Micachu and The Shapes Jewellery

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Released 07 Apr. 2009
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No one can deny that the face of planet music is changing at a rate faster than ever before. Whether one believes that it's awkwardly evolving into a beguiling new beast, or imploding into a certain apocalypse, one thing's for sure: the soundtrack will be like nothing you've ever heard before. 21-year-old Mica Levi is the unassuming five foot one figure creating tunes that somehow perfectly define these sometimes scary, often overwhelming, but always exciting times. She's the most singular artist leading the future-pop frontier, with an instinctual understanding of music only possible from one of those rare lives where rhythms, melodies, discord and noise have underpinned every last waking second. Over the past year Micachu, as she's become known, has released an avidly received mixtape that moulded concrete grime and ruff-neck hip hop to avant-electronics, composed a Nuevo-classical epic for the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the personal request of revered conductor Marc Anthony Turnage, and formed a band, The Shapes, to help channel the mind-boggling waves of creativity that swell from her scruffily curled bonce at the rate that most people breathe. Helmed by her adopted Svengali and seeming long-lost spiritual godfather, Matthew Herbert, Micachu’s debut long-player, is a teeny, but visionary peek at the infinite maelstrom of musical carnage that hurtles through her brain 24-hours-a-day. A mangled outpouring of fidgeting guitars, untameable bass splurges, fragile, swoonsome wails, sabre-toothed electronics and snatched sounds, from rattling bottlenecks to demonic hoovers. Whilst on paper it doesn’t sound a sing-a-long setup, in between the shudders, splurts, stabs, stutters, stops and starts, spills a pure, pristine thread of melodic playfulness that makes ‘Jewellery’ one of the most fiendishly addictive breakthrough albums of the year. Case and point: Mica’s steadily risen as one of the UK’s most talked-about acts, gracing all the best music rags, broadsheets and even national TV whichever way you look. A reluctant star, Mica isn’t so fussed about the flashing lights and lenses, no matter who’s listening or not, the music will always play on. But people were listening, and label interest was bound to follow such prodigal output. Mica gives a suitably humble response to the band’s very recent signing to a very worthy new home at Rough Trade Records. “This is a very exciting venture for us as everyone at the label is very supportive and enthusiastic, we feel the ethos of the label is distinctive and we are proud to be along side such legendary musicians."

Born in Guilford and raised in Watford, Mica Levi couldn’t have had much more of a musical upbringing if she was conceived between Mozart and an oboe and forced to grow up inside a grand piano. The daughter of a record collector (specialising in Third Reich recordings, dontchaknow!) and a professional Cellist, she was playing a violin when she was barely old enough to hold one. Music was never a hobby, but rather the starting point for everything in the Levi household, the be all and end all. After formative years spent becoming somewhat of a prodigy on the fiddle and memorising every last semi-breave of the entire Michael Jackson and Beatles anthologies, she enlisted at renowned specialist music school Purcell, the kind of place where The Soft Pink Truth would give guest lectures. An eye-opening experience, it would seem. “A whole institution of bullied children,” she recalls. “To get in you had to have had a dedication to classical music that’d make you a total nerd at school.” After spending the first decade of her life with fingers barely leaving a violin neck she ironically used her first few years at Purcell to get away from the stave. So whilst the other kids were locked up perfecting the opening bars of Bach’s Fifth she was trampling puddles on the football field and listening to gangsta rap like Big L and Pitch Black on her Walkman. She was always the girl that’d pick the weird obscure pieces to dissect in class and generally sniffed at the archaic aspirations many maintained there. “I feel blessed to have been involved with a place like that,” she says. “But it doesn’t really set you up for anything, the classical world is dead. You have to wait for someone to die to get in your fourth choice orchestra.” Her creative armistice lasted to her early teens when she discovered the school’s music tech suites. This was the location she’d remain until she graduated. Delving deep into the murky world of samplers and sequencers Mica began honing her craft. Tentatively beginning with splashes of hole-punch sampling musique concrete, she soon discovered glitch through the likes of the Tigerbeat 6 label and experimented with her own disfigured electronic amalgams, as well a smoother R&B, hip hop, and grime cuts. Luring some local mischievous MC wannabes into the booth she made her first few mixtapes, before romantic liaisons with boy-in-a-band would finally win her round to picking up a guitar and having a stab at her own distinct take on the indie anthem. It was around this time that a hotchpotch compilation of her tangent-driven works –one part household implements to two parts brain-melting glitch to two party wonky post-folk ballads to one part brick-in-face grime- made it into the hands of Matthew Herbert. “Listening to how similarly we’d be thinking creatively I can’t believe I didn’t know who he was,” she says. “I think a more fitting coupling would be difficult for me to find.”

The invitation that Matthew extended to Mica was a special one. For her to come and bring her bass-free scratchy demos to life, to full realise her flights of fancy under the helm of one of Britain’s most acclaimed and experienced electronic artistes in a studio fitted with the warmest valves this side of the M25. So slowly but surely, Mica’s debut began to take shape, session after painstaking cleaning-closet plundering session. Together they married Mica’s far-flung tangents of inspiration, moulding them into one of the most individual, dynamic, erratic and adorably dishevelled musical landscapes to have emerged in recent years. What does Micachu actually write songs about then? “A load of old bollocks,” she cackles, with trademark heel-scuffing modesty. “I’m not about bearing the deep crevices of my soul, that would feel so weird. There are things you can love aside from people. I just like picking up on stuff that amuses me, and building motifs from there.” Mica’s near-ADD attention span is omnipresent on ‘Jewellery’, jumping from eerie plundered atmospherics to hypnotic skiffle-beat guitars, to disintegrating fuzz-fest electronics, on the likes of ‘Just In Case’. ‘Curly Teeth’ is Mica’s very own stab at Roger McGough-esque nonsense prose, set against spasmodic synth flinches and detuned strums. ‘Lips’ is a short, sharp precession of maddening fret-hits and taunting vocal refrains that lead you everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s the day-to-day creating that drives me,” she explains of her unrelenting productivity. “I’m maybe not even bothered about the results. It’s just something I need to do like getting up and having breakfast. I crave the challenge of writing.” The arrival of The Shapes –aka Raisa Khan on keys and Marc Pell on drums- midway through recording the album added a whole new dimension to proceedings. “They’ve certainly helped tame my madness, we’re very much a band now, this isn’t just me anymore,” she explains. So now the demons have been exorcised, laid out for all to see on little plastic discs, what can we expect from the one-girl anti-hit factory? “I’m enjoying being in band now, writing in that setup, with playing live in mind,” she says. “But as for the distant future? Fuck knows. I want to be a composer. Fuck guitars. I want to make gigantic orchestral compositions, finish them, and then not let anybody hear the results.” Perfect.