My name is Robyn, and I write things. That’s really the crux of this blog, as it is with any blog, really — I wanted a self-proclaimed corner of the internet to massage my ego and let everybody know that I had Things To Say, and I wanted them to be heard. I write things professionally, as a junior marketing consultant, and I write them not professionally, as I have been doing since I first discovered Microsoft Publisher and realised that I could create newsletters for the kids in my street. From the crudely created four-page manifestos of a nine-year-old to the self-indulgent personal essays I used to post on my music blog, I have always needed to find a way to make my voice heard, and as my mouth doesn’t always like to connect with my brain, I decided that being a writer was ultimately, the thing I’ve always meant to be.

Whether I’m meant for writing or not has been the topic of the moment for the past few months. In a professional context, drafting web copy for spa hotels and social media posts about motorsport events has become second nature. But finding the same energy and drive to do it at home, in coffee shops, on trains and aeroplanes has been a constant struggle. I wrote a novel when I was 15, attempted NaNoWriMo numerous times throughout my teens, and was a prolific fiction writer throughout my university years, but over the past twelve months, it feels like the magic’s gone, the imagination’s dried up and the fountain of ideas is long since barren. And that terrifies me.

So, I decided that I had to take positive steps to get my writing life back on track. Nobody was going to do it for me, after all. It meant letting go of broken projects, being stricter with my time and giving myself the creative space I needed to breathe. So, blog — ta dah!

I used to have a website called TwoBeatsOff. It was a music blog, which had a revolving team of contributors, and I worked on it for seven solid years (I thought it was six — I was wrong!) before I decided that I needed to cut ties. And it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I agonised over that one more than I agonised over breaking up with my high school boyfriend. It had been my pet project for years, and although I am not afraid for writing to feel like work, I just couldn’t bring myself to review crappy pop-punk EPs for zero money. I’ve never felt that writing as a whole has to earn me anything, but in that context, I wasn’t prepared to work for free any more. I wasn’t prepared to keep the whole thing floating in a vast sea of exactly the same fucking thing. I’ve archived all of the posts on here — if you feel like dipping into them, please do, there’s some great stuff! — but this blog serves a totally different purpose.

I hope to try and chronicle my way back into writing. I’m attempting to write more fiction, finish off a set of personal essays I started and maybe, just maybe, get into a novel. I play D&D on occasion, but I’d like to actually be the dungeon master for a change, so I’m starting to write my own scenarios and campaigns. I know I’ll never be able to stop writing about music in one way or another, but I plan on doing it on my own terms.

This has been a bit of a mission statement, but it’s good to finally get it all out on paper. Or screen. Or something. Here’s to a fresh start — and probably a good time to learn how to use the espresso machine.

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 ripper@twobeatsoff.co.uk 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…

Shy Child

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…

Galaxians

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.

Woodhands

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.

Soccer96

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’.

The Presets

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.

Slingshot Dakota

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.