On the release of their hotly anticipated debut, the London quartet's drummer opens up about Brit School, broken German translations and breaking boundaries
For most of us, if we think to something like Brit School, our minds wander towards Paul Nicholls parading around in The Biz circa '96. Or perhaps, well documented prodigal pop alumna – Amy Winehouse, Adele or Jessie J – spring to mind. But Brit-schooled black midi don't quite fit into either idea although that's something drummer Morgan Simpson is pretty happy about. 'It's totally normal to have that view of Brit School,' he reasons. 'As with any institution, the people who stick out are the ones who are global superstars but there were always people trying to push boundaries.'
The South London-based foursome – completed by vocalist/guitarist Geordie Greep, guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin and bassist Cameron Picton – were definitely that anomaly. Spurred on by encouraging teachers thrusting krautrock records their way, everything started to happen at lightning speed. And, despite Simpson's impressive decade-spanning drum career (he performed in his family's church from the age of five) their coming together immediately felt different. 'We didn't actually know each other for that long before our first gig at The Windmill in Brixton but when we did play together, we knew we had something quite special.'
But they weren't exactly the qualities you'd expect to come churning out of the indie hype machine. Those looking for a sing-along chorus in early release 'bmbmbm' instead were greeted by vocalist Greep spluttering the track's lead refrain 'She moves with a purpose', repeatedly in various registers. It's part Mark E Smith sing-slurred lyricism and part Damo Suzuki-era Can, and the kind of clattering cacophony that John Peel would've revelled in.
While the band's jagged soundscapes might span the stratospheres, their online presence remains focused. 'In the music industry these days, there's a lot of excess. An artist will pop up and you can go on their social media and see all this "content" but if you try and find music, there's none.' Simpson explains emphatically. It sort of goes against your assumptions of an affable bunch of Gen Z mates sifting through goofy Snapchat filters in the back of the tour van but then when were black midi ever about conforming?
Their debut full-length Schlangenheim, much like the name suggests, is fairly caustic. Although Simpson admits they weren't exactly aware of the translation of the German phrase. 'We had a few interviews in Europe where they translated it to "hit home" in broken German. But for us, the main thinking was that there are no thoughts that that word conjures. It's completely open to interpretation.'
It seems fitting for a band built on experimentation. Something that Speedy Wunderground production whizz Dan Carey only helped to harness. Laying down eight of the album's tracks in just five days left lots of room for the band to handle the studio time a little differently. 'Live and studio are two completely different products so it wouldn't make sense to treat them the same,' explains Simpson. 'Musically speaking, obviously we want people to be able to recognise the songs but also for there to be an element of surprise.'
Schlangeheim delivers on those surprises and, like their early days back in Brit School, black midi have managed to artfully set themselves apart from their indie peers. To paraphrase their classmate Adele, the rumour had it about these guys and they were right.
Black Midi's debut Schlangenheim is out now via Rough Trade.
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