|Label:||Fat Cat Records|
If I was going to invent the most commercially-viable genre of music I could think of at this moment, it would be Breton’s sonic blend of indie and dub. Every interview with Breton I read is lead singer Roman Rappak frothing about the band’s caddisfly larvae ethos of making beats with homemade samples, like the fire extinguisher they found a corner of the disused Kensington bank vault where the band live and work.
“I love the idea of encoded meanings in things,” Roman enthuses to me during our brief but deep conversation, “it’s not just a fire extinguisher, it’s that fire extinguisher there in the corner of the room because people thought there might be a fire.”
Listen to their new album, Other People’s Problems, and aside from really enjoying the visceral blend of beat boxed orchestra samples, jangly indie guitars, jagged saw tooth waves and Roman’s addictive south London drawl, you wouldn’t notice the experimentation at all.
“Experimental music means testing how much space you have in your audience to say ‘in this track it’s going to be 20 minutes of this’ (he begins repeatedly crumpling the empty plastic water bottle in his hand), and see who will listen to it and say ‘This is really intense!’ I’m not one of those people, however I do like the idea of this sound being in this song and someone going ‘what’s that sound?’
“That’s why Aphex Twin is amazing because he’s held in such high regard for being a godfather of modern day experimental music but you listen to Windowlicker and it’s a soul tune, a really catchy R ‘n’ B song.”
Weirdly, Richard D James, whose horrifically disturbing music video Come To Daddy was banned on release from most TV channels, also lived in a converted bank near Elephant and Castle. I ask Roman what in his surroundings inspires the brooding apocalyptic bass lines which drench Breton’s music.
“I think we’re all doomed, but we’re doomed in the most amazing way. If we’re doomed you have to meet a beautiful woman, you have to look at an incredible building, because you’re going to die. We’re on earth for such a short time so I think it’s liberating.”
We’re sat in a cafe in the row of disused railway arches behind Elephant and Castle station (The tiny Corsica Studios where I watch the band in the evening occupies another). The late afternoon sun bleaches the tops of the skeletal tower blocks before giving way to the night.
“Look at that block of flats across the road, Haygate estate. For thousands upon thousands of people, that was their lives, and now it’s just full of druggies and 'graphers.
“People probably walk past and say ‘I lived in that one’, ‘that’s where my bedroom was’, and there are all these little skeletons of this fucked up London all around us. Like the building we live and work in is falling apart. It’s this old NatWest bank, loaded with people’s experiences: people worked in there, they were sacked and promoted, and sometimes fucking miserable, you’ve got no money or whatever. I love the ideas of these condensed meanings in a building or a town.”
And that, Roman explains, is what this new album is about; capturing the real experiences of making those songs, hence the need to sample real, found objects.
Hence also the band’s fascination with hand-producing everything they do. In fact the whole project started as a way for film student Roman to screen his films in South London, but the live soundtracks became more popular than the films themselves. It turned out that, as Roman says, the mechanism built up around a band is the best way to express yourself artistically (“Lyrics are such a powerful tool, just to be able to throw a rhythm a melody and a word into a song is like a hand grenade.”)
The band still produce their own music videos, as well as videos for other artists including, recently, Bjork, trading under the name of their bank vault studio Breton Labs. They also hand-produce hundreds of screen-printed t-shirts, custom mix tapes, posters and of course all the visuals they project behind themselves in their shows, which are mixed live using a keyboard linked to a lap top by 20 year old Ryan, operating in the shadow of the creative genius of Rappak .
“It’s nice to make them ourselves because a physical version of it, that in itself can be an experience, like Heidegger said each physical object has its own narrative, and the more of a relationship you have directly to the hand that made it, the better. Everything has a DNA of references and meanings in it.”
Breton don’t just have their finger on the pulse of modern music; they seem to have a whole arm shoved up the artery of the Zeitgeist pulling the heart strings inside. At one time Breton used to come on stage hooded like a gang of looters, an act which they have ironically dropped some time since the London riots, and the crowd at Corsica is bewilderingly devoid of any of music’s tedious stereotypes: everyone just looks like normal people out for a good time.
“To people who listen to hip hop we’re too indie, but we’re not indie enough for the indie crowd, so we end up being paired with some really strange bands, like Ghostpoet, which is great.”
After recently playing sold-out headline shows in New York and at SXSW, and embarking the next day on a European tour, Roman says to the crowd “This is the one gig we’ve been really looking forward to”, glugging Jamerson’s whisky (“petrol station choice”) which he passes round the crowd. It’s like we’re in someone’s bedroom in year nine and someone’s got some decks and someone’s brought a guitar, and I just can’t place these guys: from some angles they look exactly like the brainchild of a struggling music industry exec (AV whizz kid Ryan assures me it’s not), and at other times they just come across like a bunch of kids from Kennington having a fantastic time.
“A lot of what we do is autobiographical: ‘here’s what we’re scared of’, ‘here’s what excites us’. Unless you’re a massively depressed person there will be these really beautiful aspects to it, and then really horrifying and dark, and then victorious... and more optimistic things as well... I’m trying to list optimistic things and I’m running out.”
That’s 2012 for you.
“That’s south London for you.”
Posted: Mon 16 April 2012