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Friday, Aug. 10, 2007
Two fingers to the mainstream
Enter Shikari's rules for success
By IAN MARTIN
Special to The Japan Times
"We were playing these 200-capacity venues that weren't really legal. There were just too many people in there, climbing on the bar, climbing on the speakers and jumping off," Chris Batten, the 20-year-old bassist from British post-hardcore band Enter Shikari tells The Japan Times.
"There was this one show in Dublin where they only had one security guy and he just couldn't control them. There were six ambulances outside at the end of the night."
Just throw in some drugs and the odd freeloading supermodel and these scenes could be cut from a guidebook of young rock 'n' roll excess. But Batten isn't interested in doing anything by the book, which he believes is the key to the band's unusual sound.
"When we were growing up, we used to listen to hardcore, also indie, whatever was around," he says, "but once we were old enough we started to go clubbing. It was never intentional, but we started adding in atmospheric electronics and people came up to us saying, 'We've never heard anything like that!' "
The way that Enter Shikari have been thrust suddenly into the limelight has caught people in the U.K. unawares, taking the band from the small venues that Batten describes to major festival appearances and two sold-out shows at London's 2,000-capacity Astoria (only the second unsigned band to manage this feat, after hair-metal jokesters The Darkness).
During their rise to success, they've taken some flak, Batten saying that, "Some people are really narrow-minded. One reason we've done what we've done is because we hate this kind of narrow-mindedness."
Nonetheless, the press has been largely supportive, with U.K. music-weekly New Musical Express tipping them for success in 2007, although the U.K. music press has a tendency to turn on bands with quite alarming viciousness after their initial wave of success passes.
"It's something we're very aware of. The NME will pick up a band and hype them, then once they've played about three gigs everyone realizes they're terrible and just turns their backs on them," Batten says. "But we didn't get our popularity from magazines, we did it by playing 600 to 700 gigs in the last four years."
And then there's the social networking Web site MySpace. In the past, artists like Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen have been hyped as the "first MySpace band" by a media confounded as to how a band could become popular without their blessing. It might be that the media is unwilling to credit such outdated notions as hard work and frequent touring. But Enter Shikari are clear about the site's limitations.
"MySpace was important for us, but not the most important thing, so when people talk about us as a 'MySpace band,' we're kind of annoyed by it," Batten says.
"Where it was useful was in the early days after a gig where we'd pick up one or two fans and they'd ask us, 'Where can we hear your music?' So we could send them to our MySpace. And we got so many gigs through it."
According to Batten, it was after the band played a packed 5,000-capacity tent at last year's punk/metal Download festival in England that the industry really got its wakeup call. After that and the Astoria shows, major labels started to take them seriously. The band turned down offers from Sony, Warner, Universal and numerous subsidiaries, preferring to release their album through their own Ambush Reality label.
"People were offering six-figure numbers, but it wasn't a big deal for us because we knew however much we took, we'd have to pay it back in the end," Batten says. "Now, we have more available to spend on marketing — we wanted to keep control."
This industry savvy stands in stark contrast to the traditional image of a young rock star — the band are all 20 to 21 years old — who eschews the corporate mechanics of the music industry, dedicates himself to a life of excess and is then fleeced by an unscrupulous accountant. Enter Shikari don't want to make the same mistake.
"Obviously we were aware of those stories, but also I'm on a music-management course, studying contracts, so I was able to look at what was being offered and see what was actually being offered, if you see what I mean," Batten says. "We could tell what parts were lies — not lies, white lies."
Batten seems to view the music industry with detached curiosity rather than cynicism. He says the process of talking to major labels was fascinating and says that they took their offers very seriously, but in the end, Enter Shikari have always felt more comfortable working with a small group of people they know. Batten's and singer Rou Reynolds' fathers are both involved in the management of the band and the running of the label, and they enjoy a close relationship with their manager Ian Johnson, whom Batten praises for sticking by the band when he "could have made more money by pushing us onto a label."
"We've always had a DIY approach: the record, our shows — that was all DIY. We used to rent youth clubs and bring a PA," Batten says. "It sounded better when we played proper venues, but the people didn't know us."
With an appearance at Summer Sonic '07, their popularity should spread in Japan, but in the meantime, the band are keeping their friends close and their feet on the ground.
Summer Sonic is being held at Makuhari Messe and the Chiba Marine Stadium in Tokyo and the Maishima Summer Sonic Osaka Site in Osaka; Enter Shikari play Summer Sonic's Sky Stage in Osaka on Saturday and the Mountain Stage in Tokyo on Sunday; one-day tickets (¥13,500) are still available for Saturday in Osaka. For more information call (0570) 08-9999 or visit www.summersonic.com