Islet are a new band. That much is obvious. Less obvious is the route they took before emergence, which is suddenly, strangely radical. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.
I know you’re out there
I know you’re gone
You can’t say that’s fair
Can’t you be wrong?
–Dinosaur Jr., Out There, 1993
Islet are a band who have done it differently without even trying, and the story is not so much a breath of fresh air as a huge, Mistral-sized gust of clean, sweet change.
There was a time when the act of discovering a new band was thus: after hearing a snatch of a song on a late-night radio show, and assuming you were lucky enough to hear the DJ announce their name afterwards, you would spend the following weeks scouring the NME, Melody Maker and fanzines for more.
More information was the desired booty – words, pictures, gossip, anything. A gig review if you were lucky. Glueing oneself to the same radio show, finger poised over the REC button on the tape deck, hoping the DJ would play it again. Such behaviour seems archaic now, but this, remember, was the norm only just over a decade ago.
Now recognise this new route: band records song, band uploads song to Myspace, Bandcamp and Soundcloud, band blogs about the minutiae of their nascent musical lives, band immediately gets all the information you could ever need out there, the public consume ravenously.
This sounds perfect. It is not. Once you’re out there, mystique dies. Putting it all out there is too easy, too neat, too perfect. It’s even easier than total obscurity: after a while, someone will put it all out there for you. Craving information with such bludgeoning hunger ensures that something important – an emotional connection maybe – is lost.
Psychologists bemoan the impact that readily available pornography has had on teenage boys – their initial contact with sex is of the type that they will never see in real life. Real sex will always be tainted with lingering disappointment.
Like the teenage boy disappointed by a virginal girl’s stubborn reluctance to engage in sexual theatricality, witness the fans who dump a band after one album and move on, gobbling up more and more of the temptingly shiny and new.
If a fan knows everything about a band from the start, we all lose that something. The bands, the fans, labels, everyone. Islet gave nothing away.
Until their website was launched a month ago, Islet have existed in rumour, tip-offs and gossip alone. Their music wasn’t online. The band wasn’t online. The music only existed on the stage. If you wanted more, it had to be from fan sites, from excited reviews, from camera-phone videos.
I wanted to speak to Islet about their strange introduction to the public, and how it felt to be most well known for what they haven’t done rather than what they have.
And yet Islet, apparently, are unaware of all of this. When I spoke to Isleteer Mark, he was – understandably – more concerned with the pile of old merchandise that the Super Furry Animals had given him in a Cardiff recording studio just moments before. I tore him away from the Furry sun-visors:
ANBAD: Islet seem to, for once, have been overtaken by hype on the internet, rather than cultivating it yourselves. You’re one of the few bands who may have been surprised by the online reaction. How does this feel? Did it catch you unaware?
Mark: I don’t really know where the online reaction is to be honest. We’re always more interested in how people react in the real world, at a gig than in the realms of The Internet. It’s a shame that the word ‘hoopla’ isn’t used instead of hype, it’s more fun.
Was your ‘internet silence’ a very deliberate ploy – a rejection of the taken-as-read idea of an all-important online presence – or laziness, or a land-grab at a new gimmick, or was it just something that you didn’t see value in at that time?
To begin with we just started a band and when we had enough material and felt like it, we started doing gigs. We thought that we might as well wait until we have recordings before we make a website – so that’s what we did. People got a bit carried away with it, we’ve never proclaimed ourselves to be anti internet, I’m on the internet now, I was on the internet then and we all regularly utilise its many facilities.
New Music Strategist Andrew Dubber took a shine to you and set up your fanpage – how did you feel about that? Did you think it was – not a ploy so much – but as much of a demonstration of his own new band promo ethos (the Posterous account, selling the fan T-shirts, etc) as his genuinely enthusiastic appreciation of you?
We found it quite funny at the time, mainly because he and his friend Ben set it up straight after a gig in Swansea, of all places. You will have to ask them about their genuine enthusiastic appreciation of us. Mine and Bunters’ (also in Islet) older brother Lee hilariously bought us both a T-shirt from the fanpage, I’m yet to wear it.
The no-mp3, no-download, no-Myspace way of operating found an enthusiastic fan base. I really like that idea of a band having an air of mystery – is that part of the reasoning? Do you like that too? Do new bands who give everything to their fans from day one lose something special?
I think yes to all of the questions. At the moment we don’t feel the need to constantly tell the world where we are, what films we have watched and what we had for breakfast. Though who knows, one day we might feel that urge. The ‘no Myspace’ thing has got out of hand – to me it’s like caring whether or not we eat at McDonald’s. I do think that people in general give too much away about themselves on the internet, not just bands.
Is it becoming OK for bands to want to have success and money? For a long time, rock was very deliberately anti-corporate, anti-big business – whereas even young bands are now eager to sign deals that would have been entirely gauche just a few years ago.
I think it’s always OK for bands to want ‘success’. I think it’d be very difficult to start a band and not want any form of success, it depends how you measure it. We felt very successful when we finished our first song and got our first gig. We haven’t licensed any tracks as yet [for use in advertising] but we’ve not been asked to. We have no rules, we just deal with things as they come.
And that was it. The band are tired of discussing the hows and the whys – they just want their music to do the talking. This is clearly a tough task to undertake in such stubbornly chattering times.
Yet they determinedly persist in protecting their reputation. When Islet first got in touch with me, it was to politely but firmly refute a claim I’d made – a rumour I’d heard rubbishing their DIY ethos.
Islet’s anachronism makes life hard. Blab everything, and their fun dissolves; keep their lips nipped tight and idiots like me propagate bitter rumours because I’ve got nothing else to go on. When it comes to controlling their self-image, it turns out that they are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t; they’re even damned if they try neither, or both.
In the end, all this will pass, and it’ll be what remains – the songs – that will be left out there, surrounded by the debris, and they are what will count. It’s always the songs. And Islet’s songs aren’t an anachronism at all – they’re more daring, more exhilarating and more uncannily new than any other band’s for a very long time.
I know a few women who are Burlesque dancers. Their chosen sport is the art of the tease – not quite giving the whooping crowd what they want, but giving them enough to want more, more, more. And every time they return to dance, the crowds get bigger.
Islet have unwittingly joined their leggy troupe; sequins, corsets and pasties switched for guitars, raw musical talent and a gut faith in human nature, desire and curiosity. Every time they play a gig, a little more of them is out there. But only a little. And yet the crowds keep getting bigger.