If you ever find contemporary folk a tad, shall we say, safe – then the Lunatraktors might just be the duo to reassert that missing bite.
The duo is Carli Jefferson and Clair Le Couteur and their debut album This Is Broken Folk is out now. We have a video exclusive of the track The Catalpa below…
They are stripping Trad Brit, Irish and Australian ballads back to their bones. That they do it just with vocals and percussion makes it all the more riveting. Mind you, their vocals are pretty special, nonbinary singer Le Couteur has an incredible four octave range. So they sound like there is far more than just a duo going on in there. We’re sure that you’ll agree that they really have to be seen to get the full flamboyant grandeur of their performance!
This is the press release that accompanied the album, we’ll have an interview with them very soon.
Percussionist, tap-dancer, choreographer and performance artist Carli Jefferson toured internationally with STOMP, the renowned physical theatre group, before making a name in the Czech Republic with her choreography for stage and screen. Jefferson met nonbinary singer and researcher Clair Le Couteur in Prague, providing percussion for New Myths, Le Couteur’s solo record. A conversation about what post-apocalyptic folk music might look like led the pair to form Lunatraktors in 2017.
Using only vocals and acoustic percussion, the pair strip traditional British, Irish and Australian songs down to the bare bones. They have been described by French critic François Gorin of Telerama as a ‘clap of thunder over the lukewarm waters of contemporary folk’. Lunatraktors rediscover well-worn ballads as radical, raw takes on Brexit Britain. By turns furious, comic and haunting, Le Couteur’s four octave range shape-shifts between characters, while Jefferson’s alternately frenetic and subtle arrangements for tuned percussion weave together influences from trip-hop, drum’n’bass, jazz and flamenco.
This Is Broken Folk, began as an effort to document live performances that have taken the pair everywhere from The Tom Thumb Theatre in their hometown of Margate, to pubs and folk clubs to queer cabarets, art galleries, the V&A Museum and the Aldeburgh festival. Jefferson and Le Couteur were approached by fairy godfather, Steve Webbon, who offered to fund a studio experiment. Hidden in the brick viaduct arches under Ramsgate’s Royal Parade, Arco Barco was chosen for its natural reverb. The recordings were made live and in-the-round, using a maximum of three takes and no overdubs to capture the duo’s intensity on stage.
Sounds of boats, gulls and the sea recorded through the studio doors made it onto one of the tracks – Jim Jones – which opens with Le Couteur’s eerie overtone-singing, before shifting gears into a punk-infused call-to-arms. Jefferson’s signature body drumming and tap dance style are showcased on Irish-Australian ballads The Catalpa and Jack Donahue. Lunatraktors’ original, Turn of the Plough, was composed to mark the centenary of the Armistice and relies solely on vocal harmonies, hand claps and sparse clog-work to lament history repeating itself. For the final track, this minimalism diffuses into a looping, psychedelic landscape of low whistle and chimes to tell the tale of Australian bushranger Ben Hall.
Seven ballads from Britain’s troubled colonial past, found by Jefferson and Le Couteur in their search for familial roots, make up the main body of the album: “We wanted to connect with something that makes sense of the places our families come from, to take up those stories and that music and make it ours.” However, they open the album with their translation of a Cossack folk song, Black Raven. With only the pulse of a military drum beneath Le Couteur’s dark vocal, Black Raven sets the tone for the whole album – intense roots music beyond national or stylistic borders.