Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Playing With Time - Electro Swing Music Theory

From a music theory perspective, electronic dance music as a whole tends to be rather dull. It’s unfortunately true that the various subcategories of the EDM genre – house, drum ’n’ bass, and techno spring to mind as the worst offenders – are often the most rigid in terms of their rules and boundaries. I’ve literally had conversations with fans of certain styles before, who have argued vehemently that a particular song cannot be considered a part of this or that genre – because the tempo is wrong, or because the artist hasn’t used a specific synthesiser. To my mind this is ridiculous. One of the reasons I love jazz so much, is for the genre’s enthusiasm for breaking the rules, and for stepping outside and away from what might be expected. And electro swing – at least, what I would consider the best electro swing – should follow this example.

Now another genre that I’m a huge fan of – although I haven't really spoken too much about it online – is prog rock, through bands such as Rush, Dream Theater, and Porcupine Tree. In comparison to much of EDM, this genre is absolutely fascinating from a theory perspective, and one of the levels of enjoyment I find in actively listening to this music comes from actually figuring out just what’s going on. Comparatively, were I to select any one of the millions of, say, house tracks at random – I’d know before even sticking it on that the time signature will be 4/4, and the tempo will be roughly 120 BPM.

In this post, I’m going to explore some of the electro swing tracks that break away from these supposed genre conventions, and do things – even just slightly – more interestingly in terms of timings. The first few examples I’ll give concern tempo, and how a song may switch things up from simply keeping a steady beat throughout the whole thing.

First off is the Electric Swing Circus’s cover of ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’. The technique used here is hardly advanced at all, simply starting off quite slow before kicking up the pace after the extended intro, but it’s incredibly effective and shows that not much is needed to be done in order to add an additional layer of interest.

Sticking with tempo, a similar tactic is used is Slamboree’s ‘Zorba the Remix’. Taking their cues from the original Sirtaki dance, this track gradually increases the tempo, building the excitement up and up until the eventual drop.

Smokey Joe and the Kid use the same method in their remix of C2C’s ‘Happy’, although this time towards the end of the track.

Moving on from tempo, it’s also interesting to look at examples of artists using unusual time signatures. Now in this instance, “unusual” essentially means anything that isn’t 4/4, as that seems to be the accepted norm across the entire EDM spectrum. So whilst a song in 3/4 may not seem that unusual for fans of certain genres, within EDM it certainly is. The first electro swing example of this I could find was Caravan Palace’s ‘Violente Valse’.

Another example comes with Alice Francis’s ‘Beautiful Pain’.

And two examples (although, confusingly, using the same vocal sample for the intro) have been produced by Skeewiff. ‘Space Ghetto Waltz’…

…and ‘Morgenblätter’.

3/4 provides a rather refreshing variant to the standard 4/4 found across most of the genre, and a producer may wish to spice this up even further by switching to compound, or even complex time signatures. However, this largely appears to be the limit for current electro swing, although there are two examples I’m aware of which are really pushing up against these boundaries.

The first is Dutty Moonshine’s ‘Take A Little Time’, a variation on Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’. This track was seemingly produced for this very reason: to showcase to others just how much could indeed be done with this genre. The piece begins with a 4/4 variation on Brubeck’s theme, before switching to 6/8, and then reverting back to the standard 5/4 rhythm. As the piece continues, it switches back to 4/4, and we then find a gradual tempo increase similar to the ones previously discussed. In this one piece, Dutty Moonshine have employed all the tactics described thus far, and more.

This song would undoubtedly be the best example of how to play around with timings in this genre, were it not for the final piece I’ll discuss, to which it comes a close second: Chinese Man’s ‘Step Back’. Like the Dutty Moonshine example, this piece plays around with variations in both tempo and time signature, but it does something exceptional, which I’m not sure I’ve seen anywhere else. The piece begins in 6/8, at a speed of 210 BPM. However, halfway through it switches both time signature and tempo simultaneously, to 4/4 and 140 BPM respectively. Towards the end, this switches back again to 6/8 and 210. What this means, is that if one focuses on the strong beat – i.e. every three beats when in 6/8 and every 2 when in 4/4 – there is actually no tempo change at all, and the underlying rhythm remains at a steady 70 BPM throughout. This is not only an incredibly clever technique for electro swing, it’s impressively advanced composition in general, regardless of genre.

I hope that more electro swing artists latch onto these sorts of ideas, and challenge themselves with what they can do and produce when breaking away from the mould that needn’t exist for this genre. There’s certainly a lot more room for further explorations with regard to timings. One possibility could be the use of irrational time signatures, which so far have yet to be used within popular music at all, as far as I’m aware. I’m genuinely fascinated by music theory, and now that we have so much time on our hands, I may consider turning this into something of a series, if it’s something people would be interested in. Please do get in touch if anyone has any specific areas of music theory they’d like me to discuss in relation to electro swing. Like with the Chinese Man example, there’s some great instances of fantastic composition going on throughout this genre, and I’d love to explore and share them as much as I can.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Review: Devils, Dames N Debauchery - Duke Skellington

Devils, Dames N Debauchery is the newest release to come out of Ragtime Records, showcasing the latest music from the hottest producer in American electro swing: Duke Skellington. Having joined Ragtime Records back in 2017, he has become an absolutely essential part of the team, regularly putting out top quality tunes, and demonstrating himself to be right up there with the rest of his labelmates. This most recent EP has been out for almost a week now, and has been certainly been making something of a stir.

The EP opens with ‘Name in Lights’, which with its percussive intro played on brushes, starts off as quite a laidback number. One of the interesting things to notice with this track – a theme that will continue throughout the EP – is that there’s just as much focus on the musicality side of things as on the beat, particularly singer Kumiho’s vocals, which is a very welcome change from much electro swing. As the track builds, we arrive at an incredibly glitchy drop, which also helps to set the tone for the EP, which includes a fantastic saxophone line over the top of things as it develops. The next track is ‘Hot Jazz’, the first official remix on the release, which like ‘Name in Lights’ features a similar emphasis on sultry, female vocals. Starting off with a strong house beat, this track goes on to present some very low, dark basslines that will sound incredible over a massive soundsystem. But we still find this focus on musicality – in fact, halfway through the beat cuts out entirely, highlighting this even further.

‘My Mind’ follows, featuring our third powerful female voice – this time Alanna Lyes, who’s popping up everywhere at the moment, and deservedly so. ‘My Mind’ also opens with a strong house beat, underneath some gypsy guitar, and scratching – showcasing a wide variety of sounds that all work considerably well together. There’s another huge glitchy drop in this one, and the variety in sound continues, through its wobbles interspersed with slap bass. I also really enjoy the skilful reed samples towards the end. The second official remix come after this, with the return of Kumiho: ‘Spooky’. The track starts off very minimally, and isn’t the most stimulating, although the piano that comes in does manage to sound very fresh – despite being a regular feature throughout this genre. The saxophone that emerges could be mixed slightly better, and sits a little uncomfortably on top of the rest of the mix, but overall this is still an enjoyable dance number.

Towards the end of the release, ‘Dames’ presents a very uptempo, danceable track, which starts off slightly uneventfully, but builds and builds and builds. As it develops, more and more excitement and interest creep in at every turn, including a kind of electronic walking bass during the first drop. It’s actually surprising just how much happens in this track if one listens closely enough. And finally, ‘Hit That’ presents another song featuring a bassline which will be incredibly powerful when played over a large soundsystem. We begin relatively lowkey, with a Spanish-sounding guitar that develops into some nice gypsy jazz lines, and as the song progresses, we hear what’s possibly the biggest and most anticipative build-up I’ve ever heard in an electro swing track. Again, this track also manages to keep a high focus on the musicality – not so much vocally in this half of the EP – but in this song for example, we have all sorts of interweaving instrumental samples.

Duke Skellington has made a real achievement here, through a release which features brilliant elements of both musicality and danceability. So often when creating electronic music, a producer has to sacrifice either the beat and excitement of a track, or make it musically quite dull. In this situation, Duke Skellington has demonstrated excellently that one needn’t forfeit either aspect of the music in order to satisfy the other. Across the release, almost every song showcases just how well this can be done, and I’m very glad that there’s a producer in electro swing who can do it just as well as he can. There’s clearly been a lot of effort put into this EP, and the resultant quality shows this. I’ve been wondering for some time now when the American producers of electro swing will catch up with the European ones, and with releases such as this one, it is undeniable that this time has now come.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Review: City of Sin - Dutty Moonshine Big Band

As an act, Dutty Moonshine has gone through many different changes. I remember my first time seeing them – back when the act was a duo – at the first ever Swingamajig festival in 2013. I was lucky enough to catch founding member Furley’s last ever show at Boomtown 2014; and then the first performance of the big band at Swingamajig 2015 as well. Alongside several shows during Danny Wav’s brief stint with the act, and solo DJ sets from main man Mike Rack as well, I think I’ve seen pretty much every incarnation of the act. This new release – City of Sin, out on the 17th of April – is their first on a major label, having just signed to Universal. Most Wanted, their previous album received some serious acclaim throughout the electro swing world, so needless to say, this album has been highly anticipated.

Opening the record is ‘Big Band Fam’, which features the type of colossal, heavy-bass sounds that one has come to expect from this act. These are the type of tunes that a DJ might generally choose to end a set, therefore demonstrating that with this release we’re getting thrown in the deep end from the very beginning. Both MCs feature on this track, with a clear grime influence in both of their respective flows, and musically, some of the sounds of garage throughout as well. The energy is maintained throughout ‘Click Clack Boom’, which begins with some almost synthwave-style sounds, before diving immediately back into the heavy, filthy bass. This track isn’t the most interesting in terms of independent listening, although I can tell it will be a dancefloor killer. Still not letting up in terms of energy, ‘City of Sin’ – the title track – brings some lightning-fast rapping from Maria Laveau, as well as some singing in the chorus, although strangely I actually find the verses catchier than the chorus.

At this point, the album has placed three of its heaviest tracks right at the very start, and I’m really craving something with a bit more emphasis on the ‘big band’ side of things; luckily, this now comes with ‘Outlaws’, a jazzier number which is much more to my liking. This track goes through several sections, each just as catchy and enjoyable as the last, and the big band really shine through, fusing effortlessly with the electronic sounds. In terms of danceability, ‘Outlaws’ will definitely get people moving. The next track, ‘Fever’, then provides a bit of respite from the chaos of the album thus far; beginning with the sounds of gypsy jazz, which sets the tone for the whole song, ‘Fever’ is comparatively laidback, and features a brilliant bassline showing that sometimes less is more. Towards the end, there’s a slightly cheesy key change, but honestly, this is part of the fun, and doesn’t detract from the song at all.

Even more laidback is ‘Tommy & Loretta’, featuring a wistful piano introducing a dark, partly spoken-word track, reminiscent of the poetry performed by the likes of Kate Tempest. This track is produced alongside Odjbox, who brings his own distinctive flavour, instantly recognisable once the beat kicks in, and features a lovely chorus – the best demonstration of Maria Laveau’s singing ability. ‘Fall From Grace’ begins with a baritone sax – capable of making everything sound so much jazzier, and also reminding me a bit of Too Many Zooz, who certainly sound like they could have had an influence on this one. In this track we’re slowly building back to the massive basslines found at the start of the album, although the brass sections are actually more interesting; whilst there are some huge drops throughout, I’m much keener on the parts that follow several bars after these drops. Following this is ‘The Arrest’, probably one of the strongest tracks on the album. It starts off almost cinematically, you can imagine this accompanying the score of a film, and as the piece progresses, there is some fantastic interplay between the two MCs. I especially like the refrain of “coming for you”, which makes me feel like I’m listening to something from a musical – tying in with the idea of this being a concept album.

The baritone sax returns for ‘It’s Alright’, also featuring more of the heavy basslines, which – not being as in-your-face as the rest of the album – actually work incredibly well here, and are the best example of these types of basslines throughout the album. Some nice and jazzy breakdowns in the middle do a good job of placing you into the scenario of the narrative again. Next up is a bit of a wildcard: ‘Fiança’ is entirely based around the Latin sounds of South America, and provides an example of what Dutty Moonshine does best – exploring and incorporating other styles, which this track demonstrates brilliantly. Guest vocalist Chininha provides another powerful female voice, and throughout I feel like I’m in a carnival atmosphere, and just want to dance. Towards the end, the samba influences only increase, and there’s some of the more contemporary sounds of soca in the final breakdown too. Closing the album is ‘Locked Up’, which unsurprisingly features some more strong rave influences, although not quite as heavy as I was expecting. Continuing on from the last track, there is actually still some samba influence, particularly in the percussion and woodwinds, which provides some contrast to the more industrial and glitchy sounds.

This album differs from Most Wanted in that – where with that album, the energy increased up until the mayhem of the final, title-track ‘Most Wanted’ – City of Sin actually seems to get slightly more mellow as it goes on. In that sense, the pacing of this album could be described as a little off – hitting you with everything at the start, and then leaving the album to gradually decline in its intensity. Although that’s perhaps an unfair criticism, as it’s not even remotely anticlimactic; in fact, the songs get better as the album progresses. There are some real gems here, and the likes of ‘Outlaws’, ‘Fever’, and ‘It’s Alright’ – amongst others – will surely become well-known anthems in this scene. City of Sin will be a welcome addition to any fan’s collection, and in terms of the act’s reputation, continues to validate the Dutty Moonshine Big Band as one of the most adventurous acts within the scene, and a genuine force to be reckoned with.

Pre-orders for City of Sin are available here.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Review: Fowl Play - Captain Flatcap

The latest offering from the – still relatively fresh – Swing & Bass label is Captain Flatcap’s Fowl Play, a four-track EP with one of my favourite pieces of cover art I’ve seen in quite some time. As an act, Captain Flatcap tends to be quite fluid, both in terms of genre – fitting loosely into the electro swing category but taking influence from anything and everything – and also the act itself: Captain Flatcap representing anything from a band, DJ, or producer, depending on what is being called for – all centred around the mastermind that is Chris Rotherham.

This most recent EP begins with ‘Fowl Play’, which puts us in high spirits from the very start, opening with a sample from a Too Many T’s interview, whereupon the questions being asked by the child host include that of who would win in a fight between Dutty Moonshine, Danny Wav, and of course, Captain Flatcap. We then have a relaxing, chilled introduction, followed by a slightly minimal drop with some distinctive squelches, and the fun mood continues with the sounds of ducks quacking embedded throughout the track. Overall, the song is nice, downbeat, and a good opener. Following this is ‘Bang Bang Boogie’, in which the trademark flute continues, juxtaposed against some interesting glitchy sounds. We also find an electric guitar here, which is very welcome as the instrument doesn’t tend to be heard too much in this genre. The track is very danceable, but I can’t help feeling that it goes on a bit too long; it could do with either being slightly shorter, or fleshing out and expanding its ideas more. There is a little bit of development towards the end, but unfortunately it seems somewhat too little too late.

Next up is ‘Quacky Baccy’ – extending the duck-based theme of the EP – which starts off charmingly, with a jazzy, almost New Orleans vibe, and introduces a Hendrix-esque guitar as the song progresses. It’s clear that there’s a lot of classic rock influence on this release, if only subtle, but it works wonders. As the song continues, the guitar is interspersed with some filthy wobbles which begin to emerge, and the second build-up towards the end is fantastic – particular the way in which this guitar is utilised alongside the more synthetic sounds. Finally, the EP closes with ‘I Spy’, featuring the Kurnel MC, who has previously worked with Captain Flatcap for the track ‘In My Blood’ on their previous release. As the song begins, the scratches alongside the flamenco guitar during the intro signal an exciting start, and we go on to have some very effective uses of slow and gradual phase sweeps. The Kurnel MC brings some fun and clever lyrical references throughout, which underlies an important message of protest. Towards the end, some more wobbles are introduced, which are a little unexpected at first, and could maybe have been built up slightly better, but once they’re in, they work very well indeed.

As the EP finishes, I feel like I’ve just listened to one of the first significant releases of the year for this genre. One never knows quite what to expect from Captain Flatcap; aside from the unique flute-playing which is found across all of the act’s music, the sound often seems to vary from release to release. I feel that this is the ultimate goal however, and if a wide variety of sounds is the aim, then it has certainly been achieved. I always look forward to seeing Captain Flatcap at any festival in which I get the chance, and with the release of this EP, I am only more excited for the next opportunity.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Reflections on a PhD

For the vast majority of the public, 2016 was a year to largely be forgotten about. In my case however, it was one of the most exciting years of recent times, as this was the year that I began my PhD at the University of South Wales. I first discovered the genre of electro swing in 2012, and over the next few years I gradually and semi-unintentionally decided to go down the path of extensively and comprehensively researching this genre  and by 2016 I had completed both my undergrad BA, and Master’s degree in Musicology, both of which including an extended dissertation into electro swing (which can be read here). At the start of 2016, I was living in Sheffield, and upon receiving a scholarship to begin the PhD, I moved down to Cardiff, and started the project that would occupy the next three and a half years of my life.

December the 17th marked the final stage of this journey, graduating and finally getting the title of Dr Inglis. I’m very glad that I managed to complete everything by the end of 2019, as it was a fantastic way to round off the year. And now, whilst I have a bit of time over the Christmas holidays, I figured it might be appropriate to compose a reflection on the whole experience, and simultaneously offer advice to anyone else that might be pursuing a PhD in the future.

Research a topic that you love

One of the best advantages to any PhD is that you’re effectively going to become the leading expert in whatever the subject area it is that you’re researching. On top of this, you’re going to be putting a hell of a lot of time and energy into this work, so you’d better make sure that it’s not something that’s going to drive you crazy when spending the vast majority of your hours dealing with the topic. By researching something that you’re truly passionate about, you’re less likely to get bored of it, and you’ll be especially proud of the final result. I was lucky enough that there’s yet to be any serious literature into the electro swing style, so the niche was mine to fill. On top of this, it’s a genre that I genuinely really enjoy, thus the joy of making new discoveries about it was fulfilling in both an academic and personal sense.

Seek funding

It’s a sad reality that higher education is an expensive business. It’s particularly difficult for postgraduate students, who don’t even have the opportunity to get a student loan. Thus, the only way to realistically pursue a PhD without spending a fortune is to acquire funding. There are several ways to do this: one is to get a sponsorship; this is more common in the sciences, however the disadvantage is that you’re not as free with your research, as you essentially have to do the bidding of your sponsor. Another way is to get funding from external doctoral training partnerships; there are several of these around, and it’s definitely worth pursuing. I was lucky enough to receive an internal scholarship from the University itself. This was probably the most advantageous course of action; by demonstrating that my research was worthy of extended research, I was free to guide my own research in precisely the ways I wanted from start to finish.

Find the right supervision team

Whilst there are real benefits to guiding your own research, it’s also vitally important to recognise the expertise of those with much more experience than you. Yes, you’re the one with the most knowledge in this particular area, but in terms of how to apply that knowledge, and create the actual thesis – it’s important to recognise that the real talent lies with those who’ll be guiding you through the writing process. I would say that when first deciding where to conduct your research, the most important question should be “who will be doing the supervision?”. I personally was advised by one supervisor who already had a prior interest in electro swing, and another who was heavily involved in the acid jazz scene of the ’90s – and resultingly, the final work would be of considerably less worth were it not for the continued advice of this team.

Don’t isolate yourself

Despite having this team, the overwhelming majority of work you’ll do will be completely on your own. Personally, I think I had a meeting approximately once every three or so weeks, so there’ll be a lot of time spent working by yourself. I know that some people prefer to work like this, but personally, I know that I’d go insane to not have regular company for so long. Over my time doing this work then, I made sure to surround myself with others conducting research into various other areas; not only did this help me with avoiding isolation, but I also learnt a great amount about things that I otherwise never would. One should never pass up on the opportunity to discuss their work, and I can point to multiple occasions when a simple conversation with a peer helped me solve a problem, or develop new ideas.

Treat it like a job

This one mainly applies for those undertaking a PhD full-time, although I suppose that it might be relevant even for those doing their research alongside additional work. Writing a doctoral thesis is an enormous task, and it’s hard to appreciate just how much work it really is until you’ve done one. To ensure that the task actually gets completed requires a great deal of self-discipline, and it will be necessary for you to maintain a regular routine, working just as many hours as you would in any other profession. Of course, on the other hand, you need to know when to stop: overworking yourself can be just as much of a problem, and I for example was sure to never work weekends, or past 5PM unless necessary.

Take advantage of every opportunity to share your research

One of the things I enjoyed most about my entire PhD experience was getting to travel around and present my research as it progressed, across several different symposiums and conferences. Not only does this give you an opportunity to develop your work in terms of its presentation, but it’s also a fantastic confidence boost to know that other authors that may well have inspired your own research are finding your work genuinely fascinating. I personally had the chance to present in Amsterdam, Lisbon, as well as at the University of Cambridge – amongst others – and was also fortunate enough to share panels with some of the researchers who I’ve looked up to for quite some time now. Undoubtedly this felt brilliant, and through this you will also begin to feel like you’re part of a distinctive community. I know that I still intend to keep attending conferences and presenting for as long as I’m involved in this particular area.

Teach if you can

Another opportunity that a lot of doctoral researchers will get is to teach some of the undergraduates in whatever institution you’re working in. In my third year in particular I was given the chance to teach the university’s second-year Musicology module, and I absolutely loved it. Not only does the transfer of knowledge feel fantastic, but it will give you the opportunity to flesh out your own ideas as well. Depending on what particular subject was being taught that day, I would often weave examples from my own work into the lectures, and there were numerous moments when a student’s thoughts or suggestions made me rethink or reconsider my opinions in ways that ended up benefitting the final work.

Enjoy it

Finally, the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. As cliché as this advice sounds, the whole experience should be incredible, and it will be, provided you allow it to be. Yes, it will be stressful at times, and you will get frustrated, but that should be balanced out by the fun of the whole thing, and it certainly was in my case. As I’ve mentioned, I was researching an area that I was – and still am – incredibly passionate about, and conducting this research allowed me to experience a great deal of things that I would have jumped at the chance to do anyway. Interviewing many of my favourite musicians; becoming a part of what felt like electro swing’s ‘inner circle’; going to dozens of festivals, club nights, and concerts: these were all things that I’ve hugely enjoyed, and would have loved to experience, regardless of the status of my work. One of my favourites moments of the past year was travelling over to Chicago for Roaring City, America’s first ever electro swing festival – something I simply wouldn’t have done were it not for the benefit of my research. The opportunities I’ve had since starting this PhD have been wonderful, and I’m so glad that I managed to make this entire thing happen.

I hope that my words may help someone considering postgraduate education to make the right decisions. I love electro swing, and I fully intend to keep up this work; that’s the main reason why I started this blog. As we approach the end of the year, I’m looking forward to what’s coming for the genre in 2020, and even more so, I’m looking forward to the next stages of my own academic electro swing career.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Review: The Next Big Swing - Tuxedo Junction

Yesterday’s date will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most miserable in recent British history, but as an eternal optimist I’m intent on seeing the positives from day to day, and it just so happened that the 12th of December was also the release date of Tuxedo Junction’s latest EP, The Next Big Swing. This duo are showing real power in the scene right now, and presenting themselves as a force to be reckoned with, both live and on record. This EP represents their second release on Ragtime Records, after last year’s Swing, Shaken Not Stirred, and throughout, they continue to demonstrate their ability to impress.

The EP opens with ‘Mr. Business’, dropping you straight in with an upbeat rhythm over a brilliant walking bassline, which continues to build up to an archetypal Tuxedo Junction breakdown. I can already hear this being dropped at events like the Church of Love, and it’s sure to absolutely kill on the dancefloor. The track keeps on developing different ideas – including a nice gypsy jazz section – and despite the use of a relatively short sample throughout, manages to maintain interest through various different explorations. Next up is ‘Mr. Burgundy’ – which brings a bossa nova flavour, alongside some flute samples reminiscent of Captain Flatcap’s playing on ‘Past Last Orders’ on their last release. Whilst I did enjoy the track, it’s definitely the weakest of the release; the repetitiveness, along with some strange mixing choices, make it sound a little unfinished overall.

Luckily we’re brought back up to the high standards with ‘Mr. Dick Sluts’, a song with a name to remind you of the silliness of the act. This track’s real strength lies in its basslines: it features some utterly filthy wobbles from start to finish, alongside some really jazzy walking bass, and also featuring the funkiest basslines cutting through throughout. Unexpectedly, I found myself slightly reminded of Caravan Palace’s latest release when listening to this one; whilst the song is very different stylistically, some of the rapid edits do seem rather similar to those found on Chronologic. Finally, the EP ends with ‘Mr. Brosnan’, a collaborative effort produced with Waggles and Hiphoppapotamus, who provide the samba fused with drum ’n’ bass rhythms. This song has a strong Latin groove to it, and whilst quite repetitive, it’s done so in an almost minimalistic manner, which is exactly what I feel they were going for – and it works. The slow build-up over the course of the song results in a practically atmospheric feel, which is a nice way to finish – making the release feel like a full experience.

Tuxedo Junction are capable of creating some absolute bangers. One of their first tracks – ‘Cufflinks & Caviar’ – remains one of my favourite tracks of the whole genre, and the recent release of their Ricky Martin bootleg has been anticipated like hardly anything I’ve seen before. They also manage to create some of the most enjoyable live mixes on a routine bases – see their recent Shambala mix for evidence of this. This EP is a fine addition to their catalogue. It’s not the best thing they’ve ever put out, and it doesn’t showcase them to the best of their ability, but it still places them in a very high ranking amongst their peers. If one needs cheering up on a day like today, they could do no better than a listen to this.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Review: Speakin' Easy - The Swinghoppers

Just in time for Christmas, everyone’s favourite semi-comedic electro swing hip hop trio have given us their second EP in almost as many years: the Swinghopper’s Speakin’ Easy. Made up of Offbeat, Sharleena Ray, and Pye – all artists in their own right as well – the Swinghoppers are still a relatively new act in the electro swing world, but one would be forgiven for forgetting this – as they’ve very quickly risen to become one of the most recognisable acts on the UK circuit. Their first EP utilised a number of well-known songs from both the swing and hip hop world, which the band put their on unique spin on, and this release takes very much the same approach.

We begin with ‘Swing Swing Swing’. Now whilst those more invested in this genre may roll their eyes and yet another adaptation of this classic, it’s fair to say that the Swinghoppers have still managed to put commendable effort into their version. Pye’s rapping is noticeably improved since the first EP here, and we find many lyrics featuring the band’s signature tongue-in-cheek swagger. One lyric I was particularly intrigued by was Offbeat’s line: “old-school fans of jazz just can’t stand us”; I can’t tell is he is wishing that this weren’t the case, or proudly proclaiming his level of innovation. This type of self-referential material continues into ‘Swinguistics’, a slightly more downbeat track with more extended rapping from Pye – although I do note that we’re yet to hear any beatboxing.

‘Big Spender’ features some exceptionally strong vocals from Sharleena Ray, channeling her inner Shirley Bassey, and the rapping game is impressive here too, with some seriously driving flow coming from both Offbeat and Pye. This second half of the EP is easily the better half, and I’d be tempted to say that this might be the best of the four tracks – though it’s a very very close call between this and the EP’s finisher, ‘S Gon’ Give It To Ya’. This ending track is huge, and features great rapping from all three – with even Sharleena getting in on the action – really showcasing the talents of the group. The production is solid, and the band never fails to demonstrate their ability for humour within the lyrics – who else would ever write rhymes about the correct way to pronounce espresso?

This EP is very much what a fan would expect from the Swinghoppers. Yes, the lyrics may be a little on the nose and even cheesy at times, but the band are very self-aware, and it’s all done in quite the humourous way. Offbeat remains his usual likable self, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Pye’s rapping has greatly improved on this release. One downside is that I would have liked to have heard some more beatboxing – for a performer as incredibly talented as he is, it’s a shame for him to not showcase this to its greatest potential. Overall, Speakin’ Easy is simply a very enjoyable record. The Swinghoppers are never going to be one of the most phenomenal acts in terms of musicality, but they are definitely one of the most fun.