Forget Animal Collective and everything Paw Tracks –New Weird America has met its match. Born from an East London bin and a makeshift approach to noise making, UK experimental duo Gentle Friendly are just a small part of the art-school undercurrent bubbling up from London’s South.
They produce the kind of music that combines rampant sampling with a collage of digital and analogue sounds, pieced together from a foundation of conscious Ludditism and an almost self-destructive inefficiency. Their second LP Rrrrrrr is both a frenetic buzz and an ambient journey that just won’t let you decided whether you should relax or have a fit. The primal revelry of ‘Kiwi Change Cane’, with the bouncing rhythm and hyperactive Casio keyboard ends on reverb and starts on the dark trance of ‘Love Scenes’, offering a synthetic cadence disguised as the deep wild.
Needless to say, Gentle Friendly is uncategorisable, their history, impenetrable. Their bio lists the duo as Daniel Boyle and David Maurice one day, then David Maurice and Richard Manber the next. But don’t expect an explanation. Instead you’ll find interviews with Maurice running off about ‘breatharianism’ and Kurt Cobain conspiracy theories, while remaining as evasive and off the point about himself and his music as his thematic focus.
How then, in a world with so much information being readily available, is it so damn hard to work these guys out? Could it be that the facts can’t be trusted and everything is up for interpretation? They are, after all, part of a very regional scene that seems to exist both because of and in spite of the internet. Their label, Upset the Rhythm, is connected to a world of like-minded artists, who often eschew the trend of social networking for mass self-promotion, while using the very same tool to reach their specific audience.
Personalised ‘Google’ algorithms and target marketing has made people less a part of the collective consciousness some of us expected and more the singular eccentrics we thought we’d finally gotten rid of. And you don’t get much more eccentric than London, or Gentle Friendly. They rehearse at a venue dubbed ‘D££p House’ –bearing that quintessentially British symbol of the Commonwealth –in a place where you could go to the shops in your underwear without anyone noticing. Where it’s an embarrassment if you don’t cross the road at a red light or you can make some insanely singular music, while getting away with it.
aqnb: It seems a lot of bands from there very much identify with being a part of South East London. What is it about the area that differentiates you from, say, the North East?
GF: Actually, that was a few years ago, the band has moved around a bit since. We both live in East at the moment, but I’m looking at a move South again, so everything is coming full circle again.
(from their previous LP LP ‘Ride Slow’)
aqnb: I saw a photo of you with your whole set up in what looks like a backyard and there has been talk of rehearsals in a basement. Is space, time and, perhaps, cheaper real estate something that gives rise to the interesting bands and artistic community coming from the South?
GF: At the moment we’re in new place we call ‘D££p House’. We make and record all our stuff there. It’s Rich’s space really but we share the building with a bunch of other friends, Way Through, Munch Munch, Echo Lake, Among the Bones, Omi Palone etc. also practice, hang out, get cheap tattoos there and so on.
aqnb: Any local artists with whom you collaborate or are influenced by?
GF: All the above!
GF: It’s what we grew up in, I think. We still record on the same four-track I was recording on when I was 13 years old and I’ve never really felt the need to upgrade… DIY feels pretty healthy to me. Plus, there’s the old ‘limitations’ thing too. I guess. Making good with what you can scrape together. You’re stuck in a room, making records with the same one Casio and drum set. It just makes things more interesting. Or you just go nuts with it but that’s pretty interesting too.
aqnb: Is the eclecticism of UTR, musically, creatively and culturally something you also identify with?
GF: YES! UTR 4 EVER
aqnb: Do you think the comparisons between you and US artists like Ariel could have something to do with a global cultural movement? Do you recognise a difference between American and English counter-culture?
GF: I really wish these bands were part of a transatlantic political counter-culture! But yeah, I think musically the English scene is definitely getting more ‘English’, whatever that means, which is fine, except not where it’s in some kind of throwback nostalgia way. ‘Future Englishness’, that’s what we’re all going for.
aqnb: And in the context of the digital era, is there room for a regional sound?
GF: I think the opposite. I think digital has made everything even more regional.
aqnb: Many bands appear to be moving on from the drums/ guitar/ bass format. Did you consciously do the same?
GF: It was more a case of what was easy to transport. We started out with a modified guitar too but it was heavy so we ditched it.
aqnb: How important are lyrics to you? Are they purely another instrument or do they play a communicative role beyond creating sound?
GF: I don’t know about communication; I don’t if know we’re doing anything like that. But yeah, the words are always important. You can’t hear them most of the time but you’ll just have to take my word for it, I suppose.
aqnb: You take from a broad range of samples and influences. What are some of the most unusual sounds you’ve worked with?
GF: We’re doing a split with Dustin Wong that’s full of samples from ‘numbers stations’; radio stations that just broadcast these repeating sequences. You tune in and get a looped series of tones, or a phrase, or just a voice counting to ten over and over again, which is how they got the name. Radio fanatics keep finding them on the long wave bands over the years, no-one really knows what they’re for. Cold war signals from lost transmitters that they forgot to shut off maybe, but yeah, these loops just keep going.
aqnb: As a band that mixes and matches sounds and styles, is recycling records a preoccupation you can relate to?
GF: Yeah, we try to recycle our own records as much as possible. We did actually plan on making the next record entirely from samples of the previous vinyls. We’ll see how that turns out.
aqnb: What is it about hiphop that draws you to it and how exactly does it come through in your work?
GF: I’m a bit out of the loop with rap just now. I just hear what comes on the radio, which doesn’t seem all that great currently, barring a few really great songs. But I think its main draws for us are: ‘cool sounds and lots of words’.
aqnb: Finally, in the past you’ve said that the band lives and dies with your antiquated keyboards. Do you stand by your word?
GF: Actually, we lost the original MT-40 [Casio] and I got a new one, so this is the resurrection.
aqnb: Thanks guys.