NEW ARTIST FINDS: PORT ISLA
Genre combining is tricky business nowadays. When we step back and remember that rock and roll is really nothing more than blues and country merged, it may not be hard to imagine, however since the 70s or so narrow-minded grumpypants genre purists began coming forward and trying to separate and define sub-genres of what is essentially the same thing. Rock, in all of its various forms is really just a guitar-driven melting pot with a 4/4 time signature.
There have been some notable success stories throughout rock’s short history: goth metal successfully co-opting classical music; Led Zepplin, just like in general; Phish managed to pull off reggae and banjo folk in the same phrase, let alone song, with “Billy Breathes.” There’s other examples, sure, but generally rock acts who do too much combining of well-defined genres face major criticism and loss of fans unless their PR people are savvy enough to coach them on using buzzwords like “influenced by” rather than “borrowed from” or “mushed together."
Why am I yammering about genre-combining like it’s the next musical diet trend? Because it appears we have another success story in Port Isla. If anything, Port Isla eschews trends with their interesting mix of punk and folk. If you’re thinking these are two genres which didn’t need combining, you’d be agreeing with my pre-listening-to-Port Isla self, and both of us are/were wrong.
We’ve of course seen a nerdy hipster influx in the last 7 years or so of “punk” or “alternative” folk artists, a’la Mumford and Sons, but Port Isla is different; there’s a very clear melding of punk drums and beat structure with folk instrumentals and vocals. The title track off of their Steamroller EP is the most clear example of this, with the intro coming straight out of early 80s Brit punk. Stream the whole EP here:
PORT ISLA - STEAMROLLER EP
The other clearly unique element to Port Isla’s work is though they’re firmly rooted in folk, and heavily influenced by US folk, the band hail from Norwich in the UK. This partially explains the punk influence, as many a punk band pogoed its way out of the Northern UK scene in the 70s, but it also gives a different tinge to the overall timbre of Port Isla’s sound, as well as the speed with which they play. Rather than imagining a CCR-inspired vista of riverboats and kudzu (the plant, not the music-sharing software), the listener may now picture old sea dogs in wool sweaters spinning yarns on a Cornwall beach. Instruments like a mandolin or a fife come to mind rather than a banjo and an old jug. That’s not quite the case either, however, as is exemplified in their video for their first single, “Sinking Ship,” which predates the more recent EP. The nautical theme and punk timing it still there, but nary a “Grandpas Guitars” will you find these lads playing:
PORT ISLA - SINKING SHIP
Only thoroughly modern guitars and percussion here, which makes the speed and emotive timbre of Port Isla’s style all the more interesting. “Sinking Ship” can also be downloaded for free on Port Isla’s website.
So, now we have not only punk, but two separate folk music traditions blended with modern instruments in Port Isla. Mashup really isn’t the word – mélange perhaps? No matter what you call it, this band’s blend of distinct styles which come together in their own unique harmony is downright inspiring. Because of the use of all these methods and traditions, Port Isla not only has a sound like none other, but is able to keep a diverse and fresh track listing, where the listener won’t feel like he or she is listening to the same song with only slightly different lyrics (I’m looking at you, Mumford). If there’s one way to get me to care about folk, it’s to insert some punk into it, and Port Isla has done that beautifully. I hope to look forward to more fun genre-combining in the band’s very bright future.
About Layla Marino
Layla Marino is a music and street art blogger with 17 years in the industry. She focuses exclusively on underground music, art, and culture, and loves working with BitCandy to find and bring new artists to a wider audience.