Grum

Grum

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Generally, Graeme Shepherd is too young and too busy to reflect on his current career trajectory. But there are moments. Moments when he is caught unawares. Moments that encapsulate the excitement that currently surrounds his music. Moments when even Grum (so-nicknamed because he was known as bit of a grumpy bastard at uni) stops, takes stock, and allows himself a quiet, private ‘wow!’.

“I was in Ibiza, last summer, just out there on holiday as a punter, and Aeroplane played one of my remixes at Space. That was bizarre. Seeing people enjoying my music in a club is awesome, but it also makes me feel incredibly awkward. Am I allowed to dance to this? Should I slope off and get a drink? Ideally, I’d melt and become invisible for a few minutes.”

The 24 year-old Scotsman’s instinct is to deflect such acclaim with dry self-deprecation. In the last year, he’s had plenty of practice. Popjustice’s endorsement of his single, ‘Heartbeats’, for instance, was almost embarrassingly evangelical. “This,” raved the pop hub, “is the greatest song of the 21st Century. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise they are an idiot.”

“I think that was slightly tongue-in-cheek,” demurs Grum, who, at one point last year, Hype Machine were ranking as the second most blogged about artist on the planet, after Radiohead. “The Internet’s funny because I never think of it as really real,” he insists. “Essentially you’re just on a list somewhere, and people are checking you out.”

What is tangible, however, is Grum’s talent. Unlike so much of what we now generically call ‘electro’, his first three singles were musically rich and contagiously energetic. Grum’s debut, ‘Runaway’, is less a song, than a stallion, a galloping neo-Italo classic. ‘Sound Reaction’, meanwhile, paid outrageous homage to the whole Ed Banger sonic aesthetic. Then came ‘Heartbeats’, the record that propelled Grum beyond the pages of Mixmag. A devastating sustained tease – all delicious foreplay and delayed orgasm – it somehow conflated 8-bit bleeps; airbrushed French filter house; and the big room triggers of the Swedish House Mafia, into what sounded like a ready-made Top 5 chart hit. It is big, brash and so joyously free as to be completely irresistible.

Yet, crazily, ‘Heartbeats’ is probably only – what? – the sixth best track on Grum’s album. On his debut, also called ‘Heartbeats’, the Grum modus operandi – devastating pop hooks underpinned by perspex and steel electronics – moves through several exhilarating iterations. ‘Cybernetic’, for instance, would sound utterly at home on defiantly underground electronic disco label, Viewlexx. Conversely, ‘Turn It Up’, featuring Canadians Electric Youth, is the titanic pop hit which Richard X never quite got around to writing for Girls Aloud. 13 year-old girls? They’ll love it. 30 year-old hipsters? Yep, they’ll love it, too. Grum will soon be everywhere.

But, first, a little history.

Grum grew up in Linlithgow, near Edinburgh, on a diet of classic rock and synth-pop. His dad loved REO Speedwagon and similar Top Gear driving tackle, as did many of his mates, who would drag him to “crappy”, lager-fuelled metal nights around town. Privately, however, young Grum was cultivating an interest in the electronic arts. “When I was really young, I remember recording Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’, on my little cheapo hi-fi, and listening to it on repeat, for hours.” Grum, who rates ‘Dare’ and Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’ as his favourite albums, laughs: “And that made me the man I am today.”

By his teens, armed with Fruity Loops and a love of Ferry Corsten, Grum was cobbling together rudimentary trance tracks in his bedroom. Although, he was also soaking up more underground club music – mainly French Touch stuff like DJ Falcon and Thomas Bangalter – on local dance station, Beat106. He was fascinated with how certain tracks were constructed. “Ultimately,” he admits, “I’m much more of a music geek than a clubber.”

That said, moving to Leeds in 2004 (to do a Music Technology course in nearby Huddersfield) did radically broaden Grum’s clubbing experience. He took in a wide swathe of the city’s nightlife, from taste-making eclectic night, Wax:On, to drum ‘n’ bass club, Valve. He also loved electroclash. He describes Fischerspooner as “hugely underrated” and fondly recalls hearing Erol Alkan DJ at Wire. Elsewhere, he was lapping up Rex The Dog’s iridescent analogue epics, and Stuart Price’s roaring remix work as Thin White Duke.

That electroclash link is interesting, in that, arguably, Grum is now doing what that scene never quite managed to. The electroclash set wanted to be pop stars, but were they too arch, too knowing, too self-consciously arty – too old! – to produce genuine pop music. GRUM doesn’t have that baggage. “I’m totally proud of being pop. I have fun with the structure and sounds within that pop framework, but I never worry about whether I’m being sufficiently ‘cool’ or underground.” Moreover, Grum has the melodic knack that so many dance producers lack: “Melody is a very powerful and conscious part of my sound. I see other people struggle with it, but I’ve always found working with chords and harmonies quite easy. It comes naturally to me. I can’t read music, but I can use my ears.”

Trapped in Kidderminster on a university work placement, Grum finally started writing seriously, laying the foundations for what would become ‘Heartbeats’. Whilst soaking up the pioneering work of 80′s production heroes like Trevor Horn – “that whole using the studio as a tool thing” – he would beaver away, solely and slightly ironically, on his laptop. “I’ve got some studio gear, but I never use it. I don’t even play around with plug-ins that much. If you’ve got a good song, you don’t need to.”

Two years ago, when Grum started emailing tracks out to sympathetic blogs like Discodust, the response was instant. His tracks went viral, the blogs buzzed and eagle-eared Kevin McKay (Glasgow Underground/ Mylo’s Breastfed label) quickly tracked Grum down and set up a boutique label for him, Heartbeats. Since then, radio DJs as diverse as Annie Nightingale and Jaymo & Andy George have jumped on Grum, and a host of tuned-in acts like Late of the Pier, Friendly Fires and Passion Pit have called on his remixing services. Grum the DJ, meanwhile, has played everywhere from Bestival to Barcelona’s Razzmatazz.

It is the album, though, which will seal the deal. Typically, Grum’s playing it down. “My girlfriend keeps putting it on at home, so I’m pretty sick of it,” he deadpans. If pushed, however, he’ll concede to loving the lush drama of ‘LA Lights’ – a collaboration with vocalist Feathers, that sounds like a much sexier Hurts – and closer ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’, a celestial ‘moment’, equal parts ELO, Fleetwood Mac and Ladytron. The fourth single ‘Can’t Shake This Feeling’, meanwhile, is extraordinary, like some lost, early 80′s Shannon or Gwen Guthrie New York club classic, catapulted into the 21st century. Were it all over Radio 1, it would add immeasurably to the gaiety of the nation. Which, ultimately, is GRUM’s aim.

“If the tracks can compete like that, on a chart level, that’s cool,” says Grum who – from his Leeds base – is currently fine-tuning the details of his “quite elaborate” live show, and finalising his onstage wardrobe of daft animal print T’s and ridiculous rave anoraks. “I’m not trying to be cool,” he explains, perhaps a little unnecessarily. “Ultimately, it’s about doing something honest, and having fun. If there is a message in my music, it’s that: pure hedonism. That’s what we need. More hedonism, less worrying.”

Certainly, there is no better antidote to the anxiety and lethargy of modern Britain. Meet Grum: the man most likely to make you forget yourself in 2010.
view all 51 tracks 51 tracks found
Grum "Through The Night (Album Version)"
Album: Heartbeats
Genres: Dance, Electronic
Moods: Alive, Contemplative, Sad
Grum "Turn It Up"
Album: Heartbeats
Genres: Dance, Electronic
Moods: Calm, Cool, Party
Grum "Can’t Shake This Feeling (Album Version)"
Album: Heartbeats
Genres: Dance, Electronic
Moods: Riled, Sensual, Sultry
Grum "Power"
Album: Heartbeats
Genres: Dance, Electronic
Moods: Lively, Party, Vigorous
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