Hackney’s Field Day festival: Mystery Jets on outlasting last wave of mainstream British indie
PUBLISHED: 08:00 28 April 2016
Back in the days when kids still bought the NME and Johnny Borrell could headline major summer festivals, Mystery Jets were riding high on the last wave of mainstream British indie.
With hits such as Two Doors Down and Young Love, the London group were lumped in with the many ‘guitar bands’ of their generation, who as a rule produced a few big songs, only to then fizzle out prematurely at the end of the noughties.
Bucking the narrative, however, Mystery Jets have gone from strength to strength, navigating a wide variety of genres ranging from ‘60s psychedelia to ‘80s disco revival.
As guitarist and frontman Blaine Harrison explains, this ability to evolve has been a large factor in keeping them together, providing the drive that has recently seen them release their fifth album, Curve of the Earth.
“When I think of how a lot of bands who were around when we started out have ceased to exist, I think it’s because musical differences can come up and people want to go out and try different things,” says the 30-year-old.
“I think we always saw the Jets as a vessel to do whatever we wanted. If we felt obliged to a particular movement or sound it might not have worked out, but we’ve always made music for each other.”
As Harrison readily admits, practically every band insists they’re only writing for themselves.
Yet when it came to recording Curve of the Earth, Mystery Jets really did walk the walk, setting up their own recording space in a disused button factory in Stoke Newington and proceeding to write, record and produce the record single-handedly.
Since Harrison left Twickenham’s Eel Pie Island – where he and singer William Rees set up the band over 20 years ago – Hackney has been his home, and the studio is practically across the street for most of the band. Such a close-knit recording experience has seen the group rediscover their “gang mentality”, and delivered arguably their most complete album to date.
“In some ways I think it’s us at our most honest,” says Harrison, who also spent several weeks writing songs for the record alone in a cabin on the Thames Estuary.
“We wanted to strip away the layers – in the past we’ve explored geographically different places in the world and found inspirations in say America, or in different times, looking at different eras of music. With this one it was very much asking, ‘Well what does a Jets album sound like?’”
Ditching the Americana sheen of their last effort, 2012’s Radlands, Curve of the Earth noticeably brings it all back home.
From the paisley twinges of Bombay Blue to the Pink Floyd-esque melodies of Blood Red Balloon, it feels like a record grounded in British experimentalism.
Fittingly, Harrison also sees it as one which should be listened to traditionally, as a collection of songs.
“Looking at the last 10 years, the way we consume music has changed so much since we started out. But at the same time vinyl sales are the highest they’ve been in 17 or 18 years, and I think for every sort of cultural shift like there has been, there’s always a counter culture movement.
“We’re very lucky our fans are the kind of audience that appreciate listening to records in their entirety, and I think out of all the ones we’ve done, this really does feel like an album that justifies being listened to in one sitting.
“One of its themes is a sense of scale – obviously there’s a clue in the title – and when we started, we wondered what it would be like to make a space rock record. As time’s gone on, we’ve found it’s not so much about looking out into the unknown as it is pointing the camera back at the Earth and realizing the greatest unknown is life itself. That idea of scale, and seeing life from all perspectives, is one of the big ideas we kept returning to.”
Having just been confirmed for a slot at Victoria Park’s Field Day festival in June, there’s no sense that Mystery Jets will be slowing down soon.
Indeed, with the direction that they take on each album shifting at every opportunity, Harrison gives the impression that there’s more to come still, and that it’s up to the fans to decide whether they want to come along for the journey.
“I’ve always seen a music career as a bit like a train ride: there’ll be people who get off after a couple of stops and say this isn’t for me, and there’ll be some fans who ride the whole thing.
“I think that’s cool, and that’s the nature of the creative process really. As long as you enjoy what you’re doing, that’s what keeps you motivated to carry on.”
Pick of the rest at Field Day on June 11 and 12 at Victoria Park
Four Tet: Kieran Hebden is no stranger to Field Day, and has played at the festival on a number of occasions, including the very first event in 2007. Having first come to prominence as part of the act Fridge in 1997, Hebden (under the name Four Tet) has gone from strength to strength, with his latest album Morning/Evening on his own imprint Text Records setting the bar for electronic music in 2015.
Plunderphonic kings The Avalanches are playing their first live shows in 15 years this summer, with Field Day being their only UK appearance. Best known for the song Frontier Psychiatrist, taken from their only full length album, 2000’s influential Since I Left You, the Australian electro outfit will no doubt make for one of this summer’s most exclusive musical offerings.
Brian Jonestown Massacre: Named in tribute to the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist and his influence in introducing Eastern culture and music into the world of Western rock ‘n’ roll, Brian Jonestown Massacre formed in San Francisco in 1990. Pioneering an immediately identifiable lo-fi sound, the band’s central member Anton Newcomb has cemented cult status for this truly original and captivating act.
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