Monday, February 12, 2007

The Noisettes

[great band, and great fun to talk to. for Plan B]

So. Tell us how the Noisettes formed.

“My take on it is, me and Shingai met at the Brits School… You know, the school for the Performing Arts in London…”


“No! Not fantastic! Let the record note that I, Daniel, am making a ‘thumbs-downward’ gesture as I speak! It’s weird at the Brits School… The people who ‘got something’ out of it were very flamboyant characters, who already seemed to be ‘formed’. The sort of people who went on to be The Kooks or The Feeling – The Feeling were in my year. If you’re shy, like me, the whole experience could pass you by.”

Sandwiched on an Xfm ‘Xposure’ bill between a dreadful Streets Xerox and beat-boxing Britrap geezer Killa Kela, three skinny figures crawl onstage and, with immediate contact to the spot-lamps, explode into brilliant, incandescent light.

The singer – shiny things tangled into her hair, strumming at a bashed-up electric guitar – screams and coos at the microphone like she were some minxish hybrid of Nina Simone, Erykah Badu and HR from Bad Brains. The guitarist – chequered fingerless glove on his strumming hand, general air of ethereal combustion – thrashes and swings his lovelorn guitar with abandon, slaloming from punk rush, to noise blush, to blues pain. The drummer – invisible behind a rattling battered kit – just about holds the insane shit together, like Eddie Murphy in Daddy Daycare.

These are the Noisettes, then – a swarming mess of guitar tangle, volatile passion and off-the-cuff creativity. Like most nights, much of the setlist is improvised – they like to throw ideas in the air and see where they fall. They like to tease failure to its face, tweak its cheeks a little, before drawing something magical from the melee. Every moment is a delicious risk, swinging themselves into oncoming traffic, if only to savour the screech of the tyres.

“I met Shingai in 1997. I fancied her when I met her, but I soon got over that, and we started a band.”

What attracted you to her?

“She’s got this thing – when you first meet her, you feel like you’ve met her before. I was talking to a mutual friend, and she was like, Hi! How are you doing? And I’d never met her before. The day after, I was just idly strumming a guitar at the Brits, and she sat down beside me and started singing along, even though I wasn’t really playing a song or anything.”

Shingai is sat in her local pub, calling me from her mobile, chatting with verve and fire and an infectious blaze of giggles.

“I’ve always loved writing, but I often don’t have the discipline to get it down on paper. I write short stories. Me and my twin sister, we come from a really big, single-parent family, so us kids had to make our own entertainment, putting on Punch’n’Judy shows when my mum got home from work at night, and asking our aunts or our cousins to ‘grade’ them.

“I guess what I like about music is that, if you love stories and myths and writing about real life, you can put it to music, and it hits people instantly. My mum was really into folk rebel music from Nigeria and Zimbabwe and South Africa, countries that only got their independence in the last fifty years. It’s got such a hunger… You get such a rush, man, singing along to those songs with your family while you do the washing up.”

Dan says he plays guitar because “My grandma gave me a music-box when I was two, and the melody made me cry. And I’ve always loved that music can do that, that it’s a direct conduit to emotions. I write songs so I can even the score a little!”

Shingai says she sings because “everyone gets stuff that builds up inside of them, and you need a way to let it out. It keeps you healthy in the long run.”

What scant tracks they’ve released so far (a debut album drops later this year) find a group ricocheting with abandon across a broad spectrum of noise and styles, a lusty sweep that befits their penchants for leaps into the unknown. Singhai describes their improvisations as a challenge, “to turn a stumble into a roly-poly, or something. Our songs are weird.”

“Some songs sound quite serene and tranquil and maybe even reflective, while some are ‘Raaaaaaargh!’” explained Dan, before the show. “It’s a spectrum. And we don’t tape our shows anymore. The ideas just fade into the ether… It’s more fulfilling that way, than if we had a tape, because you have something more precious than that – the memory. And anyway, this is all about living in the moment, and that moment only.”

For the Noisettes, that moment is a breath-bated teeter on a tightrope wire, stretched out for as long as they can hold this group together. You’ll want a piece…

(c) Stevie Chick 2006

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