They’ve only just signed to Sub Pop and already this Dalston trio are fighting a backlash


If Male Bonding had their way, they’d live in the United States, play some house shows, put out tapes and 7″s with musician friends on a regular basis, grab the odd rad slice of pizza (we’ll come back to that later), and maybe take down the Drownedinsound message board. There is a sneaking suspicion that they wouldn’t sit down with Loud And Quiet to do an interview, but since the Dalston trio have arrived where they are now (on the roster of the almighty Sup Pop label, bessies with Brooklyn hipster darlings Vivian Girls) completely on their own terms, it’s probably fair to assume that nobody held a gun to their head and told them to talk to us.

Anyway, today, over lentil soup in one of their local haunts on Kingsland High Street (they all live together, around the corner), John Arthur Webb [guitar and vocals], Kevin Hendrick [bass and vocals] and Robin Silas Christian [drums] do their best to answer questions about their signing to a indie label giant and their somewhat strained relationship with the British music press.

“We’re not very charismatic at first glance”, warns John “maybe if you sit here for a month you might get something interesting out of us.” He’s only half joking, but that’s a minor drawback. Because while Male Bonding’s ramshackle, breathless jungle punk doesn’t stray too far from that ubiquitous, grimy guitar sound of bands like Abe Vigoda, Wavves and label mates No Age, it’s also inherently danceable and catchy, albeit in a tribal, spazzy kind of way as apposed to a fist-in-the-air-here-come-the-crew-shouts way. Is that L.A. scene built around The Smell a point of reference for Male Bonding? “The influence is more on a personal level than anything else”, says Kevin.

“I like the idea, the aesthetic of it”, says John. “We’ve been there a couple of times and it’s an amazing, inspiring place and scene. I like the way that a lot of those bands (Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko etc) operate, particularly No Age, they just seem to have gotten it all right, really.”

Not too interested in discussing sonic similarities, he adds: “In terms of sound, I don’t know whether we have anything in common with them.”

His exasperation on this topic is somewhat understandable, given that the band have been labelled with the “crap hipster band” tag by a handful of haters: “typical[ly]‚”shit UK band” and “to [sic] ugly to have headshots” are two of the comments on the news item on the Sub Pop website proclaiming Male Bonding’s signature. Kevin chuckles: “It’s quite interesting and funny for us to read that [the usernames underneath those comments read, helpfully, ‘ballbag’ and ‘just another arsehole’]. Almost automatically, there seems to be this ‘fashionable and shit’ dig, this kind of mini-backlash.”

John chips in: “It is kind of understandable, though‚””

“Yeah, I can understand the shit bit”, concedes Kevin “but the fashionable bit‚” I guess the outside view is that we’re signed to Sub Pop, and that we haven’t really done anything to earn that, even though we have.”

They certainly can’t be accused of laziness. After Robin met Kevin and John through mutual friends (the latter two worked together at a second hand record shop) they played their first gig in May last year – a house show in Maidstone, apparently – and then proceeded to sweat their way through East London’s venues, playing with the likes of HEALTH and Fucked Up. When it came to releasing some recorded material, they took, to them, the most logical route: doing it themselves. The Paradise Vendors label was formed and has released various tapes and vinyl singles since then. In fact, it was their prolific and self-released vinyl output that got Male Bonding their prestigious record deal in the first place: A label employee bought the band’s ‘Year’s Not Long’ split single with Eat Skull, liked it, got in touch and ‚” “now we’re signed to Sub Pop”, says Robin in typically dry fashion. Could the angry comments, although not very cutting or inventive, be indicative of a kind of genre overkill?

“Maybe”, muses Kevin “Sub Pop signed the [LOCATION noise pop band] Dum Dum Girls just before us. People don’t like it when labels seem to be arranging some kind of scene or something. I guess badly recorded music, or however they might perceive it, attracts slightly larger labels at the moment, and people seem to be angry about that for whatever reason. I don’t really know what goes through the minds of people who dwell on forums and message boards. Some people are attacking us for not being very English,” he laughs.

Erm, what?

John: “Yeah, on Drownedinsound. That forum is just rancid. They say that we only speak in American slang and say things like: ‘Hey dude, let’s grab a rad slice of pizza’. I don’t think I’ve ever said that in my life.”

Kevin: “It’s really dire. There’s this whole thread going on about how we’re really into being American and dressing American. It’s like an indie British National Party on there or something.”

Engaging or co-operating with the press doesn’t rank highly on Male Bonding’s priority list anyway. Getting their own fix from Pitchfork and other blogs, they are surprised that magazines like the NME are still going. “[Music magazines] don’t have the same access to artists that they used to have”, observes Kevin. “They used to sell a copy of their magazine by having a certain band on the cover. People would be like, ‘Oh, I definitely want to read that interview’. But today, that band is probably fucking tweeting every five minutes. I mean, newspapers and magazines are still valid, it’s good and important to read physically, but the only way to go is to make it free – obviously that’s hard to fund these days.”

And some magazines, the band learned the hard way, go to ridiculous lengths to secure such funding. Earlier this year, they were offered a spot on a compilation CD plus a potential feature/review in a London magazine, all for the dumping price of ¬£200. The band politely declined. It’s not like they would need the extra coverage, either: They are currently busy writing their debut album and are due to start recording in October – in America, unsurprisingly. So can major labels today still offer something to bands like the “fiercely independent” (John) Male Bonding? John is very pragmatic about this aspect of being in a band: “It’s all relative, really. We wouldn’t have released our own album, because we would’ve just lost a horrific amount of money doing that. But maybe this [releasing the album on Sub Pop] is a way of reaching more people, like The Horrors, who signed their major deal after 2 shows or whatever. They’re doing alright for themselves now.”

As a closing question, I ask them about the poster collage on their Myspace depicting an impressive density of positively explosive metal hair: Are they closet Iron-Maiden-fans? “Nah,” says John, and adds with a grin: “That’s actually from a pizza restaurant in America.” Laughter breaks out at our table. “It’s called Old Times Pizza or something. Grab a Rad Slice of Pizza. We’re busted, I guess. I can understand those kids on Drownedinsound now.”

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