Off the back of their impressive UK arena tour, and the subsequent release of their Live At Alexandra Palace album, Enter Shikari are demonstrating an ambition to take their live shows to new technical heights and it’s clear that the work is paying off. Singer Rou Reynolds spoke to us about the difficulty in bringing this vision to life and the importance of staying positive on tour and in life.
Cheers for speaking to us again, it’s always a pleasure. I guess the two things that have happened recently are the “Hoodwinker” single and the release of the Live At Alexandra Palace album. Going for that last one first, did you always have in mind that the London show was one you wanted recorded?
I think it was quite late in the day that we decided to record it. We just wanted to have it documented because it seemed like a big step for the band. It was our first arena headline tour and with everything that was put into it, like the quadraphonic sound and all the visuals, it felt like we had become something a bit larger – more theatrical, almost. Unfortunately the video didn’t work out right so we just put a few songs up on YouTube for that but we felt we should definitely release the audio. It was an incredible show and a really surreal night. It’s such a cavernous place and a really beautiful venue; its age and how it looks and feels, and the fact that there’s no balcony or seating – it’s not your traditional venue, in that respect. Everyone’s on one level and it makes it feel like such a unifying experience.
How did you find the experience of setting up the quadraphonic sound?
It was a headfuck basically We gave ourselves three months prep and about a month into it, it was like, “Fuckin’ hell, have we bitten off more than we can chew?” It was a lot of work. The only band we’ve seen that have done it was Roger Waters when we played at Coachella about five years back; you can easily imagine how Pink Floyd’s music works in quadraphonic sound – it’s interesting, multi-layered music. We were inspired to do it and no-one’s really done it since then, but it was a hell of a lot of work. We had to reprogram all the electronics, all the physics that went into mapping out each venue and working out where the speakers would go, but the relief when it all came together and how great it sounded, what it brought to the show, was worth all the graft.
Was it all done yourselves or did you have a cabal of audio engineers working behind the scenes?
We did all the actual programming ourselves and had some help from a couple of different companies, because at first we didn’t know exactly how we were going to do it, software-wise. We tried a few different routes. I guess the simplest route was the hardest work because we use Ableton live for all our sequences and mapping out our guitar changes, synth changes and stuff like that, and we managed to continue using Ableton and the surround-sound technical option in Logic, and they’re two programs we’re quite comfortable with already, so we decided to stick with those. They work quite well, so the only things we really needed help with on the show days was when it came to venue mapping because of all the different delays and reverberations, which would change with each venue. You have to angle the speakers perfectly; we’d have a speaker stack in each corner with ten speakers in each stack, and each one of those has to be angled differently to hit different points of the venue at different times. It was incredibly scientific so we needed a trained engineer to do all that stuff.
You went from doing that arena tour to a more club-based tour in the US. Did you feel you could relax a little bit doing those more intimate shows?
By the end of the tour, we were just so happy with it. The first few nights, the odd thing was going wrong, it was a bit more stressful because we’d be programming all day and our soundchecks would be about three hours long and then there’d be extra programming, but by the end of the tour it was just enjoyable. It was a bit disappointing we had to leave it all behind for the US tour, but on the other hand it was nice to go back to the more punk side and just play straight-up rock shows.
You’ve got a few Shikari Sound System dates coming up in December. How big is the difference in your headspace when you do shows like that?
Huge. The DJ sets are just a little bit on the side; a bit of fun, really. We all love all kinds of electronic and dance music, and DJ’ing is something me and Rob have always done, be it aftershows or things for mates. I do a bit of MC’ing and it’s a bit of a laugh.
Actually, right before speaking to you I was reading an article about how not to piss off a DJ, which I guess will be happening a lot with the Christmas nights out coming up. Do you have to deal with a lot of drunks and the like when you do those shows?
A little bit, I guess it depends on the layout of the venue. Sometimes there’s just a little booth where people can come up, and the majority of them are lovely. We enjoy meeting them but there’s always the drunken oaf who’s going to keep asking you to play a certain song that you don’t want to play. What we got a lot of is people who maybe are just embedded in rock culture and we mainly play drum & bass, a little bit of everything – future house, Motown, all kinds of stuff – but don’t expect us to play our own tracks. We’re not just going to sit here and play CDs of our own music, that’s a bit weird.
“It’s always hard to tell whether these people were politicised anyway and have just spoken out more. There’s still a lot of apathy. I think some of what’s happening is more and more people are having a reason to become politicised. Things are gradually becoming worse and worse.”
You brought out some more Johnny & the Snipers stuff a little while back. Are you thinking of revisiting that any time soon?
Yeah, it’s just finding the time, really. It’s not really a type of music that I listen to a lot but my brother, when he and I still lived at home, used to really love jazz and would play lots of big band-esque stuff, so I guess I got a bit of an education from him. He was in a jazz big band – he played the trombone – and this is the guy who does all the brass with me. It’s always been there in my life, just using that style of music for comical effect and to have the covers is always a lot of fun. I love character comedy, and I think it’s quite important for us because we’re a band that sings a lot about such serious subjects that it’s good to keep that side of us that delves into satire and parody. To be wallowing in the world’s more serious subjects can get a bit much so it’s good to have some light relief.
Well, not to bring you down but in the past while since we spoke, we’ve had the situation with Trump in the US and Brexit and the Labour leadership fiasco over here. Any thoughts there?
It’s mad. To tie everything in together, everything that’s going on in Europe with Brexit and also in the US, it feels like there’s a general push to the far right. It’s like people are being genuinely interested in nationalism again and isolating themselves, whether it’s Trump going on about his wall and Muslims and Mexicans, and in Europe we’ve got Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, and in Austria, Hungary and the Netherlands, they’ve all got their far-right parties on the rise. In the UK we’ve got UKIP and some of the nastier reasons for voting for Brexit, the rise of racism and xenophobia… yeah, it’s kind of frightening really and it’s quite disappointing as well. I can’t really comment on why it’s happening; I don’t really know enough, there’s lots of different theories but hopefully people will always realise that you’re never always going to get what you want. The problems lie within the structures and economy, capitalism and it’s always a lot wiser to hope, and look to love and unity to find the answers instead of looking to artificial division and segregation. It’s very petty. Trump is just insane. Hopefully we’ll never have to speak about Trump again and this is the last we’ll have to speak of him but the guy is just a brat. He’s a bully with no sense of how to be a decent social person. He’s got his way his whole life, he’s been spoilt by his family and his money to get what he wants. I think he’s a bit fucked up, basically, and instead of getting help and trying to be a better person, he’s trying to lead the most powerful country in the world, which is really frightening. I think what’s more frightening is the amount of support he’s got, which shows what a misled, angry and desperate country the US has become. It’s looking to saviours who are definitely not saviours out of desperation.
On the upside, though, it has gotten a lot of young people interested in politics, especially on the left. Do you think that this is a more politicised generation that we’re seeing on the rise?
Possibly. It’s always hard to tell whether these people were politicised anyway and have just spoken out more. There’s still a lot of apathy. I think some of what’s happening is more and more people are having a reason to become politicised. Things are gradually becoming worse and worse. Over here a few years ago, there was the Tories and their disability cuts and that going to politicise a few people who either care for the disabled, are disabled; next comes the closing down of youth centres and councils getting less funding, venues being shut down to build flats for fucking oligarchs… that’s going to politicise some people, and so on and so forth. As things continue to spiral out of control, going back towards a Thatcherite era, you’re going to see more people being forced into politics.
I guess Enter Shikari does follow a trend of protest music that stretches back decades, and on that note I guess you’ll have seen that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think a lot of people felt it was long overdue.
Yeah, I was surprised at the Marmite reaction. Some were absolutely shocked; “This isn’t literature! It’s songs!” Really snootily looking down on his work and others were completely overjoyed and said it was a long time coming. I think he was kind of ambivalent. I haven’t been a dedicated fan of Dylan’s music but I appreciate it and think he’s definitely a bit of a genius when it comes to lyrics. I kind of stayed out of it; I didn’t have an interesting opinion either way. I guess it’s good that protest music and social commentary within music is recognised as something worthy of praise, and worth encouraging, especially in this climate where there’s so little of it, particularly in pop. When you go back to his time and to other periods of pop music, you had Dylan, John Lennon and Bob Marley, Motown and Northern Soul, Marvin Gaye and into Afrobeat, there was a huge amount of political music that was actual pop music, but now I can’t really think of anything. Taylor Swift occasionally says one thing that could possibly be perceived as social commentary and that’s it. I don’t think there’re any good role models in that respect. People are too busy singing about girls on dancefloors, or going to the club, popping champagne – there’s a narcissism, a glorification of greed; a negativity, really. Not really positive messages so I think it’s a good thing that pop music that had something to say is being celebrated.
Back to what I had mentioned at the start – “Hoodwinker”. You seemed to be targeting religion this time around, which seems a different avenue for the band. What made you head in this direction?
There’s been a couple of songs touching on this, like “The One True Colour” was about losing your religion, which is something I have a vague memory of when I was very young from talking to others and reimagining it. At first, it can seem like a nerve-shattering experience because you’re losing a stable belief system that has been part of your life but then I tried to turn it around and make it a celebration of losing dogma and replacing it with science and exploration, the beauty of nature – all the amazing things that the human race is good at. A huge amount of music throughout the history of civilisation has been made for the glorification of various deities so a lot of The Mindsweep was about the glorification of science, and creativity and human ingenuity. Saying that humanity has to get back in line with nature and rid ourselves of this religious view that other species and this earth are there for us to be used and abused. “Hoodwinker” follows on from that in a more facetious, cheeky and slightly silly way. You’ve got me bellowing like an utter madman at the beginning, playing God or someone who thinks he’s God, depending on how you want to take it, and telling everyone to stay in and lock their doors – making him out to be an absolute fruitcake. In the chorus, you have this early 20th century authority figure saying, “Excuse me, do you have documentation to prove that you’re a deity? I don’t believe you are.” It’s calling out the various gods that are still worshipped as hoodwinkers or frauds. As much as I identify as an atheist, I get a bit bored by the stringent atheist communities out there who are needlessly bashing at every chance they get. I understand why people become religious, it gives people a lot of comfort but I thought it would be nice to do it in a more quaint, almost Monty Python-esque way.
One last question – you tour pretty relentlessly so how do you stay healthy?
In terms of physical health, it helps that onstage is a lot of physical exercise and I try to jog when I’m on tour as well. A lot of the time you’re in the grimy spot of the city so it’s not always nice but I try and get out. I hate using labels but I’m pretty much a vegan, though I don’t go about singing about it, but that helps as well, especially when you’re touring in places where food can be dodgy. It means I get food poisoning less than everyone else, usually. Mentally, being on tour can be taxing, and when you’re sleep deprived your anxiety goes through the roof so I find meditation and yoga helps. Also, finding time to do your own thing, be it reading or watching a series – just getting yourself out of the mad world that is being a touring musician and finding something that is habitual, that you can do every day that feels normal.