Trash Talks with Sophie Hickson

In an online virtual exhibition and website, twenty year old Sophie Hickson showcases her experience of Fillipino culture, focusing on the core issues facing Fillipino communities today. Via an International Citizen Service (ICS) programme with the Department for International Development (DFID), Sophie was assigned to the Philippines for twelve weeks of volunteering in the developing areas of Hagony, Bulacan.

Since returning to the UK, Sophie has embarked on a project focusing on developing issues in communities, taking inspiration not only from her time in the Philippines but also in her home city of Cardiff.

As of May 25th, Sophie’s online virtual photography exhibition, Trash Talks, has been open to the public who are welcomed to send pictures of their own communities under the theme of ‘development.’ On the 12 July, Sophie will be conducting a presentation and question and answer session in Second Life to discuss the programme, exhibition and ideas of development within communities.

Trash Talks provides a case study of troubling issues present within communities such as teen pregnancy, health risks, waste and waste disposal. Sophie found that in the Philippines, without the necessary waste disposal systems, rubbish was simply thrown into the streets and rivers, creating a hazard for the wildlife and community, especially families with young children. During tidal flooding – a regular occurrence in the area – waste was swept into homes, increasing the risk of disease and causing considerable damage.

Sophie has set about searching for parallels in Cardiff, taking note of the waste issues in pockets of Cardiff such as Riverside and Canton, where recycling systems are not used effectively and students discover mice or rats in their home. Although not nearly on a par with the poverty level and devastation caused in the Philippines, Sophie wishes to look within her own community at issues that effect both the people and the environment, and discuss ways in which these issues can be resolved.

The primary aims of Sophie’s project are to raise awareness of the issues facing developing areas, to inspire individuals to look at their at their own community as well as areas abroad and encourage involvement in the development of these communities and hopes to make global links with this project, as a result of the influence the ICS programme.

Sophie says that the ICS programs are amazing opportunities for young people to experience other cultures, in addition to focusing on personal development abroad. These programmes are low expense and all work towards providing aid in developing areas. A thoroughly rewarding experience, Sophie found the Filipino people genuinely happy to meet visitors, always smiling and extremely hospitable, feeling welcomed in a way which differed hugely to the stiff upper lip British attitudes often found at home.

“I’m doing this social action project because I want to create something fluid and on-going”, says Sophie, “(I want) something that doesn’t end just because my time volunteering on this programme has finished. I want to engage other young people to think about development in their own communities, as well as giving them the space to compare and discuss these issues with other people across the globe”

To follow Sophie’s progress visit www.trashtalksa.webs.com

Review: Boy With Compass

Boy With Compass refer to themselves as “a loose music making collective…making all manner of mischief.” This collective includes Donald Thomas, David Roy and Samuel Tranter and in addition to the standard vocals, guitars, bass and percussion combination, the album features typewriter loops, glockenspiel and old camera clicks throughout tracks.

All songs are written by Donald Thomas, also responsible for vocals and guitar. The four track EP, This Dear City recorded at “various Scottish locations between June and July 2011”. The album, released on September 19 last year, was mixed and mastered by Dan Lyth and has been released both digitally and in an addition of 500 CDs in card wallet case, with stunning artwork by friend, David Fleck.

The artwork alone is an indication of a beautifully crafted record, which, hand in hand with the work of Boy With Compass, makes for the perfect indie souvenir. The overall tone of the album is melancholic and gentle, reminiscent of fellow Scottish counterparts, Frightened Rabbit and at times, Idlewild.

Succeeding to create a delightful collection of tracks with slightly gruff vocals, upbeat guitar and whimsical melody. Boy With Compass undeniably come across morose at times, but in a way that is beautifully soft and strangely uplifting. The style is close to Australian band, The Middle East, who, like Boy With Compass, succeed to create a brilliant combination of a morbid yet addictive sound.

The real gem on the album is undoubtably ‘Abandoned Factories.’ The track begins with the sound of a typewriter which is followed by xylophone and melodic guitar, maintaining a sense of Amelie-era Yann Tiersen throughout. Beautiful vocals compliment the gentle melodies and the quirky touches of typewriters and camera clicks encompass the sound of Boy With Compass.

With ‘Almost Home,’ Boy With Compass are joined by Catriona Lamb who provides delectable cello playing, combined with soft acoustic guitar which one can only imagine would be marvelous, perhaps even haunting to appreciate live. How Many Roads really shows off Thomas’ vocal skills and the group’s capabilities of creating breathtaking melodies.

Overall this is a beautiful track, reflecting the many talents of the band and a true representation of Boy With Compass at their best. ‘Crux’ is the nearest the EP comes to a low point. An equally charming track which includes gorgeous harmonies, drifts dangerously towards Mumford and Sons territory and becomes almost slightly monotonous, a disappointing aspect on an otherwise sound album of captivating tracks.

This Dear City is not a groundbreaking EP, but by no means does that mean that it is not a good record. The style is one adopted and crafted by many artists, however Boy With Compass, for the most part, manage to keep a great sound without over mastering and commercializing the format of their music.

While not settling the world alight with this offering, Boy With Compass still possess a lot of talent and will surely show this with future endeavors.

10 minutes with Cuba Cuba

From the comfort of the Gwaelod-y-Garth Inn just outside Cardiff, lead vocalist, guitarist and clarinet player, Morgan Isaac, delves deeper into the foundations and journey of Cuba Cuba who are to play this year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Cuba Cuba have been making music since late 2007, creating a fusion of pop/indie rock, having previously been compared to artists such as Friendly Fires and Bloc Party. You can Listen to their beats here. He has signed to Walnut Tree Recordings, the group are also part of the Escape Artists Management roster. The four core members of the band include Isaac’s little brother, Lewys Isaac on drums, close friend Danny Owen on guitars, keyboard and xylophone and next door neighbour, Sion Fenwick, on guitar and vocals as well as their third bassist, Michael McCabe. Isaac cites the band’s greatest influence as Grammy Award winning French indie rock group Phoenix, in particular their most recent album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.

“We tried to take the same direction as Phoenix with our album which proved to be pretty hard on the budget we were on!” laughed Morgan.

As for the themes of the album, Where Else Is Safe But The Road, and the most recent videos, ‘We Rode’ and ‘Fifty A Night’, Isaac explains that the band have allowed him to indulge in his obsession with western film, “Lawlessness, adventure, the Wild West; I love it. The rest of the band have happily let me live out my fantasy.” Although the video for ‘Fifty A Night’ includes western clothes, endless land and several horses, it was filmed in Brecon, an area which could easily pass as the Salinas Valley,

“Tt was exactly what we wanted,” says Isaac, “an amazing location”

With the four core members of the band fluent Welsh speakers, Isaac told Plastik Magazine that they would like to write material in his mother tounge, “At the moment it doesn’t sound right.” he said, “I know I will write a good (song) soon but at the moment it is not the direction we want to take with the band”, citing the difficulty with gaining exposure for Welsh language music outside of Wales.

When it comes to media exposure, Cuba Cuba have been blessed with support from Radio 1 introducing from DJs such as Huw Stephens and Bethan Elfyn.

“Huw Stephens as been really good to us. Through this exposure we have had so many opportunities,” says Isaac who has been invited to take part in the Radio 1 Introducing Masterclass this month which has in the past featured lecturers from the likes of Florence and the Machine and Zane Lowe.

Cuba Cuba have also featured on XFM, BBC Radio 6 and BBC Radio Wales and for Television programmes for the BBC, ITV, ESPN and S4C, in addition to radio stations in Spain and France who have played tracks off their album.

“Since releasing an album we’ve had really good press”, Morgan explains, “People tend to take (a group) more seriously once you bring out an album.”
Through BBC 1 Introducing, Cuba Cuba were given the opportunity to play this year’s Reading and Leeds festivals, a fantastic experience for any young band looking to break into the monumental British music scene. Morgan reveals that the group came dangerously close to missing their set at Leeds after the exhaust of their van broke lose on the journey. Quick thinking Morgan – using the cable of a playstation control no less – jumped out the van and secured the exhaust, making the set in time. Drama was no less present at Reading when, upon arrival, Cuba Cuba nearly ran over the bassist for Muse which Morgan says “would have been awkward – killing the headline act. Thankfully it didn’t happen and everything else went to plan”.

“You name it, we’ve played it”, is Isaac’s summary of the band’s  scoreboard of local gigs. His dream is to play the Millennium Stadium “but I don’t think that will happen anytime soon,” he laughs adding that Cuba Cuba had played a Press Conference within the Stadium; “we’re half way there. We were in the stadium. It sounds cool until you elaborate on the story”.

This year Cuba Cuba played Swn festival for the first time on the final night at Gwdihw which Isaac remarks is “a bit like playing in someone’s living room… it didn’t really suit us, we’re clunky – we have lots of equipment.”

As for the festival itself, Morgan admits he was skeptical at first; “It seemed very ambitious…lots of bands and venues spread across Cardiff”. Swn, however, has proved to be a great success and an event which Morgan says is “really, really cool’.

As for their journey to Texas later this year, this is set to be the bands biggest and most daunting expedition yet, with mixed emotions clearly felt by Morgan; “It’s really quite stressful; visas, tickets, visiting the embassy in London, the organisation of the trip…but obviously really excited”. Morgan explained that without funding from the Welsh Music Foundation, the trip would not have been possible. The festival, which takes place between the ninth and the eighteenth of March, will be the group’s first set of US shows. The band were put forward for SXSW by their manager, drummer for Funeral for a Friend, Ryan Richards, after deciding with the group that this would be one of the core aims of the year, feeling SXSW is a festival very suited to the style and sound of Cuba Cuba.

Remarking on his love of making music with his band, Morgan concluded; “I want to make a living out of it…and if I ever make a lot of money, I want to take a year out and live as a cowboy for a year.”

With this in mind, Texas may just well be the perfect location for Morgan and the ever developing Cuba Cuba.

Interview with Mike Simmons (Conformist)

Mike Simmons, known musically as Conformist, moved to Cardiff over five years ago, keen to get involved with the compact but flourishing Welsh music scene. Now getting airplay from Steve Lamacq and on Adam Walton’s Radio Wales show, Conformist is rapidly gaining attention and building momentum, and it feels as though this is just the start of the journey.

Mike’s love of music began at an early age, stemming from his mother’s vast collection of vinyl records in their house in the village of Dale, Pembrokshire. Mike said, “I realised at an early age that by slowing, speeding and scratching records that he could manipulate pre-existing sounds with fascinating effects”. From Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ to a later flirtation with punk rock and eventual fascination with electronica, Mike’s love of music and creating sound never faltered.

The name Conformist comes from Mike’s transgression into working life and adulthood; “Walking into my first job in Cardiff at British Gas I saw people in suits and ties – people who did not want to be there…conformists. Conformist as a name is a statement on compromise, those who simply accept mediocrity, something which is perhaps more relevant now with the growth of the X Factor.”

Mike told Plastik Magazine that Conformist’s sound is heavily based around “VHS 80s nightmares and sampled bad sci-fi movies”, in a “cut and paste” style using a combination of software, live instruments and old or modified equipment. Inspired by Crystal Castles, whom Mike dubs “one of the best bands of the last few years”, Conformist embraces the same elements such as mistakes left in songs and effects which are not always technically sound, remarking that one doesn’t need to be a techno nerd to create great electronica.

A self-confessed  “habitual channel hopper”, Mike says he records everything from bad music videos to shopping channels and pornography in snippets to feature on various tracks. Mike further admitted to priding himself on the ability to avoid paying royalties for any samples by “manipulates clips enough for them to remain hidden.” Drawn to the “cross over appeal”, Mike reveals that Conformist’s new single, ‘Savages Go Modern’, due to be released this month, is a mash up of dance, cut up vocals and noise. The single will be followed by the release of an album later in the year. With over eighty tracks in the works under the Conformist monicker, Mike says he aims to release a second album before next Christmas.

Conformist recently collaborated with local musicians Kutosis, remixing their track ‘Islands’ which was featured on Barely Regal’s compilation for Swn festival 2011, How Swn Is Now?  Mike was present at one of Kutosis’ first gigs, having met band member Ian while working at a mundane office job six or seven years ago, eventually DJing at a gig alongside the band in Cardiff pub Dempsey’s. “I’m looking forward to working with them again” says Mike, hinting at the possibility of additional remixes from the album. Conformist has also recently worked with electro pop artists Bury Me in LA, remixing her track ‘Young Lust Seekers’, creating what Mike calls “noisy dupstep punk”.

Yet another idea which Mike is developing is Smash Mastering, a pro mastering project offering mastering and mixing to local artists. This project has enabled him to work with people he wouldn’t necessarily connect with in the world of Conformist such as death metal, acoustic and R&B. Having learnt about music production over the years, Mike wishes the offer guidance on improving sound for amateur artists and reasonable studio time and advice. Through this new project, Mike says he hopes not to make money, but to have the chance to meet and help other artists, make connections in the Cardiff area and embrace the opportunity for further Conformist remixes with local artists.

With the latest single ‘Savages Go Modern’ released this month and the finishing touches being added to the album, to be released in March, 2012 looks set to be an epic year for Mike Simmons.

Live: Wise Blood

Undoubtably his twelve plus months working at a cemetery has contributed to the dark tones of his music. Wise Blood’s EP, These Wings, released on Dovecote, was released digitally in August and on vinyl in September and includes the track B.I.G E.G.O, the video for which included fashion icon Daphne Guinness.

Support for Wise Blood was Bangor born Crash.Disco!, reminiscent of acts such as veterans Orcop and Bassclef. Crash.Disco! may have a name like a Hadouken song but the sound he created was so wonderfully exciting and demonstrated so much talent, it deserved a far bigger audience. Crash.Disco! proved to be a fantastic start, providing a magnificent set from a collection of equipment I didn’t understand. Never looking up and fixated on the array of buttons and switches on the small table in front of him, he left the stage without a word, leaving behind a small but appreciative audience.

Wise Blood ambled to the centre of Undertone, accompanied only by a keyboardist and a drummer. Having listened to his material I prepared myself for a promising gig with an eclectic blend of influences. With a thunderous sound, including heavy drums and recorded church bells (no doubt in reference to his undertaker days), Wise Blood’s sound burst into the small space of Undertone. Much of Wise Blood’s music is based on samples to produce a musical collage, attempting to form a unique sound to compliment his song writing. With a vocal style in the same vein as The Cribs combined with overtones of rhythm and base, Wise Blood creates a feeling of organised chaos which appeared to agree with his small and enthusiastic crowd. Laufman did well to engage with his audience and aside from the unforgivable faux pas of mistaking Cardiff as part of England, he seemed to connect well with the Undertone faithful.

Despite a great sound, the most prominent influence appeared to be a bizarre clash of Modest Mouse and the film 8 Mile. With his pseudo-rap style, Wise Blood’s stage demeanour was borderline embarrassing, detracting from the tight and well formed set produced by his backing band and his own decent vocals and song writing. This was a great shame since much of Wise Blood’s recorded material sounds closer to Sparklehorse and sometimes almost reaching the chaotic sound of Sonic Youth, rather than coming at all close to the feel of Eminem’s aggressive mix of melody and rap. This, however, did not translate in his live performance at Undertone, giving the audience more noise and aggression than emotions and melody. Laufman’s stage act quickly became tiresome and although Wise Blood certainly had a solid sound, it was often hard to distinguish between tracks since the majority of his material seemed to merge into one long and exhausting epic. In short, an interesting gig but one that promised so much more.

Review: Sound It Out

Record stores have become an endangered species, with approximately five hundred independent record stores closing over the last five years.

Set against the backdrop of the grey skies and empty streets of a small town in North-East England, the small record shop Sound It Out provides a cultural beacon in a town that, in the words of director Jeanie Finlay, has “faded” over the years.

Without a doubt the heart and soul of Sound It Out, both the store and the film, is owner Tom Butchart. His encyclopaedic knowledge and passion for music, vinyl and his customers is clearly second to none. Throughout the film we meet Sound It Out’s most loyal and eccentric customers, following their story into their own homes and vinyl collections. From a borderline obsessive Status Quo fanatic to two young heavy metal lovers and the boys who want nothing more than to DJ in Ibiza, each story is driven by the music in the lives of the individuals. The key to Tom’s success is clearly rooted in his personal approach to selling music to individuals that has been stripped away with the introduction of MP3 and downloading, and a level of knowledge that one will rarely find in their local HMV store.

For the customers of Sound It Out, vinyl is more than an interest; it’s a lifestyle. With a struggling economy, town of Stock-on-Tees, Sound It Out provides an escape for those hit the hardest. For young people there is little to do and even less to work for in the North-East. Those interviewed were mainly unemployed and explained that without youth programmes, most of the young people in the area just drank on the streets. It was a love of music, “the buzz of vinyl discovery” and DJing that kept those interviewed for the film off the streets and powered their dreams of something better.

With regard to the closure of the store, the situation looks brighter than in previous years. Customers remarked on the void that would be left with Sound It Out, a sentiment that would undoubtably be felt by customers of Cardiff’s own Spillers Records. Sound It Out is part of people’s lives and Tom is their friend and their dealer. For many of the people involved in the film, music is their lifeline and Tom provides their succour.

Sound It Out includes footage of in store gigs, including local lass Saint Saviour, whose music features on the films’s soundtrack alongside Status Quo and King Creosote, in addition to North-East acts The Chapman Family and Das Wanderlust. The film also introduces it’s audience to ‘Mákina,’ a genre of music only popular in the North-East of England and parts of Spain, which can only be described as an alarming concoction of old school gameboy sounds and shouty speed induced nursery rhyme terror. Nevertheless, Tom Butchart stocks these records due to the demand for them from his young customers and it seems that if they want it around, then Tom wants it around.

Director Finlay succeeds in giving her audience a wonderful insight into the world of Sound It Out and their fantastically random customers, exploring a real love of music, vinyl and independently run stores that not only exists in Teeside or for customers of Spillers Records, but for music lovers across the world. For these people buying music goes beyond simply owning the material, it is the experience of discovering, buying, loving and cherishing music, an experience which for many can only be found in the small independent music shops like the one captured by Finlay in Sound it Out.