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The Friday Dispatch
Fred Roberts, cumgirl8, Light Beam Rider and Ratboys + win tickets to the Mercury Prize!
The opening breaths of Gentle Confrontation, Loraine James' third album on Hyperdub, is cinema for the ears as she dangles us over a precipice erected by disquieting strings. Fitful drums fill in the gaps to our questions of what’s to come while signalling the beginning of yet another expedition through the nocturnal realm of the 27-year-old North Londoner. She temporarily disables any notions of comfort with a rough sheet of atonal synths before proceeding to deliver the lines, “I feel very tired / I feel very bored” in a monotonous beat poetry style.
Breaking down her creative process, James tells me there’s rarely a methodical approach when constructing an album which is usually made up of her meandering thoughts that duplicate into sonic cacophonies, “I never have an idea of what an album is about so I always will let my thoughts flow,” she explains. Within this selection of tracks is a contemplation on matters close to her heart as it also marks the 20-year anniversary of her father’s passing which she addresses on “2003”. Assuming a more melodic presence than on her previous albums, any trepidation she may have had around her vocal ability has melted away: "I think over time in each record I’ve slowly used my voice a bit more, I guess it’s slight confidence,” she explains.
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James’ affinity for rhythm stems from her mother and grandparents who filled her upbringing with soca and calypso, while she developed her own taste for the likes of Linkin Park and others she crossed paths with while scrolling through MTV Rocks and Kerrang! TV. For the most part, her elastic soundscapes are rooted in some element of rhythm, communicating a sense of disorder as a way to counter the conventional notions of how rhythm is digested in the sphere of dance and electronic music.
"I like to make stuff that’s really quite stiff and undanceable, sometimes in a troll-y way,” she says. “Percussion really tickles my brain. I love making stuff interesting by experimenting with panning because I think it adds a certain kind of emotion. There’s so much to play with and I really enjoy messing around with texture and rhythm.”
Cumgirl8 met in a sex chat forum, in another metaverse, eight-thousand years ago. Verse-jumping to New York City in 2019, Lida Fox (bass), Veronika Vilim (guitar), Chase Lombardo (drums), and Avishag Rodrigues (guitar) are the latest signings to 4AD.
While the four-piece formed with a view to create music, over time they became embedded in New York’s performance scene, their holistic approach taking in art, fashion, politics and embracing internet cultures. “It started with the music and then we had so many other things to share. It really came to a head during Covid in 2020 because we couldn’t play shows,” they explain.
Similarly, their music is a broad church of influence, at times at odds with the provocative and liberal leanings embraced in their image and social presence. On new EP Phantasea Pharm there are hints of ESG, Fever Ray, Cocteau Twins, Suicide and Fannypack. In short, they’re impossible to pigeonhole with a single genre.
Their live show may embody aspects of punk’s freedom, but their messaging is a progression of riot grrrl’s ideology. While in the 90s, owning your body as a woman felt radical, today so does the notion of owning your own sexuality with unabashed confidence. “Riot grrrl’s been done and it was amazing. New wave riot grrrl, I like that but it’s not the only thing we are,” they explain. “We have personal relationships with our instruments and I think we branch out, sonically. It sounds a lot different.”
Cumgirl8 satirises themes of feminine objectification, online sensationalism and capitalism, amongst others. Creating memes and discomfort, they use their platform to progress conversation, particularly around female-identifying sexuality. “In the 90s there was this collective, the VNS Matrix,” they explain. “It’s really funny because I don’t think we were aware of it when we started this but they made their cyber-art hyper sexual too. It was a part of third wave feminism in the 90s and it kinda got cast aside. I feel like we’re picking that up. There’s definitely some puritanical values that we’re all shaking off as a society around women being naked and that’s changing one day at a time for sure.”
Even so, they still encounter a lot of kickback, especially online. Signing with their dream label, 4AD, a bigger platform means even more heads to turn. “It’s funny, there are some die hard legacy fans that are like, what are you doing 4AD? Cumgirl8?” they laugh. “But then the people who really get it are like, wait a second. 4AD had The Birthday Party, are you kidding? They're doing exactly what these bands have always done, which is push the envelope and 4AD’s been a safe place for that. They really support every weird idea we have, so we’re blessed.”
You’re never too young to look back at your life and begin piecing together the journey you’ve come on; the successes and hiccups, the first loves and revelations, the knots and entanglements that make us all uniquely human. Whilst always musical from a young age, jaunting around nursery singing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, singer/songwriter Fred Roberts soon realised “I like creating… not just playing everyone else’s stuff.”
Although forcing him to celebrate his eighteenth birthday without a ritualistic night out, he cites the pandemic as a strangely pivotal moment in his music career which allowed him to begin making his own music. “I was seventeen, and it was the first time I had that little bit of maturity in life, and was able to look back on my experiences over the past years and start writing about them,” Roberts explains. “Pandemic aside, lockdown was the perfect time for being able to throw myself more into music and my thoughts.”
Prior to working on his own musical output, Roberts kept busy posting covers online, amassing a big enough following of fans online to gain traction and be scouted to appear on X Factor: The Band. A spin-off from the main series, the show saw him grouped together in a boy band, confidently progressing through the show with his bandmates week-on-week, before finishing second.
“It was my first exposure into this world [of music], I didn’t know anyone in the industry before then, I’d had no real career advice," he tells me. "It taught me a lot about working with others, and I’ll forever feel very fortunate for it. I’m extremely grateful the way everything panned out - it’s funny because at the time not winning felt like the most devastating thing that could have ever happened in my life, but looking back I’m glad I’m not in a band right now. I’m making music myself, for me. I want to be a solo artist.”
Now just a few months into launching his solo endeavour, Roberts beams with a youthful and frankly quite catching optimism about his excitement with the whole music making and releasing process. His debut track “Runaway” was released in April 2023, a rock-tinged and cinematically-coded pop anthem for those who have survived turmoil and want to scream it to the world. Book-ending the British summertime, the follow-up “Say” is out today, a moodier take on his bombast pop sound.
British audio brand Bowers & Wilkins - a long-term partner of the Mercury Prize as part of its ongoing support for championing UK recorded music - is partnering with Best Fit to offer two pairs of circle tickets and two pairs of Px7 S2 over-ear noise cancelling headphones with an RRP of around £280 to two lucky readers.
At the forefront of music creation for over 40 years, supporting artists, producers and engineers in some of the world’s leading recording studios, including Abbey Road Studios, Bowers & Wilkin is uniquely placed to help the Mercury Prize celebrate the album format and the shortlisted artists’ creative achievements.
The Mercury Prize, which takes place on Thursday 7 September at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, sees the likes of Young Fathers, Arctic Monkeys, RAYE, and Jockstrap competing to take home an award claimed by Little Simz in 2022.
Something old, something new
Every week, one of Best Fit's writers or editors share their recommendations of two records they love - one from the past, one from the present. This week, Best Fit albums editor Steven Loftin on Mississippi by Light Beam Rider and The Window by Ratboys.
Mississippi has been in my rotation for eleven years. Since discovering Light Beam Rider back in 2012, this thunderous, rapturous, unwieldy post-rock record has been a decade-plus staple for a reason – it fucking goes. From the instant key-bump synapse of "#5" to the closing pandemonium of "Zombie Fireflies" it's purposeful in its moves with each jutting guitar line riding the rhythmic grooving waves created by pace-setting drums and hip-shaking bass. Thomas Sweat's vocals pierce through the mix with a nasality passion, squeezing every last drop out of each syllable, often to the point they trip over each other.
What makes Mississippi truly special is the heart-on-sleeve passion, even with the odd clunky metaphor ("God's a skyscraper" Sweat pleads on "A Song About Some Byrdz"), it feels like the very depths of something are being plundered for this music. It goes this hard because it has too to survive. It relishes in every hairpin turn. It finds euphoria in its honesty ("My Name Is Thunder"), but more often than not it unleashes hell in the form of unabashed guitar lines which yearn to be aired. Sadly, Light Beam Rider never made the waves deserving of this gem, with one further album (2016's A Place to Sleep Among The Creeps) before disbanding, later reforming as Have a Rad Day. Still, nothing has quite matched the urgent grasp a song like "Dexter's Meth Lab" whips you in with.
Ratboys make music that feels like laying on your parent's living room carpet as the sun beams through the window, soaking your body in a heat that feels eternal. Dramatic, maybe, but with the luscious melodies and heartfelt sincerity with which they sing, it's a wonder I'm not currently in a state of arrested development.
The Window is their fifth outing and it feels like the culmination of their journey – so far at least. The band's sound has exponentially grown from its rootsier beginnings, with them now readily breaking into rockier, harsher tones, as Julia Steiner creates worlds and moments to be lived in – with the lightest touch, and most minimalist of lyrical doses.
It's impossible to not fall in love with their emo-tangential post-country offerings. Heading back to any one of their albums feels like stepping back into a life-filled sepia-tinged photo album, and The Window is the perfect glimpse into what makes them so special.
We have three copies of The Window to give away - enter the competition here.
Dropping at midnight every Thursday, follow our 20-track playlist for a taste of the best new music from the most exciting breaking artists.
These are the songs our editors and writers have on repeat right now, taken from the hundreds of tracks released in the last seven days. Leading the selection this week are amazing cuts from Trout, kwn, Maria BC, Meadow Meadow, Edie Bens and coverstar Jasmine Jethwa.