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Dr James Millea

An Irishman, music runs through the veins of Dr James Millea, lecturer in music production. That’s where the cliches end, though.

His doctoral thesis explored the relationship between hip hop music and the narrative film soundscape in independent black American cinema of the 1990s. His current research exists at the intersections of popular music and audiovisual media, looking at the relationship between popular music and video game soundtracks. He’s published on both sides of the Atlantic, but he also walks the walk, as a performer and band leader.

Mark Ronson
“As a teenager, interested in studying music at university and possibly going on to have a career somewhere in the field, I found myself with a bit of a problem. I was interested in popular music but was primarily a trumpet player. It felt as if the two did not totally match. There was a smattering of trumpets in pop but very little contemporary artists or performers really seemed to have any space for brass generally. Mark Ronson’s sophomore album, Version (2007), changed this for me. While the record’s biggest hit was a catchy re-working of “Valerie”, a song originally by Liverpool natives The Zutons, the album featured Ronson’s funky, brass-filled takes on songs by artists including The Smiths, Coldplay, Kaiser Chiefs, Britney Spears, and Radiohead. His arrangements, built on the frameworks of soul and Motown and featuring some of the finest session players in North America, outlined where I could fit in modern popular music. Although Mark Ronson had been coming off the back of his success with Amy Winehouse and Back to Black (2006), and he has since gone on to work with some of the biggest names in the industry, his second album was and continues to be a bit of a musical bible for me. In fact, Version is a regular centrepiece in my module, Arranging Popular Music.”

“A Tribe Called Quest was a rap group from Queens, New York, founded in 1985. As both a producer and rapper, Q-Tip, or The Abstract as he’s also known, was the group’s leader, creating beats for the band’s records and taking centre-stage on most of their tracks. I came to this music in the early 2000s by accident, stumbling across the album Midnight Marauders (1993) in a record store and buying it simply for its standout cover design. I’ve since bought that record more than any other, getting multiple copies both as gifts for anyone that would have it and also so that I wouldn’t ever be without it. Like Horace Silver or Jimi Hendrix, listening to Q-Tip’s music very much felt like you were getting a chance to peek in on someone working at the height of their powers. A master craftsman. Q-Tip is a musical hero of mine not because I wanted to be like him but because he demonstrated that even when music is supposedly simple, it can have plenty to say, if we’re willing to ask the right questions of it. Looking back, it’s really from my interest in A Tribe Called Quest that I ended up becoming so focused on popular music at university and eventually found myself writing a PhD on hip hop music and narrative cinema.”

Lianne La Havas
“In my module Social Media Context and Practice, we talk about the strangeness of the industry that surrounds music today. Part of that conversation focuses on streaming music and how, although technology and apps make it so much easier to share your songs, we’re not seeing a general democratisation of the industry. As performers, the gate has not been quite left unlocked. As listeners, we can end up in our own little musical echo chambers, falling back on old favourites. For me, Lianne La Havas is a reminder of why such habits must be broken. In 2020, she released her self-titled third album. With backing from Prince, who once played a gig in her living room, La Havas’ music is rich in textures, colours, and stories. She proves that even after more than half a century of popular music, just a guitar and a voice can still be powerful if you have something to say. Lianne La Havas also helps to make a case for the brilliance of popular music today, something that, as a lecturer in music, it’s imperative to pay attention to. Alongside the likes of IDLES, Kendrick Lamar, Fontaines D.C., and Billie Eilish, the current crop of artists is as vibrant as any of the decades that have gone before. Lianne La Havas is a new musical hero of mine and it’s important to keep picking up new heroes. I think that to do so, in part, is to remind ourselves about why we fell in love with music in the first place.”

August 1, 2022


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