London 5 piece managed by Sean Mclusky
S.C.U.M’s debut album, 'Again Into Eyes' is a triumphant arrival. This is a debut which has filtering through the collective unconscious long before its completion, and it already it feels burned into the cortex. 'Again Into Eyes' reels from carnival-esque toughness to a second side that comes close to despair before mainlined redemption in the form of ‘Whitechapel’, a utopian, future-disco monolith, washed in otherworldly Mellotron and Choirs, it’s perhaps the biggest surprise on the record.
Then again, it has been the band’s capacity for reflexive cartwheels – an instinctive disregard and perhaps a faint disgust with what’s expected of them – that has defined their strange and captivating evolution.When Thomas Cohen (vocal) and Bradley Baker (machines) met in 2008 and called themselves the Society for Cutting Up Men, they demonstrated a deft, offhanded affinity for self-annihilation. This act of effacement found expression with the addition of Melissa Rigby (drums), Huw Webb (bass) and Samuel Kilcoyne (Moog), who whipped their undisciplined, amp-blowing sound into a bass-driven electronic No Wave, engulfed live by acid-test smoke and lights. That, however, was less an incarnation of the group than an isotope, destined to decay and reform itself.
As the front room of their Shoreditch rehearsal space (where Situationist scrawls, lyrics and song ideas were once painted white on black walls) became a gallery, the pub next door was glossed into the 21st Century and luxury destinations for the tasteless sprung-up opposite, the band moved-out to Surrey Quays. As the musical landscape around them seemed to atomize, becoming increasingly light on heroic bands and heavy on Teflon memes, the five-piece consolidated. They learned how to play their instruments, got snapped-up as the first signing of a newly re-independent Mute and set about writing their debut album. ‘If you were to listen to our releases up to this point, they form a complete document of how we’ve developed,’ Bradley Baker reflects.
He’s not wrong. Predating the release single ‘Amber Hands’, the first from 'Again Into Eyes', was their debut on Loog: the instantly sold-out ‘Visions Arise’, a memory of a more detuned and spectral phase produced by Tom Furse. Also in the back-catalogue: the unique Signal series. ‘The beautiful thing about how that came about was that it was completely by accident,’ says Kilcoyne. ‘It just happened when we were away,’ adds Webb, ‘We booked some gigs in Poland and we had a day off so we went into a studio and we made this noise. Tom played drums, everything switched round.’
Springing out of the Petri dish that was ‘Warsaw’, the band continued their journey around Europe, adding the dreamscape ‘Berlin’, the piano-led ‘Paris’, and the electro groove of ‘Athens’ Signal. The tracks show in increments the creative engine of the band finding a maturity and confidence. Drawn out on tour by the intense affection for the band in overlooked pockets of the continent, S.C.U.M were inspired to act as conduits for their surrounds, transplanting them almost unconsciously onto MP3. It’s a path that lies well outside that taken by most groups, just as their purpose and their aesthetic are diametrically opposed to those of schoolboy schlock-rock bands with nothing to say.
Once back in the UK, the band hit pre-production boot camp with legendary drummer and producer Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Teenage Jesus, Sonic Youth, Grinderman). Kilcoyne is readily appreciative of how formative the experience was: ‘We learned both from listening to other records and from being in a studio. Working with Jim, he really went “There’s no need for you to have that extra bar” and “Maybe if you just shut up for that bit and then came in here…” That blew our fucking minds, like ‘Oh, that’s how music works!’
Then followed the writing and recording of the debut album. In ‘the middle of nowhere’, as they put it, they paired-up with producers Ken and Jolyon Thomas (whose credits individually and together include Sigur Ros, M83, Public Image Ltd, Cabaret Voltaire, Cloack DVA, Cocteau Twins, David Bowie, Psychic TV). The five’s listening habits in psychedelia, space-rock, avant-garde and ambient soundtracks collide to form a pop trip that neatly balances the innovative with what is rapturously danceable.
With the record set for release in September 2011, the band honed their skills live, asked on European and UK tours by The Kills, The Horrors and cutting a precocious figure on bills alongside top-draw label mates like Liars, Erasure and The Residents. On stage, the band have never stopped short of devastating audiences. Relying less than before on overwhelming visuals and more upon the weight of their sound, wrapped around frontman Thomas Cohen. With a style suggestive of a Nietzchian Madonna, Cohen is a tall, sardonic-faced art-house shaman contorting himself, finger-fucking the space around him or – at their church shows – blessing crowds with Holy Water.
While his lyrics trade in stacked abstracts and deal with transcendence, escapism and a submission to forces beyond his control, Cohen remains decidedly tied to reality in person, even in the midst of a grueling tour schedule: ‘Touring with The Kills has been really amazing and also takes away from the mysticism of being a band and playing venues like the Roundhouse. There’s so many stories about that place and so many gigs that we’ve seen there, since it’s been reopened, that have been seminal. I think it’s definitely good at normalizing that experience. However, naivety is what’s created the songs and I think that’s what makes them good. It’s probably quite obvious that I didn’t have a concept of any sort of melody, I saw myself as having a part to play but I didn’t see that in any musical sense at all.’
However modern their sound might be, they are in this manner a very traditional band. Each member makes their own contribution; their trajectory shaped democratically by the different skills of each individual. Rigby in particular, dragged from the clutches of drum school, has helped reign in the chaos generated by Baker and Kilcoyne’s sound-beds and synth lines. The urge for experimentation though is still very much alive – the band count contemporary artists Matthew Stone, Tim Noble and Sue Webster as frequent collaborators – only this time they want it understood properly. With a record that feels like a ten track modern classic, they are set to expand massively upon their base of cult fans.
Debut album ‘Again Into Eyes’ released on MUTE records 2011