Zara Larsson, Starley
Wed, April 19
Doors: 7:00 pm
Clean Bandit - (Set time: 9:15 PM)
What does deep house, the work of Stockhausen, a self-programmed snake and a frozen Lily Cole have in common? No, it's not the contents of a lost episode of Skins. Nor is it the XX's Christmas list. It is, rather, just a few of the details that make up Clean Bandit, a new four-piece that in their playfulness and willingness to trample over musical boundaries offer a refreshing new direction for dance music in 2013.
Forget your rock revivalists or your retrofitted soul crooners, Clean Bandit could not have emerged at any time other than now. Comprised of brothers Jack and Luke Patterson alongside the classically-trained pair of Grace Chatto and Neil Amin-Smith, the group formed in 2008. One night , in the dingy confines of a Cambridge nightclub, classic music met bass music, and it never looked back.
"It was at the band's own club night called National Rail Disco. We set it up because we thought there was a real lack of new interesting music at the time. The first ever one was basically set up so we could perform. But as it carried on it became more of a straightforward club night we DJ'd or played live most weeks alongside other DJs and electronic acts we loved."
The students, not normally thought to be a particularly clubby kind of crowd, were into it. "They loved it, it was really successful and always completely packed", says Jack. "People didn't expect the students to be into it, but they were. They all had a real appetite for the music. One of the coolest things was the night we had James Blake down. Three quarters of the way through his set he just played a Destiny's Child acapella on its own. Even though there was no beat,. people just went completely off. That was amazing."
National Rail Disco provided Clean Bandit with a blueprint for everything that was to follow. First, there was a willingness to take risks. Second a desire to blend beats and strings. Third, it was done in a DIY fashion, using whatever resources were to hand.
But first they decided to move to Moscow. Grace to learn the language and play cello. Jack followed her, and ended up enrolling in Russia's famous film school, The Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. "I didn't have much to do in Moscow and someone mentioned a film course that was open to international students so I thought I'd give it a try. It was a five year course," Jack recalls. "I didn't do the whole thing, but the whole of the first year you only do black and white still images. In the second year you do moving images but still only in black and white. It was all in Russian too, and to begin with none of the students spoke a word of it."
It was at the Gerasimov that Jack's ideas of blending music recordings with filmmaking began to take shape. "I was making music on a laptop a lot while I was there", he says. "It was still a hobby though. I had long days at film school and then would come home and have a go messing around making music. I wrote Mozart's House while I was out there. I was listening to a lot of house music there, there was a little boutique outside our flat that would blast out house for 24 hours. Maybe that seeped in."
Now, in 2013, Clean Bandit are still mixing things up. Currently residing in London, this electroquartet are applying their principles to a whole new range of possibilities. Listen to single 'A&E' and you'll hear classical, bucolic strings intertwining with UK funky bass and a melody of modern electronic pop. It's a new sophisticated sound, but one that's distinctive of our capital. The soulful vocals, meanwhile, are sung by guests Kandaka Moore and Nikki Marshall, found by chance in the group's new home of Kilburn. "They were part of local community singing and dancing group next door to our studio", says Jack. "We thought they would be perfect for this track." And so they are, sharing the enthusiasm of the track and, also, the versatility of the group. Moore also volunteered as a dancer for the video, which necessitated her being part of a stop-motion animation. "She was completely unfazed by being painted gold over the course of two hours", notes Jack.
That was far from being the most complicated part of the production, by the way. The video for A&E also required the creation of a golden snake. A serpent that, as in a real life game of Snake, slithered across central London. It was a challenge, one that Jack -- typically -- took it upon himself to rise to. So how do you make a snake? "We made it on the computer", he says. "I taught myself to use Cinema 4D. I studied architecture at uni, so I had kind of got into 3d graphics, modeling and animation. Luke learned how to do the fluid dynamics, because the snake had to go through water at the beginning."
Clean Bandit have also been getting a taste of a different experience closer to home whilst on tour this spring with teenage chart conquerors Disclosure. "The tour was really fun", says Jack. "It was great to see how that world worked and to be in these really cool clubs up and down the country was brilliant. There were screaming fans. We had people who knew the words to our songs, which was quite amazing to see. It was unexpected."
The stakes were raised even higher for new single 'Dust Clears'. This concept video, also directed by Jack, was half-filmed on the frozen lakes of northern Sweden in winter. "In this video all the band work in a factory, but the lead singer is an older guy who's got this fantasy of being an ice skater", says Jack, with a smile. "We filmed the skating in Sweden and that was great, we used some special techniques. Two of us were towed along on a sled with two different lenses, two cameras filming our dear friend Nick as he skated past. Nick is our friend's dad and while we were thinking about making the video we heard that when he was 17 he was a Scottish figure skating champion. When you see the video, you'll see why we found this quite amazing."
Quite clearly kids of the internet generation, Clean Bandit aren't precious about where they find inspiration or how they deploy it (the aforementioned Lily Cole volunteered to stand in a freezing cold swimming pool for the video to UK Shanty, in return for Jack giving her a tutorial on her new video camera). Neither are they devoted to one type of creativity. They make music, they make video, they perform live.
"We try to think of each piece as being a music video rather than a song", says Jack. "Videos for songs is the output. That's how we'd like it to be digested. Now we're doing more and more music, we're having to make stuff without the videos, but hopefully we'll be able to catch up."
Zara Larsson - (Set time: 8:10 PM)
Before she made a splash in the U.S. with her two hit singles, the reggae-tinged Platinum-certified “Lush Life” and the double-Platinum collaboration with MNEK “Never Forget You,” Swedish pop singer Zara Larsson was already a star in Europe thanks to her two EPs (Introducing and Let Me Reintroduce Myself) and a string of multi-platinum singles (“Uncover,” “Carry You Home,” and “Rooftop” that appeared on her 2014 album 1. She was also featured on Tinie Tempah’s “Girls Like” and David Guetta’s “This One’s for You,” which was the official song of UEFA Euro 2016. In just two short years since releasing 1, the relentlessly hard-working Larsson has seen her career go into overdrive. Over the summer, she performed with Guetta during the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Euro Cup and opened for her idol Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour in London. She was named one of Time magazine’s “30 Most Influential Teens of 2016" and became part of the Spotify Billions club for racking up over one billion streams on the digital platform. In the fall, Larsson delivered a show-stopping performance at the MTV EMAs and took home awards for “Best New Act” and “Best Swedish Act.” She was also nominated for “Best New Artist” at the 2016 MTV VMAs and has performed on nearly every major morning and late-night talk show, cementing her American fanbase as she recorded So Good , which will be released by Epic Records in January 2017.
The fact that “Lush Life” popped up in both Björk’s DJ set at the launch of the Icelandic star’s virtual reality exhibition in Australia and on British soap opera EastEnders (where the cast sang along to it) proves that the now 19-year-old Larsson is among those rare artists who can appeal to the mainstream, but also remain credible in more rarefied circles. An avowed feminist, Larsson is beloved by fans for her outspokenness and candor both in the press and on her social media platforms — another rarity at a time when most artists are afraid to speak their minds. “It should be a no-brainer to speak up about important issues and have a voice,” she says.
Larsson’s confident personality is all over So Good, which also showcases her powerhouse voice. As GQ put it: “Much of Larsson’s appeal lies in her ability to fit into a song. Her vocalizations are chameleon-like,” adding that she can shift effortlessly from full-tilt electro-pop diva, as on “Never Forget You,” to Rihanna-esque Barbados twang, as she does on “Lush Life.” Larsson’s shape-shifting vocal ability serves the eclectic, genre-hopping nature of her album, which though strongly rooted in pop, contains songs influenced by R&B, dancehall, British house, and skittering EDM. The MNEK-produced single “Ain’t My Fault,” is a strutting, trap-tinged pop banger, while the Monsters & Strangerz-produced “I Would Like” is club-ready mélange of house-influenced synths and bouncy electronic percussion. The ’90s R&B-inflected “So Good” (featuring Ty Dolla $ign) and the soaring ballad “What They Say” enable Larsson to show her softer side with soulful vibes and slower tempos.
“My vision was basically just to collect a good amount of great songs that I love and take it from there,” she says of So Good, which features collaborations with Stargate, Charlie Puth, The Monsters & Strangerz, MNEK, Livvi Franc, J Hart, MACK, and X-plicit, among others. “It's pop, but there are some rhythmic songs, some dance songs, some ballads. I’m not trying to prove to people that I'm super mature, like ‘Look at me, I can do sexy songs.’ It's just who I am and it’s what I like.” In a September cover story on Larsson in Britain’s NME, the writer said of the album: “There’s no sense of coming-of-age being fetishized. The songs just sound like a cool, confident young woman living her life.” “From the bottom of my heart, I really like these songs,” Larsson says. “If I didn't sing them myself, I would have them on my Spotify playlist. That's how I feel.”
After co-writing “Never Forget You” with British songwriter and producer MNEK, Larsson was eager to contribute melodically and lyrically to So Good, which she says is dominated by songs about love. “That's the theme that keeps coming back,” she says. “You can write about love in many different ways. It can be happy love, sad love, jealous love, even self-love. ‘What They Say’ is about believing in yourself. Don’t listen to the bullshit. Do you because you are great. It’s a very strong, positive message without being cheesy.”
Such emphatic declarations are not unusual from Larsson, who grew up in the socially progressive Swedish capital of Stockholm. Her father, an officer in the Swedish Navy, loved AC/DC, Metallica, The Sex Pistols, and Queen and he passed on his love for the latter’s theatrical swagger to his daughter. Larsson can’t remember a time when she wasn’t singing. “We had no furniture in front of the table because that was my stage,” she recalls. “I had this special area marked out where I could dance and sing. My younger sister and I would put on shows for my parents and their guests.” When Larsson was 10, she tried out for and won Sweden’s Got Talent, which led to her signing with independent music company TEN Music Group in 2012, followed by posting a video for “Uncover” to YouTube in 2013. “I thought maybe I’d get 20,000 hits, maybe 100,000.” The official version has now racked up over 139 million views. In 2013, she performed “Uncover” at Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo backed by an orchestra and choir. The same year, Larsson was signed by L.A. Reid to Epic Records.
As she gears up to release So Good, Larsson claims that it feels like a great first album. “I'm really proud of every single song on it,” she says, while acknowledging that it’s just another step on her road to global superstardom. “I'm on my way, but I'm not even close to where I want to be. I want to sell out stadium after stadium. I want to make multi-platinum records. I want people to connect and love my music, and I want to give love back to them. I want major things. I've never been satisfied with anything in life, and I probably won't be in music either. It's not like I'll wake up one day and be like, ‘I'm just going to settle down now and be happy.’ I think I'll always have a hunger for more. That's just the person I am.”
Starley - (Set time: 7:30 PM)
Starley’s breakout hit “Call On Me” — a record written as a symbol of hope for herself waswritten at a low point in her life — serves as an appealing introduction to this Australian singer-songwriter. Her potent sound is a mix of warm indie folk and dynamic dance-pop powered by her affecting melodies, emotionally resonant lyrics, and soulful voice that makes each song sound intimate and vital. Not surprisingly, “Call On Me” is resonating with fans around the world, having racked up over 220 million Spotify plays (between the original acoustic-driven version and a remix by Melbourne DJ Ryan Riback) by the start of 2017. It has cracked the charts in several countries including the U.S. where it’s climbing Billboard’s Hot AC chart. “I think ‘Call On Me’ resonates with people because the sentiment is genuine. It's a song about never losing hope in a dire situation, which a lot of people can relate to” Starley says. “To add to that, the music production is infectiously catchy.”
But “Call On Me” almost didn’t happen. The song was written at a time when she nearly gave up on making music altogether five several years working as a London-based songwriter-for-hire. Though she landed a publishing deal and collaborated with a wide range of producers and writers in Britain, Sweden, and the U.S. placing cuts with major artists eluded her. Heartbroken and out of money, Starley returned home to live with her family.
“I went through a slight period of depression,” she recalls. “I'd made sacrifices, moved countries and worked so hard, but it just wasn't working out the way I envisioned. I questioned God about it many times. Asking for answers, wanting to know if music was really part of my purpose. I was thinking of walking away from music altogether and becoming a personal trainer. Then I wrote ‘Call on Me’ on keys in my bedroom and it felt really special. I’d asked one of my friends to play guitar for the song which I then sent out to a handful of producers. One of those producers was New Zealand based P Money who took my guitar vocal and created the majority of what the original version of ‘Call on Me’ sounds like today. I got his version back, played it in my car. I cried my eyes out. Because I realized that it was meant to be me the whole time. I was meant to be representing myself and singing my own songs. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to give it one last shot.’ The song is about encouraging myself to follow my intuition and essentially call on myself. I'm an optimistic person. My surname is Hope. I've always been that way.”
It was optimism that led Starley to pursue a career in music from a young age. She grew up in a musical family, her mother, who is part Australian, part Filipino and part Japanese, was a lounge singer who listened to the Carpenters, and her Mauritian father, who owned a blinds company, favored George Benson and his native Séga music. One of Starley’s earliest musical memories is watching the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba over and over and falling in love with his music. She was also enamored with Mariah Carey whom she cites as a major influence. “I was good at creative writing and I knew I loved to sing, so I naturally decided to put those two together and write music,” she says. “I knew Mariah wrote her own songs, so I thought if I wanted to be a singer, I should do the same.”
When Starley was 14, she recorded a three-song demo and began to attract attention from managers. From the age of 15, she had classical vocal training. She had some interest from labels around that time but nothing really panned out. “This guy said I would have to lose weight and straighten my hair if I was going to do a deal with them.” Jokingly, she recalls, “I was different in Australia. There were a lot of people trying to fit me into a box which was never going to happen with the size of my Afro!”
Starley wound up spending five years based in London, which she describes as a crash course in finding out how tough the industry can be. “I took all my own A&R meetings where they’d listen for ten seconds to something I'd been working on for weeks and say, ‘No, next,’” she says. Over time, opportunities would arise and it would feel like the tide was finally turning; but, inevitably something would happen and it would never quite make it over the line.
Discouraged and feeling as if she had the wrong people around her, Starley ended relationships with both her business team as well as her long-term boyfriend and retreated to Australia, which is when “Call On Me” appeared in her consciousness. The song has opened many doors for Starley, including resurrecting her desire to be an artist and leading her to a deal with indie-dance label Tinted Records. They connected her with Australian DJ duo, Odd Mob, with whom she scored the multi-week No. 1 ARIA Club track “Into You.” Now signed to Epic Records, Starley is writing songs for her debut album.
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