Of all the places to discover new music, I never thought I'd cite local rag The Sheffield Star. But lo-and-behold picking up an issue for the first time ever (I needed the jobs section) I came across a full page feature on 'Sheffield Uke City'. Yes according to the Star, the sound of Sheffield is no longer that of Human League's pioneering urban electronica or chip shop indie rock, but rather folks with a ukuleles and a sense of humour.
Well, if it's good enough for MJ Hibbett it's good enough for Keep Pop Loud. And it turns out that a key name in ukulele playing in Sheffield is a young student called Katie Pham, whose youtube covers (as the Star emphasises) have gained her fans internationally. But newspapers will be prone to exaggeration and music going global instantly is nothing new. What is however new is that Katie's covers eschew, for the most part, obvious pop covers and showcase what seems like pretty decent taste.
Rather than just playing the songs on the little four string, Katie's gone to lengths to record not only percussion and multiple instruments for the tracks that she covers but also several vocal parts in attempt to capture the spark of the original. As you can see above from her Two Door Cinema Club cover it results in a individual ukulele-led indiepop sound that's not afraid to improvise when it comes to referencing that which it mimics. Checking out the other tracks that are present on Katie's youtube channel it's easy to see how she's evolving her sound, reaching this from the very basic voice and instrument tracks. (Check out Cure cover 'Just Like Heaven' for an example of one of her earliest attempts.)
But Youtube is awash with people with ukulele's and the like doing covers (not sure there's many versions of Darwin Deez 'Radar Detector' though). What makes Katie different? Well, not only has she, like I said, got her own sound that she's clearly committed to evolving by investing in new equipment (such as mics and drum machines) but she's actually branching out and has tentatively uploaded a couple of her own songs.
Now, as Sheffield has varied a folk/acoustic scene that has been bubbling under the surface for quiet a few years (with Nat Johnson/Monkey Swallows the Universe being the most famous names) it's not unreasonable to expect to see Katie Pham breaking out of her bedroom and into the gig scene in the very near future. And I agree with comedy covers band The Everly Pregnant Brothers when they say,“You can't be serious on a uke – if you try you're a tosser, frankly,”. Which is why I'm a fan of Katie Pham. In her case the naïve sound of the ukulele perfectly matches her indiepop asthetic and when combined with her endearing talent provides a great base for a music career that we're sure will cross paths with Keep Pop Loud at some point.
And on that note I'll leave you with Katie's best recording yet: a cover of Arcitc Monkeys latest single 'The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala'. Which also acts as a reminder that Suck It And See is a frankly terrific album.
Keep Pop Loud