Ah Sheffield. “Sex City,” as Jarvis Cocker once mused. The steely Yorkshire stronghold has spawned more scenes than any city of its size has any right to. Lately of course the UK has been in thrall to Sheffield’s teenage sensations Arctic Monkeys and a bewildering assortment of chancers strumming along in their wake.
But in Sheffield, before there were guitars there was electronica. Cabaret Voltaire and Human League started it all; Pulp and The All Seeing I absorbed and honed their influences. An industrial city, its denizens’ liking for industrial electronica followed a natural trajectory.
One of the city’s current big hopes, The Long Blondes, tip a curiously dressed duo by the name of Hiem to follow in these illustrious footsteps. Nick, half of Hiem, was in a band with Danny Hunt of Ladytron, Pulp’s Russell Senior and the statuesque Debbie McCarthy, now with KCasino. (The inkies cared little for the band, Venini. We loved them.) Bozz is the other, hairier, half of Hiem. He’s a luminary of The All Seeing I and has worked with everyone from Phil Oakey to Tony Christie (yes, really).
After many and varied singles, EPs and remix releases on too many labels to remember, Hiem have finally got round to showing off their music to the world beyond the fringe dance scene. 1/2 is the pint-sized result, and it’s aptly titled – it feels like half an album. It doesn’t include the singles Friendz or She’s The One, but does offer an impressive sweep of styles and influences in the seven tracks contained.
They politely begin with an Intro before Warriors heads us off in a noirish, reflective direction not a million miles removed from The Knife‘s beats and synth sounds but just that bit fuzzier, a little sleazier.
Borderline would be a straightforward analogue synthfest had it not been for the vocals, clearly delighting in pinching Jake Shears‘s hypercamp vocals, and – bizarrely – a sax.
Tweak mashes up the rhythm section of Gary Glitter‘s Rock and Roll, a track notably rebuilt by The Timelords – who would later become The KLF – for Doctorin’ The Tardis. Rock and Roll sports one of the most instantly recognisable rhythm parts, even turning up in that most fabled of Sheffield films, The Full Monty. It does, though, rather overwhelm the tinkering Hiem bring to the party.
3AM would fit happily on the latest Sigur Ros album. If that sounds off the wall compared to comparisons above, well… it is. Languid bass, glocks, haunting synths and (admittedly English language) vocals combine to sing a highly unlikely lullaby. It’s lovely.
Crawlers gets us awake again in the closest an electronic act has ever got to a rock wig-out. Out-of-tune vocals sing “I can’t take you, running round the floor” while all hell breaks loose in gloriously analogue style. Nothing sounds quantized – everything feels organic.
Chelsea takes after the great Jarvis Cocker monologues from Pulp’s early days, like Sheffield Sex City. Younger listeners may detect something like a cross between Arctic Monkeys accent and The Streets delivery, but early Pulp is the required namecheck. “Thank fuck I didn’t marry that Chelsah,” Nick tells us, and for a moment it’s like listening to Jarv 15 years ago.
All in, an eclectic end to a short but by no means stunted record that’s entirely of its place and time – here and now, and as leftfield as the mainstream will ever be. Back to your synths please, gentlemen, for the full length opus.