“I went to art school to be an artist.”
Change can be redemptive, yet not without a sense of being divisive and painful. The counterculture movements of the 1960s’ youth reformed many of the conservative norms that were bestowed by its foregoing generation. A revolutionary voice echoed throughout the streets for social change, embodied in a new-wave of attitudes, beliefs, and art; liberalism was not only a political principal but a passion for a fashion, and artists began to visualise a new world.
XX Teens herald from a long line of British bands born from an Art School tradition of creative invention and free-thinking. The autonomous ideals inculcated within such institutions have previously led scholars – such as The Clash – into innovators and bellwethers of a generation.
With the release of their graduating album Welcome To Goon Island, Anthony Silvester of the XX Teens talks to SuperSweet.org about art, music and politics…
“I went to art school to be an artist,” Anthony informs with the wistful intonation of a person who might have lost their artistic temperament. “But you are what you is, and you’re in a band: you’re a musician.”
The core of the quintet met at Art College in Southend, where their meetings through mutual friends and subfusc studios resulted in the procreation of Xerox Teens in 2003 (a moniker that was soon shortened).
As the XX Teens, the band were still relatively unheard of until the release of the satirical inculcations of “How To Reduce The Chances Of Being A Terror Victim” in February. In light of our current political and social climate, their precariously cogent tongue-in-cheek edifies aided the band in stepping out of the underground art scene: “I think that’s why we were so underground for so long, because we weren’t sure if we wanted to be in a band…we still wanted to be artists.”
Many of the band’s initial gigs were played within the confines of art galleries in and around the London area as to remain close to their roots. However, being extolled by the likes of Zane Lowe resulted in XX Teens being deracinated and thrown into the aural limelight.
Joining The Long Blondes on their UK tour earlier this spring, the XX Teens were able to reach out to the wider audience of their pop-inclined attendees: “Respect to them [The Long Blondes]. They’re really into their obscure music so saw us as an underground band,” Anthony praised, “[the] record company wanted them to take a more commercial band with them.
“The crowd up north were more up for fun and what we had to offer. The further south you go the more people cross their arms until the band that they have come to see. As with most support bands, you do tend to get spat on a little bit; but we have had worse support slots.”
Anthony, like any artist, appears insouciant and undeterred by this experience: “I don’t feel that we’ve personally struggled for our art; it’s all still quite new and exciting for us.”
One struggle that he does admit though is the one within the music industry. Having signed to Mute Records in 2007 and gaining recognition from an underground art rock scene, they are a “little more known now,” Anthony humbly discloses, “Mute are pretty good, but the industry has talked itself down for so long that everyone has began to believe it.
“The government can try to reduce illegal downloading, but it doesn’t really affect bands like us selling a small number of albums; it affects the Big Boys like Coldplay and Robbie Williams who are funding us. There will always be people making music whether they are getting paid to or not.
He continues to talk about what art means to the band, their passion for it, and the metaphoric package in which they wish to bind their work with. “We feel that there are other elements to us that aren’t found in others. We won’t be a band that constantly gigs as to make the ones that we do do more special – more of a show element,” he divulges.
From the dancers that will be joining them on stage when they return in November; to the allegorical artwork as illustrated by Adam Latham; to the short film skits that play the part for their music videos, they appear to be creative in all elements of artistic sensory articulation. “We’ll always be working on other projects…we’re looking to launch our website goonisland.tv soon to help explain the album a bit better.”
Welcome To Goon Island is not for the aurally purblind; described as a metaphor for modern day Britain, it is scattered and unsure at times, bumbling under the hegemonic decadence, influences and ideals of its forefathers; however it does show glimmers of being astute and of independent, liberal thinking. Which poses the question: are XX Teens a political band?
“We’re not Rage Against The Machine,” Anthony chortles. “Politics is in the world and we have our opinions. “For Brian Haw” is explicit, and to finish the album on it is a statement, and hearing that puts the other songs in quite a different light.”
The driving baseline and warped electronica of the three-minute, Cooper Temple Clause-esque introduction confluences into the loquacious political activism of Brian Haw himself. The monologue of spoken word street poetry details his reasons for campaigning against the ‘War On Terror’ that the UK and US governments ‘have inflicted on Afghanistan and Iraq.’ (www. http://www.parliament-square.org.uk/about.html)
“I see him [Brian Haw] everyday and he’s quite fantastic,” Anthony explains with sense of hope and reverence. “Rich Cash wrote it and spoke to him. They have struck-up a genuine friendship.
“He’s [Brian Haw] the only guy who can protest in Parliament Square. When he’s gone, no one will be able to do that and the rights to protest outside will be lost. They’ve [The Government] almost trapped him; we should have call the song “Free Brian Haw” instead.”
And which way does Anthony politically swing: “Like any sensible person, I’m a Left-minded Liberal…”
Whether they’re Rage Against The Machine or not, XX Teens are not for the aurally blinkered. Their candid views and artistically liberated musical orchestration illuminates with the colour, veracity and idealism that the counter-culture always has. They may not have become orthodox artists, but they do embody the principles of being one: emancipated and expressive.