As Britain drags its soggy carcass out of the quicksand of recession with David Cameron riding bareback, his scourge of hypocrisy roasting our fragile posterior (THWACK! Oi, you lot, pay off your debts! SMAK! Oi, students, here’s another pile of debt!), it’s little wonder Jacobia Florek, founding member of Liverpool’s masters of chaos STIGNOISE, wants out.
“Liverpool is full of amazing people doing amazing things, but it’s also full of older people, who should know better, ripping off kids.” He’s referring specifically to pay-to-play promoters and venues looking to cash in on mediocrity. “I can’t wait to get out of Liverpool. It’s important to escape your environment once in a while.”
Next Thursday marks the start of a two-week European tour which will coincide with the release of the seventh collection of musical oddities the band has committed to record. They speak of the more hospitable climes of the continent in a way that makes you wonder why more British bands don’t ply their trade abroad. Drummer Joel says, “Nine times out of ten the crowd will be going mental, buying the records and trying to kiss you at the end of the night. I think people have more respect for promoters and their tastes over there.”
Having existed in various guises since the late 90s, Stignoise have seen a few things. Jacobia (Jake) has watched the city’s music scene blossom, expand and then flounder in the resulting quagmire of blandness.
So how can bands thrive in a culture which is dictated not by the bands or fans, but by “some dickhead in charge trying to make money off the bar?” Jake says the answer lies in the city’s abundance of disused premises and the dedication of those willing to devote their lives to transforming them into places of creativity. Wolstenholme Creative Space, where our interview is conducted, is one such place; it has become a second home for bands, artists and independent promoters who would see its values remain in the hands of those who run it.
Another is the old TUC building on Hardman Street, which enjoyed a fleeting existence as Don’t Drop The Dumbells, with Stig at the helm putting on gigs. Joel suggests that the enigmatic nature of the venue meant that the shows virtually promoted themselves. “It was a really interesting experiment in word-of-mouth. We must have put about ten posters up for each show, five of which were in the venue itself.” Perhaps sensing its untimely demise, Jake took the liberty of documenting the venue’s existence on camera in a series of episodes which have been published on Stignoise’s website.
In 2009, the band “gained entry” to the defunct Odeon cinema at the bottom of Park Road and shot a series of sessions by artists including a.P.A.t.T and Sidney Bailey’s No Good Punchin’ Clowns. In Europe, derelict buildings are in abundance, the authorities turn a blind eye, and the demand for bands vastly outweighs the supply. Kids will travel huge distances to attend shows and it’s no coincidence that Stignoise often end up playing venues similar to Dumbells – art spaces, industrial estates, warehouses – when they are on the road. Furthermore, the band are in agreement that European promoters and gig-goers are more in tune with what the band is trying to do than their British counterparts.
Stignoise’s live show is a visceral assault of drums, distortion and twisted trumpet melodies defying all song-writing convention. Have they ever even tried to write a pop song? “They’re all pop songs!” Jake exclaims to his band’s amusement. “If you played the main riff on a Casio keyboard and had someone with a proper set of lungs doing the vocal line, it’d be mid 90s Pavement but played by five guys who’ve been messing themselves up for far too long. So when we go on tour, people are not like ‘your music’s amazing’, they’re like…”
“…what the hell have you done to that pop song?” Bassist George hits the nail squarely on the head.
The relative chaos of their live shows is not as staged as it may look and the band say they genuinely hate it when their gear breaks. Newest recruit Trippy bemoans the throwaway mentality of some bands who think an amp is useless because it stops working one day: “That sort of attitude is crap. People should just fix their own shit.”
Jake has a similar take on equipment: “The bass sound, which is the best bass sound of any Liverpool band from the last 20 years, is coming through a cab that my step-dad built in the 80s!”
So Stig are off to their safe European home this month, but they’ve left us with some food for thought. Next time you walk past a derelict building, stop, look at it and imagine what it’s like inside. Then imagine it as another Tesco or five-star hotel. Then round up a bunch of mates and go and do something about it.