Choosing the dark side...

Chatroulette. Last month users looking for their daily fix of sad, self-asphyxiating men were treated to a rudimentary sign saying ‘Latin Holy Fuck’. Those expecting a Nicaraguan nun being hammered up the transept by the chamber choir were disappointed as a strange new sound sifted through the darkened room.

The group’s choice of platform in launching their new album was weirdly germane. Holy Fuck’s is misfit music, made by misfit instruments in a misfit genre. Their music is car boot synth, circuit bent, live drum electronica, with enough pedal distortion to make Lou Reed a big fan. Oh, and Thom Yorke.

Holy Fuck didn’t believe in having songs when they first started, and reportedly don’t rehearse; there is a degree of John Cage in the marshalled chaos of their ethos to take them beyond the realms of Chrysler advert spots (which they have done) and into realms of wider art in a more elastic sense.

Their album ‘Latin’ is more austere than previous more pumped-up offerings (this is their third album, and despite their name, they are maturing), recorded in a barn in rural Ontario, in their native Canada. It almost all got lost though: “We lost parts of the album in the back of a taxi in Chicago. It was the classic story of you drive somewhere, they let you out, they drive off, and ‘Oh no, my stuff is still in the trunk!’” remembers band member Graham Walsh.

“Very very luckily we got our stuff back - it took a couple of weeks. We were on the phone that day and got the police involved. All the cab drivers in the city were telling us the guy’d already pawned it all off.”

The new album was designed to be more melodic, and is slower and more thoughtful than the previous dancefloor numbers like ‘Royal Gregory’, ‘Super Inuit’ and the elegant ‘Lovely Allen’. Tracks like ‘SHT MTN’ and ‘Lucky’ feature vocal fragments, something Walsh explains: “We are experimenting with the idea of using the voice as an instrument - being more textural and abstract, as opposed to typically singing lyrics. We’ve gradually introduced that more and more - using the voice as an instrument, treating it differently, and getting various tones out of it. It’s obviously fun to sing and to yelp and to yell, so we’re using it as a tool as opposed to for communicating a language.”

The group’s full make-up includes the core of Walsh and Brian Borcherdt, with Matt Schulz (drums) and Matt McQuaid (bass). The mixing for ‘Latin’ was done by a team including Eli Janney (Wilco) and Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Primal Scream).

Walsh says he’s a fan of the “darker, evil” stuff so maybe he’s the man behind ‘Stay Lit’, the album’s most penetrating track, which one critic named the “best song that Holy Fuck have ever written”. The track builds around a slate-soak six note harmony with separate quavering synths, vocal harmony, bells and scattering live drums, before cohering into a happy soup of all of the above.

It’s clear that while the group employ some of the more naunced melodies of song and symphony in their electronica, their attraction lies in their conversely threadbare instrumentation. Walsh explains: “We still play low-fi, tactile instruments, with no lap tops. I have an old synth from the early 1980s that was made for the consumer market; we also use kids’ toys and Brian uses his 35mm film synchronizer, things like that, old drum machines, things that are really limiting, but force you to use your musical brain differently. If you’re using a piece of equipment that’s very limiting then you’re using your creativity to make sounds that are a bit more timeless.”

For someone as transcending as Walsh, he is boringly clichéd and mealy-mouthed when asked for his opinions, although his artistic intelligence is always clear. He hails Reed Ghazala, the father of circuit bending and proponent of musique concrète (the use of samples to build music) as an inspiration, and makes music with one of Ghazala’s circuit-bent Speak & Spell toys.

“Reed Ghazala’s spirit is definitely there - just the idea of trying to control chaos and going with it and letting it control you - that relationship between you and your equipment is definitely something that’s interesting for sure. It’s an amazing, fun route to go down.”

Their lynchpin is arguably Brian Borcherdt, a multi-faceted musician who has released the dramatically different finger-picked album, ‘Coyotes’. This material cuts in a deeper way than the group’s faster stuff, but when I suggest that they may have taken a welcome cue from Borcherdt with the bleaker element of ‘Latin’, Walsh baulks emphatically. Because for all their rustic charm, there is something slightly bland about the group’s stock-in-trade euphoria; while with ‘Latin’ is the sense that the way to the heart is on the dark path.

Words by Miguel Cullen


Clash Magazine Issue 51

This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the 51st issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from June 4th.

Find out more about the issue HERE. Subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.



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