When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. Those were the words uttered by Hunter S. Thompson with the aid of his babbling moniker, Raoul Duke, back in 1971. It’s unlikely such a maxim was penned to best describe the future music of a synth-pop outfit hailing from South Yorkshire. But this is where we’re at. Things are weird. And the weird are giving it their best shot at turning pro. We have our own assortment of Tricky Dickies lurking on periphery of power. No Watergate moment in sight. So, it’s best we don’t rule anything out, yet. Enter INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP, the trio writing the musical accompaniment to Raoul Duke’s indictment of a senseless society.
Don’t come looking for desperate imagery of rusted warehouses and ringfenced cliff edges. International Teachers Of Pop bring unapologetic hypernormalisation to tomorrow’s chaos. A carnival of wild smiles and incessant groove, rumbling along untroubled, untested towards an unforgiving sun. There’s no angsty schtick. Just warm licks of pop drawn together by three unhinged pros when it comes to the weird and wonderful sonic assortments.
Next month will see this well-travelled collection of musical minds release their debut album. With a show in Liverpool pencilled in for 24th February, Elliot Ryder spoke to Adrian Flanagan of the band in an attempt to locate their demonic disco pulse.
International Teachers Of Pop may be a relatively new creative outlet, but the group isn’t quite a fresh-faced supply teacher. Can you give us a little bit of insight to your backgrounds and how ITOP came to be?
Dean [Honer] and I are the producers/writers/founders of psychedelic rockers The Moonlandingz, which we do with Lias Saoudi from Fat White Family. We also do a weird spoken word and electronic music project with actress Maxine Peake called Eccentronic Research Council. The Moonlandingz are slowly chipping away at writing new music, but we are on a hiatus from playing live so Lias can tour the next Fat Whites album. It’s not feasible to have two lunatic bands out on the road at the same time as it’s likely to kill him… However, Dean and I were at a ‘circuit bending workshop’ early last year where I met an old singer friend who I knew from Manchester called Leonore Wheatley. We invited her down to the studio to have a go at doing something collaborative. It turned out alright; within a month we were supporting Jarvis Cocker in a cave for two nights, then did a session for Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music – then we got a little record deal, all within about six weeks. We then put out a few singles which went well on radio. And now – in 2019 – we are heading out on our second tour coinciding with the release of our debut album. We’ve not really had much time to think about anything as everything happened incredibly fast. We just really gel and people are really loving the live show. So, I can’t wait to do our first Liverpool show at District!
You’re self-described purveyors ‘nerd pop’. Is the nerdiness by nature or by design?
I think by nature, really. Leonore, our singer, is incredibly nerdy, bookish even. The subjects she writes about are very nerdy, but in a very English way. She’s the Morrissey you can go dancing down the club with, minus the racism. Dean’s pretty nerdy when it comes to analogue synths and studio equipment. I suppose that’s the same for me. However, I’m probably the least nerdy person ever; I’m the one who’s most likely to be chucked out of the library for chatting up the librarian.
How much of this owes to your penchant for synthesisers, sequencers and analogue equipment? Is this a medium you’ve always worked with?
Dean has a lot of vintage synths and a great little home studio filled with lots of analogue gear. I have a more modest set-up, which is OK for getting ideas down to a decent standard. But yes, in general, we do all our writing for all our projects using dusty old drum machines and analogue synths.
Your debut album meanders into more accessible waters than some of your output as Eccentronic Research Council, notably Dreamcatcher Tapes Volume 1. Was it a conscious decision to look for a balance between eccentricity and the steady synth-pop grooves found on the record?
The ERC is a musical vehicle for the more experimental side of Dean and I’s cranium, but it’s also where The Moonlandingz were born, who are also quite poppy and radio friendly (nasty). Though, the ERC is more like the Radiophonic Workshop and The Moonlandingz has guitars and more traditional instruments within the weird psychedelic electronic arrangements. ITOP is somewhere between the electronic pop of the Pet Shop Boys or The Human League and the super disco of Giorgio Moroder, with a bit of Kraftwerk and Michael Jackson thrown in for good measure. Dean was on Top Of The Pops three times with his first band All Seeing I and produced the closing track on Britney Spears’ debut album. He also did mixes for Moby and suchlike, so we are not strangers to the more interesting sides of electronic pop music.
What was the impetus for wanting to create a shimmering collection of synth-pop tracks? Personal taste, gap in the market, antidote to the UK’s drab state of affairs?
It would be pointless for me to repeat that demonic quasi-political, scab-picking psychedelic thing that The Moonlandingz or Fat Whites did very well, and a lot of bands are now imitating. To be honest, I’m kind of bored of that vibe now, especially when we are currently in this frightening political and social climate. I feel the last thing people need now is another half-wit musician banging on about something that even the politicians don’t really understand. Brexit: what even is it? There’s nothing entertaining to me about going to see a band like Idles. It’s just some guys aping Sleaford Mods’ vibe, shouting over a Sham 69 B-side. Michael Jackson saved more souls than the entire indie top 40 albums ever will, do you get my drift?!
How did you find the process of recording and compiling the record as a trio? A little more conventional than previous output?
Indie bands are always proclaiming how they could easily write a pop song ‘if they wanted’ –but at best they still sound like some wet-the-bed, landfill, post third-rate Arctic Monkeys to me. I don’t get the snobbery that some people have towards something that has some kind of pop sensibility. It’s either got a tune and a groove or it’s avant garde! To answer your question, when you’ve got nine songs on your album that all sound like singles, it’s actually quite hard sequencing and getting the pace and the breaths right. I was going to say it’s a bit like love-making, but then the first song is about 130 beats per minute – you don’t want to go ‘straight in’ at 130bpms with anyone who’s marriage material!
To what extent is Sheffield currently a melting pot for futuristic freak-zone pop? Even Moonlandingz collaborator Lias Saoudi has left the capital to set up in the region to make the new FWF record, hasn’t he?
Sheffield has always been at the forefront of pop music made by weirdos. From The Human League to Pulp to The Moonlandingz, it breeds these unusual characters that see things differently to everyone else, all the while loving disco and classic pop music. I really do believe International Teachers Of Pop are the natural heirs to that particular weirdo pop torch.
Your first single Age Of The Train appears to lament Chris Grayling’s apocalyptic timetabling abilities and general northern transport infrastructure. Yet chugs along more merrily than a 1980s Northern Rail pacer train struggling across the Pennines in 2019. With that, on the debut record, are International Teachers of Pop soundtracking a dystopia or utopia? Light within the darkness, perhaps?
If there’s going to be an end of the world, ITOP would be the only band qualified to play that discotheque in Hell!
How long can we expect to reap the benefits of ITOP’s disco lessons? Is this a project you will be sticking with beyond the album and scheduled live dates?
We have already started writing our second album, so yes, I do see it as having some kind of legs. Legs with trainers with wheels and flashing lights and lasers on its feet! It’s always hard to gauge the future of a band that deals in future pop. We are not aping Merseybeat here!
International Teachers Of Pop play District on Saturday 23rd February. Their self-titled debut album is released on 8th February via Desperate Spools.