I need to be with you right now and that’s how I want it to be yeah from here on now... So goes Javeon McCarthy’s vocal refrain on L-Vis 1990’s future-house heater Forever Young. When he sang it to a 3,500 strong crowd at Belgium’s Pukklepop festival last August while hosting alongside the Nightslugs impresario, he found the front row singing the lyrics back at him. “That was a moment…they were right there with me,” says the Bristol born singer with a hint of emotion.
Then 23-year old McCarthy is a latter day soul man through and through. He’s been a fixture on his city’s endlessly fertile underground music scene since the tender age of 13, when he and some other likely lads formed Kold Hearted Krew – one of them being R&B/Dubstep crossover specialist Joker. It was just at that period where garage was morphing into grime and McCarthy found his skills as an MC being called upon as much as his instinct for harmony.
McCarthy spent five years honing both crafts in the simmering bass driven scene that has always been a Bristol mainstay, writing as much material as he could and collaborating with key artists from what would turn out to be the next generation of genre-defining artists to emerge from the city. He describes his working relationship with much lauded Dubstep producer Guido as ‘like boot camp,’ as the pair put out ever more finely honed tracks and mixtapes. At the same time, he was writing songs for R&B outfit Route Elevation, with whom he performed at Glastonbury, as well as studying at Access to Music, where he really got to understand the industry.
McCarthy’s long held artist moniker was Shadz – a name familiar to most on the Dubstep, Grime and Garage circuits, where he steadily built a reputation as a rabble-rousing host who could suddenly flip it with a sweet vocal to offset his machine gun raps. His willingness to really graft only added to his standing.
But it was McCarthy’s chance encounter with James Connolly, aka L-Vis 1990, at a gig in Sheffield in late 2009 that saw the emphasis steadily shifting towards his abilities as a singer. Connolly found himself without a host for the evening and McCarthy, who was just there for the party, gamely stepped to the mic. It was the beginning of an ongoing collaboration that is now placing him front and centre as the voice of 21st century R&B.
So what about that voice? It’s best described as heartfelt but understated. McCarthy is not about vocal gymnastics, preferring to let his songs breathe. “When I write, it’s about stuff that’s really close to me,” he says simply. His inspirations can be heard in the hip-hop inflected R&B of artists like Keith Sweat, Jodeci and Usher, but as the ever-morphing house music genre experiences a renaissance, he’s discovered a rich new musical seam in which to flex his vocal muscle.
He’s shone against the backdrop of fellow Bristolian Julio Bashmore’s recent neo-soul workout for Future Boogie Recordings, Father, Father and his first solo effort, again with Bashmore on production, is due out this June. He also found himself in New York earlier this year working on new material with L-Vis. Grafting, as always. 21st century soul or Neo R&B… call it what you will, but Javeon McCarthy’s set to define it.
Following their amazing Glastonbury Festival performance, and a UK headline tour, electronic-classical quartet Clean Bandit will bring their unique new music to Fred Perry Subculture’s Sub-Sonic Live, on Friday 20th December 2013, at The Garage, London.