Episode 5 – Carbon/Silicon

Possibly the most famous breaking band you’ve yet to hear, Carbon/Silicon talk about their ‘debut’ album ‘The Last Post’, the difficulties of giving their music away for free despite both supporting downloads and how they are slowly moving away from techno grooves back to their rock’n’roll roots.

Read more about Carbon/Silicon on ClashMusic

Featured in this issue…

LCD Soundsystem James Murphy: Just another manic monkey!

Over the afternoon this singer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and co-owner of DFA Records has imparted many incisive theories on the DNA of social scenes, suppositions on the foundation of ‘coolness’ and why he wants a 23-year-old to kick his ass.

The Fratellis Bed Rockers

As 2007 stretches before them like a big bottle of ice-cold Irn Bru just waiting to be devoured, the trio convene to quietly ponder and muse on life so far in the crazy Fratelli world…

The Klaxons Fluoromantics

Its funny how life goes around in circles. If some geezer had suddenly started selling glowsticks on the street a year ago, he’d probably have been booted into the nearest mental institute.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! Thunder Cats

Since their self-titled debut, the musical vehicle that is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has been in non-stop motion. Alec Ounsworth’s idiosyncratic wailing, warbling, yelping even, strangely enough gave the band mass appeal, a sort of cultish fanbase of oddballs and popstrels alike.

The Rumble Strips Brassbound For Glory

From the depths of the West Country come The Rumble Strips, ready to take on the world with a ramshackle sensibility and a debut album bursting with hooks.

The Earlies Pan-Atlantic Crossing

Warm, charming and intoxicating are just few a words that could describe the music of Anglo–American quartet The Earlies. It’s fitting then to sit down with the band’s two English members in a cosy Salford pub, where the Guinness flows freely and an open fire crackles away in the corner.

The Shins Return of the Mercer-naries

When Natalie Portman mumbled an off hand remark in Zach Braff’s directorial debut, the surprise indie success story, Garden State, she didn’t realise the impact she would have on James Mercer’s life.

Album Spotlight

Aretha Franklin

I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You)

Personality Clash

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. Vs Billy Bragg

GCWCF’s Sam Duckworth talks with his hero Billy Bragg

Regulars
Album Reviews

Critics often greet new and promising artists with grandiose statements as to the merits of their work and potential, often to the detriment of the artist. Fortunately when the exceptional Willy Mason emerged, first with the5-track ‘G-Ma’s Basement EP’ and then with debut album ‘Where The Humans Eat’, he remained unfazed by the acclaim showered on him from every quarter, which included being hailed as the new Bob Dylan. Mason’s image as a troubadour touring through the American heartland does invoke the lineage of Dylan and Woody Guthrie, but the man is more concerned with his own talent than bootlegging the past.

Mason has a new record, provisionally titled ‘If The Ocean Gets Rough’, ready for release in March that finds him refining and developing his music and lyrical themes in an inimitable poetic and personal elegance. Whatever the eventual title this is a remarkably coherent album and it is hard to imagine any of the songs being left off or placed in different order. Touring around Iowa playing house concerts with his brother Sam when Clash caught up with him, he speaks in a gravely voice that belies his 22 years, full of rollies and Jack Daniel’s. Mason is thoughtful and considered in all he says; this is a man with no use for unthinking or unmeant words.

“This album is a little more refined in terms of the song-writing and instrumentation; the whole recording process was a progression for me,” he says when asked on how the latest record compares to his previous work. “I feel I’ve stepped into a whole new era of creation. Whilst recording it I learned a couple of new tricks and had a couple to use from playing on the road too. I’m psyched about it, the songs are playing out very well, which is important… means that they have life and have meaning to people other than me. Every track on the record is strong and equal in my eyes. I recorded 30 songs for this record so the group of songs that made the cut matter hugely to me. The night I wrote ‘Save Myself’ I felt like I had a record rather than a collection of songs, I slotted the rest around that and the album naturally took shape.”

Mason’s music primarily concerns his native land of America, a land he loves and perhaps wishes to re-define given the confusion afflicting the American identity in recent years. Certainly his formative years forged his own identity as a man and as an artist. “I grew up in Martha’s Vineyard off Cape Cod. There is a local community of 14,000 people that swells to over 200,000 during the summer. That dynamic influenced me a lot. Feeling the sharp contrast between a local community and the service it needs to provide to outsiders in order to survive. In the winter it is a lonely, quiet and often stark place so everyone comes together because otherwise it can be pretty rough. Lots of house and music parties and drinking around fireplaces.”

“In the summer the realisation that we rely on tourists hit hard and this got me thinking a lot about community and how in situations like that the economic side cannot be ignored. Before the tourism developed the main ways of life were farming and fishing and that got me thinking about the way people sustain themselves and the sort of sacrifices that people will make to be their own boss and not be subservient, People are trying to resist and preserve the community but are in a weak position due to the economic dependence. I feel the sense of community is still very strong with my generation. I’ve held on to my Grandma’s house through my record deal and it’s still my home. I was back there for Thanksgiving in November and that was important for me: being with my family.”

Asked for his thoughts on the contemporary music scene Mason expresses interest and admiration for Guided By Voices and The Books. His real passions are from a different era though; both his parents performed as folk singers as he grew up and played the Everly Brothers, The Band and Tom Waits. “Those records and Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Dr John, and old show tunes like Gershwin have mattered to me ever since I first heard them. I’m mainly into music from before 1960. I think there was a change around then due to the advance of technology and the media. Music and other art became targeted at so many different people that it became less rooted in a specific culture or style.”

His thinking on such matters is not from a Luddite instinct however: Mason is no technophobe. “YouTube and MySpace are tools with huge potential. At first technologies can be detrimental – when digital music came out it sounded shit at first. These empowering media outlets can have an effect in terms of bringing the world together. At the moment I see it only as potential for when they have matured though.”

I feel the sense of community is still very strong with my generation. I’ve held on to my Grandma’s house through my record deal and it’s still my home.

Mason’s last tour of the UK culminated in many people’s highlight of Glastonbury 2005, playing on the newly-named John Peel stage as the sun set, and unsurprisingly the man is keen to return, albeit on his own terms. “I’m coming over to tour the UK in January and am planning to set up some house concerts. I like to tour like that as I’ll be able to meet people and see more of the country too. The whole idea of touring with so all the possibilities it allows is an amazing situation to be in: meeting people, seeing places and having the chance to be paid too… I want to play with the concept so it’s the best experience. There’s no point in staying in a tour bus’s bubble; you may as well stay home if that’s your attitude to travel. I’ll be back around March time to play more organised venues too.”

Asked if he thrives on the communal life when touring Mason replies: “It’s great to play with other musicians… my brother Sam is always on at me to hang out more. Other people constantly inspire me. It is great to pick up books and strike up conversations with anyone. That’s how I learn from people.”

“I guess I have a tendency to be alone. I need to go off by myself to move on creatively and get a fresh start. There’s a book called Becoming The Crane written by a friend of mine in which the characters are of a race of people that over their lives have a series of changes through which they become more like a particular animal. During that time of change they cannot bear to be around other people and they have to go off and face the metamorphosis alone. That’s how I feel.”

Romeo Stodart’s musical love story that is The Magic Numbers ironically starts with a Juliet – his mother.

In mid-1980s Trinidad, Juliet Stodart would appear on a national TV talent show and sing an opera performance so well that she was asked back to repeat the performance 6 times. She became known locally as a genuine musical talent. This love of music and ability for performing the classics would hardly make her a worldwide household name, but it would allow her to instil in Romeo as well as his younger sister Michelle a similar love that would resonate for many years to come.

Life in Trinidad for the Stodarts was relaxed, vibrant and full of music. Summers would be filled with the sounds of reggae, calypso, soca, country and folk music and the Stodart children would grow up happy and content. Until, that is, in 1990 when their carefree Caribbean idyll was shattered by an Islamic coup, which brought martial law and military curfew upon their front door. Their father immediately decided to uproot the family and follow the footsteps of his brother who had recently moved to New York.

You have to be true to yourselves as well as to the people who buy your music and come to your shows.

The Stodarts crammed into a 13 person, 3 bedroom apartment in Queens, and a wide-eyed Romeo, now heading for his teenage years, would listen with glee as his uncle recounted stories of the exciting artists and successful people he’d meet through his job as a professional florist. He’d work on high profile launches, celebrity parties and award shows, even The Grammys, and he’d tell Romeo that if he himself worked hard enough, a life like one of these people could be his some day. Young Romeo would trawl the clubs and gigs of Manhattan most nights seeking out the best in rock and metal whilst dreaming of this bright future. He’d fall in love with the bittersweet romanticism of bands like The Smiths and the song-writing genius of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.

After 4 years in New York their dad discovered that they could apply for British residency due to the Scottish birth of their grandfather, so the family relocated once again, this time to Hanwell in London. It was not law but Marshall Amps who were upon their doorstep this time, in fact the very factory where Jimi Hendrix would buy his first amp. Charlie Chaplin went to school in Hanwell and it is also said that mental illness was invented there – though how you can invent mental illness I’ll never know! Around the corner from the Stodart’s new home lived the first family they’d really get to know in the neighbourhood – the Gannons, who’d soon become their friends for life.

The four Gannon children were looked after by their father, a carpenter of Irish descent with a keen interest in Irish folk music and an ability to turn his hand at most instruments. Their mother had died when Angela Gannon, the youngest of the family, was a baby. Sean, the oldest, worked as a pizza delivery boy, his younger twins Eileen and Anthony shared a keen interest in music with Romeo who, aged 16, quickly fell for Eileen, his first real love. The youngest sisters in both families, Michelle and Angela sparked up a cute friendship of their own, growing up together to call each other the Baby Gs or the Soul Sisters – a phrase they still use today.

Watching Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Slash playing ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ on cable one day made Romeo first pick up a guitar. And after some teenage musical tinkering with Eileen and Anthony he started playing more seriously with Sean who was becoming a decent drummer. Their first teenage band was called Boddah, the name Kurt Cobain gave to his childhood imaginary friend, and a 13-year partnership began that would go through many ups and what seemed like many more downs. They’d use their experimental feet-finding years creating 12 minute alt-rock opuses that Romeo describes as “clearly a bunch of wank”, and fellow band members would come and go… and come… and go.

Sean and Romeo would tirelessly gig and on occasion would turn to their sisters for advice and opinion, with Romeo often waking Michelle in the early hours to road-test new lyrics or melodies. Occasionally both sisters would harmonise with Romeo, or Michelle would add a little bass that she had been learning herself, and as the treadmill of mediocre talent kept on turning gradually the guys started to see what was actually right in front of them. Their younger siblings were exactly who could complete this band.

It’s a soaking wet Thursday afternoon in October when I finally meet The Magic Numbers. We’ve set up the interview in an old ten-pin bowling alley in central London and as I change into my shoes I look around for the band members who seem to be adhering to their reputation for being notoriously late. ‘They told me they liked bowling,’ I’m thinking as I look worriedly at the gaggle of advertising execs who are early for the lane booking after mine. As I’m walking back to the bar I notice a lone long-haired figure sitting with his back to me. As he turns to take his drink I’m thinking it looks like a rough Jesus sipping a White Russian. It’s Sean Gannon, The Magic Numbers’ drummer. Initially guarded and sullen, but soon full of dry wit, we trade Big Lebowski jokes and bowling poses while we await the others. All of a sudden in bursts bassist and vocalist Michelle, who’s hungover but cheery, after a night celebrating her boyfriend’s birthday. Michelle is quickly followed by Angela, the band’s third vocalist and percussionist, who is smiling to herself. A minute later, his long hair wet from the rain but bearded face beaming, Romeo Stodart finally joins them to make up The Magic Numbers. As they greet each other you instantly see the unique bond and hilarity that permanently exists between this seemingly indestructible group. The others change their shoes while Romeo politely apologises and takes me back to the making of the band.

“It was kind of surreal that we had to wait that long for things to come together,” he remembers, before protesting, “but what were we meant to do, grab our little sisters at 11 years old and force them, like ‘come on sis, play the fuckin’ bass, man’? I mean, come on!” After over a decade of constantly trying new options Sean couldn’t really believe what had been staring them in the face. “It felt right the first day they joined. It felt right the first day they played. It was mad… it was like, ‘fucking hell’. It’s SO fucking right but SO fucking wrong!”

The new line-up to The Magic Numbers would take a bit of getting used to, but would finally work. Live performance soon became their forte. In late 2003 they’d been gigging lots in the small London pub The Betsey Trotwood and were still adhering to the ‘add more to the mix to fix’ philosophy. Violinist Angharad Davies was the current star of the band and easily the most talented musically, but the problem was that the other four in the band focused their sound too much around her. One night she didn’t turn up and they were thrown in at the deep end with only vocals, drums and bass to showcase. Surprisingly to them, they’d go down a storm, “albeit in a pub with about 10 people listening!” hoots Angela as she slams a bowl down the lane with alarming accuracy and power.

They’d never look back from this pivotal gig, which quickly taught them that sometimes you need to strip it back to move it forward. Heavenly Records’ Jeff Barrett quickly heard the word on the live circuit and in early 2004 after two songs of a show in Water Rats pub in Kings Cross, he decided to snap The Magic Numbers up immediately. Their live reputation would grow over the coming year and they’d discover and master the soaring three part vocal harmonies that have now become their signature, with Romeo, Michelle and Angela effortlessly capturing that rare beauty when great individual voices actually sound even better when put together and pushed higher. Quickly likened to The Mamas and Papas and the summertime Beach Boys sounds of the late 1960s, The Magic Numbers’ initial song-writing efforts did capture the melodic euphoria of a west-coast American sound. Yet it could be viewed that this was way over simplistic, as they clearly seemed to aim to extol the soul of the great Stax and Motown artists and particularly in Michelle’s deep, gliding basslines also touched upon the blues-rock sounds of great live bands like The Pixies. In May 2005 before their first single proper was released, and after only 500 copies of their debut 7” ‘Hymn To Her’ was put out, they’d sell out the 2000 capacity Forum in North London. It was then they themselves actually realised the buzz that was staring to surround Britain’s most likeable new band.

The songs they had been playing whilst gigging so much were to make up their self-titled debut album. Romeo, at this time, had been going through the heart-wrenching collapse of his now 8-year relationship with Eileen Gannon. Most people wouldn’t notice amongst the signature handclaps, the euphoric bridges and the cheeky bass-lines that Romeo would be laying open a subject matter that had torn him apart.

It’s a subject he still has real difficulty talking about, and as he opens up to me I feel sympathy and apprehension about pushing him too far. “I’m speaking about it with you because we get on,” he reassures me, before expressing his slight distrust almost as a warning. “Sometimes, you know, some people really hone in on it, like they do other areas about us – it’s like they’re waiting for me to crumble. Which I usually do!” But what he agonises over and visibly squirms to verbalise in one to one conversation, he manages to express much more eloquently in song. “I guess you lay your heart out when you are writing or when you go up on stage and sing for an hour and a half. You can feel emotionally drained at the end of it but sometimes you can feel completely lifted out of it. There is no other way for me to really express myself. Being with someone that long, when you’ve grown up together… they have such a huge impact on your life, and it’s always gonna be there… sitting down and writing takes me back to that place.”

That’s the key element. Total honesty. I think if you are anything less then people won’t really connect.

The greatest misconception about The Magic Numbers, the band agree unanimously, is that everyone simplifies them as a happy sunshine band full of musical melodies and lyrical laughter, which is true to an extent, but is only one side of them. “People love the hand claps and the cheeky riffs,” beams Romeo, “but if they listen to the lyrics they see that the songs have a lot more depth. That’s always been the main thing, to be really honest about what we write and how we present it.” Sean counters, “People love how they feel when they leave a Magic Numbers show, that elation and euphoria you get from a song like ‘Love Me Like You’ for example, but if you go home and lie on your bed and actually listen to the content of our CDs you can get a whole different feeling from it.”

I ask how the exposure of Romeo’s deepest feelings for experiences so close to home affects the others, especially when they have to perform these songs. Sean answers quickly, “I think we all take our own meaning from each of the songs, just like a listener would, you don’t think of what the singer has experienced, you think of what you have experienced and apply the words to that. I try not to think about it too specifically because it would do my head in.” Michelle adds, “With any song that deals with a subject close to you, you sometimes have to step out of it in any way you can. ‘This Love’ will always be one I personally have to skip past because it is solely based on the lyrics, there is hardly any music going on and for me is the hardest song to escape from [It deals with her grandmother’s death]. But Sean is right, most people take their own thing from these songs.” Sean finishes, “I do think a person relating properly can only happen if you are truly speaking from the heart. That’s the key element. Total honesty. I think if you are anything less then people won’t really connect.” Romeo returns looking happier with himself after bowling the winning strike and lightens things up with a beaming smile, “I kinda like that old Meryl Haggard quote about country music and I like to apply it to ours too: ‘All you need for a good song is 3 chords and the truth’. It’s so true man!”

Our interview is interrupted at this point as our time expires along with the patience of the team of London city boys we’ve been trying to buy off with free drinks while we eat into their lane time. Unfortunately the band have a horrendously tight schedule and have to head straight off to Europe to do some more promo. Photo shoots, hair, make up and interviews – where they are all too often probed on two over-simplistic subjects, are the band’s biggest dislike but they happily co-operate nonetheless. Generally the subjects usually focused too much upon are their image, which contradicts the current conveyor belt of emaciated bodies and skinny jeans and also the Top of the Pops incident where they reacted to a snide weight jibe by Richard Bacon about this very image by walking off-stage live on air – the only time this has ever happened on the now defunct show. As we are walking to the exit Romeo offers the only comment on this, “You know we called that like we call everything; we looked at each other and all just knew that what he’d said felt wrong, so we reacted on our group instinct and left. It’s back to that thing about being true; you have to be true to yourselves as well as to the people who buy your music and come to your shows.”

The Magic Numbers album sold 600,000 records and secured the band a much-deserved Mercury Music Prize nomination by the end of the golden year of 2005. They also toured with U2, played with Brian Wilson and were the most talked about new band at Glastonbury, T in the Park, Isle of Wight and V Festival. Everyone loved them, even Noel Gallagher who described them as “the fucking real thing”, and electro-dance dons The Chemical Brothers who drafted them in for vocal duties on their track ‘Close Your Eyes’. It was a fantastic year for new music, which heralded the arrival of stadium indie-poppers The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs, student union favourites Bloc Party and Hard-Fi, and crossover kings Maximo Park and The Go! Team, as well as their fellow offspring of operatic talent, the magical Arcade Fire. Antony And The Johnsons may have walked away with the Mercury Prize for their album, but if there was one for live performance there was only one winner. The Magic Numbers at the very least sat at the top of that pile.

Our interview reconvenes with Romeo and Michelle in a Paris hotel, two days after another euphoric gig, this time at the Royal Albert Hall, for the resurrected Secret Policeman’s Ball in aid of Amnesty International. Their performance included a duet of ‘I Shall Be Released’ with Martha Wainwright and a climactic version of ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’ with the cream of the world’s comedians all on stage to end the show. “It felt like such an occasion, and just to be part of that was amazing,” Romeo gushed breathlessly, barely having had time to draw air after arriving in the city and checking in. “Chevy Chase, Richard E Grant, Graham Norton, Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand – they were all there… every comedian you could imagine.” I ask who his favourite was, to which he typically answers, “I hardly spoke to anyone. I was too shy!”

We discuss how 2006 seems to be ending on the same kind of high as the previous brilliant year. It started with a short break after relentless touring late in 2005, that lasted barely a month, before they started itching to get back in the studio. The Magic Numbers’ huge armoury of music was ripe for the picking again and the band all felt three or four songs were already good enough to go straight onto their second album, and set about honing the production while Romeo got started on more writing.

In late spring/early summer they blocked out four weeks to move into a secluded residential studio high in the hills of Woodstock, upstate New York, with trusted producer Rich Wilkinson to immerse themselves in album number two. The band were eager to make the most of this dedicated studio time. “The first album was like an introduction to The Magic Numbers,” explains Michelle. “We’d been touring those songs for a while and just wanted to do the best versions we could. The second album seems like a real studio album. We got to indulge ourselves and work on the sounds, the arrangements and the execution of things. I learned to fight for what I had in my head and to get those sounds out of the speakers.” Michelle makes her song-writing debut on this album with her soul-baring composition ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’, which Romeo describes as “unlike anything anyone writes nowadays. It’s up there with Joni Mitchell or Judee Sill.”

I ask Romeo where the lyrical theme of this album comes from, hoping that heartbreak isn’t at the core once again for this instantly likeable anti-rock star. Again he apprehensively opens up. “This one definitely contains a warped sense of indecision, in many ways similar to the songs written in the latter stages of the last album, when finally things started moving on for me. The mood of this record is still emotionally confused, it’s still about wanting to find out things which are hard to talk about… my head contains a lot of questions.” I ask if he is in a happier place and still in the relationship he found after his split with Eileen. “Yeah I am in a relationship, and I have been for a while, but the thing is man… God I’m really comin’ out with it with you… you are away all the time, and that can be difficult, especially if you’ve always seen yourself as a good person and really honest and moralistic… and still do of course.” You can see he can only open up so much before he nervously tails off from talking too personally, switching his focus back onto people and subjects in general. “It’s basically about asking a lot of questions of yourself from a perspective anyone can relate to. ‘Running Out’ is a song about giving up, where I’m thinking I’m running out of the whole idea of what love is and starting again. And ‘Let Somebody In’ is the opposite in many ways. ‘All I See’ is one of my favourite songs because it is so sparse. It’s just about going around for the last year and a half having little moments with new people… just the other day in Sweden I met a whole bunch of great people, we hung out all night and then they had to disappear. I guess I get kind of attached to all of those moments. They are representative of the bittersweet element to The Magic Numbers that I think people don’t sometimes get.”

Where ‘The Magic Numbers’ was written about love and loss, and the difficulty in moving on, second album ‘Those The Brokes’ contains similar themes, but at its core are questions. Questions of right and wrong, questions of temptation, questions about momentary meetings and what might have come of them and above all questions of why life works in these ways. The album is in their opinion a more assured and much more complete reflection of The Magic Numbers’ sound. “Sonically the second album is much better, much bigger and produced with more energy,” Romeo offers when asked to compare the two. “People are picking up on the real soul music qualities on ‘Most Of The Time’, ‘Undecided’ and ‘Boy’ but we also go for more aggressive lyrics and sounds on the singles ‘This Is A Song’ and ‘Take A Chance’. There’s no band out there doing what we’re doing, and no band about just now who’s gonna do an album like this one.”

When I speak of some negative reviews I’ve seen and ask Romeo what he’d say to people who feel the infectious magic of the first album isn’t as evident on their second offering, Romeo is defiant. “I completely disagree, I think the first album was a practise for this, now we feel much more comfortable and sonically more accomplished. There’s so much more going on in this record. The first one was just guitar, bass and drums and this has a more complete sound. Essentially a second album is a no win situation. There will always be people who either want to get on your back and say, ‘yeah you’re just doing what you did before’. Or if you go in another direction people think you’re being pompous and all over the shop, lacking in direction and that likeable similarity in style. You can’t win, so we chose to ignore it.”

‘Those The Brokes’ is released this month and is exactly the album The Magic Numbers wanted to make. The musical love story started back in Trinidad is in a place where our Shakespearean namesake is more than content and he sees no tragic ending. The rest he realises will just take care of itself. “It all now feels like it was meant to happen!” he beams as we part company. “We were meant to move from Trinidad to New York and then to Hanwell. We were meant to move next to the Gannons and they were destined to be my first real friends. I was meant to go out with Eileen and you know, maybe that just wasn’t meant to be… God, you know I do ask myself a hell of a lot of things all of the fucking time… it always goes back to the questions man! Who knows what will happen next?”

“The only thing that they used my music for which I haven’t seen is a toilet paper advert in Taiwan. I think my music probably came on just as someone wiped their arse.”

This is quintessential Andrea Parker, global electronic agitator yet relentlessly charming and self-deprecating. Since she was 18 and now for nearly two decades she has been climbing resolutely up the dance music ladder with a single-mindedness which simply screams integrity.

Her music has reached millions through her own Touchin’ Bass label, an album on Mo’ Wax and the classic singles ‘Melodius Thunk’, ‘The Rocking Chair’ and ‘Ball Breaker’. Her music has graced the Hollywood movie ‘Vanilla Sky’ (despite her loathing for Tom Cruise) as well as Patrick Moore’s ‘Sky At Night’, a documentary on NASA and a mugging crime re-enactment on Richard & Judy. The Finnish National Ballet adapted her seething electronics whilst she’s also been the soundtrack to a porn film – but not a particularly enjoyable one, as she laughs: “It’s in French. I have a problem with subtitles.”

“I always knew exactly what I wanted to do and I think a lot of guys found that intimidating.”

Despite her own Touchin’ Bass label hitting over 30 releases in five years, Parker is re-releasing a compilation of older material entitled ‘Here’s One I made Earlier’ (with her face superimposed over the body of her idol, BBC Radiophonic’s Delia Derbyshire), which predates her more well known work of ‘Kiss My Arp’ on Mo’ Wax. Many of the tracks were co-produced with her mentor David Morley who was the quiet yet legendary man of R+S, Belgium’s massive techno imprint, which straddled the entrance to early dance culture at the end of the 80s. Tracks such as ‘Undercurrents’ and ‘Angular Art’ on Infonet, ‘Invasion’ on Quatermass and ‘Unconnected’ on !K7 recall the golden age of electronic music and sound remarkably relevant despite them being forged in a bygone musical era: a testament to her futuristic outlook she’s adopted for so long.

Andrea Parker’s life jumped rails when she was an 18-year-old nurse who had been thrown into the deep end of rave culture: “I had done a bit of session work but it was me singing over hardcore sped-up like I was on helium. That’s when I realised that I’d better go and work out how to make some beats as I couldn’t be doing THAT for rest of my life.” From the bottom of the pile and knowing next to nothing, Andrea Parker has worked her way up through one of the most male dominated industries in western society – to take on the men at their own game, with their own ball.

As a woman in techno, life couldn’t have been easy. She laughs it off now but you can tell there have been intensely frustrating moments – not just the pettiness of getting queue jumped whilst waiting to cut dubplates, but the expectant heckles that she only got bookings because she was an attractive girl.

“Being so avant-garde at that time and being female was hard. There were women DJs but they were part of the house scene. I was never really accepted; everyone thought I was mad as a hatter… I always knew exactly what I wanted to do and I think a lot of the guys found that intimidating. Then you had all the guys’ egos that you that you had to deal with – but then I’d just turn into one of the blokes; start farting and generally join in.”

After 10 years of finding her feet, getting to grips with what she wanted, she signed a record deal with possibly the coolest record label of the time – Mo’ Wax, yet it wasn’t always a smooth passage as she explains: “James Lavelle asked if I would go in and show him my trainers… I mean demo! And then he asked me how many Star Wars figures I had (giggles). Sorry. I don’t think they knew how to handle me. They would be giving its all the wikkedy wikkedy scratching and I was like, ‘hold on I will just get my coat…’”

“I’d turn up to the studio going, ‘check out all my samples!’ Of pencil noises, or I strapped a microphone to the bottom of my car and went through a carwash for better bass. I also sampled my car going over cat’s eyes to try and get a 4/4 pattern whilst opening and closing my sunroof to try and get a flanging effect. It’s lucky I didn’t spin over.”

It’s this relentlessly experimental nature that has seen her embraced by avant-garde artists such as Steve Reich, Phillip Glass and Ryuichi Sakamoto with an improvised set lined up in collaboration with Faust later this year.

Andrea Parker’s life jumped rails when she was an 18-year-old nurse who had been thrown into the deep end of rave culture

So whether she’s spanking her record label advance on a 40-piece orchestra (“I’ll fucking show ’em who’s the boss!”) to warming up for the Metalheadz tour in the 90s (“Once you have survived a drum and bass tour you can survive anything – what with all those Rotweilers and MacDonald eating”) or just being too hard to pigeon hole (“When Polygram broke up I got dropped by four record labels in a week. My mum would be proud!”), Parker is actively and firmly unique in her approach and industry attitude.

Although she’d refute this, from afar it certainly appears that she was born to influence the course of electronic music – yet she’s more likely to resolutely shy away from the spotlight and comically deride herself – but there’s a common thread as she always finds her way back to acclaim or controversy.

And it’s nothing new. When she was just a child she hit the front page of a local Kent newspaper as a grubby and wild-eyed-kid being forced under a fence by her older sister to bust into an acid house party.

The headline read: ‘Are these the young victims of Rave?’ Yet years later it’s now clear that the same mucky young lady has not only outgrown this tragic moniker of being called a ‘victim’ but become one of the true and most enduring heroines of dance culture.

Rave On Miss Darker. We salute you!

It was hard work being an Arctic Monkey in 2006 – the glare of the world’s press reflected the skyrocketing fame of the fresh-faced foursome as they begrudgingly ascended into infamy as the purveyors of the fastest selling debut album in the known universe. Surviving the zealous attention, the tabloid intrusion and the jettisoning of an original member, the Arctic Monkeys remained characteristically tight-lipped for the most part, preferring to let the music speak for itself amidst the craziness that surrounded them.

It’s now little more than 15 months since the release of their debut, and with no sign of the media madness abating one iota, the Monkeys are set to throw themselves squarely back into the ring with the (not so) long awaited follow-up, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’. As the anticipation for their return mounts, they chose to speak exclusively to Clash before it all kicked off. Here we go again…

Legend has it that the Arctic Monkeys are difficult, arrogant and unapproachable. Their declining interviews and TV appearances add to the shroud of mystery that envelops them, the ambiguity of their refusals translates as obstinate to all those whose advances were spurned. Which all makes for quite a worrying prospect when Clash is en route to interrogate the band. Remembering past encounters with the band – a drunken introduction at SXSW 2006, a pissed natter after an awards show, and a sozzled meeting at their Brixton aftershow late last year – I hope that the intoxicating common denominator was not the basis for their unusually amenable manner, and with the reassurances of their publicist and label resounding in my head, I convince myself that they’re not going to be the sullen beasts as portrayed.

We are bound for Southampton, the unlikely choice for the first date of their pre-release UK tour. It is Easter Monday and the abnormally lush weather is out of sorts for a British Bank Holiday, bringing with it a slew of scantily clad locals to the coastal town’s centre, buzzing with Arctic fever ahead of tonight’s event.

The return of Arctic Monkeys to the live stage is big news – and not just for the indie population of Southampton. It marks the advent of what many would term Judgement Day – can they live up to the mammoth success of their debut or will the burden of expectation be too heavy on their shoulders? (Does anyone else notice the irony of our esteemed prophets returning on the anniversary of Christ’s rising?)

To date, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ has sold over two million copies worldwide and with it swept the post-Libertines zeitgeist under the carpet and trampled all over it in size nine Nikes. Scooping every award under the sun but not turning up to collect them (the BRITS’ Village People acceptance speech is now a YouTube favourite), the band seemed nonplussed by the tsunami of influence that was crashing over our shores and kept their heads low throughout. Hailed as everything from social commentators to the saviours of music, they fled from the spotlight and the unwelcome invasions of privacy from the press, granting interviews to a select handful of magazines, and tried to retain normality by keeping their feet planted firmly on the ground. Not that it stopped everyone and their uncle buying the album… It’s a lot to live up to.

‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, following as it does hot on the heels of this wave-crest, is… (Dramatic pause to heighten excitement)… not about to disappoint. Sigh of relief. I understate a little. I’ve had an advance copy for some weeks now, lucky bastard that I am, and am still devouring every nuance of its grooves, but suffice to say this is going to send Arctic Monkeys stratospheric. Where modern classics have stumbled in their successors (‘The Libertines’ to ‘Up The Bracket’, ‘Morning Glory’ to ‘Definitely Maybe’), this seizes everything that was perfect about their debut – the breakneck beats, the infectious riffs, the astute lyrical vignettes – and propels it further forward full-throttle with stunning consequences. (For a full critique, see this issue’s reviews)

Now in their dressing room backstage at Southampton’s distinctly un-rock ‘n’ roll Guildhall, Clash is sat with half of the Sheffield quartet. Matt Helders, the youngest Monkey and drumming powerhouse, is the first to sit on the interrogation couch. We are soon joined by Alex Turner, singer, lyricist and one year older than his sticksman. At the large table behind us sits guitarist Jamie Cook (Cookie to those in the know), who will sit silently for most of the interview doodling away on scraps of paper, intermittently holding examples up for Matt’s amusement. The new boy, bassist Nick O’Malley only appears when the interview is done. Nick was drafted into the fold – temporarily at first – when original member Andy Nicholson declined to tour America in May 2006, but as it recently transpired was promoted to a fully-fledged Monkey as Nicholson was edged out (amicably) for being too homesick.

As Turner and Helders sit side by side opposite Clash, they share for the duration of our interview personal asides; private jokes, knowing glances, even finishing each other’s sentences, evidently the result of a close knit friendship, that gang mentality one needs to survive in the middle of all the madness. It is, therefore, a convivial atmosphere I find myself entering, quite at odds with what we’re led to believe is the moody Monkeys manner. Although not entirely conversational, they are at ease under questioning and respond accordingly to everything I pose – Alex usually deliberating for a few seconds before returning his considered reaction.

And so, while I have their attention, it is time to confront these humble urchins on living the dream and entering the Nightmare…

Are you ready for the imminent release of the new album?

Alex: Yeah, very excited. We haven’t actually got one back yet, you know when they’re all finished? I can’t wait to see that.

Are you nervous about what the album has got to live up to, or are you fairly confident with what’s gonna happen?

Alex: Yeah…[Pause] I just wanna make another one! That’s the way that I feel. But like, we’re just looking forwards to playing it.

How have the new songs gone down live?

I think it’s probably less of a concept album than the first one.

Alex: Good. We’ve been playing this one called ‘This House Is A Circus’ first and it builds up until halfway through and it kicks off. Every time we’ve played that, especially like in Europe, they were feeling it, having it. They knew it were coming.

Do they know the songs already?

Alex: I’ve heard the odd girl singing…

Matt: People have heard some live recordings on the Internet, so some people know the choruses to certain ones.

You tried to release this album exactly a year after your debut [their album was released in January 2006] – so only a couple of months off! Would you have preferred it to come out on time?

Alex: Yeah, I would have. We wanted to get it out exactly a year after but (laughs) we went out too much when we were making it! Fucked about… Dawdled a bit… But it were still quite a quick turnaround weren’t it?

Were you starting to get a bit bored of playing the old songs? Is that why you wanted to get these out quick?

Alex: Yeah, absolutely yeah, cos we’ve been playing them even longer as well, you know, than when the first one came out. Some of them we were playing for ages. But when we put new ones in the set it made the old ones more exciting as well, it sort of refreshed them in a way.

So they break up the set a little bit?

Alex: A bit, yeah, it just made it seem like the old ones had more of a… you wanted to play them again.

The producers on this album were Mike Crossey and James Ford from Simian Mobile Disco. Why did you choose them?

Alex: We started the first album with them two guys like, and we always had a good time with them. I think probably it didn’t work out on the first one, but we always sort of think in the back of us minds we want to go back to them and try again. And this time I think that we had more of a blank canvas so the first idea was to get them in, and then we spoke to James… I dunno, it’s not like he’s got one sort of style, you know what I mean? He’s not gonna try and make you into anything or whatever, and I just think we had a good…like, vibe waiting for us when we went into the studio. [Incredulous at his own choice of words] Vibe!

He’s the same kind of age, which must have been a bit more comfortable than having an older, seasoned pro?

Alex: I suppose, yeah. When we did the first one we had Jim Abiss and he were sound, like he were perfect for that, I think, then. I think for each record we wanna do a different kind of approach. That one, we went away to the countryside for the first record, just to do it in 3 weeks, and for this one we went all over, like a bit in London, and more in cities. The next one I’d like to do it different…

Perhaps LA?

Alex: Exactly, yeah! But yeah, just try and make it so it’s different.

In terms of your sound, this album is not a radical departure from the music on the first. Usually bands would use their second album as an excuse to go a bit experimental and pad out the sound with various things. You didn’t; was that your intentions?

Alex: Yeah, but I think it is slightly removed. It’s definitely like moved on with arrangements and rhythm and stuff like that, and I feel like lyrically it’s a bit of a departure from what I were speaking about before. So you’re not kind of confined to one weekend or something, with this it will be a bit more like skewed or a bit more cantered, and also not quite as specific. So yeah, in that way I think that it is a bit different, but it’s a bit of a cop-out to make it massive, the second one, or also to try and be like a different band or something. It only come out like a year ago, it would be silly. But I think a lot of that, it just felt natural, like we wanted to get a bit heavier and stuff.

When you were writing the songs, did you test them out live to gauge which ones might get chosen for the album?

Alex: No, we’ve never played any of these before. It feels like, you know, I don’t feel like we were established enough to reinvent or depart from it, you know what I mean? In us own heads we’d come to what we were, like come to the conclusion of ‘Alright, we’re this band’…

Perhaps in this day and age though, with music moving so fast and things changing quickly, people might have expected or not have been surprised if you’d have changed, and you could have got away with it.

Alex: [Pauses to consider] Yeah.

Was the album written before you went into the studio or was it made in there?

Alex: It was like both for this. We used to have lines… (laughs) off the desk! No, I had like a book full; some were more fully written on acoustic or whatever and worked them out in practice rooms and were just like lines that we piled all together. A lot of lyrics come from mishearing someone, I’ve noticed recently.

Like malapropisms?

Alex: What’s that?

Matt: Is that what it’s called?

Well, it’s more like saying something wrong by accident, like Ringo used to say “a hard day’s night”.

Alex: Right, yeah, but like someone would say something and I’d say, “Did you just say ‘two feathers from a vampire duck?’ (Both laugh)

Matt: ‘No, I said, ‘two leathers on the back of that truck’.

Alex: And you’re like, ‘Wow, two feathers from a vampire duck? What an amazing title!’ (Laughs)

Do you use the studio as an opportunity to experiment with sound?

Matt: This time we were more bothered probably about trying different sounds and stuff and it weren’t as much of a problem if we said, ‘I want to try that song again but with this amp’ or something different. The first time, we pretty much set us stuff up and it stayed like that all the way through that, every song.

Alex: James came in with that opinion.

Matt: Yeah, he was always encouraging us to maybe try a different sound. It were good, like, we re-did drums a couple of weeks after just to see what it were like. Stuff like that we probably wouldn’t have had time to do first time, but cos them songs as well were already pretty much set in stone so there weren’t really much room for that.

The energy in the album is very much ‘up’; there are only two more downbeat songs on the album. When you’re writing and recording them, do you envisage them as live performances or tracks on a record that someone at home can listen and dance to?

Matt: I don’t know. I think about listening to some back and thinking ‘I can’t wait to play this live’, just from like a playing point of view, but for a listener, I don’t know. It always sounds more exciting if you do it live when you are recording. I can’t imagine what we’ve got in mind while we’re doing it.

Do you listen to your own stuff at all?

Alex: Yeah…

Matt: We have to… Oh, do you mean…

Alex: …like on us Walkman or summat, yeah? I do. I’ve still been listening to ‘The Bakery’, cos that’s the only one I’ve got. A few tunes, like B-sides and that, I kind of listen to them more. There’s a tune called ‘Plastic Tramp’ that we’re gonna put on a B-side. I like listening to that.

What about when someone sees you in a club and puts on one of your songs?

Alex: It used to be like, ‘Oh no’, but now it’s just like funny, like ‘Come on!’

Matt: ‘Brianstorm’, I’ve heard that a couple of times.

Alex: We went to that party after that BRITS thing and that samba ‘Dancing Shoes’ kicked in. You know they did that, whatever it’s called… [Rhythms Del Mundo reworked the Monkeys’ hit with a Cuban swing] That came on and Helders let go! People were filtering out by the end of it and it were a pretty sparse dancefloor, so there were plenty of attention, and plenty of space!

Matt: That version just took over me. It’s the beat – I just can’t help but dance!

Did you have a rose in your teeth?

Matt: No, but I should have – I were one step away!

‘Only Ones Who Know’ is the tenderest track on the album. It’s got a bit of bass and two guitars, but could be played live with just vocals and a guitar. Matt could sit it out…

Alex: With a rose in your teeth!

Would you consider it for a solo moment?

Alex: I don’t know. I’ve not really thought about doing that one. Cos like, that one we just did it on acoustic and then we didn’t know whether we were going to do drums or what on it, and we ended up messing about with loads of [FX] boxes, and James did like a slide on it. I normally hate slide guitars; it’s country music.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with country music!

Alex: I know. I’m just scared of it!

When you’re writing lyrics and you’re singing about “he” or “she”, are you always singing about other people or is it a cunning way to divert any personal feelings?

Alex: Cunning! (Laughs) Sometimes both really.

If it were too personal would you change it round?

Alex: I don’t know. You can double bluff with it though.

Does it get boring having to talk about your lyrics?

Alex: It can be sometimes. Not boring, just quite challenging sometimes.

Because you don’t know what they mean sometimes?

Alex: Yeah… No, because like I think I probably did but it’s almost like that much happens and stuff and you sort of do other songs and then you’re like, ‘Wait a minute…’ and it just sounds like you’re lying!

How personal do you tend to get when you’re writing? Would you write about things that you wouldn’t normally tell other people?

Alex: I suppose, yeah, definitely, probably cos you can get away with it. There is some stuff that I probably think is weird that I like the sound of, almost like subconsciously sometimes. I go, ‘Yeah, that’s good and that’s not’. I don’t know; I can’t explain it very well.

Do you think that you can be too honest sometimes?

Alex: Sometimes you want a bit of that though, you know what I mean? As long as you don’t have to do that every night. It’d probably be different if you didn’t have to do that, play it or sing it every night.

The album title, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’, comes from a lyric in the song ‘D Is For Dangerous’. Why did you choose that to sum up the album?

Alex: I think that the title for the first album were more related perhaps to the lyrics and the situation that we were in. With this one, I think those three words sum up the mood of the record. Even though in the song it’s related to that situation, as the title of the album it’s almost related to the sound.

We wanted to get the album out exactly a year after but we went out too much when we were making it! Fucked about… Dawdled a bit…

Do you think of the album as a whole when you’re making it, so that it’s cohesive, or does it come together and then it makes sense?

Alex: Again, with this one we just sort of put it together and then worked it out after, but with the first one it was all like thought it out before and recorded. With this one it was just more like… [The lip balm Alex is fiddling with accidentally flies from his hand] Like that!

From interviews around the time of the first album, you said that you knew ‘A Certain Romance’ was always going to be the album closer. Did you know this time around which ones would open, which one would close, which ones would be singles?

Matt: We knew that ‘Brianstorm’ would be the single ever since we heard it played at soundcheck. I remember we didn’t know what we were going to do last…

Alex: Or the order of it…

Matt: That were all a bit last minute, we did leave it a bit late.

You’ve ruined the lives of quite a few Brians – they’re gonna hear that first line, “Brian, top marks for not tryin’” forever!

Matt: Yeah, I’m a bit worried.

They won’t buy your records now.

Matt: How many Brians are there? (Laughs) Don’t let things like that get to you!

Were there any albums that you admire as templates for what an album should be, or do you not tend to pay attention to what others have done?

Alex: I think we do pay attention, but I don’t think we were like ‘This is something we want to replicate’, but it’s something to work around.

So you wouldn’t call this a concept album?

Alex: This one? No, I think it’s probably less of a concept than the first one.

Do you listen to other music while recording?

Alex: Yeah we did, we listened to all sorts, just to be like, “It should sound a bit like this’, like a drum sound or summat. We listen to music all the time anyway.

Do you download it or go out and buy it?

Alex: More buying it, yeah. That’s one good thing about travelling around. Someone will be like, “Oh, there’s this record shop…”

Do you buy vinyl or CDs?

Alex: Both really. We’ve got one of them Vestax portable turntables. But we got a bit burnt by that though, cos when we were in Australia we got loads of records robbed. A big bag of records, but only what we’d bought from there. But still… Or was it New Zealand?

What keeps you sane when you’re on the road?

Alex: Taking the piss!

Matt: I ain’t conscious we’ve been insane!

Alex: [To Matt] You’ve got your blankie.

Matt: I’ve got this. [Points to beige blanket by his side] Never leave home without it! On the bus we have a Playstation and that but we don’t really even do that. We watch DVDs and listen to music.

When you’re on tour around the world, do people still have a problem with your accents? Do you have to…

Alex: Speak very clearly? Yeah. We just did a promo trip to Japan and we paired up for it. I did it with Jamie and he just doesn’t change his accent no matter where the person’s from, how little English they speak or whatever – he still speaks broad as fuck. And then I don’t even understand it! (Laughs)

Matt: “What he meant there is…” (Laughs)

Who’s the worst?

Matt: For understanding us? It’s probably hardest working in Japan. Actually, it makes it easier because you don’t have to say as much. We’ve got a translator as well, and it takes longer to do it, and we’ve still only got half an hour each or whatever, so they don’t get as many questions in. We just sit there pissing about while they just translate it. It’s not bad though. The hardest thing about that is when you don’t really understand what they’ve asked you, and you just pick up on the odd key word. Like, they asked us about the environment while we were recording the album, but I didn’t know they’d said that. I went, “The environment? Yeah, very important, I always turn me TV off!” (Laughs) They were like, “Okay…”

Alex: The best thing is like when you get an interpretation of the song. And you’re like, ‘No, but I prefer that meaning what you come up with’.

Could you ever see yourselves living abroad?

Matt: I don’t know. I dunno about living, but I definitely wanna go places other than being in the band. I think I’ll got to Thailand for a year and become a Thai boxer. I’m gonna train for a year.

Alex: And while he does that I’m gonna go to Berlin.

For the clubs?

Alex: Fuckin’ techno? Is it techno there? House? I don’t know…

Were you disappointed that things had to change when Andy left the band?

Alex: How do you mean?

They say that you shouldn’t mess with a good thing. Were you worried that with his leaving it might affect how things worked?

Matt: I dunno. It didn’t seem like as big a thing to us as it might have looked, like ‘Oh, are they gonna survive?’ That’s probably a lot down to Nick as well, because it could have been a lot different. I can’t imagine what else we’d have done if it hadn’t been someone we already knew. It seemed pretty easy to do. And obviously we didn’t know it were going to be permanent at first, so we were probably a bit more open to him as a temporary replacement. But it did make it easier we already knew Nick and we got on with him and stuff. It didn’t seem like it were breaking up a gang and it were all gonna fall apart and everything.

Did he feel like a breath of fresh air in the band?

Matt: In a way, yeah, that tour was; that first tour that he came on. He seemed dead excited.

Was it different for you to play with a different bassist?

Matt: I don’t know, not really. We’ve been talking about that because quite a few people have been asking and I’ve never really thought about it. It’s not like we work closely together in practice or anything like that.

So you’re not playing as the rhythm section?

Matt: That’s what I mean. I do a bit, like, recently, only because people have mentioned it. So I’ve started turning [the bass] up a bit in my monitor!

Keith Moon used to play against the vocals.

Matt: I do. In my monitors, the loudest things are the lead vocals and lead guitar. I find it easier to keep in time with the vocals. I don’t know really, I’ve just never thought about it that much…

Alex: Some of the lyrics are a bit rhythmic…

Matt: Yeah, exactly.

You guys are famously reticent when it comes to interviews. Is that because you don’t want to talk about yourselves or you don’t want other people to read about you?

Matt: It’s a bit of both, I suppose. The actual doing it is not always appealing…

Alex: After a few hours it’s like…pfff… You just feel a bit weird. I can just hear me own voice.

Matt: But then on the other side of things you don’t wanna be shoved down everyone’s throats all the time, or on front covers all the time.

But isn’t it a double-edged sword? If you don’t talk to people they’ll write about you anyway, and it won’t always be true.

Matt: Yeah, that’s what we always get told: “We’re gonna write it anyway. You might as well give us something.” It’s always inaccurate anyway.

Have the tabloids given you any trouble, like harassing your family or anything?

Alex: Yeah, they did that last year. There’s that tune ‘If You Were There, Beware’ on the album, which is the only one – cos I wouldn’t ever wanna write a tune about the press – that’s a bit about that time cos we had people like ringing up as us nans and stuff, you know what I mean?

I remember seeing you guys out one night last year, you were a bit pissed and just chatting to someone as you would while out, then the next day it was in the papers with “Exclusive interview” plastered over it. How frustrating is that when you have to watch who you talk to?

Alex: Yeah, and it’s all inaccurate. Like, the other day Cookie was copping off with this lass and then he was supposed to be going out…

Matt: It said: “broke guitarist Jamie with mega rich glamour model”! (Laughs)

It’s festival season coming up…

Matt: Yeah, we’ve got T In The Park and Glastonbury.

Do you think it’s a good time for music at the moment?

Alex: Dunno. I feel, like, detached from it, I suppose, what with being away and that. I ain’t really heard much new albums that have come out. There’s that Arcade Fire one ain’t there. I ain’t heard that though. Cookie’s heard that. And then there’s Kings Of Leon.

Do you use festivals as an opportunity to go and see people?

Matt: Yeah, that’s the good thing about them.

Alex: We saw Queens Of The Stone Age at this festival last year in America and it were one of the best gigs ever.

You’re headlining the first day of Glastonbury – that means you’ve got all day to wait!

Matt: Yeah, to build it up a bit!

That could be dangerous!

Alex: Yeah, it will be good. James [Ford] is on in the dance tent. It will be sound. Can’t wait for that.

Is the rest of the year planned out for you? Have you any time that you could try and fit in a third album?

Matt: I dunno, this year is pretty jam-packed. It’s a lot to do with us though. We basically said why don’t we go where we enjoyed last year, like Australia and the USA; we really wanna go play there again. It just makes it… I dunno… It’s not like it’s hard work.

If your kids told you that they were going to do this for a living, what would you tell them?

Alex: Kids? (Laughs) Well, they are actually…

Matt: Yeah, my little one is away. He’s out on tour with Lil’ Bow Wow.

Erupting into giggles, the cheeky Monkeys clearly haven’t been exasperated by this afternoon’s vocal diversion. Hell, maybe they even enjoyed it. The convergence now of all four members signals our time together has come to an end. They as much as huddle together, close ranks, and breezily while away the last spare moments before soundcheck. Evidently uncomfortable when singled out, collectively they are impenetrable, a force to be reckoned with. Last year they came out of nowhere and sparked a revolution in the heads of millions, so it’s fortunate for all that even in the face of heightened expectation and heat, the Arctics show no sign of thawing. You have been warned.

On a mild January night, stood on the stairs of St John’s church in the heart of London’s Parliament and Government offices, Clash witnessed one of THE magical musical moments of 2007.

Montreal septet Arcade Fire had just marched off-stage after a tumultuous encore to the first in five low-key exclusive gigs that would initiate the launch of their long awaited second album ‘Neon Bible’, recorded in 2006 in a church of their own. The band marched straight past the assembled congregation and out the side entrance of the church to deliver a spine tingling acoustic version of their classic anthem ‘Wake Up’. As office workers and members of the public looked on in disbelief and the by now evangelical audience sang the chorus in unison, the seven members of Arcade Fire smiled as they sang, knowing they had instantly reignited their magical spark by doing what they do best, performing with spontaneous devotion and humorous disregard for protocol or procedure.

We’re not complicated in an attempt to look really intellectual, whilst adding in a whole bunch of crap that doesn’t mean anything to us.

I’d next experience them in March, as they kicked off a full 23-date European tour, with ten nights across Britain, including four at Brixton Academy. The two gigs at Glasgow’s legendary Barrowlands excited me most, the potential powder keg concoction of outstanding venue and acoustics, one of the best crowds in the world rejoicing potentially one of the best bands in the world proved too tempting to miss.

This was a band I’d first encountered two years previously as they blew Franz Ferdinand off their own homecoming stage under Edinburgh Castle, a band cited as one of the best alive by Bono, Chris Martin, David Byrne and David Bowie, whose debut ‘Funeral’ became the discerning fan’s choice as album of the year in 2005, and a band who, most importantly, when you witness them live, are one of the very few who truly make you feel like they are singing their souls out and playing their hearts out for you, the audience.

The first night in Glasgow was sensational. I am not lying when I say that the person next to me cried as the band jubilantly led a perfect segue of ‘Funeral’ anthems ‘Power Out’ and ‘Rebellion(Lies)’ into another great encore with the by now almost obligatory exultantly received rendition of ‘Wake Up’. I know it sounds pretentious and over the top, but it’s so easy to let fly with traits like these when describing Arcade Fire, for the fourth time I’d witnessed them convert every single person present at their gig by creating the most indeterminably potent feeling, the feeling of actual communion between band and crowd. Powerful songs of protest and spiritual songs of joy shared to a rapturous response and all with not one messiah complex in sight anywhere on stage.

The next morning I meet some of the band for breakfast in the restaurant of their hotel. Regine Chassagne, astoundingly talented multi-instrumentalist, founding member, co-writer and wife of front-man Win Butler, skips gaily up the few stairs leading to where I’m sitting, instantly displaying a delicate glee and engaging charm as she says hello and coos with delight, pondering what breakfast treats to nibble. She is followed by Will Butler, the bass, guitar, synth and percussion player, and Win’s affable and bright younger brother. He is apologetic. Win cannot join us because he is too ill. He’s carried a sinus infection for some time that was starting to take its toll. 12 hours previously you simply could not tell this was the case as Win’s voice soared, leading the way on-stage before he dove off-stage into his crowd complete with guitar. However, 12 hours later at the second Glasgow performance Win looked visibly drained as he battled through what only was a decent set at best when compared with the sky scraping standards I’d seen before.

The week before the Glasgow shows their second album ‘Neon Bible’ had been released to almost unanimous critical acclaim and increased public interest, falling only 460 copies short of outselling Kaiser Chiefs to become Number 1 UK album. However, as is almost inevitable when a ‘cult’ band are propelled into mainstream culture, it was received by some as missing a little of the innocent magic of their debut, and by others who’d never really understood them as simply over-rated. A small debate started as to whether Arcade Fire truly are that special band that fellow musicians, devoted fans and the more intelligent press all say they are. A BBC Newsnight programme featured a perfect example of this debate, with a panel of four supposed all-round written word experts, novelists, journalists and screenwriters, or combinations of these, calling the new album ordinary, with tired subject matter. You could tell three of the panel had not really ingested nor understood ‘Neon Bible’. The only one who did was almost aghast with disbelief at his co-panellists’ opinions and was more than confident in his knowledge of Arcade Fire’s potential. “It’ll sell a million copies,” he defiantly predicted.

I put this to Regine, trying to be mindful of the fact that it is first thing on a Monday morning and tackling bleak subject matter or controversial criticism may be inappropriate. “It doesn’t really matter to me [what other people think],” Regine calmly muses as she sips a coffee. “If I was to listen to every voice that has an opinion about us it would maybe affect how I approach what I do, and I don’t want that, so I try not to listen. I think that you have to have a real problem if all of your life is obsessed with your image of yourself.”

“So far we’ve only sold thousands of records, not millions,” adds Will. “I think that’s when the pressure increases.” I remind him that’s exactly what a lot of people are predicting. “I think we’d be fine, but we’ll need to see if we ever sell millions of records if that pressure increases. Right now we’re just lucky we don’t have to pay attention to it.”

‘Neon Bible’ is an album that deals with some fairly weighty subject matter. Where ‘Funeral’ was made in the throes of experiencing death in the family and portrayed more personal, innocent subjects, ‘Neon Bible’ speaks of death itself, self-destruction and possible impending destruction of the world. It laments falling bombs and rising seas, and expresses disgust at post 9/11 American culture and worldwide religious divisions and hypocrisy. It may sound clichéd, and as if these subjects have been covered before, but rarely have these messages been delivered with such eloquence and fervent dedication. Win Butler is on record as saying that never before in history has there been a more ripe time for protest. The Arcade Fire we have in front of us now is his way of doing exactly that, and he is fast becoming one of the truly brilliant poetic songwriters of our time. Together with Regine they form a formidable partnership, his earnest sternness perfectly complementing her sanguine energy.

I think that you have to have a real problem if all of your life is obsessed with your image of yourself.

This balance comes across clearly in their music. For sure, on ‘Neon Bible’ they are writing about some of the darkest subjects we as humans face today, but their triumphant musical delivery of these messages leaves you feeling hope and elation in equal measures alongside the fear and anger of being reminded that the world we live in is pretty fucked up. Like in the best films, where the truly great writers and directors can paint complex pictures that grip and tug your emotions in various directions, Arcade Fire go that little way further in painting their own sonic landscape. “We’re not complicated in an attempt to look really intellectual, whilst adding in a whole bunch of crap that doesn’t mean anything to us,” Regine says in a playful snooty accent, before explaining just how much they put into balancing and perfecting their ideas. “An idea can often come to me or Will immediately and we can see it or hear it clearly within ourselves almost instantly, but there’s a lot of intricacy and effort in actually making that idea come to life. For example, if a painter wants to paint a specific colour, not lime green, not mint green, not aqua green, but THIS green, a colour you have clearly defined in your head, it can take a lot to perfect and realise the initial colour if it does not yet exist anywhere other than in your head.”

That is one major part of the beauty of Arcade Fire, their interpretations of modern culture through contemporary music, delivered on a multitude of instruments, are completely unique. Texas-born Win, grandson of jazz musician and inventor of the pedal steel guitar Alvino Rey, will come up with most basic song ideas with Regine, a Haitian who fled her country with her family during the Duvalier (Baby Doc) dictatorship. In the democracy that is Arcade Fire, Will and bandmates Richard Reed Parry, Sarah Neufield, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara will draw from a musical palette including upright bass, guitars, violins, drums, mandolin, celeste, French horns, keyboards, accordion and even a hurdy gurdy and some megaphones to breathe their collective energies into the idea. But their intricate and immense sound is only truly completed when they sing together, with vocals delivered as if they are staring the apocalypse right in the face but trying to sing their way to salvation.

At a time when it is fashionable to talk about what it’s like to be young or what it’s like to be in a band, tales of Saturday night encounters, taxi queue brawls and lost teenage romances have been expertly penned by equally significant bands, none better than our cover stars this issue. But this is not the route Arcade Fire want to take, as is testified by Will. “I’d rather talk about what everyone else isn’t talking about – everyone always says counterculture is cool, take religion for example, it’s more counterculture to talk about religion than not to. We’d always rather go against the trend – and it’s also more fun that way!” Regine points out that sometimes people try to read too much into what songs actually mean, they should sometimes also just enjoy the art and take what they personally want from it. “Music is about connecting a song with your own life, whether it’s a wide issue we all share or a personal thing you feel you can relate a song to. Art is about meaning different things to different people and should be enjoyed for what it means to you and how it feels inside you. That can be the true beauty of music and people should be accepting of it for what it is.”

I think that’s the point. Music is not all about who is the best at any one time. It is a subjective art form and now is one of the healthiest times in memory for all true exponents of that art form to exist. Yes, true brilliance will shine through and inevitably become popular, therefore becoming subject to public expectation, over-scrutiny and misjudgement. And just like the BBC Newsnight team, there will always be misguided or uninformed critics of a band like Arcade Fire who do what they do with scant regard for fashion, fad or media opinion. They say familiarity breeds contempt but all too often it’s the opposite that’s true.

By the end of 2007, the ‘difficult’ second album that is ‘Neon Bible’ WILL rightly be revered as one of the year’s best, alongside some of the other ‘difficult’ second albums coming out now, most notably that of Arctic Monkeys. The world needs Arctic Monkeys like the world needs Arcade Fire. Give me the acerbic tale of partying all night right after the ominous ode about turning the world’s dark into light. We should be thankful we’ve got this range of talent before us.

As I leave Win and Regine I ask them their big hope for 2007; they both answer instantly, almost prophetically, “To stay healthy!” One week later the European tour has to be cut short nine dates early as Win’s illness had literally robbed him of his voice. As I write this he is in hospital recovering from a throat operation but we’re assured they’ll be back on top form in the summer for a string of triumphant festival shows, capped by a headline slot on The Other Stage at Glastonbury. I look forward to yet another ‘Wake Up’ moment!

When Lee bashes his guitar in a fit of frustration our bodies pulsate with the shock of discovery. When Stuart sprints from drums to keyboard and yelps almost incomprehensibly, we sway to their coiling melodies. The Longcut continue to surprise with every note. We then pile out like zombies, not quite comprehending what had happened. Recollection of the emotions that follow will serve as an echo of what must have taken place.

“It was kind of trying to get over the live thing,” explains Jon about recording their new album ‘A Call And Response’. “It’s really weird when you’re doing the record, because you are trying to get the energy of you live, but still you’re still trying to get something which you can sit down and just listen to in your living room that sounds good.” Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio helped them to accomplish the perfect balance of swooning electronica and scuzzy beats, deeper and richer than the EPs. “It basically sounds like we wanted the EPs to sound, but didn’t know how to get the sound.”

After putting together a list of ‘sensible mixers’, they only added Dave Sitek as a ‘just in case’. But he replied curtly, ‘Yes.’ “He kind of tied it altogether, compared to the original monitor mixes. He’s mental, but he’s ace!” says Jon, adding sheepishly, “He is really, really good, he’s just crazy.” Stuart describes Dave as; “The guy at the back, looking like a proper nerd, but then you meet him in real life and he’s about this tall,” he flashes his palm at his chest.

During their most recent tour, they gave out a free 7”of two live tracks to all who attended the gigs. Stuart says, “We hadn’t released anything in ages, since ‘A Quiet Life’, we wanted to get something solid that people could get that wasn’t necessarily a single off the album, something a bit different.” The Longcut have been touring almost non-stop for almost a year. People who say they have been away for too long, “haven’t don’t their research,” Lee points out. “We recorded [the album] in about 6 weeks, but the mixing process took a lot longer.” The album was being mixed, whilst the guys were touring America, Japan and UK. The fruit of their labour is worth any sort of wait.

This is a diary, from the horse’s mouth, of what happened on their most recent jaunt of the UK:

It was kind of trying to get over the live thing

Friday 5th May 2006

Liverpool EVOL

Our amazing stoner roadies manage to get lost trying to find Liverpool city centre. Several times.

Friday 12th May 2006

Wookey Hole Caves, Bristol.

It’s our day off so in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion we head for Wookey Hole Caves in Wells (Britain’s smallest city).

Thursday 18th May 2006

Newcastle Uni Global 3

We’re unable to find a single open pub in Newcastle, so we go for the saner option of drinking the massive amounts of Jamesons we’ve built up on the rider with Jim Noir and his band (who has also had a gig in Newcastle tonight) back at the hotel. Jim is smoking Salvia Divinorum which he’s been assured is like mushrooms but somehow legal. Many huge almost-spliffs and a makeshift bucket bong later Jim is still lucid but unable to have logical conversations. As Jim is like this at the best of times we can’t tell if he’s been ripped off or not. Friday 19th May 2006

Tour Bus Hell

We drive for 8 and half hours from Newcastle to Brighton. Madness sets in.

Saturday 20th May 2006

Brighton The Great Escape – sheer genius

Tonight’s crowd were absolutely amazing, and not just for fact that we couldn’t get off stage very quickly because there were too many girls dancing in the way after ‘Quiet Life’. Lee is engulfed at the end so we leave him to his fate. Good to see the mighty Shitdisco again too (were earlier support for us), who are still starting every gig with Buckfast.

Sunday 21st May 2006

Nottingham Social

A bit of a come down after Brighton, with the city’s annual rainfall pouring on the city and an absolutely mental pair of fans at tonight’s gig. Not mental in a good way, in a ‘trying to pull Stu off the stage and terrifying the rest of the audience’ way. Lee also had comedy guitar strings for most of the gig, breaking three during all the bits in ‘Transition’ they were needed for, and the whole thing was recorded for Japanese TV. Great.

Monday 22nd May 2006

Lamacq Live session with The Long Blondes and Brakes.

Any spare time today is spent wondering why our song titles are rubbish compared to Brakes’ (‘Porcupine’ or ‘Pineapple’) and why The Long Blondes changed outfits for a radio session…

Tuesday 23rd May 2006

Northampton Soundhaus

More fun with Dude Where’s My Tourbus? as we drive straight through Northampton and out again while trying to find the venue.

Thursday 25th May 2006

Manchester Academy 3

We’re knackered but we set off at 6am for the first of today’s interviews (including one with The Smith’s ex-drummer Mike Joyce, which is surreal) though still really happy to be back in Manchester for the first time in a month. The gig is unbelievably hot and we can barely keep hold of our instruments but everyone has fun, especially the lighting engineer who’s apparently just worked out where the strobe button is. We talk to everyone we know then collapse in braindead heaps.

Despite being more concerned with moving to big school when the first wave of acid house washed over a suspicious Britain in the late 80s and early 90s, today’s clubbers are all too familiar with the roll of drum and bass and the clatter of rave. No one bats an eye when the distinctive rhythms and bass lines of Britain’s homegrown dance culture are dropped in clubs these days, and even indie bands are cadging the tricks that the likes of Metalheadz and Roni Size used to pack a dancefloor with and keep it sweating back in the day. For old scene heads 4hero, however, it’s been a long journey from illegal shows in north London warehouses to being radio staples and Mercury Music Prize nominated doyens of the dinner party soundtrack.

The group began as a quartet on the fringes of UK hip-hop in the mid-80s, but quickly gravitated towards the hardcore scene that was coming up towards the end of the decade. A small revolution in music was quietly taking place in the fields of the Home Counties. Illegal rave scenes and pirate radio stations were popularising tunes made by grubby hands in small DIY studios rather than shiny pop nuggets plucked from Simon Cowell’s arse.

When rave finally caught the attention of the general public, its blend of acid-fried psychedelia and tight drum patterns that drew on both the swing of Latin and African percussion and the metronomic intensity of Detroit techno came as something of a shock. Mark ‘Marc Mac’ Clair, who splits 4hero’s production duties with Dennis ‘Dego’ McFarlane, remembers the shock of the new: “When DJ Hype incorporated house and UK hip-hop into his music and dropped Rising Son, nothing else sounded like that. It was a new fusion.”

I got married, I’ve got a kid; I’m chilling. It’s the grown-up side to 4hero.

4hero were among the first to embrace the change in dance music culture. Originally a breaks and techno act, the Dollis Hill production team began to meld the breakbeat structures of hip hop and reggae’s African diaspora with the rigid four-to-the-floor of a European production style still heavily influenced by Kraftwerk’s robotic beats. Moving away from the bass-heavy bleepcore of their peers, 4hero were instrumental in rolling the spirit of the 1988 Summer of Love into the next decade with warehouse party favourites like the ‘Combat Dance’ EP and ‘Mr Kirk’s Nightmare’.

While the post-punk and New Romantic bands reacted to the harsh economic and social conditions of the early 80s with politicised aggression and theatrical denial respectively, the new crop of young musicians were looking for something more inclusive, finding it in the euphoric rush of a nascent club culture. “During the Summer of Love, barriers got broken down,” says Mark. “There was a racial divide; we’d just come out of the skinhead area. The National Front were on the TV, and we’d had the Brixton Riots and miners’ strikes. People wanted to say goodbye to all that.”

The mass parties and highs of the scene facilitated a rapprochement between the most unlikely of groups. For Mark, as a young black male, the decline in racial tension was one of the most noticeable trends. “I grew up round Wembley and Harrow, where I got chased home by skinheads. But you’d see proper football hooligans get into rave and drop their attitude. It was all getting mixed up.”

The uncharitable among us might say that ecstasy, the acid house scene’s biggest signifier, might have had a little something to do with the general atmosphere of peace, love and harmony: pills and rave are as closely linked in public perception as Robbie Williams and a crushing sense of despair. According to Mark, that’s something of a tabloid fallacy: “At raves of 10,000 to 15,000 people, only 10 or 15 per cent were on E. People assume that the whole scene was on drugs, but most people were uplifted by the music.”

He’s also quick to dispel any thoughts Clash readers might have about his group being wild-eyed pill monkeys shaking fistfuls of MDMA at an uncaring sky. “4hero weren’t into drugs. In fact, ‘Mr Kirk’s Nightmare’ was anti drugs.” Ironically, the 1990 single’s bleak vocal refrain of “Mr Kirk, your son is dead; he died of an overdose…” was taken to be a sarcastic statement about the moral panic surrounding the use of E. It even provoked an unprecedented number of calls to Kiss FM, who were rinsing the track at the time, demanding that the pro-drugs propaganda being released by the nasty ravers be banned from Britain’s airwaves.

Aware of the round of disbelieving scoffing that denying the link between substances and dance music is likely to elicit from the chattering classes, Mark does concede that the chemicals the crowd were shovelling down their throats or ramming up their noses was important to the culture of the music. “E appeared to be a lovey, happy drug, but when harder drugs came in, the beats got harder, more angry. The drug that was in the scene dictated the rave.” Cocaine, speed and other darker uppers made also made an impact. “E and LSD were trippy. With coke, I saw the difference between the Rasta culture of smoking and chilling and taking a drug that makes you want to go out and shoot someone.”

As the scene evolved with its audience’s taste in stimulant, 4hero turned away from the dancefloor. Although still playing raves, the group moved into the studio, releasing the album credited as the first drum and bass LP, ‘Parallel Universe’, in 1994. While jungle moved drum and bass towards a heavier, more violent sound, 4hero began introducing new elements to the genre. The jazzy instrumentation and soulful female vocals that came to typify the 4hero style moved past simple melodic hooks underpinned by organ-rearranging bass weight, broadening the group’s scope for musical expression and cementing their reputation as musical innovators.

For the band, drum and bass had become “a prison, and we had to break out. Drum and bass beats always had to be hard and up-tempo, at 100 beats per minute rather than 90.” Staying fresh was a struggle due to the rigid structural confines of the genre, and Mark began to find inspiration in artists who had grown out of another tightly defined musical scene: punk. The Clash and The Jam were particularly influential. “Paul Weller’s a good example in that lots of people threw him away when he changed into Style Council. He didn’t let the scene dictate his style.”

People assume that the whole scene was on drugs, but most people were uplifted by the music.

This might explain the lack of mainstream recognition afforded to them: while Roni Size and Goldie continued to plough their clearly defined stylistic furrows, Clair and McFarlane dabbled in various genres under a variety of aliases. In fact, the pair seem to have been almost put off by critical acclaim: despite being praised from all sides – ‘Parallel Universe’ was even voted best dance album in a 1995 NME poll – the duo didn’t resurface as 4hero until 1997. “We did have a negative reaction to the idea [of going overground] at first. But fans that we’d never have picked up wouldn’t be there if we hadn’t,” says Mark. “We needed to get out to more people.”

Their comeback single couldn’t have been better. A stunning remix of Nuyorican Soul’s classic ‘Black Gold Of The Sun’, it once again had critics cooing over the group’s sensitive reworking of funk and soul, and set the template for the style they’d become widely known for. “Soul’s been creeping in for a long time. It’s a logical progression: ever since ‘Parallel Universe’, there’s been continuity between albums. We’ve always used those Coltrane chords.” Mark chuckles, “Old jazz heads like Gilles Peterson could relate to it.”

‘Two Pages’, their debut for major label Talkin’ Loud, followed in 1998, picking up a Mercury nomination and introducing new fans to the pair’s work along the way. Their sound had also softened further, moving them further towards a pop audience. This didn’t come as a shock to 4hero. “You can’t be surprised these days. Pop’s completely changed. Things like 909s used to be undergound compared to what Stock, Aitken and Waterman were doing. Now there’s a much thinner line between what’s pop and what’s not.”

The crossover success of ‘Two Pages’ continued with 2001’s ‘Creating Patterns’, which boasted collaborations with soul luminaries old and new, and featured a popular reworking of Minnie Ripperton’s 1970’s gem ‘Les Fleurs’. Mark pegs the group’s continued mellowing on getting old. “Age creeps into it as well. When we were doing jungle and drum and bass, we were banging it all night long, sometimes playing until 10 in the morning. It was music for the dancefloor, it always had that dance angle.” Mark shrugs. “I suppose we don’t need to make it now we’re not on the dancefloor any more. I got married, I’ve got a kid; I’m chilling. It’s the grown-up side to 4hero.”

All of which bring us to the latest joint to drop from 4hero’s nimble fingers; the expansive, soulful ‘Play With The Changes’. Slated for release this January, it heralds yet another change in how Dego and Mark work. “We worked from two different towns and studios, then put the tracks together. There’s more individual production, but we’ve been working together so long it’s still got that whole 4hero sound.”

With over 40 musicians and engineers contributing to the album, it promises a broader sonic palette than ever before. Mark laughs at the suggestion that getting an orchestra to pick up the nuances of jungle would cause problems for plenty of other producers. “It’s easy for us to do now. 10 years ago they couldn’t get the rhythm right. Now they study Latin beat, African drums and drum and bass.”

With plans to tour the album using a 20-piece band, 2007 looks set to be a good year for 4hero. But what of the scene the band helped to give birth too? Does the continued drift of its figureheads towards less abrasive and more accessible new forms signal the death of cycle dancing as we know it? The stasis of the drum and bass scene does concern Mark slightly. “It’s hard to come across a new act. Good drum and bass to me is Photek and Goldie; the cats there from the old school.” When 4hero started up their independent label, Raw Canvas, they encouraged their artists to be adventurous. “It’s not a dig at anyone, but we told them to explore different tempos. It’s like writing a ballad in Techno; how do I do it?”

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. “You can still go to a drum and bass rave and it’ll be packed. The scene won’t disappear.” 4hero may have moved on, but heads up and down the country will continue to roll to the pressure drops they pioneered for quite some time to come.

For the Hoover family, dysfunction is their function.

Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a motivational speaker whose rampant over-optimism enshrouds his own insecurities. His wife Sheryl (Toni Collette) attempts to hold everything in place as best she can, which is no mean feat when faced with her Nietzsche-obsessed son Dwayne (Paul Dano), her gay brother Frank (Steve Carell) who has survived a suicide attempt and the wilfully offensive grandfather played by Alan Arkin. When Richard and Sheryl’s daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) qualifies by default for the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest, these disparate individuals are forced together as they embark on their journey to the tournament.

With its gently paced early scenes, Little Miss Sunshine emphasises the importance of recognising the dreams, insecurities and foibles of each character with Olive’s innocence the only aspect of the film that emphasises any element of comedy. Once the road-trip itself if underway, Little Miss Sunshine evolves into something a little different. It’s certainly not cutting edge in any discernable manner but there’s a sense of personal reflection and true sadness that movies of a similarly high profile generally kill with syrupy sentimentality.

Whilst a few overly contrived scenes grate, the humour that Dayton and Faris have infused is otherwise extremely well-judged; what’s more, utilising touches of slapstick, cuteness, observation and realism give Little Miss Sunshine a well-rounded sense of fun that’s quite unique.

The Hoover family are finely crafted characters that can’t be defined as two-dimensionally as simply winners or losers. That’s key to creating what is at heart a warm, feel-good movie; battling minor defeats with small victories is what life is all about.