From Bahrain to south London, Stuart Stubbs meets a band pushing themselves to sound 'a lot weirder'
In the Brixton home of Kamal Rasool the other members of Flamingods file into a room festooned with fantastic hats and headdresses, patterned fabrics, an embroidered portrait of Tutankhamun and other fascinating objets d’art from around the globe. Records are everywhere too, but everything is outnumbered by musical instruments, particularly of the percussive kind. Flamingods like hitting things, and thanks to Kamal’s excessive travels with his family they carry with them an impressive collection of drums from Tanzania, the Middle East and the Amazon Basin. Today is Kamal’s 21st birthday; his favourite present is a pair of miniature cymbals on a string that he proudly drapes on his shoulders having shown them to the band.
Karthik is a friend from London, but Kamal, Sam, Craig and Charles grew up together in Bahrain, a small island in the Persian Gulf apparently best described as “hot, cheap and lazy”; a place where “everyone just listens to Akon on repeat”. There, the four friends formed what they call “a standard indie band”, largely due to being exposed to little else.
“I tried to push you guys, for a long time, to make the band a lot weirder,” insists Kamal. “No one really got it at the time,” he laughs. Sam admits that other than Kamal no one else on the entire island was listening to the likes of Animal Collective and Deerhunter, just rap and metal.
Flamingods began as Kamal’s project when he and his friends moved to England to start University two years ago. It couldn’t be further from ‘standard indie band’ territory, adamantly discarding the verse-chorus-verse norm, entrenched in cyclical rhythms and fascinated with the idea of vocals-as-another-instrument, rather than a focal point, inspired by Animal Collective’s 2004 album ‘Sung Tongs’.
“The whole idea of it, in the beginning, was that I was trying to transcend my cultural experiences into music,” explains Kamal, “obviously taking influences from other bands that I’m into as well, and African music, and music from all around the world. The instruments [acoustic and traditional] play a big part as well, but, yeah, just taking all the places I’ve been to around the world and trying to put those ideas into songs. I’m not sure if that works completely, or if people can tell that that’s what we’re trying to do, but that is the main focal point of it. Obviously, we do have psychedelic influences as well.”
“Also, we don’t uniform songs,” notes Sam. “We like the idea of repetitive, ongoing music, for ages, without any verse, lyrics or chorus – it can just be music forever. Like, I’m studying a popular music course believe it or not, and it’s fun, but it’s also terrible, because I’ll say, ‘Hey, come on, uni band, let’s play for a minute without any vocals,’ and they’ll frown on that and say it’s boring. And I’m like, ‘no it’s not, we’ve got some awesome music going on here!’. We like the randomness of it.”
“I think the point in my life when I got into that stuff was when I was in the Amazon and we met a tribe there who were playing music,” says Kamal, “but I realised they weren’t looking at notes or reading any music, they were just going with it, making music, making stuff up and getting into a euphoric state. They didn’t have any experience, musically, and neither do I. I just play what I play and hope it sounds good, but I’m lucky to have these guys, because I’ll just come up with the ideas of the songs and can take it to these guys who can put it into a structure and make sense of it.”
Kamal recruited his old friends when his home-recorded tracks began getting him gig offers. The group had dispersed around the country, with Sam and Craig studying in Southampton and Brighton, but they were happy to help.
“I’m basically like their Mum, calling them up all the time,” laughs Kamal. “They call me Queen Latifah…”
“Cos he’s quite a diva,” say the whole band as one.
Kamal: “I’m not a diva really.”
“Yes you are,” says Sam. “But no, it’s pretty tricky, because we’ve got different things going on and it’s quite pricey travelling back and forth.”
“We used to meet up a week before a gig to practice,” says Craig, “then we’d meet up an hour before. Now we don’t practice at all.”
“We do want to practice,” insists Sam.
Kamal: “But while we keep saying we’re going to take a break to work on new things we keep getting offered really great gigs.”