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Thursday, March 17 • 12:00am - 1:00am
James Yuill

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Noise, sound, music, melody. These are elemental forces that drive James Yuill. As a child, he would spend hours in his bedroom, singing along to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album. At boarding school, while the other lads spent Saturday afternoon in the pub, James would be busy in the school music room, making a racket with anything he could lay his hands on. At university, where he studied forensic science - specialising, naturally, in audio forensics - James preferred to live alone, in order that he could fully immerse himself in his two big passions: leftfield electronics (Aphex Twin/ Squarepusher) and classic songwriters (Nick Drake/ Elton John). That quasi-monastic lifestyle is one he maintains to this day. James Yuill is never happier than when he's making music, alone in his Dalston flat, entirely oblivious to the whims of the east London scene, or the rules and regulations of wider music culture. Here, in Yuill’s spare bedroom studio, there is no contradiction between working on a remix for electro hipsters, We Have Band, while raving about Take That - "Gary Barlow is a genius" - and your teenage obsession with Nirvana. That's James Yuill's world. And he’s happy in it. "I've never followed fashion," he laughs, which probably explains why, when he first came to London, he took immense pride in his job sourcing music for TV adverts. "If I think track X is a fantastic record it doesn't matter who the singer is, or who wrote it. To me, I have the best of both worlds. I grew up on grunge, so I love hard bass drums and distorted bass lines, and all that heavy Ed Banger electro, Justice and Boys Noize, but I also appreciate the skill in songwriting and pop. And I think the way I bring them together is unique." On James's latest album, Movement In A Storm, that is demonstrably true. It's predecessor Turning Down Water For Air [TDWFA] was a folk record quietly and modestly underpinned by electronics. It infiltrated clubland (most notably, the massive Prins Thomas re-edit of This Sweet Love) almost by accident. Movement In A Storm is very different. The songs might have started out as strummed ideas on an acoustic guitar, but such outlines have been radically manipulated, coloured-in with great neon splashes of data, upgraded, rebooted, digitised. The melancholy, that wistful sadness that attracted many to James’s music is still there - in this new mechanised setting, the emotional impact of these songs is heightened immeasurably - but this is qualitatively different music: sleek, propulsive, dynamic, divisively electronic. Beats and basslines land with an irresistible force; the editing is full of tight energy; hooks are filed sharp; choruses ring out. The likes of My Fears and First In Line owe as much to the emotional techno of Kompakt as they do to the winsome indie electronics of James’s beloved Postal Service. It is a record of real conviction. Certainly, it should make any journalist think twice before ever mentioning "folktronica" and James Yuill, in the same sentence, ever again. Said tag, in fact, was already largely redundant by the time that - the earlier self-released album, The Vanilla Disc, notwithstanding - James's debut album dropped, in 2008. Due to some boring logistical detail (stolen laptops; rerecorded song parts; finding a suitably sympathetic label), TDWFA was two years old when it was released. In the interim, inspired by his burgeoning love of noisy electro, James had already reworked the TDWFA songs as a much harder, bolder, late-night live set, specifically aimed at club crowds. Far more Daft Punk than Kings of Convenience, that exuberant bleeps 'n' basslines live show not only directly shaped how Movement... would evolve and sound, but has taken James around the world. In recent years, he has played everywhere from the Bahamas (a private party for Time Magazine, bizarrely) to Tokyo, via lengthy tours of Britain, Europe and the US. In France and Germany, where his records get plenty of airtime on daytime independent radio, he can pull a few hundred people at stand-alone gigs, and is regularly booked to add pizzazz to techno and electro all-nighters. Although, as a drug-free and nearly teetotal musician James cuts an eccentric swathe through clubland. "I'm not remotely rock 'n' roll," he admits. "My interest in electronic music is an interest in sound. I never had some drugs 'n' clubbing epiphany and, on tour, I can happily sit backstage, reading Philip K Dick, go on, blast some manic electronic music, then go home, have a cup of tea, and go to bed, perfectly content. What can I say? I'm all about the music." Indeed, James talks with refreshing candour and sincerity about trying to do something original, about his desire to leave a musical legacy. As a lanky, bespectacled self-confessed "music geek", he may not see himself as a future pop star, but he does see himself as one among a small band of visionary British musicians (people as different as Patrick Wolf, Cinammon Chasers and Hot Chip), who are trying to alter the way pop music sounds. By writing songs informed by the electronica of, say, Modeselektor or Warp's Chris Clark, such musicians may well catalyse pop's next great leap forward. "Ultimately," says James, "the Aphex Twin-isation of the charts is inevitable. Computer music is boundless, there's just so much there to explore." When that fateful day comes, when cutting-edge electronic music becomes the lingua franca of a truly modernist pop sound, do not expect James Yuill to be yelling, "I told you so", from the rooftops of nearby buildings. It's not his style. He will always be much happier sat somewhere amid a tangle of wires, microphones, laptops and instruments (see Sing Me A Song, and its key lyric: "Is there life beyond my door? Weather stays the same inside my bedroom. It's warm and it makes me feel safe and secure."). In fact, by that point, James Yuill will probably making entirely different music. You would be disappointed if he wasn't. Such is his mission in sound. Others will trail in his wake, but you should get onboard now. It's going to be quite an ear-opener.

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James Yuill

Noise, sound, music, melody. These are elemental forces that drive James Yuill. As a child, he would spend hours in his bedroom, singing along to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album. At boarding school, while the other lads spent Saturday afternoon in the pub, James would be busy... Read More →

Thursday March 17, 2011 12:00am - 1:00am CDT
Beauty Bar

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