True inspirational pioneers of fashion, art or music are a rare phenomenon. People who become synonymous with a certain era, those who help define or shape it so come to represent aspects of popular culture for generations. Though not necessarily embraced or lauded during the infancy of their creativity their craft and influence does eventually filter through to a more populist level.
Is Mica Levi such a person? Is she music's next Pollock, Presley, Salinger, Dylan, Dean, Chanel, Hirst, Bowie, Lydon, Lichtenstein, Westwood, Wilde, Warhol, Kerouac, Turner, Emin, McQueen, Mozart, Monroe or Cobain? She is young, extremely talented and unique. She continues to creatively push the accepted boundaries of music, 'popular' or otherwise. She is challenging norms and pursuing new avenues of sonic exploration, seemingly at will and with ease. How long will it be before Mica's catwalk collection is deconstructed and used as familiar everyday references? Has it already begun to happen?
Mica Levi has been performing since she was 4. She studied Violin and Viola, was a student at London's Guildhall and has DJ'd on the Garage & Grime circuit. She has already been commissioned to write an orchestral piece by, and for, The London Philharmonic Orchestra and subsequently had her work performed at The Royal Festival Hall. Micachu and her band The Shapes have already released a formidable debut album in the form of 'Jewellery', an album that by rights should have at least made the Mercury nominations for 2009. 'Chopped & Screwed', the result of the bands collaboration with The London Sinfonietta, represents their second album for Rough Trade and their first live release.
The instruments Micachu & The Shapes used for the performance were all handmade, Mica explains: "Our own instruments sound a bit percussive, a bit like samples, a bit different. When I write songs on a guitar I find my hands falling into the same bar chords all the time, but if you have something new in front of you there are no rules. No one else has ever played one before so you can approach music differently just make it up as you go along." Add into this that the idea was derived from 90's Houston Hip-Hop techniques born out of "halving tempos and skipping beats' and mimicking the effects of a "a codeine-based cough syrup which creates the effect of slowing down the brain" and you get some idea of what to expect.
Micachu And The Shapes with The London Sinfonietta live at The Kings Hall was never going to be, or I dare say intended to be, an 'easy' listening experience. You have to give the album undivided attention, you cannot attempt any form of multitasking or concentration lapse. At 33mins and 3 Secs the nine tracks, all seamlessly blended together with the former DJ's ear for a synchronised beat having clearly not deserted her, are at times hard work. With no let up until the final applause you may at times veer between thinking that you are either trapped in Dante's journey through Hell, or at least a character witness to Edward Munch's 'Scream', whilst at others feeling overwhelming joy that you are experiencing something radically different and musically magnificent.
In terms of what constitutes a traditionally accepted notion of a song there are probably only two, or possibly three, on the album. The first is the February released single 'Everything', the closest thing to 'pop' the album has to offer. It's the first song with any real pace or rhythm. It has a beat and a direction whilst sharing common ground with the other more conventional composition 'Low Dogg'. Both explore and exploit the orchestral capabilities and combinations to the full. The Sinfonietta enhance each track with a drama and theatricality, and in the case of Low Dogg, a perfect sense of darkness and foreboding. Elsewhere there is a lot of screeching, harmonics and experimentation. The exploration of the tonal combinations in the instrumentation is interesting, but not necessarily one you'd care to stick on repeat. (You will find little like 'Golden Phone' here)
Chopped & Screwed is a fascinating piece, it is at times bold and at others bleak. Mica has decided not to take the path less well trodden, but the path never trodden. She is not afraid of taking a risk and not afraid to challenge or be challenging. She and her band should be given credit for pursuing their art in a direction driven by them. Expect not to see them in the charts any day soon!