Everything’s going to be alright…
The electropop duo of Northern Kind occupies a special status of sorts in the UK’s electronic community. Matt Culpin and Sarah Heeley’s outfit garnered critical acclaim in the 2000s renaissance period that electronic music enjoyed. Their talent for engaging electronic melodies that also embraced a love of pop swiftly won over fans keen to embrace a 21st Century take on synth-pop.
Although Northern Kind went on hiatus in 2014, they returned in 2019 on the back of ‘Lip Service’, which TEC’s review summed up as “a finely tuned slice of dance pop perfection”. They also returned to their other love of live performances, including an appearance at Silicon Dreams and also as part of a special event at London’s Nambucca club in the winter of 2019.
Although the Covid crisis has hit the music industry side-on, many acts are weathering the storm by focussing on writing and production. Northern Kind are no different and have been carefully working up a new batch of songs for a forthcoming EP with the somewhat cryptic title of Düh. Luckily, the pair have a handy video in which they talk about the EP’s genesis and plans for the future.
“We weren’t working to any particular goal” suggests Matt on the topic of the new EP, “But after a short time, some tracks came together. But what I wanted to do was have quite a consistent feel for a potential album and I felt these songs weren’t necessarily recorded in a specific timeframe that kind of gave them a bit of consistency. So I thought why not put them out on an EP – and then try and do an album really quickly over the winter months.”
“The new EP has taken just over 6 months to make” offers Sarah, “We did a couple of the tracks before lockdown and then obviously we were all stuck at home, so thankfully we were able to set up the recording studio in my apartment.” By working remotely, Matt was able to control a lot of the equipment in that studio, demonstrating that modern technology can get around the limitations of lockdowns.
The themes of the new songs embrace “Love, life, people, relationships” and aren’t necessarily influenced by the pandemic itself, with a singular exception. “There is one track in there that’s a reflection of our time in lockdown in Leicester” comments Sarah, “and it’s called ‘What’s Going On’ And it was really about those moments that I know I had where I was just stood there thinking “What is going on?””
The process of creating new Northern Kind songs has a fairly formal structure. “What I tend to do is create palettes of sounds, put them together, record ideas, send them to Sarah” muses Matt on the songwriting method, “But when they come back, of course, all my settings on these synths – the ones that don’t have memories – have changed. So that kind of makes things interesting because you’re either recreating them or making them from scratch. So for me, it’s just a bit more of a challenge. And it kind of takes a little bit longer, but the end result is that it just sounds better.”
“I will see the shapes of words that will go with that tune” suggests Sarah on the methods of conceiving lyrics to begin with, using her own experiences of life and people to drum up inspiration.
In terms of technology, much of the material produced for Düh comes VIA a combo of classic analogue and modern synths, including a recently acquired Korg ARP2600, Moog One, Behringer Pro-1 and Arturia MiniBrute. There’s also a suite of modular gear in use such as the Roland System-500, Analogue Solutions EKG and Moog DFAM among others.
While the sum total of the EP’s material isn’t exclusively a reflection on the current issues facing us, there’s certainly a slightly more sober element at work on these songs. But at their heart they have the polished electropop of Northern Kind tunes past, matched with a polished production that makes each composition jump out.
‘What’s Going On’, even as a slice of commentary on the pandemic, bounces around with a restrained dynamism. You can’t help but draw comparisons with this tune and Marvin Gaye’s classic 1971 song ‘What’s Going On’, a similarly reflective song that was penned as a response to cultural turmoil. Despite the darkness of the theme here, it’s also ultimately a song of hope illustrated in its lyrics: “Everything’s going to be alright.”
‘Bad Idea’, similarly, has a softer feel to it with some gorgeous synth tones at work. The song’s lyrical themes dealing with falling for the wrong people (“And the danger’s an angel that guides me”), but that despite those relationships being bad for you, they’re also irresistible.
Meanwhile, the burbling synths on ‘FAB’ take things up a notch with some engaging beats. The song’s inspirations, curiously, relate back to Sarah’s musings on The Beatles. Having visited the ashram in India that the band originally frequented back in 1968, Sarah also felt drawn to Liverpool on her return to the UK.
Viewed in that light, much of the lyrical content of ‘FAB’ takes on more meaning when viewed against some of the tragedy that the Liverpool band faced, as well as the member’s post-Beatles futures (“Some things are meant to be written in the stars/People that you meet are like Venus and Mars”).
The EP closes out with an inspired cover version of The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’, which retains the euphoric electropop of the original, but given a stylish touch by Sarah Heely’s vocal turn. Matt had apparently stumbled on the song during a Peloton session and was struck by how melodic the song was.
Northern Kind also offer up a clue on the EP’s cryptic title, suggesting that it’s also the forthcoming album’s title, but in a different language. So answers on a postcard.
Northern Kind are also staging a livestream and EP preview event this Saturday 28th November 7:30pm GMT: http://Facebook.com/northernkind