Nottingham is renowned for Robin Hood, Citadel Miniatures and bicycle manufacture. But away from model Orcs and Raleigh Choppers, there’s a tradition of bands with an assured sense of who they are and what they want to be. Cutting edge artists like Tindersticks, Indiana, Saint Raymond, Sleaford Mods and Su Pollard have all demonstrated there’s more to this Midlands city than England’s largest publicly owned bus network. “There’s not necessarily a scene coming out of Nottingham,” Kagoule’s Cai Burns tells me. “Every band happening at the moment is in a different genre to each other. It’s a big family here, and everyone wants to help each other in any way they can.”
With Burns on vocals and guitar, Lucy Hatter on bass/vocals and Lawrence English on drums, Kagoule have a different outlook on dynamic alternative rock. Starting out whilst still at school, they went about things their own way. Playing gigs in any venue that would put them on, they also put out a self-produced EP via Bandcamp. Their popularity wasn’t down to people simply taking notice; it was that they were unable to ignore the trio. After playing nearly every Nottingham venue, support slot offers came in from bands like The Wytches, Drenge and Temples. Last summer rewarded them with a well-received set on Glastonbury Festival’s BBC Introducing stage. Now they’ve been opening for The Who, Johnny Marr and Sebadoh.
After their first few shows, Kagoule were being compared sonically to the Smashing Pumpkins in some rave reviews. If you’d never spoken to the band, you’d be forgiven for thinking the three spent their formative years listening to long-faded indie gods. But Burns isn’t keen on the whole 90s revival, saying most of the similarities are coincidental. “I was probably about 14 before I even first listened to Nirvana!” There’s something startlingly contemporary about Kagoule. Over-processed vocals, chiming riffs and shifting dynamics make them a mesmerising and occasionally strange listen. It’s the sound of a band with the courage to create what they wanted. “I’m from a really non-musical family. So I only found out about music through NME Magazine and being online. It was all new music, stuff like Bloc Party and The Maccabees…” It was these bands which sparked Burns’ love of sharp guitar riffs and otherworldly choruses.
Their record company is the legendary Earache Records, not exactly a predictable home for alt-rock. Sharing a stable with acts like Decapitated, Extreme Noise Terror and Lawnmower Deth certainly creates a common line of questioning from journalists. “It’s a funny match. But that’s the beauty of it. They wanted to try something new. We didn’t want to sign to a major… or something too small.” A visit to the Earache website sees Kagoule sit uniquely amongst a crowded sea of spikey gothic logos and pseudo-satanic imagery. Admittedly there’s more to a label than its talent. Based in Nottingham, Earache also run an office in New York, have plenty of incredible connections and know a lot about the challenging global market. “Earache let us do what we want. We have creative control and get to decide what we sound like.” This freedom to experiment and create their sound is one of Kagoule’s strengths. Rather than falling with the herd, you feel this band could achieve everything they want.
Mostly captured in a remote studio in Wales last year, then finished in Sheffield, their debut album ‘Urth’ was unleashed in August. It perfectly portrays the angst and uncertainty of growing up, yet it was recorded by a band mature beyond their years. Taking title and inspiration from Gene Wolfe’s ‘The Urth of the New Sun’, the album lyrically echoes many themes explored by the science fiction writer. It’s rich with overdriven guitar tones, interwoven counterpoints and an ever-present rumbling bass. Although adored by critics and increasingly winning fans, Burns is casual about his expectations of its impact. “I’d never released a record before, so I didn’t know what to think. I can’t wait to do the next one though!” Three are undeniably shades of The Breeders or Fugazi in their output, if only in the way songs entice and evolve. From the blisteringly intense to the glistening and beautiful, at times the tension can be almost overwhelming. It’s an album which will keep you on edge and listening repeatedly.
Their gigs are equally vibrant, unleashing a clattering wall of sound, where fuzzed up guitars and blissed-out melodies collide. Life on the road is becoming a place where the band thrives. “Going to New York and doing a European tour was living the dream. I felt really at home on tour.” Already no strangers to Brighton, Kagoule are soon bringing this compelling and visceral live show to the city’s inaugural Mutations festival. The spiritual child of last year’s acclaimed DRILL:Brighton, Mutations is a forward thinking, multi-venue event. This creative mass of genre hybrids and expression will be bringing some of the most inspiring, creative and interesting music to Brighton on Sat 28 – Sun 29 Nov. With highlights including noise pioneers Lightning Bolt, experimental house producer John Talabot, Texan singer-songwriter Josh T. Pearson and breakthrough electronica act Tourist, the event is a perfect platform for Kagoule. Previous visits have already revealed a thriving scene of similar minded people. “Our manager lives in Brighton, so we use that as an excuse to go down. It’s always loads of fun.”
The realities of independent freedom against commercial whoredom are starting to sink in though. Burns resignedly admits early gigs were more lucrative than some of their current shows. “I wish I was in a Pink Floyd cover band, as it would be paying me so much more.” There is sound reasoning behind not accepting the quick and easy corporate dollar. The intent is building a solid base for the band, one which captures fans for life rather than creating ‘foundations built on straw’ as he calls it. Success is coming, but there’s no rush to become the next big thing. Integrity is everything evidentially, but he’s calm about the future. “We’re not gigging enough so I can just leave my job. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m not going to stop the band.”
Kagoule play Brighton’s Mutations Festival on Sun 29 Nov
Their debut album ‘Urth’ is available now, via Earache Records.