In Came the Flood: An Interview with Wintersleep

Photo: Scott Munn

Opening for Paul McCartney? Bagging some huge Canadian awards? All in a day's work for Wintersleep, who tell us all about the recording of their latest, dynamic record ...


Hello Hum

Label: Roll Call
US Release Date: 2012-06-12
UK Release Date: 2012-06-12

This Nova Scotia band opened for Paul McCartney, won a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy), and performed to a US audience on Late Night with David Letterman. Yet, Wintersleep's focus has always been on the music, not the prestige. And that focus pays off on their newest record, Hello Hum. Although they're now five albums deep into their career, the band continues to innovate via sharper songwriting, new producers, and even new instrumentation.

Co-produced by Dave Fridmann (MGMT, The Flaming Lips) and Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai), the band recorded the album over a six-week period in Fridmann's home studio. Says lead singer Paul Murphy:

"We've never had that much time in big chunks like that. Our first record was three weeks, I think, of recording time in Halifax, which was really close to where we all lived. So it sort of felt like we were living in the studio, but we would go home to our own beds. Then we did one in Montreal, which was a difficult process. There's not a lot of studios in Montreal, so we picked one that was about 40 miles out of town, which is a long way every day. So you're picking people up and driving to this neat studio, but it felt like you were going to your job or something. It didn't feel organic like Dave's studio. We were initially going to do three weeks there and three weeks in Halifax, but when we got there, it felt like we were in my backyard or something like that. "

The combination of Fridmann and Doogan proved to be an exciting and re-energizing one for Wintersleep. Fridmann has "a really hands-on approach to mixing. When you listen to the record, that doesn't sound like anything we've ever done before." Indeed, the hazy distortion of opening track "Hum", has Fridmann's definite stamp on it, though Doogan's influence is also palpable on the album.

"The way Dave mixes is quite interesting and not really normal -- kind of an odd way to mix records. But because he's so secure with the way he mixes things, when we were actually recording songs, he had input on the things that would be good for him while he was mixing, so he took on a co-producer role as well because he was mixing it. He and Tony are really good friends, and they've worked together before, and they really feed off each other. When Tony's just working with us, it's really great, but Dave just added a new dynamic. It stirred something in Tony as well."

For Murphy, the band's accolades aren't nearly as exciting as the producers with whom the band has worked. "The Juno Award was cool in that it was the first time my parents were like, 'You're actually a real band!' For me, a milestone would be working with Tony for the first time for Welcome to the Night Sky, and then with Dave on this last record. I don't get excited by a lot of things, but those are the things I get excited about. It's something tangible and you're working with this person on things, and was way beyond the realm of possibility when I was 16 or 17. I never thought I would be working with people of that caliber. It's not something you think about. Then suddenly, Dave's agreed to make this record, and he's going to be helping with production stuff, and you're going to his place, and you're going to go for dinner with his family. Those are the things that are, for me, pretty amazing."

Murphy and the band also benefited from the wide variety of instruments -- many of them vintage -- available at Fridmann's studio, even employing unlikely touches like kazoo flourishes. "That's the thing with that studio which is amazing. They have so much gear. They have stuff from the 70s which is vintage gear, and usually when you're at the studio and you have a vintage synthesizer, it's broken and three of the keys don't work, and it makes this weird sound. But it was all pristine-condition stuff. There's also toy things and weird stuff you can incorporate into your recording that have a certain background role," Murphy says.

Murphy continues that the diversity of sounds available to the band contributed to the songs' development from their original form to the more polished, inventive versions heard on Hello Hum. He discusses the way the band wanted to deviate from earlier sounds: "We tried to steer the record away from being too rock-y sounding, too guitar-y. Just having the access to that stuff [the instruments] enabled another thing on the palette board, another color. Having so many things to pull from, if there's a keyboard sound on one song, it's not the same keyboard sound on another song."

There are many striking things about Hello Hum, including even the album artwork, done by Marianne Collins. "We contacted her and asked her to come up with something based on listening to the tracks, something with a lot of movement. She tries to make a lot of movement in the pieces she does. That was something that stuck with me about the pieces she does, and I'd never seen images like that. They almost had this physical quality to them. She listened to the record and came up with tons and tons of awesome ideas, and that's one she ended up choosing, which is really cool because it's actually three images [that] are juxtaposed."

Also intriguing in the artistic vein is the epic video for "In Came the Flood," which features a high-budget, psychedelic, unsafe-for-epileptics live performance of the song. Asked if the rendition of the song is typical of the band's live shows, Murphy laughs. "It depends on the budget! Generally not as flashy. Sometimes if we're doing big festival shows, we'll get a lighting person to come out. We're trying for this next record to have projections like that, but our shows do not look like that video. I actually hate lighting like that because when you're playing a show, you feel like you're going to go into a seizure or something. It was an idea of trying to make it psychedelic-looking."

And there is an element of psychedelica on Hello Hum, but there is also mostly good, old-fashioned rock n' roll crafted by a seasoned band with the wizardry of two esteemed producers.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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