Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Five bands who have influenced us

The question of influences is particularly thorny in this band, particularly for those listeners who (believe they) like their bands to stick to the same style. We tend to confuse the majority. If Depeche Mode are on our list, then you can be sure the DM fan will hear a folk song and switch off. If Billy Bragg is on our list, then by God the first song had better be a solo electric guitar and bald lyrics about the miners, or they'll switch off. If the Bonzos are on our list, the Doo-Dah fan will find two songs in a row that aren't humorous, and then switch off. Et cetera. It's like the ZX Spectrum tunnel-visioners who follow our Twitter feed when we mention the computer, only to run away as soon as we mention anything not computer-related. I like to think of this process as sifting through the general mass of people to find only the really free and open ones (and congratulations on your excessively eclectic taste if you do consider yourself a fan of ours), but how can you tell when people are so quiet? And which influences really are the most important?

Over the years, our conception of who we want to sound like, and who we actually sound like, has mutated constantly. I'm going to list five of the bands who I think make good lines of fit across the scatterplot of Kesh.

The Cure
Here's a band who started off down a particular lo-fi path and, as their tastes and ability broadened, so the music went through a series of Wild Mood Swings, not only the happysad that encompasses the rushing highs and crushing lows, but a teetering between sunny anthropomorphic fantasy and harsh hooded-wept reality, and a gamut of instrumental styles, about the only unifying features being heavy use of chorus/delay pedals, and Robert Smith's vocals, which themselves skitter between anguished howls and playful hoop-las. They were a big influence on our live goth-pop sound circa 2000. It seems since around that time they've reined in and settled into a downbeat rockier mode. I get a little sad at the contempt Robert Smith seems to have for some of his own pop tunes, as if he feels he has to write stupid in order to get a chart hit - whilst many bands know that feeling, it doesn't make the songs pointless - you have to just try and get better at making what you want to play and say become irresistible to the masses. Of course if someone sings an upbeat song with contempt, what are the audience supposed to feel? We've felt this on stage when performing certain songs that have lost their lustre for us - better to sing a sad song with relish than an obligatory happy number.

Super chamber-pop duo Russell Mael (the one with the mass of curly hair) and Ron Mael (the one with the moustache) have spent 40 years searing through styles (glam, disco, indie dance) and often left their fans trailing behind, a major upswing in their fortunes coinciding with 2002's Li'l Beethoven, which instead of beats features masses of vocals keeping up the rhythm. Their live setup with its sampled beats and comedy moments was inspiring to us when looking for ways of performing 2-man gigs around 2004/5. Their waspish wit and effervescent melodies are always something to aspire towards.

Stereo Total
The live inspiration around that time also came from Stereo Total (e.g. the Musique Automatique album), although whilst Sparks are precise, Stereo Total value the happy accidents of scuffed chords, malfunctioning electronics and strained vocal leaps. The duo of Francoise Cactus and Brezel Goring play high-tempo garage-electro-rockabilly-chanson-punk with playful lyrics in several languages, which lead to their own happy lyrical accidents. Watching the obvious fun they were having reminded us that music made fast can have a great compulsive energy.

Os Mutantes
This choice perhaps says more about where we are headed; but the free and easy collaged sounds of Os Mutantes (the Brazilian Beatles?) have excited and subliminally influenced us for many years, their homemade guitar pedals distinctly pushing us towards the circuit-bent route, and I note how they keep their scathing satires uptempo and fun, with those fresh bossa nova chords and infectious melodies. Make 'em dance, make 'em think, make 'em resist. I can only imagine how much better it might sound if I understood Portuguese rather than relying on translations.

Duran Duran
Seriously, work with me on this. Four or five immensely fashionable young men with a line in innovative electronics, sci-fi dystopian lyrics, great rhythms... catalogue model good looks, champagne lifestyle... vocals that crack during important gigs... a couple of people leave and we get our own Nile Rodgers super-counter-melodist to compensate... a name taken from Barbarella (now you're just making it up. Ed). Oh have it your own way.

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