BlackBook Interview: Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll on the Legacy of Rave, the Death of Youth Culture and the Joy of Making up w/ One’s Own Brother

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Of all the entities associated with the late-’80s-into-early-’90s rave phenomenon, Orbital decisively represented something beyond just the “Es and whizz,” – something surely more heady and thought-provoking than, say, “Ebeneezer Goode.” Though at the time it would have been cringe worthy to suggest it, they were really sort of the…Pink Floyd of dance music culture. (The expensive light shows were a common thread.)

Hardly surprisingly, then, they readily transcended that scene and kept going all the way until 2014, when the brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll suffered a quite significant falling out, which found them not speaking for more than three years. But time healed, and after at last patching things up in a pub (it’s the English way, innit?), they are back with a strikingly far-ranging new album, Monsters Exist, which could very well be their most accomplished to date.

Most notable are the wild mood swings and rollercoaster dynamics that make for such a riveting listen all the way through. And though the songs seem to be threaded together to tell a story, standouts include “Tiny Foldable Cities,” with its blip-bleep aesthetic recalling the earliest days of synth-pop; “The Raid,” flaunting ominous atmospherics and an eerily sampled voice warning that “life is a prison”; and the title track, replete with epic, foreboding soundscapes, which sounds like it could be plunked down onto Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration without a glitch.

This Friday they also launch a 15-date Europe/US/UK tour in Amsterdam, which takes them all the way to Manchester just in time for the Christmas break.

We caught up with Paul to chat about it all.

 

 

 

What was the mood around Orbital when you called it quits in 2014?

I couldn’t work with Phil anymore because of his unacceptable behavior – much to do with his hedonism, but also not pulling his weight. I just couldn’t deal with it, so I had to withdraw from it.

What made it the right time to come back in 2018?

A change of attitude. Funny, for a band that didn’t exist, we were getting some fabulous festival offers. So what did I have to do? I had to decide to communicate again with Phil. We’d fallen out quite badly, and hadn’t spoken for three years. To fall out with your own brother is terrible. So we got together for lunch in the pub and patched it up – and it’s much better now.

Do you believe the current musical zeitgeist is better for Orbital now? Or more challenging?

I think the fact that with technology, everyone now has the entire history of recorded music at their fingertips is a profound change. All time is now condensed into one moment – so the ageist attitude that existed around music before is gone; and there seems to be a genuine respect for the elder statesmen.

Do you feel as if the original rave revolution was genuinely a success?

Yeah, of course! We’re still doing this music thirty years later. Something was written in cultural stone back then, and it’s still going now. I also think it was the last great youth culture movement – there hasn’t been one since. Culture has dissipated, a lot of people are specializing in a lot of little things. In one way, it’s a shame, because I really liked those tribalistic youth culture movements. But at the same time, everyone is now able to just follow their own path.

Did it at last put electronic music on its proper pedestal?

No, I think people still consider electronic music as second class. As opposed to music made with guitars and real drums.

 

 

Some of the album – the title track, “The Raid” – feels sort of dark and ominous. Yet there are more playful tracks like “Buried Deep Within” and “Tiny Foldable Cities.” What was the overall mood when recording this album?

It was fantastic, I had a great time. But as for the mood of the songs…well, the track “Monsters Exist” came about earlier in the year, as a reflection on mankind’s desire to possibly destroy ourselves. And it seemed like a really good hook to hang the album on. We were getting into that political/socialistic thinking about the world, and the whole thing kind of fell into place.

Did you feel you were able to recapture the old vitality?

Absolutely! It felt like writing our first album again.

What surprised you most about the finished album?

Getting it done on time.

Your live shows were always sort of life-altering. Are you ready for another tour?

Definitely – we’re in the middle of programming the live set right now.

What can we expect from the shows?

We’ve got a lot of visual elements again, we’ve got a different stage set. We’re planning to play a mix of half new album tracks, and half old favorites.

How do you feel about the current state of electronic music?

Not much, really. I’m listening and not finding anything that I like. I’m actually more interested in the modern wave of British folk music now: The Unthanks, Lisa Knapp, Emily Portman, people like that. Actually, the reason I’m wanting to make electronic music again right now, is because I’m just not hearing what I want to listen to.

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Ethereally Romantic Video For New Loverman Single ‘Coming & Going’

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It takes a certain level of self-possessed swagger to decide on a band name that unabashedly references Nick Cave – and further to title your album after a Wim Wenders masterpiece.

But singer-pianist Sasha Papadin comes from an appropriate bloodline: his father (who passed away in 2016) was Russian poet Valentin Papadin, a Soviet defector. Eventually settling in California, his son would grow up to become a figure in the Northern California indie music scene as a member of 1955.

Now, in 2018, he’s formed Loverman with Jake Studer (guitar) and Kieran Maloney (drums); and their debut album Wings of Desire (out November 13) is indeed titled for the exalted Wenders film. Fittingly, the video for their new single “Coming and Going” – which BlackBook premieres here – is a stunningly realized slice of shiver-inducing romantic-noir. To be sure, it is decidedly Lynchian in its haunting aesthetic…but with a hopeful sense of the possibilities of love – and filmed, naturally, in the haunting city of Venice.

“The song is about realizing how fleeting life is,” Papadin explains, “and the strange sense that we’ve been here before…maybe in a past life or maybe just in a dream.”

And what city but Venezia is more likely to cultivate and nurture those glorious ambiguities and mysteries of love and romance?

He continues, “The video follows a woman falling in love over the course of an afternoon and the subtle ‘comings and goings’ of the two lovers. Sometimes they’re intimate and other times they pull away from each other; but soon a dreamy romance settles in and she’s transported to another time and place.”

Yes, that.

 

 

Boy George & Culture Club Release First New Album in 19 Years

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There were more than a few times in his career when this might have seemed like it could never happen. But Boy George is riding a renewed (and very much justified) wave of adoration right now – and we are all the better for it.

Indeed, not only have he and Culture Club just completed a wildly successful North American tour…but they have also just released the fittingly titled Life, their first new full album in 19 years (the last being 1999’s Don’t Mind If I Do). With production by UK duo Future Cut, and artwork shot by Rankin, it’s as buzzworthy as anything bothering the charts at the moment.

Beyond the exuberant (and previously released) first single “Let Somebody Love You,” song highlights include the soulful, bluesy “God & Love,” and the disco-funk of “Bad Blood,” with its shiver-inducing gospel harmonies.

On November 9, the Boy and the band (meaning the original lineup of Roy Hay, Mikey Craig and Jon Moss) will launch an extensive UK and European tour in Nottingham, which takes them all the way to Stockholm on December 8 – allowing them to get back to England in plenty of time for a well-deserved Christmas break.

 

Watch: Intriguingly Metaphorical Video For New Somme Single ‘Broken Hearted Lovers’

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We’ve been known to develop regular crushes on future pop divas well before they go on to find their fame. And we’re definitely crushing right now on Cali girl Somme (no last name, so you know she’s destined for stardom), whose debut, self-titled EP arrived earlier this year via Atlantic – and earned her comparisons to Lorde and Charli XCX.

We especially love her new single “Broken Hearted Lovers,” and its accompanying video. In it, she and her girls dance their way through what appears to be a broken down industrial site – perhaps a clever metaphor for a song about shattered hearts.

“The inspiration behind this video was the dance most of us have done with one or multiple lovers after a break up,” she explains. “We all know the feeling of turning to other people for that physical and/or emotional connection we are longing for. Each dancer [in the video] is a broken hearted lover.”

Musically, the sultry, languid grooves, chunky, electro synth blasts and Somme’s winsome, whispery vocals convey the mood perfectly – sensual and melancholy at once.

She recalls, “I wrote this song shortly before the break up emotions had started to set in, before the feelings of sadness and guilt had fully developed. Instead, the only thing on my mind was meeting new people, maybe getting a little too drunk, and dancing until the lights at the bar came on.”

Speaking of dark places and drinking, Somme will be appearing live at NYC nightspot Berlin Tuesday evening, November 7, at 8pm. Catch her before she goes Lorde.

Watch: The Dandy Warhols’ New ‘Forever’ Video is Really Creepy

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Much as we could all stand a few more shiny happy things in our lives, our inclinations at this time of year are always towards the more morbid and macabre. And while CNN is providing plenty of both these days, our new favorite creep-out is actually the latest single and video from The Dandy Warhols.

Indeed, “Forever” has some of the spookiest “haunted house” piano riffs this side of The Cure’s “Love Cats,” as well as some unsettlingly existential lyrics: “All that I seem to find / I can’t make it mine / But I end up inside my head.” We know the feeling.

The accompanying Arnold Pander directed video finds the Dandys going all spectral, haunting a series of scenes inspired by Greek mythology. And we must admit, we’re digging their new “apparition chic.”

 

 

“I broke it up into three parts,” says head Dandy Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the video. “First, the labyrinth with the minotaur guarding the passage, a classic jerk doorman with a tiny nose ring making us wait as if he’s gotta make sure these are the right ghosts. Next, the hermaphrodite angel (wearing a tie as subtle symbolism), sweet and just wants to be helpful, not making a distinction whether it’s for better or worse. Finally, Cerberus the multi-headed dog, which represents our personal demons or whatever drives us to continue doing this. All in all it sounds like and probably is a pretentious lot of shit; but it sure feels good to do it anyway.”

The track is taken from their as-yet-untitled 10th album, to be released in early 2019. They’ll also be doing their annual holiday show at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on December 1 – before embarking on a 10th anniversary tour of Europe and North America in late January.

 

 

Listen: New Kygo Single ‘Happy Now’ is an Exuberant Anthem

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Kygo (nee Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll) was a dance music sensation by the age of 23. So it may be hard to imagine how the Norwegian DJ-producer would just be getting around to writing a song called “Happy Now” – two months after his 27th birthday.

But the new single is indeed an exuberant anthem of self-discovery. With its exhilarating house groove, lush atmospherics and Swedish pop singer Sandro Cavazza’s spirited vocal performance, it’s a very Scandinavian affair. And the lyrics (“It’ll be hard but I know I’ll make it out”) about letting go of something not right to find a better way forward are certainly universally relatable.

It comes on the heels of the release earlier this year of “Remind Me To Forget,” which featured Miguel on vocals, and racked up 228 million Spotify streams. There are just three dates left on his extensive Kids in Love Tour (named for his 2017 album, and featuring a sold-out headlining appearance at Barclays Center), in Jakarta, Bali and Singapore.

 

 

 

Must See Exhibition: ‘John Waters: Indecent Exposure’ Opens at the Baltimore Museum of Art

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There are very few places that are so viscerally associated with one cultural figure as is Baltimore with John Waters. And though he maintains an apartment in New York City (and can often be spotted out on the town), he still ultimately calls the Maryland city home.

So it’s something of an “at long last” that the venerable Baltimore Museum of Art has just opened a monumental career survey on the provocative but eminently lovable filmmaker, fittingly titled John Waters: Indecent Exposure.

Launching his directorial career in 1968 with Eat Your Makeup, he would go on to have a string of hits from 1981 – 1994, including the by now camp classics Polyester, Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Serial Mom. The beloved Hairspray, of course, would go on to become something of a cottage industry unto itself.

 

 

The exhibition enlightens as to precisely how he matter-of-factly created his singular, inimitable aesthetic, exalting in the low-brow, the trashy and the humorously sexual. With more than 150 photographs, videos, installations and sculptures, it’s a journey through an outlandish, always hilarious America, as only John Waters could have possibly interpreted it all. It also reminds of what a fearless provocateur he has always been, especially when it came to challenging gender norms. (A socio-cultural battle that yet still rages on.)

Waters himself once famously said, “I pride myself on the fact that my work has no socially redeeming value.” Indecent Exposure is the perfect opportunity, then, to discover exactly what he meant by that.

(N.B.  The exhibit runs until January 6. But Baltimore is the perfect autumn destination; read here our recent story on the city.)

 

 

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Dollshot’s Hallucinatory Video for New Single ‘Swan Gone’

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Image by Reed Lerner

 

While it might seem like a more fantastical sobriquet for Los Angeles, Lalande, the title of the upcoming new album by dream pop duo Dollshot, was actually inspired by Brazilian author Clarice Lispector’s 1943 novel Near to the Wild Heart.

“We were both really taken with the idea of this made-up word that’s described in the book as this naked feeling of the infinite when you look out at night over the ocean,” explains Noah K, whose betrothed Rosie K is Dollshot’s other member. “This album is about a woman who’s looking in on herself, and it’s ambiguous as to whether or not she’s really alive. That’s the basic thematic framework: these liminal realms that this girl inhabits.”

In the lead up to the release, BlackBook premieres here the video for first single “Swan Gone,” which musically comes off a bit like Cocteau Twins as filtered through experimental (and slightly atonal) jazz. Directed by Pablo Delcan, it’s something of a non-linear journey through a hallucinatory, surrealist funhouse.

“’Swan Gone’ is one of the most intimate songs on this album,” says Rosie, “a kind of no-turning-back trip into the inner world of a girl on the brink of life and death, anxiety and ecstasy. Pablo’s video dives down the rabbit hole, crosses the threshold and lives in the dream logic of the bizarre and beguiling.”

Lalande will be released January 25, 2019. But you can get a further preview of the new songs tonight, October 29, at The Penthouse at The Standard East Village, where Dollshot (along with Léonie Pernet) will perform as part of the venerable Annie O Presents music series.

Cynthia Von Buhler’s ‘The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini’ Explores the Legendary Magician’s Darkest Secrets

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We’re big fans of Cynthia von Buhler and her Speakeasy Dollhouse productions; and so naturally jumped at the chance to catch her latest immersive show, “The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini.”  Based on the noir comic book series and graphic novel exploring the death of the famed illusionist, the performance unfolded at the historic Theater 80 and adjoining speakeasy and townhouse on St. Mark’s Place in NYC’s East Village. Buhler has geniusly transformed the space into a Prohibition-era time capsule, with whimsical touches like an actual live rabbit that audience members got to pet at the start of the show.

“The ’20s were a time when freedom roared, especially for women,” she says, “They chose to keep their war-time jobs, drank booze, bobbed their hair, threw away their corsets, and finally won the right to vote. The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini revels in this era of loosening gender roles and free-flowing, yet illegal liquor – and Minky Woodcock transports audiences into a time capsule where they can live fully in her world.”

 

Handed our passports and assigned to a lead character (the luck would have it, we got Houdini himself), we explored the events leading up to the world-renowned magician’s mysterious death on Halloween. The charming lothario Houdini is convincingly played by Vincent Cinque (the star of The Illuminati Ball and Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic – the latter of which we also loved in its staging off Times Square a few years back). Woodcock is the sexiest private eye we’ve ever seen, as she unravels Houdini’s untimely death.

Secrets are uncovered, as there are nine and counting ways to experience the show itself – which we love about all of Buhler’s productions. The clever Minky is played by Pearls Daily (burlesque star and actress who recently appeared on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) as she sleuths through the final days of great illusionist. Woodcock’s investigation has her crossing paths with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – who believes Houdini is not merely a magician but has supernatural powers – and with Bess Houdini, who (rightfully) suspects her husband is cheating on her.

 

 

Experiencing the event through Houdini’s point of view, we delightfully found ourselves assisting the magician’s rehearsal backstage, sipping absinthe in a speakeasy, and spying on his affair in a hotel room. In a macabre twist, we witnessed an attempted murder, attended a séance, visited Houdini in his hospital room, and even viewed his body in the morgue; there is even a spine tingling recreation of Houdini’s famous water torture chamber. (It should also be noted that the William Barnacle Tavern at Theater 80 was formerly Scheib’s Place, a speakeasy where the New York City Council drank during Prohibition.)

With incredible magic tricks and authentic recreations of spiritualist demonstrations such as tarot readings and spirit photography, Buhler’s production offers up a meticulously detailed slice of history. Audience members are encouraged to come back to follow other key players and see alternate facets of what actually led to Houdini’s fateful death.

Evidence is revealed…but the truth is left up to the theatergoer to decide.