Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Four Songs You Should Listen To This Week

Skinny Girl Diet - "Silver Spoons" - Click here to listen
This is the first single from the North London bands forthcoming Reclaiming Your Life EP (out October 16th). If you haven't yet heard Skinny Girl Diet, then "Silver Spoons" is a great place to start.

The Spook School - "Binary"
The Spook School have become known for their perfectly infectious noisy indie-pop, and this new offering doesn't disappoint. Taken from their forthcoming album Try To Be Hopeful, "Binary" sees the band questioning gender norms, culminating in a mass chorus of "I am bigger than a hexadecimal." Check out the video above, directed by Martha's Nathan Griffin.

Martha - "Chekhov's Hangnail"
Speaking of Martha, they've got a new song too! "Chekhov's Hangnail" is taken from the bands upcoming split with Radiator Hospital, who they're also touring with in October.

Doe - "This Isn't Home"
I'm particularly obsessed with this song, it immediately reminded me of Helium's The Dirt of Luck album. It wouldn't sound out-of-place in the background of a Daria episode, which should be the only reason you need to give it a listen.

Friday, 25 September 2015


Betty Boop is, without a doubt, among the most iconic cartoon characters of all time. An animated sex symbol, known for her signature vocals and catchphrase "boop-oop-a-doop", her backstory is more complicated than you probably imagine. As a longtime fan of the character, I was fascinated to find out about Esther Jones and how she ties into Betty Boop's history.

Esther Jones, aka Baby Esther, was singer and entertainer in the late 1920's. She regularly performed at Harlem's Cotton Club, and was known for her "baby" singing style and use of childlike scat sound, like "boop-oop-a-doop." Her signature song was "I Wanna Be Loved By You."

Another singer, Helen Kane, saw Jones' act in 1928, and first took on her style in her song "That's My Weakness Now". Kane then used Jone's catchphrase while performing in the Broadway musical Good Boy, becoming famous overnight for her own version of "I Wanna Be Loved By You."

In 1930, Max Fleischer introduced his Betty Boop character on Paramount's Talkatoon series, as an anthropomorphic French poodle. Boop became human in 1932, her floppy ears being exchanged for hoop earrings. Kane's imitation of Jones' singing style became the inspiration for the voice of Betty Boop. Kane attempted to sue Fleischer Studios for "using her persona", with the studio arguing that Kane had in fact used someone else's persona too; that of Esther Jones.

An early recording of Baby Esther's performance was used as evidence (Jones' was presumed to have died at this point), with Jones' manager testifying to the fact that Kane had been to see Jones' act in 1928.

After a two year trial, Kane's theft was exposed, and the court ruled that Kane did not create the "baby" style of singing, or the phrase "boop-oop-a-doop", with that credit going to Jones. The Judge also ruled that Boop's appearance more closely resembled that of actress Clara Bow.

While visually, Max Fleischer clearly took inspiration for Betty Boop from Helen Kane, Esther Jones influence on that character is undeniable; Kane's style simply wouldn't have existed had she not seen Jones' performance to copy it from. America has a long history of appropriating black artists and erasing them from history, and it's a shame Jones' died without knowing about this trial or ever receiving credit for the role she unknowingly played in Betty Boop's creation (although she is often referred to as Boop's "black grandmother" by those who know of her).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Twee

Twee is punk for people who aren't really all that "punk"; it takes the DIY, anyone-can-start-a-band mentality but leaves out the in-your-face confrontational attitude. It's subversion lies in it's aggressive sweetness, spooning sugar down its listeners throats and seeing who pukes first.

Like with punk, musical ability and vocal talent aren't priorities. Albums were recorded on four-tracks in bedrooms, and there are definitely moments where the music sounds overtly fragile, like it could fall apart at any second. While these aren't exactly new ideas now, at the time it was a pretty radical way of doing things. Taking their inspiration from 1960's bubblegum and girl groups, these bands became their own popstars.

While the punk scene at the time valued masculinity, twee wasn't afraid to celebrate the "girly". Fueled by zine-culture and tape-trading, it deconstructed punks' gender roles with gentle confrontation.

Most people trace the roots of twee back to the mid-1980's, particularly 1986, when NME released a cassette compilation called C-86, which has now become synonymous with twee, and something I'd definitely recommend tracking down if you're interested in this scene.

As this is a "beginners guide" though, I'll stick to recommending a few essential bands and labels that I personally think provide a good introduction to "twee":

Best known to none-popgeeks for their songs "Molly's Lips" and "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam", which Nirvana famously covered. Unfortunately, this Glasgow-based duo didn't receive much recognition while they were still together.

A Glasgow band who became known for their lazy melodies, they were among the bands featured on C-86.

Made up of six teenagers from West Bromwich, their single "Pristine Christine" was the first release from Bristol's Sarah Records, and serves as a perfect introduction to the label and the scene in general.

Formed in 1986 by two heavily-Pastels-inspired girls from Oxford who took their bandname from a celebrity they made up. Making use of handy brothers and boyfriends to fill out the band, they set about combining girl-group harmonies against a loose, punky backdrop.

Staying true to the DIY attitude, Beat Happening's earliest recordings sound suspiciously like they included a boombox and some pots and pans. By the time their 1988 album, Jamboree, was released, they'd to hone their sound into the perfect balance of childhood sweetness and the dark vulnerability that runs alongside that. If audiences hated them, frontman Calvin Johnson would respond by throwing them candy.

Taking their name from a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, this was the first band of Rose Melberg.With their signature punky-instrumentals mixed with lyrics about crushes and heartbreaks. They're sometimes loosely associated with riot grrrl, partly because their first release was a split 7-inch with Bratmobile. Sadly, they only existed for about a year.

A sort-of reincarnation of Talulah Gosh, with an almost identical line-up. The guitars were tighter, while the songs remained just as catchy; it's not easy to make a concept record about rape sound danceable. Twee kids hearts exploded when the band was joined by Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson on the track "C is the Heavenly Option."

Made up of Tiger Trap's Rose Melberg, and Jen Sbragia, The Softies combined two electric-acoustic guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies to create a dreamy, rainy-day-sad-girl vibe; they're possibly the saddest and sweetest group to have ever existed.

Named by NME as the second greatest indie label of all time, Sarah was a Bristol-based record label and fanzine, run by Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd. They regularly released seven-inch singles in hand-assembled packages. When they reached the catalogue number SARAH100, they celebrated by throwing a party on a boat and shutting the label down in August 1995.

An American label co-run by Calvin Johnson and Candace Pederson, nearly every American twee band/musician released something on this label!

In October 1994, Slumberland released a compilation titled Why Popstars Can't Dance. It's a solid compilation that works well at demonstrating just how diverse twee can be; Lorelai's fuzzy shoegazing sits comfortably alongside the lo-fi Honeybunch.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Five Songs To Listen To This Week

1. Potty Mouth - "Cherry Picking"
The newest single from Massachusetts' Potty Mouth wouldn't sound out of place on the soundtrack of a 90's teen movie (that's a good thing by the way). Soundwise, its references lie firmly in the past, while lyrically, it still remains relevant to today's culture.

2. Honey Joy - "Spin" - Listen to it here.
Taken from their debut EP, Feel Bad, recorded last month, you can stream the whole thing on their Bandcamp page. If you only listen to the one song though, make sure it's this one. And I've got good news if you like what you hear - they're already working on their second EP!

3. The Lovely Eggs - "Goofin' Around (in Lancashire)"
Set to be released on November 13th, on special "fried-egg" vinyl, this is the latest fuzzy-pop single from Lancaster's The Lovely Eggs. 

4. Hands Off Gretel - "Eating Simon"
Frontwoman Lauren Tate recently uploaded this version of one of the band's newest, and slightly cannibalistic, songs. Hands Off Gretel are planning on recording their debut album soon, so look forward to hearing a full-band version of this!

5. Wolf Alice - "Baby Ain't Made of China"
Recorded at JJ Abrams's Bad Robot studios, "Baby Ain't Made of China" is the B-side to the band's amazing current single, "You're a Germ".

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Interview: Doe

Doe are a three-piece band from London who describe themselves as liking "feminism, horror films and brown beer." If that doesn't sell you on them, I don't know what will! 

This is an interview I did a while ago with their frontwoman Nicola Leel.

First of all, how did you all meet and when was Doe formed?
Jake and I met in August 2012 when he put up an ad, he was playing in hardcore bands and I was playing guitar in my bedroom and we were both looking for something else. We started writing together then Doe started properly in early 2013 when we met Alex who used to play guitar. After about a year Alex decided to leave which was a shame cos he was a great human being, but we found Matt not long after and threw ourselves into writing new stuff and touring as we had loads planned.

Who/what would you say your biggest influences are?
When we first met we instantly bonded over Weezer and had a shared love of solid power chords and harmonies, which they use to such wonderful effect on the Blue Album. 90s indie rock and bands like Helium, Pavement, Sleater Kinney were also bonding points. Matt’s really into midwest emo and bands like Cap’n Jazz, which influences some of the guitar parts he brought to the mix. That’s certainly not to say we sound anything like any of those, we just write what comes naturally but as people we have preferences of writing and playing styles, which are probably in some part at least thanks to aforementioned bands.

I’m currently obsessed with your song “Julia Survived”. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired that song?
Thanks! Jake actually wrote that song a few years prior to us meeting, with the intention of using it in a band with a female voice. He sent it to me when we first started playing together and I loved it but it kind of got forgotten, then it popped into my head one day so I sought out the email and suggested we give it a go. Jake had recorded a demo of it but we played around with the structure and all put our touch on it and it ended up sounding quite a bit different to the original. Maybe one day that will resurface and everyone will prefer it. The lyrics were more of a stream of consciousness than having any tied down meaning, but I guess the lyrics loosely pertain to a post-relationship analysis. We actually re-visited them recently and had the realisation that it could be about a wasp.

What are your thoughts on the lack of female musicians that is still an issue when it comes to festival line-ups?
There’s an argument that says we shouldn’t consciously include female musicians just because they’re females and that they should be there of their own merit which is a wonderful premise in theory, but in reality there are endless amounts of excellent bands with female members in who should be there due to their own merit, but they’re not being selected because there’s a belief that they’re not as marketable. This super awesome girl Phoebe did a mock up poster of an alternate line-up for Reading Festival which was doing the rounds on the internet and wrote a piece to go with it that made a lot of sense. I posted it online and a guy shared my post (so obviously I’m going to see it) and essentially argued about it being culturally relevant to its target audience, adding ‘I wouldn’t go to an EDL march’ or something equally stupid. But it’s not one festival, it’s the vast majority. I’d like to think 90% of popular music festivals aren’t consciously excluding half of the population from their target audience based on gender, so I would expect, as a woman, to have more representation.

Realistically, we need to make a conscious effort to acknowledge the gender gap and make steps to even it out, so that promoters and bookers realise there’s a plethora of musicians that represent something other than white straight males, who are fucking good at what they do and appeal to a lot of people.

Has sexism been an issue for you at all, as a band?
It’s not been an issue but it’s something we’re constantly aware of. Sound guys are a classic for most girls in bands I know, I’ve had them come up to me and start showing me how to use the house amp whereas they won’t go over to Matt, or mansplain their way through soundchecks. It’s often internalised too, though - I feel under scrutiny and get a bit anxious because I feel that I have to prove I’m not totally clueless around tech. It usually transpires they know less than you do, they’re just more versed in pretending they do. Even with well meaning people, they’ll get us confused with another band on the bill because we’re the only two bands with a female member in, or if you have any overt opinion or are a little bit pissed off at something they’ll take it the wrong way, whereas guys throw their weight around and can just ‘be’ without being judged for it. There are higher behavioural standards for women. Thankfully Jake and Matt are awesome, they pick up on things and are supportive if I’m pissed off.

You seem to take a DIY approach to everything that you do. Is this an approach you’d recommend to other bands who are just starting out?
Definitely, although I think it’s easy to say that when you know the right people and way in - it takes a bit of effort to find the right channels. A lot of young musicians are sold this idea that you have to be on a label and have management and people around you that know what they’re doing, but the misinformation can get in the way of people just going out there and playing music. If you eradicate preconceptions about what it means to be a successful musician, you’ll open up opportunities and end up being a part of something more fulfilling and substantial. You don’t need external forces to make what you’re doing worthwhile, you just need to be a bit fearless and put yourself out there in the first instance.

You recently played some shows in New York. How did that go?
It was bloody great. We met so many nice folk who were keen to help and support us. We managed to fit in a handful of shows, a couple of radio sessions and also make it a wee holiday and it just felt really worthwhile. We’d only really thought it would be a bit of fun to save up and go out and maybe play a few shows if we were lucky, but because of Old Flame putting out the tape and getting behind us it took on a new life. I was very expectant that everyone would be like ‘who the fuck are these?’ but people at the shows and in the bands we played with were so so nice. Hopefully we can go back out soon!

And finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think I’ve probably spoken quite enough. Thanks for asking us to answer some questions! 

Thank you so much to Nicola for answering these questions! You can check out Doe for yourselves here.