Electronic pioneers Hot Chip have released a new album and the band are appearing in Leeds this month. Duncan Seaman reports.
Al Doyle, multi-instrumentalist with indie electronic pioneers Hot Chip, is pondering the melancholy tone of the band’s sixth album Why Make Sense?
It is, the Leeds-born musician reflects, “a marginally darker record than we have done in the past”, influenced by the troubled spirit of the modern age.
“I think there’s always been a general theme with Hot Chip of having melancholy or sad lyrics over quite upbeat music,” he says, “but yes, there’s definitely some sense of like a reality check and also it’s the closest that Alexis [Taylor, the band’s singer] has come to some quite politically charged music that maybe touches on a general malaise.
“It was a really weird year leading up to the release of that record, there were so many natural disasters and wars and in the UK there’s been a general all-out attack on the welfare state, on poor people and migrants and disabled people, so it felt strange to not refer to those things in some way. I think it would’ve been dishonest and kind of pointless to make a record that was all happy-go-lucky and let’s have a good time.”
He notes that the unease pervades even one of the most “clubby” tracks, Need You Now, which is on one level a floor filler and on another “you’re finding solace in the people around you and the people that you love despite the facts of what’s going on in the wider world”.
That particular song seems a response to some of the appalling acts of violence that have been meted out in the Middle East in the past couple of years. “I think Alexis would refuse to be so specific but something like that might have been part of it, I guess,” Doyle acknowledges.
In interviews the band have also indicated their dissatisfaction with the general direction of flow of contemporary dance music. Hot Chip, it seems, are keen to restore some humanity to the genre. “There’s always been that aspect of what we do being a resistance to things being quite too neat and regimented,” says Doyle.
“Despite us actually really enjoying some older techno music that is unashamedly repetitive and minimal, like earlier Detroit house and techno, unashamed mechanical music, but it’s not that kind of mechanism that I think we’re against, it’s more like a formulaic kind of mechanism.
“Whenever we feel like a song is going too much in a particular direction we get a little bit freaked out and try to drag it into somewhere it wouldn’t normally go or introduce an element that is not part of that style. For instance there’s a song on the record called Started Right which was a bit of a problem for us and we couldn’t figure out how to resolve it. It was quite a funky, disco-y song at one point and we were like, ‘Oh my God, this sounds like a funk tribute band’ so we started again and that happens quite often, not wanting things to conform too closely to what we would see as a formula and that’s a constant battle.” Joe Goddard, Hot Chip’s co-frontman, has also reflected on modern day hedonism and the popular need to the escape “a particularly dark time”.
“For young people, I think that’s what they should be doing, they should be going out and trying to lose themselves and forget about whatever is going on,” Doyle says. “The problem comes when that side of things is robbed entirely from what’s going on in a wider context.
“For instance it’s always interesting to me what dance music is like in America. British people always think of New York house and how strong the dance music scene was in America in the 80s and 90s, but actually those scenes were tiny, something like a few hundred people would have gone to regular parties in Detroit at the time it was coming up and the people that did go were generally ostracised groups – black people, gay people, people that didn’t really have another place to go to in mainstream culture – and that’s how that music began.
“Then if you contrast that with what is going on in America right now with the rise of EDM music and how popular that is and how co-opted it’s been by much more mainstream groups and how much money is generated within that field it’s a complete anathema to what’s going on on other sides of the political landscape in America.”
He likens the situation to what was going on at the Hacienda in Manchester in the 1980s. “It was at the height of Thatcherism and people were going a little bits nuts and it was some kind of a reaction to that. I think there’s something like that that’s maybe about to happen again in the UK that’s like a re-politicisation of younger people. I’ll be interested to see what music scenes flow from that over the next few years.
“Not that that’s something that we were tapping into but it’s just something that I think was on our minds when we were making the record.”
Nick Relph’s artwork for Why Make Sense? is slightly different on every copy. Rather than it being a statement on consumerism amd packing, Doyle says the band simply thought it would be a nice thing for fans to have something unique. “We just didn’t think it was going to be possible. We actually talked about using this technique on the previous record but it wasn’t quite ready to go.
“They’ve used it for things like book covers before but this is the first time that that technique has been applied to a record so it was a bit of an unknown factor. We were really grateful that the label was trying it out but ultimately and mostly it was just a nice thing for the fans.”
Hot Chip play at Leeds Beckett University on Sunday October 18. For details visit http://www.leedsbeckettsu.co.uk/events/hot-chip
Together for 15 years
For Al Doyle, there’s satisfaction in the fact that Hot Chip have managed to negotiate their way through the past 15 years in a music industry that’s experienced seismic shifts.
“Fifteen years is not bad going, really. There have been lots of other bands that have done really well but have maybe not had the longevity that we’ve had. We have a sort of metaphor within the band that we’re travelling on the motorway at a very steady 56mph, these cars come by and they race ahead but a little way down the line we see them spin off onto the hard shoulder, but we’re keeping on trucking.”