Friday, 28 June 2013

Feature: Amique (Cover) (BidoLito!) (cover story)

“Today was my day off, and I had a lot of things I wanted to do but then the sun came out and everything changed”. The evening sun shines brightly on 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist Amique, and you get the feeling that his world might be full of distractions. Working as a music based youth worker, Amique uses both the history and the performance of music as a tool to help young people develop alongside their education. “A lot of the kids we work with are a bit disillusioned, so we use it to get them creative and to get them focused”. Writing and performing since the age of sixteen, he found solace and inspiration through his parent’s record collection: “My folks have a wonderful taste in music, which is something I’ve always given them a lot of credit for. My mother was always listening to people like Sade, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, and then my Dad would be playing Robert Johnson, Talking Heads, Bowie”. Between this , his vocation and his regular involvement with Parr Street’s Soul4Soul jazz collective, Amique has immersed himself in music, allowing it to drive how he sees the world and how he sees himself.

Amique vehemently resists classifying his music, and you’d be a brave person to give it a go yourself. This really is all over the place, and I mean that with the greatest of compliments. It’s soul music but it isn’t aiming for the hips. It’s gospel but it doesn’t belong in the church. It’s Jazz but it’s fiercely choreographed. You will find five demos on his Soundcloud page, all providing a snapshot into the creative process of an artist very much still trying to define his sound, as he bounces between Lauryn Hill moments of quiet introspection, Tom Waits’ brash bravado and the proto-ambient brain massage of late sixties Miles Davis. There is a lack of focus, sure, but between that is a poise, as Amique meanders through this songs with remarkable grace, playing with tempo, pull-backs; I mean, this is a man who is very comfortable with his idea of what music means to him and his ability to express it. “The demos on Soundcloud were all made at different points of my life. I’ve got a very short attention span when it comes to music, and I couldn’t imagine sitting down now and going ‘for the next six months we’re only going to play this’”. As he eulogizes the malleability of his heroes Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis, it’s clear that moving improving and progressing is at the core of Amique’s existence as an artist.

Fresh, the lead single from new EP Conception sees Amique abandon the mellow, more sombre tones of his demos and move further towards soul and R&B. His broken vocals weave their way around a walking bass and woozy, hi-hat led percussion, allowing a refrain of “for those who know the reason / for those who know the vibe” to dance imperturbably above. As is always the case, the EP bounces between genres, almost to the point of bewilderment. What’s remarkable though is that it does so without compromising quality or cohesion. Every musical and conceptual element drafted in comes out just a little bit skewered, until we’re left with a performance that is unmistakably different and unmistakably his own. “It’s probably a blessing and a curse. I just go where the spirits tell me. The thing is, I just don’t know how to make one track sound similar to the next”. I know it might all sound a little unfocussed and there will certainly be those who find it too disorientating, but fuck is it exciting.

There is a flamboyance and extravagance to Amique, both in his recordings and his live shows. The scatting on All 4 U; the ludicrously overdubbed vocal arrangement on U Will Know; the frantic abrasions on the EP, all contributing to a persona that is extremely difficult to get your head around. It is a balancing act, though, when tackling such ambitious subject matter. Make it too relatable and it can sound obtuse, but make it too guarded and it’s dehumanizing. By placing his songs in wider social contexts, Amique puts himself on the most exposing of pedestals. This is hardly Gill Scott Heron, though, and by keeping it lively and accessible, we are left with an EP that’s reachable, yet still too much to take in all at once. This is a concept Amique relishes: “I want to get the second EP out in a couple of months. I don’t really want to give people time to take my music in. I’d prefer to just give them everything all at once and let them experience it in their own time, allow people to build their own relationships with my music”.

There is an impalpable stimulant flowing through Amique’s veins, something that drives him in both his recordings and his performance. “For me, the ability to play music is a gift from god. It’s not something I’ve created, it’s something that I was born with”. His self-assurance is striking, both in his vision and his ability. This is an artist who through his exploration of faith, of death, of human emotion, is deeply invested in archetypes rather than the daily details of modern century life. It certainly is an ambitious approach; this notion of tackling and confronting only the deepest states of being and ignoring the noise that makes up the rest of the world. Whether you’re a spiritual person or not though, this belief that music can hold an inherent position in people’s lives and maybe even change them is what has and always will drive great artists. “If you have to explain your actions then I think you’re doing something wrong”, Amique says softly. I consider who he might be referring to, as these sorts of battles tend point more inwardly than to those around you. With two more EPs already written though, I hope it’s a bloodbath.

Mike Townsend

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Feature: GhostChant (BidoLito!) (page 8)

We are at the Willowbank pub on Smithdown Road, sat outside to a symphony of car stereos and police sirens that mercifully distract from my relentless use of ‘I know what you mean’ on the interview recording. 21 year old producer GHOSTCHANT, or Joe Cornwell, was raised in South-west London, before moving to Liverpool to study for a music degree. Following an adolescence as a guitarist, he discovered the likes of Burial, Whistla and Crypt, prompting a love affair with bass music that has found him on these pink pages today. “Producing music was something I picked up myself. Up until I was seventeen, I was playing guitar in punk and hard rock bands, just teenage dreams really. Then when there was no one else to play with, I decided to pick up Fruity Loops and try and write some songs”. His modesty almost sounds sincere, as anyone with a torrent client who has woken up one morning and decided they want to be a producer (everyone) will testify; teaching yourself on audio workstation software might as well be quantum physics.  

Over the course of two EPs and several free downloads, GhostChant has quietly cultivated a reputation for one of the City’s most exciting local bookings. Last year’s Fables EP (AudioRejectz) is rich in texture, as soft, sampled vocals float graciously over some spacious, cinematic synths. Follow up Late Night Talks EP saw him find inspiration in much darker places, as mournful vocal loops and more bass heavy synths create an almost menacing, haunting atmosphere. GhostChant can be defined by his precision. Every reverb snare, every synth pedal note, every vocal loop; all so deliberate to the point where you wonder if the poor lad ever leaves his bedroom. Electronic music, of course has always been celebrated for its intricacies. It’s the reason why when you were out until 9 am, they were hunched over a computer flicking between Logic and their twitter interactions. A self-proclaimed celebrator of ‘future-garage’, GhostChant is part of a growing movement of producers incorporating 90s UK Garage into their own forms of contemporary electronic music. As we tentatively reminisce over a genre that we are probably too young to even remember, its clear that Joe harbors a deep affection for the 90s and early 00s scene: “Everyone enjoyed garage at the time and people still love it now. It’s a different aesthetic these days though, more revisionist, as producers incorporate garage with different aspects of electronic music”. He is not alone. You can find the once ridiculed genre rearing its head ever closer to mainstream electronic music these days. Garage music has always seemed dated and retro. Perhaps that’s part of its charm. I mean lets face it, scrape away Grant Nelson and M.J. Cole and you’re not really left with much when it comes to icons. Far from a revival though, what producers like GhostChant are doing is taking the best elements of garage music; the syncopated bass lines, the shuffling hi-hats, the looped vocal snippets, and blending it with current trends in underground electronic music to create something with much more feeling. Gone are the Casualty theme tunes and So Solid Crew sex tapes and what’s left is the bastard child of the genre that at last, feels like it’s heading somewhere constructive.

Joe is keen to remind me that above all else, he is trying to be as varied as he can, both in his DJ sets and his live act: “I mean I love garage music and it’s important to have some context, but I’m not looking to remain hard-lined in one particular genre”. His actions speak volumes in this case, as he balances a residency at the student-centric house/garage night RELEASE with the more arty, experimental Deep Hedonia shows. Joe’s references to Deep Hedonia and influences like Tycho and Burial demonstrate a desire to keep challenging himself and his audiences artistically. I’m not saying that there isn’t an art to crowd pleasing, but there is making sure you are up to date with current trends and selections and there is making new ones for yourself. I mean, credibility exists within electronic music in its loosest form. All it takes is a sync placement as the cast of Made In Chelsea grope each other in a hot tub and before you know it, Duke Dumont has a number one hit whilst everyone else tries to subtly unlike his Facebook page. Over the last ten years, House and Bass music has existed in a constant series of Russian Dolls, as a sub-genre outgrows its underground origins and a new sub-genre forms from the ashes. In this post-everything age, its vital that producers like GhostChant keep moving forward both sonically and technically. Stop and think for a moment and before you know it, you’re standing there with a daft face on as a load of students laugh at your AU Seve t-shirt. Call it an identity crisis if you like, as different groups of social, economic, and culturally contrasting young people attempt to characterize the scene in a way that they are comfortable with. And I know you want to say that its just about the music, but next time you see a fake tan clad young person shuffling to Bicep in a G E E K t shirt and a Comme Des Fuck Down Beanie, try and tell me everything isn’t fucked.

GhostChant’s latest release, a remix of Frenchfire’s excellent Antique takes on a more immediate sound, allowing Sarah Zad’s smooth vocals to linger wistfully above a minimal, yet potent drum machine/synth accompaniment. It sees Joe expose himself to a wider audience, and will certainly draw the attention of R&B fans in the same way as Shlohmo and Lapalux have done already this year. An appearance at Sound City alongside the likes of Mount Kimbie and Oneohtrix Point Never beckons next month, followed by his second appearance at Release alongside an as of yet unnamed Swamp 81 heavyweight. Its early days in this young career of course, but its rare that you see a young producer traverse through his ideas on what electronic music means to him with such confidence and such ease. In GhostChant, Liverpool has a real shot at finding the homegrown icon that this vibrant electronic music community has been longing for. And this is only the beginning.

Mike Townsend