Common Dreads is the new album by St. Albans-based quartet Enter Shikari. It was born in a back garden shed in St. Albans after a mental two years (we’ll get to that in a minute) in the lives of these young men. Here, during summer 2008, in a bungalow dubbed The Low built in bassist Chris Batten’s parents’ back garden, the words and music came together
The band then moved to Arreton Manor, a studio amongst the remote and picturesque rolling moors of the Isle Of Wight with producer Andy Gray (who has not only worked with U2, Korn and Tori Amos, but penned that ubiquitous Big Brother theme music). In this the rural seclusion that seems totally odds with the apoplectic and articulate squall of Common Dreads, our four plucky young heroes created a squall of political protest handily disguised as a club bangers and mosh-pit epics. The end result is a soundtrack for an entire generation – one where the party is as important as the politics.
Some are already suggesting Common Dreads will come define the era into which it was born: one of recession, paranoia, state control and the fallout of decades of accelerated capitalism. But – and this is important – also an era of hope and creativity, humanity, hedonism, irreverence and fun. This revolution may not be televised, but it will certainly be amplified. Just check out lead single ‘Juggernauts’, a song that is already eating it’s way through Britain’s radios and sending all the other songs running for cover.
“Politics are unavoidable,” says singer Rou Reynolds. “We just can’t write sappy music. Personally I can’t write limp soulless songs about how lovely a girl is. If the first album was quite cryptic and metaphor-heavy, this one is more direct. Since we gained popularity we realised, whether we like it or not, we have the ability to influence people – and with that is a responsibility to speak our minds.”
And what are Common Dreads exactly? “They’re shared worries,” says Rou. “The things that concern people today on a global level – catastrophic climate change, wars, terror laws, CCTV society, modern imperialism and the affects of capitalism.”
All of this may come as a shock to those who had Enter Shikari pegged as nothing but a lurid new band for the misunderstood Skins / ‘Broken Britain’ generation. Wrong. They were always more than that. But let’s not get too distracted by the politics – ‘Zzzonked’ is pure head-stoving drum ‘n’ bass metal madness with a double side order of donk while ‘The Jester’ is a wry, jazz-infused chooon with a stomping cocksure klaxon of a melody designed to destroy festival crowds. lt’s an album for the late 00s, basically; a big, bold record bursting at the seams with ideas.
Let’s put all this into context for a moment. Enter Shikari (the name comes from a boat that belonged to singer Rou Reynolds’ uncle) formed in 2003 in the quaint and historical home counties town of St Albans, just near enough to London to know something exciting lurked beyond the horizon, but too far away to run headlong into it.
They spent their formative years forging a sound that audaciously melded hardcore punk with hardcore rave/trance. And while media scenesters down the road were harping on about the fictional nu rave scene, Enter Shikari were out there doing something much more exciting. Something that hit a nerve.
Remember those early shows? We do. We remember the sweat and the smiles, the laser beams and the elegiac choruses. We remember the blur of flashing Shikari cygnet rings as somersaulting fists pumped the air; we remember the surges of serotonin up the spine into the lower cortex. We remember looking at the crowds and thinking: holy shit – this is a generational thing! We remember Tony Wilson telling Seymour Stein to check out Enter Shikari – and we remember his reaction: “You’re not a band – you’re a revolution.”
And it was. And it still is. And then things got hectic. In summer 2006 Enter Shikari packed out the MySpace tent at Download festival on reputation alone, and by November of that year had become only the second ever unsigned band to sell out the London Astoria. Two sold nights at the Hammersmith Palais followed shortly afterwards.
This all happened away from the patronage of any of the big record labels. Enter Shikari did it themselves – the old way. The DIY punk way. Which is why, despite plenty of offers, they decided to release their debut album Take To The Skies on their own Ambush Reality imprint. When it cruised in at No. 4 it became one of the most successful self-released rock albums ever. That’s ever.
Accolades came thick and fast: the NME John Peel Award for Innovation in 2007, Kerrang! Awards (including Best Live Band), with sales of their debut now pushing 250,000 worldwide and frankly silly statistics, like the one about their single ‘Sorry, You’re Not A Winner’ having clocked up 6.3million plays on YouTube.
And so onto Common Dreads then, an album whose politicised ‘people power’ beginnings were inspired by the band joining fellow St Albans’ residents to fight against Tesco when the supermarket chain unveiled plans to build a big new store on a green patch of land. “It was the first time we actively got involved in something like that,” smiles Rou. “And, collectively, we won.”
Musically, there are still twists of Refused’s screamo punk in there, but also the everyday colloquial man-in-the-street chats of The Streets’ Mike Skinner and nods towards The Prodigy, the most pumpin’ drum & bass, the most euphoric of trance, Altern-8 and even some of the darkest of dubstep too. More than anything though Common Dreads is an album destined to unite the tribes, divide the critics and thoroughly satisfy anyone who has witnessed the mad live spectacle that is Enter Shikari.
“The main thing we stand for is unity,” concludes Rou. “Although it’s fair to say this is a political album, we’re aware that we don’t want to preach ideas – our only solution to today’s problems is to get together, share ideas and have fun. Because ultimately that’s the Enter Shikari way. You’re only young once, so positivity during dark times is as important to us as anything else.”
Q&A with Rou Reynolds – (lead vocals, keyboards/samples)
Your first album Take To The Skies–released on your own Ambush Reality label–debuted at #4 on the U.K. chart, becoming one of the most successful self-released rock albums ever. With your choice of major label offers in the U.K., why did you decide to release it on your own and what did you learn from it?
At the time, we didn’t really feel like we had a choice–we’d been touring for around two years properly without any press or label interest. We’d done everything along the way ourselves from the booking to the designing and printing of T-shirts to recording our demos. It was only as we released “Sorry You’re Not A Winner” that the interest suddenly boomed and by that time we realized we could do it ourselves with the help of the family we had built up around us. I’m glad it happened just as it did as I’d hate to be tied up in a major label deal now in this current era of uncertainty.
Your new album COMMON DREADS will be officially released in the U.S. in the Spring of 2010. For the U.S. release, you are partnering with DGC/Interscope. What made you decide to join forces with a major at this point?
We were lucky enough to get involved with a good crowd over there as there’s no way we could repeat the same rise in the U.S. as we did in the U.K. It’s obviously colossal in size compared to the U.K., so we knew we’d always need some help along the way and have to play a different game. Saying that, we have done a fair few tours now by ourselves– just playing the toilet circuit and it’s been really fun and still feels organic.
On COMMON DREADS, you teamed with producer Andy Gray (U2, Tori Amos, Korn, Gary Numan) and holed yourselves up in the isolated Isle of Wight. How did this work for you? What did you feel the result was for COMMON DREADS?
It was superb– it couldn’t have been more of an opposite experience from the recording of our first album. That was rushed down in two weeks and I’ve never been happy with the way the vocals sound. This time around, it was a conscious decision to get away for a few months and experiment. Andy (Gray) was wicked as well–he was up for anything from burning pianos (“Havoc B”) to breaking into churches and recording organs (“Fanfare”) to singing outdoors in boxers whilst it was snowing at 1:00AM to get that real ‘cold’ vibe (‘’All Eyes On The Saint’’). It was a real fun experience and I’m really proud of the result! COMMON DREADS really captures the live feel of the band and our vision.
Fusing such polar genres of music such as electronic and hardcore, how would you describe your music to someone who has never heard of you?
Good Music. There’s good music and bad music. That’s all.
What would you describe as the most powerful song to you on this album? Which new song do you really enjoy performing right now?
That’s a tough one–I’d probably have to go with “Fanfare.” It was all done pretty last minute, so I guess it came out as a final outpouring of frustration with both our countries’ aggressive foreign policies this past decade. I’m loving performing “Havoc B” at the moment–Chris pulls down some vicious sub bass to get the ground shaking and at the end hearing the crowd join in with the chanting creates such an unbelievable sense of unity.
What was it like growing up in St. Albans, England and how did it shape you as a musician?
St. Albans has always had a struggling, but thriving music scene. First getting into the local hardcore, punk and ska scenes was great, but as we got older we noticed the local Council really started coming down hard on gigs and local venues. We fought for years putting on shows at our local youth club, and they’d actually go to crazy lengths to try and pull our live shows. Ironically, it created a sense of community for our scene and everyone got involved to do what they could to keep it alive. It still happens to this day; the last time we did a homecoming the Council tried to pull it–luckily the local press were on our side and exposed them for how stupid and malicious they were being. Other than the music, St. Albans has a great Roman history and the most pubs per square mile in the U.K.!
You’ve performed at some of the most impressive festivals in the world including Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, Download Festival, Reading, Leeds, Summersonic and all of the major European festivals. What’s the difference between your festival performance and your club show?
Nothing really–we don’t really approach them any different. It’s just a longer run to get to the crowd at a festival which is always a bummer, but we get there.
What was the inspiration behind the song “Juggernauts?”
We campaigned to stop a local superstore giant here in the U.K. from building a store right in the center of our town. It was just a nice quaint victory that was really inspiring to see everyone getting involved. The song itself is about how important it is to feel involved and to have a sense of belonging to your community and how our current economic and social system actively discourages this.
Describe your worst night on tour, ever.
On our last U.S. tour our van broke down as we were leaving Philadelphia. We spent 12 hours in a Walmart car park with a mechanic trying to fix it from 1:00AM whilst right in the middle of a thunder storm. It was pretty horrendous. We had no sleep and had to miss our show the next day so we were totally gutted.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about ENTER SHIKARI in the United States?
Rob isn’t allowed in the States because he posted a box full of his own shit to Walmart’s Headquarters and there was consequently a bomb scare and the whole building was evacuated (joking).
Why is English food “as some people say” so bad?
Who needs good food when you have good beer and cider?
How would you define English food? It’s just a culmination of other cultures food really… oh no we have Trifle! Come on! Trifle rules.
The name ENTER SHIKARI came from a boat that belonged to your uncle. Why did you choose it and what do you feel it means?
Shikari means “The Hunter” in many Indian languages. My uncle was a fisherman and back when I was a kid I used to go out onto the high seas with him and just thought it was an awesome word. When we made the band, it just kind of fitted into what we had to do. We knew to make changes in this world you have to get out there and hunt yourself. It just seemed apt for how we were working as a band (the whole DIY style) as well as our political outlook.
What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Have you been to Stonehenge and what do you think of Spinal Tap?
Stonehenge is awesome. Still fills me with absolute wonder and awe every time I go there. Spinal Tap is just the industry standard, total classic.
If you could record a song with an artist outside the genre of music for which you are known, who might that be?
I’d love to work with a rapper called Lowkey from London. He does really political hip-hop, which is such a breath of fresh air from the normal commercial bulk of hip hop which just glorifies violence and condones negativity and greed.
If you could have a conversation with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
What has surprised you most in your career so far?
How nice the majority of people you meet around the world are.
Any hobbies outside of music? Sports, etc?
I like swimming and dirt jumping (bikes), but other than that I’m not really into sports. I don’t like the sense of rigid and ruthless competition promoted in most sports. It always puzzled me in high school the amount of anger sports produced in people. I think it’s kind of pointless and silly.