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Pae White: ‘Too Much Night, Again’, 2013, installation, mixed media. Courtesy of greengrassi, London. Photo: Andy Keate
Beneath the high glass ceilinged exhibition hall of the South London Gallery, a dense mesh of red and black thread engulfs the room. The interweaving lines form a tunnel that draws the viewer into the space. Within the network, the threads are animated by the emergence and dissolution of large letters that are gradually deciphered to spell UNMATTERING and TIGER TIME. This site-specific installation by American artist Pae White is inspired by a period of insomnia and her consequent reflection on the transience of our existence. Such existential questions are alluded to by the simultaneously substantial and transient quality of this textile installation. However, it is White’s perceptive negotiation with architecture that is the most compelling feature of this exhibition.
Responding to the ‘relentless ethereality’ of the exhibition hall, White constructed the work to be simultaneously in conflict and sympathy with the space. Indeed, from certain angles, the threads coalesce to form a dense, angry mass of red, black and purple, clashing boldly against the serene white walls. Move slightly, and the illusion of substance collapses and the threads elegantly fall into geometric harmony, echoing the fine lines of the building, drawing our gaze upwards to contemplate the site itself as an extension of the artwork. The fluctuation between substance and nothingness is reinforced by the unusual word UNMATTERING written on a monumental scale down the length of one wall. TIGER TIME, White reveals, suggests the menacing quality of insomnia, ‘concealed’ and ‘lying in wait’.
With a vast and incredibly diverse career, White’s work shares one common theme: a specific and often unpredictable response to place. Previous works have been sited in a decommissioned French synagogue; a disused Venetian warehouse transformed into an elaborate birdcage with hidden impersonators mimicking birdsong, and a sound installation of German bells programmed to play love songs throughout Dusseldorf. More recently, White’s work has involved increasingly large-scale public art commissions: her signature thread installations in LAX airport; an outdoor exercise park for dogs, and future plans to re-design London tube stations with enormous Kelvin light-boxes to provide a ‘wash of optimism’ for seasonally-affected Londoners. In each piece, White displays an unusual ease in relinquishing control of her art and letting the site influence its outcome; the reflective surfaces of an installation that depended on her native Californian sunshine were transformed in the dim January light of a Berlin gallery.
This flexibility and willingness to collaborate is apparent in ‘Too Much Night, Again’. White is openly grateful for the collective effort required to assemble the vast textile installation. In total, the work involved 48km of yarn, 4,725 eye screws, 8 people, 2 weeks and 18 pizza boxes. This joint effort is testified by the presence of the 18 pizza boxes piled at the end of the installation, alongside White’s ancient running shirt; a ritual aspect of her studio time. This unique signature style is seen in other pieces: her marital initials were embroidered into custom bus seat covers, ‘just for kicks’. And in the corner of a vast metallic stage curtain, White scanned her thumbprint, rather than the standard artist’s signature.
‘Too Much Night, Again’ is an impressive installation, and well worth visiting for its immersive, experiential viewing experience. However, I can’t help but feel that White’s artwork is paradoxically more successful outside the art gallery. Her work is most vibrant and exciting in its engagement with the public, often with a practical concern: ‘sculptures often do something for people.’ All of her projects are built around her persistent questioning: ‘how does art engage with the world?’ The textile installation at South London Gallery draws our attention to the ‘relentless ethereality’ of the site, though it also highlights the limits of the exhibition space, raising the question: is art more effective in public spaces than confined in art galleries?
‘Too Much Night, Again’ Exhibition Dates: 13 March - 12 May 2013 Admission free
Tuesday - Sunday 11-6pm Closed Mondays
Current exhibitions: Eoghan Ryan: Oh wicked flesh! 5 March - 12 May 2013
It’s around two thirty pm on a Friday afternoon and I’m not sure what to expect when I speak with Adam Dewhurst and Earl Gateshead from The Trojan Sound System. Thinking they may be taking break from the studio, it turns out the boys are down the pub supping a pint. Who can blame them? It’s been a hard day of radio shows and taking part in a feature for the Guardian Newspaper. “We’ve just done a mix for them” Adam enthuses who is also the band’s manager, “a bit of an odd one, It’s for their travel section about England with us relating reggae tracks to different cities basically”
It’s not just the national newspapers that are eager to get a piece of the Trojans; the likes of Toddla T, Lee-Scratch Perry and Tippa Irie have all collaborated with them at some point and for a good reason. Between the collective that is Earl, Daddy Ad (aka Adam), Super four, Chucky Banton and Jah Buck, there is a wealth of musical history between them that stems all the way back to the 70s. Earl has been a respected DJ for the last twenty years, having held residencies at The Dive Bar in London and The Blue Note. Adam has also been on the DJ circuit for just as long, proudly boasting about playing the odd reggae track during a house set. He has been heavily involved in the music industry previously running lifestyle magazine Sleaze Nation and dance music cult magazine Jockey Slut. Vocalist’s Chucky and Supafour are member of London Sound systems; Taurus, Sir Coxsone and Saxon. Lastly, Jah Buck is a respected singer songwriter.
Forming in 2004 out of the legendary reggae label Trojan Records, it can be said that the bands success and cult following could be attributed to the fact that each member has something different to bring to the table. With this in mind, The Trojan Sound system have spent the last few years touring the globe as a DJ/Vocal collective ensuring that the medium is strictly vinyl and music policy reggae in its purist form. They have also graced the studios, producing deep rooted rhythms and pounding bass lines, most recently on their own imprint TSS. The latest offering “Africa” did some extensive damage on the dance floor with an underlying message to reflect the deep felt need which all people of African descent feel for their homeland.
Tell us more about your label TSS, and any new releases you have planned.
Well, we’ve released three singles so far and two EPs. The first single My God featured a Toddla T rhythm and we also did a version after performing it live a few times. With the next single Look to the East featuring Superfour we were trying to make a modern version of roots reggae but somehow it ended up In the grime section! It is however, quite contemporary in our opinion. The third single Africa has a message which relates to a black audience primarily, a sort of plea against repression but we hope that all races can identify with it. With Africa we were trying to do a modern take on the Bunny Lee sound; Ashley Beedle and JFB provided some great remixes. The fourth tune, yes, there’s a fourth actually, was done by Jah Buck called Life in a Day. It’s a slow ballad, almost Gospel sounding so we didn’t think it was appropriate for a single but we released it on the original Africa EP. With that, it is our most listened to song on iTunes which we didn’t expect. Our next release will be Revolutionary written by Supafour followed by The Bomb which we think is our best so far but then, who are we to judge!
You have a musical background which goes way back to the 70s. Can you tell us more about your history and how this gels you together as a band.
We all come from different places really, different skills and slightly different perspectives. Jah Buck is the only one that was actually born in Jamaica so he has a really Jamaican perspective on the music. Supafour was in New York for about seven years as a part of an underground hip-hop collective and they used to perform at many New York venues. Chucky is a respected singer who’s been around for a long time. He’s performed with Dennis Brown and other influential reggae artists so has a very strong musical standpoint. Daddy Ad started as a drummer so he has a rhythmic perspective and is the most technical minded of the collective. I come from a DJ background having started in the 70s. I think like a DJ so that’s what I add to the mix. Outside the music, we all have our separate lives and understand each other’s values.
You’ve worked with some influential people in reggae. Who has been a favourite and why?
I love working with Big Youth definitely because he is massively talented. In my opinion, he is the best lyricist ever in reggae music, an innovator; it was such a huge privilege to meet him. I became his tour DJ so we got to know each other very well and I learned to like him as a person.
Reggae has played an active part on the London music scene. When you play abroad what do you notice about the scene compared to the UK?
It doesn’t really work like that with reggae; you’d be surprised how big the genre is abroad. It’s huge in France and they know the music really well. We’ve noticed that Italy in particular has an equally huge scene which I guess you wouldn’t expect. Spain is up and coming I’d say and Germany also has a very big culture of reggae and its mutations. Each country is slightly different; of course it’s not the same as the scene here but globally it’s a huge market.
What can people expect to hear when they come and hear you play live? Tell us about your performance.
A lot of it is rehearsed, often containing songs we’ve made in the studio which we’ll then transfer to vinyl and play out during our sets. It’s a strictly vinyl affair with a mixture of our own material and people we like. Although we play instruments they’re not used in a live setting so in essence, it’s a DJ set with our vocalists toasting and singing over the top of the records to get the crowd warmed up. For us, it’s all about the sound system vibe and we go right through the whole range be it roots, reggae, dub, or dancehall.
Most musical genres have their golden era before they fall out of fashion but reggae seems to have remained a staple musical diet here, particularly in London. Why do you think this is?
Bob Marley said a thing about reggae “them who feels it knows it” and I think if someone hears reggae and it resonates them, then they’ll say “I like that!” It has the African vibe about it of course but it also has a certain otherness and a certain separateness which a lot of people seem to like. Musically, it’s a third world form not first world. It looks at the world from a third world pint of view. It’s also a more spiritual form of music and it has a different view point that is totally separate from hip hop, house and similar genres; people like that separation.
What are your ambitions for 2013?
For me personally, I love playing on the big stages. I like every live show but when you walk out and there’s thirty thousand people out there waiting for you, that’s pretty exciting – it’s what you want you know. So we’d like to make some very successful records to enable us to keep doing that. We are also playing at Bestival this year so really looking forward to playing there. Our gig diary is pretty healthy although I can’t remember what else off the top of my head; you’ll have to check our social media sites for that! I’d like to play another gig at Koko in Camden, it’s always a good gig; the technical guys are great and we always get a full house. Hands down, one of our favourite venues to play – it seems to work for us.
“Reggae was always such a passion for me “says Adam “Earl and I would always try and slip in a late 70’s steppers tune in one of our house sets back in the day and people would come running up to the decks and say, wow what’s this brand new track it’s amazing? Actually, it came out 30 years ago mate…It just shows you how much influence reggae has had on contemporary music – it sounds like it was made yesterday”
Thanks to Adam Dewhurst and Earl Gateshead for the interview.
Africa EP by The Trojan Sound System and the Africa remixes is out now in all good stores on TSS Records. Click here to buy from iTunes.
Written by Pete Rann
Elizabeth Metcalfe juxtaposes Alexis M Teplin’s recent artwork exhibited at the Hayward Gallery with Umberto Boccioni’s futurist masterpieces.
Posted on Saturday, March 2nd 2013, by Beat Magazine: Art & Culture
In 1909, F.T Marinetti launched the Futurist movement though the ‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’. Against the past and traditionalism, but advocating provocation, violence and destruction, his manifesto called for a re-evaluation of politics and culture. Rejecting the sentimentalised art hanging in museums – places that Marinetti deemed to be ‘absurd abattoirs’ and ‘graveyards’ – the manifesto begs for ‘canals to flood the museums’.
Umberto Boccioni: The Charge of the Lancers (1915)
A year later, ‘Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto’ was written by Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Giacoma Balla and Gino Severini. Outlining a new type of painting that sought to capture the ‘dynamic sensation’ – the movement of the subject – rather than a ‘fixed moment’; the manifesto rejected imitation of art from the past. Lines became both angular and floaty, colours blurred into one another, swirling shapes converged and wedges of light beamed outwards.
Umberto Boccioni: States of Mind I: Those Who Leave (1911)
On walking into the recent exhibition by Californian artist Alexis M Teplin ‘sss T!!’ at the Hayward Gallery, I certainly found myself thinking back to futurism and these manifestos. In a white, medium-sized room, four roughly plastered white sculptures flecked with greens, yellows, pinks and browns are strewn across the floor representing the dismembered body, whilst four colourful, billowing appliquéd paintings sit on the three walls.
Alexis M Teplin: E (2012) - Southbank Centre exhibition poster
Just as Boccioni et al. write of capturing movement in paint, Teplin explains how ‘in my work I try to negotiate the relationship between rhythm, colour and movement.’ And we do see this in her paintings: jagged letters are camouflaged to form the exhibition name ‘sss T !!’. The angular letters not only fragment the paintings, mirroring an interruptive movement, but they give the paintings a verbal power. By juxtaposing glossy paint with more subdued matte finishes, we feel that we are viewing the paintings in different lights as they move. The irregular ripples of the vintage French fabric that the paint sits on looks like a ships sails billowing in the wind.
Alexis M Tepplin: sss (2012)
There is even a hint of motion in the inanimate sculptures: the footless leg, handless arm and mangled torso all have an air of movement about them, the leg anatomically detailed. The drippy plaster captures motion; could it slip off the sculpture at any moment?
Alexis M Teplin: H of the H (2012)
Not only this, but when Boccioni et al. note that the ‘human face is yellow, red, green, blue violet’, we see this bombardment of colour in Teplin’s paintings. There are blood reds, pumpkin oranges, golden yellows, lurid blues, turquoises, velvet purples and dusty pinks. The bright hues overlap, deepening this patchwork of colour: in sss (2012) red dribbles into dark green, whilst blue becomes red in T (2012). This installation is typical of Teplin’s abstract style, using colour to challenge our emotions and provoke a personal response.
Alexis M Teplin: Untitled (2012)
But within this futurist-esque art we see a harking back to the past, the very thing that Boccioni et al. sought to avoid. Enclosed within the paint in sss (2012) and T (2012) are Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s sexual and shocking play Salomé. These illustrations torn from the pages of Salomé are licked by paint, with the angular black and white avant-garde illustrations in antithesis to the colour surrounding them. Similarly, on the leg sculpture, H of the H (2012), there is an intricate tattoo of André Derain’s illustration for Salomé. And in La, La, La, a page ripped from the printed Salomé script sits. This reworking of old art rather undermines the innovative nature of Teplin’s work - is it only posing as innovation? Nonetheless, I do think that Teplin would quite happily accept the cutting up of her work and its reincorporation into another’s art. Perhaps this is the most futurist element to Teplin’s work.
Alexis M Teplin at the Hayward Gallery via www.marymarygallery.co.uk
Teplin’s installation is on until 10th March. It is part of The Rest is Noise festival, a year-long celebration of the cultural and musical 20th century. Held at the Southbank Centre, the festival will see various talks, concerts and exhibitions throughout 2013.
Elizabeth Metcalfe is an English student at King’s College London and a writer, published by the Guardian and London Student.
Elizabeth Metcalfe reviews Man Ray: Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
I have spent many a Sunday afternoon admiring the Kings and Queens sitting in their gold gilt frames in the National Portrait Gallery. But I must admit that the gallery’s latest offering of Man Ray’s portraits provides a pleasant change.
National Portrait Gallery exhibition poster
On entering the exhibition, we are greeted by walls of vintage black and white Man Ray prints, small in relation to the frames that encompass them. Arranged informally but neatly – sometimes in one row, at other times in three – it feels like I am walking into Man Ray’s studio. His Female Nude (1920) welcomes me; a woman lolls on a bed in a rather ungainly manner, her hair untamed, her stomach slightly rolled, her gaze downwards.
Man Ray: Female Nude (1920)
Juxtaposed with this intimate portrait, a snap – it certainly seems to be a quick, unposed shot – of his close friends Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp (1920) sits on the opposite wall.
Man Ray: Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp (1920)
The two men, slumped on a sofa, stare directly into the camera, their faces almost blank if not a little perturbed by Man Ray’s camera clicking. Along with these men, Man Ray (born Micheal Emmanuel Radnitzky) was a key player in the Dadaist and Surrealist movements in 1920s Paris, and the exhibition traces his photographic career from avant-garde 1920s Paris to 1940s Golden Age Hollywood and finally back to Paris.
Man Ray: Noire et Blanche (1926)
Whilst there are certainly remnants of Man Ray’s surrealism and experimentation with photographic techniques– such as the Aztec-esque mask in Noire et Blanche (1926) – most portraits are simply concerned with intimately capturing the true subject and the real person. And it is here where Man Ray shines. In Virginia Woolf (1934), Woolf is shown raising her hand slightly, staring into the distance, lost in thought. His portrait Pablo Picasso (1922) captures the painter at work, rugged and natural, with his latest creations in the background. And I would suggest that here lies the greatest strength of the exhibition; curator Terence Pepper has constructed Man Ray’s world portrait by portrait, and we momentarily find ourselves as members of the literary and artistic groups dotted along the walls. The chronological structure spanning the years 1916 to 1968 aids our journey.
Man Ray: Virginia Woolf (1934)
Contemporary copies of Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar and VU featuring Man Ray’s work allow us to delve even further into Man Ray’s world, complimenting his fashion portraiture. Sensual portraits of women draped in clothing and clad in jewelry, such as Jacqueline (1930) have a freshness to them, whilst Lee Miller – model, British Vogue’s first female war correspondent and Man Ray’s lover for a time – is seen as sexy model as well as playful woman in Lee Miller with a Circus Performer (1930).
Man Ray: Jacqueline (1930)
Just as this exhibition is soft and considered, so is Man Ray’s portraiture. Even royalty are strikingly informal, as Maharaja and Maharanee (1927) well illustrates. As ever, we see the intimate connection between the couple and Man Ray. Perhaps this is Man Ray’s greatest strength.
Man Ray: Maharaja and Maharanee (1927)
Posted on Saturday, March 2nd 2013, by Beat Magazine: Art & Culture
With debate raging around the future of the Eurozone, namely whether Great Britain will stay or go, and issues of independent sovereignty among the other partners, another pertinent question has recently arisen. Given that the whole situation seems to reek of pomp and circumstance, what will happen to each country’s musical bastion, the national anthem?
Indeed, is the concept relevant any more? In a world seemingly destined to be run by Brussels, ‘God Save The Queen’ seems to ring ever more hollow. Does dear old Lizzie deserve eulogising for being little more than a figurehead?
Perhaps it is time to adopt Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‘Hymnen’, or a similar piece, as an anthem for a fully integrated Europe. The German electronic composer unleashed his collage of the anthems of the world in the early Sixties, blurring national lines which had been in place for centuries: the oldest national anthem being Holland’s ‘Wilhelmus’, written during the Dutch Revolt, 1568-72.
Listening to ‘Hymnen’ today, it is striking how forward-thinking Stockhausen was being at the time. His treatments of the fragments of various anthems that he collects on his sonic travels appear to pre-empt the current notion of a unified Europe. Stockhausen manages to convey this message via music, whereas the politicians of today are seemingly unable to do so, even with the aid of speechwriters and spin-doctors.
The idea of creating a European anthem has also been explored by Czech composer Zbigniew Preisner, with his ‘Song for the Unification of Europe’, which is attributed to a character in ‘Three Colours: Blue’, the first film in Krysztof Kieslowski’s well-known trilogy. It is revealing that the concept of a European Anthem has only been explored in art and fiction.
The other side of the argument would be to defend the national anthem, preserving national independence from the influence of the Eurocrats; a defiant two fingers to the uniformity that a European anthem would represent.
National anthems are surely intended to celebrate what makes each country unique. Is it possible to represent the achievements and idiosyncrasies of an entire continent in one hymn, without being overly reductive? Whoever may be given the task has quite a job to do if the situation ever arises, but it is an interesting question to ponder.
Download the music today:
There are two great things about the live screening of performances in cinemas: the reduced price and multiple venues enable wider accessibility to a more diverse audience, it also softens the blow when you see a complete travesty and have avoided buying tickets at the Royal Opera House.
Tchaikovsky’s lyrical adaptation of Pushkin’s verse novel ‘Eugene Onegin’, directed by Kasper Holten at the ROH, carried great expectations. Sadly, Holten’s directorial debut became an unfortunate example of life reflecting art: naïve and chaotic, much like Tatyana’s impassioned and impulsive letter.
Although Shoreditch’s Rich Mix cinema lacks the sophistication and grandeur of the Opera house, the screening compensated for this with a useful introduction to the performance, including interviews with the cast, costume and set designers, conductor and Holten, revealing some directorial decisions and aspects of the rehearsal process.
Holten expressed a desire to channel Tchaikovsky’s vision of a simple and direct performance, in contrast with the grand operas so popular in the 1870s. Whereas Pushkin’s novel is elaborate, highly-stylsed and embedded with textual references, Tchaikovsky’s interpretation is essentially reduced to romantic tragedy and the familiar pain of regret. Holten’s production emphasizes this focus on nostalgia and the power of memory. However, rather than maximizing its simplicity and sincerity, his decisions overcomplicate the lyrical opera.
This confusion is primarily caused by Holten’s decision to cast younger versions of Tatyana and Onegin, in the hope of exaggerating the nostalgia and regret for mistakes made in their youth. Initially, this seems relatively effective: the dancer, VIgdIs Hentze Olsen, depicting a young Tatyana provides a spectral, fleeting reminder of the past. The counterparts linked by their bold and recognizable red dresses, suggesting Tatyana’s passionate sentiment. However, this double-act soon becomes irritating and distracting. The poignancy of the famous letter-scene, in particular, was ruined by the dizzying sensation of double vision. Melodramatic pirouettes and gyrations detracted from Krassimira Stoyanoya’s performance, which alone would have been more powerful and moving.
Another pivotal scene in the Opera is similarly tainted: the fatal duel between Onegin and Lensky, following Onegin’s flagrant flirtation with his best friend’s lover and Tatyana’s younger sister, Olga. Simon Keenlyside portrays Onegin as an unsophisticated flirt, rather than the imperious and bored aristocrat that Pushkin notoriously modeled on himself. The tragic duel is confused and verges on the ridiculous, as the old Onegin observes the unfolding scene with angst, whispering into his younger self’s ear in a hopeless effort to reverse fate. Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece dissolves into a crude take on ‘A Christmas Carol’, with the protagonist clumsily re-encountering the ghosts of his past. After Lensky is shot dead, the scene is similarly assassinated when the old Onegin takes the pistol from the young Onegin’s hands and gestures at suicide. Not only is this a glaring inconsistency, as the pair suddenly acknowledge each other, but the poignancy of this central scene is reduced to pantomime.
As the performance lurches on, the stage is increasingly strewn with the wreckage of these memories: piles of novels belonging to the bookish young Tatyana; bales of hay representing their provincial youth in the country; snow lacing the surfaces; the large incumbent tree branch present at the duel, and the dead body of Lensky lying centre-stage, inert. These objects effectively signify the events that haunt Onegin’s mind and traumatise his present, though they also clutter the stage and interfere with the sleek minimalism of the set design.
The performance was saved by the endurance and magnificence of Tchaikovsky’s score, conducted by the young and energetic Robin Ticciati, leading the tremendous Orchestra. Pavol Breslik’s Lensky received the biggest applause, and rightly so. Equally captivating was Elena Maximova’s Olga, which suggests that casting doubles for Tatyana and Onegin was the show’s main downfall.
During the introduction, Holten inadvertently revealed what was perhaps the cause of his muddled direction: ‘This opera has a very special place in my heart […] When you do a piece that you really love, it’s almost sometimes harder than when you do a piece that you find tricky.’
Permission from Alex Wood, studying Illustration at Camberwell College of Art, to repost this piece from his portfolio.
A long time ago, last year I did a project called “The Fanatic” at Camberwell during my Foundation Diploma. The whole point was to become obsessed by something, or anything really, to a fanatical point. I took the humble shape of the triangle and became fanatical about it.
Over several weeks I filled a journal with drawings strictly revolving around using triangles. I wanted the book to look as though if someone read it without knowledge of what I was doing, they would think it was most likely property of a local mental health institute. I took inspiration from a Coen Brothers’ film A Serious Man in which the protagonists brother obsessively fills a journal he calls the “Mentaculus” with dubious calculations and scrawlings. Furthermore, I thought my idea carried parallels with Close Encounters of the Third Kind in which a man has the image of a mountain burned into his brain by aliens, and becomes so obsessed by it he starts to make it out of mashed potato while eating dinner.
My journal became part of my finished piece for the project, as it became a prop that could accompany my work. I imagined that the person who wrote it could have become so obsessed by it that he or she wanted to worship this shape as if it was some sort of divine being. I also created a necklace, or talisman that could be worn as a symbol of being part of a triangle shape worshiping cult. The year before my foundation I created a pyramid sculpture out of card which I also used as part of my project.
It goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this project and I have carried some of it with me. Recently I started drawing over portraits in triangles as experiments and a friend of mine produced a piece of work that inspired me to start dabbling in this project again.
The photo above is the rennaisance of this annular angular inspiration.
Photo by Alex.J.Wood, taken in ossuary of St. Leonard’s Church, Hythe
Edited in Photoshop
Now available for download: That Iron Taste - Marika Hackman
Posted on Tuesday, February 26th 2013, by Beat Magazine: Art & Culture
Between supporting Ethan Johns on his February tour and headlining her own UK tour in March, Marika Hackman’s debut album That Iron Taste is released today via Dirty Hit.
On the night of the album’s release, Marika gave a haunting and thought-provoking performance at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room. Marika’s lyrics are richly poetic, vivid with imagery and suggestive narrative, whilst remaining sparse, direct and presented with an unnervingly restrained and self-controlled vocal delivery that makes it hard to believe this artist is only 20. What comes across most strongly from speaking to Marika is her almost childlike sense of playful experimentalism. The quietly surrealist and psychedelic quality of her music sets her apart from an industry saturated with singer-songwriters, providing somewhat of a folk-antidote.
Marika reveals some of the ideas behind her enigmatic music in an interview with Beat below.
The first thing that strikes me about your music is the rich poetic quality of your lyrics. Cannibal in particular reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Cut’.
Yeah, I’m a massive fan of Sylvia Plath. In fact, my mum gave me loads of her books for my birthday! Literature has a big influence on my music.
You obviously have an incredible imagination, your lyrics are so vivid… and morbid!
Yeah, it’s weird that that side of me sort of comes out in my lyrics, maybe it’s good that it does through song rather than anything else.
Haha, rather than anything else? Like an axe?
Yeah, like that film Psycho haha. But yeah, we lived in the countryside and my mum was very strict about how much TV we watched, and she’d literally force me and my brother outside and then we’d go off and run around and start inventing things and playing games and spying on people and stuff like that.
I was going to say, I think there’s a quite a childish imagination at play in your lyrics.
I think I must be quite immature!
No! The thing that’s incredible is that your lyrics are so imaginative and vivid and morbid, which is brilliant, but you have this very mature, minimal delivery.
Yeah, I also think that you can use the simplest words to convey meaning, so I don’t use fancy words. It’s about the imagery you can create with basic language.
There’s no point just alienating an audience is there?
Yeah, and also, longer words are harder to fit into a lyric. I definitely think about the sounds of words and the amount of syllables they have. When I write the words have to just ‘fit’ in the line. So for instance, with Cannibal, I came up with the melody, and usually when I come up with the melody I say words randomly that sort of fit, and literally the first thing I said was: ‘have you seen my nose?’
Ah, and then it just comes from there? So it’s a very organic process?
Yeah, and the same with ‘Here I Lie’, coming up with it I just said ‘I have no head’ and it went from there.
That’s interesting. I think your singing has a very luxurious quality, where you let the lyrics almost take over. I think that you really tap into the musicality of language
Well it’s a major compliment that you said that because that’s what I try and do. Even though people always comment on my lyrics, they are there because they are, in effect, the melody. They are the music, it’s the same thing.
Yes, I recognise certain recurring melodies, but really your music is quite paired-down, it’s quite raw.
When I find a melody I like, I stick with it and keep it quite simple. Even though something like Mountain Spines changes key continuously, I set myself the challenge to stick to and end up with this quite strange melody. If I take the guitar out from underneath it, it’s actually quite hard to sing.
Right, because you haven’t got anything to guide you? The guitar is almost like a ladder?
Exactly. Everything has to go together and with the lyrics all coming in at the same time, it just means that you get the layers without having to be really fancy with what you’re doing.
It’s a really interesting quality to be complex and minimal at the same time. So yeah, spot on!
On the topic of setting yourself parameters, I’ve read that you’re quite experimental with some of your songs, like Retina Television, using only sounds made with your body rather than relying on instruments.
It’s just one of those things where you sit down and think ‘let’s try something a bit different, let’s do something fun’. If you put parameters on things, it tends to make you more creative. I was on an art foundation and they would set projects that were so vague and I found that really hard. But if someone had said: ‘Ok, you’re only allowed to use this, and you’ve got to do it like this’, then you have to find a route out of it.
You referred to your art foundation, and we spoke previously about how literature feeds into your lyrics, I wondered if there’s an exchange with art?
I think there probably is. Everything goes into it in some way. I love Egon Schiele, and Klimt obviously, but I prefer Schiele. Bosch, because he’s mad. I love Turner, I love Heemskerck, do you know Heemskerck?
No, I must look him up!
He’s a Dutch painter. There are these rooms with lights and the figures are always from behind. It’s very still, but it’s mysterious and very calm.
That mysteriousness definitely translates in your music. I’ve heard that you’re thinking about getting a band?
Yeah, we’re in the process of doing that. Just a couple of guys who are multi-instrumentalists. We’re not going to try and recreate the records, we’re going to try and do a live show. So many artists have a record out, and then when they do their concerts they basically have a backing track so it makes it sound identical to what you hear on your radio or whatever. But I want the live show to be different. Even if people have bought the record, they should come and see the live show because it’s going to be something different, because the song’s performed in a different way.
Of course, like ‘Retina Televison’ had to be different, I was really interested to see how you would translate that into a live performance.
I think I’m going to keep that stripped down, with me hitting the guitar.
After talking about songs like ‘Mountain Spines’ being quite complex, how do you think that would work with a band coming in? Do you think you’d have to change your sound a bit?
Maybe. We’ll see how it evolves. We’ll maintain quite a natural, organic process and play around with it. I mean, there are obviously things we can recreate from the record. But it would be fun to play around. Again, it’s a case of setting parameters. Having a live band, there’s only so much you can do, there’s only three of us. So that’s where the creativity starts over again, working on top of these songs. So it’s going to be really exciting to see what we come up with.
Yes, your music has such an experimental, and quite psychedelic, quality. I was thinking your music is almost anti-folk. Would you say that?
Yeah, people try and bracket you straight away and label you as ‘the new folk singer-songwriter’, so you’re the next Laura Marling, or the next Lucy Rose or whatever. And it’s kind of like, have you actually listened to my records? I love Laura Marling, but I don’t think our music is the same.
It’s so different. I think it’s almost sexist, because people wouldn’t make those comparisons between two male artists.
Yeah that’s true.
Obviously, it’s really exciting that you’ve got this EP launching today! And your tour. You’ve been on tour for a while haven’t you?
Yeah, since the 1st of February with Ethan.
And you’re headlining your own independent tour? You must be really excited about that.
Yeah, it starts on Thursday the 28th. I love doing supports, especially at a venue like this (Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room) with Ethan Johns, where people actually listen.
Yeah, you’re not competing with a rowdy crowd.
But with the headline tour there’s added pressure because people have actually paid to come and see me. But it’s very interesting to see, at this stage in the game, how many people turn up. And chatting to people afterwards, I really love doing that.
That must be really helpful.
Yeah, just like, ‘inflating my ego’! But yeah, it’s nice to mingle.
Well yes, because you are really quite new on the scene, aren’t you? You’ve only released three songs before this EP, right?
Well, I had released ‘You Come Down’ and ‘Mountain Spine’. ‘You Come Down’ was a single, and ‘Mountain Spine’ was an AA side, and then ‘Cannibal’ has been played as the sort of preview to the album, but it hasn’t actually been released to buy. It’s released today.
So you’ve been active for just a year? And you’ve just rocketed! It’s exciting.
Yeah, it’s exciting. I just take each day as it comes.
Find Marika’s tour dates here: http://www.songkick.com/artists/5015008-marika-hackman
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
But be drunken.