Photo credit: Bart Heemskerk
“Bloody foreigners,” the shopkeeper gestures towards me, before adding a wink to convey levity. As a progressive student city that prizes itself on inclusivity, it’s fair to say that Groningen’s warm hospitality is matched only by its puzzlement at the events unravelling in the UK, a series of spread-legged power stances that appear both hostile and ludicrous to the rest of the world.
Later that evening I’m sharing a cigarette with another local outside a bar, who visibly rallies himself to present the question in the way that one might ask out their high school crush: “Do you like Brexit?” I do not. I like watching European bands and drinking cheap gin at equally unsustainable rates. Thankfully I’m at Eurosonic Noorderslag, the finest new music showcase in Europe, where my remit extends to both.
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“That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one…”
As the black matriarch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Calpurnia seems light years away from the four teenage kids from Vancouver who carry her name. They’re young in a modern way, as one would hope: still goofy and wild, still piecing the world together between gym class and Fortnite. Nonetheless, just as Scout becomes fascinated with the scenes beyond her housekeeper’s gaze, the band have had to negotiate the world’s obsession with their own second lives.
After bringing their first singles together with two new tracks for a debut collection titled – what else? – ‘Scout EP’, the quartet are starting to get attention for all the right reasons. They’ve been picked up by Canadian indie label Royal Mountain, with Transgressive covering distribution across the UK and Europe. Their live shows are getting hot reviews across the board. Weezer even tweeted to say how much they loved the band’s cover of ‘Say It Ain’t So’. In other words, they’re proving to be a whole lot more than a casual side-project for their lead singer, Hollywood actor and Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard.
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If recent single “Love is You” sounds familiar, you might just recall the sample it’s built on. The last time that beat was riding high in the charts was August 2000, when Spiller’s “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” became the soundtrack to every WKD-soaked dancefloor from Ipswich to Ibiza, promptly ushering a 21-year-old Sophie Ellis-Bextor into pop stardom.
What’s perhaps more remarkable is the constant evolution she’s worked hard to maintain ever since. Never interested in playing it safe, Ellis-Bextor made a conscious decision that 2014’s Wanderlust would be created independently and without any disco or dance tracks, a philosophy that largely carried over into 2016’s Familia. Both were written with Ed Harcourt, both carried a sophisticated blend of hooks and heart that made them two of her finest records, despite being largely overlooked in various corners of the press. Not that she cares too much about that sort of thing.
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If anyone required a reminder of music criticism’s intensely performative role in global culture, look no further than its reaction to ‘El Mal Querer’ within the US and UK. Much has been made of its reconstructive qualities, imagining that the threads of R&B, electronic voice treatment and Justin Timberlake samples weave through flamenco’s superannuated frame like so much scaffolding. In truth, mainstream pop has been swiping bits from Catalan and Latin quarters for decades, and this is perhaps why Rosalía’s breakthrough LP feels so natural: for many listeners, that sonic palette came closer to distillation than adulteration.
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