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The English quartet Late of the Pier is among its homeland's best, brightest young hopes, boasting all the high cheekbones and music press praise that usually entails. But don't mistake them for one of the dour, fedora-topped Brit indie groups of recent years. This band makes fun music for the kids, full of herky-jerky rhythms and off-kilter synth stabs with a glam, chrome glaze. "The emerging scene in the UK at the moment is this way of thinking of just trying to be a little different," says 21-year-old drummer/percussionist Ross Dawson. "It's kind of a post-Libertines backlash, after all those hundreds of guitar bands."
Although rooted, at least here and there, in pop structures, the band's sound is nothing if not idiosyncratic. Just check Late of the Pier's debut album, Fantasy Black Channel, released last year — really, no two songs are truly alike. One of the album's best tracks, "Bathroom Gurgle," begins with a narcotic dance beat, with tinny keyboards and frontman Samuel Eastgate's robotic croon taking the song back to a frosty New Romanticism. A minute later, he goes falsetto in a bit of '80s-style blue-eyed soul before returning to an almost-chorus that would make Devo whip it. Rather than sound disjointed, though, it somehow fits together, a large part of the song's excitement derived from waiting to see where it will go next.
Part of this singular approach has been fostered by the band's relative geographic isolation. Heads up, Americans — the rest of England is far different from a tourist's London. Late of the Pier hails from the sleepy Castle Donington, a town of 7,000 in the East Midlands. Exposure to any kind of scene per se came from the occasional trip to the big city down south. "We'd go down and visit these music scenes, but we never really became part of any scene," Dawson says. "We'd retreat back to the Midlands to the semirural area where we live. So there was no going out to clubs or anything; it was quite remote."
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The influences in the band's formative years — when the members were around 14 years old — came from a place closer to home. "I think we just arrived on the sound mainly from our parents' record collections. And between us, our musical tastes span pretty much every genre, really, at some point or another," he says. "I guess we just get really bored, and as a result, we have a very diverse sound. There are 20 to 30 influences in just one song."
Their musical free-for-all, though, is still anchored by a mature dance-floor sensibility, which won the band an early, fast friend in nouveau electro demigod Erol Alkan. During a minor bidding war for the band, one label flew the producer down to meet Late of the Pier at a club. When punky, funky magic happened as they worked together on the original, 2007 version of "Bathroom Gurgle," the band tapped him to produce the rest of the album.
The friendship has lasted. Eastgate, under his own production pseudonym La Priest, has released a track or two through Alkan's Phantasy Sound label. And this Friday, Alkan has invited the band to play live at his Erol Alkan and Friends party at The Vagabond, the night before the group takes the stage on Ultra's second day.
The band's appearances during Winter Music Conference mark the kickoff of its debut U.S. tour. "It's a massive country, so I'm expecting larger differences in culture throughout the country than elsewhere," Dawson says. And when they return home — still to the good old Midlands — they'll focus on sparking their songwriting creativity anew for a second album. "We're just gonna try and pretend like we're 17 again, with a lot less cares in the world, like it was for the first album."