They may be "rather oblique", but they "really, really fucking care"
For many up-and-coming South London bands, the first play on Steve Lamacq’s BBC Radio 6 show is a sacred rite of passage. One that rewards their hard work, cements their ‘one to watch’ status, and sets them on their way. Well, Legss aren’t your typical South London band. Vocalist and guitarist Ned Green recounts the revered DJ’s debut play of Legss’ recent single ‘Hyde Park Coroner’. “He played it and at the end just said, ‘Well, that was rather oblique.’” Despite the anti-climax, Green wears a beaming smile while relaying the story. “You could tell he wasn’t into it and he didn’t understand it. And you know, as odd as it sounds, for Legss that’s a win.”
To be fair to Lamacq, ‘rather oblique’ isn’t the worst take on Legss’ music. Their capricious sound regularly strays far from centre, entering realms unfamiliar for guitar-driven music, incorporating dark sonic expositions, strong fictional characters, and elements of theatre. At times, all three all at once.
Another contributing factor to Lamacq’s verdict may be Legss’ history with another BBC radio DJ, Huw Stephens – a history to which Stephens is almost certainly oblivious. It might be too much to say that Legss ‘sent’ for Stephens on the band’s mercurial ‘Letters to Huw’, sat at the heart of their criminally unheard second EP Doomswayers, but they certainly took a genuine artistic risk. The tense song charts a meeting between a musician and the Welsh broadcaster, where Stephens whisks them off to Paris to catch “the last Euro show of a darling new alternative outfit he was championing”. As the two sit nursing espressos at the Paris Hard Rock Café over a simple piano arrangement that mutates into a sinister soundscape, Stephens confides in the musician a deep, dark secret – he cannot stand any music. The revelation sinks the song into a bleak sonic wasteland, with a soliloquy of apathy wandering its scorched earth. The song ends not with a bang, but a whimper, as Stephens recites T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men.
“The character is in no way based on Huw, but was drawn from a few revealing conversations with radio producers and industry types,” Green clarifies. The aim was “to make listeners question the intentions of anyone in a position of authority who is quick to splash cash to impress.” It’s a song that won’t endear them to the BBC playlist makers any time soon. But Legss like to do things their own way.
Legss’ oeuvre, comprising two self-released EPs (Writhing Comedy and Doomswayers) and two tremendous recent singles, is full of these wayward narratives that spiral in surprising directions.
Green asserts that from the band’s formation in autumn 2018 that they were bonded by their “shared enthusiasm for wanting to create slightly odd, uneven, and disconcerting music. I don’t know how to say this without sounding pretentious,” he says, “but we were all aware quite early on that we wanted to make music that wasn’t one-dimensional. That was slightly more ambitious or conceptual.”
While the description of literary flourishes, entrancing experimentation, and spasmodic sonic shifts is reminiscent of other South London bands, in truth, there’s little that connects them with the scene besides location, lazy music journalists and Spotify’s algorithm. Legss’ affinity with London music instead harks back through the decades, with a greater parallel to The Clash, Japan, This Heat, and even old music hall acts such as Dan Leno.
Drummer Louis Grace reflects that “bands like Black Midi and Black Country, New Road were making music when we were getting familiar with ourselves. But you know, they’re all musically trained, so the standard’s set so high. A lot of people are in awe of them and try to follow suit.” Grace believes this blind adoration “isn’t good for South London music” and its authenticity. “We’re trying to write something that’s ignoring what everyone else is doing and make it a sonic representation of who we are as people and what influences us, be it art, film or poetry.”
As a result, Legss’ music swims in its idiosyncrasies: Green’s narrative-heavy but poetic delivery veers and soars like a manic one-man show off Shaftesbury Avenue with theatrical rolling Rs and visceral yells. Grace’s thunderous drumming and sonic experimentation crash through arrangements like that erratic train in Inception. Lead guitarist Max Oliver’s searing guitar licks root the band in a broadly fast-paced punk environment, and Jake Martin’s rhapsodic bass fills their world with thick vibrations that give it depth and palpability.
“We produce the sort of music we do essentially because we are not fully musically trained,” says Green. “It forces us to work within a different set of confinements.”
Grace puts it succinctly: “The limitation is what differentiates the band.”
While Legss has always been a quartet, it does feel that there’s a fifth member driving their music to strange places – London itself. Three members of the band grew up in London’s orbit, while Green grew up near Liverpool.
Martin explains his paradoxical relationship to the city. “I can get drowned in frustration living here,” he says. “I’m still processing my relationship with the music and the city and writing music in London. It all kind of funnels into one another.”
“You can feel the conflict with the capital in our music,” adds Grace.
The band’s latest single, ‘Hollywood’, embodies this love-hate relationship. Detailing the cognitive dissonance of being an artist in London, Grace explains how “you go home for Christmas and tell your family ‘I got my music played on radio’ and they’re proud. But the reality is that day-to-day you’re working in coffee shops.”
“I was picking litter when we were doing Doomswayers,” says Green. “But you know, like it says in the lyrics, ‘I tell my mum’s friends I work in Hollywood.’”
This violent clash with London’s late-stage capitalism bubbles up gradually and then suddenly in Legss’ music, like a round of hiccups. Their music isn’t an ode to The Libertines’ Albion, nor Britpop’s Cool Britannia; instead, it’s in dialogue with Boris Johnson’s vapid Global Britain.
“I don’t necessarily think we are a political band,” says Green. “But I think the way politics comes into the music is through subtlety or nuance.”
This subtlety means the abyss of the capital can appear like neoliberal visions. There’s the sleek anxiety of ‘Venus’ which fidgets like a Ballardian panic attack occurring in Nine Elms’ Sky Pool, for everybody to see. There’s a lull in ‘Doomswayers’ that has a hue of ‘Where Is My Mind’ by the Pixies, conjuring a contorted Fight Club ending that extends to Canary Wharf. And while ‘Hyde Park Coroner’ is a time-stretching murder ballad, it’s the aborted Marble Arch Mound which flickers through the mind.
The cumulative effect is music that listens like a postmodern novel. A sound that bonds meta-fiction, irreverence, and ingenuity, fusing high and low culture and engaging with the world’s lunacy. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a self-cannibalising city.
But for all that, Legss’ music never comes across as heady. The music’s core isn’t cynicism, but connection. Green says that at the heart of their music “is an awareness of how affecting sound can be. We are so acutely aware of how we are all equally affected by music, and we have the self-belief that we too can make music that is as affecting.”
Grace condenses it further still: “We really, really fucking care.” These are honest, heartfelt songs for dark, despondent times.