Interview with Tom Burke from Citizens!, 14th June 2012

Tom Burke of the hotly tipped new indie band Citizens! seems genuinely pleased to be in Glasgow after playing an energetic set in King Tut’s.

“There’s a lot of Glasgow heritage in the band in a way. Lawrence’s dad is from the east end of Glasgow and Mike grew up not very far away from here as well. Lawrence is a massive Celtic fan and stuff so it kind of captured our imagination.”

While the band were on fine form and there was a homecoming feel to the gig with lots of friends and family present it has to be said that King Tut’s was far from packed. This is something that Tom is determined to rectify.

“We’re going to keep touring England. We can play to decent crowds in London and in other cities across Europe – the capital cities and places with really decent crowds. So we’re going to keep plugging away until we can do that in towns across the UK as well.

“We’re not really interested in just being a London band we’re up for getting out there so we’re going to keep coming back until people get the message.”

Another Glasgow connection comes in the shape of Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos who produced their debut album, Here We Are.

“He gets that pop music doesn’t have to be daft, because that’s what Franz were. They were a party pop band that was also really interesting and credible and that was the line that we were going to try to tread.

“We talked to a lot of different producers about our album and all they could hear was the pop and the commercial potential. Basically they wanted to make us sound like The Killers and we hate The Killers so we didn’t want to sound like that.

“Then we went to Alex and he was like (slight hint of a Scottish impersonation before retreating to London) ‘No, no let’s just get in a room, play the songs, play it naturally and get as much human feeling as possible and put that out and see what happens with that’ and that’s what we did.”

Another upshot of having recorded their debut album with Alex Kapranos was that they were introduced to the work of Glasgow’s own Limmy. They linked to his ‘She’s turned the weans against us’ Youtube video from their web site prior to the gig and exchanged Twitter messages with him on their journey North.

“We tweeted that we were coming up and he was like, ‘Yaaass! Welcome to town, sorry I can’t make the show.’ We were chuffed.”

Aside from Kapranos Tom cites legendary NewYork electronic outfit Suicide as an influence over the sound of the album.

“They make surprisingly well-composed melodic music. It’s actually like Bach if you take it to pieces. Martin Rev did a solo album called Martin Rev and the melodies from that are like Kraftwerk. Just really simple interlocking melodies.

“We’re big fans of their stuff. They make really simple cheap instruments sound good by using them in ways that you’re not supposed to and recording them in ways that you’re not supposed to.”

This is the approach that Tom says was taken for Here We Are.

“It’s a very analogue lo-fi record. It’s very lo-fi. I don’t know if you’ve heard it but if you compare it to the Tribes album or the Spector album ours is unusually, foolhardily possibly, lo-fi. That was the album we wanted to make and we’re proud of it.”

Whilst the album is unmistakably low tech in its instrumentation it still sounds quite deliberate and constructed. Kitsuné, the label that Citizens! are signed to, is a fashion label as well as a music label. This prompts the question as to whether the band are pursuing a particular aesthetic.

“The thing that we kind of share is that kind of dark glamour which not many people are doing at the moment and it suits our music. It’s not really a thing that’s set up. It just naturally flows from what we wear.”

The band would be well advised to worry less about being darkly glamorous and concentrate on rocking out – something that on tonight’s evidence they’re more than capable of doing.

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Interview with Andy LaPlegua (Combichrist/Icon of Coil), 26th June 2012

“If you are born you will shit yourself, you will die. That’s the only two things that are for sure.”

“You’ll shit yourself?!”

So begins one of many exchanges about death during my half hour conversation with Andy LaPlegua – pronounced ‘Lah-pleg-ah’ – from top electro-industrial outfit Combichrist.

“When you die you shit yourself. It just happens. I’m not saying you should go and celebrate shitting yourself, but if you can celebrate life you can just as well celebrate death. It’s just as natural as life itself.”

We’re seated on either side of what looks like a school desk in a long narrow room with black painted walls. Andy is a big lad with tattoos up his arms. He seems cheerful in spite of his morbid preoccupations.

Combichrist is just one of the bands that Andy – who describes himself as a ‘musical schizo’ – maintains. He is also the singer and sole songwriter for Icon of Coil, Panzer AG and Scandinavian Cock as well as producing and DJing under the name Scandy.

While Icon of Coil and Panzer AG are variations on the electro-industrial theme and Scandy is a techno project, Scandinavian Cock is a straightforward punk band.

“That’s what I grew up with. That’s what I listen to myself. It’s very rare that I listen to electronic music at all by myself.”

Andy’s journey from being a teenage punk rocker to one of the fixtures of the industrial pantheon started in Frederikstad, Norway. Following early exposure to English electro-industrialists Nitzer Ebb he ended up getting involved with programming the electronics for an old school hip hop group.

“The scene in my home city was so small when it comes to alternative music that everybody from hip hop to black metal were all friends. So we’d switch members and do things for each other and it was really weird.

“When I was with the hip hop project we did a show together with some black metal bands. You never see that happening now. That’s how everything started getting mixed in and mixed together.”

Switching between a number of different projects is something that Andy believes is of benefit to the music he makes.

“It gives me objectivity because when I’m done working on one thing and I’m working on Combichrist again I can stay objective with what I want to do with Combichrist. If I’ve gone too long without playing in a proper rock band I want too badly to put that into the next thing I’m doing so subconsciously I will.

“At the same time it allows me to tease with pulling things from this project into this project and switch it around a little bit. Move the bar around a little bit. It’s freedom for music.”

Militaristic themes crop up frequently in his work. On his interest in conflict, the self-proclaimed war history buff had the following to say:

“I think in the same way as you will be sucked into it if you are watching a movie about a serial killer or something you get sucked into it because it’s so strange to us. You can’t put yourself in his situation. At the same time we’re all capable of it.

“Everybody is capable of killing but to us, hopefully to most of us, it’s a completely bizarre idea. That I found interesting. That something so human is so strange to most humans.”

For an artist who has been criticised in the past for singing provocative lyrics and using offensive imagery his reaction to my suggestion that he’s in a long line of musicians who have used imagery from World War 2 is unusual. Here’s Andy’s take on Lemmy from Motorhead’s habit of wearing Nazi uniforms:

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think what he does is absolutely ridiculous. I could have done the same mistakes when I was a kid because you kind of like to provoke when you’re a kid but you grow up and you start thinking a little bit. You’re not just like a punk any more.

“It’s not really even provocative because it’s just silly. You’re not provoked you’re just looking at him like ‘what is he doing?’ I guess some people don’t grow up.”

Before embarking on his current tour with Combichrist Andy was working on a radically different project to the work for which he’s best known.

“It’s just me and acoustic guitar. It’s very, very back to roots of songwriting. In any of the other bands I have every single one would require me to have an audience to bother playing it live. It’s not the same with a full band playing in a room with no people.

“This is the first album that I’m writing that I’d be happy just to sit down completely alone and play because it’s just that personal.”

While none of Andy LaPlegua’s projects have pushed forward into hitherto unconquered musical territory, he has consistently shown a willingness to try out things that he hasn’t tried before.

“I never once since I started making music wanted any huge fame or amazingness. I only wanted to write a song and then when I wrote a song I wanted to have a band to play this song with.

“When we did this we were super excited and then how amazing would it be to play a show?! You just go step by step. I never felt it was a risk for me to do anything different, because it was never about getting bigger as an artist. It was always about doing what I wanted to do as an artist.”

It’s this attitude that keeps the music fresh and energetic and makes Combichrist a fun act to go and see live.

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Interview with Slam at T in the Park 2012

It’s ten minutes before Slam are due to go on stage and kick off their tent at T in the Park. I’ve just been ushered into a portakabin behind the tent to talk to Slam’s Stuart MacMillan and Orde Meikle. Orde’s a big lad, Stuart’s smaller and chattier.

I kick off by asking what they’ve got in store for us today during their four and a half hour set.

Stuart says, “I think it will be more akin to what we’re used to doing in [London nightclub] Fabric because we always play 5 or 6 hours there from the start to the end. I guess we’ll probably start quite deep and then build it up and just take it on a bit of a journey. It’s a really fulfilling thing to do as a DJ, especially at a festival because very rarely does a DJ even get 2 hours at a festival. It’s good to do it with Sven [Väth] as well because he’s another guy who likes playing long sets.”

Orde expands, “I think you hear the best of Sven, probably the best take of us as well, over a 4 or four and a half hour period. So, yeah, really looking forward to it. Usually you turn up and you’ve 45 minutes or an hour and it’s the middle of the afternoon…”

Stuart continues, “In Fabric you’re just getting started after two hours. The beautiful thing about it is you’ve really set something. You’re not having to go on after someone that’s really banging it or doing something that’s the antithesis of what you’re going to do. The vibe that you’ve created is built from the start.”

Moving on to the Saturday, I ask about the thinking behind the line up they’ve selected.

Stuart says, “The Saturday’s a bit of a departure for us musically. It’s not really representative of our own musical tastes. I guess there is a big responsibility in running what is the main dance tent at something like T in the Park. As always we’ve tried to keep it really credible and relevant so there’s a lot of new guys and some more dubstep and stuff like that which is not really what we’re known for but at the end of the day we can’t be completely narrow-minded.

“It wouldn’t be right to be narrow-minded when there’s such a wide demographic. We have to try and cater to that, but we’re not going to put Judge Jules or something on or some big trance guy.”

Orde says, “Not till next year.” (laughs)

They mention that the line up on the Sunday is more to their taste and I put it to them that Sunday in the Slam tent is awe-inspiring.

Orde agrees, “Absolutely, yeah. With Orbital kind of the icing on the cake really. So we’re looking forward to that.”

Stuart continues, “… and Dubfire, Len Faki, Maya Jane Cole’s a great DJ. I don’t think it’s any secret that we love house music as much as we do techno. Maya Jane’s definitely somebody that’s right up there in the house music stakes at the moment. For such a wee person it’s such a big sound.”

Orde says, “Really unassuming person and just a fantastic DJ. We had her on at Pressure a couple of months ago and she just rocked it. Absolutely rocked it.”

They don’t even mention Simian Mobile Disco or Joris Voorn.

Orde says, “We’re going to be up on Sunday enjoying ourselves meeting a lot of our friends we don’t normally get to see.”

Stuart says, “I’m looking forward to hanging with the Pan-Pot guys [also on the line up] as well because they’re really good friends of ours and we just had a party together in Barcelona at Sonar. The mobilee roof party. Which was (Orde – Stunning!) a really great party. It’s on the roof of the diagonal hotel overlooking Barcelona – packed, just nice. Really cool crowd. It was great.”

I thank them for their time and wander off into the mud contemplating whether it might be time to change my profession.

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The Nightingales, Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, 6th June 2012

“Their performances will serve to confirm their excellence when we are far enough distanced from the 1980’s to look at the period rationally and other, infinitely better known, bands stand revealed as charlatans” – John Peel on the Nightingales

The Nightingales are a band who achieved a great deal of critical acclaim without ever selling many records. During their original period of existence from 1979 to the late 1980s they recorded more sessions for John Peel than any other band apart from The Fall.

Lead singer, Robert Lloyd, formed a new version of the Nightingales in 2004. The current line-up includes Alan Apperley, who was in Birmingham’s foremost punk band, The Prefects, along with Lloyd in the late 1970s. The five-piece is rounded out by new members Fliss Kitson on drums, Andreas Schmidt on bass and Matt Wood on guitar.

The gig in Sleazy’s is only their second in Scotland since the band reformed.

The first support act, Aggi Doom, announce their presence on stage with a crushing wave of feedback. Lead singer, Claudia Nova, combines Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra hair with a black bodysuit, giant shiny neckpiece and big red boots. The other members of the band carry on the black with shiny neckwear theme.

The group mix twangy guitars with close harmony singing and tribal drumming to create a charmingly ramshackle brand of punky girl pop. The highlight of their set is their debut single, Bring Me The Head, which includes an admirably deranged clarinet solo.

Next up is long-time Nightingales associate, Ted Chippington. Ted is the man who inspired Stewart Lee to take up stand-up comedy. His approach to comedy is to stand motionless in front of the microphone and tell you in a deadpan voice what his neighbour has been up to, or about a leaflet he’s read, or about someone he spoke to once. Half the time there’s no punchline. Even when there is it tends to be about as far away from what any other comedian would regard as a viable comedy punchline as you can imagine.

The audience are largely with him tonight – by the end I was almost in tears. There have been many times in the past when he’s been bottled off stage by unimpressed punters waiting to see a band.

The Nightingales launch straight into their set with no introduction from Robert Lloyd. They carry on in this fashion flicking from song to song with no chit chat in between. The band hit their groove a couple of songs in and start spraying out artfully layered distortion over complex krautrock-inspired rhythms.

The old Nightingales always incorporated complex rhythms into their songs but the new band seem to have taken this a stage further. They recorded their last two albums in legendary krautrock band Faust’s studios and picked up their current bassist while there. The superlative drumming from Fliss Kitson helps them sound krautier than ever before with the instrumental breaks frequently approaching the majesty of Can.

Robert Lloyd crouches down during the instrumental sections, allowing focus to shift entirely to the rest of the band. His vocals are often difficult to pick out in above the sonic assault produced by the guitars. This is a bit of a shame considering the quality of his lyric writing. A welcome exception is his a capella rendition of Only My Opinion from their highly recommended 1983 album, Hysterics.

The emphasis throughout the set is on new material. As a band they’re determined to keep pushing themselves forward rather than simply reproducing old material from the eighties. On the evidence of tonight they’re clearly able to produce exciting music and would be well worth checking out next time they’re in your area.

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Citizens!, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, 14th June 2012

It’s unusual to go into a gig and have your expectations overturned by the band during the course of the evening.

Citizens! debut album Here We Are is an artfully constructed pop record. The band strike a cool pose and maintain it throughout the album’s 38 minutes. Live, however, they’re quite a different proposition.

King Tut’s is unusually full when youthful support act, Swim Deep, take to the stage. They seem to have attracted a few enthusiastic female followers to the venue. On top of that there is also a significant contingent of Chinese people carrying cameras.

The bass features really heavily in Swim Deep’s melodic take on noise rock. The music is impressively sophisticated throughout. The lyrics could maybe do with a bit of work and the singer could stand to lose his tambourine, which is barely audible above the rest of the band and feels a bit like an affectation. These niggles aside, the band are undoubtedly a prospect for the future and well worth checking out.

Bizarrely, the Chinese part of the audience decide to leave after Swim Deep’s set, ensuring that the hall is less full for the headliners than it was for the warm up act.

Nevertheless, Citizens! receive a warm welcome from the remaining audience, including as it does the Scottish friends and family of two of the band’s members. They launch into Caroline, the most upbeat and poppy track on the album. In performance it feels more energetic than on record, but no more than you’d expect from a decent band playing live.

The revelation comes with their second track, Reptile. On record this is quite a restrained number in keeping with most of the rest of the album. Live, they burst the song from its constraints with punky guitars creating a much more energetic, engaging experience.

The energy is maintained throughout the following songs. Love You More has its heavy percussion brought more to the fore. Monster really does sound like a monster. The closer, I’m In Love With Your Girlfriend, sounds more like the slightly unhinged song it should have been on the album.

The production of the album feels like the band are trying almost too hard to be cool. In performance they feel like they’re being themselves and the songs expand into a more natural shape. There is no doubting the ability of Citizens! as musicians. Their album isn’t necessarily the best advert for their talents.

The people who ducked out before Citizens! took to the stage missed out on seeing what a potentially important new band are capable of. If you’re in a position to catch them at a festival or a club over the summer then take the opportunity. I doubt you’ll regret it.

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The Futureheads, Oran Mor, 9th April 2012

The Glasgow leg of the Futureheads tour in support of their new a cappella album ‘Rant’ ended with people literally dancing in the aisles.

That there were aisles at all is a novel thing for a band who would describe themselves as being punk musicians. The chairs lent a civilised air to a venue that was already pretty dignified to begin with. The occupants of the chairs, however, remained defiantly Glaswegian throughout.

In the main this expressed itself in a genial fashion. At one stage a particularly enthusiastic, and far from sober, lady at the front started pumping her fist in the air to the band’s close harmony singing. This led to the band joining in with big box, little box hand dancing.

There was a brief incident where a couple of audience members started hurling sectarian abuse at one another. In the main, the band’s good natured engagement with one another and with the audience helped to create a festive atmosphere.

The music itself comes across better live than it does on record. The folk ballads are just as lovely as they are on Rant but the covers and more upbeat songs are given an extra dimension in performance. This stands as a testament to the band’s skill as singers.

Old Dun Cow, a traditional drinking song about a pub burning down, stands out as a highlight. The song calls for the audience to stamp their feet and shout at certain points. The audience complied with lusty enthusiasm.

Beginning of the Twist, a slightly underpowered song when recorded with guitars, was reworked into a piece of Jewish wedding music. The result was a huge improvement and led to several audience members taking to the aisles in order to dance.

If there was anything disappointing about the gig it was that more people didn’t come to see a band who’ve been responsible for some of the best guitar music of the last decade. There were empty seats in a venue that the band could have filled a couple of times over a few years ago.

It’s possible that the experiment with a cappella singing put off people who would otherwise have turned up. If so, it’s their loss, as I’m sure the couple who staggered out of the aisle and onto the chairs, winding up rolling around on the floor, laughing and still holding hands would affirm.

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The Return of MG

This article was written prior to the start of the 2012 British Touring Car Championship season.

This year MG will enter their first new cars into the British Touring Car Championships since 2003.

One of them will be driven by Jason Plato, the most successful driver in the history of the BTCC.

MG’s Public Relations Manager, Doug Wallace, is bullish about how competitive the new team will be: “We’ll have to wait and see! We are new to the grid so there will be a steep learning curve but we hope to do very well with podiums and wins.

“MG has always been a sporting brand. Involvement in BTCC will promote this, the brand and hopefully increase sales.”

It’s a remarkable comeback considering MG Rover went bust seven years ago leading to the closure of their Longbridge factory and the loss of about 6,000 jobs.

In 2007 the remains of the company, including the MG brand, the Longbridge factory site and the rights to produce MG Rover’s cars, ended up in the hands of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.

SAIC failed to acquire the rights to the Rover brand which led to them creating their own Roewe marque.

Doug Wallace: “SAIC Motor sales last year totalled more than four million. MG is an international brand and will sell in many markets. The Roewe is envisaged as a China only car.

“We are ambitious but the brands are relatively new in China and MG is rebuilding the brand in the UK.”

The vast majority of the cars sold by SAIC are the product of joint ventures with western manufacturers like General Motors and Volkswagen. The attraction of MG is that it gave the company their own internationally recognised brand that they could sell outside of China.

SAIC’s commitment isn’t just to the brand, they’ve chosen to re-establish a design and engineering centre at Longbridge. This employs more than 300 engineers about 30% of whom are ex-MG Rover employees.

The founder of the popular MG-Rover.org web site, Steve Childs, was given access to the design centre: “One of the really interesting things is to see how the engineering teams here and in China actually work. The design is all UK-based. There’s a team of engineers here and there’s a team out in China as well who both work together on the same things.

“The work that the engineers do here when they go home is all sent over the internet to China who then start their day and then continue on from where the UK engineers left off. In effect it actually works extremely well because you almost get two work shifts out of one day.”

So far this team has been responsible for designing and engineering the Roewe 550/MG 6, the Roewe 350 and the MG 3. That’s three all new cars launched in the space of as many years.

MG Rover, by comparison, failed to produce a single all new model in the course of their six year existence. Before that, during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the Rover Group and British Leyland often scrabbled to get new cars out by raiding their parts bins and cunningly repackaging existing cars.

The first of the new MGs to be launched in the UK was the MG 6 last year. This car forms the basis for the MG BTCC cars.

Steve Childs, who’s only owned Austin, Rover or MG cars since he bought his first car, an Austin Maestro 1.6 HLS in the early nineties, got to take the MG6 for a test drive.

Steve: “As a car it’s a fun car to drive. It handles as well as the old MGs did. As their first car on the market it is a remarkably good car to start off with really.”

The engine in the MG 6 is effectively a heavily reworked version of Rover’s K-series from 1988.

Steve Childs: “It does betray its age a little bit when you push on hard because it does sound a bit loud and a bit, well, loud!”

Two all new petrol engines and a diesel engine have been designed by the staff at Longbridge. Steve expects them to be installed in the car when it receives a face-lift.

Next year, the MG3 will be launched in the UK and some time after that it will be joined by the new Roewe 350-based MG5.

Steve Childs: “I think the next five years are going to be really interesting for MG in the UK and in the EU as they begin to sell back into the EU as well. The future looks a lot more interesting now than it did in April 2005.”

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