Bicep: Belfast’s dance obsessives chat synths, live-streams and the making of Isles

Bicep: Belfast’s dance obsessives chat synths, live-streams and the making of Isles

There’s no musical movement that prides itself more for having its finger on the pulse than the dance community. Perhaps due to their medium’s symbiotic relationship with the always-on digital world, electronic producers and DJs are forever digging deep to add to their toolbox of tricks, flipping through obscure samples and fervently patching synth modules to find the track that’ll ignite any dancefloor into a sweaty mess of heads and bodies.

At this stage in their career, Bicep have perfected this process to a science. The Belfast-born dance duo, comprised of Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar, have possessed an uncanny knack for serving up bangers ever since the heyday of their party blog Feel My Bicep in the early 2010s, where the pair would treat fellow dance music obsessives to their own bootlegs of long-lost disco, Detroit Techno and Chicago House curios.

As tales of the pair’s tastes circulated further around the internet and the duo began to assert themselves as staples on the European DJ circuit, Bicep soon found themselves celebrated as one of the biggest electronic buzz acts to rise from the blog era.

By 2017, the duo had signed to Ninja Tune and released their self-titled studio debut to considerable acclaim, with tracks like ‘Opal’ and the certified big-tent anthem of ‘Glue’ serving to solidify their status as one of the most exciting electronic groups of the decade – a title reinforced even further by the pair’s relentless touring of their captivating live show. 

More than three years on amid the gloom of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferguson and McBriar would signal the return of Bicep with the news of Isles – their second full-length album, out around the world today. It’s a record that maintains the consistent songwriting and structures of 2017’s Bicep, yet sees the duo greatly expand their prowess as electronic producers, toying with new timbres and fleshing out their palate further beyond the Korg and Roland classics that defined their earlier works. 

A month out from the release of Isles, we caught up with the duo straight after they’d finished recording their upcoming February album launch live-stream for an insight into the making of their new album, as well as their seemingly infinite collection of gear, their approach to songwriting and sampling, and the eternal joys of the Roland SH-101.

Hey guys! How are you both doing?

MATT: Pretty knackered. We recorded another livestream yesterday, so it’s a lot of work to get that done. To do all the visuals and stuff, we’ve got to record the actual performance first, and then it takes two months to do all the visuals. 

How much do you guys have to rehearse for sets like that?

MATT: This one was about two months of writing and rehearsing. Normally, we’d just rehearse in front of crowds – we’re used to doing three shows each weekend – but obviously because we’ve been doing no touring, it’s been kind of weird to play. It’s not ideal to be doing streams. I really can’t wait to get back to proper touring. 

I bet. How did you guys keep busy over the year without any touring?

ANDY: 2020 was actually surprisingly busy for both of us – probably much more so than we expected really. Everyone else seems to be quite chill, but we’ve been busier than ever really.

We started working on our first live-stream pretty much as soon as we finished the album, so it’s been non-stop work really. We had a couple of months off when the initial lockdown happened here, but after that it’s just been full steam ahead really.

We didn’t really know when we were going to release the album, and obviously with all the COVID stuff it got knocked back a little bit, but on the bright side, it meant that we could just focus all our energy into the live show and doing so many different versions of it.

MATT: It’s been kind of good in some ways. When we took a few months off because the first lockdown, we couldn’t go into the studio or anything, and it was funny to see how rusty we’d gotten after two or three months of just not being in the studio every day, so it took us a while to get back into it. Then we’ve been busy pulling out all the all the live gear and working on loads of re-edits and remixes for the show. For the most part, we’ve stayed busy, so it doesn’t feel like we’ve been in hibernation, which is good.

For sure. What did you guys do throughout the lockdown period when you were away from your studio?

MATT: Loads of gardening man. And cooking! There was plenty of day drinking as well…

ANDY: I found it to be a pretty good time to listen to music actually, because when we’re in the studio, we don’t actually listen to tonnes of music – it’s only when we’re really digging deep for shows or DJ sets. It was a good chance to just go through a bunch of old albums I hadn’t listened to in ages, and we had really good weather throughout summer, so it was quite nice just sitting in the garden and listening to music really.

MATT: We normally don’t do a lot of radio, but we’ve done tonnes of radio shows this year, and I think it’s been quite good. It’s definitely been a year of going back to crate-digging, like full scale. Even when we’re in the studio, we’ve been focusing on preparing for the radio shows. It’s a totally different outlet than just doing DJ sets, because the last couple years we’ve just been digging for stuff that we can play out in our sets, but this time, we’ve just been digging for stuff we wanted to play on the radio – any BPM, any genre, we’ve just been playing whatever. It’s kind of like the old blog, really!

Have there been any tunes released over the past year that really stood out as bangers to you guys?

MATT: We’ve been putting everything we’ve been playing on our Spotify playlist, which we update pretty regularly. It’s less of a playlist of big classics or anything than it is just a good steady stream of really solid music. It’s hard to pick a favourite, because we love everything on there, but there’s a bunch of good stuff from really cool new artists that are popping up, like Tom VR and some of those guys.

Sweet. Onto Isles – you guys dropped the first single from the new album all the way back in April, which is ages ago now. Did you have to delay the album over the course of the year? 

ANDY: The original release date was meant to be in September. As soon as we released ‘Atlas’, we kind of realised that we needed to rethink things, because a lot of the album rollout was based around our live shows, and if we didn’t have live shows, we really needed to rethink in terms of how well the release strategy would work. You need to have a very different approach to things and need to be a lot more carefully planned, especially when you can’t do things in the physical world, because things in the digital world need a lot of work to make them up to a decent standard.

MATT: It felt a bit unsavoury to even be trying to promote anything over the summer because the news was so intense and raw, so we just decided to hold off with everything. But it was good on one hand, because we actually hadn’t fully finished mixing the album. 

ANDY: Normally, you always say you want like four months to tweak things…

MATT: But we actually ended up having six! It’s usually so hectic – no matter how fast you work, it’s always really hectic towards the end of finishing an album. There’s always so much extra work you think you thought you didn’t need to do that you have to do, so it was really nice to just spend our time getting it together properly.

Are there any songs on the record that changed substantially in that kind of period that you had sitting on them?

MATT: Not really, but we did cut some. For the next live stream, we’ve actually done remixes of a lot of the tracks on the album, so even though a lot of the songs on Isles are a bit more like broken beat, we’ve turned a lot of the tracks into techno versions for the live show. Most of the songs ended up having two versions: there’s the older album tracks, and then the club versions, which we’ll probably release later down the line.

That’s what we’ve been working on for the past few months really. We think it’s really fun if you can hear completely new versions when you see someone play live, but it doesn’t spoil the original. We wrote the album with the idea that there was going to be multiple versions of each track, instead of suddenly trying to remix it later down the line. 

Have you changed your live setup in the time between the last stream and this one?

ANDY: We’ve just added a couple more pieces to it. You’re always tinkering with it, because there’s always one or two things you want to add. In the studio, we’ve got such a big chain of effects and compressors that we obviously can’t take on the road, and you need to kind of keep it as compact as possible. For this next stream, I’ve brought out my modular stuff, and Matt’s got a couple more guitar pedals as well.

That was something I really dug about your first stream, how you guys had all those Boss stompboxes on deck for compression and treating all the synths.

MATT: It’s sick that you can always rely on those classic pedals. They work well, and they sound great.

ANDY: They’ve got a vibe to them. They definitely are made for guitars, but then when you put synths through them, it gives them a bit of crustiness. They’re probably a bit too dirty for the studio, but it adds a nice gel to the whole live show.

Were there any other new pieces of gear that made it onto this album that weren’t there on the last one?

MATT: Lots. Deckard’s Dream, which we used pretty heavily for strings and stuff, as well as the Mode Machines ADX1, and there was a Jupiter 6 as well. We got the Intellijel Atlantis, which is kind of like a SH-101-style modular thing, and some filters which we used a lot on the drums. You ought to check our studio – we really need to start trimming it down. It’s gotten a bit out of control!

How much do you guys kind of combining all that hardware with stuff that you’re doing in the box is like a bit of a 5050 split? Are you guys like way more on the hardware side now?

ANDY: We pretty much only use hardware, but we obviously still mix a bit in the box. We record everything straight in and do a little EQ-ing to clean stuff up inside the box, but we’ve started using hardware compressors a lot more. For this album, we tried to focus on recording stuff pretty wet, and use big effects chains to get it right on the day, which is something we want to move towards so we don’t have to use anything in the box at all.

Fill me in on your writing process. Is it just you guys based around all the machines and going around sequencing things, kind of writing by just jamming on all the hardware?

MATTT: Yeah, but we would often sit down with a piano and spend ages just getting a set of chords, and once we’ve got the chords we’ll move across to the gear and start sending it out to stuff. For a lot of the melodies and chords, we’d try and sit down and write that as a musical backbone, and once we’d worked that out, we could write our bass lines around it and stuff. 

It does change all the time though. On ‘Atlas’, we did the melody last, which is something we’d normally do first. Each day in the studio is different, but it’s nearly always based on the hardware. There’s two of us, and we’ve found that it’s a lot easier with two people if you’ve got something you can play with hands-on, rather than sort of hunched over a computer, you know?

It was interesting to hear that there was no moments on the album where you guys were obviously using some of that more iconic electronic gear, like a 303 or 808 or even a Korg M1 or something, which was something you used to do often. 

MATT: I think we’ve kind of gotten to the stage we’re we’ve exorcised sounds all those old sounds. We were just learning at that stage, and when you’re starting out, you try and mimic sounds to try and get to a good level of knowledge with them. We’ve been lucky enough to buy enough hardware that that’s been quite specific to what we want to do – we’ve been getting a lot of old stuff customised, and have just gotten to that stage where it’s almost like an art. 

ANDY: But also, like what you said about the 303 lines, even though we’ve got an M1 and stuff, we would never use it like a normal M1. Same with a Juno  – we make sure it goes through at least three pedals to make it not sound like a Juno, if that makes sense. We always try and process stuff to the point where it does actually just sound like us, and to be honest, half the time we don’t even know what we did. Whenever we listen back the recordings, we’re like ‘fuck, that sounds good – what do we actually do again?’, because we never start from presets, we just kind of find the sounds ourselves. 

MATTT: Definitely. Stuff like the SH-101 and Deckard’s Dream, there’s no presets – actually Deckard’s Dream does have presets, but we never use them. We just love to program the synths ourselves, so it can become your own sound.

Yeah, 100%. What about some of the vocal samples that you worked with on the record – where did you guys go digging for samples this time? Are you guys vinyl junkies, or do you tend to sample from YouTube?

ANDY: It’s a bit of everything really. One of the main places we started digging when we moved to London eight years ago was Lucky Seven records in Stoke Newington, and we just go there in the morning, get a coffee and dig in the basement, because the guy there would pay us in records if we sorted them out downstairs. We’d sit downstairs for six or seven hours just constantly sorting for a couple of records, and listen all this other music and go find out where their samples came from as well.

MATT: That’s where we built up a huge sample library of sorts, through our record collection. When you start listening to music through a producer’s ear, you just sponge up everything you hear.

ANDY Even then, I don’t think we were really digging to find samples, we were digging to just find tracks that we could edit and reinterpret to make them playable really. We noticed early on that there were tonnes of tracks we really liked to play that were really hard to DJ with, so we’d stick 909s on it or make our own drums to make them pump in a set.

MATTT: Yeah, and obviously living in London, it’s amazing to just come across so much music. It’s such a melting pot here. We actually built a link on our website where we talk about all the samples we use in depth for the album, discussing where we found each sample and why we picked it.

That’s sick that you guys do that. It’s so easy to just tuck those little credits away somewhere in the side notes and not properly acknowledge them like that. 

ANDY: It’s really important to be transparent and also celebrate the other artists that are on the record. I don’t think it should be a thing that you hold close to yourself. Hopefully people find the original music as interesting as our take on it. 

Alright, one last question: if you had to be stuck on a desert island with a drum machine and a synth each, what would you choose out of a TR-808, TR-909, TB-303 and a SH-101? 

ANDY: TR-808 and SH-101.

MATT: TR808 and SH-101, 100%. There’s no competition! The 909 kick is essential, and we love it and use it all the time. But you can literally put the 808 on any track – to me, it’s just amazing. And  the SH-101 – we’ve got both of ours modded so they take MIDI, as well as an FM oscillator and distortion and drive, plus the pulse-width modulation has got loads of different extras added. Once you’ve got the pimped SH-101, it’s like having 40 synths in one.

That sounds sick!

ANDY: Check it out on Circuit Benders, it really gives it a new lease of life. That’s why when we do the live show we’ve only got one main synth each, and it’s that SH-101 – you don’t actually need a lot more than that. You can do so much with it, and like half the time it still surprises me with the amount of sounds you can get from it. 

Isles is out now courtesy of Ninja Tune.

NAMM 2021: The best new effects pedals from EarthQuaker Devices, Walrus Audio, Pigtronix + more

NAMM week might be wrapping up soon, but don’t stress – there’s still a lot of new gear to be excited about! Today, we’re turning our critical eyes to the influx of new effects pedals announced over the past few days, bringing you our thoughts on what you should be adding to your board in 2021.

Summary

  • New effects pedals from EarthQuaker Devices, Walrus Audio and Zoom look to be heavy-hitters in 2021.
  • Cult favourites Aclam have also announced a new stompbox to replicate the raunchy tones of Pete Townshend.
  • Other new effects come from the likes of Tech 21, Pigtronix and Way Huge.

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EarthQuaker Devices Astral Destiny

Akron, OH stompbox scientists EarthQuaker Devices have debuted their first release of 2021 in the form of the Astal Destiny; an octave/reverb pedal with a tonne of modulation options under the hood. The unit features eight reverb algorithms that range from cavernous trails through to shimmerverb, upwards and downwards pitch bending, sparkling fifths and more, with eight presets also being on offer.

Users can control the effect section of Astral Destiny by tweaking controls for Length, Depth, Rate, Tone and Mix, while a Stretch footswitch can be used to double the length of the effect and control the pitch of the signal. It seems like an essential addition to any ambient setup, and we can’t wait to get our mitts on it.

Walrus Audio R1 Reverb

Following the launch of the powerful Mako D1 Delay at NAMM last year, Walrus Audio have debuted the R1 Reverb, offering six reverb algorithms and room for nine presets. Powered by an Analog Devices Sharc processor, the pedal features all your conventional spring, plate and hall sounds in addition to modern algorithms like BFR – standing for Big Fucking Reverb – Refract and Air to make for a hugely versatile, lush unit to suit any kind of playing style.

The R1 offers players with a control to apply a volume swell effect to the pedal automatically, while the Tune/X control knob can be used to adjust the low and high frequencies of the wet single via a three-way toggle. It’s also kitted out with MIDI capabilities and stereo ins and outs, and it sounds absolutely beautiful – hear it in action below.

Aclam Windmiller Preamp

Named for the obscene revolving strum action employed by The Who guitar hero Pete Townshend, the Windmiller Preamp is the latest vintage-voiced effect from Aclam – the very same Aclam behind the excellent Dr. Robert Vox UL730 replica pedal. While Townshend’s guitar tone came courtesy of a Grampian 636 reverb unit used in unison with his amps, the Windmiller Preamp squeezes its essence into a compact pedal that nearly nails that iconic lead tone heard over so many rock classics.

Featuring controls for Gain, High Cut and Low Cut and an LED to indicate when the effect is being overloaded, the Windmiller Preamp serves as a sensational pedal for boosting other overdrive units, or even just to feed into a valve amp for some nice natural saturation. Hear it in action below, and keep your eyes peeled for more news on when the pedal’s KickStarter campaign launches.

Tech 21 SansAmp Classic

Released way, way back in 1989, the original Tech 21 SansAmp was heralded as a breakthrough in amp modelling at the time, with its FET-based analogue circuit letting guitarists tap into a myriad of classic amplifier tones without unplugging from their own rig. Even though amp modelling has progressed beyond belief over the past five years since the SansAmp was discontinued, the OG SansAmp still boasts its fair share of fans, and when Tech 21 announced that they’d be reissuing the SansAmp Classic yesterday, they all made a mighty fuss – and for good reason.

As to be expected, the new Tech 21 SansAmp Classic doesn’t stray far from the blueprint of the original. There’s a simple layout of four controls for Presence Drive, Amplifier Drive, Output and High, while eight dip switches let you flick between classic Clean Amp, Vintage Tube, Close Mic’d and Speaker Edge tones.

Of course, there’s no screens and no digital doodads to be seen, and that’s exactly what we want from SansAmp – stay tuned for more news on its availability, and in the meantime, reacquaint yourself with its classic tones below.

 Way Huge Atreides Analog Weirding Module

Inspired by the Electro-Harmonix Mini Synthesiser released forty years ago, the Atreiedes Analog Weirding Module is the quirky new offering from Way Huge. Weirdly enough, there’s no knobs to be seen here – just an array of eight sliders to control Volume, Sensitivity, Range, Bright, Fuzz, Rate and Sub-Oscillators to tap into some nasty, spacey synth tones for your guitar. Preorders for the pedal are open now, and you can hear Josh of JHS Pedals put it through its paces below.

Zoom G6 Multi-Effects Unit

Initially a Japan-exclusive release, Zoom have revealed that their feature-packed G6 Multi-Effects Pedal will receive a worldwide launch in 2021. Users can access an impressive 70 impulse responses, 135 effects and 68 rhythm patterns, with sounds ranging from classic amp and effects models through to intricately mic’d cabs and beyond.

Controlled by a 4.3″ touchscreen with drag-and-drop signal chain, the G6 boasts room for 240 user patches and features the nifty addition of an infinite looper with up to two hours of record time when using an SD card. Other features include a USB port for easy recording, plus wireless control via an optional Bluetooth adapter and more.

Pigtronix Space Rip, Constellator & Moon Pool

A holy trinity from Pigtronix! The Space Rip, Constellator and Moon Pool look to offer guitarists with a bunch of tools to help colour their tone, with each pedal featuring an analogue circuit and mini chassis.

First up, the Space Rip provides pulse-width modulation alongside a saw and square wave to tap into cool analogue synth tones, with a Sub and Octave control letting you dial in different frequencies to really thicken up your tone.

The Constellator, on the other hand, provides a quaint little dash of BBD delay, with controls for Time, Mix, Modulation, Repeats and a Feel switch to flick between chorus and vibrato.

Finally, there’s the Moon Pool, which bridges the gap between tremolo and phaser to provide players with a heaped spoon of spacey tones. There’s controls for Phase and Trem Speed, Depth and Sensitivity, as well as three mini switches for Dynamics and a Phase for each effect.

 

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Bicep, Logic1000 + more: our five favourite records of the week

Friday is here, which means it’s release day for a bunch of artists at home and around the world. With so many hot releases out there to tuck into, we’ve compiled some of the best to present to you for the weekend.

This week, we’re taking you to the dancefloor with two thumping new releases from electro dons Bicep and Logic1000, one of Australia’s best emerging producers today, plus new music from Jarryd James, Rhye and an expanded reissue of Australian blues master Chris Wilson’s seminal live album Live at the Continental. 

This week’s top picks

  • Bicep – Isles
  • Logic1000 – You’ve Got The Whole Night To Go EP
  • Jarryd James – P.M.
  • Rhye – Home 
  • Chris Wilson – Live at the Continental (Vinyl Reissue)

Check out last week’s picks for the best new music you need in your ears over here.

Bicep – Isles

More than a decade after the duo first made waves in online dance circles with their Feel My Bicep blog and the slew of remixes that followed suit, Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar have now shared Isles; their second full-length effort to be released under the Bicep moniker. While void of the instant rave anthems that peppered their 2017 debut like ‘Glue’ and ‘Opal’, Isles is no sophomore slump – it’s a vivid, forward-thinking effort that pulls upon electronic influences far and wide to create a record perfectly suited for club soundsystems and headphones alike.

Many of the same synths and drum machines that featured heavily on Bicep’s debut still get a good look in across Isles, but the duo’s approach to production has evolved significantly in the past years. On tracks like ‘Cazenove’ and the epic closer ‘Hawk’, flangers drench the hi-hats to create a shuffling stereo spread in the mix, while the sweeping pads that cut through the middle of ‘Saku’ help to add momentum to the swung drums and pulsing vocal samples that swell beneath.

Isles also marks the first time Bicep have employed the assistance of vocalists on a full-length effort, and it’s a decision that certainly works in the record’s favour – as subtle as they may be, the contributions of Julia Kent and Clara La San to ‘Rever’ and ‘X’ help to balance out the duo’s electronic wizardry with a unique human element, with La San also popping up again for a standout feature on album highlight ‘Saku’. Essential listening for any electronic producer.

Logic1000 – You’ve Got The Whole Night To Go EP

After 2020 saw her relocate to Berlin and captivate the electronic world with ‘Perfume’ and remixes for the likes of Caribou, Christine & The Queens and Don Tolliver, Samantha Poulter – AKA Logic1000 – has stepped out with her first release of 2021, You’ve Got The Whole Night To Go. It’s a short, four-track EP that draws on the fundamentals of house and techno and repackages them into four tracks packed with unexpected twists and turns, reaffirming Poulter’s status as one of the most exciting names in dance music today.

The rollicking kicks and layered vocal samples of ‘Like My Way’ set a tremendous tone for the project, while the rave-ready ‘I Won’t Forget’ kicks things into overdrive with its filtered M1 pianos, bouncing bassline and syrupy R&B sample. Meanwhile, the synth melody that zig-zags throughout the mix of ‘Medium’ recalls classic Balearic beat, before EP closer ‘Her’ tops things off with a nasty mix of sub-rattling bass, squelchy acid bass and polyrhythmic percussion.

Despite clocking in at 18 minutes, You’ve Got The Whole Night To Go carries more substance and confidence than most project’s that run double its length. It’s a sensational EP that poises Logic1000 as a potential new heavy-hitter in the scene, and we’re already frothing for more.

Jarryd James – P.M.

Six years after the breakout success of ‘Do You Remember’, Brisbane’s Jarryd James returns today with P.M. – a hazy, introspective release recorded around the world with the likes of Clams Casino, Andrew Wyatt and M-Phazes. Drawing on a contemporary R&B sound reminiscent of acts like 6LACK and Jeremih, James exudes confidence and inspiration across the album’s adventurous nine track runtime, resulting in a release that easily overcomes any possible notion of a sophomore slump.

Driven by a thumping breakbeat and soft bedrock of synthesises, ‘Problems’ laces James’ vocals in warbling autotune to create a stark contrast with his previous works, while ‘Don’t Forget’ layers harmonies atop of harmonies to result in an intriguing minor-major shift that serves as one of the album’s standout moments.

Meanwhile, the ebbing synths and pitched vocal refrain of ‘Let It Go’ – created in the Nicaraguan jungle with M-Phazes – also forms a major highlight of P.M., as does ‘Overdue’, a smokey cut produced by frequent Frank Ocean collaborator Malay that bears all the hallmarks of his woozy soundscapes heard across Blonde and channel ORANGE. It’s good to have James back in such fine form, and fingers crossed it doesn’t take another six years to hear what else he’s working on.

Rhye – Home 

Toronto alternative R&B group Rhye made a name for themselves with 2013’s Her: a sensual, down-tempo debut that saw the duo’s sound compared to neo-soul trailblazer Sade. Three albums later – and after the departure of producer Rohin Hannibal – Rhye, now solely the project of lead singer Mike Milosh, has released Home: a record informed by minimalist arrangements, subtle grooves, and deeply moving songwriting to make for one of Milosh’s best projects to date.

Sweeping cellos and a shuffling drum loop sit beneath Milosh’s falsetto on ‘Safeword’ to make for one of the album’s most accessible cuts, while the hushed guitars and rising strings of ‘Need A Lover’ almost recall the more tender moments of Jeff Buckley’s back catalogue. ‘Come In Closer’ and ‘Hold You Down’, on the other hand, serve up some of Home’s more danceable moments, with Milosh making use of vintage drum machines and muted basslines to underscore the pang of his vocal performances.

Now four records in, Milosh seems to have hit his groove while working as Rhye, and it’s the sheer strength of his songwriting and production across Home that speaks for itself here.

Chris Wilson – Live At The Continental 

A trailblazer for Australian blues and roots, Chris Wilson was a true force of nature onstage – whether playing solo or with the likes of Paul Kelly, Diesel, Hunters & Collectors or X, Wilson’s talent was immediately apparent, and resulted in many a captivating performance along the way.

One such performance in 1994 was recorded and released as the live album Live At The Continental, with the album now being reissued on yellow and black vinyl today in light of what would have been his 65th birthday to honour the legacy of the Australian great.

Expanded with an additional eight tracks recorded at the iconic Greville Street venue, Live At The Continental serves as a wonderful showcase of the talents of Wilson and his compatriots, guitarist Shane O’Mara and pianist Jex Saarelaht. It’s jam-packed with standards like ‘The Sky Is Crying’ and the passionate ‘Rose Tattoo’, while the jazzy ‘Landlocked’ serves as a eye-popping display of instrumental virtuosity.

However, it’s on opening track ‘You Will Surely Love Again’ that serves as the true standout here, with Wilson’s belting vocal performance acting as a bittersweet reminder of just how powerful of a performer he really was in his prime. All-in-all, Live At The Continental is a quintessential release for any Aussie blues and roots enthusiast, and it’s a record that’ll warrant many a re-listen.

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Jarryd James breaks down the recording of his long-awaited sophomore LP, P.M.

Jarryd James’ second album P.M. came together across three continents over a period of several years. Its eventual January 2021 release will mean it arrives six years after James’ breakthrough single ‘Do You Remember’, which appeared on his debut album, Thirty One.

‘Do You Remember’ wasn’t created without expectations – Lorde and Taylor Swift producer Joel Little co-wrote the song – but its success has irreversibly altered the course of James’ life. As well as making it to the Hottest 100 top ten and introducing James to a global audience, the song allowed the Brisbane musician to abandon his previous job as a social worker.

“In the scheme of my musical journey throughout my life, I’ve been at it for a while in various shapes and forms,” James says. 

“But the last five, six years, it was pretty confronting at first. My life did change fairly quickly and pretty dramatically and I was suddenly travelling a lot and always in different time zones and it’s a bit of a blur when I think back. But it’s been good – I get to make music for a living.” 

‘Do You Remember’ has collected many accolades since its initial release in January 2015. It’s racked up more than 100m Spotify streams, was certified double platinum by ARIA and was named the fourth most Shazamed song of the 2010s. But James was never vying to be a fixture on the singles chart. 

During the making of P.M., rather than strategising about how to match the commercial highs of Thirty One, James was focused on making an artistic progression. He worked closely with writer/producers Joel Little and Malay, both of whom played a major hand in the production of Thirty One. Various other big names appear in the album credits, including Clams Casino, Andrew Wyatt, M-Phazes and Cautious Clay.

Working with Clams Casino in New York.

“Collaborating and experimenting with other people that have different angles and different ears and different perspectives is absolutely essential to what I do,” says James. “Otherwise, I really think it would be a piece of shit.

“I cannot seem to finish things fully by myself. There’s a point that I can get to, but after that I really need someone else to take over the driver’s seat so I can fully immerse myself in writing lyrics and melodies.”

Malay is best known as Frank Ocean’s most frequent studio collaborator – he receives co-writing and producing credits on the majority of tracks from Ocean’s seminal releases, Channel Orange and Blonde. Witnessing his working methods, as well as those of people like Little and Wyatt, was an instructive experience for James. 

Malay used an old tape machine to saturate James’ drums on ‘Overdue’.

“You soak up so much stuff from just being in the studio environment with someone like Malay and just observing,” he says. “You somehow adopt some of what they do and it becomes a new part of how you make music yourself. Same with Joel, watching him work is so effortless and he’s just so dialled into to certain things that it makes the whole thing purely creative – you’re not working, just flowing.”

The album took shape in sessions spanning Los Angeles, New York, Brisbane and Auckland. It’s a fairly a typical list of locations for a contemporary Australian pop release, but the track ‘Let It Go’ came together in a more curious location: the Nicaraguan jungle. 

“That was a one-off writing trip run by a record label called Neon Gold who run it at this spot they have set up there,” James says. “They asked Joel Little to curate that one, so he just invited a bunch of his friends like myself and the Broods kids and a few other people. We all went out into the jungle and spent seven days working with a different set of people every day.”

James made ‘Let It Go’ came with M-Phazes, who’s known for his work with Kehlani, Amy Shark, Kimbra and pop-rapper Kyle. They’d never met before the trip to Nicaragua, but were paired up one morning and tasked with completing a song by evening time.

MPhazes in Nicaragua making ‘Let it Go’.

“It was just me and him in this tiny little room that had probably four-inch monitors, I don’t even remember what brand they were,” says James. “We had a microphone, an interface and these little monitors and some headphones and we just had to pretty much improvise with what we had. We recorded my vocals and he had to work pretty hard to get all of the monkey sounds out of, but he nailed it.”

American producer Clams Casino has worked on releases for Joji, A$AP Ferg, Vince Staples and FKA twigs. He linked up with James and Malay on the production of ‘Problems’, which is led by a room-shaking bass groove and James’ syncopated drumming.

“We’d been working out of this studio called Germano Studios in New York, which is a pretty legendary spot owned by this guy, Troy Germano, whose parents ran The Hit Factory back in the day. Me and Malay were working out of that studio and one day Clams came in as well,” James says.

“I was just dicking around on the drums in the live room and Malay’s always tracking that stuff because you never know when something cool is going to happen. Clams chopped it up in Acid Pro and put that together and then I just started grooving on the bass.”

The house kit at Germano that James played on ‘Overdue’ and ‘Problems’.

It’s taken more than five years for P.M. to come to fruition, but James is satisfied with the end result.

“I made that first album in the midst of a lot of drastic life changes and my head was all over the place. So [for P.M.] I really just wanted to focus on making the exact record that I wanted to make and really focus on getting all the textures right and making a pretty cohesive thing. I really wanted to make it much more in the direction of the R&B/neo-soul kind of corner of things.”

P.M. is out now via Island Records Australia.

Mixdown’s Picks: Back to School

Whether you’re a bright-eyed beginner or a seasoned audio professional, one never stops learning in the music world. It’s one of the endless joys of making music: even if you’ve mastered one instrument or field of study, there’s always another one ready for you to begin, and with so many courses, resources and channels out there to learn from, it can often be a bit tricky knowing where to start.

As students all around the country jump right back into the curriculum for another year of study, we’re helping to spotlight some of the best academic tools and experiences on offer with our latest digital special, Mixdown’s Picks: Back to School.

Overview: Abbey Road Institute’s Advanced Diploma In Music Industry

Key Features: Learning to craft hit records is a massive topic in and of itself, spanning everything from musicianship and arrangement, right through to electro-acoustics, psychoacoustics, personality management and more. Becoming proficient in all these key areas can take a lifetime, and while there will always be a demand for classroom style lecturing (especially when it comes to the theoretical side of audio), there is still no quicker way to fast track the practical side of your record making journey than sitting in with a professional producer or engineer and working alongside experts in the field. 

In the real world, this kind of access isn’t always easy to negotiate, which is precisely what makes Abbey Road Institutes recent partnership with Studios 301 – pound for pound, Australia’s most iconic commercial recording facility and the birthplace of countless international hit singles – such a tantalising prospect.

The Institute’s Advanced Diploma in Music Industry brings together both the creative and technical elements of recording and music production, but in the context of a fully functioning, state of the art, professional recording facility, with smaller class sizes, unrivalled equipment and with a ‘mentoring’ style of teaching that is literally worth its weight in gold (records). It’s exactly the kind of hands-on technical experience, real world problem solving and pro workflows tips and tricks, that can take you from Joe to Pro in the most direct route possible.

Boasting an industry-leading roster including Grammy, ARIA and Golden Guitar-winning and nominated engineers such as Leon Zervos, Simon Cohen, Steve Smart, Guy Gray and more, Studios 301 is considered to be Australia’s best studio for many a reason. The studio has been home to recordings from some of the world’s most iconic artists, from Cold Chisel, Tones & I, Delta Goodrem and Amy Shark through to Kanye West, Elton John, Lizzo, Coldplay, Katy Perry and now, for the first time, Abbey Road Institute’s next crop of engineering and production talent.

Mixdown Says: If it is records you want to make, then perhaps there is no better resource than Abbey Road Institute’s new look Diploma in Music Industry, especially with their recent acquisition of Studios 301. 

It’s a novel idea and one that truly has the ability to take the campus experience to the next level (at least in regards to Audio Education), harking back to the golden age of studio apprenticeships (where skillsets were learnt and applied instantly in the field), and providing the most honest, real world approximation of the professional recording environment out there right now. It’s the ideal technical training ground for those looking for a life in the recording industry.

Overall: Abbey Road Institute Sydney will be offering a one-year intensive Advanced Diploma in Music Industry which starts on 21 June 2021. Applications are open now. For detailed information on the course and how to apply visit the Institute’s website.

For all the details, head to the Abbey Road Institute.

Review: Jupiter JAS500A Alto Saxophone

Key Features: For years, Jupiter have been a mainstay in the beginner brass and wind market – there’s a good chance that some of the biggest players in the country busted their chops on Jupiter instruments as they honed their skills, and their prevalence in the Australian schooling system speaks volumes. If there’s any single instrument in their range that proves this, it’s the JAS500A: a beautiful alto saxophone built to suit the needs of any beginner player. 

Constructed with a yellow brass body and coated in a gold epoxy lacquer finish to help protect against any wear and tear, the craftsmanship of the JAS500A is truly something to behold. It’s an ergonomic, aesthetically pleasing instrument that looks twice the value of its list price, and the staggering array of features included here provide students with exceptional value for money. 

The lacquered brass neck and body of the JAS500A is complemented by a set of gold-lacquered brass keys with steel springs for a responsive playing action, while three point bell-to-body bracing ensures the structure of the saxophone is safe and sound. An inserted octave key and articulated G# key with tilting Bb rocker arm makes playing simple in both high and low registers, and there’s even a high F# key – a feature seldom seen on student saxophones – expanding the sonic range of the instrument even further. 

Elsewhere, the Jupiter JAS500A Alto Saxophone features plastic tone boosters to increase the brightness of your sound, while a waterproof pad guarantees that air will be effectively sealed within the horn for a superior tone. If that’s not enough to seal the deal, the JAS500A also comes with a stackable, lightweight case to protect it against inevitable knocks and bumps when you’re carting it between rehearsals, while a limited five year manufacturer’s warranty helps to put the icing on the cake of this sensational student saxophone. 

Mixdown Says: While there’s a number of great classical alto saxophonists, it’s with genres like cool jazz, swing, big band and bebop where the unique sound of the alto is most prevalent. Whether you’re tearing your way through a Beethoven piece or working to transcribe a tricky Bird lick, the Jupiter JAS500A will help you navigate both jazz and classical styles with ease. 

The unlikely addition of a high F# key makes the JAS500A a suitable beginner model for shredding through extended scales and busting out modal licks, and should prove to be a killer gateway into the wonderful world of saxophone for any keen student.

Overall: An easy choice for any beginner saxophonist. The smooth, balanced sound and simplicity of the JAS500A means that new players will be able to achieve clean notes without strenuous effort, and the well-placed keys and ergonomic design of the saxophone ensures for a comfortable playing experience for students of all ages.

Head to Music Merchandisers for more details on the JAS500A today. 

Review: KRK Rokit G4 Studio Monitor Range

The distinctive yellow cones of KRK Rokit monitors are a familiar sight in home studio setups, the obvious choice for a first pair of monitors for many students, and will no doubt continue to be so for years to come. The Rokit have more than earned this reputation as go-to inexpensive monitors, offering accurate frequency response and superior stereo imaging at a very attractive price.

The Rokit G4 range, the latest in the Rokit series, are two-way (or three-way in the case of the Rokit 10) active monitors with inbuilt Class D amplifiers, so you won’t need a power amp to drive them. The cones of the woofers and tweets are made from Kevlar, and while they probably won’t withstand a Phil Spector-style gunshot tirade, you can be certain that they will last for a very long time. The matte black Rokit G4 series range from between 5 and 16 kg per speaker, ranging from about 300mm to 546mm in height between the smallest 5 inch model and the largest 10 inch model.

The G4 range are the smoothest sounding Rokit monitors yet, with a bass cutoff of 43Hz, 42Hz, 36Hz and 26Hz for the 5, 7, 8 and 10 inch models respectively, all with a maximum frequency of 40kHz. With a cleaner midrange and softer sound than past editions of Rokit monitors, the G4 are suitable for extended monitoring sessions without fatigue.

Although Rokits have a following amongst DJs and electronic music producers due to their excellent bass reproduction, it would be silly to restrict their use to solely that domain. The extended bass response can bring to life elements of orchestral instruments that you may not have realised existed, giving lower piano notes and bassier brass/woodwind instruments a heft that cannot be heard, or felt, with headphones alone.

Mixdown Says: For most audio students or bedroom engineers, the Rokit 5s are an obvious choice, a classic nearfield monitor that provides accurate imaging amidst piles of schoolwork. For regular rooms, look to the Rokit 7 and 8 for a more room-appropriate sound; the three-way Rokit 10 monitors work best in larger rooms with some acoustic treatment to complement their greater bass response.

If you haven’t done much in the way of acoustic treatment, KRK have got your back, including a  DSP-driven graphic EQ with 25 different settings built into each monitor, displayed on an LCD screen on the back of each monitor, with a knob to adjust the settings right beside it. KRK have also developed a stand-alone app, KRK Audio Tools, featuring a host of tools to best position the monitors and calibrate an ideal EQ setting for the room they are placed in.

Overall: Whether you’re looking to purchase your first pair of monitors, or looking to upgrade an existing setup, Rokit monitors have a strong reputation built as being some of the best in their price bracket. The KRK brand represents a sure step into the world of professional audio, providing a faithful insight into your music and mixes that you can put your trust in, a solid foundation of audio representation to fall back on in your journey of music and production education.

Find out more about the KRK Rokit G4 range via Jands today.

Review: Beale TR200 Trumpet and SR200 Alto Saxophone

Key Features: If you’re familiar with the history of instrument manufacturing in this country, you would no doubt be familiar with Beale. 

The Sydney company has been a fixture on the Australian musical landscape since 1883, when a gentleman by the name of Octavious Charles Beale set up shop in Annandale, NSW with the goal of producing the finest in local pianos.

This was at a time when the piano was very much the social hub of the household and safe to say, the Beale brand spread like wildfire, with the company producing around 95,000 pianos between 1883 and 1975, becoming the largest piano manufacturer in the Commonwealth in the process.

Their pioneering use of the patented ‘All-Iron Tuning System’ and early adoption of indigenous timbers (to withstand the rigours of the harsh local climate) put the brand on the cutting edge of global piano design, while the company’s absolute dedication to build quality (full iron frames, overstrung layout, quality under-damper mechanism) has meant that many of these original Beale pianos are still being played in lounge rooms and school music rooms across the country today.

Needless to say, anything bearing the Beale logo has the potential to last a lifetime, and it’s this commitment to craftsmanship and quality manufacturing that has carried over into the brand’s recent expansion into brass and woodwind.

Of particular note are the TR200 Trumpet and SR200 Alto Sax, both of which rate highly on our value/quality meter, and both of which are a particularly good fit for the student musician, with a tonal quality and durability that is hard to match.

With its striking combination of brass/rose brass for the bell and body (with bi- metallic, Monel valves and pistons), the Beale TR200 Trumpet is a horn that is just as functional as it is pretty to look at. The combination dark/rose brass finish, lends itself to less frequent cleaning and with the accompanying high quality hard case with fitted red velvet lining, it’s a setup more than equipped to withstand the punishment of school life.

Tonally, the TR200 offers a rich fullness with elite intonation, making it an awesome choice for performance and recording should you be looking for some extra curricular fun on the side.

Of all the obvious upsides found with the TR200, perhaps the biggest takeaway is in the quality and smoothness of the valve apparatus itself. With the Monel valves giving the TR200 a pleasant, natural action usually reserved for instruments of a much higher price, it’s an absolute delight to play, promoting smooth transitions and correct fingering technique from the first note. 

It’s these high quality valves combined with the inclusion of the industry standard 7c mouthpiece that makes for an instrument that genuinely feels like it is working with you, not against you – fast-tracking the learning process and getting things sounding musical as quickly as possible.

The SX200 Alto Saxophone is another high quality offering from Beale, and like the aforementioned TR200, firmly places its focus on sourcing the highest quality moving components possible, with pads and springs from Italy and the USA, respectively. This makes for an Alto Sax with an extremely nice action and exceptional key cluster, and a clean, true timbre that maintains its purity, even as you push further into altissimo.

The high quality adjustable thumb rests and deluxe neck strap – a merciful touch if there ever was one – also make for an extremely comfortably playing sax, easy on the neck and hands and absolutely perfect for extended practise sessions, or reducing neck fatigue during those the long waits between solos.

Mixdown Says: Striking a finely tuned balance between quality and affordability, the Beale SX200 and TR200 provide some of the best ‘under the radar’ choices out there for anyone looking to dip a toe in the world of brass. 

With a dedication to sourcing the very best in moving components and given their illustrious history in the piano game, it’s awesome to see Beale applying this same approach to their wind and brass instruments. This focus on quality, especially when it comes to the keybed and valve clusters, means that the general standard of action and tonality is generally a cut above what one would normally expect from an entry-level instrument, providing some of the best playability and ‘bang for your buck’ of anything out there at the moment.

Combine this with the rugged construction, tendency for low maintenance finishes and high quality extras like mouthpieces and complementary reeds, and you have a range of instruments that excel in optimising the learning process, providing clean tones and smooth tactile functionality and allowing students to place their full attention on developing their auditory/motor skillset, rather than getting caught up wrestling with their own equipment.

Overall: An Australian icon in the piano world (and fast becoming the go to ‘lifehack’ choice for brass and woodwind), when it comes to affordable instruments that over deliver both on sound and general build quality, Beale should be at the top of everyone’s list.

For more details on pricing and local availability, get in touch with Australis Music.

Review: Jupiter JCL700NA Bb Clarinet

Key Features: Of all the instruments that make up the woodwind section, it is often said that it is the clarinet that is most versatile – not only in its range, but also in terms of timbre and emotive scope. A stalwart of orchestral education, it is this versatility that has seen it become such a popular choice for classical students and solo instrumentalists alike. Needless to say, whatever your own personal motivation behind learning the clarinet, the first step is acquiring a quality beginner model for these formative stages.

Jupiter’s entry level model, the JCL700NA, is ideal for beginners and intermediate players alike. Using an ABS resin body, instead of a traditional blackwood body made of endangered Grenadilla safeguards against the possibilities of a cracked body, and sidesteps the laborious breaking in process. A resin body clarinet is fantastic for school age students with busy minds who may forget to swab their instrument frequently, or leave it lying in the sun on a hot day.

Jupiter’s focus on the needs of beginner and intermediate players translates to a clarinet that produces a clean, immediate tone. This can be seen in their choice of a 14.80mm bore which offers an excellent combination of playability and tone, crucial for the amateur clarinetist. Half the battle for a beginner is coaxing the clarinet into making the right sound, let alone a sound at all; having a clarinet that rewards the student by producing a clean, present tone when played correctly will speed up the learning process, rather than hindering it by throwing the student in the deep end with a difficult-to-play professional model.

Mixdown Says: The JCL700NA features nickel-plated nickel silver keys and bell ring for premium feel and lasting shine, undercut tone holes for enhanced intonation, and a risen C/G tone hole for which growing fingers will be thankful. The trill keys, when the student eventually needs to use them, are configured in the traditional French configuration, and offset for comfort and to avoid buildup of moisture. The JCL700NA comes with a stackable hard case, and like all Jupiter instruments, has a five year manufacturer’s warranty for peace of mind. 

Overall: The clarinet is a fun instrument, especially once you get past the phase of making goose noises. What isn’t fun, however, is the rigorous upkeep that an expensive wood bodied clarinet requires. Professional players may find this tedium as being par for the course, but Jupiter have recognised that the needs of less advanced students differ considerably. 

The JCL700NA is an ideal clarinet for the beginners and intermediates, young and old alike, offering an un-compromised tone with the convenience and hardiness of a student model.

To find out more, get in touch with Musical Merchandisers today.

Review: Yamaha THR10II Guitar Amplifier

Key Features: If you’re getting serious about learning guitar, a quality practise amp should be high up on your list of priorities. There’s nothing quite as discouraging as an amplifier that sounds too flat, lifeless or shrill, and it’s all too easy to just give up because you simply can’t achieve the sound in your head while playing.

For that reason, there’s few guitar amplifiers on the market that can rival the bang-for-buck of the Yamaha THR10II; a sublime desktop modelling amp that packs a whole heap of power under the hood. This recent release expands on the blueprint of the brand’s beloved practise amplifier from a few years back by adding a number of essential features to help make practising guitar a breeze, including a range of amp models, effects and Bluetooth connectivity to provide the best all-in-one amplifier for students today.

The sleek design of the Yamaha THR10II might be diminutive on first impressions, but it hides quite a dazzling array of features inside its ‘lunchbox’ exterior. It packs a pair of 3″ full-range speakers that can output a surprising amount of volume, while players can access a whopping 15 guitar amp models based on classic American, British and boutique tube amp circuits to tap into a huge range of vintage and modern tones. There’s even three bass amplifier models and three mic models for plugging in an electro-acoustic guitar as well as a flat mode for everything else, making the THR10II a truly versatile amp for use with all kinds of fretted instruments.

On top of the THR10II, you’ll find a row of knobs to control various parameters like Gain, Master, Bass, Middle and Treble, as well as a host of modulation effects, echo and reverb. The right side of the amp also boasts an inbuilt tuner – very thoughtful – plus five buttons to instantly recall your favourite tones, which you can edit and recall via Yamaha’s THR Remote mobile app.

Meanwhile on the left side of the amp, you’ll find a headphone output and auxiliary input, allowing you to plug in a smart device to play audio tracks from. If cables aren’t really your thing, the THR10II is also fitted with Bluetooth connectivity, letting you hook up your phone or laptop to stream backing tracks or even just listen to music, making this amplifier the perfect addition to any rehearsal room or bedroom environment.

Mixdown Says: Man, I wish we had practise amps like this when I was learning guitar. There’s so much on offer with the Yamaha THR10II: the guitar and bass amp models sound super realistic, and the inbuilt effects are a nice touch to help you colour your sound further. Editing and saving patches is made a breeze thanks to the THR Remote mobile app, and the addition of Bluetooth just helps to affirm this amp as a no-brainer for any budding guitar student.

Overall: I can’t find any fault here – the Yamaha THR10II is about as good as it gets for anyone looking to learn guitar. Two big thumbs up from us!

Find out more about the THR10II via Yamaha Music Australia. 

Review: Jupiter JTR500 Trumpet

Key Features: Sure, the saxophone might get all the cool solos, but any music fan knows that there’s no instrument that tops the trumpet. The iconic shape and unique tone of the trumpet has enamoured many a player over the years – think Miles, Dizzy, Satchmo and any number of other classical heroes – and as far as brass instruments go, it’s one of the easier instruments for a beginner to pick up and achieve immediate results. 

If you’re on the lookout for a student model to start lessons in the new year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a trumpet that ticks off the boxes quite like Jupiter’s JTR500. It’s a stalwart in the beginner brass market, and for good reason: it’s study, well-crafted, packs a clean sound that’s ideal for students to learn on, and looks just as iconic as any horn played by the all-time greats of jazz and classical styles alike. 

Featuring an eye-catching lacquered brass body with a conventional 4.8” two-piece bell, the tough build quality of the Jupiter JTR500 should provide peace of mind for any sceptical buyer. The valves and pistons of the trumpet are crafted from stainless steel – a material usually found on professional grade instruments – which help to provide a smooth, speedy playing response, while the adjustable first valve slide thumb saddle and third valve slide lets players easily tweak the instrument to their liking. 

Tuned to Bb, the Jupiter JTR500 also boasts a medium-large .460’ bore, allowing for beginners who are new to the trumpet to tap into a stable sound without expending too much lung power. This emphasis on ease of use is also evident when considering the ergonomic construction of the JTR500, with its well-balanced body and lightweight construction making it suitable for standing and seated players alike. 

If you’re lugging your instrument around between rehearsals, the Jupiter JTR500 can also be purchased with a handy soft case for easy transportation, while an ABC hard case is also offered for storage purposes. 

Mixdown Says: One of the biggest reasons for students quitting music lessons is due to the shoddy build quality or poor tones of their first instrument, which makes finding a suitable beginner instrument all too important for their own experiences. Thankfully, the Jupiter JTR500 exceeds all expectations with its full sound and impeccable craftsmanship. 

It’s a warm, resonant sounding instrument with a free-blowing body and a well-constructed mouthpiece to boot, offering students with a free-blowing and elegantly designed introduction to the joyous experience of learning the trumpet.

Overall: No complaints here. The balanced tone, impressive build quality, ergonomic design and lightning fast valves of the Jupiter JTR500 provides students with a sensational entry-level trumpet to learn on, and with an instrument like this, you’ll be tearing it up on stage in no time. 

Get in touch with Music Merchandisers for more information. 

Review: Jupiter JFL700E Flute

Key Features: The flute is one of the more flattering choices of instrument for the absolute beginner: it tends to produce silence rather than cacophony when blown into by the uninitiated. However, it is also one of the more difficult instruments to play in terms of mastering the fundamentals. 

One of the quickest ways to get from silence to sweet music in record time, is to take ample care when it comes to picking your instrument. Suffice to say, that better quality instruments tend make for more efficient sound generation.

Jupiter’s JFL700E is their most popular offering for beginner and intermediate flautists, and has garnered a reputation as an ideal student flute amongst music teachers for its outstanding quality, playability and low price. Jupiter’s efforts have gone into making this the ideal flute for the novice flautist’s growth well into an intermediate level of playing, which can be seen in Jupiter’s attention to detail with regards to the flute’s design.

The JFL700E is a closed-hole design flute, an obvious choice for novice flautists both young and old; open-hole offerings may be attractive to the advanced player, but will only serve to hinder the progress of a beginner. An offset G key serves to aid smaller hands, and a split-E design also serves to aid beginners by making high-register E notes a little easier to play, as flute teachers will attest to. The adjustment screws are hidden for a sleek design, with a traditional ribbed chassis shape.

Jupiter have opted to construct the flute from a high nickel content alloy, with a silver-plated body and headjoint. This allows for a clear and responsive tone, helping facilitate the process of learning dynamics and correct technique. The keys are power-forged as opposed to just mould cast, the worked metal giving them a noticeable difference to cheaply made entry level alternatives. 

Mixdown Says: This design is more forgiving of knocks and falls than a solid silver flute, although I am not personally an advocate of flute-dropping, and wouldn’t recommend it. Jupiter have included a moulded French case which is more than suitable for withstanding the commute to and from school. The flute, like all Jupiter instruments, comes with a five year manufacturer’s warranty.

Overall: The flute is not an easy instrument to learn, and choosing the correct flute for a student is key in order to make the road to virtuosity as painless as possible. The JFL700E is the culmination of Jupiter’s experience in addressing the various individual needs of a flautist in training, and will inspire rather than dishearten the budding musician.

Find out more about the JFL700E flute over at Musical Merchandisers.

Review: Jupiter JTB730A Trombone

Key Features: Trombones can often prove to be quite a daunting instrument for first time buyers. Unlike guitars, violins or keyboards, there’s far less online resources to help you make a decision about what kind of trombone is suitable for an entry-level player, making it all too easy to pull the trigger on a cheaply manufactured instrument that’ll make learning the trombone feel like a bit of a chore.

With its bespoke design, premium sound and all-too-reasonable price-tag, the Jupiter JTB730A Tenor Trombone seeks to provide beginner players with a wonderful first instrument to get them started on their musical journey. Expanding on the design of the original JBT730A, these new trombones feature a noted upgrade in the form of an upgraded slide, letting users enjoy a more centred tone with superior playability to result in an all-round better playing experience. 

Suitable for high and low registers alike, the Jupiter JTB730A features a small bore 8” bell for a crystalline tone with plenty of resonance, ensuring it cuts through the mix of a smaller jazz ensemble or big band. 

The outer slide of the trombone is crafted from lacquered brass using state-of-the-art technology to make sure it offers the most accurate scale possible, with the lacquer finish also helping to minimise any scuffs and scratches from accidental knocks or bumps. Meanwhile, the inner slides of the instrument are made from hand lapped chrome for a smooth response and a balanced tone – expect no bung notes from this well-crafted piece. 

What’s more, the Jupiter JTB730A Trombone also includes a stackable, lightweight hardcase for secure storage and transportation, making it a suitable choice to join the instrument lockers of schools and other educational institutions. 

Mixdown Says: Tuned to the key of Bb to help it slide straight into any ensemble, the Jupiter JTB730A boasts a 0.500” bore. This gives it a bright-yet-balanced tone to suit contemporary styles such as pop and jazz, making it an obvious pick for any young player looking to make the most out of their experience learning the trombone. 

Even for first-time players without any prior experience with brass instruments, the Jupiter JTB730A makes learning and playing the trombone an absolute breeze. The smooth action of the slide helps you squeeze out both high and low notes with relative ease, while the balanced, resonant tone of the instrument will sound great both solo and in a wider ensemble. 

Overall: For brass beginners, there’s few options on the market with more bang-for-buck than the Jupiter JTB730A tenor trombone. It’s an instrument that plays like butter and sounds sensational for its price, while the rugged build quality and included hardcase makes it a no-brainer for any budding jazz cat or classical virtuoso. 

Get in touch with Music Merchandisers for more details about the JTB730A today.

NAMM 2021: Ernie Ball Music Man debut new finishes for 2021

Following in the footsteps of Sterling’s major announcement last week, Ernie Ball Music Man have now unveiled an array of new finishes available on their guitar and bass range in 2021.

Summary

  • New finishes are available on Music Man’s StingRay, Sabre, Cutlass and Bongo guitars and basses.
  • 2021 StingRay and Cutlass guitars are finished in Powder Blue, Vintage Tobacco and Burnt Amber.
  • The StingRay bass range has been fleshed out with eight new finishes for both four and five-string basses in 2021.

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Ernie Ball Music Man Sabre

Reissued last year at NAMM 2020, the Ernie Ball Music Man Sabre was initially released as a Music Man model in the ’70s to widespread acclaim. It packs an okoume body with a densely bookmatched maple top and roasted maple neck for a striking aesthetic, while its twin custom humbuckers provide players with a myriad of tonal possibilities.

For 2021, the Sabre has received a single new colour-way in the form of a cool Gator Burst finish, adding to a range of finishes from last year that included Cobra, Boujie Burst, Honey Suckle and Deep Blue Burst.

Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay Special

There’s nothing that tops the tone of a StingRay. That distinctive midrange growl has been a favourite among many iconic bassists since its introduction in 1976, and with the updated contours, sculpted neck joint and lightweight hardware of the recently introduced StingRay Special line, it looks like these iconic basses are only getting better and better.

This year, Ernie Ball Music Man have introduced a staggering eight new finishes to the StingRay Special range. For players looking to get their mitts on a single humbucker model, you’ve got the choice of Amethyst Sparkle, Snowy Night, Smoked Chrome and Burnt Ends, while the 2021 HH models can be purchased in Black, Raspberry Burst, Speed Blue and Forest Green.

Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay-5 Special

Love the tones of the classic StingRay but need a little more low end? No stress – the StingRay-5 Special has got you covered on all fronts. In 2021, these five-string models have received eight new finishes, with single humbucker variants being available in Snowy White, Raspberry Burst, Smoked Chrome and Speed Blue, while HH models can be picked up in Amethyst Sparkle, Burnt Ends, Black and Frost Green Pearl.

Ernie Ball Music Man Cutlass RS

Taking design cues from the classic S-type model, Ernie Ball Music Man’s Cutlass guitar range fuses a roasted maple neck with an alder body and a trio of pickups to tap into those classic So-Cal clean tones. In 2021, the Cutlass can be purchased in both SSS and HSS variants, with Powder Blue and Vintage Tobacco being available for each model.

Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay RS Guitar

Retaining all the same specs as the cult classic ’70s model, the StingRay RS guitar is a bona fide riff machine, with its twin humbuckers and lightweight okoume body providing a killer platform for all your fretboard acrobatics. Spec-wise, there’s nothing new to these models in 2021, but you can snag them in two cool finishes: Powder Blue and Burnt Amber.

Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo Bass

Finally, there’s the big old Bongo bass – an absolute workhorse of an instrument for the most demanding of bassists. With 24 frets, an 18v active four-band EQ and punchy Neodymium pickups, you’d be hard pressed to find a bass tougher than the Bongo, and with 2021 models being offered in the smokey Harvest Orange finish, you’ve never had a better excuse to buy one for yourself.

For all inquiries about pricing and availability in Australia, get in touch with CMC Music.

Who’s going to take out the Triple J Hottest 100 for 2020?

2020 was a year gone and best forgotten, but also a year that brought in plenty of great new music. After the longest Covid lockdowns in the world for some parts of the country, this year’s countdown brings in its greatest excuse to celebrate with some mates and, as Dan Andrews would say, get on the beers. 

So today we are picking our lists and locking in our predictions and theories for eleven songs that could, should and will rank in this year’s Triple J’s Hottest 100 – for better or worse.  

Four Hot Contenders

Glass Animals – ‘Heat Waves’

Spacey Jane’s ‘Booster Seat’ may threaten to take the top spot, but the current number one pick for 2020’s countdown is ‘Heat Waves’, the  smash hit from the UK based indie-electronic act Glass Animals.

The fourth single from the bands third studio album Dreamland, Heat Waves presents the groups signature brand of psychedelic pop with singer Dave Bayley’s soft vocal performance guiding the track.

Despite the song’s overall laid-back tone being reminiscent of their older hits such as ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ and ‘Youth’, which ranked at #98 and #38 in 2016’s Hottest 100, ‘Heat Waves’ is looking like a hot contender to take the top spot in 2020 – unless Spacey Jane have something to say about it…

Flume feat. Toro Y Moi – ‘The Difference’

Released in March 2020, ‘The Difference’ sees former Hottest 100 winner Flume link up with chillwave pioneer Toro Y Moi for a cut that looks like another lock for this year’s top ten.

Marking the duo’s first time working together, ‘The Difference’ is a perfect blend of Flume’s infectious and rhythmic electronic production, this time focusing on a fast drum and bass like tempo met with and Toro Y Moi’s melodic vocals.

This one’s looking to be another top ten berth for the Australian producer, a trend that doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

Tame Impala – ‘Lost in Yesterday’

After winning the Hottest 100 of the Decade with ‘The Less I Know The Better’, Tame Impala have been a top ten staple in the Hottest 100 over the past decade, and it’s looking like 2020 won’t be any different.

The fourth single released from the Australian psychedelic project’s fourth studio album The Slow Rush, ‘Lost in Yesterday’ features all the hallmarks of Kevin Parker’s productions, with a catchy chorus and a dreamy, washed-out soundscape of synths and guitars, all punctuated by a punchy bass line.

‘Lost in Yesterday’ is looking to start Tame Impala in the top ten spot this decade, and we wouldn’t put it past ‘Breathe Deeper’ and ‘Is It True?’ to get a good look in either.

G Flip – ‘Hyperfine’

Rounding out the list of likely picks is ‘Hyperfine’ by Melbourne musician, singer, songwriter, producer and drummer G Flip, which marked her first official release since her 2019 debut album About Us.

Dropping the single in May 2020, G Flip first performed ‘Hyperfine’ in one of Triple J’s last Like a Versions prior to the broadcaster putting the covers on hold during lockdown. ‘Hyperfine’ continues the trend for the promising young artist and looks to be top ten bound, with its excellent indie pop sound and production breaming with sonic and creative authenticity.   

Four Dark Horses

Mac Miller – ‘Good News’ 

Released right at the beginning of the year, listeners could be forgiven for letting Mac Miller’s final album Circles fade from their memories of 2020 – after all, it was a big year.

Nonetheless, Circles was met with both universal praise and mournful tribute, serving as Mac Miller’s final project before his untimely passing in September 2018 and further showcasing the evolving sound that his 2018 release Swimming hinted at.

‘Good News’ is anthemic of Miller’s career, featuring soft and dreamy production against Miller’s reserved and sullen vocals, with the rapper offering an insight into his state of mind while recording the project. A bittersweet single that resonated with listeners all around the world, ‘Good News’ is a definite dark horse for this year’s countdown.

The Strokes – ‘Bad Decisions’ 

The second single from the band’s sixth studio album The New Abnormal – which also marked their first full-length since 2013’s Comedown Machine – ‘Bad Decisions’ was yet another single that was lost in the early stages of 2020’s hysteria.

The single served as a reminder for Strokes’ fans on why they fell in love with the band in the first place, marking a return to the band’s roots with a sound reminiscent of their iconic debut Is This It?. Don’t be surprised if nostalgia kicks ‘Bad Decisions’ further up the list than previously anticipated – you can never be too sure about anything these days.

Lime Cordiale – ‘Reality Check Please’

The fourth single from 14 Steps to a Better You and one of many songs likely to appear in this year’s countdown from the Sydney pop phenoms, Lime Cordiale’s ‘Reality Check Please’ is an outside leg to keep an eye on.

A personal pick on Australian Labor Leader leader Anthony Albanese’s list, the track encapsulates the bands pop rock tongue in cheek upbeat style. The only thing working against the songs favour and its position on the list though may be the overall success of the album and singles like ‘On Our Own’ and ‘Screw Loose’ pinching votes off one another.

Ocean Alley – ‘Tombstone’

Our last outside track to keep an eye out for is from Northern Beaches boys Ocean Alley with their single ‘Tombstone’. Heavy hitters of countdowns gone past, Ocean Alley boasted four songs in the 2018 countdown with ‘Happy Sad’ at #100, their Like A Version of Player’s ‘Baby Come Back’ at number 16, ‘Knees’ at #10 and ‘Confidence’ at #1.

With such a strong pull in votes in recent years, you can never count out these guys from making an appearance high up the list, and with a song this smooth, we’re expecting big things.

Three Potential Upsets

Mashd N Kutcher – ‘Get on the Beers (Ft. Dan Andrews)’

Starting off with the anthem for Melbourne’s first lockdown, ‘Get on the Beers’ is looking likely to make an entrance in this year’s countdown, with some even predicting a top 20 spot for the lockdown anthem.

The catchphrase now synonymous with Victorian premier Daniel Andrew’s response to COVID-19, DJ duo Mashd N Kutcher sampled vocal snippets from a press conference of the premier pleading Melburnians to not “get on the beers” with mates in their homes.

Remixing the snippets over a Melbourne club beat, the remix turned the phrase into a now household expression in Victoria and a slogan that encapsulated the irreverent optimism a lot of Melbournians had to adopt during the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world.

Needless to say, if this one ranks high, we might have to reach for something a little more top shelf…

100 Gecs – ‘hand crushed by a mallet (Remix) Feat. Fall Out Boy, Craig Owens, Nicole Dollanger’

100 Gecs may possibly be the most contentious and polarising group on this list, however despite their divided opinion, it cannot be denied that ‘hand crushed by a mallet’ is a song that stood out in 2020.

‘hand crushed by a mallet’ showcases not just 100 Gecs’ signature chaotic pace, vocal distortion and glitchy genre splicing (most notably pop punk and electro punk), but the group’s range to produce creative and unique collaborative projects. 

With a sound that seemingly emulates every major music genre from 2007 being thrown into a bender together, ‘hand crushed by a mallet’ is a guilty pleasure for all the right reasons.

WAP (Ft. Megan Thee Stallion) – Cardi B 

The most probable in this category to rank in the top 20, ‘WAP’ by American rapper Cardi B is the most commercially successful song on this entire list.

Featuring vocals from Megan Thee Stallion, a raunchy hip hop beat with a heavy bass and plenty of explicit sexual innuendos, ‘WAP’ dominated the airwaves and the internet in 2020, being the most Googled lyrics of the year and receiving some major meme action along the way.

Being heralded for not just its virality and catchiness, but praised for its positive sexual confidence and message, ‘WAP’ spent weeks atop charts in 2020 and will no doubt poll in the top end of the Hottest 100 countdown. 

Tune into the Triple J Hottest 100 for 2020 when it all kicks off at 12pm on Saturday January 24.

NAMM 2021: Gibson launch signature SG for The Roots’ Kirk Douglas, debut new Epiphone Fanatic for Nancy Wilson

Gibson are no strangers to realising great signature guitars, and they’re looking to reaffirm their status within this sector today with two new Gibson and Epiphone launches at NAMM 2021: the new Kirk Douglas SG, and a unique Epiphone Fanatic for Heart’s Nancy Wilson.

Summary

  • Kirk Douglas, who plays with legendary Philadelphia hip-hop ensemble The Roots, and Nancy Wilson of Heart have received new signature models from Gibson and Epiphone.
  • Both artists have previously collaborated with Gibson Brands on signature models.
  • The ‘Captain’ Kirk Douglas SG features three humbuckers and is available in two cool finishes.
  • Epiphone’s new Nancy Wilson Fanatic puts a distinctive spin on the Nighthawk shape.

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Gibson ‘Captain’ Kirk Douglas Signature SG

Whether you’re a diehard of his contributions to classics like How I Got Over and Game Theory or you’re only familiar with him through his role as guitarist on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, there’s no denying that Kirk Douglas is a monster of a player. He’s previously worked alongside Gibson to create a signature SG guitar, with this newer triple-pickup SG Custom reaffirming his partnership with the iconic brand.

Built from a slab of hefty mahogany for the neck and body and featuring a 22 fret rosewood fretboard, the Kirk Douglas SG looks to be a total tone machine to suit all kinds of sounds. Available in Ebony Black and Inverness Green finishes, it’s loaded with a trio of Burstbucker 1, 2 and 3 pickups, with the neck and bridge pickup being controlled by the three-way pickup toggle switch and two volume knobs with push/pull coil splitting. The middle humbucker, meanwhile, can be blended in via the third volume control, which also features a coil-split function as well.

The 2021 Kirk Douglas SG also makes use of a master tone control and pickguard-mounted master volume for simple adjustments, while other appointments include a GraphTech nut, Keystone tuners, an ABR-1 Tune-o-Matic bridge and black Top hat knobs, as well as signature ‘Captain’ Lyre Tail Vibrola tailpiece for some whammy action.

Epiphone Nancy Wilson Fanatic

For something a little more unique – and affordable – there’s the new Epiphone Fanatic, a signature guitar for Heart lead guitarist Nancy Wilson. This one puts a twist on the funky Nighthawk Standard the two parties created together back in 2013, providing an even cheaper alternative to the original and featuring some very cool appointments.

With a Fireburst Gloss finish and Nighthawk-inspired mahogany body with a figured maple veneer top, the Fanatic steps out with a C-shaped mahogany neck and ebony fretboard with split parallelogram inlays for a classy aesthetic.

It’s also loaded with two ProBucker humbucker with a Strat-like five-way pickup selector switch and master volume and tone controls, offering a myriad of tones to suit clean and dirty styles alike.

Hear Nancy talk about the guitar below.

For information about local pricing and availability, get in touch with Australis Music.

Mixdown’s top jobs in the Australian music industry (this week)

Whether you’re looking for a casual job to keep the lights on between gigs or you’re on the hunt for a major career change, the music industry’s a tough place to crack into.

To help out, we’ve collated some of the best music jobs in Australia this week, with this week’s cream of the crop including opportunities from Australian Radio Network, Yamaha Music Australia, Dale Cleeves Music and The Music Place.

This week’s hot gigs

  • Music Director and Programmer – Australian Radio Network (Sydney)
  • Internal Sales Support – Yamaha Music Australia (Melbourne)
  • Store Manager – Dale Cleeves Music (Mt. Gambier)
  • General Manager – The Music Place (Melbourne)

Don’t miss out on all the latest Australian music industry news – keep your eyes peeled on our Industry News page to stay updated. 

Music Director and Programmer – Australian Radio Network (Sydney)

From KIIS and Pure gold through to iHeartRadio and The Edge, Australian Radio Network are one of the nation’s leading broadcasters today. They’re on the lookout for a savvy music guru to join their ranks as Music Director and Programmer and assist in the day-to-day delivery of music programming for iHeartRadio.

Skills / Experience Required:

  • At least 3 years’ experience in a similar role
  • Suitable radio, media, audio-visual qualifications from AFTRS, WAAPA or equivalent highly desirable
  • Attention to detail and strong ability to prioritise in a deadline driven environment
  • The ability to be able to competently manage Music Scheduling system, audio editing, audio downloads, Nexgen player (or similar)
  • Produce great logs specific for a wide variety of stations, genres and formats using the latest scheduling techniques for a wide range of target audiences
  • Excellent communication skills

Tasks / Responsibilities Include:

  • Responsible for the delivery of compelling and impeccable music and content logs across all iHeartRadio specialty stations, meeting each station criteria and target audience requirements.
  • Responsible for the curation and overall sound of the iHeartRadio platform.
  • Assisting with downloading weekly radio shows, editing in ID’s and carting to Nexgen, basic show promo production and imaging for iHeartRadio stations and basic editing if audio content e.g. interviews
  • Regular reporting including records of all specialty station playlists for reporting to APRA/PPCA
  • Be constantly up to date with the latest releases and trends for music relating to iHeartRadio formats.
  • Liaise with Record Company Reps to ensure a good working relationship, organise interviews, content opportunities, radio specials and iHeartRadio Lives.
  • Maintaining iHeartRadio Cross Promos & FM iHR promos
  • Other ad hoc duties relating to music directing and audio production.
  • Contribute to idea generation for creative content opportunities
  • Contribute to the overall growth of the iHeartRadio platform for ARN and listeners

Get your application in via Seek today.

Internal Sales Support – Yamaha Music Australia (Melbourne)

Be it their flagship Yamaha brand or the likes of Ampeg, Vox, Steinberg or EarthQuaker Devices, Yamaha Music Australia are heavyweights within Australia’s music retail community. They’re currently hiring for a part time Internal Sales Support role in their Music Products Division, with the ideal candidate working each Thursday and Friday to assist their dealer network with sales inquiries and other related issues.

Skills / Experience Required:

  • Sales and customer service experience
  • Strong and accurate data entry skills
  • Strong communication skills
  • Proficient PC skills are essential with a sound knowledge of MS Excel and Word
  • Strong attention to detail and the ability to work methodically
  • Highly energetic, enthusiastic and self motivated
  • Ability to develop strong working relationships with internal and external customers
  • Be a team player with a flexible, mature outlook
  • Knowledge of, and/or the ability to play a musical instrument and/or a background in Professional Audio

Tasks / Responsibilities Include:

  • Directing dealer telephone sales and communications, processing orders, stock allocations and goods returns
  • Handling dealers’ and consumers’ general inquiries
  • Outbound sales calls to existing dealer network
  • Providing Sales Managers with timely stock, sales and back-order information
  • Support the activities of Sales/Product Managers and ensure geographical territory budgets are met
  • Providing market information, competitor activity and general dealer feedback to Sales Managers, Marketing team and Management
  • Attend dealer conferences and internal sales meetings, promotions and shows
  • Communicating with all relevant corporate departments (shipping, credit, service) to expedite positive outcomes for dealers, consumers and Sales Managers
  • Generate workflows for goods returns, credits, price movements

Don’t sleep on this one – shoot off your application through Seek today. 

Store Manager – Dale Cleeves Music (Mount Gambier)

Looking to advance your career in music retail? The team at Dale Cleeves Music are looking for a Store Manager to assume control of their store in the South Australian town of Mount Gambier.

Skills / Experience Required:

  • Previous management experience
  • Strong musical instrument product knowledge
  • Ability to lead a team
  • Well presented

Tasks / Responsibilities Include:

  • Management of our Retail Sales Team
  • Merchandising of stock
  • Providing a high level of customer service to our customers.
  • Stock ordering and receiving
  • Rostering and supporting our staff

Keen? Get your resume in CV in today – submit it here.

General Manager – The Music Place (Melbourne)

The Music Place is a family-owned and operated retailer based in South Melbourne, specialising in brass and woodwind sales, repairs and rentals. They’re looking for someone to assume the role of General Manager to help run the store and facilitate the growth of the business.

Skills / Experience Required:

  • Experience in profit loss reporting, managing sales and expense budgets
  • Proven ability to work in a team to achieve sales targets & KPI’s
  • Managing and optimisation of inventory
  • Experience in leadership / management of team
  • Ability to manage competing priorities, tasks and overall expectations

Tasks / Responsibilities Include:

  • Oversee smooth daily running of retail premise including; managing retail staff, merchandising, sales, client management, and achieving retail targets.
  • Conduct staff inductions and ongoing training on areas including products, policy, and sales techniques.
  • Development, planning and implementation of marketing strategies and promotions in line with goals and culture of the business, including online marketing.
  • Stock control and inventory management.
  • Lead by example, modelling the culture, values and expectations of The Music Place to all staff.

Send your application with a resume and cover letter addressing the key selection criteria to support@themusicplace.com.au by 5pm, Friday January 29.

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