Kritters – Maybe you’re right

There are some days when I review the material of an act that I’m keen to feature on Sonic Breakfast and I’m struck by the sparseness; I’m stuck by their minimalism. These are acts that use one word answers in their press releases when truly more will do. They have no stories with which to support their music and convey a nonchalant disinterest about anything they have created. Perhaps the downplay is a deliberate ploy but it doesn’t half make it a challenge to write a blogpost about them.

Kritters are not one of those acts.

In fact, in the space of a couple of months, Kirini and Rob, the ‘blisteringly fast’ duo who form Kritters have produced so much that the challenge is knowing where to edit. This is a blog post that could run and run and they’ve only just begun. Imagine you’re in your favourite restaurant and the food is as exquisite as ever but you’re getting no break between the courses. With three fab electro pop singles released since February, all with elaborate videos to accompany, this is truly an act with a mission. 

 

There’s a method to the madness.“, say Kritters when we chat by E-mail about the frantic nature. “It’s also driven by the knowledge that we have so many songs on deck: Kirini has essentially written the next four albums (and still going!) so we do what we can to stay on top of it.

You suspect that Kirini and Rob are the sort of people who have hundreds of ideas before breakfast, who are just used to working at pace. I ask them, because I’m genuinely interested how they fit it all in. “In terms of spare time: because we have quite fluid day jobs (we are both private tutors, working mainly online these days) we use every spare second for art.“, they tell me. “And for us art is a very wide net: in addition to making music, Kirini is a visual artist, primarily working in paint but also ceramics and digital collage, and now, too, videos in service of Kritters. This past year she’s also been writing a novel, which will probably take another year to finish. As for Rob, in 2020 he released an album with his last band Stornoway (he was their drummer for 11 years) and so this past year has been all about developing as a producer, something with which he had no experience other than watching the pros in recording studios.

I initially approach the duo, currently based in New York, after hearing the second single taken from their forthcoming EP, It’s A Trap. Maybe you’re right is a grower, a banger and an ode about wanting to escape from self-imposed isolation. It’s easy to see how such a song resonated with me during this lockdown. I ask the pair how the last year has been and repeat their answer in full because it has such power. 

We live in the South Bronx – the Bronx is a borough of NYC which sits just above Manhattan, separated from it by the Bronx river. The South Bronx is a great area, with the energy of city life but at a slightly slower pace to Manhattan; really everyone should be familiar with it because it’s the birthplace of hip hop. It’s also poor and chronically underserved by city and state government, so our neighborhood was particularly hard hit during Covid: at one point this past year we hosted a nurse who had come all the way from Arizona to help out in the local hospital. It’s tough to really put a finger on what, exactly, we will take away from this pandemic year. It’s been desperately sad and completely strange: Trump, needless death, people swept into poverty. But also remarkably positive: the BLM protests, neighbors looking out for each other, and Biden’s election which also saw the election of Ritchie Torres, who is young and progressive, as our district’s representative in Congress. And for us personally the global pause coincided with Kirini beginning to write music, which she’d always planned on doing, and for once there was little else interfering. So, yes: the highs were high and the lows were underground, but we have hope.

 

Since Maybe you’re right, I’ve listened to (and thoroughly enjoyed watching) further releases from Kritters. It’s a Test has a stunning video bringing eight canonical artworks to life, reimagining the women subjects as empowered and not empty vessels for the egos of male artists. The song itself is about trimming our personalities, holding our breath and curtailing our own lives – imposing our own limits to avoid scaring people away. Send me away is a dense and frenzied foray exploring the relationship between anger and insanity; both are blooming fine exponents of the creative and intellectual force that’s fizzing at full flow right now. 

Few would predict against the brightest of future for the irrepressible and effervescent Kritters. Take your seat for a wild ride. 

 

Peploe – The Novice

There are times when you hear a track and really love it – but can’t quite put your finger on why that’s the case. For most people this is not a problem; but for somebody who writes about music it’s stifling. Words that mostly come freely don’t and you’re left staring at a blank page. You’re a beginner in your craft trying hard to deny the feelings of failure. You are nothing more than a novice… Ah, there we go…

 

Today’s track is called ‘The Novice’ by a London-based duo, Peploe. It’s been out for a couple of months now but I remain keen to bring it to the attention of Sonic Breakfast readers because it’s a great song to hear. It’s a ‘pick and mix’ of genres, an almighty mash-up that comes together to work as a whole. Gabrielle’s immediate vocal line comes from a soul-mod base whilst the glitchy, staccato rhythm emerging from Arvid’s drumming is drawing influence from electro-jazz. There are key changes a plenty; wild and wacky creative flourishes that keep you on your toes as your head learns to cope with the complexities within. Somehow though, what could be an almighty muddle never becomes so. This is a simple, futuristic pop song – genius. 

And the video is quite neat as well. We’re all missing parties and interaction and this is Peploe’s attempt to deal with the fact that social events are limited for many. Arvid and Gabrielle plaster their faces onto the bodies of guests at parties in an attempt to remind us all that fun can still be had. It’s been well received. 

I ask Peploe about 2021 and their future plans. “2021 has been a bit slow, we’ve been itching to start gigging!!“, they say. “Though the silver lining is that we’ve been writing a lot of music that we’re excited to release soon. A real highlight was the amazing reaction we received to the release of ‘The Novice’ and its music video. The first thing we’ll do when the restrictions lift is hug our friends! After that, we’ll make the gigging a reality. 🙂

Sonic Breakfast can’t wait for that reality. We’re not absolute beginners when it comes to writing about gigs. 

WAMI – Life Is Good

Yesterday was a pretty perfect day. Spring was definitely in the air. We went for a weekend walk around Holme Fen, the lowest point in the UK, and were able to breathe in the good, clean air. The peaty mud beneath gave us a bouncy carpet to walk on. At one point, we happened upon a bird hide on the edge of a large lake and paused for a few minutes simply to watch the geese, the ducks and all manner of ornithological dream perform their ballet in front of us. Some swooped down from their flight to make a splash in the water whilst others chirped from the comfort of their small island. Life is good. 

It has to be worth reminding ourselves of that from time to time. On those low days when nothing seems to be going our way it’s helpful to take a step back and a few deep breaths. It’s not about those things that we don’t have or can’t do. When compared to 90% of the people on this planet our lot is likely better. Our irritations are mostly minor; our basic needs fulfilled.

WAMI are an Italian duo creating splendid electronic material. Lorenzo and Federico used to be resident DJs in a club but left their booths a couple of years ago to focus on their jazzy, R&B compositions. Their recent track, ‘Life Is Good’ is an uplifting belter if ever I’ve heard one. The vocalist on this track, Julia Shuren, sent WAMI her rough idea (vocal and piano chords) which was enough to enthuse over. Much remote working followed with Julia re-recording her vocals in her apartment in New York (she studies there) and in her hometown in Canada. 

“”Life is Good” was written with the intentions of lifting people up through this difficult time that the entire world has been going through.”, say WAMI in their press release. “The past year has been bombarded with bad news, and sometimes we need a reminder that it’s going to be alright. We just need to start spreading good vibrations with simple gestures and we hope this song can help lift the spirits of people that need it the most.

From our ensuing E-mail conversation, it’s clear that WAMI are pretty driven in their pursuits.  “Our biggest plan for this year is to create an Italian independent label, in which we can push and promote our artists as harder as we can.“, they say. “Such a big goal, but we’re absolutely motivated! 🙂

They add to this. “And for our musical project WAMI, we have several tracks almost ready to be released, but we have to brainstorm a little just to understand which path choose and which track deserves more that the other. Not a simple job, but essential if we want to keep our identity and to promote to our audience the “right” song.

We got back to the car after our walk at Holme Fen and it wouldn’t go into reverse. We had to call Green Flag to help recover us. This was a blow, an inconvenience that we could do without. And yet, it’s still worth reminding ourselves that ‘Life Is Good’. 

 

Cine Nuria – Lo Bonito

When I’m living somewhere for any period of time, I try to immerse myself in the local music scene. I read Internet forums and regional newspapers to find out about what’s going on and I make an effort to check out interesting venues that are near to me. It’s only by being curious about the musical culture of an area that I can truly get under the skin of a place. And aside from that – it offers a fantastic way to meet people and to begin to feel part of something.

Maybe it’s because I’m far from fluent in the Spanish language and certainly the fact that we’ve been living through a pandemic has not helped but I get a sense that I’ve only ever scratched the surface of any local ‘scene’ here in Catral. Perhaps things don’t really extend much beyond the tribute acts and karaoke specialists who relentlessly tour the ex-pat bars (when they’re able to open). I’m not sure I believe this. There must be bands from Catral, Alicante, Elche or Murcia producing new music that would delight regular readers of Sonic Breakfast. I’ll continue to explore (virtually) over my final few days here.

 

Cine Nuria, a duo from Catalonia, come from slightly further afield but I couldn’t help not to be drawn to their recent single ‘Lo Bonito’. It’s a dreamy shimmer of a song; a chilled airy vocal runs over the top of an electro-pop thumper to entice you in. My Spanish is not strong enough to pick out all of the lyrical meaning within but we’ve definitely got meteorites, black holes and illuminations making an appearance here. “The song represents the rollercoaster of emotions, the different states that two people go through when they are immersed in an emotional relationship.“, I’m told by the press release to help fill the gaps. 

I ask how things are up in Catalonia right now. “We are fine, but we have a municipal confinement. That is, we cannot move from our town / city. It’s very heavy.“, I’m told. “We are preparing a new 4 song EP for March.

We’re left with little option now other than to make our beautiful discoveries online. We all look forward to a future when we can again go to local music venues to spot new, up and coming talent. We can only hope that those venues will still exist when the time comes. 

Flope – Angina Baba Angina Mama

“I think it’s amazing that what would otherwise be forgotten music can be dusted down and given a new lease of life to a new audience in a new century. Some of the singing and musicianship from back then is just top notch.”

So says Flope, the English artist behind an incredibly interesting project that has really got Sonic Breakfast’s juices flowing. I’ll let them continue.

“The project started with the purchase of more than 100 old 78 rpm records from Africa. The records used were recorded mainly in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) in the early 1950s. The records were sent to a specialist music engineer in the United States, who converted all files to 24-bit .wav format for us. We are in the process of examining them and looking for tracks to feature on our forthcoming album. We’ve recorded four tracks so far and three of them are on Spotify as a 3-track single.”

Those three tracks really are something special. Take the track ‘Angina Baba Angina Mama’ that I’ve chosen to feature here. It bounces along with grit and determination; the vintage guitar and vocals from Norman Muhlwa shining brightly amidst Flope’s digital additions. The sum is perhaps akin to what Paul Simon was trying to achieve with Graceland. Or, indeed, what Public Service Broadcasting have looked to do by bringing old public service announcements back to life. 

There’s something sad (though undeniably inevitable) about the idea that every day a piece of all of our histories is forever lost. Only a minimal amount of the cultural artefacts from all of our pasts can possibly survive the test of time; and sometimes it’s the least appealing works of art that’ll get heralded in galleries because they were able to secure a form of patronage when they were created.

Thank goodness for people like Flope who are on a mission to rescue records from the region that was Northern Rhodesia / Nyasaland. I’ll be following the development of this work with interest. 

 

 

Ela Minus – dominique

For many of us, 2020 has been the year when ‘working from home’ has really come to the fore. In the past, we might have dabbled with the odd day here and there from the kitchen table but try working a whole week from home and attention would likely be drawn to your office visibility. 

Now the office is the place many of us go if we can to get away from our home surrounds. If we are able to temporarily escape from the dining room table, it’s likely that a trip to the office will mean rotas, excessive cleaning protocols and plants in need of water. Colleagues are unlikely to be there. It’s not the place it was.

And there are undeniable benefits about working from home. Personally, it’s given me the opportunity to hunker down at the Spanish villa whilst doing my London-based day job. I’ve worn shorts to work most days, started earlier because my travel time is nil, managed my own time and had a siesta when I’ve wanted. The flexibility has been liberating.

But, let’s not kid ourselves that damage isn’t being done as well. The boundary between work and home, already eroded by year’s of technological advance, is now clinging on by a thread. Our nights become daytime and vice versa as routine gives way to the reluctant acceptance that you do have time before sunrise to write that paper that’s needed for later.

I’m drawn to the new single, dominique, from Colombian musician, Ela Minus, because it documents a time last year when, for her, night and day blurred. “today I woke up ‪at 7PM‬ // my brain feels like it’s going to break“, sings Ela in the opening line of the track. Over spritely synth and uplifting electronica, Ela shows how she’s wedded to her creative craft. Like many artists before her, writing and recording works better in the witching hour.

It’s a song of solitude; a deceptive banger that’s ready-made for our hours of quarantine. I love the dark humour within; the hazy memories of a time-more-normal that Ela draws upon to convince that her sanity remains in tact; the gradual realisation that messing with your body-clock can be a very small act of rebellion. Somewhat appropriately, Ela’s new album is called ‘acts of rebellion’ and it’s out tomorrow.

It’s 5AM on Thursday morning. I wake, feel unable to sleep and begin to write a blogpost. 

 

Wovoka Gentle, Gareth Jones & Laucan – Corsica Studios – June 5th 2019

Wovoka Gentle release their debut album today.

 

‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ is a glorious record. Complex, kaleidoscopic and smart, it draws upon all sorts of influence whilst remaining charmingly accessible. It’s a bold thirteen track statement that says hello to the wider world by making a lot of noise without straying far from the core ambition of ensuring that the overall effect is one of joy. It’s clearly no accident that the final words on the record are a fading refrain of ‘Happy Music’. 

The press release gets things right when it observes that Start Clanging Cymbals is an ‘experimental, psychtronica, folk-rock wonderland’. More than a little obsessed, Sonic Breakfast heads off to the album release party to see Wovoka Gentle for the fourth time in 2019.

Corsica Studios, built in industrial arches a stones throw from Elephant & Castle, is a new venue to add to my list. Dark, compact and club-like, this is an ideal location for tonights sold out gig. Visuals are projected around the box-shaped room; the impact is immersive, inclusive and euphoric. Short DJ sets ensure that the music flows in between the support acts. 

Laucan perches on a stool off-stage and in the crowd with a guitar and gadgetry. He loops his falsetto vocal and guitar licks to draw Thom Yorke-like comparisons. “Where did you all come from?”, he says when the crowd respond by surrounding him. Some sit on the floor at the front of the circle and that feels entirely appropriate for the gentle very-English folktronica that follows. “This one’s about the Old Kent Road”, says Laucan before confessing that he’s wearing his Mum’s jumper and the sleeves are getting in the way. As a whole, this is music that’s yearning for something lost in history and it’s a fine tastter for what’s to come. 

 

I must mention the crowd; Wovoka Gentle’s audience are a good-looking bunch, so much so that I stick out like a sore thumb. Beautiful and classy with the whitest of toothy smiles, a bit plummy, you suspect that these are friends made during stints at conservatoires and finishing schools. It’s not an unpleasant discomfort that I feel. Many keep chatting unaware that the second support has started. 

Gareth Jones stands in a similar place to Laucan but twiddles knobs on a complex array of sound-making machine. When he starts, it’s not immediately clear that he has; the sound is drone-like, glitchy and confidently considered. Gareth stands by his equipment wearing a bandana; he’s a surgeon completing the most complicated operation known to man. The slightest error might cause death and his concentration levels are appropriate. As his set progresses more of the It crowd become IT conscious; they turn away from their chats increasingly aware that this understated noise is actually a performance. The beats build and the melody grabs. “Oh my, this is such a dirty sound”, says somebody nearby, now enthralled by what they’re witnessing. At the set close, there are loud cheers. Gareth joyfully raises his arms aloft; a triumph over initial adversity.

 

Everyone knows when Wovoka Gentle take to the stage. This is their night. I wonder if the set-list will be different from the half hours I’ve previously heard this year; there’s much on ‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ that doesn’t see light of day live. I don’t wonder for long; Wovoka Gentle have plumped for the tried and tested set list; the well-rehearsed one that they’re clearly comfortable with. All three are clearly delighted to be playing a sold-out night here; a vindication that their approach to music-making might well put them on the map.

Two large papier-machė eyes look down on us from either side of the space; a nose made from similar material sits on the floor creating a face to play within. When strobe-like lights shoot out of the eyes, the effect is electric, virtually psychedelic. This is club music for a Nick Drake fan. The acapella sections attain aural perfection with Imogen, Ellie and Will’s voices delightfully balanced together. 

For me, it’s a set that allows three of Wovoka Gentle’s recent releases to come to the fore. ‘1000 Opera Singers Working In Starbucks’ simply sounds respledent and ‘Peculiar Form Of Sleep’ emerges as an audience singalong. ‘Sin Is Crouching At Your Door’ has surely never sounded better and I’m reminded of the quote I’d seen earlier in the album press release.

Yeah, so we tried to restrain it and incorporate natural sounds,” says Imogen. It’s not heavy metal – it’s heavy wood!

Wonderful, happy music with the ability to get under your skin; rewarding noise that is far from simple yet so joyful you can’t help but beam. ‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ has arrived with fanfare and I humbly suggest you join this ride pronto. 

 

L’Imperatrice – Heaven – May 2nd 2019

This is how it must feel to be waking up from a coma after five years out of action – or stepping into a parallel universe. 

I consider myself pretty well informed about this world of popular music. So, how can I possibly have been unaware for so long of the French disco phenomenon that is L’Imperatrice? The 1,600 within this sold-out Thursday night at the iconic Heaven know. They mock my ignorance from afar. Or, maybe they’re just mocking my suit. I’ve had to rush straight from a work function. 

L’Imperatrice descend from space to join us under the arches of Charing Cross Station. With their backs initially to the crowd, their opener draws on space travel imagery. Dressed in white with star-trek stripes, you’re immediately aware that this is going to be a spectacle. Lights draw you in. You recall your favourite time ever had in a festival field and observe the similarity to this. Daft Punk might not play live right now but here we have a ready-made alternative. Seriously, it’s that good. 

Maybe tonight is the night to figure out if you’re in heaven”, asks Flore, L’Imperattice’s impeccable singer. Many don’t need to be asked for we already know. It’s impossible not to beam from ear to ear with the joy being created here.

The incredible graphics are playing a part. Disco balls of light and strobe, the earth spins whilst hands are clapped in tune with the beat. And when L’Imperatrice play ‘Vanille Fraise’ we have a summer scene of tennis umpires, clay courts and dodgy moustaches. Sweat-laden headbands spin like golden rings as tennis racquets swipe in time with the beat. God, this is glorious- a show that doffs its cap to retro 70’s sound and imagery whilst still managing to be entirely modern. 

 

The music is timeless; tunes that have forever been part of your life even though the truth is that this is the first time that you’ve heard them tonight. The groove heads down tried and tested paths; funk, jazz, pop, disco and happy house – a nostalgic soundtrack to your happiest summer ever.

And the images keep on giving. Here we have a grainy collection from when Zidane lifted the World Cup for France. The vocal appears to repeat the mantra that this is your last chance to love. The ascension is glorious as we all proceed to the inevitable lifting of the trophy. Jacques Cousteau gets in on the action; we’re now diving in an underwater world, searching for lost treasures whilst sharks swim in synchronised fashion all around us. It all beats the day job for sure.

I return to earlier thoughts. L’Imperatrice are ready-made headliners of your boutique festival. This would be euphoric in a field as the stars glisten above. Beat-Herder should book them. They’d be a magical fit.  L’Imperatrice – previously unknown in these quarters will not now be overlooked.

Buke and Gase, Naomi Alderman and Polygrains – The Lexington – March 5th 2019

I missed my Monday gig. A friend was meeting the Home Office to talk post-Brexit business and we caught up for a few drinks in Soho. I’m resisting the urge to review the drag Karaoke we ended up at.

AirBNB could have been a disaster this week. I got the dreaded ‘host has cancelled’ message just hours before I should have checked in. Fortunately, another place was available. It’s cheap and functional with a bed that has a mattress in which you can feel the coiled iron springs poke at you after every twist and turn. This creaky bed of nails offers little chance of rest.

So, I choose to stay here for the minimum of hours and source a Tuesday night gig. American duo, Buke and Gase come recommended by a great PR company and endorsed by The National. After a lengthy hiatus, they’ve just returned with new album ‘Scholars’. I have a quick gander whilst multi-tasking at work. There’s enough within to hold my interest. 

“What sort of music is that?’, shouts a punter about a third of the way into their set at the rather ace Lexington venue. 

Ha, I was thinking that whilst playing”, says Arone, one half of this male/female duo. “It’s an awfully interesting hoedown”, she kind of concludes. 

The punter isn’t alone in feeling the genre confusion; proud not to be pigeonholed, Buke and Gase play around with conventional sound, time signatures and musical practice to come up with something entirely off the spectrum. It’s prog, it’s math-rock, it’s abstact folk and obscure Electronica. It’s Tom Waits if put through a Daffy Duck filter. All told, a very complex, modern racket. 

It perhaps helps the overall artistic pursuit that little of this sound is created on traditional instruments. Indeed, Buke and Gase are the names of instruments designed by Aron and Arone. They might (or might not) have been retired now and given way to an Arx, a ‪device that allows them to trigger percussive sounds, change effects on their instruments, and control vocal harmonies all with the punch of an arcade button. Whatever, the whole effect is otherworldly and yet organic.‬

Before taking to the stage, Arone introduces us to Naomi Alderman, author of many works but here tonight to read extracts from her novel, The Power. It’s an enticing ten minute interlude. As Naomi recites a tale of graphic sexual abuse culminating in heroic justice, Arone layers a vocal swirl over the top. As tension builds in the storytelling so does Arone’s vocal flourish. Many decide to buy the book based upon this introduction. ‬

Polygrains is the support for tonight. ‬Vasilis Moschas is Polygrains. He stands, moustached and unassuming behind his array of beat-making tools. When he sings, his vocal is mostly gentle. He might be singing about very important things but it gets lost amidst the beeps. “I hope you enjoy this as much as I do“, says Vasilis. I’m not sure we do. But, this is electronica not without merit. It would go down well on Sonar’s Red Bull stage where oddness such as this is encouraged.

 

“There’s too much shit going on“, jokes Aron from Buke and Gase early in their set. And that’s a pretty fair insight into how this gig leaves your average punter feeling. I like the art that’s on offer here but might need to spend more time familiarising to truly appreciate. It’s a soundtrack to your most chaotic of dreams.

I sleep well on the well-worn mattress, the coiled springs waking me before the inevitable nightmares. 

 

Loved Ones – End Of An Error

I’ve spent a delightful Bank Holiday Monday morning scanning back through Sonic Breakfast related E-mails that I might not have paid due attention to when I first received them. Again, I’ve been blown away by just how much fine music runs under the radar. This tune, End Of An Error by Loved Ones, is one such example.

 (Click on page 2 for my further thoughts about it)