Annie Clark needs oat milk. The request arrives quietly and politely just before we speak, a hushed nothing off-handset before she picks up the phone and greets me brightly. Does she need any of mine, perhaps?
“Oh, it’s crucial,” the 39-year-old riffs back to me from her studio in LA. “Could I borrow some? Would you do that? I need to reach my maximum caffeination, and I haven’t met my quota for the day. Oat milk’s an integral part of it.”
If it seems like a wholly unremarkable exchange between a musician and a journalist, you may be unfamiliar with the various tales of Clark’s mercurial attitude to press interviews over the past decade or so. Previous set-ups have included requesting interviewers crawl into a small space to “challenge” both parties, playing pre-recorded answers to boring questions, asking the interview if they “enjoy doing this,” or simply refusing to answer at all. The result has largely been a proliferation of beard-scratching discourse about who or what constitutes the ‘real’ St. Vincent, or the ‘real’ Annie Clark, and how much one might inform the other.
Dressed in black trousers and a short-sleeved white shirt that suggested he may have just wrapped up an additional shift as a bus driver, singer Joe Talbot veered between the empathic and the vitriolic in his between-song missives as readily as he does in his music. 2021 album Crawler formed over a third of the set, and the frontman rarely missed an opportunity to lay blame at the UK’s incumbent Conservative government – not least on “Mother”, reminding listeners that “the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich”.
The focus of the evening never vanished. As the night’s entertainment drew to a close, Moscow was reportedly planning to annex Donetsk and Luhansk, while the European Union prepared to sanction Russian oil. The victims remain elsewhere, the extraordinary amount of money raised a temporary balm to a deeper political fracture.
Festivals are upon us once more, and, like the number of celebrities willing to cross a picket line to share wellness tips and vicarious drama with Beyoncé, some things in life remain exhaustingly predictable. Workshops on subjects ranging from lock-picking to 3D printing; artists performing in venues that include the local bus and a retro video games arcade; live-action Dungeons & Dragons, wherein someone successfully punches a fire; and of course, a procession of drag acts with show-stopping choreo sequences, including one ‘Ship To Wreck’ performance that involves someone dressed up as an actual boat.
Okay, so perhaps they do things a little differently in Boise.
Across gardens, harbours, invisible towns and fountains that empty the world, Cate Le Bon’s sixth solo album charts out territories beyond the locked-down rooms of Reykjavik and Cardiff where it began life, beyond even the mercurial world outside of them. While certain records from this era will no doubt bear the mark of the zeitgeist more than others – Charli XCX’s ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, Sleaford Mods’ ‘Spare Ribs’ – ‘Pompeii’ will be better remembered as an excursion from the banal than a documentary of it.
Theoretical physicists will tell you that our linear concept of time and space is a fallacy, that the speculative worlds we dream up when we imagine different choices – catching that train, getting that job, kissing that person on that night – are not only possible, but happening right now in concurrent dimensions. Which means, of course, that there’s a world out there somewhere in which The OA is still going. So why isn’t it this one?
You know how it is. One minute you’re carefully sneaking up on Santa, ready to prise some super hi-tops from his jolly mitts, when all of a sudden a phantom ice cream truck announces its arrival with an almighty honk. You scramble to check for presents that might help but, having already randomized twice, you’re as likely to unleash a torrent of tomato rain as a life-saving boombox.
If none of this is filling you with nostalgia, perhaps you missed out on the gonzo pleasures of ToeJam & Earl, this year celebrating the 30th anniversary of its release on the Sega Megadrive. A sleeper hit by all accounts, the game went on to become a resounding cult classic that spawned a string of sequels, each one an ambitious attempt at replicating the original’s charm.
Credit: Twitter/Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
On the evening of the 12th of July, bookseller Lynn Gaspard received a text from her mother, concerned that their west London bookshop would flood yet again. “We were really worried,” she says over the phone, “but thinking, ‘What can we do?”
It’s a desperate question that has reverberated around the world, perhaps this month more than ever. The floods that have swept across the southeast of England in July caused significant property damage, leading to evacuations in London – on the 12th of July and, remarkably, again on Sunday – and the cancellation of Standon Calling festival.
But they are not yet comparable to the devastation in Germany and Belgium, where over 180 people were killed in flash floods, nor the horrific scenes of submerged homes in India or flooded subway train carriages in China. In the UK, many are praying that it won’t take an equally significant loss of life for the government and media to call these events what they are: climate disaster, the kind that refuses to loom menacingly on the horizon, but instead stares us directly in the face.
In The Conference of the Birds, a 12th-century poem written by the renowned Persian mystic Fariduddin Attar, a flock of 30 birds set off to find the legendary bird king Simorgh. At the end of their long and arduous journey, the birds reach the destination, only to find the king does not exist – but that they themselves have become kings in the process.
For Matthias Koch, the founder of Hamburg label 30M Records – thirty is pronounced ‘si’ in Farsi, while ‘morgh’ means bird – the story offered an enchanting allegory for his project. When Koch first flew to Iran in 2016, a landmark nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers had just been implemented, lifting multilateral sanctions on Iran and promising to open it up to the world. Various international artists began performing in Tehran, including modern classical composers Ludovico Einaudi and Ólafur Arnalds.
Then in May 2018, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal and, instead, began pushing through waves of vituperative sanctions on Iran, as well as his notorious travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. Shortly after the announcement, a series of highly-anticipated performances by Grammy-winning Japanese artist Kitaro was cancelled, reportedly due to concerns that the American members of his band would face difficulties acquiring future travel visas if they visited the country. More cancellations followed. The international cultural renaissance appeared to be over – or at the very least, on hold.
With ongoing sanctions prohibiting Iranian musicians from releasing their music worldwide, Koch founded 30M Records in January 2020 in order to publish some of the most exciting new electronic and experimental music coming out of the country. To Koch, it was about more than just a philanthropic gesture. “It’s not a charity thing. I don’t do it because I feel pity for the musicians,” he says. “I really think it’s great music which comes from the country – and as a secondary matter, I can help these people, because they’re limited in what they can and can’t do at the moment.”
“We’re not here to talk about us as individuals,” Hyde says. “We’re not here to talk to people. We’re here to just play music.” Evans is equally perplexed about the purpose of music interviews. “They wouldn’t care about who we were if we weren’t playing in a band, so why do they wanna know who we are as people?” he asks. “If you’re, like, a politician or something it makes more sense, because they literally say what they believe in all the time. But we don’t do that.”
There’s an argument to be made that, in the age of unfiltered access to artists and public figures, the self-styled mystery around the band offers something fresh, an antidote to round-the-clock social feeds. Then again, the masquerade is only sustainable as long as people believe there’s something thrilling – or even valuable – behind it.
Mart Avi hasn’t explicitly denied being at large in 18th century Japan, but let’s not rule anything out. After all, not only does the Estonian musician carry the air of a foppish time-traveller – the belted coat and sweeping fringe of a man who once declared he was “born in 1991, but it’s as if I come from the 50s” befitting a Tallinn-based Doctor Who remake – but he’s evidently familiar with Samurai philosopher Yamamoto Tsunetomo.