Interview: Enter Shikari
Wed, 30 Jan 2008 15:49:05
Musical subscultures rarely play nicely together, but with 2007 embracing all-things-dance, it's no surprise that one of punk and hardcore's breakthrough bands this past year was Enter Shikari. This Hertfordshire four-piece blends the passionate urgency of hardcore and the, well, passionate urgency of the youthful dance culture.
Hot on the heels of their first U.S. headlining tour, we caught up with singer Rou Reynolds to get his take on his band's success, the fusion-happy music scene and being endorsed by a music industry legend.
How have the US shows been so far? It seems like you fit perfectly into the loyal hardcore fan base here, but does the element of dance/trance scare anyone off?
Our shows so far have been awesome! People have been so welcoming to us; some venues could have done with a few more people, but those that showed were crazily enthused. Our mix didn't seem to scare anyone off that came in to the show, possibly some of the purists didn't show—maybe afraid to confront something outside of their narrow views?
When you first started out, did you know exactly what you wanted to sound like? Or did the trance/hardcore combination come after you started playing together?
We've always been pretty experimental, when Rory joined the band and Enter Shikari was born this enabled me to drop the guitar and pick up some atmospheric electronic toys. Eventually these instruments helped us to put elements of various music genres into the blender, our current style is where we are now, but it's a continuously evolving process, and we will continue to experiment.
Tony Wilson said that you were the most exciting thing since the Sex Pistols. How did he hear about you?
Tony was an amazing man, always at the leading edge, which made his comments so encouraging to us. He turned up unannounced at a Manchester show, a small intimate venue that was well stocked with kids that were up for it. It was a 'routine', mental show, and Tony apparently loved it, which was such high praise.
In the UK you seemed to shoot to popularity overnight; was that how the story really goes?
That is so far from how it actually was, we practically lived in our battered van for two years, playing every tiny venue in every corner of the UK. So we like to think that we had done a lot of ground work, and gathered a good underground fan base. So when our budget video for the song "Sorry You're Not a Winner" [watch video here] got some air time, there was already a good level of underground popularity.
You seemed to ignore the traditional band formula of trying to get signed and just released everything on your own label, Ambush Reality. Whose idea was it to start the label, and how did you go about making it happen?
Being on the road for so long and playing to packed houses—okay, not the largest venues—and still not generating any industry interest makes you look at the options. We had done a lot of the foot work on our own; a lot of the hard work was done in terms of getting a following, setting up companies and getting distribution chains to connect with our fans, which in some ways is easier than doing the 400-mile round trip on a rainy Tuesday night to play to 25 fans in Smalltown, Nowhere. We also were fortunate to have MySpace to help us get our music out there; you cannot underestimate the benefit that has. With a lot of the foundations laid, all that was needed was some investment, and that came from one man who offered us a publishing deal and had so much faith in us at a time when we still had no label interest. We then took on some parental management joined by a guy with a shed-load of industry experience and wisdom; between us all we developed the idea of the DIY route.
Since you didn't have a label with a marketing team behind you, how important was MySpace to your early success and publicity?
Very important, no question. Some people mock it, but you can't knock a free network for like-minded people that spreads your music like a virus amongst your music community.
Do you think that other bands are naive for not doing taking the DIY approach, or is there still something good about being on a proper label and getting financial support?
Of course, yeah. It would be very nice to get the clout of the majors behind you, and their funds and expertise. But as I said, that wasn't an option until we'd gone some way down the independence route. Getting grabbed at an early stage can cut drastically the slow process of building a fanbase, because they can throw some heavy marketing clout behind you&38212;not forgetting you pay for that of course!. So, no, bands ain't daft... fortunate, maybe?
The UK's music scene, for at least the past 5 years, has been dominated by indie bands-whether they're good or not, there seems to be a million of them-what do you think of the UK's metal scene?
The UK's music scene, for at least the past 5 years, has been dominated by indie bands—whether they're good or not—but metal and hardcore are sort of on the backburner. What do you think of the British metal scene?
The UK's metal scene is healthy, there are shows on every night all over the country with tens of thousands of kids attending, and so many good underground bands. The problem with the UK is that the Indie scene is stuffed down every easily influenced new listner by radio stations who just don't venture outside of their 'safe' little comfort zone. Why do you think so many young kids identify with your music and hardcore in general?
Because they can't get it on the radio or most video channels. What we, and many other hardcore and underground bands, are doing is actually far more popular than the media realize; it's what the kids like.
There was a British headline that declared you "the band no one over 20 gets," do you think there's some truth in that?
It's rubbish, really; cheap headlines. We had just done a run of 'over 18's only' shows, they were sold out well in advance to plenty of people well over 20. Those shows had just as much, if not more, crowd participation.
Why did you decide to release your EP, The Zone so soon after the album?
To meet demand. Kids where asking for the stuff that we put on it. We've shifted more than we anticipated so feel vindicated, not that we have to justify what we do; that's what's nice about being on your own label, making your own decisions.
A lot of bands now are doubling as producers by doing a lot of remixes; since you have such a strong interest in dance music will we be seeing any remixes done by Enter Shikari?
[laughs] Check out my side project, Shark and Blitz, on Myspace!