A thing about Marcus Collins being fondled by women in his video

When Marcus Collins walked onto The X Factor audition stage last year, it felt like here finally was the chance for The X Factor to feature a popstar who was openly gay from the beginning. Here was a chance to do away with the tabloid exposés and and ‘Twitter hackings’ that gay popstars from the olden days had to put up with. Maybe, seeing as Marcus seemed generally up-front about it all, it would just be NBD. Maybe, you hoped, we could just carry on as we were.

But in the video for ‘Seven Nation Army’, he was poked, jabbed, slapped and tickled by four female hands, who grasped at his fly like the ZZZap! Handymen on a fruity Saturday night out.

When everyone voted for Marcus on The X Factor, it was because he could sing and/or was fit, and we all knew about his excursions down Eton Road but that didn’t matter. When he performed ‘Reet Petite’ in the live shows the pastel-hued dancers were a winking nod to Hairspray-style campery. It looked like everybody was having a nice time, and that perhaps we could have a little laugh with Marcus about it all. It seemed like the tone had been set for gender-nonspecific frolics, and perhaps a video from Marcus might look like a glossed-up, doo-wopped version of ‘The City’ by Patrick Wolf. What we eventually got just feels odd. Was this dry, joyless video really a safer career move than having a jolly down Brighton Beach with some mates-for-pay?

On the ‘flip-side’ of ‘Seven Nation Army’, there was a song called ‘Break These Chains’ which you might sit quite comfortably alongside the 80s-influenced disco-house of Azari & III or Scissor Sisters’ ‘Nightwork’. ‘Break These Chains’ is a better song than the single, but it’s the last track on the album and precisely 17 people will ever hear it.

Of course, sexuality doesn’t have to be the primary, ram-it-down-your-throat point of pop performances. The genius of the ‘Leave Right Now’ video is that you never see the addressee in the art gallery. In his Attitude cover interview, Marcus said that anyone who debated whether he was addressing his song to a woman or man “needs to find something better to do with their time”, but someone sat down and decided that in Marcus’ debut, image-defining video, women would grope at his pleather and chinos, and that he would look pretty pleased with himself while this is going on. If that’s not worth raising an eyebrow of my own to, I don’t know what is.

Article originally for Popjustice.

Saint Etienne - ‘Words And Music by Saint Etienne’ Review

If you’ve not got the gist from the artwork’s musical street map, the opening track of Saint Etienne’s ninth album sets out their MO: “I used Top of the Pops as my world atlas”. Saint Etienne make music about music, and DJ crushes and Top 40 listening rituals have a seductive pathos straight outta Larkin. Here they’ve upped the pop stakes, and the shimmery ‘Popular’ could be an Aphrodite standout, while 'Tonight' is a Xenomania disco ballad to rival Annie/Aloud. The album shines with “love in digital stereo”, as Sarah Cracknell intones on the life-giving 'I've Got Your Music', and like all albums that get stuck in your heart, you feel it knows your history better than yourself. 

5/5
Review originally for Attitude, May 2012.

Always Check The Label: SOFTWARE

Named after a band on Klaus Schulze’s label Innovative Communications, Software founders Daniel “Oneohtrix Point Never” Lopatin and Joel “Airbird” Ford’s aim is to “establish a Stax-style label for electronic music”.

First up is the latest record from Megafortress, who makes noodly falsetto jams that Lopatin describes as “a by-product of his overall metamorphosis towards a secular spiritual dimension.” Wherever that may be, back here on Earth the songs glitter with the unnerving beauty of castrati on acid. This year’s releases also include “fantasy hip hop” from Napolian and the debut EP from Harmonizer, whose ambient vibings sound like denizens of The Crystal Maze trying to figure out who killed Laura Palmer. 

Software also puts out the zine Cool Drool, “to expose folks to more or less obscure artists whose work should be noticed, as well as being a fundraiser for the International Red Cross.” Musical and social philanthropy? Are there any bases they don’t have locked down? “We just hope to continue keeping it real”, says Ford. “Can’t rep something hard unless you truly believe it.”  

Label profile originally for Dazed and Confused, April 2012. Check out Napolian’s exclusive mix for Dazed here

K-POPULAR: An Introduction to K-Pop

BEAST

In London Brixton academy, a 70/30 girls-to-gays split are screaming louder for K-pop boyband BEAST than I’ve ever heard in my life. And I went to see Busted film a 2004 MTV special. With hair GHD’d within an inch of its life, the six-piece bodypop onto the stage to their Timbaland-ish pop anthem 'Shock' wearing coordinated popped-collars that look suspiciously like the work of Tina Knowles’ thimble. “It’s just amazing!” gasps Tobi, a Cornish 18-year old in the front row with neon eyeliner running down his face. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for years! I like English music too, but K-pop is so fun and colourful.” Do you prefer Korean boys as well? “Yeah!” he grins. “I mean, have you seen Onew from Shinee?”

Shinee

But being a doll-faced heartthrob isn’t enough alone to spawn a worldwide K-pop phenomenon - although boybands Shinee and BEAST’s penchant for homoerotic antics on talkshows is enough to fill its own FMForums messageboard. Last year, American chart company Billboard implemented the K-Pop Hot 100 to recognise the sales and influence of K-pop in the US, and industry bible SPIN placed Hyuna’s infectious, dubstep-infused 'Bubble Pop!' ahead of Britney and Nicki in its Best Pop Tracks of 2011 chart. In the words of Peter Robinson of Popjustice.com, ‘Bubble Pop!’ was a real “everyone else might as well pack up and go home” moment. 

Hyuna

If you keep finding yourself missing what pop ‘used to be like’, look no further. K-pop has an unabashed shininess that hasn’t been seen since the days of Girl Thing and Lolly, with bright shiny pop tunes shamelessly influenced by mainstream pop trends. The CGI-fuelled videos are as integral to the package as the ‘Erotica’-era rumpathons were to Madonna: in Lee Hyori’s Gaga-baiting 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' she emerges from a spaceship with ladies-in-waiting dressed as Mother Monster (meow!); 2NE1’s 'I Am The Best' sees them smash their own platinum discs and wield AK-47s with devil-horn hair sculpture; in 'Oh!'  Girls’ Generation face-off with ‘Not Such A Innocent Girl’ evil twins from a parallel universe. 

2NE1

This year, K-pop is doing a ‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ and getting an Americanized makeover. Wil.I.Am’s producing 2NE1’s English-language album, Shinee are touring worldwide, and Wonder Girls look set for US invasion with a film premiere on Teen Nick. “It’s popularity couldn’t exist without the internet”, confirms Tobi back at the concert. “I’ve made so many friends from the K-pop forums. The world just needs to catch up!”

An edited version of this feature appeared in Attitude, April 2011.

Hunx - ‘Hairdresser Blues’ Review

Last we heard from Hunx, “Brylcreem at the ready” meant something quite different, but for his third album Seth Bogart’s ditched the puns and the Punx. His Girl Groups-meets-Go-Go’s ‘Hairdresser Pop’ is a still a chirpy and charming riot, from the title track’s ‘Beauty School Drop Out’-esque sherbet strop to the infectious 'Always Forever' which could give Madonna’s cheerleader chanting a run for its money.

4/5

Review originally from Attitude, April 2012. 

Introducing: Woman E

Woman E? Who’s that then?

Actually there’s two of them, a woman called Ria Berlin and a man called OoverMatic. 

I’ve seen that movie! Wasn’t the tagline Mouth Like An Oov…

Give over. Actually, the duo take their name from the infamous dominatrix who became a tabloid sensation in 2008 after an affair with Formula One boss Max Mosley.

Don’t tell me, it’s a ‘comment on celebrity culture.’ Any songs about Britney’s shaved head?

No. 

What are we talking then?

They make the kind of shiny electropop that makes ‘Your Disco Needs You’ look like a work of Calvinist restraint. 'Few and Far Between' is a colourful synth banger, while new single 'Desire' has a 90s rave o’clock chorus built around a refrain about unrequited love. It’s all a bit “I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her.”

*Sniff*

Oh honey, I will survive. Plus, the Fashions! Oover used to be the musical director for Comme Des Garçons, and it shows. In the video for ‘Desire’, Ria Berlin struts down a catwalk and explores some ‘grimy alleys’ wearing red PVC and a bird of paradise on her head. 

Gaga-oo-la-la!

But music-wise ‘Desire’ is more like early Scissor Sisters meets Livin’ Joy, with  KY oozing from its broken heart. When asked to sum up their sound, Ria and Oover describe it as “decadence and decay” or “melancholy disco.”

…and in English?

Really, they’re just an amazing pop band. 

Single ‘Desire’ is out now, with an album to follow later this year.

Feature originally from Attitude, April 2012.

Ones To Watch: Trailer Trash Tracys

Trailer Tracy Tracys: questionable name, amazing songs. ‘I like that everyone thinks it’s a shit name!’ laughs guitarist Jimmy-Lee of having a band name that could just as easily be a hard-ass girl gang from Russ Meyer’s imagination or an after-hours bar in Vauxhall. ‘It’s silly, it’s fun, and that’s what pop culture’s about - being accessible to everyone.’

He may as well be talking about TTT’s mesmeric debut album ‘Ester’, a dose of reverb-heavy psych-pop that was last seen somewhere around Twin Peaks, Washington. With its luxe cavernous layers you could easily get lost in the Diazepam groove, but with Suzanne’s sensual Gothenburg-bred vocals and cooing harmonies the melodies shine brightly through the millefeuille. 

'Our drummer Dayo played our record to his mum and she said it sounded like psychedelic ABBA!' smiles Jimmy, clearly chuffed at the inadvertent praise. 'We love Blondie and Burt Bacharach, as well as more experimental stuff like prog or Steve Reich. Marrying both is a difficult thing.'

These unlikely bedfellows come together best in the stunning 'Candy Girl', a TASCAM cassette-recorded cinematic wonder that was the product of Jimmy and Suzanne’s first band practice. ‘I had this weird bassline, a Smashing Pumpkins guitar riff and then I was listening to 60s Girl Groups,’ says Jimmy. ‘I put them together and it just fitted.’ Suzanne sings ‘11 o clock and my heartbeat stops’ with the all the haunting nonchalance of the Queen of Deadpan, Nico (minus the fear that she’d eat you alive). 

If it all feels naggingly askew, then it’s partly explained by the band’s habit of tuning their instruments to the traditional Eastern ‘solfeggio scale’. Obscurist, moi? ‘We named the album after a Swedish short film about a mocked overweight woman going swimming,’ says Jimmy. ‘When you’re in the pool your senses can be cut off in a certain way, and we liked the idea of listening to our album as escapism.’

Come on in, the water’s wonderful.

Feature originally for Clash, February 2012

Perfume Genius - ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ Review

Though the title might make Sir Mix-A-Lot proud, there’s more to Perfume Genius’ second album than The Joy of Bumming (though there’s plenty of that too). With simmering-under beats and a lick of piano, Mike Hadreas crafts the shady gay everyday into aching jewel-like songs. The teen suicide lament '17' tugs on heartstrings you didn’t know were there, and on the glisteningly sensual title track you can practically taste the sweat. His quavering voice is mesmerising on 'Hood', a masterly epic-in-two-minutes where crashing cymbals accompany the reprimand “you would never call me baby if you knew the truth.” A unique and revelatory album of rare poetry and pathos. 

4.5/5

Review for Attitude, March 2012.

Introducing: Miracle

*Cilla voice* What’s your name and where d’ya come from?

Daniel and Steve used to play in metal bands with names like Sunn0))) and Aethenor, but they got a tired of playing one bone-crushing note for two hours and decided they wanted to be pop stars.

We’re not talking Evanescence?

Think more like the brooding synth-pop of Soft Cell, or a darker-hearted Hurts. Big stadium-sized pop melodramas with house beats and synth baselines. Like their genres, they’re also not afraid of mixing their metaphors (sample lyric: ‘No mortal lips are worthy of this kiss’)

Blimey.

Yes. The video for ‘Good Love’ is a weird 80s-does pre-Raphaelite hi-gloss affair. Singer Daniel cries blood and levitates a shrouded lady, and there’s also plenty-o-Brylcreem and billowing chiffon.

Like Channel 5 in the 90s?

I doubt they’d have too much problem with that comparison. For their London single launch they performed on a light-up dancefloor, after all. Very Disco 2000.

Anyway, back to the music.

New single ‘Fall Into Night’ is the kind of disco heartbreak anti-anthem that everyone wished Rebecca Ferguson had come out with, with a soaring synth-led chorus about walking through fire, a glitchy Miraclestep™ breakdown and lots of pulsating quasar synths to keep everyone on their toes. Vocoders aplenty too. 

'Do you belieee-heevee in life after love?'

Just listen to the record already.

'Introducing' feature originally published in Attitude, March 2012.

Young Magic Interview and Mixtape (Dazed Digital)

If ‘World Music’ didn’t bring to mind an image of smug WOMAD festival-goers, it’s the description you’d use for Young Magic. Their mesmerising debut LP ‘Melt’ is the fruit of frontman Isaac Emmanel’s travels through Mexico and Europe - a fusion of ambient psychscapes, West African rhythms and bloopy Scandinavian-style indiepop on album highlight 'You With Air'. Now based in New York alongside fellow band members Michael and Melati, Isaac answered our quickfire questions as they release their album and made Dazed Digital a ‘sonic scrapbook’ (that’s a mixtape to you and me).

WHAT’S…

…Your secret talent?

Finger skateboarding 

…Your worst vice?

Sleepwalkin’. And by that I mean never really sleeping. 

…The movie you wish everyone knew about?

The Color Of Pomegranates

…Your party trick?

Smokebombin’. Taking it downtown. 

…Your favourite record to psych-out to?

Tago Mago. Too many memories.  

…Your favourite pair of shoes?

I like the time when the shoes come off. Always leads to a good thing. 

…Your favourite website?

http://visualmelt.com

…Your worst fashion secret?

Parachute pants. 

The best thing about where you’re from?

The beaches, the rainforest and Yongs. 

The best party you’ve ever been to?

I went to a party in a hole once in Neukölln. Actually it was more of a sewer/bomb shelter. 

…Your animal spirit?

Dolphin Chameleon mash 

…The best hairstyle?

Long on a glowing face.

…Your dream piece of band merch, given an unlimited budget?

Imagine Yayoi Kusama’s infinity room. Maybe a similar instillation.. except as an interactive phenomenon to be experienced one person at a time. You step into a pitch dark room with thousands of glowing stars. As you move through the space, your body triggers audio samples from signals emitted from the stars in the room. One sample or sound from the LP is dedicated to each of the hundreds of lights and respective signals, so as you move through the space they trigger sound and simultaneously create a piece of music that is entirely your own, shaped and performed. This experience is amplified and recorded, pressed to vinyl and sent to the participants home address one month later. Simple really. 

…At the top of your shit list?

DJ requests from coked out kids. 

…Are you listening to now?

Teebs - Collections 01

How would you describe your work?

Exploring. We hope you enjoy this collection of sounds. The mix is a definite headphone journey, downtown.

Listen to Young Magic - ‘Maps’ Mixtape at Dazed Digital.