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Escape Velocity

Micachu And The Shapes: Lo-Fi Pop Hoover Groovers Interviewed
John Doran , January 22nd, 2009 09:23

It’s not every day that you come across a young group who have invented their own pop language. 21-year-old Mica – a songwriting, mixtape-making, vacuum cleaner recording, Harry Partch style instrument-creating dynamo – is joined live by Marc on drums and Raisa on keyboards. And all three of them are joining us in Rough Trade for tea and cake.

Their music is an absolute joy, like broken dolls assembling themselves in a Jan Svankmajer animation. “Wait a second!” you say, as a torso lurches towards you with whisks instead of arms and an apple instead of a head, “That doesn’t go there!”

Home-made sounding percussion complements home-conceived chords; studio-desk-VU-needles-in-the-red-distortion is applied in the same way a dub technologist would apply echo; all the right notes are being played but not necessarily in the right order, as Eric Morecombe might have had it.

But those massive pop tunes are right there, lurking in the clanking, hissing lo-fi fog like muggers in bright coloured leisure wear, waiting to beat you into submission.

Micachu and the Shapes fact! – Marc likes the word discombobulated!

You’ve described yourselves as pop musicians – and I get that – but there are probably many people who wouldn’t see you as pop at all. What makes you pop? Does it stem from being busy – always playing gigs and recording?

Mica: Hmmmm. I’m not sure. I think it’s probably more because we’re not part of a scene.

Marc: We’re not a jazz band or an avant garde band.

Mica: And we don’t think those things are necessarily better or worse than being in a pop band. We’re flippant with songs and styles. Alright! Britney Spears has an album and she will have one that’s Spanish-y and one that’s hip-hop-y and one that’s house-y. Do you know what I mean? In terms of the records we put out the genre tends to flicker about. That’s about it really. I mean we don’t play hardcore rock . . . That’s it! We don’t play hardcore. We’re not hardcore. That’s it.

If some people were to listen to your music blind without knowing anything about you, no biographical material, perhaps they would think that it was avant garde or outsider rather than pop. Is it useful for yourselves to present yourselves as pop musicians?

Raisa: Yes, if we have to stick to a particular genre. [Which obviously, they don't have to, JD]

Marc: It’s like the overlying theme. ‘Golden Phone’ is really polished like a pop song.

Mica: I think we like to limit ourselves. It’s not like prog or anything – pushing boundaries. It is three minutes plus songs, choruses, verses, bridges, melody, accompaniment – you know, it’s quite traditional. Texturally, there might be some electronic things, some bleeps and bobs but it’s good for us to contextualise some of the stuff that might sound avant garde with something solid based. It’s more of a gesture than what we actually are.

Are people new to your sound surprised to find out you have classical training?

Raisa: No! A couple of people have said: ‘Oh you must have classical training!’

Mica: Oh really?!

Marc: Some people think we’re jazz trained. I think it’s the looseness of it in parts. But a sense of classical music doesn’t come through with us like it does with a band like MUSE. There’s nothing wrong with it.

Mica: No! I just hadn’t thought about it really.

We’re sat in a record shop at the moment and you can get a kind of sense of how fractured the music scene is just by listening to the music they’re playing. At the moment it doesn’t even feel like the NME are looking for the next big thing. Instead you have all these groups that are part of myriad genres with none in command and groups that exist outside of specific styles completely like Gang Gang Dance, Animal Collective and yourselves. What are the pros and cons of operating in a time without any kind of stylistic direction?

Mica: We don’t feel like we’re part of a scene. There’s no dress code. There’s no collective will. It’s hard to keep tabs on yourself at times though. It’s hard to keep an eye on what you are or what you believe in. Perhaps the essence of this is that we all enjoy obsessively making songs but other than that . . . Say you were in a small hip hop collective you know what your music is, you know there’s an outlet for it and you believe in it. There’s something desirable about that. I guess that you can get whatever music you want now though. You can get South African township music like that [snaps fingers] if you want.

Micachu and the Shapes fact! Marc thinks the idea of Nigerian funk and psychedelic rock from the 70s is amazing!

Mica: I can see the attraction of having the access to all this music. Now you’ve got the internet and that’s it. Things are much more available and tangible. You can get music for free as well.

In Simon Reynolds new book Totally Wired there is a quote from Green Gartside of the post punk squat collective/new pop outfit Scritti Politti about not having much music to listen to that really chimed with me. (“I would tape the Peel shows on a Saturday and for want of anything else to do, I would listen to that tape every night or day until the following weekend. And the thing that stayed with you, I found, was the challenging stuff. The music you found most difficult on the Sunday by the next weekend had become your favourite.”) You’re really the first generation to come of age during this time of unfettered access to music. Do you see it as a bad thing in how it affects your attention span?

Mica: Yeah. I just flip through things. I actually don’t have an MP3 player, I’ve got a CD Walkman. I’ve been listening to CDs recently and I just haven’t lived with music like that for a long time. Yeah, it does make a difference because you just don’t commit that amount of time to something. I also think that people write albums taking into account one song sounding good after the next. Mixtapes are probably the only things where people now listen to the whole thing. If there are no gaps it’s just one track that’s 60 minutes long then that’s a good way of making people listen.

Marc: Music has only existed like this for such a short space of time. We’re not looking for the next new thing because with that the life gets sucked out of it so quickly.

Micachu and the Shapes fact! Raisa looks for good personality in a vacuum cleaner. And powerful too. Something like a Henry!

We ran a big feature on Matthew Herbert recently. I was just wondering what it was like working with him and how that came about?

Mica: Wicked! He got hold of me to ask if I’d be interested in doing a record for his label. To be honest I hadn’t heard of him directly before; I’d been into a lot of projects that he’d been involved with but I didn’t realise who it was. He was amazingly kind and really encouraged us. He wasn’t a megalomaniac about things and really encouraged me to do different things and teach me, I guess. He’s got loads of old army equipment and bits and bobs he uses to make music sound a certain way and manifestos and rules that he uses to make music. It was very exciting – a real luxury. He’s great, he’ll just go with something. It’s ridiculous. He wanted to get a lyre bird and teach it the melody of one of the songs it was writing to make some political point.

Marc: But if he took ten years to teach it the song what then? Would he keep it? Would he release it into the wild?

And then after years, that lyre bird would teach all other birds the song and hundreds of years in the future ornithologists would think . . .

Mica: . . . why are all those lyre birds singing that Matthew Herbert song?!

Jewellery is released via Accidental on April 20.