When Simon Reynolds first coined the term ‘post-rock’ in Melody Maker about 15 years ago, he was simply acknowledging electronic music’s influence on guitar music and the use of rock instruments to perform non-rock functions. Given that nature abhors a vacuum, it was perhaps only a matter of time before a group used synthesizers and keyboards to make a post-rock record.
That’s not to say that Keyboard Choir, a six-piece from Oxford whose excellent debut album Mizen Head To Gascanane Sound is available via the Brainlove label, don’t have any antecedents, but those that they do are interesting to say the least. From the genius commercial suicide note of OMD’s Dazzle Ships_ to the proto electronica of Germany’s Harmonia to Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children to Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy_; all experienced through the refracting prism of a smashed thrift store window.
A lot of their songs follow the same celestial/apocalyptic paths as bands they self-evidently admire such as Mogwai and A Silver Mount Zion, but they have a palette of sounds that is at once more invigorating and more DIY. Aware that some of the millenarian overtones of their album might be a bit sombre they tend to enliven gigs by dressing as shit robots and inviting their mate to do comic rapping on songs like ‘In This Situation, Thinking Won’t Help!’, DiS caught up with James and his cousin Seb from the band to find out how the hell they were.
Video: Keyboard Choir, ‘Electrical Unity’ (live)
Do you see what you do as pop music or experimental music?
James: I think I’m interested in where those two things meet. We want to take two disparate approaches and bring them together. There is a definite verse chorus verse to what we do.
We tend to think of purely electronic music as being a very modern form but it’s existed for about 40 years as a genre. How do you avoid this weight of history when you’re trying to make something original?
*James: *I think it’s taking a lot of inspiration from non-electronic music like post-rock. I was really blown away by Yanqui U.X.O. by Godspeed You! Black Emperor when I first heard that five years ago. In one sense I’m an electronic musician playing a keyboard but I want to make music that is that powerful, spontaneous and engaging. I’m not disrespecting any of the post rock bands but it seems pretty easy with guitars, drums and violins to make that kind of sound.
Seb: We wanted it to be a very live kind of thing as well. A lot of electronica bands tend to be just a guy with a lap top. We wanted it to be a bit more rock and roll. Our sound is a lot more organic. It’s electronic in a guitar context.
James: There’s a lot of really great electronic music out there at the moment. I really like Justice, but a lot of it just sounds a little bit too slick. A little bit too boring and tame. That said making people dance is a good thing. It’s a really interesting way of moving people emotionally. And I think our record is a little too slow for that. Maybe the next one will be more dance-orientated.
*You have that really ‘ragged’, live sound that electronic music from the ‘80s or before has when even samplers had to be deployed manually. *
James: A lot of it is live but some of it is sequenced. There is an interesting dichotomy between the precise punchy beats and everything else which is rough and raw. There’s a lot of good stuff out there like Burial who uses very crude equipment which wobbles in and out of sync. I like music with a lot of character and with us it doesn’t always work but I hate music which is really polished and floaty. I suppose there was a danger with recording the album that we might have lost the edge; that people might have thought it was made by one guy with a lap top but I hope that hasn’t happened.
Is the album supposed to act as a Pavlovian trigger in the same way that Music Has The Right To Children by Boards of Canada (dimly remembered childhood) and Untrue by Burial (going home after a night out) are?
James: There’s definitely an element of that and Boards of Canada had a really big impact on Keyboard Choir.
Seb: Before I joined the band I hadn’t really heard any electronic music, so Boards of Canada were the first group like that I’d ever heard. We’ve been told it reminds people of being a geek in the ‘90s.
James: I think in a way the music is nostalgic for a period that we’re too young to even remember. The album starts with samples from a record from the Second World War, from The Blitz. Guy (also in KC) found the disc in the loft in his house. I don’t want to say too much because the album tells a story. There is a narrative but it only really became apparent when I was doing the tracklisting.
*In the grand tradition of post-rock, you’ve definitely got apocalyptic overtones. *
*James: *Yeah, I know. I’ve come up with a genre name: apocatronica! It seems to be something we can’t shake though. We’re writing a new album at the moment and it’s about a whale destroying a ship. It’s a bit Herman Melville. There is certainly a sense of doom and gloom that we just can’t shake.
A lot of your music sounds quite serious. Are people surprised when they see you live and you’re all dressed like robots or whatever?
James: People have pointed out the dichotomy of that.
Seb: It’s a crazed techno carnival. Have you heard the hidden track on the album yet?
Yes. It caught me out last night. I nearly voided in my pants. ** Seb:** Ha ha ha! It’s called ‘Goat’s Blood’.
*Of course it is. *
Video: Keyboard Choir, ‘In This Situation, Thinking Won’t Help’
Keyboard Choir’s Mizen Head To Gascanane Sound album is ‘officially’ released this month via Brainlove after a limited-run release earlier in 2008 – find the DiS review here. Find the band on MySpace here and see the band live as follows:
29 Winchester Woolfire Festival
3 London Hoxton Bar & Grill
13 London Macbeth
21 London Cargo