Surfing The Void
When faced with a vast and unknown gulf, the most standard response is to find a path to circumvent it. A very basic and understandable impulse exists to avoid that obstacle – unless of course, you are Klaxons. When you're less a band and more a sonic Socratic method wrapped in hard-driving guitars and anthemic melodies, the gulf is embraced, and the void is ultimately surfed.
The path to Klaxons' sophomore release Surfing the Void was rife with hard-won clarity and false starts. After the success of 2007's Myths of the Near Future, the London-based quartet were poised for stateside domination. With a Mercury Prize under their belt and pop credentials like a stage shared with Rihanna, the band prepared to bridge the Atlantic and unleash another wallop of existentialism set to arm-flailing beats and shimmering synths. It was at this point that the band found themselves on the precipice of a vacuum that would keep them paralyzed for roughly a year. The band with countless ideas, a veritable library of literary references and an arsenal of hooks couldn't figure out what to say.
"We ticked off all the boxes in terms of second album clichés," says keyboardist and co-vocalist James Righton. "Going to studios without songs written – we went to Milan for four weeks, and we hadn't got a single song written." Still, each misstep was a type of progress, a bone broken to reset properly. A particular low point came after a show where the band attempted to play what originally would have been the second album. "We tried out the more cerebral, considered songs that we'd been writing, and it just didn't feel right at all."
Still, Klaxons moved further into the vacuum, rather than retreat. "There's a lot of chemistry between us," explains Righton. "It's a case of all the factors being right before it works." One of those factors came in the form of producer Ross Robinson (At the Drive-In, Blood Brothers). "He is the most meaningful coincidence that ever happened," explains bassist and co-vocalist Jamie Reynolds of Robinson's introduction to the band. Just as the band continued to dispense with one producer after another, floundering musically, Robinson's manager called Klaxons to see whether they might be in need of a producer. Robinson flew to London, and transformed a ninety-minute meeting in a pub into a deeply honest emotional excavation. "He dealt with each of us as an individual, to make sure that everyone brought to the surface exactly what it was that was going on in their personal lives."
Another factor in the mix was lyricist Reynolds' realization that he already possessed the contents of the record; he simply needed to write it. "I searched for a good three or four months about what I should be writing about. At one point, I discovered I didn't need to look – I already knew. I had gone on this big search; I looked everywhere. I got to the pinnacle, and the answer came that I didn't need to look anymore." "We were thinking way too much about music," explains Righton. "When we switched off our brains, it all came together."
From there, the cultural, emotional and musical void was forded quickly. The band first decamped to the isolation of a Welsh dingle, then out to Venice Beach to the house where they would live and record for several months. There, with the help of Robinson, the band burnished Surfing the Void's songs in what Robinson called "the fire": a form of critical mass, the notion that each member is playing to their capacity, so much so that at any moment, everything might fall apart.
The resulting album is an exploration of the esoteric matters that have long consumed the band. "Twin Flames" explores the Platonic idea that each person has a perfect other half floating somewhere in the universe. Anchored by clipped drums and buoyed by otherworldly, reverbed synths, the instrumentation reflects the congress of two halves. Kicked off by a piece of garbled in-studio dialogue that sounds like a lost transmission, "Flashover" describes the arrival of extraterrestrial life forms, a Klaxonian foregone conclusion. Continuing on that theme, "Echoes" laces melodic imaginings of the blurring of worlds over a punishingly-paced guitar line.
The album's mission statement, "Surfing the Void" distills down both the band's perception of the larger cultural void and the one that existed within themselves before arriving at the perfect alchemy of thought and action. In doing so, the band found it wasn't a void at all but an opportunity. In embracing the presence of the absence, an entirely new landscape was mapped.
Myths Of The Near Future
In less than two years the Mercury Award winning Klaxons have gone from a nebulous but strangely spot-on 'concept' combining indie-rock with early 90s hardcore rave to a fully fledged members of the indie rock establishment, a band that burst with original ideas, a untouchable creative vision and a sound that they can truly call their own.
Jamie Reynolds (26) grew up on the council estates of Bournemouth and Southampton. By age twelve he was already drinking and smoking weed and, by thirteen, hanging out with lads five years older. A group of them asked him to be bassist in their nascent indie band, Thermal, and a few bass lessons later Jamie's band were supporting heavy-hitters of the time such as Mansun and Heavy Stereo. The big break never came, though. When they went to record Thermal's breakthrough single they discovered the lead singer couldn't sing and the band split up. Jamie was gutted and threw himself into partying. He studied philosophy at college but his heart wasn't in it and he dropped out, spending the next eight years working in record shops "giving people hassle for buying records I thought weren't cool."
Like Quentin Tarantino, the video store clerk who dreamed big, however, Jamie spent these years plotting, drinking in musical knowledge, and planning. Things came together spectacularly when he moved to London and was made redundant. He spent his redundancy money on studio kit and hooked up with Simon to form a group called Klaxons (Not Centaurs), named after a line from early twentieth century art text The Futurist Manifesto.
Simon Taylor (24) grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon. Although he was into indie music he was also listening to 'Dance Nation' compilations and going to youth club happy hardcore discos. He asked James, who was in the year below him at school, to teach him guitar, then he headed off to do Fine Art at Nottingham University. It was there he embraced the jagged sounds of Josef K and the Fire Engines and made drunken late night plans to form a band with the boyfriend of one of his housemates, one Jamie Reynolds.
James Righton (23), meanwhile, worked every summer on the boats in Stratford-upon-Avon, but was into music early because his dad's a musician. He went to Reading Festival at ten and saw Oasis at Knebworth aged thirteen. He enjoyed everything from Pantera to Radiohead but after studying history at Cardiff University he disappeared to Madrid to teach English and explore "these great weird techno clubs".
In late 2005 his old pal Simon persuaded him to come back from "his everlasting gap year" and join Klaxons. The chemistry of the three was immediate. They meticulously planned what they wanted to achieve and recorded the sci-fi prog-punk 7" 'Gravity's Rainbow', putting out 500 copies in hand-painted covers. The b-side was a version of long lost 1992 rave hit 'The Bouncer' (originally by Kicks Like A Mule). Jamie dropped the phrase 'nu-rave' to describe Klaxons' "bring the party" ethic and, hey presto, the balloon started to go up. By the time they did their frantically oversubscribed first gig it was already clear the band were onto something special. 'The Bouncer' isn't an electronic dance record at all, of course, but stuttering brutally Spartan rock that has more in common with Big Black or Fugazi. The point was that Klaxons, with their garish dress sense, lack of poseur mystique and desire to turn a concert into a frantic good time, were just what the self-absorbed post-Libertines London guitar scene needed.
An old-fashioned rave-style party at a school gym, with the location revealed at the last minute on a mobile number, sealed Klaxons' reputation. Hundreds were turned away and the dancing went on past dawn with no police interference. What followed was a platinum debut album, an everyman wide reaching single (Golden Skans), a hectic 12 months of constant world touring with career defining performances at festivals and of course the aforementioned Mercury Award 2007.
Klaxons, though, were always ready for it. They were never going to waste their opportunity and are eager to let the world hear the full palate of their capabilities on the debut album 'Myths Of The Near Future' produced by James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco. All three come from single parent families and have become a tight-knit gang of musical brothers who take all the hype with a pinch of salt, concentrating on making art that will outlast the fuss. They read voraciously and their lyrics, full of references to the writing of Richard Brautigan, Thomas Pynchon, JG Ballard, Alfred Jarry, etc, are a refreshingly far cry from the current trend for bus stop'n'chips social realism. Call them pretentious, if you want, but they'll merely say, "So what," and hammer into the next ballistic number.
With their stew of cosmic imagery, avant-garde awareness, dizzy melodies and raging energy, Klaxons became a cultural moment of 2007. "Light the bridges with the lantern," says Simon, ever wide-eyed and passionate, quoting from their song 'Forgotten Works', "You know something's going to happen."
It certainly did.