Shanique Marie Helps Keep Kingston Collective Equiknoxx Organic and Eclectic on Basic Tools LP

Photo Credit: Summer Eldemire

Opening with a serpentine, strange and seductive rhyme, then layering in stuttering, boxy beats, Equiknoxx keep it dark and spicy on their latest mixtape Basic Tools. For international fans outside of the UK and Europe, the release is likely their introduction to the Kingston, Jamaica collective, made up of producers Gavsborg (Gavin Blair), Time Cow (Jordan Chung), Bobby Blackbird (Nick Deane), and vocalists Shanique Marie and Kemikal.

Shanique Marie is pure magic. She is truly a vocalist in the sense that she sings, raps, hums, freestyles and ultimately weaves her soulful, sure-footed voice into whatever form feels right at the time. She is both an integral part of Equiknoxx and a solo artist, having released her debut albumGigi’s House, named after her biggest fan, her mother – in mid-2021. When we connect on Zoom, she is at home in Kingston, stifling a yawn at the end of the day, but she regularly segues into song to illustrate what she is describing or remembering. It’s a captivating, small-scale performance.

“I’m pretty sure I can speak on behalf of the entire group when I say this. When I talk about our sound being organic and our creation of music being organic, I mean that it is something that comes from within and something that comes very naturally to us,” she says. “It’s almost magical, in a sense, how things fall into place where our music is concerned. It can just be a conversation that we’re having in the studio that becomes a line that starts a song, or a rhythm is built around this, or a sound that we hear that Gavin, Jordan or Nick are like, ‘oh, we have to sample this!’”

The squiggly samples and funky percussion of “UGGH” is a prime example. Gavin and Shanique were having a phone conversation when Gavin said, “You sound like UGGH!” A moment later, he exclaimed, “I’m gonna make a song!” He duly took the line and built the song from it.

“Much of the songs Gavin and I work on tend to be like that, where we’re literally having a conversation and Gavin or Nick makes a joke, or Jordan makes a joke, and then it’s like, ‘we can make a song from this!’, you know?” she says.

Their rough and tumble sound reveals the group’s genius for creating textures from processed bird sounds, smudging beats into odd time, liberally enriching the sonic soup with cymbals, gongs, choir samples and comical vocal snippets, and a quirky, macabre sense of humour. Bird Sound Power, released in 2016, was a compilation of Gavsborg and Time Cow’s productions dating back to 2009. Colón Man – in a sense, their first traditional album, made as a cohesive collection – arrived a year later, attracting “Best Of” listings for FACT, Resident Advisor, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork. Eternal Children was arguably their most accessible album for mainstream hip hop and pop audiences in 2019, in no small part thanks to Shanique’s hook-laden, butter-melting vocals. Perhaps, too, the world was ready for their oddball musical courtship of our eardrums. We’d been primed by the retro-sleaze R&B of Blood Orange, the mad beats and humour of Madlib, and the timeless adventurousness of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

Equiknoxx is both the name of the collective, and also the name of their label, Equiknoxx Music. Operational since 2007, they’ve been making intriguing, body-moving, slinky music that sweeps through the trap-reggaeton-electro sphere for just over a decade. Throughout Basic Tools, the groove is so deep you wonder how you’ll clamber out of the funky, hypnotic, languorous beats and patois-laced rhymes. Elsewhere, barely restrained snarls, rapid-fire raps and layered, haunting harmonies threaten to become the matter of urban nightmares. Whether it’s a double-entendre or a straight-up reference to “eating bananas,” drive-by shootings, or queens who do Kegels, the rhymes are clever, sometimes funny, often skewering the listener when they dare to get complacent with their attention.

It’s hard to imagine anyone ignoring Shanique Marie, though.

Raised in a very traditional Christian family, she used to sing in church choirs and spent a lot of time with her grandparents, listening to Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, Otis Redding, Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. A neighbour overheard the then-17-year-old singing and insisted on introducing her to some friends with a studio. Shanique Marie’s mother was having none of it.

“Equiknoxx was rising in the local dancehall scene… but the thing about Jamaican and even Caribbean culture is that young girls are never encouraged to go into the studio because the whole idea is that it’s gonna be a lot of males that are going to be smoking weed. Young females might be taken advantage of, so growing up in a very traditional, religious family, my mom was like ‘School is the focus, there is no going to studio,’” she recounts.

Instead, Shanique began a conversation with Gavin via MSN Messenger.

“But of course, I was younger than him and at the time, nobody took me seriously.”

Years later, they did. Shanique was midway through her Bachelor of English Literature (and has since graduated, along with a Masters in Education Management) when her work with some event promoters lead her back into the Equiknoxx studio to record a jingle promoting a local party. Gavin was sitting in a corner throughout the session and at the end of the hour, Shanique approached him to introduce herself. What began with her working as a background vocalist on his beats for other artists evolved into a much more equal billing as her adaptability, range and confidence emerged.

“It’s so ironic how the universe works and how things just fall into place,” she reflects. “This was the path that was ordained for me. At one point I was really pushed into the academic path and I had put music down. There’s a book called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and she talks about how ideas find you, and I apply that to my life. Reconnecting with Gavin and the crew really just confirmed for me what my purpose is on this Earth… music just accosted me. Music came back and was like ‘Excuuuuse me, hello!’”

From 2009, Gavsborg and Bobby Blackbird had been making beats for dancehall stars, including Beenie Man. Then, in 2013, Poland-based reggae DJ 27Pablo invited Gavsborg and Masicka to perform at his club. It was impossible to refuse, since he’d named the club “Equiknoxx” in homage to the crew he’d met in Jamaica. They put together a four-track EP (Equiknoxx Introduces Masicka to King Tubby) to entice Polish fans to come see them, establishing their international career in earnest. Their second home, Manchester, is also a base for the collective but they’re equally likely to be in a club in Lisbon or Berlin.

“We do travel to Manchester quite a bit,” Shanique confirms. “The UK has always been a second home for me and a stomping ground where a lot of music is made for us as a group and as individuals within the group. We do a lot of work with Swing Ting and they’re based out of Manchester. We also work out of London, as well.”

Their theatrical, sweaty performances fuse Shanique Marie’s solo songs with Equiknoxx group productions, criss-crossing through tracks from Basic Tools, Eternal Children, Colón Man, and Gigi’s House. Don’t expect a US tour too soon, though.

“We’ve done some awesome shows in the US, but we found that the market for us has been stronger in Europe and the UK,” explains Shanique Marie. “We’ve done some really wicked shows for Red Bull, Marfa Festival in Texas, we performed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York… but our sound, that whole electronic dancehall fusion, has had a much stronger appeal in the UK and Europe.”

For Shanique Marie, the connection is clear.

“UK garage, dance and grime, drum ‘n’ bass, those are the places where it’s still at the forefront of performances. I’ve never been puzzled by it. I think it just makes sense given that those genres are so prevalent, whereas it’s more of an underground scene in the US; it’s not mainstream, it’s not pop culture,” she reasons.

The immediacy of Equiknoxx’s music is what hooks you in. It doesn’t feel laboured, manipulated, or manufactured to the nth degree by labels and promoters. They’re present. They’re organic. They’re loving making this multi-layered, strange beast of a track in real time as much as you’ll love twerking and twisting to it in your living room. It is the unexpected laugh in the studio, or an exasperated sigh, or an ill-timed clash of cymbals or feedback that can kick off a whole creative adventure in storytelling. Listening to Equiknoxx is an invitation to hang out with the group, and while you might just have to go to Jamaica or London to do it in person, Basic Tools brings the collective to you in its bright, eclectic glory.

Follow Equiknoxx on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Mandy, Indiana Snarl Into Sonic Techno-Punk Fury On Their Frenetic, Fiery Debut EP

Photo Credit: Holly Whitaker

It is in the early hours of morning, sweaty with glitter and eyeliner smudged over your face, having lost your car keys and ID hours ago, that Mandy, Indiana want to come right up, take your face in their hands and devour you with their gristly, abrasive, angular, industrial techno. There’s a violence within their music that is tempered by Valentine Caulfield’s sultry, low octave spoken word-song. It’s immersive, propulsive and driving – and Fire Talk unleashes the band’s three-song debut EP (including two remixes) November 19.

When we connect via phone to chat, Caulfield is staying at her parent’s home in Brittany, in North Western France. It’s the first time she’s left her adopted home of Manchester since February 2020, and she’ll only be there another day before visiting her grandmother in the city she was born and raised in, Paris, before returning to the UK. Along with being the theatrical frontwoman of Mandy, Indiana, she works in a café part-time while completing her Masters in Journalism full-time.

“This EP is a weird kind of collection of moments of us as a band, which I really like,” she says of the five tracks, crafted during lockdowns. “We’d only just started working with Fire Talk, [so] we didn’t really know what was gonna happen.”

Guitarist and producer Scott Fair and vocalist Caulfield first met in 2016, when both were still in other bands on a shared bill at Aatma, a venue in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Fair posted a rave review of Caulfield’s band on social media and they began messaging each other, occasionally ending up on shared bills, before Fair reached out with the proposition of forming a band at the end of 2017. And thus, Mandy, Indiana began.

Their modus operandi of working remotely, as Caulfield explains, kept them productive through the pandemic, but it was borne of convenience since both she and Fair have other commitments, as do the more recent members of the band, drummer Liam Stewart and Simon Catling on synths (Fair runs a business and has three kids; Stewart is a member of various other bands, and Catling works as a promoter).

“The EP is a collection of bits from our band throughout the past year and a half,” explains Caulfield. “‘Nike of Samothrace’ was written and recorded entirely throughout the first lockdown. Scott sends me demos, the rough idea for a song, I listen to it maniacally on repeat to put me in a state of mind to write all the vocals and lyrics.”

Fair built the other compositions and arrangements, meticulously sorting through demos and recordings to layer melody over noise, slashing through it with dissonant fuzz and fraying here and there. Each time, Caulfield improvised her lyrics in French and delivered them in her low-octave, melodic spoken word, with malevolent, furied levity. The guitars and drums were recorded live, with the remaining instrumental arrangements composed digitally. The idea was always to write music that would translate to a live environment, explains Caulfield. “Originally the plan was that we’d play to backing tracks, but we’ve been able to replicate almost exactly the EP [in our live shows], except for ‘Bottle Episode’ where the bass is a backing track.”

The band have been gigging, and will be joining The Horrors for a couple of shows in the UK in December. They’ve also been winning fans through exposure on prominent US and UK radio, including KEXP and BBC.

It was the remix of “Alien 3” by the band’s musical hero, Daniel Avery, that debuted the band on Mary Anne Hobbs’ BBC6 radio show in September this year. “We’re all big fans of Daniel Avery’s music,” enthuses Caulfield. “As early as this year, in March or April, we got a notification on the band’s Instagram that Daniel Avery was following us – so we had a freak out about it on group chat.”

Having discussed their plan to have an EP made up of three tracks and two remixes with their label, they took the leap of asking their ideal collaborator. They messaged Avery, and within a few days his “Alien 3” remix was complete. “It was really, really hard for me to not play it to every single person I know,” says Caulfield. After Hobbs had played the track on her show, Caulfield tweeted the radio DJ to ask if she’d play the original, too. It worked.

Hobbs has also since played the final track the band recorded – “Bottle Episode,” in which a raucous percussive clash and clang works its way into a muscular rhythm, underpinning a serpentine, writhing, breathless vocal mantra in French. The track, with its militant drumming, snarling synths and gothic-sexy-Euro chic vocals epitomises the sound and vibe of the band. They’ve achieved a sense of spaciousness, both physical and audible, but also ephemerally.

It was recorded in the confines of rehearsal rooms and home studios, but elsewhere, tracks were recorded in industrial mills, high-ceilinged buildings and halls. “We always try to find spaces that we think are gonna suit the sounds that we want. We’re not the kind of band – not that there’s anything wrong with it – that records in a studio where it’s spotless and perfect. There’s something inherently visceral and dirty to our music so we try to find spaces that reflect that,” she says.

The drums for “Alien 3” and “Nike of Samothrace” were recorded in an old warehouse-cum-arts space. The drums for “Bottle Episode” were recorded in the corridors of the building they rehearse in, an old mill. It imparts a “naturally spooky feel,” as Caulfield puts it. While she recorded her vocals for the other two tracks in a practice space into a mic, she is proud of the clarity she achieved in recording the “Nike” vocals into her iPhone in the middle of lockdown.

It’s hard to imagine, when listening to the abrasive, punkish, dark techno of Mandy, Indiana, that their frontwoman was once a fervent member of the neighbourhood choir at age six and a classical singing student for a selective musical academy in Paris throughout her high school years. What makes more sense is that she quit music school when she discovered The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, “and some really, really bad emo bands” toward the end of high school. Those early years, studying opera and her undergraduate degree in literature, languages and history, are not lost on her performance though.

“If you ever get to catch a live show, and I hope you do, I’m always wearing something completely stupid but the guys look like three regular white dudes. It’s an inside joke – ‘what’s she gonna wear this time?’” she laughs.

She’ll have to save the most outrageous outfits for next year. The band have just revealed that they have been invited to take part in SXSW in 2022.

“If you’d told Scott and I we’d be going to Texas a couple of years ago, we’d have said ‘Nah, you’re insane,’” Caulfield muses. “We’re enjoying the high.”

Follow Mandy, Indiana on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Julia Bardo Embraces Outsider Italian Heritage On Solo Debut Bauhaus, L’Appartamento

Photo Credit: Ashton Hugh

It’s okay not to be okay, according to Italian-born, UK-based Julia Bardo. Her poppy folk-rock debut Bauhaus, L’Appartamento (released September 10 via Wichita Recordings) is evidence that not being okay can be the catalyst for some very creatively fruitful self-investigation.

For Bardo, the introspective deep diving that ensued after moving from her home in Brescia, Italy to the UK city of Manchester enabled her to embrace being an outsider in her adopted home. Notoriously the land of stiff upper lips, bacon and eggs, soggy chips, rainy days and endless media about everything the Queen is wearing, it was a cultural anathema to Bardo’s vibrant, expressive, joyful liveliness (or vivacita!) and at first, she wilted under the pressure to fit in.

Until she was 13, Bardo lived in the small Italian province of Castegnato. Her aunt took her on a trip to London around that age, and Bardo felt instantly drawn to it. “The first time, I thought ‘this is where I want to live’ because I felt more like myself while I was there,” she remembers. But when she finally moved to London in her twenties, she found it overwhelming. “I moved to Manchester in 2016, when I was 23,” she recalls. “I was going to go to Bristol but they cancelled while we were on the train, so I took that as a sign that I should stay in Manchester.”

Despite not knowing anyone, she’d made the leap intending to pursue music and independence. And really, she’d always felt like an outsider to some degree. Music was, in essence, the bridge between her inner self and the physical world.

“Music has always been present in my life since I was small… been there to keep me company, because I was quite a lonely kid, quite introverted. I barely had one friend and I stayed in the house all the time, listening to music and singing. My mum, we used to sing Italian songs together and my uncle is a jazz guitarist so we’d sing altogether,” Bardo remembers. “When I was 13 my dad opened a bar and we moved to Brescia. I didn’t know anyone so I spent my time working at the bar and when we didn’t have many people there I’d go into the staff toilet and listen to music and sing. Music was cathartic, something to soothe myself.”

That need for soothing resonated around the world, so Bardo’s album couldn’t have arrived at a better time than now. Stuck indoors, Bardo spent 2020 indulging in her love of painting, songwriting, and watching the captivatingly beautiful films of both Federico Fellini and the visually seductive Michelangelo Antonioni. In their representations of Italy, she recognised her home as well as observing an imagined Italy, a place that outsiders have dreamed the nation into being. In peeling the layers of imagined place versus real, belonging and identity, and what home means to her, Bardo had the raw, buzzing, emotional material to craft her first full-length album. The title playfully draws on both her mood and on the name of the apartment block Bardo was living in when she was demoing the album.

Her knack for lyrical self-revelation upon the magic carpet of a rhythmic guitar first revealed itself on her 2020 EP Phase. The connecting threads between Phase and Bauhaus are the very personal, and relatable, themes. Loneliness and self-flagellation do battle with the sweetness of artistic creation, musicality and appreciation for herself. It’s an album in which many listeners will recognise their own demons, and hopefully, their own small victories. Musically, it is reminiscent of the vulnerable lyrics and alt-folk guitar of Neko Case and Liz Phair. The unpolished, steely sound of guitar embodies Bardo’s feminine animus: a visceral, restless creature that refused to remain caged in her psyche. 

Bardo had played guitar in a Yorkshire-based synthpop band called Working Men’s Club; she’d joined after meeting her bandmates at university, having begun – and dropped out – of various university courses and odd jobs. The band was signed to Heavenly Records in 2020, but Bardo left soon afterwards – amicably, desiring her own autonomy. The vulnerability and soul-baring nature of Bauhaus, L’Appartamento is something that she had to do solo.

“Our manager really liked what I was doing as a solo artist so he decided to take me on board as well in 2018. When I was in Italy, I’d recorded some songs that were meant to become an album, but I wasn’t happy with them,” Bardo says. “I showed them to my manager who suggested using them as demos to contact labels. Then we met up with Wichita and I had a really good feeling, meeting them. They seemed very interested, really nice. The label suggested we do an EP to see how things go so we recorded four songs, and I co-produced it with my boyfriend because I really wanted to do it in a way I felt comfortable with. Wichita really liked them and put them out, then I started to write the album.”

She met producer Euan Hinshelwood, of Younghusband, via a friend. They immediately bonded over a love of PJ Harvey, particularly her 2000 LP Stories From the City, Stories From The Sea. “Euan really got what I wanted to achieve on the album and it was so good to work with him,” Bardo says. “A friend suggested him, so we just went with it. I love the atmospheric stuff that goes on, and he really did what the album needed.” As for which songs are her personal favourites, she demurs at first before acceding she definitely does have a couple: “No Feeling,” “Love Out of Control,” and “Impossible.” Her UK tour is scheduled to kick off at the beginning of October.

What the album ultimately expresses is a joyful reconnection, or realisation, of her Italian roots. Perhaps, as the saying goes, she had to get lost to find herself. Singing in Italian, and using an Italian title for the album, was a deliberate and important choice.

“Obviously, I miss Italy. Sometimes, I feel so estranged being here. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, sometimes. It’s weird when you’re away from what you know the most,” she says. “Singing Italian helped me be closer to Italy. I’d never been proud of being Italian but being away from Italy and looking inside myself, I started to embrace who I was. This is who I am, this is where I’m from, and I can’t change who I am.”

Follow Julia Bardo on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.