The adventure begins. And what joy in the upheaval. Rou Reynolds, September 2014: “We’ve been lumped in with a lot of bands in the past who do the same thing over and over again. Our fidgetiness is stronger than anything. We steer so clear of that. We actually find it impossible to stay still”
ENTER SHIKARI return in early 2015 with their new album The Mindsweep and as ever with ES you’ll find yourself simultaneously inspired by their unique vision and despairing at how RARE such forward-moving revolutionary art is in this day and age. In a musical world where the by-rote and predictable seem to be the only ‘risk’ anyone’s willing to take, and where lyrically rock’n’roll has never been more conservative, ‘personal’ and staid, Enter Shikari’s music hits like a bolt from the blue, a living livid reminder of music’s real ancient powers and future possibilities, intimate as a friend, global in its reach. Beyond that upped-ante though, beyond the fact that here you have a band that play to hundreds of thousands of fans while never sacrificing the intent and purpose and political bite that’s built them such a dedicated core audience over the last decade, what’s truly scarifying about The Mindsweep is that ES are getting better. Hookier. Angrier. Harder. Weirder. More beautiful. The Mindsweep, the band’s masterpiece thus far, will tear 2015, the rulebook, the musical landscape, apart. Albums can do that, see. When they’re cared about.
Enter Shikari’s story so far is one of resistance and righteousness, a sense of unbridled purpose that’s made every album a shock to the system, each new fix a brutal beautiful snapshot of them as artists and us as people. Never just content with being timeless, having the colossal cojones to be timely, Enter Shikari have taken their punk roots and kaleidoscopic musical consciousness to the planet from their small-scale St.Albans-based roots where they formed in the early noughties. They’ve achieved this through three albums that have broken barriers and busted heads wherever they’ve been heard. Settling around the four-strong axis of drummer Rob Rolfe, bassist Chris Batten, frontman Rou Reynolds and guitarist Rory Clewlow the band’s 2007 debut Take To The Skies (brought out on their own Ambush Reality imprint that’s remained their home ever since) built on the underground buzz early singles and demos had attracted and introduced ES’ fractured take on metal, dubstep, hip-hop and electronica to the world. It should’ve been too free-wheeling, too committed, too ODD a record to sell. It went gold.
On the back of Skies success, The Zone compilation collated demos, b-sides, singles and EPs and again proved a massive hit – crucially, in-between releases, Shikari developed a tight touring schedule that ensured their music reached old and new fans all over the planet, tours that have let loose their live balance of intoxicating chaos and incisive focus to an ever-growing pack of rabid devotees across Europe, the States, the far east, Australia and anywhere ES were allowed to unleash their firestorm live show at the unsuspecting and curious. Show-stealing festival appearances became legendary. 2009’s Common Dreads pushed the electronic and political focus of ES to the fore, polarising critics, uniting fans, firmly establishing ES as a genuinely unique voice in British music. The ‘official’ live bootleg series that the band started bringing out in 2009 (now much sought-after by fans) and the mind-melting Tribalism compilation of 2010 kept Shikari’s connection with their fans close and intimate, revealed a playfulness with official industry convention that ensured the anticipation for the early-2012 release of A Flash Flood Of Colour was immense. With the pressure on, ES delivered in spades, giving us one of this decade’s most mind-melting suites of music, pushing beyond mere agglomeration of influence into truly demarcating a sound that was all their own, coupled with a lyrical vision as much to do with politics as it was to do with technology, science, poetry and the sheer demented joy of being alive. It’s been over 2 years since Flash Flood deluged us, over 10 years since Enter Shikari first started making music – ask Rou what militated towards ES creating The Mindsweep and the motivations emerge less as conceptual, more about finding the right space and place to create from. “I wouldn’t say we ever have a concept before we put together an album, rather it emerges as we make it. We always have too many ideas, just waiting for time off-tour when we can work properly on them.”
Finding time to get in the right space, the right mix of relaxation and concentration was crucial as ever with ES – The Mindsweep doesn’t sound like it was made in hermetic isolation, rather that it was created in amidst the chaos of ES’ lives.
“We’re basically always writing” affirms Rou, “especially on the road, and we just emerge from that process with a massive vat of ideas. When that vat gets too full we start recording and the tracks start gelling. We start getting into the flow of making the record. There’s no concerted effort, that’s the key – it comes together naturally. The anxious stage is bringing things together. We had a few months off tour back in June, got ourselves up to Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire with Dan Weller, and The Mindsweep emerged from that.”
First thing you notice is the widening of ES’s sound, the explosion of the sonic palette. From Boards Of Canada to obscure 90s post-hardcore you’ll hear all kinds of things percolating into and out of the sound of The Mindsweep. That restlessness, the omnivorous musical mindset that ES let spill forth on The Mindsweep can surely only come from ES yet again doing something other bands simply don’t do any more – refusing to underestimate the audience. “It’s a mix of both fearlessness and a little anxiety though” admits Rou. “It’s like . . . are you gonna follow us here? Cos that’s where we’re going to go. We have short attention spans and we hate barriers in all senses- personally I know that neo-classical music, orchestration, having live brass, live strings on things was really important to me this time around. I’ve been listening to a lot of Stravinsky! I think it’s easy to run around like headless chickens throwing things into the mix without caring but having live strings, having that big full sound, was really important to us on ‘The Mindsweep’. It was crucial that the music sounded big, ambitious and hopeful cos that’s the way we feel, and that’s the way we want the fans to feel hearing it.”
If there’s a wider theme lyrically about The Mindsweep it’s about staying sane. About how in order to negotiate modern reality we need to reconfigure our consciousness in order to process the info-storm, stay vigilant, try and catch glimpses of reality. About how the revolution starts within.
“Yeah” Rou nods, “I’d go along with that but the issues our songs deal with kind of emerge AFTER they’re written, in the case of this album it was only when the songs were all together that we could start finding those wider themes. Particularly for the younger end of our fan-base it’s important for us to inject hope in there. We remember what it feels like to be young, to feel small and insignificant. It can seem at that age that the more you find out the worse things seem, you feel grim, you feel hopeless. The Mindsweep I hope says to those people that there’s a point in questioning things, in resisting the idea that reality is unchangeable. Some of the first lyricists that really hit me hard were Cedric from At The Drive In and Zack De La Rocha. When you’re 14 or 15 and hearing RATM for the first time even though you might not understand every single line you’re hearing you KNOW that the venom is real, that there’s something real about what’s being said that has nothing to do with the normal rules of pop music, and in that reality you can find beauty. I’d like to think we perform the same function for our fans. There’s a certain amount of empowering in our music. People need emboldening. We always try and keep a sense of positivity, AND a sense of irony in what we do. It’s almost pointless getting pessimistic. That’s what so many people out there WANT young people to do.”
What’s truly remarkable about ES is that they don’t just talk about the changing nature of the modern world, they act on it. In the way they treat their art, its distribution, and their fans they’re a new model of how a band can cut the filters, cut the excess, trim the time-wasting to the bone and communicate directly with their audience. They’re perhaps the only band of their size to acknowledge that in the geological timespan of music, the record industry is merely a 150 year long frightmare we’d all do well to wake up from.
“Well, I’m always told ‘you guys must be worried’” chuckles Rou, “asked how bands are going to survive with the industry in such trouble but I always point out – MUSIC IS FINE. Music’s been part of humanity since the onset of our species. The death of the record industry therefore doesn’t really bother us too much. There’s always been a slightly cringey aspect to producing art within capitalism and if we can figure out ways of reducing that, bypassing those old channels, great: I think it’s appalling for any band to limit their audience down to those who have the purchasing power to buy your records. Enter Shikari have never been about that. If we want to give music away, or get something quickly to our fans, we will do, and we won’t wait. We’ve never really lived that nightmare, even in our own small dealings with major labels, of feeling like we have to drag that weight of bureaucracy around with us in what we do. The industry is so sluggish and slow, it feels like you’re underwater. We’ve always gone for absolute freedom in the way we bring our music to people.”
Because you’re still punks?
“Yeah. Yeah. In our scene there were bands that started out presenting themselves as true punks but then got swallowed up by corporations, whereas we wanted to take a route that left us with more direct control and less compromise. We never really fitted in to anyone’s plans for us, never really fitted into the musical limitations labels seem to need to think they can market something. There’s too much going on in our minds, musically and politically for us to toe an industry line really..”
Pencil it in as future classic right now but more importantly realise ‘The Mindsweep’ is a classic for OUR time. 2015’s first pipe-bomb is ready to be delivered.
Catch it with an open fist.