The common perception is that children are easy to trick and cajole into liking certain things and behaving in certain ways, being highly susceptible to peer pressure and marketing. That’s why Christmas time sees adverts aimed solely at the under 7 market, telling them how they need to have a doll that wees itself or some Lego-wannabe transformers-esque pile of rubbish. The truth is that, whilst kids cna be pretty easy to manipulate, they can also be bloody stubborn, too. Teenagers are probably easier to mould in your own image – as long as you’re not their parent, that is.
A few years ago, a band came out that were pretty exciting. They made a sound that hadn’t really been given much mainstream coverage, filled with fast, angular guitars, frenetic drumming and a panicked, high pitched vocalist yelping out semi-incomprehensible lyrics. ¡Forward, Russia! were somewhat of a mini-internet phenomenon, with their demos being passed about in a similar manner to the Arctic Monkeys before them, with forums across the internet linking to this one website that had them all there, ready for download. The songs were fantastic, and whilst lad-rock was on it’s steady ascent in the pages of the NME, it sounded like the perfect antidote to the turgid mess that post-brit-pop was churning out.
What was probably most noteworthy was the naming of everything. As far as band names go, ¡Forward, Russia! is one of the more inspired choices around, but it was the songs themselves that garnered the most attention. Numbering tracks has probably happened before, but never pulled off with such conviction. It was a masterstroke, appealing to the ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ part of human nature whilst also ensuring that you were safe in the knowledge you had all the tracks available. The band claim – probably honestly – that this was simply a byproduct of being unable to find decent monikers for the tracks in time for their first gig, with the numbers sticking. If that was an accident, the band wearing the famous black and white ¡! t-shirts on stage was possibly a bit more cynical. Still, we lapped it up and bought the t-shirts (I had around 10 in different colour combinations), held onto the signed vinyls and attended the in-stores.
The result was something close to a cult. There weren’t masses of fans, but that’s kind of helped, like you were holding onto a secret that you were desperate to share. For a while they became my life, thanks to no more than 19 great songs, some clothes and great live shows. Steve Lamacq was even a big fan, airing various sessions by the band as well as a radio documentary about them. On myspace, you could barely move without bumping into someone copying their name (including my own positively cringe inducing ¡Forward, Matthew!) and their shows increasingly like social gatherings. Me and other fans would convince our friends to come along, promising them the time of their lives. There was a definitely something special about them, and it helped that they were amongst the best live acts in the country, with the crush of the crowd and the bizarre, jolty dancing antics of frontman Tom somehow fitting. Apart from one single, they put all their records out on their own Dance to the Radio label, and their debut LP Give me a Wall only intensified the love. Circular, with 40 seconds of hidden music at the start of the record linking up the first and last songs, as well as the fracturing ’15’ into two parts, it was, to me at least, a seminal work. As a result the band toured even more intensively.
For all the NME’s talk of ‘New Yorkshire’ and Dance to the Radio heralding a new dawn of DIY (which, you could argue, it did), it only took another 2 years for the wheels to almost completely fall off. Despite the success of the first album, the follow up Life Processes didn’t quite make the same impression. With ‘Don’t be a Doctor’, the band ended the numbers era, and with it took away some of the mystique surrounding them. The touring had also gutted them of all passion for gigging, and the hundreds of shows they played in support of their debut was replaced by a single sojourn around the UK for the second. They’d also become disconnected from Dance to the Radio, who had allegedly diverted attention and resources towards The Pigeon Detectives.
Around mid-2008, the band announced that they were to go on a hiatus, and in October they played their final gig, playing Brainwash festival at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club. It was far from a suprise, as much of the hype around the band had already died down, and Life Processes was released with more of a whimper than a bang. Many of the bands that had been lumped together with them in the ‘New Yorkshire’ scene had already begun to move on or die out – The Cribs were the fathers of the movement and have moved on to playing arena venues, with Kaiser Cheifs doing similar. Others like shutyreyesoryoullburstintoflames and The Wallbirds either split up or never really made it.
What’s happened since then? Drummer Katie was the youngest member of the band, and has returned to education, studying something at a University in Nottingham. Singer Tom Woodhead looked as though his solo project ‘Anteater’ has legs for a while, but has since moved on to production, working with I Concur and Cats and Cats and Cats, whilst also becoming the in-house sound man for a venue in Leeds. Rob Canning, the groups bassist, has been the most elusive to track down, and results have thus far been inconclusive. Whiskas, initially the heartbeat of Dance to the Radio and the driving force behind the band has now joined Duels, though has also set himself up as a producer and possibly a manager. He also appears to be a guest lecturer, and it was a video of his telling his story to students at Leeds Metropolitan University that brought about this post.
In the lecture, Whiskas mentions that the band still class themselves as being together, and his blog mentions that they’re ‘on hold’ for the time being. Whilst math-rock still inspires many different genres, it’s rarely being given much airing by itself, so it’d be nice to think that the band that took 65daysofstatic and made it pop and almost radio friendly will be back again one day. We can only hope. Anyway, here’s Whiskas saying far more interesting things about the band and the bubble around the band than I ever could:
And if you missed the boat, here’s their finest moment:
¡Forward, Russia! – Twelve