Maps: Sheffield University

When comedy meets drugs meets electro, with the help of bottled water and gum to aid singer James Chapman with sobriety, you get Maps.

Map’s second album, ‘Turning the mind’ is an exploration of mental states and their reaction to chemicals, both natural and man-made – though I suspect the latter to be a greater influence. With this in mind, their turn toward the electronic could not be more fitting.

With a drastic reinvention Maps are no longer the run of the mill indie band you once remember, but an innovative dance act. It is apparent over the last few years, as an increasing number of bands turn toward the synthesiser and leave the guitar to gather dust, that this technology is the new ‘In’ instrument. Having lost the band that bought Chapman a mercury prize nomination in 2007, he is now accompanied by Dane, August Jakobsen – a companion obviously as passionate about electronic music as his cohort.

Listening to a set by Maps is not only a comical feast, but a musical one too. Imagine entering a fair in the middle of a dance festival – you hear the beats, the bass, the wobbly synths from the distance but also the chirpiness and melodic tunes of the rides. Occasionally you wander into the ghost house and there’s a turn toward the melancholy, onto a roller coaster and there’s a distortion of sound, though there’s always the beats and a sense of disconnection from reality that the fair provides. This is what it’s like listening to their set. Their music is mystical, atmospheric and fun – obviously a cathartic and prolific musical journey for them.

Though centred on electronica, their sound ranges from minimal techno at some points to throbbing house at others. In some instances you can liken it to Erasure, Royksopp or perhaps even, The Flaming Lips. Essentially though it is an album from Chapman’s experiences and his search for clarity in sound, which the acoustic didn’t allow. Despite this, and the fact that Maps is a fully electronic band now, Chapman just can’t loose the tambourine – banging it sporadically throughout the night, a little distracting.

The most impressive track of their set was entitled ‘Let Go of The Fear’ – a song (unsurprisingly) about the effects of drugs. The driving, distorted base line and eerily chirpy synth beats were accompanied with an electronic drumbeat by Chapman and a spoken mantra in which he tells us to ‘die happy, die smiling’. It pushes their musical boundaries further than other tracks off this album, and was an obvious crowd- pleaser.

Despite some technical difficulties, Chapman’s charm and evident intoxication kept the crowd amused. “We’ve had a shit day today,” he explained “We got another rave review from the NME. I think we’ll have to send them death threats.” Their proposition is not so surprising if you’ve had the pleasure of reading the review – possibly one of the most hilarious and unfair, I’ve ever read, likening Maps turn toward the electronic as ‘being beaten to death by a room full of wrinkled Women’s Institute ladies armed with Battenburg cakes.’ Amusing, but in my opinion, totally incorrect.

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