Alternative Friday

because great new music doesn’t always get the exposure it deserves

I sense it’s going to be another wonderful year of music as 2018 has kicked off with an outstanding array of new tracks, and it was was a challenge to whittle it down to these ten. So jump on board and take in a variety of sounds, from indie and alt rock, to Latin and Afrobeat, via artpop and electronica. Enjoy…


Giant Party – White Ink
The Howl & The Hum – Portrait I
Kyoti – Avalon
Kokoroko – Abusey Junction
Mugen – Commentary
Eitha Da – Southern Fried Ruthin
Penya – Search It Out
Red Rum Club – Calexico
The Homegrown – Some People
Adannay – Her Favourite Song

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This soul-splashed indie 4-piece from London is made up of (left ro right); Mark Hyden (guitar), Hugh Fox (drums), Tim Harrod (keys, synth, backing vox), and Allan Harrod (lead vox, guitar, keys). They released their self-titled EP in August 2017 to widespread acclaim and radio play, while the track Ambulances made our Best of 2017 Mixtape too.



They’ve now kicked of the New Year by raising the bar higher still with the release of the outstanding White Ink, which is a more energetic and meatier beast than the hypnotic and ambient electronica influenced tracks from the EP, such as Ambulances. If I call Giant Party’s contagious and 80’s influenced sound ‘indie dance’ it’s certainly accurate, but possibly does it a disservice as it barely covers the multitude of exotic layers within their music. Either way they’ve struck gold with their fusion of funky soul and indie rock, and seem set for great things in 2018!



As for their live performances – oh my giddy Aunt – I caught them a few times last year and can vouch they’re outstanding! This is not just because of the quality of the songs and musicianship, but also because their frontman, Allan, puts in the wildest of displays that makes Sam Herring (Future Islands) seem rather bashful by comparison!

Definitely ones to watch, and do catch them now… before they’re huge!

San Blas are a 4-piece ukulele rock band from London and Hertfordshire who first appeared here in 2016, and then in an Emerging artists piece, as well as to win a 2017 Award for their outstanding debut EP Draw, Win, or Lose! They now face a Q&A, so read on to find out more about the band, the EP, tropical islands, and, er… San Blasta Pasta!


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~ What’s the musical background to the four of you, and how did you get together?
We have all been very musical from a young age. Sam played drums and sung in his first band in high school while at the same time the two Chris’ were in rival bands playing their respective instruments; electric guitar and drums. Sam moved over from Australia 4 years ago and started the band with his cousin (Rob) who played acoustic guitar. Wanting to add drums to the lineup Sam asked Chris Smith (an old family friend) if he knew anyone, and after coming to watch an open mic show, Chris Hammond jumped on board. Naturally feeling left out, Smith literally went and bought a bass the next day, and the lineup was complete! After Rob left last year, Smith moved back onto his preferred electric guitar and our good old pal Jamie, who had been playing guitar since he was 7, decided he would pick up the bass for the first time and fill in the missing piece!

~ Where does the name San Blas come from, and why did you pick it?
Sam first started writing songs 6 years ago with a few of his friends on a trip throughout the west coast of America, and then through Central America. After 3 months of travelling and singing their way through every hostel they found, they ended up on the islands of San Blas off the coast of Panama. It was here on this tropical island, when seeing a hut being burnt down by a local tribe cos a member hadn’t paid some island tax, Sam had the idea for the concept of ‘ukulele rock’ – there was something about the juxtaposition of paradise vs human intervention that really resonated with him about western society, and the thought of combining the natural beautiful tones of the ukulele and mixing it with the harshness of british rock n’ roll seemed like it could potentially capture this idea. It wasn’t for another year when the first incarnation of the band needed a name for their first gig that naturally Sam felt it just had to be San Blas.


~ You say it has “taken over 6 years to develop a concept”, but why, and did you ever go in any other directions?
Having an idea to do something, and then trying to do it, is incredibly different, and massively time consuming! Finishing uni degrees and trying to convince people of a concept that only exists in one person’s head has meant finding the right people to get on board has taken a lot of time. This is arguably the 4th incarnation of the band and each step of the way has created new problems and challenges. Getting the right sound has been by far the biggest challenge, and the evolution of it all has been such a slow process but at the same time it has been the most rewarding part of it because we have learnt so much, and we can be proud that we have done everything independently and with genuine friends.

~ What did you find most challenging about making the EP?
Definitely capturing the ukulele sound. There was a lot of trial and error, and we even tried recording with a couple of different sound engineers in various different studios to try and find that perfect sound. We got very lucky in becoming friends with a sound engineer who is an absolute genius, and he fortunately came up with the answer and we couldn’t have been more happier with the sound of it in the end!

~ If you could play live at any venue in the UK, where would it be?
Cavern Club in Liverpool is always high on the list just because of it’s history, but I think Brixton Academy would be a pretty special day if we ever got to play there!!

~ If you were appearing on ‘Later with Jools Holland’, which track from the EP would you choose to perform?
Definitely ‘Drive‘ – that song has basically everything we could wish to showcase to someone watching us for the first time. The dynamics of the acoustic guitar and the ukulele flowing over each other, vocal harmonies, and then the addition of the electric guitar and horn section at the end would be really something special to capture live on TV. Especially with the meaning of that song being about Rob’s mum who passed away from cancer a few years ago, it would also just be such an emotionally powerful moment for our families as well.


~ Are there any other new bands or musicians local to you in London or Hertfordshire that you recommend we check out?
There are so many it’s actually not funny! Our favourites at the moment though are our friends Berries, and Concrete Caverns, they are both bringing proper electric guitar music back and are incredible live! Another one we got lucky to play with last year was Longy & the Gospel Trash – if you have a chance to see them live do it, Longy genuinely blew all of us away and is very unique.

~ If you could collaborate with a famous musician, who would it be?
We all have so many different influences that we have such different answers to this question! But we definitely all agree though that doing something massively epic with Hans Zimmer would be the number 1 dream!

~ What’s the most impressive thing any of you can cook?
None of us are really the best of chefs, so usually when we get together we will head to Tesco’s and get some tortellini and a bunch of those pre packed boxes of olives, sun dried tomatoes and stuffed peppers with feta – chuck them all together and you have one amazing San Blasta Pasta 😉

~ If you could each have a superpower for a day, what would it be?
Somehow we all agreed freezing time would be the best thing ever – I think working in London has something to do with that!

~ Which famous person would you love to get to drive the tour bus?
Donald trump – so we can keep him away from the button!

~ What are your plans for 2018?
We have spent so much time preparing the EP and evolving our live sound over the last year that we just want to get out and start gigging everywhere and anywhere now! Hopefully we can play some festivals and do a little UK tour this year, but then we are aiming to enter the recording studio again before the end of the year – we have already started preparing EP#2 so we really can’t wait to get back in there!

Last year was undoubtedly an outstanding one for new and emerging musicians, as highlighted in my Best of 2017 Soundcloud and Spotify playlists, but there were numerous late entries that make this first Mixtape of the New Year, covering numerous sounds from folk rock & pop to some epic ukulele & dark Belgian disco! Roll on 2018…


Victoria – Temperature
Frozen Nation – Come To The Ride
Lewis Bootle – Routes
San Blas – Drive
The Cairds – All Fall Down
LA River Bend – Summer Wind
Pip Hall – Ill At Ease
Violet – Feel
The King’s Parade – Night Calls
Birdyhop – On the Street Where You Live

The Evolving Tunes playlist has done exactly that during 2017, so as the year draws to a close we’ve created a selection of the best tracks to have appeared this year. It contains a wide array of genres, so dive in, enjoy, and keep an eye on the main playlist during 2018 for more talented new and emerging musicians.


The high quality of new and emerging musicians never really surprises me, but I’m confident that 2017 has been an exceptional year, and as it draws to a close we reveal our Alternative Friday Awards. So who are the winners?


Best Album (& Male Vocal): Tom Hickox – Monsters in the Deep
Where do we start with this outstanding musician and album? Returning after a break, the early teaser releases from Monsters in the Deep suggested a new, more upbeat sound for this piano playing Londoner. The Fanfare and The Dubbing Artist are toe tappingly brilliant (the latter will definitely get you dancing, and the true story behind it is remarkable too). Istanbul then raised the bar still further, while the slower but stunning Perseus and Lampedusa, & Korean Girl in a Waiting Room, also contain some wonderful horns and percussion. An added treat was to see these tracks performed live, not once but twice this year. Impressive songwriting, rich vocals, and outstanding musicianship… across a whole album!


Best EP: San Blas – Draw, Win, or Lose
There have been some great EPs this year, and I was torn as to which might win this award until San Blas released this EP in November. There are 6-tracks that are all outstanding in their own way, and reveal different aspects to the songwriting and musicianship of the band. From the vibrant Morgan to the slow building Drive, all are led by the ukulele, while adding guitars, drums, and some wonderful horns too. For a little more check here.


Best Female Vocal: Eloïse – California
This track from London teenager Eloïse struck a note when I first heard it in the Fresh on the Net inbox back in May. The atmospheric and dark-pop melody is full of orchestrated strings and rhythmic percussion, and with its strong production and Eloïse’s rich and velvety vocals it grew on me more and more each time I heard it. Not bad for a song, during which she “feels about as exciting as tap water”.


Best Hypnotic Gem: Super Best Friends Club – Super Destruct
This London 5-piece will soon need a new cabinet, as they also picked an award up in 2016 for the equally brilliant Humans. Super Destruct is the opening track from the album Loveblows, and is an intoxicating 5-minute masterpiece that builds slowly, almost carrying you into an hypnotic trance. It also contains the wonderful lyric “I want to cook you dinner”, which I never sing out loud at home (just in case!). Genius.


Top Soulful Rock Tune: The Pure Conjecture – No Ghosts
It’s not easy to pin this wonderful track down as it seems to draw its influences from so many areas, but I loved it from the first listen back in the balmy evenings of summer 17. It mixes soulful vocals and rhythms, softer-rock sonics (get your air guitar out for the solo!) and melodic harmonies that could have come from 1970s San Francisco. The warm production is then the icing on the cake. Superb.


Best Indie Earworm: Mosley Bar – Two Apart
There have been some excellent ‘indie guitar’ tracks released this year (see the Best Of 2017 Mixtape for further evidence), so when it’s done this well it is outstanding. From its accessible lyrics & melodic riffs, to the all powerful finale, it’s easily one of the tracks of the year. It is also a encore favourite (as we found out in our Q&A with them), which isn’t bad for a song originally intended as a set filler!


Best Electronica Dance Track: Mieux – Shenzhen
This is a killer experimental/EDM piece by the Viennese duo Chrisoph Prager and Felix Wolfersberger, aka Mieux (French for ‘better’), and is an ambitious instrumental that mixes brass and percussion influences with rhythmic synths to create an energy burning gem. One to fill any nightclub floor.


The Song of Summer 2017: Abhi The Nomad – Somebody to Love
This infectious and sunny alternative hip-hop gem by the well travelled Abhi the Nomad, who is Indian born, but has ended up in Thousand Oaks California (via numerous detours), was perfectly pitched when it came out this summer. The video also captures the track just perfectly, as we highlighted here. I’ll bet you’re whistling in no time too…


Outstandingly Raucous Rock Track: Himalayas – Thank God I’m Not You
Arriving with a whirlwind of distorted guitars and an avalanche of drumming, Cardiff 4-piece Himalayas have struck gold with this 3 minutes of furious garage influenced rock, which also includes enough of a melodic undercurrent and headbanging vocals to hook you in quickly. We also featured this young band earlier this year, in both Emerging artist and Showreel video articles, and I can vouch they’re impressive live too. Superb if you love an uncompromising racket!


Best Crossover track: Ashley Henry – Deja Vu
We’ve featured numerous artists from the wider world of musical genres this year, and fitting nicely into this arena is south London pianist & composer Ashley Henry. The track itself is a seven minute fusion of animated jazz influenced piano and exotic drum ‘n’ bass flavours, which (along with other Afro, Latin, & jazz related musicians) highlights why London is seen as a melting pot of great sounds at the moment. One to savour in a late night bar!


To hear some early contenders for next year’s awards, do keep a close watch on the Evolving Tunes playlist in 2018!

2017 – What an outstanding year for new and emerging artists! It was therefore a huge challenge to whittle the long list down to these 20 tracks, so sadly there were plenty of gems that couldn’t be included, (the monthly Mixtapes and Spotify Evolving Tunes are the places to head to during the year for more).

As previously, it’s another eclectic array of hugely impressive songs, so dive in and wander through everything from ridiculously catchy indie & pop, to floor filling electronica & synth, via some dark & dreamy alternative tunes, breathless ballads, and playful wordsmiths. Enjoy…


Himalayas – Thank God I’m Not You
Tom Hickox – The Dubbing Artist
Mosley Bar – Two Apart
Abhi The Nomad – Somebody to Love
San Blas – Morgan
Mieux – Shenzhen
Keir – I Don’t Need Anybody Else
Of Empires – See You With The Angels, Kid
Eloïse – California
Honeymilk – Havslåten
Lewis Bootle – Cells
Giant Party – Ambulances
Bedroom Eyes – After I Was A Kid But Before I Grew Up
Snippet – Bad Man
Lloyd Llewellyn – Long Way Down
Bleach Dream – Silent Star
Family Jools – American Dream
Swimming Girls – 2 Kids
Still a Great Night – Still a Great Night
Lorne – Bread Alone
Kane Strang – My Smile Is Extinct

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