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Pumarosa

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Pumarosa is Isabel Munoz-Newsome, Nicholas Owen, Tomoya Suzuki and Jamie Neville.

A cavernous disused cinema, on sheer cliffs, somewhere in Calabria. In 2015 Pumarosa were offered a residency by an artist at his disused cinema in southern Italy. The experience of playing in this space, its acoustics and atmosphere, left a lasting impression on the band. In this huge venue even the smallest of sounds became distinctly audible: "for the first time", says Nicholas, "there was a total responsiveness to the environment and each other, outside of London, plagued by mosquitoes".
"I think after the experience of playing in tiny airless London rehearsal rooms for years", continues Isabel, "the chance to play in such a magisterial space helped us to think about our music in more expansive ways".

Quite how Pumarosa found themselves here is the stuff of band mythology: from the rundown Homerton pub where Nick and Isabel first met (at a rehearsal for a new project nobody else showed up to, so they formed a group instead) to the Manor House warehouse where they moved and encountered Tomoya and Jamie. Before stepping into the role of front-woman, Isabel's performance background was in performance art: she studied theatre design at art school, worked on productions across everything from opera to The National Theatre, and until relatively recently considered painting her main art form. Yet somehow - even if they did have to scrape together a van and drive non-stop through the night to get there - Pumarosa made it to Calabria. And precisely where they were supposed to be.

Pumarosa's early singles have pointed to the restless scope of sounds they were to return to the UK with. The motorik, droning expanse of 'Priestess', the multi-timbral rock of 'Honey', and the alien pop simplicity of 'Dragonfly' disclose both far-reaching influences and a need to experiment with form. Isabel's lyrics are emotionally and politically invested; they deftly paint tales of social coercion, feminine emancipation and the striving for release. The first offering which came out to universal acclaim on Chess Club, 'Priestess' itself proved a captivating introduction: a tale of reverence for some dark female form, it's a song which is constantly evolving, with that final repeated mantra ("you dance, you dance, you dance") resonating amidst instrumentation which is both hypnotic and overwhelming. For any new act, 'Priestess' would be an unusual calling card - coming close to eight minutes, for one thing - but this desire to operate outside a familiar band template proves to be fundamental to their ambitious and unpredictable debut album, 'The Witch'.

From the priestess to the witch, then, the idea of subverting female archetypes is integral to Pumarosa. "I want to sing about women," explains Isabel. "Women's characters and feelings, sexual or otherwise, are comparatively unexplored compared to male-female relationships or male-male." The band cite a lack of focal female protagonists in culture - from government to art galleries, festival bills to book shelves - as motivation to write a record which consciously explores the inner lives of women, and those who upset the male gaze. The song 'The Witch' itself, for instance, is about taking back freedom, and rejecting society's attempts to subjugate your animal self; 'My Gruesome Loving Friend' is the idea of living fearlessly, and the power but also vulnerability which comes with that; 'Barefoot' maintains a strength and steely self-belief even in the bleakest of conditions. For Pumarosa it's a narrative that is as urgent today as it is an age-old struggle: "'The Witch' is the song around which everything revolves. She is the female effigy meant as a warning to women, but taken as a symbol of resilience and power. She's branded as negative, sent underground and burnt at the stake a thousand times. But she's still here, and we love her."

As the record came together, then, the idea of the witch began to adopt a wider significance.

'Honey' talks of the world goaded by the destabilizing influence of heavy-handed government and big business; at its musical climax, this is swallowed up in ever-frenetic layers of synth and guitar. The brutal but beautiful 'Lion's Den' is a torch-song tackling predatory powers, and "the idea that life is unfair because it has been made so. You and your destiny are being controlled." Whilst the band's lyrics are political in an ahistorical sense - "the world has not suddenly become right wing, and women have not only just begun to be repressed" - they do often come back to the body (and the power of dance) as a means of protest: 'Snake' evokes a liberated, psychedelic wildness, 'Dragonfly' is about the shedding of emotional armour, whilst the frenzied second half of 'Red' rallies around the cry - "let it be here... let it be now" - charged with the possibility of change.

Produced by Dan Carey (Kate Tempest, Toy, Sex Witch), recording 'The Witch' was a "revelatory" experience for Pumarosa.
"None of us had gone through the process of making an album before", says Jamie, "but he guided us through it, continually making it fun and experimental. Dan produces records in a very fluent way; tracking as much as possible simultaneously and often favouring the takes that weren't flawless, but contain that mysterious ingredient that makes it 'the one'". "Time stands still in that small room in Streatham", says Isabel. "You suddenly realise you've been in there for 9 hours, haven't eaten or drunk anything and this is how it is going to be for the next week. It's my favourite place in the world!"

Pumarosa have also been busy creating a strong visual aesthetic alongside the music. All the band's artwork is painted by Isabel, giving each single - and now, 'The Witch' - a unified visual impact. "Making the album artwork was both a dream and one of the hardest things I've had to do! I made loads of work, searching for the right image. It was a journey into the visual but via the music...it made me listen to the whole album in a new way, whereas before I had been inside. I had to look at it afresh." Where possible the band tries to work within a tight creative circle of friends and artists, collaborating with Holly Hunter on the videos for both 'Priestess' and 'Dragonfly'. In the video for 'Priestess', Isabel's sister Fernanda - a dancer and choreographer - takes centre-stage. 'Cecile's accompanying video works with the idea of VR creating images as if seen through a headset. The band's live shows, too, demonstrate a keen sense of curation and collaboration: at the ICA, Pumarosa's performance was preceded by a dance piece choreographed by Fernanda, with music written by Nicholas and featured improvisations from Tomoya and Jamie.

On 'The Witch', Pumarosa deliver a collection of songs which channel the undercurrents of the present day: collectivism, frustration, euphoria, feminism, politics, aggression, and love. Few new acts combine art, thought, sound and visuals quite like this, though for Pumarosa everything goes hand-in-hand. "Performing and partying is one of the ways of ridding ourselves of domination. It helps us engage with our anarchic tendencies and remember the essential need for openness and kindness. And it's a really important way of saying 'fuck you', we will stay in touch with each other, and ourselves."

Pumarosa

Pumarosa

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22 Jun 17Glastonbury Festival (Williams Green)Pilton, UK
26 Jun 17Les Theatres Romains de FourviereLyon, FRANCE
06 Jul 17BlissfieldsWinchester, UK
20 Jul 17Secret Garden PartyHuntingdon, UK
17 Aug 17Green Man FestivalBrecon Beacons, UK
18 Aug 17Green Man FestivalBrecon Beacons, UK
23 Aug 17Openair FestivalZurich, SWITZERLAND
26 Aug 17Reading FestivalReading, UK
27 Aug 17Leeds FestivalLeeds, UK
24 Nov 17Workman's ClubDublin, IRELAND
26 Nov 17PatternsBrighton, UK
27 Nov 17The BullingdonOxford, UK
28 Nov 17Brudenell Social ClubLeeds, UK
30 Nov 17The ClunyNewcastle, UK
01 Dec 17GorillaManchester, UK
02 Dec 17King Tuts Wah Wah HutGlasgow, UK
04 Dec 17Hare & HoundsBirmingham, UK
05 Dec 17TheklaBristol, UK
06 Dec 17Electric BrixtonLondon, UK