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FACT At 10, Part Four: the best New Talents from the last decade

This year, FACT turns 10. 

FACT began life as a bi-monthly print magazine in 2003, before transforming into an online-only publication in 2008. To mark a decade of operations, we’ll be using this week to assess our favourite content from the last 10 years – much of which is being made available online for the first time.

So far this week, we’ve collected our favourite featurestop interviews and best list rundowns from the archive. Tomorrow, we’ll pick our 10 all-time favourite FACT mixes – but, for now, we’ve trawled through the vaults for the most entertaining and prescient New Talent features from way back when. Among those who we caught before they were big: a pre-fame Adele; a bushy-tailed Flying Lotus planning a dream collaboration with M.I.A; Rustie, making beats from crisp packets; and, bless, a 16-year old Benga bigging up his Mum. Cast an eye across the next 10 pages to see some of music’s biggest and brightest names looking very, very young.

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Benga (2003)

After keeping their cards close to their chest for quite some time, Croydon’s Big Apple Records tribe have just uncovered their most junior member,and undoubtedly their hottest property.

Mentored by the shop’s dubplate specialist DJ Hatcha, John Kennedy (Big Apple’s gaffer and also resident at seminal techno night Lost) and Arthur Smith (aka techno’s Grain, UK garage’s Artwork, and half of DnD and Menta), 16-year-old Benga Uthman is just about to sit his GCSEs, and is simultaneously blazing a trail through an underground garage scene undergoing unpredictable mutations. “Yeah, I get my uncle, my aunty and my mum sayin’ that my music sounds good and that, but that I’ve got to stay on at school. That’s a good help to me. If my mum said I should just make music ’cause that’s where the money is, then she wouldn’t be being a good mum.”

Prolific is not usually a term used to describe teenage producers with two releases. But when you hear the sheer quantity of cuts produced by Benga alongside fellow youngster Skream currently circulating on dubplate, no other term quite fits the bill. Rumoured to be sitting on around 70 releases, Benga, like so many of the new garage generation has served his apprenticeship in sim-drum machine Fruity Loops.

Citing the heavy influence of Wookie’s early “dark and melodic” tunes such as ‘Down On Me’ and early Oris Jay cuts, Benga’s first release, ‘Skank’, appeared on transparent blue vinyl on the Big Apple label’s second release early in 2003. It pioneered a sound that takes the best of both the East London 8bar/sublow din and the South London dubstep vibe. On Benga’s second release, ‘The Judgement’, the sound is all congas, warped buzzing baselines and tough beats. Continuing the coloured vinyl exploits of the Big Apple imprint, Benga is about to launch his own label Benga Beats. Kicking off with ‘Full Cycle’ and ‘Half Ounce’, closely followed by ‘Virus’, ‘Sand Dune’ and “Wasp Nest’. Take our word for it. This is just the beginning.

– Steve Goodman

Digital Mystikz (2004)

Otherwise known as Mala, Coki and Loefah, Digital Mystikz hail from Norwood, a dull South London suburb where the local entertainment consists of Crystal Palace FC and very little else. Perhaps that’s one reason why this trio of young producers have sought to inject so much energy and dynamism into their music.

Mala & Coki’s alternatively militant and melodic first release on Big Apple Records is still pricking up ears, while a pipeline of dubs (released via their own label DMZ) have been receiving heavy rotation from Youngsta and Hatcha on Rinse FM 100.3, and the fat sound systems of Forward.

While it seems likely that their range of styles will diversify, it is their keen understanding of Jamaican dancehall science that sets the Mystikz apart. Basslines are warm and sub low, but they hit like liquid concrete. Rhythmically, the Mystikz’ dubstep sound (unlike Horsepower for example) isn’t mediated via the slinky syncopations of 2-step garage, but moves instead with a more tribal edge.

Loefah’s ‘Twissup’ snatches a pounding 909-kick from its 4/4 heritage, and slams it into an accelerated basement pattern. Then there’s his hyper-percussive ‘Indian’, which takes its inspiration from Miami Bass. or Coki’s ‘Heartless Ninja’, ‘Jah Fire’ or ‘Lost City’ – all of which compress 30 years of dub soundsystem culture into five minutes of tuneful vibratory rumble, laced with off-key synth-stabs and reverberation. Coki’s sound is probably the most faithful to dancehall. It’s Mala’s ‘Give Jah The Glory’, though, that ranks up there with Horsepower’s ‘Classic Deluxe’ in their imaginary archive of dubstep classics.

– Steve Goodman

Professor Green (2006)

So, you’re sitting in your council flat and you think to yourself: “I wanna be ‘the next best thing’ in UK hip-hop.” What’s your first course of action? Try the Professor Green Route: slay your contenders seven weeks in a row at an underground hip-hop battle (The Jump Off); fly to America and get to the finals of a highly respected freestyle contest (The Power Summit), ensuring rap heavy-weights such as Busta Rhymes and Funkmaster Flex watch the whole thing, then get snapped up by The Beats, Mike Skinner’s fledgling label: quite simple really.

Professor Green’s mixtape, Lecture 1, is a witty jumble sale of lyrical role playing, Eminem-esque verbal put-downs and a barrow-boy swagger that could only come from a Clapton-residing 22-year-old. “I think that UK hip-hop, as a whole, is stagnant,” he says. “We need to be less afraid of success. I won’t be happy if I only sell 10-30,000 records.”

Pro’ Green’s sharp wit is undoubtedly his greatest asset. His stand out track, ‘Stereotypical Man’, contains charming lyrical refrains like: “Till my breathing’s done/ I’ll be reading page 3 of The Sun,” and, “I don’t perv at women, nope, I appreciate boobies / I mean beauty, it was a slip of the tongue.” The Londoner nicknamed for his love of the green stuff (no, not money) will be dropping his debut album later this year.

While other rappers dwell on the harshness of street-life, Green disarms even the casual listener with humour, though doesn’t completely gloss over the grime: “I wanna’ make music that people outside of hip-hop can relate to – music that will still sound great even if you take the lyrics outside of the genre. You’re not gonna’ blow with the same old gun chat.”

– Styleslut

John Maus (2006)

“He’s a maniac on a bloody crusade; a tortured evangelist on a mercenary quest to rid our world of villainous defilers of The Gospel of True Love…[he] harks the new path which resurrects romance from its post-modern shackles, and reignites the promise of better world.” So says Ariel Pink about John Maus.

Maus plays keyboards in Ariel Pink’s group Haunted Graffiti, and for Panda Bear of Animal Collective. He has recently released an album, called Songs. This is just about all I’m sure of. See, John Maus is confusing. Deeply confusing. I still don’t know whether I actually like his music or not. But, whatever, you can’t stop listening to it once you’ve started.

John Maus crafts brittle electro-pop with absurdly baroque keyboard flourishes, that sounds like the midpoint between a rave and a church organ recital. Although it is musically very different from Ariel Pink’s songs, the ‘feel’ of the two is very similar: like Ariel Pink, John Maus’ music comes across like a flickering, over-exposed home-video from the 1980s. It’s intensely personal and often beautiful music, the sound of memories and daydreams.

Throughout the album, though, there’s the sense that John Maus could just be taking the piss. Despite the fact that he’s American, his singing voice fluctuates between a glottal monkey slur, and a high-camp upper class English swoop, like Bowie doing a Noel Coward impression. Furthermore, there’s the subject matter of the lyrics. There’s a song about having sex with cars, and with Ringo Starr. There’s a song about getting your Grandma’s wee on your hands. On the first few listens, it all sounds worryingly wacky.

But listen more, and this music can’t simply be dismissed as a batch of unfunny in-jokes. There’s something utterly heartfelt and romantic here. The grating moments only make the flashes of melodic genius and unaffected poignancy hit you more forcefully. Songs is a trip inside someone’s head, with all the banality and messiness that comes with genuine, unfiltered, honesty.

John Maus reminds you that sometimes the best music is confusing, challenging, and on some level nonsensical. By taking you out of your comfort zone, he makes you feel that little bit more alive.

– Simon Hampson

Florence + The Machine (2007)

“I’m from Camberwell, where the Maudsley is – one of London’s largest mental hospitals. There’s a Chinese supermarket and methadone clinic as well. Not in the mental hospital though.”

Such is the environment that birthed the hotly-tipped, frock-loving Florence. Accompanied not by a machine but by guitarist Matthew Alchin, Florence + The Machine peddle faux-naive songs of love, loss and harpooned donkeys (see, er, ‘Harpooned Donkey’) with an accomplishment and grace that nods to Annie Lennox, Ruth Brown and Billie Holiday. However, Florence’s roll-call of contemporaries she admires – Selfish Cunt, Kate Nash, Beirut, Cold War Kids, Tapes & Tapes – suggests that her bluesy classicism isn’t without a very 2007 sensibility. Florence’s appraisal is more straightforward – she likens her sound to “that dizzy feeling you get when you go over a little hill in a very fast car.”

Managed by indie stalwarts Queens of Noize and having recently supported Courtney Love in London (“I broke a $1,000 table at her hotel”), it seems inevitable that F+M will wrangle their way into the hearts of minds of thousands before the year is out. Their gleaming, retroactive pop, with its undercoat of dark humour and topcoat of grubby, post-Libertines urban glamour is am almost certain recipe for success in the contemporary record-flogging market. For Florence, however, music isn’t the be-all and end -all. “I also do little drawings, and make clothes, badly. I wanted to work in a bookshop. I wanted to be a zoologist. I still want to be an interior designer.”

Oh, and one more thing. Does the Florence + The Machine song ‘Donkey Kosh’ have anything to do with the fairly horrific sexual act of the same name? “What have you been doing? I’ve never heard of it.”

– Mr. Soft

Wild Beasts (2007)

There are a lot of singular voices out there at the moment, with singers not cramping their unique styles into blander notions of what’s normal, or acceptable. As with Joanna Newsom, Will Oldham and Devendra Banhart, you probably won’t have ever heard a voice like Hayden’s, of recent Domino signings Wild Beasts. It’s an eerie, smeary falsetto wail that can crack and splinter into a rasping croaks at any moment. It’s not for everyone, but if you like it, you’ll probably love it. Like, um, Marmite.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision to sing like that”, says Hayden, “but it was a conscious decision to sing in whatever happened to be my own voice. When I first sang, I was like “what the fuck’s that!” It was uncomfortable, even, to hear this sound come out of me. But that’s the beautiful thing about it: it was a coming-out of something that was inside of me.”

Hayden’s voice isn’t the only thing that’s unique about Wild Beasts. The most appropriate comparison to them might be something like the Brechtian theatrics of the Tiger Lillies, but they’re still at a remove from even them. The sound of Wild Beasts is very skeletal post-punk, with the lilting melancholy of early blues. Their songs twist around themselves, with Hayden playing Beefheart-ish word games with his lyrics: one song is called ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’. We’d drop something instantly if it was even remotely like something someone had done before,” Hayden says. “Pop songs should make you feel like you’ve never felt before. They should take you aback. A lot of music today mimics the past, and we’re proud of the fact that we don’t do that.”

Wild Beasts was formed in that home of lovely mint-cake, the small Lake District town of Kendal, to which Hayden credits their refusal to plough the same musical furrows as anyone else: “Kendal’s about 20 years behind everywhere else, in terms of music. It’s a very isolated, small town. And because of that, we didn’t get involved with any trends or fads. We had the freedom to do what we wanted.

Their new single, ‘Through Dark Night’, is out this month on Bad Sneakers, with an album due on Domino later on in the year. Asked what the latter will sound like, Hayden says that he’s waiting to find out: “We’ve just got to let it grow out of itself. Until we’ve got the album in our hands, we’ll have no idea.” Wild Beats: a surprise, and a bit of a mystery, even to themselves.

– Simon Hampson

Adele (2007)

“I’m 19, I’m a singer, I’m an only child at home,” reveals South London songstress Adele. “I love being in, out, falling in love. I hate airplanes. I write songs ’cause Im rubbish at saying what I mean in conversation.”

Throughout the history of popular music there have been very few artist who have managed to get by with just one name. Elvis, Madonna, Morrissey, Prince. A few exceptions aside, (Yazz, Snow or Shaggy anyone?), you need to have something pretty special if you’re going to get by without a surname (or fist name, in the case of the meat-free Smiths frontman).

Thankfully, Adele has something very special indeed. Blessed with the kind of voice that’s rarely heard outside the grooves of Etta James and Billie Holliday records, it won’t be long before she’s putting her better-known contemporaries to shame. “I’ve always made music,” Adele explains. “At my first secondary school the music teacher was rubbish. There wasn’t anything else to keep me there so I left and went to the BRIT School to do music. In the second year my friend made a music page for me on MySpace. By the time I left college, labels had found my page and offered me a deal.”

Having attended the same educational establishment as Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash, it’s no surprise that a vocalist with such unquestionable ability would find herself a record deal (with XL, for the record). “It hasn’t played the same role for me as it has for Lily and Kate,”, she says when asked about the impact of MySpace on her career so far. “But it did play the biggest part in me getting signed, ’cause I wasn’t doing any gigs at the time. MySpace definitely makes you and your music accessible to whoever, whenever, which is really important ’cause I think it makes you more relatable as an artist.”

– Toby Rogers

Flying Lotus (2007)

If you’re the nephew of jazz legends John and Alice Coltrane, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have inherited at least a little bit of musical talent.  So it is with LA-based producer Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus. “When I was younger everyone expocted me to be a jazz musician,” the 24-year-old recalls. “That was something I was into, I studied sax when I was at school, but they never taught us the music I wanted to hear.”

Specialising in crunchy, electronic instrumental hip-hop, the former film student’s cinematic and inventive approach to beat-making has left bloggers salivating and critics comparing his records to those by J Dilla and Madlib. Ellison, though, is in little doubt as to the hip-hop producer whose music first inspired him to pick up a Roland 505 beat machine: “My biggest influence was Dr Dre – Doggystyle is still the best beats album ever made.”

Inheriting his aunt’s fondness for experimentation (Alice Coltrane was one of jazz’s few harpists), Ellison ‘s productions have thus far embraced everything from cavernous King Tubby-style dub to squelching abrasive electro (check his recent remix of Mr Oizo’s track ‘Stunt’). But his forthcoming album should lift the bar yet still further. Having released his debut LP, 1983, on much respected Californian indie Plug Research, Ellison recently inked a deal with Warp, signalling a fluttering of heartbeats amongst fans.

The first fruition of this new partnership is the six-track Reset EP, which is making devotees of both Gilles Peterson and Kode9 .Ellison’s sights, though, are set on appealing to a broader church. “I don’t want to be an underground dude, that’s a term that doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why anyone would want that. I would like to have a couple of songs on the radio. That’s why I signed with Warp”.

Featuring collaborations with Mr Oizo and Madlib, the new Flying Lotus LP should be finished at the end of October. By then, Ellison hopes, Warp will have used their powers of persuasion to rope in M.I.A as a guest vocalist. One thing its creator is certain of is it won’t be is a straight-up rap record. “This album should speak to you enough to tell you a story. It doesn’t need to be dictated by something yelling at you.”

– Sean Bidder & Tony Rogers

Micachu (2008)

A restlessly eclectic approach is always a good sign in an artist, and few young musicians have worked in so many genres as Micachu. The East Londoner is only 21, but she’s already produced grime tracks, performed in hip-hop outfits, released cutting-edge electronica and pop, and studies classical composition at London’s Guildhall. “When I grow up, I want to be a composer. That’s the long term plan”, she says, The short term plan, however, is to release an album with Matthew Herbert.

After picking up a demo of one of Mica’s hip-hop collectives, Herbert signed her to his Accidental label. The pair are now producing “six or seven” songs for Micachu to vocal on her forthcoming album. True to form though, the other half of the album will be something else entirely, being written and played with her live band The Shapes. Micachu and Herbert’s approaches to writing proved similar; like him, she enjoys taking samples from everyday sources; frying pans, hoovers, broken plastic. “I love taking about twelve different samples and then just shoving them on top of each other”, she says. “It can sound quite unclear, but I like it when things sound a bit messy. Mistakes make music interesting.”

To tide you over until the album arrives, Mica’s released her mixtape, Filthy Friends, as a free download on her Myspace. It’s a collection of production-sketches from the past few years with new vocals by MCs Baker Trouble and Mayhem. Although the mixtape showcases a harder, grimier side to her sound than the forthcoming album – “which will be much more poppy and soulful” – it has a hazy, broken-down feel; a common thread running throughout her work. Glottal-stopped MCing dissolves into splintered electronics and rough thickets or samples. Much like early grime, Mika’s music sounds both avant-garde and antique.

“With a lot of experimental electronic music, there’s intellectual machismo, with boys trying to do the cleverest, clickiest beat”, she says, “But that’s putting barriers up to people enjoying the music; I want to write pop songs.”

– Simon Hampson

Rustie (2008)

Rustie has been dabbling with “electronic nonsense” since 2002 when he acquired a copy of Fruity Loops and promptly quit his apprenticeship as a horticulturalist. A respected DJ and member of Glasgow’s up-and-coming LuckyMe crew, Rustie recently found himself the subject of much critical mouth-frothing thanks to his intriguingly titled Jagz the Smack EP for Stuff Records.

“I was listening to a lot of screwed and dirty south hip-hop when I made it. That whole codeine-sippin’ vibe. Glasgow, especially the south side where I’m from, has quite a big heroin problem. I saw the words “(so and so) jagz the smack” scrawled at the bottom of a Govanhill stairwell, and I thought it would sum up the vibe of the track.”

A fierce, hoods-up hybrid of old-skool rave, grime, hip-hop and bleep techno which its author describes as “aquacrunk”, ‘Jagz the Smack’ is as good a soundtrack to urban dystopia as you’re ever likely to encounter, or indeed need. But Rustie also knows how to rock a party: check his ghetto-house update of Rich Boy’s ‘Throw Some Ds’ for local label Dre$$ to $weat, and his forthcoming Cafe de Phresh EP, which features San Francisco MCs Buddie Leezle and Cerebral Cortex rhyming over a bed of sweet, hyphy-style beats. There’s also a remix swap with Modeselektor in the pipeline and a 12″ for Hyperdub.

Rustie acknowledges a debt of influence to the likes of Dabrye, J Dilla, Just Blaze and Drexciya, but claims his biggest inspirations come from his own LuckyMe crew at the moment, especially Hudson Mohawke. “Oh, and movies, food, art, politics, sex, drugs and alcohol. I also love hats.”

He builds his tracks with a PC, MIDI keyboard, drum pad, assorted software and whatever else is lying around: “Crisp packets and sellotape are great for getting that crunch.”

– Kiran Sande

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