Personality Clash is our way of introducing musicians to one another, kicking off conversations then sitting back to watch the sparks fly. This time round, we’ve opted for groups from two different generations of what could be termed dream pop – that nebulous realm, occupied by guitar pedals, fragmented beats, and exploratory vocal yearnings.
In one corner, we’ve got Etienne, Jagun, and Michael from Whitelands. One of our favourite new groups, the band emerged from the nexus of DIY collectives that criss-cross London, their early, more punk-inclined recordings giving way to a wash of guitar effects, transmuting the sonic attack of their live shows into something more textured, layered, and open.
In the other corner, Clash invited Rudy Tambala – co-founder of seminal group A.R. Kane – into the conversation. For those new to this, A.R. Kane are simply essential listening: emerging from the late 80s indie continuum, they fused left-field guitar sounds, feedback assault, and the emerging electronics of rave culture to forge a truly singular catalogue. They also, as it happens, conjured the phrase ‘dream pop’ as a descriptor.
Across this wide-ranging chat – edited only for length – these musicians spoke at length about their techniques, the myriad of definitions that surround ‘dream pop’, and their experiences of being Black musicians in a space so often dominated by white voices.
Rudy: So, what did you think of the show last week?
Etienne: It was really fun.
Michael: It was amazing. I loved your set, really. It was so good. I loved the guy on the flute. Was it a flute or clarinet?
Michael: Yeah, that was amazing.
Rudy: Yeah, I’ve known Budgie for some time, and he played on our first album, ‘69’. He was just learning clarinet then and played beautifully on it. I’ve always wanted to engage with him again but had yet to cross paths. When I was getting ready for that set, I thought it’d be so nice to do the ‘Sun Falls Into The Sea’ because that’s a nice ambient track. We can’t do it without Budgie’s clarinet. So, I rang him up, and he said, ‘Nah man, I can’t fucking do that, I ain’t doing that.’ I said, ‘but you just say yes’. And he went, ‘yes, I’m in for a rehearsal next week’. We just had a really quick rehearsal. As soon as he got in, he got it down, soaked his reeds for a little while, and got it in there. We were playing at home for hours and hours. Couldn’t stop playing because it sounded so beautiful. It blew me away and completely changed my thoughts about how we play live now.
Michael: Yeah, it really cuts through!
Rudy: It’s really organic. I loved your performance as well, guys. It was really, really fucking cool. I had to have a little dance.
Jegun: Yeah, as soon as we get the album released, then we’ll do more shows.
R: How many tracks have you got to do? Is it all new?
J: We’re re-recording, like, pretty much everything.
R: So, you got into a studio for a set period, or is it just like a weekend or whatever?
M: Just when we can really, because everyone’s just very busy with life.
J: Yeah, we’re all quite busy, and we all live in different parts of London, so we’re kind of just bouncing things back and forth from each other and then when we go into the studio to rehearse, then we can kind of do more stuff there as well.
R: I was chatting with this journalist a couple of days ago, and he was talking about having jobs and trying to do music at the same time. I said to him, when I haven’t got work, I don’t do any music. When I’ve got work, I do music. They just go together. When I am earning some money, I feel more comfortable enjoying myself doing music.
E: I think it’s definitely one of those things. Like, when I’m not experiencing life as much, I don’t write as much music. I guess it is because you need some life experiences to write from; otherwise, it’s just not doing it.
R: It’s stimulus, isn’t it?
J: Plus, you’re in work mode, so it’s like when you’re just relaxing, it’s like it’s hard to get out of that relaxing mode to actually do some music. But yeah, if you’ve been working, it’s like you’re ready like your cogs are already turning.
R: The more you do, the more you can do. So, when is the album coming out?
J: We’re aiming for February.
R: Around now, you should have a tour manager for next summer.
E: I think we’re getting an agency.
R: Yeah, you don’t want to do that work yourself. It’s painful. I did it for our band in 2016. We did a mini European tour. And you know, just booking the flights, getting everything sorted out, trying to herd all the cats. It’s painful. It’s painful work. You need someone to do all that work for you. Just turn up, play, get back in the coach, go somewhere else. I don’t know what it’s like doing Europe now, though, post-Brexit and all that stuff.
J: It’s annoying. I think what annoys me is the fact that it just didn’t need to be this difficult.
R: It was easy. Going to France, Spain, or Portugal was just like going to Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow. I think a lot of venues just don’t want to fuck with it anymore. It’s harder to get shows, but it’s still worthwhile doing it. Yeah, honestly, I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like the response we’ve gotten from other countries has actually been really warm.
J: One thing just about going to Europe is they’re really appreciative. In France, they were literally thanking us for playing, like, I’ve never had that before. I didn’t know how to act.
R: I’ve got a question: what is dream pop?
E: I’m thinking, like, as a band, we kind of like alternate between dream pop and shoegaze pretty back and forth. I would say, I feel like it’s a lot more dreamy and atmospheric and a lot gentler and not exactly twee because it still has his edge to it, but even without like kind of the chorus or something that’s like on a lot longer like other records I still think it has this kind of gentleness to it… so, I think it’s more how the music is made, really, it’s very delicate.
R: Yeah, it’s interesting because, um, this interview just came out that I did with this guy, and he was asking me, you know, what do you think about dream pop today compared to, you know, dream pop then? I don’t know if you know the stuff that we did, but some of it was very, very pretty. Most of it was edgy, and a lot of it was dark, but we called it all dream pop. And that’s because you have bad dreams and good dreams.
You know, bad movies and good movies; I like the horror genre and hard science fiction, and it’s dreamy and it’s trippy, but it’s scary.
E: I think it is also a love of psychedelia.
M: Yeah, I think it’s that, even if it is like soft or heavy or whatever… it’s all quite psychedelic, and it’s all quite visceral, and it pulls you into this kind of liminal space. When I was listening to your set, it’s just so beautiful, and it transports you to a completely different space, but it’s also very visceral, and emotive. I think it just all makes you to feel something very deeply.
R: I watched your set, and it’s very structured, and it’s an ordered set of songs. I have a very loose structure, and it’s always been that way. When we first started, I think it was partly out of incompetence and shyness that we’d stand with our backs to the audience at first and just do feedback sometimes for the whole set. We’d do feedback and noise, just make all these noises, never knew what was coming, then slowly we kind of nod at each other, saying, this is supposed to be better stuff, and someone will hit the drum machine. So, the songs are kind of emerging out of all of this chaos and then sinking down into it. Sometimes, the chaos happens inside the songs as well. I think that’s very different, and I’m wondering if that’s the difference between dream pop as it was and dream pop as it is now. It’s become more measured, structured and controlled, whereas I think before, there was an improvisation element. And I think that that kind of opens up more different types of possibilities within the actual songs. I think that is a different effect, having space to improvise. If I was your producer, I’d make you improvise more.
E: Do you know I think it is? I think because the form of dream pop I kind of grew up on was the new wave of it, like Beach Fossils, DIIV, that kind of era… before I went back into Slowdive, and so on.
R: Yeah, I think it was a psychedelic element in there, the dub element as well. Anything that was spacey, really. But it’s interesting you mentioned Slowdive because I think it must have been about 2014/2015 when I first heard Slowdive. I didn’t know them. I had heard of them, but I didn’t know their music. I just moved off in a different direction. I saw a concert they played, and it made me want to start doing live music again, that concert. ‘Golden Hair’, ‘When The Sun Hits’, a couple of tunes. I knew ‘Golden Hair’, but I knew it from Syd Barrett. I didn’t know it from Pink Floyd. I didn’t know it from Slowdive. I thought, ‘ah, that sounds familiar’. So, I started to play live again. I hadn’t played live for a long time.
R: What guitar effects do you use?
E: My pedals. I got a new one yesterday, actually. It’s a Walrus ARC 87. I like the Walrus pedals.
R: I’ve got the Lillian. Yeah, it’s a phaser.
E: Oh yeah, I remember seeing that.
R: No, they got in touch with me, and they said we’re fans. Do you want a pedal? And I read it wrong, and I thought they said, ‘can we have a pedal?’ I said no, you can’t have one of my pedals. They explained, and I chose two. And they sent them to me. I was so made up. They’re beautiful pedals.
E: My pedal board is really small, but I’ve got a Boss SD-1, signed by Simon, from Slowdive.
R: You can use the delay and the reverb at the front of the circuit and ignore the rest. Or you can put the delay into the reverb and all the reverb into the distortion. It just makes it sound absolutely bizarre. It’ll be like a kind of Frank Ocean sound you get on the ‘Blonde’ album. I mean, if I could have anything, I’d have a human being who’d run all the computer shit so I can just focus on the guitars.
E: If it goes well, then we’ll hit with an album with just a new sound.
R: Basically, both of us are operating in what is a white musical world. There’s no doubt about it. Doesn’t matter what you say about it. It’s dominated by white middle-class bands. So, my background: I was working class, from East London, and grew up with reggae, soul, jazz, jazz funk, and disco. And it wasn’t until I went to university that I got exposed to Joy Division and stuff like that and different kinds of music. I knew all the pop music, you know, and I’d always liked Bowie and some of the great pop music, Beatles and stuff. It wasn’t until I went to uni that I kind of got exposed to independent white music. You know, I didn’t know anything about it. When we first started, someone saw us playing, and they said, ‘Oh, you’re like an indie band’. I said, no, I thought she meant a band from Indianapolis. We were called the black Jesus and Mary chain.
E: There’s a very big class thing in music that’s all connected. But the class thing is starting to really upset me now, because I’m realising that if you’re a band and you don’t have a job on the side… then I’m going to be very suspicious of you already, because being in a band is not very sustainable as a career. And people that can afford very early in their career to be touring, buying equipment… someone’s mummy and daddy are funding it, it’s very obvious. It’s unfair because most people who get to enjoy music full-time definitely have the funding for it, and it’s not because they’re working as well.
R: I remember back in the day I decided I was just going to do music, and I had no money. I went hungry for days sometimes. I didn’t get enough to even buy a bag of chips, but I was dedicated to it, and I didn’t expect anyone to support me or pay my way, do you know what I mean? My brother would give me a little bit of work sometimes, or somebody else would give me a little bit of work, and I’d earn a little bit of a crust. I’d earn whatever I got and put it into music. It can be soul destroying. I mean, we got lucky breaks. Nowadays, with people who kind of blow up… and then the next week, it’s someone else.It’s a turnover. Everyone’s disposable and expendable because there’s so many people who are hungry for that. But you’re in a different industry; you’re in the independent industry. Basically, what would be described as white rock music.
E: Yeah, exactly.
R: So how come you’re not doing reggae or soul? Or drum ‘n’ bass or jungle? There is a little bit of that in your music.
M: We used to go to a lot of raves. That is where the drum ‘n’ bass and jungle influence came from.
R: Did you not want to overtly bring those into your music, make it stand out. Your beats are quite rock.
J: Yeah, that’s what I grew up on, not just that, I grew up on everything. Once I started secondary school and started listening to bands, that’s when it mostly started. Joining Whitelands was a bit of a change for me. I am used to hitting the shit out of the drums.
R: For us in our time, we were so freaky looking. We looked so different that it worked for us in our favour in the long term. The people of this genre want to be looking like their fans.
E: The fact that we are a POC band in a scene that is not dominantly POC is hard.
J: This is the kind of thing that I used to get bullied for at school. For white people, it is not something that they are used to, and that is cool to watch, I guess?
R: Ultimately, you’re a really good band. You have a really good vibe.
Whitelands Photo Credit: Richard Mukuze