Neil Grant is an affable, down-to-earth bloke; for the past four years he has been producing music under the name LO FIVE, a strain of downbeat electronica that is as likeable as his own easy-going character. He is one of the current crop of electronic artists that fully embraces and explores the new breed of emotive electronic music – one that is tangible and tactile, that has an acoustic sensibility and emotional connectivity in contrast to the often detached, cold and robotic compositions of its formative years.
Every couple of months, Neil hosts a night called Emotion Wave, where he gathers together some of the most exciting, original electronic artists and producers who share his passion for ambientronica. Together they entrance the small, dedicated and growing number of people drawn to the Emotion Wave vibe, people who seek out the more human-side of electronic music.
When starting out as Lo Five, Neil explored and embraced the more tactile and expressive forms of electronic music. From these beginnings, Lo Five and Emotion Wave evolved. “I tend to be drawn to people who are doing quite melodic stuff,” says Neil, “but that’s not just in electronic music, it goes across everything that I listen to. I’ll listen to instrument-based music as much as I do electronic music, so I think a lot of the stuff that I do is informed by quite a few different strands and not all of them musical.”
Striking out as a solo act provided different challenges to having played in bands previously. “It was around 2013, I started noodling on my laptop and coming up with different things and trying different things out. It was a bit more sample-based, there were more guitars, more acoustic drum-sounds. I wanted it to sound almost like it was a band playing, but I’d put it all together on a computer.” He continues, “I guess it’s got that one common thing running through it, that there’s a melodic sensibility to it. I quite like coming up with melodies and chords, that traditional song crafting approach; I think that’s a hang-up from being in a band, [being] probably more melody-driven than beat-driven. I’m also interested in creating an atmosphere or a sense of space, I want to give the impression that there’s a human behind it.” It is this human aspect that so clearly informs his music and vision for Emotion Wave.
In December 2016, Neil pressed the growing band of likeminded artists that he’d met through Emotion Wave into action on a compilation album. Blankets was a charity project, the proceeds of which were donated to Liverpool-based homelessness charity The Whitechapel Centre. Buoyed by its success, Neil has asked the same producers and musicians to contribute to another charity album, Daffodils, which is due to be launched at a special Emotion Wave show on 9th December, at the night’s spiritual home of 81 Renshaw. All of the proceeds from the sale of Daffodils, as well as any money raised on the night, will be donated to Merseyside Domestic Violence Services. Bringing together 25 artists from Merseyside, the North West and further afield, the Daffodils album stretches over two cassettes and features an array of Emotion Wave guests and regulars: Phono Ghosts, Mark Peters, Afternaut, Melodien, Loka, Jean Michel Noir. 11 of the acts featured on the album will also be performing live sets on the night, the line-up reflecting perfectly the eclectic mix on the double album.
“I’ve kept it quite varied because the music on the compilation is varied,” says Neil. “There’s a mixture of experimental, ambient, some techno and some more electro-band-type stuff in there. It’s a mixed line-up that I’m trying to schedule so that it starts off mellow and ambient, moving into more band-territory, then into the pounding techno.”
Excitingly this year he is teaming up with Preston-based Concrète Tapes for a limited release of the album on yellow double cassettes (priced at £10 each, with the option of a £4 digital download). “[They] are part of an electronic scene in Preston that I’ve got to know quite well – so it’s nice that everyone’s chipping in and working together on it.”
Naming the album Daffodils was a result of Neil considering his next musical project, exploring themes around mortality. “Daffodils are a symbol of premature death for me because they bloom in early spring and they seem to die before the summer. After reading these really grim domestic violence statistics, funding cuts to women’s refuges, people being turned away leading to deaths, it seemed to fit with this whole concept. It was just a powerful symbol for me.”
Neil continues: “Women’s refuges and domestic violence services have been hit particularly hard by austerity cuts and I wanted to do something different, plus it seemed like a timely thing to do. There’s a poster campaign in town to raise awareness of the issue by Sisters Uncut Liverpool. They speak a lot of harsh truths that really brought it all to the fore. I got in touch with MDVS and Jacqui Nasuh was really keen for us to do this and to get involved.”
Jacqui Nasuh, Project Manager at MDVS, echoes this: “Domestic violence is on the increase in Liverpool and this support from local musicians is invaluable to our charity, as it will enable us to provide additional support to local women and children.”
Without his bi-monthly electronic night Emotion Wave, none of this would likely be possible. Having started just over two years ago, the night has grown steadily in both numbers and reputation and is now considered, as Neil jokingly describes, “Liverpool’s premier sit-down electronic night.” Inspired by a frustration at the lack of suitable venues for him to showcase his own particular lo-fi brand of electronic music, Neil identified a gap, and once he found the perfect foil in 81 Renshaw, he immediately looked to fill it up with like-minded artists and producers.
“Traditional gig venues just weren’t cutting it for me to play in. I can’t play club nights because you can’t dance to it. So, I was trying to figure out what would be the ideal setting for someone making music like me to play in – that’s not too late so you can get the bus or train home afterwards, that’s comfortable and you can sit down and enjoy as opposed to having to get up and dance. And playing in front of a receptive, open-minded audience. That’s what Emotion Wave turned into, really; this all-day thing is just an extension of that.”
Keeping it low-key and showcasing talent seems to be the aim of Emotion Wave, focusing on the music rather than big-names, established acts and flashy shows. “I’m happy to carry on like it is for the foreseeable future. Other people are starting to get more involved in it now so it could come to a point where I hand over the reins to someone else. I’m fine with that. It feels more like a cooperative. It’s cool that people want to get involved in it. Maybe there will be a point where I just step back a bit. But for now, I’m happy with it.”
Earlier in 2017, Neil’s activities as Lo Five took centre stage as his debut album When It’s Time to Let Go, released on Patterned Air Recordings, drew a raft of critical acclaim. Utilising assorted field recordings, he infused the record with a sense of natural evolution and familiarity and, as such, elicited warm and emotional responses. It is also an album that’s intensely personal.
“There are loads of different sounds from my past and my family’s past on that album,” says Neil. “Every year my mum and dad record themselves playing guitar and singing happy birthday and they’ll send that to me. I think that’s on there; there’s also a recording of my dad playing Paul McCartney’s Junk, which I reversed and chopped up. There are sounds of my daughter saying her first few words. There are recordings of me in a band at 16 and bits of that went in as well, so it’s like this weird patchwork quilt of memories.”
The title of this album is no less symbolic than the Daffodils release as Neil explains. “The main kind of meaning behind that title is it’s about all of the things that you accumulate throughout your life – your life is basically like a collection of memories and experiences and relationships and they’re the things that matter, not the material things – I think we try and cling onto them a bit too much? Despite all of our efforts to try and immortalise ourselves with these photos, videos and electronic albums, we will have to let go of all of it one day, and then when we do we’ll be free.”
The Daffodils compilation album is released on 9th December, with a launch event at 81 Renshaw. When It’s Time To Let Go is available now via Patterned Air.