The Unsigned Guide Spotlight: October

Blog by Stef Loukes under Artist Managers, Creative & Branding, Finance, Law & Music Business, Live, Media, Music Publishing, Music Training & Careers, Record Labels, Recording & Production, Selling & Distributing Your Music

MAKOLA - ‘Everyday Legend’

After a topsy-turvy 2020 so far, Makola feels that the timing is right for some old-school positivity. Their Afrobeat infused hip-hop always revels in the optimistic - even when tackling racism and inequality - but with 'Everyday Legend', they bump it up another notch. The song was written a while ago but the duo wanted to release it now whilst its message felt especially pertinent:

"You don't have to be famous or successful. You can be anyone; nurse, lorry driver, working in a shop or construction or as a teacher. If you do your best and support your family and friends, you are an everyday legend."

If that message alone isn't enough to get you smiling, then the backing track should do the trick. Heavy with horns and especially funky flute sample, no stone is left unturned in this two-man quest for silver linings. The video hits all the right notes too:

Having surpassed 2 million streams on Spotify and picking up support from BBC 1Xtra's DJ Target and MistaJam along the way, Makola are looking for management and label options to help them to keep spreading the love. In the meantime, they have another new single queued for release in early November and a new EP on the way.

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Test Card Girl - ‘Holds Me Down’

Catherine Burgis makes you wonder how many people are out there with a secret, inner musician desperately trying to escape. Songwriting is a fairly daunting hobby to try and pick up in your mid-30s but, with the help of her singer-songwriter producer, Dave Fidler, Catherine's making it look as easy as ice cream.

Now, under her Test Card Girl moniker, she's packed in her admin job and has an album well on the way, part funded by a National Lottery Arts Council grant. Her journey sounds like the plot of a Sundance Film Festival winning film, as well as a scientific case study that some people have music in their genes.

There's something endearingly pure to her first single, "Holds Me Down". It is filled with ideas and textures but in a way that each carefully thought out harmony or synth sound is given room to breathe. Her pseudonym is inspired by 'Test Card F' - the girl and clown used on UK television to signal the end of evening broadcasting from 1967 to 1998 - and there is something about her nostalgic toy synths that marry perfectly with that image.

There is, however, a tangible sadness hiding beneath the song's colorful veneer:

"Holds Me Down is the first single from what will be my first album, written at a time I was making some very toxic decisions but being brought back on the straight and narrow by some wonderful patient people in my life. It’s about trying to escape being trapped in something, and looking for a way forward."

After getting her live performance feet wet with a few lockdown gigs, Catherine is excited/terrified to get out into the world for some IRL shows. Her album is due to be released in April 2021, and she continues to cook up some new stuff with producer Dave:

“My main aim is just to get better as a songwriter and performer every day (unfortunately for my long-suffering other half, who has to listen while doing a much more serious job in the only other room of our Manchester flat!).”

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ISLA - ‘Don't Love Me’

Riff-loving-chorus-addicts ISLA look to emulate arena fillers Queens of the Stone Age, Royal Blood and Demob Happy by making the sort of noise that begs for a big room to fill. Their hard-hitting alt rock recently brought them to the studio door of Black Honey's Chris Ostler and Tommy Taylor, who were behind the desk for their latest single, 'Don't Love Me'.

Don't Love Me emerged during a frustrating period for frontman, Ed, as a bout of writer's block left him wrestling with some difficult emotions:

"I hadn't written a new song in months and was getting a bit frustrated with it all, I was messing about with my guitar and the riff just sort of came out of nowhere - as did the lyrics - that is when you know it's gonna be a good song. My frustration comes out, especially in the lyrics. It is basically about self-loathing and a lot of things that were going on with me personally... There is definitely something very cathartic about writing an angry song."

The song is as cathartic to the ears as it was to the pen, as thundering drums and huge riffing convalesce into a thick wall of glorious mud. Even the lead vocal is squashed and spiked with distortion to amp up the intensity.

Last year's UK tour feels like a lifetime ago for the ISLA, who are hoping to get back onto the festival and tour circuit come 2021. Until then, you can find 'Don't Love Me' on Spotify and Apple Music, with a follow up boxed off and ready for release at the end of November.

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Mary Miller - ‘Don’t Look For Me’

Mary Miller's sizeable list of achievements is tough to whittle down; from securing Festival Republic and PRS Foundation's 'Rebalance' funding back in 2018 and festival slots at The Great Escape, Focus Wales and LIMF, to hitting the number 1 spot on Hype Machine with her very first single, she continues to rack up the emerging artist points.

Mary’s dramatic, chamber pop is unignorable and unmistakable. She approaches her music-making from an unusual angle, which goes some way to explaining the unique textures that she creates:

"I think of it as epic ethereal pop or hip-hop. I take a lot of influence from spy music and cinematic scores, but also from the way that hip-hop manipulates sounds and samples, so I sort of blend the two."

Lockdown has forced her to go down the DIY route for ‘Don't Look For Me’, but she was never going to let go of her love of all things cinematic - retaining the drama with an undaunted moxie.

"It's all about fantasising about running away, so I guess that reflects my lockdown mindset. I was listening to 'Pump It' by the Black Eyed Peas, and really wanted to use that idea of a Tarantino-style guitar riff in a new way."

Mission. Accomplished.

Mary's fourth single, 'Conditioned' is out in the next few months. As is the case for all musicians, livestreams haven't quite been enough for Mary, so she's looking forward to getting back to some on stage performances as soon as time allows.

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Seprona - ‘Rose Tinted Eyes’

You could make up an impressive festival lineup from the list of indie-rock heroes that Seprona have been on the bill with. As well as playing multiple sold-out headline shows of their own in Liverpool, they've shared a stage with artists including The Coral, Blossoms, Space, Little Comets, The Fratellis and The Feeling - a roll call that sits favourably alongside the sonic comparisons that they have received to Blossoms and Arctic Monkeys.

Their previous singles have been featured across BBC Radio 2, BBC 6 Music, Radio X and This Morning, and they're back with another Indie anthem to get the hips shaking, 'Rose Tinted Eyes'.

Recorded at Liverpool's iconic Parr Street Studios, the track is synth-driven dynamo with a sing-along chorus that begs to be cranked up on the car radio. Its structure has undertaken something of a revamp from its earlier, live incarnations, courtesy of some studio tinkerings with producer, Alex Quinn:

"When we got to the studio we felt like it wasn't quite as good as it could be, so we developed it there a lot... We basically just kept the chords and vocals the same, but we changed everything else with the song. It seems to have a lot more energy, and we're really happy with it now."

Their satisfaction with the song’s outcome is justified. Seprona were never going to ditch their guitars, but putting them in the backseat for the verses makes them hit all the harder when they resurface.

Their plan of steady single releases every few months has been serving them well, as the world slowly sits up to take notice. They'll be keeping them coming, with 3 singles lined up for release over the next 12 months and plenty more waiting to careen out of the writing room.

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