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Global Spotlight: 5 Artists To Watch Out For

From Swedish Idol-turned-rebel to funny-boned instrumental rock, Sri Lankan woke trap and more

These artists from around the world tackle everything from rock 'n' roll revival, diaspora, feminism and self-destruction. Photo: Balu by Kadeem Ellis

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AMWIN, Sweden

AMWIN’s “Uber” is a slick mix of trap and floaty synth that sees a woman take charge of hook-up culture. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

“It’s always been my free space,” 21-year old Amanda Winberg tells us over Skype about making music. The singer-songwriter who goes by the moniker AMWIN is in Stockholm at the time of our conversation and the bright smile on her face is infectious. “I grew up in a really small city in Sweden so I didn’t really have anyone around me who was into music, so I had to find it for myself.” Her solace lived in YouTube and she found it by surfing through various music videos and the artists on her screen. “Ever since then I always wanted to do music but it felt like it was always so far away from everything I knew, so it was like a dream that would never turn to reality.”

Things changed quickly when Winberg turned 18 and applied for the reality show Swedish Idol in 2015. She had no prior experience onstage but was determined to give herself a fair shot. “I felt it was my one chance to show who I am.” Winberg would go on to place second in the competition and sign with Universal Music. Three singles followed in 2016– “Shutdown,” “Clouds” and “Goodbye”– and made a splash, but they weren’t exactly true to the artist she wanted to be. In 2018 she reintroduced herself as AMWIN; born of an abbreviation of her birth name and the unveiling of a bolder persona.

AMWIN’s empowering March 2018 debut release “Uber” is a slick mix of trap and floaty synth that sees a woman take charge of hook-up culture. In the video (which she co-directed) Winberg’s gaze is firm as she tells her one-night-stand, “Fuck me then get dressed/Your Uber’s outside,” after which she proceeds to luxuriate in her gorgeous apartment, covered in diamonds as she eats a whole cake by herself. “In so many ways the song is about a relationship that’s not a relationship and I really just wanted to show what happens after that,” she explains. “Because that’s important to me: who am I with myself when the person leaves in the Uber?” –R.C.

Listen to “Uber” below:

BLOO, South Korea/U.S.A

‘Downtown Baby”s acoustic riffs and lyrics resonating self-destruction make the EP Bloo’s crowning glory. Photo: Hyeon Cheol Hwang/MKIT Rain

Since coming on the scene in 2016 with his single “Tony,” Daniel/Hyunwoong Kim aka BLOO’s introduction to the world has been nothing short of power-packed. While “Drive Thru,” “Better,” and “Hennessy” were perfectly suited to the dark, gritty musical palette, it was his 2017 EP Downtown Baby—with acoustic riffs and lyrics resonating self-destruction—that became his crowning glory. Surprisingly still, BLOO calls himself the ‘most underrated rapper in Korea.’

“It’s nothing special, really,” he says, talking about his new single, “Drink Slow Henny.” “I was just in a mood, you know, drunk and shit. I just made the song as usual, but this time, I felt kind of frustrated because I’m trying so hard to make it in the music industry and they don’t notice me.” BLOO was born in Korea, but moved to Los Angeles at a young age. It was a formative experience, bringing him closer to the roots of hip-hop and increasing his understanding of the genre. “Coming to L.A. and listening to hip-hop here was different to listening to hip-hop in Korea. It changed my life—it opened my mind and changed how I looked at the world.” Despite his deep love for the motherland of modern day hip-hop, BLOO—and other members of what would eventually be the label MKIT Rain—decided to bring it home to Korea. “I met Nafla and Young West in high school. Then, when we got to college, we met Loopy. Since then, we always kick it together.”

What’s followed since is a series of brilliant collaborations and original music on which his labelmates are a staple. Currently though, BLOO’s focusing on the new single and upcoming album. While the title remains under wraps, he did say what his favorite song was: “It’s called ‘So Rude’. I think you’ll like it.” –L.S.

Listen to “Downtown Baby” below:

Alpha Male Tea Party, United Kingdom

Alpha Male Tea Party’s style of playful time signatures, shimmering guitars and unpredictability has drawn parallels with UK rock bands such as And So I Watch You From Afar (ASIWYFA) and TTNG. Photo: Michelle Roberts

Formed in 2009 in Liverpool, instrumental(ish) rock band Alpha Male Tea Party probably draw the eyes in with their name before they can hook in the ears. Their 2017 album, Health, is the third that carries forward a style of playful time signatures, shimmering guitars and unpredictability that has drawn parallels with UK rock bands such as And So I Watch You From Afar (ASIWYFA) and TTNG.

If you didn’t already guess by the band name, guitarist and founder Tom Peters, drummer Greg Chapman and bassist Ben Griffths love to take the piss out of things even if they’re not employing lyrics. Over Twitter, however, not everyone got the joke, which surprises Peters. “You come up with something with the best of intentions, I just thought it was a kind of funny juxtaposition of ideas.” Haters aside, you get surreal music videos and funny song titles like “You Eat Houmous, Of Course You Listen To Genesis,” (off 2014’s equally fun-filled Droids), “Nobody Had the Heart to Tell Him He Was on Fire” and “Have You Ever Seen Milk?” there’s little doubt that the trio is as fun as their music.

Up next, the Health tour cycle continues, this time with stops at Portals Festival on June 17th in London, and standing alongside post-rock, math rock and metal bands like ASIWYFA, Glassjaw, Pelican and more at one of the world’s best known gathering for their ilk, ArcTanGent festival in Bristol this August. –A.T.

Listen to ‘Health’ below:

WOOGIE, South Korea

Woogie’s got a knack for bringing out raw, darker sides of his collaborators and it makes for some pretty incredible moments. Photo: Courtesy of H1GHR MUSIC RECORDS

JeWook Park aka WOOGIE initially gained fame thanks to his initiative of stepping away from today’s trap-heavy hip-hop trend to explore more subtle, acoustic-infused synth-based sounds.

He takes it a notch higher however on his debut release Rewind My Tape, Pt. 1; the four-track EP is  a melting pot of rock ‘n’ roll, acoustic blues, funk, jazz and lo-fi. There’s a touch of The Rolling Stones on the aptly named lead single “Rolling Stones,” a bit of Stevie Wonder on “Have A Good Night” and even a Cigarettes After Sex vibe on “Comma”– sounds that aren’t too common among younger artists in Asia who are still discovering the world of trap and hip-hop. “I want to bring out the music no one really does anymore these days,” he says. As a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist (he can play the piano, violin, guitar and drums), WOOGIE’s attention to organic instrumentation is impeccable.

In terms of visuals, the tracks from the EP showcase WOOGIE’s old soul with a Seventies-esque, Americana universe; think Fargo, Season Two. The producer reveals that he works backwards while creating music, starting with a visual theme that inspires the entire vibe of the record and then adding music and lyrics accordingly. He’s got a knack for bringing out raw, darker sides of his collaborators and it makes for some pretty incredible moments; there’s a previously unseen wildness in singer-songwriter Car, the Garden’s vocals on “Rolling Stones” and rapper Loco–known for his bright, clear rap–gets gloomy on “Girl.”  “I wanted to find something different, new and never tried before from my friends,” WOOGIE says. “It’s almost experimental.”

On Rewind My Tape, Pt. 2, geared for release sometime later this year, WOOGIE wants to dive deeper into soul and R&B. “Maybe along the lines of D’Angello and Maxwell,” he hints. –R.C.

Listen to “Rolling Stones” ft Car, the Garden below:

Balu, Sri Lanka/Canada

Balu’s influences range from Tamil actor and choreographer Prabhu Deva to Nina Simone, Pharrel and American R&B singer Musiq Soulchild. Photo: Kadeem Ellis

Despite his refusal to divulge his real name and age, Balu is probably one of the most relatable artists on this list. He’s the son of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who made the move to Canada, so it’s no surprise that his artistry reflects the East-meets-West nature of his upbringing. What does come as a (pleasant) surprise however, is how incredibly woke he is.

“My work is influenced by the common experiences and the contradictions one faces coming up within diasporic communities on stolen land,” he says. “As someone who grew up feeling displaced, I needed to feel anchored, like I belong somewhere.” Balu’s influences range from Tamil actor and choreographer Prabhu Deva to Nina Simone, Pharrel and American R&B singer Musiq Soulchild. Initially developing an interest in beatboxing in his early teens, Balu found further solace in R&B after facing severe depression in his mid-twenties. “I needed words. I wanted to be vulnerable in a safe space, and R&B provided me with that space. I could finally release my anxieties, frustrations and weaknesses–my rhythms and my blues–through my music.”

Topics of discussion in his music videos–especially “Family Matters” which features his own parents–include toxic masculinity, diaspora, female empowerment and fair visibility for POC. “Black and brown men aren’t often given space to fuck up and be forgiven, I find,” he says. “How can you fix things when you are seen as irredeemable? How do you become a better man when you don’t know what a healthy support system looks like? It’s hard not to see yourself as a mistake.”  With “Family Matters” Balu hopes to change the way women are perceived as well encourage better relationships between fathers and their sons.

“I want to be seen as someone who can transform for the better, someone who is capable of learning or unlearning,” says Balu. “I learned some pretty toxic habits as I was struggling to survive. My music is enabling me to talk about this process of unpacking myself.” –R.C.

Watch “Family Matters” below:

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