VONDELPARK HAS NO MYSPACE SO YOU CAN ONLY READ ABOUT HIM HERE reads the headline to Vice Magazine’s July 2010 interview, setting the tone for much of the coverage to follow. From The Guardian through to an array of blogs and music sites, the impression generated has been of one of mystique, of a band at pains to use silence to make a statement, unknowable and aloof.
As a marketing tactic it’s well-worn but undeniably effective – think Burial or Boards of Canada – but from an interviewer’s perspective it’s slightly daunting: a silent dictaphone recording doesn’t tend to make for the best copy. So it’s kind of a relief to find that it’s an image born less from a cunning PR strategy than from good, old-fashioned journalistic fancy, amplified and expanded and not really real at all.
‘It’s quite amusing, actually,’ says Lewis Rainsbury, one of Vondelpark’s three members. ‘We left it for a while, just for our own comical value, having people around calling us these elitist people. We’re generally just quite lazy…’
So jarring is the contrast between expectation and reality that one writer recently took the band to task for, in her view, manufacturing their image, in an interview that according to Rainsbury veered close to argument. Sadly there’s little such drama today: only a poor phone connection and a train from London back to Surrey, where the band’s first EP, last year’s Sauna, was recorded in a garage.
But then dramatic doesn’t really seem to be Vondelpark’s thing at all. Taking their name from an Amsterdam green space, their sound takes in that city’s slightly dream-state feel but meshes it with half-glimpsed shadows, glitches and echoes haunting the edges. A sample-driven blend of looped guitars and drum machines, muffled vocals buried in the mix, Vondelpark have attracted inevitable comparisons with The XX and James Blake, which Lewis concedes is probably fair.
‘There is a new sort of sound in music,’ he argues, ‘where it’s a little more humble and personal. It’s emotive music: I don’t think the songwriting itself is similar at all, but the approach to songwriting… There’s links there, certainly.’
Pressed to define their own sound, Rainsbury struggles: it’s a collection of idea, he offers, a collage of influences. He isn’t alone here: various writers have cited reference points from Portishead through to The Cure, whilst for me it’s early Bonobo and various Ninja Tune releases. But Vondelpark aren’t setting out to sound like anyone in particular, says Rainsbury, although he acknowledges Dinosaur Jr, New Order and jazz guitar music generally as helping to form their sound. He insists, though, that songwriting is a collaborative affair, contrary to persistent allusions to the project being a solitary thing: ‘Gauzy, bedroom beats and ghostly suburban ambience from this enigmatic, one-man-band’ reads a live listing currently on Time Out.
‘We jam like a normal band but just with drum machines and synthesizers, often for hours with the tape recording. I’ll collect ideas and (Alex) Bailey might come up with a bassline, and then I’ll work some stuff from that into another jam that we had three weeks ago, piecing it together… There isn’t really a method to how it happens.’
Matt Law completes the band, who are releasing their second EP, nyc stuff and nyc bags, on the 25th July on R&S. It’s more of a refinement of the sound from Sauna then a development – the production is better, sure, the songwriting more assured, but it’s still suffused in an urban melancholy, in the slightly stifling humidity of a late-night tube train, lights flickering as it jolts. ‘We’re all actually pretty happy people,’ says Rainsbury, ‘but there was a period, from being 17 until 20 or whatever now where it’s just been quite a bleak few years, and these two EPs represent that. We’ve come to an age where everything around seems like it’s against us. Maybe it’s living in London…’
There’s definitely elements of escapism in Vondelpark’s music, from the band name (they’re fond of Amsterdam, having played there several times) through to tracks like last year’s California Analog Dream with its shout-outs to San Diego. That whole EP was, Rainsbury says, pretty much a response to living in Surrey, running out of patience and being let down.
Nyc stuff and nyc bags is an experiment, Rainsbury says, into going as far as possible into sampling without it just sounding like a dance record. ‘I don’t want it to sound like a post-anything record,’ he states. ‘I just want it to sound like a modern-day electronic band.’ Recent weeks have been spent rearranging the tracks for live shows, ahead of Vondelpark’s first high-profile headline show at The Shacklewell Arms on 21st July. ‘These songs weren’t written with the intention of being performed, but recently they’ve fallen into live songs. It’s going to be pretty special for us.’
It’s a pretty low-key launch, perhaps, which will do little to dispel notions of the band’s enigmatic nature. But, stresses Rainsbury, it’s not contrivance so much as reserve: ‘We’re still quite ashamed of being in a band… We love being musicians, but people tend to pigeonhole us, assume that we’re arrogant. I just want to make sure people like the music first.’
It’s round about now that the phone signal starts to give up, voices merging with the static hiss and a background hum of late Friday traffic, wearied but buzzing as it prepares to wind down. Listening back later, this seems appropriate, the end of the recording segueing pretty seamlessly into the first track from their new EP.
Vondelpark: California Analog Dream