Telepathe: Girls About Town
Telepathe (pronounced telepathy….hmm, yes, we know. Perhaps they exchanged the y for the e to be more Google-result friendly. Nobody wants their band name coming up with search results for Uri Gellar) are now coming to the end of their sixth year of trying to carve a name for themselves in the music industry. Looking back at their first EP in 2006, ‘Farewell Forest’ it was clear to see why people pricked up their ears and took an interest. Telepathe appeared on the scene as quite experimental and unashamedly noisy. Busy Gangnes and Melissa Livaudis who make up the duo started off as the cool kids in school making a racket in the music room and distressing that stuffy classically trained teacher. Although the following year they created a quite charming EP, ‘Sinister Militia’, which had many feet a-tapping with their edgy style and beat-chant lyrics – the time had come to stop the pussy-footing around and finally lay an album on our breasts. Jump to 2009 and ‘Dance Mother’ was dropped –subsequently dividing public opinion, but generally you either liked it or you loathed it. So three years on from their debut release, why are we still interested? Why are they still relevant? Are we even listening?
Xena Warrior Princess or Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
“Tough but I think we’re gonna go with Buffy…”
Over the last year, Busy and Melissa have been teasingly dropping taster tracks like rain drops during a drought in Sudan. Although coveted, it hasn’t sated any one person’s thirst. So with an expected second release set for (sometime)2013, we can only philosophise over what the album will hold. Telepathe’s music has always been a tad counter-culture but it is a nice surprise to hear, when asked, that their tastes in High School ranged from The Beatles to Dre, but it was when they also added “Stockhausen” to their childhood mixtape that their music began to make a lot more sense. For the undereducated portion of you, Karlheinz Stockhausen was one of the twentieth century’s most prominent heroes of electronic sound – continually experimenting and formulating – if you listen to Telepathe’s first EPs, the spirit of Stockhausen can be noted in the seams of their tracks. 80 brownie points.
Quite like the “indie” obsession that dominated most genre categories at the start of the century, “electro-dance/synth/pop” (oh god, delete as appropriate) has stepped out of its glittery ‘80’s dressing gown and reemerged on the scene as the inspirational drive behind most musicians on today’s scene, and Telepathe have not passed by unaffected. Although renowned as being one of history’s more cheesiest musical eras, many have successfully reworked the genre and pulled it, skilfully, into the twenty-first century. Acts such as Hot Chip has added their own lyrical and rhythmical dexterity to the genre, White Lies has taken the synths and focussed on the drama and epic-ness of the ‘80s sound, and even Calvin Harris has capitalised on the decade’s aptitude for hooks and fotget-me-not melodies. Being applauded and hailed as a dynamic “Brooklyn elctro-pop duo” there was something about their description and their music that didn’t sit well with me, considering that (in retrospect) ‘80s music is pretty laughable and they have been described as thus, how do they sound “throw-back” without sounding like they should be thrown away? What elements of the ‘80s have they taken in order to create a bigger and better sound? So I put my enquiry to the girls: “REVERB ON EVERYTHING! AND AN EVENTIDE H3000” (that last one’s a plug-in effects unit, to you and me).
And there we have it, the reason why Telepathe have had such mixed reception – the reason why tracks like Devils Trident get our imaginations running with anticipation and songs like Trilogy have us shaking out head in disappointment. They come so close to the mark , then throw their balls in a completely different ball court. They’re using the same tools and effects current artists are using – but it is possible they’re just doing it badly. Not that they’re a terrible act, but Telepathe are trying to dress their sound in a genre that doesn’t accommodate it. And consequently, they’re left sounding like ‘Electroclash’: a terrible and (thankfully) short phase during the ‘80s that everyone has promised never to speak of again.
Busy and Melissa have all the right elements and there are even things that have critics waving their Mac Book Pros in joy: filthy synths, spoken word melodies and lyrical rhythms heavily leans towards Hip-Hop, which they describe as “purposeful” – proving, once again, that this outfit is one mixed bag.
Tupac or J Dilla?
“J Dilla changes my life!”
Half of the positive comments for their debut album were directed at their producer, David Sitek, for taking a skeleton, giving it flesh and making it walk. However, there must be more than meets the ear as Nine Inch Nails’ very own Trent Reznor has remixed their latest release, ‘Destroyer’. The girls then revealed, “we were told not to get our hopes up…within a couple of hours he wrote back saying he loved the track and would love to remix ‘Destroyer.’ Afterall, the song is very dark and it’s called ‘Destroyer’ completely driven by synths.” The moody and downbeat quality that their music is invested with could have been the clincher that was tailored to Trent’s own tastes. But it is not just Sitek and Reznor that have faith in the girls, they also have musical associations across the board with other well-known and loved artists. So what is it they all appreciate about Telepathe that we simply can’t see?
Although receiving criticism from fans and publications alike, the girls are often criticized for not actually being able to play any of their instruments well in performance. At times, they have come across nonchalant, uninterested and lazy – and this is after you have stripped away the nonplussed, stealthy, ‘hey, we-so-cool, we-so-Brooklyn’ guise their PR have readily marketed them in (even this interview was lethargically answered). But it’s fantastic to see that these comments are not falling on deaf ears as they retaliate by commenting, “we’ve gotten a fuck load better live and learned to have fun playing live.” So with any luck, the series of tour dates they have just completed up and down the country this winter should be shadowed by gleaming reviews. Because if a music mega-god like Diplo can go on public record by saying: “They are the most intense women I have seen perform”, we can only take him on his word and trust he’s not spieling bullshit.
John F Kennedy Airport (JFK) or La Guardia Airport (LGA)?
Although they gave a big “Hmmmm, don’t know” when questioned about the differences between touring in the U.S. and the U.K., they did not leave the country empty handed. As a souvenir, they will be taking back the discovery of south London’s very own DJ Bok Bok and tangentially, they mentioned, “you are going to scarf at this but Strongbow is on our rider…I know that ain’t right but we love it!” Coming from a country where the only cider available is a mutation of rotten apple juice, the girls have just earned themselves 150 brownie points for at least taking the first steps towards becoming seasoned cider drinkers.
Lesser bands have blossomed and died within a six year period – it is easy to forget that there are two musical powerhouses at work in this group, and successfully, they draw on the same canvas – their creativity working in unison. So concerning the topic of actual telepathy the girls claim they “don’t even have to speak to one another…” So after all the evidence, three years after their last release, audiences are still interested. The critics are still listening. However, we have all been grasping on to the static submarine that is Telepathe, with the intense hope that the propellers will kick in at any second. But, it is only a matter of time that we can no longer hold our breaths and eventually swim to shore, abandoning the band completely. Taking the tracks they have recently uploaded to their Soundcloud as inspiration, one can only pray that the sins of their last release will not discolour the beauty of, what we hope, will be a reworked, re-approached and re imagined second album. Even as I write, Devil’s Trident is playing in the background and even though there are moments of adoration, there is still the residual feeling that it could sound so much better. With genuine goodwill, 2013 could be your year girls. Just make sure it’s a good one.
Interviewed November 2012