LIMF Academy Reveal Class of 2020
Micayl, Antonia and Michael Aldag lead this year’s alumni.
Since its creation in tandem with the Liverpool International Music Festival in 2013, the award-winning LIMF Academy has seen around 5,000 burgeoning artists attend workshops and seminars, as well as perform at a variety of events. The dozens of artists who have made in onto the programme have gone on to work with pre-eminent producers and open for worldwide superstars – providing a balance with opportunities for young artists outside of London.
For 2020, the LIMF Academy has furthered their mission, growing the annual alumnus from six to ten artists, and offering more guidance, life coaching and collaboration than ever before.
This feels particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many artists are rapidly losing their outlets and even incomes due to venue closures and an increasing lack of opportunities. We are mindful that such setbacks to a young artist who is just beginning their journey can have a negative effect on their confidence, and perhaps even prevent them from progressing with their work.
Therefore, with many in the arts struggling, it was vital for the LIMF Academy to expand our horizons and be there for our artists when they truly needed us, even if the Liverpool International Music Festival itself was unable to take place.
This year’s alumni include the three Most Ready artists – Michael Aldag, Antonia and Micayl – along with Amba, Amber Jay, Jasmine Johnson, Josefina Amon, Lazy Girl, Spilt Milk Society and Ty Lewis.
We met with the three Most Ready artists over the summer for a closer look.
Instantly recognisable with his shock of red hair, Michael Aldag is a 19 year old singer-songwriter who meshes an unpretentiously wry look at the world around him with a pop sensibility.
At his core, Aldag is a classic singer-songwriter; the song and emotion within it is of the utmost importance. However, underneath this there are contemporary beats as well as an accessible 80s synthpop vibe that adds fresh dimensions to a familiar sound.
“My earliest musical memory is The Killers,” he admits. “They’re definitely my biggest influence. They were built for arenas and stadiums. There has to be a place for massive arena pop-rock. It’s a huge communal moment where everybody is connected. Not everything can be that, but it’s important.”
Aldag was born and raised on the Wirral, where he found some contention with the mimicry of the culture. According to him; “You get to about Year Nine and everybody starts wearing combat pants and duffel coats. People who have never crossed the River Mersey into Liverpool develop the strongest scouse accent. It goes one of two ways; either you’re true to yourself or you’re just going to bend with the trends. That whole period impacted me a lot.”
He began writing and producing his own music as a teenager, drawing on his indie rock influences and taking them in novel directions. Yet for Aldag, songwriting itself is an involuntary act, and he allows the music and the lyrics to pour out of him.
It is clear from both listening to his work and engaging him in conversation that Aldag is deeply intelligent and possesses a naturally inquisitive mind, as well as a knowingness that keeps him grounded. He is self-aware of his upbringing in one of the more affluent regions in the North West, which he discusses in his work with self-deprecation.
This skill of perception is potent in his work, where he showcases a striking ability to articulate the world around him with equal amounts of heart and humour.
The latter is key to his lyricism. It keeps his observations grounded in an affable reality, one that is a hugely relatable part of the wider human condition.
It is a crucial aspect to his artistry, and he always gets it across. “There are so many songs that have stock lyrics with the same storyline,” he explains. “I do talk about heartbreak, but there is more to life than heartbreak, and there is more to heartbreak than that one perspective. And people can relate to it, which is the most important thing.”
He is acutely aware of the power that music has to bring people together – those shared experiences of joy and sorrow, and strives to write music that bridges the gap between songs that people love to hear and those that have deeper reason to exist. He does it with ease, and it’s a talent for which is thankful.
“I haven’t had to spend time dealing with petty things,” he says. “I can put it in material. But a lot of people it’s what their lives are. I’m grateful to put time and effort into music. ”
Before she has even released a note of music, Antonia has already made a name for herself as a rapidly developing artist.
Born in Nottingham, Antonia moved to Merseyside to enrol in the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, where she found artists more willing to experiment. “The scene in Nottingham was very based on singer-songwriters,” she says. “So I would perform with just myself and a guitar, which was quite confining. Coming to Liverpool and collaborating with other musicians from different backgrounds has helped me to express myself. People are pushing more boundaries here.”
She started classical singing lessons in school, and developed a love of jazz by the time she reached 16. But her musical obsessions began with the big hairbrush anthems of the day. “Me and my sister used to listen to Lily Allen, Avril Lavigne, Florence + The Machine” she laughs. “Real pop princesses. Then I remember one day asking my parents why they never played us their music. They said they just assumed we wouldn’t like it, but that’s how I discovered ABBA, Fleetwood Mac and The Stranglers”.
Though this seems like a disparate series of influences, they all share one common characteristic; the song is paramount. Whether that comes from the wry humour of Lily Allen, the pop perfection of ABBA or the misanthropic punk of The Stranglers, at their core each of these influences are songwriters who speak to a deeper truth.
The jazz influence came later. Spurred by her grandfather and singing teacher, she delved deeper into jazz and blues, allowing the flair of artists such as Louis Armstrong, Etta James and Aretha Franklin to connect with her own developing vocal style.
For Antonia, it was the freedom of expression that jazz helped to instil in her. “You go to see a performance of a jazz piece, and it’s completely different from what was recorded. It has the same feel and the same emotions are coming across, but it sounds nothing like the original recording.”
Used to recording bare bones demos, when Antonia began playing live with her band in December 2019, she found they took her music in new directions that she hadn’t previously considered. “It helped me see both what I like about my songs, and what I don’t like,” she admits.
These collaborations informed her subsequent songwriting and helped her to grow artistically; she now knew the sound she was writing for. “Empty Conversations is the most recent song I have written, and it’s the first time I have been set on how I want it so sound. I want it to sound very chill, and to focus on lyrics.”
“When you’re writing on your own, you can hear it back and really hate it. But when you’re writing with somebody else and it’s just two people vibing and bouncing ideas off each other, then you know what’s good.”
In a sense, the naturally humble Antonia readily admits that she is still on a journey of discovery with her own music. But it is one that continues to offer up fresh, exciting avenues.
Hailing from Germany, Micayl refers to his music as “avant garde R&B”, an evocative blend of laid back lo-fi, jazz and the soulful side of hip hop that presents a level of sophistication that goes far beyond his years.
Music was always at the epicenter of in Micayl’s life, with his parents playing records by the likes of Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder on rotation, and Jamiroquai’s Emergency on Planet Earth became an important early influence. He began his musical training at the age of 3, learning drums and piano, and joined his first bands from 12. Following this, he discovered folk music, picked up a guitar and began performing solo.
The music around him naturally seeped in to his developing skills as a musician, particularly jazz.
“My dad is into Keith Jarrett,” he explains. “His stuff is on the verge of free jazz – no borders, no rules. Jazz is exploring sounds with anything you can find. As much as my jazz influences have inspired me as a musician, my folk phase taught me how to structure a song.”
Living in Kisslegg – a small village in the south of Germany with a population of less than 10,000 – there wasn’t much of a music scene for Micayl to learn his craft. Having always felt an affinity for the UK, in 2017 he enrolled in the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.
“When I moved to Liverpool, it introduced me to this live scene that I had never experienced,” he says. “It made me more aware of live performance; stage presence, consistency in your set, making it interesting for your audience. It’s such a diverse city, culturally. Liverpool has opened a lot of doors for me.”
Given the artistic bond between jazz and poetry, it shouldn’t be surprising that Micayl’s approach to lyricism is heavily influenced by verse, most notable in his 18 minute collaborative piece O Me! O Life!, which was inspired by the work of Walt Whitman.
“I’ve always been into poetry. There is poetry that is clear, and there is poetry that can be interpreted in different ways. I think that’s what inspired me. Through songwriting, I became able to express thoughts and emotions that I wasn’t able to express in conversation. And that is still how it is for me. I find it easier to write lyrics when they’re coming from a difficult, struggling place. They flow onto the paper more authentically.”
O Me! O Life! was intended to give other artists the space to express themselves, and collaboration is vital to Micayl’s musicality. He has been involved in a number of large collaborative projects, including the Pan-European Music Projects Association, which aims to bring together artists and sounds from across the continent with bases in Liverpool, Barcelona and Berlin.
But now Micayl is focused on his own developing artistry; “I’ve done a lot recently that hasn’t been about my own body of work, and it has been exciting to collaborate with other people and learn from them. But now I’m in a place where I need to explore my own sound further. That’s what I’m focused on now.”