Saturday, 20 April 2019

New Music Friday 19/04/19

Madonna - Medellín (with Maluma)

Madonna - Medellín (with Maluma)

This is hardly the first time Madonna has pinched from elsewhere. Vogue took a dance from New York's underground scene; Hung Up sampled ABBA for a disco reboot. Yet, where in the past she's been at the forefront of discovery and trends, the last few years have seen Madonna playing catch up. Medellín, from her forthcoming album 'Madame X', is no exception. It's as if she and her label execs had a board meeting to discuss what's hot right now. Reggaeton was the inevitable conclusion, complete with feature from Colombia's (misogynistic) Maluma, clichéd lyrics about "a cartel just for love", and breezy melodies that float away into non-existence. There's still room for the album to be a worthwhile listen, but put your expectations in check and slow down papi.

Don't bother.



Carly Rae Jepsen - Julien

Carly Rae Jepsen - Julien

Jepsen stated on Instagram that Julien taught her the heart and direction of forthcoming album 'Dedicated'. It's certainly got heart - its lyrics depict raw heartbreak, honest and haunting - but the production is all squelchy disco, breathy melodies and spacey club sounds. This is funk to get you out of a funk, paving the way for another brilliant pop album.

Add to playlist.



Kygo & Rita Ora - Carry On

Kygo & Rita Ora - Carry On

Next month sees the release of the Detective Pikachu film, a weird, bizarre and hilariously real world take on Nintendo's franchise. Why, then, has this generic track been chosen to lead the soundtrack? All Kygo songs sound the same and Rita is phoning in the vocals (originally meant to be Charlie Puth). A bland and soulless cash-in.

Don't bother.



SZA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott - Power Is Power

SZA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott - Power Is Power

Speaking of cash-ins, this track is taken from 'For The Throne' - music inspired by Game of Thrones now that its final season is here. Fans will recognise the title as a reference to a conversation between Littlefinger and Cersei from season two; non-fans will at least appreciate nods in lyrics like "I was born of the ice and snow with the winter wolves". Sonically it sounds like an cast-off from the Black Panther soundtrack - not necessarily a bad thing, but not overly original either.

Worth a listen.



Au/Ra - Assassin

Au/Ra - Assassin

Jamie Lou Stenzel, better known by her stage name Au/Ra, is still best known for her hit Panic Room thanks to its Camelphat remix. But her unique gothic pop is as much a reflection of the younger generation as, say, Billie Eilish. Panic Room was a comment on anxiety, while on new track Assassin she moves on to self-sabotage and reflection, underscored by seductive electronica.

Add to playlist.



No Rome - Cashmoney

No Rome - Cashmoney

This is the latest track from The 1975 collaborator, who recently appeared with the band at Coachella and will continue to tour with them. There's certainly a similar vibe to his music, but on Cashmoney No Rome luxuriates in sharp production: laidback, twinkling, and polished. Which is fitting for a song about money and designer brands.

Worth a listen.


Friday, 19 April 2019

Tumulus @ Soho Theatre

Tumulus @ Soho Theatre

Back in 2016, Stephen Port was convicted of serial rape and murder after luring in young gay men using the app Grindr and drugging them to the point of overdose. Christopher Adams' thriller Tumulus takes this as its inspiration.

This is a queer urban nightmare that plays with noir tropes. At a basic level it's a murder mystery that weaves through chemsex parties, London streets and the impenetrable darkness of Hampstead Heath. A ghostly figure from the past demands justice; an unsuspecting nearly-thirty-three year old man is compelled to uncover the truth.

Ciarán Owens' Anthony is a suave, charming and unreliable narrator. A librarian at the British Library, he pursues a not-so-secret life of sex and drugs in London's gay underworld. And, like all the gay characters, he's haunted not only by the death of previous lover George but by a strange tinnitus-like sensation in his mind. Drugs are the only answer.

Together with Ian Hallard and Harry Lister Smith, the three strong cast present a twisted vision of homosexual life. An early scene depicts a horrifying dinner party that magnifies stereotypes into a grim fantasy, but the play as a whole bristles with danger and tension. In this context, murder seems tragically inevitable.

Further atmosphere is delivered through live foley sound and chiaroscuro lighting, while Adams' script, narrated by Owens, swings from the poetic to the bleakly humorous. It ensures that this intrinsically gay mystery remains compelling through to the end, with all its gut-wrenching twists.

Beyond engaging storytelling, Tumulus is equally a comment on the anxiety of modern gay life. It's a cautionary tale that delivers riveting fantasy based on shocking reality.

4/5

Watch: Tumulus runs at the Soho Theatre until 4th May.

Tumulus @ Soho Theatre

Tumulus @ Soho Theatre
Photos: Darren Bell

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Back in 1968, George A. Romero released his masterpiece film that became a major influence not only on horror cinema, but the likes of video game series Resident Evil and the comic/TV series The Walking Dead. Now Night Of The Living Dead has made its way to theatres in the only stage adaptation authorised by the Romero estate.

Except here it's not quite how you remember. There's a fine line between horror and comedy - what was once horrifying now seems laughably tame - but in distancing itself from the original film, this production veers so far into the latter as to be unrecognisable.

It's starts off faithfully enough, following the general plot of a group of disparate people holed up in a rickety house as they try to save themselves from the roaming undead. The production design is stunning, with all set, costumes and lighting presented in strict monochrome mimicking the black and white of the film. Jump scares and tension abound as the audience are kept on the edge of their seats.

There's comedy in the over-the-top acting, the exaggerated "yee-haw" accents, the cartoonish physicality. Particularly amusing are Mari McGinlay as the hysterical mouse-like Barbra and Marc Pickering's bumbling coward Harry. An eerie weasel and crunchy sound effects add to the irreverent horror vibe.

Romero's film has since been analysed for its criticism of 1960s America, Cold War politics, racism (the film's lead is a black man who's tragically mistaken for the undead in the final moments), and other tensions of the time.

Here, though, the play's multiple writers and director Benji Sperring nod to that "political bollocks" with the looping structure. It whips through the plot swiftly in its first half, before playing out various "what if?" scenarios. This might toy with a political agenda - sexism, racism and more - but it's only ever played for laughs. Soon the play descends from send up of the film into all-out slapstick farce, full of crass humour and silly antics.

Audience members can pay extra to be on-stage in the "splatter zone", which ends up as a simple marketing ploy - the play's gore is overhyped and these audience members simply prove distracting. Coupled with the amount of merchandise available, it all seems at odds with the consumerism Romero sought to critique.

It makes you wish a little more thought had gone into wrestling with that intriguing grey area between horror and comedy. Night Of The Living Dead Live is a fun night out in itself, but it's far removed from its original source.

3/5

Watch: Night Of The Living Dead Live runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 8th June.

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London

Night Of The Living Dead Live @ Pleasance London
Photos: Claire Bilyard

Saturday, 13 April 2019

New Music Friday 12/04/19

Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc - SOS

Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc - SOS

SOS is typical Avicii. That's to say, it's a catchy club bop with hooks galore and an Aloe Blacc vocal feature after their work on Wake Me Up. But of course, the song is underpinned by the sad death of the Swedish DJ last year, the first posthumous release from a forthcoming album. As such, lyrics like "can you hear me SOS, help me put my mind to rest" take on a truly heartbreaking new layer of meaning.

Worth a listen.



Ellie Goulding - Sixteen

Ellie Goulding - Sixteen

Ellie Goulding's latest is an ode to her teenage years and a reminder of the innocence of youth. It's lyrically simple but the choppy, fizzing chorus is an exuberant joy, even where the verses are a little generic. After the recent release of morose ballad Flux, Sixteen is a welcome return to vibrant pop.

Worth a listen.



Mark Ronson feat. Lykke Li - Late Night Feelings

Mark Ronson feat. Lykke Li - Late Night Feelings

On paper this is a dream collaboration. Ronson himself has described his forthcoming album as a collection of "sad bangers", so pairing his slick disco production with Li's yearning vocals makes total sense. "My heart keeps pulling in the wrong direction," she sings over funk bass and orchestral fluttering. The cumulative effect doesn't quite live up to the billing though - it's sad and polished but doesn't hit banger status.

Worth a listen.



Anna Of The North - Used To Be

Anna Of The North - Used To Be

Before I lose you to the dog grooming video, know this: Anna Of The North's latest single is a nostalgic take on life before social media, with languid synth and saxophone melodies. It's a reminder to step away from our screens and appreciate ourselves and each other a little more. With that said...go watch the dogs.

Worth a listen.



Yeasayer - Fluttering In The Floodlights

Yeasayer - Fluttering In The Floodlights

The New York band's 2013 single Henrietta remains a heady, intoxicating listen, but they're back this year with their fifth album and two new tracks. Let Me Listen In On You is a ballad with a slightly creepy vibe, but Fluttering In The Floodlights is the band on fine, weird form with its jittering production. 'Erotic Reruns' is due out in June.

Worth a listen.



Tame Impala - Borderline

Tame Impala - Borderline

Psychedelia and soft rock blend effortlessly in this new track from the Australian band. Only Tame Impala could merge pan pipes, harpsichord, conga drums and whirring synths into such a transportative mood, while Kevin Parker sings introspectively of a relationship on the verge of collapse.

Worth a listen.



Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Catharsis. After eight years of mourning the loss of friendships and relationships, Robyn's 'Honey' was a moment of catharsis, a musical release of tension, love, loss and joy. Performed live, that catharsis spreads over a crowd of thousands, all willing to dance and sing their hearts out.

White fabric billows from the ceiling and envelopes the staging, monochrome and ethereal. Robyn stands statuesque in the centre to the mostly instrumental beats of Send To Robin Immediately, eyes closed, soaking up the moment. It's clear we're in for a class act.

Robyn has always been at her best delivering heartbreak over euphoric club beats. "It's gonna be all heartbreak, wistfully painful and insanity," she sings early on in Hang With Me as if warning us of what's to come. It's that juxtaposition of emotions that's made her career and it's what the majority of the crowd are here for.

But it's not all heartbreak. There's a joy and playfulness in the dance tracks of 'Honey', but when the likes of Beach2k20 and Between The Lines break up the set into long experimental interludes there's a drop in momentum that feels self-indulgent. These sultry, muted tracks don't translate so well to a live performance, feeling at times more like a DJ set. That continues with the lengthy techno Love Is Free, a nod to her EP with La Bagatelle Magique. When she sings the exultant 'Honey' closer Ever Again, it doesn't quite hit as hard as it should.

Yet Robyn remains a transfixing stage presence throughout. She's a surprisingly quirky and eccentric performer, twirling across the stage, screaming, crawling seductively, while maintaining pitch perfect vocals. She dances for herself as much as for the audience.

When those sad bangers eventually arrive, the effect is transcendent, far outweighing any earlier lulls. Early on the swirling spacey synths of Indestructible send shivers down the spine. Later, the throbbing Missing You and Call Your Girlfriend have the audience enraptured, followed by an encore of the fizzing Stars 4-Ever. The pulsing Every Heartbeat lifts us with its wash of strings before we crash on to the dancefloor, tears in our eyes. It's in these moments that Robyn delivers phenomenal pop songs like no other, artist and audience collectively exorcising relationship demons.

Dancing On My Own remains Robyn's biggest hit and it's here that she's finally as stunned as we are. The music drops out as the crowd takes up the chorus, singing back every word of her own heartbreak. "Thank you so much," she screams, visibly emotional. It's a standout moment in a night that's full of them: exhilarating, impassioned, sublime.

A second encore beginning with Human Being ends the evening on a downbeat note, followed by the lesser known Who Do You Love. It's an unexpected finale, but Robyn proved with 'Honey' she's an artist not afraid to confound us. As she repeatedly questions "who do you love?", there's only one name on everyone's lips.

5/5

Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Robyn @ Alexandra Palace

Friday, 12 April 2019

A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) @ The Vaults

A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) @ The Vaults

The title is a contradiction, but the juxtaposition of happiness and sadness is at the heart of this musical about depression from Silent Uproar. Written by Jon Brittain, the Olivier award-winning writer behind Rotterdam and Margaret Thatcher Queen Of Soho, this performance at The Vaults is just one leg of a long tour across the UK.

And so it should be. A Super Happy Story... is a timely and vital production that needs to be seen. It's a musical that's as funny as it is serious, knocking you back with a sucker punch just as you belly laugh.

That juxtaposition is also a reminder that depression is an invisible illness. There's a contradiction between internal and external, between what we see in others and how they really feel. The show takes us through one young woman's struggle with depression from her teens to her mid twenties as she slowly recognises the illness and learns to cope. It presents a visceral portrayal of living with depression, how it eats away at you even in your best moments and turns you into someone else. Even those who haven't suffered can still relate to the central character of Sally.

That portrayal relies on the enthusiastic and energetic performance of Madeleine MacMahon. She brims with excitement and delivers the songs with gusto - written by Matthew Floyd Jones and heightening both the happy and sad sides of the plot - but is equally capable of steering the mood in new directions. It's an endearing and honest performance.

She's aided by Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland playing a variety of roles, both twirling on to the stage in different costumes and with instantly recognisable physicality. Their singing and dancing is also excellent, ensuring the musical is a joy to watch.

A Super Happy Story...is a lovable and charming new musical that packs a lot into its short runtime. Self-help cards are handed out after the show and it's sponsored by the charity Rethink Mental Illness, further emphasising its importance beyond the theatre walls.

4/5

Watch: A Super Happy Story... runs at The Vaults until 3rd May, before continuing the UK tour.

A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) @ The Vaults

Friday, 5 April 2019

New Music Friday 05/04

MARINA - To Be Human

MARINA - To Be Human

Surprise! Marina has released the first half of her forthcoming album 'LOVE + FEAR', of which To Be Human is set to be the big single. It's probably her most political song as she references worldwide events, before singing "we're united by our love, we're united by our pain" in the chorus. It certainly captures a global mood, though give Enjoy Your Life a go if you're after more of a banger.

Worth a listen.



Hot Chip - Hungry Child

Hot Chip - Hungry Child

Hot Chip's last album was released back in 2015 (and it's been over ten years since Ready For The Floor, still their highest UK charting single). The band's forthcoming album is called 'A Bath Full Of Ecstasy', so it makes sense that its lead single is a pounding club anthem. Hungry Child takes dance clichés - the big house vocal and piano, the melodic bass - but wrings them through a Hot Chip filter, producing a floorfiller like they've never quite done before.

Add to playlist.



Ariana Grande - MONOPOLY (with Victoria Monét)

Ariana Grande - MONOPOLY (with Victoria Monét)

Does Ariana ever stop? Yet another new track released from her this week, this time featuring singer and songwriter Victoria Monét who also wrote Thank U, Next. This is Ariana in playful hip-hop mode, comparing her life to a board game of money, high stakes and investments. With this partnership she's clearly on a roll. And the bisexual line? Who cares.

Worth a listen.



Jonas Brothers - Cool

Jonas Brothers - Cool

It's nice that the Jonas Brothers are feeling cool, even if this song isn't. The song references everything from James Dean and Jane Fonda, to a cheeky nod to Game of Thrones over a laidback beat. It's all a bit on the nose, but there's something charming about the slightly campy delivery.

Worth a listen.



Dusky Grey - Uncontrollable

Dusky Grey - Uncontrollable

Welsh duo Dusky Grey saw some success last year with their single Call Me Over. Uncontrollable is their first release of 2019, all vibrant synths, stretchy elastic bass, trumpet solos and catchy chorus hooks. It's a confident return from a duo on the rise, whose career is set to be uncontr...no I can't do it...

Worth a listen.



BLACKPINK - Kill This Love

BLACKPINK - Kill This Love

This is a bombastic new release from the world's premiere female K-Pop band, taken from their EP of the same name. The trumpets and "rum-pa-pum" lyrics sound a fanfare that not only opens the EP, but signals their arrival at Coachella later this month and their continued world domination. Stomping, fierce K-Pop at its finest.

Worth a listen.



Amber Mark - Mixer

Amber Mark - Mixer

New York's Amber Mark has been slowly on the rise the last couple of years, but new release Mixer is certainly her most arresting. The funky R&B production drips with effortless 90s cool, with its strutting bass and whistling transitions, Mark's breathy vocal floating atop. It's sexy and stylish - just like that fur coat in the video.

Worth a listen.


Thursday, 4 April 2019

Bed Peace @ The Cockpit Theatre


Bed Peace @ The Cockpit Theatre

Back in 1969, in response to the Vietnam War, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged two ‘bed-ins for peace’. The intent was non-violent protest and a new form of promoting peace. Two such bed-ins were staged, the second of which in a hotel in Montreal resulted in the song “Give Peace A Chance”. The song soon rose to number two in the UK charts and became an anthem in opposition to wars, violence and prejudice.

It’s this event that forms the basis of Bed Peace, a new work devised by Rocky Rodriguez Jr. and performed at The Cockpit Theatre. It presents key moments from the bed-in as well as speeches and views from outside parties. Yet it never quite comes together as a cohesive whole.

The need for peace is immediately set up by the ensemble. They play a variety of roles, led by Helen Foster’s enthusiastic Narrator, that establishes the U.S. in the grip of war, violence and riots. In the midst of this are a celebrity couple acting as martyrs, but how much of a difference can they actually make?

Rodriguez Jr.’s depiction of Lennon and Ono is ambiguous. Are they genuinely wanting to make a difference in the world, or are they a privileged white couple out of touch with society? They see themselves as enlightened, modern day revolutionaries, but the press only care about their fame. And what good does sitting in a bed actually achieve?

The characterisation doesn’t help. The play aims to humanise these celebrities, to get under the whiteness of their clothes and skin. Yet the performances fall flat. Jung Sun Den Hollander’s Ono speaks only of peace and philosophy, lost in her own world, while Craig Edgley’s Lennon has two modes: angry and eccentric loony. Together they seem to have more of a troubled patient (Lennon) and therapist (Ono) relationship that’s hard to sympathise with.

Often, though, they’re utterly silenced by the rest of the cast. The play is at its best during fiery monologues that explore racial tensions, privilege and prejudice. There are home truths and fascinating points made, with a particularly impassioned performance from Amelia Parillon who speaks more from the heart than as an actor.

It makes you wish for a different play that focused solely on race. Instead, we have a piece about celebrity with lofty ambitions that fails to make a dramatic point. The final energetic performance of “Give Peace A Chance” - complete with audience participation, dancing Hare Krishna, and a host of guitars that gently weep under the strains of violent strumming - is meant to prove the power of pop music, but instead it seems to enforce Lennon and Ono as a pair of misguided, lunatic hippies. You can’t beat the power of a good speech.

2/5

Watch: Bed Peace runs at The Cockpit Theatre until 28th April.


Bed Peace @ The Cockpit Theatre

Bed Peace @ The Cockpit Theatre

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Cry Havoc @ Park Theatre


Cry Havoc @ Park Theatre

Mohammed arrives back in his shabby apartment. His eyes are black and bruised, blood splatters his face, cigarette burns litter his shirt and scar his chest. He’s clearly been attacked, but no explicit reason is given. The implication: because he’s a homosexual.

This is the starting point for playwright Tom Coash’s latest play Cry Havoc performed at the Park Theatre. While homosexuality is not criminalised in Egypt, there is prevailing public opinion against LGBT+ people and many people of the community are regularly abused or punished by the police. It’s in this world that Coash sets his love story between an Egyptian man and an Englishman, a play that hinges on the identity crisis of a young man outlawed by his own society yet failing to find peace in another.

Mohammed (James El-Sharawy) and Nicholas (Marc Antolin) are painted as two very different men, star-crossed lovers embarking on a forbidden relationship. Nicholas is foppish and speaks in clichéd British-isms and references; Mohammed is intense and brooding. Much of the play is spent with the two men discussing their religious and cultural differences, but little common ground on which to base their relationship. Nicholas intends to return to England and sets out to acquire a visa for Mohammed to join him, a decision that has dire consequences.

Politically, Cry Havoc intrigues. The depiction of modern day Egypt is eye-opening, the sense of danger just outside the apartment walls palpable. El-Sharawy gives a captivating performance as Mohammed, trapped by his own identity, tormented and conflicted. When he speaks of his time in prison, the ordeal is harrowing. When he seeks to solve violence with violence, his radicalised actions are tragically inevitable. By contrast, Antolin’s Nicholas represents the helplessness of the West, his involvement dealing with an immigration officer only makes things worse. The haven of England is written in cliché, a distant dream.

Yet it’s all a little too heavy handed. Love is described in overtly poetic terms by both Nicholas (the character is, of course, a writer) and by Karren Winchester’s immigration officer Ms. Nevers in one particularly on-the-nose scene. That’s starkly contrasted with the reality of their situation, spoken in deadpan sarcasm and deadly truths. These are two men clearly at opposite ends of a spectrum – the short, well-paced scenes consist largely of exchanges of experience without any real conversation or evolving relationship.

Undermining the plot is a lack of chemistry between the actors. Through their exchanges, there’s no commonality between them and, while the actors work incredibly hard individually, together their relationship just doesn’t feel real. As such, Cry Havoc resonates politically more than emotionally, highlighting the frightening dangers of being gay in a violent country.

3/5

Watch: Cry Havoc runs at the Park Theatre until 20th April.

Cry Havoc @ Park Theatre

Cry Havoc @ Park Theatre
Photos: Lidia Crisafulli