Lady Gaga makes her long-awaited return to London for a special performance in front of her legions of monsters.

The first of two nights at the striking new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which had to be rescheduled twice as a result of the pandemic, is Lady Gaga’s first headline show in London since 2014. 

A lot has changed then as the x13 Grammy winner has conquered Hollywood and won an Academy Award but she still continues to be a major force in the music industry and remains just as unpredictable and exciting as ever on stage.

The jam-packed set started with one of Lady Gaga’s biggest hits ‘Bad Romance’ and instantly the famous intro got the crowd jumping around and joining in with the catchy ‘Rah, rah-ah-ah-ah.’

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 29: (Exclusive Coverage) Lady Gaga performs on stage during The Chromatica Ball Summer Stadium Tour at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 29, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images for Live Nation )

The early hits came thick and fast with ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face’ in what was a close to perfect opening section. There aren’t many singers that would be brave enough to open with three of their biggest hits but it was a decision that got the party well and truly underway. 

The show in the vast stadium, which holds over 62,000, was somehow made immersive through flashing wristbands which correlated with the visuals on stage and turned the tens of thousands into a swarm of glow-worms.

After the ‘prologue’, Gaga went off stage as a series of avant-garde videos introduced Act 1 of Chromatica. The singer was lifted onto the stage on a stone slab operating table which was elevated in the air.

Evoking Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster was brought to life and escaped to wreak havoc as she sung ‘Alice’ and ‘Replay’ from her 2020 album ‘Chromatica’ and aptly finished the act with ’Monster.’

The show continued with Act II, starting with dance tracks from Chromatica ‘911’ and ‘Sour Candy’, Gaga’s collaboration with K-Pop giants BLACKPINK. The hits kept on coming with the classic pop hits ‘Telephone’ and ‘LoveGame’. 

The energy was electric and this continued through Act III as after ‘Babylon’, dedicated to Alexander McQueen, the singer walked from the main stage through the crowd to a second stage in the middle of the stadium. Here she sang a beautiful acoustic version of ‘Born This Way’ before an energetic performance of the original version with added pyro flames.

After over an hour of high-octane choreographed dancing and pop music, Gaga slowed things down with Act IV, a section of piano ballads and crooner-esque crowd interaction.

This part of the show truly encapsulated what makes Lady Gaga such a unique performer that captures the imagination of her audience. 

Dressed in an avant-garde costume that resembled either a harlequin or an alien, she sat down on a piano and sang a spine-tingling rendition of ‘Shallow’, her Oscar-winning song from A Star is Born.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 29: (Exclusive Coverage) Lady Gaga performs on stage during The Chromatica Ball Summer Stadium Tour at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 29, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Getty Images for Live Nation )

The contrast between the beautiful vocals of ‘Shallow’ and ‘Always Remember Us This Way’ to the upbeat dance hits like ‘Rain On Me’ and ‘Stupid Love’ merely songs apart, put on full display the supreme talent and versatility of the pop icon.

Lady Gaga’s two nights at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium is only the second concert at the new state-of-the-art ground, the first being Guns ‘N Roses earlier in the month.

Gaga channeled her inner Axl Rose rockstar throughout with the occasional throwback rock scream and in the exceptional encore ‘Hold My Hand’, from the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack, the singer jumped over fire into a knee slide.

Walking out of the stadium after the show, fans were singing ‘Edge Of Glory’, a notable absence from the setlist alongside other huge hits like ‘Judas’ and ‘Paparazzi.’ However, it is testament to Lady Gaga’s discography that she is able to leave out some of her biggest hits and not feel like we have been shortchanged.

The show was as predictably unpredictable as you’d expect from a Lady Gaga concert with everything from incredible choreographed dances to avant-garde theatrics and lots of special effects that made it a night to remember for all in attendance.

Words: Adam Davidson

Lockdown saw Popcaan cut off from the world – so he tapped into his heritage, and burrowed deeper than ever. The results are going to take him to the next level.

Popcaan has humble roots but enormous ambitions. Right from the off, this dancehall star knew he had something special – a different slant, a different motivation, a different way of looking at the world. Hailing from Saint Thomas in Jamaican, early cuts like ‘Clarks’ set the bar high, demolishing the competition in Kingston’s feverish music scene and launching his global campaign. Since then, he’s scarcely stopped – a volley of superb singles led to 2014’s excellent full length ‘Where We Come From’, with follow-up ‘Forever’ igniting the reggae world on its 2018.

Switching to OVO Sound, Popcaan grew close to Drake, and in turn ignited a new chapter in his life. Flipping his spartan yet colourful dancehall sound once more, 2020’s ‘Fixtape’ was precocious in its approach, with the Jamaican artist daring to be open in a way his peers had often shunned away from. Relentlessly creative and explicitly soulful, it saw Popcaan adding new dimensions to his sound, and achieving success he could scarcely have dreamed off as a teen in Saint Thomas.

When Clash is patched through to Popcaan on Zoom, he radiates calm. He admits he often doesn’t like interviews – this is an extremely rare cover opportunity, one Clash has chased for a number of years – but when his face pops up on our screen he’s a vision of calmed, a controlled and centred artist who takes stock of every word.

Work on his new album is almost complete, and he finally feels ready to let fans back into his realm. The final mixdown is approaching, and Popcaan is already haggling over single choices, and video shoots. “I feel blessed,” he says with a faint but assertive smile. “That’s how I feel. Blessed and grateful.”

Lockdown may have halted his touring ambitions, but it certainly didn’t reduce Popcaan’s creative faculties. As he freely admits, he never shuts off – whether it’s 3pm or 3am, if an idea strikes he has to act. “I’m always recording, y’know. Even if I’m on a vacation I still record. It’s like work and fun at the same time,” he explains. “It’s very important to have the studio around because you never know when you’ll find something you want to record. Sometime when I’m jiving I’ll get some ideas and I’ll do it on my voice recorder, send it to someone through WhatsApp.”

Pushing technology to its limit, Popcaan’s phone is a flurry of voice memos and draft messages. His laptop is actually the same – he’s constantly downloading beats, and throwing around suggestions for hooks. In a way, it’s like a game – during our conversation, he’s playful, and at his most open when discussing his methods. But equally, it’s deadly serious – nothing Popcaan does it left to chance, with his endless, perpetual drive to better himself burning brightly with every sentence.

“I use music to free myself,” he says. “It’s like healing, from whatever is draining me, or whatever is on my mind. If I’m feeling overwhelmed or anything.”

“I definitely get that from listening to music,” he adds. “Once music is real, and relatable to me and my lifestyle, it’s the same thing. It’s healing for me as well. If somebody is singing a song that is uplifting to me.”

“I’m not the type of artist that really listens to music for inspiration,” he points out. “I listen to it because I like it. I get inspiration from my life, and people around my life. I won’t be listening to people’s songs for inspiration, that is some pirate shit. I’d rather listen to my music if I’m trying to get a vibe or an inspiration.”

“If I’m making a song, and it’s not the right energy I will leave it… I’ll leave it and go do something else. I don’t like to force music. I like it to be naturally made.”

“There was a time I can remember where I wasn’t really recording much… not because I couldn’t create but because I chose not to,” he says, Popcaan’s voice suddenly shifting tone towards something more pensive. “I lost somebody close to me, and it was a process where I just didn’t want to do anything. That’s the only time. Otherwise I’ll just be in the studio at random times… it’s 3am, it’s 4am, it’s just random times. Whenever the vibe kick.”

Indeed, for Popcaanc creativity is often a solitary act. As he freely admits, there’s a switch inside him that lights up when he’s in the studio – it’s a place for focus, work, and commitment. “When I’m recording I don’t like too much people in the studio,” he points out. “When I’m recording I’m not as calm as now. I’m more like stern, y’know? I don’t want people in my studio doing these things. I don’t want people spoiling the vibe.”

The success of ‘Fixtape’ took Popcaan’s name around the globe multiple times. Propelled forwards by his endless creation – and the muscle OVO Sound has accrued – it’s success put the wind in his wings, but also created pressure for a follow-up. Not that Popcaan is worried – this is exactly the situation he thrives in. 

“I create very well with pressure,” he smiles, a broad grin of ceaseless confidence. “I think I create the best when I’m under pressure. That’s the time when I put everything into the music. You’ll get some more soulful songs in those times.”

His upcoming album is certainly soulful. Built against the backdrop of the pandemic, the music pushes Popcaan into different places, while remaining true to the identity he had steadfastly built – an identity fans know, and love. We should prepare to be challenged, too – he might three features on there (identities under wraps, for now),  but the voice that shouts loudest is his own.

“I just be myself,” he shrugs. “It doesn’t matter what is going on around me. People easily get bored until times change. So I just be myself, I keep a pace, I don’t try to do too much. I don’t try to outdo myself or anything. I just always try to fill the gap of being Popcaan… because there’s only one Popcaan! At the end of the day, that is what I bring to the table, and I have to be true to that.” 

“I won’t ever get carried away by nothing that is going on around me,” he adds. “I’m not influenced by it. I have my own thing going on, my own world going on, my own language… it’s different. The way I am, I’m always creating something new – a new slang, a new song. So just keep going! You just keep flowing like the stream.”

Someone deeply connected to his heritage, Popcaan relished the space the pandemic created; after dates on every single continent, pressing ‘pause’ was perhaps overdue. “With the pandemic, it let me stay in one place and create. It let me think a lot. I spent a lot of time with myself,” he says. “Before, I wasn’t really doing that. I’d never really taken time for myself, to get a clear view on certain things that had been taking place while I was travelling, just performing, and just moving. It’s bad and it’s good, y’know? You have to choose a way to turn a bad pandemic into good. That is it, because if you have your life at the end of the pandemic you can do anything. That’s the most important part.”

Don’t think the broader implications of lockdown are going to encroach on his music, though – the upcoming album emerges from a personal place, not a political one. “It’s not my job to challenge pandemic on those things,” he shrugs. “That’s the government’s job. My job is to create a way that people can feel motivated and feel strong within themselves. I see that as my job. If the pandemic makes people sad, I have to make music that will uplift them, and make them feel like they can keep pushing. I’m just making happy music. I’m making music for the girls!”

Someone who works in a multitude of fields, Popcaan is relishing the return of live music. His annual Unruly Fest – which see a near-endless list of icons fly to Jamaica – returns to another Caribbean instalment, while he also tells Clash about plans to bring the festival across the Atlantic.

“Unruly Fest is definitely on this year,” he nods. “And we’re thinking about bringing Unruly Fest to the UK as well. That is it. That’s the next move. That’s what we on!”

“We’re coming to London,” he says. “Definitely London. It’s been a while since I done a concert in London. It’s been a few years. It’s the time. London got a lot of love for me, and it’s the same thing with me. When I’m there, I don’t want to move.”

Desperate to further those diasporic connections, Popcaan might even hit up royalty to guarantee some sunshine. He laughs, and with a sly tone adds: “I was asking the Queen to change the weather a bit the other day!”

Shouting out the moves UK drill is making – “it’s like I’m a part of it” – Popcaan re-affirms his commitment to raising up young artists. Someone who knew what it was like to go without as a young man, he wants to help those in the next generation realise their ambitions. “I guide them in any way I can,” he says. “I try to give them exposure in any way I can. I think it’s something I enjoy doing, as well. I enjoy building up other people. And seeing it happen right in front of me.”

“I will always approach it with the feeling from my heart,” he adds. “My heart is going to tell me to help these youths, and give them exposure. So I’ll do that. I mean, Popcaan will try to bless and promote as much artists as I can. The struggle is not nice! Sufferation is not nice. I was once there, so I know what it is like as a young artist who is trying to make it out without the resources.”

This desire is framed by his deep and abiding faith. Popcaan’s spirituality may not always be at the forefront of his music, but it’s forever there, guiding him in subtle but striking ways. “I mean, did you know that the faith could move mountains?” he questions at one point in our conversation. “I have a lot of faith, bro. And a lot of confidence. I think that’s why I always stand out… it’s because faith bring me here. I was doing it for faith before I had a hit, or before I had money. So I’ll still do it by faith when I have countless hits, and countless money.”

There’s more than a little sense of fate to Popcaan’s journey. Those early singles lighting up the national charts, MixPak swooping to sign him; Drake hitting him up, and OVO Sound welcoming him into the family. If it seems effortless, then perhaps there was another hand guiding him.

“I mean, time brings that mixture together,” he observes. “The OVO family is amazing, man. There’s good energy, my brothers are there… we’ve created a family. OVO Rule. We tour, we make music, we hang out like friends… it’s something special. And it’s good that somebody from Jamaica can create something special where the world can acknowledge it. Popcaan and Drake creating music together is something very powerful. It’s also a blessing. The OVO situation is like family, straight.”

For all his fame, and for all his success, Popcaan remains a kid from Saint Thomas infatuated with music. The stereo plays throughout our conversation, a quiet but perpetual buzz that frames this inquisition with subtle bass tones. Boxing clever, he opts out of revealing any more specifics – after all, we’re about to engage with it on our own terms.

“I want the world to just enjoy the album,” he says humbly. “I’ve done a lot of work on this album, but it’s ready now. Ready as it’ll get! Now you’ve just got to trust the most high!”

Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Elliot James Kennedy
Fashion: Carlotta Constant

James Marriott has shared new single ‘Grapes’.

The songwriter had long held secret ambitions, but only began putting these in place in 2020. Debut single ‘Slow Down’ marked the beginning of his journey, and since then he has continually accelerated.

Gaining a huge fanbase, Brighton’s own James Marriott is pushing forwards with alacrity, merging the spiky indie of The Strokes, say, with the dynamic, fly-on-wall lyricism of Sam Fender.

New EP ‘Bitter Tongues’ is incoming, and he’s just shared focus track ‘Grapes’. A wry take on emerging adulthood, it’s about young love, regrets, and moving past your mistakes.

Coupled to a killer chorus, ‘Grapes’ takes James Marriott to a new level. He comments…

“’Grapes’ is the culmination of my want to write about the dichotomy of love and timing. A fragile man and a strong woman are childhood loves, but neither of them have lived their lives and become adults yet.”

Tune in now.

Photo Credit: Jack Talbot

Zoë Wren has shared her new song ‘Vapour’.

The songwriter cut her teeth busking in on the streets of London, before taking her music around the country. Capable of gathering a crowd in both Camden and Glasgow’s Celtic Connections, her debut album ‘Reckless River’ gathered folk and Americana leanings into one place.

Citing Joni Mitchell and Phoebe Bridgers as key influences, she actually appeared on The One Show, promoting her work with music and dementia for charity Live Music Now.

Awarded a PRS Lynsey de Paul Prize for her spellbinding performances, new song ‘Vapour’ takes Zoë Wren in a more alt-rock direction. A narrative-led return, ‘Vapour’ is essentially a short story, spinning the tale of a female spy in the Second World War, someone who was continually misrepresented.

She comments…

“The story of ‘Vapour’ drove my songwriting in a more alt-folk rock direction. The song was inspired by a WWII spy who was underestimated as a woman, which was precisely what made her so dangerous. It’s the first song I wrote with my Ableton Push 2 looper and has an upbeat, powerful vibe, which I’m excited about.”

A subtle and highly affecting listen, Zoë Wren stars in the period-authentic video, which brings her song to brilliant life.

Tune in now.

Four years on from her debut, the Lesbian Jesus herself is rising once again. While 2020 EP ‘I’m Too Sensitive For This Shit’ teased us with some new tracks, the full-length return of Hayley Kiyoko comes in a starry-eyed haze of easy-going, electro-pop. With its darker textures and more mature sound, ‘PANORAMA’ feels like an evolutionary step forward for Kiyoko – however there is still room for her sound to grow. 

‘PANORAMA’ thrives when it’s dishing out those totally sunkissed anthems. Perhaps the greatest example of this comes in the form of ‘for the girls’ – what we are inclined to call ‘Girls Like Girls’ darker older sibling. As Kiyoko’s sultry vocals croon out “summer’s for the girls…”, beat intoxicating, you can’t help but revel in the track’s thick beat.

Elsewhere, that summer-y energy is also captured on the likes of ‘well…’ and ‘sugar at the bottom’. 

‘well…’ is a summer-ready banger, a glistening cry of bittersweet synth-heavy bliss as Hayley Kiyoko crying “I know I’m doing well – as far as I can tell I’m doing better than you!” Opening track ‘sugar at the bottom’ also serves as a summer-y dose of venom, its staccato synths devilishly cool, Kiyoko’s sharp-tongued as ever as she sings “I’m so glad you’re someone else’s problem”.

Synths very much seem to be the album’s backbone, a key texture throughout. From the dark, spine-tingling Stranger Things-like analogue of ‘found my friends’, to the scaling synths of ‘chance’, to the bleary-eyed autotune of club-ready ‘underground’, the synthetic sounds are in full-swing. Although there is a clear effort to switch up the mood, at times the textures at play can feel repetitive, however. Tracks sometimes meld into one – easy on the ear, and definitely pleasing to listen to, but it does leave you wishing for some more sharp, punchy moments.

Overlooking the synths, Kiyoko has also amped up the vulnerability this time round, and those moments are definitely a delicate treat. ‘supposed to be’ is gorgeously soft as Hayley Kiyoko admits “only you could make me this lonely”, a profoundly nostalgic heartbreak anthem, while the stand-out beauty of title-track ‘panorama’ serves up a soaring, tumbling barrage of instrumentals, Kiyoko reflecting “what’s wrong with me?”

While ‘PANORAMA’ at times feels repetitive, there’s certainly moments that smoulder with passion, sparkling with Kiyoko’s signature charm. The release undoubtedly subverts our ‘Expectations’ following Hayley Kiyoko’s debut, the more mature sound and lyricisms definitely a shift in tone. We can only hope the star continues to fine-tune this new sound, as there’s definitely an experimental spark waiting to grow into a full-blown blaze.

6/10

Words: Emily Swingle

Fresh from being venerated at the BET awards, bagging a VMA nomination and features on both Beyoncé’s latest masterwork ‘Renaissance’ and the soundtrack of Marvel’s forthcoming tentpole release Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Tems concluded her UK tour with a sold out show at London’s KOKO. Her crossover success in the last few years is a testimony to the permeability of her artistry across borders and genres; her grace and earnest soulfulness a welcome deviation from the throng of glossy counterfeits that flood our airwaves and screens.

An assembly of devotees pack the floor and tiered balconies of the Camden venue. When the Nigerian singer saunters onto the stage adorned in a feathered silver dress, glistening like a glitterball phoenix under muted lighting (a neat nod to the venue’s disco ball decor), her understated demeanour complements her poise and proficiency in performance mode. An audience made up of faithful fans and romantics lavish their star with feverish singalongs as she segues through signature hit ‘Higher’ into the sophisti-sway of ‘Avoid Things’ and ‘Damages’, her resonant, silken voice never once floundering under the weight of live instrumentation.

‘Vibe Out’, from 2021 project ‘If Orange Was A Place’, is given a vibrant, spirited lift with rolling drums matching the pace of Tems’ fluid movement on stage: part private dancer, part afro-swing hype-woman. The set’s most powerful juncture arrives midway through with ‘Interference’, a tale of volatile love made devotional with Tems’ pining vocal reverberating out across the floor and into the venue’s peripheries. The positioning of gospel, faith and family in her life anchors the set. Through song and ad-hoc dialogue with her audience she conveys the magnitude of the occasion: in a palpably emotional moment she shares this show is the first time her Mother has seen her live. A tear was shed.

Tems hasn’t released an original solo song this year. That she continues to connect with audiences around the world is a testament to the strength of her existing source material. Whilst a preview of a new era would have been a welcome addition, her ability to breathe new life into songs that have lived in the consciousness of her fans outside of her native Nigeria is praiseworthy.

The Tems takeover continues.

Words: Shahzaib Hussain

ShaSimone can spit hard. An intimidating persona, she’s also not afraid to be open.

Recent single ‘Lock Off’ showed the rapper at her most dynamic, lifting the tempo for those epic double-time flows. Aiming to keep fans on their toes, new single ‘Thug Affection’ flips the script once more, with ShaSimone dropping the tempo for a work of ruthless honesty.

Opening with spoken word testimony from a therapist, ‘Thug Affection’ boasts bass-heavy LikkleDotz production, the spartan arrangement moving from sub-low elements through to those tinkling notes of piano.

Putting her heart on the line, ShaSimone talks about the trials of the dating scene, and the necessity that love and commitment hold in her life. She comments…

“’Thug Affection’ is a song I made which is a reflection of the current dating scene from my perspective. Situationships have become so glamorised and I feel like a lot of people are craving genuine, real love. So this song is a dedication to all the people looking for something real.”

A bold yet subtle track, ‘Thug Affection’ spins everything you know about ShaSimone on its head.

MRMTMMG directs the visuals – tune in now.

ShaSimone’s debut EP ‘Simma Down’ is out on September 2nd, and will feature BOJ and Avelino. 

At just 18 years of age, Claire Rosinkranz is already proving herself to be a formidable musical talent. Bursting with personality and bold, diverse soundscapes, Rosinkranz is an alt-pop dream. Her 2021 EP ‘6 Of A Billion’ was only the tip of the iceberg, if her recent singles are anything to go by. New single ‘123’ shows yet another side to the star, drowning in a formidable coolness.

‘123’s chilled out swing is utterly irresistible, instrumentals buttery-smooth as the track unfolds. This is offset by Rosinkranz’s catchy, sass-tinged lyrical quips – comments like “by the way, you’re a shitty dancer” and “can’t fix me, are you jokin?” perfectly reflecting her tongue-in-cheek persona. It’s a track filled-to-the-brim with character, and will have you quickly loving Rosinkranz’s bittersweet outlook on life.

The track follows on from recent single ‘i’m too pretty for this’ – the title alone yet another punch of the Californian’s sharp, charming personality. Serving as a bright, pastel pop-punk banger, the single shows us yet another side of the 18-year-old – and, of course, it’s a total earworm.

With chameleon-like artists like Ronsinkranz, it seems like TikTok is producing some absolutely stellar pop-stars. The next era of pop is in safe hands.

Tune in now.

Words: Emily Swingle
Photo Credit: Hunter Baker

Toronto-based jangle troupe Tallies (Sarah Cogan, Dylan Frankland & Cian O’Neill) offered up a slice of ethereal dreaming on their 2019 debut LP. The band’s tasteful blend of alternative guitar pop sensibilities – with a soaring nostalgia at its core – succeeded in inviting fans from indie scenes and the mainstream alike into their philosophy. Once the pandemic hit, however, their efforts to maintain deserved momentum reached a stopping point. 

Simon Raymonde – former Cocteau Twins bass player and founder of Bella Union – took notice of Tallies’ plight, and made a point of signing the band, forging a trans-Atlantic working friendship that injected energy back into their craft. And thus, the Tallies have released their exquisite, rose-tinted sophomore album ‘Patina’.

The trio kick off with a characteric juxtaposition of optimism and poignancy. ‘No Dreams Of Fayres’ is a crystalline, soaring depiction of dream pop, its sombre tone (reminiscent of The Cranberries and Slowdive) sees singer Cogan exploring the vicious cycles of teenage depression, while its arrangement provides cathartic hope. The record toys further with dream pop notions; ‘Heaven’s Touch’ carries a satisfying haziness, steadier than its predecessors and bolstered by an in-the-pocket backline, while ‘Am I The Man’ hints at shoegaze with its sugarspun descending progression and psychedelic whammy stabs.

‘Patina’ contrasts its dreamier moments with crisp jangle pop tropes. Songs like ‘Memento’ and ‘Special’ employ oxymoronic light and shade, their drifting verses tastefully mellow, while their choruses bubble with vibrant releases. In a similar vein, the washy, early R.E.M.-esque ‘Hearts Underground’ and cathartic album closer ‘When Your Life Is Not Over’ hint at a heaviness that, commendably, never eclipses a softer, emotive lyrical intent.

The musicality of the band, a consistent merit of the album’s soundcraft, encourages Tallies’ indie sensibilities to break into mainstream pop contexts. Frankland’s defiantly understated guitarwork, O’Neill’s attentive dynamic contrasts and Cogan’s whispered, echoing topline all serve a wondrous sonic cohesion. At times the vocals do tend to suffer from an over-prominence in the mix, and may have benefitted from being further obscured and distanced with echo, but on the whole the delivery acknowledges and accommodates the musical direction.

Fleshing out dream and jangle pop tropes to align with a more modern sensibility, Tallies succeed in uniting the indie crowd and the pop crowd under an ethereal umbrella. Patina is a solid sophomore effort, and perhaps hints at the promise of a greater sonic exploration to come with their future releases.

7/10

Dig This? Dig Deeper: Sunflower Bean, Slowdive, The Cranberries

Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown

Caribbean artist Kalpee is making waves with his ebullient music, having curated a tropical sound he describes as new calypso. This fresh take on calypso got Kalpee noticed by the SXSW committee, resulting in his pioneering of the Island Wave stage at SXSW 2022. The Trinidadian musician curated a lineup comprised entirely of gifted Caribbean musicians, proudly sharing their musical heritage with the coveted Texas event. 

His most recent release is a remix EP of sunny track ‘Island Gyal’ – a nostalgic dip into calypso, reggae, and dancehall that maintains its light-hearted groove even after reworking. The EP includes a remix by the Trinidad and Tobago-based outfit, Precision Productions. Kasey Phillips is a legendary Caribbean producer and a key member of Precision Productions, working to expand cultural sounds into new pockets of the music industry. 

It’s clear that there’s so much talent coming out of the Caribbean, but for the artists, making music isn’t without its difficulties. Kalpee and Phillips are creators with a passion for bringing Caribbean music to the forefront of the international music scene, but each acknowledges the obstacles the Caribbean music scene faces.

In conversation for Clash, artist and producer interviewed each other over National Caribbean-American Heritage Month to discuss how to help their local music scene, navigating international waters, and the importance of Caribbean culture.

Kalpee: What are some of the limitations/ challenges of being a producer, working in the Caribbean?

Kasey Phillips: Some major limitations are access and seasonality. Working in the Caribbean makes the access to artists, song-writers or music industry executives more difficult than being in and around the music industry itself, where the big decisions and important connections in the industry are happening in real time. Seasonality touches on the time constraints with Caribbean music. We mass produce music towards a festival like Carnival, which kills the life of songs whenever the season is done. Songs don’t get to fulfil their true potential since everything, all songs, are bottlenecked into a few months.

Kalpee: Why do you feel it’s important to push Caribbean music out to the international markets?

Phillips: I believe that Caribbean music is already being fused with other types of mainstream music without it being identified correctly, so it’s time to bring it to the forefront so the world can experience the greatness of the Caribbean.

Kalpee: What inspires you locally as a producer?

Phillips: The need to innovate and find new ways to present and package our local music. The Caribbean; specifically Trinidad & Tobago, is a melting pot of talent and a multitude of cultures that are untapped and just need that breakthrough for the world to recognize its power.

Kalpee: What advice would you give to aspiring Caribbean producers to help them break internationally?

Phillips: First, structure, and then, taking your brand and yourself (your craft )seriously. From your company registration, to having your music registered, and also signing up with the necessary Publishers and Performance Rights Organization (PRO) is of paramount importance in order to be taken seriously internationally.

Kalpee: What drawbacks does the Caribbean music community face when striving to reach the international music scene?

Phillips: Infrastructure. We have amazing music that hypnotizes people and they love it, but we lack infrastructure around our Caribbean music industry to push it beyond our own region. We need entities like record labels or distribution channels that would facilitate moving and promoting these songs across the globe into mainstream markets, showcasing Caribbean music and talent globally.

Phillips: What do you think an artist from Trinidad or the Caribbean needs to breakthrough into the Mainstream market?

Kalpee: I feel that what Caribbean artists need, is an education of how the music business works, accompanied by an infrastructure within our own industry that supports the entertainment economy, so that we are able to earn from making music. Creatively, even though the resources aren’t easily available, we are able to navigate around delivering music and music videos but, without marketing, the exposure and export of our sound, remains mainly on the Islands. Marketing initiatives such as PR, digital promotions, radio pluggers, and digital ad spend not only require budgets (which most of the time are not available due to a seasonal economy centred around events such as carnival,)but also, with no one offering those services from the Caribbean with an international reach, we are limited to just exposure within the Islands.

Phillips: Why Caribbean music? Why not another genre? 

Kalpee: It’s who I am! Caribbean music runs in my blood, it’s what I grew up listening to and what I’ve been performing since I was a child. It’s so important to me to always include elements from home when creating new music, as it’s the foundation of my craft and I am proud of my cultural heritage. With digital platforms connecting the world online, I grew up listening to so many different styles of music and naturally, outside influences have also impacted how and what I create. My sound is a blend of genres like, pop, rock and trap, fused with calypso, dancehall and reggae. It’s an expression of where I am today that resonates with not only my vybe and personality, but also my story so far. 

Phillips: Where do you pull your inspiration from as a Caribbean artist in music? 

Kalpee: I live for music, so I find inspiration everywhere and anywhere. It really depends on the day, a conversation with a friend, a bad day, watching a movie, listening to other artists, going on a hike… anything can trigger a melody or a lyrical line. Music is therapy to me, so I like creating ideas out of challenges, both personally and within society. I’ve been performing calypso music since the age of five, which most of the time had very serious or political lyrics, so that’s something that’s stuck with me. I believe in the power of positive music evoking a positive mentality, so that’s what I try to convey most of the time in anything that I create.  

Phillips: What has been the biggest challenge to date in being a successful artist?

Kalpee: One of the biggest challenges would be funding the artistry when there’s no industry around you outside of carnival to bring in paying gigs and other opportunities. I do a lot of the creative process myself which means having all the necessary tools to make and edit music and video. From the hardware to the software, I promise, none of it is cheap at all. What’s even more difficult is the accessibility of up to date equipment in the Caribbean, which is extremely important If you want your ideas to compete with the international market. If I wanted to buy a professional condenser microphone, for example, 9 times out of 10 you’ll have to buy it online and ship it in. Which means paying for the item, along with the standard US taxes and shipping. Then after two weeks, paying local taxes, custom fees, and taxes on the cost of the item to be able to clear it. So at the end of the process sometimes we end up spending twice as much or more, for the same tools. 

Phillips: Do you think being from the Caribbean helps or hinders your international aspirations? 

Kalpee: I think it can do both based on the person and their belief system in themselves, but most of the time, I think it can hinder aspirations. We play by very different rules in the Caribbean, especially Trinidad. So sometimes it can feel as though you have to create within a box if you want a chance at succeeding locally. That box for me, was carnival. As much as I appreciate the festival and how important it is, it gave me no room to evolve the culture and create how I wanted to. If it didn’t sound a specific way, it didn’t work. There was no space for an artist like myself. No platforms, opportunities, grants – nothing. So the only way to progress was to create the space. I saw the vision for myself and believed it so I decided to teach myself all the crafts like music production and video editing – things that I couldn’t afford to pay someone to do. The other major hindrance for a Caribbean artist to try and compete internationally is the extreme difficulty of applying for Visas. In order to travel to most places on a Caribbean passport, you need a work or tourist visa which has to be applied for at an embassy. We do not have an ESTA equivalent like the UK or any quick process to do this, so It’s extremely expensive and the wait time for appointments can be up to six months. We can’t efficiently export our music if we can’t travel to promote it. This is something that really has to be looked at and in time, hopefully it will change.

Kalpee’s platform Island Wave has opened submissions for their SXSW 2023 showcase at Flamingo Cantina; to enter, artists need to register interest by emailing: [email protected]

Words: Gem Stokes