If New York-via-Bay Area noise artist Amanda Warner had to boil down the thinking behind MNDR — her synth-pop project with producer Peter Wade — that might be the her mantra. The first single on Feed Me Diamonds, MNDR's first full-length album and Ultra Records debut (March 2012), is called "#1 in Heaven." It's about Patty Hearst. "It captures the moment when right and wrong are so clear and money and wealth and power don't mean anything to you anymore," Warner says of the relentlessly catchy track, which arrives January 17th with a video directed by Cody Critcheloe, a.k.a. Ssion. She could easily also be describing MNDR's rise from the underground.
Just three months after MNDR’s first EP release, E.P.E., (Wondersound 2010), the team had a global smash on their hands: Mark Ronson & the Business Intl.'s "Bang Bang Bang," featuring Q-Tip and MNDR. The track sold more than 3.5 million copies and helped introduce the world to Warner and Wade's smart, hooky songwriting. MNDR was profiled as an Artist to Watch in SPIN, Billboard, Q, and NME magazines, performed on Letterman, Kimmel, Carson Daly, and Jools Holland's TV shows, and took the stage at Pukkelpop and V Fest — all as an unsigned artist. Shazam named MNDR a breakthrough act and the project earned an MTV O Awards nomination. While the praise was streaming in, MNDR developed a super-energetic live show propelled by innovative reactive visuals designed by digital artist Jamie Carreiro and built up a dedicated fanbase. So when the time came to ink a deal, MNDR stuck to their guns.
"It was a really hard decision to say no to huge record deals or working with huge producers," Warner says. "There's a lot of passion in our music. It's a fully thought-out idea and we fought and said no to big things to keep it that way."
Feed Me Diamonds is the result of Warner and Wade's tireless efforts to translate raw emotions into music that grooves without excess glitter. The pair first teamed up in 2008 after discovering a mutual love of gear, sci-fi, and cults. Warner studied classical piano and bass as a kid in North Dakota and got her start in a Minneapolis noise band before moving to California and immersing herself in rave culture. When she relocated east to design the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' touring synth rig, she met Wade, a young studio vet who'd seen it all as an in-house producer and engineer for Sony Music under Tommy Mottola.
"Early on we made decisions about keeping it dark sounding and industrial, not spit-shine pop," Warner says. That's a perfect description of the songs on Feed Me Diamonds, which was inspired by performance artist Marina Abromovic's story about how her revolutionary father was supposedly murdered by ingesting ground-up gems. Glitchy "Sparrow Voices" is about global economics — "Individuals trying to break out of the mentality of just being worker drones," Warner explains. “Faster Horses” draws its inspiration from Henry Ford’s famous quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
While there are several songs on Feed Me Diamonds about "challenging money, wealth, power and the class system," the disc — which is being mixed by powerhouse engineer Tony Maserati (Beyoncé, Lady Gaga) — is dominated by songs with even more personal starting points, like mesmerizing "Draw the Curtains," which explores "when sexy is dark or when you want to be dark," Warner explains. Fans have reacted to these emotional songs in a major way, and MNDR note that not a week goes by without someone tweeting lyrics from “I Go Away.”
"There's no apologies with MNDR," Warner says. "It's not always shiny and clean but it's gonna be a good time and people really connect with the songs. We've found our audience and our home."
HITS is a New York City band to the core - both gritty and sleek, confident yet volatile, with a touch of vulnerability that’s never quite healed from past heartbreak. With undeniably catchy melodies, anthemic choruses, and playful lyrical wit, led by singer/guitarist Louis Epstein, HITS have positioned themselves to be at the top of bands to watch this year.
Formerly known as Jump into the Gosp el, this quintet quickly established themselves as a staple in the NYC club scene upon forming in 2010. They’ve shared the stage with artists such as Band of Skulls, MNDR,Cloud Nothings, Pop Etc., & Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. After releasing an EP featuring the dance-pop track "Humvee Mansion", JITG returned to the studio late last year to record their follow-up EP. Major changes and commitments ensued, and after five months they emerged victorious from the studio with their tightest material to date as well as a new moniker: HITS.
The songs form a throwback 80s electro-synth sound with a contemporary feel only the year 2012 could allow. The new EP, produced and mixed by themselves, swings from high energy dance songs like "Veins" and "St. John" to the thoughtful musings on isolation in "Twin Peaks" and the skewed vision of love in "Madness."
Mr. Little Jeans
A pocketknife is one of the most utilitarian tools you can possess. “It is small but has a million uses. It can open locks, cut ties and be used as a weapon or even for first aid,” says Monica Birkenes, aka Mr Little Jeans. Pocketknife also happens to be the title of the Norwegian chanteuse’s debut album, due out on Capitol imprint Harvest Records in March of 2014. “I see it as an extension of yourself that symbolizes strength, intelligence and courage.” The titular inspiration for her record comes from a line in lead single, “Good Mistake,” which has already entered heavy rotation on KCRW, the preeminent taste making radio station in LA (where Mr Little Jeans now resides).
Pocketknife’s operative metaphor extends to all her music: imbued with mystery and a dazzling interplay between shadow and light. Breathy vocals stab like equatorial sun rays that coexist with nocturnal synths. It’s been like this ever since Mr Little Jeans became a critically revered electro-pop diva a few years back. With a name nicked from a bit character in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, she quickly elicited comparisons to Lykke Li and Charli XCX, but has carved out her own lane, blending Scandinavian cool with passionate lyrics. Spin raved that her music has “hooks from here to the Aurora Borealis, but [she] swathes them in dark-hearted mystery, bright synths lurking beneath her indelible voice.” The Guardian said her songs won’t escape their heads, calling her an “über-Kylie [Minogue] who writes her own material, has a hand in its production and can boast a clutch of songs better than anything Minogue has done in years.”
While many have placed Mr Little Jeans alongside other Nordic songstresses, her singular voice and sweeping harmonies set her apart from her compatriots. Her breakout song was a moody and contemplative cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs,” which has racked up millions of plays on YouTube and SoundCloud alone. Since then, her music has appeared in commercials for companies such as Honda, TV shows like Gossip Girl, and in several movies, including 21 Jump Street and Celeste and Jesse Forever. She’s also written and recorded songs for film soundtracks (Iron Man 3), which she greatly enjoys and plans to do more of in the future. “I like trying to capture the mood and intent of somebody else’s story,” Birkenes explains.
Born and raised in the woodsy, seaside town of Grimstad, Norway, Mr Little Jeans spent her childhood immersed in music, be it the sounds of her mother’s guitar or Simon & Garfunkel records. She grew up in the church choir, learned piano and guitar, amassed singing competition wins throughout the Norse countryside. Absorbing early influences ranging from Mariah Carey, PJ Harvey and Massive Attack, she sublimated and synthesized the ability to sing in a way that makes you freeze, as though time was momentarily stopped and you’re unsure whether you want to dance or ruminate.
As such, the songs on Pocketknife are deeply personal and ripe for interpretation. They’re about ambition and dreams and living with no daylight. It’s this chiaroscuro that sets it apart—capturing the feeling of the ebb and flow of existence, each song its own 24-hour saga. You might have the tools to escape, but you won’t want to.
Sometimes the most rewarding discoveries are the ones that take you completely by surprise. Foxes is one of those discoveries. Arriving unheralded with her Neon Gold Records’ debut ‘Youth’ late last year, it wasn’t long before the song’s resplendent synths, industrial percussion and by-turns-searing-and-soaring vocal were the talk of the town.
Foxes is in actual fact just one – Louisa Rose Allen. The Southampton-born 22 year-old followed her big sister to London the day she turned 18. She tried her hand at studying music but dropped out when she realised it wasn’t the studying part that she enjoyed. With ‘Youth’ (and its mournful b-side ‘Home’, and resulting remixes) having so far garnered over a million combined Soundcloud and YouTube plays, and 1,250 Hypemachine ‘likes’ between them, it’s unlikely she’ll be heading back to class anytime soon.
Now she returns with its eagerly awaited follow up, the Warrior EP, led by the dual-pronged attack of lead songs ‘Warrior’ and ‘White Coats’. Foxes will release the Warrior EP on 25 June via Neon Gold Records on 7-inch vinyl and digital EP.
Punks Jump Up
Punks Jump Up came together in London a few years back. Joe, a born & bred Londoner & David, a Swede just off the boat, had bumped into each other on several occasions, mainly occasions that had to do with music, style & anything visual that looked cool. They both come from a background of punk & dance music, street art, fashion & style all wrapped up in DIY ethos.
Both eager to get their share of the creative chaos that is east London they were putting on their own parties for the freaks, proto hipsters, fashion victims & loonies in general who were loitering the area. This led to beautiful friendships with a lot of music & art eccentrics in the vicinity so they set up their own Cassette Records label as a vent for all the creativity that needed an outlet.
The first Punks Jump Up EP – Be You (Beep Beep) on the Cassette label created a minor storm on the DIY dance scene in London and beyond and was played by the now lords of dance James Murphy & Erol Alkan. It got represented on BBC1 as Annie Mac & Chris Coco played the track to death. All this with no promotion – no pr.
The Cassette Label released a handful of EPs by artists & remixers like Simian Mobile Disco & Zongamin.
Another aspect of DIY is the fashion side and PJU soon started their own t shirt label called Stiff Couture, they took on Kate Moross (the now well established self made illustrator & designer) who was the first one to make a t shirt for the label.
The second Punks Jump Up track to be released was Dance To Our Disco on the Kitsune label in Paris, this turned into an instant underground hit, played by countless DJ's worldwide. The track features the mysterious guest vocalist Chalk Jaxon from Sweden (who according to some people is Howling Pelle from The Hives, this is a rumor yet to be confirmed).
Earlier this year they released their acclaimed track Blockhead, a heavily percussive dance music number. It was also released on Kitsune and featured remixes by Zombie Nation & Hey Today! among others. It received enormous acclaim from the disco/electro/dance fraternity and was played by DJs like Mylo, Andy George (BBC1), Tiga and eh… David Guetta !!!
Blockhead was also played all through the summer -10 by 2ManyDJ's as a part of their Under The Covers tour, with the distinctive animations that accompanied each track.
Punks Jump Up have always been into making music with a rough edge but with a good hook. PJU love the underground, cutting edge DIY scene but has never shied away from a good melody. They have proven this by remixing acts like Gossip, Crystal Castles, Lykke Li, Chromeo, Kele, Miike Snow, Robyn, Tiga, Yelle, Peter Bjorn & John & Ladytron and all turning their songs into very distinctive dance floor gems.
In between the constant touring to pretty much every country in Europe, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Mexico & Singapore they have been relentlessly working on new music.
2011 continues to be a very busy year for PJU. There are now two new Punks Jump Up singles lined up for release.
First one up is a track called Chimes pt 1, a driving but melodic disco track with anthemic ambitions. It will be released on the prolific Klein Records new off shoot Klein Tanz on July 22nd. It will feature remixes from Remute, the legendary dance maestro from Hamburg, Paris' golden boy of dance Golden Bug and last but not least, Say Yes To another Excess. This enigmatic but high scoring duo from London released their anthem Say Yes To another Success on the australian Bang Gang imprint in May.
The next release is a song called Mr Overtime, a more pop-y gem which features the golden voice of none other than Dave1 from Chromeo. a super classy and brilliant remix of this track by Brussels wonder kid Mickey was featured as an exclusive on the Magician's June mix tape. It gathered a lot of praise from the blog community and has already leaked on various fan videos on Youtube. Release for this one is set for September but you are bound to hear it on all the beaches & clubs throughout the summer.
Punks Jump Up's constant traveling and gigging has made them a lot of friends and this shows well on the production of the forthcoming PJU album, it will feature guest appearances by artists like DVNO (of Justice DVNO fame), Black Kids, We Have Band & Men (ex Le Tigre).