Mary J Blige roundhouse london itunes festival

With more than 20 years in the game you might be forgiven for thinking that Mary J. Blige’s live shows have calmed down since her high octane days in the 90’s and early 00’s. This of course would be a ridiculous assumption, not only has Blige maintained her energy, she’s gotten even stronger and even more powerful… and lest we not speak of the in-cred-ible shape she’s in.

Taking to the iconic stage at London’s Roundhouse for the iTunes Festival last night, Mary used the first half of her show to remind everybody how it is she’s managed to maintain such a long and successful career – her hits are bewilderingly endless. Covering a substantial amount of ground, she played through her discography and performed fan-favourites like ‘You Remind Me’, ‘Happy’, ‘Real Love’, ‘Family Affair’ and of course the holy-spirit-squat inducing ‘No More Drama’.

But it was clear from the shows introduction that Mary had a bigger agenda than just to indulge in blind nostalgia – she wanted to use her moment to unveil new music from her 13th studio album The London Sessions.

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Drake opened the final leg of his Would You Like a Tour show last night at London with a display of confidence and charisma befitting the superstar he has become. Through a well thought-out, crowd pleasing set list Aubrey reminded us of the journey he’s been on since quietly [relatively speaking] releasing So Far Gone in 2009, the mixtape that first sparked his global grip.

Relying mostly on material from his third and most recent album Nothing Was The Same, Drizzy poured over hit after hit from across his discography and dedicating a section to his extensive feature repertoire: ‘The Language’, ‘Tuscan Leather’, ‘Worst Behaviour’, an extended (if not slightly over indulgent) rendition of ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’, ‘From Time’ assisted by R&B’s rising starlet Jhene Aiko, ‘Take Care’ (sadly sans Rihanna), ‘Over’ and the shows encore ‘Started From the Bottom’.

The overwhelming response to which was: “shit, Drake has hits!” – something that is perhaps a little easy to underestimate between twitter-memes, Drake shake apps and teary eyed tumblr gags that populate timelines and feeds on a hourly basis.

But its undeniable at this stage and has been for a long time now – hip hop’s reigning prince is also one of pop’s biggest superstars; Drake is without question a global artist who can shift huge numbers, balance die-hard fans with casual radio-listeners and sell out stadiums around the world. It wouldn’t take a lot of arguing to assess Drizzy as a poster child by-product of a post-Kanye world (even down to his elaborate, awe-inspiring stage set), but giving credit where credit is due – Drake is sitting confidently at the top of his game with very few competitors eyeing for his spot.

Boy did good.

After nearly a decade at Hyde Park, Wireless Festival 2013 made the bold move to uproot to Stratford City’s Olympic Village, marking the first major event there since last years historic summer games. It was a move that had a lot of people intrigued, well that and the small fact that Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z were headlining individually and as part of their Legends of the Summer tour outfit – prompting nearly 200,000 to descend onto East London.

The gamble paid off. The great weather combined with London’s unspoken goal to rekindle last years Olympic spirit kicked off what was to be an epic weekend. Only in a city like London and only at a festival like Wireless could music fans get the chance to see: Jay-Z, Justin Timberake, A Tribe Called Quest (!!), Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Miguel, Jessie Ware, A$AP Rocky, Snoop Dogg, Big Sean, Katy B, 2 Chainz, Mikky Ekko, Joey Bada$$ and many others in one weekend.

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This past weekend saw Wireless pulling out all the stops. Arguably one of the festivals biggest and most impressive line ups in recent years, the 3-day event saw the likes of Drake, Rihanna, A$AP Rocky, The Weeknd, Santigold, J. Cole, The Roots, Nicki Minaj and a whole host of others take to the Hyde Park stage.

Despite the dismal British weather we took full advantage of the line-up, making sure our must-see acts were ticked off – and of course, experiencing new performers we hadn’t yet caught live.

The weekend began relatively calm on Friday – Santigold entertained us with a high octane performance of material from her new album Master of My Make-Believe, while The Roots reminded everyone about to get their brain zapped by Deadmau5 what music with melody and rhythm sounds like.

Saturday was a lot more exciting. Not only were we amped to see the like of Drake, Nicki Minaj, Deliliah, AlunaGeorge etc – all of whom put on great shows, but it was also the day we were to experience the allusive Weeknd live for the first time.

As frequenters of PinBoard will know, we’ve championed the rogue Canadian for some time – his body of work thus far has been a hot topic across many of our digital pages and so it was with a lot of excitement we trawled through the mud over to the Pepsi Max stage to see how Abel Tesfaye delivers in person…

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Yesterday we were invited to SARM Studios to preview Frank Ocean’s debut album channel ORANGE, a 17-track escapade into a world created, narrated and performed by a key player in the “post-everything” generation. Before the head of A&R at Def Jam (who flew in for one day specifically to play the LP off her iPod) pressed play, Ocean briefly introduced the album from his home in L.A via iChat saying very little but thanking us all for attending.

channel ORANGE is by all accounts a sophisticated, deeply complex and heartfelt offering littered with philosophical character-lead stories, social-political commentaries and a wealth of exciting influences. It’s an album quintessentially of its era, but one that proudly boasts the sensibilities of some of the defining sounds of the bygones.

Musically speaking Ocean pulls (and pushes) from every direction. He bravely and successfully builds bridges between prog-R&B & prog-Rock and shrouds much of his album in a heavy blanket of Soul (at times, dare I say Neo-Soul). But also cleverly flirts with celestial (Jimi Hendrix inspired) Blues and unadulterated Pop.

He lives up to his storyteller reputation too, especially on songs like ‘Bad Religion’, a track about a cab ride he takes with a Muslim driver in which the two have a conversation about faith – in parts even singing a religious phase in Arabic (a rousing moment). His knack for twisting perspectives is another testament to how impressive a songwriter he is – often alternating between characters and narratives, leaving much to the listeners interpretation and… imagination (a talent that has and will most probably continue to go over some heads).

Not all the songs featured on channel ORANGE are outrightly daring however – some do step back off the proverbial ledge (these are the few moments that remind me most of the weaker parts of his Nostalgia ULTRA tape), yet none feel too contrived or diluted.

Refreshingly though the album highlights how good a singer Ocean is too and how powerful and razor sharp his voice really can be – a fact that he has sometimes hidden beneath his previous releases (a clever tactic for any songwriter). The Andre 3000 assisted ‘Pink Matter’ is a particularly special moment when seemingly out of nowhere he unleashes the full thrust of a voice we never really knew existed – it results in a near-primal scream.

At this point it would be naive (not to mention unprofessional) of me to brand this ‘a classic album’, but what I can say (with confident hope) is that it has the potential to make a significant cultural impact. What Frank Ocean offers with channel ORANGE is a new way of approaching a long impoverished sector of music and with it brings restored faith in that it will inspire a generation, (re)affirming them that genuine creativity can prevail.

In all channel ORANGE is a confident offering from a vulnerable artist, quietly secure in his abilities. It’s a courageous debut, rich in colour and content and one not necessarily made with a mainstream audience in mind – which I guess is probably the most exciting thing about it.

Channel ORANGE is out July 17th. Listen to it’s lead single ‘Pyramids’ here.

Last night the PinBoard crew were invited to a preview screening of the highly anticipated biopic, ‘Marley’, which reaches all good cinemas on Friday 21st April. Produced by Kevin Macdonald, he manages to transport the viewer into both the world surrounding Bob Marley and his music, as well as the points in history that play a huge part in defining his sound, providing a huge emotional connection to one of the most influential musicians/activists/songwriters of all time. Using archive footage and stills (used with permission of the Marley family estate and for many, shown for the first time) we are taken on a definitive journey of his life…

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Monday night saw a world music double header at the Barbican. Buena Vista Social Club prodigy and Havana Cultura star Roberto Fonseca accompanied by full band, coupled with London’s own Ayanna Witter-Johnson as support, made for a truly complete evening. Read my review after the jump.

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Wednesday night saw Portico Quartet take to the stage at York Hall in Bethnal Green. Having never seen a gig at the renowned boxing arena before I was keen to see how the ‘school hall’ venue would deal. The answer – very well. Very well indeed. Read the review after the jump…

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SBTRKT. “Who?” Subtract. “Nah never heard of it!”

Some may have said that a year ago and understandably too. Known this time last year as ‘another’ tadpole swimming in and out of the world of Electronic music, SBTRKT was yet another DJ/Producer from London who every once in a while would throw a blog a bone by remixing a relevant piece of music. Those that were more on the ball however, realised that although enrolled in the class of ’10, Aaron Jerome could quite possibly reign valedictorian come 2011.

Fast forward to summer this year, off the back of a few EP’s and remixes, ‘Wildfire’ quite literally spread. First through the blogs, then the clubs/tastemaker radio DJ’s, then the mainstream. “Summer banger” would be an understatement, even our most beloved emosh rapper – Drake – took to the beat. And with Aubrey in tow, the Stateside crossover was set: the intricate wobbles, smart punches and thumping bass positioned in all the right places allowed ‘Wildfire’ (featuring Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano) to garner it’s place and became a staple in many a summer playlists. But most promising was that even with the success of it’s first single, SBTRKT’s self titled debut would throw a number of surprises our way, surpassing expectations and becoming a strong accelerator for Electronic in the mainstream.

Sophisticated, circuitous and timely in its entirety, SBTRKT welded together the essence of 90’s UK garage and 2-Step together with the punchy Dubstep influences of the noughties and melted it within American style Soul & R&B. These influences, all piled up on top of each other within an album made of original compositions gave way for this debut to stand on it’s own merit. With producers throwing the proverbial ‘wobble’ onto anything with a pulse these days, it was refreshing to hear SBTRKT deliver a cohesive collection of tracks as well as collaborating with an inspired array of artists. Opting for a more song-focused LP, as opposed to a show-and-tell style production project – SBTRKT kept his audience in mind and curated an album packed with enough energy for the raver, sufficient downtime for low-end head and an abundance of musicology for the ‘academics’.

The albums opener ‘Heatwave’ nods to and explores Junglist sounds; With a deconstructed Amen Break and Sampha’s atmospheric, building wails, as the low end flutters rather passionately. Then as the BPMs rise and the lyrics fade, the puissance is turned up a notch with tracks like ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Ready Set Loop’ – both favouring a more beat oriented focus with minimal vocals.

A key factor which makes SBTRKT’s debut such a strong contender this year was his foresight, featuring some of the brightest and most exciting homegrown talent. Jessie Ware, Roses Gabor and his most frequent collaborator Sampha each help to bring his productions alive. It is his chemistry with Sampha though that really shines through – armed with one of the most distinct voices, his breathy tone and succinct delivery style adds a fantastic dimension to SBTRKT’s compositions.

The chilling, unguarded tale of ‘Hold On’ allows for Sampha’s higher register to flourish, suited beautifully to the smooth bass rumblings and twinkling percussion. ‘Something Goes Right’ shuffles between the stuttering nature of 2-Step against Sampha’s buttery lead vocals – striking the right balance between instrumentation and song, realism and dreams, producer and singer. ‘Never Never’ bravely explores the indecision of relationships as the vulnerability of the lead vocal explains “see I‘ve never never had so much to gain / and threw it all away / and if I ever ever had the chance again / I’d probably do the same”. SBTRKT sits humbly alongside his muse(s), mixing live drums with funky synths, whilst his vocalists take focus.

Delving in, out and around sounds, SBTRKT is a rich textured tapestry which significantly pushes boundaries. Masqueraded in very few words – SBTRKT allowed his debut to speak louder than any thing else. The music won.

SBTRKT – iTunes / Amazon / Spotify

For some, it may be a controversial decision to induct a remix album into an ‘Album of the Year’ list. But, unlike most remix albums this one redefines the original, re-contextualizes it and most importantly reintroduces a quondam icon to an entirely new generation – making Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie XX’s We’re New Here one of the most culturally significant LP’s of 2011.

The legend of Scott-Heron runs subterraneous – his far-reaching, weighty career arguably spawned the birth of Hip Hop. Besides revolutions not being televised and people in the bottle, what more need be said? While our main protagonist Jamie Smith aka Jamie XX is a still a fresh face on the block, who in just a short span has established himself as one of the most influential producers of the past three years. It was Smith’s spatial injections on the Mercury Award winning album by his band The XX that catapulted this young adopted-Brixtonian into the niche consciousness. Combine this with his assault on the remixsphere (Adele, Radiohead, et al), a signature sound and general defiance against BPM guidelines in one of the hardest communities to appease (Electronic), and you have in the making perhaps one of British music’s best offerings to the world right now. Amalgamating these very two different visionaries could have easily resulted in travesty or conversely, utter genius – an ethos record label XL have long relied on… 2011 would suggest its a model that works for them.

Using acapella’s from 2010’s I’m Here New (originally produced by XL boss Richard Russel), along with select material from Scott-Heron’s back catalogue, XX reworked the project through his own ears. Ears that have been forged by a confection of sounds including (but not limited to) Hip Hop, House, 2-Step, Soul, Funk, Disco, Bass, Club and Jazz – all of which are prevalent throughout We’re New Here. It is this feat that makes Smith such a formidable force, his ability to produce “anything he wants” at such a high level is staggering. His productions are at times ‘tropical’, but suggest the steel pans of Notting Hill carnival if a black hole ruptured through the pavements of Portobello and sucked your loved ones into the aloof. Persistent in melancholia – even Drizzy needed a piece for Take Care – it’s a paradox that works impeccably with Scott-Heron’s noticeably fragile, but cogent voice. In parts this suffused method has heartbreaking results (see: the monstrous ‘NY is Killing Me’), aided now in part with the knowledge that just 3 months after it’s release the world would lose it’s most beloved wordsmith.

Songs like ‘Home’ channel the spirit of the Caribbean, using the instruments of a paradise lost to supremely chosen effect, extenuating Gil’s post-drug ravaged, songlike slurs. Whereas ‘My Cloud’ adopts a more glitchy, low-fi vapor, floating on a bed of anesthesia. Hip Hop can be auscultated on songs like the ‘Running’ and ‘The Crutch’ – Smith cited sampling aficionado RJD2’s Deadringer as a notable inspiration in his past and that’s finally been allowed to flourish on this album, allowing our musician to evolve. The opener rockets Gloria Gaynor’s ‘Casanova Brown’ into space (a theory Jamie knows best), transforming it into a demented double-kick, bass battling, falling star. Then there’s the piercing heart monitor bleeps of ‘NY is Killing Me’ as we cardiac, spiralling into the metropolis-abyss, only to find a redemptive heaven somewhere off the horizon with the uplifting 4×4 and classic House chord staccato of ‘I’ll Take Care of You’.

Reference after reference, the ample scope of Jamie XX’s production penchants is reason enough to celebrate the life of his muse. We’re New Here, is the perfect balance between Gil Scott-Heron’s heart and the Jamie XX’s head.

We’re New HereiTunes / Amazon / Spotify

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