With its beat-driven, pop-influenced lo-fi dance sound, London three-piece Is Tropical‘s debut album ‘Native To’, released earlier this year on Kitsuné, hits all the right spots. What’s more, at the band’s Botanique gig earlier this month, it instantly becomes clear why Is Tropical (who takes to the stage with their now customary face-hiding scarves) is repeatedly hailed as the new Klaxons – with a throbbing base and punching drums their songs develop a whole new energy and turn into powerful electro dance anthems when played live. We sat down with Gary, Simon and Dominic in Brussels to talk getting bashed by Pitchfork, hating your home country and throwing illegal parties in toilet showrooms.
I was about to ask you what I needed to do to make you take off those scarves of yours but you’re not even wearing them…
Haha, you wouldn’t have wanted to hear the answer anyway.
What’s with them anyway? Is this just a marketing ploy? It’s not even that original, Daft Punk already did it before you…
Wearing scarfs is no different than wearing shoes. Actually the marketing people told us not to do it as they thought it wasn’t charming enough. But we see it more like a theatrical performance that adds a visual element to the band. We get more attention on stage and sometimes people shout “Take them off!” By the way, Daft Punk worked 16 months on their helmets – it was an important artistic element. And in the end every band has a certain outfit.
If you work every day to earn money you don’t have any time left for creativity.
The music website Pitchfork accused you of focusing too much on fashion at the expense of your music – how do you respond to that?
Aaah, Pitchfork – they bashed us, right? This fashion stuff is ridiculous. I mean, look at us! When we went touring in the US, we had one carry-on bag for all three of us. We spent 10 hours in the tour bus every day and played every night in the same stinky dirty clothes.
You’ve all lived in squat houses, how did you end up there? What was that like?
We couldn’t afford to move to London, the rents there are crazily expensive. And if you work every day to earn money you don’t have any time left for creativity. That’s why we chose to live in a squat. We turned the building into a gallery and slept with seven people in one room. People from all over the world were coming there. Many of the people living there with us are respected artists now, they have successful galleries in London, one girl is writing a book and Dominic Jones is making jewellery – for example for Beyoncé.
Do you still live in squat houses when you go back to England now?
Unfortunately we had to stop. We’d come back from our tours and in the meantime all our stuff would have been kicked out. For a while we also lived in another place, a warehouse that was used as a showroom for toilets. We threw huge parties there with bands such as Mystery Jets coming to play for instance. Sometimes more than 5000 people would show up.
Didn’t you get problems with the police?
Funnily the police couldn’t do anything because it was not allowed to shut down an illegal event with more than 1000 people due to the risk of a riot. Unfortunately they changed that law.
We are involved in every aspect of being a band. For us it’s not only music but the whole package: the sound, the look, the feel.
Gary and Simon, you both went to art school, how does that influence what you do as a band?
We make all the artwork ourselves and are involved in every aspect of being a band. For us it’s not only music but the whole package: the sound, the look, the feel.
It’s quite a big step from living in a squat to being signed with a label like Kitsuné – how did that happen?
First we only played in our squat house at the gallery events. Then many people liked it and encouraged us, so we continued. When we played a show as a support act for The Big Pink the people from Kitsuné saw us. Kitsuné was perfect. We didn’t want an English label because then you are pretty much stuck in the UK. With Kitsuné our music is released everywhere in the world and we get to travel. If we only played in England we would be very unhappy people.
England is too oversaturated when it comes to music. There is no love left.
You don’t like your home country?
England sucks. Everywhere else you get treated nicely and there they treat you like shit. It’s too oversaturated when it comes to music – there’s no love left. In other countries people take care of us, we get nice food and everyone is friendly. In England they give you six warm beers for three people, if you are lucky. But we do like to play in London because our friends live there.
Did signing with a label change you as a band?
Before we basically just worked with our laptops and now we have a studio. We became much more professional. It takes a lot of time and hard work. We can’t get hammered every night anymore, people pay money too see us now and we don’t want to let them down.
You’ve been touring a lot, what was your best experience?
We really grew to like performing with electro acts and DJs. It’s cool when people sing your songs and dance to them. When we wrote the songs we didn’t realise the stroby late night music potential they had. It’s funny how they develop their own lives somehow.
You’ve been criticised a lot for your video ‘The Greeks’ that was done by French trio Megaforce – many found it too violent.
Tom & Jerry is much more violent and disgusting. In our video you can see that it’s always the same kids and it’s obvious that nothing happens to them. We were very honoured when all these Christian websites in the US said it was evil!
Your music doesn’t seem to be very lyrics-driven, is that true? What do you write about, what inspires you?
The voices are an instrument in the mix, equally important to all the other elements. The lyrics are actually quite essential and we really don’t get enough credit for them. We do tell stories, we don’t write cheesy crap. The main motif in our lyrics is escapism: We are not trying to tell how shitty life is, we want to talk about something fun.
The main motif in our music is escapism. We don’t want to tell you how shitty life is.
You wrote a song about Berlin, what’s that about?
The song is about drugs and Berlin does loads of drugs. It’s a cool city, we played there three times. We went to this amazing club, Berghain. A crazy place with darkrooms and stuff. There was this girl who just grabbed Dom and pulled him into a cubicle, best kiss ever. Can you put that on the website? He needs to find this girl again!
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
They are all wicked of course! No, seriously, right now we really like What??? and Oranges. And what’s cool is that when people approach us they all have a different favourite song – which means that we made a strong album.
What do you associate with Belgium?
We played at Les Ardentes, that was cool. Of course Belgian chocolate and fries – delicious. And Belgium has better radio stations than many other countries.
What’s next in store for you?
We continue our European tour, then we play in Brazil and in early December we go back home to England for a Christmas break. We are also constantly writing new stuff, ideas just keep coming.
Watch the award-winning video ‘The Greeks’:Native To was released on Kitsuné in June 2011 Available on iTunes here