There is, in KEG bassist Joel Whitaker’s words, a “mischievousness” in the air at Brighton Komedia tonight. It’s the band’s first hometown show since most of the group moved up the A23 to live in London earlier this year, but the love and camaraderie in the room remains; testament to how much KEG’s presence and development has meant to the Brighton music ecosystem since they began back in 2019.
With a big twelve months ahead of them, it may come as no surprise that the seven-piece have now made the capital their home. Following a 2022 packed with headline tours and show-stealing festival performances, and capped off by the release of their ‘Girders’ EP (their best work to date), 2023 should by rights see the momentum continue apace. If you ask them what happens next, however, a number of things come to mind.
“We’ve got a few months off the road now, so we’re going to hunker down,” says Joel. “Yeah, and get a bit healthier,” frontman Albert Haddenham chips in. “And hopefully look less grey,” adds trombonist Charlie Keen, as the rest collapse into laughter.
The mischievousness around KEG begins with the band themselves - an endlessly affable, evidently game-for-a-laugh bunch who happily deck themselves out in makeshift cloaks and chainmail for today’s Knights of the Round Table-themed photoshoot (a concept suggested by them). Meanwhile, it’s easy to get the sense that a long year on the road might well have been made more gruelling by their, shall we say, full-on embrace of the touring lifestyle. As minds begin to settle now, though, attention will inevitably soon turn towards recording their debut album.
“At the moment we’re just writing as much material as possible,” says Albert. “We’re not sure how long it will take, but we’re writing with an album in mind, for sure. It just seems an exciting thing to look forward to, releasing a big statement thing. At the moment all the songs sound quite cohesive; I’d just like to make a big piece of work that will stand out.”
The music KEG have released on their two EPs to date (’Girders’ and 2021 debut ‘Assembly’) is witty, wiry and withering - the sound of a band deeply immersed in arch, literate post-punk and the outer reaches of experimental pop. Jules Gibbons’ and Frank Lindsay’s guitars squall and grind, but they manage to jive and dance at the same time, while Albert’s lyrics are self-referential, walking a line between genuine expression and surrealism. Their art-for-art’s-sake aesthetic is not about to change, either.
“I respect those artists that just bash out albums, and they do it for the love of the music rather than thinking about how it’s going to land, or whatever,” says the frontman. “I think that’s more important in a lot of ways, doing it for the creation rather than for how you think it’s going to be received. It’s more important, in my eyes, to be like The Fall – just keep going, keep producing stuff, and if it resonates, that’s good.”
“It’s fun to see where the rabbit hole goes sometimes…”
— Albert Haddenham
What might be changing, however, is the band’s overall sound. Still young, and with a voracious appetite for discovering stranger and more diverse styles of music to obsess over, their recent writing stints have been yielding increasingly varied fruits. “We’ve dropped a couple of new ones that we’ve written in the last couple of months into the sets recently and already, going from those into ‘Heyshaw’, it feels like a different band,” says Joel, referring to ‘Assembly’’s lead single.
Currently, their stereo choices range from the sublime to the ridiculous. ‘Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares’ - the 4AD-released collection of Bulgarian female choir recordings - gets a shout out, while other notable mentions go to the Star Wars soundtracks and flatulent cartoon beatmaker Mr. Farts. “It needs to be quite tranquil in the van, sometimes,” is Albert’s roundabout attempt at an explanation for the latter.
“The more we condense our influences into tracks more concisely,” he continues, trying to drag us back into the land of the sensible, “the more we know what we’re good at and where our strengths lie. And also, we know what we’d like to make. It’s becoming a lot clearer.”
Studio experiments for KEG have a tendency to take on a life of their own, especially given their eclectic musical histories (Frank, for example, is a hip hop producer on the side, while Charlie has a background in jazz improvisation). “There was one in the rehearsal room that we were doing a couple of days ago that just sounded like Primus, and we thought maybe we wouldn’t continue with that because it was just too on the nose,” Albert notes, “but it’s fun to see where the rabbit hole goes sometimes.” “There’s a little batch of nuggets that could easily just go on a funk album,” adds Joel. “Yeah, watch out for our swamp rock album when we’re in our forties…” quips Charlie.
Whichever maverick leftfield stylistic impulses the band decide to pursue, the decision will be entirely their own: having self-produced their first two EPs, KEG are set on continuing to do so for the foreseeable future. “We did all of the first EP at home, but I think we’ve kind of decided that that’s how we’d like to work again, just to relieve a little bit of the pressure of the studio,” says Albert.
It’s the sign of a justifiably confident band that they’re comfortable enough to follow their own path so independently. KEG might be cheeky jokesters in some areas, but when it comes down to pursuing the band’s next moves, they’re clearly taking the challenge sufficiently seriously. Six-sevenths of the band now call South-East London home; an area of the city teeming with kindred musical spirits who’d no doubt be queuing up to work with them. But KEG are holding strong that their path is the best: exactly the sort of attitude we’d look for in our knights of the musical realm.
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