Monday, 6 March 2017

On Song: Lorde 'Green Light'

‘I hear brand new sounds in my mind...’

It's no exaggeration to say that in Lorde, I feel a kindred spirit. Although infinitely more eloquent and talented than I, there are few records-worth of lyrics that resonate closer with the way I felt as a teenager than the ones Ella wrote for Pure Heroine - that heavy, self inflicted sense of burden that comes from realising that you think a little bit deeper and with more melancholy than the people around you, that you see adulthood approaching and it both terrifies and delights you in equal measure.

Music has a habit of coming to me at moments where I need it most, and 'Green Light' feels like something of a gift as I woke on the final day of my first week of self-afflicted unemployment from a job I once love but had come to be my unraveling. I felt afraid but somehow resolute, knowing that is done the difficult but right thing.

For me, 'Green Light' is all about the sick elation that comes when something awful befalls you - a medical diagnosis, the end of a relationship, the curtain reveal that your boss knows you're failing or you’re growing apart from your partner. It's that moment of realising that although the new world you now find yourself in is awful, you were right, that the fate you were trying to ignore for so long does exist and that in coming face to face with it, you can finally see past it. Part of this is selfish melodrama - as so beautifully summated in ‘American Bitch' episode of Girls Season 6 (more on that in a separate blog) everybody wants a story. It's part of what makes us who we are- this innate need to live our lives like Hollywood movies with a humble beginning, challenging middle and triumphant end, that big enigmatic moment of realisation before we flip off the haters and sail off into the sunset.

Often, the reality is ugly - it's long days of crying while life carries on without you, whispers behind your back or worse. It’s of knowing that you’re destined for better, but still berating yourself for what you should have said, could have done. But when the clouds clear and you can see the beauty in the mess, it's fucking joyous, a dance down the street as you realise this new chapter is your permission to be exactly who you want to be from this day forward. As Lorde dangles from the window of that car, she is flirting with danger, the exhilaration that comes from taking a step into the unknown with nothing but self-belief to keep her company. And she's never been more powerful. As that chorus builds, so do I- physically piecing myself back together ready for that sign that it's ready to move on, that I've suffered enough and it's time to be happy. I'm tentatively poised on Amber...

Monday, 2 January 2017

On Song: Kanye West 'Real Friends'

'Who your real friends? We all came from the bottom / I'm always blaming you but what's sad, you're not the problem."

If 2016 really was, as Kylie Jenner put it, the year of realising stuff, then I'm basically Keeping Up With The Kardashians. A veritable shitshow of disastrous world events, racial tension, family illness and mental health struggles, it was at times hard to see the light for the dark, hard to see where I fit in this new, scary adult world. 

It is in these times that you're forced to look around you, forced to take stock of the people you choose to be your allies in this life. Whether this be the family you are given, colleagues, friends from childhood or casual acquaintances you pick up as you negotiate adulthood, who you surround yourself with often says more about your personality than you really give credit for. So often, we don't take charge of that fact - we struggle to admit when a friendship has gone stale for fear of confrontation, or we miss the opportunity to tell somebody special just how much they mean to you. We don't open ourselves up to new, real interactions - journeys on public transport are spent burying our heads in phones rather than engaging with the stranger opposite, or we walk heads down, refusing eye contact and assuming the thoughts of those who walk past. 'I guess I get what I deserved don't I?.'

Looking at myself and at others, I realise that a lack of honesty, a lack of 'realness' is often at fault here - it's near second-nature for me to put on a brave face when I'm struggling, to help others swim before admitting that I'm drowning myself. To assume the worst intentions of people when chances are, their only crime is being a little thoughtless, or worse. It's something I plan to and know I must work on, putting faith in those around me and letting them surprise me - the struggle you think is unique to you is so often shared by people you'd never even realise.

As icons around us died, Trump became leader of the 'free' world and we began steps to leave the EU, the mantra 'life is too short' has never been truer. We've all landed on this great mass as strangers, and we all leave as strangers unless we fight to forge true, positive connections. Not all of us will ever be a great star like Bowie or Prince, capable of changing social and political landscapes, but we can all make change in our immediate vicinity - change as small as getting in touch with that childhood friend, letting your partner feel loved, caring for a parent the way they cared for you before we all grew up and got proud. For all of these reasons and many more, one song resonated more with me in 2016 than any other.

A character more omnipresent and yet more alienated than Kanye West is hard to find. We see his image online near-daily, entertained by his exploits and outrageous behaviour without questioning why he might have become that way. We attribute the labels of egomaniac, genius, angry black man, never stopping for a moment to remember that he is just as fallable as the rest of us - more so even, with the scrutiny of the entire world place upon him, watching and mocking as he descends into breakdown after the anniversary of his mother's death and nearly losing his wife at gunpoint. Two vital people in his life, people that make him a son and a husband like so many of us.

'Real Friends' seems so fitting for 2016 - weak become heroes, heroes become 'weak' - letting that mask slip for long enough to let everybody know that pain knows no paycheck. It weaves a familiar tale - growing distance between families, getting too wrapped up in pride to extend that hand of reconciliation. But what would happen if we were all this honest? Would the distance grow at all? Or would we reveal the best in people by giving them a chance? Maybe in 2017, we need to take a look at the people we surround ourselves with - let that stranger in, let that acquaintance grow, let that family member become a friend. What else have we got?

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Beacons Metro 2016 Review

Whether we've just not known where to look or we've hit peak underground, but Beacons Metro feels like a serious moment for the genre that is grime. Making up a strong selection of the festival's line up (although sadly not Novelist, whose show was cancelled at the last minute), we're thrilled that is finally getting the live platform is deserves outside of London, which is what makes tonight's opener featuring some of the scene's best and brightest feel so special. 

Elf Kid, Ghetts, AJ Tracey, Frisco - Belgrave Music Hall, 28th October

Elf Kid shot by Kevin Lawson

 First up we have Lewisham's finest Elf Kid, shot to prominence with his breakneck Amerie-sampling mission statement 'Golden Boy' (which sounds utterly majestic live). Flanked by MC Blakie, the duo's energy is undeniable, hurling themselves into the crowd for 'Champions' and drawing a frenzy of smartphones that can't keep up with the pace of his flow. Consider the evening's bar set very, very high. 

AJ Tracey shot by Kevin Lawson

AJ Tracey is a much more chilled affair - think less high kicks and more beats that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Drake's 'If You're Reading This'. 'I just want to make dough/leave me alone', he intones, his focus clear as he roots to the spot, delivering a whole verse before moving off again as if trying to puzzle out his own thoughts. Just two acts in, we're already reminded of the diversity of grime - from bravado to vulnerability, it's all on show tonight.

Frisco shot by Kevin Lawson

There's a near hour wait before Frisco and the crowd are flagging slightly, but they're quickly pepped up with a set littered with tracks from his Boy Better Know family - 'Shutdown', 'Man Don't Care' and of course, 'Too Many Man'. Each lyric is spat with precision, knowing exactly when to pause and to ramp the crowd up as he extend his set again and again, exclaiming 'Leeds, you guys have got me gasssssssed' 

Ghetts shot by Kevin Lawson

We finish with Ghetts, whosE megawatt smile and camera-wieling hypeman light up the venue. The crowd has dwindled slightly due to the lateness of the hour (around half past midnight, meaning door have been open for just over four hours) but those who remain are dedicated, swirling moshpits to 'Yadunknow already' and 'One Take'. His set is short but polished, bringing a showcase of an evening to a close.  We may have gotten in as press, but in terms of value for money, there's been no gig this year that's offered better value for it's £15 ticket price. 

Lady Leshurr - Belgrave Music Hall, 30th Oct 2016

If Ghetts was a definite case of too many man, lady leshurrs gig is an encouragingly diverse affair of parents, teenage girls with massive gold hoops and awkward looking white boys who quickly throw guns up to the drake that's pounding out of the stereo. 

Denmarc Creary shot by Kevin Lawson

Flanked by a DJ Manny Brown (straight out of 'People Just Do Nothing' with his endearingly old-skool approach to crowd hyping 'hey, ho', 'sing it' etc) we are reacquainted with Denmarc Creary, a lad we first met this time last year when he opening 1Xtra live at Leeds Arena. Pitching himself somewhere between George The Poet and Theophilus London, his 'Leeds' skit is fantastic, reminiscent of what good local pride can do when it comes to rap music.

When Harrison Mead strolls onstage and announces that is first song will be called 'Confessions part 1, we're not the only ones who get a little bit excited about a potential usher cover. What greets us instead is similarly smooth crooning over a skittery beat, completely current and pretty sincere as he sings 'all I have is the music' with the sort of honest earnestness that's made Drake his millions. 

Lady Leshurr shot by Kevin Lawson
Lady Leshurr shot by Kevin Lawson

Taking to the stage amongst a thick burst of dry ice, horror-masked dancers and highly-pitched screams, Lady Leshurr is immediately the shot of fun that makes for the perfect grime/mainstream crossover. A standout star in a sea of male voices, her gig carries the vibe of total, complete empowerment. From her chats between songs about valuing yourself in the face of haters to the three girls she pulls onstage and helps through their own versions of queens speech 4, watching her perform is like its own little motivational workshop or wardrobe try on session- you leave feeling just that little bit sassier, that little bit more like the self you wish you were if you didn't care what anybody else thought. Queen indeed.

Local Natives - Leeds University Stylus, 7th November 2016

Dreller shot by Kevin Lawson

After two nights in the dark, dimly lit surrounds of Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds Stylus feels positively cavernous and echoey, those who are early to the party choosing to cling to the bar area rather than coming forward as Dreller's set begins. His tightly-packed stage set-up mimics the sound he makes - itchy and skittish, there are a lot of tabs open at the same time, veering between Radiohead's '15 steps' percussion to Muse-worthy wailing via stilted stage banter. We're sure it's for us, but it's certainly intriguing, the sort of thing that would probably expose its brilliance after a few more listens.  

Local Natives shot by Kevin Lawson

Returning to Leeds after three years away, anticipation is high for Local Natives closing Beacons Metro set. Arriving promptly with 'Past Lives', they're a much perkier offering that when we encountered them last - free from the emotional burden of touring the harrowing Hummingbird, they seem much more free-spirited even ditching Taylor's guitar for a serious vocal disco session during 'Villainy'. 

A treat for fans of all eras, the setlist boasts a very even three-way split of records, old songs benefitting from this funkier approach. The strength has always been in their harmonies, but it really must not be underestimated how gorgeous they sound live - 'Ceilings' and 'Coins' make you momentarily forget you're in a chilly students union and not on a Californian road trip with no care in the world. 

It's not all fun and games though - 'Columbia' is just as devastating live as it is on record, if not more so - Kelsey's face contorting with emotion as he relives the soul-searching we all do in the wake of a loved one's death. We have defiance too - 'Fountain Of Youth' couldn't be more apt than it is played here tonight, the night before the US Presidential election.

Knowing what we know now, it feels all the more poignant - a spirited fuck-you to authority and a reminder of the power of good musicianship in dark times. It's a fitting sentiment to end beacons metro, a festival that covered a lot of musical and culturally diverse music, fostering a three week scene more encompassing than Leeds has been in a really long time.