This week our UK correspondent explores the funk-laced shoegaze of Friendly Fires.
It’s finally summer in Britain so everyone’s either gone abroad or made a dash for the few stretches of coastline that aren’t awash in raw sewage or patrolled by killer sharks (seriously). Stocks are running low of the country’s favourite new barbecue marinade, Reggae Reggae Sauce. And the football season is about to start again so I spent the hottest day of the year sweating in a backyard with ten other men bidding imaginary money to assemble an imaginary team of real footballers who don’t know me. It’s hard to explain. But don’t worry, at least I got Jason Koumas.
On the one hand, August means that you can get a table in the pub on a Friday night, so I was able to enjoy a relaxed Stella with those charming purveyors of shimmery punk-funk, Friendly Fires. On the other hand, there aren’t many people out at gigs, so the band had to perform to an enthusiastic – but not quite as manic and hormonal as usual – Club NME crowd at Koko.
Friendly Fires have the outward demeanour of a typical NME band: fidgety guitars, a clutch of concise indie-disco tunes and a singer with a skinny tee and a good haircut. At times they sound a lot like Bloc Party, although without the skin of self-importance. However, where Friendly Fires begin to lift off into an ionosphere of their own is in their application of gauzy electronic fuzz allied to a proper understanding of house rhythms, basslines, buildups and breakdowns. Basically, they are New Order rather than Joy Division.
This happened because they were once a hardcore band who got distracted along the way by classic Chicago house, My Bloody Valentine and the lush techno of the Traum and Kompakt stables. Whereas most indie bands will tediously maintain that a good melody is the only thing that really matters, Friendly Fires debunk that traditionalist viewpoint by building their tracks around a cool sound, or a propulsive rhythm, knowing that sonics can be just as transcendent as songs. They prefer to record in a garage in St Albans than take their stuff to an outside producer because they reckon that half the joy of creating a track is in mucking around with it on the computer after all the original parts have been recorded. They are wary of signing to any of the major labels currently courting them because they fear being forced back into traditional rock band routines and having someone tell them that they can’t play their guitars with powerdrills any more.
Basically, if you’re automatically sceptical of fresh-faced British indie-pop Topshop Reading Festival type bands, and I know a lotta you are, then you should get yourself singed by Friendly Fires because they really are a class apart.