Album Review: Micachu & The Shapes and London Sinfonietta present:

Inspired by the South’s weirdest hip-hop, the avant-garde prodigy unveils the first ever classical mixtape

When Houston’s DJ Screw started downing ‘purple drank’ (a recreational drug based on prescription-strength cough syrup) he wasn’t to know what effect it would have upon his life and legacy. A popular elixir within the South’s hip-hop community, it slowed down the brain’s activity and inspired sounds to match. Drank helped inspire and inform Screw’s signature down-tempo ‘chopped and screwed’ beats, seal his status within hip-hop’s celebrity, and result in his death-by-overdose in 2000, aged 29.

His approach – slowing down the BPMs and skipping beats – has been imitated throughout hip-hop ever since, but for it to be used in a neo-classical composition is somewhat atypical. But then, Micachu And The Shapes aren’t your usual rule-abiding musical outfit. Their 2009 debut ‘Jewellery’ ripped up pop’s manual, dispensing with traditional verse-chorus-verse structures and time signatures.

Recorded in front of a live audience at Kings Place, London in May 2010, the opening whir of violins on ‘State Of New York’ sound like they could soundtrack Hitchcock. And though the record unfurls with a deluge of twisted instruments, great care has been taken in texturing its aural scenes and imagery.

Strange as it is, ‘Chopped & Screwed’ marks a natural progression for Mica Levi, the classically trained violinist once famed as a grime DJ. With each track melding into the next, the album may be the first classically arranged mixtape. As ‘Everything’ whirls and lands with beat-matched perfection into the orchestral dirges of ‘Average’, Mica’s vocals ring out to the tune of a beating heart: “There’s always an answer/You don’t really care/Push the side of this love triangle/And make it a square”.

Classical music is often perceived as reserved for the upper-class elite while boring the arse off the everyman. Mica’s choppin’ and screwin’ attempt at repackaging its intelligence and emotion makes it something fresh that you can feel. Drink up.

Thomas A Ward


Order a Copy of Micachu & The Sahpes’ ‘Chopped & Screwed’ from Amazon