Yes, we’ve done a podcast, but we haven’t talked about it much on here up to now. However, there’s a lot there for fans of any stripe, from EP1’s RTJ4 right up to Arlo Park’s Collapsed in Sunbeams in EP9. So consider this a refresher, or re-up (Omar comin’!) of where we have got up to. If you’ve not dipped into them all yet, or you’ve only braved one, here’s your chance to dive in! There’s a player below and after that a bit of a bite-size lump of what each is about. Enjoy.
Episode 11 of This Is Not Happening departs from the ethereal Weather Station to a debut album of rare and mighty impact from Genesis Owusu. Smiling With No Teeth comes from an Australian-Ghanaian whose melting-pot influences have created one of the most fascinating and memorable albums of the year for an artist capturing lived experience in the starkest and brutally honest way. Guy's at the controls to sing about it from the rooftops. We also went big on music that the album inspired us to dive into. In the second half of the show, we tasked ourselves with finding a hidden gem we should already know. So much fun to do this, with a longlist here. The four we chose are:David – Syreeta – Harmour LoveJoey – The Cars – A Dream Away Guy – Herbie Hancock – The Twilight CloneNolan – Them Two – Am I A Good ManMay's album of the month and all our playlists, new music and discussions from the past decade or more can be found on our blog at http://www.thisisnothappening.net, which runs alongside the podcast choices and much, much more. Take a minute to dip in and you'll hopefully enjoy what we're talking about and if you like it, we'd love to hear from you on the socials (links below). Episode #12 closes out our first year with David going mega-fan on St Vincent's new album Daddy's Home. The latest from the vaunted singer, guitarist and avant-garde musical shapeshifter will be coming to you before the end of May.This Is Not Happening:Created by Joey, Nolan, Guy and David.Produced and Edited by Guy and Nolan.Twitter: @thisisnothapngInstagram: @thisisnothappeningpodEmail: firstname.lastname@example.orgReviews: http://www.ratethispodcast.com/thisisnothappening
As the year came to a close, we cast our minds back over the last twelve months and counted down our top ten albums. For the first time in the twelve years of the blog, we mostly agreed on the top 3! We also brought our own tracks of the year to the table.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the podcast as much as we have making it. We have no grand plans, but we just want to talk about the music we love and hope a few others share that with us, whether you agree with us or not…. thanks again to everyone that’s listened up to now. See you at Episode 11 and Genesis Owusu!
How do you make an album of memorable dance music when there’s no dancefloor to experience it on? As someone that’s spent much of their life on and around dancefloors since their teenage years, no year feels more alien than this for this reason. I have not danced in public since March and it has never been easy wrapping my head around that. It’s not a problem that northern Irish duo Bicep set out to wrestle with when they took the majority of 2019 off to make Isles, but it’s become the conundrum for most dancefloor-focused music and producers over the past year as the industry grapples with an existential event that could change culture as we know it. Despite this undercurrent of doom, there have been some notably incredible electronic music albums released since March – amongst them Kelly Lee Owens, more than one by Four Tet, Caribou, Roisin Murphy, and Romare – so it’s not the case the Bicep’s second album is a potential outlier, it’s just that it’s so hotly anticipated, such was the euphoria and afterglow that greeted their self-titled debut in 2017. Can anything ever really live up to the hype?
Usually January brings a level of excitement as you scan for new albums, new tours, gigs, and festival dates. This isn’t a usual January. In fact all the hope we felt in the autumn of 2020, with the new year being a chance to kiss the difficult days and grim news cycle goodbye in 2021, seems a distant memory. Gigs that felt a welcome chance to anticipate old joys once more, now just another date pushed back, and the new year feels a cruel repeat of last one. So bringing Isles as an album of the month, its ethos pitched so obviously against the prevailing times, felt less a gamble, more just a twisted joke. Sometimes release dates also force the hand (there’s nothing so unromantic as podcast record dates and time to familiarise yourself with an album enough to make sense of it) and so in the end it was the most obvious option. Despite my reticence of picking an album which felt so against the times, it became clear at first listen I’d overthought the entire thing, and really this was a welcome balm that instantly lifted my mind out of a lot of the low-level shit that occupies it in lockdown life. I can’t put into words how good that feels, or how needed it is.
Hype can suffocate an album, but when listening to Isles the first time, it feels almost perfectly pitched to the current experience of imagined dancefloors, as we all await the real ones. Not because it lacks any potency, or moments of magic that don’t make you wish you were in a sweaty basement with a red light in the corner and a wall of speakers between you and the DJ. Even on first listen, it seems to be an album that sits just as well for ‘home’ listening (headphones, for optimal experience please) as it would sound when – we all hope – we finally get to see it reverberating around a room full of people. Alongside this, its magic also lies in its ability to shapeshift and flit between genres whilst still sounding like one coherent work. This is not a simple feat to achieve. Many impressively produced electronic albums either start impressively, only to slide into ‘ten club bangers’ territory, or just slowly disintegrate by trying to hard to be something they’re not: a messy, incoherent, overambitious failure. Isles isn’t one of these records. In fact, as it flits between changes of pace, time signatures and atmospherics, it manages to pull off being every bit as impressive as its forbear, arguably a more complete album.
Electronic music – and I say it as someone that’s been enveloped by it since my late teens, and dabbled as a promoter, producer, journalist since pretty much my mid-20s until now – is a bewildering scene that is so rich that it’s almost impossible to take in its outer reaches, even for those professionally involved. Even with scenes – house, techno, drum’n’bass – there’s such an ecosystem that being at the centre of it is a 24/7 dedication. Yet when you talk about albums and artists and sounds that manage to break out of that sweaty underground, it has felt – as least to me – that the older I have got, the more homogenous things at the top have felt. Where are the new equivalents and the inventiveness of Leftfield, Orbital, Chemical Brothers, LTJ Bukem, Carl Cox, Dave Clarke, the KLF, and Underworld? Acts that can make captivating music that didn’t just fill clubs but took over stadiums and the top 40 (even as – of course – so much incredible music was still underground and at the fringes)? Perhaps it’s my age, yes, but also the global domination of ‘tech house’ (it’s not tech house, it’s business techno) and EDM feels like while all the money has gone to the top of the pile, a lot of the creativity seems to have been leached from it. Which is why the likes of Bicep are to be celebrated. They do not make music from a template, and it doesn’t really sound like a lot of other music around, certainly not that by a single artist. Isles may not break new ground, but such is the scope for sonic richness in their sound, that there is a lot of mileage to go yet before they need to think about reinvention.
We first encountered Bicep on the blog in 2017 when Nolan posted what would later be singles from their debut, and he brought Bicep as album of the month in Feb 2018. It came on a wave of hype then, just as its successor does, but it feels like it justifies it. The hype is not theirs, after all, and from all that you read of Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson – perhaps because of their well-told background as bloggers-turned-DJs-turned-producers – they seem altogether not cut from the same cloth as the private-jet-setting, glitter-cannoned, deep-v-necked ‘techno’ crew whose company they keep in the charts and at festivals. Calling out ‘plague rave DJs‘, talking about how Brexit will hit artists’ ability to tour in the EU, or talking about their perfectionism in even choosing their logo and artwork (self-designed), it’s clear they aren’t just ciphers, but ravers that have much of the love and reverence for the scene that their fans do, too. They understand the culture, and their success is very much their own, so it feels like the connection to the dancefloor, those elements that grab the listener, is very real and unmanufactured.
When I first heard them, back on Will Saul’s Aus Music label with Ejeca in 2012, despite a chunk of their subsequent production leaning towards house, they stood out with their insistence on not existing solely four-four. And this thread runs through their music to the present day: it is definitely not house, nor is it techno, and for that reason I’m attracted. For me, the lineage is back right to the rave era, such is the breakbeat influence, but also through other very British scenes of UK Garage, jungle and breaks. Their music is very much modern, but there’s an undeniable link to the grittier, illegal raves as there is to Orbital or Leftfield. I certainly want to believe the tale that much of the sounds that have made them so successful came from the loss of a hard drive that contained a chunk of new house tracks that inspired them to change tack, and ultimately led to the first album’s more uncommon sound. It’s not quite Sub Sub’s Ancoats studio burning down, but sometimes it’s serendipity that makes the story all the more alluring.
So what is a first impression of ‘Isles’? For an album that’s only been out for a few days, it’s hard to form much more than broad-brush reactions. Of course, a few of the tracks from it – the percussive, elastic bleeps of Atlas, the lush, almost orchestral melodies and chopped up vocals of Apricots, and the garage-evoking Saku – have already given us a taste, but really for any album, its about – at least for us on this blog – the whole. What does the listening experience of Isles feel like when it’s still bright and new? There is real life, vibrancy and brightness throughout: even as the familiarity of the existing tracks leap out, Cazenove, nestled in between this trio, stands out just as purposefully, its ‘intelligent d’n’b’ percussive leanings wrapped within wistful melodies and vox pads. Similarly, Sundial, towards the end of the album, will evoke rushes of nostalgia for those of a certain age with its rotating chord patterns, as if pitched for the sunrise moment as the morning breaks and you realise you’ve danced your way through the night, unsure how you’ll get home. Following it, Fir gets as close to trance (cough) as the album dares (less of a surprise when you realise the pair frequented Belfast mecca Shine in the throes of the big-room house and trance scene in the early noughties) with its choral pads, flanged percs and echoing leads. Album closer Hawk is Bicep at their best: bending rasping notes amid swirling, breathy vocals into a cut of pure energy that has me hairs standing up and my eyes misting over with a mix of nostalgia, elation and sadness. Perfect alchemy that shows exactly why they command such dedicated followings.
Amongst the more urgent tracks, there are relative departures that add texture and allow time for breath. Lido is one of these relative departures: a warm, beatless cut that centres around a piano motif, rich pads and choral vocals, perhaps pointing towards an after-party once the club madness has subsided. X and Rever too, following Lido, prolong the release of energy from the album’s opening and closing frenetic pace, and show that its possible to take a line from A to B that’s not a simple and lazy procession of bangers. No album can honestly keep up that pace and remain focused or enjoyable, and it’s a chance to flex some creative fibres, that also make the tracks that bookend this middle section more powerful in comparison. X cascades metallic notes and an urgent tension despite its relatively downtempo nature, and Rever, almost feeling like an extension of its predecessor, again trades in indistinct words and rumbling leads that focus onto the melody. In fact, one theme running through the album, is that, despite voices on many of the tracks, its only Saku where words are discernible, elsewhere used as another melody, instrument or feel: part of the music rather than at the forefront. Likewise the snare hits that never land on drum sounds, more a rim or filtered out hit that gives all Bicep’s work on Isles a clearer sonic precision.
So, as arresting as it is, will Isles take Bicep up another level? With night-time culture so under threat, it’s hard to predict what the scene will look like in a few months, let alone a year. But without somewhere to dance, Bicep have made an album that will get you close to that feeling, even if you have to close your eyes to do it. Because while home listening is never going to come close to the club (the pair actually hired out Corsica Studios for a day to ensure the new tracks sounded right on a properly tuned system) I’d argue that this is an album that can still bring on those emotions whether you’re running to it, walking, on a bus, or just sitting at home, headphones on. The music has a power and potency that connects, and it’s why I’m sure it’ll still sound as fresh after 50 listens as it does after just a few.
As Nolan’s mentioned, we’ve had some new Bicep in our lives for a while and that’s a prelude to a new album in January. Three tracks – Apricot, Saku and Atlas – this is the latter and (just) my favourite of the three, but really they’re all superb cuts that gets me excited about the new album. Of course, they just make me want to get onto a dark dancefloor, so it’s tinged with sadness too, but I think that’s just life right now. Those first few parties are going to be incredible, so that’s the light at the end of my tunnel.
Hype. I really struggle to buy albums that have hype around them. I don’t know why?Maybe because I have seen the mechanics of how albums get hyped, and I have grown to discount it now to being a load of rubbish. The issue is that at times there are albums that have deserved their hype growing through well-earned excitement, self-propelled by fans. Bicep’s debut album is a case and point of this; I fought it and massively then regretted it when I finally gave it a go. This album desserves the hype.
So where did the hype come from you ask? Well if you ask any of the cool kids they’ll tell you that ‘Bicep are the Irish production duo behind the most-excellent Feel My Bicep blog which has a reputation for blogging only the finest quality house, disco and techno.’ In-fact every article about them seems to start with that line. My line is this: ‘Bicep popped onto my radar a few years ago whilst playing the Space terrace in Ibiza. Ever since they seem to have kept on popping up every few months. Aside from the blog they make some really good music. They’re edit of Diminica’s ‘Gotta Let Go’ propelled them into every club in the summer of 2015 and the rest is history’. At this point I must admit this is when I stopped paying attention to them, too much hype.
I don’t want to delve too much into this album as I want you to discover it yourself. I will say that there are some massive ticks for me with their debut long player.
It’s a dance album that takes you on a journey between laid back to head down in a dark corner stomping and does it well.
It’s a dance album that is an actual album and not just a bunch of singles strapped together.
Instead of releasing on a major label they have signed to Ninja Tune, which I think is pretty cool.
Sadly I don’t go clubbing anymore. I’m not sure if I even want to go to a club ever again. I do still like dance music and I think there is allot of great music being released. Dance music seems to have superseded four decades and with that four generations of new fans. If this is what clubbers are listening to at the moment a firmly tip my hat to them, this is good shit.
This was one of my (late) top picks for last year and I love it. I hope it ticks as many boxes for you as me. Enjoy brothers.
What must have been 6 or 7 years ago brother Joseph and I went out for a few Christmas beers one afternoon and amongst the conversation was the idea of what became the early beginnings of this collaboration of music sharing and discussion. The blog in its’ own right in 5 years old.. so good on us for sticking to it!
Looking back we have had some great albums, and this year is no exception. For me 2017 has been a strong year for new artists whilst it has also welcomed back a few that were due some fantastic new material. I found myself buying allot more albums this year, and looking at what is due in 2018 I hope it continues.
I always struggle with lists, but off the top my head here are my highlights for this year (songs and albums) in no particular order. Like last year, I left off top songs that are on albums that are in my top 10.
Jay-Z – The Story of O.J.
Tom Rosenthal – Soon Goodbye Now Love
Masta Ace – Young Black Intelligent (feat. Pav Bundy, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble & Chuck D)
Evidene – Jim Dean
Daphni – Face to Face
Whitesquare – Definition of Anticipation
Home – Joe Goddard
Rapsody – Power ft. Kendrick Lamar, Lance Skiiiwalker
Martin Eyerer – Hey Hey
Bicep – Celeste
Josh Butler – Empty Space
Lukas Koch – Don’t Let The Blues (Dka Remix)
Justin Jay – How I Knew
Max Jones – Slow
Bicep – Just
Gene Farris – Move Your Boby
Emanuel Satie – All The Lights
Kollektiv Turmstrasse – Sorry I’m Late
Midland – Duster