The Sunshine Underground
Slippery buggers, The Sunshine Underground. Trust me. Try and put them in a box and they just won’t fit, no matter how hard you push. Try and label them and it just won’t stick. They’re not a band you can pigeon-hole, more one you just have to accept. To quote a fellow sonic traveller: don’t fight it, feel it.
Although, of course, people still do. Not least journalists, who, over the past year, have attempted to explain the burgeoning popularity of these northern mavericks with increasingly confusing results. They have been called psychedelic. Which is just plain wrong. They have been called indie-dance. Which is only half the story. And they have been called a Leeds band. Which is factually correct, but tells you nothing. Forward Russia’s scene fixer Whiskas may have promoted their first gigs and they share a DIY energy with their fellow West Yorkshire creatives, but like Stuart (Jones, guitar) says: “The great thing about the Leeds’ bands is that they’re all different. It’s not really a ‘scene’, just a very creative part of the country.” Craig (Wellington, vocals/ guitars) nods: “Duels sound nothing like Pigeon Detectives who sound nothing like us. We’ve got ridiculously diverse influences. We’ve definitely got a ‘style’, but we find it hard to write two songs which sound the same. Whatever happens, happens. We don’t limit ourselves.”
Really? “Well, alright, we would draw the line at jazz-funk.”
What The Sunshine Underground definitely are, however, is one big, fuck off rolling riot. Named after a Chemical Brothers track, SU love beats and grooves. “We are,” says Craig, simply, “a party band.” On their debut album, ‘Raise The Alarm’ (produced by a stellar tag-team of Dan Kahuna, Steve Dubb, Segs and Robert Harder, released by City Rockers), indie-rock is relocated to the heart of the dancefloor, without compromise on either side. Drummer Matthew Gwilt and bassist Daley Smith provide the driving, nagging Mondays-style funk, propelling barbed disco-punk bombs like ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Dead Scene’ along. But, you would never call SU New Rave. They might have Daft Punk in their DNA, but they are songsmiths too, indie-kids who love Blur and Radiohead. Far from being lean and wiry generic new wave punk-funk tunes, recent Zane Lowe-approved singles ‘Commercial Breakdown’ and ‘I Ain’t Losing Any Sleep’ are big, bold and unashamedly rock. They have all the intensity, passion and crashing guitars of Doves, Muse or the Manics. Or, as Craig puts it: “You’ve got to have good songs. You can’t just play a nice rhythm for ages. It gets boring.”
Huge choruses, boisterous bass lines and repetitive beats: it’s a heady concoction that has turned SU gigs into chaotic scenes of communal celebration; the band whipping the mad mishmash of folk who form their hardcore following into a frenzy. More uptight musicians have manifestos, SU just want to make people walk 10-feet tall, electrify them with sound. They talk, unashamedly, of being an uplifting band, sometimes literally. “I’ve got a picture of someone from the audience at Nastyfest,” swears Craig, “walking on the ceiling.” They are not interested in playing ordinary venues at ordinary times, preferring late-night shows at impromptu basement raves or weird seafront venues in Scarborough. “Everyone’s welcome as long as you’re up for it,” encourages Stuart. “Get involved, get sweaty. Those are the rules.”
“It’s not uncommon to see people pilled-up at our gigs,” says Craig, although he dismisses the idea that SU (labelled weed ‘n’ shroom-fuelled revellers in one recent article) are some druggy “psychedelic hippie band”. Drugs, SU realise, are dangerous. They encourage bands to embark on endless ‘cosmic’ jams: “We lay off onstage. They’re saved for the celebrations afterwards.”
Not that Planet Sunshine is all about brain cell-bashing escapism, either. As ever, that is only half the story. ‘Raise The Alarm’ may be a rush, but its an unstable, jagged one. By the third listen, you’ll notice: there is anger in them there grooves. Craig loves the contradiction, “the fact that people can just happily sing along to these dark, paranoid songs.”
He doesn’t write love songs or about himself, but he is rarely short of inspiration: “I get annoyed really easily. You just have to watch telly for a bit. I go mad at the news.” The outraged ‘Commercial Breakdown’, for example, rails against Generation Heat: “People who shut themselves off from important issues and just fill their lives with shit; celebrity magazines and rubbish TV.” ‘Wake Up’, meanwhile, sounds like a northern, English Radio 4, with its growling, prowling basslines and panicked refrain: “They try to pull the wool over our eyes and tell us everything’s allright.”
On ‘I Ain’t Losing Any Sleep’, about angry small town thugs, and ‘Dead Scene’, a sketch of smug, cliquey, cooler-than-thou indie kids, Craig trains his guns on targets closer to home. If SU are a band to soundtrack our beery Saturday nights, they also think hard about what they have seen come the bleary Sunday morning after.
All of which is a long way from band’s beginnings. Six years ago, Craig (Shrewsbury) and the rest of the lads (Telford) were at college, in Shropshire, going stir crazy: “Basically, there was nothing to do.” They moved north when Matt went to university – not that he went to lectures that often. Now they are being touted as indie Britain’s latest saviours. SU, however, are unfazed. And unchanged. Nowadays, it’s commonplace for “underground” bands to consult stylists and sport £100 haircuts, but SU aren’t interested in all that posing. They still look like lads on their way to the match, not Top Pop Of The Pops. “We’re ordinary lads,” says Stuart. “No question. If people want to ‘express’ themselves through clothing, fine, but we just can’t be arsed.”
Stardom, per se, doesn’t interest them. They’re not interested in spouting mouthy bullshit to the rock press or going tabloid. They just want to forge a Roses-style bond with their fans. Craig: “It’s purely about the whole party ethic; four lads writing music because they want to and playing it to other people because they want to hear it. I’m really not bothered about being on the front page of the NME.”
He pauses: “It’s not about becoming stars. It’s just about being able to do this, as a job. We don’t want to be rich, we just don’t want to have to go and work in Burger King in 10 years time. That would be fucking awful.” He needn’t worry. The Sunshine Underground are rising. Raise the Alarm!