Nel Johnson (NJ): "He says in his letter that he started out in '93 and "soon progressed into the serious world of sequencing" but I think this sounds like much older than that — the whole thing has a very early-'90s ambient feel to it. He also says that he performs his music live in chill-out tents at festivals, and I can imagine it working well in that sort of situation. It probably gets better as you get more stoned."
Pete Gordeno (PG): "I know what you mean — it doesn't really sound current. Some of it sounds like a Trevor Horn remix. It's quite simplistic structurally, you can kind of guess what's going to happen and when the changes are going to come."
NJ: "There was a lot of this sort of thing in the early days of dance music. There was a lot of fallout stuff as people started using the same techniques to do slower more chilled-out type stuff but that was about 15 years ago now and this does sound like it could be 15 years old."
Rennie Pilgrem (RP): "There's a real lack of clarity to this. There's no real oomph to the beats or the bass. I think if you were smoking and you were a bit stoned you could probably get quite into it though."
Jamie Vaide (JV): "I can imagine this working at chill-out type things but it's not outstanding. It's very polite and I think it could be much better if it was a bit more dubby and in-your-face."
PG: "I think the main problem with this as chill-out music is that there's too much going on. I agree with Jamie about it needing that punch in the low-end, there's far to much reverb on the mid-range stuff and that's really obscuring the rest of it."
NJ: "There's some great programming in this, some really clever techniques. I get the the feeling that if this was stripped out and some of the more choice pieces were brought up in the mix and the bass was warmed up a bit, it could be a lot better."
Deirdre Melvin (DM): "I think some of this is a bit darker than you'd generally expect chill-out music to be. I think it could be interesting if he took that a bit further and got a bit more aggressive with it."
JV: "I think if I was chilling out to this I'd get quite scared, I'd have to run away and chill out somewhere a bit quieter."
RP: "It sounds like this guy is following things rather than doing his own take on a style. This could have come out at any point in the last 10 years. He's just he's just working within a genre — he needs to think more about how he can put his own spin on it."
DM: "There's clearly talent here and there's clearly a will. There are some good bits in this — the first track starts with a sample of people cheering, which I thought was funny and confident at the start but it goes on for too long and wears a bit thin.
"I wonder what's he trying to articulate with this? The blues is about expression and social commentary, it's about angst and passion — I'm not sure I can feel anything like that with this. I think it's competent but sometimes it's too close to degenerating into pub rock. You need much more passion to make this kind of music work well."
PG: "I think this comes from a very muso sort of standpoint and he's trying to give it a trendy edge by putting in the samples and stuff. He's trying to give it a pop sensibility but what's hidden underneath that is basically a bad jazz quartet.
"If he wants this to exist purely on the strength of the playing he needs to spend a lot more time playing gigs — he's a good guitar player, but so are tons of other people and he's not good enough to stand out for that alone. Also, it seems that virtually every one of these songs has the same chord sequence, they're all basic variations on a 12-bar. He needs to diversify a bit, musically, and show a few more strings to his bow."
RP: "It's obviously the guitar player's band and the guitar seems to be the dominant instrument on all of these songs. He needs to give everything else a bit more space. I think if he had a proper blues singer and worked around that, then it could be really good. It sounds a bit like a backing track at the moment and I think concentrating on the singing and the other instruments rather than just focusing on the guitar would really help it."
PG: "The guitar is the dominant thing and you can tell that he's been overdubbing it as well. I think it would be much cooler to record this as a band, so if you're playing lead there won't be any rhythm. The Red Hot Chili Peppers do that sort of thing and it always sounds like it's been recorded live. The White Stripes are doing that as well and whilst it might sound a bit thin sometimes I think it sounds a lot more honest without the overdubs — and that's important with this kind of music.
"He says in his letter that he recorded this at home and went to an eight-track studio to record the drums. It's always going to be difficult to record a band like that and retain any sort of live feel.
"I think the whole thing could be refined — he's definitely got ability but he needs to think about when he's playing and whether what he's playing means anything."
NJ: "I agree: he needs to think of the song as a whole instead of just the music within a song. On a positive note, I reckon, after hearing all the songs and seeing how he's presented himself with the disc and the artwork, there's definitely something to be built on here. I think it would have been really easy for him to take this in a Zero 7 direction and I admire the fact that he hasn't done that — I think it's good that there's some grit in this and it's not really polished."
JV: "I really get the impression that this guy means it and believes in what he's doing. Maybe he hasn't got quite the terms of reference to draw on. I think the music is well played, maybe it's not outstanding but there's nothing wrong with it. I don't think the songs are breaking any new ground but they're quite pleasant, they're quite enjoyable. I think he's maybe got quite a way to go with this but good luck to him."
JV: "I really like the start of the first track but I was waiting for an epic chorus and it didn't happen. Then the next few tracks are just entirely unlike the first. I'm inclined to like them as a band because they've obviously got a good sense of humour. There just aren't really any hooks in any of the tracks though."
RP: "I think this is inbetween too many styles. The first track sounds like a live band, which was interesting but then the next two tracks were just fairly tame drum & bass. I can imagine the second two tracks working well live — at a festival or something — but I don't think they translate to CD very well. It sounds very programmed and just not very current.
The female vocalist is very good, she's got a lot of power in her voice. Maybe it's a bit old-fashioned but I like to be able to understand what people are singing and the words are quite indistinct sometimes."
JV: "Personally I'd be inclined to say settle for the style of the first track because I think that actually sounds pretty good. I think they just need to write a good chorus because I like the rest of it. I think they've got the makings of quite a good rock band and I think that that's more their strength. The presentation of the CD and the letter and biography which came with it are very nice and I was very predisposed to like them because of that. I love the thing on the sleeve that says 'The Future Sound of Exeter', I think that's great. I still could like them but I do think they should write more rock songs.
"It's frustrating that they seem to shift between one style and the other — between the band and the electronics. If they could blend those styles into the same tracks then they could be a terrific band. I'd definitely like to hear more from them in the future, but not more of the same."
NJ: "I think they need to give someone the lead. To me it sounds like a lot of people who aren't really listening to one another. They're all really good at what they're doing but it does seem a bit directionless sometimes. There's a lot of things all battling for prominence. It might be interesting if they got the drummer to play the drum & bass parts — that could make the two styles they're using work together."
PG: "You can see where they're coming from with the name — the Collectiv. I'm sure there's a scene for this sort of thing in Exeter and they've all come together through that. I'm not sure how well that translates this side of the M5 though. I wonder if there's a market for this sort of thing, I'm not sure there is beyond selling at festivals or something like that."
DM: "I think they sound like two completely separate bands, and I don't really think that that's their intention. I think they need someone to take the lead and get them all going in the same direction musically. They could quite happily blend the rock and the drum & bass and create something that's much more interesting and creative. I think that could have quite a broad appeal if they did it right."
This Month's MPG Panel
Nel Johnson is a hybrid graphic designer, musician and DJ. As the latter, he has been involved in dance music since the mid-'80s, when he was an Electro DJ. Nel was a regular at the Hacienda, and later became involved in the Manchester music scene in various collaborations before starting a music-production company and recording studio with 808 State's Martin Price. Currently Nel is Creative Director at London's Metropolis Studios.
Deirdre Melvin is Deputy Head of Music at the Student Broadcast Network, a service which provides student radio with specialist music programmes. Deirdre compiles the UK Student Radio Chart, which is keenly watched by the industry to see which acts are having an effect on the crucial youth market. Before joining SBN, Deirdre was a music promoter, and obtained a Masters in Radio Production from Bournemouth Media School.
Rennie Pilgrem began his musical career by playing saxophone and keyboards in funk bands. Strongly influenced by Detroit house in the late '80s, Rennie went on to be a key part of the early-'90s hardcore scene as a member of Rhythm Section. In 1993, Rennie founded Thursday Club Recordings (TCR) which, more than 10 years later, is still going strong. His new album, Pilgremage, is out in September.
Jamie Vaide has worked for the Atlantic Music Group for the last seven years. His role as Creative Production Manager has seen him working with acts like the Darkness, Jet, Ash and Muse. Before moving to Atlantic, Jamie worked as a press officer for Epitaph, Nuclear Assault and other independent labels. He has wanted to be on a review panel since he saw Sigue Sigue Sputnik doing one in the late Smash Hits magazine in the '80s.
Shy and retiring keyboard player and vocalist Pete Gordeno preferred to be represented by one of his instruments of choice, but this is too modest. As a session musician, he's worked with Depeche Mode extensively (playing JP8000 on several of their world tours), as well as other household names such as George Michael and U2. He's now diversifying into production work, having recently produced a million-selling album for a French artist.
Many thanks to Sam Stubbings and Metropolis Studios (www.metropolis-group.co.uk) for organising and hosting the session.