Inner City Sesh
Chiedu Oraka + LIFE + Fever + Polo + Let Man Loose
Entry Requirements: n/a
We really missed Humber Street Sesh this summer AND last, so we're WELL EXCITED to be getting a little slice of the action at Inner City Sesh instead.
Chiedu Oraka, the sound of northern working-class England, who’s captivating energy makes the timid bystander feel a sense of belonging and the avid gig goer feels satisfied with taking a punt on the unknown. From Hip-Hop to Grime, and its acquaintance UK Garage.
Hailing from Hull, the newly crowned City of Culture, where he is the pioneer of the alternative urban scene, Chiedu Oraka was inspired by his older sister’s battered hand-me-down CD's, which included the likes of 2pac All Eyez on Me, Mase’s Harlem World and the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; it's safe to say Chiedu's musical beginnings were somewhat different to the other kids living down the street. These 90’s icons are just some of the artists that have given him the ingredients to express himself in so many walks of life. Chiedu is not an artist that is defined by a BPM or a genre of music; he is the musician that thrives on giving the listeners a different emotion and experience every time they hear him.
Tirelessly working at his craft, Chiedu has been lucky enough to support some of the UK's leading Hip-Hop and Grime MCs such as Akala, Wretch 32, Lunar C, Mikill Pane, Mo Stack, Stormzy, KRS One, Jaykae and Paigey Cakey.
In 2017, Chiedu has enjoyed his most productive year to date. The first single entitled ‘Flex’ was a huge success with it racking over 100k streams on Spotify alone and was featured on Spotify’s grime shut down playlist which is the biggest grime playlist in the world. Flex was also played on Radio 6 by Tom Robinson and has been spun several times by Joe Walker on Reprezent Radio one of London’s leading digital urban radio stations. Chiedu second release, NHE was played by Huw Stephens on BBC Radio 1, again on BBC Radio 6 by Tom Robinson and playlisted as the BBC Introducing track of the week on BBC Radio 1 Xtra.
Chiedu is relentless in his efforts to become not just the top boy for the North of England in Grime music, but one of the main figureheads in the country period when it comes to MCing and artistry. It’s his mission to take his authentic Hull sound to places that most people deem unachievable. Another highlight of 2017, Chiedu performed at the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend in his home city of Hull on the BBC Introducing stage. A performance which was very well received.
In the sumer of 2017, Chiedu showed his diversity as an artist, making an impromptu collaboration appearance with one of Punks most exciting bands, LIFE at Leeds Festival, which was then repeated in his local city of Hull at Humber Street Sesh. In October, Chiedu was heavily involved at the BBC Contains Strong Language Spoken Word Festival, where he performed for Ian Mcmillian on his BBC Radio 3 show, 'the verb' and at BBC's Radio 1Xtra’s words first, which celebrates the lyricism of UK music.
In the same month, Chiedu was selected by music publisher Sentric to perform at this year’s BBC Amplify at the ExCel in London an event which was hosted by BBC Introducing in celebration of their 10th Birthday.
Chiedu ended the year with the release of his widely anticipated EP 21st kid. The EP includes the tracks Flex, N.H.E, 21st kid, Rampant, Wont get along and a raw and personal interlude from Chiedu’s mother entitled 21st Mum. The 21st Kid EP has been well received so far with coverage from magazines such DIY, GUAP and BritznBeatz.
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“The new album is more personal, about mental health and inner turmoil. I think all of us had a breakdown at some point while making it” – Mez, Life.
Hull’s post-punk absurdist polemics LIFE made quite an impact with their DIY debut album. 2017’s Popular Music was championed by BBC 6Music’s Steve Lamacq and won firm fans (and friends) in fellow post-punkers Idles. Most unexpectedly, Popular Music even ended up in BBC Radio 1 Albums Of The Year list, where Life’s gnarly, Humberside riffs and scattergun wordplay kept unlikely – but deserved - company with the likes of Jay-Z, Skepta, the xx and Wolf Alice. Two years on, their eagerly awaited, dryly-titled second album, A Picture Of Good Health, ups the ante musically and lyrically.
Popular Music - recorded one or two tracks at a time, over a long period – was a musical collage that documented their development and emergence. By contrast, A Picture Of Good Health is the product of an intense four week recording period in Tottenham, North London. Producers Luke Smith (Foals) and Claudius Mittendorfer (Parquet Courts) and new bass player Lydia have helped craft a sound that's more robust and musically broader, but which hasn’t lost any of the quartet’s trademark fire and wallop. Lyrically, the first album took a sideways glance at the modern world, where lyrics about 2-for-1 supermarket deals, Donald Trump, the impact of American right to bear arms, Brexit and UK austerity policies blazed forward in a hailstorm of firecracker imagery comparable to Mark E. Smith’s The Fall. This time, their subject matter is more inward, as brothers and lyricists Mez (vocals) and Mick (guitars) have examined their own emotions, experiences and motivations.
“The first album was quite political and talked about young people, including ourselves, having problems living and surviving,” explains Mez. “On the second album we take the spotlight away from the wider community and bring it on us. It’s a broader sound, more angular, more precise. We both share the lyrics but this album very much reflects what was going on in my life – I was coming out of a long term relationship, becoming a single dad. I wanted to express and write about the turmoil I was going through. I think it’s quite brave, in terms of politics and community. There are songs about single fatherhood and mental health. Do people sing about that stuff? I’m not sure they do.”
ndeed, sessions for the album proved so intense – with the pressure for a superior follow-up piling on from the band themselves, rather than a record company or external forces - that Mez reveals that each of the band members had a breakdown of one sort or another during recording. “At one point, Lydia was trying to nail a bassline and the producer kept playing the lyric “Stop hating yourself” over and over again. The song was about inner turmoil and mental health. Lydia smashed the bassline and just ran out of the room in tears, screaming.”
Although LIFE have become firm friends with kindred spirits Idles since meeting in a hotel foyer, there isn’t another band quite like them. They’re the first four-piece guitar band from Hull to make a big splash since the halcyon days of the Housemartins way back in the 1980s. More unusually, their music reflects the community and spirit of their experiences working in the city’s Warren youth project, a rare haven for vulnerable people aged under 25, which also functions as a drop-in advice centre, youth club, educational resource, food bank, music centre and record label.
“We’re very community based and try to comment on everything around us,” explains Mez. “Three members of the band work or have worked in the Warren youth project. Young people can come in – we’ve got free counselling, sexual health, drug advice and a massive LGBT community. Nobody sits in corners. Everybody mingles. Youth culture has been squeezed financially and otherwise for years, but the Warren is a special place where you can literally see a community of people helping each other.”
The band’s DIY ethos came partly out of necessity – and reflects their geographical location in Hull, a geographically isolated, coastal city which resident poet Philip Larkin once said was “a city in the world yet sufficiently on the edge of it to have a different resonance”, and where things happen because people have to make them happen.
“In Hull you’ve got to do it yourself,” agrees Mez. “It’s a place with one way in and one way out. Getting here is a nightmare, but we’ve a long tradition of doing our own thing. Hull literally told the King to fuck off, they wouldn’t let him in! But lately people have started to look outwards rather than inwards.” Indeed, becoming the City Of Culture has coincided with an explosion of Hull music, from LIFE to the burgeoning grime scene (whose leading light, Chiedu Oraka appears on the B-side of single Grown Up). “The City Of Culture has been massive for Hull. It shone a light on the community and the artists and the repercussions have been nothing but positive.”
LIFE have come a long way themselves, since the days when, growing up with a “very liberal” upbringing, Mez and Mick’s Dad used to drop them off at school in a battered old Nissan Bluebird with a different coloured door, blaring the Clash (a significant influence, alongside The Fall). The brothers shared a stage with Mark E. Smith’s legendary band in their first musical incarnation, The Neat, achieving the special honour of being insulted by the frontman. They recorded for Kaiser Chiefs’ Simon Rix and Nick Hodgson’s label, Chewing Gum, and it's during this period that they first attracted the attention of Steve Lamacq.
The Neat imploded as young bands often do – “We were young and taking drugs” – explains Mez – but since starting LIFE the brothers wanted to “take control of the sound, make it bigger and take ownership of it”. PRS funding helped them record a stream of killer singles, which were collected for inclusion on Popular Music, which Mick compares to “one of those classic singles collections which came out in the 70s”. Since then, LIFE have toured in Europe and America, appeared with kindred spirits Idles, Slaves and Nadine Shah, and made their Glastonbury debut this year. Every gig is played like it was their last, “whether it’s a back room in a pub or a 2000-seater,” as Mez puts it. “We get young people and their dads, who’ll say things like, ‘It was the best show I’ve seen since the Clash in 1979’.”
Their new songs reflect this hurtling trajectory and the band’s growing maturity and insights. The twangy, riff-laden Half Pint Fatherhood (“let’s build a home, I built a home”) articulates a common experience of a single, lonely parent going through the pain of shared access. Similarly, Bum Hour describes the experience of relocating from a family home into a small flat, as lines such as “All my mates are out of town, this is the bum hour calling”, reflect the feeling of staring at four walls and an empty room. Another common theme is unattainable beauty, as driven by magazines, TV and especially social media. As Mez explains: “People are posting for likes, trying to show that they’re having a good time, but in that moment they’re vulnerable.
The instantly catchy, narrative-driven, Thoughts also, at least partly, reflects the emptiness that can come with the internet age, but is otherwise about “getting on with your life and trying to be someone. There’s a line about getting ‘all these books that I might never start or finish, but which might get me laid’. It’s about the animalistic nature of the human kind.”
“And emptiness,” adds Mick. “We’re talking about the mobile phone as an extension of your hand. Take that away and there’s nothing to lean on but yourself.” Other tracks employ the familiar LIFE trope of using the minutae of modern life to take a wider look at the way we live. The jokier Moral Fibre – surely the first pop song to use the 1930s jazz slang term “pissants” - is a bubblegum, cheeky track full of wordplay and partly inspired by the experience of watching music industry types court a “buzzy” band and ply them with cocaine – that band have gone and been forgotten already.
It’s A Con – like first album highlight In Your Hands – comments on consumer culture and started as a in joke in the van. “Someone would mention something and someone would go ‘It's a con, it’s full of sugar’,” chuckles Mick. “We’ll sing about everything. We’re not scared of embracing daily life.” Never Love Again is a vibrant, jerky, Fall-ish wounded love song which erupts into a relentless, hypnotic Buzzcockian coda. Together, the songs form a cohesive, rip-roaring, confrontational, emotional, unsettling, dizzying concoction of sound and imagery, a hurtling statement of our times, universal, political and very personal.
“We’ve always believed in ourselves,” says Mez. “We don't care what people say. We want to make music and help our community and that's what we’ve done. There are no filters now.” (Dave Simpson)
A Picture Of Good Health is released on the 20th September, 2019 via Afgan Moon/[PIAS]
There are a hundred ways to make your name these days, but there are few more meaningful than watching a band grow before you in real time. And, having honed their craft over the past three years, moving from their first single to now as they stand on the cusp of their forthcoming debut album, Polo are a band who've earned every success that's rightfully come to them.
Three friends from college, vocalist Kat McHugh, synth player Luke Lount and drummer Daniel Edgell came together musically as the decade ticked over into its final quarter, releasing debut EP Alice at the tail end of 2017. Since then, the songwriting trio have continued to show that a high-end approach towards production and presentation, and a resolutely self-sufficient DIY spirit can go hand in hand.
Bonding over a shared attitude just as much as their shared musical interests, it's this spirit of determination and a willingness to break the mould that infiltrates both their ethos and their output as a band. Influenced by strong women, LGBTQ + culture, global cultures and nature, theirs are empathetic songs that beat with a tangible human heart.
Across their releases to date, these ideas have gained the trio a host of support from like-minded people and organisations. Ahead of recording the 'Alice' EP, the band received funding from the PRS Women Make Music Fund, while the following year in 2018, PRS continued their backing, awarding them the Open Fund in order to help with the release of a trio of singles and two UK tours. This year, meanwhile, the band received both the PPL Momentum Music Fund and the Leeds City College Arts Fund in order to help with the creation of their debut album, which is currently in the works.
Having earned critical plaudits from the likes of Noisy, Wonderland and Stereogum, plays on BBC 6Music and BBC Radio 1, and notable festival appearances at Reading and Leeds, The Great Escape, Live at Leeds and more, the validation for Polo's self-made first steps has been coming from all directions. Exuding a strong, independent, feminist spirit, and surrounding it with technical precision and layered, evocative atmospheres, the trio are heading into their debut in their strongest position yet.