Is Record Store Day dying? Sermon according to Sonic Cathedral

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It’s Record Store Day today and following our piece a week or so back when we asked whether the day has lost its original meaning as a celebration of independent record stores. We wondered had Record Store Day’s success in helping fuel the new vinyl boom actually made it a victim of those who seek to shift product?

Sonic Cathedral and Howling Owl’s RecordStoreDayisdying.com split 7” series featuring Spectres and Lorelle Meets The Obsolete covering each others’ songs. They are releasing it a track at a time in a year-long series of releases.Nathaniel Cramp, head honcho at Sonic Cathedral has answered some of our questions about the recent statement they made about the difficulties faced by an independent label.

Do you think Record Store Day is dying?
When a day that was conceived to preserve and promote indie record shops ends up with major labels making a quick buck with manufactured rarities and Belinda Carlisle picture discs, then something must have gone wrong somewhere.

What is the idea behind the site and the single releases over a year?

It’s to make a slightly cack-handed point that ‘every day should be record store day’. We talked about releasing this 7″ for RSD, but decided not to.  I jokingly suggested releasing one a day for a year instead, and the idea stuck. We didn’t plan ahead too much, we just found out 2016 is a leap year, so there will now be 366 copies released! We will stick to it though, and all 366 will be sold in shops, at gigs, online, or left as gifts in some special locations. Just check the website every day.

Have you notice that reissues and special RSD edition vinyl gets precedent over the production of your releases?
I don’t think it’s that so much – in fact, the Quietus’ article about the GZ pressing plant yesterday said this wasn’t the case – it’s more the sheer volume of releases, many of which are simply not necessary at any time of the year, let alone Record Store Day, that just clog up all the plants and slow turnaround times down to a crawl. It’s currently about four months to get an album pressed and it’s getting worse.

Do you think with the deluge of reissues and repackaged releases on RSD that it has become too much about special releases and hype, and less about the record shops it was originally meant to be helping to promote?
Absolutely. The biggest mistake has been the relentless focus on product, product, product – which has been the result of the major labels muscling in on the action. This means that every piece about Record Store Day in the mainstream media is inevitably something along the lines of ’20 records you must buy on Record Store Day’, which encourages the flippers and this mentality that vinyl is an investment – like stocks and shares – rather than something you listen to. The focus should be on the shops themselves.  How about some articles like ’20 record shops you must buy records in on Record Store Day’?

Do you think RSD is a victim of its own success in a way?
Yes, it is. If the original intention was to get some positive media focus on record shops and give them a bit of a shot in the arm, then it’s job done. It’s time to rethink it so it is beneficial to the people it is supposed to benefit, rather than just Universal.

How would you change it so that RSD could get back to its original aim?
I don’t have a good answer for this, but there must be some way of spreading the benefits across the whole year. The thinking is that it’s easier from a marketing perspective to focus on one day, but when that one day is causing the problems that it is – for labels like Sonic Cathedral and Howling Owl, for record buyers and the very record shops it was set up to protect – then something has to change.


Here is the video for Spectres’ ‘Stealed Scene’, their side of Sonic Cathedral and Howling Owl’s non-Record Store Day single. It pokes fun at Record Store Day ambassador Dave Grohl as well as the raft of completely unnecessary reissues that will be on eBay by lunchtime on Saturday, or still gathering dust in the racks next April.

The National’s ‘Alligator’ at Ten

It’s hard to believe but The National‘s third and possibly most cathartic and direct record ‘Alligator’ is ten years old this month. Their first on a major label like Beggars Banquet, and with songs like the memorable single ‘Abel’, the urgent ‘Lit Up’ the inspired ‘Mr November’ and the twisted sexual darkness of ‘Karen’.  It heralded their hitherto unstoppable assent to their current position as master purveyors of popular quality resonant song writing that grows in depth and emotional potency with each repeated listen. ‘Alligator’ was just the start of their journey into the bosoms of our hearts. Today we celebrate its tenth birthday with our original review and two excerpts from our interviews with the band.

Ten years ago our man Mike Mantin reviewed the record here’s what he wrote:

“‘220px-TheNationalAlligatorAlligator’ is Brooklyn’s the National’s third album, their first on a major label and hopefully the one which will throw them into the mainstream, and deservedly so. It should float the boats of fans of dark, brooding post-punk (opener ‘Secret Meeting) and introspective Americana (the beautiful ‘Daughters Of The Soho Riots) alike. There’s even a bit of welcome shouting thrown in, on fantastic single ‘Abel’.

Matt Berninger provides deep, soothing vocals reminiscent of Ian Curtis and, more recently, Interpol’s Paul Banks, which slot in perfectly with the high-pitch guitar noises. But the range of styles and oblique lyrics suggest there’s far more on offer here than moody alt-rock. Berninger turns alt-country strummer ‘Karen’ into a medium for his deepest thoughts and sexual confessions. You’ll notice the breezy tune first and the interesting lyrics (‘Karen, put me in a chair, fuck me and make me a drink’ and even more disturbing, ‘It’s a common fetish for a doting man to ballerina on the coffee table, cock in hand’ second, giving the album substantial replay value.

Almost every track on this mini masterpiece is intriguing and listenable and there are highlights in abundance. ‘Abel’ boasts a great sing-along chorus of ‘My mind’s not right!’ amidst simple indie-rock verses, while closer ‘Mr November’ documents their (clearly failed) rush to get the album completed before the November elections with its line ‘The English are waiting and I don’t know what to do/ In my best clothes’ before just about getting away with saying ‘I’m the new blue blood, I’m the great white hop’, because it might just be true. ‘Val Jester’ and ‘Daughters Of The Soho Riots’ are both gorgeous slower songs unafraid to delve into strange personal love experiences and fantasies. Tuneful and poetic, ‘Alligator’ is truly an album to cherish. “

In 2007 Mike followed up that review with a interview with The National’s bassist Aaron Dessner …it came during the period of the release of Alligator’s superb follow up record ‘Boxer’

The situation when writing it must have been different considering the amount of attention ‘Alligator’ received. How much did this affect the process of writing and recording the album? Did you feel under any pressure to deliver a follow-up?

I don’t think we felt pressure from outside. We’re a very collaborative band, so we can’t really worry about the outside world, there would be no way for us to endeavour to write an album that would compete with ‘Alligator’, that’s the way it is, we’re happy with it, we feel it’s different and better than anything we’ve done before.

But do you feel there’s a sense of continuity between the two records?

Yeah, it makes sense that it goes from ‘Alligator’ but this process shows the band getting better at its craft, we’re glad we didn’t make Alligator 2.

Many people called ‘Alligator’ a ‘grower’. A lot of the tracks on ‘Boxer’, I think, are very subtle and layered, with the listener noticing new things each time. Do you think this one will be described as a ‘grower’ as well?

I think the kind of songs that we write, Matt [Berninger, lead singer] especially, try to avoid obvious hooks. Sometimes Matt’s sense of melody is subtle but it creeps up on you, some of it’s the natural chemistry of the band creeps up on you too. We arrange the songs on purpose to unfold, in the orchestral details you don’t notice everything on the first listen, the songs expand, to be honest every record I love would be what I call a ‘grower: it’s not something that immediately hits me, it’s albums that you live with and can come back to after months, the test of a great album is that you notice it over time.

Do you think that explains all the comparisons to people like Tom Waits?

Yeah, everyone loves him, Matt also loves Nick Cave and Dylan, we all share a lot of reference points

How do your songs come together? Do the rest of the band have a say in Matt’s lyrics?

It’s definitely his contribution to the band to write the lyrics, but it’s back and forth. He gives us a lot of feedback about the music and influences the direction it takes. If there’s something that rubs us the wrong way we’ll tell him, if he does something we don’t feel that strongly about we’ll tell him or he’ll figure it out on his own, there’s also lyrics he’s written for another song that we’ll use, there are a few songs that are drawing on old sketches we used long ago.

Yeah, I noticed that, so the lyrical references to past songs are deliberate?

Yeah there’s things like the ’29 Years’ [a song on The National’s first album] reference, the way it appeared on our first album it was a recording that Matt had done on his own without ‘proper’ instrumentation. When we were writing the song ‘Slow Show’ we went through many variations with different lyrics and different parts and I think when I came up with the melody at the end which is like a coda, it felt like the song was taking a left turn, for some reason it came into my head to put those words against this melody, to reappear, it just clicked, he just went in and did it, we have accidents like that.

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In 2010, GIITTV’s Rhian Daly caught up with The National’s main songwriters Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner on the eve of the release of ‘High Violet,’ she asked them about the comparisons between that record and ‘Alligator’ and ‘Boxer’...

High Violet seems to be more reminiscent of Alligator than anything else.

MB: It’s less like Boxer than… it has catharsis, it has release. Boxer had a lot of tension that was never released. This record is uglier than that, and gets louder and explodes a little more. So it has certain things that Boxer didn’t and that was on purpose that Boxer didn’t have that stuff. Is it like Alligator? In some ways. It’s also our most musically complicated and developed record, I think. Some of the songs may sound very home made and lo-fi but what’s happening in them is the most sophisticated arrangements… sophisticated is a weird word to use.. but more adventurous arrangements. We worked a meticulous weaving of flutes and strings and clarinets into there along with ugly, distorted, mushy-sounding guitars and drums recorded with one microphone and stuff like that. So we’ve woven together some very lo-fi things and ugly sounds with some very delicate chamber music and arrangements and stuff. So I would say it’s different to Alligator and more like Boxer at least on a level of musical academically… interesting things, maybe. But much more so than even Boxer. It’s got sides of both. It’s the child of both of those records, maybe.

AD: It’s a weird mix of Boxer and Alligator and other things. I think it’s new in the sense that Matt is singing out a lot more than he ever has, and he’s singing at the top of his range. Musically, it is more cathartic like Alligator – whereas Boxer’s more restrained. I think it’s kind of more of an experimental record although we’re mostly interested in songwriting not production or experimenting for the sake of experimenting. But there it’s not as normative, or as straightforward as Alligator is. So in that sense I don’t think it’s like Alligator. This record has a blurrier, weirder sound but it is similar in the sense that it rocks a lot, and musically at times is intense. So yeah, it’s more like Alligator than Boxer. But I think the most important thing for us is that we don’t repeat ourselves, so that’s the main thing you think about when you’re making records.

It sounds more confident than your other records…

MB: We knew that following up Alligator was a tough thing. It was the first record that anybody on a whole other level paid any attention to and it seemed like the thing they were paying attention to the most were the screaming songs like ‘Mr November’ and ‘Abel’. So following that up was tough, because we purposely didn’t want to paint ourselves into a corner by doing more of that and being the band with the guy who screams his head off. We didn’t want to be that band because there’s more to it than that. So Boxer was a lot of anxiety to follow up Alligator and to do it in a way that was going to release us from any kind of expectations. And that paid off. The fact that it paid off and Boxer did well, sold a lot more. You know, people have debates over which album is better, so to at least prove that we could avoid what we’d done in the past and still connect with a great record… So we knew that’s all we had to do this time. Just make something awesome. We didn’t know what that was going to be or what people were hoping or expecting for, or what trends were going on musically in indie rock – we knew none of that would ever helps us make a record so we didn’t. It was all just about making ourselves really excited and finding songs that we loved and we thought were awesome was really all we had to worry about. That’s all we did worry about it.

In the industry nowadays, bands are picked up and signed etc before they’ve barely formed and aren’t really given time to develop. You’ve had a lot of space and time to grow without ridiculous amounts of media hype, though. Do you think the devotion you inspire in your fans is a direct consequence of that?

MB: I think that our records – and we’ve been told this so it must be true – are growers and they take a while for people to connect to. It was never on purpose but it makes sense to us because the songs that end up on our records are the songs that aren’t always the most accessible and instant, and took us a while to feel connected too and the ones that have lasted for us. So the fact that the songs that are on the records are the ones that, after working on a record for months and months, sometimes a year/year and a half, we feel really personally connected to the ones that make it on to the record that’s why it makes sense that there’s this progression in the relationship people have to our songs. By not getting any attention for a long time has allowed us to not take for granted how hard it is to get any to pay attention or care about your music. You got to put the work in, you’ve got to have great music. You’ve got to work hard and not put out a record until it’s something awesome and so we really respect that and value that, and not squander that. We do know how easy and how quickly you can get a lot of attention and how quickly that attention just disappears. We’ve always been a little terrified of every little bit of attention we’ve gotten, even before Alligator. We were so afraid of losing it. In some ways, we felt like we had something to prove and we wanted to put our stake in the ground. But we’ve been hungry and we’ve stayed hungry for a long time because we never exploded. So now we’re getting a lot of attention, there’s something about just realising how much you’ve got to value that and it’s not something that you can count on so you’ve got to deliver.

AD: I think it could have gone the other way and maybe that would have been good but I do think one of the reasons why we’re where we are today – which is a lucky place to be which is we’re more of a back alley whisper kind of band and we’re quite a big band now – is because we earned it, one fan at a time. We had supporters. We’ve always had supporters, pretty vocal ones in different countries and stuff that have come out and said… now, it’s becoming more like we have media coverage but we never really… at the end of Alligator we were on Jools Holland which helped, or Uncut said Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers was brilliant. We’ve had our isolated little supporters but by and large we haven’t benefitted from media and we haven’t been a trendy band that’s blown up, and I think that’s meant that we’ve had to work really hard and that we didn’t suffer from over-exposure. We’ve been allowed to grow at our own pace and there’s a lot of depth… Like, when you come to see the National play, we don’t just play the hit single and then people leave. I don’t know what we would do if we were that kind of band that had those fans who knew something from the radio. We’re a band that makes albums and when we play live it’s like a whole experience and for us to enjoy it, I think it’s important for us to have that kind of relationship with the fans where it’s kind of intense. It feels like we’re all in this experience together when we play shows and every song on the playlist matters, in a weird way. It’s not just about a few songs. So I’m thankful for that.
Sometimes we say ‘Oh, I wish our records were more immediate or something but it’s not that they’re not catchy. It’s just that they have many layers that unfold over time. So it just takes a second for people to figure it out. And we don’t make obvious choices sometimes, I guess, because we get sick of those. I hope people don’t say that this one’s a grower but it seems like people just like saying that about us. They are catchy! The beat’s good, the lyrics are catchy, the music’s beautiful. It’s not that hard to like! But everyone’s like ‘It’s a grower’. Is that because it doesn’t sound like Arctic Monkeys or something, or what?! Mainly the grower term comes from England. I think it’s like English rock might be more catchier or immediate. Like, the things that get really big here. Although then you have Radiohead who aren’t that easy… hopefully now people will stop saying that.

INTERVIEW: Piney Gir

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Piney Gir releases her sixth album, mR hYDE’S wILD rIDE, this June via Damaged Goods. The album collates twelve multicoloured bittersweet pop stories about ‘a young woman coming to terms with the hope and regret that accompanies love and loss.’ Progressing from her background as a quirkly electro pop act, Piney’s first single from her new album Keep It Together is a fizzing multi-instrumental delight, her deft melodies and twinkling percussive rushes bristling with the ghosts of 60s pop, The Flaming Lips, Feist and Stereolab.

Piney has pulled together a stellar band for this release, with members of Gaz Coombes and Emiliana Torrini‘s touring band jumping in on guitar, bass and drums alongside The Smith Brothers & regular collaborator Garo Nahoulakian taking a seat in the producer’s chair. Andy Ramsay of Stereolab makes an appearance on drums, and the bulk of the album was recorded in his South London studio. The rest was whipped-up in Piney’s little Hackney Studio. To celebrate the album’s release we caught up with Piney Gir for a question and answer session.

You’re about to release your sixth album mR hYDE’S wILD rIDE – please explain who Piney Gir is and what this album is all about.

I’m Piney Gir. I’m from Kansas, but I’ve been living in London for a while now. I make make indie-pop and embrace what I do with a kind of mixed-media hat on. I think that in order to portray myself as the kind of artist that I am, I’ve got to have strong imagery, artwork, merch, videos, the live show… it’s more than just having strong songs, it’s about tapping into an aesthetic that makes the whole thing more of an experience.

The album has a few themes running through it, the mR hYDE bit refers to the duplicity within us all, there are two sides to everything and everyone: a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde. A lot of these songs refer to darkness and light, there is optimism in bad things and there is darkness in good things. Nothing is pure, nothing is black and white, we live in a colourful world and colourful things happen to us every day and sometimes we handle it like Jekyll and sometimes we handle it like Hyde. The Wild Ride bit refers to my favourite ride at Disneyland “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” because life throws us all kinds of roller coaster moments and sometimes you just gotta go with it & enjoy the ride! I also like the Britishness of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, because I ended up here in Britain, something I couldn’t have foreseen when I was riding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for the first time at Disneyland, aged 9.

Tell us more about the woman behind Piney Gir – where did your moniker come from and when did you first realise you had to start writing music.

Piney is a name I made up when I was very small. Nobody knows where it came from, but people would say “What’s your name little girl?” and I’d say “Piney!” Sometimes they’d give me a confused look and look to my parents to see if that was true. Other people accepted that I had this name. My family called me Piney as a nickname growing up. And the Gir part is because I never could say girl properly, so I’d say “I’m a GIR!” because I had a bowl hair cut and never wanted to be confused with a boy. So a common sentence from 2-3-year-old me is “I’m Piney and I’m a Gir!” So, when it came to having a stage name I realised I already had one…

As an American living in London; I moved to the UK over 10 years ago. I had just earned my music degree and didn’t know what to do with it. I knew I didn’t want to stay in Kansas and I didn’t want to go to New York, Chicago or LA because that seemed to be where everyone went after uni. I had spent a semester in the UK on a foreign exchange programme and I loved it, so I came back, took some evening courses at St. Martin’s and worked in a cocktail bar to meet people and just figure things out. I ended up in a synth-pop duo called Vic Twenty, which was my first band. It was then I realised indie-pop music is something I wanted to do for real. I had carved a niche for myself in the indie music scene here and it felt natural to stay and see what would happen.

Your signed to Damaged Goods – tell us how that came about?

Initially I was signed to Truck Records, but when Truck folded I self-released my album The Yearling on Paris Motel’s label Hotel Records. I remember making a bunch of singles by hand in my front room, sticking stickers onto CD wallets, stamping each one with a bumblebee stamp and hand numbering them, it took hours! I sent a mail-out to the Piney fans saying “Buy my new handmade single, please.” Apparently Ian from Damaged Goods was on my mailing list, because he e-mailed me back and said something like, “If you’d like to release a real single, let me know.” I was very excited because I’ve always been a big fan of Damaged Goods, he puts out so much great stuff, and I like that Ian is very straight-forward and straight-talking. So he put out a vinyl 7″ of “For The Love Of Others” for his Christmas single that year… it’s great, the sleeve looks like a Christmas present & the song has a timeless sentimental quality to it. From there he put out my next 2 albums, “Jesus Wept” and “Geronimo!” now he’s putting out this “mR. hYDE’S wILD rIDE.” I’m really excited about it!

How important is it these days to have a label – indie or otherwise – what are the pros and cons?

With DIY release being simpler than ever, it does make it very hard to get noticed, because anyone who has a computer can write a song, record it and instantly upload it to soundcloud and connect with an audience. I think that’s great! But it does feel like a posting a new song is like tiny drop in a big ocean and it can be frustrating if you feel like your music is not connecting with a wider audience. Labels are important because they curate and provide a platform for artists. It helps someone like me, at this stage in my career, to get noticed. I’m really grateful to have a label.

The album is really pop inspired but from all eras – what is your favourite pop era and why?

I don’t really have a favourite era, I just love strong melodies and really hooky riffs. My favourite lyrics tell stories. So I am inspired by people and songs, rather than specific eras.

What other music inspired you whilst writing tracks for this album?

We were working in Andy Ramsay’s studio (he’s from the band Stereolab) so we used a lot of the same vintage gear they used to use and there is a tactile quality that we share with some early Stereolab stuff… you can’t replicate those sounds with midi and it’s fun to play around with real analogue sounds in the room and manipulate them with tape echo and stuff. It’s given the album a sort of shimmering indie quality like Mercury Rev or Flaming Lips and there are some catchy riffs like Pixies “Here Comes Your Man” style or Grandaddy synth-riffs likes “A.M. 180″ which is largely down to buying a pocket piano when writing the album. There’s also a bit of grungy riot grrl in there, which is a nod to Sleater Kinney and Babes in Toyland. I think it’s a pretty diverse album, but it’s got a continuity to it, I’m hopeful it marries these influences well.

You’ve been in the UK for a decade now, what has been the best and worst thing about making music here?

The best thing is by far the sense of community that I have discovered here. London is such a huge place, but the indie music scene isn’t so big actually. If you hang out at the Lexington enough you’ll see the same faces there, or if you’re more of a Dalstonite you’ll find your people at the Dalston Superstore or Cafe Oto… I guess it’s a bit like having a tribe; it’s a way of finding community in a huge, difficult city. London is an inspiring city too, full of diversity and culture. I love it, there’s an energy always pulsing through London. But it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world, the housing crisis is a problem, creative people keep getting pushed out of their neighbourhoods to the edge of the city & then the locals in the edges of London get pushed out to the suburbs and I do worry the centre of town will just be full of bankers and oligarchs and the creativity that makes a place vibrant slowly trickles away. I guess we’ll see if that happens. But I tell ya what, don’t do music for the money! It costs a lot to keep a band going, recording, touring… it’s a labour of love. And I do love it.

You’ve worked with lots of superb bands and musicians – tell us who your highlights were?

I am so lucky to have worked with so many wonderful musicians, some of them are names some of them are not names. I can’t really pick a favourite person! But if you’re asking me to name drop, there is of course Andy Ramsay of Stereolab who I mentioned earlier. It was fun putting him on the spot and getting him to overdub some drum parts. He didn’t know we were going to ask him (and that was part of the strategy, to see what he’d devise out of the blue rather than learning and studying the tracks). I love what he did, there’s a spontaneity to it! Rob Campanella from Brian Jonestown Massacre was amazing to work with, he’s so laid back and easy to be around. We’ve since remained friends and he even played with me for my NPR Mountain Stage Session in West Virginia, which was great fun! Nelson Bragg is the percussionist for The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson‘s Band and he put a lot of finesse on my last album Geronimo! the song “Oh Lies” wouldn’t be the same without the castanets and “Let’s Get Silly” was essentially an excuse for Nelson to show off. I also had one of the brass players from Sgt. Peppers on my last album, which felt quite legendary. We had him playing in a big reverby recital hall and it was beautiful. The list goes on and I’m blessed to have met and collaborated with so many people, but I guess another highlight would be singing with Garth Hudson from The Band. I mean, what a legend he is, and what a dream to get to sing with him when he was over for Truck Festival a few years ago. I will forever cherish that memory.

Where can we see you live next?

My single launch for “Keep It Together” is at the Islington in London on the 23rd of April. I’m then playing the Alternative Escape in Brighton on May 16th & doing a little UK tour in June.

What do you hope mR hYDE’S wILD rIDE will achieve that other albums haven’t done before?

I don’t know if I am comfortable saying “no album has ever done this…” but what I am hopeful this album will do is that it will feel like a breath of fresh air, this album is laced with optimism because I wrote it at a dark time and I didn’t want the darkness to get the best of me. It’s got its complex and contemplative moments, but with the shade there is light, with the rain there is a rainbow. I want this album to make people happy and to inspire, if someone is down, I want to encourage them to see the silver lining, to ride that storm out because it does get better when the clouds clear. I want this record to make people happy even though it’s not a saccharine album. I want people to find hope in it for themselves.

Q & A with Andy Jones, FOCUS Wales

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This time next week, thousands of music aficionados will descend upon North Wales. With an emphasis on emerging Welsh talent, FOCUS Wales 2015 will showcase over 150 bands across 15 stages, as well as hosting three nights of stand-up and 20 interactive sessions. We let Jo Southerd pick the brains of Andy Jones, co-founder of and music booker for FOCUS Wales festival.

Hi, Andy! Congratulations on hitting the festival’s 5th birthday this year! When did you first decide that the music industry spotlight needing firmly planting on Wrexham?
Thanks. Well, we first began discussing the idea of the festival in early 2010. We felt that Wales really needed an event like this, and Wrexham was a great location to host it. There’s a great scene up here, great venues, and it’s such an easy place to get to for people flying in, or coming from places such as Manchester or Liverpool that are just over an hour away. So, placing the spotlight on Welsh talent has always been the point, it just so happens that we’ve chosen to host the event in Wrexham. We knew it would be a challenge to get the thing off of the ground, but while it would have been easy to sit around complaining about such an event not existing, we thought that it was about time someone had a go at making it work!

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FUTURE OF THE LEFT will play Central Station, Thursday 23rd April, 11:15 PM

If you go back in time to 2011, Focus took place over two days, in one venue.  Are you pleased how it’s grown from strength to strength?
Yeah, it’s been fun to see the festival grow each year, and we’re proud of the way the festival has been embraced by new music fans. At the same time, we’ve been really careful to build the event up gradually and to not risk the event by overstretching ourselves, as we’ve seen other festivals fail that way. So we wanted to retain the bits that make the festival fun, and each year we build in one or two new aspects to excite people.

Back in 2011, Funeral For A Friend were headlining with other now-household Welsh names scattered across the line-up: Race Horses, Masters In France, Gallops, The Gentle Good, We Are Animal and Paper Aeroplanes to name a few. Who’s representing Wales this year?
Of the 170 acts performing at the festival, over 130 of the acts are from Wales, so there’s lots to choose from. Welsh highlights this year include Future Of The Left, Zefur Wolves, Sweet Baboo, The Pale Blue Dots, Houdini Dax, Cut Ribbons, Seazoo, the list goes on.

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Cardiff’s HOUDINI DAX will play Central Station, Thursday 23rd April, 10:45 PM

In the five years since you started Focus, how has the music scene in Wales changed?
In my view, the Welsh music scene is going from strength to strength on various levels. With the impact of the internet, bands no longer have to relocate to major cities to make a career for themselves in the industry. This is great for Wales because so often the talent can be hidden away in small villages and towns. There are now self-releasing artists in the most rural areas of Wales, developing audiences worldwide. So the internet has given a platform for a new generation of Welsh creators, and it’s giving us an increasing number of exciting new releases each year.   Another positive development in the Welsh scene in recent years is that bands across Wales are working together more so than any time I can remember before. Frequently bands from North and South Wales are arranging gig swaps, and arranging tours together, and it feels like this new movement of artists are really embracing DIY, cutting out the middleman and taking control of their careers.  I could go on all day, but you get the idea… I think it’s a great time for Welsh music!

Focus champions a lot of unsigned, developing artists. Of all the 
young bands you’ve booked over the years, is there anyone whose progress you’re particularly proud of?
There’s been a number of success stories. We gave an early showcase to Catfish & The Bottlemen when they were just starting out, and it’s been nice to see them, after spending years gigging around Wales in their old van, to go on and achieve the success they have, and we hope the festival goes on to prove to be in important stepping stone for other emerging Welsh bands in the years ahead.

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Enlightenment activists from the far east psychedelic underground of Japan. BO NINGEN will play Central Station, Saturday 25th April, 09:00 PM

Wales has a super, vibrant, cultural presence, and it’s great to see  Welsh bands share a stage with their musical peers from across the world. At what point did you start adding international bands to the line-up?
From the very beginning. We’ve had international bands play every year, and this year we have bands from Australia, Japan, Canada, Germany, Ireland and France. We’ve always wanted Focus to be an international event, which will enable emerging acts here to interact with acts from overseas. And it brings such an exciting dimension to the festival, so we’re always excited to welcome the world to Wales.

Future of the Left is your only Welsh headline band this year. Do you 
think it’s at all contradictory for a festival named Focus Wales to have headliners from Leeds, Japan and the south of England? How would you respond to someone who argued this?
We would start by pointing out that in addition Future Of The Left, we have a long list of Welsh headliners at the festival this year, including headline shows from Little Arrow, Sweet Baboo, Yucatan, Falls, Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, Y Ffug, Yr Eira, Bandana, Andy Hickie, Cy Humphreys, and the list keeps going. We have more Welsh headliners than any other festival; it’s what we do. At the same time, some of the big names on the festival poster that may stand out for people are acts from outside of Wales. Bringing big names from outside of Wales has always been something we’ve done, and something we feel is very important for the event as a whole. As I said earlier, we’ve always wanted Focus Wales to be an international event, in the same way that Great Escape or Liverpool Sound City are international events, with headliners from all over. We want emerging Welsh bands to have the opportunity to showcase alongside exciting international touring acts. Building in international acts as part of our live programme helps to widen the festival audience, which in turn helps the emerging Welsh acts involved to grow their own audiences for the music they’re making, so it’s a strategy that works for us, and it’s something which has really helped the festival to grow.

Your Interactive programme is full to bursting with experts from all corners of the music industry. Why are these panels and discussions such an important aspect of the festival? Does having so many influential faces around affect the dynamic of the weekend?
Yeah, it’s great to have the music industry come to Wales for the week. For bands coming through from places such as Bala or Prestatyn, the chance to give your demo to the likes of Huw Stephens from Radio 1 or Mike Williams, the editor of the NME doesn’t come along too often. It’s also a good way for bands to connect with other bands, managers, promoters and labels, and learn from each others experiences. And of course, we hope that everyone leaves the talks having learnt something new, that will help them going forward.

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HENNING WEHN: The German Comedy Ambassador will appear at William Aston Hall, Glyndwr University, Thursday 23rd April, 07:30 PM

Who’s responsible for bringing the comedy element to the festival?
It’s something that we do in collaboration with a number of promoters. We’re really happy with the way that people have taken to the comedy aspect of our live programme, and it’s something we’re looking to build on going forward.

 

2015’s schedule sees an exclusive film screening and even free children’s workshops. Would you like to add even more Fringe-type events and activities to Focus?
Yeah, definitely. It’s something that adds a new point of interest for people and widens the festival audience again, so we’re always exploring fun new activities we can add in.

What are the pros and cons of running a metropolitan festival set in concrete streets rather than traditional grassy fields?
No mud is definitely a plus point! But one of the things I love about metropolitan festivals, is that you get to explore so many interesting venues and spaces in the host towns and cities. One of our venues, for example, is a jaw-droppingly beautiful 400-year-old church, which is the sort of unique experience you just don’t get with your standard tent in a field event.

I see you’re taking the festival on tour with a Summer BBQ all-dayer in Wrexham this July, can you tell me a bit more about that?
We’ve delivered a Winter Mixer event for the past two years, which are fun one-day micro-festivals. So this year, we’re doing our first Summer Mixer, which will be a one day event that we’re hosting up at the lovely STIWT Theatre in Rhos, Wrexham. We’ll be announcing the line-up for that after the festival, so it’s all strictly under wraps for now!

Can you imagine Focus branching out into even more events across the calendar? Are you involved in any projects outside of North Wales?
Well, we’ve started doing this with our Winter and Summer Mixer events. But as far as events go outside of North Wales, it’s definitely of interest, and we have a few ideas we’re currently developing, so we’ll see what the future holds on that.

And lastly, why do you think it’s so important to celebrate Welsh music; and what do you think the future might hold for music in Wales?
It’s important that with so many ace new bands and artists coming through in Wales, that these acts have a platform to showcase what they do. Of course, great artists should be celebrated wherever they come from, but, being Welsh, we feel duty bound to support and celebrate the exciting new acts we have coming through right now. As far as the future of music in Wales is concerned, it’s looking pretty good from here. For me, it’s not about having one or two stadium fillers come along every 10 years, as nice as that is, it’s more so about having lots of really great and interesting Welsh acts being sustainable in their work, which for me, is a marker of success in these times. There are so many awesome Welsh acts flying the flag right now, and looking at some of the new acts that have emerged in the last year alone, the future is looking really good.

FOCUS Wales 2015 takes place 22-25 April in various venues across Wrexham.

For tickets and more information go to http://www.focuswales.com/

FOCUS is one of our Favourite Metropolitan Festivals. Read about the others here!

A Place to Bury Strangers / The Telescopes – Down the Stairs / I Wanna Be Your Dog (Fuzz Club)

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The fuzz freaked psych heads among you might want to divvy up your Record Store Day cash stash and earmark some of it to securing one of the 1000 only split 10 inch releases from the cool as f*** Fuzz Club imprint. A killer release it’s the sixth instalment in their ongoing face off series which this time sets up a no holds barred confrontation between A Place To Bury Strangers and the legendary Telescopes.

Recent pairings have seen the gathering of titans such as Alan Vega with Vacant Lots and the Black Angels with Sonic Jesus, but this twinset just wipes the floor with the previous competition.

Fresh from their recent ‘Transfixation’ set – A Place To Bury Strangers stump up the previously unreleased ‘Down the Stairs’ . It’s a freakin’ three and a half minute scuzz storm which to these ears sounds not unlike a prime time ‘Psychocandy’ era Jesus and Mary Chain heading a full steer into some psychosis shrieked oblivion, whilst haloed in all manner of speaker melting feedback howls.

In recent times The Telescopes have been off navigating hitherto unchartered territories and discovering new sonic worlds by way of their extended odyssey into noise, drone and beyond. They return now to reclaim their vacated seat as one of the key note purveyors of psyche in recent memory with a frankly head trashing cover of The Stooges hallowed ‘I Wanna Be your Dog’. Which is in short, an uber cooled slab of hazily haloed loss of reality stirred in frenzied blurs of garage blues from which it dissipates. It’s so shitfaced, stoned, ravaged, wired, dirty and decadent your synapses will think they’ve undergone some kind of psychoactive shock therapy.