One hundred per cent Brighton-born, fifty per cent London-based, two-piece Peepholes claim inspiration from Swedish anti-folk artists Rough Bunnies and a Chinese violin. On hearing their latest mini-album Caligula you won’t believe them. The album is named after the cruel and insane Roman emperor and, as the title implies, is a lofty amalgam of fact and fiction, majesty and insanity, along with a dichotomous (bipolar, even?) attitude that seems to have an effect on everything Peepholes do.
Seeing the band live, there appears a volatile, if good-natured, tension between drummer Katia Barrett and synth-operator Nick Carlisle’s aesthetic sensibilities. Barrett, with her self-taught, at times florid, approach to a combatant drumming style and Amazonian holler, Carlisle with his meek on stage presence and conscientious adherence to sparse sonic architecture. Their songs are floods of boundless energy that have the capacity to either whip their audience into a primal frenzy or, if things go wrong, fall into a shambles.
Barrett doubles as drummer and sometimes singer of disorderly East London post-punk outfit CoverGirl. Carlisle handles minimal keyboard duties on an analogue synthesiser. Together they offer a music mired in processed and synthesised sounds well-suited to fans of London up-and-comers Factory Floor and industrial pioneers Chris & Cosey, while –judging by their motley visual aesthetic and musical company –being very much of the DIY disposition.
Recorded in two days at Lambeth Women’s Project in Brixton, tinkered with for months afterwards, Caligula introduces their stripped back live aesthetic of insistent repetition to intricate layering and texturology. Barrett’s modulated vocals have company in dubbed duets, while a pitched-down voice in ‘Tunnels’ is the only means for surmounting an incredible range, honed since Peepholes’ 2010 EP Lair.
The pounding animalism of her voice is brought forward in the mix to tunnel through a pummelling tide of serrated percussion and aural fragments. There’s an 8-bit feel to Carlisle’s monophonic approach, which means Caligula could be the ideal soundtrack to an epic film on retro-gaming, if it wasn’t for its broad sonic palette and intricate abstraction. Book-ended by two seven minute tracks, the primitive drumming sample of ‘Picture the World in Signs’ to end, follows a Dictaphone sample of wind chimes on ‘Caligula’ to open. That song slowly builds to crescendo pace where it is swept into a sonic squall that precariously sits between dynamic dreamscape and terrifying omen.
As a musical enterprise, everything about Peepholes seems a compromise. Not in the sense that they jeopardize their artistic vision –albeit one contained by self-imposed restrictions –but in that they manage a powerful noise-dance hybrid in spite of themselves.
(Caligula is out tomo on UTR)