Where the band who'd stopped being a band found a vocalist with a fascination for the tiny details of the human experience
Until last year, Flo had never been on a stage. Had never wanted to be on a stage. In fact, ask her and her natural instinct when presented with a stage would be to run a mile. This year, Dry Cleaning are struggling to keep on top of their many bookings; with that same Flo being widely tipped as one of British music’s most dynamic new voices and a compulsive stage presence. What happened?
Though from South London and specialising in wiry, angular post-punk – with abrasive, sarcastic spoken word lyrics – it is worth pointing out that they’ve little to do with the similar South London scene centred around Brixton Windmill. Nick, Lewis and Tom – who make up the rest of Dry Cleaning – had been lugging away in various bands for over a decade and found themselves particularly jaded. They decided to strip things right back, and practice at Lewis’ parents garage with the express purpose that the results would – at most – turn into a good live band for their mates to enjoy at parties. Certainly not another band, or any ambition. “It was like being sixteen again,” says Nick over chips and pints in a Peckham pub, “jamming, recording it on the phone, Lewis’ mum cooking us pizzas.”
The band that wasn’t a band did have an absence for a singer, and various friends pitched themselves to Nick, Lewis and Tom for the vacancy. At some point – and it’s vague as to quite whose idea this was – the band’s artist friend Flo was mentioned as a prospective vocalist. Flo, sat with the rest of the band, visibly creases at the memory of being propositioned to join the band. Attending a friend’s art show with Flo, Tom blurted out the proposition virtually mid-sentence. “Immediately my reaction was terror,” remembers Flo, “as if I would ever do that, truly that was my first reaction. But then a tiny bit of, wouldn’t it be cool if I didn’t feel that way? Wouldn’t it be cool if I wasn’t really scared?”
Though all of the band knew that Flo had no prior experience in music they were aware that she’d used bits of her own text in her art. This also meant that when the first rehearsal came around, Flo had an arsenal of phrases, observations and found statements saved on her phone from which to draw on. “Because I make lots of things,” she explains, “I’ve always got this mentality of, it’s good to collect stuff if you’re creative as you’ll wind up using it. Overheard things, found things, my own thoughts if I was getting pissed off but wasn’t brave enough to shout at people.”
For the first rehearsal, Flo sat in the corner as the band played the handful of songs that they’d finalised at that point. For the first half an hour she didn’t make a noise – natural shyness and a desire to observe quite what the band had put together. “I’m not saying I knew it would work, but then as soon as Flo started to sing, within seconds, it was like, that’s it!” Tom grins, “fully formed.”
Early shows were strange; the band recorded an EP before having performed live, and Flo was consumed by stress at what the onstage process could possibly involve. “I was absolutely, completely terrified. I’d obviously heard of soundchecks, because I’ve known people in bands really well, but that doesn’t mean you know what actually happens in one or what you have to do.” She shakes her head. “The first show I was really really scared, but I’d made a decision before I did it – and actually in the first practice – that I would just try and be myself as much as possible even if that meant looking really nervous.” Its these same nerves and an unfussy lack of bravado that have made Flo such an engaging live performer. Similarly, her vocal delivery is deadpan, slightly dour – it’s all delivered in such a way as to make you question how she really feels about the words coming out of her mouth. Much of this, Flo explains, is down to the writing techniques she uses, ideas of cut-up text and found words that you can put down to her artist background.