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OLGA BELL BIO // 2016 (for One Little Indian)
Olga Bell learned all the piano parts to 36 Chambers aged 14.
The Moscow-born, Alaska-raised, Brooklyn-based polymath began taking music lessons at five and spent 11 years under the guidance of her beloved piano teacher, Svetlana Velichko, a former Moscow conservatory professor. But Bell’s musical genesis kicked into gear as a pre-teen, the day she saw Radiohead and Ice Cube on MTV. That’s when her life “sort of split.”
During her formative years spent growing up in America’s northernmost state, Bell would hammer away at the keys for hours on end, and there was little room for manoeuvre. “I couldn’t take composition lessons or get Fruity Loops or try and make some beats, there was none of that,” she recalls. And although her fate as a classical concert pianist was sealed, she was becoming increasingly attracted to electronic music. While studying as a graduate at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music, Bell would find relief from the five hours of Chopin etudes by plugging into Aphex Twin. She says she felt like she was “living in a video game.”
Bell graduated from Boston in 2005 with a BA (hons) in Piano Performance, but was turned down by her post-graduate institution of choice and subsequently experienced what she calls a “major rift.” “You set your mind to something and then it can all get thrown off, especially if you’ve got a delicate artist temperament,” she says. Shortly after this, Bell re-routed to New York City, bought a laptop, moved into an apartment with her two step-sisters and worked as a piano teacher for six years, where she was simultaneously writing songs, singing at open mic nights and teaching herself how to programme beats in Ableton.
In addition to piano teaching, Bell did some musical directing on an Off Broadway show and went to work for MTV News, because she thought it would be fun to be the next Serena Altschul. She slowly gave herself the opportunity to discover what her brain was wired to do, and it soon became obvious that this didn’t involve Beethoven Sonatas.
Bell began crafting making electronic compositions, developing a maximalist approach to production, which she believes is the product of living in a busy urban environment. “The incredible inclusiveness of a place like New York, I love that there is every kind of music and every kind of person. There’s always someone working when you’re sleeping and that’s overwhelming but also very driving. That knife blade between being overwhelmed by something and also really charged up by something is definitely a quality that I think is present in me and what I’m doing,” she says.
In 2009, she was selected by composer Osvaldo Golijov and soprano Dawn Upshaw for a workshop and concert at Carnegie Hall and from 2011 to 2013, she toured as a vocalist and keyboardist with Chairlift and Dirty Projectors – joining the latter for their Swing Lo Magellan album cycle. While on tour she met Callers’ vocalist Sarah Lucas, who is featured on the forthcoming album, Tempo. Bell has also been part of a dance duo called Nothankyou with Tom Vek, and has remixed Chairlift, Son Lux, the music of Annie Clark and Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita.
In 2011, she released her first full-length album, Diamonite, written, recorded and produced by Bell and that same year received the Jerome Fund Grant from the American Composers Forum to help compose her second album, Krai. This was released in 2014 by New Amsterdam Records after a premiere at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and a performance at James Lavelle’s Meltdown at London’s Southbank Centre.
Her Moscow-born mother boasts an encyclopaedic knowledge of Russian folk music and Krai (the Russian word for edge, limit, frontier or hinterland) saw Bell take on a Russian folk style for what she describes as “a weird esoteric piece in Russian,” framed by a classical sensibility.“ I think with those kind of projects when you stop giving a shit about what people think, that’s when you make something really special,” she says.
Krai was followed by the five-track Incitation EP, which Pitchfork praised for its “richly textured drum sampling” and “melismatic melodies.”
Now Bell ushers in her third album, Tempo, out via One Little Indian Records on May 20. As the title suggests, the self-produced LP was inspired by myriad aspects of dance music, from the mechanics of how we move our bodies to a beat, to the diverse communities marking out electronic music sub-cultures. “It’s an exploration of current dance culture in New York that isn’t Pacha style club, that’s not all bankers and models, but is I guess kind of in the middle,” explains Bell.
During the album’s conception, Bell would go dancing as much as possible. This would involve heading off on night-time sprints alone, mostly in Brooklyn, regularly hitting up Francois K’s legendary Deep Space night on Mondays. For the record, she made about 40 different beats or song ideas in total, with 20 of them becoming songs before eventually cutting this down to 10 perfectly-curated album tracks. “What they all have in common is this consideration of tempo and how pacing makes you feel physically and how that sets your outlook towards the rest of the world, whether that’s in a club or at home,” she notes.
Seminal 1990 documentary Paris is Burning was a key touchstone forTempo, along with the athletic choreography of In Living Colour’s Fly Girls. There are nods to Future Sound of London, the glitchy beat patchworks of Kid A and Amnesiac, and even Bristol trio Kosheen. ‘Power User’ throws simple synth paths and pitched-up vocals into an art-pop mix, while ‘Regular’ is Bjork-esque in the icy, northern soundscape it conjures. ‘Doppio’ pokes fun at hipster culture with rave beats, and ‘Randomness’ is a bass-heavy banger. All ten tracks are self-contained expositions of Bell’s hard-earned production prowess. A classically trained pianist she may be, but she shines even brighter as a self-taught beat-maker. “It’s harder for women to be recognised as producers because as soon as you open your mouth it’s like “oh she’s a chanteuse” or a ‘magical songstress,” Bell offers on the tired debate of women in music.
Radiohead were a huge influence on the album’s lyrics, which are often melancholic, despite their giddy dance backdrops. ‘Randomness’ features the cutting line “You got that shit-eating grin / When there’s nobody smiling,” whereas ‘Doppio’ is playful in its criticism of the vapidity of modern-day culture. “This pic is so sick / Got a million clicks / And you feel like ghost, but no-one seemed to notice.”
Bell admits she is a harsh critic of her own work, it wasn’t difficult to axe things. “I mix everything in Ableton, demo extensively, then turn everything off and export all my stems to Rhode Island,” (Machine With Magnets, the legendary studio/space where both Lightning Bolt and Battles have recorded.
Her ultimate goal is to be the “Tilda Swinton of electronic, interesting pop,” but Bell‘s production skills and way of meshing off-kilter ideas together go above and beyond this tag. You’ll be hard pushed to disagree.
The Lonesome Dealer 12″ (press release for A L T E R)
‘I’m On Nights’ LP (press release for A L T E R)
Pheromoans mark their ninth year of existence with the release of fourth album, ‘I’m On Nights’.
A largely electronic affair, this new ten-track LP – recorded in Manor House, north east London – refracts vocalist Russell Walker’s stony poeticisms through a lens of analogue synths, while etching drum machine clicks and spaced out keyboard ditties into the bigger picture. Guitars still make an appearance – helmed by Christian Butler, Alex Garran and James Tranmer – but they’ve mostly been eclipsed by the scrappy, artificial beats which now underline Walker’s diary-like, ennui-soaked rhymes.
Album opener ‘Wizard’ – with its blocky, Bizarre Love Triangle-esque intro and unnerving pins and needles crackle – jolts you awake with charges of experimental noise. Then there’s the plaintive synth pads on the LP’s eponymous, stripped back tear-jerker and the acid squelch of ‘Depressed Wobble’. Because, with ‘I’m On Nights’, musical touchstones take on a myriad cult guises, from the downbeat minimal wave of Solid Space or Absolute Body Control, to a hypothetical vision of Dan Treacy crooning caustically over ‘Mari’ by Martin Rev. That’s not forgetting, of course, the outlier crop of new wave-y post-punk bands which this time around see the likes Datblygu and Young Marble Giants step up to the plate. And, as always, there’s the requisite nod to all things DIY and Messethetics.
Walker says he hope this new direction will create some distance away from a certain demographic; “…An attempt to alienate further the other dads at the nursery gates who kept slapping my back firmly and saying ‘nice work keeping our music alive compadre’, and trying to graft their aviator shades onto my forehead and contorting my fingers into the devils headset,” he explains.
Featuring titles like ‘Don’t Spread It Round College’ and ‘Brad’s Crush’, the bulk of the LP’s lyrical content reaches back into Walker’s 16-18 year old psyche; “It was at J. Sainsbury (Produce) in Uxbridge where I discovered the joy of working alone at night unimpeded and free to delve further into my hitherto unexplored imagination…!!” he explains. And it’s this theme of (oft night-time) employment which cuts through the biro scribbles of Walker’s quotidian missives; “temp work suits me / shift work corrects me, ” (can you check this line with Russell?) he opines on finale track ‘Rock & Pop Quarrel’.
Hailing from the holy trinity of England’s most southern locales – London, Brighton and Hertfordshire – Pheromoans currently consist of Russell Walker on vocals, Christian Butler on guitar & electronics, Alex Garran on bass & electronics, James Tranmer on guitar & electronics, Scott Reeves on drums & electronics and Dan Bolger on keyboards.
This new album follows 2014’s Hearts of Gold and 2012’s ‘Does This Guy Stack Up?’
JUNK SON BIO // SEPT 2016 (for 37 Adventures)
Draw a triangle from Massive Attack to Warp and Lamb and there’s Junk Son at the tip.
Riding the ever-evolving wave of bedroom electronica, the debut album from Goldsmiths graduate John Dunk is a striking testament to the power of doing-it-for-yourself. All lush, soft-focus vocals, low-key glitchtronica and soaring, piano-laden flourishes, Beginning Ending Pretending is a soulful record of electronic torch songs you can play to anyone, at any time and in any place. It’s an album boosted by that personal touch, but one that is still refreshingly unfamiliar, doling out new twists and turns on every fresh listen.
Out November 4 via London label 37 Adventures, the 11-track LP rolls through balearic pop, nu-disco, ambient and trip-hop, while daubing itself with thick, big screen brushstrokes. There’s a soundtrack quality to the album, and that’s largely owing to John’s job writing music for media. Though the classically trained musician divides his time accordingly between his creative and commercial endeavours, there’s a holistic element to what he does. Though John says he enjoys his paid work. “It’s a good exercise,” he quips. “And it is still largely informed by my Junk Son material.”
The Kendal-raised artist started out playing the drums, before moving over to alto sax aged 14, and as with so many saxophone-playing millennials, was drawn to the colourful dissidence of ska punk. He namechecks Californian pop-punk as his most beloved teenage anti-heroes. However, as John’s palate matured, he set his sights on Miles Davis and Chet Baker. A naturally skilled musician, he learned jazz grades, hitting grade 8 and enrolling at Goldsmiths to study a BA in classical music, specialising in composition.
John’s University friend Max was the catalyst for his subsequent experiments in electronic composition. After John expressed an interest in branching out from the rigidity of his classical music studies, was handed a copy of Logic by Max to try out. The pair became good friends and moved into a shared house in Brockley with future Junk Son members, guitarist Tomas Kaspar and guitarist and keyboard player Tierney Beames. Amy Spencer – the celestial voice you can hear on nearly every track of the album – was also a key member of John’s friendship group.
John’s circle of friends extends out even further, into the wider music community of south London. This summer, Junk Son played at the inaugural Peckham Rye Music Festival and John gushes about the area’s fertile and diverse sonic topography. “The thing about Peckham is there’s just so much going on and it’s a lot more expansive than the obvious nights you hear of – there’s a lot of exciting stuff outside of that.” He references Squareglass – the collective who released Johns’ Eyes Shut EP last year, along with The Rising Sun collective. There’s also avant-techno newcomer Ross From Friends, whom John calls “a good friend.” He’s currently playing as part of his live show and the duo are working together on a collaborative EP, which will be released at some point in the not too distant future.
Of course, you can hardly mention “Goldsmiths” and “popular music” in the same breath without also mentioning James Blake – one of the university’s most famous music students from the past few years. John says there are parallels in terms of the minor tonality that each artist relies upon and “that’s where the ghost of James Blake comes in,” but, overall, Blake’s sound is substantially more minimal than John’s self-professed “maximalism.”
John got to grips with Logic pretty quickly during his time as a student and became hooked on the possibilities afforded by the software. “When you study classical music it’s really difficult because you have to read and learn about the textures and instrument groups that you’re working with…. When I started making stuff with Logic it was like I could create interesting textures without having to second guess how it would sound when played live. Being able to make unusual textures so easily was very eye-opening.”
John’s classical background was useful when composing harmonies and putting chord structures together on Logic. But you either have an ear for music, or you don’t, and John is keen to underscore the difference between creativity and technicality. “When someone is really creative, they are able to get to make music that really gets under your skin,” he suggests.
His current set-up includes a Roland Juno-6 and his typical work method involves sitting down at a keyboard and playing a chord progression or picking up his saxophone and playing a melody. “I’ll just keep playing it over and over again and turn it into a song,” explains John.
Junk Son singer Amy Spencer approaches songs from a lyrical perspective, fleshing out the bones of John’s beat sketches. “Amy’s lyrics look at the different perspectives you can achieve through verses and choruses,” says John. “Looking at how you pick up an idea from one perspective and answer it from another perspective. A call-and-response in different sections of the song, if you like.” One of the most strident examples of this is ‘True’, which is based on a central idea that gets repeated. “Then it’s about going against that idea in the refrain,” says John.
Amy’s lyrics are mostly looking at the interplay between nostalgic and rational thoughts. Both graduates found themselves at a transitional time in their lives “when stuff was ending and stuff was happening – it’s all of those emotions coming to the fore,” states John. “It’s largely about the observing of things that are happening, when no one knows what’s going on really. Throughout most of the tracks, we’ve played with these two ways of expressing thoughts. The title ‘Beginning, Ending, Pretending’ summarises this cycle of emotions – rational feeling, then reflecting upon that and then going through it all over again.”
Hearing John and Amy’s vocals weaving their way around each other to create these perfect, bittersweet moments is one of the best things about Beginning Ending Pretending. Take ‘Crawl’, for example. The album’s opening track sets the stage with duetting voices that move up through the octave in tandem, while piano chords glisten and drum machine gently simmers away. It’s a thing of beauty. But there is, at the same time, still more to Junk Son than their pitch-perfect vocals. ‘Over’ is a modern ambient classic, with flashes of Biosphere or Global Communication by way of its bird song and cooing MIDI voices. ‘Pace By Pace’ is perhaps the most literal of the album’s song titles in that it ups the pace of the record, but it’s also a palate cleanser, a masterful and meandering 6-minute roller. And that’s not forgetting ‘Forget’, John’s personal favourite. “It’s short and has this little tremolo going on.”
John says the album ended up sounding melancholy, but that was never his intention. John talks about “a hodgepodge” of musical touchstones, from modern classical and minimalism to trip-hop. However, the biggest influence on Beginning Ending Pretending can be found closer to home, in the creative pursuits of John’s south London community and sprawling circle of friends. Beginning Ending Pretending is a paean to community, a small-town record of big screen ideas.
RAVIOLI ME AWAY
‘The Inevitable Album’
LP Released August 18th on Good Job Records
Read the bio here
LP out Feb 10th on NYC’s Address label
Read the press release here.
Debut EP ‘Perennial Construct’
Released via NYC’s Address label
on 14th April 2014
Read the press release here.
Debut LP released November 4th on Milk Records
Read the press release here.
Self-titled EP released August 5
‘First Prom’ EP out April 15
MUSEUM OF BELLAS ARTES
Debut album ‘Pieces’ drops November 25
Launches DRUT Records and announces ‘Answered’ EP out April 15