Sarah Stead, a Reading-based writer with style, panache and who is, frankly, an all-round good egg, interviews the guitar-scuzzing, keyboard-stabbing Midi Midis for ANBAD…
I FIND Marcus Fairley in the corner of the pub, with a pint of lager and The Times and not wearing any of his own clothes.
“This is my ex-girlfriend’s mum’s top,” he says, pulling at the white v-neck. “I really like it, though.”
Marcus, the Reading-based half of mould-breaking electronic outfit MidiMidis, is probably 20% hairspray. One brown eye stares right at me before he picks at the rest of his clothes and talks me through his outfit, most of which belongs to his ex or members of her family.
First impressions would suggest that this is a man who is not over his ex-girlfriend. But the truth is more like he’s half in love with everything – the world, ideas, art and probably a lot of the people he meets – and he fizzes with enthusiasm when he talks about the band’s unique brand of music.
“We just bought loads of old games consoles from eBay, ones from the 80s,” he says.
“We take chips out of them and use the whole range of each chip to make melodies. The songs end up really fast, around 200bpm.
“We compose using a mid 80s PC game music program. Once we’ve done all that we go into a studio and record vocals and New York new wave 70s-style guitars and put beats over it.
“Nothing else has been done like this.”
MidiMidis, signed to Perfect Noise, have taken their musical madness to huge audiences at Glade festival in 2009, as well as Secret Garden Party and Tignesfest in the French alps. Their bleeping, alien music worms its way into your ribcage with its pulse-like hooks, heartfelt lyrics and drawling Casablancas-style vocals. But there is no genre label to describe 8-bit music made using the living dead of the games console world.
“Essentially we’re a punk band,” says the Reading University law graduate.
“But we write really good tunes that end up being classed as pop because of the great melody, which actually gives us lots of freedom.
“I do Midimidis DJ sets quite a lot with vinyl and I play all the old music that’s made people want to be in bands because they hated it so much – you can’t go wrong with a bit of Sade – and sometimes people come up to us and complain. But I say, ‘We’re playing something that made you change your whole lifestyle’. What’s more punk than that?”
So if punk is the ideology, what’s the inspiration?
“We’re influenced by all sorts of things from Nirvana to Gary Numan to Howard Jones. And the Turtles films one and two – not the third – because that’s what we grew up with. We’re kids of the 80s. We were loners at school, no girlfriends or anything, and the things about the 80s that are now cool were the things that made us happy then.
“There are a lot of influences but it all comes down to being totally uncool.”
Pause for breath and he tells me that he thinks music is about making people feel they are part of something, and MidiMidis‘ development as a band has been inclusive from the start: “We were experimenting in front of people from day one with a fanzine night at the Rising Sun Arts Centre among other things,” he says.
“Not long ago a kid in Northampton heard our music on Myspace and sold us an old Amstrad CPC464 for £25. We’ve programmed our own noises and bleeps into it so I can play it live.
“Our guitar got stolen, too, but a fan gave us another one. We also borrowed Tom Bellamy from the Cooper Temple Clause’s guitar and we use all their old pedals.”
Marcus and his brother-in-law Ant Struselis have built up an impressive fanbase around Reading, London and beyond and they put it partially down to their sizzling live performances.
“I really want everyone to feel a part of something, and it’s exciting that we can do that – it’s mainly about the live experience,” Marcus says.
“I can’t play guitar at all but I make a weird noise with it anyway. The amount of noise that comes from just two people is phenomenal.
“We keep our sets short and energetic. By the end we’re really sweaty and everything’s broken and sometimes there’s blood too.”
At my look of horror he adds: “Yeah, really. It’s because I can’t strum properly.”
So what makes a law graduate who unashamedly cannot play guitar make music with gutted games consoles in his spare time?
“When we started doing this it was just because nobody had done it before. It was a joke. I thought people would hate it but thought that would be great because I like provoking a reaction.
“But people started really liking the music. They were coming back to gigs because they didn’t understand it and by the third or fourth time they were head over heels in love with it.
“Then, it was carry on with this or do a PHD. I thought I could do a PHD anytime. It would have been terrible to sit back and watch someone else do it, and I thought someone else would take all the risky bits out. Hopefully in 20 years’ time 17-year-olds will still think this is interesting, and that’s what makes me excited.”
MidiMidis have to a certain extent been hotwired into the spotlight with the release of their debut single Ambulance Café, which came out at the start of November. The tracks on the band’s Myspace immediately caught my attention and imagination – but it is knowing the intelligence, enthusiasm and charm behind the music that made me fall for it.
“Before we did a tour in the alps we emailed loads of people in the music industry asking them if we could wear their clothes for the gigs,” says Marcus.
“Of course nobody replied.
“I can’t wait for a few months time or so when it all breaks and everyone will want us to wear their clothes!”
© Sarah Stead // 2009
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