Spotlight: The Techtonics

While All the King’s Men have been making headlines in the past couple of years, with their successes both nationally and internationally, it is easy to overlook the efforts of some of the other groups based in the English capital. Most notably, Imperial College based all-male group The Techtonics have been making real strides in the a cappella world since their formation in 2008. From touring the US to releasing their debut album and everything in between, there really is a lot to be excited about for this literally groundbreaking group.

Formation

The Techtonics were formed in 2008 by Christian Carter and Ed Brightman, who both lamented the lack of quality contemporary a cappella at Imperial College, and thus decided to start up an all male group, recruiting ten more boys into a twelve-strong first generation of Techtonics.

History

During the first year of their inception, The Techtonics quickly established themselves on the music scene at Imperial College, taking part in the Imperial Arts Festival, coming second in Imperial Idol in 2009, and performing alongisde Noel Fielding and Athlete at the Imperial Summer Ball at the end of their first year as a group.

Their second year of action saw them increase their exposure levels as far afield as Cambridge and Edinburgh, as well as solidifying their reputation around Imperial College. They began to perform their own gigs around the university as well as teaming up with other choral groups, and began their tradition of busking at Portobello Market on Saturday mornings. They entered the 2010 Voice Festival competition in the Cambridge Regional, where Christian Carter won the ‘Outstanding Arrangement’ award for Robbie Williams’ Come Undone, before taking a week-long show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and selling out on their final night.

In 2010/11, the group continued to increase their reputation, competing in the inaugural London Regional of the Voice Festival with another award-winning set, this time the ‘Outstanding Performance’ award, and took their music international, competing in the Vocal Marathon competition in Croatia, where they were commended for their ‘fresh and positive energy’. They also hosted the first a cappella night at the ICU Metric, bringing together several groups from the southern areas of the country.

Last year, the group hit their competitive heights, winning two awards at the 2012 London Regional of the Voice Festival, ‘Outstanding Performance’ and ‘Outstanding Soloist’, and performing with renowned American collegiate group, The Brown Derbies.

More Recently…

The summer has been an exciting one for the group. It all began with the announcement that the group’s first full-length album was to be released in early September, just before the group went on tour to the US for the first time to promote the album. The album, entitled “Groundbreaker”, is available on iTunes.

The resulting tour was 13-days long, and involved travelling over 2,000 miles and visiting 8 different states o the East Coast of America. The group teamed up once again with The Brown Derbies, visited the oldest and most established a cappella scene in the world at Yale University, catching a Pentatonix gig and exchanging photos and albums, and performing with The Clefhangers, The Yellow Jackets, several groups at Sycaruse, and hosting workshops for schools almost everywhere they went. The tour was, according to the group, ‘fantastic’, ‘amazing’, ‘unforgettable’ and several other extremely positive adjectives.

To add to all that, it was revealed that week that one of the tracks from the group’s new album, Labrinth’s Earthquake has been selected to feature on the 9th installation of CASA’s “Sing” compilation, a thoroughly impressive achievement for an album dominated by American groups. Further information about that can be found here.

The Year In Quotes

…of Vocal Marathon:

“They set the audience on fire [...] a fresh and positive energy.” – Vocal Marathon review

…of Voice Festival UK 2012:

“A fun-filled a cappella romp.” – UACUK

…of their US Tour:

“Literally amazing [...] phenomenal.”
“Beyond awesome.”

What’s next?

The group have recruited new members and are raring to go in the new academic year. They have gigs planned with All the King’s Men and Out of the Blue coming up, and we look forward to hearing their album shortly – keep your eyes peeled for a review!

The Techtonics can be found on Facebook and at their Official Website.

LACF Diary – Day 3

by John Lau

Going into the last day of the 2012 London A Cappella Festival, I was thinking that it was going to be a big ask to provide many more highlights than the number enjoyed to date. At the same time, I didn’t know what to expect of the three workshops taking place in the morning and afternoon, as I had never experienced one before.

The first workshop was advertised as a Voice Camp, but I was surprised to find that once all seven Swingle Singers had taken to the stage, they had us members of the audience on our feet to attempt all sorts of exercises involving our foreheads, our feet, our speed of reaction and even involving the person next to us. Joanna Forbes-Eteson, one of the Swingle Women, justified these exercises when she said that they were meant to de-stress the body in advance of vocal warm-ups. Thankfully for me, I had just about recovered from the previous morning’s Vocal Jog to take a full part in this training session.

Now I am not a doctor, but I was even more surprised when Sara Brimer (at least, I think it was her who said this) suggested that every muscle in our bodies is inter-connected and somehow manifests itself in our vocal output when we sing. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable learning session, and now I know that preparation of the body as well as the voice is key to delivering a public singing performance worthy of the audience’s adulation, whenever the next opportunity arises.

The second workshop was now half an hour away, but in the meantime, the latest foyer performance featured the Amersham A Cappella Choir (an all-female choir with women of all ages), whose talent had earnt them the gold medals in the Ladies Association of British Barbershop choir competition, so I sat down and enjoyed their wide repertoire of ballads, jazz and barbershop renditions.

The second workshop was about Improvisation and was led by Pete Churchill, the head of one of our acts for this evening’s musical festivities, which, like many of the excellent events I attended throughout the weekend, overran slightly while I and the rest of our audience tried to perfect our rendition of “Change In My Life” by Billy Strauss, most recently heard on the current album from the Oxford Gargoyles.

Sadly, this resulted in us missing most of the next foyer performance, by a group of women called Run who specialise in Gaelic music. As a young man brought up in the Scottish Gaelic language on a remote island in the north west of Scotland, I was so very keen to find out whether they were going to sing in the language I was taught or Irish Gaelic, which is somewhat different. It may have been a pleasant surprise to see such a group who have taken their voices to the Celtic Connections Festival now on in Glasgow, but in the end most of their repertoire was in Irish Gaelic, which I still have some time for because of Enya, so for the short while I saw them it was a pleasant surprise to see minority languages such as Manx, Welsh and Gaelic being brought to the fore.

The Cottontown Chorus 'taking flight' during their performance of 'Go Fly A Kite'

The first gig of the day was upon us in mid-afternoon when the Cottontown Chorus from North West England came down. All 56 singers of them provided quite a sight with their uniform of crimson coloured shirts and suit jackets. With this many singers, I was convinced that this was the largest choir I had ever seen anywhere and in conversation with them in the upstairs Rotunda Bar & Restaurant after their gig, they definitely enjoyed their limited time here, which is what this festival is all about. The undoubted highlight of their short 5-piece set was their closing piece which encouraged us all to ‘Go Fly a Kite’ as written by Richard M Sherman (which I’m sure we would all have done had the organisers left one on our seats), but either way there were plenty enough kites in the hall when each member of the choir revealed their own kite that had been concealed within their uniforms. It was all great fun and I enjoyed their impromptu sing-along in the upstairs bar & restaurant after their gig. They were ably supported by the award-winning quartet named Crossfire featuring the Cottontown Director, Mr Neil Firth and some friends of his with whom they won the Quartet Gold Medal at the British Association of Barbershop Singers in May 2011.

The Cottontown gig finished and we came out to a foyer performance from a group of 10 young female pupils & students named A Cappella Amour, who have been in demand, having impressed the masses with their varied repertoire and virtuosity. To some of their number, this is another singing outlet as there is a proportion of the group who are also with national organisations such as the National Children’s Choir and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. I was particularly impressed with their rendition of ‘And So It Goes’ written by Billy Joel many moons ago in the 1980s. I find there is something quite unique about this group – because of the age range being 14-19, they have to take into consideration High Schools as well as Universities & Colleges within their catchment area of Greater London, How they find the time to rehearse is beyond me, but in any case, these guys are definitely a group of individuals to keep an eye on.

The last workshop was upon us before we knew it and this was about the concept of live looping – a term which I had never heard of. Our hosts for this session the FreePlay Duo introduced the Loop station device which is designed to record loops and have them accompany whatever is being sung at the time. With a definition like this, I guess it would be used for the likes of backing vocals or for small groups of singers between 2 (like our hosts) and 6. It was quite an education and although I personally likened it to an instrument of sorts (as it can come in the form of a pedal), this was an useful introduction to a somewhat useful device.

By half 4, I had heard enough of people talking about how to perfect a group’s a cappella performance, so I decided to put a wide berth between myself any Festival-related activity for a while. This meant that I missed out on the foyer performance by The Refrains group of a cappella alumni and the 5 o’clock panel discussion, instead deciding to go and get something for dinner nearby. My loss was definitely other people’s gain. I will console myself though by the knowledge that The Refrains have been known to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (in which case I shall keep an eye out for them in about 4 months’ time, when the programme comes out) and also that some of the subject matter which may have been discussed at the panel discussion has also been discussed on this site, both here and here

Suitably fed, I made my way back to King’s Place for the last night of the Proms .. sorry, Festival, to enjoy the festivities. First up in support was the Freeplay Duo from Canada, as well as their friend the Loop station device. From their short five-piece set, I quite enjoyed the way they managed to send us on a journey across the world without having to leave our seats, through combining and recombining all sorts of different sounds (such as the combination of a hip jazz melody with an ancient Indian solkattu instrument) rather than any individual piece.

Next up was a group of about fifteen students and alumni from various jazz courses at the 2 Conservatoires of London & the South East of England, under the guise of the London Vocal Project. From a solid foundation in gospel and groove music, the group has metamorphosed since 2008 into an impressive, highly versatile ensemble with an ever growing repertoire. From their set of seven items, which included a homage to the acclaimed artist Bobby McFerrin with whom the group sang recently, my own personal highlight here was their rendition of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Love’s in Need of Love Today’, largely because of the smooth voice of the male soloist, which reminded me quite a lot of the artist Seal from the 90s.

The Brown Derbies performed in the Foyer.

We were treated on our way out of the London Vocal Project to the sight of almost cowboy-like uniforms all the way from the United States as the 16 or so Brown Derbies singers were starting their foyer performance, having only got to London the previous evening all the way from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. These boys are known for enhancing the quality of their live performances with factors such as humour, choreography and even their unique slant of using syllables on background vocals. For the little while that I managed to see them on stage, they looked quite the sight. And they think big as well (but then in the US, who doesn’t?) for they even have a range of non-musical merchandise for sale, which I found sweet, but it’s just a pity they don’t sell replicas of the hats they were wearing during their performance. But that’s another matter.

Leaving the cowboys behind, I made my way in for the finale gig aptly named “Swingles & Friends”. And from one group of Americans to another, we were introduced to Euphonism from Washington DC, who were making their first appearance as a group outside the United States this evening and supporting the hosts for the second time in 10 months. Of their four-piece set, I was quite impressed with their sassy rendition of Duffy’s ‘Mercy’.

The audience was well and truly warmed up now for the emergence of the legendary hosts and curators of this Festival, The Swingle Singers. For the closing statement in the programme which said that they “are committed to bringing the versatile world of a cappella to the masses”, I did find it somewhat disappointing that this gig was not simulcast on the Internet like the same gig was in 2011, which made it a blessing for me that if nothing else that I was there to enjoy the gig in person. The highlights which prove that the Swingles are so versatile in terms of repertoire were their renditions of Beyonce’s ‘Single Girls (Put a Ring on It)’ and Bach’s ‘Badinerie’, which I enjoyed immensely. The friends that were welcomed on stage at different stages of the gig were Albert Hera, Kevin Fox’s former group Cadence, the FreePlay Duo and the London Vocal Project.

The Single Singers

This was not though, the last musical act at this Festival. The Single Singers project was created exclusively for this Festival by a Netherlands-based fan, Mrs Annemarie Homan who concocted a plan to gather individual singers on a Facebook page and see whether they could perform as a group with 2 practice sessions. There was not quite a roll-call of individuals, but I am hopeful that you can spot a single singer you may know somewhere on the photo.

And that was the London A Cappella Festival 2012. 3 days of pure enjoyment based on the unaccompanied human voice and all it is capable of. Here’s to the next opportunity, and here’s hoping that the Swingle Singers may be compelled to do what the Refrains, All The King’s Men and the Magnets have done (In other words, come to Edinburgh in August!)

Brown Derbies Sing For Peace!

Avid a cappella folk will probably already know that the Brown Derbies are coming all the way from the US to perform at the London A Cappella Festival. The boys from Rhode Island aren’t stopping there though, and have a very special gig lined up on 20 January.

International Alert, a charity helping to bring peace and reconciliation to communities around the world that are affected by violent conflict, are hosting a charity event at St. George-in-th-East Church in London, where the boys will be performing a set of their amazing a cappella.

From Barbershop to Pop and Classic Rock to R&B, you can enjoy their mixed repertoire of custom arrangements and if you’re very lucky, you might be graced with their occasional musical parody or skit on the night! The boys are only in town for a limited time, so if you’re missing them at the London A Cappella Festival, this would be the ideal time to catch up on what you missed!

Tickets, which are £12 and include a glass of wine, can be bought here. For more information about the event, click here

London A Cappella Festival: Less Than A Week To Go!

With less than a week to go until the London A Cappella Festival, the blogs are buzzing with excitement over what will surely be the best year yet in London, and with a staggering line-up of guests, both pro and collegiate, it is sure to be a wonderful weekend of a cappella.

With London-based groups All The King’s Men and The Techtonics involved, Chichester University Chamber Choir collaborating with the Matyas Seiber Trust and the Brown Derbies flying all the way over from the US, the number of university-based groups was already impressive, even before the fact that VF-UK 2011 winners Cadenza will be supporting the Boxettes on the main stage.

In the mean-time, our friends over at Vocal Blog have released their 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Miss The Festival, as if you needed a reason anyway. With the Swingle Singers, FORK, Cadence and Euphonism all involved in a big way, we know why we’re gonna be there.

There’s a Vocal Jog, free events, educational events, and most importantly, toness and tonnes of Aca-awesomeness to be found in every nook and cranny.

You’d be mad to miss it!

For more information, visit the Official Website.

London A Cappella Festival Foyer Events Line-Up Confirmed!

The line-up for the free foyer events at the London A Cappella Festival in January 2012 has been confirmed this week.

Three modern a cappella groups from the UK will be performing, as well as a Chamber Choir from Chichester and a collegiate group from the US.

On Thursday 12th January, The Techtonics from Imperial College London will be performing, while the following evening All The King’s Men from King’s College, London will be taking the stage.

On the Saturday, the foyer events will be taking place all day, with the Brown Derbies from Brown University in the USA performing, as well as Chichester University Chamber Choir, in collaboration with The Matyas Selber Trust.

Of course, VF-UK 2011 Winners Cadenza will also be opening for The Boxettes on the main stage on Saturday 14th as well.

For more information about the London A Cappella Festival, and for free foyer event line-ups, visit their official website.