Welcome to Astral Realm, where Clash staff writer Shahzaib Hussain navigates the cosmos of the newest and most essential releases. Each month’s roundup features a Focus Artist interview, a Next Wave artist Q&A, a breakdown of his favourite songs and projects and a retrospective highlight revisited through the lens of dewy-eyed nostalgia.

Focus Artist – Poté

‘A Tenuous Tale Of Her’, the sophomore album from Paris-based Sylvern Mathurin aka Poté, holds within it an infinitude of emotion, such is its sprawling reach. Imagined as a “theatrical performance within a pre-apocalyptic setting” or a utopian future, Poté mines the depths of his humanity, his lineage and musical stimuli to create a resonant journey favouring immediacy and directness over the cool evasiveness that marked his debut ‘Spiral, My Love’.

The album is one of contrasts. There are vertiginous moments like on ‘Lows’ and the schizophrenic ‘Valley’; paranoia bubbling to surface on ‘Young Lies’ positioning Poté and Damon Albarn on two sides of a new world order between justice and oppression. Then there are moments of clarity – or the search for clarity – on tracks like ‘Open Up’, Poté’s vocals foregrounded, given room to breathe and ferment, piercing the veil and letting the light shine through.

I spoke to Poté about his influences and inspirations, cultivating his art, embracing his voice as a means of self-expression and consciously leaning more into his Caribbean heritage.

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I want to start with a young Sylvern before he became Poté. I want to know when you’re love of music was ignited.

There was a lot of country and western music being played in my youth. A lot of Lovers rock, a lot of Beres Hammond and artists from Jamaica and my Dad’s side, artists he loved. Whenever I hear these songs it warms my heart and I feel an instant connection.

Which artist sparked your love electronic music and these synthetic worlds?

A record that defined the transition to what I’m doing now would be ‘Trouble’ by TEED (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs). I remember a friend of mine was so obsessed with him, he was so insistent that I listen to this album. So, I listened on the way home in a bus and it was a “Wow!” moment for me. I remember thinking how he made his voice sound so cool over these beats, so different, original and catchy. I’d say it was a big catalyst for me in the way I approach vocals and production.

‘Spiral, My Love’ was released three years ago. How do you retrospectively feel about a project that introduced the world to you and a quite murky, square synth sound?

It is a difficult listen to be honest. It’s like reading your diary again from when you were 15, only I’m reading the diary of an early twenty-something. It’s like: “You were there? This is what you were doing? This is how you felt?” It’s interesting revisiting it, it’s surreal. It sometimes feels like the work of a different person but I can still connect with it and I still appreciate it for what it is.

The time since was spent recording your new album. Talk me through the process of making it.

I made the new record over three years on an off. I started it the moment ‘Spiral, My Love’ came out; the ideas were coming to me straight away, thick and fast. I think the first track I wrote was ‘Young Lies’ and from then on in, it really took over my life as recording usually does. I recorded so many songs and laboured over songs that didn’t make the cut. At the end of last year, I came back to London and spent three months recording, rewriting and finishing up the record – perfecting everything.

Your album is the first album released on Bonobo’s new label, Outlier. How did he and the label cultivate your talents? Why was it a good fit for you?

Honestly, a lot of things just randomly worked out that way. There was no plan per se. But we really get along and I needed that in a label boss. Someone I could hop on a call with, randomly talk about anything and everything with, not just music-related but life. Someone who understood the anxiety of a release, you know? Someone who’d been through it. I found that very comforting and it’s what I needed in a label.

The title for this record connotes mystery and intrigue. Was ‘A Tenuous Tale of Her’ always the title for this album? And what does it symbolize?

I was originally going to call the record ‘Plastic Prayers’ but I thought that sounded too deep, and invited questions about religion which the record is not about. ‘A Tenuous Tale of Her’ is essentially tales of mankind, the ‘her’ meaning humanity – stories about life. That’s what I wanted the album to be about, I didn’t want it to have a cohesive story at the centre and be a start to finish thing with a middle to the story.

The storytelling aspect is more pronounced than ‘Spiral, My Love’, were these ‘tales’ and anecdotes rooted in your own experience…

I’d say I channelled the emotions I felt but attributed it to different scenarios and people. I found that more interesting to do on this record.

This album is “imagined as a theatrical performance in a pre-apocalyptic setting” – it’s a fully immersive experience. Can you elaborate more on the themes and world-building at play?

I think this record has a bit more hope, I don’t know if that says something about me getting older! Especially as the record develops, it has a bit more love and care in it, it’s not so much about me which was a central part of the first record. This one is a bit more universal.

I like that it’s a streamlined 11-tracks, it flows from track to track. Was the sequencing something you agonised over?

My records are always streamlined. I lose interest listening to very long records. To me, it’s best an album is concise, to the point, short and strong rather than long because you can lose people’s attention otherwise. The track listing was something I did work on a lot, listening back and rearranging – it had to flow properly.

You’ve infused ‘A Tenuous Tale of Her’ with melody and rhythm, there’s a propulsive energy to it, even glimmers of the dancefloor on some tracks. It’s the perfect combination of pop and IDM…

It’s interesting, people keep describing it as a ‘poppier’ record. Of course, ‘Good 2 U’ has elements of pop and it’s one I know a lot of people are drawn to. But I was happy making that one, and writing about that experience.

Speaking on this rhythmic element to the album, you integrate diasporic, Afro-Caribbean percussion. Can you speak on why it was so important for you to weave in the sounds of your heritage?

It’s been a conscious effort over the last seven years to wear my culture on my chest, especially from conversations I’ve had with my Dad. I find that the more I explore my identity and my history in my work, the prouder I feel about who I am. I moved to move to the UK at 12, somewhere that wasn’t home, somewhere that felt quite alien. Moreso now, making it an integral part of music, it just means more.

You’ve been quite honest about using your vocals as not just an instrument but a vessel. Was that an obstacle for you to overcome?

Definitely! Often the vocals didn’t sound as good as they did in my head but also, it’s part of the process accepting the moment you’re not quite there yet and that you just have continue to work at it. I have to give props to (Gorillaz producer) Remy Kabaka for seeing something in me, that I didn’t see myself. He kept pushing me to sing. I remember at the ‘Spiral, My Love’ launch he came up to me at the end and the only feedback he gave to me was “sing more.” It’s stuck with me and it gave me the confidence and boost to push myself vocally.

There are many vocal highlights on this record; ‘Stare’ stands out as a stark moment of the world caving in.

‘Stare’ is about feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and paranoia and it’s bringing the listener into this state of there being no escape from this spot you’re in. I had to capture that vocally. That’s why there’s no space to breathe in the track. I’ve felt at times in my life and I know other people have to, that things will get better but for a time you really feel they won’t. I wanted to bring that overwhelming feel of impending doom to the song.

Another favourite of mine is ‘Open Up’, which has an element of hope to it…

One of my favourite tracks from the record is ‘Open Up’, a real soul-baring moment on the record. I’d say ‘Open Up’ is the most personal song of the record. It’s one of those songs that I wrote and didn’t listen back to for a while, but when I did it took me back to that moment where I realized I need to open and speak to someone. I just didn’t know how to. From my experience of being a black male from the Caribbean, you just don’t speak about your feelings. You don’t address these things. I didn’t have the know-how of “wait, I can go to therapy”. Having gone to therapy, I knew I needed to put this out and share the experience of how dramatically it has helped and changed my record.

We’ve seen how Black artists within the electronic music world have been side-lined and overlooked, especially infuriating when the progenitors of past birthed these genres. Is that something you’re mindful of as newer artist? Does it weigh on you?

It’s something I notice, yes. A lot of my friends and artist friends feel black electronic artists should be bigger, more successful, occupy more spaces, perform on stages that are bigger, headline festivals. It is disappointing and there is work to be done, but we exist and we are doing good things. We’re getting there. We’ve always been here.

What are you listening to this year? What’s on your playlist?

I tend to not listen forward but backwards. I’ve been loving Small Axe; the official playlist and soundtrack is incredible. You’ve got Jim Reeves, a country artist who my Mum loves; Mighty Sparrow from Trinidad, music my Father grew up listening to here and in St Lucia, my Mother to. It was nice to finally have the titles of these songs because in St Lucia it was a song being played on radio. There’s no Shazam, you know? It’s been nice to come across them again and rediscover these artists.

What’s next for Poté? You’ll realise this record on tour but are you thinking about the next project?

I’m always working on new music; there’s always stuff to work on, there’s always a next project. But getting the live show to a standard in my head is my priority right now. I’m in the middle of rehearsing for shows in France. Rehearsing’s always bizarre because you have to reimagine some aspects of the drums live. It doesn’t always go to plan at the start. I’m always thinking “this is not good” but it always improves and gets better as you go on.

What can we expect from a Poté live experience?

You’ll have to come and see yourself….

When you’re recording, do you envision a live experience in front of an audience?

Sometimes I realize an aspect of a song will sound amazing live. But I think I’d lose a sense of freedom if I did that. I know other artists are different. Maybe subconsciously I do that, thinking about my live shows because they are so important to me.

Speaking of production, is producing for other artists on the agenda?

I’ve done some writing before and it’s something I’d like to do more. After the next album, I’ve love to work and produce for punk bands – I want to go into that world. If there are any out there reading this, hit me up!

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Next Wave Recommendation: Athletic Progression

My Next Wave pick this month is Denmark’s trio Athletic Progression, signed to one of the most industrious incubators for emerging talent, Errol and Alex Rita's Touching Bass. Athletic Progression are Jonas Cook on keys, Jonathan J. Ludvigsen on drums and Justo Gambula on bass and the synergistic interplay between the three places them firmly at the frontier of beat music.

New album ‘cloud high in dreams, but heavy in the air’ plays like a lucid jam session, sprinkled with the verve of in-the-moment, improvised captures. Yes, it’s the kind of album that will take on a more corporeal form when performed live but it succeeds in distilling the trio’s ethos: freedom through collaboration.

‘JUNGELEN’ is an elastic escapade through the cosmos and indeed the Brainfeeder space-aged shimmer underscores tracks like ‘OSAKA’ and ‘DEBRA’; two tracks that keeps the listener suspended between a frenetic basement jam and nirvana. ‘MOUSSAS FINEST’ morphs with serpentine precision from Latin to fusion to a sedate hip-hop number. The only song to feature spoken word is ‘Extended Technique’, an eerie monologue on existential yearning and the magnitude and meaning of life’s potential.

Athletic Progression are new apostles of hybridized hip-hop.

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Let’s start with the genesis of Athletic Progression. How, where and when did the three of you converge and form this trio?

Jonas: Justo and I met back in 2014, we were studying music together in Aarhus, and we soon started playing together after school. I knew Jonathan from another project and invited him to come jam with us a while later.

Justo: Yes, we met studying music together, but he caught my attention because he was wearing a crewneck during a soundcheck for a recital with an illustration of the New York subway system, but with the different precursors of hip hop instead of the actual stations. I knew he had to be a hardcore hip-hop head!

Jonathan: Jonas invited me to jam with him in his trio because their drummer had to go to boarding school and I was wanting to meet new people to play with during this time. I had only started being a part of projects that verged on the border of hip-hop but I didn’t yet have the hip hop mindset in musicmaking until I started playing with Justo and Jonas – the energy in that first rehearsal I had never experienced.

What are each of your roles in the band literally and figuratively? Judging by the way you play, there seems to be complete synergy between you all.

Jonathan: I’d say I’m the impulsive nerd that wants to try new things all the time. Justo is the vibe judge; he has always been vocal about what goes on while we play and has always motivated me in my playing. Jonas is pensive and is often quietly working on an idea that he’s developed in his creative mind while me and Justo are figuring out how to complement each other in a certain groove. He also possesses a brilliant producer mind; he’s always been more interested in the textural than any other keyboard player I've met.

Jonas: That does sum up how we work, but somehow also matches the way I see our roles when not playing music.

Your sound is very referential without being derivative. Which artists have influenced you as solo musicians but also as collective?

Jonas: I grew up in a musical home where so much music was listened to, especially classical music, jazz and rock: From Abbey Road to Stan Getz, João Gilberto and Debussy to Danish band Dizzy Miss Lizzy. In my teens I discovered hip hop and J Dilla. Not a specific record per se, more so his style and groove, his ability to connect that with organic, jazzy samples. He has been a huge inspiration and still is. Lastly, I’ve got to put OutKast’s ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ in there. This album resonated so much with me.

Jonathan: Flying Lotus’s ‘Until The Quiet Comes’ and ‘You’re Dead’ has influenced me a lot in how I've tried and wanted to sound in the band. Hiatus Kaiyote’s approach to emulating interesting textural universes and rhythmic changes has been a big deal for me since I first started playing with the guys. Jon Bap’s ‘What Now?’ is another one. His odd meter bedroom fusion indie soul bangers don’t at all suffer from the hypnotic drum ideas that lives its own life. He is a very big influence of mine; I still feel like he is a genre of his own.

Justo: Wow. That’s a hard one because we could talk about influences for the rest of this interview; to name just a few records is ruthless! Obviously, I have a lot of African influences around me and I always like to bring that into my playing. I’d like to credit my twin sister Jolie Kubini who got me into hip hop and soul, artists such as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Bahamadia and of course my all-time favourite artist Georgia Anne Muldrow. Her album ‘A Thoughtiverse Unmarred’ confirmed the ever-growing power of hip-hop music.

Your music represents the fluidity and freeform expression of free jazz today. In London and around the UK, we have this flourishing progressive scene shaped by artists like Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia and KOKOROKO to name a few. What’s the scene like in Aarhus and Denmark as a whole? How has the experimental community informed your creativity?

Jonathan: The scene in Denmark is very heavy on a lot of things but especially indie rock. In the parts I’ve been in when I first started playing with Athletic, I didn’t know many musicians that were interested in hip hop. However, the scene has grown radically over the past two years, very young bands are starting to play this organic Dilla-inspired jazz music. Personally, my inspiration in the Danish music scene comes from the experimental electronic and improv scene, which is quite strong. I feel like you can trace that journey into improvised music on our new album.

Athletic Progression are more than just a “jazz band”; you crosspollinate with other genres. Do you find the jazz label and all it connotes limiting?

Jonathan: This question is always hard as we each perceive this very differently. I would say that we we’ve gone from being more hip hop with a jazz edge to being more contemporary jazz with a hip hop edge. I’d like to think we always try and welcome each other’s differences in influences as that’s where the most interesting fusions of genres appear.

Jonas: Yes, it’s really about the three of us merging our influences, moods, inspirations together and out comes this music (which you can label however you want). The improvisational part of the music, to me at least, is our ability to communicate and have fun in the moment of playing and having played together for quite some time, it comes easily to us. This is probably why people tend to label us as a jazz band.

Justo: To me Athletic Progression is just three guys who like to play music and personally it’s hip hop with all the quirky features hip hop has, borrows from, shares, explores, connects. Our sound has some jazzy vibes yes, but I have a hard time calling it just jazz.

What’s the story behind the album title, ‘cloud high in dreams, but heavy in the air’?

Jonathan: The title is taken from Brother Portrait’s lyrics on ‘Extended Technique’. We chose to use this line as it resonates with how on this album, we’ve gone down a more improvised route, where we are more personal and vulnerable in our playing. We’re taking more risks.

‘Osaka’ and ‘Debra’ were released ahead of the new album, both spaced-out, after-hours numbers. Why were these songs chosen to usher in your new era?

Jonathan: Both ‘Osaka’ and ‘Debra’ represent two significant sides of our sound on the album: ‘OSAKA’ has a brighter more hopeful sound and is quite improvised. Jonas asks in the end in Danish: “How should we end it?” and I reply “That’s a good question”. It’s left open ended. ‘Debra’ represents the darker side of the album, it’s very composed and has many different parts. It’s truly a journey song, almost ABCD form wise.

In what ways does ‘Cloud High…’ differ from your debut album ‘Dark Smoke’ and self-titled follow-up? How have you evolved?

Jonathan: We’ve ventured into a more impulsive sound where we express ourselves more freely and allow each other more solo spots. It’s more of a live album than the previous albums, less post-production; everything you here is us playing live in the studio.

Jonas: I think that you can hear that we’ve matured as a band, as far as being able to perform live. The previous albums where much more structured and we really wanted the songs to sound a specific way. On our new album we embraced the fact that we took risks and that some sequences were improvised, which has resulted in a more expressive album.

Justo: This album really shows you how we play when we play. It’s been very pleasant to produce an album going to the studio working, letting the various takes do the talking and not the post-production.

Brother Portrait features on the track ‘Extended Technique’; one of the only tracks featuring another artist. What did his languorous spoken word bring to the auditory experience?

Jonathan: He gives you something you don’t have on any of the other tracks, words. Which in itself has a huge effect on a mostly instrumental album. We explained to him that the album was made through improvisation and some of the songs are four years old, so it was important for us that his lyrics captured snapshots and memories of him as a child. Dreaming of flying encapsulates a feeling that we try and conjure in our music, the “heavy in the air” part represents the more mature thought of the risk and consequences of the choices we make in our music.

What do you want the listeners to feel when experiencing ‘Cloud High….’? What’s the core intention?

Jonathan: I’m hoping the intensity in our feelings and vulnerability in our playing can cross the medium and truly inspire or arouse a feeling in the listener of being invited into our world. We’re way more personal on this album, especially if you understand what’s being said in the interludes. Jonas: Hopefully listeners will also have the opportunity to experience our musical progression. Going from ‘Dark Smoke’ to the self-titled album to ‘cloud high…’, a lot has happened in the band, and I think the development is beautiful. Hopefully our listeners will share this experience.

Justo: Honesty, we made this album with the intention of being true to ourselves and had many calls regarding the direction we were taking. I pray that people listen to it and interpret it in their own way. Of course, we have some specific things we want to share in there but people will discover some of the things that we didn’t convey or show them.

What’s in store for the rest of 2021 and beyond for Athletic Progression? Can we expect to see you perform in the UK?

Jonathan: If we are allowed, we’ll be playing a lot in the UK, yes. London in August, then we’ll tour the UK in the fall with seven shows around the country.

Jonas: I see the UK as our second “sonic home”. I think we can bring something to the table there.

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Hildegard – 'Hildegard'

“On Hildegard, the boundaries between self and other are thin as light. Call and response grow into a third element: the sound of fantasy, a nightmare. Or maybe a vision.’

Named after Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century German Benedictine abbess and one of the first composers in the history of Western music, Montreal-based musicians Helena Deland and Ouri invoke the labyrinthine spiritualism of the OG sage – a mythic symbol of their assembly. Merged as an act at the behest of their managers, their self-titled debut was recorded over eight days in 2018, each track on ‘Hildegard’ named for a day the duo spent together.

Ouri’s alchemical, club-focused approach to production anchors Heland folky laments, the result is a synthesis of disparate worlds. Hildegard tease, titillate, scorn and reproach their way across the 8 jours, affirming their selfhood and autonomy in the process. ‘Jour 1’ is “about processing by partying and the clarity that sometimes comes with it” – a thunderous cavalcade of sirens, kick drums and a raucous techno crescendo. ‘Jour 3’ is a carnal mid-tempo, projecting wanton pleasure over a simmering, undulating bassline. The segue from ‘Jour 5’ into ‘Jour 6’ represents the turning point, indifference making way for freedom, marked by swirls of strings and baroque overtures.

Like their namesake, the duo upends foreordained and traditional constructs. Like Smerz, Hildegard invite a similar sense of antithetical dexterity in their works. Light or dark, celestial or physical, whatever it is you need, you can get it in Hildegard’s deranged, sublime fantasy.

Wesley Joseph – 'Ultramarine'

A former OG Horse collective member (alongside Jorja Smith and Otis Wongsam), Wesley Joseph staked his claim as a renegade figure with standalone singles ‘Imaginary Friends’ and ‘Ghostin’, but his debut project affirms his position as an artist not content with binaries.

Released on his own imprint EEVILTWINN with contributions by Dave Okumu, Leon Vynehall and the aforementioned Smith, ‘Ultramarine’ is an amalgam of Avant R&B and forlorn rap. Every track is purposeful on this project, every track lands with impact and intention: ‘Ur_Room’ is a woozy dancefloor filler, Joseph capable of upping the pace but retaining a zen demeanour, ‘Creep’ and its organ-like synth tones opens up a void of transcendence.

Joseph taps into an ethereal tenor on opener ‘The Bloom’, where pirouetting wails form the backdrop to agile rapped confessionals. Indeed, Joseph echoes Kendrick Lamar’s command of voices to mimic and make tangible the many characters that appear in his narrative; phantom figures from the depths of his consciousness lending a haunted, hallowed feel to proceedings. The title track, the strongest on the project, is a microcosm for the project at large; subdued but urgent computerised soul from the weary but brilliant mind of a new force in music.

George Riley – 'Interest Rates: A Tape'

I tipped West London’s George Riley in our UK Alternative R&B primer at the top of the year, an artist weaving together “polyrhythms and polemics” on songs like ‘Move’ and ‘TRIXX’, and it’s reassuring to see Riley fully assume her position as a figure leading the new vanguard with 10-track mixtape ‘Interest Rates…’

Riley pours grainy tales of disenchantment and disillusion over amorphous production, producer Oliver Palfreyman taking thrilling detours when you least expect it. ‘your eyes’ starts as a delicate lovelorn lament before fractures being to emerge as Riley looks for a measure of clearness when viewing her lover’s intentions; on ‘poomplexed’, propulsive drums fragment into a middle eight of moans before coalescing again for the finale; ‘money’ matches the former’s breakneck velocity, one ear in the clubs, the other in the streets, a cautionary tale of chasing paper made into a kind of rhythmic affirmation.

Moments of aching vulnerability open and bookend the tape: the slower paced, more languorous ‘cleanse me’ washes over the listener, a repudiation of capitalistic climate activism made personal by Riley in an act of self-baptism; on elegiac closer ‘no certainty’, Riley ascends to the sky in a apocalyptic love story.

Incorporating spacey instrumentals a la The Neptunes and Flying Lotus, low res underground samples and stream of consciousness storytelling, Riley’s mixtape offers up one of the more restorative experiences you’ll hear this year. It’s unvarnished, adventitious but also wholly original; mindfulness in auditory form.

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LNDFK – 'Don’t Know I’m Dead Or Not'

When I first heard this song, a cavernous frisson ran through my body. Centring Depersonalisation disorder (dissociative disorder in which the perception of oneself and surrounding environment feels detached) the Naples-raised, Tunisian-born artist manages to excavate tenderness and feeling from a matrix of relentless grey noise. Conceived as an epic three-parter charting stages of detachment from reality, LNDFK’s muffled delivery is barely audible, warped and withered, Miami rapper Chester Watson providing the only bit of earthly presence in a dizzying fever dream. A song to get lost in.

‘Don’t Know I’m Dead Or Not’ is first glimpse of LNDFK’s eagerly anticipated debut album, due later this year on Brooklyn’s Bastard Jazz.

Kareem Ali – 'I Feel It All (Warm Up)'

“Riding through this velodrome called life…” A favourite of Four Tet, Bicep and Sherelle, Kareem Ali is one of the most high-volume creators in music today: The Phoenix producer exceeded 30 releases in May alone, his Bandcamp page a treasure trove of past and present demos, reworks and original tracks. Ali’s as versatile as they come, venturing from euphoric deep house to tessellated electronica to Detroit techno. But it’s the opening track from EP ‘Breakaway’, a collection of 4 club-focused tracks “dedicated to all the bikers in the world”, that I want to highlight. A reverberant “I feel it all…” vintage vocal sample and loungey chords stretched to the spacey environs, this is elegantly-paced mood music.

dreamcastmoe – 'My Soul Belongs 2 U'

Soundtracking a period of emotional upheaval, dreamcastmoe (FKA Dreamcast) is back with a hypnagogic paean to unconditional love, the lead single from forthcoming EP ‘After All This’. The DC crooner artfully straddles the contemporary and the classic, flitting between pining vocals reminiscent of classic gospel soul innovators and an in-the-zone rap-sung verse delving deeper into his psyche. Warm and fuzzy without sounding pastiche, this granular gem by dreamcastmoe makes you want to declare your love High Fidelity style. ‘After All This’ lands late July on In Real Life.

Chris Kaz – 'Broader League'

Lifted from his project ‘Unlearn’, a collection of splintered electronics and distorted harmonics, musical polymath Chris Kaz marries a programmed beat, synthetic horns and an affected falsetto on this post-R&B album closer. Managed by fellow aesthete Gaika, Kaz, born and raised in London, brings a similar sense of murky abandon, canvasing his productions in metallic blue, jagged and angular, modernist with glimmers of humanity poking through. One of the more pared-down songs on the album, ‘Broader League’ is surround sound glory.

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Retrospective Prince – 'When Doves Cry'

‘When Doves Cry’, the lead single from Prince’s magnum opus and loosely autobiographical film ‘Purple Rain’ was released in May of 1984, but because the standalone video was released a month later, it’ll be the focus of my Retrospective. It’s also a fortuitous opportunity to look back and honour the month a monolithic giant of music was born.

‘When Doves Cry’ is one of Prince’s signature hits, one I enjoyed casually. It wasn’t until I came across Robyn’s live cover, that I went back, listened to the original and really understood it’s tacit appeal; the boundless ingenuity of its creator (Prince played every instrument on the track), the generational influence of a track that defined the modernist cross-pollination of the 80s, living on in the works of the musicians we hear today.

From the ferocious shredding in the opening few seconds, syncopated drum machine patterns, the omission of bass and a torrent of wails at the track’s crescendo, the near six-minute marathon has everything and more, probing and pushing the boundaries of radical pop. With ‘When Doves Cry’, Prince denounced the “urban act” tag that he’d be lumbered with by critics, his movie star ambition saw him master the art of sex and spectacle creating arguably the greatest pop song in history.

Debate amongst yourselves.

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18 year old alt-pop savant midwest has unleashed new single 'Ruthless'.

The Indiana native – born Edgar Sarratt III – never felt like he fitted in growing up, and poured those feelings of isolation into music.

Operating outwith any set 'scene', he put his bizarre, off piste pop constructions on SoundCloud, and eventually found his community.

Loosely tagged in with the 'hyper pop' movement, in reality his music is far too independent to fit easily within any set label.

New single 'Ruthless' is a case in point; bright and vivid, it utilises shuddering trap beats alongside day-glo synths to craft something genuinely startling.

His first official release since signing to Geffen Records, the visuals for 'Ruthless' come courtesy of Nirvan Sorooshian (@dotcomNirvan).

Tune in now.

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A true nonconformist, Mahmood became the voice of Italy when his brand of nebulous pop took him from relative obscurity to the primetime. As he readies the release of his sophomore album, he’s setting his sights on a global takeover.

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2020 was a year of epiphanies, career pivots and revelations for many; for Mahmood it was one protracted delay from being able to devote himself fully to his foremost passion, music. “My creativity is closely linked with travel, discovering new things and meeting new people; I need that to create, I need that to get inspired. Last year, I was really struggling with inspiration and creatively I felt blocked,” he says earnestly. Did he pursue hobbies in his downtime? Try his hand at a new craft? He laughs. “The truth is I can only do music; I can’t do anything else.”

Mahmood emanates an affable, earthy warmth during our virtual tête-à-tête; he takes time to consider his answers, reverting back to Italian when trying to decode and decipher his thoughts, apologising when a translation eludes him. His knowledge of music is extensive and rounded; he even asks me which artist I’ve favoured this year. When I utter the name “Jazmine Sullivan” he gestures animatedly, eyes widening with unabashed glee. It turns out the agile contralto of Jazmine Sullivan is an all-time favourite of his. “For me, she’s the best; her voice is like honey. I’ve loved her since her debut but the project she dropped this year cannot be topped,” he says ardently, proceeding to flawlessly hum the melody of ‘Price Tags’.

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A rhapsodist himself, Mahmood is capable of emoting like a seasoned balladeer but also distorting his instrument into something metallic and mechanised. His voice took centre stage when he won the prestigious Sanremo Musical festival in Italy with his song ‘Soldi (Money)’; he’d later represent his country at the Eurovision Song Contest as the ceremonial flagbearer. How does he feel about the year that catalysed his career? “To be honest, it’s still surreal looking back at Sanremo. I wasn’t a popular artist when I competed and I had no expectation of winning. It absolutely had a profound effect on my career but I feel quite distant from it now,” he reflects.

His victory parade at the Sanremo Festival in 2019 laid bare the growing schism between the old guard and the progressives in Italy. By venerating Mahmood, the esteemed institution – comprised of industry figures and journalists – finally reflected Italy’s multiplicity, challenging the dominant expression of ‘Italianness’: heterosexual and white, rigid and sectarian. Far-right ideologues seized the moment to fan the flames of latent xenophobia, decrying Mahmood’s win as “undemocratic”, believing Mahmood’s competitor Ultimo to be the worthy winner.

Mahmood’s response to the views espoused by separatists at the time was a shrug of the shoulders and a cool “I’m 100% Italian” retort. Now, he’s even further disengaged from it all. “Honestly, I found it funny, I really did. These things are external, they don’t factor into my day-to-day world; I don’t and won’t let it. My cultural identity has always added value to my music and I’m very proud of where I come from,” Mahmood says with a hint of vim.

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Many would not have predicted a mostly structure-less song sung in Italian (and Arabic), with references to Ramadan, hookah, a withdrawn, taciturn Father and the tremors of childhood neglect and estrangement would become one of the most-streamed Italian songs in Spotify history. Whether Mahmood’s win was derailed as a politicised talking point or not, the viral success of ‘Soldi’ was completely organic; a crossover anthem that spoke not to the monoculture of “Old Italy” but to newness and inclusion.

Born Alessandro Mahmood (his stage name is a portmanteau of his surname and the expression “my mood”) in Milan to a Sardinian Mother and an Egyptian Father, Mahmood’s dual heritage has been underscored in his work since the very beginning, a cultural exchange he’s catechized and celebrated: “My Mother is from Sardinia and she used to play classic Italian music in our house, but also traditional Sardinian music. From my Father’s side, he’d play his favourite Egyptian songs to me and that influence is there in my work. My roots and origins have made me the artist I am today. There was no shame in my household about who we were, so why would I let shame define me as I grow?”

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Mahmood sees influences everywhere. He belongs to a cohort of sonic shapeshifters like Rosalía and Bad Bunny who bend R&B, trap and electronic music with the folkloric sounds of their respective cultures. Mahmood’s sound design has been labelled ‘Morocco Pop’, most evident in the staccato rhythms of his 2020 song ‘Dorado’; a borderless middle eastern-flavoured, reggaeton amalgam.

His songs are emblems of the cross-pollination prevalent in Italy’s music scene today, a phenomenon he sees as necessary but overdue. “For a long time, this classic pop sound dominated the radio and charts here. There was no variety. There are a lot of rising stars challenging traditions now, influenced by sounds from around the world. In our charts, rap and trap is a big feature, as well as indie,” he says. “For me, I try and channel a new sound or vibe and a new way of storytelling in my songs.”

Mahmood’s debut album ‘Gioventù bruciata’ (Italian for ‘Wasted Youth’) peaked at number one on the Italian charts, an angsty if formulaic collection of euro-skewed pop and R&B: “It was a fairly easy experience recording my first record, maybe too easy. I was just beginning and I didn’t think too much about whether it would be a success. Now, I’m very intentional about what I’m putting out into the world. With this next album there had to be growth and evolution.”

Did Mahmood feel the burden of expectation recording a follow-up to a commercially successful debut? “Yes, I absolutely did feel pressure recording this album but I think it helped me. I’ve worked so hard on this new record, really laboured to make something special. I think people will be shocked by the direction I’m going in,” he says as a Duchenne smile plasters his face.

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The prelude to the new era comes in the form of ‘Inuyasha’, a rousing, anthemic song borne from an unconventional recording session in Tuscany last summer. “Inuyasha was written and produced with my regular collaborator Dardust. I asked him to try and compose the melody with autotune without directly recording with a microphone – so the sound of autotune going out from the bass. I’m used to composing with my piano and guitar; this was first the time I recorded differently. It feels and sounds unlike anything I’ve recorded before,” he says with pride.

‘Inuyasha’ was named after the famed and fabled 90s Japanese manga by Rumiko Takahashi, later adapted into an anime series. It tells the story of a modern-day high school student Kagome, who befriends and eventually falls in love with the half-demon Inuyasha, after falling down the well at her family’s shrine and slipping back through time to feudal-era Japan.

It’s a tragicomic tale weaving together history, fantasy, an epic love story and immoral villainy; a bildungsroman laced with heavy, at times Eeyorish themes – multivalent themes that didn’t resonate with Mahmood until later in life. “I was a huge fan of this anime when I was 15,” Mahmood recounts. “I used to watch it on MTV at one in the morning and I’d be so tired going to school the next day. It’s stayed with me as I’ve matured: I watched all the episodes again on Netflix, and I was so overwhelmed re-watching it because I missed so many things that relate to my life now.”

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The original manga is of both of its time, laden with anachronisms, but also neoteric, subtly depicting the debilitating effects of toxic masculinity before the term became a modish talking point. Mahmood saw himself within the half-demon protagonist, particularly the tough exterior he conveys to the world and the quelling of one’s true self. “Inuyasha has to suppress his ‘demon’ side, he can’t expose his bad side to the world. It’s something I could relate to, that I used to do in my past relationships – I’d want to scream and shout but I’d end up hiding parts of myself,” he explains.

Thematically, ‘Inuyasha’ draws on “duality”, which Mahmood explains is a ubiquitous theme explored in greater detail on the new album: “I’m looking at the perception of ourselves versus the way we present ourselves to the world. It celebrates being an outsider and I’m promoting this message of acceptance, that people shouldn’t feel inadequate for being who they are meant to be.”

Mahmood plays coy when further probed about the record, but at times his avidity pierces through the PR veneer. He reveals the new album is expected in summer and currently, there are three album titles he’s mulling over. He teases his most introspective offering yet: Relationships forged through travelling, his itinerant persona and further deep dives into his family history forming the arc in this next chapter – reconciliation and healing two prominent leitmotifs.

“This time I’ve worked with Spanish, French and English artists and producers to create an international record. I feel Italian, I am Italian, but I’ve always felt like I’m from other parts of the world as well and this album reflects that. I’m incorporating more Arabic references through an electronic lens and it’s more experimental than the first album. I’m talking about my past, my travels to Egypt when I visited my Dad and met my brothers. There are some lovely memories that I revisit,” he says.

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In the video for ‘Inuyasha’, Mahmood appears as a lissom, elfin figure from a faraway land. A heady confluence of sound and spectacle and sumptuous set pieces converge in an audiovisual feast for the eyes. A chameleonic muse, Mahmood defies machismo, embracing a freeform expression in his videos and performances; it’s in this intersection of art, music and high-fashion where Mahmood has come alive: “For me, fashion and music work together, they go hand-in-hand. I invoke fashion to express the music I make; it is where my imagination comes alive. I’ve collaborated with some of the best designers in the world, but I still feel like I have so much to learn, so much inspiration to take from the fashion world”.

Mahmood is anything but a bystander, but a visual artist making every look his own. Clad in a crimson leather cape and gabardine trench coat, custom-made by Riccardo Tisci for Burberry, it joins his Margiela kimono shirt worn at Eurovision and his ostentatious, oversized Rick Owens attire at Sanremo, as looks that will be archived years from now. Indeed, another sensory visual, with eye-catching sartorial choices, is being cooked up as we speak: After our conversation concludes Mahmood tells me he’ll finalise the designs for his next single with his stylist and director, a song he describes as a “personal favourite.”

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As he approaches 30, Mahmood is taking command of his destiny, broadening his horizons and trusting his caprices and desires more than ever before. He’s also more wistful, looking back on where he was and where he’s heading: “It’s strange, I feel so much has occurred these last two years. Of course, I’ve changed and evolved but I still feel I’m only scratching the surface of my artistry. I still feel I have a lot to prove.”

What advice would he give to young musicians coming up in Italy, who do not want their artistic integrity compromised? “It’s a basic thing but it’s fundamental that you don’t listen to others when it comes to the important choices you make in your career; always listen to your intuition. Over the years people tried to give me bad advice, change my direction musically and make me record a song written for another artist that isn’t my style. Every song you record should have an intention, every video you release is something you should be proud of, because you will have to perform it for the rest of your life.” Mahmood is enlightened.

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Mahmood's new album 'Ghettolimpo' is out now.

Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photography: Thibault-Theodore Babin
Fashion: Susanna Ausoni
Art Direction: Nicolas Aksil

Ride guitarist Andy Bell returns to his GLOK alias on new album 'Pattern Recognition'.

The 10 track album features a few select guests, helmed by the UK songwriter.

It's his debut album proper under the GLOK name, and follows a wonderful Andy Bell solo album in 2020.

Out on October 1st through Ransom Note Records’ sister label Bytes, Andy explains:

“GLOK is all about the push and pull between electronic and psych in my music.”

Sinead O'Brien guests on new single 'Maintaining The Machine', which has a wistful, dream-like quality.

Tune in now.

Photo Credit: Andree Martis

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Nick Grimshaw is set to leave Radio 1.

The host is a key part of the station's output, an instantly recognisable voice with a huge personal following.

Grimmy – as he's known – hosted the Breakfast Show from 2012 to 2018, and is the current Drivetime host.

Breaking the news on social media, Nick Grimshaw brought an end to his 14 year career on Radio 1 by saying it was "time for a change…"

He added: "I want to thank you, the R1 listeners for joining me on this journey. Thank you for being a massive part of my life and sharing your lives with me on the radio every day. Thank you for providing endless hilarity, passion and an unquenchable eagerness to ‘avvvvv it!"

Here's the statement.

Teesside bedroom pop artist jak lvr returns with new single 'Call It Love (If You Want To)'.

Across a flurry of singles jak lvr has sketched out a unique identity, a kind of lawless pop spirit.

His latest alt-pop is titled 'Call It Love (If You Want To)', and it leads into his debut EP, which lands on September 10th.

Airing through Clash, 'Call It Love (If You Want To)' dwells on uncertainty and its hazy sonic palette drifts past genre lines.

Semi-formless and intensely melodic, it seemingly sits close to the core of jak lvr's approach.

He comments…

“‘Call It Love' is about being unsure, about both myself and the things I feel and experience. It really gets to the core of why I make music because it addresses the way I feel and I suppose if the song resonates with people I get some sort of validation that I’m not mad and most people live with at least some uncertainty around things that are often presented as knownable variables.”

Tune in now.

jak lvr · Call It Love (If You Want To)

A songwriter and performer of distinct, dramatic intensity, Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s songs come from a place of complete honesty and openness.

Now 31, Leftwich continues to reflect, learn and communicate his experience with authenticity, and the Yorkshire-born singer and guitarist, who lives in London, is enjoying a journey of highly inspired creative energy.

His fourth studio project ‘To Carry A Whale’ is the first album he has written and recorded entirely sober, a state he has been successful in maintaining since weeks of rehab in January 2018.

Observational, auto-biographical and poetic, the title of the new record reflects his experience, courageously attempting to quantify what’s involved in the process of such maintenance. It is never easy, but it comes with a beauty that makes it worthwhile.

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It’s been a tough year for many people, what’s it been like for you?

I've been good. The pandemic has been crazy and hard for many people. I feel lucky and privileged, I didn't feel the nipper as hard as billions of people did through luck and circumstance. But emotionally and intellectually I found it sad, lonely and isolating.  

It would be great if the pandemic never happened. I have nowhere to turn other than to songwriting, nowhere to turn other than staring in the mirror. I could sit in my pants all day and play FIFA or pick up my guitar and write. I did a bit of both.

Some artists wrote more than normally. Was your creative experience similar?

I feel that's right. My experience is also that I miss touring, I miss that weird buzz that comes of walking on stage and the buzz afterwards, it was a chance to look inwards and reflect, and I know the beginning of the pandemic represented a chance of enlightenment.

There was a moment when everyone saw it as an opportunity to push yourself, but for me it was time for rest and introspection, and a real look at myself. Everyone's got different ways of expressing that moment of introspection, for songwriters it comes out of our mouths, guitar playing, piano etc. It was amazing, and I wrote some of the best songs in my career.

Your songs came at a fast pace, how did you approach songwriting this time? How early was an idea or concept defined?

The theme focuses on seeing your progression and the change of carrying it. For the first time in my music journey, I had a clear idea from early in the process, I knew I wanted this to be with the title ‘To Carry A Whale’. I wanted it to be about living with alcoholism, addiction and carrying this thing that's heavy, but beautiful. The songs needed to be on that theme about my experience of what it’s like, and needed to be 10 tracks because of David Gray’s ‘White Ladder’.

Sam Duckworth – Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. – produced it, we wrote more songs than we needed. We kicked off songs that in an industry term might have been bigger, more playlistable songs and ready to get on the radio.

The title is profound. Did it literally just occur in your mind one day?

The title just came to me. I’ve always loved whales. They’re beautiful, wild, self-contained creatures, who stick together. ‘Tilikum’ from my second album is about the movie ‘Blackfish’. I've always loved the idea of something that’s more powerful than I’m, and to care for it.

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Having previously spoken out about addiction, were you ever tempted to take less of an auto-biographical approach?

I sometimes get asked about the difference between my personal life and the music. There’s none at all, it literally is the same thing. ‘Gratitude’ was a big moment, an album about the moment of surrender where I accepted that there was a solution; a way out, a moment of acceptance and unmanageability.

But this album is about post-surrender, post that moment of gratitude. What’s it like to live with sobriety for three years and a few months? I was high and drunk for longer than that, it's not that long in the grand scheme of things. For me it’s being open-hearted in songs, with observations of what it's like to be alive, and be in a better place.

Having a lot of song material is clearly advantageous, did it make the final track selection harder?

I write experientially, if a friend’s going through something, and I've been hearing about it, I might include some of it. But anything that didn't fit the theme of ‘heavy and beautiful’, if it seemed a million miles away sonically, it didn’t go on.

I decided to rely on anything that wasn’t too far away from my bread and butter. What I came from as a 17-year-old listening to Fionn Regan, Alexi Murdoch, Damien Jurado and Bat For Lashes. I can be a fan of love, fantasy, my favourite albums of all time.

The thing with technology is that I can easily make something. I love Jon Hopkins and Radiohead. I can replicate them, but I don’t want to copy the music I'm a fan of, I remember where my bread’s buttered. Especially as the theme of this album is a return to my true self. It’s a return to the acoustic guitar, double-tracked vocals and fingerpicking.

Can we talk about a couple of album tracks?

It changes every day, but a favourite song is ‘Oh My God Please’, which I wrote with Cape. I'm sensitive, I find it hard to let people in musically, but I got such a good energy from him. He’s so humble and honest.

Having tried every therapist, doctor, girlfriend, every move out of the country, everything in the world, bar asking for help. A few people have asked what girl it’s about, it's literally about what it says in the title. We wrote it in such a way that it would be inclusive. There's something out there, I prayed for that thing, it helps, it's there for me and other humans.

Can you elaborate on the inclusive element in this song?

Whether someone is a non-believer, a person of faith, gay or straight, non-binary or trans, however anyone identifies, it’s all beautiful and should be encouraged. They can hear this song and be able to relate to that feeling.

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And how about ‘Canary In A Coalmine’? It’s another unique title.

I was in the Dirty Hit studio in Wandsworth with producer Joseph Rodgers, when I heard Rupert Lyddon working on some new songs. I was so inspired, spending a week in the studio. I pretty much wrote that song in half an hour about really simple love, about having your eyes open at night, and I did it in the style of Tom Petty.

As they say in recovery, you’re as old as you are when you get clean and sober, you're as old as you always were when you first started drinking, which makes me about 17-18. So it’s the feeling of the excitement of being awake again.

How would you describe the core message?

A canary in a coalmine is free, but it's a dangerous freedom, and coalmines need checking for poisonous gas. It’s like don’t get carried away here, keep an eye on the whale. Keep an eye on what you've got, your life is beautiful, see stuff through open eyes.

It goes right back to where I was with millions and millions of people before me, in and out recovery. I wrote it and went on tour in Europe, I did what I often do in life, which is destroying things and attracting instability. At first I wasn't in love with the song, other people liked it, then I forgot about it. Anyway, I fell back in love with it.

Did Johnny Marr’s guitar playing inspire it?

For sure, it's funny Sam mentioned The Smiths in the studio when we were trying to get the tone for the guitar. I love all that stuff. There are some artists that I love more than others, I love Johnny Marr, he's such a legend. He's been in legendary bands for years: The Cribs and many more.

You mentioned radio airplay earlier. You don’t seem to be the type of artist who would let a need for radio play define your creativity.

Yes, that's true. That’s why someone's debut album is so special and beautiful because often you don't know anything about radio or playlists. Then once you get lucky enough to start building a career, and you get some praise, money or your music becomes known or famous, it's really hard to get all that stuff out of your head, and not let it affect things.

You include some terminology from religion, are you religious and/or do you practice it?

I don't consider myself a religious person. I want to be a sponge in how I connect, I believe that’s the best way. I've had this chat a lot of times with an artist recently, his manager was a big name, and he was religious. He told me he was thinking of quitting music to go and sing in a church, he talked about worship and what it’s about.

My understanding is that traditional figureheads of organised religion weren't hanging out in churches, they were hanging out with people who did work with people, who were suffering or needed a little hand. They were just trying to do good things, share their food, share their time and lend an ear.

Your music is honest and personal, does it ever get too intense? How far would you go?

With the music I'm making just now, I'm going pretty far. I’ve got to be careful, as it does impact my personal life and some relationships. I've had people say, do not write a song about this, and I’ll always respect that.

The line for me is if it hurts someone else, then I don't want anything to do with it. But I also know that moving someone is different to hurting someone, and I see the first outcome as OK.

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'To Carry A Whale' is out now.

Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Harvey Pearson

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Gen Z rising force Claire Rosinkranz returns with 'Boy In A Billion'.

It's taken from her incoming EP – called '6 In A Billion' – with the full project slated to land on July 9th.

Following singles such as her all-out bop 'Frankenstein', the title track is now online and it underlines her alt-pop prowess.

The bass echo resonates amid her finger-snaps, the sultry percussive impact leading into a clever, interlocking lyric.

Dynamic and tongue-in-cheek, Claire Rosinkranz switches it up as the song progresses, never letting 'Boy In A Billion' settle.

Tune in now.

Photo Credit: Phoebe Neily

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Rival Consoles returns with new track 'Pulses Of Information'.

The producer returns to Erased Tape with something new for summer, the ideal teaser ahead of his live dates in October.

Set to play Edinburgh's Hidden Door Festival, Rival Consoles also has a string of UK headline shows lined up.

'Pulses Of Information' aired on Mary Anne Hobbs' 6Music show a few moments ago, and it's a riveting return.

The synth line seems to permeate space with lazer-like accuracy, while the gentle evolution feels build for open air use.

Typically entrancing, 'Pulses Of Information' seems to encourage a form of internal dialogue, between our inner and outer selves.

Tune in now.

Photo Credit: Özge Cöne

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Olivia Rodrigo has shared her new SOUR Prom concert film.

The songwriter's debut album 'SOUR' is breaking all kinds of records, producing some stellar smash hit singles.

Live opportunities are few and far between due to the pandemic, so Olivia shot a performance of her own instead.

SOUR Prom aired at 4.30am UK time, and it's a 28 minute extravaganza that finds Olivia Rodrigo performing in the back of a limo, on her prom dance floor, in a darkroom, and on an American football field.

Striking a chord with fans, SOUR Prom then hit YouTube where it's been streamed an astonishing three million (plus!) times in less than 12 hours.

Tune in now.

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