by Inigo Ford
Proud autocrats United Vibrations reside in their self-created '12 Tone Music Interest Company,' a shaded sanctuary where values such as artistic clarity and ideological integrity are preserved above the choppy fashions of a competitive industry.
The spirit of non-violent protest is deeply entrenched within the sound of these home-grown Cosmodelic Afro-Punks, whose blend of styles draws inspiration from Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and the Mahavishnu Orchestra amongst others. Their vivid, socio-political tribal chants, resonate notions of independence and identification with organic processes, the ancient idea that music is both a force for good and spiritual connectivity.
It is almost a cliche to site the advent of peer-peer file sharing as the cause for belt-tightening, but indeed, as the industry emerges from economic turmoil, it's become apparent that the public may have long since lost their ability to hold a monopoly over what they want to hear. It's clear that the social moguls sensed this fact, with the realisation of reality-fame shows, programmes created to mask society's disillusionment through voting (at a cost of at least 36 pence per vote) for a vetted selection of candidates, creating the illusion of control. This was also the new and exciting age of the short-attention spans, iPods and compilation CD's, models which made the mainstream album a very spurious concept; in 2010, the figures for both physical and digital album sales were negligible in comparison to individual tracks bought online, a figure which rose to 1.17 billion, whilst worldwide Long Play record trading stood at a quarter of that.
United Vibrations are one of a growing host of bands that have pre-empted the deterioration of Naughties, techo-values; traits that just aren't cool anymore. Even vinyl sales have increased by over 5 times since 2005. Who can deny that values and fashions are cyclical (and here's hoping bell-bottom flares never find their way back). But UV are more than just a DIY project or a group of musos and jazzers desperately looking for a niche- this is a band with values above and beyond the call of modern-day musical duty, an ethos that their sound reflects. Don't confuse them for throwback hippies, UV have created a relevant scheme, "a record label which donates all its profits to building Zero Waste, Energy Plus, Carbon Negative social housing, re-connecting urban people with the land and the natural processes which sustain us all." It would be more fitting to view them as an organization with ambitions to achieve creative liberation, free from limitations. They are 'products of cultural fashion, which know no bounds – only possibilities'.
Our times have bread disconnection and distraction; this is the age of 'invincibility'. You could sling United Vibrations in with the irritating street fundraisers or whaling activists, but these guys are truly the embodiment of their belief. Alongside their music, the four-piece have an eclectic philosophy that they delineate with 'Mayan Signs' (Yellow Self-Existing Sun – Ahmed Dayes - Trombone), 'Spirit Guides' (Kalki – the final incarnation of Vishnu, also meaning eternity – Kareem Dayes – Bass), 'Purposes' ('The pulse of the vessel' – Yussef Dayes – Drums) and 'Mantras' ('Precision, Dedication, Persistence – Wayne Francis II – Saxophone). You can see their spiritual and almost metaphysical philosophies explained (better than I) in their biography. "United Vibrations have arrived. Born from Inner Space, we are on a journey of cosmic proportions. Music is our vessel. A sound forged from diversity. We are united in voice and rhythm. Our sound is Cyclic. Any linear perceptions of 'genre' or 'style' do it no justice." These values that act as the perfect cohesive element between their musical style and their practical interest in ecology. If you still think their principals are pretentious or disingenuous; Kareem saves water and horticulture bills by directly composting his own shit. Go try that at home.
However, would these attributes carry the same weight if their musical abilities were questionable? It's important to note that UV are a band, not a charity. Striking out on ones own in such a harsh environment is counter-productive; the Internet, once an exciting platform is now a crowded swimming pool, where serious artists are drowned out by the hubbub of hopefuls armed with Spanish guitars, de'sperately broadcasting archetypal chord sequences. It's fast becoming trendy to be an Internet ghost, a media mystery. As United Vibrations have little to no external promotional funding, it is interesting that they have maintained a strong online presence. It must be the music, the most exciting element of their ethos.
UV's sound is not overtly accessible; their grooves however could make even Itzhak Perlman dance. Their songs give those who want it the perfect sensation.
Their debut album Galaxies Not Ghetto's was nominated for the 'XFM's New Music Award 2012' alongside such acts as Miles Kane, Beady Eye and Ed Sheeran, a notable achievement given the diversity of their sound. Recorded on reel-reel analogue tapes, each song is a rough diamond; the core composed of tasteful complexity and beautiful colour, complemented by an organic finish, the preservation of a rich, well-judged 'feel,' a dimension that can be lost in the realm of Pro-Tools. A good example of this is the closing track 'Maya,' which opens with the very mellow, slightly discordant rattling's of flat-wound bass chords, accompanied by Yussef's elastic wrists, his rim and snare shots jutting out in very accurate imitation of ambient delay, a very proficiently technical ability. This is met by the raw unison-vocal whorl-pools of the mantra 'Maya' (the power of illusion manipulated by deities), with their frenzied chants evoking both admiration and rolling confusion.
United Vibrations have a striking battery of cyclical bass riff-grooves and powerful horn lines that feast on their own interactions. The sound is founded in repetition but is not solely, mundanely repetitive- the parts are constantly evolving, entwining with the harmony's diversification. A good hook does not stand-alone, it has to be disseminated and explored. The song "Yeah" progresses with gradual part layering, the drums sifting through gentle rolls to find the accented pang of the snare, building to a point of climax with the horns, who emerge from the chromaticism, singing out in a hopeful, refreshing 'tonality,' only to be unsettled by an almost doleful tri-tone. It truly is a vibrant narrative of opulent instrumentation and subverted expectations.
The combination of brass timbres (Ahmed's swelling trombone and the strikingly coarse vibrations of Wayne's saxophone) blend subtly. In "I Know Who I Am," the parts slink by like blacked-out cars in a depression-era movie, sliding through the "Come Together"-esque bass line until at the close, an unprecedented saxophone solo, raucous and unapologetic, filled with jazz swoops and jagged sequences, blurts out. It's a sound that contrasts with the romantic, if not slightly scatty, yearning improvisation of "Ra! Part 2," a testament to Wayne's expressional capability.
"No Space No Time" and "My way" are two examples of why UV's style is so distinctive. Unlike many other bands these days, who treat their songs like an episode of Downton Abbey, with short scenes and basic dialogue, this band dwell on their ideas, both musically (concerning their grooves) and lyrically. "No Space No Time" speaks of our perpetual existence in the present- 'there is no space, There is no time,' stark orated phrases that cut to the chase, running parallel to the cycling groove. "My Way" also has a similar blueprint- the notion is that of awareness and perception, that our lives can be internally mastered, "everything we see is our creation" while the instrumental track is devised of a relentless, harmonic ascension that never seemingly reaches its apex. These are brave strategies. The quality of their music may be subjective, but as structures and sentiments go, their music is deep and measured, not arcane. It's music with an assured message that doesn't leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth.
In the studio, United Vibrations create within their means; it's hard to find a song on their album that they couldn't translate onto stage. Having said this, both mediums have very different qualities. Sure, the vitality of Galaxies not Ghettos is exciting and requires compulsory foot tapping, but during a show, the bands presence, concentration and enthusiasm are the fuels that drive the audience's enjoyment. It's the connection between the audience and the performers, the palpable feeling of inclusion, the showmanship. Live gigs always bring a certain rawness, an understanding of the present, that the recordings cannot offer. That is not to diminish UV's studio creation, but their concerts have a reactive, kinetic energy.
The bass and drums are compact; Kareem's lines weave through Yussef's collection of complex polyrhythms, a unity of relationship that must stem from siblinghood. Yussef, the band's youngest member, may be flashy, but it's for the benefit of others- there's definitely an air of restraint, he's not gratuitous, he's tight and spirited. Kareem sings 'lead vocals' in his sweet yet orotund South London accent. Ahmed, the eldest and 'lead-rouser,' skanks, his instrument bobbing in his hands, projecting incantations, whilst Wayne smiles infectiously, manipulating his sampler, bleating out melodies. I've seen them live multiple times, and on each occasion the room is heavy, each time the dance floor is brimming with exuberant admirers. Already, at the launch of their new single "Boomerang" featuring frequent collaborator Conrad the Scoundrel, I noticed a slight change in demographic. It may have been because we were in Shoreditch, but a bevvy of inconveniently dressed hipsters/trend-setters had overwhelmed the floor and knew all their songs. This was the moment that I realised there was demand for United Vibrations that transcended their community.
Most people don't need United Vibrations: they wont like or understand their style, it's a condition that non-music lovers have. If you're content to let music waft past you like a breeze, absorbing it passively, then Ahmed, Wayne, Kareem and Yussef's creations will sail by. You have to have an open heart and an almost primordial wish to dance, eyes closed, head nodding and shoulders swinging. We deserve to have access to our palates, and United Vibrations have managed to build a podium for themselves- they are uncontaminated, safe-guarding their means of expression. If music is to remain an accessible landscape, it has to be able to accommodate the freedom of musical minds, to operate outside the constraints of the industry and still pertain a fan-base. United Vibrations show us that this is one of the most likely ways that we can bring a solution to the marginalisation of the public's tastes and limitations of our experience.
Also see the United Vibrations website
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|