Posts Tagged ‘Dance music’

Alexandra Burke: Heartbreak On Hold – review

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012


Some of the best music is about nothing more complicated than having a good time. Heartbreak On Hold, however, is a strong argument for a moratorium on songs featuring effects-laden instances of the word “tonight”. It seems to feature in almost every track on Alexandra Burke’s second album of relentlessly unimaginative house, each excessively Auto-Tuned Euro-club banger indistinguishable from the next – and from so much of the rest of the charts. Maybe just the thing after five Friday-night Smirnoff Ices, but otherwise there’s not much incentive to “take it to the dance floor” (tonight).

Rating: 2/5

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What the bleep are the synth-pop class of 2009 going to do next?

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Ladyhawke, La Roux and Little Boots made 80s electropop zeitgeisty, but how do you keep nostalgia feeling fresh?

Remember the spring of 2009? A new breed of female pop star stalked the land, looking like the next big thing but sounding strangely familiar. Under the banners of Ladyhawke, La Roux and Little Boots, Pip Brown, Elly Jackson and Victoria Hesketh made frothy-but-savvy electropop that briefly felt like the zeitgeist. Now, three years on, Ladyhawke’s second album Anxiety is imminent, Little Boots is drip-feeding new tracks online, and La Roux is talking about adding guitars – of all the crazy things – to her repertoire. It’s happening all over again.

But it’s not just timing that binds this trio together. What these acts really share is a fetish for the 80s, their debuts so steeped in retro sounds and vintage synths that you half-expected them to turn up with a chap draped in metal chains.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Pop revivals sound fresh for a moment, a happy friction between something long unheard and an artist with a new pattern for the material. But that dab of colour soon fades and you’re left with a pale rehash – unless, that is, you keep things moving. What Ladyhawke and the rest need to do is chart their heroes’ careers and follow that map. Let’s call it progressive revivalism.

The theory’s simple. For her debut Hands, Little Boots plundered Dare-era Human League and some zippy synths from 1983′s (Keep Feeling) Fascination, even exhuming Phil Oakey for a cameo. The next step is clearly to ape Hysteria, the League’s brave/foolish 1984 follow-up. Hesketh needs to ship in some awkward guitars and clunky commentary on some thorny flashpoint thousands of miles away. Afghanistan will do. A few washed-out Killing Joke riffs, a tweaked lyric and it’s job done.

The beauty is, it takes the creative pressure off. Album three can be a Jam and Lewis production like Crash, and album four can be a Romantic?-style reboot. Early signs in Little Boots promo tracks Every Night I Say A Prayer and Headphones suggest Hesketh is heading straight for late-80s Fingers Inc house, but that’s surely where the League would have gone if they hadn’t taken that hiatus.

La Roux’s route looks darker. Her first album plumped for rinky-dink early Depeche Mode – an innocent pursuit on the face of it, but grim passions lurk beneath. Three years is plenty for Jackson to gain a taste for leather perv-breeks and clanking S&M pop, but she might want to pause for thought before diving headlong into smack addiction and pretending to be Trent Reznor.

Finally, the crystal ball’s a little murkier for Ladyhawke who – for argument’s sake – is following the Pat Benatar template. A few short years after Benatar’s mid-80s Love Is A Battlefield heyday, the hits had dried up. Heaven forbid the same happens to Pip Brown.

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New band of the day – No 1,277: Madeon

Monday, May 28th, 2012

This French whiz-kid, still only 17, is poised to become the David Guetta it’s OK to like

Hometown: Nantes, France.

The lineup: Hugo Pierre Leclercq (music, production).

The background: Madeon is another of those hot new DJs/producers with a tendency to squeeze a lot of sounds into their songs that we have decided, in our finite wisdom, to christen “mad maximalists”. Like Bobby Tank, he is currently being courted by Radio 1, which probably says something about the station and its listeners’ ability to assimilate extreme music. Only Madeon is even younger than BT – he’s 18 this Wednesday – and the French whizkid doesn’t just cram recycled bits of 80s and 90s funk and pop into his tracks, he crams bits of … everything, really. On Pop Culture, a mash-up created live last summer and viewed by more than 11 million people on YouTube, there are particles of everyone from Lady Gaga to Linkin Park, Girls Aloud to Gossip, and everything from Britney’s … Baby One More Time to the Who’s Baba O’Reilly. Basically, he makes Girl Talk seem like someone only vaguely interested in the art of manically reassembling something new out of the chopped-up detritus of the musical past.

Unlike the dubsteppy Bobby Tank, Madeon broadly speaking operates in the areas of electro, techno and house, only with a French touch, pun intended – his joint all-time favourite group is Daft Punk (the other being the Beatles) and he loves Justice, but you can also hear the fizzy, filter funk sound of post-DP acts Superfunk and Cassius all over his work. He first gained attention in his early teens for his remixes of Pendulum’s the Island and Deadmau5′s Raise Your Weapon, but he only released his first official single earlier this year when Icarus came out on his own label Popcultur. Now he’s poised to become the David Guetta it’s OK to like by appearing at a series of US festivals this summer.

But even if you don’t happen to be in the States, Madeon will be unavoidable. If you’re not one of the 11 million who have already viewed/heard it, Pop Culture is the one that opens with a turn of the radio dial (shades of Dexys Midnight Runners’ Dance Stance to intimate how dreary everything else is in pop right now) before the Rustie-on-Ritalin funktasmagoria starts proper. Icarus makes us suspect that, as per Daft Punk, Madeon is a Todd Rundgren fan. This little fanfare is as proggy as it is funky and poppy, with crazed squiggly keyboards all over it that make us Think He Knows. Shuriken is synthy with a sense of cyber futurism as well as a tinge of sadness that tomorrow’s world never quite happened as envisioned in the 70s: think Cerrone and Rundgren in a spaceship with Sheila and B Devotion. For You lacks the jittery hyper-rhythmicity of Hudson Mohawke et al and is probably the straightest funk-pop track by Madeon that we’ve heard. Whoever it is he’s sampled for this one, we’re sure they’ll be delighted, a) because they’re about to make a lot of money from it and b) because he does it so well, with such an ear for dynamic tension and melody. His remixes aren’t bad, either: his one of Blur’s Song 2 makes the rather obvious point that rocking and raving are quite similar communal pursuits. Still, he is only 17.

The buzz: “If you listen to one track this week/month/year, make sure it’s this one” –

The truth: We’re Madeon for this French teen.

Most likely to: Fly higher than the sun.

Least likely to: Crash and burn.

What to buy: Icarus and Pop Culture are all over YouTube now.

File next to: Bobby Tank, Two Inch Punch, Rustie, Hudson Mohawke.


Tuesday’s new band: Of Monsters and Men.

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Hot Chip: ‘We’re middle-class white kids, and we’ve never tried to hide that’

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

With a singular sound that nods to R&B, folk-rock and hip-hop, Hot Chip are among the greatest modern pop acts. So why, on the eve of their fifth album, are they still perceived asgeeks?

‘Best to get it out and be done with it,” Joe Goddard tweeted to me the other day. “Otherwise there’s just a geeky elephant in the room throughout.” The geeky elephant is the certainty that in any interview with Hot Chip, the writer – adopting the high-handed tone of some Victorian missionary inquiring as to whether this latest heathen tribe really does practise cannibalism – will ask the band if they are indeed geeks, or perhaps, at a stretch, nerds. At which point Hot Chip will roll their eyes, sigh, and explain that, no, they are not geeks, they are just not awfully fussed about stylists.

The thing is, when I try to sidle my way into this topic, halfway through our interview, I don’t want to accuse them of geekery. In fact, I struggle desperately to avoid using the word “geek”. To Goddard and Hot Chip’s co-leader Alexis Taylor, though, it must appear as though I’m just rackingmy brain for a synonym. The two men – friends since school – stare at me in silence, waiting for the word to spill out.

What I want to say is that Hot Chip don’t look like geeks to me. At this point, five albums into their career, they look – and sound – increasingly like one of the great British pop groups.They look like a gang – not a street gang, not a tough gang, but the slightly baffling boys who’d be in the corner of the school dining room, and who turn out years later to have been cooler than the rest of the sixth form put together.

It helps that they all look different – who said gangs needed to be identical? – as if each of them expresses some part of the collective Hot Chip personality. Of the two frontmen – who share a sometimes alarming taste in garish sportswear – Goddard is big and garrulous, Taylor small and self-contained. Their three bandmates – generally besuited – seem to occupy different roles. Felix Martin looks like an eccentric inventor, Al Doyle like a bedheaded partier, Owen Clarke like the token matinee idol. Watchingthemhave their photograph taken for the Observer – a process borne with varying degrees of amusement by the band members – it’s hard not to think: Hot Chip look peculiar, but they look great.

“I think you’re one of the only people who thinks that,” Taylor says when we sit down afterwards. Goddard just looks astonished before explaining that the “geek” thing is one of many misreadings of Hot Chip made in 2004 when they released their first album, a tribute to the US R&B and hip-hop they loved.

“If a group of people are going to bring out a record like Coming on Strong, maybe they’d really consciously try to put together an image that suggested they were into US hip-hop,” he says. “But we were middle-class white kids from Putney and we never tried to hide that. We just had a love of Destiny’s Child and the Beastie Boys. People are used to bands that tell you what to think about them by all dressing in leather jackets and Converse. And we just never did it.”

If they weren’t geeks, they faced the great catch-all insult of the last decade: they were hipsters. A reviewer of a 2004 live show wrote: “A little bird tells me that there’s a degree of Hoxtonite irony at play here, and that Hot Chip actually spend their spare time listening to such hyphenated genres as lo-fi, alt-country and post-rock.” As if Taylor couldn’t possibly have been just expressing the depths ofhis own love of Prince when he sang:”I’m sick of motherfuckers tryingto tell me that they’re down with Prince.” As if the spindly sound of theirdebut was some conceptual joke at the expense of American R&B, rather than a reflection of the fact thatit’s hard to make a Timbaland record on a laptop in a suburban bedroom.

What actually marks out Hot Chip, and something they have mastered on album five, In Our Heads, is an empathetic warm-heartedness. They are sincere: for all the detachment of Taylor’s falsetto, the cold squiggles of the synths, the sense that clever peopleare at play, Hot Chip actually remake soul music for the English middle class, swapping unbridled passion for diffident understatement.

“It was funny to be so misunderstood at the beginning,” Taylor says, “becausethat wasn’t something peoplepicked up on. I thought it was obvious the music was open-hearted.”

“There’s more humour and silliness on the first record,” Goddard says, trying to explain why it was misread.

“But it’s affectionate about records!” Taylor protests. “I think people are beginning to understand it, five albumsin.”

The vast distance between Hot Chipand those who use music as an ironic prop is made evident when they talk about current pop, and the motivations of its makers. “There’s quite a lot of cynicism now about how to make pop records and what the point of it is,” Taylor says. “I saw the lady from N-Dubz on a chatshow and they were asking how she felt about the band splitting up. She just talked about having to pay her mortgage being the main issue.”

Goddard complains about the lack of imperfection in modern pop, about it being full of records that “feel like they’ve come from a factory that tries to correct everything and takes out all the flaws that make everything really lovable for me. Pop music’s become quite conservative in a lot of ways.”

Hang on. Isn’t that reading ignoring the reality of pop’s past? Think back to the late 80s, to Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s Hit Factory churning out identikit singles by singers whose sole function was to look nice for the sleeve. Think back further to the svengalis of the 50s, 60s and 70s, whose sole concern was maximising production to maximise profit.

“Yeah,” Goddard admits. “Yeah, that’s true.”

“There are good examples of hit factories working, though – Motown and Phil Spector,” Taylor says. “I’m talking about the motivation of the people who are actually the pop stars, loving records and making records because of that. I think it was more to do with whether people have a fascination with the sounds of records.”

“You can make good records on computers,” Goddard concludes, “but it’s down to your intention.”

Listening back to our conversation, it’s remarkable how much of it – whatever the ostensible tack of any particular question – ends up being about the state of pop music. Taylor and Goddard seem to be always comparing Hot Chip to prevailing trends, and finding the prevailing trends wanting. They formed, Taylor says, because “we were quite dismissive of other music around”; they put a lot of work into being a good live band, Goddard says, “and it seems increasingly anachronistic, because most electronic pop acts would be a laptop and a singer”.

They look at the recent rash of nostalgia for first-wave rave culture and worry that dance music, like rock music, has just become another recyclable nostalgia commodity.

“I think it’s difficult for a musical movement happening now to be such a widespread thing, where everything else is swept aside,” Goddard says with an air of regret. “When that happened at the beginning of rave, it was the mostexciting thing in popularculture and it swept everyone along. Maybe that’s what makes it exciting to the people that are reviving it, the fact thatit cleared the decks. Like the Chase& Status video [for the 2011 single Blind Faith] – everyone in the pub is part of this thing that’s going tohappen; they’re all going off to therave.

“Now, if you’re in the pub with your mates, there’ll be people going to a jungle night, people going to a garage night. There’s not one thing that everyone’s into.” He looks up, like a big, sad St Bernard. “But you can’t stop the march of progress.”

The curious thing, though, is that Hot Chip are, as they recognise, the embodiment of that move away from the single hegemonic pop trend. Their own music contains many of the varied strands of dance music, steals from hip-hop and R&B, with melody lines taken from English folk-rock, attitudes from post-punk. Don’t Deny Your Heart, one of the stand-outs from In Our Heads, could be a great lost80s mainstream pop hit, with its bold sonic building blocks held together by the mortar of Al Doyle’s Chic-aping guitar.

Then there are the external projects that feed back in, notably Goddard’s 2 Bears house revivalism and Taylor’s adventures in improvisation with About Group. Somehow, through it all, they have contrived a signature sound. No one else sounds quite like Hot Chip.

“I think when we started out we were quite conscious of the idea that it had to sound like it was new in some way,” Taylor says. “Obviously, I can nowsee there are things other people hear in our music and it’s not asoriginalas we might want it to be. But what’s very important to how we make music is layering things togetherso it doesn’t just sound like the most obviousthings you could put on a record.”

And when something big and obvious is taken, its chemistry is altered so it ceases to be a steal and becomes an invention – like the Detroit techno riff at the end of 2010′s I Feel Better, played on steel pans, with the result that it sounds like a cyberman walking through carnival.

With In Our Heads Hot Chip return to the indie sector after three albums with EMI – it’s coming out on Domino, for which Taylor used to work way back when. They were there as the venerable label unravelled before finally being sold off, and it wasn’t a happy experience. “The last time we put a record out it didn’t really seem like EMI knew what it was doing any more, especially with our band,” Taylorsays. “EMI did good things with our band, and I don’t want to make out it’s a major v indie thing, but it definitely was a bad time to still be on that label.”

“I don’t think there was anyone left who was there at the start,” Goddard says. “Our A&R man decided to become a chef and went on MasterChef. He got pretty far. People really drifted away and they were often the people who were most passionate about good records. EMI treated us as a priority for a while, and we did OK, but we never sold as many records as they would have liked us to. And then they realised that and stopped treating us as a priority.”

“They have a history,” Taylor adds. “Kraftwerk and Kate Bush and the Beatles. But I started to notice that all the bands I really liked on EMI were from a long time ago.”

Even if EMI were never quite happy with Hot Chip’s level of success, they must have noticed the group’s inexorable rise to national treasure status – the Grammy and Mercury nominations, the top 10 albums, the sense that a new Hot Chip album was an event. What disappointed EMI has been incalculable success to Taylor.

“If a record was released by a company, for me that was what I was trying to have happen. I didn’t have grander ambitions than

being able to record music that got released. This small label called Victory Garden put out our first EP [in 2000] and that wasenough to make me feel that what we were doing was being recognised bysomeone.”

Finally, though, does EMI’s share price, indie v major cred wars or the state of the world really have very much to do with Hot Chip – with this world of their own making that Taylor and Goddard have taken from their classrooms and bedrooms to the centre of British pop?

“It’s a weird dream world when you’re making music,” Taylor says. “You’re just exploring things that are of interest to you. Why would that be something to take seriously?”

Hot Chip headline Camp Bestival in July. Hear In Our Heads a week before release at from June 4

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Music festivals guide 2012: the highlights

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Who needs Glasto? We have 12 good reasons why 2012′s festival season will be one to remember


The reformation of baggy heroes the Stone Roses to play T in the Park and V (as well as their own Manchester shows) is the story of the summer. But they’re not the only Madchester band back in the saddle: Happy Mondays and the Charlatans are both doing the festival rounds, while both James and Inspiral Carpets play Sound Island.


The evergreenBruce Springsteen rocks Isleof Wight and Hard Rock Calling, but evenhe’s got nothing on Bruce Forsyth, whomakes his festival debut at Hop Farm at the ripe old age of 84. OK, so his set will probably be little more than a bunch of oldstandards, croaked out by a doddery old‑timer who’d rather be on the golf course.But then you could say the same about Bob Dylan.


Hit or hype? Decide for yourself when the opinion-splitting retro siren plays Latitude and Isle Of Wight.


Ibiza’s Zoo Project festival migrates to the UK, establishing a new colony at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, also home to the Hevy Music Festival.


You are not a number, you are a free man! Act out scenes from cult 60s TV show The Prisoner at Portmeirion’s new Festival Number 6. Primal Scream, New Order and Spiritualized headline.


Paul Simon performs his 80s Afro-pop classic, Graceland, in full at Hard Rock Calling, with the aid of original South African collaborators Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Meanwhile, at the other end of the sonic spectrum, Metallica revisit their thunderous Black album at Download.


Fans of corny 80s pop rejoice: Stock, Aitken and Waterman are staging their veryown Hyde Park festival, Hit Factory Live.Rick Astley, Jason Donovan, Bananarama, Sonia, Princess and Brother Beyond have all managed to find time in theirbusy schedules to make an appearance;Kylie’s invite sadly seems to haveremained unopened.


One of Glastonbury’s most popular areas gets its own festival this year, withStrummerville expanding into Strummerof Love to mark the 10th anniversary of JoeStrummer’s death. The lineup includes ahost of acts who’ve been inspired in one way or another by the formerClash frontman,from the Pogues to Roots Manuva. Plus of course there’s an emphasis on ethically sourced food and community activism.


Getting to Britain’s most dramatic festival site is easier than ever this year – RockNess has chartered a special train that runs from London Euston to Inverness via Birmingham, Derby, York and Newcastle on the Thursday before the festival. Special on-board entertainment is provided.


Cutting-edge electronic music festival Bloc swaps its traditional seaside home for London Pleasure Gardens – a fantastical new Docklands venue created by the people behind Glastonbury’s Shangri-La. Plastikman, Snoop Dogg and Steve Reich arethe weekend’s three wonderfully diverseheadliners.


Following Jay-Z’s lead, the world’s hottest hip-hop and R&B stars all now want a piece of the UK festival action. Nicki Minaj, Drake, A$AP Rocky and Rihanna play Wireless, with Rihanna also appearing at Radio 1′s Hackney Weekend alongside the Jigga Man himself.


If you find yourself pining for Glastonbury’s iconic geometric stage, why not try Glade instead? The Norfolk-based dance festival has its own mini pyramid stage, curated by crack London house promoters Hypercolour. That is, until it burns down in a – planned! – pyrotechnical ceremony on the Saturday night.

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