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.
While Lucrecia Dalt’s body of work doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s also not the kind of art that invites obvious comparisons. Her latest record, No Era sólida, is concerned with the interstitial zones between opaque and ethereal, tangible and lost, the silence of corridors and the howl of closed spaces.
The problem with setting your stall out as DIY punk futurologists is that eventually you live long enough to see how most of it pans out. Certainly this is true of San Franciscan racket merchants Deerhoof, who formed in 1994 and have spent the subsequent two-and-a-half decades devising and then tearing up templates for what an indie rock song might sound like. In that time they’ve witnessed a montage of horrors – social media, President Trump, the last two Animal Collective records.
“It is very funny that I’m forever etched with this old side of myself, and then this new side of myself,” Bethany Cosentino points out, referring to the bittersweet contrast of her hand tattoos: one side reads “trust no one”, the other “let it go”. The Best Coast singer is seeing a lot more of the humour in life’s dualities lately, particularly since getting sober and writing one of the best albums of her career. “Also Lana Del Rey has that tattoo, and I love Lana Del Rey, so I was like, ‘That’s sick, maybe I’ll do that too…’”
Alongside multi-instrumentalist bandmate Bobb Bruno, Bethany is extremely – and rightfully – proud of Best Coast’s fourth LP ‘Always Tomorrow’, a record released in February this year but born in a moment of wish fulfilment years ago. Lead single ‘Everything Has Changed’ was an elbow to the ribcage of critics who presumed naivety in her songwriting, but it was also prophecy to a life she hadn’t yet started: one that didn’t revolve around waking up in tears after another messy blowout.
Izzy Camina is awake, but only just. After getting up and crushing some poorly-made coffee in her LA home, she stares up into the sky, hoping the blue light outside will offer some additional sustenance. When NME calls, the laughter on the other end of the line betrays a 24-year-old for whom four hours’ sleep is entirely manageable. “I’m a ten hour girl, but fuck it,” she giggles again, freshly caffeinated and ready to take on the world.
It’s the kind of energy that burns through ‘UP N DOWN’, the singer’s first single that dropped back in December. A paean to the saturnalia of youth and all the lows that come after, the bass-driven track captured something most of us were feeling: an unshakeable impression that we might be dancing through end times. “Humanity is sick,” she sings, “but it feels so much better when you seal it with a kiss.” It’s unmistakably the work of a young artist who’s already experienced her share of highs and lows.
At the time of Katie Crutchfield’s last album, 2017’s glorious ‘Out In The Storm’, the songwriter was already talking about stepping back from that record’s adamantine energy. Having recorded as Waxahatchee – named after a creek near her childhood home in Birmingham, Alabama – for the best part of half a decade and with four albums of bittersweet indie rock by that point, the record felt like a sea change.
In hindsight, that desire for peace spoke to more than musical preference; after Crutchfield’s last tour wrapped up the singer quit drinking, something she’d been swearing to do since the age of 17. Inevitably, given that Waxahatchee has always been a relatively autobiographical vehicle for the artist, it was impossible to detach much of the art from its real-life narrative template.