C’MON. HOW LONG DID YOU THINK IT WOULD TAKE FOR A NEW BAND TO RELEASE AN EP ON VHS?
Hot New Bands. Hot, young new bands. We love them, but interviewing them can be a nightmare: a thirty-minute attempt at drawing blood from a characterless Y-Generation stone. However innovative the music, however great the haircuts, in person they tend to be quite boring. Personality gets easily castrated by self-consciousness and apathy; features which, despite their recent fucking up of the system (and its favourite West End shops), are still typical of anyone under 25.
We’re spending the evening at Hoxton’s Macbeth (a factory of young new bands if there ever was one) with Joel and Cameron, the creative control centre of Mafia Lights. They’re a band who’re young enough for Louis Walsh to be interested, new enough for you to have no idea who they are but who, miracle of miracles, seem to have a pulse. As for temperature, you can gauge it yourself; their first EP is available via their Blogspot. In five tracks of trailblazing electronic-leaning pop, the band manage to shit on voguish styles of the past few years while also proving clever enough not to ignore them; assorted ‘-waves’ and ‘-steps’ have been siphoned into a summery, contemporary-sounding debut. Accompanying its digital release are 50 copies of it in VHS format; a hazy, tripped-out video accompanying each song.
Who’s idea was that?
Joel: “We played In The City last October and it was a complete waste of time except for this guy Max saw us and he was thinking of setting up his own label [called Teeth Records]. We wanted to put something out and because we make a video for every song we do – that’s the idea, to always have an audio visual aspect to it – he was like, ‘Well, why don’t we do it on a VHS?’ and I was just like, ‘ha- ha–ha –ha. Oh I dunno, alright,’ and then that was kind of it. He said to get the songs together, so we did and two days later, he’d made it.”
Cameron: “I suppose most of the reason we did it was just for attention, hahaha! Cause we were like, ‘VHS? Ooh, cool, I like that.’ Obviously the tracks are pretty lo-fi. They’re not really good-quality recordings, so that kind of goes with the VHS thing as well. It’s not like we’re gonna be selling hundreds of vinyl’s at this point.”
J: “Exactly, we’re not even nearly at that stage of thinking about an actual release. Like, this is a release but we’re not gonna be pressing up 500 vinyls. It’d just be a waste of Max’s money.”
This kind of approach – DIY, sure, but, more importantly, done with a sense of realism and honesty – is the exact reverse of the bands that grind Mafia Lights’ gears: ones who get signed with zero fans and rely on advertising to shift their records. The subject crops up when discussing guitar pedals.
C: “You need a phaser after seeing Tame Impala… I watched them in Manchester at The Ruby Lounge a few months ago. It was so good and after seeing them I was like, ‘Right, I’ve got to go get a phaser pedal,’ because that sound is so sick. That’s a band. Everyone’s going on about the fucking Vaccines – if you want to hear guitar music, fucking go see Tame Impala.”
There’s general agreement.
J: “Last night I was in Soho and we walked past that band Brother, and I literally had to hold back about four of my friends –‘it’s not worth it, leave them alone!’ That’s what it’s come to – hahaha! But yeah, there’s something very sinister about The Vaccines. I’m not sure what it is. I can’t put my finger on it, but I want them gone. We met some publishing guy today actually, and we were talking about PRS and they were in this magazine and I realised they’re signed to like Global Talent, is it? Something like that. They basically own XFM and all these things and play their own music on their own radio stations… some guy from XFM told me once, it’s some really sinister back-story and The Vaccines are part of that.”
There’s general disgust, but when not on the subject of faceless rock memes, Joel and Cameron beam with semi-permanent enthusiasm. There’s more than a chance that this, along with the proficiency and inventiveness you can hear in their music, has something to do with growing-up out in the sticks. Recent L&Q pin-ups Clout (also a hot young band, of course) were raised in and around Southend, and a standout of the forthcoming Let’s Wrestle album is ‘In the Suburbs’, a kind of love song to Muswell Hill. Things move slower out there and, while kids in inner cities spend all their time and pocket money on going out, stabbing pensioners and sticking it to Fortnum and Mason’s, somewhere leafy there are others quietly perfecting their craft.
How was it growing up so far from anything interesting or fun?
J: “Yeah we’re from Surrey. Where we live, it’s hard to explain, because there’s no distractions, all you ever do is do what you want to do, nothing really gets in the way of us doing music except for maybe the distance between our houses.”
C: “Being in the countryside as well, it is pretty fucking nice. Like the other day, we went on some fucking adventure up some fucking…”
J: “… some mad walk. You can do that kind of stuff and then come back and write a song. I do like London. I could live here, but I think I probably wouldn’t write as good a song… I know that sounds silly but I need my space.”
C: ‘There is a lot of boring fucking people around as well though… a lot of like boring, middle class, annoying fucking cunts. Apart from them it’s cool.”
J: “The only bands in our area are us, then there’s Vondelpark, there’s a band called Auction… and there’s Disclosure – and he’s in Auction and then Amusement who’re also in Auction. Like, it’s basically just ten of us making up the bands.”
C: “And we’re all fucking good mates and stuff and we’re all deeply competitive as well so shit gets done.”
J: “There’s just us. There’s absolutely no scene, there’s absolutely nowhere to play, nothing to do… but focus on music… or climb trees.”
This image of directionless abandonment is a bit misleading though.
J: “We’ve got loads of plans. Me and Cameron have been the most pro-active that we’ve ever been in the last three or four months. We’re going to go to Los Angeles next week, booked two flights today to go suck up some rays – hahaha! We’re obsessed with the sun at the moment, it just looks wicked and it represents… I think a lot of our music at the moment is quite orange-y.”
C: “We all worship the sun. I’m taking my video camera, gonna get bare more video shots and use that to kick start some music as well.”
J: “It sounds like quite a ridiculous thing to do, to jet off to L.A., like overly salubrious, but we’ve spent the last year just saving up so we can just do stuff ‘cause everything we do is going to end up being reflected in the band.”
C: “We work part-time as well.”
J: “Yeah we’ve got jobs.”
C: “We’re not louts. I work in an office and it’s shit, but it’s only three days a week. It’s like administration stuff. Timesheets come in from engineers and I have to put them into a database. We employ contractors to fix nuclear warheads and stuff. It’s a bit weird.”
J: “I just work in a really posh golf course near where I live. I do very, very little work there but everyone’s safe so it makes it all worthwhile. It’s pretty chilled, just doing like food and stuff. As nice as everyone is, it’s nothing I really want to carry on with… longer than… tomorrow.”
At some point in the evening, they mention a Horrors gig at Underage Club as being a hugely formative musical experience, aware that it sounds like an absurdly recent point of reference. Those club nights and their imitators got a fair bit of media attention and, however tired a mention of them might seem now, their importance wasn’t illusory. Mafia Lights’ generation of 16-24 year-olds (it’s mine too in fact) had an abnormally large share of the total population. The size of the demographic contributed to a blossoming (definitely the wrong word) of youth-culture and helped to sweep away the mediocre, lazily post-modern late ’90s/early ’00s pap that came before it. It’s also a contributing factor to youth unemployment; Mafia Lights, with part-time jobs and bright prospects, are something of a rarity. These are the precociously enterprising minds that the government want to get out there, start businesses and rescue us all from a NASDAQ shitstorm. Instead, they’re making music. Good call.
By Edgar Smith
Originally published in issue 27 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. April 2011