Existential Dread and Clever Lyrical Content: The Underground Indie Scene

By carysmegansound

This may seem a rather odd topic but it's one close to my heart. My musical taste largely consists of music in the Math Rock and (underground) Indie Rock genres, and bands in this scene often have funny song names: I haven't had a lunch break since window's vista came out - Alpha Male Tea Party, lyrical content that can only be written by a 20-something year old having an existential crisis: I need to sort my life out / I need to sort my hair / but the barber's got no answers only stories i don't care about - Don't Worry, and an aesthetic and relatability for so many of my generation.

  Don't Worry's recent release Who Cares Anyway?

Don't Worry's recent release Who Cares Anyway?

Can guitars sound sad? Absolutely. I don't believe any other genre makes guitars sound as sad as underground emo/indie/math rock does, and I know 'sad' definitely isn't a technical term but as soon as you listen you'll understand what I mean.

This blog was inspired by a band I discovered by accident at Tooting Tram and Social a couple of years ago. They were playing alongside an underground Math Rock band called The Yacht Club (who incidentally have a really exciting album in the works - and I cannot wait for it to come out and tell you all about it).

Anyway, I was totally drawn to Don't Worry because line after line was relatable and so cleverly crafted. Why am I so Unorganised is the first and main lyric of the chorus to Three Nil. The bridge of the song consists of the singer talking in a matter-of-fact way, and it's one of my favourite parts of any song I've ever heard (see below)

I walked out of the tube station and waited for the bus driver to finish his cigarette so that we could all get on board and he could start the engine.
I sat facing backwards looking only at where I’d been and not where I was going and a sense of non-interest and disappointment flooded my brain.
I couldn’t wait to get home to carry on feeling this way. But once I was at home I would be alone and more comfortable, and my eyes wouldn’t be bouncing around in my head like the numbers on the national lottery.
— Three Nil - Don't Worry

Something else that I've always loved about going to underground gigs is how intimate they are. The bands are usually fans of each other anyway so when they're not on stage, they're right next to you in the crowd. Also, you get little personal touches when you buy things from them - my Don't Worry cap came in shiny paper with a handwritten note. Even though these bands I listen to sing about the relatively sad things in life, they're happy as lary doing what they do and I massively respect that.

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What I really want you to take away from reading this is to go to local and underground gigs. They're cheap so it's no worry if you don't particularly enjoy the band you took a gamble in seeing. The venues are usually unusual and a bit interesting so you get a decent night out either way, and you might even come away with a love for a new band you wouldn't have otherwise come across. 

A recent example of this for me was Leo Nappier in The Ram Jam. Him with his band were relatively new in playing together back in March and ended up blowing everyone away, and they're back again on 28th July!

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A great way of discovering underground artists is to look for indie record labels and look at their artists. A great one to check out for the sort of 'sad' / math rock I'm in to is Big Scary Monsters. They released a fantastic Math Rock record titled Animals by This Town Needs Guns, and some of their current artists include Gnarwolves, Alpha Male Tea Party, and Nervus (who very recently played in Kingston). Another indie record label I'm a big fan of is Failure by Design records. Alternatively, find some venues in your local area and look to see who plays there regularly or is playing there soon!

This Is America... Some Thoughts

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This Is America... Some Thoughts

By carysmegansound

I'd never listened to Childish Gambino before, and I'm definitely not up to date with the rap/hip-hop scene of this decade (my HipHop/Rap playlist on Spotify pretty much has stuff exclusively from the early 90s to about 2007). But a friend of mine suggested this video to me and since then I've seen many articles pop up about it, so I thought I'd go through some of these and throw in my two cents.

  source: youtube.com

source: youtube.com

This Is America has sparked online discussion and even the BBC are reporting on its message. Music Journalist Natty Kasambala describes the contrasting tones of the song as being similar to scrolling through a twitter feed; you'll see violence and then something funny, and your emotions can flick through from laughing to sadness in a second. This is something I wholeheartedly believe was the idea behind the video - in America you have strong black communities celebrating their heritage (shown with the traditional African singing used in the song) and that is interrupted by the violence and gun crime. She also mentions that watching more black deaths in the video "isn't going to have any more of a revolutionary impact" which I agree with, but don't believe the video was created with that intention - I think the intention was more artistic and metaphorical in the way that he chose to arrange the music and pair the video with the song... Natty's final comment was that she was "a little shocked and a little overwhelmed with the way he chose to say [something so important]". 

  Source: glassnotemusic.com

Source: glassnotemusic.com

Who Is Childish Gambino?

Donald Glover is an American comedian, actor, writer, director, producer, DJ and songwriter/rapper, under which he uses the stage name Childish Gambino. He's currently signed to Glassnote Records (Chvrches, Daughter, Two Door Cinema Club) and his latest release 'Awaken, My Love!' achieved vast critical acclaim, particularly for the song Redbone. I've not yet seen a negative thing about him, in fact quite the opposite. The image below is a comment under the BBC News article about This Is America.

  Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

  Source: youtube.com

Source: youtube.com

Picking Apart The Video...

The first scene in the music video shows Glover with apparently 'exaggerated' dance moves and facial expressions, and many (The Guardian, AJ+) have likened this to a gross characterisation of African-Americans and their culture by Thomas D. Rice from around the 19th Century known as Jim Crow.

The strongest piece of imagery for me was the contrast and confliction in the video, first of all from the dancing to the shooting and second of all between the foreground and the background. In the scene with an all-black gospel choir, Gambino comes in dancing and smiling then all of a sudden his body and facial expression just drops and at that point the gun is thrown into his arms and he shoots the choir. This to me is what the video is all about; black identity being interrupted by the reality of racism and the gun crime in America. "We Just Wanna Party" are the first words sung, and potentially the most underrated as I haven't seen this picked apart in any of the articles I've read. This hugely contrasts with "Guns in my area / I gotta carry 'em".

The conflicting imagery between Gambino in the front and the chaos ensuing in the back of most of the video is widely accepted as a commentary on the media being a distraction to what is actually going on in the world, however I also took it potentially as showing black communities trying to push on with lives despite what is going on around them.

  Source: youtube.com

Source: youtube.com

According to Time magazine, Gambino has said his next album will be his last... Every one of his albums so far have been vastly different to one another and each one has achieved greater praise than the one before; can we expect it to be a political mic drop as a poignant end to his Childish Gambino Persona?

If you would like to check out the articles and sources discussed and drawn on for this blog, here are the links below:

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Last Week... JD and The Electro-Tones EP Launch 7th April '18

By carysmegansound

On Saturday night, Kingston celebrated the release of debut EP by JD and The Electro-Tones. It was a completely sold-out event and everyone had a fantastic night, from staff to the band and of course the audience too!

 JD and The Electro-Tones in The Ram Jam

JD and The Electro-Tones in The Ram Jam

The band comprised of main man Julien D'imperio on harmonica and vocals, Chris Corcoran on guitar, Francesca Shaw on double bass and Loris Peverani on the drums. 

 Julien D'Imperio in The Ram Jam

Julien D'Imperio in The Ram Jam

The staff at The Grey Horse know Julien outside of music, and we'd have never guessed he had this harmonica BEAST inside of him! He's always the one dishing out bags of compliments to musicians who come and play at The Ram Jam and is completely modest about his talents. He has a really rounded, easy-to-listen-to Blues voice and a gritty harmonica sound to contrast with that. During the second half of the evening, he jumped down off stage to play harmonica in the crowd and the audience LOVED it! His lovely and cheeky personalities shine through and he had everyone hooked.

Julien is a really clever songwriter and arranger and has music that Blues enthusiasts and anyone else can enjoy, and he picks his musicians really well - they're all really lovely, easy to work with, great in their field and brilliant to watch!

Accompanying him were 3 regulars on the Blues scene in London, including badass bass player Francesca. I love seeing her play - she's a petite woman playing one of the largest and most physically demanding instruments, yet her energy on stage is awe-worthy and she never breaks a sweat!

 Francesca Shaw 

Francesca Shaw 

 Francesca Shaw and Loris Peverani 

Francesca Shaw and Loris Peverani 

Chris is Julien's regular guitarist and features on the EP - I always hear high praises from Julien about him and on Saturday I got to see why. He's an influential and professional Blues guitarist with a smooth tone, perfectly complimenting the rest of the musicians.

Finally, Loris is a solid drummer with fantastic groove, and I eagerly await the part of the night where he can let loose when introduced by the frontman. I particularly like the way Loris builds up gradually to excite the audience, making it a formulated solo rather than just going crazy.  

If you're interested in getting your hands on a copy of the EP, contact Julien via his band's Facebook page.

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Did You Know... Judging Music By How It Looks?

By carysmegansound

Recently I have become pretty obsessed with a podcast called No Such Thing As A Fish, hosted by 4 of the QI Elves. For those of you who have not seen the BBC programme QI, it's a panel show where celebrity guests give 'Quite Interesting' answers to the slightly bizarre questions Stephen Fry (and as of late, Sandi Toksvig) ask. Behind the scenes there are people known as the QI Elves whose job it is to research these odd and fascinating facts for the show, and in March 2014 a few of them started a podcast just to share their favourite facts they discover each week.

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In a recording from June 2016 with special guest Tim Minchin, Anna said "My fact this week is that we judge music more on how it looks than how it sounds". 

Anna explains this information comes largely from a study conducted in 2013 by Chia-Jung Tsay from UCL, titled 'Sight over sound in the judgement of music performance', where it was discovered "people can reliably select the winners of classical music competitions based on silent video recordings of performances".

The 'boring' bit: To summarise, 886 participants (a mix of novices and professional musicians) were given either video-only, sound-only or video and sound versions of short clips of top performances from 10 international competitions. Before the study 83% of the novices and 96% of the professionals say that sound mattered most for their evaluations of a person's musical performance. The findings of the study were that 20.5% of experts identified the winners of the competitions when listening to sound-only recordings (no better chance than random chance), whereas 46.6% correctly identified the winners when watching video-only recordings. If you're interested in seeing how you'd do, below is a YouTube video from the conductor of the study showing you how!

Dan Schreiber, producer and one of the elves, relates the study to watching Mumford and Sons live, saying that the pianist is properly rocking out even though 'he's only playing G', and simply because of the visual cues it gives the audience the impression that how he's playing affects what he's playing.

... I hope I haven't lost you yet!

This all really interested me, being fascinated by the psychology of music and sound, and it made me think about my gig experiences and how my best memories are when the bands were particularly energetic and wild on stage. I saw Enemies live in I think March 2016 at The Lexington, and if you listen to Enemies you might not particularly associate them with mad stage energy (mostly because they're so easy to listen to just as background music), but still to this day I don't think I've seen or felt energy on stage in quite the same way as I did at their gig.

I don't have any contest with this study - before I heard about it I hadn't thought about the fact that the visual aspect of music massively affects a person's perception. I thought I was comparing a live sound with an album recording, but now I realise it's not just live vs recorded; it's greatly to do with the visual and performance given. On the right is a photo taken at a Tim Penn gig in The Ram Jam, Kingston of saxophonist Ayo Odea. You can see his eyes are closed and he's leaning back, both things that wouldn't be on a recording and things that would enhance a person's perception on his playing ability and performance. Thinking about it, musician's also seem to 'follow' their music they're playing; for example 'dropping' when the music drops - which I guess helps you to 'see' the music too!

 Ayo Odea performing in The Ram Jam 

Ayo Odea performing in The Ram Jam 

Tim Minchin in the podcast also mentions what he called 'The Stradivarius Effect', wherein there's actually little difference in sound between playing 'a £1m Stradivarius violin and a £1k violin', but that doesn't mean it doesn't make a difference psychologically. Tim says "maybe it doesn't matter that it's bollocks because the musician feels more passionate about the music when they play it" and I think that's 100% what to take away from this study and listening to the podcast, and that is what you put in physically and emotionally into what you play makes the difference. It's not what you play, it's how you play.

Thank you for reading and I hope this study was even half as interesting to you as it was to me!

If you'd like to find out more, the episode of No Such Thing As A Fish mentioned above is Episode 117, they start the discussion at around 14:00 and the soundcloud link is just to the left. 

If you're more interested in the study by Chia-Jung Tsay, here is the link to the PDF, it's a relatively short read (for a study)!

Last Week... Leo Napier in The Ram Jam - 17th March '18

By carysmegansound

Last week in The Ram Jam venue at The Grey Horse there were a couple of firsts. On Friday at the Crack Comedy event, there was not only a trombone and a squash-turned-instrument with a carrot mouthpiece played as part of a comedy set, but we had a few new faces on the scene in the form of Leo Napier and The Fever on Saturday.

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The group's set covered an incredibly vast range of genres and styles, showcasing the vocal talent of Leo and versatility of all members. They performed renditions of classic songs familiar to the audience but with a modern-twist, such as Lean on Me and Use Me by Bill Withers, but also put a Blues/Funk take on more modern songs including a very clever cover of Passin' Me By by Pharsyde. 

  Source:  facebook.com

Source: facebook.com

Leo's background and influences similarly cover a plethora of styles; he grew up across LA and London, eventually settling back in the US and according to his bio on leonapier.com, there was always music playing around the family home in the form of artists such as Al Green, Miles Davis, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. You could hear the influence his musical interests have in his original songs as well as his choice of covers, you wouldn't have expected to hear rapping in the set performed in the Ram Jam on Saturday if you didn't know Leo!

The 4 of them were one super tight unit, the band knowing exactly what Leo wanted by just a simple flick of his wrist. What really struck me was the fact that without the lyrics, the covers performed were barely recognisable because of how originally they had been arranged and in most cases, the instrumental parts re-written. It was refreshing to hear these songs performed so differently!

  Leo Napier and The Fever in the Ram Jam

Leo Napier and The Fever in the Ram Jam

One of the notes I wrote for myself on the night simply says "The Grooviest" - not that I exactly needed reminding. You couldn't help but feel the music they were playing, every part complimented another and each drop to a new groove added another dimension to the song. The crowd grew throughout the set till the end when it was standing-room only, and there were compliments being thrown around the room from one person to another because they were a fantastic Saturday Night Surprise. At around 11.45 they asked how many more songs they could play and the answer was simply "as many as you like" because everyone was just loving the whole experience.

Have a listen to Leo's EP Mind Up below!

Keep an eye out on Leo's website which you can find here for upcoming tour dates and for more information, or check out his Facebook for regularly updated info on his antics.

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Open Mic Night in the Ram Jam Club - 21st Feb '18

By carysmegansound

If you’re looking for music in Kingston, there’s pretty much always something going on. Whether you want to buy some music from Banquet Records or watch some at The Fighting Cocks, The Hippodrome or The Grey Horse, there’ll be something for you. This week’s Open Mic Night in the Ram Jam at The Grey Horse showcased a vast and eclectic mix of performers, making it one of RJ’s busiest Open Mic events to date!

There were a few particularly stand-out acts, including BBC Introducing performer Jack Grace who had just popped in after a University of Kingston Alumni gig at The Rose Theatre. 

 Jack Grace performing in The Ram Jam

Jack Grace performing in The Ram Jam

Bournemouth-born and raised, I overheard Jack explaining to an audience member that he grew up in Folk clubs in the South-West and it’s clear to see this Folk and Soul influence in his songwriting and singing style. What really turned my head was the power in his voice. When he sang out, his voice was completely controlled and filled every crevice in the room, which was a beautiful contrast to the quieter parts of the songs. Jack managed to completely silence the venue with this technique. His songs were largely melancholy but more than that, they had an almost cathartic feel to them. It was a pleasant surprise to have Jack and I know for a fact that he left a lasting impression on many people.

 

Below is one of the songs he played on the night and one of my personal favourites, Clocks.

Another Folk and Soul influenced act from the night was the acoustic duo ‘The Beare Sisters’. 

 The Beare Sisters performing in The Ram Jam

The Beare Sisters performing in The Ram Jam

The girls had a similar vibe to them as Swedish act First Aid Kit, utilising similar harmonies, but were more R’n’B than Country. They describe themselves as “Bringing soft, sweet, acoustic R'n'B tunes to you all” and that perfectly sums up their act. They began with a beautiful and unique rendition of Rock With You by Michael Jackson and ended on a few originals. What particularly intrigued me about their music was their use of space; they used both the guitar and their voices sparingly, leaving the listener to take in the sound for that little bit longer and reflect on it. This technique leaves the girls very open and vulnerable, which I felt enhanced the emotions of the audience.

 

 

Below is one of the songs played on the night, titled Girls.

The night ended with Surrey-based band HydroCell. Early-2000s Indie bands such as The Strokes heavily influence the group’s music, and they particularly reminded me of The Libertines. However they also had a strong rock influence, particularly in parts without the distinct indie-sounding Stratocaster.

 Hydrocele on stage in The Ram Jam

Hydrocele on stage in The Ram Jam

Hydrocele commanded the stage and the music was well-crafted and fun, something people of all ages would be able to enjoy. At one point I had to pop out and just by the door swinging open, many intrigued customers in other parts of the pub pulled me aside to ask what was going on! The guys really looked like they were having fun and their playing reflected that. The confident group ended the night on a high and left the crowd buzzing!

Have a listen to their song Content With Concise below!

If you’d like to check out any music by the acts mentioned, or follow them on social media, here are some links for you:

Jack Grace - Facebook

The Beare Sisters - Facebook

The Beare Sisters - Soundcloud

Hydrocele - Facebook

Hydrocele - Website

 

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