Klaxons: White Magick
- Words: Vivian Host
In 1992, Kicks Like a Mule's "The Bouncer" was released on Tribal Bass Records, a label owned by British ragga techno vocalist Rebel MC. It was made by XL Recordings founders Nick Halkes and Richard Russell, who would make The Prodigy a household name before subsequently signing M.I.A. and Basement Jaxx.
When Klaxons finally catch on in America–if the British hype machine doesn't kill them first–you'll be hearing a lot more about "The Bouncer," and other rave tracks besides. Though Klaxons are an indie band–guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and no samplers, thank you–they're being pegged as the harbingers of a "new rave" scene, in large part because one of their first releases was a cover of the ode to club doormen, albeit a version that replaces the original's signature bleeping melody with droning synth and squealing guitar, and recasts its infamous refrain–"Your name's not down/You're not coming in"–as an incredulous cry.
Raising the Day
You can be pissed at Klaxons for being so canny, for heralding the rave revival rather than just hinting at it. You can marvel at how a band formed in November 2005 has already found itself at the center of a label bidding war and a controversy about whether or not "new rave" even exists. But though they were barely in primary school when the Summer of Love started, 26-year-old Jamie Reynolds, 23-year-old James Righton, and 24-year-old Simon Taylor are not trying to take the piss.
"It was annoying, actually, in the early days, people saying we're some kind of ironic band," says Reynolds, the most outspoken of the three. "[Our decision to cover certain techno songs] is more about classic songwriting than having a rave sound. And when we met Richard Russell, he understood where we were coming from. If anyone had the right to go, 'Look, don't fucking do this. You don't understand,' it would have been him."
"We wanted to make organic dance music," Reynolds continues. "All the dance bands relied on electronic programming and drum machines. We wanted to take that and give it a human element. The sort of breakbeats that were used in tunes in the early '90s, we take those beats and recreate them on drums. We use electronics, but it's all done by hand. It's about taking an early-'90s approach but making that into apocalyptic pop songs."
"Rave is only a minor influence," concurs Taylor. "We're looking for that sort of early-'90s euphoric feeling, but not necessarily that sound."
It's easy to hate on Klaxons, but to boil what they do down to simple revivalism is inaccurate. In actuality, they appear to have reverse-engineered rave. Where 'ardcore played around with a cartoon-ish sonic darkness–juxtaposing screaming sirens, horribly Hoovering basslines, and kooky samples with uplifting pianos and diva vocals–Klaxons' music is primarily ultra-harmonic experimental pop.
Lyrically is where the band gets really dark. The summer camp sing-along "Totem" is about premonitions and mathematics ("Signs, you know I see them all the time/Signs, just a fraction of a sine"), while "Gravity's Rainbow" is peppered liberally with references to the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. "Magick" finds the three at their most ominous (and obvious), with Reynolds shrieking Aleister Crowley incantations like "Magick/Without tears!" and "Do what you will/Do what you will," as if trying to bring the famed occultist back from the dead. (A video for the song, where Simon shoots fluorescent green slime from his eyes and the band develops K-shaped stigmata, further adds to the effect.)
I ask the trio about their dance-punk mega-jam "Atlantis to Interzone," which places a cacophony of freaked-out synth shrieks and stutters atop a bassline cheerfully borrowed from Fugazi.
"It's about two kind[s] of weird non-spaces," says Taylor, who tends to get a far-off look in his saucer-like eyes when these subjects come up. "There's Atlantis the lost city, and Interzone, which is like a William Boroughs mind-space. I guess it's kind of like trekking through your head from place to place. The idea of young kids singing along between these two places that didn't really exist was kind of funny..."
"We just wanted to make subversive pop," interjects Reynolds. "Stuff to make kids do things that were slightly bizarre and really fucking dark."And their interest in the dark arts isn't just some side effect of watching all the Harry Potter movies–they've got a personal connection. "'Four Horsemen of 2012' came from my late granddad who was a spiritual healer and obsessed with 2012, which was going to be the apocalypse," explains Taylor. "He was a massive follower of Edgar Cayce, and that's where that came from. We're going to look really stupid if the world doesn't end in 2012. But it definitely will."
Klaxons are, rather unabashedly, cool nerds. They turn up to our interview in band t-shirts and thrifted gear (James sports an '80s Nike windbreaker; Simon, a pale-yellow grandma cardigan). Jamie (in Halloween "fun" socks and purple suede Adidas low-tops) totes a bag from a used record store, and can talk about obscure Can songs in the same breath as At the Drive-In and Venetian Snares. Their look (British, wholesome but kind of weird) and sound (particularly their vocal melodies) is oddly reminiscent of The Monkees, only fast-forward 40 years, and add some formative Ecstasy experiences and art school-chic.
Righton and Taylor originally met in school in England's sleepy Midlands. They were lured to London by Jamie to start a band, and were quickly corrupted by the East London warehouse party scene. At a few key gigs at a few underground parties in Shoreditch, Klaxons went wild and the kids followed suit. "We used to freak out to the point of not being able to play our own instruments," recalls Righton. "There was a point where I almost lost my breath 'cause I was freaking out too much," concurs Reynolds. "It's just not a good place to be."
A handful of tracks (check the Xan Valleys EP on Modular) and a couple of key remixes (Simian Mobile Disco, Digitalism) later, and the trio was being shipped to Hastings in the middle of the English countryside to work on an entire album under the guidance of Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford. Ford, a former member of dance-rock band Simian and a facile electro-house producer in his own right, bestowed upon them a knowledge of analog electronics (feeding their guitars through synths and filters), soothed some of their spazzier qualities, and generally gave their ideas and energy a focus.
"We clicked on similar tastes in music," says Ford of Klaxons. "They name-checked a lot of fun, interesting bands like Silver Apples and The KLF that made me realize they knew what they were on about." Ford also says he thinks the public will be surprised if they're just expecting Klaxons to be some techno rip-off band. "They've got a great sense of pop melody and a certain way of tracking their vocals–the falsettos and singing in octaves. And there's some depth to the songs; it's not just party music. It's maybe less throwaway than people would imagine."
Aleister Crowley defined magick as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will." While it can hardly be said that Klaxons are the lone engineers of the "new" rave (London's Hadouken, Glasgow's Shit Disco, and Toronto's Crystal Castles are blazing the same trail), their album, Myths of the Near Future–and the uproar surrounding it–is definite evidence that the band's alchemy is helping catalyze a change in the musical landscape, a change that perhaps Klaxons themselves cannot grok.
Or maybe they can. "I think we'll get more people turning up to our shows than will turn up to other people's shows," predicts Taylor. "There's definitely sort of a collective consciousness going on where people are more willing to let go and enjoy themselves, which is something that hasn't gone on for a while."
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