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Hinds: “We have always loved live shows, we toured almost the whole world before putting any albums out”

Spanish indie four-piece Hinds are something of an exception to the restrictive conventions that have typically governed their genre. Indie rock has traditionally, to an almost ludicrous degree, been the preserve of quite a specific grouping, largely white, male and set in modern English-speaking cities. 

The Madrid-based four-piece, consisting of three Spanish women and Dutch drummer Amber Grimbergen, are a welcome change of pace that sit a long, long way from those traditions. It’s been harder to break in from that outsider perspective. Indie rock bands from non-English speaking Europe that succeed in places like Ireland are a real rarity. That Hinds have succeeded, recently returning from a tour supporting The Strokes that stopped off in Belfast, speaks volume for the quality of their music.

“I think we may have seemed ‘exotic’ playing kind of American music with Spanish accents,” Grimbergen laughs when I ask her about their status in the genre. “I think people are getting more used to girls in bands, and girls on stages, and it’s no longer “the thing to talk about,” but I still think it is harder for girls in music and we still get more shit than male artists.”

Hinds were on the verge of releasing their third album, ‘The Prettiest Curse’, when the coronavirus hit, halting their ever-popular tours, and ultimately halting the album, too, with its release pushed back for happier times.

“It feels amazing to have it done,” Grimbergen says. “It was a long process, building this album, way longer than the previous two albums. It sounds so different, it really is a good third album, in my opinion, and we were all so excited to finally put it out.”

“We weren’t really sure about the delay being the right move, but it seems it was. It was just intuition, and seeing the whole world was going to be shut down… it didn’t make sense to keep the original release date. The new one feels like good timing.”

Strange Bones: “I often get hit in the face with a guitar”

A quick glance at Strange Bones‘ demeanor probably gives a solid idea of what to expect from the feisty Blackpool band. Fronted by the imposing, tattooed Bobby Bentham, a man who has been known to lead the band live in a face-covering gas mask, the punky, protest-embracing sound feels a natural fit.

The band, after all, are underdogs, if born of strong underdog stock. Having grown up surrounded by early-punk gristle, they’re off the beaten track when it comes to music’s city trends, and willing – see it as their duty, almost – to hit the road hard. The gritty, hotly-tipped act are most likely to rise through their pulsating live show.

“We’ve gone for a bit more of a breakbeat vibe,” Bentham tells me of what will be their second EP, ‘Blitz Part 2’, which references different sides to their upbringing. “Three of us in the band are brothers, and our parents kind of threw us into the breaking world of punk music at a very young age. It was a good environment to nurture a bit of an attitude towards life.”

“As we grew up and we managed to get out of Blackpool, we also got heavily into electronic music, a lot of jungle and dub. I like to mix it up, to constantly evolve to keep things exciting. It’s not just for other people, it’s for my own sanity.”

“My earliest memories of music, I think I was about 8, and my dad took me to a punk festival. I remember thinking it looked like a lot of fun, and deciding almost on the spot that I wanted to do that, too.”

Strange Bones, are, perhaps, an inevitable result, then, a natural evolution from what they call “the town that time forgot, stuck in the 70s.”

“All the money we make from touring is put into recording equipment,” Bentham continues. “We record it all in Blackpool, in house, which gives us a lot more freedom to experiment. When you’re working to the clock in a studio it’s a bit restricting, so it’s good to take our time. We end up, with tracks like ‘Napalm’, using about the fifth version of the song. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and sometimes that’s a bad thing, but it’s worth it.”

Side 4 Collective: “I just sent them the beats and connected them up and sat there eating sandwiches”

Dave Hingerty’s day job is as one of Ireland’s most successful drummers, a regular behind the kit with the likes of The Frames, Kila and Josh Ritter. Naturally, he’s made plenty of contacts through his job, and the whole thing has led to an unusual record.

Side 4 Collective are, perhaps, the ultimate ‘isolation’ style group, in that some of them have never met, though their output far pre-dates our current situation. Their album is constructed with the layering of their various contribution on top of Hingerty’s drum backdrop. Their new record ‘We Burn Bright’, which features Josh Ritter, Paul Noonan (Bell X1), Joe Chester, Ben Castle (Radiohead, Blur, Amy Winehouse) and Katy Perry drummer Adam Marcello.

I caught up with Hingerty to find out all about it…

Congrats on the new record. Can you tell me a little about the story behind it?

It all started with my obsession with recording drum ideas at soundchecks and at home. I have that type of personality that can’t stick to a practice routine and I go on tangents almost immediately and got into the habit of recording any new creations.

I feel like I am a frustrated guitar or bass player, and I think I try to express melodies through the drums often subconsciously.  This in turn led to the idea that I could use all of these ‘melodic’ or experimental grooves and beats as a ‘first point in writing’ and invite lots of friends and artists to challenge them to write a song or piece to one of these grooves.

You seem to have gathered quite a collection of musicians around you. How much did they contribute to the construction of the record? 

Almost Everything. I just sent them the beats and connected them up and sat there eating sandwiches while Anthony (Gibney, Audioland Studios ) did the real work, recording and mixing. I did ‘Anti Production’. I worked with Steve Albini a few times in Chicago with The Frames etc and he never liked the whole ‘produced by’ title. Like him, I just didn’t want to get in the way. The whole spirit of the project is musical and sonic freedom. Now and then I made some suggestions or played a keyboard, bass or xylophone badly.

This is quite a creative departure from The Frames. Is this more along the lines of your personal taste?

Probably yes. Not that it’s musically so different, but it’s more focussed on freedom and experimentalism. I love The Frames music and I love the music I play with Kila, and also with Josh Ritter, but there isn’t always room for creativity and I often have had to ‘play for the song’. So, for this Side 4 project, these poor artists were forced to work with my rhythmic creations. So, there is more of me creatively in Side 4. I am wide open when it comes to taste, but I prefer if music is brave and performed with emotion though, otherwise I smell a rat.

The album, you say in the press blurb, is a departure from the need to be commercial. How does that pressure influence bands in general, do you think?

Following on from the last question, I do feel that nearly everyone I work with panders towards what they think will be more acceptable to the record-buying public, as opposed to what they really want to make.

Freud used to encourage his patients into ‘free association’ which means talking honestly and continuously and without a filter. We need more of this in music, I think. We need a new wave of punk. Raw, real, and brave. This, I would hope, would freshen everything up.

Where are the mavericks these days? The David Bowies and the Iggy Pops and the Georgie Bests, John McEnroes and the Alex Higgins’? There is too much music now that is slick and sterile I find. Over edited. Overcooked. And, commercially speaking, mostly in the hands of the wrong people.

Dagny: on chilling and connection.

Norwegian pop starlet Dagny – Norvoll Sandvik, to her family – is a name that’s been on the lips of many industry types in recent months, with her debut album one of the most anticipated pop launches in recent years.

Despite the ‘fresh’ feel around the singer and her bubbly, emotion-laden pop, however, she’s actually been around the fringes of the London’s pop scene for many years, biding her time and waiting to make her move. 

When we caught up with her just ahead of the album launch, she explained that things have changed recently, and she’d just had enough of messing around the edges. She decided to take some of her massive songwriting backlog public, with the likes of The Guardian and NME throwing their weight behind her.

“The last six months have really been a different thing,” she explains. “I’ve been working on the album, and it’s really been my first big project, in a way. That’s been super motivating and exciting, but also a bit scary.”

“I started off songwriting, not performing, but once the performance came, that kind of took over,” she continues. “I spent a lot of years just performing, releasing some singles and an EP and just going with the flow. I was trying to get as much traveling and performing into the diary as possible. At times, working on an album felt further and further away from happening, and it got to the point where I didn’t know what I was waiting for.”

“I said to myself, I have 250 songs, I’m sure I can find 12 that hold together as an album. Funnily enough, I’ve been writing songs for ten years and I ended up putting on tracks only from the last 18 months, as they just felt more relevant to me. I think everyone who writes thinks their most recent stuff is their best, and I just tried to concentrate on what my vibe is right now, rather than looking to the past. The album isn’t conceptual, but because of how it all relates in my head, it almost felt like that.”

Pauli: “In a funny way, I can see how the current situation might benefit a complete newcomer like myself”

In a funny way, amid all the chaos of the modern-day, new artists like Pauli represent hope, or more specifically the idea that lockdown will serve as a positive for some, a chance to break out of a shell.

Pauli has been making music and contributing to various projects for years, having started producing music as a child, but hi new EP ‘Isolation Station’ sees him emerge from the shadows and announce himself for the first time, a project born out of the isolation he’s been experiencing, and his take on others experiences, too.

I spoke to him to explore his own isolation, and what led to this moment…

Congrats on the debut EP. A strange time to release it, but what can you do! Did you do anything different because of the shutdown?

Thanks, James, I’m looking forward to seeing what the response is. To be honest, the lockdown is the thing that spurred me on to finally release some tracks. I had been planning this for a while but having more time on my hands to dedicate to doing it ‘properly’, coupled with a little spike in inspiration recently has helped me to make that final step.

Was this opportunity a kick up the rear in some senses?

Exactly right. In many ways, I was ready for this for a while now. I have been writing music for many years already, and getting better and better at home recording and production recently. With so much more time on my hands, and not having the distraction of pubs and attending gigs and whatever else, I didn’t have any excuses left. The time had come!

Obviously the music industry is differing at the moment. Can you see some benefits, too, given the impact this shutdown has had on you?

In a funny way, I can see how the current situation might benefit a complete newcomer like myself. With live events cancelled for the foreseeable future, it gives me a chance to build a following through my EP release first. I don’t have to scramble for stage time and gig opportunities, which is already a competitive marketplace, even for established acts. This way, I have an opportunity to hopefully build a bit of a following over the next few months and build some momentum that way, and be prepared for when gigs finally get going again.

Sounds Of System Breakdown: “The events of the past few weeks have reinvigorated the case for protest music”

Sounds Of System Breakdown‘s self-titled debut album, released in 2010, is one of the sounds of my early years in Dublin. Encapsulating the gritty urban-ness of the less-touristy aspects of the city, it was a shining electro-pop record riddled with enthralling beats and whip-smart lyrics.

They’ve been relatively quiet in recent years, being spread as they are between a houseboat outside Dublin and a new home in London, but recently returned with new single ‘Connect With Me’.

How much do I personally rate this band? They were my wedding band, playing exclusively their own material. Here’s what they had to say around the launch of the new single.

Welcome back, lads! It’s been quite a while. How does it feel to be working together again?

I guess we never really stopped, we just had to slow down a bit as other life events took precedence. It’s great to have three pairs of eyes and ears on everything again. Honestly, there’s a great feeling of focus now – I think a bit of distance from the last few records has given us a better understanding of our sound.

It must be quite difficult given your disparate living situations. How do songs like the new single come together in practice?

It was kind of iterative. I’d usually demo something, then Ed would do a rough drum take, Richy would try some vocals on top. Then after a few listens we’d chat about what worked and what didn’t. We avoided preciousness wherever we could so you’ll hear a lot of the demo stuff in there, mixed with better quality recordings. It was about keeping whichever take had the best energy.

Can you tell me a bit about the story behind the single?

It came from the bass line – everything else came from that in a really instinctive way. The lyrics are supposed to be little snapshots of memories all jumbled up together. The words feel secondary to how the meter and sounds elaborate on the rhythm section.

RunOffBroke: “Berlin was crazy, we had some rough times out there but the effects it had on our music is something I’d never change”

RunOffBroke might be one of those artists to emerge from lockdown more complete, more ready to face whatever the music industry evolves into.

Filtered through young creativity and a period living in Berlin, Jordan Wilson dabbles in house and afrobeat sounds as well as his rapping, working regularly with producer NINETY7HERTZ to produce what’s turned out to be a heap of recent material.

Back in Ireland after those Berlin escapades, he talks us through what it’s all been about…

You seem to be firing out the singles at the moment. What’s brought on the creative period?

We just decided that it’s time to start working as hard as we can. If we really want this music to go where we want it to, then we need to keep the work rate high. NINETY7HERTZ and I are honestly lucky that we’re in this quarantine cause it gives us a lot of time to work on new material, new songs are being made every day and that’s not gonna stop for a long time!

For your latest single, about a conflicted relationship, is there a particular story behind the track?

I’ve definitely been in some situations with some crazy ladies, I’m not gonna say any names but they know who they are. It’s a strange thing because inherently for all of us in abusive situations we can find ourselves holding onto the rare good times you have in them and that’s basically what the songs about! But look we can go deeper about that over a few drinks.

What’s your typical process for putting a track together?

97 starts making a beat and then we need to get down a chorus, that’s what the whole song is based off. Whatever I end up writing the chorus about is what the song will be about! I feel like that’s the best way to do it cause if you start off writing verses then the main part that carries the song has to be based on too much information and things just get messy.

Mark Knight big on Dublin connection

Superstar DJ Mark Knight, a mainstay of the house music scene, is one of the abundance of cancelled shows that won’t be showing up in Dublin in the coming weeks. The beatsmith is used to the mass audiences of Ibiza and London, however, Knight has a special affinity to our capital.

It’s an affinity that plays out in the way he performs, too. Dublin’s club scene is mediocre by international standards even at its peak, with early closing hours and small-scale venues far behind pubs as a priority. Knight makes a point of dropping in regularly, however, playing smaller venues than he’d normally grace purely for the love of the place.

“It’s a special connection,” he tells me. “My wife’s from Dublin and I’ve been playing there for 15 years, I always have a great time. This year, I’m mainly focused on my business, Toolroom, and things related to that, but the Dublin date [which would have taken place in April] was an important one personally.” 

“Toolroom has fed into my music now. I come across so much different music because of my job. When it comes to playing live, I play about 50% my own stuff, and probably about 85% of it overall is Toolroom stuff. That’s how it should be, I think. The balance with the label has allowed me to play maybe two weekends a month, which is a really nice balance when you have a family and you only want to spend a certain amount of time playing at clubs at 3 or 4 in the morning.”

“I like playing small venues. You can’t just go in with a sledgehammer, you have to massage people a little, and it gives you a chance to do long developing sets that are a journey from beginning to end. It’s something a bit different.”

Knight’s previous lifestyle is one of the things that has been, at least temporarily, lost during the shutdown, along with his tour. It’s also something that indicates the strength that can – but doesn’t always – exist in creative arts. While he can’t play live, he’s putting together videos connecting with his new record, and keeping an eye on the future of Toolroom, including the label’s new development pipeline, Toolroom Academy.