Six Of The Best: Constellation Prize | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Synth-pop duo Constellation Prize follow up their previous releases Wicked Games and Dancing in the Shadows with Loving You (Is A Losing Game), a track written and recorded whilst the pair of Stephie Chapman and Rich Stephenson whilst they were 300 miles apart during lockdown.

Heavily influenced by 70’s and 80’s funk, the track is a synthed-up groovefest with punchy beats, dance- inducing riffs and a rich, soulful vocal, which dishes out the catchy melodies that you’ll be humming long after you put your headphones down. 

The duo, who formed over their similar tastes in music, give us their six of the best…

Picking out your favourite albums is hard when there’s no shortage of great music, and great music is something we’re both greedy for. Boiling such an abundance of creativity and love down to just six between us is like making the stickiest, sweetest caramel from kilos of sugar. Music recs have always been a staple of our friendship, from our first, tentative conversations, drip feeding each other carefully curated songs whilst working out whether we could make Constellation Prize work as a long distance project, to the more casual way we sling tracks we’ve found back and forth now. Our tastes in music are sometimes the same, and often different, but all contribute to the magic. The albums we’ve listed are just a select few of our favourites, and a tiny insight to what influences us.

Queen of the Clouds – Tove Lo. (SC)
In my house Tove Lo is known as Queen Tove. I’ve loved her since I first heard the Hippie Sabotage remix of Habits in the car on the way to, strangely, Sainsbury’s. It’s weird how sometimes you can hear something and are forever transported back to that moment, isn’t it? For me, it’s driving to the supermarket with Tove declaring that she’s gotta stay high all the time with the bass turned up til it rattled, and I knew right there, stuck at the traffic lights, that I needed to hear more. Queen of the Clouds is a delight. I adore it. To this day it’s my go to listen-when-I’m-cooking album. My on-through-headphones-when-I’m-out-walking album. My belt-out-in-the-car album. I love the concept; the story of a relationship from the heady, sexy, lust-filled highs of the beginning, to the eventual pain of the end, separated out into distinct parts by chatty interludes. I can relate, as I reckon we all can, to the lyrics, the rawness of them, how she sings of falling in and out of love. She captured this fundamental human experience flawlessly. Tove Lo is easily my biggest influence. When I’m writing songs I always find myself pulling tiny strings of her into my work, whether it’s something lyrical, or a harmony, or even just how I think I want something to sound in my head. I’ve loved her subsequent albums, too, after all she is Queen Tove, but there’s something about QOTC that will always give it the edge for me.

A Certain Trigger – Maximo Park (SC)
This album is short and sweet, coming in at just 39 minutes. Back when it was released, I was working at the BBC, and it was the perfect length for my commute to TV Centre. I properly rinsed it. I listened to it every day for months on the tube and it never stopped sounding fresh. I’m sure you could hear it, tinny, through my headphones, and needless to say, I can’t get on the Central Line without Going Missing running on a loop through my head. So what is it about this album that I love so much? Well, again, it’s the lyrics (I’m a lyrics gal). There are lines of unabashed romance dotted throughout the record. There is angst, and there are tenderly painted images that play the heartstrings. That’s not all though; I love the layeredness of it. I love how I can listen to it over and over and hear something new each time. I love the fuzzy energy of Limassol, the shouty harmonies and driving crescendo in I Want You To Stay, the indie sweetness of Kiss You Better. Plus, I’m a sucker for a North East accent on a dude, so there’s that, too.

Pure Luxury – NZCA Lines (SC)
A much newer album than my other choices, but one that embedded itself firmly into my heart last summer. And look, I realise it might seem a bit previous to list an album that’s been out less than a year as a favourite but sometimes you just know, okay? Pure Luxury was my lockdown record of choice and it’s fair to say I became mildly obsessed with NZCA Lines after this album dropped. And this time it’s not just the song writing or vocals that got under my skin but more the technical aspects of the album, because now that music is something that I create, I don’t absorb it just as a consumer. I unpeel it, layer by layer, and I think about how it was created, and the choices that went into each sound. Pure Luxury is great for that, because as well as being fun and playful, it’s interesting, and stuffed full of juicy elements. The polyrhythm on Larsen, for instance. Feels weird at first but let it bed in and it becomes something magic. The synthesised vocals on the title track, like an epically souped up barbershop quartet, the vintage style strings on Prisoner of Love, all those things bring a beautiful richness to the album, and I remember listening to it for the first time and thinking, yeah, this is nice. This is something really special, and I’ve thought that every time I’ve listened since.

In Ghost Colours – Cut Copy (RS)
If you asked me what record has stood out for me during the 15 years, Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colours would be up there. A colleague recommended it, insistent that I’d love it, and he was right. I’ve never been able to find a record quite like it, and I’ve paid that love forward over and over.

I travelled between Scotland and England a lot during my twenties and this record quickly became a staple on that soundtrack. After settling in Darlington, it became comfortable, a safety blanket, something I would religiously listen to when bopping through town or enjoying a Glenmorangie and a cigarette. I’d reminisce about listening to it with friends on nights out or on lazy weekends.

The entire album is catchy synth pop with exceptional attention to detail. Every track flows cleanly into the next, and I’ve always loved how the guitar, bass, drums and synth glue everything together to create a solid groove and soundscape. The way the bass mixes with the drums keeps it danceable and that just does it for me.

Unlike Steph, I’ve never been much of a lyric person, always focusing more on what’s going on behind the scenes, but this record is the exception to that rule; they’ve changed my perspective of vocals in dance / electronic tracks, and I love how well they gel to create a record with so much honesty, warmth and soul. I think this record has always been lurking in the background when writing my own tracks, and it’s one I’ll always come back to for inspiration, but equally, just for the memories.

Music For The Jilted Generation – The Prodigy (RS)
A record from my native Essex. As a child of the 90s/early 2000s growing up in Chelmsford, listening to The Prodigy felt like it came with the territory. My sister and I would see our dad every weekend, and one particular Saturday he’d had a CD player installed in his Ford Mondeo, basically a Discman with a cassette adapter, powered by the cigarette lighter. Fine for the motorway, not so great on a pothole. In any case, he put on MFTJG, and it was slightly alien and overwhelming for eleven year old me. It didn’t sound like anything we usually heard on the radio. But I felt the energy behind the music and instantly knew that what it stood for was anti-establishment and against the grain, and that appealed. A while later, I played Their Law in a religious education class. A 2 minute act of rebellion; the song was swiftly turned off.

When I began to dabble in creating music, I revisited this record, and what stood out was how one person could construct songs using just samplers and drum machines. Liam Howlett makes sampling into an artform, and it’s opened a completely new creative avenue. I became obsessed with how he created, what equipment he used, and recreating it live. This introduced me to other artists he’d sampled, and got me into hip hop, electro and break beats. Even now, I’m constantly listening for anything that can be sampled or warped for my own music.

It was tough to choose between this record and their debut, The Prodigy Experience, but MFTJG just kicks that little bit more, and is something really special. Poison, No Good (Start The Dance) and Voodoo People are still instantly recognisable and can still fill a dancefloor, surely testament to how well this record was produced. I was lucky enough to see them on their last tour before Keith Flint’s passing and they will always remain deeply rooted in the way I see, hear and produce music.

Sorry I Make You Lush – Wagon Christ (RS)
My final choice had to be one from the most exciting and genre-bending electronic music producers, Luke Vibert. Whether it’s drum and bass, rave, trip-hop, disco or dirty acid house, everything Luke produces remains fresh and exciting.

My introduction to Mr Vibert was to one of his (many) pseudonyms, Amen Andrews. Volume One (Rephlex, 2003), completely mesmerised me with its pure amen break sound, ragga samples and thick sub bass, and I immediately dived into his catalogue, discovering collaborations with other musicians, and finding records under further aliases, in totally different styles, produced under Wagon Christ, Plug, Ace Of Clubs, and Kerrier District. It became clear Luke’s versatility and ingenuity knew no bounds.

They say you should never meet your heroes, but I did, when he supported Squarepusher, and had a long (and life changing) conversation about his work, his production techniques, his preferred software, and I was surprised, and heartened to learn we used the same programmes to create. I left with the realisation that I didn’t need a big flashy studio or expensive equipment (although that would be nice), but an idea and the drive and focus to work and build on it.

So my record is Sorry I Make You Lush (Ninja Tune, 2004). It’s everything; fun, captivating and with a complete sense of freedom. From the hip-hop bounce of The Funnies to the synth laced tripped out Shadows and TB-303 infused breakbeat belter title track, this record keeps the flow going and the listener locked in and engaged. It’s one I return to often. It’s like a conversation with an old friend, and you can tell that Luke satisfies his own tastes for beats, breaks and samples before anything else. He makes the records he wants, and always raises the bar with his mixing styles, something reflected in his later work.

Luke’s influence on my own music may not be immediately present in sound, although I can’t help but slip an 808 sample in somewhere, but his perspective has been adopted, and it’s because of this that I’ll never let myself be limited, or shy away from a genre. If it feels right and sounds great, I’m onto a winner.


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