Is Charlotte Church’s Pop Dungeon The New Rocky Horror?

Not since the walls of every venue in the land echoed with the rousing chorus of ‘Time Warp’ have we witnessed such a frenzied response to an on-stage production, one which many music snobs would deem more ‘70s kitsch than ‘George & Mildred’, the Cinzano ad series and Sweet put together!

Viewed from a distance Charlotte Church’s Pop Dungeon is like Multi-Coloured Swap Shop meets Rainbow for drag queens, but on closer inspection this is an altogether cleverer concept than one might at first realise.  Set against a backdrop of the glam era that manifested itself throughout British popular culture in the ’70s, Church allows her concept to come into being. The catalyst for this ‘kitschella’ seems to have been the singer’s desire to steer her career in the direction of a “be true to thine own (unconventional) self” approach, one which sees the ‘fun-factor’ dial up turned up to the max.

Recently, that close-up pleasure was all mine, when the former ‘Voice of an Angel’ now trading as the Dominatrix of the Dungeon Dimensions (my term, not hers) brought her rainbow hued sparklefest to Dublin.

A sparse and pretty diverse early crowd soon blossomed into a heaving swarm of Church acolytes for what was to become an extravaganza of the weird and wonderful delivered “in the best possible taste” as Cupid Stunt, creation of the late Kenny Everett would say.  In fact, if Everett were still alive I have no doubt he’d be up front centre, if not on-stage, lapping up every delicious second of this glam rock meets vaudeville spectacular.

Pop Dungeon is a vibrant, melting pot of cover songs morphed, reshaped, and segued in the most breathtakingly innovative ways; perfectly synced mash-ups, of disparate songs, which only the keenest of creative minds and sharpest of musical ears could re-imagine. Its set-list is a colourful riot, a neon-bright, eclectic pick ‘n mix of indie, 80s, disco, rap, rock anthems and off the wall oddities, which on paper, does not and should not work. But it does, and bloody wonderfully at that!

On the night, Talking Heads’ Burning Down The House comes hot on the heels of Nelly’s Hot in Herre, while Trousersnake parleys with Thom during a Cry Me/ParAndroid muddle.  The Edwin Starr classic soul banger War is given full turbo treatment while Missy Elliot is treated with all the funked up respect she deserves.  “We’re a democracy here in Pop Dungeon” coos the singer as she passes the baton to her choir of ‘Charlie’s Angel’s who in turn perform lush covers of everything from M.I.A to Rage Against The Machine.

Set highlights include two Beyoncé numbers, an En Vogue cover and two Prince homages, the latter of which is a stunning rendition of Diamonds & Pearls, which Church morphs into a magnificent operatic scale-sweeper as she effortlessly traces the theme tune to E.T. . A performance so magical it renders speechless, an otherwise rambunctious crowd.

The handful of times when Church lets her former opera-star self come to the fore are without doubt some of the most spectacular elements of this multi-dimensional megamix.  At her subtlest, on 10CC’s I’m Not In Love and encore opener Hide & Seek, she is possibly at her most quietly triumphant.

Going to see Pop Dungeon isn’t just like attending any other gig.  This is an high quality, off the radar innovative and beyond-Bolt dynamic carnivale of entertainment, performed by a ten-strong troupe of extremely colourful, enthusiastic and talented artists who by all accounts, have a wonderful chemistry and marvellous rapport.

And, might I also point out, that Pop Dungeon are possibly the friendliest on-stage artists I have ever come across – their constantly smiling, happy interaction with the crowd was something I have never previously witnessed! Kudos!

Pop Dungeon is leading the ‘karaoke’ zeitgeist with Church turning the crime f.k.a ‘cover versions’ into a professional ‘coverfest’ that has the potential to become the next big thing. An unorthodox creation that Charlotte Church has taken and made her own, it is a project with which she has undeniably proven herself as innovator, arranger and producer.  It is not beyond this audacious Welsh woman to up the ante, and upscale to a full bells and whistles ‘grand production’, a Cirque du Soleil of the music world, brimful of fascinating wonders and wildly creative goings on.

In many ways, with its kitsch glamour and innovative wackiness, Pop Dungeon is the Rocky Horror Show of the 21st century. Like its cult musical predecessor, it has all the outré sensibilities, off-the-wall ingenuity and addictive magnetism required to gain a global cult following.

An all-out camp creative triumph, a critical and one would hope commercial success, Pop Dungeon has put Charlotte Church back to the fore of modern pop-culture where she belongs. All hail Queen “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, fucking Church”.

Pop Dungeon tours until 12 May – check here for details.

DervSwerve

Niki & The Dove’s Second Album Is Full Of Forget Me Nots

48935-everybodys-heart-is-broken-now

Around the middle of April, Swedish duo Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf, aka Niki & The Dove, released their second album, ‘Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now‘ without, it would seem, too much fanfare.  Reviewed and favourably received by some of the big guns, it has since then, somehow managed to keep its head just under the parapet, shimmering away in the shadows without ever building to a dramatic, fireworky explosive ‘Ta-dah’“! Which is a shame, because this is one truly super-cool ‘back to the ’80s’ time-travelling pop album.

While on a very obvious level this album recalls Prince and Donna Summer and, is rife with vocal enunciations that scream Stevie Nicks at every possible nuanced turn, it is also a fusion of everything that was great and glorious about 70’s disco and ’80s pop, conjuring up sonic images of every stand-out name from that era, from 10cc to Five Star, from Nile Rodgers & Chic to Michael Mc Donald.

nikidovesmih

Album opener, single ‘So Much It Hurts‘, has an intro cut straight from Foreigner’s ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ and a melody line that could amiably mash up with ‘On My Own’, Pattie Labelle’s famous duet with the afore-mentioned Steely Dan frontman. It is sparkling ’80’s slick pop, bedecked with smatterings of darting synth sequences and Rn’B basslines, all topped off with a gloriously wistful vocal. Those dude basslines become even more pronounced in the next track, ‘You Stole My Heart Away‘, when they go pure vintage Freddie Washington in a 21st century refresh of Chic vs Patrice Newton with its crossover jazz/Studio 54 blend.  This is the track to transport you back to the glitzy glory days of ‘Forget Me Nots’ and ‘Good Times’, with it’s infectious handclap beat and strutting hard funk guitar.

You Want The Sun‘, is jizz-jazzy Summer filled slacker-funk coloured with golden flecks of lush guitar, and a song very much in the mould of the duo’s fellow Nordic musical bedfellows, Lovespeake.  While billowing in a reverbed Fleetwood Mac ‘Gypsy’ breeze, ‘Play It On My Radio’ has a line in percussion stuck in a Phil Collins timewarp, with traces of Mike and the Mechanics’ ‘Living Years’ in the easy melody of its inviting guitar loops and strum patterns.

Coconut Kiss‘ is an electro-reggae trip to the tropics dotted with gorgeous synth ‘birds of paradise’ singing their sweet song amidst a luscious dense growth of cheeky bass and 10cc style guitars.  Watercolour washes of Malin’s infectious dreamy vocal beckon the listener to come take a stroll with her along the sun-kissed white sands of some azure lapped Caribbean paradise. ‘Shark City‘ is a bit of an odd one mind.  On the one hand, it’s a little bit Toni Basil on high-pitched steroids, on the other it’s way down low groovy basslines and disjointed percussion.  I can’t quite make up my mind, so I’ll leave you to your own decisive devices.

Album closer ‘Ode to Dance Floor‘ sees Malin kick off with a rambling monologue that’s followed by disparate vocal styles, part talking, part oooh ooh, with very little of what you could actually call singing (except for the background harmonics).  It veers a little towards late ’80s Talking Heads with it’s talk-talk vocal and bubbling rivulets of electro noises, which Karlöf backdrops with a delightful melodic montage of guitars.  The addition of a sublime overlay of brassy sax gives both track and album a gilt-edged, elegant finish.

It’s four years since Niki & The Dove released their debut album, and in that time they have honed and evolved their sound into a rainbow hued confection the recipe for which has been the best of breed ingredients from the glory days of the 70’s and ’80s – an era when pop was king, and disco was queen.  In 2016, these avant-garde pop virtuosos have wed these regal highnesses to create a rich royal blend of smooth, groovy disco-funk that is a modern day musical marriage made in retro heaven.

“Sending you Forget me Nots …To help me to remember”

You can follow Niki & The Dove on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify & more.  You can buy their album, ‘Everybody’s Heart Is Broken Now‘ via their official website.

by:Larming around Oslo : Gig Review – Electric Eye

Photo D Mc Cloat
Photo D Mc Cloat

Sometimes it’s something as simple as a line, a note or just a beat, to bait, hook and reel you in.  With Electric Eye it was the first bar of ‘Bless‘, the lead track from their sophomore album, Different Sun‘, released at the start of February.  Having been put onto them last October, by fellow Norwegians Dråpe, I had tuned into a couple of tracks from their debut Lp, “Pick-up, Lift-up, Space, Time”, and really liked what I heard, but it wasn’t until ‘Bless’ dropped into my ‘musicverse’ that I gave Electric Eye some serious undivided attention.

What a difference four minutes can make … and oh boy, what a four minutes.  Having heard a track that addictive, I was hooked immediately by its potency, so when I saw that Electric Eye were on the line up for Oslo based festival, by:Larm, I was more than a tad excited at the thoughts of hearing ‘Bless’ and more, live.

Before by:Larm, Electric Eye released ‘Different Sun’ which garnered much critical praise (you can read my review here) as well as spades of positive feedback from their multitude of fans, so it was with fizzing anticipation that I pitched up at Uhørt to see them rock out for their headline slot on the penultimate night of the festival.

Electric Eye, who count members of The Megaphoic Thrift among their line up, played to the biggest capacity crowd I saw across my three nights at by:Larm.  An absolutely thronged venue heaved and surged as the Bergen four-piece laid into set opener ‘6am’, an already lengthy instrumental which they extended even further.  Like a surreal sonic snake, it captivated, beguiled and hypnotised the by:Larm revellers.  Row after row of psyched out fans was literally going crazy to its powerful blues driven rhythm of clean guitar sequences sitting between frenzied rock grooves, intense drum rolls and crazed spirals of synths.  If you could describe music as being “opiated”, then this is the perfect track to do so.

Describing their sound as “Groove-psych-space-rock from Norway“, they pretty much hit the nail on the proverbial head.  Spaced-out rock from rockin’ out musicians who nearly had the paint off the walls, and the varnish off the woodwork, as their music blistered and scorched creating an electrically charged atmosphere the wattage of which I haven’t experienced since the Manics blew the roof off the Olympia in 2014.

Quality over quantity was the order of the setlist, and instead of trying to cram in several tracks, Electric Eye opted to play just four songs, with extended instrumentals on all.

Essentially an instrumental oriented band, they let the music do the talking for the best part, but in finishing with current single, ‘Mercury Rise’, they proved that they are 100% capable of producing an equally strong vocal delivery.  ‘Mercury Rise’ a glittering homage to Marc Bolan’s T-Rex and all things 70’s glam-rock, was the perfect closer to 30 minutes of entrancing psychedelic grooving.

This was the psych rockers gig of gigs – an unsurpassed guitar-fest and synth fantasia that had the crowed reeling and afterwards baying for more. (I have literally never seen anyone’s fingers move so quickly on a synth – EVER!).  I don’t tend to score gigs, it’s something I rarely do; but on this occasion I’ll make an exception.  10/10.

Electric-Eye

Electric Eye have their sound down pat, and their musicianship skills honed to perfection.  Having long since gained the respect of Norwegian music critics, the band has now caught the eye and ear of top UK music publication, the NME, being featured in their by:Larm round up as one of the hottest bands to play the festival.  Garnering attention and print space beyond Norwegian borders is nothing more than Electric Eye deserve, and with any luck, they’ll garner even more during their Tex-festing stateside.

I’ll leave you guys with a taste of what you have to look forward to at Øya later this Summer, or, if you’re one of the lucky dudes travelling to SXSW, then you’ll need to tick this on your gig-go-to next week!!  Happy St Patrick’s Day with Electric Eye y’all!

The album ‘Different Sun’ is available on Bandcamp, iTunes and Spotify. You can follow Electric Eye on Facebook and Twitter.  They will play the Norwegian Glasto – Øyafestivalen – in August.  Their schedule for SXSW is here:

Electric Eye at SXSW
Electric Eye at SXSW

Mats Wawa Drop Debut EP of Vintage ‘Classics’

Mats WaWa Classics EP Promo Shot
Mats WaWa Classics EP Promo Shot

I am sitting in a dimly lit, velveteen draped lounge, somewhere in 1969 Central London – the air is smoky, the people dressed in long floaty khaftans, thigh skimming minis and corduroy jackets with flared lapels and matching bell-bottomed trousers.   The music playing in the background is somewhere between H.P. Lovecraft, The Fallen Angels and Jethro Tull.

Which is great, except that I’m not in ’69 lush London listening to 60’s psych-obscura, I’m in a 2016 office littered with paraphernalia listening to the debut EP from Norwegian outfit, Mats Wawa.

‘Classics’ is the ultimate retro-fest mini-compilation and a must-have for any lover of 60’s/70’s psychedelia and prog-funk fusion.  Mats Wawa could have been beamed up into the 21st c by Star Trek transporter straight out of Whisky A-Go-Go or the infamous Marquee Club so ‘swinging Soho’ is their vibrant vintage vibe.

EP opener, ‘Lord Bisnis’ is a soundtrack of the 60’s, a song that wouldn’t  be out of place on Jethro Tull’s ‘A Classic Case’.  Heartbeat of the ‘Tull’ sound, the flute, takes centre-stage.  It sets the delightful cadence for a slipstream of melodic zen guitar riffs and ‘très, très cool’ bass lines, dotted with snatches of Fender Rhodes style keys, all topped and tailed by some uplifting vocals and groovy drumming.  ‘Lord Bisnis’ is the business; the cool Top ‘TC’ Cat of the EP.

Second track in, tempo shifting ‘Worries’, is an Americana Country Blues ballad interspersed with snips of rock n roll that give it a ‘drinking song’ kind of vibe.  This Nordic rendition of Wild West melancholia features seriously good guitar playing –  heavy ‘way on down’ riffs so prevalent on Cash and Presley tracks mix it up with woozy drunken slide.  The lonesome cowboy vocal and ‘yeehaw’ melodies will whisk you away on your tail-swishing horse to long grassed Norwegian prairies, singing the refrain,

“Why do we worry about the things that will never be, Why do we worry that our lives will never be free, We can fly away, spread our wings like some butterflies!”

EP Cover Art

So far, so good then.  Up next, ‘Bed of Love’ is an intriguing two sides of the same vintage coin.  The first half is in the mode of  Billy ‘Pianoman’ Joel complete with a Doobie Brothers style backing band, all lazy guitars, even lazier drumming and an “All American”, Terry Jacks style vocal. Complimentary Joel style whistling thrown in for good measure.

The second and more interesting side, is pure 70s thriller cop show/film drama soundtracked by Lalo Schifrin and Henry Mancini Vibing high speed car chases along the Pacific Coast, and fast-legged cops pegging it down the Streets of San Francisco, this sees Mats Wawa completely rockin’ out to 70s funk.  Man, oh man, this track does for me, what two bongs and a crate of Dahl would do for others!

Last but by no means least, is EP closer ‘Planet Of The Grapes’.  A quirky vocal is set against a playful, melodic instrumental backwash of sometimes dreamy, sometimes phantasmagorical (I save that word for music I really like) guitar sequences.  This groovy little song is to music, as ‘day-glo’ was to Zandra Rhodes – bright, happy, catchy, and full of colour.

‘Classics’ is an EP full of zing that swings down Carnaby Street, lingers in Nashville, and speeds down Russian Hill, ending up in a West LA piano lounge dressed in Mary Quant and sipping a glass of Babycham .

This is one groovy journey you’ll want to make again, and again, and again …

Mats Wawa can be followed on Facebook. They are playing the Crossroad Club, Oslo on Thurs 3rd March, details here, AND, the super cool by:Larm festival, where I’ll get to see them live, woo, on Sat 5th March, 11pm at Mono.

‘Classics’, released via Oslo-based indie label Ville Vesten Platforening, is available digitally, links below,

Follow Mats Wawa on Facebook hereFollow Dervswerve on Facebook here.

EP Links hereSpotify: https://play.spotify.com/album/69RyJth1sRwzjKt3qp5T5e

TIDAL/Wimp: http://tidal.com/album/56849971

‘Can’ you dig Krautrock? – “Oh yeah”

Tago Mago 2Can Oh Yeah

‘Can’ were a Krautrock Band, formed by Irmin Schmidt in 1968 Cologne, after his return from a stay in New York, where he came into contact with the likes of minimalist composer Steve Reich, jazz influenced Terry Riley, and proto punk experimental geniuses The Velvet Underground.  David Johnson and Holger Czukay, made up the other two original founding members of what was initially an avant-garde, classical outfit.

The line up was later completed by the addition of Michael Karoli on guitar, Jaki Liebezeit on drums, and zany American singer Malcom Mooney (later replaced by Japanese busker Damo Suzuki).  Seeking to contemporise all popular music types of their era, they explored outwards into other genres beyond their original classical jazz, and as their interest in rock music grew, so did Johnson’s disillusionment with their direction, and as a result, he left.

After much experimentation with rock, ambient and AG, they pioneered the jazz/experimental influenced sound that came to be known as ‘Krautrock’ and, in 1970, they released a compilation album “Soundtracks” featuring Mooney on vocals.

In 1971, they released the magnificent “Tago Mago”, which included our featured song, “Oh Yeah”.  With Suzuki now replacing Mooney on vocal duties, the album was built on a foundation of jazz-percussion, and, free-flowing keyboard/guitar improv.  According to Czukay, ‘Tago Mago’ “was an attempt in achieving a mystery musical world from light to darkness and return”.

“Oh Yeah” opens with “musical thunder” followed by a shower of “percussive rainfall”; the pulse like drumming on this track is pretty hypnotic.  Enter Suzuki, with the first verse in which the lyrics are sung backwards (verse two standard English, verse three Japanese, but to be honest, it all sounds pretty much like the same indecipherable “Japlingo”). The percussion is washed over with protracted looped keyboard solos, which in turn were dubbed over with improvised guitar twanging and random riffing, secretly recorded by Czukay during unstructured jam sessions, later edited to give them a sense of structure.

“Tago Mago” has been oft-cited by many 80s-90s and 00’s bands as being hugely influential to the development of their sound and direction.  Mark Hollis, of Talk Talk called it “an extremely important album” and often stressed how, fascinated by their sound, they heavily influenced the making of the final Talk Talk album, “Laughing Stock”.

Can & “Tago Mago” were extremely influential in the sonic development of another huge contemporary indie-rock band, a fact I was unaware of the first time I played it, but when “Oh yeah” came on, it was pretty darn obvious: it was almost like listening to this very band performing this song in the 21st century. No prizes for guessing!

I’m including two videos of this firecracker – one live with a short commentary by two members of the band at the end, the other the album version (re-mastered).  I also give you the lyrics (not the backwards and Jap versions mind!!).

Sit back and be pleasantly surprised by this quirky, zany, wonderfulness – this 70’s futuristic masterpiece.

 

Can – “Oh Yeah” (1971)

[Backwards vocals for 1st verse]
As your silver hair save that,
For you got to better not there.
I see your own cheeks, saves that,
It?s a time you’re my lasting sign.
They have got to sue the passing
As you do too everyday.
Still you point at them and then
Sometimes I’m the slave.
[Japanese lyrics for 3rd verse]

Songwriters
SCHMIDT, KEVIN / MASLOW, JAMES / PENA JR., CARLOS / HENDERSON, LOGAN / RUDOLF, KEVIN / KASHER HINDLIN, JACOB

Published by
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group