Hello and welcome to DIY’s introducing feature, Get To Know… which aims to get you a little bit closer to the buzziest acts that have been catching our eye as of late, and working out what makes them tick.
Ahead of the release of their debut album this Friday, we caught up with Brighton via Malta art-rock outfit ĠENN. Having honed a cult reputation for their hypnotic live shows, on ‘unum’ the quartet are widening their cinematic scope, leaning into inspirations as varied as traditional jazz, psych-rock, Maltese folk music, and post-punk. Informed by notions of identity, belonging, and the intrinsic connection they share, the album is as a tangible representation of all that ĠENN are so far. Here, we chat to the band’s guitarist Janelle Borg and drummer Sofia Rosa Cooper about the road to birthing their debut.
What's your earliest musical memory?
Janelle: There are several, as I come from a very musical family. My dad plays the euphonium and trombone in traditional Maltese bands (they're called "banda") for various religious feasts around the islands. Going to these local "festas" was a family affair, as my mum used to take my sister and I with her to see my dad and my uncles perform.
Sofia: I come from a family of musicians, so some of my earliest memories involved living room jams and my dad having a full drum kit in his bedroom. Whenever instruments weren’t being played, music would be coming out of speakers instead. It was everywhere all the time growing up!
How do your Maltese, Jamaican and Portuguese heritages inform your work, both musically and in a broader sense?
Sofia: I think just generally having more connection to other cultures and influence have helped shape me and my sound. It's always nice to feel inspired by and pay homage to where you come from. I’d say that particularly the Jamaican-British side of my family consists of either huge music lovers, or musicians, with interest spanning across the whole world too. Almost everything I’ve come to learn is rooted there, so that’s really important to me.
Janelle: Where you're from has an indisputable effect on your worldview. I think, for Leona, Leanne and I, being from Malta has had a significant impact on us, especially when coupled with finding our feet as immigrants here in the UK. Malta is a tiny archipelago and a cultural melting pot of East meets West, North meets South. As you can imagine, there are tonnes of influences from different cultures and this only hits you when you're away from it all.
Musically, I've always had a fascination with Maltese folk music, and we tried to bring a little bit of that in "Calypso", which tells the Maltese and Ancient Greek mythological tale of the siren Calypso. In a broader sense, the Maltese hustle mentality and the fact that we're cultural chameleons are traits that have helped me and the band keep going despite all the odds. If we didn't have that, I think we'd have called it a day long ago!
What are your worst musical habits?
Janelle: Having the urge to increase the amp's volume post soundcheck. As you can imagine, this doesn't go down well with the others and the sound engineer, so I'm trying to rein it in.
Sofia: Like many of us, I’m a perfectionist to my own detriment. I often imagine the best version of something in my head, and if I can’t physicalise it, I have a hard time letting go! That’s something that I honestly want to be better at going forward.
Your forthcoming debut album is called 'unum', which means oneness, or unity, in Latin. Why did you feel this was the best way to summarise the record?
Sofia: We knew there were certain limitations when we were writing and recording our previous EP 'Liminal'. It very much felt like the start of something that needed room to elevate and go somewhere else. With 'unum', it was really important for us to achieve that togetherness and wholeness and bring all of those ideas into fruition. It just feels like more of a cohesive and complete project. We also wanted it to give us the launchpad to go onto hopefully many more records, so it made sense to start with one.
How do you approach combining your different influences into ĠENN's sound?
Janelle: I think we're all super respectful when we're jamming or writing a new song. By now, we're very used to each person's signature style, so honestly, songs just happen. Guess that's what makes this band, our friendship and bond, super special!
If people could take away one thing from your music, what would it be?
Janelle: That feeling that you get at an airport when you know you're about to embark on an adventure.
Finally, we're coming round for dinner - what are you making?
Janelle: Well, I'll go with garlic bread as a starter, followed by something Maltese like "imqarrun" - which is baked pasta - but vegetarian or vegan. And a light cake like lemon drizzle, followed by espresso to top it off!
Sofia: A big hearty curry of some kind, likely with copious amounts of tofu in!
'unum' is out on Friday (6th October) via Liminal Collective.