September 05, 2019
As the 2019 Hyundai Mercury Prize once again celebrates the most exciting and groundbreaking British and Irish talent, Leonie Cooper explores how each artist nails their sound
Bleeping it real: the tricks, kicks and tech behind the year’s best records
For the past 28 years, the Mercury Prize has been the place to find out who’s pushing things forward when it comes to the best of homegrown mainstream music. This year’s shortlist offers up a complex array of ideas, from rap as a form of therapy (Dave’s Psychodrama) and baroque deep dives into sexuality (Anna Calvi’s Hunter), to woke punk (Idles’ Joy as an Act of Resistance), spaced out astro-soul (Nao’s Saturn) and, of course, a bit of lovely hip-hop informed jazz (SEED Ensemble’s Driftglass).
In order to nail these disparate sounds, producers find themselves in a position almost as important as the artist. One such producer has sprinkled his studio magic over two of the 12 Albums of the Year. Working on debuts from both Fontaines DC and Black Midi, Dan Carey – who also runs independent record label Speedy Wunderground – used scare tactics on Dublin-based post-punks Fontaines DC’s Dogrel in order to capture the raw energy of their live shows. With the running order already decided, he broke the prospective album down into three sections of four songs. “Then I made this pact with the band that I’d record each of those parts in one take,” he says, freaking out the young group with such a stark proposition. “Usually you record multiple takes, but with this I said no matter where it went wrong we’d just wipe it and start again. So there was only ever one version in existence. It puts this amazing pressure on the band.” It paid off. The result is a frenetic, visceral thing that practically bounces off the walls.
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