Arp Attack (Profile Feature)
Electro-rockers Arp Attack prove that the practice of messing around with synths is alive and well in the south east…
Synth-pop’s roots may (arguably) be northern, but its revival is nationwide. Its recent storm on the charts, largely down to the breakthrough success of electroclash descendants such as La Roux and Little Boots, doesn’t appear to be focused around one particular area of the country, or stem from one particular scene, and the South east certainly has its fair share of knob-twiddlers.
Loosely Southampton-based Arp Attack are one fine example. A band of calculated contradictions (refreshing, organic vocals combined with dirty beats and gritty synths), the concept of performance and audience interaction has not been sacrificed for electronic aloofness, one of many aspects separating Arp Attack from their contemporaries. A few years of concentrated gigging and honing their sound has created a deserved buzz around the band, receiving plaudits from Phil Jackson at BBC South Live and radio airtime from 6 Music’s Tom Robinson amongst others, and resulting in a number of enviable support slots, playing with the likes of Delphic, Two Door Cinema Club and Chew Lips. This year saw them perform on the BBC Introducing stage at T in the Park after making it through a review panel of industry experts.
Although founding members Frankie Murdoch and Chris Smallwood both met in Southampton, they are reluctant to associate themselves with any form of local scene.
“It’s easy to go to the same nights, see the same things, and bands with the same kind of sound. I’m not really in to that, I like a whole range of different music.” explains Murdoch, the band’s charismatic vocalist and synth hitter, “I think it’s really hard to say that a band’s from one city. We play in London more than we do in Southampton.”
“You end up playing the same gigs over and over again if you stay here” adds Smallwood, guitarist and co-synth operative.
Murdoch and Smallwood first joined forces in 2006. At first, going by the name Jazica, the sound was less electro. “We started off all acoustic,” remembers Smallwood, “we sounded like an acoustic-y surf-type band.” This then developed as funding was acquired (by way of student loans), and the band delved in to the world of drum machines and sequencers.
A change of sound led to a flurry of name changes (“Pelican Disco, that was a good one!” giggles Murdoch), before Arp Attack was settled on. Also the name of one of their songs, the moniker describes well the attack of arpeggiated synths prevalent throughout the band’s material. The pair cut a good image together on stage; Murdoch self-assured and energetic, her face adorned with glitter and painted shapes, while Smallwood, lean and long-haired, furiously coaxes each sequenced melody or delayed guitar riff. On first impressions, it would be hard not to make comparisons to the likes of Ellie Goulding – female-fronted synth-pop with rock sensibilities etc. However, Murdoch’s unique vocal is closer in style to that of acclaimed Icelandic demi-pixie Björk, and the band’s slightly dirty edge to their beats, supplemented by drummer Kev Jones, draw them further still from this association.
Various other members have come and gone. “We’ve had three different bass players,” admits Smallwood, looking slightly apprehensive at the thought.
“I think it’s difficult to find someone with as much energy as us, with as much passion and commitment” adds Murdoch, by way of explanation.
Passion and commitment is something Arp Attack certainly have, but this is balanced by a very intelligent and mature approach to the industry they are a part of. Skilfully produced tracks make it to EPs that are sold at gigs only, resisting the temptation to officially release anything, physically or digitally, until sufficient financial backing is obtained. “I’ve had a lot of people say to me ‘don’t do digital distribution unless you’ve got the money and time to push it as a proper release’” Murdoch explains. “Because if a record company sees it’s already on iTunes, it’s incredibly difficult to pull it off iTunes. They have to do battle against the original format.”
However, this has not stopped the band from continuing to write and record new material, and a listen through new tracks such as the edgy rhythms of Wanderer and the beatbox-driven hypnotism of Mute show a focused and decisive direction. “It seems like labels only want to sign a completely finished product” concedes Smallwood. “Where as it used to be they’d take up a band that they thought had potential, now they just want immediate results”. With this in mind, Arp Attack have also branched in to other forms of music media, with a video for established track Illusions showing the band’s range of talents. Not content, they’re now planning more.
“We’ve got some ideas for a Wanderers video, we just need someone with a camera” hints Murdoch, leaning in to the Dictaphone. “Any helpers?” With enthusiasm this infectious, they should have no problems.
Arp Attack can be found on myspace at www.myspace.com/arpattack
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