Thanks to bands like The Maccabees, British Sea Power and Bat For Lashes, Brighton has long been known as an indie city. And with Kins, Tall Ships, The Physics House Band and many more representing us at The Great Escape this year, we’re still holding our own with acts that have drummers. But actually there’s an underground scene of electronic music that is getting more props internationally that you might realise.
Driven by the influence of Donga’s house-revitalising Well Rounded imprint – alongside the continuing work of Blah Blah Blah, supporting and releasing cutting edge nu-electronica – Brighton is crawling with artists doing very well in the sets of the world’s best DJs. Dauwd just dropped a neo-Detroit style release on Ghostly International, Lorca’s new garage-flavoured EP on 2020 Vision, ‘If I Told You’, is getting props all over, while Leon Vynehall’s skippy 90s style house tore up Boiler Room at the end of last year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Anushka are the perfect example of the scene in that they’re completely different from their contemporaries, while slotting into the bass sound that Brighton is nailing right now. Where Anushka stand apart is in their soul and jazz influences. Debut single ‘Yes Guess’ is deliciously moody and late night, with cool keys and stuttered Theo Parrish beats, but comes topped with a breathy vocal from Victoria that could stand up against the best that soul music has to offer. Yet with enough volume the drops absolutely explode. It’s quite a package.
Elsewhere across the EP, ‘I Have Love 4 You’ has a feel of one of MJ Cole’s productions with Elizabeth Troy – full of melody, euphoric vocals and grown up garage beats. It’s the sort of jazz and soul–tipped track that would have been totally at home on Talkin’ Loud, so it makes sense that Gilles Peterson, the former boss of that imprint, snapped up Anushka for his Brownswood label, having played ‘Yes Guess’ on his Radio 1 show before it was even mastered.
“I think musically they get what we’re trying to do,” says Max. “Gilles’ reputation is ridiculous, people just have crazy respect for him. The reason it’s like that is that he constantly wants to innovate. He obviously loves songs, and he loves the soulful sound present in our music, but I think he also wants something that’s gonna surprise him with a little bit of edge to it.”
While they sound like they popped into Gilles’ world fully formed, the reason that Anushka have such an interesting take on bass is that they’ve come to the genre from rather interesting directions. Victoria studied at BIMM and sang in jazz bands and on drum’n’bass and dubstep sessions, while Max was in Tru Thoughts’ hip hop outfit Dirty Diggers. From hip hop to house and techno is a jump rarely made, but like lots of producers breathing life into sounds from the 90s, Max started his journey by exploring dubstep and grime, although for slightly unconventional reasons.
“I’ve taught music a lot in Brighton, often working with young offenders,” Max explains. “A lot of that has taken me through grime, dubstep, those types of music. When I was doing the same in the north of England, it was hard house that the kids wanted to make. All of those sounds are a bit darker, bleaker and at different tempos. So I was looking at all of that, and having an experimental period of producing different stuff to see what interested me.”
He’d tried working with vocalists before but nothing had really gelled until Victoria came along. The first set of instrumentals he gave her to write vocals to contained soulful tracks and one that was pretty dark. Expecting her to avoid the moody track, Max knew things were going to work when she came back with a song over the shadowy beats.
“I think the thing that we had in common straight away is that we both liked going out raving,” Max says. “When we met we were going to a lot of the Well Rounded parties at the Tube, and Below The Line. It was when that whole bass music thing wasn’t cool, before techno and house really came back. There was a lot of different stuff being played, and we both enjoyed being out, listening to sound systems.”
Those nights have clearly become a huge part of Anushka’s sound, alongside The Producer’s Retreat at The Caxton Arms, where the pair, and other local electronic music makers, tested their new studio work.
“There’s definitely a network of people making good music in Brighton,” confirms Max. “It’s not like our sound has just come from nowhere, it’s definitely been influenced by all the people around us.”
“People in Brighton really engage with each other’s projects in comparison to anywhere else,” adds Victoria.
Unlike Victoria’s previous experiences singing sessions for dance music producers, working with Max was a two way street straight away.
“I personally wanted to be involved from the get-go in all kinds of aspects of making the records,” Victoria says. “Not just writing songs and recording, but also sitting in on little production sessions, just to make sure it’s a 50/50 input. It’s the way we want it to sound, rather than just how the one person wants it to sound.”
This month they’re not only basking in the success of their debut single and a Boiler Room set, but also readying themselves for the debut performance at The Great Escape, not least for Victoria, who worked it as a BIMM student a couple of years ago.
“For my first year in Brighton it was part of my work experience,” she recalls, “running around at the Great Escape. I love it, I think it’s a great festival, and I’m really excited to finally get to play.”
“We’re really excited about doing a gig in Brighton,” confirms Max. “Our label and our management are all in London and we’ve done a lot of shows there. It’s nice to be coming back to Brighton and showing some of the music we’ve been working on.”
We get the impression that Anushka are going to continue to be pulled out of Brighton, both as a live act and in the record bags of every DJ of note.
SINGLE: ‘Yes Guess’ EP out now
GIG: Great Escape, Fri 17th at Audio
FACEBOOK: Click here
Photos By Kenny Mc Cracken at Create Studios
Assisted by Kristina Sälgvik