Everything’s on the way – hold tight!
I’m sitting in my parent’s house, catching up on The Great British Bake Off, while I wait for my car’s exhaust to be fixed. It doesn’t seem like a particularly gloomy Saturday morning, despite the thinning fog outside, but there’s a certain heaviness weighing on my heart. I’ve been wrestling with this feeling for weeks, months, maybe even a year now. Finally, it seems as if I’m able to accept the inevitable — TwoBeatsOff will be no longer.
I started this blog in 2008, back when I was still in sixth form, because I wanted to hear what girls thought about music, the punk rock scene, and everything in between. Five wonderful ladies that I met over the internet or at pop-punk shows helped me out, and it was great. I knew nobody was really reading it, but we were reading each others’ points of view, flexing our creative muscles and giving a big middle finger to anyone who said we were wasting our time. And, incidentally, I believe it was this blog that scored me a place at the University of Warwick, where I spent three of the best years of my life so far, meeting friends that I’ll keep for life, and getting to do some extra cool shit. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
While I was at uni, I kept this ship sailing, even though a lot of the girls who I was working on TBO with decided to move onto different things. I met the wonderful Kate, one of my favourite people on this planet, and we got a bit more ambitious. Together, we chased after our idols — I got to make a tit of myself in front of Matt Davies-Kreye and Ryan Richards from Funeral for a Friend, Sean Smith from The Blackout, and we helped out various up-and-coming Midlands bands along the way. I discovered some incredible bands, went to see some great shows, and thoroughly threw myself into the scene. Of course, it wouldn’t have been the same without a great team — I had some amazing writers in those years, and we reviewed some brilliant shows, records and everything else. But despite a flourishing relationship with PR agencies and record labels, it still wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be. As ever, my ambitions were greater than I could manage. If I was ever going to have time to make TBO pay for itself, or provide a stepping stone to a career in journalism, it would have been then. But I missed the boat — and it was time for the dream to shift.
I’ve never been good at dreams. I’ve always dropped them as soon as they’ve gotten too tough to handle. I’ve always settled for a safer option, retreated into a cosy world. I think I did a little bit of that with TBO. I didn’t take any risks, so it didn’t have any opportunity to grow. I could never afford better equipment, never had time to learn any new skills, and worried about my future far too much.
So I ended up going back to university to do a masters degree, because I didn’t know where else to go. I had the experience and the relationships to embark on a career in music journalism, but I didn’t want to move to London. The Midlands had always been my home, in little provincial towns where there were more fields than people. So I retreated into my safe haven, tapped away at my keyboard and stuck to doing reviews of records I wasn’t hugely into. Inevitably, the real world took over — I got a full-time job in marketing that I adore, but leaves me with no creative energy after-hours. My fiction writing has taken a backseat, I’ve been freaking out about how to get things ready on time, and generally, my team of writers has shrunk to being just me and my boyfriend Charlie (and for any Synth News fans out there, Charlie’s keytar hero for this month is himself, because he’s just bought a Roland AX Synth). It’s all just been a bit too much to handle, and I’m not giving this the time and attention it deserves any more. I always said that when it started to feel like a chore, I’d call it a day. And sadly, that day has come.
But I’m proud of what I’ve managed to achieve in TBO’s twilight years. Throughout the time this blog’s been running, I’ve featured a fair few bands before anyone else, who are now going on to be featured in all the big magazines. I managed to interview Andrew freaking McMahon, one of my absolute heroes, and got through the phone call without crying — a true achievement in itself. I like to think that I’ve always given new music a chance, and although I might not have had the authority to tackle issues in the scene head on, I hope that the comment I’ve given has meant something to someone.
There are a lot of people I have to thank for supporting this project throughout the years. Without their help, this blog wouldn’t have lasted a year, let alone six.
To all the PR agencies, record labels and distributors who have given us their time and patience, thank you. Thanks for taking a chance on us when we probably didn’t deserve it. I hope that we’ve done enough to get the word out about your bands and that you’ve taken our criticism and our adoration in the right way. In particular, huge thanks to Specialist Subject Records, Carry The 4, Paper + Plastick, Wall of Sound PR and Beartrap PR.
To all the bands that have ever emailed me, I wish that I’d been able to give you the coverage you deserve. If it was up to me, we’d have written about every single thing you put out, but I just didn’t have the resources. Again, I hope that you took our criticism in a constructive way — like Mary Berry does on Bake Off, I have always tried to find the positives in anything we’ve been given, even if it’s not quite to my taste.
To all the writers that have ever contributed to TBO in one way or another, I am indebted to you. This wouldn’t have kept going as long as it did without you. I hope that this provided a valuable platform for you to practice your writing, sharpen your criticism and get your work out there for the first time.
And to everyone who has ever read this — thank you so much. While TBO has never had the biggest or most vocal readership, it has been highly consistent. Thank you for letting us take chances on weird columns, giving new bands a chance and generally being great. Without you, there wouldn’t even be a point to this at all.
So what happens next? I’m going to find a way to archive all of the articles we’ve ever created, and then this will become a personal blog. I’m still mulling over a new domain name, so I’ll get back to you on that. I don’t want to ever stop writing, and I want to keep putting that writing out there, but I need to kick-start my creativity again and I don’t think it’s by giving myself review deadlines and making it feel like work. I hope that one day, this project will live on as a physical zine, but for now, it’s farewell from TwoBeatsOff. Thanks for the memories.
xoxo — Robyn
This is a new column I’m working on because I’m getting bored of doing nothing but reviews, but I still want to recommend loads of new music! If you’ve got any bands to recommend to us, or know of any shows we should be at, drop an email to Robyn via email@example.com and you could get featured!
I’ll be honest, I’ve not really checked out a hell of a lot of new music recently. A lot of my in-car listening has darted back and forth between things I listened to a lot in my teen years and angry, shouty hardcore. One album that has continued to impress me over the past couple of months is the new record from Refused. Freedom is not The Shape Of Punk To Come 2.0, nor did it need to be. Instead, it’s got some real groove, a more subtle and nuanced passion and some of the catchiest choruses to come out of Sweden this century. So far, it’s my record of the year, but I’m excited to see what might come and claim its throne.
Speaking of Sweden, if you’re into your great skate-punk heroes (I know I am), then Millencolin’s True Brew is also a contender for this year’s top 10 records so far. It’s definitely more of the same, but that is never a bad thing when it comes to Millencolin. Particular track highlights include opening banger ‘Egocentric Man’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, and the piano-led beauty that is ‘Wall of Doubt’. I saw Millencolin take on Slam Dunk festival earlier this year and they were the best thing about it (which wasn’t hard because operationally, it was largely fucking terrible). And it’s great to see them back with a collection of fantastic new songs.
I first discovered Millencolin because they were on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 — that bastion of teenage discovery. But it doesn’t look like I’m going to be getting nostalgic for those days any time soon, because the soundtrack to THPS5 looks totally wank. Here’s the photo that the Birdman himself posted on Instagram:
Bit disappointing, isn’t it? There are tons of great technical skate-punk tunes out there — maybe Tony needs to take a trip over here and check out fellas like Darko, or the new project from the now defunct Stillbust (RIP xoxo) guys, Rail Means Rail. Those bands might be a little heavier than Bad Religion or Goldfinger, but that’s what the kids like these days. And you want to be down with the kids, don’t you Tony?
But let’s take a trip back to deepest, darkest Sweden for a moment, because this past month has also seen the release of the brand new Ghost album, and it is a delicious slice of sin. If you’ve never seen Ghost before, or heard any of their songs, all you need to do is think Satanic doom metal meets Kiss and you’re pretty much there. Meliora is an absolute triumph — equal parts theatre and good ol’ Scandinavian darkness. If Satanism isn’t your thing, don’t worry too much — it’s all fairly tongue-in-cheek, and you’re missing out on some excellent keytar if you skip by this one. Personally, I’ll be drawing a pentagram in red crayon on some kitchen roll and lighting some scented candles to try and make the time before their UK tour pass faster.
If you’re a regular TBO reader, you’ll know that two of my favourite things in this world are two-piece bands and badass synthesiser-driven music. In my opinion, the limitations of a duo seem to swell the creative juices of such units; without the safety net of a larger band, it takes a lot of thought, energy and downright determination to present a wall of sound greater than the sum of its parts. So for this special feature I’ve decided to round up a list of my favourite synth and drum duos who push the boundaries of musical style and technology to make a big noise that will still fit in the back of a Smart Car after the gig. Crossing a range of genres from electronica to indie rock, each band’s approach is distinct from the others and demonstrates the huge potential of this deceptively unrestrictive line-up. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top ten synth-drum duos…
The original keytar and drumkit duo of frontman Pete Cafarella and tub-thumper Nate Smith, New York’s Shy Child emerged from the new rave scene that also gave birth to the likes of Klaxons and New Young Pony Club. In the mid-noughties this pair cracked out indie rock songs over pounding dance beats and distorted synth hooks, whilst managing the seemingly impossible task of making the keytar cool. Releasing two full-length albums before breaking the mainstream with 2007’s Noise Won’t Stop, which featured singles ‘Drop The Phone’ and ‘Summer’ as well as the title track, the two-piece were equally at home on rock festival stages and indie-disco clubs.
Matt and Kim
Matt and Kim are the ultimate boy-girl band for a myriad of reasons. Not only are they a legit couple, they make cutesy pop songs that are utterly irresistible whether you are five or thirty-five. Matt plays keys, Kim plays drums, and between them they create a two-piece symphony of singable choruses and danceable beats. A quick scout of YouTube reveals them to also be contenders to the throne of ‘most fun live band ever’, as this video for recent single ‘Get It’ demonstrates…
Taking their name from the cult arcade game, Galaxians make music as retro as their moniker suggests. The Leeds two-piece create party-starting live disco inspired by classic New York boogie and funk. Delivered live with authentic analogue keyboards and raw drum grooves, you’d be foolish to resist a Galaxians disco invasion.
Another duo proving that the keytar didn’t die with prog rock, Woodhands exist to merge the rigidness of electronica with the organic realness of indie rock. Taking a full arsenal of gear onstage including classic synthesisers and Dan Werb’s trademark Roland keytar the duo’s 2008 album ‘Heart Attack’ mixed garage rock sensibilities with dirty synths and a delicious smattering of vocoder.
Whereas the majority of bands in this list are indebted to technology to be able to recreate their layered recordings in a live setting, Soccer96 leave the laptops and sequencers at home, instead relying on Danalogue’s keyboards played through Marshall stacks and looped in realtime alongside Betamax’s jazzy drumbeats. Ditching the sync button lends an impressive authenticity and sense of ‘shit could actually go wrong’ to the duo’s live shows, with psychedelic soundscapes and complex drum rhythms bouncing off every wall.
I Was A Cub Scout
Ok, so I’m kind of breaking the rules with this one as keyboard-totting frontman Todd Marriott also played guitar, but no list of synthtasic duos would be complete without emotronica twosome I Was A Cub Scout. With the perfect blend of charming synth melodies, intricate drumming, and lyrics about girls, they were every indie kid’s wet dream back in 2008. Their one and only album was called I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope, which says it all really. Drummer William Bowerman now splits his time between playing complex instrumental prog rock with Brontide and backing synth popster La Roux, which makes a surprising amount of sense when listening back to the likes of ‘Pink Squares’ and ‘Echoes’.
Australian duo The Presets are the most traditionally electronic group on this list, with their hard-hitting electro-house soundtracking dancefloors since 2003. Singles such as ‘Talk Like That’ and ‘This Boy’s In Love’ place Julian Hamilton’s 80’s new wave drawl and electroclash bass riffs over drummer Kim Moye’s club beats, whilst live the duo take on a whole new energy as cymbals are smashed and synth filters are tweaked up to breaking point. They’re also fond of salt and vinegar crisps and freestyle dancing for inevitable extra bonus points.
Mates Of State
As Mates Of State, the husband-and-wife pairing of keyboardist Kori Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel create classic indie-americana, singing love songs to each other with gorgeous harmonies dispersed over distorted organ chords. Unashamedly pop, latest EP You’re Going To Make It is basically the Taylor Swift you’re allowed to like.
I <3 MCHN DRM
Sweden’s I Love Machine Drum, styled I <3 MCHN DRM, are another band who pack in a formidable amount of gear for two people, as demonstrated by their live YouTube videos, with kaoss pads, laptops and synths all rigged up and controlled by the impressively mustachioed Trygve Stakkeland, whilst Geir Strandenæs Larsen brings his tight drumbeats to the fray.
The ultimate boy-girl emo duo Slingshot Dakota create a glorious noise for only two people. From the early beginnings on Their Dreams are Dead, but Ours is the Golden Ghost to 2012’s Dark Hearts, the pairing of Carly Comando and Tom Patterson make songs that pull at your heartstrings one minute and then make you want to dance the next. With distorted keyboards and power-pop drums they create anthems from the simplest of set-ups, which is surely what this whole two-piece band thing is all about.
About two months ago, I sat down with Jamie Downes, the creative lead behind the brilliant A Lonely Ghost Burning series, to talk about the compilations he’s been putting together and what the project is all about. You can read the first part of the interview here, or carry on to read the second half now!
If a band were to submit their single or track to you, what would it take to impress you and to get them on the compilation?
Well for a start, I don’t accept one-track singles. The idea of the compilations themselves is to give people a flavour of the full record, so it needs to be at least two tracks. It’s hard to put into words what my taste in music is, but the music I tend to fall for has very strong melody. If you take each collection by name, then the Alt-Melodies collection all has a lot of melody in it, and each Beautiful Songwriting entry has an essence of beauty to it. With the Oneiric Escapism, I guess that was more up in the air. I’ve only put out one volume of that so far, but it features quite a lot of different styles.
Something that has always grabbed my attention has been vocal tone, and I’ve always had a love of singers that have sounded distinctive. So while that’s not the only thing, that’s the most common thread that someone might notice in the music I feature.
Listening through the last Alt-Melodies compilation, that’s definitely something I picked up on. I’m very much like you, I tend to look for a really strong voice in the things I listen to, so it was great to pick up on that.
Oh really? That’s pretty cool to hear you say that!
Well I was looking back through some of the old ones, and I noticed bands like Creeper and Bad Ideas, and they’re bands that I’ve always thought have a really strong voice, both vocally and lyrically.
Definitely, and taking Creeper for example, their singer Will is amazing. I used to love Our Time Down Here, so that was how I found them. There’s just something about his voice really stands out, and I think I probably said something along the lines of ‘he’s got one of the most interesting voices in the British punk scene’ in the write-up, which is probably hyperbole, right?
No, I totally think that’s true! I mean, I’m a really big AFI fan, as is Will incidentally, so when I went to go and see Creeper, I noticed that Davey Havok has a big influence on the way he performs, even the way he holds his mic. However, even though there is that influence, his voice is still very distinct, and the live set is just incredible.
I haven’t seen them live yet, but I really want to. They’ve really exploded recently, and I’m keen to see what they do next.
Well, actually, in your compilations, there are quite a few bands who are getting to be quite big in their scenes now, which is not necessarily bizarre, because it shows you’ve got an eye from the future! Who do you think in Alt-Melodies Vol. 4 will be the next ‘big band’?
It’s hard to say, because I don’t necessarily look at things that way, but there are certain bands that I have an inkling about, and I reckon they’ll be pretty popular with the listeners. However, by no means is that a prerequisite for me to feature them.
I would suggest that Varsity have been very popular with people. And once you start listening to the album, it’s one of those that you just want to stick on repeat as soon as it’s done, it’s a really strong record. I don’t really like picking out names, it feels mean, but personally, the two records I’ve listened to the most are Varsity and Leggy. They just have something — I can’t really put my finger on what, but the songs are just destined to be hits. It’s quite intangible to describe, but I suppose it’s a mix of the songwriting, the voice, the instrumentation and yeah, those two are the ones for me. I’ve not really answered the question though!
That’s alright — it’s a pretty tough question!
Haha, well last year, there was a band that I really wanted to feature and they had to change their name, they’re now called Hinds? I unfortunately didn’t manage to get in touch with them, but at the time, they had about 200 Facebook followers, and they now have a hell of a lot more and they’ve played sold-out shows in London. And they were one of the bands I thought would do very well when I contacted them. I suppose you could say that there are a fair few similarities between them and The Daddyo’s, who feature on Alt-Melodies Vol. 4. Some people may disagree, but yeah, I think there’s a similar sort of sound there and I think The Daddyo’s will do very well over here in the UK.
Do you try and pick a mix of artists from different countries and different areas?
That would be the ideal scenario, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For example, in Alt-Melodies Vol. 4, every band is from North America, and that’s just how it happened this time. Ideally, there’d be an international mix, and there’d be male vocals, female vocals, but I’m not going to alter what I’m doing to fit in with that. If it turns out that way, then great, but if not, I’ll hope for the best next time.
Ultimately, you just want to put out a good record, it doesn’t really matter where it’s come from.
Exactly, and it’s good in terms of the publicity of the record if it does have artists from different countries, because then there’s a possibility for coverage in those countries, but if it doesn’t work out that way, it doesn’t and I’ve just got to get on with it.
One thing that I noticed listening through was that all of the compilations I listened to had a really nice flow to them. How do you pick that ordering?
Well, you’ve actually made my day completely there, because I do put a lot of effort into that! I’m often sat there for so, so long tweaking the ordering and thinking ‘well that should go there, this needs to go there’ and so on. Some have been really easy, and some tracks are really easy to place, but others take more thought. For example, the first volume of Oneiric Escapism is quite a quiet and thoughtful record, but there are some tracks that are a lot louder and a lot more full. I could have put those tracks near the start, but I didn’t want people to think that’s what the whole record was about. So that was the hardest one to order, and both of those tracks ended up much nearer the end. However, it’s absolutely fantastic to hear someone say what you’ve just said and to notice the ordering because I haven’t had that sort of feedback before!
Oh, well when it comes to mixtapes, I get really into getting the ordering right. I agonise for an hour, at least.
Same, and it really makes a difference to the feel of the whole record — I think, anyway.
I think it depends on the kind of music as well, as to what the best ordering is. For example, if you’ve got a good punk rock album, you want a banger at the front and a banger at the end, but not necessarily if you’re listening to a post-rock record.
Yeah, and with the Alt-Melodies, I always tried to make the first song something that’ll stick with you, and for me, it was important to make the last track something more mellow, but that’ll leave you with a good feeling, or that you’ll want to go back and listen to it all over again. Volume 1 ended with a song by a band called Summerhill, and that one perfectly sums that kind of idea up. Much of the vocal work is at the start of the song, but it finishes on an instrumental, and it really makes me want to go back and listen to the song all over again. And that’s what I’ve tried to do for all the compilations really — finish them with a track that really embodies that feeling.
I didn’t actually listen to that volume, but in all of the compilations I have listened to, I noticed that really came across. So I’ll ask you one of those bullshit questions now — at the time of this interview, Alt-Melodies Vol. 4 has just come out, but what will be coming up next in the series?
The general ordering has flitted between Alt-Melodies and Beautiful Songwriting, and then in February, I introduced Oneiric Escapism. So the next one will be Beautiful Songwriting, which I’m working on at the moment. What I’d like to do is increase the output, as I think a detriment to the project as a whole is that there can be too long between releases. Unfortunately, I’m limited by the music that I find, and if I haven’t got enough stuff, I haven’t got enough stuff. I’ve always said I’d rather delay a release than put something out that I didn’t truly believe in, so sometimes that means waiting. It might seem unprofessional from the outside, but I’m doing it for the right reasons and at the end of it all, I know I’ll have a much stronger release and I’ll be promoting the bands I really love at the time.
A Lonely Ghost Burning has just released Beautiful Songwriting Vol. 4. It’s brilliant. Check it out, along with the other great compilations, at alonelyghostburning.co.uk