Notes from the Underground
In the midst of the chaos which was 2020, London-based duo Jockstrap have been slowly cementing themselves as ones to watch through their distinctive sound and unique vi sua I tone. Defying the usual hal lmarks of just about any genre, Jockstrap harmoniously mixes, among other things, the glistening elements of PC Music with Math rock tempos and some enticing trap hooks for good measure. Comprised of Guildhall alums Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye, and now represented by record-label heavyweight Warp, they' redetermined to expand on their pleasantly dizzying tunes and, in Taylor's words, 'create different and more intense monsters that have new personalities' for future projects.
Since touring with alternative hip hop icons Injury Reserve, they've treated us to two EPs. 'Beavercore', the most recent, sees them bringing together remixes of past songs (such as 'City Hell', reimagined as a bassy club banger) and masterful classical interludes composed by Georgia and performed by Taylor, a skilled pianist. But what exactly is Beavercore? According to Georgia, it riffs on terms such as 'softcore porn ... but also hardcore music', once again highlighting the hard-to-pin-down quality of their eclectic tracks. (On the subject of the internet's penchant for making a 'core' out of just about anything, she adds that her 'least favourite core' is 'cottagecore'.) The EP - created almost entirely remotely, apart from some last minute tweaks made the night before mastering - was 'intuiti ve' and 'very chill to make', with Georgia further elaborating that they 'didn't spend hours contemplating details', which worked to their benefit, and made this their most honest project yet. As to what defines them as a band, she explains that 'the music conveys our big personalities' and 'where we are at in life'.
This same approach even extends to their visual imprint which often plays on feelings of awkwardness and angst, as best illustrated with their photos and videos lensed by Max Granger, further setting them apart from their glossier counterparts. Inspiration-wise, their frame of reference is just as broad as the genres they mesh together, with Skye naming a plethora of people of both fictional and non-fictional varieties, such as 'Harry Dean Stanton, Neil Diamond, Billy Brag, Oliver Twist, The Strokes, Charlie Kaufman and Indigo Girls'. In regard to their collaboration with Perfect, which saw them pick their favourite looks from Gucci's 'Ouverture' collection and film themselves performing a song of their choice, Taylor reveals that Steve Mackey 'and his crew were incredibly nice to work with', adding that he was delighted to be using 'a fancy studio'.
With their best yet to come, Jockstrap are providing a beautifully earnest breath of fresh air into the music industry, all the while bending and blending each and every genre the internet has to offer (except cottagecore).
Writer Iris Rosindo-Chalangeas
United Kingdom, Avenues, 2021.
Oliver Coates isn’t exactly sure why, aged six, he first reached for the cello. ‘It’s a misty memory now, like a cut scene from Silent Hill,’ he says, ‘but I think I had ideas about the sound or the shape of the instrument.’
It’s hard not to imagine the silvery whisper of destiny guiding little Coates all those years ago. A preternaturally gifted player, he went on to graduate from the Royal Academy of Music with the highest score ever awarded to a student; receive the Royal Philharmonic Society Breakthrough Award for Young Artist; and become principal cellist for, among others, the London Contemporary Orchestra. But what truly distinguishes Coates is his crusade to free the cello from its classical constraints.
When we speak, the 38-year-old is at home in London’s Elephant and Castle. ‘I make most of my music here,’ he says. ‘I have all the ingredients of a studio but, at the same time, I don’t have it as a sealed-off environment from family life. I like inadvertent experiments in ideas and sound, and how life and musical work can flow together.’
He’s just finished collaborating with Arca, the Barcelonabased artist famed for pushing pop to its mutant outer reaches. It speaks volumes that Arca describes the creative process of working with Coates on ‘Madre’, the title track of her new maxisingle, as one filled with ‘insane resonance and chemistry’, adding that where Coates took the project ‘felt like the place I dreamed of but couldn’t reach without him’.
For Coates, it’s the latest in a long line of avant-garde excursions that have seen him open on tour for both Thom Yorke and Radiohead, conduct a performance of his electronic music for Karl Lagerfeld’s homecoming Chanel show in Hamburg, headline the Manchester International Festival curated by David Lynch and release Upstepping, a 2016 album inspired by the snare drum programming of mid-Nineties garage. He describes his most recent album, skins n slime, as ‘ambient shoegaze and pastoral metal’.
Technology is key to Coates’ wild reimagining of what a cello can do. ‘There is a constant hybrid relationship between the cello, microphones and computer,’ he explains. ‘I no longer think of them as separate elements, more of a chain where the arcane and the digital are in constant negotiation and expansion. It’s always in the pursuit of beauty, not an interest in technology by itself.’
He politely resists any comparisons to the late, great American cellist Arthur Russell who, through the Seventies and Eighties, made unhinged art-disco records and collaborated with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and David Byrne – but acknowledges Russell ‘sprinkled gold dust on everything he touched’. Coates’ preferred list of inspirations is brilliantly eclectic: Shostakovich, Aphex Twin, sculptor Mike Nelson, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Marion (‘the band from Macclesfield’), the haunting ballroom pop of The Caretaker and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. ‘I’m also deeply inspired by my friends who are great musicians, Anna Meredith and Mica Levi,” he points out.
Coates played on Mica Levi’s mesmerising score for the scifi film Under The Skin. He’s also played on the soundtracks for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Phantom Thread and The Master, and has just completed scores for two upcoming features. Cinema seems to suit Coates: if he could score any existing film, what would he choose? ‘Badlands or possibly Don’t Look Now,’ he says.
With live shows relegated to the collective memory bank for now, has he ever achieved a perfect performance? ‘You can have the feeling that everything is singing, that you have a wonderful show,’ he says. ‘But I think it’s about what’s coursing through your veins rather than any measurable standard, how your physiology imbues everything with a richness at that time. There’s certainly no perfect sound, only meaningful sound.’