We always thought Alexandra Palace as a venue was one giant reverberant room which had to be rammed full to do it justice. We were wrong. If you survive the trek up the almost vertical hill, do a right at the ice rink instead of a left, you’ll discover the relic that is the old theatre, where today, electronicore pioneers, Enter Shikari, are cutting a unique video, totally unplugged. How could we possibly resist?
For those that aren’t aware, Enter Shikari began their musical journey some 12 years ago in rural St. Albans, Hertfordshire. It’s home to the world’s oldest pub, and more ale houses per square mile than most small British cities. It has also spawned a string of major artists including The Zombies, Argent, Pink Floyd, and more recently, Friendly Fires. A musical city with a buzz, which three of the band still call home.
Today, the lads have invited 20-something competition winners into their inner sanctum for an exclusive live acoustic performance, part of a dedicated day of filming. For Enter Shikari, acoustic sets are about as rare a sight as Donald Trump in a burkha, so it’s a particularly exciting prospect.
It’s cold, dark, and almost empty in the old theatre: just the band themselves; an eclectic instrumental combo including a trumpet, a xylophone, and a cajón; and one dozen leather sofas, laden with super-fans. This couldn’t be more different from the band’s standard stage setup, though it could be, we are told, the last ever event to take place here before it closes its doors for a major refurbishment. After some informal introductions, the band ease their way through a great little set of just four songs, and we’re struck not only by the overall musicianship throughout, but the extraordinary multitasking! At one point, Rob [Rolfe, drummer] was playing a shaker, xylophone, tambourine, and cajón, simultaneously. Impressive!
“We thought it’d be nice to do an acoustic set here in this incredible little forgotten theatre, as we’re coming back in February to headline the main room,” smiles frontman, Rou Reynolds, after completing a very relaxed meet and greet with his fans. “It’s a giveaway to competition winners, and I actually recognise a few of them; people follow us around, and you find you meet them again and again, so you do get to know a few faces.”
Reynolds admits he is normally critical of bands doing acoustic sets, but this one, it seems, was a lot of fun.
“The classic E minor, G, E minor, and so on - it’s all a bit boring really, isn’t it? So we wanted to mix it up a bit, and made sure the parts were properly put together; and actually, I really enjoyed doing it,” Reynolds admits. He’s not wrong, either: the guitar parts were intricate, the three-part harmonies were nicely thought out, and it sounded... Well, like a different band altogether at points!
“[laughs] Yeah, well it is kind of like learning a whole new song every time, but it’s really rewarding at the same time,” says guitarist, Rory Clewlow. “It came together so nicely today, every last
detail. And I love these sofas... and the free coffee and popcorn, of course.”
Conversation turns to the band’s beginnings, and I ask them about their musical evolution since their debut EP, Commit No Nuisance (a title borrowed from the little old door of St. Albans’ Clock Tower) first reared its head.
“That was before I was even in the band,” laughs Clewlow, adding that it was released as ‘Hybryd’, pre-Enter Shikari. “I joined around 12 years ago, and that’s when we became Enter Shikari. Rou moved off the guitar and started focusing on electronics, and we just kind of felt our way in the dark until we found sounds we liked, and adopted them. We tried to be as fearless as we could; it’s the only way to create something that hasn’t been done before. It’s always been our philosophy, and has brought us to where we are now.”
Which is a very good place. Their latest record, The Mindsweep, received critical acclaim earlier this year from Alternative Press and Kerrang!, and has recently had a good going over from the guys at Hospital Records, a team of mix masters that Enter Shikari have admired for some time.
“We’ve had a great relationship with them since our second album, and always talked about them remixing a whole album, and then the stars aligned and we got it done with The Mindsweep: Hospitalised, and we couldn’t be happier,” Clewlow explains. “We didn’t do a lot, really; we just gave them what we did, and they made the tunes. And then people said, ‘great tunes!’, and we were like, ‘erm, thanks, but we didn’t really do anything’. [laughs]”
When it comes to making music, it’s a meticulous operation. Even during rehearsals for this acoustic one-off, I watched them perform what seemed like perfect takes, only to hear, ‘let’s go again’, in their undying quest for perfection. Right?
“Yeah, we’re meticulous and anal about every single aspect, to be honest,” laughs Reynolds. “The times we’ve been forced to try working with a producer in terms of ‘pop’ language, it just never works, but we’ve been very lucky to have a great relationship with Dan Weller. He’s amazing. Not only is he the guitarist of a band called SikTh [also from Hertfordshire], but he’s a brilliant producer, too, so we work together and co-produce with him.”
And unlike a lot of bands out there, Enter Shikari have never been afraid to speak their minds. In fact, the social statements and messages within their music are crucial in the band’s makeup.
“It’s about trying to rekindle some kind of unity,” Reynolds says. “Music, and live music especially, is pretty much the only thing in life that indiscriminately brings people together just to celebrate life, to be alive, feel alive, feel vulnerable, as music is such a powerful tool. It can change your emotions just like that without you even having a say, and there’s a real beauty and shared sense of community in that; and that’s mainly what we try to do. The lyrics? That’s just us using music for what we think it’s there for. Go back to the hunter gatherers, where flutes were made out of bone! Music was used as this communal tool, and we’re honoured to be able to continue that historic use of it, basically.”
It’s an interesting time to be working in the music industry, but very difficult to predict where everything is going next, Clewlow adds, to which Reynolds responds:
“I heard Tesco is bringing back vinyl. Overall sales have come down, and CDs have plateaued, but now there might be a mainstream market for vinyl, which would be cool, wouldn’t it?
It certainly would. Before I leave the guys to continue their filming, we chat a little about the upcoming 2016 tour, which begins in the UK, and how they feel their music will be received overseas.
“In February, we play the UK shows, which includes the headline show here at Ally Pally, and then in March, we head to Europe,” Clewlow reveals. And America? “[sighs] America has already broken us!”
“Well, we have toured a lot there, and we do have a solid fanbase in the States, but probably only half what we have here and in Europe, and even Australia,” explains Reynolds. “I guess they just don’t quite get it; they like their metalcore: beat downs, blast beats, big vocal choruses, rah rah rah, but because we have a load of other stuff chucked in there, perhaps it’s a little confusing to them.”
“Yeah, it’s really a cultural thing,” decides Clewlow. “There is a different kind of cynicism in our society that is seeped into the way we make music, and maybe people in other countries don’t get that?”
Maybe so. Whatever the case, it’s been a pleasure, Enter Shikari. Look out for our Ally Pally show review in February, where I doubt I’ll get quite as comfy a seat.