It’s no easy feat to sell out the Barbican, especially without having released an album, but that’s exactly what Speakers Corner Quartet did in 2021.
As a band, they may be relatively unknown, but as individuals – and as part of a larger South London collective – the tendrils of their influence are far-reaching. Made up of Raven Bush, Peter Bennie, Kwake Bass and Biscuit, the band have been playing together under various guises since 2006. They have arguably been the bedrock of the South London musical community these past 15 years with their frequent collaborators running like a who’s who of South London talent: Sampha, Coby Sey, Tirzah, Kelsey Lu, Leá Sen, Joe Armon-Jones, Kae Tempest, James Massiah, Mica Levi and Shabaka Hutchings. These are the same names that came on stage alongside the band at the Barbican to rapturous applause. They are also the same individuals who feature on Further Out Than The Edge, the debut album by Speakers Corner Quartet.
Across 13 tracks, the band paint a canvas with a multitude of hues, never allowing themselves to be boxed into a single genre or sound. Throughout, the band holds space for each of its guests to flourish. Much like their live performance, people float in and out seamlessly, adding new colours to the palette. The instrumentation and production throughout the album are floor-raising, capable of making each of the individual guests’ talents shine even brighter.
On the opener ‘On Grounds’, Coby Sey’s vocals nestle so deeply into the groove, it’s as if he’s being sucked into a riptide. Over a smouldering plucked double bass and gentle strings, Tirzah’s voice flows like smoke, shimmering softly on ‘Fix’. Leá Sen’s vocals on ‘Dreaded!’ are hushed and anxious, like a prayer. Sampha’s shimmering falsetto floats delicately on ‘Can We Do This’ while LEILAH lets her vocal range climb ‘Soapbox Soliloquy’ as if it were an obstacle course, her voice soaring above the production one moment before becoming skittish to reflect the drum rolls. Throughout the album, there is a pronounced melancholy that is as grandiose as it is intimate.
Further Out Than The Edge is the first release on Out There In Here (OTIH) records, a new label set up by Raj Chaudhuri and Kwake Bass; it’s a fitting note for a band who have taken unconventional turns at every opportunity to get here today. The quartet’s names are scattered throughout seminal London releases, providing uncredited instrumentation at times on projects. Kwake was MF Doom’s drummer and a musical director for Sampha and Kae Tempest. Numerous artists point to Biscuit as the one who taught them how to DJ or produce, while he also holds his own on the flute. Double bassist Peter Bennie’s influence looms large while Raven Bush has played in a multitude of bands.
The band itself was formed in 2006 when Biscuit and Kwake met at the Speakers Corner jam night in Brixton. “There was a call to loads of musicians,” Biscuit explains. “Loads of people turned out. What remained at the end of the jam was a cello, flute, double bass, and drums. And that was the kind of lineup.” Speakers Corner Quartet went on to release an EP in 2009, Further Back Than The Beginning; where most bands would follow it up with several releases, this group just kept rehearsing and rehearsing, while also playing to live audiences, refining their craft while helping elevate others. Members have come and gone but this iteration of the band has existed since 2011.
“The trajectory wasn’t to release music,” Kwake says. “We wanted to give people an experience that you could only have in the room.” Bush echoes him, stating, “There’s never been a rush as we’re just happy being in a room together. Playing instruments is just an extension of that and I think that’s what the community is all about, it’s just another part of the conversation.”
Throughout Further Out Than The Edge, there are harmonising vocals with the quartet playing double-dutch with the instrumentation; guests hopping in and out with ease as the band changes the direction of the ropes. It’s reflective of the larger South London community, an effortless melting pot of sound and personalities coming together to share a commitment to creativity. Over the years, the frustration the band felt at being unable to finish this project was outweighed by the love they felt for the wider community. Helping their peers and friends whose projects they strengthened grounded them as much as it inspired them. “It’s more about humbling the ego and being patient,” Bennie says.
Watching generational talents come into their own is inherently watchable, and it’s ever-present on Further Out Than The Edge. Take the standout track ‘Geronimo Blues’. Recorded in 2017, both its production as well as the viscerally vicious words spoken by South London poet Kae Tempest reflecting the frustrations of a society focused heavily on capital gains, feel timeless. “We live in the thralls of a gaggle of demons / With horsey demeanour and outdated opinions / And they sit on their lawns with their thousand-pound picnics / Fresh from a hard day of speaking in tongues and murdering children / Cutting the funds to education and healthcare / They sentence our young to a lifetime of debt,” Tempest says over grand reflective strings and a pensively plucked double bass.
After spending a decade working on others’ music, whether Tirzah or Doom, Kae Tempest or Sampha, the Quartet found that the pandemic allowed them to fully focus on their material. Working entirely remotely, they practised and recorded via the internet, building software and hardware to get the right sound for their album. It also allowed them to experiment with ideas: robots playing instruments, something they debuted surreptitiously at the Barbican show and hope to unveil properly in the future.
By the end of the album, hope shoots through. Lafawndah and Trustfall bring atmospheric vocals over upbeat production on ‘Behind The Sun’. There is a toe-tapping pace to ‘Shabz Needs Sun’ with Shabaka Hutchings’ melodic shakuhachi flute playfully carrying the song while ‘Karainagar’, an ode to Biscuit’s family heritage and dedicated to his recently deceased mother, sees Mica Levi featuring on the album’s closer and most solemn track.
A culture addicted to corporatised saccharine pop-infused chart-topping hits is fundamentally a broken one. Without overtly attempting to, Speakers Corner Quartet has created a project that feels like the antithesis of that: prioritising purpose over spectacle, intention over the industry, all the while speaking their truth about the malaise and decay of a city they love. Further Out Than The Edge, a title coined by Tempest, is tightly melodic and luxuriously layered; instantly memorable without needing to be cheaply infectious, as it’s so gratifyingly hard to categorise. Like a tidal wave building, Speakers Corner Quartet have been biding their time. Now, it feels like the moment for their talents to be finally public, to be realised. The wave crashes and Further Out Than The Edge marks the beginning of a new phase of their journey, a new circle whose dawn comes from the natural end of another.
Please support Loud And Quiet if you can
If you’re a fan of what we do, please consider subscribing to L&Q to help fund our support of new musicians and independent labels
You can make a big difference for a few pounds per month, and in return we’ll send you our magazines, exclusive flexi discs, and other subscriber bonus bits and pieces
Try for a month and cancel anytime