New Eyes (Special Edition)
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BBC Philharmonic and BBC Radio 1 present… Clean Bandit

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Classical music and electronic music are certainly not one and the same. Music that can be made on a computer and music that is played in a concert hall do not typically reach the same audience. But this concept was challenged on September 10, 2014, with the airing of the Clean Bandit Symphony, a classical medley of music from the British electronic group, Clean Bandit. The piece was played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and aired on BBC Radio 1, a radio station that specializes in modern and current pop music.


As extraneous as a collaboration between the BBC Philharmonic and an electronic groups sounds, Clean Bandit was the perfect group to bridge the gap between the genres. George Ergatoudis, Head of Music for Radio 1, said in an interview, “Our young target audience might not spend a lot of time listening to classical music, but they appreciate the drama, excitement and power of a huge live orchestra. Clean Bandit seemed like the perfect act to work with as two members of the band have classical training and they’re widely known for their distinctive mash-up of classical and contemporary music.” Band members Grace Chatto and Neil Amin-Smith play the cello and the violin in the group, respectively.


The Clean Bandit Symphony consists of three movements. The first movement is a medley of the songs Dust Clears, Extraordinary, and Up Again. Since Clean Bandit has no lead vocalist, the symphony used the choir and guest vocalists to sing the lyrics. The movement begins with a mysterious melody that does not distinctly belong to a Clean Bandit song, giving the audience a taste of the orchestral sound. The first movement is very reassuring, because though the symphony is built on a completely different type of sound, the essence of the electronic music remains.


For example, Dust Clears is sung by a (mostly) female choir, and though they are not equivalent to the autotuned pair of singers on the original track, the multiple voices from the choir add a different tone to the symphonic version of Dust Clears. Similarly, the symphony's Extraordinary with Rae Morris on vocals is much softer than the original, making use of the harp and the brass section to soften the song’s original electronic beats. However, the Clean Bandit Symphony did a good job at staying true to the original version of Up Again, preserving the strong beat that the original version possessed and gradually building up the music’s momentum to the original’s standards.


The second movement of the Clean Bandit Symphony consists of Clean Bandit songs A&E, Birch, UK Shanty, and Telephone Banking. The electronic version of A&E samples a string quartet arrangement of “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” from JS Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. The Bach sections sound like something out of a chamber music performance, and the symphony returns to the style of Clean Bandit when vocalist Nikki Cislyn joins the orchestra for A&E. The arrangement of Birch with vocalist Eliza Shaddad sounds very similar to the original track, both being minimalist and despondent in sound.


The cloud of despondency is broken with the violin solo from UK Shanty, which remained a solo melody for both the original and the symphonic arrangement. The electronic melody present in the original track was adopted by the clarinets. However, the great arranging that Duddell had done thus far could not hide the fact that there was something missing from this part of the movement. The situation was somewhat remedied when Clean Bandit member James Patterson joined the orchestra on the electronic clarinet. The piece is lovely, but UK Shanty did not measure up to the standard that the orchestration had set with its previous movements.


As UK Shanty ends with a harp solo, the movement transitions to Telephone Banking. Performed by rapper Love Ssega on an autotuned mic (which he always does for the auditory effect), this was my favourite song from the Clean Bandit Symphony. The baseline is better accentuated with the brass section and the sound is made more well-rounded by the orchestra. This part of the symphony was a real treat for Clean Bandit fans as Love Ssega, the band’s original lead vocalist, retired from the group to work on his PhD. Ssegawa Ssekintu Kiwanuka was voted as the UK’s most outstanding black student in 2014 and came out of his retirement from rapping to join Clean Bandit and the BBC Philharmonic for the performance.


The third movement of the Clean Bandit Symphony contains songs like New Eyes, Rihanna, Nightingale, and Rather Be. The beginning of the third movement has its focus on the orchestra. In addition to the solely instrumental rendition of New Eyes, the track that follows, Rihanna, samples the introduction of Mozart’s D minor String Quartet and features Rae Morris on vocals once more. The movement uses its penultimate piece, Nightingale, to harness the power of voices in numbers, taking full advantage of the choir and having Eliza Shaddad join the main vocalist, Nikki Cislyn, during the second half of the song. But there was nothing outstanding about the arrangement for Rather Be, or Glynne’s vocals (compared to the other guests at least). However, Rather Be is definitely a crowd pleaser and was an adequate conclusion to a very interesting symphony.


What I liked best about this symphony was how true it remained to the Clean Bandit sound. The presence of the string section is strongly felt in the arrangement, and it was good that they were able to have most of the original singers return to sing their Clean Bandit song with the orchestra. Though Clean Bandit’s original sound leaned towards songs like Rihanna and A&E (with a balanced fusion of classical and electronic music), nowadays, the group has veered away from its “Baroque House” origins and focused on electronic music that merely contain violin and cello. However, the band’s attitude towards music has not changed.


In an interview leading up to the debut of the Clean Bandit Symphony, the group’s cellist, Grace Chatto, discussed what she hoped the outcome of the performance would be. She hoped that fans would be able to consider “the potential of acoustic instruments and electronic music,” as well as the merits of classical music. She stated, “we have always thought there shouldn’t be any barriers for anyone between different types of music and we have always loved dance music, pop music, reggae, garage and classical music. I hope that maybe if there are people who only want one kind of music this will help broaden those people’s perceptions.” The Clean Bandit Symphony is a beautiful work for those who may not be familiar with orchestral music or for classical music aficionados who want a taste of “something extraordinary.”


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