LONDON SINFONIETTA WITH SYNERGY VOCALS AND JONNY GREENWOOD
Kicking off proceedings at West Holts this year is the London Sinfonietta, performing two pieces by the man who is considered to be the world’s most influential living contemporary classical composer, Steve Reich.
‘Steve Reich’s music is at the heart of so many other pieces of music,’ says the Sinfonietta’s principal sound projectionist Ian Dearden. ‘He’s inspired whole generations of composers.’ And it’s not just classical musicians, either: his sparse, rhythmic compositions sit comfortably with many contemporary bands and artists who have covered or remixed his work include the Orb, Coldcut and DJ Spooky, to name a few.
For their West Holts performance, the Sinfonietta will be playing two pieces. The first is the 55-minute Music for Eighteen Musicians. It is an absolutely magnetic composition, bringing together violins, cellos, clarinets, marimbas, xylophones, metallophones, women’s voices and human breaths to create a pulsating, hypnotic experience, based on a cycle of chords.
Explains Jonathan Morton, principal violinist: “There are a lot of people I know who don’t know a lot about twentieth century [classical] music but they know this piece. They hear it and say, “I remember this, I remember where I was and I’ve never forgotten it”. It goes on this journey and you go into a trance and it’s an extraordinary thing. And I can’t imagine a better place to do it than at Glastonbury.’
Electric Counterpoint, at 15 minutes long, is a minimalist composition consisting of three movements – fast, slow, fast – built up in layers. Steve Reich first heard Jonny Greenwood play Electric Counterpoint in 2011 at a festival in Poland. ‘I was in Krakow where there was a very interesting festival being held and one of the stars there was Jonny Greenwood,’ he says. ‘He had prepared his own backing track and had rehearsed his version of my piece.’
Says Jonathan Morton of performing with the classically-trained Greenwood: ‘He’s an amazing guy to work with. He’s extremely curious and sensitive to the amazing range of colours in twentieth century contemporary music.’
So, not your average kick-off to a West Holts weekend. But it’s one we think you’re going to thoroughly enjoy. We’re excited, and the Sinfonietta is too.
Ian Dearden: ‘We’re used to playing in concert halls where we get 2000 people but to be playing outside to a much larger audience is a fantastic opportunity for us.’
Jonathan Morton: ‘What an amazing thing! I am a classically trained violinist and I get to play in Glastonbury! I feel very privileged, very lucky and unbelievably excited to be going there.’
Hailing from Connecticut, the trio of Jeff Gitelman, Dan Edinberg and Tim Walsh, have all played with other bands for years, collectively racking up (and backing up) artists ranging from Bobby Brown and Jaheim to 50 Cent, Alicia Keys and Stevie Womder before striking out on their own as the Stepkids.
However, as accomplished as they’ve been playing for other people, The Stepkids have forged their own musical path. Borrowing from jazz, 60’s folk, soul, funk, psychedelia and modern classical - their music often transcends traditional distinctions.
In addition, that hard graft – working away for other bands whilst harbouring a deep desire to strike out with their own ideas – appears to be in the Stepkids’ genes...
‘All our dads were musicians,’ said Tim Walsh in a past interview. ‘Jeff's dad played fiddle in a wedding band; Dan's dad was a jazz pianist, my dad played in a wedding band for 20 years. They had day jobs – engineers, psychologists. So it was a side-thing for them, a performance of passion. In their eyes, hopefully, we're standing on the shoulders of that passion.’
Jazz is a constant reference for the band. Edinberg has been been quoted as saying ‘At our core, we are jazz musicians – I see myself as jazz musicians, first and foremost.’
That embracement of multiple disciplines by these musical polymaths has been all clearly evident. Their original live show incorporated a large (and very expensive) projection show by experimental video artists David Pond and Jesse Mann. Now though, as a reflection of the band’s growing confidence and success, this has now been replaced with, in the band’s own words, ‘a lot of intricate choreography’, as they literally step into the limelight.
The Stepkids’ latest album is Troubadour. And the trio like to think of it as autobiographical – at least for their current situation. ‘[It] follows the travels and travails of the title character as he grapples with love, life on the road, and the commercial requirements of the music biz,’ Edinberg has commented previously. ‘The troubadour character represents an extremity of who we really are.’
With a mash-up of musical cultures and as a self-described band of troubadours, it’s difficult to think of a venue better than West Holts for The Stepkids to show off their fancy footwork and musical eclecticism.
Deltron 3030 are a 21st-century hip-hop supergroup. Playing instruments from the 19th century. And living in the year 3030.
All without the aid of a Flux Capacitor.
The occasional collective, consisting of veteran rapper Del the Funky Homosapien, producer Dan’ the Automator’ Nakamura and turntable wizard Kid Koala, first convened on 2000’s ‘Deltron 3030’– a dystopian future-shock concept album that mixed Dan’s alt-rap, cinematic visions of a post-apocalyptic world with some truly groundbreaking musical soundscapes.
Nobody had heard anything like it before. And now they’ve done it again.
On Friday on the West Holts stage the Deltron crew will be performing their new album, Event II – with the help of a full orchestra.
Event II continues the first album’s surrealist-sci-fi trip, and is recorded with real musicians, not samples – hence the orchestra. It’s a darker world than that of 3030 – set in a bleak future that’s been wasted by corporate greed and technology, where gangs rule society and interplanetary wars are raging.
Says Kid Koala: ‘Del did a lot of work on this record, making it not just conceptual but staying on topic within tracks, making it as cohesive as possible. On the first record there was a lot of visual content in his lyrics I could work off, but on this there are a lot of evocative points on ecology, politics, economics. It became a robot Western in my mind.’
And there are collaborations from comedian David Cross and Damon Albarn – with whom all three Deltrons worked on his Gorillaz project. And for this performance, they’ll be joined onstage with another such associate – Jamie Cullum.
SUN RA ARKESTRA
Sun Ra, legendary jazz/poet/weirdo and father of 'afro-futurism’ who died in 1993, lives on in the Sun Ra Arkestra – the band he started back in the mid-Fifties.
Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount in Alabama 100 years ago in 1914; naming himself after the Egyptian god of the sun and claiming he was from a race of angels on the planet Saturn, he went on to make some of the jazz world’s most pioneering and often avant garde music. Yet it was also accessible and fun.
His Arkestra – a deliberate misspelling of ‘orchestra’ – went through many incarnations and line-ups, reflecting the ever-changing music Sun Ra created. That music has influenced contemporary artists including George Clinton, MC5, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth and, right up to date, Lady Gaga.
The Arkestra’s present formation is the Sun Ra Centennial Arkestra, directed by Marshall Allen.
Musical director Allen is a saxophonist who has been with the Arkestra for 56 years, 19 years longer than Sun Ra himself. The spritely 90-year-old continues the great man’s work with a relentless buoyancy.
The Sun Ra Centennial Arkestra lands at West Holts on Friday afternoon with an exotic appearance and unusual sounds to culminate an extensive European tour. The Arkestra does not perform concerts in the conventional sense, but it presents what it refers to as ‘a selection of tunes from all black music periods’.
Sun Ra motivated his Arkestra members to explore their instruments and themselves beyond what they knew. He challenged them to find new dimensions and sound, to do the impossible every day. With the Sun Ra Arkestra, the conventional musical instruments were, for the first time, electronically amplified and had a considerable influence on the development of rock and pop music. They are a singular phenomenon in jazz history.
Sun pioneered the Moog synthesiser into the Arkestra sound arsenal. Allen continues the tradition of incorporating unique instruments within the Arkestral experience to this day.
Beyond his original compositions, Sun Ra wrote many Arkestra arrangements paying tribute to the artists who inspired him including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
The sound of the Sun Ra Centennial Arkestra is described as jazz music of the distant future, but performed today. To quote Sun Ra,
‘They tried to fool you, so now I have to school you about jazz - the real jazz.’
Watching live music on TV is never quite the same as really being there. But on Later with Jools Holland in 2011, Vintage Trouble gave a performance of such energy that they appeared to have developed a superhuman power to reach through television sets and make people feel that they were in the BBC studio seeing them live and instead of merely sitting on their sofas at home. Their performance of Blues Hand Me Down set social media ablaze and became the sixth most-tweeted event in the hours after the show.
The release of their album The Bomb Shelter Sessions and the electricity of their live shows as seen on Later… saw Vintage Trouble gain success in the United States where they were gave unforgettable performances on the Late Show with David Letterman, Tonight Show with Jay Leno and both Conan and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
These performances did not go un-noticed by rock aristocrats and 2013 Glastonbury headliner, The Rolling Stones, who hand-picked Vintage Trouble to support them for their Hyde Park concert. It’s no surprise that they were chosen by Mick and Keith. They were also invited to tour with the Who. You can see why: looking at the testimonials on the Vintage Trouble website, comments like ‘best band I’ve seen live...EVER’ and adjectives like ‘awesome’ and ‘epic’ are seen over and over as people run out of superlatives to describe them.
So, we know that they’ve lit up the internet and won respect from some of music’s true greats, but what can visitors to the West Holts Stage expect when band members Ty Taylor (vocals), Nalle Colt (guitar), Rick Barrio Dill (bass) and Richard Danielson (drums) take to the stage on Friday?
Some Glastonbury veterans may know the answer already, perhaps having seen Vintage Trouble headlining Saturday night on the Avalon Stage in 2013 when they also famously duetted with Beverley Knight.
Lead singer Ty Taylor’s voice has been compared to that of Otis Redding and his onstage presence to that of a young James Brown. The Independent said that ‘Vintage Trouble's music harks back to the erotically-charged blues-rock of the 1970s, but with a funky edge that recalls The Black Crowes.’ Similarly, The New York Times raved that the band ‘makes music that is a little bit of everything...you can slow dance, groove, rock and let it all go.’
Vintage Trouble – a band playing funky blues rock that has the power to light up the internet? This is a band you’re going to want to tell people about.
There aren’t many bands that will take you on a musical journey that spans Afrobeat, lo-fi, folk, indie pop, electronica and hip hop, but tUnEyArDs is one of them. Led by New England-born Merrill Garbus, her band is genuinely that rare thing: one that defies definition. On paper, the mash up of styles shouldn’t work, but on disc or performed live, it does – gloriously.
Of their recently released third album Nickki Nack, the reviews have been superlative. ‘Garbus’s uninhibited fusion of hip hop, Afrobeat, playground chant and field holler has earned her star-in-waiting status,’ praised Mojo, while the Guardian swooned that ‘she could sing about what she had for breakfast and make it sound scintillating’. Even better: ‘Listening to tUnEyArDs is unlike listening to anyone else … a rainbow of sounds, raining down in vivid, joyous, life affirming Technicolour,’ raved indie magazine DIY.
It’s tUnEyArDs’ second visit to West Holts – the first was in 2010 – and Garbus is hoping the gods will be kinder to her. ‘I didn’t have enough money to employ a tour manager that time, so I had to drive the van and take on technical duties. My looping pedal broke several times on stage and that was a nightmare. So I want to show how we’ve grow technically as well as musically.’
After the success of her debut album Bird Brains and the follow up, Who Kill, in 2011, Garbus stepped off the touring and media merrygoround and took time out in the autumn of 2012, taking Haitian dance and drum lessons. ‘You know, honestly, I think there was a lot of spiritual stuff going down,’ she says. ‘I was looking for ways to stay grounded. Because when you’ve been on national TV and travelling the word, it can be very spiritually trying. It’s easy to obsess and complain you’ve been given the wrong kind of humus backstage. I needed time off to ask myself why I was doing this, why it was important to me.
‘No-one else will tell you you’re allowed to take time out. In the Twitter day and age, people are scared of being silent, but when I took time out, I didn’t let people know what was going on. I concentrated on taking time out.’
The hiatus has paid off in dividends. Garbus isn’t interested in fame or fortune, but in learning more about her craft.
‘I think we have become a more theatrical band this time round,’ she says. We’ve stretched our wings. I’m definitely on a quest to keep learning. After who Kill I needed to see something different after the looping pedal, and that informed the instruments I used for Nikki Nak. I don’t know where the quest will take me next, but I’m happy to be on it.’
Those bastions of old-school hip hop are back.
After a six-year hiatus, last year Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir, Mark 7even, and DJ Nu-Mark, complete with Cut Chemist, reformed the Jurassic 5 crew. And where better to celebrate the fact than at Glastonbury.
Originally formed in California in 1993 from members of two previous groups, Rebels of Rhythm and Unity Committee, Jurassic 5 released their acclaimed eponymous debut album in 1998 and followed it up with three more until their amicable split in 2006.
The crew are also back in the recording studio having recently released a brand new track, The Way We Do It, featuring a sample from The White Stripes classic, My Doorbell, and production from the late, great, Heavy D.
Not content with just playing Glastonbury, J5 have just completed touring the UK. ‘We owe a lot of our success and notoriety to the UK,’ says DJ Nu-Mark. ‘You embraced us first, gave us our first gold record. People thought we were British’.
British or not, rumours abound of a potential live album - so you never know, West Holts and one of these UK dates may provide the source material.
Previously, Jurassic 5 have spoken about other hip-hop greats such as Cold Crush, Fantastic 5 and Run DMC and it’s easy to see the influence. Their new track has all the laid back beats, slick MC’ing and lyrical wordplay that you would expect from these early pioneers; as well as continuing to shun the ‘Gangsta Rap’ cliches of their West Coast compatriots.
But it’s not all looking to the past - recalling their Parklife Weekender performance last year with Clash magazine, Cut Chemist says: “It'll be interesting to see how we can be compared to acts around now. In the show, we’re updating certain things that can translate to a contemporary audience, while also connecting to our existing audience, from the past.”
Not content with completing a barnstorming US tour in which she performed the first-ever live hologram duet (with Janelle Monae), pop polymath M.I.A has also found time of late to remix Beyoncé and direct her first music video (the housing estate dance routine-packed Double Bubble Trouble, complete with 3D printed guns and ‘peace drones’).
Now she’s returning to the UK to bring the West Holts arena to a close on Friday with her unmistakably energetic live show: a brain-fizzing mash-up of rap, punk, politics and party-starting beats from recent album Matangi, alongside classic cuts from 2005’s Arular, 2007’s Kala, 2010’s Maya and tracks from her numerous legendary mixtapes.
M.I.A. – real name Mathangi Arulpragasam – is a singular force in today’s cultural landscape, with as much of an artistic influence as a musical one. Never one to shy away from controversy, she gave America the finger during her cameo in Madonna’s Superbowl show, called out Google for spying and befriended WikiLeaks fugitive Julian Assange,
She once described her journey into music thus: ‘If I had to braid someone’s hair to get one pound for my lunch money, that’s what I did. But I did it in the most creative way possible. With music, I just needed my brain and my voice, which didn’t cost anything. It was the perfect thing to do. I was like, “Wow, I can make something for a teenager in Kazakhstan”.’
A global vision paired with her defiantly home-made approach has won over more than Kakakh teens, though. She’s served as Donatella Versace’s muse, been photographed by David Bailey and was included as one of the 75 most influential people of the 20th Century by Esquire magazine.
And now she’s gearing up to leave her indelible mark on the biggest festival around. Proof, like it was needed, that bad girls do it well.