Hype so frantic it must be witchcraft.

Photography by Elliot Kennedy

Photography by Elliot Kennedy


“Right, so there’s a little plastic toilet, OK? You open it up and inside it’s clean as anything. Then you shut the lid, tap it a couple of times and when you open it up again there is a gooey poo inside!” Sam McGarrigle is not talking us through his Glastonbury horror. “Underneath the toilet are fake eyeballs and shit.” In fact, Sam is explaining to us what’s in his box of Gross Magic: an awe inspiring (come on, it is) box of tricks he picked up at a local Brighton boot sale just months before forming his second band – a band that have crept up on the world with impressive stealth, like David Copperfield approaching Claudia Schiffer. “I went with my sister to the car-boot sale and forgot the name by the time I got home. Luckily she remembered and it’s stuck. My parents saw it since and got me the box.” Sam is indebted to his family for a fitting name – Gross Magic play spectral, otherworldly pop tunes of the highest order, capable of thumps and bumps in the night.

His track ‘Sweetest Touch’ is the first to cross the void into our world: one of 5 songs that appear on the forthcoming ‘Teen Jamz’ EP. With a guitar towing a supernatural grunge-funk line, it helps conjure up images of the dead, as in Kurt Cobain to be blatantly honest. “‘Sweetest Touch’ is the only song we’ve put out so far,” says Sam. “I don’t know if it will shock people, but the rest of the EP won’t be as grungy as that. I was equally influenced by stuff like ELO, David Bowie and T-Rex, so it’s not going to be as grungy as some people think.”

Really, it’s the bass that overtly borrows from grunge, while the guitar updates the sassy squeals of glam. As for the vocals, Sam’s falsetto-tinged voice has singed a few eyebrows too, as he’s been likened to a certain influential symbol. “Prince!” he says. “Yeah, I guess that’s because of my high pitched singing. I’m also a huge fan of Michael Jackson so that hopefully shows in the music. I made a song ages ago called ‘Waiting For You’, which is a bit Prince, so I know what you mean.”

Sam’s passion for MJ was shared with former band mate Mike J. Together they were Hocus Tocus – a surf-styled, lo-fi pop duo that caused a stir in London just two years ago. Now they aren’t so close. “Actually we bonded again over Michael Jackson on Facebook last night,” assures Sam. “He actually mentioned something about buying a keyboard, so you never know…”

While Mike remains in the city, though, Gross Magic stick close to the coast. Based in Brighton, Sam toiled on his own before welcoming in three local additions with open arms. “Steve (bass), Joe (drums) and Will (guitar) replaced a backing track and it sounds much, much better now,” he grins, having just walked out of a four-hour practice. “We weren’t expecting too many shows at first, but then we did a show at the Green Door Store [Brighton] and it’s just taken off.

“It seems there is a new influx of bands from around Brighton,” he continues. “Fear of Men and some of The History of Apple Pie are locals, so it’s pretty cool at the moment. With great bands like Cold Pumas too it’s looking good.”

An hour or two after we meet with Sam, we get a sense of just what he means when he says things have “taken off” for his new project. This evening, at a north London pub show, he’s first on, but the room is full like he’s the headliner, mostly with A&Rs and label bosses. With magic moments of simplicity throughout ‘Sweetest Touch’, and a riff so bold and brave it’s a wonder we haven’t heard it before, fledgling label The Sounds of Sweet Nothing took notice of Gross Magic long before now, though. Everyone else is frantically running to catch up. “Yeah, [label owner] Ned got in touch,” says Sam. “He’d released Unknown Mortal Orchestra before. I sent my Soundcloud demo to a couple of blogs and the label got in touch within days. We re-recorded the songs, though, as they needed a bit of a tidy up!”

The clamour continues to sign Sam and his soiled toilet to a bigger deal, although at the rate Gross Magic are accelerating there’s a good chance that the ink will be dry by the time you’re reading this. There’s a feverish excitement about this band that only truly happens every so often, and if all of their songs drip in teenage sex like ‘Sweetest Touch’ does (whether as indebted to Kurt and Marc or not) the frenzied hype will be very much justified.

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 30 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2011.

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