Review: Afro Cluster ‘We Don Land’ EP – ‘The dawn of an exciting new addition to the Welsh sound’

Dean Hodge reviews the new EP by Cardiff band Afro Cluster (released 11 April 2016).

Vid Shoot Photo Afro Cluster (Copyright Afro Cluster)

Tracklisting: First Rites/Love Thing/Double Trouble/We Don Land/Access Denied

For their new release, Cardiff funk-revivalists Afro Cluster one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 artists – have adopted a decidedly more-is-more approach, with their line-up expanding from eight to nine. The phase ‘too many cooks spoil the broth‘ frankly doesn’t apply within this musical kitchen though.

Rather, each individual in the band brings a different set of ingredients that simply accentuates the flavour of the sonic stew of soul, funk and hip-hop that the band serve up . Like a certain Premier League football team from Leicester, they seem to bring out the best in each other, and their approach to their craft is just as full of pace and attack.

We Don Land sees the nu-funk band once again play to their core strength – reviving the preserved back canon of 60’s/70’s funk and soul, while adding a modern sheen with lyrics that are in tune with the issues facing the world today – courtesy of frontman/wordsmith Skunkadelic. If the rest of the band are an engine, then his captivating wordplay is ultimately the steering wheel that gives a direction to their sucker-punch rhythms. Continue reading


Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 – meet the new class of Welsh artists

Published on AfterDark (3 Mar 2016)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge gives his first review of this year’s Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 artists (announced on Feb 29).

Horizons 12 2016 (Copyright by BBC Wales and Horizons)

When casting my eyes and ears over the new Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 line-up, for some unusual reason the film Forrest Gump seemed to immediately enter into my mind. More specifically, it was the famous line which Tom Hanks says at the beginning of the film – “Life is like a box of chocolates, because you never know what you’re going to get.”

The peculiar reference to that line is slightly justified here because it goes some way to summing up what has to be the most diverse line-up of twelve acts picked by the Horizons/Gorwelion scheme yet. From hip-hop to post-hardcore, from indie to electronica, from folk to pop – there is certainly something here to appeal to everyone’s aural taste.

But one thing is guaranteed – you are bound to stumble across some true musical gems that hopefully will have only just entered your life (and your playlist). If they haven’t yet, they are bound to make their presence felt over the course of the year ahead.

Once again, Horizons will be delivering on its ethos of promoting new music in Wales and shining a light on these twelve artists over the course of 2016 – through extensive radio airplay, live shows, festival slots, and an exclusive recording session at BBC Maida Vale.

BBC Radio 1 presenter – and one of the Horizons panel – Huw Stephens summed up the mission statement of Horizons in his previous interview with AfterDark. “There is so much talent in Wales but sometimes it’s hard to find it, and people might not know about new bands or where to start looking. You need to have a ‘filter’ for all the music out there and Horizons is a great music filter.”

To get you acquainted with the new wave of Welsh artists providing the ultimate ‘alternative’ soundtrack to the year ahead, AfterDark’s Dean Hodge provides his own take on the chosen 12 – and there is certainly a mixed bag of musical treats to indulge in here. Additionally, you can find out more about Horizons here.

Continue reading

Single review: Afro Cluster ‘Basic Questions’ – “A wall of funk-driven fury, fuelled by a respect for the roots of soul”

Published on AfterDark (4 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the new single by AfroCluster (released 9 Nov 2015).


In my last review of Afro Cluster’s preceding single They Don’t Know featuring Helena-May (released New Year’s Day this year) I described it as ‘four-minutes of pedal-to-the-floor doo-wop funk layered with shimmering beats, brash horns, smouldering guitar licks and topped off by a sultry vocal turn from Miss May which elevates the track to another level of sophisticated sass.’

My verdict was really just a short and sweet sampling of the sonic beverage that lays within the track. The music purely does all the talking by itself and if it was a mouth, it would need an excessive amount of cooling mints to cool down the fire that echoes from its belly.

The gap between They Don’t Know and their upcoming release Basic Questions (featuring Greg Blackman) has certainly done much to heighten the appetite for more of the same soaring level of smouldering soul-driven hip-hop. Any chances of feeling short-changed by their new release can be laid firmly to bed, as Basic Questions answers any such apt inquisitiveness in the same manner that They Don’t Know did. Continue reading

‘S4C to shine spotlight on Cardiff’s buskers and music scene’ (Article for Wales Online)

Published on Wales Online (17th March 2015)

This is my very first article published on Wales Online. As of this week, I am doing a work placement with Media Wales in Cardiff. My first piece for them focuses on the IronHeart CS project by Stewart Leigh-Firbanks, which involves filming music sessions with buskers performing in the streets of Cardiff. One of the sessions with Cai Maxwell will be broadcast on S4C tonight. Additionally, I touch upon The Safehouse Hostel sessions project by Stewart, Daniel Wimpelberg and Tom Hughes.

The project, which was created by student Stewart Leigh Firbanks, will be broadcast on the channel tonight.

A montage of music sessions showcasing the talent of Cardiff’s performers and buskers will be broadcast on S4C tonight.

The footage, which was filmed and produced by University of South Wales student Stewart Leigh Firbanks, puts the spotlight on local artists and will feature on Heno from 7pm.

Firbanks, a third year Media Technology student at the Cardiff campus, established the Buskers project under his production company IronHeart CS, which he launched earlier this year.

The 20-year-old came up with the concept alongside the owners of newly-opened Safehouse Hostel, Daniel Wimpelberg and Tom Hughes, as a way of promoting the capital’s thriving music scene. Continue reading

AfterDark’s Ones to Watch in 2015: Helena-May – “Going solo is an exciting journey I’m looking forward to embarking on”


Published on AfterDark (13 Jan 2015)

Featured on the official Helena May website (14 Aug 2015)

The musical queen-of-all-trades that is Helena-May really needs no introduction. She has been the voice and the face of diverse acts – including the likes of The Siren Sisters, Miss May & The Magic, The May Duo, Super Chango and Man May’d to name just a few, as well as previous sessions with Thunder and the Union, Think Floyd and most recently Kokomo – and is practically an inescapable figure in the Welsh scene. 2015, however, marks the year where Helena-May officially launches herself as a solo artist.

Her EP released with Man May’d ‘Living at the Speed of Love’ is four slices of refined, funk-flavoured neo-soul laced with catchy jazz melodies, soulful grooves and topped with Helena-May’s effortlessly smooth, husky vocal. From the hazy romanticism of the title track to the melancholy-tinged reggae of I Dodged a Bullet, to the light-as-a-breeze soul of He’s a Dandy and bouncy, toe-tapping riffs of Tongue Ties and Twisted, each track encapsulates Helena-May’s ability to paint pictures of modern-day issues of life and romance within a tapestry of retro pop-tinted soul. Continue reading