Bill Cummings 05/08/2010
Islet are deconstructing what it means to be in a band in 2010, and they (claim) that it wasn't planned, its just happened by happy accident. They are enjoying the moment, creating music for the fun of it. Taking the bullshit of the music industry out of it all.
Some might say that Cardiff based four piece Islet have no image, their shape shifting, post rock builds upon twisting turning bracing, rhythmic percussion, then threads it with screeching guitar lines, primal hollering, then splashes it with searing organs and fragments of melody, like musical Pollock's flinging it all onto walls standing back and joyfully watching as the dots they've planted somehow join together. And its almost genreless, some have tried and failed to put it into a box: Krautrock, No Wave, Art Rock they say but none of it does justice to the fact that they are deconstructing the pretence of the verse chorus verse chorus, joining their parts together to make something that thrithes as a whole (rather than on one member), a sound that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Their recent mini album 'Celebrate this Place' further distilled their work, it's a fiercely brave experimental introductory document of their work up until now, that utilises to great success an ethos that just hits upon Islet's rich stream of creativity born out of playing together in a room, and explores it into new spaces. Defined by its diversity, from dulcet Kraftwerk sampling opener 'We Shall Visit' to the playful vocal/instrumental sparring of 'Iris' and the hollering rhythms of highlight 'Jasmine', and the jittering insistence of 'Holly' to the spooky tones of closer 'Rowan' that builds from minimal to communal chant. Islet are taking you on a trip and at times you're unsure whether even they know where they're headed.
Last year Islet's visceral live shows that consist of two drums set up, members constantly switching from instrument to instrument until they can find a utensil that klangs or thwaks with sufficient effect, Mark joyfully encroaching from his area to literally invade the audience, most of all it's a collective that lustfully relish the performance, the moment, the music above everything else and its this that makes them stand out, and cut through the mediocrity. Until recently they didn't even have even have an official website which led to more intrigue and mystery (and a piece in the NME of all places). Who were these seemingly imageless, stripped back, mysterious noisemakers from the Welsh Capitol? Well it turns out that Islet's members have previous spent time in acts like Fredrick Stanley Star, Attack + Defend, Victorian English Gentleman's Club, Them Squirrels as well as cameos in Sweet Baboo amongst others. So I sat down with Mark, Emma, John and Al, the protagonists behind Islet for a most enjoyable and revealing chat about Islet, past, present and future.
You've been in all or been or are in other bands, so is Islet your main focus at the moment?
Mark: Yeah this is what we are focussing on now. We've got a record out now, and we're doing songs for another one that we'll be recording soon. We've got lots of stuff planned.
How did Islet form?
Mark: We all met because of our other bands essentially, so in a really good way. We all liked each other's stage presence (laughs).
John: We decided to get together and play together...
Mark: We had a big jam, a big jam and here we are.... We started forming songs from the first jam really…
How long before the very first Islet songs started emerging?
Mark: Songs started forming straight away really...
Emma: We've got a song on this record that which jammed out of the first practise we ever did.
I get the impression from everything you do, not just the title of the new mini album (“Celebrate this place”) that everything you do is about enjoying the moment?
Mark: That's one of the reasons we started (Islet) because we wanted to do something that was just for the moment and just do gigs because we really loved doing gigs.
Was the Islet ethos a reaction to your other experiences in other acts?
Mark: It's not a reaction to it, you kind of learn what you like and what you don't like when you're in a band, so you can try and channel it toward what you do like rather than doing what you don't like. So we've just focussed on doing the channel of like really.
Emma: Which can apply to anything else in life, as you get older you do more of the things you do like and less of things that you don't. Islet is a different kind of thing (to our past projects) because its different people at a different time...
I've heard people describe some of the early Islet live shows as almost song-less, in that it seems at times like you are improvising on stage is that fair?
John: Because there are lots of elements live we like to be free and there's lots of elements where we've left it to be open. On the record we've had more of a beginning an end.
Emma: We've left room for a bit of improvisation, so that we're a big free so that we can surprise each other.
John: That's where the spontaneity comes in.
Mark: We all enjoy watching each other, and wondering what everyone's going to get up to and what not. Not all of us know what has happened at a gig. We do like some sections to be very tight as well because that can be fun too....
Emma: Yeah that's well good. Or trying an idea or an idea of a genre of music that we don't full understand….
Mark: I don't think we ever think about any genre of music, It happens and then we go with it.
Emma: We're quite a jam band most of the stuff that we do is just based on jamming.
Mark: Or just one person has an idea.
Do you have an obvious set list when you play live or does it change?
Emma: We kind of decide before how long they want us to play for. What the place is like and what the people are like and how we feel and then we decide what songs to do.
Mark: That's been a fairly recent thing. There's freedom already, because we've allowed for freedom within in the songs.
John: We've got alot of songs.
So would you say that the live experience is important to Islet?
Mark: We like to break down the barriers between band and audience(laughs at my suggested cliche), so that everyone in the room is involved. There's always going to be some section of the crowd that's not interested but they could be involved too because I go and read people's texts.
John: You had a little sit down the other did didn't you?
Emma: It's nice to explore the space the stage isn't the only place, in a venue. You can spread out.
Some people have talked about Islet as a visceral experience?
Mark: It's just kind of what's happened If we described it, it would sound forced. The more explanations you have the more it spoils it. We all like dancing as well sometimes we all dance in different ways....
Emma: Many different ways and different languages...
I find it really difficult to pigeonhole your sound as it really does shape shift, I think its impossible to pin down personally but some people have compared elements of your sound to Kruatrock?
Emma: The influence of Krautrock might not be in the sound or the instrumentation, because of the ethos of trying something different or being playful.
Mark: The word Kruatrock has just come into fashion because last year people said we were lo fi DIY or something.
Emma: Five years ago we would have been called art rock.
Al: I read something in the library that said NYC no wave which led me to believe that I know that alot of them sang their lyrics in French or something.
Some acts seem to push personalities or a style or a certain sound to the fore. Islet seems to be more about the combination of members making up the whole?
Emma: Islet's not really about the individual, its about a group. It's not built on the cult of the lead singer. Or specific people: playing specific roles in the band. It's just about a group of friends making some music.
Was the fact that until recently you didn't have a website almost act as a positive piece of viral marketing, in a way that people had to search out what you were doing?!
Emma: We have got a website now!
Mark: We don't think about it because its what we've done in a really natural way. We're obviously because of the generation we're in there's a lot of stuff thrown in your face or over doing it on the Internet, we didn't want to do that.
Emma: You could say that it's helped in some promotional way, you could say that it hasn't in another way. But we really aren't that bothered.
I just wondered because when I asked for questions someone wondered if you hated the internet?!
Mark: This is official I LOVE THE INTERNET!
Emma: It's great if you like doing it, but if you don't then don't!
Mark: I think alot of bands see other bands doing something and think 'oh gosh I better do that because other bands are doing it.'
Emma: Or they get told.
Mark: But we just went into this with the idea of not worrying about anything. And carried on with that and its been fun.
Where did you record your new mini album 'Celebrate this place'?
John: We recorded it back in a farm in mid Wales and some parts at my house in Cardiff. We do all the louder bits at the farm, and all the quieter bits in my room.
So you didn't have any big outside producer come in then?
John: We like having complete control in a way....
Emma: When we started to do a band we always knew that John would record it. He's just done production on his project Them Them Squirrels, and now he's in a band with Al. It just seemed natural for him to do it at home and make it sound how we wanted it to sound. We wouldn't rule out bringing in someone else. We're kind of set up so that we're able to do the things we want to do, like they wanted to do a label so they did a label you don't have to wait for the rest of the band anyone can do it. They can do what every they want to do.
Mark: That's a massive part of the band. There's an element of the band that's encouraging people to do what the fuck they like because its fun all elements. Don't worry about stuff. The whole point is to take the hassle of it.
Al: its good not to let those things come in.
What are your next plans?
Mark: There isn't a overall major game plan. Except to carry on doing it record more and enjoying each other's company.
John: Play anywhere, record.
Emma: Earlier this summer we did a bit of accidental tour, at the moment we got a place and we're going to record bit by bit and see how it goes.
John: the plan is to do another mini album and then follow it up with a full length.
So the idea of a mini album gives people more of a rounded picture of Islet than just a single would?
Emma: Singles are a bit of a funny one because none of us know they exist really. That record is the point that we're at that time.
John: A snapshot
Mark: Well, that's what all records are...
Emma: Well not all, some people say it takes your whole life to make your first album and a few years to make then a few years to make your follow up.
Mark: Who are these cheesy bastards who says that? I think we're just in a world outside of all that.
How do the songs emerge is it just a case of jamming them out or individuals in the group coming up with ideas and bringing them to the sessions?
Mark: Either one of us will have an idea, and then bring it in.
John: We're in a room when we're playing and then its like oh that works....
Emma: It might be in a jam or one person playing at home on a guitar or singing.
Mark: Because we all fuck around and play different things it makes it much more fun.
Emma: You don't have to think about so much the song you're making in a way, if you're playing a different instrument you can hop onto something else (Mark: if you're not very good at it hur hur) unless your playing the drums if you have to sit down and play it and two hours have gone. Unless you have two drum kits like we have!
Mark: Have more fun kids!
What kind of influences do you have what do you listen to?
Al: You ever heard that digital radio station where its just Bird songs!?
Mark: In terms of music the obvious answer is a very broad range. It's not really music that has influenced us its just life as a whole ups and downs, it's swings and round abouts.
Mark: And Sadness. Highs and lows. Sometimes we set out to do something, we just jam and then someone goes oh that bit was really cool let's carry on with something like that...
Emma: We mainly listen to tapes because we have a tape player in the van, when we are together we listen to each other tapes. Shape tapes. Listen to each other talking.
Al: Classical music.
How come you were in the NME when you hadn't been around for very long?
Mark: You'll have to ask them...
I guess people have a different idea of success...Other bands might really care about being in the NME, you don't really seem too...
Mark: There's an element of going there we are, its not that we don't care. It just happened. Maybe it will be Q next!(laughs)
What your trying to say is the creative side of it is much more important than the rest of the bullshit that goes along with the music industry?
Emma: I'd like to meet a band that would say that the most important thing isn't music I'd just love to chat to them its pointless.
Mark: For some bands it wouldn't be we wrote our first song or album it would be we sold out this show, we appeared here, that is how in the industry things are designed like that.
So I guess that's the great thing about Islet? You've almost deconstructed all the music industry trappings, and you haven't thought about it it's just happened; you've got on and done it!
The band have also made 'Celebrate This Place' available to listen in its entirety over at www.isletislet.com
Upcoming live dates//
21 // GREENMAN FESTIVAL
24 // WINCHESTER // Railway
25 // SOUTHAMPTON // Lennons
26 // GLOUCESTER // Underground Festival
27 // SHEFFIELD // Forum
28 // MANCHESTER // The Corner
29 // LEEDS // Nation of Shopkeepers
30 // LIVERPOOL // Shipping Forecast
1 // STOCKTON // Georgian Theatre
2 // BIRMINGHAM // Flapper
3 // BRISTOL // Louisiana
5 // NOTTINGHAM // Bodega Social
7 // CAMBRIDGE // Portland Arms
8 // NORWICH // Arts Centre
9 // BRIGHTON // The Hope