As a culture, we want to lump exceptional people, ideas and innovations into categories that are as unexceptional as they are unimaginative: Great films become “masterpieces,” bold people “legendary” and interesting music that's challenging gets slapped with the “experimental” moniker.
Mica Levi — better know as the British-born, dance-hall favorite Micachu — isn’t experimental, captivating, moving nor otherwise. She’s awesome.
The 22-year-old Guildhall School of Music and Drama-trained musician, songwriter and producer has, in little time, amassed a hit record, Jewellery (Accidental Records, 2009) and a commissioned orchestral piece with the London Philharmonic Orchestra titled “Interfear.” She's also a burgeoning international Pop icon, representing a range of talents rarely seen in new artists and a most welcome distraction to the Jonas/Cyrus Pop deluge.
Despite my semantic qualms, Levi confesses her music does have at least a peripheral experimental quality to it.
“I guess experimentation is involved because anyone who writes anything is obviously experimenting with ideas,” she says. “(But) the aim is to be writing songs and making good beats.”
Levi, whose band performs as Micachu & the Shapes, got into music at a very young age thanks in part to her musically inclined parents. At 14, she began producing electronic music projects with friends in England and began to learn how to manipulate beats, tones and melodies to suit her chaotic ear.
“Something (interesting) sticks in your ear and you want to keep it,” she says of her creative process.
Her career was basically mapped out for her by the time she began attending Guildhall and seriously churning out tracks.
Her wildly interesting brand of Dance Pop is truly a feat of sonic alchemy, infusing Hip Hop beats, Electronic music and a variety of melodies and textures whose source cannot be identified. She describes her sound as “plastic-y” at times, with an element of general distortion that leaves the overall piece sounding “crunchy.” Her short songs (most of the tracks on Jewellery are under three minutes) are quick and light-hearted, never allowing the listener to get too comfortable, taking a page from some of the best Punk albums ever recorded. But Levi sees the album as a fairly straightforward.
“To me (the record) is quite traditional for a Pop album,” she says.
Another reason for Micachu’s divergence of sound results from her building and modifying her own instruments. Many of the adjustments she makes to her guitars are simple enough: the raising of nuts and bridges and the removal of strings.
Some modifications, however, are more complex, like hooking an acoustic guitar into a distortion pedal and adding strings into the instrument’s sound holes in an attempt to turn the guitar into a bass. Her school gives her license to explore musically, as the instruments are “basically made with bits of shit I found around Guildhall,” Levi says.
“The ability thing is definitely in question … (but) I’m really interested in how (each) part of an instrument (affects) tonality,” she says.
Instrument modification is just another way for Levi to add a creative flavor to her brand of cacophonic calculus. Her philosophy on music is “If I’m going to write music, I’m going make everything I need to do it with.”
“I think if you do the smallest adaptation or the smallest adjustments to something … it brings a bit of freshness to it,” Levi says.
And Levi’s philosophy is not lost on her more notorious fans. Bjrk, Icelandic siren and whimsical critical darling, has been seen dancing — tongue stuck out in full Nordic glory — at Levi’s shows.
It’s only fitting that an artist who thrives on innovation should be appreciated by another — many of the melodies and beats on Bjrk’s albums are derived from nuances in the human voice, the sound of people walking through packed snow or the banging of forks on a kitchen sink.
“That was an incredibly scary situation,” Levi says of her encounter with Bjrk.
She said she spotted the singer out in the crowd, oddly enough, when she began to play songs from Bjrk’s album, Volta, during a set. Bjrk approached Levi during the show and told her she thought Jewellery was a great record.
How does one even respond in the hyper-reality situation where a musical icon informs you that they're a fan of yours?
“I just said, ‘Thank you very much,’ ” Levi says humbly.
MICACHU & THE SHAPES play the MidPoint Music Festival at 8 p.m. Saturday at Grammer's "Topic Design Tent." Buy tickets, check out performance times and get MPMF details here.