You might know Midlander Sam Manville from his “POST PUNK HIP POP” hits like ‘St Tropez’ and ‘Float’. If you do you’ll know that his music stands apart, with his melancholy choruses and spoken word critique of modern life, all spun within the framework of crystalline pop songs. Debut full-length ‘JOYLESS’ is his most polemical work yet, mixing that pop sensibility with the angry thrashes of the music of his youth and sonic infusions from all over the world to create a fearlessly bold statement for a debut album.
Manville has used music as an outlet for frustration with the world his whole life. As a 10 year old growing up in Birmingham, he was gifted his first guitar, and at 12 he formed Blakfish, a prolific and proclaimed punk band that would see him front tours of the country and Europe for much of the following decade.
Whilst punk was his first love, Manville is endlessly curious about music; he can play most instruments (other than brass), has a particular love of Latin rhythms and flamenco guitar, and with his endless studio experience can even present finished mastered versions of the very particular sound that is his own. At 11, he began playing around with a four-track Tascam and developed an interest in recording and producing; as a teenager, he’d DJ drum ‘n’ bass and garage at house parties. He’s since moved past that – “the whole DJ thing is a myth,” he says – but what’s always stuck with him is an admiration for progressive French genre-jumpers like Mr Oizo and Cassius; the kind of artists who showed that electronic music could be done with a sense of humour.
Combining that attitude with his anti-capitalist beliefs, Manville came up with FTSE as his solo artist name when watching the news a couple of years ago. “It stands for Fuck The System, Ennit,” he jokes. “Being anti-capitalist, I thought naming myself after the stock market [was] quite funny.”
Under this new guise, Manville’s brooding tracks started turning heads, with the release of a trio of EP’s, ‘FTSE I’, ‘FTSE II’ and ‘Love Un Ltd’ which featured artists including Saint Saviour, Kenzie May, ForteBowie and Femme. These EP’s have led to a million plays across Soundcloud, regular plays on Radio 1, Zane Lowe’s ‘Next Hype’, a Huw Stephens Maida Vale session, and accolades from The Guardian, Fader, Yours Truly, Dazed, I-D, DIY, The Line Of Best Fit, Clash, Mixmag and more. As a writer and producer Sam has recently been working with artists as varied as Bipolar Sunshine, Becky Hill, MNEK, Huntar, Tom Aspaul, Gavin James and Biffy Clyro’s recent Zane Lowe-presented ‘Drive’ re-imagination. Not to mention also finding time to form and front Get Hot, an electronically played hardcore collaborative project with fellow established producer, Jakwob, which has recently been signed by the notable Last Gang Records (DFA 1979, Skrillex, Ryan Hemsworth).
On ‘JOYLESS’, FTSE retains the ear for a great hook and the gritty textures that initially made his electronic pop blow up, but this is more ambitious in every way. In part, that is down to the involvement of his wife of five years, Taz; her vocals appear on almost every track, including ‘IF YOU WANT’, a searingly honest, deeply produced love song that she took the lead in writing. The pair mostly recorded the songs in the living room of their Leicester home, apart from a month spent in the “chaos” of Havana, Cuba, where Manville soaked up the local rhythms and captured field recordings to use on the record. Among the clattering percussion and earworm choruses, there are samples of Bhangra, Jamaican and Afro-Cuban rhythms.
On the whole, the album is Manville’s defeatist manifesto on our over-connected, over-stimulated and over-priced world. It’s defeatist in the sense that it’s the voice of those who feel trapped in a system, but unable to see a way out – but that’s not to say it’s not angry. Really, really angry. “I spent a lot of time struggling with how fucked and awful the world is,” Manville says. “Defeatism is accepting that the world is fucking ruined, and then just trying to make your little corner of it as pleasant for yourself and the people around you as possible.”
The result is a record with the frank & informed voice of KLF or PSB’s through a globalised, and comfortably chaotic pop sound. Lyrically, he tackles everything from celebrity culture on ‘CELEBRITIES’ (“I don’t wanna work ‘cause I’m lazy /I just wanna get on Big Brother then maybe / I can be on the cover of Heat / with 2 models rolling in a drop top Mercedes”), to the exploitation behind consumerism on first single ‘BLOOD ON MY HANDS’ (“silver, gold, gas, oil and coal / I got blood on my hands and all over my home”).
Delivered with tongue firmly in cheek (see pun-ridden anthem ‘REFUJESUS’), the record is one that comes from “an estate state of mind” (‘THIS IS LIFE’ is a seminally contemporary and British slant on hip-hop), speaking with the voice of the disenfranchised through a filter of surreal sound collages and sarcastic off-the-cuff humour. Manville’s political voice is a deeply personal and idiosyncratic one – and that’s the way he likes it. He says that courting “controversy and confrontation” is part of the thrill of making an overtly opinionated record; but mostly, he feels like he’s made his most “honest” work yet, represented with the accumulation of infinitely more information – insights of sonic, lyrical, and production wisdom. “All the EPs were me as a producer and writer; the album is me as an artist,” he says. “It’s almost going back to the punk roots of what I used to do. That ‘fuck you, here I am, this is my thing, shut up and fucking take it.’”