesy chromaticism that kept you on your toes.

The release of reggae-infused ‘Franklin’s Room’ in September 2013 created an initial surge of exposure.  Rakei confidently returned with the release of his second offering, ‘Groove Curse’, in August 2014 on Brisbane-based label Soul Has No Tempo.  The 5-track EP drew his sound deeper into neo-soul and this progression demonstrates Rakei’s ongoing development as an artist.

‘A Tribe Called Government’ was the ideal track to get the audience singing along.   Not afraid to explore different avenues, the live performance unveiled a more sophisticated jazz set up, with intricate accompaniments and decisive changes in time signature.  Rakei’s vocals were on point and the band sounded impeccably rehearsed.

The performance at St Pancras Old Church in February was a totally different experience. With no instrumental support, Jordan used the acoustics of the church to deliver a down-tempo solo set; it was impressive, but last week’s performance at 100 Club was in a whole different league. With notable tracks such as ‘Hope’ and ‘Add the Bassline’, the show was well and truly underway.

One of my favourite pieces was his independent version of FKJ’s ‘Learn To Fly’, which Rakei featured on originally. It was a totally different rendition, incorporating a stop-time introduction, which was seamless and highlighted the harmonious interaction between Rakei and his band.

Next up was a soulful cover of Little Dragon‘s ‘Constant Surprises’, followed by a collaborative performance with London’s own Barney Artist.  Barney has been gaining significant traction in the London hip hop scene since the release of his ‘Bespoke’ EP last September.  The pair, along with fellow rising artists Tom Misch and Alfa Mist, have recently formed a podcast collective: Are We Live. I’ve heard on the grapevine that the four are planning a live show in the coming months, so keep your eyes peeled, it’ll be one not to miss.

The performance of ‘Street Light’ guaranteed the audience’s attention with more complex stop-time rhythms and swiftly interchanging key signatures.  Although occasionally you can feel dissatisfied from hearing reworked editions of songs you know and already love; I found Rakei balanced this well, retaining the original enjoyment but spicing the performance up enough to bring something fresh.

The show was concluded with an encore of ‘Alright’ and ‘Selfish’, two of Jordan Rakei’s most recognizable tracks. It was clear from the crowd’s reaction that he has founded a concrete fan base, particularly in London.  After only a few years of experience performing, Rakei has developed remarkably natural stage presence and audience engagement (even with his eyes shut)!

An exceptional show.

George The Poet + Barney Artist @ Oslo

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Oslo is a cool bar and gig venue situated in the heart of East London, home to both George The Poet and his bud Barney Artist. I had the pleasure of seeing them perform on their home turf on Monday night and what a show it was.

Barney kicked off the gig with an embellished version of 2014 single ‘Beep Beep’.  His backing band consisted of bloody good pianist and producer Alfa Mist, Kaya on guitar and Rick with backup vocals.  The set up really worked and complimented Barney’s jazzy, hip-hop vibe.

He has an individual performance style: entertaining and purposely amusing at times but also commanding and hypnotising (particularly when he is absorbed in the instrumentals and throwing some lanky dance moves).

Barney has been recording over the last few of months and we were treated to a couple of new songs, first of which was ‘Dream’. Its melancholy instrumentation had a calming effect and the audience focused their attention on the honest lyrics about his youth.

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Towards the latter half of his set Barney really pulled the audience in with an a capella rendition of ‘Wandering’ off his Bespoke EP, released in August last year. The lyrics are thoughtful, covering more of his upbringing and relationship with God, which clearly resonated with the captivated crowd.

Next track was ‘Love Language’, which addresses the idea that everyone has an individual style of communicating love. This track particularly showcased Alfa’s piano abilities and Barney had the audience singing along with the chorus. Our second insight into his next collection was ‘Life is a Painting’. Barney expresses his concern of the impact of the media and “passive racism, always in the air”.

The set was concluded with my personal favourite from Bespoke, ‘ilvu’, which is a soulful rhythmic track that resulted in an approving applaud. Barney is giving away his brand new single ‘Oui’ for free (head over to his SoundCloud).

The interlude featured Shelz The Dancer. It was an interesting performance, with some hip-hop and interpretive dance. It was a fun way to transition and definitely had the audience entertained.

George The Poet’s set started dramatically with ‘Grinding’, which samples the classic iPhone ring tone and introduces a theme that would become apparent throughout the course of the show.

It was actually like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The structure of the show was very planned and purposeful but executed seamlessly. George introduces situational characters whose relationships he uncovers through ‘Baby Mother’ and ‘Baby Father’ from The Chicken and The Egg EP which was released in October, and achieved much recognition in the lead up to his BBC Sound of 2015 nomination.

The story told throughout the performance had significance and whilst (I sadly have to admit) I often don’t pay much attention to lyrics, I was hooked and heard every single word.  George mentioned a couple of times that he’s not an “artist” and that he’s using his fame as a platform to open up issues that need to be discussed. The Cambridge graduate is impeccably articulate; the range of ages and backgrounds in the audience suggests he, and what he stands for, resonates with the broad population.  The show was resolved with ‘Cat D’, the current single released in January this year.

George The Poet has the potential to affect a lot of change; he provides social commentary on teenage pregnancy and racism, subjects that are often discouraged. I came away from the performance feeling informed and motivated to support his cause, and I guess that was the entire purpose.

George for Prime Minister I say.

Deptford Goth – Songs – Album Review

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Deptford Goth isn’t quite as depressing as his name suggests. His smooth alternative RnB sound hints at James Blake, Jamie Woon and Bon Iver, but exudes an identifiable quality, evident throughout his brand new, sophomore album Songs – and of course his notable collection of previous tracks.

Deptford Goth, aka Daniel Woolhouse, began his career by squeezing in recording sessions after his teaching assistant day job in Deptford, South London.  He was picked up by record label Merok, home to the likes of Crystal Castles, Klaxons and Titus Andronicus, after he put out a Mariah Carey rework on ‘Real Love Fantasy’ in 2011. Since then, he released debut EP Youth II in 2011 then dropped his debut album Life After Defo in 2012, which gained a significant amount of positive coverage.

Exploring the origins of “Goth” in his alias is tricky but may stem from the slightly morose and blue lyrical and vocal style Woolhouse oozes. There are obvious similarities with other acoustic-to-electronic artists, such as the aforementioned Blake, Woon and Bon Iver; his externally simplistic but internally profound music is brain-food for those who take time to deconstruct the instrumental make up.

Categorized as experimental RnB/pop, or whatever you fancy really, Deptford Goth’s second album carries substance and demonstrates serious aptitude. If you’re after an album to cheer you up however, I wouldn’t recommend this. But if you need something to engross yourself in, particularly if you’re feeling slightly self-pitiful, this is the album for you. Personally, I find his style one to listen to alone.

Opening track, ‘Relic’ has a hypnotizing feel with reverberating vocals and a complex combination of rhythmic lines, reinforced by the cohesive lyrics: “the rhythm of life is an irregular beat”. Well-said Woolhouse. Track 4, ‘We Symbolise’, is a steady recording and is a typical example of Woolhouse’s ethereal flair. The chorus offers an octave-doubled vocal, with a haunting synthesized drone keeping the advancing ambiance afloat.    

‘Two Hearts’ was released as a promotional single for the album. It exudes wholesomeness with a sonorous piano sound and well-judged chord progressions, which makes it one of the most universal tracks on the album. It’s contrasting to the Mariah Carey rework Goth was originally noticed for in 2011, however the track is still discernibly his.

My favourite and the final track on the album is ‘A Shelter, A Weapon’ which may be a bit too soppy for some but lyrically this one did it for me: “got a life time, use it like a weapon”. The thing that really catches me, however, is the intriguing recorder-like sounds used within the instrumental; a sound rarely used in modern music. It’s one of the more rhythmic tracks on the album, with a consistent percussive accompaniment and an ear-wormy chorus.

Deptford Goth is playing a sold out show on 19th November but has announced a second gig in February at the world-famous venue, Heaven. ‘Songs’ is released 3rd November on Nick Worthington’s 37 Adventures label. Get yourself a copy.

Glass Animals @ Oval Space

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Tuesday 14th October 2014

Glass Animals are without doubt one of the most exciting British bands to arise in the last year or two. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them twice now, firstly at Electric Picnic this year (which was unbelievable may I add) and on Tuesday at Oval Space in East London’s Bethnal Green. It is a trendy warehouse venue with epic views of the gas towers and sided by the canal. I’ve been previously for club nights, but it’s size and ambience made it a perfect gig venue.

The gig kicked off with a classy performance from support act Laura Groves and her band. It was gentle and consistent, and Groves has a really dulcet voice, but I wasn’t particularly engaged.

Glass Animals arrived with purpose, on a jungle dressed stage full of huge green plants. It was unusual and really fitted with their slightly psychedelic performance. Signed to Paul Epworth’s Wolf Tone record, the four-piece band have built a substantial catalogue over the last couple of years. Their debut EP ‘Leaflings’ was released in 2012 whilst they were studying at university and since then the band have grown into their distinguishable sound that’s really making a mark on the industry.

The lead singer, Dave Bayley, seems a tad geeky from the exterior, but the moment the bass-driven instrumentals drop he transforms into a surprisingly ‘rock n roll’ diva. For a band whose music is often chilled and kaleidoscopic, it was a highly energetic performance.

Black Mambo’ was the first official single released by Glass Animals, and remains one of my favourites. The moment the audience heard the introductory tinkling of keys creating that smooth anticipation for the bass drop, they were paying attention.

Hazey’, which was released as their latest single earlier this month and is my favourite on the album, was executed seamlessly. ‘Gooey’, ‘Toes’ and ‘Jdnt’ were also highlights for me. Tuesday’s gig kicked of their European, US and Australian tour with vigour and I can only imagine the progression of the tour will further refine the show (having said that, not much was needed). It’s astonishing how consistent the quality of their release collection is to date. The live experience makes you appreciate every single one, track after track after track; it’s so fulfilling.

After an hour of pure entertainment the boys came back on stage for an encore and performed their cover of Kanye West’s ‘Love Lockdown’ and crowd pleaser ‘Pools’, which was released in June. I might write to Bayley to express my need to hear them perform ‘Woozy’, which they released on their second EP in January this year and features Chicago luminary Jean Deaux. I think it was a shame to miss it off the album and I imagine would be unbelievable live.

Bayley’s vocals sound smooth on record, but they have such a gentle quality that you might be a tad concerned about the execution live. Rest assured, they’re as flawless on stage. He has such an interesting, soulful tone; I suppose hazey is the best way of describing them. Drew MacFarlane, Edmund Irwin-Singer and Joe Seaward make up the rest of the band. Boy they’re talented.

The only disappointing part of the whole experience was the crowd. Ok, it was a Tuesday night so it was a pretty sober group, but there was quite a lot of talking which I found distracting. The venue was chockablock of trendy hipsters showing their faces although maybe I was spoilt at Electric Picnic, where I’ve never experienced such vibrancy at a gig. Claps and cheers went on for minutes rather than seconds; and the elation on the faces of the band members really made that performance for me. Don’t get me wrong, Oval Space was a pretty faultless show and I’m definitely going to try and see them again at Shepherd’s Bush in March next year. If you’re yet to discover their talent, I wholeheartedly recommend. One of the best albums and live shows I’ve seen all year.

Jon Hopkins @ The Royal Festival Hall

jon hopkins 2Friday 19th September 2014

I didn’t know what to expect, having never been to see a contemporary performance at The Royal Festival Hall. It’s fair to say, I was blown away.

Jon Hopkins had an impressive introduction to the world of music. He played keys for Imogen Heap during her 1998 tour, has been heavily involved in the writing and production for number of Coldplay albums, as well as contributing to Brian Eno’s Another Day On Earth and producing for Natalie Imbruglia, David Holmes and The Pierces.

On top of this, Jon Hopkins wrote the soundtrack for British Sci-Fi film Monsters, for which he was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Score. He collaborated with Brian Eno for The Lovely Bones soundtrack and was solely responsible for the score for 2013 film How I Live Now. He produced the track ‘Midnight’ for Coldplay, which is by far the best track on their most recent album, Ghost Stories. Most recently, his album Immunity was nominated for the 2013 Mercury Prize, as was his collaboration with King Creosote on Diamond Mine in 2011; quite an impressive back catalogue to say the least.

The set began with an explosion of experimental dubstep; no, not the Skrillex kind, the dark, ethereal, chest-rumbling kind comparable to the pre-2000 dubstep, before EDM obsessed youngsters got their greasy hands all over it. The track was supported by a fascinating visual representation of the music, a feature that really locked in the audience (after the slightly distracted vibe support act Blanck Mass had to contend with).

I was amazed from the outset at how quickly Hopkins was able to switch between high-energy electronica to pure ambiance. The variation between electronic and acoustic sounds is also not something you hear very often; the transitions between the two were impeccable. I was really pleased to hear him play on the beautiful concert grand, which delicately resonated throughout the venue.

For a performer who didn’t say a word, he was so charismatic. A lot of DJ/producers who I’ve seen in the past have their heads stuck in their mixers and find it difficult to communicate with the audience. Often it’s excused for lack of a microphone, but Hopkins was open and receptive which made his flawless performance truly entertaining.

After a number of immersive tracks, Hopkins brought it up notch with one of my favorite Immunity tracks, ‘Open Eyed Signal’. Gradually members of the audience stood up to dance along. I thought it was a bit odd at first considering the setting, but eventually the entirety of the packed out venue were on their feet. Even though I was on my own, I felt a sense of unity and liberty (slightly cheesy, but true). I can’t imagine what it must have felt like as a performer to trigger such a powerful response from the crowd. I hadn’t envisaged my evening ending up as it did; there was even the odd shirt off!

Jon Hopkins’ music features numerous soundscape style samples, with homemade effects; the likes of Tristram Carey and Karlheinz Stockhausen, who were the original pioneers of electronic music, would have been particularly proud. I wish they had lived to see Hopkins at his prime.

All in all, a fantastic show. Jon Hopkins’ style is certainly not for everyone but if you’re in to ambient-electronica, techno or just want to broaden your musical horizons, have a listen. And if you ever get the opportunity, I’d fully advise to experience it live. I never thought I’d have had so much fun on my own!