Low Island are an Oxford-based electronic band featuring multi-instrumentalists/singers Carlos Posada and Jamie Jay, bassist/keyboardist Jacob Lively and drummer/percussionist Felix Higginbottom. All childhood friends (Lively and Posada go the furthest back, having known each other since the age of 5), Low Island are a band literally a lifetime in the making, playing music together in various combinations since first meeting each other, before finally settling with the current lineup two years ago. They grew up in a small but not insignificant local music scene. At the ages of fifteen, when they started to play shows in Oxford, Foals had just released their Hummer EP, followed by debut album Antidotes, with Radiohead having released In Rainbows only the previous year. The band cite these two years as formative musical moments: the ferocious energy of Foals’ early live shows in Oxford, coupled with the band’s discovery of the emotional and sonic richness of Radiohead, captured their imagination and provided an inspirational bedrock. The shadows loomed large, and led somewhat inevitably ‘to a variety of pale imitation projects destined for the scrapheap’. A few years later, they found their way to Melt! Festival, fully in the throes of electronic music and hooked by the beats of DJs like Ricardo Villalobos and Four Tet. But it wasn’t until seeing LCD Soundsystem a little further down the line that a vision for the band finally crystallised; electronic music that was really live , ambitious in arrangement and songwriting, and not afraid to jump from dance to intimate ballads via a route of experimental jazz-infused jams.
To say it took them a fair amount of time and exploration to reach this understanding would be an understatement. After leaving school, they went to universities in different cities, playing together all the while, but also learning new musical skills. Higginbottom spent time in Brazil, studying percussion in samba schools, as well as touring with world-renowned jazz artists in America. Jay and Posada became immersed in dance music, taking up a DJ residency at The Warehouse in Leeds, whilst there wasn’t a beer-soaked independent venue in London that Lively didn’t dutifully shake with bass (the majority of which are now closed). Jay and Posada also found themselves composing music for dance, short films and theatre, learning and exchanging ideas with people from across the artistic spectrum, and allowing them, in their own words, to bank some ‘important early experience in doing vast amounts of work for absolutely no money’.
After finishing university, they regrouped, and have spent the last two years weaving together their wide musical influences. The result has been three critically acclaimed EPs spread out across the two years that they have been releasing music. Their first EP, Just About Somewhere, saw the band combine fragile songwriting with off-kilter electronics. Debut single ‘Anywhere’, described by The Line of Best Fit as ‘sublime’, was quickly picked up by Radio 1’s Huw Stephens and Phil Taggart, as well as being recognised by Spotify in playlists both in the UK and across the pond. Accompanying the release was a short film produced by the band that deftly worked its way through all four songs on the EP. Described as ‘stunning’ by The Independent , the video explored the simultaneous feeling of claustrophobia and isolation that can be engendered by urban life. The EP continued to garner attention, leading the band to be included as first on the list in an NME article of ‘new bands that Radiohead fans will go totally mad for’.
As the band grew in confidence, so did the music. Their second EP, In This Room, included singles ‘Holding it Down’ and ‘That Kind of Love’. Both songs continue to be fan favourites, with the former reaching number one on Amazing Radio’s chart of 2017, and the latter playlisted on Radio 1. ‘Holding it Down’ was accompanied by a video, produced by the band and directed by Roland Walters. Based on the account of the disgraced communications director Justine Sacco from Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, it explored the idea of shame in the era of social media, and was described by Crack magazine as an ‘impressive mini epic worthy of your attention’. The band grew their live profile too, embarking on their first UK tour including sold out dates in Bristol and London, and making appearances at Latitude and Reading & Leeds festivals.
Their third and perhaps most ambitious EP, This Other Life, followed, and was made up of six tracks. It covered everything from dance music to the more intimate-ballads that have become a trademark part of the Low Island sound. It explored a range of subjects, from populist politics (The Lines), the impact of technology on mental health (The Whole World Tucked Away), and love (Tomorrow); and was praised by publications for its ambition and invention. It led to them playing a sold out show at London’s Scala, and a Maida Vale session for Radio 1 with Huw Stephens tipping them as one of his alternative acts for 2018. Support also came from Annie Mac and Phil Selway of Radiohead, who included ‘I Know You’ on his 6 music show, with the band making further festival appearances at Womad and Kendal Calling, as well as their first European shows at Primavera Club, Barcelona and Lollapalooza Berlin. Towards the end of last year, they brought together these three EPs as a standalone Low Island and Friends 17-18 vinyl release. In their words, ‘this was not an album’, but rather a way of ‘contextualising and taking stock of our journey so far’. It included a re-recording of ‘Holding it Down’ made alongside Matt Wiggins (Glass Animals, The Horrors, Lorde), new track ‘Hot Air’, as well as a remix from Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and three bonus tracks deriving from collaborations that had formed essential parts of their London headline shows.
Maintaining that spirit of collaboration, present in all of the band members’ past experiences, has been one of Low Island’s priorities. For the tour that followed their third EP, they collaborated with different artists in each city, showcasing the work made at the shows; a process that was made into a short-form documentary by DIY magazine. As well as this, they soundtracked UAL’s final showcase catwalk; they got together with illustrators who made visual responses to their songs; and they have written an original score to accompany a new piece of choreography to be performed at The Place this January. Collaboration has, in their own words, ‘enabled us to learn and develop relationships outside of our own creative bubble, and gives us a break from arguing amongst ourselves’.
Spring 2019 will see Low Island embark upon their most ambitious UK tour to date, a tour that they will mark with the release of their first track of this year, ‘In Person’. Co-produced with Miles James (Obongjayar, Nao), the track is a further commitment to the more electronic side of their sound, fusing ‘70s-style analogue recording with a prescient subject: ‘the paradox of drifting apart from people as you grow up living in an increasingly connected world’. As children born in the early ‘90s, Low Island come from a generation with a unique perspective: one that grew up first without, then with, technology, and one that became politically conscious ‘when politics started getting properly shit again’. These issues, as well as the trials and triumphs of love and the neuroses that have become synonymous with millennials, are the principal subjects of their lyrics and the themes that run through their self-produced music videos. Locked away in a small garage on the outskirts of Oxford, a city that their friends ‘have all left in the pursuit of work that pays’, the band have now amassed a wealth of new material that will be getting its first outing on their upcoming tour. Preparing for a tour is something that they take great joy and pride in: ‘it’s that moment when you say ‘ok, let’s stop writing for a bit and just make everything sound and look as good as it possibly can’. Rest assured, this year promises to be barnstorming for Low Island; don’t missit.