Remain Calm is the first full-scale collaboration between innovative cellist Oliver Coates and composer Mica Levi, known for her experimental pop guise Micachu as well as her brilliant, suspenseful soundtrack to 2013 sci-fi film Under the Skin. Coates played on that soundtrack, and had collaborated with Micachu & the Shapes before as part of the London Sinfonietta, on the 2011 album Chopped & Screwed. In addition, Coates also worked with Jonny Greenwood on his scores for There Will Be Blood and The Master, and helped to shape the sound of Radiohead's 2016 full-length A Moon Shaped Pool.
Though her soundtrack for Jonathan Glazer’s 2014 feature Under the Skin was more prominently received, Mica Levi’s tape Feeling Romantic Feeling Tropical Feeling Ill felt like her landmark release that year. The hour-long mix, with colorful, droning chapters bleeding seamlessly into one another, broke from the brash pop of her band Micachu & the Shapes, offering instead an elastic take on avant-garde composition. Loose and weird, it stomped and crackled all over the place, brimming with an impulsive sense of personality.
Mica Levi is easily one of the most intriguing artists in the UK currently. Known for the indie band Micachu & The Shapes, her work has cut across scenes, styles and mediums—releases on Demdike Stare's DDS label, collaborations with the likes of Babyfather and Matthew Herbert, remixes for Björk, soundtracks to indie and Hollywood films—but maintains a certain simple charm. It's a real meeting of the minds, then, for her to pair up with cellist, composer and Autechre enthusiast Oliver Coates, with whom she worked on the soundtrack for 2013's Under The Skin.
It’s been a busy few years for Mica Levi and Oliver Coates. Levi, following her career-defining score for Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, released her third album with The Shapes, Good Sad Happy Bad, composed the score for Pablo Larrain’s forthcoming Jackie Onassis biopic, and released two excellent records on Demdike Stare’s DDS label. Coates, on the other hand, has programmed a series of performances at London’s Southbank Centre under the banner DEEP?MINIMALISM, worked with the London Contemporary Orchestra on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, and released a solo album, the ebullient Upstepping.
Why do we experiment? In science, researchers seek answers to concrete hypotheses, and measure the results by specific outcomes. Yet music yields no quantifiable output, at least not to the naked ears of their listeners. As a perpetual bystander, I can only guess the aims of exploratory composers like Stockhausen or Steve Reich, Flying Lotus or Nicolas Jaar – but, if my unyielding curiosity counts for anything, then I’d say that sonic experiments seek not to define our world, as scientists strive for, but to supersede it.
Remain Calm is a disorienting listen of sounds borne of a proudly plural aesthetic, a postmodern music caught in the woozy nowhere between melodic and noisy, organic and synthetic, past and present. They are malleable, formless pieces that do little to heed to the structures of time within which they were composed; they have no discernible sense of direction or telos. Rarely do their sounds represent anything beyond sound itself.