London-based YouTube sensation, Mari Dangerfield may be unassuming at first glance, but under her quiet demeanor lies an artist who commands attention with her extraordinary talent.
Occasionally there is a song or lyric that is so instantly gripping that it draws you in completely, leaving its' mark with no apologies. Rarer still is the musician whose entire album is so artistically riveting, both technically and lyrically, that it takes you on the swells and waves of their journey. Yet, this is what I was delighted to discover in Mari Dangerfield's debut album Love and Other Machines. In an age where the experience of listening to and enjoying an entire album is becoming a thing of the past, this one captivates you and commands attention--reminiscent of my younger years when I would get a new album and sit on the carpet absorbing every track and composition.
I was searching for videos on the Stylophone synthesizer when I came across some of Mari's tutorials, thinking she was simply reviewing music products. However, it turned out that not only is she familiar with the Stylophone, but she used the S1 to win a video competition held by Muse Records. I then found a music video for her original song entitled Love Machine and I was hooked by its' original lyrical and melodic quality. As good fortune would have it, I was able to connect with Mari and she graciously agreed to speak with me for the premier issue of Mobile Musician Magazine. Upon meeting her for the first time the collocation of her soft-spoken voice and quiet personality with her bold videos, thoughtful lyrics, and technical arrangements did not escape me. While somewhat reserved in conversation, her art is courageous with a fearless commentary on important social challenges of her time, and the thematic essence of her album, technology, and relationships, is relatable to any listener. After all, music is a generational tether, helping us to understand the struggles, loves, and ambitions of both the young and old, binding us through art. Love and Other Machines join the ranks of those great masterpieces.
The real deal
Having studied classical music from an early age, Mari has mastered modern songwriting and recording and demonstrates artistic maturity well beyond her years. Not one to be content with the modern convenience of pre-packaged loops and sound packs, she often meticulously records individual notes of the Stylophone in multiple takes to build up chords and backing tracks. She blends and layers her vocals so seamlessly that it creates beautiful, lush, choir-like effects in her music. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, she does all of this at home: “I usually start writing a song on the piano, working out the parts and lyrics. From there I start building the backing tracks in Ableton. It has to be a good tune. That’s a big thing for me”, Mari says. She continues, “I’ll record three or four vocal tracks for the lead vocals and sometimes nine or more tracks for backup vocals. It varies per song, of course”. As a result, it is sometimes hard to separate the vocals from the synthesizer, a technique she uses with a semblance of seasoned expertise.
Learning from the past
We all learn from the artists who came before us, regardless of the genre. While Mari's music is unique and stands on its' own, the listener can hear echoes of past and present artistic influences throughout the album, so that it resonates as a modern yet familiar experience. Her musical interests are vast, including artists such as David Bowie, Kate Bush, Queen, and ELO. "I tend to cherry-pick things I hear and take inspiration from them", says Mari. “Sometime a song idea will come out of nowhere.” She explains. “Many times, I’ll wake up at night with a tune or lyric in my head and I’ll sing it into my phone so I don’t lose it”, many creators can relate to this. Over the past year, there have been challenges finding creative inspiration due to the COVID-19 lockdown, but Mari finds inspiration everywhere. While unconventional, the year of lockdown presented unique opportunities to complete her album, by infusing her experience into her songs, such as, Virtually, Webcam, and Screen Time, where she explores the way, we interact and build relationships online. Furthermore, her use of real instruments on songs like Coping Mechanism grounds the album in authenticity. Each song is a masterpiece of finely crafted melodies that captures your imagination and has you singing along right away. Her compositions are quite intricate, yet everything is in its proper place. The complex songs come to life with her tasteful use of sweeps and risers, helping to build tension and release, and carrying the listener along on an emotional journey. In contrast, the minimalistic arrangement and vulnerable vocals on the song Somebody, lend a poetic rawness to the growing societal issue of loneliness "...Cause I don't know if it's you that I want or if I just want somebody...Is it you that I want or am I just feeling empty". Her lyrics are clever and quirky as she puts her own spin on love, relationships, and the technology that we depend on, especially in our post-Covid world. In The Stars Were Wrong Mari reverses the common idea that love is "written in the stars" and portrays a relationship that thrives against all odds. The capricious nature of Love Machine, "Should I let the wave transmitter make the choice for my own mister?" encapsulate her whimsical sense of humor.
The festive sounds of the Stylophone were the perfect choice for this particular endeavor, and it adds a rich historical component to the album. Her creative integration of the Stylophone has lent much success to her musical career thus far. She started with a second-hand S1 that she found in a local music shop: "Originally I thought I could use it in one of my original tunes", she explains. But as luck would have it, she decided to use it to enter a video contest held by Mute Records to promote a new album by Yann Tiersen, entitled Eusa. Mari used the Stylophone to create an amazing cover version of Yann’s solo piano piece, Porz Goret in which she had to break down the parts into single-note lines and record them in layers to build up the song with the Stylophone. The result was My Eusa Best non-Piano winner of 2017! Since then, she has developed a working relationship with the Dubreq company, the maker of the Stylophone, and has created many official video tutorials with Leigh Kemp, Social Media Manager and Technical Support for Stylophone. For a short time, she was also a part of the Kingston University Stylophone Orchestra and contributed to their new album, Stylophonika. Besides the official version of Love and Other Machines, Mari has also released a Stylophone-only version of her album on Bandcamp, just for kicks.
Lights, camera, action
Besides writing and recording twelve original tunes, she has been quite busy creating companion music videos for each song and posting them on her YouTube channel. Whereas her album has a serious feel to it, her music videos give us a chance to see Mari’s more theatrical and humorous side, with cartoon animations and outlandish costumes. Leaning on her film-making education from her time at university, these videos are well-executed productions and quite entertaining. Mari seems to be right at home in front of the camera, as well as behind-the-scenes writing, directing, and even editing many of the videos. Her creativity shines through no matter the medium.
Future’s so bright
Mari’s hard work appears to be paying off. She seems to be in for a bright future as a filmmaker and recording artist. Her debut album has been very well received and Mari’s songs are being played regularly on local radio stations. She has live performances booked around London and is already planning her next musical release. Who knows where her art will take her but if this is any indication of what we can expect to see from Mari in the future, we can’t wait!
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