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All Hell Breaking Loose HMLTD

Interview

 The band’s made up of frontman Henry, guitarist Duke, drummer Achilleas, guitarist James, bassist Nico and keyboardist Zac, all in their early to mid-twenties. “We’re pan-European,” explains James. “Achilleas is Greek, we’ve got three Frenchmen from Paris, and Henry and I are from England.” None of the group are from London, but that’s where they crossed paths, bonding over a mutual sense of disenchantment. “We met at parties, or through mutual friends, we had similar interests and similar style,” recalls James. “We decided to start a band and things really went from there. London can also be a bit of a paradise for people who come from shit towns,” says James. “I’d never think of moving anywhere else.”

This year brought the band a string of festival fixtures, sell-out shows—including one at London’s Scala that saw Henry launch a seven-foot polystyrene Jesus, borrowed indefinitely from the National Theatre, into the audience— and four newly recorded tracks. They’re signed to Sony (though not found on the artists page alongside Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Kings of Leon) but despite what cynics might say, they don’t seem to have sold out. If one thing’s remained consistent across the band’s music, videos and live shows, it’s their uncompromisingly disruptive vision.

 

On the surface, HMLTD are a lipstick-wearing band of outsiders channeling club kid style, with a sound as striking as their look. Playing with elements of punk, glam-rock and industrial noise, and incorporating the odd drum and bass backing track or two, there are elements of Bauhaus, Mark Bolan and Talking Heads in their tracks. Despite being arguably influenced by sounds synonymous with a bygone era, HMLTD favor revival over retrospection, and they’re sure as hell not interested in simply regurgitating someone else’s style.

The resulting sound is recognizable, yet abstract. Their first single “Stained” is the perfect antidote to the listento- half-a-song-then-skip-to-the-next mentality of the Spotify generation. Setting off on a playful pop-rock note, it soon transforms into a post-punk anthem, later morphing into a dramatic industrial soundscape featuring a Death Grips sample.

 

 

The production process is a democratic one. “Everyone pulls their weight. We’re actually quite lucky and unusual in the fact that all our songs come from different people and that we don’t necessarily all work on every song. That would be a nightmare because we’re all so opinionated, we’ve tried it and the songs turn to mush. Everyone brings something different. Henry always does the lyrics though, and it’ll come together like that.” The lyrics in question span everything from political commentary, to the philosophical, and in the case of “Stained,” nihilism and moral corruption. As Henry croons, What’s the point we’re all the same, I think everyone’s a little stained, Mother Theresa was probably stained, my mother and my father, stained...

 

Each song features an unexpectedly diverse set of riffs and motifs, a blend of influences that comes effortlessly for a band that came of age in a new era of music consumption. “It happens unconsciously and I think it’s down to the fact that we’re in the first generation of bands to have grown up around iTunes and Spotify. It’s a musical leveler. You can listen to Muddy Waters with the same amount of or same lack of knowledge as you can listen to a song from 2017. They’re both placed on a pedestal together for the first time,” says James. “I think that’s reflected in our music. There are no camps, no genres. We’re not consciously trying to meld two together, I find that that can be quite corny. We don’t think about it, it just happens.”

“People kick up a big fuss if they find out you’re a band, so we’ve just started pretending we’re painters… until it’s too late.”

HMLTD take their style cues from the New Romantics and a shortlist of celebrated glam-rock and punk performers— think Bowie, the New York Dolls and Adam Ant. It’s no surprise that the fashion industry’s lapping up their genderfluid glamour-trash look, complete with baroque frills and metallic leather suits. They’ve been shot by Hedi Slimane for Vogue and soundtracked one of left-field London menswear designer Charles Jeffrey’s presentations during Fashion Week. Of course, with live shows that play out the way theirs do—more on this later—it’s understandable that the guys source their clothes from charity shops and trusty old eBay. “There are a lot of designers we like but, but we don’t tend to wear them because we usually wreck our clothes. But we fucking love Charles Jeffrey,” says James. “I’d definitely wear his stuff if I didn’t destroy it every time I wore it. It’s very flattering to be recognized by people that are more adept than we are. Fashion’s always been a big part. It’s the music, what we look like, and what we do, all tied into one.”

 

The group are as much an art collective as they are a band. Up until recently their studio was in Dalston, but now they’re looking for a new space. “It was called the fortress,” says James. “It got shut down, but it had a long and rich history of bands being there and it had been open since the ‘80s. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, they were all there. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to really talk about it, but it got shut down under quite suspicious circumstances, so we’re actually homeless at the moment. We’re looking for somewhere new and it’s horrible.” The list of criteria for their new gaff? There isn’t one. “We’re at the point where it doesn’t matter as it’s so hard to find a space in London that a band can use,” says James. “These people come and live in industrial estates or under railway bridges, and they don’t want any noise. They don’t want bands being next to them. It’s very irritating really, I wish these people would go piss off and live together. People kick up a big fuss if they find out you’re a band, so we’ve just started pretending we’re painters… until it’s too late.”

The painter bit isn’t exactly a lie—the visual aspect of HMLTD’s art is as important as their music. It’s apparent in their high-octane outfits, surrealist music videos and at their infamous, theatrical live performances. “Before we formed the band we found going to gigs very dull. Three bands on a bill, you’d pay £5 or £10 to get in, and they would just strum their guitars and not even look at you. They’d turn up in the clothes they’d been wearing all day, then piss off again,” recalls James. “It got tiring. That’s part of the reason people don’t go to gigs anymore, or listen to guitar music. It’s become so insular, and so arrogant that you can turn up in a T-shirt and jeans and expect people to want to hear you.”

 

With the irrelevance of current rock in mind, HMLTD take inspiration instead from hip-hop performers when they stage their live shows, which play out as explosive affairs that often polarize the audience. “They really know how to put on a show, whipping people into a frenzy,” says James. “We’re taking that and applying it on a more conceptual level. We aim to affect people’s senses—what they see, smell, feel, and what they hear, of course. It’s an immersive experience.” As part of each production, the band collaborates with DIY set designers Brockenhurst & Sons. Past backdrops have included a B-movie horror scene and a cotton-wool cloud-lined paradise, populated with angels handing out lipsticks at the door.

The same approach is applied to the band’s avant-garde videos. Sometimes sinister, often disturbing, and always unexpected, they veer from perverse and deranged reflections on reality to the downright obscure. “We’re lucky that we work with very talented directors,” says James modestly, referring to previous collaborators like Jenkin Van Zyl. “There are so many people out there with a real talent so it would be silly to do it ourselves. We like to collaborate and share ideas, but for our videos the credit really lies with the directors. I guess our talent is finding who to work with.”

 

But no matter which other creators contribute to the work, HMLTD’s unfiltered, unapologetic vision blares through. Transcending genre and gender, with a desire to create grotesquely beautiful and thought-provoking performance artwork, HMLTD’s rebellion against categorization has been central to their burgeoning success. Experimental though they may be, they’re still penetrating mainstream culture with their music, and thanks to their ethos of inclusivity, everyone’s invited to join the bizarre, enthralling show. — END

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