Constantly sharpening the edges of their three-sided setup, these masters of sonic immersion know better than most how to keep it sounding fresh.
Bristol electronic three-piece BEAK> have been a creative force for a decade now – and they continue to reach new heights on nothing but their own terms. Considering the immersive and compelling musical landscapes they’ve become known for, the concept behind the band is actually relatively simple: it’s about creating explorative music free from any bullshit or expectations.
An outlet for the three to experiment and innovate away from their other musical endeavours, the band is in healthier shape than ever before (although you can be sure Geoff Barrow would have a self-deprecating joke to hand about that statement).
Following another ambitious year on the road and in the studio, they’re hitting the Arts Club as part of their December UK tour. As Rhys Buchanan picked up the phone to bassist Billy Fuller to chat about their last 12 months, the ever-present sense of drive and community behind the band remains palpable.
So, two glorious releases in the last few years, how’s it all been in your world?
It’s been super productive since we’ve done our third album [>>>] and the last EP [Life Goes On]. We’ve been going to new places as well which is always refreshing. This year Mexico has been really good for us – we never thought anything like that would ever happen, but we played a festival there and it seemed to just land, the crowd went crazy for it. So the organisers of the festival had us back for a show in Mexico City and Guadalajara a few weeks ago. Both shows sold out and they want us back again next year. When we first started to do Beak>, I never expected anything like that to happen. It’s crazy reaching such heavy heights. We’re just buzzing now and really excited for the upcoming UK tour.
You’ve been a band for a long time now, do those moments keep you motivated?
That’s always a massive motivation for us, getting to play all of these great places and seeing all of the happy faces. The other motivation is to make tunes that excite us away from the other bands that we’ve been in, which is the reason why we got together. It’s still a totally different experience; it’s the most interesting band that I’ve ever been in and long may it last. We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t having fun. It’s all about enjoying ourselves and making good music.
Do you think that element of freedom is a massive part of Beak> for you guys?
Yeh, sometimes it’s not even very serious. I don’t know if you’ve seen our live shows, but sometimes we just take the piss out of each other onstage. A friend of mine said the other day they heard someone saying we’re like a comedy act with songs in-between. It’s mostly about when we get in the room together, we don’t discuss much, we just fire things around, some things land and some things don’t. We all come up with stuff, bring ideas in and other times we do it on the fly in the studio. There’s not much discussion about it, we’re just trying to push for something we haven’t done before. We don’t want to repeat ourselves from here on in.
That seems true of your live schedule, as well: earlier in the year you played on a bridge in Bristol for Extinction Rebellion which felt quite spontaneous…
That came about because I had to go into town for some shopping – I didn’t even know that was happening. I walked past Bristol Bridge and I was like, ‘Hang on a second what’s going on here?’ I was there for about an hour chatting to people and thought it would be cool if they were up for us doing it. We went to play some tunes there and played a different set to bring some attention to it all. It worked out really well, we did a couple of Gary Numan tunes like Cars because everyone was frustrated with the traffic, then we did a cover of Pigbag which went down great. I think there’s a good video of that online.
This year you’ve got another Christmas charity event lined up helping the homeless in Bristol. Do you feel like it’s important to be engaged with the community as a band?
You’ve always got to be active and look out for other people. We’ve always believed in that and will always do it. The ‘Give A Shit Christmas’ thing is something that we’ll do every December as long as we’re together. I don’t know what it’s like in Liverpool, but the scale of the homeless problem is the worst it’s ever been in Bristol. I don’t want to get too political, but I put a lot of blame on the Tory government and austerity for that. There should always be money available for a human being. Everybody is someone’s son or daughter out there and people are dying. It’s disgusting and we’re not up for it. That’s the reason why we do this event for local charities every year. Last year we raised £9,000 and, with a bigger venue, this year we’re hoping to get five times that.
Speaking of that sense of community, to what extent does having Invada Studios at your disposal help the fluidity of Beak>?
The fact that it’s there for us is invaluable to be honest. It’s like a miniature Motown. When you go in, it’s like the label. All the records are there ready for mail-order; the releases are everywhere, filed away. We rehearse in the same room that we record in. It gets very busy now. When it first started we could pick and choose when we went in. Now we have to book a lot further in advance. It’s great when we’re in because we have it and can do some serious damage. It’s deluxe, really. We’re spoilt.
Your songs are quite sprawling and immersive. How disciplined do you need to be when it comes to playing live?
As a live thing, we never do any jamming; there’s never any heads-down, doing a Hawkwind. People are always surprised by that. Otherwise, if there was anything more to get out of it then we would do it on track. I’m not putting anyone down, but I find that when a band’s head goes down they just starting whacking on the wah-wah and the fuzz pedal and they’ve had one too many goes on the bong. It just bores me. I don’t want to be responsible for boring anyone. I think it’s best to keep it interesting and keep the hooks coming.
They’ve been coming for some time now and it seems it will be that way long into the future?
Yeh, it’s all a discipline because, ultimately, we go through a lot of pain to make an album. The first album was the easiest thing we’d ever done because we didn’t properly know each other back then. So, we went into the studio, had a cup of tea, set our gear up and just started playing. The first song on the first album is us playing for the very first time in the studio. That all came very quick and easy because it was so natural. Then you go on tour and find out who you are, then once you’re involved then you’re working within parameters from there on in. Album four, which we’re starting work on in the new year, will be another adventure/headache/brilliant experience. If we’re up, then hopefully we’ll carry on making good and interesting music. That’s where it lies really. It’s not that difficult to think about, if we’re happy then the music will come out the back of it.