Sweet 16: Metronomy’s Joseph Mount revisits a magical teenage year

For the man behind Metronomy his 16th year was all about discovering hip-hop, baggy jeans and almost winning the national battle of the bands.

I think this was our last family holiday, when I was 16 and my sister was 18. There we are, looking at some construction in Berlin. I’ve always said to people that I found my style when I was 16 and I literally haven’t changed since. I would have been wearing white trainers, and I’ve still got that Adidas jacket. That’s all I wore and it’s all I’ve worn since. My jeans were baggier then, because I was getting into hip-hop around 1998.

That holiday was a lot of fun, but it was the first time I felt like I wanted to break away and do my own thing. Me and my sister spent a lot of time on that holiday looking in charity shops. At the time I was trying to find a VHS copy of this breakdancing film called Beat Street – I had these older friends who once showed it to me, and I managed to find a copy of it in Berlin, but it was in German, of course. I religiously watched that. It wasn’t a very long holiday, but it was a significant one.

I was definitely trying to be cool. Where I used to live in Totnes [Devon], there was this art college in Dartington and I’d met a few skateboarders in their early 20s, so I was spending a lot of time with people who were a lot older than me. It was around that time that people started playing me DJ Shadow and Dr Octagon, so I think I was on the right track.

I met Gabriel [Stebbing], who used to play in Metronomy, when I was 14 or 15, and the two of us went on this musical journey together, feeding off each other’s tastes. When we met we were playing in a band listening to The Beatles and The Who, and I was into Weezer and Nirvana and all that kind of stuff, and then we started listening to things like The Beastie Boys and Missy Elliott, and then ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ came out. We both realised that we didn’t have to restrict ourselves to Britpop. And then because of all the skateboarders I was hanging out with, they were watching all these skateboarding videos, which had the most ridiculously adventurous soundtracks, like Busta Rhymes.

I was absorbing a lot of cool stuff, because I was into skateboarding as much as anything else. We used to hang around the Safeway carpark in Totnes and think we were in San Fransisco, waiting for girls to realise that we were the coolest boys in the school… I don’t think the penny every dropped for them. Everyone else was into The Fugees and Portishead and smoking weed, or they were into Roni Size and drum and bass… and The Levellers. It was a West Country thing.

I did very average in my GCSEs. In fact, I didn’t even get Cs. I got an A in art, because it was the only one I cared about, but it was basically all Ds. Part of the problem was that before I did my exams I knew that I wanted to be a musician, so why would I need to do very well in science? I cruised while I had my eye on the prize, and I feel quite happy that at that age I was so sure of what I wanted. It’s nice if you ask a 16-year-old what they want to do and they say they want to be an professional skateboarder, you should just be like, ‘well fucking do it’, because you can make an incredible living doing that kind of thing if you really do it. It’s easy to dismiss the dreams of a teenager, but I know plenty of people who are doing what they wanted to do when they were 16.

All my friends did graphic design, but I remember that I did textiles because I knew that a lot of the girls would do it, and I could get to know them… and I was a bit interested in Adidas jackets. But what I made was fucking incredible… The band I was playing in with Gabriel, called The Upsides, won this battle of the bands and had to go and play in the final of this national competition in Leeds, so I made Gabriel a pair of flares for it – on the bottom of the flares was a flame effect. We should have won that competition but we were beaten by a band called Toi Machine who had a scratch DJ. We were genuinely really fantastic, though.

The guy that produced our demos played Paul McCartney in a Beatles tribute band and he was obsessed, so the production of our demos was pretty brilliant. A guy who worked with Franz Ferdinand’s management saw us and wanted to take us on, but then one of the band went to university and it all fell apart. That band was me, Gabriel and James Hoare from Veronica Falls and Ultimate Painting – we really could have made it.

As told to Stuart Stubbs 

Read Sweet 16 features with The National’s Matt Berninger and US Girls.

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