U.K. electronic pop group tunes into its own frequency
The phone connection from Atlanta to Albuquerque, N.M., carries only the sound of an occasional static pop. Tim Felton, guitarist for British band Broadcast, has just been asked a seemingly simple question:
"How would you describe your band's music?"
Felton is responding with a meaningful pause. Then, finally, he says, "That's the kind of question we try to avoid, because it is such a limiting thing. When someone says to you, 'What kind of music are you into?' it's like, well, all kinds of stuff. But the more that you're exposed to, you try to take that on board."
Actually, the comment is more revealing than the elusive Felton would like to believe. Broadcast's category is an amalgamation of electronica, ambient and dream pop that often gives pause to anyone describing their sound. Many agree, however, that the retro-futuristic band has taken on board styles that echo acts like the hypnotic, melodic Stereolab, Swedish alterna-pop outfit Komeda and steely blue Belgians Hooverphonic, among others, because of Broadcast's sample-heavy tendencies, which vibrate freely in a reverb chamber along with torch song singer Trish Keenan.
Sure, the band has been stuffed into the electronic "pop" label, but critics also use words like "uplifting," "beguiling" and "haunting" to describe Broadcast's cinematic blend of synthetic psychedelia with a dash of Kid Loco's mellow reefer madness — orchestral arrangements in the vein of Serge Gainsbourg or Burt Bacharach after a couple tokes.
What is certain is that Broadcast — made up of Felton, Keenan, keyboardist Roj Stevens, bassist James Cargill and drummers Keith York and Steve Peerkins — is gaining an American following, appropriate considering their genesis.
The band formed in 1997 in Birmingham, England. They were hanging out together at clubs, but they were brought together musically by the inspired grooves of late-'60s Los Angeles outfit the United States of America, whose revolutionary collage of alternative, electronic vibes earned them a cult following that's still evident today.
"The U.S.A. album was a coming together of so many different things and that hit a nerve with all of us," says Felton. "That was the genesis of the group."
Three years later, Broadcast have finally released their debut LP, The Noise Made by People, and an EP, Extended Play 2, both on Warp Records distributed by Tommy Boy. However, though Broadcast can ever so loosely be classified as trip-hop, their swirling but traditional song structure doesn't seem suited for either Warp, known for abstract electronic acts such as Aphex Twin, or Tommy Boy, a hip-hop label. Still, both of Broadcast's recent albums complement each other perfectly, showcasing Broadcast's ability to make dense layers of sound feel like weightless pop.
"We reached a point where we were happy," Felton says of the band's spurt of productivity. "So we felt it would be good to put out two records."
Now Broadcast bring their tour, begun at the CMJ Convention in New York, to the South for the first time.
"From watching television you expect certain things [for the region]," Felton says. "We've been checking out the mullets. It's a good game to spot them as we go around the country."
Between haircut critiques, they're attempting to interpret their nebulous sound on the stage. "We approach the live thing differently than the studio thing," Felton says. "Obviously, some things we can't do live because it would take too many people on the stage. We'd need a massive stage."
And when the tour is done, Broadcast will head back to the studio, continuing to search for new frequencies. "I think music has become sort of stagnant," Felton says. "You have to dig around more to find what people did in the past, and then try to take it somewhere else. We wouldn't want to limit ourselves. It's nice to approach each song as its own thing."
Broadcast play the Echo Lounge Sun., Nov. 19. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 404-681-3600.