Wednesday, 16 July 2014

REVIEW/EXCLUSIVE: Loki - GIMP/Kill Your Darlings LP

Government Issue Music Protest (Exclusive)

Loki is finally close to releasing Government Issue Music Protest (GIMP), an album that may well be seen as his seminal work. The album looks set to tackle today's political issues (notably the referendum), albeit as an artistic commentary that conveys its message through characters, relationships and metaphors. The dystopian track 'Tommy Sheridan Dead' already gave us a snippet into Loki's dark vision of what Scotland would be like in the event of a no vote. As well as releasing a  precursor LP Kill Your Darlings (review below), made up of tracks that haven't made the final cut for GIMP, Loki gave me some insight into what to expect:

The main thing I want people to know about GIMP, is that it exists in its own reality. The Tommy Sheridan Dead song is not actually on G.I.M.P, it was designed to set up that world. I wanted the audience to sort of half know what to expect, but also experience a sense of surprise and excitement. I was inspired by the visual style of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds vinyl. When you held it in your hand you just had to look at the art and you were in that world, before you even heard the first song. G.I.M.P is more of an attempt at presenting human drama, with political events taking place in the back ground. It's important that the listener is allowed to interpret the material for themselves, which is why I culled so much stuff from it over time, as I was trying to develop a less direct writing style that didn't cast heroes and villains in the traditional moral sense. I suppose it works on a few levels. I am trying to make a statement about cultural marginalisation, by creating something so compelling that it cannot be dismissed on the grounds of taste. If you don't like Hip Hop, you will still have to listen to this to see what the fuss was about. Then we have the issues around the countries future, which are dealt with more subtly through characters and plot. At it's core though, it's a personal album. I couldn't write about human relationships authentically without drawing from my own experiences and I hope this aspect of the album is what will give it a broader and lasting appeal. There are enough layers to it that people can go as deep or shallow as they want. For some, it'll be no more than a solid hip hop album, for others, they will feel immersed in the world as it unfolds and increases in scale and scope with repeat listens revealing even more. Or at least, that's what I'm hoping for. I tried to write the kind of story I would love to see. The analogy of divorce is very useful in humanising the relationship between Scotland and the UK, but obviously it's important to establish how we came to be on such poor terms. We always like to see ourselves as righteous, but we're all so full of shit when you really get down to it. We enter relationships with secrets and ulterior motives all the time. This album isn't as pro yes as people might have been led to believe.

I don't want people to worry though. The album will not sound as wanky as I do whenever I talk about it. I have taken great care to make it the least wanky Loki album yet.

Kill Your Darlings - Review (and Impressions)

So with that all said, how does Kill Your Darlings stand as a taster of what's to come? For one thing, Loki cannot be accused of lacking in ideas. Though it is not mixed and mastered,it is possible to gauge Loki's direction by how developed certain tracks are here. 

'GIMP' appears to be a title track of sorts that was scrapped, but it is arguably the most developed track here. One could speculate to whether Loki felt the track to be lyrically redundant, with many of the themes explored elsewhere, but it certainly fits in with the dark, dystopian tone of the trailers and tracks we've already heard. The production here is particularly appropriate with ominous bells, creepy vocal effects and cold, minimalist drums contributing to the apocalyptic vibe. In fact, it is Scatabrainz that seems to frequently compliment Loki's intended style the most precisely. 'Fashion Police State' is another beat in this mould, as Loki's agitated rhymes gel with sharp major-to-minor arpeggio changes and, again, very minimal percussion. I'm biased as their A Darker Shade of Grey LP is a favourite, but the evidence here suggests that Brainz still best "gets" where Loki's coming from. 

Good signs then, but there are a reason some concepts seem to have been left on the drawing board. Despite Loki's best intentions in sequencing this as an LP, I honestly feel an EP of the stronger tracks could have made for one of his best projects. Nothing here is "weak" by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm still baffled to why the album's introduction is a 'reprise' of what is essentially a math rock acoustic. Still, others are more understandable, representing character studies or metaphors that may not be strong enough for the final product. In the above statement, Loki talks about characters and plot, and there are songs here that play like short stories or chapters in his overall narrative. 'The Timely Death of Katie Hopkins...' is particularly interesting for that reason, as well utilising an ugly beat for an ugly person (assumingly). He even seems to alter his flow for this track, focusing on sharp-edged syllables to make for a clever imitation. Tracks like this and 'Make Mines a Transplant' are extremely sardonic, demonstrating that he's not lost his sense for tongue-in-cheek as well. 

The rest is, as Loki would probably argue himself, a mixed bag. 'Educated Delinquent' sounds suspiciously like 'Start to Finish' by Pro Era (maybe Bessa took influence?); 'Big Jimmy Reid' and 'Death of a Salesman' would pass as dope tracks, but the mixing hurts them a lot; oh, and 'Second Wind' features the best lyric ever in "I don't care for John Fashanu". And yep, there's that eight minute track 'Doomsday' where Loki absolutely schools a certain MC but we won't get into that here (I rated the original diss for the record; see the blog). 

Loki's "b-sides" seem to have only heightened my anticipation for this record though. Though I doubt it will be as overtly political as his namesake Lowkey's incredible Soundtrack to the Struggle, I've no doubt that it will be incredibly focused and topical. Until then, I'll be mystified to why 'GIMP' didn't make the final cut, but these tracks are simply a testament to Loki's continued writing ability. 

On Scotland Standup and Promo - I'll Post This on Facebook Later Too

On a separate note, just to address a few messages I received this week from older readers of the site. When Scuba was the fella running the blog, SSU was one of the few online resources for hip hop in this country. Unfortunately, some (not all) MC's and producers in the scene don't seem to be using the resources that are available to them. Scuba already listed a bunch of contacts on the blog here, however I still get messages complaining when a certain thing hasn't been "posted".

Firstly of all, with the launch of Underground Scotland (and also Werd's great blog among others), Scotland Standup is now focusing on reviews and features rather than simple promotional "reposts". Statistics/views show that these make little impact anyway, and the above blogs are more than happy to post videos etc. if that's what you're looking for. Besides, if you want reviewed/featured/interviewed on the site, unless I've approached you at a gig or seen your shit, you usually need to contact the SSU email.

Secondly, don't get me wrong, if asked to post content, of course I shall always endeavour to (and often do regardless), but I am unfortunately not a kind of oracle on the Scottish scene that is entirely on top of this. MC's need to realise that I won't see most releases if their only promo is a status on Facebook. I'm just a journalist/blogger, and outside of this I have a job, I study at university and I volunteer/freelance for other publications amongst other things :). Furthermore, I've only just returned from six months in Italy - trust me, myself and Leo are going to attempt to keep content regular but without oversaturating the blog/facebook, but living far apart has made it difficult. Living abroad meant that, aye, I didn't actually hear the new Bang Dirty LP when it first dropped (for a quick example). We weren't deliberately ignoring it!

Lastly, these are reasons why the documentary/other features were slow going up. Regardless of all the constraints, SSU has more followers than ever before. I'm not meaning that as an ego thing, we're just small time bloggers, but most the reviews here get (at the least) a couple hundreds reads now. That's a couple hundred people that will consider buying your EP/LP! That's what we're here for :) We're gonna keep trying to support the scene in any way we can regardless. Anyway, I'll shut the fuck up but one last thing: we'll be getting the domain back soon, instead of the tacky blogspot name, or possibly even the new .scot domains that are out. So watch this space, literally. 

Jonny x 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Werd (SOS) - Brazilian [Show N Prove Remix]

Only a few hours after the 2014 Wold Cup was over, Werd (SOS) released his part-football, part- political banger 'Brazilian'. Remixed from the Show N Prove free single out last week...

For more Werd music go here:

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Ciaran Mac and O'B @ Cafe Siempre

Two of the best newcomers to the scene collab for a wee performance at Cafe Siempre. Dope. You'll see a lot more of these two of the next year or so.

Reviews of both of their EP's here and here

COMING UP ON SSU: Review/Exclusive of Loki's latest project, reviews of Hazey Jay and Number 13's latest EP's. Still in Italy and have an exam tomorrow so shit's taken a back seat! Want reviewed? Hit up

Monday, 23 June 2014

INTERVIEW: Soul - Scotland's Best Battler Talks to SSU

 Photo: James Cross / Cross Photographer

"King of the Dot is intense. Everyone has their 'game face' on...
[But] it is a very Scottish thing not to take yourself too seriously..."

Though his rapping ability is undeniable, Jed Mitchell (aka Soul) stands out from others in the Scottish scene in that his talents have been exhibited almost solely through battling. During his time in the ring, mostly for Don't Flop, Soul has developed a recognisable style that makes use of multisyllabics, imaginative similes and heavy punchlines. Oh, and a fair few Game of Thrones references.

Despite having come off the back of his most impressive year yet, Soul has been more muted on his battling intentions recently. I caught up with him to talk World Domination 5 and the Don't Flop title, but also to hear his opinions on the ever growing Scottish hip hop/battle scene. 

Hey man, how are things going with you? 

Yeah, everything is going pretty well. I am actually planning to move to Canada in the second half of July... so yeah, that's all good. In terms of battling, World Domination 5 is coming up, but after that nothing for a long time probably.

Nice, you have an opponent confirmed then? Although I'm sure you can't reveal who it is. 

Yeah, all confirmed. I don't know if King of the Dot want us to reveal who we have publicly, but I do have somebody locked in. 

You've featured on KOTD twice now. How does the experience of battling in Toronto differ from battling in the UK? 

It is definitely a different experience to battling at 95% of Don't Flop events. At Don't Flop the atmosphere is more cordial; folk don't take themselves too seriously. At the same time though, I think there is still respect for everyone's individual styles. KOTD is much more intense. It doesn't really bother me, but everyone has their 'game face' on and stuff, which is cool I guess. It is a very Scottish thing to not take yourself too seriously anyway, so though it is not a different experience for me, it probably objectively is for a lot of people. 

Can you see yourself battling over there regularly once you move? And does this mean that you've no longer got ambitions for the Don't Flop title? 

It depends on how much money is involved really! Yeah, the title just doesn't interest me anymore because it would make no sense. I'll be living in Canada.

Your battle against Loe Pesci was arguably your best performance thus far, and your stock has certainly risen over the past year. Was there a point (or a particular battle) where you felt you'd really stepped it up to another level? 

First off, thanks! In my opinion, I've had two big jumps during my time battling: first was when I battled Matter, and then everything clicked for good after the Mos Prob battle. 

What was it that really clicked for you about those battles? By the Olde English battle, you seemed to be at your most comfortable stylistically.

Yeah, like honestly, battle rap is sort of like trial and error. There have been so many battles where I've read my stuff on paper and thought it looked incredible, and then it just falls flat in the battle. Sometimes it is the bits that I thought were just okay that pop off the most. I think that after Mos Prob, I begun to see patterns in what popped and what didn't. Like what was the perfect mix between short two bar set-ups and punchlines, and then longer schemes of jokes and bars. After that, it is just where to put them all in relation to each other for maximum effect.

Don't Flop recently held an event in Scotland after a long absence. Though the turnout was not massive, the brand automatically generated more views than any other league here could manage, be it Breaking Bars, the old Badmouth/Scotland Standup battles or whatever. What do you think is the way forward for our scene? And how can our battlers stand out?

There are already too many leagues in the UK to be honest, so I don't think saturating the market with more would be a smart move. My guess would be that Scottish rappers need to bite the bullet and battle in England more, just to make them aware that there is some serious talent north of the border. For whatever reason, the scene up here is very secular. Until we change that, with regards to battling that is, it will just stay the same. 

Do you think the problem (or the blessing, depending on your standpoint) is partly that the battle scene here is very much a component of the all round hip hop scene? Here MC's tend to get battles based on their musical pedigree, whereas battling has become its own entity down south. E.g. Shuffle-T and Marlo are very entertaining, but openly not rappers.

I mean you have to pick your poison, right? If you want to have battling as part of an all round music-based hip hop culture, then that's all good, but you cannot then complain that you do not have the same commercial success as Don't Flop (not that I'm saying people do that!). On the other hand, you cannot be an MC for a company that's doing Oreo adverts and complain that you don't get the respect from UKHH heads that the older Scottish rappers get. The grass is always greener I guess, but yeah, you have to pick one or the other. Don't pick one and then bitch you don't have the other. 

There has been a massive upsurge in Scottish MC's over the past couple of years. Being as busy as you are, do you still get to take much of an interest in today's scene? 

To be honest man, I've not really listened to any "new" hip hop music lately. I was a fan of Scottish hip hop before I battled though. 'Summer Knows A Darker Shade of Grey' (by Loki and Scatabrainz) is one of my top 50 hip hop albums of all time. 

What have you been listening to lately then?
If we're talking hip hop, a lot of 90's-00's west coast stuff, but also rock from the 60's and 70's like Hendrix and Cream. Also chilled out stuff like Norah Jones and Regina Spektor, and I also dug the new Killers album. That is not a very hip hop answer, but I don't try to be anything other than what I am so who gives a fuck! 

Check out Soul's latest battle (v Sketch Menace on KOTD) here.

Coming up this week on SSU: More JAM sessions and an exclusive review/commentary from Loki on his latest work "Kill Your Darlings", which is composed of tracks that won't make the full 'Goverment Issue Music Protest' LP.

Read our other most recent interview with Loki (on independence) here.

Note: we're also planning on getting the address again for clarity, and because it is printed on all the old merchandise/websites... We've just been using the generic blogspot name recently out of laziness. Jonny x