Manflu: a one-band prog-punk party getting out of hand?
They're brilliantly weird, enticingly other. Their songs are impeccable demonstrations of noise and control. And their lyrics don't make a scrap of sense. Well, not in this universe.
Manflu are one of the best - and, sometimes, the most frightening - live bands in London right now. But nobody quite knows what to make of Manflu. So what do Manflu make of themselves? Two-fifths of the band drop a few clues...
Maybe we should start by introducing the band...who's who, who does what...
Pip: Aza sings, Dudu plays bass, Pip plays guitar, Saki plays synth and Will plays drums.
I was reading that everyone in Manflu is from a different country: Kazakhstan, France, Japan, the UK and America.
I have a theory that this makes Manflu very much a London band - the first thing you learn about London is that everyone is from everywhere else. Do you feel like a London band? Do you think Manflu could have got together anywhere else - New York, Berlin, perhaps?
Pip: I grew up in London and from what I know from experience of friends, not only from other parts of the country but other parts of the world, they don't have the same level of migration from other countries that London has. It's what makes London so great.
As a result I think that's the biggest reason as to why we sound the way we do. We've grown up with totally different backgrounds culturally from each other, yet we all gravitated here and are playing music together. I really don't think it's possible to get a band together like us easily anywhere else.
Do you think Manflu would make different music if the band had got together in another city - does the 'London factor' play a part in making Manflu the band it is?
Pip: I guess maybe it does subliminally? I don't think there is a particular London scene or sound or anything like that.
Certainly the last 10 years has destroyed any sense of regionalism about music due to the internet. You get quite challenging bands existing in relatively small and remote parts of the country now. I really don't think that would have existed if it wasn't for the internet. I'd like to think if all of us had met elsewhere and started a band we would be making similar music, but it's impossible to really say for sure.
|'Cheval Surf' by Manflu. Directed by Anastasia Ivanova, edited by Norman Wieder. A pleasant afternoon, chez Manflu...
Nobody seems to be able to describe Manflu's music with a neat generic term. I've Googled up all the reviews I can find (incuding ones I've written myself) and just about everything gets thrown around - no wave, new wave, post punk, rock, even blues. The Beat even called Manflu rampant sexual deviants of the no wave movement.
Is there an advantage in being a band nobody can categorise? Or does it make things difficult, in a music biz that always wants a quick, simple description?
Will: You and the others are journalists. We’re guessing that labeling things is a modern journalistic responsibility.
We do appreciate that folks are having a bit of struggle describing the music. We’re all for leaving it up to the observer to define it. Is there an advantage? Yeah, It’s one of the things that keep us moving.
Are you rampant sexual deviants of the no wave movement?
I think we'd better clear that point up, at least. I'm sure the no wave movement would want to know!
Pip: We're robbing the grave of no wave. Yeah, we got a song called James Chance, we played with Lydia Lunch, it's definitely one genre we like a lot.
The No Wave movement began and ended in nanoseconds. We’ve got proof of this as Will was there.
How do you make Manflu music? Does the band have songwriters in the traditional sense, who set everything out in detail beforehand, and then bring the new stuff to the rehearsal room and then it's just a case of "Right, guys, play THIS!" Or do the band get together and kick stuff around until it takes on the shape of a song?
Will: The norm has been we like to improvise a lot, 300-plus hours worth so far, and they are all recorded. A lot of the songs came from the Improvs. Oh, and Pip and Dudu occasionally show up with tasty riffs.
Do you rehearse everything up to the hilt, so any time a gig comes up you can just pull the full show out of a hat? Or do you wing it a bit?
Pip: We see how we feel, we might rehearse a rough set but we change stuff last minute if we decide we really want to do something else, so both I guess!
Are there any other bands out on the gig circuit right now who you think are kindred spirits, on the same kind of wavelength as Manflu? Or do you feel like the odd ones out?
Pip: The latter, ha! This is not to say there isn't good band around in London because there are and I guess we're not too far away from them musically. For example Dogfeet, Giant Burger, Vuvuvultures, Psychic Pussies and Thumpermonkey are all great but all pretty different from each other and indeed us, but I think we combine that that prog technicality with that punk/no wave attitude, whereas most bands will veer heavily one way or the other.
Manflu's 'Wizard'. Video drected by Diana Aroutiounova.
There's nothing like a quiet day out on the picturesque canals of olde England. And this is nothing like a quiet day out on the picturesque canals of olde England.
The gig at the Lexington with Mike Watt and Dogfeet seemed to me to be a night where all three bands had something in common - not necessarily musically, but it seemed like there was a shared attitude in the room that night.
Was that a good gig for you? Did it all seem to fit together, kindred spirits pulling in the same direction and all that?
Pip: It was probably one of our favorite gigs to date. Will and Mike Watt go back nearly thirty years as friends. Watt was planning this particular tour and he told Will he had an open date on that tour and would we see about a gig in London with us and his band.
We chose the Lexington because we feel comfortable there and they have a great P.A. We asked Dogfeet to play as we think that they are one of the most unique bands we know so we think we were quite successful in our choice for the bands and it all seemed to fit together perfectly.
On the other hand, have you played any gigs where the opposite happened - the bands in their own worlds, the audience standing around wearing baffled expressions? How do you handle a gig like that - when the audience clearly doesn't 'get' you? Is it an ordeal to get through it, or can you just tune them out and do the gig for yourselves?
Pip: Oh, lots, we've had people start to leave 20 seconds into the set!
But then we know not everyone is gonna like us, so it doesn't bother us. We've been booked with really MOR indie stuff before, and it's basically us having not done our homework on who the promoter is and what they like.
It's frustrating because you quickly realise you're booked just because they know you'll bring people rather than the promoter really liking your stuff. That is far more annoying than someone who has never heard of us walking out or not getting it. People are entitled to their opinion.
Manflu seem to be totally DIY at the moment. Is that a viable way to run a band these days? How far is it possible to get without getting into bed with at least some part of the music biz? Do you ultimately want to sign a big record deal in the traditional manner, or are there other ways to do it now?
Pip: It's good, artistic integrity and all that! I've seen friends band's sign to major labels and seen how they've effectively ruined the love and enjoyment they had for being in a band.
I don't think
we'll ever sign a big record deal, I think for a band like us we don't see it as a career, we simply see it as a means of expressing ourselves and pushing ourselves with everything we do and that is how everyone who plays music should see it.
There is such a pressure for bands to write albums full of hits from labels which must be awful in many ways for some of these bands, they can never truly do what they want. You know I don't blame labels, they're just trying to make money based on the public's previous music buying habits but things are changing now, a major label signed a band like Death Grips which is fucking insane, but again the way that situation panned out [after a dispute with their label, Epic, Death Grips deliberately leaked therir entire second album] shows why a creative band like that can't exist on a major.
Manflu's videos are almost becoming cult art in themselves. Do you see the videos as just promotional tools for the band, or is there more to them than that? As with the songs, are the videos tightly scripted and prepared beforehand, or do you just get in front of the camera and muck about?
Pip: We have a pretty strong idea before we make the video and it's good to add another sensory layer to the song, sometimes it's something that will be a more literal interpretation of the song.
At other times it's good to juxtapose against that to purposely be quite jarring. A lot of thought goes into them, yeah!
And finally....the traditional "what next?" question. What's the next item on the agenda for the band? What does Manflu's future look like?
Pip: We're gonna record the album in a matter of weeks, finally. We didn't want to record an album for the longest time but now it feels right, these songs feel like they fit together so we want to document that. We'll hopefully have a single out in a few months though, and of course more gigs no doubt!
|Manflu play 'Tek' live at Flying Dropkicks, filmed and edited by Norman Weider. This is an accurate documentary record of what a Manflu gig is like.|
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