Not convinced? To be honest, neither was I, confusedly trudging between similarly named spots on a rainy October Wednesday night. “I’m outside the place,” I say on the phone. “No, wrong one,” comes the reply. Ah. Sometimes situations like this just end up turning into a perpetual house party, albeit with a monster sound-system and fuck-tons of MDMA. In other words, not my idea of a good Wednesday night.
As I eventually cross the threshold of the former boozer though, it becomes abundantly clear that the Rising Sun gang are pretty serious about all of this. I immediately clock a beefy modular synthesiser perched on the dining table of the gargantuan living space, half-finished with its guts strewn across the floor. There are records everywhere. People mill about but everybody seems pretty level-headed. “Hi there,” I say, clumsily shaking half a dozen hands throughout the room.
First and foremost, I’m here to speak with six-piece outfit A House in the Trees, who, I’m told, form the core of the collective. They’re still having their photos taken by Dan, our photographer, in the basement says Joe, my chaperone into this weird and wonderful world. “Let’s go downstairs,” he suggests. Okey-dokey.
This, it turns out, is the real base of operations for the collective. To my left is a fully kitted-out recording studio, replete with soundproofing and mood lighting. Dead ahead we have the band themselves, sprawled across the floor and joking around in front of some camouflage netting as they pose for pictures. Beyond them there’s a makeshift dancefloor, then around the corner there’s a mixing room, listening booth and snug. Consider my early scepticism duly checked.
Finally sitting down to get acquainted, it turns out we’ll be missing one of the band – Cameron – who’s managed to scald his face with a plate of baked beans at work and, it transpires, has had to take a trip to A&E. The rest of the band are present and correct: rakish bandleader and seeming de-facto spokesman Sam, dark horse Chris, the effervescent India, boyish Dan and the perma-chilled Geraint, or G. Tonight it’s probably best that we stick to first names only, all things considered.
The genesis of the group was a recording project by Sam back at Goldsmiths a couple of years ago, which yielded an EP (‘To Adore’), which you can find on Soundcloud, along with a gig at the Waiting Room in Stoke Newington. That early work set the broad parameters for A House in the Trees: dark pop and ambient dance fit for the morning after. “Yeah,” says Sam. “We’re on a constant comedown.”
Since then, A House in the Trees has become a sextet and branched out into trip-hop meshed with experimental hip-hop; Portishead as imagined by Clams Casino. Over the past year or so the six have been prolific enough to put together a mixtape (which I’m later gifted as an actual tape on the way out the door), a bunch of remixes and enough material for at least a couple of albums, or so I’m told – there are 27 songs circulating between the band on a private link at the moment, apparently.
Having such an incredible place in which to work is one hell of an advantage, I say. “Finding the place was a complete stroke of luck,” says Sam. “I remember the first day when Chris had told us about it, saying they were looking for two people and me and G were looking for a place to live at that point. We came down, saw the name the Rising Sun and before we even stepped into it, I was like… done! [Laughter] I think it was just moving in with like-minded people who all saw this space and instead of just saying, ‘Oh, that’s a cool dirty basement,’ it was, ‘That’s a basement we can transform and do something with,’ you know?”
Dan agrees. “It was just the fact of having the space; you’ve got to use it. I completely understand it’s very hard to get a place like this.”
In the main, the group were already good friends at Goldsmiths and many of them had already lived and collaborated together on an artistic level. After graduation, the gang were just looking for some way to continue the arrangement. Last November, everything fell into place. “The moment of [finding] the Rising Sun was kind of when it went from being the idea of the collective to putting it into serious practice, because we had the means to do so,” Sam says. “That’s definitely I think when things changed.”
As for the band’s moniker within the collective, I’m hoping to hear some fantastical tale behind it but all I manage to tease out is a fairly prosaic yarn. “The name itself came from a house and… some trees… in south-west Wales, near where Geraint lives,” Sam laughs. “It was just an image that I saw and, you know, you see something and it imprints itself on your mind and the name just came out from there. But a lot of the theory behind what we do comes from many different [other] things. We have terms that define that kind of stuff and it’s a lot of referencing mundanity and escapism; as trip-hop has always been.”
Collaboration is one term which is surely important in talking about what A House in the Trees and the Rising Sun contingent are all about. The band walk me through all the dizzying permutations of projects and side projects either between themselves, the collective or outsiders. For one, visual art is a really important aspect of everything they do – sometimes the visuals come before the songs. “The visuals completely set the reference point for the music,” Sam says. “If you watch the visuals for the music it gives you complete clarity of the intention of the song.”
More broadly though, jamming and exchanging ideas are at the centre of the whole endeavour. The idea of being within a collective is important to the whole band.
“You’re fully immersed in a creative environment, rather than having to apply yourself each time. You’re already in it so you’ve got more drive,” Dan observes.
A House in the Trees would be a worse proposition without it, says Sam. “You can see it either when we’re playing live and jamming around one of our songs, or when we’re just sitting in the studio jamming and someone who isn’t even affiliated with A House in the Trees – someone completely new – starts making music with us. You’re always going to have a much richer form of inspiration very immediately.”
This tribe was recently out in Bulgaria for the Meadow in the Mountains festival, along with fellow Rising Sun member and self-proclaimed “flow lord” Boyan Levchev. Between them, they lugged along a portable studio setup and immediately got recording with whomever they found out there. They’re toying with the idea of taking the concept on the road – rocking into towns for a few days and working with local musicians and producers before moving on. They’ve already cooked up music with Dutch producer Sample Proper, grime producer Last Japan and Australian duo Ginger and Ghost, who’ve come back over to London to record more.
Back home, it also helps that south-east London is a fertile breeding ground for new bands. As with some parts of the east of town, rents still just about exist within the realms of reality and the combination of affordable housing and Goldsmiths makes for a burgeoning experimental electronic scene. “South-east London is amazing,” marvels Sam. “There’s so much good stuff happening down here and there’s so many good people doing good things. We’re all a part of that and it’s just good that we have a space where people can reap the benefits of it.”
Indeed, with such a useful space at their disposal, it’s easy to imagine the Rising Sun collective as some kind of a focal point for the broader scene, I say. “A little bit of it yeah,” says Sam. “I mean we also have a non official sister venue, the Five Bells, which opened up in New Cross. That’s just a pub that’s opened and they’re trying to upstart and do some other interesting stuff with the space as well.
“Then we have the Siren Girls who are an all-female technical collective, India who’s a part of A House in the Trees and does a lot of the visuals for us, some of the Rye Wax lot in Peckham come here, some of the people that have come from Goldsmiths. I find that I come out of my bedroom almost every day and I meet someone new – I can’t get away from that!”