Ruling Britannia

24 March 2012 | 8:40 am | Staff Writer

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Entering 'Lights Out, Words Gone' into YouTube summons four minutes of garishly dressed elderly Mexicans waltzing to downtempo indie-pop. It's a charming scene; non-contrived, charismatic, almost philosophical. Yet after a moment's reflection, it's clear – from the Vevo banners and the adoring comments – that this eccentric procession is in fact Bombay Bicycle Club's music video for the track Lights Out, Words Gone. “Why did we choose that one?” Bombay Bicycle Club's guitarist Jamie MacColl considers. “Well, we've had a history of making really bad videos, and like, they've all been really bad,” he murmurs sardonically. “There's this website called Genero, where you can put your song up, and there's a cash prize. There were like 200 entries or something,and we decided to chose that one because, I dunno, it was quite charming, I think?”

A guitar-anchored four-piece, Bombay Bicycle Club emerged after winning Britain's 2006 'Road To V' competition, earning themselves a spot on a stage at the V Festival. The band's members (headed by the amiable Jack Steadman) had yet to graduate from high school. Five years, two EPs and three albums later, Bombay Bicycle Club are at the front lines of Britain's independent music scene, having built a reputation from their live performances and their confidence in shifting the sound of their music. “I guess at this age, whether you're in a band or not, you're constantly changing anyways. And I think that's sort of reflected in our music. People at this age are normally getting out of university and trying to figure out what to do with their lives and we're sort of doing that with our music. We're trying to figure out a sound that sort of defines us,” MacColl explains.

Stylistic diversity seems organic for the London four-piece, whose members average a limber 22 years of age. Accompanying their youth is a willingness to experiment, MacColl readily justifies. “If you're in a sort of big, successful band, right, there's definitely going to be a fear both from yourself and from your record label of moving away from what's made you successful,” he asserts. “With us, it wasn't really a conscious decision; it was just what sort of came naturally.” This attitude has certainly chafed against the conservatism of the British independent music press; segments of which have harangued the band for their diversity and their alleged lack of loyalty to a particular sound. “Whether this is evidence of musical restlessness and admirable diversity or the sound of a band for whom success came before they developed an identity of their own is an arguable point, ” the's Alexis Petridis observed haughtily in regard to the Bicycle Club's latest album, A Different Kind Of Fix. MacColl doesn't agree. “I think bands seem to be doing it more and more often these days. If you look at The Maccabees' album that's just come out, it's a really different album and they're sort of moving on, they're doing a similar sort of thing really.

“It's very hard to recreate that magic of the first album,” MacColl reflects on the their debut, I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose. “A lot of people say that you've an entire lifetime to write your first album and it's very true. So we figured we needed to do something new immediately.” Bombay Bicycle Club's third effort A Different Kind Of Fix heads in a dozen directions at the same time, but always generates something worth listening to; whether it's Shuffle's almost-ska honky-tonk/brass section, Lights Out, Words Gone's sauntering Latino arc, or Still's mewling Thome Yorke vocals.

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It's a record that wheels from influence to influence, summoning the Libertines' harmonisation and borrowing from Vampire Weekend's thrift-store African rhythms and guitar-thumping. “It wasn't really sort of a conscious decision. I mean, it's got elements in it that are similar to both the first and second album,” MacColl says of A Different Kind Of Fix. “The fundamental thing is that songs were being written on the guitar less and less, and we had a lot of songs that were starting with samples and loops. We often started with a computer.” The result is eclectic, and perhaps not coherent in a fundamentalist's understanding of genre, but there's no arguing that the Bicycle Club's third album is a tasty record. “It's a classic third album, perhaps. We went electronic,” MacColl concludes with a chuckle.

The orbit of now-massive independent acts like Radiohead and Bloc Party can be difficult for a British band to escape and it's a reality Bombay Bicycle Club have had to confront while establishing their sound. “There was a period in the early 2000s when British independent music really dominated the charts; you had stuff like Franz Ferdinand, the Libertines and Bloc Party and nobody's really replaced those bands. It's difficult to overcome their presence and you've got to be inventive,” MacColl admits. The previous wave of English bands built their songwriting around a core of traditional rock guitar and it's left a legacy MacColl believes is difficult to overcome. “It's not the easiest time to be a British indie band full stop at the moment. Not to sound pessimistic, but people really aren't buying that kind of music in the UK.”

Bringing the full sound of A Different Kind Of Fix on tour is no small task and with Bombay Bicycle Club's first Australian tour locked in this month, supporting Elbow as well as performing their own shows, the band have set themselves to packing the entirety of their latest album into a couple of travel bags. “Well, we have a female singer and, um, we have a guy called Louis who does all the odd jobs on stage, plays a bit of keyboard, plays a bit of drums – he's the mysterious fifth member... And Jack [Steadman] has been learning the piano for the last couple of years. In the UK we were touring with an upright piano, but unfortunately,” he chuckles, “we're gonna have to leave it behind for Australia.”