Little Dragon

Little Dragon

No one in their right mind would have expected the future of soul music to come from Gothenburg, Sweden. But there it is in the dreamy, rhythmical, shifting, moody rainbow creature that is Little Dragon. Now the four-piece band, with their blend of R&B, new wave, trip-hop and even Swedish folk music, aren't a soul act per se. But noted authorities on the matter from OutKast's Big Boi and Raphael Saadiq to Damon Albarn of Gorillaz all recognize game—each has tapped the group to collaborate on recent and/or upcoming projects. It seems that the rest of the world is starting to catch on to what tastemakers from BBC's Gilles Peterson and the DJs at Los Angeles' influential KCRW have known for years.

They might have lots of boldface fans now, but Little Dragon built their name the old-fashioned way: slowly, and through word of mouth. Nagano, drummer Erik Bodin and bassist Fredrik Wallin began making music together as friends in high school, with no thought of becoming a serious, world-touring band. "Our way of spending time together was listening to or playing music," Yukimi recalls of those days in the 1990s. "We weren't so good at promoting or thinking of any kind of plan. All we knew is we wanted to just write and work as little as possible on anything else, so we'd have all of our time to do that."

After adding Håkan Wirenstrand, a keyboardist from rural Småland, and moving in together at a Gothenburg art collective known as the Seal Colonie, the group took the name Little Dragon— a reference to Nagano's fiery countenance during recording sessions. While holding odd jobs and contributing to other people's projects (Nagano has sung lead vocals on numerous dance singles, and she and Wallin have collaborated with Swedish troubadour José González) to pay the bills, the four spent all their free time together crafting songs like the propulsive "Test" and the haunting minor-key piano ballad "Twice." It was these two tracks that made up Little Dragon's first release, a 2006 vinyl-only single on tiny Off the Wall Records. Though only 1,000 copies were pressed, the record's impact was felt immediately in England, where Gilles Peterson began spinning both sides and London's Peacefrog Records commissioned the group's first album. With its unusual cover artwork (drawn by Yukimi's father in the '70s) and playful, imaginative videos (for "Twice," "Test," "Constant Surprises" and "After the Rain"), Little Dragon's self-titled debut offered a distinctive and wondrous visual aesthetic to go with its unique, enchanting sound. Despite their CD being available only as an import in the US, the group sold out clubs across the country during their first American tour in '08. A smattering of positive press clippings began likening Nagano and her understated yet unmistakable voice to such divas as Erykah Badu and Kate Bush.

Little Dragon's second album, Machine Dreams, a more uptempo set with '80s influences like OMD and Tears for Fears working their way into the mix, followed in 2009. That same year "Test," Little Dragon's very first single, was featured in an episode of primetime drama Grey's Anatomy, turning a new set of mainstream fans on to the group. An enraptured Damon Albarn meanwhile tapped Little Dragon to feature on "Empire Ants" and "To Binge" from Gorillaz' 2010 album Plastic Beach, and, as the warm-up act—along with De La Soul—for that album's arena-filling world tour. Also in 2010, the group appeared on "If You Return" from Maximum Balloon, a/k/a the solo project of Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio.

2011 saw Little Dragon start the year off with a headlining tour of the U.S. and a performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in March, thanks to a recommendation from superfan Questlove of the Roots. In May, Yukimi appeared on the track "Just Don't" from Raphael Saadiq's Stone Rollin', a record some are already calling the album of the year. Big Boi and DJ Shadow called to invite the group to work on new music. And in July they will release Ritual Union, an album which finds the jazzy, whimsical vibes of their debut LP colliding with the more upfront and danceable sounds of Machine Dreams. Lead single "Nightlight" sounds like Badu fronting the Psychedelic Furs. "Brush The Heat," their most club-friendly track yet, is a dancefloor detonator with the most infectious cowbells since Jay-Z told us about his "99 Problems." As with each of their previous albums, Little Dragon did all of the recording themselves at the Seal Colonie, the same place where they all lived together in their early days. "We're all about writing in our space, our bubble," Yukimi says. "We haven't really recorded in any fancy studios. We'd rather be in our junkyard."

While their recordings are always impressive, it is in the live setting where the Dragon really comes alive. Seemingly loose and improvisational but actually tight as nails, Bodin, Wirenstrand and Wallin dig a deep pocket that would make James Brown proud, their organic instrumentation blending seamlessly with programmed drum loops and Nagano's dynamic vocals. Nearly as striking is the culturally diverse crowd that somehow turns up in every city. As if straight out of central casting, every Little Dragon show seems to bring out an unlikely mix of hip-hop heads in fitted caps, beautiful girls dressed for dancing, and studious musician types. "I think that's kind of ideal," Yukimi says of Little Dragon's eclectic fanbase. "That's how, if I wished for a crowd, I would want it." And no doubt, if that crowd could invent a band, Little Dragon is what they'd come up with.

Sofi Tukker

For New York duo SOFI TUKKER, comprised of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, these words are not just a guiding life principle, but how they measure the music they create. SOFI TUKKER's "holy trinity," as they describe it, is movement, community, and joy. Despite their yin-and-yang dynamic and coming from different worlds, the pair shares a deep-rooted spiritual connection around their music.
Halpern was on track to become a professional basketball player, focusing on NCAA stardom and training, before health problems put his athletic dreams on hold and caused his plans to take a serendipitous turn. While recuperating and on bed rest for nine months, Halpern taught himself how to produce electronic music and DJ, adding to the musical skills he had developed in numerous bands during his grade school years.
Hawley-Weld is something of a renaissance woman. Born in Germany, spending her youth in rural Canada and Italy, her international background sparked studies in International development, Brazilian poetry, yoga, and even West African drums and music. As soon as Tucker and Sophie first met, when Halpern stumbled upon Hawley-Weld singing bossa nova in a warehouse, they instantly jumped at the chance to collaborate.
Around this time, Tucker earned a gig supporting NY dance outfit The Knocks, who eventually helped nurture their early demos. "They became instant family, and encouraged us to pursue the collaboration for real," Tucker recalls. Sophie and Tucker immediately made the jump to New York City and began working on their debut EP at the Knocks' HeavyRoc Studios. That first week, they penned their debut single "Drinkee," an instant viral smash that features Portuguese lyrics by Brazilian poet Chacal, now a friend of the group. After putting the track up on Soundcloud, "Drinkee" quickly topped the Spotify viral charts in South America and Europe, popped up on radio stations in countries the band had never visited, and perhaps most prominently featured as the soundtrack to the latest Apple Watch campaign.
Sophie and Tucker also set their sights on putting together a live show, which combines the duo's unique personalities, instrumental skills, and their need to get a room full of people dancing. In their short live career, they have appeared at everything from Fashion Week to Art Basel to the CMJ Music Marathon, and are set to take their show across the USA and the globe later in the year.
The band has just finished their debut EP. The title, "Soft Animals," is a nod to poet Mary Oliver. Their second track, "Matadora," premiered the first week of 2016 on Apple's world-spanning Beats 1 radio and cutting-edge NYC music bible the FADER, and topped the Hype Machine Popular chart before the track was even 3 days old. The EP promises a number of surprises, and shows Sophie and Tucker have created one of the most unique sounds the music community has heard in years – a heady cocktail that blends global instrumentation with modern technology, while sounding anything but machine-made. People have tried to categorize them, but nobody can seem to agree what box to put them in. That suits them just fine.

$35.00

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