Tag Archive: synth pop


Interview: Kites

I admit it. We’ve been relying rather heavily on the Swedes around here lately (but can you blame me?). But, in the name of global citizenship, we’re expanding ever-so-slightly southwest to bring you Kites—proof positive once again that the 80s are alive and well in London (even if the majority of the decade’s greatest proponents—myself included—have little to no memory of the original incarnation).

If you follow The Indie Handbook on Tumblr, you’ve already had a very brief introduction to the band and the handful of tracks they’ve posted on SoundCloud. I’ve been streaming their tracks with increasing frequency over the last fortnight. So why don’t you go ahead and check out a few for yourself as you peruse this interview and we get to know the band a little bit better and maybe dispel some myths along the way. (I have to say, I am a huge fan of Taio’s desert island list. Chet Baker is an inspired choice.)

The band have also recorded a brief session for the online arm of i-D Magazine (a personal favourite of mine). I’ll link to that here as soon as it goes up.

Kites are: Matthew Phillips (Vocals, Guitar), Taio Renee-Lawson (Guitar, Bass), Richard Baldwin (Electronics) and Jack Newton (Percussion)

How did the band get started?

Taio – A series of unlikely meetings and conversations. It all seemed to fit into place like a puzzle.

Matthew – There has been a myth circulating that we met on the towering escalator at Angel Tube station in London. You know, the one where you feel like you are plunging into the bowels of hell. We admit partial responsibility for propagating this fallacy. If the truth be told, Kites began as an idea; an idea based loosely and perhaps a little pretentiously, on creative simplicity. I suppose everyone in Kites brings a different flavor to the make-up of the band. We’re also very lucky that we all get on famously.

What do people say your music sounds like?

Richard – It appears that many people lean toward comparisons with New Order and the like. Although flattering, I’m a big fan of New Order, I think that’s quite a lazy pairing.

Matthew – Yes, we do garner many comparisons with Depeche Mode and New Order. There have even been comparisons drawn with The Killers and The Maccabees but this probably has more to do with our aesthetic, rather than our sound. Artists who claim that their sound is entirely unique are pathological liars. I never get offended by comparisons – it is a very natural thing for people to do and helps outsiders to gain a rudimentary, albeit imperfect, insight into our music.

Taio – The press do make comparisons to New Order and Talking Heads. It is a total honor that people relate us to those brilliant bands. It goes with out saying that we have been influenced by them, but also by a wider range of artists and genres. I think we can stand alone from those comparisons and be judged on our own merits.

What do you think it sounds like?

Matthew – I would like to think it sounded like a mirror screaming back at its onlooker with compassion and, very occasionally, with mockery.

Richard – Personally I don’t think we sound like any single artist in particular, as each of us bring distinctly different influences to the table and that is reflected in the music. However, I recently read someone referring to our latesttrack “The Disappearance of Becky Sharp” as sounding like a “melancholy Erasure”. I was most amused by that. Vince Clarke is a genius.

How did the band’s sound develop?

Taio – I think our sound is still evolving and maturing. We know what we are about, and what music we want to make, but I think we are changing day to day, and so the music evolves as we do.

Richard – On our earlier tracks one might notice that the music sounds quite DIY, which indeed for the most part, it is, we have produced almost all our tracks in my home studio, but over the last year we’ve really learned and honed our sound. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for improvement, but I think our learning curve is audible in the words, the music and the live performance. It’s great fun developing as a group.

Matthew – Every song that we work on together feels like a constant evolution in our sound. We have become more dexterous and versatile, and our repertoire has become more dynamic. I am already very excited about our future recordings. It has been a heady journey!

Unlimited artistic freedom or global superstardom?

Richard – I don’t think anyone would claim that what we are doing is so avant-garde that it can’t be genuinely popular. As for ‘global superstardom’ I am not sure that’s entirely up to us.

Matthew – It is my considered belief that a songwriter should, under no circumstances, compromise their artistic freedom. However, I don’t subscribe to the view that artistic freedom and success are necessarily mutually exclusive. As for ‘superstardom’, I am not sure if we are of the right oeuvre.

Taio – I think that the former can sometimes cause the latter.

What can we expect from a typical Kites gig?

Matthew – Unabashed passion and energy. We haven’t yet had the inclination to pick up ukuleles and, in that sense, the sound is very electronic and imposing. We try to actively engage our audiences in our aural ceremonies.

Taio – I do enjoy the live shows and performing. After all the nerves fade, I do enjoy it.

Your dream gig?

Taio – A Kites set on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury or Coachella main stage.

Jack – A Kites show also, but perhaps at Madison Square Gardens in New York.

Matthew – I know I might sound like a broken record when I mention this, as I do so frequently in interviews, but I would give my left nostril to see the Stop Making Sense tour.

You can only listen to one band/artist for a year. Who is it?

Matthew – Patrick Wolf

Taio – I would have to find a way for there to be more than one. Kate Bush springs to mind and Chet Baker does too… as does Joni Mitchell… and Björk. As you can see that’s an impossible question to answer.

Jack – I would go for The National.

Richard – From my own record collection it would have to be Norwegian Ambient Electronica from Biosphere, on account of him having enough material that I could listen to a couple of albums a month without repeating.

Advertisements

MOPP

Keeping with the “what I did on my spring break” theme, I reckon it’s about time I talk a bit about Glasgow, the sexiest city in the world, where everyone is effortlessly fashionable and Americans confidently mispronounce the name. Given that the Glasgow scene is typically lightyears ahead of everyone else, I figured it was best to pick a club, sit back, and listen. In the end, I spent two nights at Bloc+. Following is a selection of what I heard, in chronological order.

Louise Against the Elements: LAE opened the Slow Club Night (not, to my knowledge, related in any way to Slow Club the band) sporting a stripped down version of their normal set up (which, as I understand it, is sort of the idea of the night). Their sound is oozes American soul and blues rock influences, not that I want to label it an American knock-off (in fact, new research suggests that much American roots music is knock off of Scottish tradition). The music is definitely worth a listen. If I were to offer criticism to the band it would be in the arrangement of the set list. Namely, that it could benefit from some more rhythmic variation among the first few numbers and that they ought to close with “Baby Blue”, which is, by far, their best song.

Closing out the Slow Club gig were The Cinnamons. The magazine I read advertising the gig touted the band’s catchy synthpop. Synthpop, however, does not translate well in an acoustic setting. What does come across loud and clear? These guys can write an incredible hook! I might even go so far as to say that I prefer the acoustic set up—which is not to take anything away from their intended, plugged-in, sound—but the stripped down version makes the band’s uncanny melody-writing ability undeniably apparent. Check out “Analog Man” and “Dead Man’s Shoes”.

The next night was a gig sponsored by Detour Scotland, a relatively new monthly podcast spotlighting the best in Scottish music—with a twist. It is really worth checking out: detour-scotland.com. I’ll embed one of their videos from this particular gig at the end of this post. Detour night brought four bands and more people than fire codes should probably allow. It was hot and crowded, the girl next to me smelled strongly of vinegar, and, in the end, proved to be one of the most memorable gigs of my life, for which one of the acts, MOPP, is more than moderately responsible.

Kristin asked me yesterday what I think the next big thing to come out of Glasgow will be. I’m not sure, really. But I will say that MOPP could likely be the “next to next big thing”(that is, something else will probably crop up before that, but this has staying power). Essentially, it’s 80s-laden, uber-reverbed, monumental pop—everything you love about 80s synth music without all the creepiness of “The Air Tonight” (dear God, I hate that song!…). I hesitate to even attempt to describe it any further. All I will say is that, before the show, everyone I spoke to told me it was going to be phenomenal and, having now heard MOPP, I would have to say that, if anything, “phenomenal” is an understatement.

For those of you who are so inclined, (which ought to be anyone looking for good music) visit MOPP on MySpace. Whilst you’re there check out his remixes at the bottom of the playlist. I am a particular fan of the remix of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”, though there’s a Phoenix remix on there as well for those of you reluctant to venture beyond pre-approved contemporary indie fare.

That’s it for now. I will award 83 Sexy Indie Nerd (SIN) points to anyone who can identify the source of the title of this post (without Googling it). And, if you’ve read it, you can be my best friend and maybe we can make out a little bit the next time we see each other.

Dutch Week, volume 1

I have heard so much good news today (e.g. new albums from Regina Spektor, Stuart Murdoch, A Camp, and the Rumble Strips) that I just want to gush about it, but I won’t because IT’S DUTCH WEEK! Wednesday is also tax day, but not in the Netherlands (I don’t think) so we will forget about that. (We’ll get to the those others later.)

To kick off Dutch Week, I suppose I’ll start off with the band that made me want to do this in the first place: The Very Sexuals from Eindhoven, Noord-Brabant. (Before I go any further, let me say that you can download this album for free in it’s entirety from the band’s website.)

With every subsequent listen, The Very Sexuals’ Post-Apocalyptic Love does more to cement itself as one of the most pleasant discoveries I have made in a very, very long time. The tracks drift effortlessly from the fuzzy quasi-synth pop of “Bowie Eyes” to the straight up indie sound of “Wrecked This Century”. It’s all very New Pornographers. But the best finds are those in-between tracks like “Can You Promise Me the Sky Won’t Fall On Us” with it’s handclaps, half-sung/half-chanted vocals, and more than a touch of the Kills’ “U.R.A. Fever”. Then there is my personal favorite, “Anti-Valentine”, where the band’s characteristic male/female vocals combine to lend the track a sort of epic sweetness while channeling shades of Harry Nillson and even The Mamas & the Papas (if you think about it long enough, you’ll get there), and is a welcome departure from just about everything I’ve been hearing lately. Like I said, download the album at theverysexuals.com.

Check out their MySpace as well. There is one extra track there, “Dennis Hopper”, from the “Carla” single, as well as links to download the single and the album it comes from. The band is beginning to get radio airplay throughout Europe and Great Britain (including BBC Radio 6), as well as a small handful of stations Stateside. This would be a good time to get in on the ground floor.

Also, I assure you, you will be hearing more from The Very Sexuals as Dutch Week progresses.

In the meantime, download Post-Apocalyptic Love.

%d bloggers like this: