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Kwakzino: “There’s never been such a healthy time for artists to express themselves.”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to London rapper Kwakzino, for his new project ‘Livewire’. Our good friend Joel Wilson spoke to Kwakz about his journey, process and hopes; they also discuss why hip-hop and grime seem uniquely accepting of expressions of faith, with mainstream artists from Stormzy to Kendrick leading the trend.

We love to support artists who are embedded in their scene and serving their community, while they work on their craft. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help artists like Kwakzino to keep getting better and better.

Can you introduce yourself and your creative work?

My name is Kwakz, aka Kwakzino. I’m a lyricist, rapper – I also do youthwork, putting on community projects for young people. I feel the Lord gave me a gift when I was young, sparked a passion in me when I was 13 years old, and it’s continued with me ever since.

What was your pivotal moment when you took your art more seriously?

I remember hearing different sounds in school – and back in my day we had pirate radio stations, so I remember trying to tune in my cassette player to find a particular station. I started trying to write and rap lyrics to my peers – then I found likeminded individuals, so I become part of a tribe. We called it a crew back then. It was buzzing, that’s the only way to describe it, this new sound in London at the time.

How much has your inspiration changed over time? Who gives you that same energy?

That’s a whole different conversation! My inspiration comes from things closer to home – my sons, my wife, friends and family members. I’m very thankful to even be alive, to have a family, to see my kids grow. That’s what inspires me.

I can’t deny God’s love when I see my boys waking up, jumping around, farting! I’ve got to give thanks. It’s not easy out here.

Tell us a little about the project Sputnik is funding.

The project is a song called Livewire. It just sounds clean, very professional. That’s my friend Illusion – he’s a real maestro on the keyboard. The beat kind of reminds me of 21 Seconds from 20 years ago – we’ve captured that kind of sound, but then pairing it with 20 years life experience since then. It’s reflecting on the journey, and how God came into my life.

Before God came into my life, I was like a live wire, a ball of energy. Until God came and grounded me. That’s why I like to say it’s ‘because of him’, he’s connected me, and now I’m in the circuit and now everything’s flowing, instead of being all over the place.

So who’s your audience for this? What do you want people to get from your work?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself for years. My music is targeted at the hopeless – because God gave me hope – but not in an inauthentic way, or cheesy way, just in an honest way.

But it’s also for people with hope, to encourage those with hope for them to get active on their projects, for them to want to take on life, help others, show love, be grateful.

What’s special about grime or hip-hop that people can talk about faith, and people seem to accept that? Christian faith is perceived as mainstream for rappers.

It’s a very deep question. I take my hat off to Stormzy, because he’s been more vulnerable than I’ve ever been. I believe God had his hand on Stormzy in that.

I think Hip-hop is unapologetic. Grime is unapologetic. That allows people to say what they want to say on those types of beats. We’ve had Lil Nas X rapping what he wants to rap about. Lil Uzi Vert rapping what he wants to rap about. And then we’ve got the Novelist, I Am Deyah, others who have a faith and they’re not ashamed to say it.

There’s never been such a healthy time for artists to express themselves. I’m a Christian and I make music, but the majority of my fans are not Christians.

Can you talk a little bit about themes or concepts that are recurring in your work?

Well God worked on me. I was living a negative lifestyle; selling drugs, robbing, treating girls wrong. It was anger. God knew I didn’t want to live the lifestyle. I hated myself. I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror. Every day my mindset was- who am I going to abuse? Who am I going to negatively affect today?

God provided me a way out. I was facing jail – the judge said if you ever come back to me, you’re going straight to jail. I managed to get out of my area my God’s grace. That’s when I started working with young people – I didn’t want them to be making the same steps I had. I’ve been doing youthwork heavily for the last 8 years.

Because of my life, and the circle my life has gone on, in my music I talk about this. What it was like before God, what it’s like since God. I won’t lie, I wrote about it so much, I hated it! I was sick and tired of talking about the street. I’ve talked about it. I was like God, I need a new song now.

I want to talk about family life. I’ve not written a song about my kids, but they’re everything to me. But that’s what’s to come. 

Keep up with Kwakzino on Instagram.

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Jessie Dipper: Songs that make space for people

Thanks to our wonderful patrons, we’ve given a grant to folk-grunge singer-songwriter Jessie Dipper, who recently completed a UK tour supporting Scouting for Girls. As is often the case for lesser-known artists, Jessie had to raise her own funds to join the tour, and we were delighted that we could help her seize this opportunity. We talked about songwriting as hospitality, putting others first, and growing in collaboration.

We love to support artists of faith simply trying to make an honest living in the messy world of the creative industries. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Jessie as they progress.

Hi Jessie. Who are you and what do you do?

Hey, I’m a folk-grunge rock singer-songwriter and performer. I live in Wales, play guitar and write songs!

What one song in your back catalogue best sums you up as an artist? (And why?)

I released a song called Little Miss London on my latest album Sticky Floors and to this day is one of my favourite released songs to date. It was written on the last train out from London back home to where I was living at the time (Birmingham). And I met this incredible woman, who I coined the name ‘Little Miss London’. She had an incredible way of drawing people to her with raucous conversation, and we soon got chatting. We talked about life and the universe with each other and those around us.

It soon became apparent to me that beneath this bravado of bright red lipstick and fur coat, she was a woman quite on her own, and vulnerably still working out what life meant. A week later I finished the song I had begun writing with and about her, and Little Miss London was born. This song sums me up as an artist because I think there’s a Little Miss London in us all – we all dress ourselves up and go about our day hoping people don’t see through us, but beneath it all, we’re vulnerable and questioning, and I have a great hope that kindness is what brings our true selves to the surface, just as this song demonstrates.

You are presently supporting Scouting for Girls on tour and we’re delighted to have been able to support you with some of the tour costs through our patrons scheme. How did this come about and how has the tour gone so far?

The tour came about through some connections I had made over the last few years, through my producer who put me in front of an independent label and bookers. The management of Scouting For Girls saw what I did and were interested In having me on, and thus had an agreement drafted up for me to buy-on to the tour (a common arrangement for up and coming artists).

This was a great commitment to uphold as it required a significant amount of funding, which I chose to crowdfund over the months of July through to September. Incredibly, we were able to hit the target, thanks to everyone who decided to partner with me in supporting this major step. I was so grateful for Sputnik’s contribution, which provided direct financial support in covering additional costs such as accommodation, travel costs and food costs for my team whilst touring the UK. Although we hit a few stumbling blocks along the way, I can say with certainty that we achieved everything we set out to do, and it gives me great hope for my career ahead.

You recently taken on music full time. How have you found that transition? What lessons have you learnt so far?

I’d made the transition before back in 2018, and was able to support myself from then until May 2020 when Covid-19 impacted everyone’s lives. So I’d done it before, but I knew the path was not easy, and it felt like starting all over again. It was a difficult transition to make, but in September 2022 I was finally able to make the move once again back into full time music.

It continues to be an act of faith, to rely on income earned from my work in music to support what I do and increase my capacity for connection. But this was a necessary step. I am convinced that in order to step into this calling of a career in the ‘sticky floor-ed places’, and to achieve a level of success where that career is sustainable, I need to give myself wholeheartedly to it. I’ve had to learn to continually hold things lightly, to not take things too seriously, and surround myself with people that I can trust and will get the job done. Even when a decision seems to be easy, it doesn’t always mean it’s the right one, and thus the discernment process for this is of absolute importance.

Follow Jessie Dipper on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or her website.

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The Moses Brothers: Music for life, healing and solace

This term we’ve given a grant to the musical family trio known as the Moses Brothers: Davidson, Emmanuel and Richard. Although prolific creators, little of their music has made its way to the wider public – until now! We were delighted to be part of their journey to release multiple projects this year, and so we chatted about their process, and what it’s like to grow up in a household with instruments always at your fingertips.

We love to see ambitious young creators, working hard to improve themselves and their craft. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like the Moses Brothers as they develop.

So, who are the Moses Brothers and how did you come to make such beautiful music together? 

So kind of you. We are the Moses Brothers, and we are in fact related as we all have the same mum and dad. We started playing music and writing songs at a young age, alongside each other — so as you can imagine, there is a shared musical history, having spent some formative years exploring our craft together. We’re still learning, and growing, and it’s incredibly kind of you to consider our music as beautiful.

Growing up, we were blessed to have parents and also friends, Paul and Kath Sollitt, who saw music in us and gave us our first instruments including a guitar and an upright piano. They saw music in us before we even saw it in ourselves. Because of their generosity, we now play multiple instruments, write, produce, engineer and mix songs! 

Through our patrons scheme, we are supporting you in completing a new album. Can you tell us more about this? 

We already have 7 songs in the ‘part one’ version of our album entitled Sunrise. There are songs on this such as How Could I Forget that were formed in a dream when Davidson was 9 years old. The next album or project is a continuation of that, and hopefully shows a small side of God’s love and creativity. And we hope to release more projects this half of 2023. This album will be an independent release were we record, mix and write the album as brothers together.   

This project is, in part, being produced in connection with Mental Wellbeing Services. Do you specifically make music as music therapy and does making music in a wellbeing context change the way you work? 

Although Sunrise explores themes of mental health, there is another project that could be produced in connection with Mental Wellbeing Services. This is a 3-piece instrumental single with our talented friend Caleb Hakim on electric guitar, Rich on cello and Davidson on grand piano. We have received many words about our music being healing to people. “He is healer (Jehova Rapha)” — we hold onto these words.

To stay connected with the Moses Brothers, follow them on Instagram here.

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Rachel Zylstra: Taking time in a distracted age

This term we’ve given a grant to American-born, Edinburgh-based musician Rachel Zylstra, thanks to our amazing community of Sputnik Patrons. Rachel’s piano-led folk songs wear their heart on their sleeve, and form an important part of her life and emotional journey – as she shares here. We had a great chat about the development of her craft, and the role of music in our lives.

We love to see honest, full-blooded art, digging into the human experience without either cynicism on one hand, or gloss on the other. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Rachel.

Hi Rachel. Can you introduce yourself?

Hi! Yes, I can try. Stream of consciousness list… I’m a child of the Midwest (US), former theatre nerd, former (?) actual nerd, former didn’t-call-myself-a hipster, folksy artsy type, friend, wife, mom, daughter, sister, music-maker, bargain-hunter, improviser, procrastinator, ENFP, lover of God, and there but for the grace of God go I.

You have a new EP coming out and we’re delighted to be supporting this through our patron scheme. What can we expect from the new project?

I am delighted and grateful for your patronage! My albums have often been produced on a 5-7 year lag from when bulk of the material was actually written, and this one follows trend. When I moved temporarily to Scotland in 2016, my life was about to change big-time but I didn’t know it yet. This new project will be an EP of 6 piano-and-vocal-led songs written in the 2 years following that move, during which I traversed through making friends with solitude, making human friends, job-seeking, a bad relationship, a last break-up, falling in love, and then learning how to be married… not a new season’s turning so much as a new season exploding.

These songs are partial documentation of that era and I’m excited to finally get them realized onto a record, alongside other albums reflecting other times of life.

Your music often seems to reflect transitions and seasons in your own life. How much do you make music to help you process your own experiences and how much do you create with the audience in mind?

For this answer, I’ll exempt music created for the church, which is another passion and takes a different approach. My personal music making is usually, for better or worse, personal processing: articulating my perspective to myself, and trying to create beauty and suss out the meaning even in the mundane or more regrettable parts of my story. I’ve not veered away from this habit very often in 20+ years of writing songs.

What I have found is that when you’ve written genuinely and specifically about your own heart’s experiences, failings, and fulfillments, listeners who get it, get it. They’ll respond. There are listeners who will hear their own story told, will strip away your specifics and subconsciously fill in their own details as they listen, and in that feel not alone, feel understood. This is one of the joys of being what I call a ‘confessional’ singer-songwriter. When it happens, it’s always a gift.

You’ve been doing this for a while now and clearly have considerable experience as a songwriter, recording artist and performer. What 3 pieces of advice would you give to any young songwriters or musicians who are just getting started?

One: Don’t compare yourself to other artists’ timelines or speedier routes to exposure. I felt like I was behind even in my early 20s. If I hadn’t had a catch-up mentality so early on, I would have taken a breath, a class or two, workshopped my songs more frequently, chosen more meaningful networking (ie, with people and in settings I cared about, rather than just what was dictated to me as “the thing/event/website all young artists must flock to”), and spent more time preparing myself to be my own best advocate for my music.

Two: This advice might be a bit dated, as social media and its related self-promotion was not yet a thing when I was starting out, but… Don’t wait around passively for someone powerful and influential to take you under their wing, get you on track, sign you, roll you out and give you that “big break.” Just slowly do the work, build on your creativity, keep learning, treat any new listener with care, and listen to what trusted, supportive people close to you are saying.  In the course of my day job I spent the better part of my 20s brushing elbows with entertainment execs in high places. In turn, there were a few years during which, as soon as someone with big industry connections gave my music notice, I would give their input too much sway, and I would wait months for their next 10-minute morsel of advice, before making a next move in my music journey. At the time, waiting seemed wiser and more demure than forging a less trod path on my own and risking missteps. But, there’s a cost of delay, and there’s a cost to letting your, say, 4th life-priority item be handled at the pace of someone else’s 40th priority.

Three: Yes, social media is fairly unavoidable if you want to thoroughly promote your music. But, for your soul and your well-being’s sake, if you create primarily with a social media audience and virality in mind, it will not be sustainable, and it will suffer from a lack of sturdiness and lack of depth. It amazes me how much time and energy can go into maintaining a surface presentation, and in turn to just “giving people more of what they want” or becoming a slave to narcissistic habit. I’ll admit this advice is not sexy – clearly there is some fame and wealth to be found in harnessing social media algorithms.  But fellow Christian artists, preserving your sense of worthiness and sense of self as determined through Jesus; protecting your real-life relationships; preserving your hedge of privacy and a modicum of separation between your personal life and your artist work-product: I do believe refusing to lay yourself down at the social media altar will, in the long term, positively impact you, your art and your best ability to inspire others.

To stay connected with Rachel and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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Music as a path to mental wellbeing: an interview with Nigel Modern

Hi Nigel. You’ve had a long journey balancing music with your career. Could you take us through that?

I trained as a medical doctor but have always had a musical career of sorts; it has often felt like a juggling act, or plate spinning. I’ve played the classical guitar since my teenage years. During the 1990s I performed with other guitarists, and then in a ‘band’ with a vocalist, a flute player and a violinist. We received good reviews and made some waves in the classical guitar world, but the economics of it wasn’t viable.

Financial pressures, and the lack of an obvious way forward, meant I went back to full time medical work—and for almost 20 years I played acoustic guitar in various worship bands in churches in London and Birmingham. I also started to write songs, and performed them locally. Then, in 2013, reorganisation within the NHS meant I was offered retirement and I couldn’t resist.

In 2014 I picked up the classical guitar for the first time in 17 years. My playing was awful… at first. Since then, I’ve performed a few concerts every year with classical guitar buddies from around the UK. In 2019 I decided to promote myself as a soloist—then Covid happened! 

Through our Patrons scheme, we are supporting your new musical project. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Just before Lockdown, I became involved with Ash and Anji Barker’s Newbigin House project in Winson Green. This is a church-driven urban regeneration project, based on innovative principles which I admire greatly. In March 2020 (oh dear!) we were given a church building, and despite the Pandemic the project has flourished—partly because Ash and Anji are amazing people—but also through the resilience of local Winson Green people, who are taking ownership for regeneration projects in their community.

One of those projects was started by my friend Sarah, with whom I’d run a choir called Rock the Yurt in the autumn of 2019. Sarah’s new project was for a band with Mindfulness at its core—appropriately called ‘MindFunk’. The band has a mutually supportive ethos with a ‘collective’ approach to writing, and we’ve received a good response so far. Everyone involved in the band would have had some experience of mental health services in the past, or present.

The next stage is to record these songs and complete others. We have been fortunate to have been given a lot of recording and PA equipment and space at Lodge Road Community Church to convert into a recording studio. With the money becoming available from Sputnik and others we will able to purchase recording equipment to plug any gaps (this is currently being reviewed) and consideration is also being given to external technical and/or artistic support. This may be worth investing money in, though this would be decided in keeping with the urban regeneration model being applied and any support commissioned would be used to develop the skills of locally based individuals as an investment in the future.

How do you think that art generally (and music specifically) can help those of us who battle with mental health problems?

Time and again individuals in MindFunk express their appreciation of the time spent rehearsing and collaborating in the band and the beneficial effect this has on their mental well-being, something I also echo.

It is especially true if we have a very creative songwriting session, but I have also seen and experienced it when we quickly play through and learn a cover version. We all struggle to keep our emotions centred on a positive outlook for life, and involvement with music is very healing. I’ve also seen how MindFunk spontaneously can ‘give this away’ to others. One incident comes to mind: we rehearse in a building where there is also a community cafe running, and MindFunk can be heard in the next room. A few of the regulars who were in the cafe opened the glass doors and we did (I think) ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s door’, then someone started ‘Amazing Grace’. MindFunk picked it up and the atmosphere in the place became electric. MindFunk is not the church worship band, but what happened then was very worshipful and happened in a very public space. It was magical, and I have no doubt very healing for those involved.

Christians are often keen to serve their communities as an expression of Jesus’ command to love our neighbours. However, this service is usually seen in practical terms. How do you think that art can express God’s love for our communities and do you have any advice on how you think artists or churches can serve their communities more effectively through the arts?

I passionately believe in art for art’s sake; our God is by nature creative, and since we are created in his image, we are creative beings. This creativity is in all of us, but this world seems to do everything it can to squeeze it out of us. I believe that is because our creativity is a powerful antidote to the destructive forces so often expressed in our communities.

My model of creativity is that it is involved in the engine room which powers the practical outworking of God’s purposes; not an add-on when we can afford it, but part of the ‘currency’ which invests in the ‘Divine economy’. An economy which values and invests in the arts is likely to be an economy which will grow in a beneficial way, a less destructive way; perhaps even a way which respects people and the environments in which they live. Effective practical projects are more likely if they reflect and arise from a more creative culture.

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Ben Lawrence’s musical journey through grief

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, we’re funding a very personal music project by songwriter and filmmaker Ben Lawrence.

Watch our interview with Ben below, or scroll further for a written Q&A. Why not join us in supporting engaging, talented artists like Ben, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month?

Hi Ben. Please introduce yourself.

Hi, I’m Ben a musician and filmmaker from Norwich. I’ve been creating since I was a teenager and love to communicate my journey through the films and songs I make. I’ve been married to Mel for seven years and spend my days working for Norwich Youth for Christ and St Thomas Norwich as a creative.

It’s a pleasure to be able to help fund your latest project. Can you talk us through it?

O Wide World is my first solo release, a collection of songs written about grief, hope and re-finding adventure. In 2016, my twin brother Dan passed away from a brain tumour and these songs are my story of journeying through the grief.

I started writing some of these songs only a month or so after Dan died, but it wasn’t until early 2021 that I thought about actually doing something with them. I felt the call to pursue them and started working on demos. The demos really helped me to develop my sound and after a few conversations with producers and friends, I decided that it was about time I made an album.

This album is set out in three acts that will take the listener on a journey through my story and the process of grief. Act One is all about memories, nostalgia and the longing to be back with the ones we’ve lost and in those places we treasured as kids. Act Two is an honest look at grief, anger, loss and abandonment. It’s the rawest section of the album. Act Three focuses on hope, moving forward and finding purpose in the wake of loss. 

I’m working with a great producer, Iain Hutchison, to fully realise the potential of these songs and a great team of musicians and creatives. It’s extremely exciting to bring so many great people together in this project.

My aim is that this album will really connect with those who’ve experienced something similar and anyone who needs some hope. The album will have 12-13 tracks and will be accompanied by a documentary and music videos.

So sorry to hear about your brother. How has the project helped you to process the grief that you’ve felt in your bereavement?

I’ve always written songs as a cathartic way to deal with what I’m going through. I never thought I’d be writing about this stuff, but in some ways I’m glad I have this creative outlet to help process. I’ve always wanted to help others, it’s why I’ve felt called to work in Christian ministry areas for the entirety of my career, and so this album is important to me for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a tribute to my brother, who was an inspiring passionate man of God and it’s a chance to help others on their journey too. It feels good to make something positive out of such hard circumstances. 

I take each day as it comes with grief. Some days you just carry on and other days you need a bit more time to gather yourself. These songs have been a soundtrack for me throughout all of those days and I hope they’ll be special to other people too.

You seem to have a very thought through plan for the project, including a very successful Kickstarter to help gather extra funding. Can you provide any tips on how to set up a successful Kickstarter?

This is my first crowdfunding campaign and I was adamant that to do it well, I needed to put the hard work in. Gladly my friend Pete McAllen (aka Pyramid Park) gave me lots of insight and helped me understand the best way to go about it. 

We knew it would be very important to tell the story as best as we could, so we spent a long time developing the main campaign video and filming several sections to it to really show the breadth of what we wanted to achieve. I am so appreciative of Sarah Ballard and Ben Lambert, who have both helped me out immensely in all of these areas.

I had a full marketing campaign ready to go to aid the 35 day Kicsktarter and this really helped to keep the project in people’s minds. I’ve never been so busy, but it was so rewarding as the total kept ticking up. There were a few moments where I was sceptical that we would reach our £10,000 target, but thankfully we made and exceeded it!

The total album project is actually more like £20,000, so I’m very grateful to Sputnik for their extra funding, which will really help us make this album the best it possibly can be.

To stay connected with Ben and his music, you can follow him on Instagram, or check out the album’s website.

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Trees, songs and creation care: an interview with Lydia Hiorns

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re funding a nature-inspired musical album written by Newcastle-based artist Lydia Hiorns. As well as being the Director of Shieldfield Art Works, Lydia explores embodied hospitality through her KILN project, and makes prints, drawings and songs to explore the created world.

Like us, Lydia believes that art and creativity are integral parts of human life. Why not join us in supporting multi-disciplinary artists like Lydia, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month?

Hi Lydia. Can you introduce yourself? 

Hello, I am an artist living and working in Newcastle. Within my artistic activities I explore embodied hospitality. I create spaces and host events that enable conversations about hospitality. Currently this occurs in KILN tent, a hand printed portable space where I host meals and conversations to grow a more critical understanding of hospitality (making room for another) and commensality (being together around a table) within the public and private sectors. This is needed within society to develop a genuine culture of ‘hospitality as a way of life’ rather than something that we do.

I also make prints, drawings and write songs to explore the created world and how we interact with and care for it. You can find out more on my artist website and KILN website. I am also the Director of Shieldfield Art Works [SAW], an arts organisation in Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne — an area which has undergone rapid urban development. As a project of the Methodist Church, we seek truth, challenge injustice, engage in social activism, and work for the common good.

Anyone’s welcome to participate in our programme. We believe that art and creativity are integral parts of human life, and, with art’s unique ability to articulate, question, and inquire, we can change our communities and the world. So we develop high quality art exhibitions, events, workshops, conferences and publications based around the issues and interests of our local area. 

It’s a pleasure to be able to support your new project. Can you fill everyone in on what you’re planning?

I am going to write and record an album called The Arboretum that will consist of 20 songs about specific individual trees, paired with 20 corresponding tree drawings. I am hoping to collaborate with a selection of musicians to compose and record the songs and I am excited about the diversity this method will create. Once I am done you will be able to enjoy the songs and artwork on Spotify and my website—and you never know, I may get a few CDs made for those who enjoy the physicality of polycarbonate. 

The natural world has been the focus of many of the finest artworks ever created but, at the same time, there can be a sense that work about the raw elements of creation can be passé or unadventurous. Why do you think that the natural world is a good focus for artworks and what is it about trees in particular that inspires you? 

There is no doubt that nature is often idealised in art as people try to contain it in a neat frame. But nature is messy, dangerous and gloriously reflective of aspects of God’s character. Recently I have been doing a lot of research into trees specifically and I am convinced that trees, and what they teach us, bring great good to our world. They are universal and generous: enabling us to breath, bringing beauty, giving food, allowing us to write, read, sit and walk. Only last month the Woodland Trust gave away 60,000 trees to fight against climate change. Trees are also prevalent throughout the Bible from the tree in Eden, Calvary and heaven. Trees give life, they praise God, they show fruitfulness, they are a conduit for salvation, they display suffering and they describe Jesus.

With that view of trees in mind, I would like this album to inspire awe in the beauty, diversity and complexity of trees; to shine a light on the problem human destruction of trees creates to planet and people; to explore how we can cultivate a mentality of longterm conservation and care for trees like within an arboretum; and to link the gospel to trees, so that whenever a tree or a product of a tree is seen a Christian will remember the gospel and anyone else may start to glimpse Christian truths in the natural world. 

In your wider body of work, as you mentioned, you like to explore ‘embodied hospitality’. What is this and how does it play out in your practice?

Embodied hospitality is when you don’t just see hospitality as something that you ‘do’ at given times, like when you invite someone for dinner, but you see it as a way of ‘being’ where your whole life embodies a hospitable nature. We often see it as making a Mary-Berry-worthy Victoria sponge. But it is not entertainment! No, it holds a far deeper importance.

God is hospitality in essence: he created the world, a spacious and gracious space. He welcomed us into it. Jesus came and ate with people. Jesus’s table was one of grace, not reciprocity. It was counter-cultural, and collapsed the distance between rich and poor, insider and outsider. Jesus’s table expressed the Kingdom of God. Hospes means both ‘host’, ‘guest’, or ‘stranger’. So, hospitality is welcoming the stranger.

If hospitality is about making room for others and welcoming, it doesn’t depend on having a nice house and being able to cook a five-course meal. I am so convinced of this that I’ve just written a book to help everyone discover practical ways of offering and accepting hospitality with limited resources, or at the beginning of their hospitality journey.

KILN is the name I have given to my practice/research around hospitality after the Hebrew initials for “All of my heart and soul”. It carries on this idea that our whole life is to embody welcome. For most of my practice I create spaces and host events that enable conversations about hospitality in a hand-printed portable tent.

Finally, my role at SAW of managing the programme naturally puts the host’s apron on me, which is empowering; but something occurs when a guest’s contributions are recognised, and when a guest isn’t defined first as needy. This intrigues and astounds me. Jesus himself was the recipient of hospitality more often than he provided it. He enabled Zacchaeus to be a host, and that’s what transforms him. Christians often take the host roles, but sometimes we need to give others a turn.

To stay connected with Lydia Hiorns and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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Art as an act of aspirational joy: an interview with Joanna Karselis

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Joanna Karselis, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and singer-songwriter.

Joanna has been a friend of Sputnik’s for some time, through our Birmingham Hub, and we’ve greatly enjoyed following her work, seeing her talent and perseverance pay off. We were delighted to be able to help fund her upcoming EP—and even more so given the story behind it. We’ll let Joanna explain.

Hi Jo. You’ve been involved in Sputnik for several years now but for those who are not familiar with your work, could you fill us in on who you are and what you do?

I’m a multi-instrumentalist and composer. I mainly work in film music, but I also score games, plays, podcasts, adverts… anything that needs music! I also write and sing songs, and work as a session musician and music educator.

Your main field of work in the last few years has been in media music, particularly film. Can you talk us through this? How did you get into making music for film and how has this developed?

I started off studying classical violin performance but through some convoluted and unexpected circumstances ended up doing a master’s degree in contemporary classical composition. During my masters I got disenchanted with the state of musical academia and increasingly felt like I didn’t fit in there. I didn’t write the “right” kind of music for most of my professors and wasn’t given the same opportunities as the other person in my year (it was a small course!)

Thankfully, one kind professor gave me the chance to score my first play, which completely realigned my goals as a composer. Shortly after that, I got my first job scoring a feature film, after the director happened to find my work online. My music wasn’t deemed worthy enough for the classical world, but it worked pretty well alongside a visual image. After a successful festival run for that film, I was expecting the work to start flooding in, but it ended up taking another two years for me to get another credit as the industry is so competitive.

Since then it’s often felt like tough going, and if I’m being honest it’s not an easy career path, but through persistence and patience I’m now in regular employment as a film composer. I’ve scored three films on Amazon Prime, mixed music at Warner Brothers, spent the last few years on BAFTA’s talent development programme, and have scored many award-winning films, so that hard work is starting to pay off.

Even though it’s been a tough journey, I’ve persisted with film scoring because it’s my calling. God loves telling stories, and when I score a film, I get to support the narrative by adding depth and fullness to it through the music. I’m a passionate believer in cinema as an agent of change, so being part of telling these stories that help us understand each other and challenge our perceptions and understandings of the world is really important. Often the composing process feels very worshipful for me and I really connect with God as I do it. I also get to be a woman in a male dominated industry, which brings with it challenges but also opportunities to advocate for equality and fairness and to support my peers, and to do my best to treat everyone I encounter with grace and kindness, which isn’t always the industry standard.

It is a pleasure to be able to support your latest project through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme. Can you talk us through it?

In late September 2020 I became suddenly ill. It eventually turned out to be long Covid which started after an asymptomatic initial infection. It’s an illness I’m still living with now.

The first three months were particularly rough, and for that time I became bedbound and only able to carry out the most basic of everyday tasks. Despite that, I kept a pad of manuscript paper by my bed and every few weeks I had enough energy to do some basic composing. I wrote these little snatches of upbeat and uplifting piano pieces that would bring me joy, as well as capture the pain of the pandemic and my own illness.

In January I started being able to sit up in bed for an hour a day with my laptop and a mini-keyboard, and I began slowly inputting these pieces into my computer. The project has really kept me going through the last year, gradually expanding as I’ve been able to work again and to do things I took for granted before like record myself playing violin. It’s now a fully-fledged EP.

It feels like the most personal and worshipful thing I’ve ever made — I can’t even listen to some tracks without breaking down — and the Sputnik funding allowed me to go and record the piano parts in a studio which felt like drawing the beginning of a line under the experiences of the last fifteen months of illness. It’s a big departure, as I normally either release film music or songs; so to release something that’s neither, feels like I’m reclaiming my own music and letting it stand by itself for the first time in many years.

To stay connected with Joanna Karselis and her work in the lead up to the release, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or check out her websiteTo hear a bit more about her journey, you can watch our longer interview below!

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Kapes A. Witness is searching for the right words

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This year thanks to our community of Patrons, we helped to fund a new EP from Birmingham rapper Kapes A. Witness.

Kapes has been plying his trade in his local scene for a good few years. Now finding himself on a journey of faith, he’s working out in real time how the worlds of faith and art overlap, how his motivations have changed and what he hopes to achieve through his art.

Hey Kapes, introduce yourself…

Hey, I’m Kapes A. Witness. I’m a Birmingham-based hip-hop artist. I started rapping in 1998, aged 10. I went on to perform around the UK, including at Birmingham’s O2 Academy. I also collaborated with brother of 2pac and Thug Life co-founder, Mopreme Shakur. In 2015 I became a born-again Christian and since then, faith has been at the forefront of my music. 

Who are your main influences?

Growing up I was influenced by rappers from the 80’s and 90’s. 2pac was the biggest influence on me overall. There was a lot of passion and emotion in his music. Since becoming a Christian though, my attention was drawn more to those with the same mission as me. Now I listen to people like Bryann Trejo (who I was blessed enough to collaborate with), Bizzle, Datin, Kurtis Hoppie, Young Bro and KJ-52 to name a few.

One of our Kapes favourites at Sputnik HQ is ‘Story to Tell’. One of the striking features about your music, as demonstrated on this track, is your ability to be able to tell your story authentically and honestly, not shying away from your ongoing struggles or your relationship with Jesus. How do you find this balance?

My music is always an honest reflection of my life, so sometimes you will hear that struggle—but you will also hear the victory that comes with having friends in high heavenly places! Jesus has transformed my life and who I am as a person so much. He tells us to cast our cares onto him, so that’s what I do and the music reflects that.

It’s a pleasure to be able to help you with your latest project through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme. Can you talk us through the new project?

I’m so excited about working with you guys on this project! You can expect some joyful noise, some deep story telling, fire beats and as we wake up each day in a new chapter of revelation; some eye opening, sign of the times bars! Stay tuned!

To stay connected with Kapes A. Witness in the lead up to the release, you can follow him on Facebook or TwitterTo hear a bit more about his journey, you can watch our longer interview below!

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Spinning beauty out of lockdown with guitarist Stewart Garry

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Stewart Garry, an instrumental fingerstyle guitarist from Newcastle.

We’ve long been fans of Stew’s work, as a great example of non-verbal music which can still evoke a powerful sense of place, emotion or story. The music is both technically daunting and yet easy to enjoy; and supporting the studio recording of his new (as yet untitled) album was a no-brainer.

Introduce yourself Stew. Who are you and what do you do?

Hi Sputnik! My name is Stew, I’m 32 years old; I’m married to Abi and we have a daughter, born last year, called Brooke.

We’re currently located in Cambridge, having moved from the East Midlands a little over a year ago for me to start working as an Assistant Pastor at a church here. Alongside being a Pastor, I am studying Biblical Counselling with BCUK (Biblical Counselling UK). Outside of church life I compose instrumental acoustic guitar music. This music uses modern fingerstyle guitar methods such as using the body of the guitar as a drum, tapping melodies or chords and alternate tunings. For my compositions I often like to take influences from my Celtic roots as well as film, alternative, jazz, and heavier music. 

Those who’ve been around Sputnik for a while may well be familiar with your work through your excellent ‘Sojourner’ album. It’s hard to believe that was 5 years ago. What have you been up to in the meantime?

After Sojourner, I got married and spent most of my time involved in church work and studying for an MA in Christian Ministry. However, I did get the opportunity to compose some music for a couple of friends weddings, play some cool gigs like the London Acoustic Guitar Show, and teach a few fingerstyle guitar “masterclasses” (their term not mine) at Nexus ICA

The new album was written in lockdown just after the birth of your first child. Could you talk us through the process?

The process of writing this new album during lockdown and after the birth of my first child has been a lot different to any other album that I have composed—for a few reasons—but the main one has been that time off work with my family just inspired me.

I’ve heard lots of musicians say they didn’t want to pick up their instrument during lockdown, and I understand that, but with being a dad for the first time and having such a crazy year, I felt like I had something to say again after all those years since Sojourner. A second interesting factor has been not being able to gig. In the past, it was during performing that I would try new material out, see what lands well—or not! So this time, it’s been a longer process of listening back to my work on my own. The main result of these things has been that the music is less complicated but more melodic. It feels more of a personal album rather than abstract music written about places and good times, which at times I think Sojourner became… 

I know that in your music, you like to think very carefully about the recording process and also how to present your music visually. How are you planning to record and release this project?

Many instrumental guitarists release videos of their music on a plain background, so everyone can see that it’s really just them playing all the parts! Whilst there is nothing wrong with that, I do like people to have more of a visual experience as well. Since I’m now situated in Cambridge, my thoughts have been around finding interesting places to film, such as old libraries, perhaps even King’s College… but this part of the project is still in its planning stages. The first part is to get into the studio in November and get the music sorted. This is my first studio-based album since The West Coast over ten years ago, and so there are some nerves going into the studio again—but it should be fun. I am also looking forward to collaborating with Joanna Karselis again. Jo and I worked together for one of the tracks on Sojourner (called Patience is a Virtue), and I was thrilled that she was up for working together again on a track called A Scottish Lament. Expect lots of trills.

To stay connected with Stewart Garry and his music in the lead up to the release, you can follow him on Instagram, subscribe on YouTube, or follow him on Spotify. To find out a bit more about his work and process, you can check out our longer interview with him below!

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Matshidiso and the pursuit of love, justice and music

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Matshidiso, a singer-songwriter based in London.

Influenced by the folk-jazz of Nina Simone and the neo-soul stylings of Robert Glasper amongst others, Matshidiso’s music has a freewheeling, naturalistic feel with storytelling at its core. It’s beautiful, theatrical, and all held together by Matshidiso’s stunning voice. It has been a pleasure to connect with her over the past year, and we’ve loved getting acquainted with her work – and we reckon you will too.

For those who haven’t come across you yet, can you introduce yourself?

Hi there! My name is Matshidiso (pronounced Mat-Sea-Dee-So – a South African name –  from the Setswana and Sotho tribes – meaning blessing or consolation). I’m half South African, half Jamaican and born and raised in London.

I’m a piano player, composer, arranger, producer, singer, teacher (and now a podcaster!) – but mostly I would call myself a songwriter. I love the way you can have an idea in your head, hear the instruments, visualise the story behind the song, add words to it and then watch it come to life with other musicians – it’s one of the most magical things for me about making music. I suppose it mirrors creation and what God did – He had an idea and spoke it in to being – we get to do mini versions of that through our own creativity.

I started playing the piano at 7, but actually (to cut a very long story short) trained as a human rights lawyer/barrister before switching to a full time career in music. I started writing songs during my undergrad Law degree, writing songs in the safety of my living room – so many I’ve lost count. Then in 2012 I chose music full time – it was one of those moments when you realise you only have one life so you might as well really live it.

I’m still passionate about social justice (I do stuff in prisons, internationally, work around racial justice) and I reconcile the 2 sides of me this way – I use creativity to promote social justice.

Is there a song that particularly sums up your work?

I often say about my music that I write about 2 things – love and justice, which really is about 1 thing – love.  I wrote a song called Fragile which is about love and whilst it doesn’t ‘sum up my work’ musically because we’re always evolving, it is the essence of what I’m passionate about in terms of the words:

‘Love in our hands is broken, love in our hands is worn, blurred the lines of it and twisted its form – fragile. I have stolen and I’ve been stolen from, left his heart for the birds, exposed to the sun, he was fragile. I have known love where I could barely breathe to look into his eyes as he looked inside of me, we were fragile’.

You’re working on a new album and we’re so pleased that, through our Patrons Scheme, we’ve been able to help that come closer to completion. Can you talk us through the album and how it’s progressing?

Sure – and thanks so much for helping to make it a reality!

This has been a real journey. It starts around 2017 when I put a new band together, and we would gig my songs and they would naturally evolve with the venue, the audience, the band set up (we’re a 7-piece: me on piano and lead vocals, then bass, drums, saxophone, guitar, 2 backing vocals). People would often ask for the recordings of these songs after our gigs and I didn’t have them!

Alongside this, I had written 3 songs that I considered a trilogy and I envisioned a series of short films, one for each song that comprising singular but interconnected narratives expressed through different dance styles (ballet, hip-hop, contemporary dance), and all shot in South Africa.  So in 2019, I headed to South Africa and started working with a team to bring these songs to life – we shot 1 out of 3 of the videos – a song called ‘Glean’. (See images and video from the process here).

Back to the album.  At the end of 2019, I started working with my drummer on arranging these songs we’d spent 2 years playing for the album. We would record the album and also properly record the trilogy of songs for my South African films. We had planned to start recording in April 2020 – well, as we all know the pandemic happened! We managed to record one track that was released in July 2020 on March 12th a week before lockdown in the UK – called ‘Quiet Love’.

We managed to get back into the studio for a week in August where we recorded the majority of the songs – all the instruments and guide tracks for the vocals. And here’s the thing with recording: 1 – it usually takes longer than you think and 2 – when you listen back to things you realise what needs work, re-recording etc. So since August, I’ve been going to the studio in the evenings to record vocals, re-work some tracks and do overdubs. We did that with the electric guitar – my original guitarist tore a tendon in his hand so was out of action – fortunately I had another guitarist who spent 5 hours one Wednesday over Zoom doing it!

Your Patrons Scheme has allowed me to pay that guitarist (who is amazing!), to mix and master Glean so that we can edit the South African film, and it’s also gone towards studio time to continue recording vocals.

The album is on its way – one of the things I’m very conscious about is creating an album that has an arc, a narrative that makes sense all the way through. That was thanks to a great conversation I had on my podcast, Holding up the Ladder, with Prince’s former sound engineer, Dr Susan Rogers. She was explaining how Prince would record his albums and it really was so instructional for me! If you’re a musician or a Prince-lover you should listen to it here.

So I’m currently finishing the tracks I already recorded and writing and arranging new materials – it’s like pushing out a very big baby! But I think it will be worth it and Sputnik’s Patron Scheme has been instrumental (excuse the pun!) to the journey, so thank you very much!

To stay connected with Matshidiso and her music in the lead up to the release, you can follow her on Instagram, subscribe on YouTube, or follow her on Spotify. As mentioned, you can also follow her podcast ‘Holding Up the Ladder’ here – or watch another interview with Matshidiso below.

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Rediscovering wide-eyed wonder with Christy Ringrose

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Christy Ringrose, a Scottish-Norwegian singer-songwriter now living in Edinburgh.

Christy Ringrose is something of a creative dynamo: a painter, songwriter, podcaster, and the leader of our Edinburgh Sputnik Hub. As a musician, her rustic, intimate style contains traces of folk, jazz and musical theatre – and a good dose of the unexpected.

We were delighted to be able to support Christy through our Sputnik Patrons scheme, by helping her to stage her first online concert, on 12th June. We caught up with Christy to talk a little more about her artistic journey:

I grew up in Norway with a love for music, art and nature. Although I loved creating art, I didn’t believe that I was talented enough to become a professional artist. But when I moved to Scotland to study languages, I could no longer subdue my creative drive: I attended art courses, studied painting in an artist’s studio, wrote stories, performed in a French theatre group and finally discovered my biggest passion – songwriting. I signed up to an MA in Songwriting and Performance at the University of the West of Scotland, and that was the beginning of a new life as a musician.

Do your painting and songwriting harmoniously feed into each other or battle against each other for space in your life? How does one artistic discipline serve the other or does it not work like that?

I made a decision to focus on music rather than painting, because of how it enables you to connect with people so instantly. A song automatically demands attention, invites participation and changes the atmosphere in a room. I love the physicality of singing.

Having both painting and songwriting just give me more options. For example, writing a song takes quite a lot of complex thought, but with painting I can just paint something I find beautiful, get lost in the subject and not have to finalise what I’m trying to say.

We’re so pleased to have helped fund your first online live concert on 12th June, and we’re really looking forward to it. How are you finding the challenges and opportunities presented by this new platform? And how can people get tickets?

Not having the audience in the room is a challenge which has to be overcome by imagination! On the 12th of June I will be performing some songs from my first album Dancing Without Space, but also some brand new songs that I have written during the pandemic which will make their debuts.

You don’t need a ticket. The event will be broadcast here on YouTube live and there will be an option to make a donation online. You can keep updated by signing up to my newsletter, My Art Bouquet.

Watch Christy’s event back here:

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Rachel Zylstra and the Beautiful Sadness

Singer-songwriter Rachel Zylstra grew up in the American Midwest, but now calls Edinburgh her home, and her piano-led, naturalistic folk songs feel like they carry the hallmarks of both. Often they sound like they couldn’t be performed by anyone else, with swinging cadences and such easy, conversational delivery that you’re surprised these songs didn’t just fall out of the air fully-formed. It’s the kind of sleight-of-hand you expect from Rufus Wainwright, or Regina Spektor, and it’s remarkably hard to do well: but Rachel pulls it off with charm to spare.

At the start of the year, Rachel released ‘On Faith’, a new collection of more outwardly ‘sacred’ songs, that marks her first release in a few years. We chatted to Rachel to find out more about her musical journey, and how the various turns of her life have influenced her writing and outlook.

Would there be one song that you felt best summed up your music? Can you talk us through it?

Sure! Most of my songs have one or two of the lyrical themes below, but one of my faves that immediately comes to mind, has a whole tick list of them all in one place: ‘The Pity Party’ (from Strings, 2012)

  • Wistfulness
  • Self-deprecating humor
  • Mild wallowing
  • Tough love (“Stop your quivering, you giant little mouse”)
  • Pep-talking (“You’ve got the chance to make it up again as you go along”)
  • Romantic love/Anxiety about finding love (“Shield me from the blow… of being not enough to merit the inventions of someone I could love”)
  •  God/Spiritual longing – i.e. knowing that, after all these dramatrics, it’s actually very much Not About Me (“Point me to the thing that makes me full”). 

Musically, it’s my ‘classic’ sound: ballady, classical-influenced piano and a conversational vocal delivery; a touch of theatre; added to this, the sound gets souped up as it goes along with swoopy strings and some vocal counterpoint – brushing with chaos, but coming back, much like the arc of the lyrics.

Your latest album On Faith is the first you’ve released since moving continents. How has relocation affected how you approach your art?

Over the course of a decade living in NYC, I’d grown some strong ties in Christian and arts community. I had talented and generous musician friends who came on board to make music with me in different seasons, venues I knew I could always play. When I moved to test the waters in Edinburgh, I literally knew two people, so starting from square one connection-wise was the first challenge.

But, my relocation to Scotland was kicked off by a hopeful whim and a decision to nourish my personal life. As to how it would enhance my art and art production, I was pretty sure that spending time on the wistful windswept landscape would inspire some new beautiful-sadness type lyrics, but I didn’t think far beyond that.

I tend to write from an autobiographical perspective more often than not. So when (surprise!) a bunch started changing in my personal life after I moved, my personal life became a big distraction away from my regular art-making patterns, and also changed some of the themes that I felt inspired by and equipped to write about empathetically.

On top of that, you’ve recently had your first child. I know that many artists find it very difficult to juggle their art and the responsibilities that appear on becoming a new parent. How’s it going so far?

While I love being a mom, carving out the necessary time, energy, mental and physical space to create and rehearse with a toddler in tow, especially in a lockdown, especially while lacking access to a studio or equivalent – is a plain good joke! Seriously though, since my daughter was born, we’ve lived in a small 1-bed flat. We intend to move to a 2-bed soon, and I think I’ve already hung too much hopeful expectation on an extra room in the house and how it could “solve” these mental and physical space issues!

It’s fascinating to see the way your faith interacts with your music. On Faith is certainly more upfront in its Biblical subject matter and more explicitly worshipful than previous albums. What led you in this direction and what have you learnt so far about how following Jesus and making beautiful music can go together well?

Making On Faith actually wasn’t a sudden turn in direction, but the result of the accumulation of a number of Scripture songs and hymns that I’d penned or adopted over the years, sung in churches, etc, some of which had become all-out mantras for me in my faith walk (e.g. ‘Dayenu Lord’, written by Steffon Davis). My earliest original song on On Faith, ‘World Belongs’, dates back to 2000, and the most recent to 2018. These are years through which I was writing and putting out albums of my more ‘mainstream’ heartache/hope/humour-infused singer-songwriter fare, all the while thinking, “Someday I’ll do a full-on sacred/Scripture songs album.” So, in part it came down to practicalities – I didn’t dare try to stick a bombastically worshipful song like ‘Psalm 65’ on a track list next to a song pining for an ex-boyfriend – though, I’m sure some have succeeded at this level of diversity on a record!

Making On Faith… I guess if I dig deeper to answer the “why now?” question – why not have made it 5, 10 years ago? – I am reminded of the trajectory of my faith and life circumstances. My late 20s and into my 30s I was growing in disillusionment – initially, in not achieving a commercial success with my art that I had really hoped for and pursued; then, in longing for marriage, while simply not meeting that person. My faith took a big nose dive in my early 30s and spiritual/existential doubt became a major theme in my songs then. The Tacit Turn (2015) reflects this period. I felt “held” through that season, and ultimately, brought back from the agnostic edge, but I wasn’t singing from a place of spiritual strength, rather of deep vulnerability. Granted, God meets us in deep vulnerability… 

When I came to Scotland in 2016 on a wing and a prayer and a visitor’s visa, and within the three years that followed, fell in love, got married, and had a baby – I was kind of bludgeoned by the evidence that God is there, and listens. God listened to my prayers and my heartaches and my longings, was with me through a long desert of waiting, and finally answered, “Here you go, Rachel” and showered me with all these ‘Yes’-es.

So, when my daughter was 6 months old and my new-parent feet felt more firmly planted underneath me, I asked: what’s next on the musical agenda? – and the project that has become On Faith budged its way to the top of my consciousness. I didn’t question it hugely then; I figured – hey it’s just time to get this one out. But I see now that it was a response. I had to respond explicitly to what God had just done in my life, and give all the glory where it’s due. I felt in a stronger place to do it, and to mean it with all my heart. Even if my faith-feeling still ebbs and flows at times, my life shows God’s outrageous provision and love, undeniably, in spite of me.

You can get hold of ‘On Faith’ at Rachel’s website, here, and follow Rachel on Instagram here.

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The sounds of nature, as heard by Michael Dornan

Devon-based musician Michael Dornan has released the first instalment of his new ‘Flora & Fauna’ project, a self-produced effort recorded at home during the pandemic, featuring all manner of remote collaborations.

We sent Michael some questions to fill us in on the project, his journey so far and the inspirations behind his quirky brand of nature-inspired indie-folk.

Can you talk us through your journey as a musician so far?

Well, when I was a kid I learned so much at the old upright piano at home. It had been my grandpa’s – he was a music teacher, choirmaster, accompanied silent movies – and I’d listen to the TV or radio and try to recreate what I heard. It was a little imaginative refuge.

And later, still in County Antrim, I got loads of experience with a female-fronted classic-rock-for-Jesus band. Being the main songwriter and not the singer, I had to be pretty adaptable – and though I go out of my way to not publicise that stuff now, I did develop my chops there. But my biggest influences were solo artists: Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Joanna Newsom. Later in Oxford, I found my voice composition-wise with an amazing band, Praxis Bold. Kinda indie-jazz-folk, so we called it in-j-oke.

You’ve made music in a variety of contexts, from being in bands with people who aren’t Christians, through to music more solely focused on a church audience. What have you learnt from those experiences? Where would you say you fit best?

When I find out where I fit, I’ll let you know! There are so many nuances in this question, I’m glad you dig into the spiritual stuff at Sputnik. As a reader/listener, I love artists who create a little world that I can briefly visit, after which I look at my own world slightly differently. That’s what I want to do. And if I were to fence off my work to all but one group of people, as I once unintentionally did, then I’m not using my abilities to the full. Back to Stevie and Brian – from them I learned that if you have love in you, you put it into every note of every song. That’s what I’ve tried to do with this new record.

As a solo artist, you seem to collaborate very effectively. What advice would you give singer songwriters who have a strong vision for what they want to do who find that they cannot pull it off on their own?

Still thinking of creative partnerships extra ecclesiam, we all had really different views and tastes in Praxis Bold. One night we swapped instruments – bassist on keys, me on bass, which I’m not native to – and we came up with probably our best song ever, from outside our comfort zones. A live staple that remains sadly unreleased. Another time I brought something I’d written, and no-one trashed it, but after a session the guys agreed, “this doesn’t sound like Praxis Bold”. That’s a marvel – we were discovering the character of an entity bigger than ourselves.

It’s different as a solo artist. Instead of a Venn diagram of overlapping interests, you have a circle! So anything goes, but to feel alive you still need the oxygen of community. That’s been harder to come by since Covid. I was going to meet up with a couple of the Praxis guys last March, but… you know what happened in March. So with a new record in the pipeline, I went back to my drawing-board, and decided that with the help of some session musicians, I could make something quite kaleidoscopic from home.

So we have beautiful sounds from violinist Joanna Karselis, a film composer in her own right, but gracious enough to work with the skronky scores I suggested to her; some awesome upright bass from Madalena Graca, who I found online and thought – she’ll vibe with this weird song I have. The key is seeking out people you trust to interpret your ideas with their own hands.

If you had to put music in one of the following categories, which would it be: fun, work, calling?

It’s all of the above at different times, but let me put it like this: if I didn’t have the sense of calling, it would’ve slotted comfortably into the category of “fun” by now.

What does success look like to you?

That’s a little like ‘what does health look like to you’ – a question my wife’s been writing about recently. In both cases, I’d probably say staying active enough to keep going for the long run. I’d lost a lot of momentum because I didn’t do that. I didn’t do that because I had to go away and reimagine myself. Success comes when you’re engaging with people – ideas are shared, or feet start moving, or someone’s sufficiently moved to throw fruit at you.

The new project seems to have been a long time gestating, but by the sounds of it, is coming on great. Can you talk us through it?

Thanks for that. This album is called Flora and Fauna, and is broadly a project about creativity and nature. On the creativity front, the song I mentioned with upright bass is about seeking inspiration – it’s based on a baroque piece by Henry Purcell. The album also has a bit of an obsession with St Cecilia (patron saint of music). And in the past year, little corners of nature have given us all the inspiration we’ve needed, in our daily escapes from home. So there are songs about that small-scale magic, including one about the first time I saw kingfishers, which changed my life.

Of course, trees, insects, they all live great lives without human interaction. I’ve tried to make sure my own voice isn’t the only one involved. On Flora and Fauna there are field recordings I made of birdsong, and a software percussion instrument made only from sounds (wood on wood) I could make in a Bristol forest. And joyously, Emma my wife sings lead on a few tracks. The thing with the biological world is, it’s so diverse I can’t have only a few different sounds on here. Trumpets, synths, crickets at Land’s End – I wanted them all to be part of it.

The first half of ‘Flora and Fauna’ is out now on Bandcamp! Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming Kickstarter to help finish the project and fund printed copies. Follow Michael’s progress on Instagram or Twitter.

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Mr Ekow in the pantheon of hip-hop history

Chris Gaisie, a.k.a. Mr Ekow, has long been a Sputnik favourite, both for his musical output and his tenacity, determination and creativity.

At Sputnik Patrons we’re incredibly proud to have supported the video production of Mr Ekow’s new single, I Am Hip Hop – a no-holds barred demonstration of the man’s serious lyrical skill. For the video, Ekow and director Matt Bowie recreate a whole ton of classic hip-hop videos, from Missy Elliot to the Pharcyde, to Dizzee Rascal, to Tyler the Creator – placing Mr Ekow in the pantheon of hip-hop greats with gravitas and goofy humour in equal parts.

It’s a killer video, and we highly recommend you watch the whole thing below and go support Mr Ekow’s music.

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What did Sputnik fund in 2019?

Artists need funding. In most jobs, you get remunerated directly for the work you produce, by the people who you do that work for. This is just not how it works for many artists. We work multiple jobs; we dilute our work to make it more marketable; we get by on very little; or perhaps we give up.

Even artists who are well-established, well-respected, and living off their craft, often have to find alternative methods to fund the more interesting areas of their practice.

This often means relying on patronage in some form. Nowadays, in the UK, the government are the chief patrons of the arts, through different funding bodies like the Arts Council.

But in years gone by, the church played this role too. They don’t anymore, and we’d like to change that. So in 2017 we started our Sputnik Patrons Scheme, and 2019 was the year when the scheme started to really kick into gear.

Through the support of our patrons, last year we funded 11 projects to the tune of over £5,000. Here’s a very brief overview of where that money went.

A Rap Album Launch Party

You can read more about Mantis’ triumphant album launch in Jonny Mellor’s highlights of 2019, but in short, it was a masterclass in hip-hop, and an absolute pleasure to be able to provide funding and manpower to make it happen.

Here’s Joel Wilson’s review of the album itself, with a few more links to Mantis’ work.

Training a storyteller to serve families and children through Theraplay

Anna O’Brien is a Birmingham-based storyteller, and last year she was looking into developing a therapeutic storytelling course for Parents and Carers.

Sputnik funded her to get trained in an approach called Theraplay, which has already helped her to further serve members of her community. This interview will tell you more.

Still from ‘Victoria’ by Juan Pablo Daza Pulido

A documentary about a Columbian refugee

Juan Daza is a Columbian film maker and photographer, based in Edinburgh. Since September 2018, Juan and his wife Maria have been working on a documentary, Victoria, which tells the story of a Colombian woman who has been living in exile in London for more than 20 years. After being kidnapped and abused by an armed group in 1992, she fled to the UK in 1997 where she now works actively as a peace builder helping other Colombian women who lived through similar situations.

Through the Patronage Scheme, we helped push this project over the line, so that it premiered at the end of November.

We’ll have more information about this project soon, including ways that you can see the film for yourself.

A Christian arts charity who support local musicians

Impact was formed by Oasis Church in Birmingham a few years ago, to show the love of Jesus to local musicians. The original intention was simply to give local acts well-promoted, well-organised, well-paid gigs and honour them more than other promoters would often do.

This has grown into a residency scheme, through which the Impact team take on young Birmingham bands, record an EP and organise a launch night for them. Although some of the artists involved have been Christians, the focus is on those outside the church, and it is one of the best examples we’ve seen of a church looking to show love to, and serve, their local artistic community.

Money from our patronage scheme went towards funding an extra part-time member of staff, to help them develop the residency programme further.

A pop punk album

Mike Lawetto is a musical chameleon, known to constantly switch genres from pop, to dance, to worship, to Christmas carols!

However, last year, on the back of extensive coverage on Alex Baker’s Kerrang Radio show, he released an album with his rock band, Well Done You, which has already led the band to some excellent support slots for some giants in the pop punk genre.

Sputnik were delighted to help him complete this project. Find out more here.

This is England exhibition by Benjamin Harris

An Exhibition exploring nationalism and the concept of Englishness

As one of our first patronage projects, we commissioned Benjamin Harris to make work for a fine art exhibition. In April, at The Holy Biscuit in Newcastle, this plan came to fruition with This is England, a collection of work exploring nationalism, Englishness and the cross.

As a young man who grew up and still lives in the Black Country, Benjamin is no outsider to such discussions and his perspective on these vitally important social issues, as well as his formidable skill as an artist and deep rooted Christian faith, made for a fantastic exhibition.e

Hannah Rose Thomas Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors Art Sputnik Faith
Panels from ‘Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors’ – Hannah Rose Thomas

An art book for an artist/activist

The majority of our patronage-related work at Sputnik HQ this year has been spent on a project that is still brewing.

Sputnik is overseeing and funding the creation of an art book by London-based painter and activist, Hannah Rose Thomas. Her portraits of oppressed women in some of the most dangerous parts of the world have got her on to Sky News and recently she was named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Her last four exhibitions have been at Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Lambeth Palace and the European Parliament HQ.

While this project has been slow to see the light of day, our work with the artist has opened up all sorts of exciting possibilities that we hope to tell you much more about in 2020, when the book is published.

Mr Ekow Sputnik Collective Faith Art

A hip hop music video

Chris Gaisie, AKA Mr Ekow, is a rapper from South London. Chris applied for a grant to help him create a video for his excellent single ‘I Am Hip-Hop’. The video is nearing completion and he’ll be releasing it in the New Year. Once again, we are delighted to be able to help build a platform for an excellent piece of music, and support one of our favourite artists get their music out to a wider audience.

Sound equipment for an installation based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Matthew Tuckey is a sound designer and sound artist, living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He is presently creating an abstract soundscape inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

In the development of this intriguing project, we have helped Matt purchase a microphone that is so specialised it can record sounds inside a cow pat! Another one to look forward to for 2020.

A Passion Play in Edinburgh

Our home city of Birmingham was so blessed by Saltmine’s public Passion Play this year, and Sputnik are delighted to be able to help fund Cutting Edge Theatre to do a similar event in Edinburgh next Easter.

The theatre company are involving a number of community groups to retell the Easter story in an accessible manner for a modern day audience, and it’s a brilliant opportunity to engage the Scottish capital with the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

You can find out more information about Cutting Edge here.

Joel Wilson Birmingham Film Maker Sputnik Faith Art

An Album of Alternative Rap Lamentation

Just before Christmas, we were able to offer funding to one more project that will again come to life in 2020. Joel Wilson is a rapper and film director, and next year he is releasing his first album since 2008. Details at present are sparse, but it would be fair to say that it is not likely to be a happy album, presenting a no-holds-barred response to these strange and concerning times in which we find ourselves. In the artist’s own words:

I’ve heard a lot of people recently saying that they wish there was more space within community life to lament. My sincere hope is that this recording will also help people grieve, lament and process some of the unprecedented stress, sorrow, confusion and pain of everyday life.’

The early demos sound fantastic and we’re so grateful to be able to help bring this project to life.

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Sputnik founder Jonny Mellor lists his 2019 highlights

I appreciate the end of a year.

I like calendar markers: opportunities to reflect on what’s been and gone and what could be round the corner. When years seem to routinely pass in a flash, I find it encouraging to take stock of what’s happened in that flash and remember that it’s not been wasted.

I haven’t yet got my head round the ‘end of the decade’ factor, but as years go, in terms of Sputnik at least, it’s been a very exciting and potentially game-changing twelve months.

So, highlights? I thought I’d round up a few. In no particular order…

Mantis launched his new album, ‘The Legend of One’

Pythagoras the Praying Mantis is a force of nature. A Birmingham rap veteran and a longstanding Sputnik favourite, this year he released possibly his best album yet, The Legend of One, and we had the great pleasure of helping him put on the album launch party, through the Sputnik Patrons scheme.

Pythagoras the Praying Mantis performing ‘Steelwire Technique

The event was fantastic: Mantis was ably supported by an excellent house band and a whole host of vocal support, but he took hold of the stage and made it his own. Stage presence. Authority. Vocal precision. Good audience banter. Ticks all round.

The Sputnik Team kept growing

For years, Sputnik was essentially me, sat at a desk a couple of days a week, scheming, blogging and putting on the occasional event. Things have certainly changed.

Firstly, it was wonderful working with Jess Wood as she completed her internship in the first half of the year. Since then, the office team has been transformed by the brilliant Wumi Donald coming on board. Chris Donald, Wumi’s other half, continues to make the website shine and was responsible for our best publication yet – the second volume of our Anthology, a giveaway for our growing roster of art Patrons.

Edinburgh Hub’s Hannah Kelly

Outside of Birmingham, the team is expanding further. There’s Joanna, Luke and Hannah in Edinburgh; Dez, Alex and Christine down in London, and my old friend Jem Bunce in Cornwall. In September, we had our first Sputnik Hub leaders get together, and I’m so thankful for all the fantastic people that God has added to the gang. Go Team Sputnik go!

We found friends across the pond

After many years of searching, we’ve finally found another organisation with some Sputnik DNA!

There are loads of excellent groups doing excellent things in the intersection between Christianity and art, but we’ve always felt a bit like an odd one out.

Are you into worship art? Not really. So art as a vehicle for the gospel then? Nope. So, you just want Christians to be more creative? Ummm…

Well, this year, we found some other weirdos who seem to be on the same page. Renew The Arts is a US-based Christian arts organization that supports and funds Christian artists (like we do) and aims to encourage and challenge the church at large to carefully think through their relationship with the arts (like we do).

Their blog is definitely one of my favourite things of 2019, and I’d thoroughly recommend everyone clocking in. My route in would be this introductory episode, then this review of incarnation and Platonism in the church. Throw in this exploration of the difficulties of redemption stories and you’ll be hooked.

Kanye… no, really

I know that I’ve already shared more than my 20 pence already on Mr West, including why Jesus is King should not be seen as blueprint for Christian art.

Nonetheless, one of the world’s biggest celebrities claiming to have come to faith in Jesus, making a chart-topping album all about Jesus and then talking about nothing but Jesus for months on end – is still kind of a big deal! I’m on side: I think we should be thankful for Kanye, and I also think we should pray hard for Kanye. He’s going to need it.

Photo by Kenny Sun

One last anecdote won’t kill you.

I was talking to a friend the other day – a Christian student. He was listening to Jesus is King in his room, and on turning it off, was surprised to hear that it was still playing down the corridor, in not just one but two of his friends’ rooms.

A bit later, his housemates grabbed him, asking for some help. They’d been enjoying the new Kanye West album, they explained, but were struggling to understand what was going on. First of all, could he explain to them the symbolism of water in Christianity?!

The Generate(ion) Film weekend

In October, Sputnik teamed up with One Small Barking Dog to put on Generate(ion), a youth filmmaking weekend in Birmingham.

On the Friday night, we hosted a bunch of creative workshops for 30-40 young people – featuring artists from the Brum Sputnik Hub – then on Saturday, Pip Piper and his team put on a more focused film workshop.

The Generate(ion) Film weekend

Pip is the kind of guy who always does my soul good. Therefore, to simply stick him in the same room as a group of young people would have been time well spent.

However, to see him training and coaching them to develop their skills in film, and to think about using the medium effectively, was truly a thing of beauty. We’re very much looking forward to taking Generate(ion) out of Brum to other cities in 2020 and beyond.

Jemma Mellor showed how it’s done

She’ll probably hate me for this, but my wife, Jem, definitely makes the list of 2019 Sputnik highlights.

Technically, she’d always feature on the list (awwww!) but this year particularly so, as she is increasingly embodying everything that we’re about. Since completing her degree about 15 years ago, her art practice has been on the back burner, as she’s focused on being a super mum. However, she’s kept the flame burning, steadily producing work when she could, and using her skills to great effect in different part time jobs.

Then, this September, with the kids now all at school, she started an ‘Interdisciplinary Art and Design’ Masters at BCU, and has well and truly got back on the horse.

I imagine there are some artists out there who get skilled-up at a young age, and then seamlessly move into a life of non-stop creation and success, before dying at a ripe old age, content and satisfied. However, I’ve yet to meet any of them.

For most of us, we find time where we can, we have a few years of action and progress and then a few more of frustration. We want to create, but life gets in the way. Things happen. We get disappointed. We doubt ourselves. We wonder why we bother and we feel like giving up.

Jem hasn’t given up. She’s kept going and now she’s producing some of her best work yet. And it’s just going to get better. Not to mention the fact that we now get to discuss Martin Heidegger at dinner times. Result!

Next year…

Yes, I know that this is a bit of a cheat, as this is a review of 2019, but I think it’s fair to say that next year is shaping up to be pretty tasty in Sputnik-ville.

Faith and Arts days are happening in Bournemouth, Bristol and London next term, with more pencilled in for later in the year. However, the big news is that we’re going to be hosting our first ever residential: the ‘Sputnik Gathering’ in the West Midlands on 24th and 25th May.

So once you’ve had enough of turkey and mince pies and you’ve put your Santa onesies back in the wardrobe, come back in the New Year, and we look forward to telling you more.

From everyone at Sputnik HQ, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

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When Yeezus turned to Jesus: Why ‘Jesus is King’ is not a blueprint for Christian art

For many Christians, Kanye West’s new album Jesus is King is the perfect example of a piece of Christian art. It is wholesome, uplifting and features the highest quality of craftsmanship, but most importantly, its content is unapologetically, relentlessly and worshipfully Christian.

Therefore, I was not surprised to stumble across some responses to Jesus is King putting it forward as evidence that Christian artists should be much more confident in proclaiming Christ through their art and not shying away from filling their work with explicitly Christian content . It seems like an open and shut case. Kanye West can top the charts with an album of simple gospel proclamation, so why are other Christian artists so reluctant to do so? I mean, what else could you want to make art about?

I may sound a bit contrarian, but I’m not so sure. While I appreciate the need to proclaim Christ, I think that pressuring artists to do so in their work shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what art is, as well as a confusion over why Jesus is King is shifting so many units among people who are not Christians.

Art as a vehicle for our message?

A very common Christian view of the arts is that they are primarily valuable as a vehicle for our message. Art, in whatever from it might take, has a powerful communicative power, and we have a message that we are very keen to communicate, so – this view goes – if only we could use this aspect of human culture more proficiently, it would maximise our evangelistic effectiveness.

This seems well intentioned but also somewhat naïve. I would, of course, agree that art has a powerful communicative power. I recently heard art described as a Trojan horse. Its ‘emotional charge’ (as philosopher RG Collingwood put it) opens the doors of your attention and possibly affection, and before you know it, you are considering and probably warming to beliefs, opinions and maybe even entire worldviews that you wouldn’t have given the time of day to otherwise.

In a world saturated with marketing and advertising, people are getting more and more suspicious of manipulative techniques.

However, while all of this is true about how art affects people, it is probably an unhelpful way to view art generally. If you set about making art with this in mind, you will probably end up producing propaganda. One of the problems with this is that in a world saturated with marketing and advertising, people are getting more and more suspicious of such techniques. This means that art produced in this way can actually have the opposite effect, and if people feel their emotions being pulled in a certain direction by a piece of art, they instinctively bolt the gates – not just to that piece of work, but to the group it speaks for.

In any discipline, art made with an obvious agenda is usually well received by those who are already on board with that agenda, but it is resisted and even resented by those who are not.

Engaging in a conversation through the arts

Art, I think, should be viewed more as a way of entering into a conversation. It involves speaking one’s mind, but it also involves listening. In a conversation, subtleties of body language and tone of voice are key; in art, nuance, empathy and vulnerability are necessary. Importantly, art works are rarely viewed in isolation, but are part of a process, involving an artist’s whole body of work, and even his or her life as a whole.

The typical Christian approach to evangelistic art is to treat it as a megaphone to raise the volume of our message in individual outbursts. We interrupt what everyone else is talking about, shout something about Jesus, then run off. This is not a very winsome way to approach the art of conversation and it is an equally poor way of approaching art as conversation.

Now, let’s consider Jesus is King in this context. Musically, it is very polished, and in places I think inspired. Lyrically, it is very simple and blunt. Some think of this as a strength, others as a weakness, but the fact that people are thinking about it at all shows that people have willingly entered into the conversation with Kanye. The reason for this is quite simple: he has put time into participating in this particular conversation and, for all his antics, has proved himself a highly engaging conversationalist.

Since his earliest releases, he has exhibited a fan-boy enthusiasm for hip-hop culture and a love for the art form. This has earnt him a listening from those within his specific discipline. On top of this, although he is infamous for saying and doing things that are, let’s say, a little bit off the wall, his tendency to fill his music with exactly what he is thinking at any particular moment has meant that people feel like they have some sort of connection with him, and – most importantly – that they relate to him.

We interrupt what everyone else is talking about, shout something about Jesus, then run off. This is not a very winsome way to approach the art of conversation

This means that Jesus is King, in the context of the conversation, is not the simple (even possibly simplistic) work that it appears to be, taken purely on its own merit. It is an unexpected (although not entirely out of character) left-turn on a journey that many people are already heavily invested in.

If Jesus is King was Kanye’s first album, it would not be trending worldwide, just as if Stormzy had released Blinded by Your Grace as his first single, he would not have been invited to play at Glastonbury. They didn’t enter the conversation there, and they probably couldn’t have done.

Expressing yourself honestly through the arts

Interestingly, Kanye’s approach to art making has remained fairly consistent throughout his winding career. He has always justified his media outbursts and the more unsavoury elements of his art, by arguing that it is his job, as an artist, to express himself; to refuse to pretend and instead to faithfully represent in his work what is going on in his head.

In the past this has led him to shoot from the hip on political and social issues and also to unburden the salacious contents of his id on to his listenership. Now, he has decided to follow Jesus and with the fresh faced enthusiasm of a new convert, he is continuing in the same vein- he is being himself. He may well have mixed motives in the whole affair (don’t we all?) but the interpretation of Jesus is King that I find least likely is that it is the product of a calculating mind, trying to tap a certain market. Kanye has spent years killing his editor, often at great expense to his personal credibility, so I don’t see why he’d change that particular habit now.

He seems to be making music about Jesus, because, at this particular moment in time, he loves Jesus. Long may that love continue and grow!

What can we learn from Kanye?

When I reflect on Jesus is King then, I don’t see compelling evidence that Christians should make art that focuses exclusively on Christian content. It is also not a clarion call to use the arts to proclaim the gospel. It is instead an encouragement to Christian artists to join the conversation. To step out of the safety of the Christian subculture, and become a faithful presence in their artistic cultures. This will probably only be possible if they are somewhat more diverse in their content than Kanye is on Jesus is King.

Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that Christian artists should cunningly hide their allegiance to Christ and pretend to be interested in other things, until people take the bait and they can reel them in!

Underpinning my understanding of how a Christian should engage in the arts is the belief that living for Jesus doesn’t mean that we are only interested in things that are obviously of a Christian nature. By his light, all things become brighter, and so Christians should be people who are interested in, and excited about all sorts of elements of life as things that have been given to us as gifts from God.

The musician and songwriter T Bone Burnett put it brilliantly, when he said:

“If Jesus is the Light of the World, there are two kinds of songs you can write. You can write songs about the light or you can write songs about what you can see from the light. That’s what I try to do.”

Art is a tool by which we can explore the depths of what it means to be a human being, and, as Christians, we should be able to do that in the most profound way; in a way that finds many universal points of reference, but that also authentically and beautifully leads people to the one who is the true human, the perfect image of God.

By God’s grace (let’s hope) Kanye West has gained a platform for the gospel by appealing to the more transgressive tastes of the masses. That’s how he got into the conversation. If you’re a Christian artist, you can’t do it like that, but in a funny way, Kanye’s model of honesty and openness is very much something that we should emulate. We should love God and make art about whatever we will, as Augustine would have said if he’d decided to contribute to this particular discussion!

Give artists space to make authentic, weird, silly, earnest, abstract work… they will get into conversations with people that you never will

If you are a church leader, then, please do not use ‘Jesus is King’ as the blueprint of how the Christian artists in your church can now reach the world with the gospel. Instead train artists up in godliness and give them space to make authentic, weird, mind boggling, silly, earnest, abstract work that may seem like a total waste of time to you, but is their way of processing what is going on in their heads. By doing this, they are likely to get into conversations with people that you never will.

And for all of us, let’s celebrate what seems to be going on in Kanye West’s life and also celebrate the existence of an album that is going to direct millions of people’s attention towards Jesus, when, without it, they wouldn’t be thinking about him at all.

And, I know I may not take you all with me on this one, but I’m praying that this is his last gospel album. It would be a travesty for a Jesus following Kanye West to be relegated to just being a successful CCM artist!

This article first appeared in a slightly edited form on the ThinkTheology blog.

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The Entropy Blues: Contemplating our Artistic Mortality

Artistic Mortality Chris Donald Alan Lomax Blues Sputnik Faith Arts

In the internet age, it’s easy to feel like nothing will ever be truly lost. If we picture our lives decades in the future, it’s easier to imagine ourselves fighting for our old pictures to be deleted, than mourning over lost memories that we’ll never be able to recover.

But you don’t have to look back very far to find an era where the opposite was the case – where the idea of your work ‘lasting’ through time was a far from sure bet, especially if you were an everyday folk artist. And there’s something I find fascinating about near-forgotten music and recordings. I have a feeling there’s something valuable to gain from that sense of fragility and limitation, in a world where you can’t rely on the cloud to back you up forever.

The folly of phonographers

The phonograph was the earliest technology that could record and play back sound. But early phonograph companies didn’t think of recordings as cultural artefacts: allegedly, they sometimes sold off recording masters to be used as roofing shingles.

Those early records had a limited practical shelf life, too: the top oxide layer could peel away over time, rendering them unplayable. In order to save old recordings, Archivists in the Library of Congress developed a laborious technique of holding down the oxide and re-recording the master one rotation at a time. But in other cases, the oxide just got lost, leaving a useless disc.

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ heritage radio station WWOZ faced the forces of nature on a much more disastrous scale: the flooded studio was left with shelves of tapes drenched in water and muck. A team from the National Recording Preservation Foundation worked through the reels, drying them out by baking them in a pie oven. Many of them recovered just enough that they could be played once before falling apart: the team captured them to a digital format on that single play.

The privilege of recording

There have been less innocuous reasons your music might not survive through the ages, too. In South Africa, Rodriguez’s The Establishment Blues was reinterpreted as an anti-apartheid anthem – and the government literally scratched out the track from any imported copies of the record. (Luckily, it flourished underground anyway). In the Sixties, local radio stations in the States blacklisted particular records in response to civil rights protests – and some of those records disappeared completely. The National Recording Preservation Foundation is currently trying to track them down again. In fact, they estimate that as much as 82% of all commercial recorded music is unavailable to the general public, sitting unplayed on a dusty shelf somewhere, if copies still exist at all.

That’s before you even take into account the question of access to the recording process – something that has been very, very different in previous eras. The majority of musicians in the 1930s or 40s wouldn’t have made it to a recording booth, whether for practical reasons or social.

There were attempts to counteract the biases of the industry: ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax set about interviewing and recording unknown blues and gospel musicians in the American Delta as early as the 1930s. Lomax could be seen lugging around early recording equipment weighing over 500 pounds as a sign of his reverent obsession. His recordings are still intact, and listening to them now feels raw and otherworldly. Each is a two or three minute window into another time and place, along with a performer’s name, and scant little else. The scrappy recordings feel like a liminal space, a grey area in between ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’.

They feel voyeuristic in a way – I’m viewing these musicians dimly, as a tourist to their experience, separated by time, place, and particularly privilege. They are ‘folk’ musicians in the original sense: not as a genre, but the phenomenon of local artists making work for their time and locality.

That’s why all of this does, after all, relate to us troubadours in the digital age. I doubt we worry much that our recordings might crumble into dust in the next 50 years (though I’ve lost my fair share of files). But even if our art lives on digitally, it has its own mortality.

Firstly, instead of the physical entropy of analogue recordings, we have a gigantic, continental databerg that will swallow us up into anonymity. Secondly, our cultural moment will move on; rapidly, you’d think, given the impending end of our current Western era. Like the Delta musicians, we’ll become an historical artefact. 

Being present in our work

So, what we’re left with is the present. Is that depressing, or is it a helpful spur? Others on this site have posed the question of our work’s ultimate future, beyond broken records and flooded studios. I think Sputnik generally chimes with ‘incarnational’ theology, the worldview that says creation, and bodies, and physical reality, and the things we make, are all important, and sanctified. So, yes, a rebuttal to all this might be that what is lost is not lost forever, but somehow part of the world to come. One might also point to a Van Gogh, whose work was picked up after death and inspires awe decades on. 

But we can’t control any of that. My gut feeling is that a sense of our limitations is useful for something. Like any brush with mortality, hopefully it focuses us more vividly in the here and now, with a childlike (or Christlike) appreciation of the moment. To enjoy our own work for what it is, enjoy the sharing of it, and to pay attention to the work of others that you get to see or hear – that’s a gift in itself. In Lomax’s recordings, perhaps that’s what captures the imagination the most: the sense of place, a present-ness that happened once, and will never be again.

In the life of the world to come, will I really be thinking about the work that was? I hope I’ll be too occupied making mind-bending work in the Eternal Present.

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The Repentant Completionist: When Outtakes and Demos Become Too Much

Completionism: that’s a word, isn’t it? Yes. Yes, it is. It’s the desire, the need to complete the set of whatever you’re collecting or the drive to finish every level in a game. I gave up on collecting every record by bands I liked a long time ago. I was too broke to be a proper completionist. I was getting there with De La Soul albums on vinyl, but then my brother nicked the records and sold them or lost them somewhere in California. No biggie.

The one band who’ve most tempted me back to completionism is Radiohead. I own all the studio albums, the I Might Be Wrong live album, Com Lag and the bootleg Oxford’s Angels, which includes early stuff including the Drill EP songs, the B-sides, the Record Store Day exclusives, that rejected Bond Spectre theme song and then there’s the special edition of… oh, shut up, Joel. Either you’re a Radiohead fan and there are fond tears welling up in your eyes or you’ve glazing over and are very close to skipping to the last paragraph, so let’s just get to the point.

That Radiohead leak

In June 2019, someone leaked over 16 hours of Minidisc recordings of Radiohead demos, rehearsals, soundchecks, song sketches on tinternet. These recordings from the late 90’s weren’t ever meant to be made public. In wake of the leak, the band begrudgingly decided to officially release all this material on Bandcamp for a limited time: the deal was you had 18 days to download the whole lot for £18. The profits would go to the environmental group Extinction Rebellion. The band, bless ‘em, tried to make something positive out of a genuinely frustrating situation. The unabridged and quite fascinating story of the stolen and leaked material is in this super nerdy Reddit thread.

Naturally, I, like thousands of other fans, was curious to hear these recordings. Allegedly there were hidden gems and full songs amongst the half-baked ideas, false starts and melodic vocal place-holders.

So, to Bandcamp. I’m at work sorting through and editing photos. Perfect time to listen to this unexpected mammoth audio treat.

The first minidisc ‘MD111’ is 70 minutes of material. Unsurprisingly, by the time I’m listening the hardcore fans have already provided tracklists and notes, for those who can’t quite read the scrawled tracklists in the artwork. And sure enough it does feature a rarity, an early version of True Love Waits, but it’s mainly songs I know and love being soundchecked or in various stages of not-yet-dressed.

Radiohead circa 1997, from ‘Meeting People is Easy’

Importantly ‘MD111’ also features Thom Yorke’s wails and murmurs as he attempts to get those initial song ideas out of his head. Onto the next minidisc, and the next one. More gems and more curiosities and more raw song sketches. It’s fun…for a while.

Five hours later it feels like I’m treading on sacred territory; sacred and to be honest, not that enjoyable. A voice is saying, ‘Leave Thom alone, let him bloody finish writing the song before you listen to it.’

I don’t edit photos very often at work. In fact, there aren’t spare hours throughout the day to meaningfully do this minidisc marathon. I persevere. 15 minutes here, a couple more tracks there, but I’m lagging. Despite the seams of sonic gold, I’m increasingly less motivated to listen to songs that Radiohead, given the chance, would’ve hidden away forever.

Thom writes on the Bandcamp site about the leaked collection, ‘it’s not v interesting’. He’s looking forward to the moment when ‘we all get bored and move on’. Sure enough, most casual listeners and culture vultures do get bored and move on. Some fans will continue to cherish these recording as part of their complete Radiohead archive. Me? I’m in neither camp. I didn’t get bored. I got uncomfortable.

The need for hidden processes

I never made it to ‘MD128’. The Bandcamp download deadline passed without me downloading it and I decided not to ask other fans for a cheeky zip file. And I’m content.

As someone lamented after the publication of Kurt Cobain’s journals: ‘Private thoughts should remain private thoughts’. Unpublished sketches have a purpose within the creative process. They exist as a reference often for an audience of one. As a society we’ve developed a weird gluttony for the unheard, the unseen, the unpublished, the unfinished, the alternate version, the leaked edit, the ill-advised DVD bonus feature and in doing so, we’ve trampled on delicate artistry and diminished its ineffable glow.

Unpublished sketches have a purpose within the creative process. They exist as a reference often for an audience of one.

I get it. We’re human. We’re stubbornly curious creatures. The creative process can be interesting. We somehow hope that some of that magic will rub off on us, or that we’ll discover some brilliant, otherworldly technique or that we’ll find a distilled form of the creative elixir the artist draws from before offering it to the public.

We want to feel like insiders. We sense that the creative process is what many artists most love, therefore we want to get a glimpse or him/her/them mid-composition. Ironically for many of us this isn’t about completionism, it’s about feeling an ephemeral moment of intimacy with an artist we’re drawn to.

PJ Harvey Dog Called Money Seamus Murphy Sputnik Faith Arts
PJ Harvey recording. From Seamus Murphy’s ‘A Dog Called Money’

PJ Harvey recorded her 9th album in a recording studio with one-way glazing, allowing visitors to watch Harvey, her band, producers and engineers make the song. Most musicians would find this terribly distracting. If in 1995 I’d been sitting there next to Thom Yorke as he stumbled through his new song No Surprises, he’d never have finished it.

I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet. For me the mystique of this band is still intact. Their ability to create transcendent moments and lyrics that speak my own thoughts is wonderful and baffling. During the Minidisc bonanza, we were just a few days away from the release of Anima, Yorke’s new solo album, a fully realized work he actually wanted people to hear. Right now I’m listening to the song Not the News and my whole body is tingling. Woah.

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Don’t Forget, Your Collaborators are as Important as Your Audience

Kingdom Artist Initiative Sputnik Faith Art

Art only works if it has an audience. It is necessarily public. People can creatively express themselves in private, but for that creative expression to be a genuine artwork, it must communicate, which means that it must be read, watched, heard or seen. Therefore, it is no surprise that in our art practice, our focus is on the public face: the stage, the page, the exhibition, the release.

However, in all of this there is a danger. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against giving to the needy, fasting and praying in a very public way and to be admired by others, but instead to do these things ‘…in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.’ (Mt 6:4,6 and 18).

Of course the context is very different, but the warning still carries some force for artists. If our attention is overly drawn to the public we may well miss the things behind closed doors, that God may well view as most important. Lying beneath and behind our artwork are all sorts of private things that God not only sees, but rewards, and I sometimes wonder whether it is in these secret, unseen interactions and practices that God often does his most long lasting work in us and, even through us.

One of these private things is the relationships we make through our work.

Loving others throughout the artistic life

When we make a piece of work, we endeavour to establish a relationship with an audience, but there are plenty of relationships that go into the production of the work itself. This may involve the collaborative relationships that help bring the work to life, or possibly the relationships with those you work with along the way (with the event promoter, the publisher, the person behind the sound desk, etc).

My conviction is that our primary calling in our art is the same as our primary calling in our lives in general: to love others.

Roger Scruton, the aesthetic philosopher, put this excellently regarding our artistic output:

It is certainly a failing of a work of art that it should be more concerned to convey a message than to delight its audience.’

I don’t think that all work should aim to ‘delight’ people in the short term (work could be concerned with immediately provoking, warning, shocking or consoling its audience) – however if we take his general point to mean that our work should be made with a desire for the increased well-being of our audience, then I fully agree. In other words, our work should be done in a spirit of love and kindness.

Perhaps, though, it is even more important to live this calling out behind the scenes of our work.

I had direct experience of this in a band I used to be part of. We recently released a remastered version of our debut album, to mark its 20th birthday. I’d not listened to the album much in the last decade, and spending some time with it again caused many unexpected reactions.

It was strange hearing the voice of my 20 year old self again, and to reflect on ways in which I’ve changed or stayed the same. It brought back to mind the events that surrounded the recording and release of the album (the feeling of total joy to find out that DJ Pelt was willing to work with us, overloading on Tetris during recording sessions, arguing about which vocal takes to include… that sort of thing). It also compelled me to think about the value of the work. What did it matter? Was it time well spent, writing, recording, releasing and gigging this album?

I wonder if one of the most important parts of our legacy happened away from the stage or the recording sessions.

I loved being part of Michaelis Constant. It is genuinely one of the highlights of my life, and I thought we did a pretty good job. Our music got reviewed well in the hiphop magazines I grew up reading, we got to play live with most of the bands I most enjoyed listening to and I was pleased, listening back to the album, that I still like listening to it, and I know there were other people who did too. However, I wonder whether one of the most important parts of our legacy happened away from the stage or the recording sessions.

When we started the band, my friend Rich, who was a producer and rapper in the group, wasn’t a follower of Jesus. By the time we broke up, he was. I still remember the time we were praying together during a band practice and Rich, I think for the first time, chipped in by praying himself. ‘God, thank you that I can thank you,’ he said. It was a simple but deeply profound prayer.

If all Michaelis Constant ever achieved was that prayer, I think it would have been enough.

Achieving the Unexpected

I saw something similar to this recently while watching a live video of Kanye West’s Use this Gospel. I’m sure you’ll know the headlines by now: Kanye West releases gospel album, talks to anyone who’ll listen about his conversion to Christianity, sends critics scurrying to admire or decry his new direction. It’s all very brash, very public, very Kanye.

But there are unseen stories going on behind the hype, and in this video you get a tiny glimpse of one of them. This song is notable because it is the first song that the lauded hip-hop group Clipse have appeared on since 2009. Clipse is/was comprised of two brothers, Pusha T and Malice, but after the release of their third album, Malice became a Christian (soon after, changing his name to No Malice) and the band broke up. No Malice and Push continued to release music, but they were clearly no longer on the same page, with No Malice wearing his newfound Christianity on his sleeve, and Pusha T’s content continuing to be unrepentantly ‘street’, often revolved around drug dealing.

Since the group broke up, Push has worked extensively with Kanye West. In 2015, he was made president of G.O.O.D Music, the label that Kanye had founded.

Fast forward to now. Kanye has become a Christian himself and is releasing gospel music. It is the perfect opportunity to unite the two brothers and bring Clipse back together. Thus: Use this Gospel.

So, you up to speed? Good. With all this in mind then check out the video. Kenny G does his sax thing then the music kicks in, and it’s all pretty immense and spectacular. Push fumbles his verse and there are some mic problems and then No Malice steps up and raps, with Push vibing along and providing the overdubs. Then at 3:53, No Malice puts his arm around his brother and closes with the line “hold on to your brother when his faith’s lost”.

Maybe it’s in these unseen interactions, conversations and friendships that God really wants to work.

I’ve got to be honest, that’s a tears-in-the-eye moment right there. For all the Megachurch performances, Apple Music interviews, over 200 million streams, worldwide number 1s, there is an almost unseen story of two brothers who have found a way to reconnect and make music again together. If that’s not enough, one of them can use this new platform for collaboration to tell his bro about his affection for him and his desire to see him come to faith in Jesus.

Please, don’t forget the relationships behind your work. Don’t get so focussed on the audience that are out there, that you forget to love those around you in the process of making. Maybe it’s in these unseen interactions, conversations and friendships that God really wants to work.

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When Yeezus Turned to Jesus: The bigger picture behind ‘Jesus is King’

On Friday 25th October, hip hop superstar Kanye West released his 9th solo album. It debuted at number 2 in the UK album charts and topped the US Billboard Hot 200 in the US. It is Kanye’s 9th consecutive album to debut at number 1 in America, which is a joint record (shared with Eminem). It is a full throttle, unapologetic gospel album, focused entirely on Kanye West’s newfound Christian faith. Its title sets the tone: Jesus is King.

Albums made by Christians about Christian stuff do often sell a lot of units in the US. However, in most cases, the huge majority of the people buying them are themselves Christians (for example, Chris Tomlin’s Burning Lights topped the Billboard 200 chart in 2013). Other Christian artists have topped the American charts and become very popular outside of the Christian sub culture (for example, Amy Grant or POD), but usually, these artists’ crossover albums have been somewhat restrained in their Christian content. Jesus is King is an anomaly in this regard. It is an album of relentless praise and petition directly offered to Jesus and it is pretty fair to assume, given Kanye’s reputation and fanbase, that a fair whack of the 250,000 sales (or 196.9 million streams) in the first week since its release have been to people who do not themselves follow Jesus.

This is all quite a turnaround for Kanye West. Christianity has often been in the background of his music (most notably in the 2004 single Jesus Walks), but he’d be the first to admit that now things are very different. Kanye has recently compared himself to King Nebuchadnezzar. In the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar sets himself up proudly as the King of Babylon, but then is dramatically humbled by God and finally comes to recognise God as the King of Kings. It seems like a good reference point. Since releasing his debut album in 2004, his music has been willfully transgressive and probably open to the charge of being downright blasphemous. As a case in point, in 2013 he released a song entitled I Am a God on his album Yeezus (a combination of Kanye’s nickname ‘Ye’ and, well, I think you get it!) But, according to Kanye, he has been well and truly humbled, particularly referencing a psychotic episode and hospitalization in 2016 as a key turning point. Now, he is singing a very different tune. The only topic he is interested in talking (or making music) about at the moment is the gospel.

In a recent interview with TV presenter Zane Lowe, Kanye summed up his present mindset:

‘Now that I’m in service to Christ, my job is to spread the gospel, to let people know what Jesus has done for me. I’ve spread a lot of things… but now I’m letting you know what Jesus has done for me and in that I’m no longer a slave, I’m a son of God now.’

As you might imagine, this has not gone unnoticed. In the week following the album release, the internet has been ablaze with Christians sharing their opinions on this change of direction. Opinions seem to range from ‘it’s a publicity stunt’ to ‘let’s wait and see’ to heralding Kanye as the new CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and William Wilberforce rolled into one.

It’s natural that questions would be asked, especially in light of Kanye’s pretty erratic behaviour over the last decade. However, even if you’re sceptical about his conversion, surely Philippians 1:15-18 would still mean that a modicum of rejoicing is appropriate. In those verses, Paul writes:

It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives… But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.

Within the rejoicing, all of this should require some broader reflection as well. While I think that we should pray for Kanye, and that the album itself is bound to have a positive impact for the church (with some kickback too), it also throws up some questions that would be worth pondering. I’m particularly interested in two: how does this fit into the bigger picture in popular culture at the moment? And what does this teach us about how we as Christians should engage with the arts? Let’s deal with the first today, and there’ll be another post soon about the second.

Jesus is King is an example of a growing trend in hip hop music

Hip hop has always had a religious backbone. Like most musical genres to emerge in the mid to late 20th century, it is not difficult to trace the roots of hip hop back to black majority church culture. However, quite quickly, hip hop reacted against this heritage and leant more towards Islam. Martin Luther King was universally respected, but Malcolm X was the role model. Pop rappers would include a token gospel track to diversify their appeal, but the serious hip hop artists were often either embracing mainstream Islam (like Q-Tip or Mos Def) or, more likely, namechecking fringe Muslim sects like the Nation of Islam (Public Enemy, Ice Cube).

There were many rappers who would claim a nominal Christianity when it suited them, and some who were more sincere, but the picture remained pretty consistent in the 90s and early 2000s. In a musical culture that was built around the urban black experience, Christianity was generally presented as either a religion that was too weak willed and soft to deal with the persisting problems of institutional racism or as an actual facilitator of the oppression of black people in the western world.

And that’s how it seems to have continued until very recently, when a shift seems to have taken place. Two of the key characters who’ve been at the heart of this shift have been Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper.

While Kendrick’s music would be, let’s say, somewhat challenging to many Christians, Christianity underpins everything he does, from the sinner’s prayer that opens his 2012 album ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D city’ to his 2017 album ‘Damn’ which is a sort of concept album based around Deuteronomy 28! Many hip hop fans would regard Kendrick as the greatest rapper alive, if not the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time).

A year before Kendrick released ‘Damn’, Chance the Rapper had released ‘Coloring Book’. Chance was already very well regarded as a rising star, but his subject matter had been largely standard rap fare. His previous mix tape had been mainly about taking hallucinogenic drugs. ‘Coloring Book’ though was a gospel album, and he stunned the audience at the 2017 Grammys, with one of the songs, a cover of Chris Tomlin’s ‘How Great is Our God’.

I’ve posted about Kendrick and Chance on this blog before but the story has moved on since then, especially for Chance.

In late 2018, Chance announced that he was taking a sabbatical, on which he wanted to achieve two things: giving up smoking and reading the Bible.

I’m going away to learn the Word of God which I am admittedly very unfamiliar with. I’ve been brought up by my family to know Christ but I haven’t taken it upon myself to really just take a couple days and read my Bible…

On 12th December, he posted Galatians 1:6-7 to his 9.2 million instagram followers, and asked: “Anybody wanna read thru Galatians with me? It’s really short.”

That evening, this is exactly what he did, reading the whole book of Galatians live on Instagram!

His followers responded en masse. Featured amongst the thousands of comments on the post were The NLT Bible app thanking him for the support, famous rappers Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifah encouraging him to smoke weed instead of cigarettes, quite a few Christians who took an aversion to him reading from the NLT, and some fans who vowed to stop listening to his music from now on (@Kralcrolyat  ‘Damn, for someone who did a whole album on acid you think you’d be a little more open minded’). On the other hand, there were a whole load of very heartfelt and encouraging responses. @Mylawnuhh’s is my favourite:

I need to start reading the Bible. I really need to be connected with the Lord before I go any further in my life; I just turned 15 and I want God to be an important part of my future. Especially if I ever have kids.

Earlier this year, Chance released The Big Day on which he opens up a bit more about his decision to become a Christian. Yes, there is quite a lot of swearing. And yes, some of his friends who guest on the album over share about their sexual exploits, but on the whole it’s an album about being happily married, by a reasonably new convert, who continues to publicly thank Jesus for turning his life around and seems to be showing considerable fruit of repentance.

But of course, this would only happen in America, wouldn’t it? For us poor Brits, in our cynical secular country, our rappers are cut from a different cloth? Hmm… Stormzy at Glastonbury, anyone?

What does it all mean?

It’s important to underline here that these are not some fringe happenings within a niche cultural fad. I know that the evangelical church in the UK still seems to think that anthemic soft rock ballads are the height of relevance and cultural engagement, but musical analysts would now rate hip hop as the most listened to musical genre in the world (and apparently it has been for the last 5 years).

Now, I know that all the examples I’ve used in this post raise further questions. These artists are complex and at times quite conflicted in their expressions of faith. Kanye West is perhaps the best example of this, and I know many friends, Christian and non-Christian, who had switched off to Kanye well before his confession of faith in Jesus.

However, I’d want to urge generosity of spirit to those involved in this Christian resurgence in rap music and at the very least that we’d pray for them heartily. Living in a world that seems to be doing its utmost to stamp out Christianity, or at least silence Christians, this rebellion from within the very heart of the culture itself fuels my hope that God is not quite done with the Western world just yet. 

This article was first published in a slightly edited form on the Thinktheology blog

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Matt Tuckey creates immersive soundscapes

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Matt Tuckey, a sound designer from Newcastle. Jonny caught up with Matt to find out about his practice and his latest project.

JM: Hi Matt, who are you and what do you do?   

MT: So, my name is Matthew Tuckey, I am a sound designer and sound artist. I live in Newcastle upon Tyne with my wife Molly, and I spend a lot of time pointing microphones at things/people/places.

JM: Most of us would be familiar with graphic designers, or fashion designers, but a sound designer seems a bit more abstract. What exactly is the role of a sound designer?

MT: Good question. It’s hard to pin it down as it’s a term used across multiple platforms, industries and artforms. The best ‘job description’ I can offer is: to plan, through a collaborative creative process, the creation and playback of all sonic content in a live environment, digital media, or tangible product.

So whether that’s in theatre, video, music, or UI (I have done elements of all), I am constantly collaborating. My practice is mostly based in theatre sound design and this is the most collaborative artform I work in – I am often approached by a director, who then introduces me to a writer (or their words) and puts me in a creative team with a set designer and/or lighting designer. My approach is often to problem solve – what aspects of the story can be and need to be clearer by the creative manipulation of sounds? This normally involves, for me at least, finding an interesting or thematically relevant source material (recording an ambience, creating sound effects, working with music/composer) and creatively manipulating and playing those sounds as part of the dramatic narrative.

I also design the playback system for the theatre performances whether touring or running in one location. I like to call this a holistic sound design – working from creative storytelling all the way to technical innovation. This often sees me collaborating with another set of people – the technical or production team, and on larger productions (such as musicals) a whole sound department team.

JM: Sputnik is proud to be supporting your latest project through our Patrons Scheme. Could you talk us through it?

MT: I am very grateful to Sputnik for running this Patronage Scheme, my work is extremely technical, and these funds are crucial to its success.

I am creating an abstract piece of soundscape inspired by the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Through a recent connection with Newcastle Universities Oral History Unit and Collective I am now hoping to incorporate elements of oral history from Newcastle’s disappearing shipyard heritage.

I am using immersive and multi-channel audio and my hope is to complete research and development by early 2020. Then to move into final production and initial preview run mid 2020, and prepare for a rural coastal tour of the piece starting early 2021.

JM: As a freelance artist who has to raise your own funds for projects, what advice would you give others regarding fund raising?

MT: These past nine months have taught me a lot about this. I’ve learnt a lot as I’ve gone along and have had to ride some disappointing rejection.

I constantly keep thinking “this is too complicated, I can’t do this” – but this brings me to something that Ed Catmull (founder of Pixar) says – “get smarter”. Having worked in theatre so much, I know the value of a team. I knew nothing about funding applications until I asked someone who did!

The match funding, bursaries, and team have been huge victories for the project. First contacts and drafting applications is really scary, but we have a saying in Newcastle “Shy bairns get nowt!”. I also would have not put in the Sputnik application, or any of the subsequent bids without listening to the words of the late Huw Evans – “just turn up”. 

Thanks Matt. To keep updated on this project or to help support similar projects like this in the future, sign up for our patrons scheme.

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Well Done You make bratty indie-punk fresh again

Earlier in the summer, we caught up with Mike Lawetto about the release of his debut album under the alt-rock moniker Well Done You. As usual, with Mike, there’s never just one thing going on…

You’ve been involved with Sputnik for ages now, but could you introduce yourself for those whose lives are yet to be enriched by your work?

My name is Mike Lawetto, originally from sunny California now living in rainy Manchester. I truly do love the UK, jokes aside. I am a producer/songwriting/mix engineer and when I’m not working for others I’m working on my solo projects Well Done You (Indie Alt Rock) and Perendiz (Alt Pop). I also have a side project with singer songwriter Dan Crook which is called Crook & Lawetto (Rock).

Currently there isn’t much music online for my projects but over the next 6-8 months I will be releasing 3 EPs and an album for Well Done You, at least one EP for Perendiz and one EP for Crook & Lawetto as well as a whole host of tracks I’m working on for some really cool artists.

Tell us about the album…

The album is called Welcome To Camp Sunshine, and if you love all things rock it shouldn’t disappoint. The best way I can describe it is pop songs for rock kids. I’ve spent some serious time making sure it wasn’t a boring album and I think I’ve just pulled it off. We’ll see. 

How are you releasing it?

We’re going to release 75% of the album as 3 EPs, and then the whole album in October, with a further single in November and a Christmas single in December. An American Asthmatic, Please And Thank You and Not A Doctor Shh!! are released. Welcome To Camp Sunshine, the album, will be released October 4th.

Got a great year of music coming out and I’m excited.

The album will be available to buy both physically and digitally on Bandcamp on Friday 4th October and on all other digital platforms later in the month. Keep an eye out on WDY’s facebook or instagram for updates and in the meantime check out Mike’s official video for the single “Nobodies Got A Clue”

To keep updated on this project or to help support similar projects like this in the future, sign up for our patrons scheme.

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“The master’s sword dances through the air..” – ‘The Legend of One’ by Pythagoras the Praying Mantis

It all looks so effortless. The master’s sword dances through the air, writing its signature in bold swoops and stings. Try to emulate the motion yourself and you’ll be suddenly and rudely aware of the skill and dexterity of the master. So it is with Praying Mantis’s rapping. He delivers multitudes of beautifully crafted multi-syllable delights and, as always, he makes it sound easy.

The Legend of One is the work of a rap veteran. There’s some of the funk-fuelled, emphatic punctuation of Masta Ace, the furrowed brow intensity of Inspectah Deck and the brimstone wit of Chester P. The producers are magpies, finding gems from hip-hop’s NYC golden age as well as sharp, glittering sounds from various UK hip-hop junk shops. The snares throughout are mesmeric. Listen to Guttah Breath and join the snap of a thousand necks. Together the production and the imagery exude late 20th century summers and the metallic taste of blood after a lip-busting scrap with a rival gang. It’s scuffing your prized British Knights as you scrabble over a wall chased by a Dobermann. Mantis recounts both the warm and cold memories of the past.

This is an autobiography which tussles with the bruising, humbling realizations of unfinished business. The choruses are strong and contagious, and the guest vocalists bring complimentary vibes, adding further gravitas to the ideals and ideas. One gripe: only the album opener features cuts and scratches. More rhythm-elbowing turntablism would have been welcome.

Mantis talks about his zig-zag killer flow, referencing Wu-Tang Clan’s leader, the RZA. The Legend of One wears its Wu-Tang influence on its sleeve, underlining Mantis’s rap journey and celebrating the sounds that hyped up and captivated his younger self. For those new to Mantis, the playful ruggedness of the track RIP attempts to bring you up to speed.

We hear the sheer joy of flow and a vocalist sparring with the snare drum. A deep seam of spirituality runs through the album. Mantis is vocal about his gratitude for the journey he’s being on and the grace of God. At times he stands his ground, weapon raised, roaring ‘None shall pass’ yet at other times, he’s on his knees, open- handed, ready to break bread and talk to the Oracle.

Mantis aims the biggest, most challenging questions at himself. What are the foundations of my life built on? Can I escape the colonization of the soul? Inevitably we the listeners start asking the same questions too. Sonically and rhythmically The Legend of One is part-nostalgia, part sabre-duel in a cultural snowstorm. It’s digging in the past rather than breaking much new ground, but the unflinching honesty is brave and the poetic techniques are ice cold.

Join us on May 24th, 8pm @ Mockinbird Cinema, Digbeth, Birmingham for the Legend of One album launch.

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The Sputnik 2018 Review

2018 has been a strange year. Brexit, Teresa May and Trump have stolen most of the headlines. England did adequately in the footy. That actress from Fringe got married to someone or other. Basically, the earth orbited the sun.

As for events in Sputnik-ville, it’s been an exciting year, but one with its ups and downs too. I thought I’d do something of a review and run you through 10 highlights and 1 low light just before we move seamlessly into 2019. (And just so you know, I’m not even going to include the work we actually funded this year- that will be another post).

So what were the highlights? Well, in no particular order...


1. We started a new Sputnik Hub in Edinburgh

2018 has featured all sorts of Edinburgh related goodness for me. Let’s see, there was a Faith & Arts Day, a Hub launch, another stunning Christmas video, new friends and the first time I’ve ever got to meet a Christian surrealist (the brilliant Stephanie Mann). There’s too many cool Edinburgh related moments (or people) to do justice to here, but don’t worry, it’s not the last you’ll hear of those guys.

Read more here.

Mr Ekow Strange Ghost Cat fest

2. Mr Ekow and Strange Ghost showed the Catalyst Festival how it should be done

Catalyst Festival 2018 was such a highlight that it appears three times in this list. The first is Strange Ghost and Mr Ekow’s after hours show on the opening night of the festival. I was delighted when Mr Ekow and Strange Ghost said they’d both play at the festival. My excitement grew exponentially when I heard that Mr Ekow’s set would be a collaborative effort. The end result was the best gig I’ve been to this year, raising the bar to us all regarding tightness, skill and how to completely captivate an audience.

I had some other reflections off the back of the gig, too.

Tongues Glasgow Music Sputnik Faith Art

3. Tongues became one of my favourite bands

When I first visited my friend Luke Davydaitis in Edinburgh, he mentioned a guy he knew from Glasgow who was part of a band called Tongues. Their 2015 single Religion instantly caught my ear, building from an old school electro sound to an emotive synth rock crescendo, all underneath Tim Kwant’s arresting falsetto. My word! However, it was this year’s Fight EP that has really won me over. Not Like The Real Thing is my favourite track of the year, bar none. And we got to feature it on our 2018 Sputnik compilation album (if you’ve not heard it, it’s another great reason to become a Sputnik patron).

Tongues. were our Artist of the Week in October, too.


4. Tanya C topped off our first internship year with a stunning performance at her book launch

If we’d imagined the perfect person to become our first Sputnik intern, I think we’d have imagined someone very much like Tanya Chitunhu. She was patient, hard working and willing to try out new things. And, of course, she’s got the skills that pay the bills. She crowned off the internship with an outstanding performance at her book launch in July, and since then has gone on from strength to strength. She’s even been made into a hologram in one of her recent collaborative projects (Tanya tells me it’s not like Princess Leia at the beginning of Star Wars, but I don’t believe her)

Read Tanya’s reflections on her year as our intern, here.

5. Ally Gordon won 5,000 Christians over to contemporary art

When Ally agreed to exhibit at the Catalyst festival, I knew that the exhibition would be fantastic but, I must admit, I was slightly concerned how it would go down generally. I mean, most of the festival goers had come to hear Heidi Baker, not to muse over a collection of exquisitely painted illusions, referencing Umberto Eco and exploring how images shape our perceptions of reality! However, a combination of Ally’s excellent body of work, his incredible skill of articulation and his gentle and gracious manner won over pretty much everyone.


6. Dutchkid got to number 1 in Lebanon…

And into the South African top 40. And racked up over a million streams. And sold out their debut show. Not bad for your first release! If you’ve not heard it yet, Empires is 5 tracks of pristine synth pop that has managed to constantly slap a smile on my face all through the year. Seriously good work guys!

Dutchkid were also our Artist of the Week back in September.

7. Mantis kept getting better and better

I’ve always held Mantis’ skills on the mic in high regard. He’s been responsible for some absolute bangers (Assassins and Bodyguards, Drunken Mantis, Mind of the Master – I could go on!) but even the best MCs have to slow down sooner or later. At least that’s what I thought. In the last couple of months, Mantis has dropped two videos, and they feature two of his best tracks yet. The new album is out early 2019, and if RIP and Steelwire Technique are anything to go by, it will bring in the new year with style.


8. Luke Sewell’s patient craftsmanship started to gain some attention

It is always a pleasure to meet people who simply love to create and patiently and quietly apply themselves to learning their craft simply for the joy of it. Luke is one of those people. Baker and trainee museum curator by day, 2018 saw his photographic skills and burgeoning expertise in lino printing come into their own. My favourite work of his were the prints that featured in Huw Evans’ poetry collection, Minor Monuments, but perhaps my fondest memory of the year was his print of Aston Villa cult hero, Juan Pablo Angel, that Villa’s official Instagram picked up. Juan Pablo’s response? An understated ‘I like it, pal!’

Follow Luke on Instagram, here.


9. Huw Evans produced the ultimate memento mori

My good friend Huw was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and no amount of creative productivity is going to make that all right. However, it has been truly amazing to see his response to this diagnosis. He has gone into artistic overdrive, finishing off a few novels, some books of children’s verse, and publishing a poetry collection. As if that wasn’t enough, he also put together a one man show, which he debuted at the Catalyst Festival. Not Long Now encapsulates his response to his terminal diagnosis in a moving, profound and often very funny memento mori.

See my other reflections on Catalyst Festival, here.


10. Duncan Stewart encouraged us to greater dependency on Jesus

I’ve known Duncan for some time and admired his work, but I hadn’t met him until last January when I hosted an artist talk he was doing at Woodside Church, Bedford. I was so encouraged just by his friendliness, enthusiasm and overflowing love for Jesus, but his presentation was a particular eye opener. He vulnerably presented the insecurity of the artist’s life, not as a drawback of the trade but as a blessing, as it leads us to a greater dependency on Jesus. Amazing art. Amazing insights. Definitely one of my favourite evenings of the year.

Read more on that here.

And all of that in one year. Not bad. Not bad at all!

…and the year’s low point

However, balanced against these highlights, it is important to also mention the definite low point of the year. In May, my good friend and one of the founders of Sputnik, Jane Rosier, passed away. It wasn’t a surprise as she’d been ill for some time, but it didn’t make it any easier. Jane was an inspiration, an encouragement and a joy to know.

Jane knew acclaim in life as a ballerina and painter, but at the end of her funeral, the mourners joined together in applause, not just of her talents, but of her whole life. It was a life lived faithfully following Jesus and bringing happiness into the lives of those she met, and amidst the sadness, it was truly humbling to reflect upon her life. A life well lived.


I guess we can be guaranteed that 2019 will have its own unique highs and lows. The main thing that I like to pray for is that, through the ups and downs, we’ll know God with us in the things we are doing. In all my work with Sputnik this year, I’ve definitely known his presence and favour and I’m trusting God for that to continue in 2019.

I hope you experience the same.

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Christmas Art 2018: More cheeky, joy filled carols from Christ Church, Manchester

In my family, we have a carols’ playlist that we update each year.

It has traditionally relied on the output from the sadly deceased Zang record label (especially the brilliant Zang Christmas album, A Zang Christmas) – however last year, it got a healthy injection of new material. The Blood Magnetic’s Epiphany EP features heavily, but all the other songs originate from one church: Christ Church, Manchester. Sputnik favourite Mike Lawetto is part of CCM and has two stand out tracks (Captain Pinball’s I Love Christmas and Well Done You’s Christmas Time’) and then the remainder of the playlist is last year’s excellent Christmas Carols EP which the church released under Mr Lawetto’s watchful eye (or ear).

Not happy to rest on their laurels, this year, Christ Church Manchester Music have released Carols, Pt. 2, a 3 track EP that acts as a worthy successor to 2017’s endeavours, and has forced us to update the family carols playlist yet again.

Now that his church are responsible for almost half of our family’s carol consumption, I thought I’d get hold of Tim Simmonds, who leads CCM, and find out the deets:

Talk us through Carols pt 2- How did it come about and who’s involved? 

TS: Simple really, we had fun last time and we wanted to have another go!

We have Mike Lawetto, Dayna Springer Clarke, Jake Woodward, Jamie Semple, Phil Grant and Andy Wells involved. Carols are a great opportunity for creative people to let their hair down and try something a bit unusual. Mike Lawetto is the producer and he worked with Dayna on Joy to the World. The Wise Men was especially fun – Jake just decided he wanted to write his own Carol. We used it at one of our carol services this year and it worked really well.

O Holy Night is just Mike Lawetto having fun! He wouldn’t actually play me the song until it was up on Spotify etc. I think he thought I’d hate it because it’s a reggae carol! The idea of a reggae carol sounds awful to me but I think it’s a brilliant tune and Jamie Semple sounds fantastic!

What advice would you give other churches regarding how to motivate and mobilise creatives well at Christmas?

TS: Have some fun and spend some money on a producer! I know a guy….

We release music because we want to invest in our musicians. We want to bring through more worship leaders, we want to sing our own songs and we want to give our musicians confidence.


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Femi Koleoso is shaping the new jazz vanguard

Femi Koleoso AOTW Sputnik Art Faith

The story goes like this: a tight-knit new generation of musicians in London is shaking up the jazz scene as you know it, turning the ‘establishment’ on its head via grassroots gigs, independent labels, and a wild spirit of frontier-breaking: not so much G&Ts on the lawn, much more Bitches Brew.

Between varied artists such as Binker & Moses, Yussef Dayes, Zara McFarlane, and the many faces of Shabaka Hutchings, UK jazz is, to put it lightly, having a ‘moment’ – birthing a multicultural form of jazz that incorporates Afrobeat, dub, garage and grime mixed up with top-notch chops. And at the centre of the cyclone is the five-piece troupe Ezra Collective, with their enigmatic powerhouse of a drummer, Femi Koleoso – who the New York Times recently tracked down to talk about the scene.

Alongside Ezra Collective, Femi mans the traps for the saxophonist Nubya Garcia, and R&B ‘new big thing’ Jorja Smith – and you may have also caught his blistering drum solo in this Champions League advert back in the summer. He’s a man years-deep in his craft, bringing people a next-level musical experience, and – as the NYT profile points out – he’s changing the scene for the better, as part of the new jazz vanguard breaking it open to younger and more diverse players.

Make no mistake, Femi Koleoso is an artist who’s exactly where he ought to be.

Check out Ezra Collective here, and follow Femi on Twitter.

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Tongues. have the formula for hooky synth-rock

The brainchild of Glasgow’s Tim Kwant, Tongues. began as an electronic solo project that scored an unexpected hit across the blogosphere with its debut release, ‘Colours in the Dark’.

Since then, Kwant has been joined by a full band to give life to a sound that ranges from grungy riff-driven synthrock to sweet heartfelt refrains – and the band’s bass-heavy, visually immersive live shows have seen them pick up festival appearances, radio play, and prominent playlist slots, with their music getting compared to Alt-J, Hot Chip, MGMT and Caribou. 

We were thrilled to feature Tongues.’ latest single ‘Not Like the Real Thing’ on our Sputnik Sounds Vol. 2 compilation – a free giveaway to Sputnik Patrons – and its accompanying EP, ‘Fight’, is a tightly-sequenced, hook-laden listen that balances its glistening production with a fraught, emotional vocal delivery.

Tongues. have more music ready to release – allegedly before the end of the year – so it’s fair to say we’re intrigued to find out where Kwant and the band take things next.

Listen to more of Tongues. music at

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Dutchkid nail their impeccably packaged pop

Dutchkid Empires Sputnik Faith Art

In Artist of the Week, we celebrate faith-driven artists making quality work for universal audiences.

South London four-piece Dutchkid have been working on their pristine synth-pop sound for a while – it’s nearly a year since they first appeared with the sparse, atmospheric single ‘Temporary’ – but the process has finally culminated in the brand new EP ‘Empires’, which appeared at the end of August.

‘Empires’ is an impeccably packaged slice of pop, proudly wearing the influences of the XX, the 1975, Jack Garratt and others besides. Dutchkid go straight for the jugular throughout: every moment on the EP is a chiselled hook, a t-shirt ready slogan or an ethanol-clean synth sound, with barely a second wasted. These are the kind of radio-ready, hyper-earnest pop songs that take years of work to sound effortless, a magic trick that the band pulls off perfectly.

But it’s not so surprising, given that the group describe themselves as not just a band, but a creative collective, which includes members outside of the four musicians. That, in itself, is a savvy move: it reflects the fact that bands in 2018 are, more than ever, multimedia projects needing to be curated from every angle – dutchkid keep all their creative decisions in the family, and the approach pays off.

‘Empires’ is a strong opening gambit, and we’ll be watching keenly to see what happens next – we recommend you give them a follow, or if you can, go catch their first headline show in the New Year, at the Sebright Arms.

Buy/stream Empires here, or buy tickets for the Sebright Arms show here.

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Deyah has the hunger for greatness

NoNameDisciple Sputnik Faith Art Music Hip-Hop

In Artist of the Week, we celebrate faith-driven artists making quality work for universal audiences.

Maybe more than any other music genre, faith is a real and vibrant topic within the world of hip-hop: some of the most critically acclaimed, high-profile rappers in the US make work that vibrates with spiritual questions and profess a multifaceted faith that reflects the complex and chaotic times we live in.

Things have changed in the UK too, with Stormzy’s gospel-influenced debut in particular breaking down cultural taboos: and if you heard the BBC’s 1XTRA show on Rap & Religion you’ll have come across London’s NoNameDisciple.

You could pick out all kinds of reference points in NoNameDisciple’s style – maybe K.Flay, Jamila Woods, Mr. Lamar himself; like her US counterparts, NoNameDisciple takes a raw, truthful approach to her music, using faith as a prism to look at the realities of life, and takes influence from the best in the game.

And while the US is setting the bar with Kendrick or Childish Gambino’s visual collaborators (Dave Meyers and Hiro Murai, respectively), NoNameDisciple clearly has the hunger and ambition to chase after them: her double-video ‘A Millennial’s Godfidence’ marks a step up on every level, from the cold, meter-busting instrumentals, and crisp vocal delivery, to Onismo Muhlanga’s enigmatic visuals. Give her enough time and there’s no telling what she could do.

Check out ‘A Millennial’s Godfidence’ above, or last year’s Therapy Sessions 77 EP on Soundcloud.

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Joanna Karselis’s heart-wrenching ‘By the Lovely Shores’ EP

You may have missed the live debut of sing-songwriter/composer Joanna Karselis’s new EP By the Lovely Shores at Catalyst Festival, but the EP itself is available to stream/buy on Bandcamp, as well as YouTube.

By the Lovely Shores is an intimate EP documenting the heart-wrenching journey of watching a loved one struggle with dementia. It’s a fearlessly personal piece of art: Karselis lays out the experience with raw honesty, drawing empathy out of the listener and, for a moment, widening their frame on the world.

Listen to ‘Darling’, and see the cover artwork, below.

Thanks to our Patrons, Sputnik was able to contribute artwork for the EP and provide assistance with print production – subscribe to Sputnik Patrons now to help us assist more projects like this.

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Develop your craft, study the Bible & work with us as a Sputnik intern

Would you like to spend a year developing your art practice, getting to know the Bible better and working alongside the Sputnik team in Birmingham?

We are offering up to three Sputnik internships, starting in September 2018, linked in with the Newfrontiers Impact training program.

What does the year look like?

Developing your own art practice.

Spend time working on your own artistic projects, with supervision and mentoring from artists in your field. We’ll help you strategise and find some key goals to accomplish by the end of the year.

Studying the Bible.

There will be 30 days of practical theological training throughout the year, as well as an accompanying programme of study – in association with Newfrontiers’ Impact programme.

Working with the Brum Sputnik Team.

You’d be working closely with Jonny & Jemma Mellor, and the Brum Sputnik team to broaden your creative horizons and to help with the week by week running of the Sputnik arts network.

Getting stuck into a local church.

Part of the year would involve serving at Churchcentral, Birmingham, and getting stuck into the wider church community.

Who’s it for?

This is potentially for any Christian who is serious about their creative practice, and who wants to create work for a universal audience (not just for Christians).

The internship will be based in a church from the Catalyst Network, but you don’t have to be from a Catalyst church. You just need to love Jesus!

While we will take applications from creatives of any discipline, the internship would be best designed to serve writers, musicians, songwriters, rappers, photographers, graphic designers, fine artists or filmmakers. (If you’re not sure whether you fall into any of these pigeonholes but are still interested, contact us directly through Facebook or Twitter, and we can talk it through).

Applying for the internship

The cost for the year will be £1,350 (for the residential training). We will need to see examples of work, and there will be an interview. Check out the application form for more details.

Be advised, you’ll have to arrange a means of funding your living while interning with us. The internship is technically full-time, but if you’re working a part-time job we have a certain amount of flexibility to make that work for you.

The deadline for application is 20th July.

So, are you interested? Download the application form here.

Featured image: students at Leeds School of Theology, another training programme affiliated with Impact & the Catalyst Network.

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The Chaotic, Emotional Impact of Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’

Childish Gambino’s single ‘This is America’ dropped about a month ago, to widespread debate, admiration and viral sensation. We asked guest writer and poet Jessica Wood to unpack a little of its cultural resonance and emotional impact.

I’m not sure This is America could have dropped at a better time. As opposed to Kanye’s controversial TMZ comments where he said that slavery was a choice, Childish Gambino’s new song takes an unflinching look into the current state of America, hitting on issues from gun violence to the treatment of black bodies and our complex relationship with popular culture in the 21st century.

I’m no music guru, so I can’t speak to that aspect of the song; however, I can tell you how I felt at every moment of watching the video, and hope that it translates to you some of Gambino’s intention behind what may otherwise seem to be an eclectic, raw and confusing piece.

In the opening to the video, Gambino’s dance moves had most people laughing both from humour and discomfort as he contorted his dad-bod around an abandoned factory. He’s enjoying the beat, and we are too – until he takes a gun and shoots the man to whose music he had just been dancing. The gun fires and we’re all left a little shell-shocked. But Gambino looks to the camera and says matter-of-factly, “This is America”; the gun is carefully wrapped away whilst the dead man is dragged across the floor.

In this first scene alone, Gambino sets the tone for the next four minutes of emotionally intense music and film.

The dance between enjoying the artistic and cultural products of a person, yet in the same breath being willing to end their life, is a recurring image within the video. Gambino creates a series of shifts from funny to serious that give you heart palpitations.

On first watch, your eyes can’t focus on the chaos happening in the background as you try to grasp the dance moves of Gambino and the troop of school children surrounding him; but as you watch more, and read the endless decoding articles that have flooded the internet since the video’s release, you begin to notice some of the complex symbolisms and meanings behind the chaos.

Gambino creates a series of shifts from funny to serious that give you heart palpitations

For example: Gambino’s strange body contortions reflect the character of Jim Crow, a one-time minstrel character in American minstrel show (American folk entertainment that mocked African-American people) which is used to describe the experience of segregation within Southern America into the 20th century. It’s a reflection that entertainment, through music, dance and performance, is always being pushed to the forefront of our minds, a convenient and sometimes necessary distraction from the abuse and injustice that runs rampant in society.

Amongst all this, Lady liberty herself does nothing but watch.

The experience of This is America is a very pointed and calculated critique of a country which bases itself on the values of liberty, freedom and tolerance, but doesn’t have a great track record of turning these nice words into positive action for groups and individuals.

In the closing scene, Gambino runs through a dark corridor chased by a mob. He looks terrified, and the unsettling thing is that I don’t think it would have been difficult for him to conjure up the fear in his eyes.

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David Benjamin Blower’s new album takes on the art of timeless protest hymns

David Benjamin Blower Hymns Luke Sewell Sputnik

Apocalyptic folk artist David Benjamin Blower released his eighth record yesterday, Hymns for Nomads – a ‘compilation of spirituals, murder ballads and campfire songs’. Hymns emerged out of the process of creating meditative ‘devotional’ songs in Blower’s other guise as half of the excellent Nomad Podcast. The results are congregational songs, well suited to group singalongs – although probably more of a Tolkien-esque barroom romp than a modern church service.

David Benjamin Blower Hymns for Nomads Sputnik

From Minor Artists:

These are spirituals, but there is nothing much otherworldly in ‘Hymns…’ It is a record rooted in the soil and the struggle of material reality.

This is protest music, but ‘Hymns…’ shows a different kind of defiance. These are songs of weary, bone-deep, painful resistance. And they are songs reaching beyond anger toward mercy.

This is sacred music, but ‘Hymns…’ is no benign worship record. Here are sorrow, suffering and lament alongside faith, hope and love. These are songs for lives of love, prayer and resistance.

See Blower’s live performance of ‘Watching and Waiting’ below, and check out the whole record on Bandcamp or Minor Artists.

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Elisha Esquivel’s ‘From the Ground Up’ is a pop banger six years in the making

Coventry singer-songwriter and Sputnikeer Elisha Esquivel launched her brand new ‘From the Ground Up’ EP last week. It’s a set of songs six years in the making, but it doesn’t feel overwrought – in fact it’s remarkably immediate and catchy, with production indebted to the likes of London Grammar, Ellie Goulding and Adele.

Pop music like this is a tricky thing to pull off tastefully, but Elisha manages it, particularly on the opening one-two punch of ‘Meet Me Here’ and ‘Fire and Water’ (our personal highlights). Do check out the EP on Spotify, and follow Elisha on Twitter and Instagram.

Read our previous interview with Elisha, here.

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Kendrick Lamar wins historic Pultizer Prize for Music

Kendrick Lamar Pulitzer Prize Sputnik Rich Fury

Kendrick Lamar was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music for last year’s album DAMN.. The Pulitzer Prize primarily honours notable or landmark work in American journalism, which this year focused on Trump and sexual harassment in Hollywood. The Pulitzer Prize described DAMN. as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

DAMN. is the first work of popular music (rather than classical or, occasionally, jazz) to win the prize since it was introduced in 1943. Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy said in a Billboard interview that the decision was a unanimous one. It’s an unexpected change for Pulitzer, but a thoroughly well-deserved one for an artist whose incisive and uncompromising work is both critically revered, and hugely successful commercially. Read our reflections from last year on DAMN. and the theological depths behind it.

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Snoop Dogg curates an all-out Gospel opus, ‘Bible of Love’

Snoop Dogg Gospel of Love Sputnik Faith Art

ICYMI, Snoop Dogg recently dropped a 32-track, hand-on-heart Gospel album called ‘Bible of Love’, featuring about every big name in Gospel going, including Tye Tribbet, Fred Hammond, Faith Evans, the Clark Sisters, and many, many more. It’s now #1 on Billboard’s Gospel chart.

Although Gospel music is generally outside of the Sputnik remit, we’ve written before about the fascinating case of Christianity in American hip-hop. Snoop, unsurprisingly, has church roots – his mother, Beverley Broadus, is a travelling evangelist. While there are many different pockets of hip-hop that can’t all be pushed together, gospel music – ‘the music of black resilience and black fortitude’, as this Vulture review put it – is an inextricable influence on mainstream rap and R&B alike.

Though it’s stylistically broad, there’s little crossover in ‘Bible of Love’; it’s really a curated compilation of modern Gospel, resting entirely on your own personal taste for the genre. Musically speaking, it’s pure celebration of a subculture. But if it’s the result of Snoop’s personal journey, he keeps pretty quiet – he barely appears on the 2 hour album, which feels odd in the context. Whatever you make of it, the synergy of rap and modern gospel in the US carries on apace.


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Common, Sufjan Stevens grace the Oscars with some under-appreciated class

Common Sufjan Stevens Oscars Sputnik Faith

US hip-hop artist Common and indie maestro Sufjan Stevens both turned in notable performances at the Oscars on Sunday night, despite both being ultimately snubbed for the ‘Best Original Song’ category.

It’s probably fair to say that the 90th Oscars ceremony was a bag of contradictions: its self-congratulatory nature and lack of diversity has seen the Oscars come under increasing scrutiny lately, with the #MeToo movement hanging noticeably over proceedings. Along with Jordan Peele’s win and Frances McDormand’s speech, the presence of Stevens and Common felt like small (but welcome) breaks in ‘business as usual’.

Of course, they were given a typically restrained spotlight. Stevens’s appearance was the more baffling, being given a scant two minutes to play ‘Mystery of Love’ with a barely-visible backup band of preposterous talent in St Vincent, Chris Thile, and Moses Sumney. But offstage Stevens has been increasingly outspoken about his faith, injustice in the States, and the evangelical support for the President.

Meanwhile, Common performed ‘Stand Up for Something’ from Marshall alongside Andra Day. He took the opportunity of an uncensored microphone to ad-lib over the fairly straightforward song, referring obliquely to 45 as “a president that trolls with hate,” calling on the audience to “stand up” for immigrants and ‘dreamers’ (a reference to undocumented child migrants).

Watch both performances, below.

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Well Done You return with another fire-bellied pop-rock single

Mike Lawetto Well Done You Thank You George

Hot on the heels of the Perendiz single ‘Down’, Mike Lawetto is back, once again, with his Californian pop-rock project Well Done You.

‘Thank You Very Much George’ is more of what we’ve come to expect from the Manchester based rock outfit. On the surface, it’s all bright and breezy – playfully enigmatic lyrics and kooky pop-punk stylings – but what sets it apart is an underlying sense of menace that breaks through in occasional bursts of genuine heaviness.

How long can WDY continue banging out singles of this quality before an album materialises? If we just take the singles from the last year, we’ve already got half an album, and it’s all killer, no filler.

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Stormzy uses BRIT Award performance to call out Theresa May

Stormzy Speaks Truth to Power Grenfell Prophetic

After winning two titles at the 2018 BRIT Awards ceremony last night, UK grime artist Stormzy used his solo performance to call out the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, over the lack of response or justice for those displaced and affected by last year’s Grenfell Tower disaster.

Stormzy’s hugely acclaimed debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ was a surprisingly gospel-influenced release from the grime star, featuring unabashed confessions of faith. ‘Gang Signs…’ brought home the ‘Best British Album’ award at the Brits, with Stormzy thanking God at the podium – adding “it seems such a strange thing [to say], but if you know God, you know it’s all him.”

But the rapper’s most talked-about moment was his final performance, using his ITV audience of 4.5 million to speak some truth to power: “just forgot about Grenfell, you criminals, and you got the cheek to call us savages, you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages, we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.

If that’s not some prophetic art in action, we don’t know what is.

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Mr Ekow’s new single ‘Heart of the Matter’ tackles modern love

Mr Ekow Heart Matter Sputnik Faith Art

In 2017, Mr Ekow brought out the EP ‘Between Haircuts’, and was featured in Salute Music’s top 100 independent UK artists. There was a multi discipline EP launch, featuring visual art, poetry and live music collabos, and then he topped it all off with a cheeky little Christmas single too.

But no rest for the wicked. So far this year, he’s started up a vlog to share some of his hard-earned wisdom on the struggles of being an independent artist, and now we have a new single. It’s a dissection of modern ideas on ‘love’, set to Dilla-esque keys and soulful vibes: and it’s already receiving positive press wherever it goes.

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Leftfield pop act Perendiz release new single ‘Down’

Mike Lawetto’s musical output over the last year has been largely through his rock band Well Done You, but, never one to settle into one groove for long, his leftfield pop project Perendiz has re-emerged with a new single ‘Down’.

Featuring Mrs Lawetto (Mike’s wife), it’s certainly a more compressed and electronic sound than WDY, but Mike’s familiar offbeat tendencies permeate as expected. Kicking things off with pounding drums and bass, overlaid with breathy near spoken word delivery, it breaks into his catchiest hook yet.

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London Rapper Mr Ekow Launches New Vlog for Independent Artists

Sputnik Mr Ekow Faith Art Hip-hop

Chris Gaisie, a.k.a. Mr Ekow, has long been a Sputnik favourite, both for his musical output and his tenacity, determination and creativity in getting his music into the public domain: now he’s upped the ante again, with a new vlog, aimed at sharing helpful tips he’s picked up on his journey so far with other independent artists.

The first installment focuses on strategy and offers a simple challenge to independent artists (especially musicians) to not just do their ‘own creative thing’ but to come up with a plan to ensure they connect with as many people as possible. As he points out, young independent artists often take their cues from more established artists and conclude that strategy is unimportant. Beyonce, for example, can drop an album with no promo at all, and still stream and sell by the million. This, however, doesn’t work quite so well for those of us who are somewhat less experienced and well-known.

Packed with tips and provocative challenges, Mr Ekow’s first vlog is well worth checking out for anyone looking to find an audience for your art, but particularly relevant for musicians, songwriters and bands, who are reasonably new to releasing music. So, give it a watch and subscribe to make sure you won’t miss how things develops from here.

Check out Mr Ekow’s single ‘Liberate’, below.

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A Sputnik Review of 2017

The end of year, for me, is a vital boundary marker that enables reflection on what’s gone before, and planning for what’s to come. As 2017 comes to a close, it’s a delight to look back on a year of creative productivity and inspiration from in and around the Sputnik network.

Fine Art

It’s been a relatively quiet year regarding fine art generally, but that has been more than made up for by the endeavours of Ally Gordon, who seems to be quietly taking over the world. With exhibitions in London, LA and New York under his belt this year, as well as the release of his book, God Art, about the place of belief in contemporary art, Ally continues to be a massive blessing and inspiration and we’re so stoked to have him at the Catalyst Festival in 2018.


In the world of fashion, Daniel Blake and Ruth Chipperfield have been making some serious moves at the very heart of UK society. Ruth is part of Jubilee Church, Coventry and her strong Twitter game has allowed us to witness the steady and impressive development of Ruth Mary Jewellery over the last 12 months. Having been highlighted as one of the top 100 UK small businesses by the Small Business Saturday Team, she got an invite to 10 Downing St for a celebratory event in late November. The PM was not present, but as things have gone, it’s not impossible that she was having a fitting for City Hope Church leader, Daniel Poulson AKA fashion designer Daniel Blake! Since 2016’s trousergate palaver, Daniel has become Mrs May’s designer of choice. This has led to him being featured in Vogue and an interview in the Telegraph before he unleashed his Autumn/Winter collection on the world in November.


In film, Pip Piper, from Oasis Church, Birmingham, resurrected his media and film company One Small Barking Dog this year and OSBD closed out the year by releasing a series of short films for the global NINE BEATS Collective, exploring the Beatitudes and looking to connect people who wouldn’t naturally be picking up a Bible with Jesus’ timeless wisdom.


As regards writing, Huw Evans, from City Church Newcastle generously opened his vault to us this year and in case that was too much treasure for many of us to get our heads round, he has begun work on his first poetry collection, which is already cued up as one of next year’s highlights. Speaking of poetry, Jennifer Rawson from Kings Church Edinburgh spent the year tantalising us with the odd poem on her blog until delivering good and proper with THAT Christmas video (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to catch up!)


However, the most prolific discipline in SputnikLand in 2017 has been music. This year saw a flurry of debut EPs from Strange Ghost, The Blood Magnetic and Kapes, all from Brum, and also two fantastic singles from Dutchkid whose members hail from Kings Arms, Bedford and New Community Church, Sidcup. Sputnik ally, Mr Ekow, was shortlisted for the pioneering new music competition Salute Music and Mike Lawetto, from Christ Church Manchester, has been a regular on Alex Baker’s Kerrang show for most of the year, having released at least 3 singles (I’m sorry Mike, I lose count). Two of my favourite albums of the year have also been from Sputnik friends. Midsummer’s ‘Stories You Tell’ and David Benjamin Blower’s ‘The Book of Jonah’ were both on regular rotation in the Mellor household, and Dave’s performance at the Brum Sputnik hub in November has to go down as one of my favourite ever Sputnik moments. Spell binding.

A special mention must also go to Oasis Church’s Andy Gordon, who has set up shop in the new Sputnik recording studio and has been serving Birmingham based musicians through Oasis’ fantastic Impact Residency Programme. His production skills just keep getting sharper and sharper and his prodigious production output in 2017 is only going to increase next year.

So, why do I share all of this? Three main reasons.

Firstly, if you’ve missed out on any of these guys this year, I want to give you the chance to get in on the action. I hugely believe in what all of these artists are doing and it’s been a great privilege to be directly blessed by many of their work.

Secondly, at Sputnik we are passionate about seeing artists who are faithful to Jesus and committed to their local churches making the best art that they can. Surveying just the work in or around our network should give us great hope that God is stirring something new and exciting in the arts. I think we should see Ruth and Daniel’s escapades in the corridors of power as a prophetic taster of the doorways that God is wanting to open for us as we remain faithful to him in following through our creative giftings wisely.

And finally, I am sharing this so that you can pray for all of these guys and girls. Christians pray for church leaders. We pray for evangelists. We pray for missionaries. We need to pray for artists. Pray that they would stand firm in their faith. Pray for continued integrity and wisdom. Pray for a deeper love for Jesus for all of them. And pray for continued excellence in their practice.

That just leaves one last question- What are you going to create in 2018?

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Well Done You celebrate the Great Christmas Feast

Mike Lawetto’s Manchester based rock outfit Well Done You had already had an excellent 2017, releasing two singles and featuring regularly on Kerrang Radio, when they dropped their Christmas single ‘Christmas Time’ last week.

Whereas Lawetto’s Captain Pinball project of 2015 was a frenzy of Yuletide ecstasy, this year’s paean to the Christmas season is slowed right down into a chugging, anarchic pop punk number that focuses on the joys of a good old Christmas dinner. It works superbly and it’s only drawback is that if you’re not careful, it may have you absent mindedly singing ‘Can you pass the sprouts around?’ on Christmas afternoon (which for many of us may not overly desirable!)

Keep a look out for more from Mike Lawetto in the New Year, with a new Well Done You single already doing the rounds on Alex Baker’s Kerrang show, and some Perendiz releases in the pipeline too.


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Rowan Williams, Elaine Storkey and David Benjamin Blower present a series of Advent Devotionals

Nomad Podcast is releasing a series of Advent ‘Devotionals’ for free: audio meditations that reflect on a particular topic, unpacking it with music, song, readings and prayers. Reflections are brought by philosopher and theologian Elaine Storkey; former archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams contributes the readings, and David Benjamin Blower, a good friend of Sputnik, provides the music and songs.

Nomad is an online podcast centred around Christian community – regularly interviewing renowned Christian thinkers and activists in the hope of understanding the church’s future in a post-Christendom culture. Nomad are supported in part by their listeners on Patreon – and their regular ‘Devotionals’ like these are a patrons-only perk, so if you enjoy the Advent series, why not support their work?

Find the free Advent series here, and listen to their excellent back-catalogue of interviews here.

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Catch ‘Da Art of Christmas Storytellin’ from Mr Ekow

Croydon rapper Mr Ekow has teamed up with regular collaborator, producer Prospect, to continue his ‘Art of Christmas Storytellin’ series. We’re now on Part 3, and it’s a strange tale of Cheetos, psychotic elves and broken toys, all over shuffling jazzy keys and jolting snares. It’s like ‘Christmas in Hollis’ produced by J Dilla and exactly what you need if you’re tiring of carols and High Street Christmas anthems.

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Join Sputnik Patrons and get The Blood Magnetic’s new Christmas EP

For a limited time, any new sign-ups to Sputnik Patrons (at any tier) get a free CD+digital copy of the brand new ‘Epiphany’ EP by The Blood Magnetic. ‘Epiphany’ is a baroque-pop-indie collaboration between singer-songwriter Matt Tinsley and multi-instrumentalist Chris Donald, released through indie group Minor Artists.

From Minor Artists’ site:

Built on classic Christmas lyrics, adapted by English poet David Burton, ‘Epiphany’ overturns the familiar, the commercial and the saccharine into a rush of strange, ugly beauty: the kind of Christmas-themed music that Low, or the Mountain Goats, or Wovenhand might all tune in to.

A year-long project brought to life by a cast of collaborators, ‘Epiphany’ is guitars brawling with pianos, violins and drums: the mundane getting rough with the mysterious: the gorgeous sound of the sky falling in.

Enjoy the title track from the EP below, buy a copy on Minor Artists or Bandcamp, or why not sign up yourself, your loved ones, and your neighbours to Sputnik Patrons today?

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Help Musicians UK launches 24-hour mental health hotline for musicians

The charity Help Musicians UK has officially launched their 24/7 helpline, Music Minds Matter, after a recent study discovered that musicians were three times more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression compared to the general public – the world’s largest study into music and mental health to date.

Amongst other things, the study highlighted that music makers’ work is integral to their sense of self, that their precarious careers exist in an environment of constant critical feedback, and that guilt, insecurity and unsympathetic working conditions are rife in the industry.

The hotline on 0808 802 8008 operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A statement on the official website reads:

“Help Musicians UK understands the complexity of working in music and recognises the need for support to reflect the nature and unique challenges those in the industry can face. If you want someone to talk to, or even explore avenues for ongoing support, get in touch, anytime. We’re here to help.”

Read Chris Donald’s opinion piece on this subject from August, ‘Music Careers and Mental Health’.

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Sputnik Sounds Vol. 1 is now available to stream

Sputnik has released a number of music compilations as part of our exhibitions in the past, but Sputnik Sounds Vol. 1 is the first time we’re collating some of our favourite Sputnik-made music from across the last few years.

Sputnik Sounds Vol. 1 is a great introduction to the widespread talents in our network: the maximalist neo-soul of Strange Ghost, the murky lo-fi hip-hop of Mr Ekow, the raw, stripped-back folk of Joanna Karselis, the post-punk barrage of Barium. And all artists who excellently explore the deep waters of faith, mystery, the unseen, or the unknown.

Stream it here on Spotify.

If you’re a musician and you’re not yet connected to Sputnik, why not get in touch?

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Stream ReFlex the Architect’s album highlight ‘Lonely Pioneers’ now

London-based MC and producer ReFlex the Architect finally released his long-awaited debut LP ‘From the Highest’ in November. It’s a sprawling and collaborative beast, a forward-thinking boom-bap affair with all manner of international contributors making an impressively cohesive whole.

ReFlex and UK crew Scribbling Idiots are veterans of the London scene, but for those unfamiliar with them, ‘Lonely Pioneers’ is a fairly on-the-nose introduction to their industry experience as Christians facing suspicion from hip-hop fans and church folks alike.

Stream that below, find the full album here, or see our previous interview with ReFlex here.

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Does The Bible Shape Your Creative Practice?

For me, each of the Sputnik Birmingham Hub get-togethers have been special events. Oh, to have the ability to teleport various creative friends, far and near, into our living room so that they can get a touch of the magic vibe.

This time round the featured artist was my friend, author and singer/songwriter, David Benjamin Blower. He kicked off our session by performing his latest album ‘The Book of Jonah’ in its entirety – just him and his slightly wonky guitar.

What really struck me as David sung, stamped, wailed and whistled his way through this story, about a man traveling to Mosul to reason with extremists, was how terrifying Jonah’s prophetic calling was. No wonder he ran in the opposite direction.

The songs, part-spaghetti western, part apocalyptic folk, are interwoven with readings of the biblical text in the King James Version and surprisingly these are not at all incongruous. The songs were able to galvanize my empathy for Jonah and Nineveh in a way that the text alone hasn’t done and as David whistled the closing theme my appreciation for and understanding of the Book of Jonah had increased.

David Blower plays the Book of Jonah at Sputnik Birmingham Hub
David Blower playing the Book of Jonah

With no fanfare or warning a lounge-full of people had just experienced a dramatic, powerful piece of Biblical art, a real life example of creative work, which actually included readings from the Bible that had avoided corniness, sentimentality, cliché, on-the-nose-isms and clunkiness.

David talked a little about the making of the record, acknowledging N.T. Wright and Alastair McIntosh who narrated the recording and the other musicians (some of whom were in the room) who’d helped make this tale of imperialism, grumpiness and repentance come to life. ‘This is probably the most collaborative album I’ve ever done’, David stated.

The question was posed to the group: how closely does your art relate to Biblical texts? This set off a lively conversation about inspiration. Our creative practices are all quite distinctive. Some of us have an eye on the text as we work, others just ‘make’ with the truths, questions and paradoxes of scripture flowing through our creative blood vessels.

How ‘bout yourself? Do the various letters, poems, statistics, biographies, dreams and historical narratives that make up the Bible directly inspire your art?

Birmingham Sputnik Hub
Birmingham Sputnik Hub

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Pristine synth-pop from London newcomers Dutchkid

‘Temporary’ is the debut single by the South London band Dutchkid, a collaboration between some familiar South London faces that you may recognise from the Creative Arts Network.

A pristine example of synth-led whisper-pop, ‘Temporary’ centers around a breathy hook, sparse electronics, and a lumbering sense of fear that culminates in a looping refrain and some gorgeous atmospherics.

Band member Jack Kircher also filmed and directed the excellent time-warping video, a glitchy Groundhog Day affair that recalls Bison‘s fear-inducing work for Bonobo and Jon Hopkins, and matches the subtle threat of the track perfectly. Watch that below, and follow the band here.

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Elisha Esquivel, Musical Roots & Successful Crowdfunding

Two of the most effective incubators of creativity and craft that we’ve stumbled upon have been Jubilee Church, Coventry and Nexus Institute of Creative Arts. Elisha Esquivel happens to have been nurtured by both. Having performed on the live music scene for several years, she has an EP ready to drop in Spring 2018, and we thought it was time we caught up with her and found out more.

Hi Elisha, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Elisha. I grew up along the south coast in Dorset, and have been writing songs for as long as I can remember. I am an avid tea-drinker, deep-thinker, wannabe-nutritionist, lover of all things outdoors, and wife to my lovely husband, Ollie.

You have been writing songs for a long time already. What was your musical upbringing? Who have been your key influences?

I had a musical family growing up I suppose. My Grandma was an opera singer and my Grandad worked for the radio. My Mum and Dad both played the guitar, and though it wasn’t in any professional capacity, we all loved music and my parents always encouraged music in our family. I remember being part of musical theatre groups growing up, taking piano lessons, being taxied around to singing competitions, and for Christmases and Birthdays, my mum would often buy me a couple of hours in a friends’ studio as a present. I’m so thankful for the way I was encouraged in my creativity. I was probably about 10 when I started writing simple songs that were nothing special – something I’m sure lots of kids do – and it could have been so easy for my parents to laugh it off or just ignore it completely, but they really took note of what I was interested in, believed in me, and nurtured my creativity, which I think was so vital in giving me the confidence to do a lot of the things I’ve done in my life.

You have been studying at Nexus in Coventry- could you briefly explain what Nexus is and how you’ve found your time studying there?

Yes! I came to Nexus Institute of Creative Arts when I was 16 and stayed for three years. When I was there in 2011, Nexus were offering gap years (or three…) for Christian musicians to come and grow in their faith, as well as train in a music specialism. I chose Vocals. It was a life-transforming 3 years for me full of incredible musical opportunities and training, meeting some of the best people I know, and also an amazing opportunity to solidify my faith and strengthen my relationship with God. Lots has changed since then for Nexus though – they are now a fully-fledged Institute of Higher Education and offer degrees in Popular Music and Worship! Shameless plug… (Ed: Plug away. We love Nexus. For more info here)

Your upcoming EP comes on the back of a very successful Kickstarter campaign in which you raised over £4,000 with nearly 50 backers. Tell us about it. 

This was an incredible and also extremely nerve-wracking experience! There are a lot of Crowdfunding platforms out there where you can keep whatever you raise, but I chose a Kickstarter campaign which runs on an all-or-nothing basis. I mainly chose this because I wanted to take a bit of a risk and trust God with the outcome. I’d say the process has taught me not to be limited by my own perception of what is possible, and that God is faithful to provide when we step out in faith. To me, setting a target of raising £4000 in 30 days really did seem quite impossible – I’m still amazed it’s all actually happening.

Can you share some tips on how to use platforms like this successfully?

3 tips I would give to anyone thinking of doing a Kickstarter is:

1) Do it with other people. Get a small team of key people around you that are willing to help and support you in small ways throughout the process – ie: proof-reading your page before it goes live, coming up with ideas for the rewards, helping to shoot your video, taking photos etc etc. It means that from the beginning you have a core group of people who are invested in you and believe in what you’re doing – the encouragement goes a long way!

2) Prepare well. I read loads of articles about what makes a successful campaign and talked to anyone I knew who had run a Kickstarter that had been successful to find out how they had gone about it. This was so useful.

3) Use it as a genuine opportunity to let people into your creative process and journey, not just as a way to get something out of them. Take the time to write regular updates, contact people personally, thank them etc. etc – it’s lots more fun this way and much more rewarding!

So, on to the EP. What can we expect from ‘From The Ground Up’?

So far, the EP has quite an urban electronic flavour with elements of raw, stripped back singer/songwriter. I’m excited to be crafting a sound for the first time that I feel really represents me as an artist. It’s still very much in the process of morphing and evolving, so you’ll have to wait and see when it comes out! The release date hasn’t been announced yet, but keep your eyes peeled for dates in 2018.

Thanks Elisha. Our eyes are officially peeled. For the time being though, her recent gig for the Treehouse Sessions is all up on youtube. Here’s a taster:

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The School Of Prophets: Reflections On An Arts Manifesto

“This is a book about some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived…” So begins Abraham Heschel’s paradigm shifting book The Prophets. He continues:

“The prophet is human, yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. He is neither “a singing saint” nor “a moralizing poet,” but an assaulter of the mind. Often his words begin to burn where conscience ends. [. . . ] The prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently holy, revered and awesome. Beliefs cherished as certainties, institutions endowed with supreme sanctity, he exposes as scandalous pretentious.” *

In truth, I had adopted the biblical prophets as my guides long before I ever sat down to reason out why. I met plenty of Christians in the early noughties who were uncertain and anxious about what a Christian artist ought to look like; I ignored such discussion and dived after Ezekiel (my favourite) in his wake of woe and madness.

It was the end of the noughties when I decided to sit down and sketch this sort of approach out into a manifesto. I did this partly because others found the approach compelling, and I thought describing some principles might be helpful. But the greater reason was that the idea of the school of prophets had taken hold of my mind. The biblical prophets were not all loners. We often read of prophetic communities (eg 2 Kings 2:1-18) who together sought mystical experiences of YHWH, and embarked together on their strange prophetic activities. I had a notion that perhaps some like-minded artists of faith might similarly work together and create jarring public spectacles to interrupt the numbing rhythms of the broken present.

And so we did. There was performance art in front of the giant screens and coercive advertising campaigns. We played music on buses to disrupt the public numbness, and on monuments to call the images and powers into question. The manifesto kept us very much focused on aesthetic actions in public spaces (such as the prophets seemed to do). It was, on the other hand, very much against the safe containment of art in the abstract echo-chambers of cyberspace, or the domestication of art into the capitalist lounges of record shops, art galleries and billboards, and the mythos of the aspiring artist. It was also against art as a thing prescribed by empire for introspective moments, to sooth unsettled emotions while the world itself withers. Certainly not! Our art was to be offered directly to the everyday public in a manner that promoted immediate public discourse.

All this finally culminated in our participation in the No More Page Three campaign, which – after several years of slogging – finally succeeded in persuading The Sun to remove its soft porn images from the paper.

After this (or even before, really), the loose collective dispersed. People got married, had children, moved to other cities, and so on. I, who had been the chief organiser (and quite unsuited to organising anything), collapsed exhausted. And the manifesto went on the shelf, where I still occasionally glance over and wonder about dusting it off.

To reflect on this brief experiment: it was hard. Doing subversive art in public space is emotionally draining. Taking a public stance on an issue is costly. Aiming art exclusively at public life, to the exclusion of inner life, is unwise – as Jeremiah would have told me if I’d listened. Although others sometimes took the initiative, I was mostly the driving creative force. I was hoping to create a structure within which others felt empowered to thrive and speak with their own voice, and launch their own creative actions. This happened occasionally, but was pretty rare.

On the other hand, it was fun. We bonded. We lit up spaces with discussion and merriment that were otherwise numb and atomised. We saw small changes in response to our actions. We made new friends and connected with new people. One pair connected, got married and now have a third child on the way. We were all somehow enlarged and changed, and various people were, I think, positively influenced.

If I were to re-ignite such plotting, rooted in the example of the school of prophets, I suppose I would work harder at two things: first, a slow, sustainable pace. And, second, a prayerful common life.

I don’t think it entered our minds that one ought not to emulate the prophets. It never occurred to me to think of the Hebrew prophets simply as verbatim mouth-pieces for God (like Mohammed, say). I think if we try to capture a sense of them in their own moment, we find social, cultural and political activists working out of their Yahwist faith, and toward their Yahwist hope. They had no idea that they (or their disciples) were writing canonised religious texts. They were faithfully responding to the world as they found it in their own day. If someone decides to canonise your babblings in a few hundred years, that’s their business. Ours is to speak faithfully into the hope crisis of the present. God help us if we don’t.

One of the curious and marvelous outcomes of the experiment, for me, was the very mixed group that formed around it: some Christians and some not. I think one of the reasons (besides canonical anxiety) that people aren’t sure of how to emulate the prophets, is that their religious paradigms are quite different to ours. The prophets didn’t really try to “convert” people in the religious sense. They certainly called people to right living and authentic worship, but the Ninevites, for example, didn’t convert to Judaism, as such, neither did Nebuchadnezzar, or Naaman. As I reflect back on our little collective, it occurs to me that those who engaged most deeply with the Manifesto itself, were not Christians. And indeed, they helped shape and refine it. Non Christians took part in our actions, and we as a collective threw our weight behind secular movements (such as No More Page Three). Meanwhile, it was sometimes Christians who criticised us most fiercely. How did all the boundaries get so jumbled?

For now I’ll just reflect that that was how it went: being salt and light in this sort of paradigm felt a lot more like a mutual discipleship with others toward God, than the usual sorts of images (us in a boat, holding a hand out to the drowning folks in the water). In this respect, it chimes with my experience that Chris Donald might point to Kate Tempest as one of the most authentically prophetic voices in the present. The prophets so often jarringly critiqued the ordinary, ubiquitous, and systemic evils, in which all are enmeshed. And so the dividing line is, as Paul might say, abolished. All have sinned, and all – prophets included – are called to change, to metanoia, to repentance. No doubt, this raises questions, but it was, on reflection, very refreshing to engage the world this way.

*If I may recommend two books to read on the prophets, these would be The Prophets by Abraham J Heschel, and The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann.

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Kate Tempest and the Voice That Won’t be Silent

Prophecy, in the Biblical sense, is not usually about telling the future: it’s about re-framing the present as seen through God’s eyes, with encouragement or dire warning as appropriate. The future part is implicit, perhaps, but primarily God speaks to what is happening now.

Many of the Old Testament prophets were performance artists, active demonstrators of the message that God wanted them to deliver. Isaiah preached naked and barefoot as a warning that Judah’s allies would become similarly stripped. David sang songs that became signifiers of Jesus’s life and, in some cases, actual words that Jesus spoke. In fine oral tradition, prophecy was a thing performed, proclaimed, in real time and space.

Because prophecy addresses the state of now, it’s socio-political: not party politics but the deeper stuff, the interrelationships of communities, the misuse of power and resources, the contents of people’s hearts towards each other. Nowadays, Christians are deeply involved with matters of justice and social action in the charitable sector – implicitly prophetic work, you might say. But what about the art of explicit prophecy?

While there are Christian artists doing it well – our man Benjamin Blower comes to mind – I’d like to suggest that there are a number of more agnostic artists who have taken onto themselves a mission that’s best described as prophetic. Kate Tempest would be a good example. (Contains dangerous language.. and one F-word):

Above all else, Kate Tempest’s poem carries a deep understanding of the inter-connectedness of everything, the ‘web of being’ as David Dark calls it: the environment, capitalism, the arms trade, social isolation. Yes, it’s a hugely broad sweep, but that’s exactly the point: while “the myth of the individual has left us disconnected, lost and pitiful”, comprehending the real state of the nation requires a bird’s eye view. Old Testament prophets dealt in broad sweeps too, and one theme that recurred ad nauseum was that the greed of nations leads to social wreckage and death.

Tempest ends with a plea to “wake up, and love more”, which may be too ambiguous an ending for those who favour clear, didactic treatises of faith (and generally throttling artistry) but watching it again, I don’t disagree with any of it – in fact, I think the poem’s message is something God is crying out for us to hear and understand. You might say it’s not the ‘whole’ truth, but it’s part of it, and powerfully, incisively delivered.

I’m not suggesting that the role of the prophets has somehow moved on to those outside the faith (though there is Biblical precedent for that). Only that there are artists we can learn from who unflinchingly grasp the prophetic nettle. Perhaps the spectacle of sandwich-board-wearing street preachers shouting about hell has scared us from the idea of protest. Yet Tempest, in her way, preaches hell: the hell we’re in, the chaos we’re headed for. I don’t doubt she faces her fair share of deaf ears, doubters, haters, cynical eye-rolls and gleeful misinterpreters. But the prophetic voice in the world will not be silent.

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Patronage in Practice

As we continue our series looking at arts patronage and all the hows, whats and whys thereof, we thought it would be good to give a concrete, practical example of patronage in the 21st century for those of you who don’t happen to have Charles Saatchi’s expendible income. Therefore, I asked my friend Adam Haywood, from Woodside Church, Bedford, to share how he became an arts patron.

I’ve been to a lot of gigs, seen a lot of bands. Most of them now I don’t remember too much of; just a loose memory of what happened and a lasting resonance of the emotions stirred at the time. Some great. Some good. Some bad.

I remember seeing Green Day at V98, when the band set their drum kit alight as Bille-Joe closed out their set with ‘Good Riddance’. I remember the next band (The Seahorses, I think) trying really hard to follow it with their slow melodic brit-rock, whilst trying to coax the audience into creating some semblance of an atmosphere. They didn’t. And their attempts were joyously hilarious. Me and my friend Rob were still laughing as we made our way back to our tent. That was a good memory.

I remember watching Gomez in Leicester in the early 2000s as I stood bored for 2 hours whilst they refused to play the songs which everyone loved (‘Tijuana Lady’, anyone?) Why? Because they were now loved songs. And that meant they couldn’t play them anymore. Musicians, huh? That was a bad memory.

But a great memory? One of the best? Well, watching ‘The Augustines’ take their post encore-encore (muscians, huh?) outside of the venue, on to the high street in Oxford because the curfew at the venue had passed. That has to be up there. Standing there on the pavement, singing along with 100 other people as pedestrians slalomed around us in to the oncoming traffic and watching then, as the lead singer, aware of the increasing likelihood of an imminent fatality, took the sing-along to a low-lit, real ale serving, traditional pub, not 10 feet away- which my friend Dan got a back-row view to by clambering through a half-open window – yeah, that was a great memory.

Thing is, maybe a year after that, the band broke up.

Now bands break up all the time: band members can’t get on, the trappings of rock and roll decadence, the inability to write any good new songs, but this wasn’t that. It was financial. The lead singer posted a very honest explanation of the situation which ultimately said that because of the current state of the music industry, with content being consumed through mediums such as Spotify, Music Unlimited and what-not, people are not buying albums like they used to. When this is coupled with the increasing challenge of touring and making money- financially it just wasn’t viable for them as a smaller band. Therefore for them, breaking up was the only option.

When bands that I’ve enjoyed have broken up previously, even for those reasons named earlier, it’s got to me a little. But to have broken up because of financial challenges, whilst making sense, felt really unjust- like I’d been robbed of something unfairly. These bands we listen to are a part of our lives; our childhoods, our teenage years onto adulthood and beyond. These bands who write these songs spark memories of events, people and personal feelings that really are a massive part of you. And as such, they’re priceless.

I often checked in with the band’s online profiles, just in the hope that something would change- and after about a year the lead singer of the band posted that he was going to try something different; a new way to try and release music again that might be more financially viable. It was through something called Patreon.

Now, at 38, and not being on the digital graveyard quite yet, I was already aware of what this was- an online method of personally supporting artists financially so that they can make their art for others to continue to appreciate. So this is what I did- I supported him financially. I signed up for a monthly amount simply because this music is something that is important to me. And it feels good knowing that I’m part of continuing to keep this music going.

Two months ago, at Bush Hall in London, me and my friend Dan saw the lead singer again; we got a grossly overpriced Mexican meal prior and caught up on all things ‘life’; stood in one of the most impressive venues around as the lead singer told stories which we laughed at and sometimes pretended to laugh at; sung at the top of our voices to new and old songs and tried at the very end to steal the set-list that was stuck to the stage (unsuccessfully). The beer was overpriced. The journey back overlong due to roadworks. A great memory. And one I can genuinely say I had a part in making happen.

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Introducing Sputnik Patrons: 4 Projects to Support

Artists need patronage. Christians used to be at the forefront of funding artists in this way. They’re not any more. We’d like to change that.

To that end, we are very excited to announce that we are launching our Sputnik Patrons Scheme. We would like to gather a team of patrons (maybe including you!) to help fund specific projects by Christian artists who are connected with the Sputnik network.

From 2018, artists can apply to receive grants from this fund, but to kick off the scheme we have selected 4 projects that we’d like to make happen in the following year. Money you give into the Sputnik Patrons Scheme this year will help to…

Expand Strange Ghost’s audience

Strange Ghost are the husband-wife duo Christopher & Ayomide Donald, who write and produce politically-charged neo-soul music. In early 2017, they released the excellent ‘Stagger’ EP and developed the Strange Ghost sound into a four-piece band.

Strange Ghost 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons scheme will help them with strategic marketing, particularly with their live shows through local gig and festival promoters. Live performances will build their fanbase, provide a platform for dialogue with audience members and help fund future releases.

To find out more about Strange Ghost, click here, and you can see/hear their debut EP ‘Stagger’ here.

Put on a Benjamin Harris Exhibition

Benjamin Harris is a hugely talented young conceptual artist, based in the West Midlands. He is planning to put on a solo exhibition in Birmingham’s art district, Digbeth, which will feature both past work and new work, made specifically for the exhibition.

Benjamin Harris 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme will be crucial in making this exhibition happen (especially in hiring the space), helping Ben to push along his practice, and engage with Birmingham’s art scene in a dialogue around art, faith and life.

Click here to investigate Benjamin’s work, and here to check out his blog.

Produce an anthology of poetry by Huw Evans

Huw Evans has been honing his craft as a writer for many years, writing scripts and verse drama, children’s books, YA novels and poetry. He is planning to release an anthology of his poetry in the following year and we would love to help him make this happen.

Huw Evans 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme will help with the printing costs and to provide Huw with graphic design assistance to ensure the look and feel of the publication comes at least close to matching the quality of the content.

To get a taste of Huw’s work, click here, and check out his blog for more of an introduction to the man himself.

Support Phil and Harri Mardlin’s new writing festival, Stage Write

StageWrite is an annual new writing festival that is based in Bedford and run by Phil and Harri Mardlin in collaboration with No Loss Productions. Writers submit their scripts, 4 of which will be selected and put on over 2 nights in script in hand performances, with the potential for one of the scripts to be fully realised.

Phil & Harri Mardlin 2017

Each piece is followed by a Q&A with the writer, actors, director and audience to give the writer developmental feedback on the work. The aim is to allow the writers to see their work on its feet, performed by professional actors and seen by an audience.

The money raised through the SputnikPatrons Scheme would enable Phil and Harri to pay the actors to properly rehearse and fully realise one of the pieces in the festival, a first for StageWrite.

If you’d like to find out more about Phil and Harri, click here, and for more information about StageWrite, here.


To become a SputnikPatron and make these projects happen, go to our patrons page and sign up for one of our donation tiers.

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Introducing Sputnik Patrons

Christians are very generous people.

This is widely acknowledged by those inside and outside of the church, and rightly so when you consider how much God has given us.

But for most Christians there would be some forms of giving that are seen as more appropriate than others. Giving to your church seems to get a universal thumbs up, as does giving to foreign mission. Supporting individual evangelists is very much par for the course in some circles, while planting churches gets people to reach into their pockets elsewhere. And of course, nobody would question someone who gave in response to a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.

But as for the arts? Well…

Most Christians have some sort of appreciation for the arts, but in the church in the UK as I’ve experienced it, it would be rare for anyone to put the case for giving financially to ‘the arts’. Funnily enough, I’d like to make such a case here and in the following few weeks, and as I do,also provide a practical way to apply all of this.

How we use our money highlights what we consider important. We’ve been making the case since Sputnik began that the arts are important. We’d now like to join the dots from theory to wallets. So let’s kick things off with three simple reasons why we think Christians should give to the arts…

Art does people good

The arts play a far more important role in our lives than we often realise. The arts are one of the main ways that a culture comes alive. A thriving arts scene sets the tone. It can be the difference between colour and black and white. The arts point towards a transcendence and an otherness in the human experience that has the potential to bring joy and hope, even if the practitioners involved don’t believe in such a reality.

Whether it’s through your Spotify playlist, your Kindle library or the pictures you choose to decorate your living room with, for almost all of us, the arts add significant value to our lives.

Therefore, as we respond to human need in giving our money to relieve suffering (a noble cause), shouldn’t we also give it to attending to general human flourishing and building a foundation for life and vitality in our communities?

Art shapes culture

The arts don’t just bring colour to life though, they also play a vital role in fashioning and shaping the values, presuppositions and ideas that are cherished in a culture. Artists take the big ideas of the thinkers, and they make them accessible to the masses, not just by communicating information to our minds but resonating with us emotionally, so that we are warmed to ideas, whether we agree with them or not.

For a worldview or philosophy to take root in a culture, it needs the arts to prepare the way, otherwise, for all its good ideas, it may well find itself shouting loud, but going completely unheard.

Perhaps that sounds a bit close to home, as Christianity is a case in point here. While many worldviews and ethical positions have engaged with the arts very effectively in recent times, the church has systematically withdrawn from this field.

We need to help a new generation of Christian artists to make art of excellence that has the power to speak subtly and authentically into our culture. To do this, it will take a number of things. One of these will be money.

Artists need patronage

So far, so Sputnik. However these two reasons alone won’t necessarily motivate someone to support the arts financially. I mean (the thought goes), why should we fund artists, when they should be able to fund themselves? Teachers and doctors don’t ask for handouts to help them do their jobs- if artists can’t make a living from what they do or make, surely they’re just not good enough.

This way of thinking isn’t helped by the fact that many people see artists through the lens of celebrity, and therefore assume that to be a successful artist it doesn’t just mean to make a living, but actually to become rich.

While, of course, this may be true for a few, they would be the tiny minority. The reality is that most artists who are producing interesting self-initiated projects are operating in a very similar way. These projects (particularly the ones that may shape culture in the way discussed) are not making them any money. On the contrary, they are trying to fund these through their day jobs- which are often much more mundane.

To put it quite simply, artistic excellence doesn’t necessarily mean getting paid, and artistic integrity often very specifically means not getting paid!

This is why systems of arts patronage are so crucial to the development of the arts. In the past, the Christian church has been a key patron of the arts, but in modern times, the government has taken on this role through grants, lottery funding, etc. Of course, the government is presently finding this burden too great to bear and is slashing arts funding left, right and centre.

artistic excellence doesn’t necessarily mean getting paid, and artistic integrity often very specifically means not getting paid!

I think that all of this may be telling us something: it’s time that the church took up such a role again. And we have a suggestion of how practically you can get involved in that.

Join us as an Arts Patron

In response to all of this, Sputnik is starting the Sputnik Patrons Scheme.

This is a fund set up primarily to help Christian artists get specific projects off the ground: from art installations to book publishing, theatre events to music releases. Each year we’ll commission several of these projects with the help of our network of Patrons, who donate monthly.

Who are in this mysterious network you may ask? Well, potentially, you! Next week, we will be kicking off the patronage scheme and if you’d like to support the arts and see more quality art out there made by Christians, we’d love it if you could get involved.

Sputnik Patrons will receive back benefits for their support, at three levels, gold, silver and bronze. These benefits will be outlined further when we launch the scheme, but in short, the more you pledge each month, the more you receive back.

For 2017-18, we have selected 4 projects that we’d like our Sputnik Patrons to invest in. We will give you more information of these in our next post, after which we’re going to explore this topic more on the blog, especially what patronage is, why it’s necessary for artists and what it looks like in the modern world.

So, we think that the arts are important enough for Christians to support financially. If you agree, why not become a Sputnik Patron and let’s see the church start to step back into its role as a patron of the arts.

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Dan Crook is breaking genre boundaries

A couple of weeks ago, ‘Sign of the Times’ arrived in my inbox. It’s a collaboration between long time Sputnik favourite, Mike Lawetto, and Dan Crook. Dan is a singer songwriter and spoken word artist from Southend-on-sea, whose passionate folky sound has always threatened to brim over into something a little more visceral. Well, the new single does just that and is one of my favourite songs of the year so far. Obviously, this called for an introduction to Mr Crook for Sputnikmagazine…

Introduce yourself. Who is Dan Crook?

Morning Sputnik. How long you got?! I love being the centre of attention (too much so). I’m a songwriter, I’m a husband, I work for or with young people most days, I like an extra cold Guiness, I’m inspired daily by Jesus, I’m a big West Ham United fan and I live in Southend-on-sea.

Musically, I’m currently performing around Essex with a loop pedal and my electric guitar.

What does success look like to you as an artist?

Writing and releasing music that I still stand by a year after releasing it. I’d also really like to tour 2 months every year, opening for artists that make great music.

How does your faith affect your art?

I believe God created nature and I believe humans are made in his image so i believe creativity is a gift from him.

If we have a smidgeon of the creative power God used when he created clouds…That should give us all confidence.

I was really impressed with the Uppah Records Christmas project in 2015, when they released 3 very different festive songs, including one by yourself. How did that project come about and what’s Uppah up to at the moment? 

I was invited to be one of their first artists when they started out and jumped on it. I had a lot of fun making Christmas Lights and those months around December were my favourite times with the label. It’s been a year since we last collaborated, so I’m not up to date!

Your back catalogue is reasonably diverse and your music is often passionate and direct. However, your new project seems to take this up a notch. Talk us through the change of style on ‘Sign of The Times’.

I know vocally it’s the harshest thing I’ve put out but it doesn’t feel like a huge shift. I’ve ostracised plenty of potential fans at solo gigs cos I sing too aggressively- just ask my dear mum. For some reason it’s much more accepted to sing like that when you call yourself a rock outfit…

Mike (Lawetto) has always encouraged me to ‘give it some’ vocally when we record together which I’ve really appreciated.

Both of us love guitars/rock music and so we have found ourselves naturally inclining to write tracks like Sign of the Times.

James LouisK. Stevenson-2

What have CROOK & LAWETTO got in store for us in the future?

We’ve got a least one more big track coming your way before Christmas. If someone wants to fund us touring, we’re game for that too.

What 3 things have you learnt from your journey so far as a Christian making art that you’d want to share with other Christian artists?

I would say this to any artist, regardless of their beliefs- be authentic in what you write about, be confident in your ability to create something original (see question 3 ) and don’t compromise what you believe for the sake of opportunities. Ultimately music is one part of life- a person’s integrity is much more important.


Thanks Dan. To keep in touch with what’s Dan’s up to…

To go directly to the tunes, check him out on Spotify and there are a few gems floating around on youtube too. I’ll leave you with this one. Thanks Dan.


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Music Careers and Mental Health

Music as an ‘industry’ has had its unhealthy side for a long time: both self-loathing and callous profiteering are so commonplace that they’re a film cliché. Manufactured pop artists get worked to near-death. Earnest bands work themselves to near-death. What is it about the music industry that lends itself to burnout?

This question is only more topical this year in the light of high-profile suicides such as Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, both of whom struggled with long-term depression. Many commentators, Russell Brand included, look at these deaths in the context of the already-high male suicide rate in the West; similarly, 1 in 4 of us, whatever our profession, will experience some mental health difficulty at some time. There is a larger conversation at play that is not exclusive to artists.

However, there is the fact of the higher depression/anxiety statistics amongst artistic types, musicians in particular. Help Musicians UK found in a 2015 survey that well over 60% of musicians have suffered from psychological issues. Some wonder (perhaps controversially) whether a propensity for mental health struggles is in a way part of the personality profile ‘package’ that comes with artistic creativity, deeply felt empathy and so on. But even if this is true, it’s foolish to ignore the reality that external, aggravating factors – such as constant insecurity of living – make things worse for artists in particular.

Entering this discussion requires a recognition that every person’s experience is different. Cornell and Bennington, for instance, did not struggle with financial insecurity. However, when a famous figure commits suicide, or whenever a small or middleweight band speaks out about their struggles, external factors are always relevant. On the whole, the industrialisation of music – the transition from artist to travelling salesman – creates a brutal bottleneck for psychological issues.

A Lack of Community

Touring, typically a non-negotiable part of the musician’s experience, seems to be the biggest factor. Most musicians want to perform, and touring is still held up, rightly or wrongly, as the primary way to make money. But touring has a cost: that same Help Musicians UK survey reported that 68% of musicians regularly experienced loneliness and alienation from family and friends; 62% said they had experienced relationship difficulties as a result of their career.

On one hand, Instagram makes touring look like an adventure – and it has its high points, no doubt – but it’s essentially one long experience of transit. A friend on tour with Michael Kiwanuka commented there was no time to experience or engage with the places they were travelling through. Hours in coaches, vans or trains. Hours setting up and waiting for maybe one hour of performance per day. Poor quality sleep. Far too many reasons to over-drink. And, most importantly, no friends and family: no grounding. Plenty of musicians find it just too much to handle long term: the compounded years of stress and disconnect take their toll. ‘Success’ is no reliever of stress, either: millionaire heartthrob Zayn Malik reportedly left the biggest boyband in the world because four years of traversing the globe had become too much; auteur success story Tyler, the Creator recently released a single with the hard-to-miss lyric “I am the loneliest man alive”.

On the other hand, for a great deal of artists it’s real life that’s the problem: live performance can be such an adrenaline-pumping rush that touring feels worth the chore, and coming home sparks a kind of ‘post-performance depression’. A contrite Willis Earl Beal said his touring-heightened arrogance, and bad attitude with each domestic ‘comedown’, contributed to the collapse of his marriage; Kate Nash, Everything Everything, and plenty of others have talked about their sense of alienation from everyday existence. One way or another, relationships suffer; but unless you’re Aphex Twin or Radiohead, you don’t get to negotiate the terms of touring.

Then there’s the need to be constantly ‘ON’ and promoting yourself (familiar to any freelancer), the emotional rollercoaster of criticism, and the aforementioned financial insecurity. Are these just facts of life for those who have the supposed ‘luxury’ to pursue a career in music? Or is it okay to suggest that some musicians ‘stray from the path’, for the sake of their own wellbeing?

All Or Nothing?

While I don’t have the answer, right here and now, to fix the music industry or alleviate the pressures of touring (you’ll be disappointed to hear) – I do see signs of change. For a start, music and mental health is a public conversation now. Top-tier pop artists Lady Gaga, Adele and One Direction have spoken about their anxieties and difficulties within the industry. Michael Angelakos (aka Passion Pit) recently announced he’s continuing to make music, but not selling it, saying the music industry “does nothing to promote the health required in order to promote the work it sells.

There is, increasingly, a ‘successful’ middleweight group too: those who’ve found an appreciative audience of a few thousand people and make the most of that relationship. Maybe too much is made of technology like Patreon, but it does suggest musicians can make something of a living from different mechanisms other than just touring; with a bit of internet savvy, artists can score TV slots for their music, collect royalties from YouTube, sell merch, or crowd-fund their next projects. I think it was Amanda Palmer who said that with 15,000 devoted fans (ie fans who show up and buy your stuff) you can have a full-time career. That’s a lot of fans, which you probably can’t get without money and PR, but it’s a good attitude change: The X-Factor and the other financial behemoths of the industry want you to think success is an all-or-nothing, fame-or-oblivion type deal. Aggressive expansion isn’t the only option.

I don’t want bands to stop touring – experiencing live music is precious. Even just the simple pleasure of watching great musicians do what they do is a kind of sacred, life-giving thing. But we can’t put that above the mental well being of the musicians stuck in the entertainment complex.

If you’ve any experience of these issues – as a musician or otherwise – we’d love to hear from you, below, or through

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Make A Scene

As a kid I became a little obsessed with guitar bands who looked a lot like lost lumberjacks. You know the look, torn jeans, plaid shirts and greasy hair.

It was the early 90s and rock was boring. It was pompous, glamorous and all about showing off. Then came Bruce Pavitt.

Bruce Pavitt turned my world upside down! I was a 14 year old, living in a provincial British town, listening to Van Halen when a friend of mine gave me a pirated cassette. I pushed it into my Walkman and Smells Like Teen Spirit blew my mind. I was listening as Kurt Cobain, Krist Noveselic and Dave Grohl were saving Rock music. So, who’s Bruce Pavitt? I had never heard of him.

Bruce wasn’t in Nirvana. He ran their first record label, Sub Pop.

When you’re a music nerd you find out your favourite bands’ record labels and then you listen to their label mates. This involved no algorithms or Spotify playlists, I had to work it out for myself. I would also read the NME (in its pre-internet guise) cover to cover and discovered that before Nirvana went global they were signed to Sub Pop records and came from Seattle. All of this research introduced me to Green River (who became Pearl Jam), Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, The Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains etc etc.

Bruce Pavitt had changed my life. Bruce is a scene maker.

Let me explain further.

I now live in Manchester. Manchester is a brilliant and beautiful city with a long history of creativity, social dissent and partying, often all in the same evening.

In the late 1970s Tony Wilson started Factory Records and then in the 1980s he opened the Hacienda. Out of this came Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays (not to mention dozens of other bands, DJs, designers and hangers on).

Tony Wilson is a scene maker. He wasn’t the only one in Manchester but he seemed to have a unique ability to get creative people together and provide a context for them to produce their best work.

These people are rare. They love art, and they may in fact be very creative, but fundamentally they create space for other artists to flourish. Both Bruce Pavitt and Tony Wilson could spot talent, motivate talent and promote talent. These entrepreneurs had the skills required to connect people, find spaces, and find money (and to spend that money).

Calling them entrepreneurs doesn’t quite cover what Bruce and Tony did. Some entrepreneurs can start their own business and become a successful one-person organisation. They create a product and sell the product but ultimately it goes no further as the whole thing spins around them. However, some entrepreneurs can start something that brings other people’s talents in, develops and uses that talent and then provides a space for them to go in different directions.

They create a scene.

Someone has a dream but it’s highly collaborative.

Art needs a scene. Ideas need bouncing around. Creative people need community.

I believe that faith has a part to play here. God is a creative and he loves it when we get creative. When we do, the spark of eternity can be seen.

Christians can be scene makers. It ticks all our boxes. To be a scene maker you need to be able to imagine a better future, to encourage others in what they do, to help them to do better, to build community, to be generous and to be on the lookout for new additions.

Make a scene.

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Kendrick, Chance & Christian Hip-Hop

What on earth is going on in hip hop in 2017? There will be some to whom that question may seem a bit niche (and who may well answer ‘who cares?’), but to others, the names in the title of this post will be very familiar to you, and you will have already clocked where I’m going with this one.

Whatever your opinion of hip-hop, if you follow Jesus and think it may be important what people think of him, I’d encourage a pricking up of the ears to some very interesting developments in what Spotify reckons is the most listened to musical genre in the world today.

In 2017, two of hip-hop’s most respected and commercially successful artists are Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar. ‘Damn’ by Kendrick has, to this point, sold over half a million units, and its songs have been streamed about a squillion times. Chance’s 2016 album (mixtape, if you’re being picky) ‘Coloring Book’ is harder to pin down regarding commercial performance as it was available as a free download, but it was the first streaming only album to win a grammy and was on pretty much everyone’s album of the year list last year. The two releases are also notable for the fact that they both have Christianity and the Bible all over them. Hip hop and R&B albums are well known for their token Jesus songs, but these guys aren’t just giving an occasional nod to God, in the manner of Puff Daddy’s ‘Best Friend’ or even Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks‘. They are putting their perceived relationships with God and theological viewpoints at the centre of their work. And secular hiphop fandom is loving it.

If you’d like a fuller explanation of what I mean, this recent article on major rap blog DJBooth will fill you in . If you’re not yet gripped enough to invest a click though, the very fact that a blog that calls itself ‘The Authority On Hiphop’ (with good reason) would put up a feature piece dissecting the nuances of these guys’ Christian spirituality is notable.

But here’s where things get really weird, fun, exciting, magnificent or even troubling (depending on who you’re talking to). Kendrick himself sent DJBooth a message expressing his appreciation for the article and outlining in more detail how his Christian faith and art intersect. The full story is here, but I wanted to print the whole message on this post, just in case you hip-hop skeptics are STILL scrolling on auto pilot. This is what he wrote (unabridged, except for my added emphases):

Long time no talk. Congrats on the work. Honored to say I still enjoy the write ups. Y’all accuracy lets me know this site has a deep respect for the culture. Much appreciated. 

Your latest read is really interesting to me. I didn’t expect anyone to catch it. How I express God. I went to a local church some time ago, and it appalled me that the same program was in practice. A program that I seen as a kid the few times I was in service. Praise, dance. Worship. (Which is beautiful.) Pastor spewing the idea of someone’s season is approaching. The idea of hope. So on and so forth.

As a child, I always felt this Sermon had an emptiness about it. Kinda one sided, in what I felt in my heart. Fast forward. After being heavily in my studies these past few years, I’ve finally figured out why I left those services feeling spiritually unsatisfied as a child. I discovered more truth. But simple truth. Our God is a loving God. Yes. He’s a merciful God. Yes. But he’s even more so a God of DISCIPLE. OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God. And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline. Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that’s close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected.

Hence the concept “The wages of sin is Death.” It shall be corrected. As a community, we was taught to pray for our mishaps, and he’ll forgive you. Yes, this is true. But he will also reprimand us as well. As a child, I can’t recall hearing this in service. Maybe leaders of the church knew it will run off churchgoers? No one wants to hear about karma from the decisions they make. It’s a hard truth. We want to hear about hope, salvation, and redemption. Though his son died for our sins, our free will to make whatever choice we want, still allows him to judge us.

So in conclusion, I feel it’s my calling to share the joy of God, but with exclamation, more so, the FEAR OF GOD. The balance. Knowing the power in what he can build, and also what he can destroy. At any given moment.

I love when artists sing about what makes Him happy. My balance is to tell you what will make Him extinguish you. Personally, once that idea of real fear registered in my mind, it made me try harder at choosing my battles wisely. Which will forever be tough, because I’m still of flesh. I wanna spread this truth to my listeners. It’s a journey, but it will be my key to the Kingdom. And theirs as well. I briefly touched on it in this album, but when he tells me to react, I will take deeper action. 

So thank you for your great work. It inspired me to reply with this long ass message. Hopefully, you’ll take the time to read mines like I do yours.

So, why is the biggest rapper in the world right now making music? ‘To share the joy of God, but with exclamation, more so, the FEAR OF GOD’. I’m not sure Biggie or Tupac would have put it quite like that 20 years ago!

Now, hopefully, you can all see why I think this may be news even to those of you whose hip-hop knowledge doesn’t stretch past the first line of the Fresh Prince theme tune. That is quite some claim.

Would I then recommend all and sundry to go and check out Kendrick’s ‘Damn’? Umm… kind of… not really… er… not sure. On route to a wedding the other day, a friend of mine decided to play a car full of friends a certain track off the album, prefaced with the rather mischievious half truth that this is one of my favourite songs. As a church leader of all those in the car, I had to do a short round of ‘pastoral check ups’ while queuing for the hog roast after the service to clarify my position on said track, which starts with Kendrick’s voice sampled, repeating ‘I don’t give a f-‘ and features a chorus that I hope is talking about beating up an adversary who is somewhat challenged in his expression of traditional standards of masculinity (believe me, the possible alternative is far worse).

I am personally pretty puzzled as to what to make of all of this, and in a sense am still withholding judgement. With that said though, for two of the major players in rap to be inciting this sort of theological dialogue is remarkable and surely, at the very least, fascinating. At a time when ‘Christian Hip Hop’ is making itself busy bickering about exactly the correct way to go about (or not to go about) evangelism (Here. Sigh!), I wonder whether Jesus is, not for the first time, making his home with those ‘outside the camp’.

Personally, like Kendrick, I’m waiting for (and praying for) the moment when God tells him ‘to react’. The mind boggles as to what ‘deeper action’ he will then take!

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Propaganda breaks ground with ‘Crooked’

After a three year wait, we at Sputnik Magazine have been very excited to receive   the new album ‘Crooked’ by Jason Emmanuel Petty’s (a.k.a Propaganda)

Having received positive reviews for his last album ‘Crimson Cord’ and reaching number 13 in the Billboard US Independent Album chart, I was concerned that Propaganda would have softened his approach in order to find more commercial success with ‘Crooked’. Humble Beast, the independent label Propaganda plays a large part in, is undeniably ‘Christian’ and have recently announced they will now operate as a non-profit ministry (rather than a business) in order to partner more closely with local churches in their mission. Their focus is explicitly the communication of the Gospel to a post-Christian world. And so, a question that often bounces about the Sputnik Collective is, “Are these guys the real deal, Christians who are creating music to be listened to by non-Christian hip-hop fans, or is Humble Beast another way of Christians making more in-house Christian culture, by the church and for the church?”

Well, these two fears of mine were quieted by the end of the first track ‘Crooked Way’, a hard-hitting 6 minute lyrical tirade against the malformations within the contemporary Western culture he simultaneously inhabits and forms a part of. With no catchy hook, this track sets out a manifesto for the following 12 full length tracks:

“We stay perplexed at the truth that defies logic but, who says logic’s the best way to understand it// man, that’s the thinking of our colonisers, truth is proven only through ears and eyes and// if you can’t touch it, you can’t trust it, that’s why they can’t explain the love in my daughter’s eyes and// that’s that conscious rap, oh thats played out, you old school, you old dude, you aged out//its not cool them old rules they fazed out…”

As with Propaganda’s former albums we find spoken word sets sprinkled throughout. Track 2 ‘Complicated’ is quite typical of Petty’s lesser known tracks: a verbal feast of uplifting and self-analysing verbiage that exalts the contradictory nature of humanity, the great heights coupled with the lowest depths, exclaiming,

“You are heavens’s hand made calligraphy slumming it among papyrus fonts”.

In this, Propaganda, like with Crimson Cord and Excellent (2012), offers hope and glory in the midst of “messy, uncomfortable and complicated” lives.

Akin to Excellent’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Excellent Analogy ’ is another witty spoken word, ‘I Hate Cats’. This tale of a conservative Father’s displeasure at his daughter adopting a cat begins in the form of a stand up comedian luring his audience into his account with truisms and relatable comments. The soft jazz soundscape and generous studio laughter brings the listener to agree with the story-teller’s dilemma. As the narrative continues, the racial overtones become glaringly obvious as it becomes clear that the word ‘cat’ is being used with a twofold meaning. Our comfortable chuckle becomes nervous laughter as we realise how light-hearted preferential comments can soon become generalisations that spring forth prejudices about another people group we live beside.

“I don’t see species. My baby-sitter, when i was a kid, you see, she had a cat, and I am sure there are nice God-fearing people who have cats in their house, its just not in my home, see they stink… to be honest I thought I raised her better than that, see we are a dog family, we stick to our own kind, why couldn’t you love a dog? This is just the voice of a concerned father, see?”

In this album we are brought into different levels of comfort and discomfort as the artist analyses the urban world around his listeners. For example, ‘Gentrify’ is comprised of a latin jazz beat accompanied with Hispanic street shouting and a catchy hook that I found myself half guiltily joining in with. Those who are aware of Petty’s background, from a black family in a latino neighbourhood will be able to imagine the rapper’s second sense of dislocation as he sees the culture he has come to love commodified while the members themselves are pushed out from their neighbourhoods into further deprivation.

“Man those gastro pubs and clean streets ain’t good enough, they want yours// despite your crime rate y’all got prime real estate// continuing Columbus and they coming for your portion// planting their flag like that’s my land I licked it// brother it’s just business, your economy could use a boost// you know the truth your unemployment’s through the roof…”

For those who know Prop’s back catalogue, there are certain gems that relate as far back asj 2011’s collaboration with Odd Thomas ’Art Ambidextrous’. I love this throughout Propaganda’s work and I feel as though he is never ‘recreating himself’ but always developing, turning back in order to keep moving forward. And for those fans who have followed his work, we feel as if we are part of that journey too.

The final track is where we may expect to find hope in the self-proclaimed Christian’s journey through human brokenness, and being titled ‘Made-straight’ I expected the ‘one-size-fits-all’ Christian answer to come to solve all our problems. Yet…

“Life is not a comic book, there are no perfect victims or villains, just us, we are smog-laced oxygen tanks tossed to capsize murderers, resting on his power of deliverance and the integrity to accomplish it”.

The gritty track doesn’t bring a happily-ever-after but rather magnifies and focuses in on the magnitude of humanity’s crooked dilemma- in the face of being a Christian. Although there is a hint of newfound triumph in this track, ‘Made-straight’ doesn’t strike me as false or feigned as an early Lecrae track might. Propaganda’s crookedness does not paint a bleak picture of the world in order to thrust Churchianity’s remedy in the face of the listener in typical evangelistic style: there is no unnatural focus on a purely ‘spiritual’ brokenness, but this brokenness in complete and whole: social, political, moral, and spiritual. Propaganda is concerned with the breadth and depth of our crookedness, not just a ‘thin view of sin’ but a full-bodied representation of our “theologically thick sin” (as we explored a bit more here).

Although I have only focused on a few tracks, I fully recommend the whole album to anyone interested in conscious rap. But I guess the question is: will this album find its way on to non-Christian’s ipods? I think it will, and most of the material will make a lot of sense to those outside the church. The two contemporary albums ‘Crooked’ reminds me of most are Lecrae’s collaborative ‘Church Clothes 3’ (2016, on which Propaganda gets a significant feature) and Andy Mineo’s ‘Uncomfortable’ (2015), both from Reach Records. ‘Crooked’ is sure to challenge and trouble both believers and non-believers alike with its incisive remarks and hope-filled exhortations. I confess that I am a particular fan of both Humble Beast and Propaganda, but the label is yet to see the level of commercial success outside of the church that Lecrae has recently found with Reach Records. Perhaps Crooked could become their first mainstream success?

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Mr Ekow transmitting from Planet Croydon

I came across Chris ‘Mr Ekow’ Gaisie a couple of years ago. Hip hop has changed a lot in the last 15 years and the boom bap sound of the 90s that defined the genre has evolved and mutated in all sorts of directions.

From a first listen to tracks like ‘When Space Stares Back’ or ‘Lift Off’ it is clear that Mr Ekow is part of this evolution. It’s refreshing to hear MCs who aren’t clinging on to the tropes of yesteryear, and with the release of his new EP ‘Between Haircuts’, we thought we’d catch up with the man himself.

So, introduce yourself, my good sir!

I’m Mr Ekow, a 25 year old rapper from Croydon who stands by the opinion that The Last Action Hero is a great film that was too ahead of its time – people weren’t ready for the satire!

Your style clearly shows a love for hiphop generally, but draws quite noticeably from some more recent developments in the genre.

Thanks, I’m glad that comes across. I’ve got a love for that 90s golden age of hip hop sound, but I think we’re in another one now!

The great stuff might not be all over the radio but there are so many incredible artists making dope and innovative hip hop around the globe – you just have to look a bit harder.

Who are your main influences and why? (One MC, one beatmaker, one album)

I’ll say Andre 3000 (Outkast) is a big one for me. On a purely technical level, I’ve always loved how he puts his rhymes together- his flow, his delivery and his wordplay. On top of that, his versatility and inclination to go completely left and try something different is inspiring.

Beatmaker is a tough one, but I’ll go for Flying Lotus. I was put on to him quite late in 2012, but it was like opening up a new world to my ears! Clearly inspired himself by the soulful swing of legends like Dilla and Madlib, but then completely owns his style as he injects his own insane electronic, nu jazz vibe.

As for album, I’ll go for Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner. It’s easily one of the most personally influential albums of my early teens. Not only is it sonically a beast, but it’s full of incredible, honest songwriting that’s stayed with me to this day. Mad to think he was only 18 when he released it and for me, it’s yet to be topped in the grime genre.

Although you are essentially a solo artist, your work is very collaborative, working with different beat makers, singers and rappers? What have you learnt about collaboration so far, and how do you choose who to work with?

I love collaboration! I think the whole focus on the ‘auteur’ does a bit of a disservice to the creative process – very rarely is it just one person doing everything. Most of my collaborations have just been through natural friendships and people who I personally admire artistically. Every now and then I’ll reach out to someone outside of my immediate network, just because I think what they do creatively is dope.

From collaborating, I’ve learnt that when you’re working with other people you have to develop a trust that allows them to truly add to the overall creative perspective. That looks different case-to-case and there are times where I’m more prescriptive in what I’m looking for or times I may have a creative disagreement, but it’s important that everyone feels at ease enough to have those conversations.


Your new EP, Between Haircuts is out now. What’s the thought behind that title? What themes do you address on the project?

In a broad sense it’s about dealing with the weird transitional periods of life. Especially as a Christian you get introduced to Jesus and the hope of heaven… but then you still have to deal with a lot of not-so-great stuff in-between. I just wanted to do something real.

In society, especially in the Instagram age, we’re constantly trying to show our best side. Even in church, we’re super quick to dance around our problems with small chat and the usual “I’m blessed” rhetoric. I wanted to do away with the pretence and try to tackle some difficult subjects that I think a lot of people relate to.

The EP covers existential doubts around purpose, dealing with lust, escapism, losing faith and coming to terms with brokenness. I hope listeners are encouraged to face their issues and know that whatever stage they’re at in their journey, it is a journey, and you’ve got to keep going.


When do we get another Mr Ekow LP and what other plans do you have for the future?

Hopefully a 2018 LP release is doable, but in the meantime I plan to keep gigging. I usually play in an acoustic trio setup, which has worked really well. However the EP launch was the first time I had my own full band and I’d love to do more of that!

I may potentially look into running my own regular nights in Croydon too as the EP launch was a lot of fun– I got a ton of visual artists to exhibit their work that linked to the theme, as well as holding an open mic and support from local artist Ruth-Ellen. It was a really good vibe and I think Croydon is (finally) becoming quite the hotspot for arts scene.

Thanks Mr Ekow. To buy the new EP, visit Mr Ekow’s bandcamp, or to give it a listen check out his Soundcloud. Here’s EP closer ‘On Top’ to entice you onward:

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An Interview With the Perfect Summer Band

Have you noticed the days elongating in a very satisfying manner? Wouldn’t it be good if there was some new music to accompany this happy seasonal change? Well, rarely are a band as well named as Midsummer. The Mellor family has just been on holiday and Midsummer’s new album ‘The Stories You Tell’ even managed to bring joy to a ponderous crawl up the M5. I caught up with Chris to fill us in on all things Midsummer.

Do introduce the band, Chris…

Midsummer is a band/collective of 6 musicians based in Birmingham.  We’re acoustic singer-songwriters with a folk edge.

Our songwriting core is Chris Taylor (me) and Lizzy Daniel-Sam.  Lizzy’s the main singer, although I sing on a few songs too.  I also play guitar, mandolin and percussion.  Then there’s Ben Kyte (bass), Jenny Chen (violin), J Clay (trumpet and percussion) and Andy Gordon (guitar, accordion, ukulele and pretty much everything else). Everyone joins in on the singing too!

How did Midsummer come about?

At the end of 2014 Lizzy and I got a small band together to play some folky carols as a one-off at the Oasis Church carol service.  It was really good fun and worked well.  Afterwards, Danielle Wilson asked if we’d be up for supporting her band Eeek! at a gig the following October.  We didn’t have a set or any original songs, but since it was 10 months away it seemed like a fun challenge and we said yes!

So we spent the next 6 months or so writing songs together and building a short set. Our original band from the carol service was made up of students who were coming to the end of their time in Birmingham, so in August we started to gather a new set of musicians, mainly from church and from other bands I’d played with in the past.

The gig with Eeek! went well and Lizzy and I carried on writing songs together and looking for gigs and things went from there.

Oasis Church, Birmingham seems to propel musicians into the local music scene more effectively than any other church I’ve come across (The Broken. Joanna Karselis. Thinktank. Ticking Boxes. You guys) What’s your church’s secret?

Firstly, I think collaboration and helping each other out is a big part of it. Out of the bands/artists you’ve mentioned, we’ve all been in other bands together, played with each other live or remixed each other’s music.

Secondly, I also think we help inspire each other as to what can be achieved. When Thinktank recorded their triple EPs Faith, Hope and Love, I saw Rod and Collin taking their time over it to make it as good as they could.  If I hadn’t already seen someone I know do that, it would have been hard to have the vision to write and record the Midsummer album.

Thirdly, Impact definitely plays a big part too. (Ed: Impact is the live music promotion team that has come out of the church). Although Impact doesn’t exist to promote Christian musicians, we’ve all played at Impact gigs, and they’re useful stepping stones to try out new ideas, show other people what we can do, and to use as a platform to get other gigs (as well as being really good events in their own right).

And finally, Oasis Church is also good at inviting its musicians to be creative within church life.  I’m particularly thinking about the carol services where we’ve been invited to create something different – you never know where that could lead.

I know that the album has gone through a lot of honing and crafting, and Chris, I hope you don’t mind, but you have a bit of a reputation as a perfectionist. What advice can you give on how to make a good album even better?

First off, I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist(!)  But some things I think helped improve the album are:

  • We practised the songs a lot, gigged with them and made demo tracks before recording. That helped us to know our parts and the feel and flow of the song before we started recording.
  • Once we decided to record 10 songs, we set a deadline for a release date. I worked backwards from there to work out when we needed to finish each stage of the process and worked hard to meet those deadlines.
  • When we were mixing the songs we spent a lot of time going through them with a fine tooth-comb, but we also regularly took a step back to listen to the whole thing to make sure it still worked as a whole.
  • We compared the sound to other records we liked and we asked for feedback from people we knew who we felt could give an objective opinion.

I’m really proud of the album, and I’m also aware of its limitations.  There was a phrase someone posted in the Sputnik group, which I really liked: ‘finished, not perfect’, and it was really helpful to keep that in mind as we were getting towards the end of the project.

Talk us through the album then. What are your influences? What themes do you explore in the songs?

When Lizzy and I started writing, I really wanted to write songs like Frank Turner, which everyone can sing along to.  Lizzy had wanted to sing songs like Eva Cassidy.  I think you can hear those influences a little.  But we also sound a bit like early Mumford and Sons, Goodnight Lenin and maybe Fleetwood Mac’s Buckingham/Nicks songwriting partnership.

The things we write about tend to be a search for home, dealing with loss and enjoying community; there’s an underlying sense of hope in most of our songs.

Can you break down one of the songs on the album for us?

The idea behind the song ‘Summer’s Over’ was sparked by Pip Piper’s film ‘Mountain Biking – The Untold British Story’, and the interview with mountain biker Martyn Aston.  After breaking his back he thought he’d never ride again, but was able to find a way to keep riding.  He said ‘I never knew, on the day I had my accident, my best day on a bike was yet to come’.  It’s a really inspiring story.  Something he said ‘you don’t know what lies ahead, you only know what’s happening in this moment’.  That line became the heart of the song.


Thanks Chris. And thanks Midsummer.

To get a flavour of the music, ‘You Got It Then’ is free to stream to your heart’s content:

To buy digital and physical copies, visit

And to keep up with Midsummer generally, try their facebooktwitter or soundcloud.





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Minor Artists: a label led by its patrons

If you’ve been checking this blog for any length of time, I’m sure Chris Donald will be familiar to you. He is a key part of the Sputnik team and I thought it was about time we caught up with him to spill the beans on his art, Minor Artists and his newest musical project Strange Ghost.

Who are you and what do you do, Chris?

I’m a 30 year old human, a lapsed capitalist, an introvert who loves company, a confused over-thinker. I write and produce music, run a record label, try to be a good friend, husband and brother, write music reviews (and occasional fiction) and I’m a self-employed graphic designer. That makes me sound super busy, but they’re all pretty slow paced. I regularly confess to the cultural sin of not being busy.


What is success to you as an artist?

Success at the moment is making and sharing something in a way that gets beyond the roles of product and a consumer. For the player and the listener to see each other as equally complex people who are generously giving each other their time in that moment of performance (or re-played performance). A human moment and not just a commercial transaction. That doesn’t have to be deeply profound or gut-wrenching, but simply getting outside the pre-defined roles and platforms is surprisingly difficult, even just in my own head. At the same time, I’m always drawn to crafting something of a high quality and beauty – it’s so simple it’s almost redundant, but success is making something that I would honestly want to listen to. I think it’s possible to do that without it becoming some elitist or self-negating exercise.

Tell us about Minor Artists. What is it and how can people get involved?

Minor Artists is a record label that puts out unconventional, non-church music made by Christians (check website here). We tell stories of oppression, injustice, revelation or mystery; avoid the Christian vernacular as best we can; keep you on your toes like Christ’s parables did, and sound great doing it. We’re also trying to level the field between musicians and their audience. Part of how we do that is the Record Club, a ‘per-product’ subscription service; essentially you agree to pre-order two or three albums across the course of a year. And that makes it possible for us to properly commit to making them. It’s an experiment. I hope subscribers feel personally engaged with it; at the least, we’re trying to re-frame this transaction that’s taking place. I appreciate it’s weird to subscribe to music you’ve never heard bStrut I think a certain type of listener will really like that, and will trust that we’re going to make it interesting. And perhaps now that we have the history of recorded music at our fingertips, we’ll want to reclaim a bit of personal investment in the music we buy. That’s my hope, anyway.

(The video above will fill you in on all the details and how to get involved)

What would you like to see change among Christian artists and artistry?

I’d love to see more reaction to the absolute absurdity of our times. Since the abject failure of modernism, Western culture is like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff, pretending the ground’s not gone beneath it. We want what’s good for the economy, but we can’t answer why that even matters. The West is absurd, and in constant crisis. Our art is going to need to be disruptive, because Jesus is disruptive. He’s not the icing on the bourgeois cake. I don’t mean disruptive in a ‘Modern Art’ way, where we absolve ourselves of responsibility for answers, or can’t be understood by your average observer. Quite the opposite. Disruptive storytelling can be fantastic art – the film ‘Get Out’ being a recent example.

You balance out earning a living from your creative skills and working on more self-initiated and passion projects. How do you find this balance?

Paradoxically, when I have lots of work it’s easier to find time for other things. When I’m low on work, it’s hard to do passion projects because I’m stressed about my income, even though I technically have the time. But I’m sure anyone self-employed knows about these crazy mind games. I don’t think the balance is much different from, say, going part-time to raise a kid. We all do recognise that the relationship between being paid for something, and that something being actually valuable to us, or society, is pretty weak. A YouGov poll said 37% of UK workers think their own job is pointless – I often think of Ron Livingston in ‘Office Space’, who finds salvation from his mindless tech job in becoming a construction worker. Surely people want to trade their time for something they care about, but I assume they feel like they can’t.

I’m not pretending I could just waltz into a high-paying job tomorrow, but ultimately I make a choice to value time more than money. I want to be radically generous like Christ, but I’d rather have lots of time to give to people than lots of money. But it’s easy to forget my own story. When I get swallowed by the neoliberal capitalist story, I begin to doubt myself.

Strange Ghost 2

Your latest project is ‘Strange Ghost’, a collaboration between you and your wife Wumi. How did this come about and what are your plans for this?

Wumi has a fantastic voice, and I’m sure we chatted about making music pretty early on in our relationship – which makes it sound so simple! It’s a new and intimidating thing for Wumi, and for my part I had a creatively tough spell while we were living in London. So it’s come about with a lot of deliberation and time. I think the time has been worth it, as I’m much clearer on what this project is for. I’ve had so many projects burn or fizzle out; I want Strange Ghost to be a vehicle for us to make music the rest of our lives – so, to be honest, I am just enjoying having completed the first step. As a friend said to me yesterday, if I had £20,000 for PR we could be famous next week, but as it is, I’m just going to share it and enjoy it, start figuring out how we might play this stuff live, and in what context we’d do that.

Thanks Chris. The Strange Ghost EP ‘Stagger’ is out on 18th May and we are proud to be among the first to announce that the first song is live to stream from this very page! Check it out, and save up your pennies for Thursday.

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To Make Others Happy Through Music

Easter holidays beckoning, todolist sufficiently shrunk, I sat down this morning to finally read Tim Keller’s ‘Every Good Endeavour’. Haven’t even made it to the foreword yet, because of the opening quote…

During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.

It is from the liner notes to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.

I don’t think I need to add to that.

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David Benjamin Blower And The Book Of Jonah

It’s always a pleasure to catch up with Dave Blower. Last time we met up, it came with the added bonus of hand ground coffee from a funny little machine he had lying about in his kitchen! Upon drinking said coffee, he agreed to do a short interview about his latest project ‘The Book Of Jonah’ which, I would argue is his most ambitious project yet, and is about to be released on the unsuspecting world on 13th March, through our friends at Minor Artists.

So, here it is. If you’ve not come across Mr Blower before, you may want to pick up the story so far here, here or even here.

With the formalities done then and now that we’re all on the same page…


Jonny Mellor: Before we get on to your new release, could you fill us in on what’s been going on since we last heard from you. ‘Welcome the Stranger’ seemed like a very important release- has it opened any new doors for you or even changed your practice or methodology?

David Benjamin Blower: Welcome the Stranger is a collection of folk protest songs about the refugee crisis. Of course, since last Spring when the record came out, the world has changed and countries like ours have become very unwelcoming. The record is themed around Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats, and the notion that to reject the suffering stranger is reject Jesus himself. The last year has been hard to watch.

This is the first record where I’ve used songs to tell real people’s stories, of living and dying as refugees. Having played these stories in different places, so many people have come up to me and asked, “What can I do? Where can I send money? Where can I volunteer?” I’ve been struck by the importance of telling people’s stories as an artist. We can do things the news can’t.

JM: Your new release ‘The Book Of Jonah’ follows the path set by ‘Kingdom vs Empire’ and is a book and album (the book is called ‘Sympathy For Jonah’). How did this project come about?

DBB: This happened haphazardly. I started writing a musical of the story of Jonah, mostly out of a fondness for the Bible, Moby Dick, Pinocchio etc. and while I was putting together songs about how terrible things were in Nineveh, I saw on the news footage of ISIS blowing up the tomb of Jonah in modern day Nineveh; that is, Mosul, in northern Iraq. I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t want to go to Nineveh either.” The news about ISIS (back in 2014/15) became so disturbing that I lost all taste for the musical and started, wide-eyed, writing a book about how frightening real enemy love might actually be. Everyone picks on Jonah for his lack of warm feeling towards the enemy, but I don’t see many of his pious critics marching off to Mosul to make peace with the regime there. And any historian will tell that the Ninevites (Neo-Assyrians) were more dreadful than ISIS, by a long way.

The book was published last summer, and then after that, rather more soberly, I finished recording the musical retelling.


JM: I know it has been gestating for a while and I imagine that there has been a weight to living with these ideas for so long before being able to finally unleash them on the world. How do you manage to contain such a strong prophetic vision (alongside the accompanying passion and restlessness) without it eating you up?

DBB: I think it probably does eat me up. I don’t know if you can make good art about something without allowing yourself to swallowed up by it. If you’re not battered by the journey, then where did you go, and what do you have to tell? Perhaps this is why artists have often been considered dangerous by controlling societies. We’re unhinged openings for dangerous and unpredictable kinds of power to enter the orderliness and disrupt it: in this case, grace, forgiveness, re-humanisation of the enemy, redemption of the irredeemably evil, etc. The prophetic job is to bring in this dangerous new thing, not, I suppose, to always come out in one piece.

Living with this story over the last few years has also been interesting, because the contemporary subject matter has changed. When I began, the monster of public discourse was ISIS. Today, many struggle to see people like Trump, Farage and Le Pen as human beings – an attitude which is quietly and dangerously transferred onto all those who support them. I also know people on the right who can only talk with disgust about “liberals” and people on the left. Who wants to go Jonah-ing over to the terrible other now?

JM: At Sputnik, we usually draw quite a thick line between art that is made for Christians and art that is made for a universal audience. You are something of an exception to this rule, as you are one of the few artists that people who aren’t Christians still want to eavesdrop on, even when you’re speaking primarily to Christians. ‘The Book Of Jonah’ would be a project like this as your focus here does seem to be Christians and the church. Can you tell us about about how you see the Christian artist’s responsibilities to speak to the church and to the world and how that works for you?

DBB: You mean that our art is best when it speak to a universal audience, and not into the Christian bubble, I think?

I agree. But of course, stained glass windows, cathedrals, orthodox icons, choral evensong and the KJV were made for Christians, and yet they’re also delighted in by a universal audience, because they have integrity. When we look uneasily on art made for Christians, I think we usually mean the sort of art made by evangelicals for evangelicals in decades past, which we’ve come to distrust as a sort of matrix designed to keep us in the fold. But for me it would be dishonest to make art stripped of Judaeo-Christian aesthetics. This is the well I drink from, and plenty of outsiders want to drink from it too.

I feel I’ve always been trying to make work for a post-secular audience. I could never accept the sacred/secular divide, and I’ve always been trying to bring these two realms together: trying to bring religious discourse back to earth, and trying to reveal how religious the secular world always has been. The prophets have always been my model as an artist, and they simply addressed their people, whether they worshipped this or that, something or nothing.

I find the present moment a very exciting one to work in, because the post-secular mishmash has now become the fact (where it is accepted that religious narratives of all sorts are sloshing everywhere, and nothing is neatly contained or separable). Meanwhile, the old sacred / secular divide is collapsing. We could gone on about what all that might mean for a long time.


JM: The Book Of Jonah then- give us the hard sell. Why should this release be added to our bookshelves and Itunes libraries?

DBB: The Book of Jonah is a radiophonic production of the biblical story, read in it’s entirety from the old King James bible by the deep voice of theologian Professor N. T. Wright, whose wisdom and wit illuminates the narrative. Jonah himself is played by the theologian and activist Professor Alastair McIntosh, in his wheezing Hebridean sea-dog’s tones. The story is punctuated with dark folk ballads and awash in spaghetti western soundscapes.

Sympathy for Jonah is a series of meditations on the biblical tale, delving into the necessity, and the dreadful cost, of enemy-love, for all of us. Especially in these divided times. It’s short. I’m told it’s funny, though I didn’t particularly mean it to be. And it gives theologically digestible exploration of both the Book of Jonah and of the cross of Jesus.

JM: What’s next for you? How are you going to promote this project and have you got anything else in the pipeline?

DBB: I’ll be spending time performing The Book of Jonah where I can; lounges, bars, churches and gatherings, and holding discussions around the themes of the book. There’s always something new in the pipeline, but I’ll focus myself on planting our community garden and gathering some theological learning groups in the coming months.

* * *

Thanks Dave. As always a pleasure. And if you can’t wait until the 13th March, here is an exclusive little preview of a track called ‘Sackcloth and Ashes’to whet your appetite…

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Mike Lawetto and Messing With Musical Expectations

Just before Christmas, I got wind of the fact that Mike was lining up a Well Done You project for release this year. Soon after this revelation, I found out that that there were a number of Perendiz tracks ready for release too. The eagle eared amongst you would have noticed the first evidence of this flurry, Part Wolf, that we profiled on the blog last week, and I thought that we should probably catch up with the man himself before the floodgates really opened. So, Sputnikmagazine, it’s my pleasure to introduce Mike Lawetto…

So, Mike, Introduce yourself.

My name is Mike Lawetto, and I sing, play, mix, and produce. And my first project to be released is Well Done You. WDY has been in my head since 2015 – two years of tinkering, thinking and trying to dream it right. It’s not a band, it’s a collaboration – I write and produce and bring in the right people for each song. It’s an exciting process and gives me the freedom to explore whatever the song needs.

Tell us about the single ‘Part Wolf’

Part Wolf is one of the oldest tracks from the upcoming album, it is an introduction to how the rest of the record will sound to listeners. The track itself is complete mayhem. It’s relentless, never let’s up, and that’s what I wanted people’s first experience of WDY to be. It’s funny how Part Wolf came about. Initially, musically speaking, I was aiming for more a Weezer vibe (Blue Album, Pinkerton) than what actually was created. It took me awhile to realise that Part Wolf was more me than what I thought I wanted it to be. Once I was confident in the new direction, it was game on and the whole album started to take shape because of it. Also on a tech note, Part Wolf was my first outing with Marshall amps (which I now adore). I explored the track with different guitars rather then sticking with just my Strat so all in all it was a freeing experience as a writer and producer. Also wanna give a special shout out to Kelani for drumming on that track way back in a sweaty hot room in summer 2015.

What does success look like for you in your art?

There are two ways I look at success:

The first one is getting the record done right. Regarding WDY I’ve been demoing seriously since summer 2016 and now have 38 songs under my belt. I’ve nearly got the album done, I’m tracking the last bit of drums in a week which is exciting. With Perendiz it’s getting everything ready as well. I’ve got two singles ready to go, so I’m currently looking at how I will release them. So my first real success is getting everything written, recorded, produced and mixed to the right level across the board. It was very important to me to take my time to learn how to finish a record by myself. For many years I was on other people’s time to get my records done because I didn’t possess the skills and though I am grateful for the time they put into my stuff it was very frustrating waiting. Finishing any form of art is a hard thing to do but it’s something I’ve purposely been working on over the last year.

Secondly, I want people to enjoy the music. It will be a major success hearing that people love what I’m doing.

You have several different musical projects bubbling away at a time and seem to operate under a number of personas (welldoneyou, PERENDIZ, Captain Pinball, etc). How does this work?

As my day job I’m Mike Lawetto, a freelance producer, songwriter and mix engineer. When I’m not doing that, I split my time between Well Done You – my rock side and Perendiz – my pop side. I don’t feel on a Tuesday how I did on a Sunday. Some days I rock, some days I pop. For me, music is at its greatest when it’s screwed around with, messed expectations, a noisy evolution – that’s what makes it beautiful. And that’s how Well Done You and Perendiz came about. Captain Pinball was just a crazy one-off, a track that I wrote with a team for a record label, it was mega-fun, but definitely more of a one-off project. I love pop music, we just unfortunately live in a time where a lot of pop music isn’t about exploring anymore rather regurgitating what’s worked in the past. Perendiz is all about trying to put the exploration back into Pop music and hoping people think it’s good. You’ll never hear Perendiz do the same genre – a few songs from the same ball park, sound wise, but ultimately I’m gonna keep moving. You’ve got to stay fresh, exciting and innovative. Oh and also I get bored quickly.

It’s the same with Well Done You. I’m a rocker at heart, my first true love, yet I’ve just been bored by the majority of rock music for years. I’m lucky if there’s more then two new good rock albums a year now I like. I’ve made a conscious effort to keep my colours wide and open. As a producer I’ll never say no until I’ve tried it a few times. That’s how I approach everything I do musically, which is why this year you will get a wide and genre-less bag of music from Mike Lawetto.

So, what exactly have you got in store for us in 2017?

Perendiz will releases a few singles (potentially an e.p) and a lot of collaborations. I’ll be releasing and producing with other artists such as Jamison, Alix Original, Dan Crook and a few others that are nearly confirmed. Well Done You will be releasing quite a few singles, an EP, album and a Christmas single. It’s gonna be busy year and I’m super excited.


Moi aussi.

Thanks Mike.

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Artists’ Art of 2016

So Christmas is behind us and we are mere days from 2017 and a chance to finally put this strange old year to bed. Now, whatever else you can say about 2016, it has certainly been a year of artistic endeavour and productivity. Therefore, I waited till everyone had got their Facebook top 10s out of their system and then approached a few of Sputnik’s favourite practitioners to ask them what their one favourite piece of art was this year. These are their responses:

Luke Tonge- Stage Four by Touché Amoré

What a year! The ‘piece of art’ that has impacted me most in 2016 is an album by a band I probably wouldn’t even list in my top 20 artists, and who I’ve never seen live, which as a music fan feels odd – but there you go. It dropped into my ears in September and hasn’t left me since. The record is ‘Stage Four’ by post-hardcore LA-based punk quintet Touché Amoré, their fourth full length (the dual meaning of the name – it’s also the highest level of cancer staging — a reference to the fact that leader singer Jeremy Bolm’s mother died of cancer in 2014). For an intense and cacophonous hardcore band such private emotion was only ever going to sit front and centre in their art…and while its not quite a concept album, the theme of grief runs throughout. Stylistically I saw it perfectly described as like “slam poetry set to hardcore.” This is an album of searching, as Bolm sorts through his childhood memories and feelings that have amassed since his mother’s passing. This isn’t a feel-good record, but it’s also not at all as depressing as it sounds! There is hope within. All sounds pretty emo right? Well I guess it is. But it’s full of big hooks, musical cohesion and just the right amount of raw energy to keep you coming back for repeated listens. Pitchfork’s 8.1 scoring review states “Bolm’s hyper-confessional lyrics are a beacon of hope to anyone plagued by anxiety, depression, toxic relationships, and general self-doubt.” and in the year that we’ve all just had – who doesn’t need a bit of that?

You can listen to this brief cathartic 35 minute masterpiece in full here:

Benjamin Harris- Imperial Federation Map of the World (Walter Crane)

At the TATE’s Artist and Empire early this year I came across Walter Crane’s ever-so slightly subversive Imperial Federation Map of The World (1886). This work embodies both what I have begun to study more in 2016 (Politics of Race and Colonisation) and the quiet socialistic defiance within the system (which Crane achieved in his ornate representation of the inequalities of Empire surrounding the cartography). It has certainly been the biggest formal impact on my creative output this year.


Jo Cogle (Joanna Karselis)- Notes on Blindness

What a year for cinema. We’ve had Room, Spotlight, Hell or High Water, Son Of Saul, Love and Friendship, Kubo And The Two Strings, and Hail, Caesar! to name a few, not to mention films I haven’t caught up with yet like Captain Fantastic, Embrace of The Serpent, and Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Special mention for my runner up film of the year goes to Ken Loach’s social commentary I, Daniel Blake; but my film of the year, 2016, is the revolutionary documentary Notes On Blindness.

Notes on Blindness is made up of the audio recordings theologian John Hull created over the period in which he lost his sight. The film uses actors to lip sync along to the tapes, putting the audio alongside arresting visual images of rain and tidal waves and snow to illustrate Aussie-come-Brummie Hull’s story. Although actors lip syncing to audio tapes isn’t a new technique (see The Arbor, 2010), this felt very different to any documentary I’d ever seen before. It was natural, horrifying, and thrilling, honest, raw and brave, all at the same time. Hull’s words have made me completely reassess not only how “blind people and sighted people must see other” in the physical world, but also in the spiritual one. Notes doesn’t shy away from Hull’s Christian faith, and how he wrestles with God as he becomes blind. It ends up being a film about a real man facing real struggle with a real God, and coming through that struggle to find peace. Notes has truly raised the bar for making faith filled films which accurately and honestly depict the difficulties of real Christian life; and it managed to break my heart and put it back together again along the way.

If anyone is interested in finding out more, Hull’s book Touching The Rock is an assimilation of his recordings. For additional viewing, the film’s directors have produced a similarly insightful new documentary called Life, Animated which is about autism and is currently showing in limited screens around the UK.


Chris Donald- Luke Cage

‘Luke Cage’ is far from perfect. Like all Marvel Netflix shows so far, it starts incredibly strong, but the pacing is far too slow, and there are some just-plain-dumb scripting and directing moments. But Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Rosario Dawson and so on brought grace and messy humanity to the reluctant black superhero; and amid the dark cultural brouhaha of 2016, the fictionalised lives of non-white America got airtime, made their mark, and even crashed the Netflix servers – or so the mythology goes. It’s been a year where my heart has sometimes been heavy with what my (future!) kids’ lives and experiences will be, but from ‘Luke Cage’ to ‘Atlanta’, Mike Kiwanuka to Lianne La Havas, it moved me to remember that they will have stories that honestly, artfully, and heroically embrace their colour.


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A Sputnik Christmas Playlist

Okay. I am now firmly gripped in the clutches of Christmas, and I won’t be escaping any time before Boxing Day!

I’d considered putting up some esoteric posts about whether fishmongery is art or bemoaning the overuse of teal in church website banners, but even I couldn’t be that obtuse. It’s Christmas in under a week so my one goal this week is to help you get in the Christmas mood.

It’s great that this year more than ever, there are artists we’re connected with who are queuing up to prepare you for the big day.

First up, the playlist! Pretty important I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m happy to say that for the first time ever, I’ve managed to see Sufjan Stevens’ 4 CD Christmas album through from start to finish. This is either creative progress or the sign that I have passed some sort of point of no return.

For me, Zang productions’ 2008 classic ‘A Zang Christmas’ is still my benchmark Christmas carol album. But this year, both of these albums are getting a run from their money from within the Sputnik stable.

First up, Christchurch Manchester have put together a very pleasant EP of carols. Very pleasant indeed!

For anyone who has been around Sputnik for a while, all I need to say to pique your interest is that the brilliant Michael Bradley (welldoneyou, PERENDIZ) is heavily involved. As I see it, Michael is a master of making music that, while it has a pop polish, consistently houses genuine chaos. There are a whole load of others involved here for sure, but this EP is in the trademark Bradley vein. It’s produced, engineered and arranged excellently and on first listen might remind you of Maroon 5 on a more rocky day. However a more careful listen will highlight the ominous threat that lies underneath ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and the frenzied guitars and drums that just about remain contained in ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’. It will be great to see how Christchurch Manchester build on this with some promised original releases this year (we’ll keep you posted).

However good this EP is though, I can’t resist pointing you towards Mr Bradley’s seasonal magnum opus (in this case under the guise of Captain Pinball) from last year. This is what happens when the chaos is allowed full rein. Believe it or not, in the Mellor household this song has been played most weeks this year and consistently sends all 3 of our children into a blind frenzy (in a good way) whether it’s December or July. This is the sound of genius!

Okay. If you have the good taste and endurance to make it to the end of that, it’s likely that you will now see the world in a different light from this point onwards, but you may temporarily need a bit of a rest. Cue Joanna Karselis.

We highlighted Jo’s excellent ‘Oceans’ release a couple of weeks ago, well she has followed that up with a charity single, a reworking of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ and a beautiful instrumental piece, composed for Oasis Church, Birmingham’s carol service.

[bandcamp width=100% height=120 track=1072609514 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]

On ‘In The Town Of Bethlehem or In The Bleak Midwinter’ Jo’s distinctive, pining voice sits snugly on a bed of piano and violin (Jo too!) and it all adds up to a very worthwhile variation on the old carol classic.

‘Joy’ may lack the vocals or the safe familiarity of a carol cover, but it would be a perfect intro or interlude track on a carol mix CD. On first listen, the title may seem odd, as there is definitely a melancholy feel about this instrumental track, but as you go with it, you’ll get it. This is not ‘happiness’ or ‘jolliness’, this is ‘joy’, and rippling up from beneath the reflective synth arrangement is a sense of hopeful determination that leaves you feeling strangely contented. Joyful even.

So much so that you’ll probably now be ready for more Captain Pinball. And then more.

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Sputnik Stocking Fillers

Jemma, my wife, is a force of nature when it comes to Christmas shopping. She started about a month ago and I think has pretty much nailed it already.

Now, I like to think that she is the exception rather than the rule in this regard, and if this is true, then most of you reading this will still be in search of some prezzies for your loved ones this Chrimbo.

Well, Sputnik can help. It’s great to see the quality work out there emanating from guys connected to our collective, and it could just be what you need to complete your gift buying mission.

Here are 6 Sputnik stocking fillers that we’d thoroughly recommend:

An Android Awakes by Mike French

filmcomicconbrightonJust over a year ago, Mike French released this, his fourth novel- a collaboration with illustrator Karl Brown. It’s set in a future where our culture is shaped by machines, and part of that shaping is done through the Android Publishing Program. In short, robots provide people with their reading material. The catch is that each android only gets 42 attempts to get their work published before they are deactivated.

‘An Android Awakes’ is the story of Android Writer PN121928  who, after a series of rejections, only has 14 attempts left before deactivation. What follows then are these attempts, intertwined with the narrative about the android novelist’s life and particularly his fears as he gets closer and closer to the potentially definitive rejection. Therefore, it’s partly a short story collection and partly an extended exploration of a dystopian future.

And it scores on both fronts. The short stories are consistently bizarre, funny and poignant and give Mike full rein to let his imagination really go to town. On the other hand, the whole set up is coherent and well fleshed out and both serves as an interesting and disturbing vision of the future and a fable about the plight of very human writers in the here and now.

“The questions of what makes us truly human and what life means isn’t anything new within the genre, but the presentation of those timeless questions here is exemplary and fresh” (AMO MAGAZINE)

Who’d like it in their stocking? Anyone into Philip K Dick or 2000AD. I’d also probably better add a 15 rating on to it too, in case some over eager parents were expecting Hagbane’s Doom with robots (anyone remember Hagbane’s Doom? Oh, it’s just me then).

How can I get it? An Android Awakes is available on paperback or on kindle from amazon, and if you want to find out more visit the website.


The Parables of Pythagoras by The Praying Mantis

The Praying Mantis is an exceptional wordsmith and vocalist. His lyrical ingenuity and authoritative delivery have been apparent for years both in his live shows and through his previous releases, but I don’t think that they’ve ever been showcased as effectively as on The Parables of Pythagoras, his latest album. The beats are gritty and hard hitting (lots of ominous strings and snapping snares) and the rhymes are classic Mantis.

Who’d like it in their stocking? Within the rap genre, there is an opportunity for in your face unapologetic statements of faith and Mantis seizes that opportunity with both hands. However, whereas many Christian rappers fill their verses with such theological detail that they ensure that only Christians will connect with their material, Mantis crafts his work in such a way that anyone into gritty, street hiphop a la late 90s Wu Tang Clan will be happy to see in the New Year to The Parables of Pythagoras.

How can I get it? It’s on band camp. It’s also available on a physical CD (I know because I’ve got one) however Mantis is hiding them all away in his warchest, so you’ll have to put some work in to get your hands on one.


Humanization (Issues 1 and 2) by Josh and Steve Whitehouse


Nothing says Happy Christmas like some dystopian sci fi. An Android Awakes is a case in point, as are the first two issues of Josh and Steve Whitehouse’s Humanization comics. Issue 1 came out about a year ago, but the second issue has crept into being under most people’s radar. Not any more!

Humanization is set in a world where humans are extinct, but the internet that they left behind has developed consciousness. Servers, websites and programs of all kinds have become living beings and the comic follows their adventures focusing on CADRA, a common farm girl working on the code fields and her pet dragon, Mutt.

The story opens up in an intriguing manner and, as you’d expect from Josh, the illustration is crazily good. And as for detail! Seriously, if you ever get the chance, get him to talk you through the bar scene in issue 2- for every item on every shelf has a meaning and significance. Every item!

Who’d like it in their stocking? Um… who wouldn’t like it in their stocking? It’s got a cute dragon sidekick, a a zombie Paul Simon, and Google, Twitter, Microsoft and Apple personified as dictatorial overlords. Can I narrow it down? People who like things that are good. (Actually, people who like things that are good who are over 15. Same reasons as above)

How can I get it? You can get issues 1 and 2 for a mere fiver from jowybean’s etsy page. Bargain.


Sojourner by Stewart Garry

If you’ve been following this blog at all this year, you should have caught up on this one already, but if not, Sojourner is one of my favourite projects of the year full stop. Stewart is an insanely nimble fingered acoustic guitarist par excellence and was ready to record his second album some time a year or so back. However, it wasn’t coming together in a recording studio. Cue Chris Donald, head honcho of Minor Artists, musical super producer, and more often than not a man with a plan. Chris suggested that the two of them should record the album in some of the places which inspired Stewart in his craft. So they did. One song is recorded in a whiskey distillery, one in a lighthouse, another in an old church. And all the songs are recorded visually too, making the album actually a series of music videos, with commentary from Stewart, letting us in a little on his creative process.

The music is beautiful. The visuals let us into the physicality of Stewart’s skills. The whole package is a wonderful example of how to do a creative project properly.

Is it a film? Is it an album? Both, of course, and Sojourner is also a unique presentation of an artist and his music. (

Who’d like it in their stocking? I’ll be honest, I’m not usually a fan of instrumental acoustic guitar music, but I love this. The videos made Stewart’s music accessible to me, but even without these, it is a great album. ‘Patience is a virtue’ even made it on to a Mellor Holiday mix CD. That’s a high bar, right there!

How can I get it? It’s available from Minor Artists’ website either as a download or as a physical CD/DVD.


Ocean by Joanna Karselis

img_2803Did I say mix CD? Well, if you, like me, partake in the creation of such things for holiday jaunts to see family or just to compile favourite tunes of the year, this is a shoe in. Jo has never sounded more vital and arresting. Just listen to the intro and it will come as no surprise that this is the lady whose brutal strumming was responsible for slicing the top off one of her fingers while performing earlier this year. Hardcore!

Who’d like it on their Christmas mix CD? The intro reminds me of early Ani Defranco, and anyone who likes their music passionate and authentic will value this highly.

How can I get it? Bandcamp once again. Don’t be shy to give a bit more than the required amount either. (You don’t want 3 ghosts to visit you at night do you?)


Customised pencil sketches by Benjamin Harris

img_3013In september, Ben’s bike got nicked, so to fund a new one (and his upcoming volunteer work in Tanzania) he has started doing pencil sketches of basically anything you’d like. Rather geekily, we got him to make a piece of GK Chesterton. My mum got him to draw my sister’s dogs (yes, he really will stoop that low). They range from £30 (A5) to £40 (A3) and you won’t be disappointed.

Who’d like it in their stocking? We commissioned a piece of GK Chesterton (see above). My mum got him to draw my sister’s dogs. So basically anyone.

How can I get it? Here’s the deets.



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Interview with Colin Veysey of The Wick Trimmers

One of the most instructive moments for me at this year’s Catalyst Festival was when, during our live music afternoon, we segued from Prestwood based folk band, The Wick Trimmers, to Birmingham rapper, Mantis.

In many ways the two sets couldn’t have been more different: from Tin Whistle refrains to grubby Wu Tang beats, from jaunty acoustic guitar to a direct and confrontational verbal assault. But if you listened carefully, it was hard to miss the fact that the two acts, while sonically poles apart, were almost identical in their goals and intention. They were both artists drawing on deep musical traditions to engage with their local audience- one speaking into a rural village setting, the other into the inner cities.

As a city dweller for two decades, I often allow my environment to dictate my view of what art is engaging and relevant, but as I watched ‘The Wick Trimmers’ perform, I realised again that to do so is a serious mistake. To that end then, I decided to catch up with The Wick Trimmers’ Colin to pick his brains about what he’s up to in Prestwood and learn from how he, and his church, connects with his community through the arts.

Hi Colin, can you introduce yourself…

I live in Prestwood, Bucks and planted a church 20 years ago after a  fascinating three years at London Bible College. Before that I spent many years as a clinical chemist running a pathology lab in the NHS, whilst helping to lead a Baptist church. In terms of artistic influences I suppose my little old violin teacher at age 6 – Miss Dowding, and an history teacher who submitted my first (atrocious) song to some competition, and a protein specialist from The Westminster Hospital who taught science as an art. Oh and Mendelssohn, and The Barley Mow folk club on Burton, and The Beatles.

I really enjoyed your performance at the Catalyst Festival- you and Philippa did a great job. I know that you both normally play with a larger band, The Wick Trimmers- could you tell us about the band and how they came about?

We are now a six piece folk band. Gerard plays accordions, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, his wife Pauline plays the bodhran, Ken on fiddle, Philippa plays flute, whistle and fife, I play guitar and mandolin and John plays bass. The band originates from the Lighthouse Christian Children’s holiday club which began in 1988 and we played as a Barn Dance band for many years. When the King’s Church Prestwood was planted the majority of the band were part of the plant and were the basis for the worship team for the church. That was 1996, and my ministry in worship, song writing and role in outreach led to the band growing in the local area and developing a good reputation for dances and entertainment. As a church we developed song writing in worship, in other musical genres and developed younger musicians too. It was probably after playing as a support for Wendy Craig on one occasion that we began to develop a concert repertoire, writing songs and dance music in the folk tradition.

How have you continued to use your musical skills to serve your local community?

Well, again, it’s not monochromatic, there was the creative process, of writing, arranging, rehearsing, learning as well as the invitations to go and enable communities to celebrate in music and dance. Realising that dancing together is a counter-cultural statement – yet with profound theological and spiritual meaning is quite a revelation to many folk – God’s intrinsic being dances together in a multicoloured dynamic of rhythm, melody and perfect harmony. Then, we realized that whilst we were helping build community and church in other places – we were not finding it easy to make relationships and start conversations within the community where God had placed us. So we set up a monthly folk club in our own village in 2011, with The Wick Trimmers as the resident band. We have a faithful following of around 80-100 meeting either in the local pub, or the local micro-brewery, and encourage other local musicians too and play and sing about places and happenings in our locality. One great thing is that around 10-15 of my neighbours come along regularly.

In what other ways does your church seek to serve Prestwood through the arts?

In terms of the arts we found that some of us were playing regularly in elderly care homes and for residents with acute dementia – playing songs, hymns and storytelling God’s word. We developed a community choir with village people singing worship and positive songs, now the choir includes members from 5 local churches and others with no church connections. One particular work, a song cycle, written here is a celebration of what scripture says about heaven – the choir will be performing the premiere of this, called  ‘A day is coming’ in one of the local Anglican churches in October.

Another part of our serving the community is to transform culture – to change the direction of people’s thinking. Anyone who’s read the Bible knows that isn’t a quick fix, and when we were challenged by God that people in the area didn’t know what was going on around them we got involved in the setting up of a social enterprise newspaper, The Source. We only print good news (gospel!) about people. Art, education, clubs, charities, etc. 5 editions a year, 6000 copies free to every home – and we set the values, do the editing, get local people to write, proof read, photograph, and celebrate the good stuff that’s around. We have a team of around 100 – probably half with no church connections and the people of the area love the paper and read it cover to cover.

 Audience and context are vitally important in art, and you are clearly making art specifically into a smaller rural environment. What do you think are the specific challenges and opportunities that Christian artists face in a village that may be different from those encountered in a town or city?

The population of villages is much more static and stable than in urban or city settings, and there is a huge gap in the age profile. Young people cannot afford to continue to live in the rural setting once they leave home. This has a massive effect on the amount of energy that is available to the arts. This has the tendency to make art drift into entertainment, pleasing aesthetics and hobby rather than developing challenge, cutting edge and beauty in depth. What’s more, the stability of the population tends towards a suspicion of the new, a rejection of anything unless it’s exceptional and a tendency to intellectualise art – not helpful. Add to this the lack of resources for art, the lack of stimulating iron sharpens iron communitas (see Alan Hirsch) and the lack of venues that are appropriate or big enough…. ‘nough said.

There are very few Christian artists in Catalyst churches at the heart of their local arts scenes, but you guys seem to be among them. What advice would you give other Christian artists seeking to serve their communities in villages, towns or cities?

First of all keep talking to all the people in the church, and particularly the leaders… keep talking… ask questions… encourage them… meet with them, eat with them. They may not understand you, but you and your art can be immensely valuable in building the Kingdom of God. You may not understand the church and its worship and its ways, but by being gracious and keeping on offering your creativity in worship, a generation of love and grace will emerge. Second, stay close to God and filled with the Spirit, listen to the prophets for inspiration (not instruction) – and look around for the ‘man of peace’… ok what do I mean – there are people who create structures that bless people, individuals who simply gather others and promote harmony in a community. Get alongside them as friends, and look for the least likely audience – God loves to surprise even us!


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madebymotive: Joanna Karselis

We had 3 musical exhibits in the madebymotive gallery. Barrowclough and Ebenezer’s ‘Breath and Blood’ and Mr Ekow’s ‘When Space Stares Back’ both seemed to go down well, but I wanted to particularly draw your attention to Joanna Karselis’ uplifting ‘Cry’.

Jo is a longtime Sputnik favourite and it’s yet another beautiful addition to her repertoire. You can’t argue with her motivation either.

 My motivation is, simply, worship.  All the music I make is God-centred in one way or another, and the act of creating and performing is my “spiritual act of worship”. Cry is about raising your gaze upwards, away from the things of this world, meeting with Him, and bringing the best of you- whatever that may be- before His throne.

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madebymotive exhibition, Catalyst Festival 2016

At the recent Catalyst Festival, we put on the exhibition: madebymotive. It acted as a cracking centrepiece of the SputnikZone this year and thank you so much to all the artists who exhibited as well as Chris and Hannah at Creative Arts Network for their help.

What’s funny about doing these exhibitions at the Catalyst Festival is that we work hard to make sure that they are designed not to primarily appeal to the people who are actually at the festival! I find something about the idea of Christians entertaining Christians slightly pointless, and while we hoped that people enjoyed the exhibition, its primary purpose was to make a statement about what ‘Christian art’ is and isn’t.

But I do recognise that such an obtuse strategy does need a bit of explanation, so I had to produce a write up explaining the gallery. For some reason this year I found this particularly tricky. However, I got there eventually and thought I’d stick it up here as in the end I think it explains our general ethos pretty well (and it makes me feel better about the 7 or 8 drafts that I ended up rejecting):

 In the SputnikZone this year, we want to talk about motive.

Perhaps a good place to start then is by telling you about ours. Our motive in putting on this exhibition is to highlight the important role of the arts and to showcase some Christians who we think are making the kind of art that has the power to speak into a society that is no longer listening to our preachers, our theologians and our apologists.

Some of the artists submitted work to this project (as part of CreativeArtsNetwork’s madebymotive project late 2015) and others were approached specifically for the exhibition. Our final selection was made, not because we thought this work would connect with people who might go to a Christian festival (ie Christians!) but we felt it would be likely to connect with people who are not here, who don’t know Jesus, who won’t naturally turn up at our meetings or come to our Alpha Courses. They may not all be explicitly about Jesus, in fact very few are, but let’s face it, not every lesson a Christian teacher teaches will contain a gospel presentation, not every patient a Christian doctor treats will be prayed for, not every deal a Christian business person makes will come with a personal tract. Very few will. We are called to be in the world, and be excellent at what we do in the world.

However, the thing about art is that artists who excel in their craft have the ability to communicate in a very powerful way. Excellent art communicates to people’s minds and hearts and shapes the very way they live. Excellent art also tends to be authentic, so a skilled artist will end up communicating their passions naturally through their work. Therefore, it would be very difficult for an artist who loves Jesus to not let their faith shine through at some point.

For that reason, we want more Christians to be making excellent art. 

So, if you are creative and are wondering if you should pursue your artistic leanings, we hope this exhibition inspires you to put time and effort into learning your craft. If you wouldn’t consider yourself creative, we hope this exhibition shows you something of what makes artists tick. They have many reasons for the hours they spend at their work. Some of these reasons are overtly spiritual, some are not. But all are valid as these guys look to become excellent at their art forms and potentially gain the ability and opportunity to communicate the good news of Jesus into people’s lives who presently will not hear it told to them by more straightforward means.

Alongside some reflections on the festival (and the ones that preceded it), I’m going to showcase some of the work from the exhibition too, alongside the artists’ motive statements. Some of the work won’t be quite the same as seeing it in the flesh, but it’ll give you the right idea.



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Welcome The Stranger – Benjamin Blower

Benjamin Blower has been a Sputnik favourite since before Sputnik even existed (technically impossible I know, but I think you understand the sentiment). I have not come across many Christian artists who have thought through their practice so carefully so as to match their medium to their purpose, and I find Mr Blower to be a very helpful  challenge and provocation to me both as an artist and also as a follower of Jesus. He also makes some great tunes, which is always handy as well!

Therefore, it was with some delight that I heard last week that he was dropping a new album totally out of the blue. Welcome the Stranger was released yesterday and you can pay what you want for it (through the  Minor Artists shop or just through his band camp). I messaged him last week to see if he could give us a bit of a lowdown and he kindly obliged…

Let’s start with a quick introduction… 

My name is David Benjamin Blower and I’m a musician and a writer from Brum.

I’ve put out a number of records, between rap and junk-folk, always very apocalyptic, sometimes with a loose knit protest collective called The Army of the Broken Hearted.

I’m very inspired by the biblical prophets, who didn’t politely pop their music up on soundcloud and carry on. They jarringly interrupted public space and public life with their often shocking work. So the Army of the Broken Hearted was pulled together to bring radical faith art into public space, and to integrate our work more and more with movements of protest and redemptive change.

My first book Kingdom vs Empire came out 2013: a sort of modern apocalypse of British life.

It’s been almost 3 years since ‘Kingdom vs Empire’ though. What have you been working on in that time?

I recorded almost nothing the whole time, oddly. I’ve had a daughter, renovated a house and begun making pallet crate furniture. I’ve written a second book which should come out late summertime. And I’ve written a lounge-folk musical about Jonah and the Whale. Hoping to do a living room tour with that later on this year.

The new album focuses on the refugee crisis. What is it about this particular situation that led you to build this project around it?

I was talking with a friend a few months back, who’d been spending time in the refugee camp at Calais. She was describing and showing photos of the scenes from February 29th this year, when French riot police tear-gassed the camp to get people out of the way, before bulldozers came and destroyed half of it. They made thousands homeless, including women and children, hundreds of whom have now disappeared to goodness knows where. After this, a number of Iranians – mostly Christians – sewed each others’ mouths shut and went on hunger strike, demanding humane treatment for everyone in the camp.

No doubt I began, like everybody, with a feeling for peoples’ suffering, but this crisis is also something more. It’s revealing something about us. Who are we, if we tolerate this? Who are we, if we just “keep calm and carry on” now?

Many people I know, who’ve been spending time volunteering in the refugee camp at Calais, have the air of pilgrims. They go to help, of course, but they also go to recover their humanity, love, truth, the image of God. They come back more sorrowful and more human than when they went.

On the other hand, I know others who want the refugees gone. We’re used to seeing refugee camps on television, in far away lands, but there’s a rising panic at seeing the world’s “problems” making their way across Europe, all the way to our borders… panic that we can no longer keep re-arranging the world “out there” in order to maintain ourselves “in here.” Everything’s changing.

So I think we find ourselves at a fork in the road, and an identity crisis. Who will we be in this emerging future?

The first half of the record simply tells people’s stories – true stories – of people in Iraq, crossing the Mediterranean, slumming in Calais.

The second half of the record is theological, partly because I think the voice of Jesus speaks more forcefully into this question than anybody’s, but also because I think Christian communities in particular need to have this discussion, because, as Bonhoeffer’s famous quote goes, “silence in the face of evil, is evil itself.”

“Keep calm and carry on” is a charming mantra of defiance when a hostile enemy is bombing your country. But when traumatised and homeless people are slumming on your borders, while you, and everyone else, bomb their countries back home, “keep calm and carry on” becomes the mantra of diabolical evil. I made this record around the refugee crisis, because everything is changing and we need a new mantra.


Well, nothing else for it but to go and buy it! If you want to hear more of BB’s reflections on the refugee crisis, this insightful article is a good place to start. If you’d like to hear more about the man himself, one of the more junior members of our team interviewed him in a bit more detail a few years ago and you can find that interview here and here.

Oh, and one last thing. If you’re at the Catalyst Festival this year, Benjamin Blower will be performing on Monday afternoon. If you’re not at the Festival, it’s another reason why coming along may not be such a bad idea. Just saying 😉

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Film, Folk Guitar, and a New Kind of Album

A couple of weeks back, we highlighted Stewart Garry’s exciting new project Sojourner. Basically, Stewart is one of the country’s finest acoustic guitar talents, particularly specialising in fingerstyle, and ‘Sojourner’ is an album and a film, recorded live at a number of locations that have inspired him in his writing (from a lighthouse on the outskirts of Newcastle to a Scottish whisky distillery). Sojourner was officially released yesterday, but we caught up a couple of weeks back to find out more about the project and the man himself…

So Stewart, introduce yourself.

Hi, my name is Stew Garry, I’m 27 years old, currently based in Coventry but originally from Newcastle upon Tyne. I’m a part time student studying theology and also work part time as an elder for my church in Coventry whilst continuing to play music when and where I can.

I’ve always been into music. Growing up, my parents brought me up on a solid foundation of jazz music- Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong stand out as people who I still love to listen to and inspire my writing! I started out playing penny whistle in school folk groups (ending up playing on ITV at one point somehow?) but quickly had a fascination for all musical instruments, playing violin, steel pans and various other instruments until I was settled on the drums. I joined a rock band aged 13/14 playing mainly black sabbath covers, which was truly awful! But we got this gig playing at an opening of a local studio in Newcastle. So we played our set, thought we’d nailed it and on walks this older guy, with a beat up guitar. I’m thinking ‘who’s this guy?’ And he plays one of the most stunning pieces I’ve ever heard on the guitar! The guy’s name is Tommy Emmanuel and he was playing his version of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. Needless to say when I picked my jaw up from the floor, I dropped my drumsticks and said ‘I’m going to do that!’. Ever since I’ve been trying to work out how to play guitar like that, looking at other great guitarists like Andy McKee, Don Ross, Eric Roche and Antoine Dufour for technique and Inspiration.

Throughout that time I also played in a lot of different bands, jazz (which was a must to try and play like Miles) and rock bands, including a post hardcore band called Juinera where I got to play alongside Chris Donald who produced this album.

How did you come up with the whole idea for Sojourner?

I composed this album bit by bit over the last 4 years, gigged it and refined it until I was ready to record. I tried a few times to record the album in a studio, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t sounding right.

One day, Chris and I were talking  about how much YouTube was playing a role in the rise of modern Fingerstyle guitar playing and he had the idea of doing a live film, where we would visit different places that have inspired my music.

There are so many factors that have gone into Sojourner. I love the way that it’s not just a collection of songs, but a laying bare of the factors behind the songs and of you as an artist. One of the key elements seems to be place and geography as you record all the songs in places that have inspired your writing. How do you feel place and location affects your art?

Yeah, something I love about instrumental music is that it evokes different things for different people, it allows the listener to engrave their own stories onto the music which I think is awesome! But for this album I thought it would be great to bring the listener into some of my thoughts about the compositions and what inspires me, that way I think people who may struggle with instrumental music might be able to understand where I’m coming from as well.

Playing live at the different locations was a really fun way to record, it makes everything more relaxed! You’re not shoved into a small booth, with microphones thrown in every direction at you! It’s just playing that music I love to play in the places that are special to me, which was a huge joy! I think that made all the difference to the album, each place had a unique look, sound and feel. For example ‘After the rain’ was played in this little chapel in Cornwall that me and some friends visited a lot, so I had some great memories of the chapel but also the reverb in there was awesome, the weather played a part as well! It had just rained and so it made filming there even more perfect.

How does your art fit into your role as a church leader? In what ways do you find the two a natural fit or a source of tension?

I love doing both music and church work! I think having both aspects of music and church works well. Music is an outlet of creativity, I see it as a sabbath activity, it’s restful and brings joy, it’s also worship whenever I’m playing. Church work allows me to spend a lot of time studying the Bible which is a great joy, the more I study the more I learn about Jesus which in turn inspires me to write! So I think the two overlap nicely. The only tension would be touring and how that works alongside church, but it’s a small tension and one that is usually easily workable.

When the project is fully released on 16th May, what can we expect?

The project will be sold in various formats. You can get it digitally or physical copies. It will come as a CD/DVD double disk, so you can watch the film or just sit back with a dram and listen to the album. You can order the album/film from the Minor Artists shop (you can get it from bandcamp or iTunes but we would prefer if you could get it from us directly).

Thanks Stewart. If he hasn’t convinced you to shell out for this fantastic project,  let the music speak for itself: here is the second video from the project (featuring Sputnik favourite Joanna Karselis) to whet your appetite:

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Stewart Garry’s ‘Sojourner’

Minor Artists is part record label, part collective and part music production company. Founded by Sputnikmagazine contributor Chris Donald a couple of years back, it already has at least three bona fide classics under its belt- mSTORK’s ‘The Crux’, Benjamin Blower’s ‘Kingdom vs Empire’ and Ebenezer’s ‘Outremer’, but its forthcoming project is its most ambitious yet.

On the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, ‘Sojourner’ will be released in 16th May. It’s a cinematic folk album (which I think means that it’s an album and a film) by one of the UK’s finest acoustic guitar talents, Stewart Garry.

Stewart has built a career playing around UK venues, but in ‘Sojourner’ he returns to places that have inspired his writing, from Laphroaig Distillery on the Scottish island of Islay to a lighthouse in the outskirts of Newcastle. The album was recorded live in these diverse locations and filmed simultaneously and last week, the project’s first offering: ‘The Don’ was released. It’s a video featuring beautiful imagery of Islay, a short interview with Stewart and of course the song itself, performed in the cavernous depths of the island’s famous whiskey distillery.

It’s the perfect way to experience Stewart Garry, infusing his very tactile music with a powerful sense of place while exposing the intense physicality of his style.

We’re hoping to grab an interview in a couple of weeks, but to tide you over we thought we’d just point you towards ‘The Don’ and let you see/hear for yourselves:


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Interview with Singer / Songwriter Jake Isaac

Jake Isaac Sputnik Faith Art Music

This interview with Jake Isaac originally featured in Creative Arts Network’s Motive edition of Hue magazine, and was then reposted on the To purchase a copy of Hue, click here. (PS, you can get a bargain with discount code ‘HUEFLASH’)

Jake Isaac is a worship pastor based at Christian Life Fellowship in Greenwich, London as well as the visionary and team leader of the iEC Band developed to inspire young Christians to draw closer to God in worship and bring about change in their world. The band released their second live album ‘Break These Chains’ and were MOBO nominated in 2010. Jake is also a singer/songwriter and had previously worked with artists such as Gabrielle, Blue, Miss Dynamite, Floetry and Duffy.

If you could sum up in three words why you do what you do, what would they be?

To move people.

Can you tell us about the first time you realised you wanted to create music?

I was eight years old. I just wanted to make the stuff I heard in my head and in my heart, even if I was actually unsure of what I was actually hearing, I knew I wanted to try. I reckon that’s where it probably all started to kick off for me.

What motivated you to want to be a singer/songwriter?

I wasn’t actually interested, it was my close mates at the time that said I should give it a try. I totally didn’t see it.

Can you tell us a little about the journey and experience of putting down on paper your first few songs?

They were absolutely corny! I wrote some horrid stuff, like really super corny. The kind of stuff if anyone was to sing now, people might just whip out the old tomatoes and plaster them. But I had to start somewhere, no matter what how embarrassed I felt, I knew I needed to practice writing and singing what was buried within me.

What was the main incentive or driving force behind writing in the first place? 

Trying to communicate how I felt about different aspects of life. Almost finding the sounds and melodies to communicate the words as more than just a conversation.

Even though the experience of writing has probably changed somewhat, has the original motive changed or developed as your career has progressed?

I don’t actually feel it has. I feel like I’m just learning to grow in the process of becoming more disciplined in how I communicate in my songs. It’s almost like developing your vocabulary and becoming more articulate. It doesn’t mean you don’t pull out the cockney when you need to though.

As artists gain more public exposure many feel a pressure to ‘better themselves’ with each new release. Do you find you now write for the same reasons as before or does that pressure tailor how/what you create?

I feel like the pressure is totally healthy! Sometimes it’s a bit of a burden, but in order to better yourself, pressure will have to be applied at some point.

What are your hopes for the future of your music? Have you thought about the next three to four years?

I have thought about the next three to four years, but then I tell myself to behave!

I think I just look forward to sharing my music far and wide and developing and expanding my sound. Honestly that’s a shed load of stuff to deal with on its own.

What drives you to keep creating new material?

My everyday experiences and my conversations with various people on a day to day basis, which causes me to want to communicate something on their behalf that they might not be able to do in the same way as me.

Can you share some advice for any young songwriters reading this?

This is all about the people on the other end, the listener.

Conversations are normally directed at other people and you need to see your songs in the same way. Your songs are conversations out loud with the listener. What you get out of writing, not matter how fulfilling it is, is only part of the process.

In order to reach more, try and write with more and more people in mind. It’s like making a product without knowing your target audience; only you as the investor benefit from it. That’s not the way you branch out. But there’s only one of you. Be the one and only artist that you can be and enjoy it!

Find Jake on Twitter: @iamjakeisaac or Spotify

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Dirty Words: The Need for Christian Criticism

Last year I wrote a review of a prominent worship-genre album, for a Christian magazine. I thought the album was very predictable and too safe, and gave it two stars out of five. On the way to publication, however, the score was bumped up to three stars, and some polite qualifiers were dropped into my prose.

A bit unusual; but it got stranger. A glance on Wikipedia showed me that all other publications (all Christian) had given this album a minimum of 9 out of 10. The only album I was aware of that had gained better reviews in 2015 was Kendrick Lamar’s frankly blinding ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. Meanwhile, a flick back through the Wikipedia pages suggested this Christian artist is on the longest unbeatable streak since the Beatles.

There’s always room for disagreements in journalism, but it certainly struck me as odd that this merely-alright album gathered such runaway praise. Where was the hunger for good music? Where was the criticism?

Worship can’t be critiqued. Music can.

Let me be clear. One individual’s moment of worship shouldn’t be critiqued. Worship is vulnerable honesty, an act of humbling ourselves; whatever form it takes, the aesthetics are irrelevant. ‘Music’ and ‘worship’ are far from interchangeable anyway, but it’s still valid to say: God is not elitist about who sings to him, or how. We should mirror that.

Unfortunately, we often extend that critical immunity to people who write and record songs, when in fact, critique and deconstruction can raise the standards of art as much as they deepen our own understanding of what we’re listening to. Of course, if the music is intended for churches to pick up and use easily, there are questions of function as well as form. But on every level, when we don’t hold artists to high expectations, we condemn them to mediocrity. And it is a fact often acknowledged, yet to be solved, that popular Christian music is aesthetically mediocre.

Face-to-face criticism is a pastoral art.

Offering critique to the artists and musicians that we know personally is another matter again. There is a place for it, mind you; any teacher or parent would tell you that constant affirmation does not breed maturity or skill. When they know their child or pupil well, they can criticise them in tact and love, knowing it will do them good.

It’s ‘knowing’ that makes the difference. Many artists are given criticism that is way off-the-mark because it just doesn’t understand the person behind the art. If that’s the case, even positive feedback can fail to be constructive. Despite what you might think, artists are not sensitive flowers that need to be constantly encouraged; but if our opinions aren’t well-informed and trustworthy, they aren’t worth sharing.

Published critics have an influential role to play.

With that all said, when facing a published, lauded songwriter, we should be ready to say “impress me”. Not because we want to tear down successful people, but because these artists define trends, and have the capacity to open minds and shape aspirations. Intentionally or not, what these artists do sends a message: “this is what a Jesus-following musician sounds like”.

That message isn’t untrue, but it’s not the whole truth, and critics can crank that statement open to allow a little more colour in. They can be tastemakers, champions of pioneers and scourge of the easy-riders. That sometimes means harsh (and/or hilarious) reviews, out of disappointment as much as anything: calling out artists’ mistakes when they’ve sold themselves short.

Christian music in the UK is such a small world that nothing can change overnight. There is talent out there in the wings, but it’s not as if it’s fully developed, just waiting to be acknowledged. We need to challenge and raise the bar for artists, especially nationally. If we don’t speak what everyone is thinking, we can’t expect things to ever change.

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An interview with Re:flex the Architect

If you were familiar with the previous incarnation of Sputnikmagazine, you may have noticed a certain Stephen Adams (Re:Flex the Architect) in the contributors section. There was a song streamed with Barrowclough spouting something about Bart Simpson and a short interview, but since then very little has been heard from this shadowy Sputnik contributor. Until now.

For the last decade or so, Stephen Adams has been working away quietly establishing himself as one of the mainstays of Christian hiphop in the UK. In April 2014, we caught up with him about his involvement in the second album by US hip hop crew, Scribbling Idiots. We managed to pick his brains about working with the Scribbling Idiots and to tap into his wisdom on the strange science of beat making.

To stream and buy the album, click here.

Introduce yourself….

Hey, I’m Stephen Adams, also known as Re:Flex the Architect. I’m a hiphop Beatmaker/ MC/Mix Engineer. Living in London, but I’m a Polish-born, Leeds-raised Nigerian.

I’m part of the Scribbling Idiots crew, predominantly based in the US, but I’m one of two European members and the only Brit.

How did you get into making music and how did you hook up with the Scribbling Idiots?

Got into music when I was about 13. Heard some really cheesy youth-group type rap when I was young and for some reason that ignited a spark in me to rhyme. Later on, discovered US artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Tunnel Rats, Grits, Blackalicious, Cross Movement, etc, whom I studied and learned the ropes of how to approach hip hop with a real passion for the craft.

I started producing really because I figured out quickly I needed stuff to rap over & I just assumed that rappers made their own beats at that time. My granddad bought me one of those Yamaha keyboard with the pre-arranged backing tracks. Graduated to the Boss DR-5 drum machine, which I really learned how to produce on for a number of years till I then graduated to more computer-based software. I always wanted the MPCs or the Logics or Pro-Tools everyone else seemed to have, but somehow I was able to make what I had work for me. Pretty much taught myself as I didn’t meet other people who were MCs or producers until I went to uni.

At about that time, I found an online forum called Sphere of Hiphop which had a ton of Christians who were passionate about good hiphop. I used to post some of my beats to get feedback and through that, started talking to CAS METAH, who co-leads Scribbling Idiots. He invited me to join the crew about 2001 and I’ve been their UK correspondent ever since 🙂

What do you feel are the main challenges for a Christian making hip-hop music?

Great question.  There are surface challenges which get talked about a fair bit. Things like hip hop’s general attitude towards Christians, where artists are viewed with severe suspicion before you’ve even rapped or made a beat, because frankly, Christians have been occasionally responsible for some terrible hip hop music over the years (not all though). Meanwhile, the church as a whole tends to expect artists to only make musical doctrine statements to discourage youth group kids from sleeping around and leaves no room for artistic expression, growth or voicing your own personal struggles and opinions. Behind the sarcasm lies a large vein of truth.

It’s one of the reasons some of the people who currently inspire me are artists like Shad, who writes from what sounds like a clearly Christ-inspired worldview, but has stayed out of the “Christian music” clubhouse and is respected across the spectrum simply because he is undeniably dope! It’s also one of the things I love about my crew Scribbling Idiots and some of the other artists I work closely with like Tommy Eye or Wizdom (formerly of Greenjade), that we all inspire each other to make good music that steers clear of either of the above traps while still being true to our faith in Christ.

As a producer, it’s a tough one, because you have less control over the end product unless you want to stay in the Christian music ghetto. One of my big influences is a producer called S1 aka Symbolyc One, who has produced for Beyonce, Jay-Z and Kanye West, Game and more, but is a passionate follower of Christ. You’d think it must be tough for him to work on records that the end result may be promoting things he does not necessarily agree with, but to me, his faith shines through in how he goes about his business, the reputation he builds in the industry for his talent AND integrity and the lives he gets to speak into directly as a result.

It’s here that houses the real challenge for Christian in hip hop – to let your faith be seen in the closed-door business dealings and off-stage interactions. To be a man or woman of your word, honour the money, time and trust people invest in you, or to treat others well regardless of their status or immediate benefit to your career.

It’s more important that hip hop as a whole see my faith in action more so when they interact with me as Stephen Adams, far more than anything Re:Flex the Architect says in a verse. I’ve been on the receiving end of shady ethics and dishonesty from artists who share my faith and it makes you quite disillusioned. I try now to use it to remind myself to be better in the way I interact on a business level.

That’s where the real challenges are for me, ‘coz it’s hard to remember that my actions whether in business or in everyday reflect not just me, but how people see Jesus and the church as a whole.

While you are a gifted MC, you are most known for your beat making. For the uninitiated, what does this involve and how would you go about making a beat?

Haha! Cheers Jonny. Beatmaking, to me, is first and foremost about creating a feeling in the listener, whether it’s the rapper who has to write a song based on the emotions the beat evokes, or the listener hearing the final product. I’m always trying to create something that gives me that “Ooooooh” feeling. That feeling that makes me want to stop everything I’m doing, close my eyes, screw my face up like I just smelt something rotten while nodding my head violently! If the track makes me lose myself like that in it, then I know I’ve done my job right. Still a work in progress though.

Outside of manipulating samples and synth sounds, I play keys, drums and percussion to an average level, and am learning bass and guitar, so I try and incorporate either live instruments or at least some form of melody and musicality into the beats.

I’ll be shameless and use my crew’s newest release as an example (Scribbling Idiots – Invitation Only). I produced four songs on the record, but my favourite of them is a song called “Nothing to Prove” . I’ll break down in detail what I did on this one.

While crate digging, I found a 70’s jazz-fusion record where I recognized the “cast list” on the record sleeve had a few incredible jazz / funk musicians of that era playing on it. When I took it home & played it, I heard this incredible song with a gorgeous brass section and piano chords with a beautiful female lead vocal over the top. I hit this section where the singer hit this haunting long note while the brass section played these great riffs that instantly gave me that “Oooooooh!!!” feeling I was talking about earlier.

I sampled that section into the production software I was using, slowed it waaay down to 91bpm and chopped it – picked out the individual brass chords  I wanted from different and rearranged them in a different order and style to create something different from the original – to sound more military-like while still maintaining that haunting musical feel of the original.

I grabbed and layered individual drum sounds I had and played a simple, but hard-hitting drum pattern with them from my Korg PadKontrol, ( a USB drum machine that allows you to play the sounds on your computer live). This gave the drums a more human feel, so it didn’t sound super-rigid like if I just programmed them. Then I played the bass guitar live for the verses and chopped it for the chorus to give it a variation.

The result was a track that sounds to me like a scene from a Marvel superhero movie or Leonidis’ last stand in 300. The MC side of my creative brain could picture a character sticking his chest out, digging his heels in and facing whoever comes against him with fiery confidence. CAS METAH who A&R’d the Invitation Only album, picked MCs for the track who, without any instruction from me, clearly felt the same qualities in the song and you can hear that echoed in their lyrics.

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Interview with Ross Spencer

I wonder how many songs have been released featuring just one man and his guitar. It’s got to be a fairly impressive number. It’s tempting to think that this simple combination has already thrown up all its possible permutations in the history of music and that the listening audience of the 21st century demands something just a little more sophisticated.

And such a view would not be unsubstantiated. Anyone who has frequented local gigs or small scale music festivals will know that when the solitary singer-songwriter wanders up to his stool armed with just his trusty acoustic, it may well be a good time to get a drink/go to the loo/go home.

However, I guess a lot depends on that ‘one man’. If, for example, he happens to have wild ginger hair, sprouting from both his scalp and chin, sport a pair of glasses with the lenses wedged into the frames by pieces of cork, and go by the name of Ross Spencer, I warn you- do not, for any reason, leave the room. Instead, find a decent spot and prepare yourself for to be utterly entranced by one of the most immersive and powerful live performances you’ll ever experience.

Ross is an incredible talent who has already produced one of my all time favourite albums (Ego Mute) and has just released a new 3 track EP, featuring title track ‘Fallujah’ (performed at SputnikLive last year, see the above video).

We caught up with him and submitted him to the Sputnik interrogation. I’ve split it in two to help those of you with limited attention spans- part 1 today and part 2 next time. Have a read and then go and find out what I’m on about by buying his new EP (here)

Who are you and why do you make music? 

I am D Ross Spencer (secret Dave, always been called Ross), and I’ve been writing and performing my own songs since my late teens. Other than that I like to skateboard, draw weird cryptic patterns, and look at the hidden geometry in trees (note to self, stop showing off).

Why music? I guess it helps me connect with my feelings, it’s a wonderful balm for the soul, and it’s like an exploration, diving in caves without a map.

Also, I just read an excerpt from an essay by John Fowles which explains Prof. Gilbert J. Rose’s proposition that some children retain a memory of the transition from an infant who identifies with the mother, to a singular entity and the dawning of a reality in which they are in some sense, alone. It reminds me of our separation from perfect unity and continual community with God. Anyway, what he goes on to say is that these children go on to be artists, in an attempt to recreate that state of unity, of oneness, and in a way going back to that place on behalf of others.

Your lyrics are consistently fantastic, seeming at once intensely personal yet also readily relevant to me, as a listener. How do you usually write lyrics? Do you have a usual method or way of writing or is it more spontaneous? 

My favourite way to write is on the spur of the moment, when I jam one out for an audience or with friends, but most of those songs, ‘Rhubarb’ being an exception, are only there for the moment and can’t be retrieved. So when I compose by myself I let the music develop to a point where I feel moved to jump in, till I’m ‘feelin’ it’ as they say in street vernacular (do they still say that?) Then I see where The Spirit leads me.

The words are often connected to pictures and moods in my head, which is how I then remember them, replaying the film so to speak, and reliving feelings.

I don’t have much confidence that I can communicate my thoughts directly in a way that people won’t find patronising or boring, or that I really have anything of much importance to say that hasn’t already been said, so I rely on vagaries, collage, and unstructured thoughts and songs.

I find the themes of small animals, a sense of wonder and worship, and a pining for resolution and justice coming back again and again. Fruit and veg seem to often crop up in my freestyling as well, along with fierce animal alliances planning rebellious raids with the aid of hot air balloons. There’s a head film still in development, not sure how that one ends yet. Plenty of angry badgers and hedgehogs though, for sure.


Sputnik will keep everyone informed as to when Ross’ angry badger film is being released! We’ll be back with part 2 of the interview early next week.