Derek Robertson

Freelance writer and editor: Guardian, Independent, NME, VICE, Timeout, The Quietus, The Face

'It's the screams of the damned!' The eerie AI world of deepfake music

‘It’s Christmas time! It’s hot tub time!” sings Frank Sinatra. At least, it sounds like him. With an easy swing, cheery bonhomie, and understated brass and string flourishes, this could just about pass as some long lost Sinatra demo. Even the voice – that rich tone once described as “all legato and regrets” – is eerily familiar, even if it does lurch between keys and, at times, sounds as if it was recorded at the bottom of a swimming pool.

'We Lost Ourselves': Future Islands Interview

“I’ve definitely done some journaling up here,” says Samuel T Herring. “A lot of lyrics too. It’s a great place for letting the mind wander.” We’re sat on a rocky ledge overlooking a swimming hole near the house in rural south-east Sweden that Herring – frontman of US synthpop band Future Islands – increasingly calls home. A former quarry, the pool is deep and clear, with sheer granite cliffs rising 10 metres in places.

The Swedish Housing Experiment Designed To Cure Loneliness

Erik Ahlsten is unequivocal. “This is the best accommodation I’ve ever had.” His friend and neighbour Manfred Bacharach is equally enthusiastic. “I really like this way of living,” he says. “It’s very much my cup of tea.” The two are referring to their new home, Sällbo, a radical experiment in multigenerational living in Helsingborg, a small port city in southern Sweden. Its name is a portmanteau of the Swedish words for companionship (sällskap) and living (bo), and neatly encapsulates the project's goals.

Together in Electric Streams: Inside The Business Of Livestreaming

Here’s a great pop-quiz question: can you name the first-ever artist to perform live online? Zooropa-era U2, perhaps, with the band’s prescient satirisation of a dystopian technological future and the emptiness of consumer culture? Or the Rolling Stones, who rode 1994’s Voodoo Lounge – a ragged and glorious return to their rock and roll roots – around the world for 13 months, raking in an astonishing US$320 million? Or maybe it was Brian Eno, a technological and conceptual pioneer who, at the time of the internet’s invention, was playing around with self-generating musical systems?

Inside Sweden's Controversial Socially Distanced Gigs

“It feels weird to do this, but also nice,” says Elin Ramstedt, lead singer of shoegaze trio Spunsugar, halfway through the band’s lush, euphoric set of fuzzed-out guitars and drum machines. The crowd at Malmö’s famed independent music venue Plan B hollers and applauds in response. We’re modest in number – there are 39 of us, to be exact – and everyone starts off a little shy, hanging near the back and the sides before slowly being drawn forward. Heads nod and feet tap enthusiastically; there’s even a little dancing.

'They are leading us to catastrophe': Sweden's Coronavirus Stoicism Begins To Jar

The Øresund Bridge – yes, that bridge – is an engineering marvel linking the Swedish city of Malmö and Copenhagen that normally transports 70,000 people daily. It has fallen eerily silent. Denmark is under coronavirus lockdown, and the Danes have imposed strict border controls. On the Swedish side, the Øresund remains open, although, understandably not many are making that journey.

Hush Now: In The Studio With Balmorhea

Saal 3 at Berlin’s Funkhaus is a glorious throwback, an old school recording space from the 1950s that’s been filled with some seriously high spec equipment. The whole complex, nestled next to the River Spree in a gritty, industrial wedge in the city’s east, was the former GDR broadcast centre, designed by architects and acousticians to be world-class in every way; at the time of its completion, it was the largest and most sophisticated recording facility anywhere on the planet.

¡Olé! Latin Music's Inexorable Rise

Madison Square Garden, NYC’s legendary venue, has borne witness to just about everything over the years: debauchery, madness and all manner of weird and wonderful stage shows. But until J Balvin rocked up this September for an eagerly anticipated sold-out show, it had never played host to enormous, inflatable, pop-art sculptures, a squadron of puffy, bouncy mascots that looked like sentient clouds, or a singer riding across the stage on a huge yellow duck.

Urban Sprawl: How Hip Hop Conquered Europe

For a stark reminder of how completely rap and hip hop has taken over mainstream culture, consider the case of NWA. Thirty years ago, the group released a song that so incensed the authorities and white America – ‘Fuck tha Police’, taken from their debut studio album Straight Outta Compton – that the FBI felt compelled to write a letter to the band’s label and distributing company complaining that “advocating violence and assault is wrong and we, in the law enforcement community, take exception to such action.” Police started to refuse to provide security for their concerts and, condemned by politicians, for a short while they revelled in their status as “the world’s most dangerous group.”
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