Pops Roberts (Lovescene) and Fox discuss life’s cinematic allure and Manchester’s clubbing scene
The leader of Manchester’s newest and most notable neo-soul group, Lovescene, and key member of the city’s Swing Ting and LEVELZ collectives go way back.
Before Poppy Roberts’ name – often replaced by the suitably effervescent moniker ‘Pops’ – became most closely associated with her newly-christened six-man band, Lovescene, she did a stint as Swing Ting’s in-house singer.
It was this infamous Manchester institution to which Fox would make a return as host, singer and rapper after a ten-year hiatus during which he used his expertise to help cultivate the next generation of Manchester’s budding MC’s.
Since the collective’s inception in 2009, it has earned legendary status amongst the city’s underground circles with crew members Murlo, Platt, Joey B and Balraj Samrai (to name a few) being credited with the mass diversification of Manchester’s club scene due to their unique blend of dancehall, afro bashment, UK funky and experimentalism.
Fast-forward to February 2022 and Fox’s latest release ‘Juice Flow Remixed’ has concluded the Swing Ting label’s 8-year run, and Pops is making her debut breakfast show appearance on NTS, invited by Ruf Dug with whom Lovescene collaborated on the Virgil-Abloh-approved house single ‘Make This Right’.
Fast-foward again, this time to March, and Lovescene have just released their debut album. The self-titled 9-track LP is a blissed-out journey through R&B, neo-soul and jazz and is now available to listen on all streaming platforms.
Both leading figures in its cultivation, this conversation sees the two artists discuss the past and present of Manchester’s multifarious underground scene, as well as their shared passion for cinema and the impact it has on their music (Lovescene’s name was born out of Pops’ use of Ableton to chop up romantic film soundtracks). Soo.. join us and we join them in a trip down memory lane and into the minds of two of Manchester’s renowned visionaries.
POPS: So cinema, like a big thing to me and I realize gradually, obviously we’ve been friends for a long time,in spite of our efforts to fall out… but I’ve realised that you watch a lot of films as well and we don’t talk about it much!
FOX: Yes, absolutely love films! it helps me, my introverted nature is always leaning towards enjoying films and disappearing into some cave of creativity for a while.
POPS: So do you also write after you watch films? That’s sick… It’s one of my favourite ways of getting lyrics together.
FOX: Sometimes I do. If I know I’ve got writing to do, sometimes I’ll watch something that’s a bit more inspirational, like a biopic or something of somebody I admire and what they’ve gone through: it puts me in a good mindset.
POPS: So what you’re saying is you’re not gonna put out that Blair Witch Project album?
FOX: No, that’s just from my personal enjoyment, haha.
‘My introverted nature is always leaning towards enjoying films and disappearing into some cave of creativity for a while.’
POPS: I’ve been thinking a lot and I think during making the Lovescene album as well and scenes that kind of like were influential either sample-wise or narratively in it. Many were from my formative years. I think it’s where you really fall in love with, with cinema while you learn how to fall in love in life perhaps..
FOX: Well, interestingly, it’s only the other day when, I asked you about one of the love scene promo pictures that I realised what love scene really meant, that I understood how deeply you are passionate about films.
POPS: Yeah, Tina Carlyle from The Mask is the band’s unofficial mascot I guess…
Our first gig was at Manchester International Festival and someone asked what our vibe was performance-wise just before we went on stage…so I just said “imagine Tina Carlyle is walking into the bank out of the rain” and everyone in that green room knew exactly what I meant straight away. Such an iconic moment in 90s cinema.
POPS: What’s the most influential film of your childhood?
FOX: I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica eons ago and it was mainly terrestrial TV, and we were fed a steady diet of martial arts films, war films, and westerns init. Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon is probably one of the first films that I can really remember having an impact on me.
Later on in life, watching him (Bruce Lee) in interviews I realized he transcends just being in movies. A star who had a strong connection to his life force. So maybe that’s what I connected with.
FOX: What was the most influential film for you when growing up?
POPS: I was obsessed with Ghostbusters.
I used to get hand-me-down merchandise from the neighbours’ older kids. But I remember that I used to get my mom’s vacuum because it looked a bit like the Ghostbuster packs and so my long-suffering mother had to watch as this tiny child struggled around trying to tie this heavy hoover onto my back using like rope or whatever I’d found and just leaping around with it accusing her furniture of being a ghost.
FOX: Yeah. My dad was an electrical engineer, and he basically had loads of equipment around -sometimes I put bits of pipe together and made a little blaster or something. I always loved sci-fi, Star Wars was another big film for me.
POPS: The simpler the props in a film are, the more iconic it can become to more people from every background – If you think about the actual concept of a light-saber as cool as it is….it’s also kind of beautiful because, it didn’t require anything – it’s literally just a sound and the way you hold your hands.
FOX: Yo for real, never really thought about that, you know, but yes, the sounds of Star Wars is, is very sort of crucial to it being a cult film. You know what I mean? Sounds like the TIE-fighter, everything about it was super cool, man. I suppose that’s for me, one of the things about films, you know, you think about soundtracks.
FOX: What sort of role do you think music plays in telling us a story and is there a film where you have a favorite soundtrack from?
POPS: The Fifth Element – I was obsessed with it…that and a love of Bond soundtracks because I think on reflection, I was quite hungry for the little snippets of music from around the world films they had.
My family had South American tapes and some Middle Eastern music here and there, but I think that The Fifth Element was the first time I’d heard somebody mix Algerian music with Western music and how powerful that is now, knowing he was really representing France, and everyone who lives there.
Also I loved opera because I grew up with a powerful family Opera cassette collection- my great-grandfather was an opera singer. So to have that blue Diva scene in there is still such an unusual blend of different music.
FOX: It was beautiful though, I distinctly remember that bit where she was singing in it and I was like, mm-hmm yh, that is absolutely beautiful.
POPS: Same with the bond films as well: I’m sure it’s a lot of people’s only exposure to international sounds – there’s the same Bond motifs, but whenever Bond travels to a new country,there’s the shot of his car, like ripping across the coastline of Baku or something, and then you’ve got Natacha Atlas singing a Bond theme, it’s kinda amazing.
POPS: I was so, um, easily led by cinema, I guess. But I think that’s the point
Film and TV to some degree teaches us how to desire and what desire looks like, what flirting looks like, what unrequited love looks like, you know? I always think of these little tropes that they always have in films.
You know, like when somebody’s in an unhappy relationship or they’re hiding something and like they’ll, they’ll fall asleep next to their partner. And then there’s that classic moment where their eyes will open after their partner thinks they’re asleep. Like just little things like that. It’s just like countless signifiers to us as the audience.
FOX: Yeah, I dunno. So I definitely get you on that and that sort of taps into something else I wanted to ask about because obviously film ISN’T just a reflection of life, it shapes us in it.
I definitely feel sometimes i took some real bad ideas out of films. You speak about unrequited love, and you know, the old school sort of mantra is “if at first you don’t succeed…”
Persistence. And often that’s just stalker behaviour! Ha! You wanna say …”it didn’t work, bro. Move on. Grand romantic gestures aren’t really gonna get you someone to really like you if they don’t already like you.”
And so, I think film sort of has a lot of potential to shape us and a lot to answer for, in that sense.
FOX: In the rankings of human inventions. Where would you put cinema?
You know, you’ve got nuclear weapons, you got farming, medicine, the wheel, jerk chicken, you got all these. So where on the list is it?
POPS: Well after all those examples it’s obviously gonna be well down the list… I suppose it’s hard to answer that because it lives in its own world under the umbrella of culture.
It’s the reason that I know about a lot of other cultures. It has made me want to go certain places or meet certain people or think a certain way. I think it’s up there because obviously cinema combines a lot of things – music, visuals, sound design, cultural signifiers and now you can more and more with technological.
POPS: But I do think that overused CGI is probably ruining quite a lot, especially children’s films.
FOX: I do agree with that
POPS: I watched The Witches again the other day and nothing, NOTHING hits like old school, badly done prosthetics.
FOX: Right! I just watched the original Jason and The Argonauts again a couple months ago and I actually think you are right. Maybe u can only relate it to if you’ve ever been poor, as we have been poor…but it’s like when you go to the cupboard and there’s absolutely fuck all in the cupboard, just a couple bits..and that’s when I make the sickest scran, that’s when I make the best food! But when I’m flush and there’s loads of stuff in the cupboard I can often just make a really average meal because I’ve got so much choice, right? CGI in the cupboard offers a lot of choice, It’s a very potent tool but it’s a tool to be used sparingly or else it just fucks up the greatness of the meal.
I think for me, cinema and TV is high on the list of human inventions. It’s ability to sow ideas and shape minds is powerful. If we consider it through the prism of “perception is greater than truth” it’s easy to see that the potential to shape perception is indeed a great power that goes beyond just entertainment. I love it on the entertainment level cos it’s storytelling and I’ve always loved a good story. I’ll always love a good book over cinema though cos with a book, I get to do in my mind what a director does I.e I set the scene. If I read a book and it says, “so it was a cold night and the mist was swirling around his skinny feet.”
I get to picture that whole scene in my head, in it, what the swirling must looks like, how skinny the feet are, I can even change the look of a character, which I often do. Do you know what I mean?
POPS: It must be amazing for you as well to have that precious moment to pretend to yourself that you have skinny feet.
Who would play you in the biopic of your life and is it Scarlett Johansson?
FOX: I don’t even think there’s an actor with such a range of depth to be honest with you, and emotion and skill to really, you know, get the nuance of who I am onto the screen. Haha But even though he’s now deceased, Chadwick Boseman would have been my choice. He’s already played my life story as Black Panther, basically.
Who would play you?
POPS: I dunno. Someone who can channel the feeling of being both powerfully, sexually alluring, but also incredibly off-putting at the same time and that’s quite hard to capture.
FOX: So basically just a jar of Marmite on the screen.
POPS: That would be absolutely perfect. Bitter and usually spread too thin.
POPS: If Manchester’s clubbing scene was a film, what would be the title?
FOX: The Beautiful Chaos. Yeah. Okay. I think I like that. Or a Beautiful Madness, something like that. It’s that mix of like, it’s really good, really bad and really messy – but you know, amongst everything is the beauty of everyone coming together in it and gets some really good nights out of it.
POPS: Remember those surfing films, Endless Summer? Yeah, I think mine would be like, Relentless Vibe. It just never stops here. I think we’ve seen a really beautiful era of it as well. Because, I feel like with anything…anything cultural or “of the people”, as soon as it becomes aware of itself, it can sometimes lose its charm.
And I think that’s always kept me here because one of the things I fell in love with about the city and its music scene was that people didn’t take things as seriously: things are always done with humour and casualness, but if there are serious moments, they can also happen freely.. I hope it keeps that because you start to see more and more nights where the promoters care more about a niche line-ups to impress, than how the punters are feeling on the dancefloor!
FOX: I think I agree with you, but then, you know, part of that is the evolution of the world itself. Yes. There’s less or no room for any sort of nuance or sort of chill.
But then again, so many people(and developers) have started recognising Manchester popping off more, in it.
POPS: Of all the nights that you’ve played, what was your favourite vibe? Was there one night where it was just like, “oh, why can’t every night be like this”?
FOX: You know what, yes this is bloody odd to me because obviously I do a lot of different things for the exact reason that I get bored quite easily and everything offers me a different aspect, a different vibe.
I’m quite open to a lot of things. I think when I just came to Manchester, I used to move with a sound system called Megatone and we had some sick dances.
I don’t wanna go back to the nineties. I don’t wanna go back to gun Chester days, but, I freely admit I enjoyed some of that feeling where it was semi like you were living in the wild west, anything could happen. And I grew up with that in Kingston.
Any dance you went to in Kingston, Literally, you was always enjoying yourself. But it wasn’t really like fully 100% relaxed cuz you know, anything could pop at any time…and I suppose that sort of sense of danger probably adds to something in it, but I could definitely live without it.
POPS: Do you know what I mean? What’s your favourite night? I don’t know. I mean, I used to love things like Ballin’ On A Budget. That was really fun just because it was so light-hearted and we were just seeing everyone. I think that was the first time that I felt like a sense of family here.
I used to really enjoy Hot Milk as well. I loved most nights at the Roadhouse – I’m not sure they’ll ever get the praise they deserved for the atmosphere there. I dunno how that place did it, but it was just magic.
FOX: So basically you are literally just saying every night I’ve been involved in yeah?
POPS: A hundred percent.
‘Things are always done with humour and casualness, but if there are serious moments, they can also happen freely’.
POPS: If you could have written the soundtrack for any film, what would it be?
FOX: That’s a hard one. It would have to be a film that I think me doing the soundtrack would make it better, or that I really love, like say Star Wars. Yeah. Imagine, just rip the soundtrack off it and then just make it a reggae soundtrack.
You know reggae in space, mate, about time we had that…you know what I mean?
See the TIE Fighter move differently when a likkle bashment music drops!
Luke, listening to some Dennis Brown, and all of a sudden he can do all sorts of mad Jedi shit
POPS: Jah-bar the Hut! That’d be sick.
FOX: What film would you do the soundtrack for?
POPS: I wrote my first soundtrack last year you know! It was such a wicked experience but the time-coding did send me a bit West…It was hard to talk to for a few days…
I would definitely love to write for sci-fi, just for the different ways you can play with sound FX. But obviously teenage me still wants to write a Bond theme or – even better – the end-credit Bond tune !. KD Lang did the one at the end of Tomorrow Never Dies, called Surrender and it’s a banger. Sorry Sheryl Crow but better than the opening titles. I just don’t get the chance to write sexual gun innuendos enough and I think that’s a life goal now.
Listen to Lovescene’s debut album below.