Stanley Odd

Whether you get off on words, beats, tunes or all of the above, Edinburgh six-piece Stanley Odd deliver the full deluxe package. Alternative Scottish hip-hop with heart, mind, wit, grit, conscience and superb live musicianship, Stanley Odd’s sound is reaching well beyond the rapidly burgeoning subculture from which it emerged, borne on an escalating grapevine buzz that’s set to ramp up several notches further, with the release of their second album Reject.
Their debut LP, 2010’s Oddio, won a raft of glowing reviews across mainstream and specialist media, while a hardworking gig schedule spread the word about their inspirational live shows, earning supports with the likes of Arrested Development, Asian Dub Foundation, Sage Francis and Easy Star All-Stars, alongside other high-profile appearances as diverse as T in the Park, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, the Insider festival, Wickerman and Celtic Connections. Stanley Odd’s profile continued to climb throughout 2011 with the release of three five-track EPs, charting their rapid creative progress while winning further rave reviews and radio play, culminating in an appearance on BBC Radio 1’s live end-of-year rap special, alongside Smiler, Merky ACE, Lioness, Madhat McGore and Kobi Onyame.

Ever since the band first formed in 2009, meeting amid the Scottish capital’s close-knit, genre-blurring music scene, their foremost weapon has been the awesomely eloquent, densely patterned yet unerringly incisive wordcraft of emcee Solareye, aka Dave Hook. His mix of searing anger, subversive humour, sharp-eyed observation and stubborn optimism often targets current social/political issues, skewering topics from the ConDem coalition to Scottish independence in thrillingly kaleidoscopic tirades, declamations and exhortations, all underpinned by Everyman humility.

“Somebody asked us recently if Reject wasn’t a very negative title,” Hook says. “Which it maybe is as a noun, but as a verb it can be a positive thing, even a kind of call to arms. The new album is a collection of stories about rejection and rejecting – rejecting a lot of the things we’re fed, that we’re supposed to accept at face value. And if you feel like a reject, from mainstream politics or culture, that can also be a positive thing: Stanley Odd has always been about that feeling of outsider-dom, of not fitting in – which is how everybody feels, so it’s a nice paradox: feeling that way makes you just like everyone else.”

Hook’s restlessly agile wordplay is potently complemented by the commanding, soulfully burnished tones of fellow vocalist Veronika Electronika, backed with powerful, imaginative rhythm and melody work from the rest of the line-up: Samson the Snake (drums/electronics), AdMac (bass), Scruff Lee (guitars) and T Lo (keyboards). OnOddio, these ingredients were arrayed over largely old school-inclined, Stateside-influenced beats and templates, but in the two years since, the band have increasingly played to their strengths as a fully-fledged instrumental line-up, drawn from widely diverse backgrounds, and developed a creative process very much their own.

“When we started out, nobody except myself and Samson was particularly into hip-hop – the others had been in guitar bands, pub bands, indie-pop acts, plus one of us is from Norway, one from Germany; I’m from Airdrie originally, so there’s all kinds of stuff in the mix”, Hook explains. “The original idea of hip-hop was that you borrowed and sampled from other records, chopped them up and reworked them into something new, whereas now we’re doing that with the live instruments and people’s different tastes. Everybody chips in their own ideas or parts or riffs into a song; we’ll go into the studio and record it, then we’ll sample it, chop it back up and rearrange it, work out how to play it again and re-record it. Going through those two stages takes it away from conventional song structures, and hopefully ends up with something a bit more individual and interesting.”

Hook himself has been a hip-hop devotee since his teens, but he too came to the genre after a broad early musical education: “My dad had a really big vinyl collection, mostly rock and folk acts from the 60s and 70s – Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Fairport Convention, all those types of bands, so I took in a lot of classic stuff as a kid.” While the first forays of his MCing career comprised “rapping in the park with my pals in bad American accents – basically copying people like Snoop Dogg and Cypress Hill”, he soon switched back to his broad native speech. It’s an approach he shares with other leading figures in Scottish hip-hop, which is sometimes perceived as hindering the scene’s wider exposure, but for Hook is a matter of simple integrity. “Basically what I’m trying to do is tell an honest story,” he says, “and you can’t do that in a fake voice.”

In other respects, though, Stanley Odd’s distinctive ensemble dynamic does again cast them as relative outsiders in hip-hop terms – a relationship Hook is happy to embrace as a mutually admiring one. “I think it’s pretty healthy both ways,” he says. “We get a lot of nice feedback on what we do, and I see a lot of really, really talented guys making hip-hop in Scotland, especially since battle rap took off up here: it’s not something I’m personally involved in, what with writing for the band – I’d need all my time to get anywhere near these guys’ level – but there are some fantastic lyricists coming out of it.”

Working as a live band also opens up more varied performance opportunities, as highlighted by the range of venues and festivals where Stanley Odd have wowed the crowds. These extend well beyond the club scene - even reaching as far as the more adventurous elements of the folk community. “Doing festivals like Celtic Connections and the Insider, we’ve played to a lot of people who really aren’t hip-hop fans at all, but we’ve found those audiences really welcoming,” Hook says. “I guess if you listen to folk music, you’re used to tuning into words, and the political stuff seems to chime with people as well. We’ve also started talking to a few folk musicians about maybe doing some collaborative stuff in the future, bringing in aspects of Scottish music, which would be pretty exciting.”

Right now, though, there’s Reject to relish – and it’s more than plenty to be going on with. In amongst its rich, artfully crafted sonic tapestries, grandly stirring melodies and irresistibly inventive grooves, Solareye’s muse roams wider and deeper than ever, from the bitingly political to the nakedly personal, from wickedly scathing satire to dream-like poetic allegory, the state of the Union to the sensations of modern mental overload.

“I definitely always want to be associated with protest song, with music that says something about what’s going on around us – and from our experience, there’s a real appetite for that kind of stuff just now,” Hook says. “But with the new album I’ve also been trying to make myself write about more personal and emotional subjects, rather than always taking an external perspective. It’s much harder and scarier than talking about current affairs – looking inside and writing about yourself, then sharing that with other people, but it’s another way to push myself to develop, and some of those songs have been getting the biggest reaction lately, when we’ve tried out the new stuff live.”

On the subject of recent gigs, and the state of the Union, the band were somewhat startled, following their triumphant set at 2012’s famously maverick Wickerman festival, to find their track ‘Winter of Discontent’ - an admittedly merciless dissection of the current UK regime, from the EP Pure Antihero Material - co-opted as a soundtrack by pro-independence websites. “I originally wrote it very specifically from an anti-Tory, anti-coalition perspective, and a lot of the English/Scottish stuff was meant to be quite tongue-in-cheek,” Hook explains, “but when I read back through the lyrics, I could totally see why people had interpreted it more broadly. As a band, though, first and foremost we’re pro-debate, rather than necessarily pro-independence. The key thing right now is that people get engaged in discussing the arguments - and then that they turn up and vote.”

Whatever Scotland’s future holds, Stanley Odd today rank among its most exciting, provocative and persuasive musical champions. Uniting the local with the global, the individual with the collective, Reject speaks from the heart in a proudly home-grown yet universal language of resistance, challenge and affirmation.