Even the most cynical amongst us would be forced to admit there was something fated in the formation of STRABE. After a chance meeting four years ago at the Cork Jazz Festival where they neglected to swap numbers, the universe brought Angelica Black and Emmet Carey repeatedly back into one another’s lives regardless. An out-of-character impulse saw Black bound up to Carey outside a pub a couple of months later – something they had never done before and don’t intend to again.
In another stroke of coincidence, Angelica then just happened to waltz into the bar as Emmet and his friend took the stage at the college talent show – again, a spur-of-the-moment choice based solely on watching School of Rock the night before. The universe, clearly, wanted them to be together. “The fact that something came over me to be like, ‘I’m going to go say hello to that person’,” muses Angelica. “It felt like there was definitely something that was pushing us to make music.”
It’s safe to say, then, that STRABE know how to play the long game and they know how to allow their project the space to fall into place. As they finally embark upon the release of their debut mixtape, ‘Juvenoia’, they acknowledge that it’s been a long time coming. Waiting over three years to release any new music after the playfully upbeat yet bittersweet ‘Best Worst Year’ in 2019, ‘Juvenoia’ is the product of years of efforts to perfect and reinvigorate the best of their back catalogue.
“We really wanted to take our time and make sure that whatever we ended up with, we were both completely happy and confident about it,” says Black. “Because a lot of the songs are quite old, we wanted the chance to give them all a bit of love and give them the musical knowledge we’ve gained since we first wrote them.”
Calling on a bed of far-flung influences from Primal Scream to ABBA to Disclosure, STRABE have crafted a larger-than-life, exuberant sound on ‘Juvenoia’. It’s full throttle excitement from start to finish. ‘Magic’ stands out amongst the track — every bit as sparkling and enchanting as its title might suggest, Angelica’s vocals lean towards ethereal against a bed of ‘80s style synths and electronic beats. It’s buoyant, and a perfect example of the absolute elation that STRABE have bottled up on ‘Juvenoia’.
The journey has been transformative for these tracks – ‘Life on Pause’, a pre-emptive pre-COVID encouragement to look for peace in the quiet moments and stillness, was a source of uncertainty for the pair originally. Yet, the time afforded to it gave it a new lease of life, a prime example being the addition of a twinkling, dainty piano conclusion to ‘Life on Pause’. “As soon as the outro was added, everything changed,” Black says. “I remember at that point listening to it and suddenly realising this is actually a really powerful song. Having that flip in it, it went from being a song we had both forgotten about that was filling a space.”
It seamlessly slides into the mixtape’s narrative and mantric need to bring joy. ‘Juvenoia’ is an embrace of freedom – “a lot of the songs started with less pop intentions in them,” recalls Carey. “That’s very much a goal of ours, to remember to try and make them listenable not just for us. As opposed to starting with a standard format and then trying to free it up a bit, we went the other way. It was always in the back of our heads – how do we make this a bit more fun?”
“At the end of the day, we just love making music that makes people want to dance and makes people feel good and frees up something in them,” adds Black. “It almost becomes unintentional,” laughs Carey. “Some of the more downtempo songs on the mixtape ended up with pretty intense drums – I just can’t help myself from making it more danceable.”
Through every twist and turn, ‘Juvenoia’ maintains that adrenaline rush of exhilarating delight. It’s all flashing neon lights cutting through the haze of a smoke machine, arms aloft and the kind of beats that compel you to move. Though tracks like ‘Reality Dreaming’ were written across seas amidst lockdowns (Angelica returned home to Edinburgh, whilst Emmet was in Dublin still), there’s a resounding sense of connection and love to the sound. From voice notes to the studio, their tracks were able to become something anew. “It was just the two of us hashing out ideas and messing around a lot of the time to see what could happen,” says Carey. “A lot of those happy accidents made it into the mixtape.”
Whilst ‘Juvenoia’ is a freeing listen, it was an equally freeing experience for the pair to put themselves all the way out. “We’re very much shoving ourselves into people’s faces,” laughs Angelica. “We’re not just doing floaty, summery music. We’re also going to shove a harmonica in your ears.”
“At this point, we’re removed from it because it’s been with us for so long,” Carey says. “Showing people and being like, ‘We’ve had this for years’ – there’s something quite liberating in that.” If their previously prescient tendencies and predestined formations are anything to go by, ‘Juvenoia’ predicts a future filled with dancing and high spirits.
STRABE’s ‘Juvenoia’ mixtape will be released on July 22