Julie Campbell, A.K.A LoneLady, is a solo singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer from Manchester, England. Campbell’s music is of a post punk sensibility, embracing an approach that integrates lo-fi recording techniques, scratchy guitar-funk, the machine pulse of electronic music, and pop catchiness. Also drawing inspiration from visual art , literature and architecture, Campbell first started making recordings on a 4-track cassette recorder in her towerblock flat in Manchester while completing a Fine Art Degree.
Co-produced with Guy Fixsen, her starkly urgent debut album, ‘’Nerve Up’’ was released on Warp in 2010 to critical acclaim. John Doran in the NME called it a “unique, brilliant debut … we should celebrate LoneLady as the arrival of a fresh and invigorating voice whose talent transcends time and space and influence’’.
Campbell’s second album ”Hinterland” was released to widespread critical acclaim in 2015, and shows dance and funk influences coming to the fore. Inspired by psychogeography, landscapes obsess every song – Mancunian wildernesses, childhood playspaces, the landscape of the mind.
Playing all instruments except real drums, (played by Andrew Cheetham) Campbell recorded, mixed and produced Hinterland to near-completion in her home studio in Manchester. She then travelled to Keyclub Recording Co, Michigan, for some finishing touches and additional production with Bill SKibbe.
The Quietus called it a “vibrant and urgent combination of genealogy and vision – and it is this that truly makes it a masterpiece.” All four singles released from Hinterland reached the ‘A’ Playlist on BBC6 Music and Campbell also received a Sky Arts nomination for Best Breakthrough Artist.
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Julie Campbell was born in Ashton and grew up in Audenshaw, a town in East Manchester. Campbell is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer.
Her first love was art and Campbell has a Fine Art degree from Manchester Metropolitan University. After graduating she exhibited artwork and was also published nationally in poetry magazines.
Campbell taught herself to play guitar aged 16, on an acoustic guitar bought from Ashton market for £10. She also taught herself mandolin and keyboards, and aged 18 learned to play the cello. This later expanded to include bass guitar, drum machines, electronic drumpads and samplers.
Purchasing a 4-track, then later an 8-track Tascam Portastudio cassette recorder was a turning point for Campbell, who began making economical, punchy recordings with a handful of instruments, mainly using guitar and a simple drum machine. Of these beginnings, Campbell says; ’’Working with basic tools, mainly an 8-track cassette recorder, a telecaster and a drum machine forced me to be economical and inventive, and set an aesthetic blueprint for the way I like to work, keeping things stark and urgent.’’ These lo-fi home recordings were released in 2005 on CDR and 7-inch via small Manchester label Filthy Home Recordings.
In 2006 LoneLady inaugurated the Too Pure Singles Club with ‘Early The Haste Comes’, and it marked the LoneLady’s first sessions in a commercial recording studio.
LoneLady’s first live performances were a stark affair, with a solitary Campbell playing electric guitar along to a drum machine. Looking for a more powerful live dynamic, she recruited pneumatic drummer Andrew Cheetham, and as a two-piece LoneLady continued to play live throughout the UK, later expanding to a three piece with the addition of Tom Long on keyboards. An early coup was a 5-date support slot with art-pop pioneers Wire on the UK leg of their 2008 tour.
Warp + Nerve Up ///
Campbell came to the attention of Warp Records, signing with them in 2009. LoneLady’s debut album Nerve Up was released on Warp in February 2010 and garnered much critical acclaim for its ‘striking, spartan beauty..’ John Doran, writing for the NME said: ‘A unique, brilliant debut…we should celebrate LoneLady as the arrival of a fresh and invigorating voice whose talent transcends time and space and influence’, and writing in the Guardian, Paul Morley highly praised LoneLady’s ‘’austere, anxious minimalism ..(and) explosive shyness’’.
Nerve Up was recorded in a crumbling room of a mill in Miles Platting, a run-down area of East Manchester and was co-produced by Guy Fixsen (Laika, My Bloody Valentine). Campbell played all instruments except for real drums, which were played by Andrew Cheetham. The room was purpose-built using breeze-blocks and salvaged scrap. Campbell’s love of raw industrial spaces has been present from day one, infiltrating into her psyche and her music, and this has also meant a tendency to avoid professional recording studios.
Campbell elaborates on her artistic process, saying ” I was using minimal means and this informed the aesthetic. It is not, for example an intentionally bass-less record; I just didn’t, and don’t, think in terms of conservative/traditional arrangements. I started out with a crappy keyboard and a few other bits and pieces and this small armoury of tools instilled a love of the economical, the stripped, the stark, the trebly and harsh.”
LoneLady toured Nerve Up as an economical three-piece in the UK and Europe, including a support tour with art-pop pioneers WIRE and festivals including Pukkelpop, Green Man, Latitude, Big Chill and Camden Crawl. After touring Campbell contributed vocals and guitar to various other projects. Due to these projects and fluctuating management, it would be 2015 before Campbell’s second album Hinterland appeared.
Hinterland was released on Warp in March 2015 and is a concept album (with a small ‘c’) around the themes of psychogeography, urban wilderness and Brutalist architecture.
Hinterland was written, recorded, mixed and produced to near-completion by Campbell in her home studio in Manchester over a period of 18 months. She then travelled to Keyclub Recording Co., Michigan for some finishing touches and additional production by Bill Skibbe.
Hinterland is informed by living in a towerblock next to a motorway, the post-industrial ruin and concrete spaces of Manchester. Landscapes obsess Hinterland – the word itself translates as “the land behind” or “unknown region” – every song is about a landscape of one kind or another; Mancunian wildernesses, childhood playspaces, the landscape of the mind.
About this process, Campbell says; ”It seems like these places reflect a part of me; there’s a communication…walking in these urban wildernesses feels a bit ritualistic. Its about being resourceful with what surrounds you every day, transforming the unremarkable and derelict into something that has magic and meaning.”
The 6-minute long, ESG-tinged “Groove It Out” was released on 12-inch and download in November 2014, and heralded LoneLady’s colourful, dance-influenced return. It reached the A-Playlist on BBC 6Music, as all 4 singles off Hinterland would go on to do.
The ’’Groove It Out’’ single was a precursor of the overall style of Hinterland. Rhythm-oriented, the songs are longer, with simple drum machine grooves at its core. Embellished with Campbell’s intricate and propulsive guitar playing, and a wider palette of instrumentation including electronic drums, cello and clavinet, Hinterland expands Campbell’s previously stark approach into more colourful dimensions, and shows funk and dance influences coming to the fore, with echoes of Arthur Russell, Prince, early A Certain Ratio, Parliament and Rapper’s Delight. Campbell plays all instruments except real drums and she recorded, mixed and produced Hinterland to near-completion in Concrete Retreat, her home studio in a tower block in Manchester.
Of this recording process Campbell says; ‘’ It became clear that these recordings had an intimacy and integrity of their own; and I felt it was unnecessary to try and re-create an arid facsimile in professional studio.” Though the album was essentially finished, Campbell travelled to Keyclub Recording Co, an analogue recording studio in an industrial region in Michigan, for some finishing touches. Working with Bill Skibbe, a layer of real drums and Linn LM-1 drums were added, together with various subtle processes to add additional depth and power.
Bunkerpop was released on 12-inch and download in February 2015, its kinetic, synthetic crunch soundtracking a part-hallucination, part-party for one in a bunker, also clocking in at just under 6 minutes and reaching BBC6Music’s ‘A’Playlist.
The frazzled funk-pop of Hinterland and anxious, urgent Silvering followed as radio singles and both also reached BBC6Music’s ‘A’- Playlist.
LoneLady toured The UK and Europe throughout 2015 as a four-piece live band, playing a string of headline shows, including a short tour of Spain, and several festivals including Glastonbury, Latitude, Iceland Airwaves and Sensoria.
For Hinterland touring, the live band was now a four-piece, using expanded instrumentation and samplers to bring the fuller arrangements of Hinterland to life. Personnel; Tom Long (samplers, keyboards, electronic percussion, bass guitar, guitar), Gareth Smith (samplers, keyboards, electronic percussion, real percussion), Liam Stewart (drums and electronic percussion) and Julie Campbell (guitars and vocals). As with Nerve Up touring, for her live shows Campbell arranges all the parts and shows her musicians what to play.
Eschewing the usual approach of inviting a support band to open her shows, Campbell instead chose to invite Cabaret Voltaire co-founder Stephen Mallinder along as Guest DJ. This was to acknowledge the more dance-oriented mood of Hinterland and LoneLady’s live shows. The live shows now also featured looping projections of film made by Campbell showing scenes of Mancunian wastelands and her hometown of Audenshaw punctuated with brightly-coloured razor wire motifs and cryptic slogans saying GROOVE GROOVE GROOVE, Inside Imagination and A-Funk (Audenshaw-Funk – daft pun on P-Funk).
Playing unusual or dilapidated spaces is an important part of LoneLady’s approach and alongside standard venues, throughout 2015 Campbell and her band played an abandoned lighting depot (Hidden Door Festival, Edinburgh), a derelict mill (Shutters Down!, Manchester) and a crumbling former cinema (Sensoria, Sheffield).
Further exploring themes around concrete and psychogeography, as part of 2012’s Love Architecture festival, Campbell installed a piece of music into the fabric of the Mancunian Way motorway. This ‘concrete intervention’ was called The Utilitarian Poetic (or ‘TUP’) and listeners were invited to plug their headphones in to an mp3 payer embedded into a derelict wall beneath the motorway flyover. In 2015 Campbell undertook a residency in London’s Brutalist Barbican, as part of Doug Aitken’s living exhibition ’Station To Station’ where she performed an immersive audio-visual piece in the gallery space on the theme of concrete and the psyche.
Concrete Retreat ///
Campbell records, mixes and produces in her home studio, referred to as Concrete Retreat. Since Campbell’s first recordings this has remained an economical set up using mainly an 8-track Tascam cassette recorder, a handful of equipment and Garageband. Recent additions include an Arp Odyssey analogue synth, a Doepfer midi analogue sequencer, a Tascam half-inch reel-to-reel tape player and Pro-Tools.
Concrete Retreat was situated primarily in Campbell’s towerblock flat in Ardwick, Manchester. But Concrete Retreat is essentially wherever Campbell and her equipment is, and has also been located in a mill in Miles Platting, and in ‘The Bunker’ near Strangeways Prison, Manchester. Currently, Concrete Retreat is located in ‘The Rifle Room’ – an 18th-century former shooting gallery in Somerset House Studios, London.