Laurel Collective – Electricity Showrooms, Hoxton, London – Live review and Q&A

Originally published: The Stool Pigeon

Collective by name, collective by nature. Over the four years that the London-based experimental pop outfit have carved a name out for themselves on the city’s DIY-scene, they have whittled their original nine members down to five following the release of their debut mini album Feel Good Hits of a Nuclear Winter in 2008. Good job, too: there is hardly enough room to swing a cat by its pyjamas around the Electricity Showrooms, let alone accommodate a troupe of that size and a throng of Old Street hipsters bursting out of their denim shorts like over-egged muffins.

Yet, the sad fact of the matter is that Laurel Collective could easily go unknown beyond these dingy basement shows. In a time where internet hyperbole reins as king and court over the making and breaking of a band beyond the trend-setting blogosphere, there is little buzz surrounding them. They are a group noted in certain London circles, which in invariably cool depending on which indie clod you speak to. But their debut album Heartbeat Underground (released May 28 via Tape Club Records) deserves better than back alley whispers among music mongering cliques.

Their show is packed with the same energy and enthusiasm as their kaleidoscopic-pop debut attests. Opener ‘Fax of Death’ lopes along to a joyous afro-beat jaunt, whistle-synths and a rousing choral break. Bob Tollast’s vocal is clear and deadpan as he opens with the line: ‘Men in the banks with their golden tanks are crushing me’. One half of the band’s ebony-ivory vocal duo, he plays the awkwardly enthused white guy; pogoing around the illuminated floor like it was 1997. Martin Sakutu (formerly with Basement Jaxx) is his gregarious counterpart, adding a soul-soaked vocal while stepping it out like a Temptation.

Despite their differences, the band harmonise like a barbershop quartet on hook-laden tracks like ‘Cheap’ and ‘Sunshine Buddy’; and move with all the ease of Barcelona’s midfield four around their small quarters, playing makeshift percussive instruments that add to the rhythmically buoyant underbelly of tracks like ‘Jelly Bird’ and ‘Heartbeat Underground’. The latter being their darkest, avant-pop tune of the night, sounding like a stripped back Animal Collective. But light is shed and shared again when they finish on ‘Cruel Thing’, handing out whistles and tambourines to a cavorting crowd. Inoffensive, intellectual pop at its most radiant.

How you doing?

Bob Tollast: Well, I’m locked out of my house. It’s not a bad day for it, I guess. There are some kids having a water pistol fight, though. I’m worried I might get caught in the crossfire.

Could be worse. Could be real guns…

BT: Yeah, this is London after all…

Where did the name Laurel Collective come from?

BT: Basically we used to play music under a laurel tree our drummer’s garden and it just stuck. We didn’t put that much through into it, really.

You formed from two different bands, right?

BT: I was in a band with Martin and Olly called Panacea, but I was also producing stuff with our drummer.  It just sort of came together as a collaboration/collective, in the end. There were nine of us at one point.

How did you whittle the other four out?

BT: Well, a relation broke down…

You’re the curators of In The Woods festival. How’s the new line up coming along?

BT: It’s still early days, but we have Kwes, Stealing Sheep, Peter and Kerry, Alt-J and Maia confirmed.

How’s your recent tour been going down? Good of you to do it all for free…

BT: It’s been going well. Although our tour van did run out of petrol after the first 300 metres, which was fine after tracked down some fuel. We’ve lost money on this tour, so I doubt the next ones will be free at this current rate. It’s been good to get out of London; some of the places we have been, I don’t know, people just seem a little bit more excited about live music.

It’s been four years since you have released your mini album. Why has it taken so long to put out your full-length debut?

BT: We wanted to take our time to develop our sound, find our feet sonically and produce it ourselves – which was quite a long learning curve.

You’ve spanned quite a few genres on your debut. Is there anything that you’ve tried to avoid or not wanted to sound like?

BT: We never really wanted to go down a too obvious road, really. I mean, I can’t imagine us ever making a straight up dubstep album, let’s say.

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