It's Time For More Mica Levi In Your Life
A brief musical history of the discordant Mica Levi.
One of our favourite musicians, 28-year-old Brit Mica Levi (Micachu), was just nominated for a BAFTA for her original soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer's eerie sci-fi independent thriller Under The Skin. Mica's already taken home Best Composer at the European Film Awards, with Oscar nominations approaching, hers is on a short list of original scores Hollywood is buzzing about. The BAFTA's will see Mica in competition with Antonio Sanchez for Birdman, Alexandre Desplate for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar, and Jóhann Jóhannsson for The Theory of Everything.
It's a well-deserved tip of the hat to Mica, whose recently started to show off her composition chops: up until recently, Mica's mostly known in music circles for the experimental, dismantled pop she makes in her band Micachu And The Shapes, however she's classically trained. Mica generally keeps her career / work pretty low key, and isn't big on hype, so there's a chance she's not on your radar. However, a quick spin of the Under The Skin soundtrack is transfixing enough to send anyone deep into the Mica hole - we've put together a few of the rad things Mica's done that are worth wrapping your ears around:
UNDER THE SKIN OST
How do you write music for an unsettling film about men whose life-force is being distilled by an alien? And somehow make it sound sexy at the same time? It's a tall order, but Mica rose to it, coming up with an eerie score that's tense, alarming and does wonders for the film. It's a challenging viewing to begin with, an understanding of which is aided tremendously by Mica's score, which heightens the mystery, horror and suspense, in a way we haven't experienced since Hitchcock days, and Bernard Herrmann’s incredible compositions for Vertigo and Psycho. Apparently when making the soundtrack, Mica used strip-club music as a template "Ideas of strip-club shit made sense to me, in terms of thinking about sexiness and perversion—so slowing things down and speeding them up seemed right", Mica told Pitchfork. Listen to a track from the soundtrack below, and purchase it via iTunes.
TEAMING UP WITH TIRZAH
The raw, bare vocals of London-based up & coming singer Tirzah are the perfect match for the shuffling DIY beats of Mica. Tirzah's an old friend of Mica's, and this partnership came into being after Mica's 2013 London Boiler Room set (see below), when Tirzah, who was slinking in the background dancing, stepped up to sing I'm Not Dancing, which became the title track of her EP later that year. The collaborative project has culminated in two EPS for delightfully left field label Greco-Roman - as well as I'm Not Dancing in 2013, the two released No Romance in 2014, which won Dummy Mag's EP of the year. The two EPs are stacked with lo-fi, R & B bounce. The two generally like to roll low-budget (The video they did for Go is pleennnty trippy), and have a dope kind of kitchen-table aesthetic that you can see in this clip. They're also self-professed "anti-dance" but, we dance to it.
THAT BOILER ROOM SET
FEELIN' ROMANTIC FEELIN' TROPICAL FEELIN' ILL
Late last year, Mica released an incredible, three-part mix tape of discordant but beautiful orchestral creations, released on cassette tape as well as digitally, and it absolutely blew us away. It's similar to the Under the Skin score with a few odd rhythmic excursions thrown in. "We’d have to go as far back as Prince or Arthur Russell to reference anyone who has really managed to tap into as many diverse musical disciplines with this much originality", said distributor Boomkat of the tape. Grab it here. Micachu uploaded a bunch of audiovisual sketches to her YouTube channel as teasers for the tape - this one below is absolute bliss.
CHOPPED & SCREWED
Classic Micachu! Chopped & Screwed is the 2011 collaboration between London based musician Mica Levi aka Micachu and the London Sinfonietta Orchestra. That's right, Mica basically flouted all convention to mash up chamber orchestra and avant-garde pop; Mica and her band even created entirely new instruments for the release.
THE KWESACHU MIXTAPES
Soulful pop singer Kwes, from WARP Records, and Mica have made a couple of tapes together, with a four year gap between the two tapes: the second one came out in 2012 and featured Speech Debelle and Ghostpoet, while the first one featured The XX, Hot Chip, Cibelle, Metronomy, Golden Silvers, and more. The two artists are a match made in skewed pop heaven: would've killed to see the show they did live together! Stream Kwesachu Vol. 2 below:
MICACHU & THE SHAPES - JEWELLERY
In 2009 Mica formed a band called The Shapes with Raisa Khan on keyboards and Marc Pell on drums. Their debut, Jewellery, was produced by legendary Brit music whiz Matthew Herbert and released on Rough Trade, and to this day remains an absolute corker. It was an album full of ideas - mixing pop melodies, grime and distorted, Aphex Twin-style electronica across 12, super-short tracks. It used a bunch of made-up instruments, most notably a vaumn cleaner in Turn Me Well. Most of all, it made people sit up and pay attention to Mica, and recognise her as a bold new music voice for Britain. Seven years on, and it seems Britain is finally paying attention.