British band Breton blend a hard-edged electronic sound with a deeply DIY ethos and experimental approach. A collective of award-winning indie filmmakers, they are currently touring their debut album, and collecting critical acclaim along the way.
The band -Roman Rappak, Adam Ainger, Ian Patterson, Daniel McIlvenny, and Ryan McClarnon -formed in 2010, emerging from the south London squat-party scene initially to make movies together. When finding venues to incorporate their unique brand of film-and-music synching proved difficult, they resorted to playing late-night slots in east London clubs, and found ever-growing audiences eager to experience their work, and more specifically, the soundtracks that accompanied them.
Having released a series of EPs and garnered critical acclaim for the bouncy single "Edward The Confessor" last year, and with remixes done for a host of acts including Tricky, Local Natives, Chapel Club, Maps & Atlases (and more recently Lana Del Rey), Breton, normally based out of a converted bank in Southeast London christened BretonLABS, decided to record a full-length album in Sundlaugin, Sigur Ros' studio, in Iceland. The result is the hauntingly beautiful Other People's Problems (FatCat), released this past April. It's a curious mix of sounds embracing aspects of electronica, industrial, rock, pop, indie, even indie classical. As Ben Olsen observed in The Glass Magazine, "Breton’s sound typifies that open-minded ethos, transcending genres with its blend of motorik mathrock, glitchy electro, string sections and the darker tones of hip-hop and dubstep."
As well as music and remixing, Breton is gaining a solid reputation for their live performances, which blend facets of film and performance art with their genre-bending music. Even before their set at South by Southwest this past March, fans and critics alike noted the singular approach the band takes to live performance. The Guardian's Paul Lester described it thusly: When they do venture out of BretonLABS, it is to perform shows shrouded in black hoods, lit only by the glow of their homemade, self-shot movies, which are cut and edited live by their touring-only fifth member as the four musicians play, variously, guitars, bass, synths, drums and laptops to create an intriguing sort of dubsteppy but poppy art-rock-cum-cinematic electronica.
Currently on tour, the band play New York's legendary Bowery Ballroom tonight, and are set to perform in Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, and Chicago later this month, before touring Europe through the autumn. Lead singer Roman Rappak recently shared his thoughts on the origins of the band's name, the expansion of remix culture, and what it was like working in Iceland.
What comes first creatively, music or images, or both?
Every track or film starts life in a different way. You can never tell where an idea or a project will end up, which is a really exciting way of working. It means that a final version of a track is more of a discovery then a calculated, planned out piece of music.
Explain the choice behind your band name.
Andre Breton and the surrealist movement are really fascinating, and their ideas on where an idea comes from, or how a piece of music or a painting can speak to you on such a subconscious level is something you can apply to everything. They liked to disrupt and rearrange an idea or a piece of work, so that it took on new meanings and angles. It's a lot like what happens to a remix: the remixer takes an idea and chops it up, putting it in a new context and effectively creating something new.
Roman Rappak (center) credits the work of British writer Will Self for influences his lyrics. "A lot of my lyrics come from books. (Self) writes in such an inspiring way, making everyday things seem remarkable, grotesque or exciting, but never being over-elaborate or pretentious."
How did recording in Sigur Ros' studios in iceland influence your sound?
Sigur Ros's studio was amazing. We had been working on the record in London in a massive room in an abandoned bank, where we could take ideas to their natural conclusion, and record noises from the building. It was cold and dark, and the music reflected that.
Going to Sigur Ros's studio influences the music in an equally profound way, but in a completely different direction. Iceland is such a beautiful place, and we found ourselves working on these same tracks in the middle of the mountains, next to a stream and a field full of horses.
We used all their keyboards and all this rare folk percussion to give our album a totally different vibe to the one it originally had.
How does remixing for mainstream artists complement your own creative pursuits?
I am fascinated by all different types of music. Remixing a mainstream artist or producing a track for a pop act is a really interesting challenge- and in the same way that you can get away with things that wouldn't work in other musical environments, you're also restricted in interesting ways.
How much do you see remix and reappropriation culture as defining of 21st century culture?
I think that the idea of reappropriation, and music being reclaimed by the people that listen to it is part of such an exciting transformation. It has totally turned the art world (and industry) on its head. You can see people remixing their favourite single, making their own videos to someone's track and putting it on YouTube. It's an interaction between people who watch films and listen to music, and the people who make them, that means that the gap between the idea, and how it is appreciated, is getting smaller and smaller.