We live in a world where everyone knows everything, yesterday. We know everything now and we’ll know everything tomorrow. Sure as hell, we’ll know everything next week as well. But, what happens when something comes along of which we don’t know the intricate details, we haven’t seen it before and we can’t really find much out about it? In fact, all we have is it, and it is accompanied by the enthusiastic declarations of a select band of those ‘in the know’. And what happens when that something is artistically arresting, abstract and enthralling? Well, you get excitement, you get fervour, you get OUTFIT.
So how did it happen? How did the band set the blogosphere ballistic and find themselves in NME’s best 50 bands of 2011 after playing just two shows? Tucked away in a field of wheat on the Wirral coast, just off Heswall beach, Thomas Gorton (keyboard/vocals/samples), Nicholas Hunt (guitar), Christopher Hutchinson (bass), David Berger (percussion/production) and Andrew Hunt (guitar/vocals/keyboard/samples) help shed the light on their ascent as we look to undress the mystery behind Outfit.
“We spent a lot of time thinking about what we wanted it to be and how we wanted to present it before playing any shows,” Andrew tells me, in his soft, relaxed tone. “It didn’t come from nowhere. It’s a life’s work.” But surely there was a deliberate decision made about the way in which the band presented themselves, a veil of mystique which was consciously draped?
Thomas: “It wasn’t a tactic or anything, but there was a real desire not to give people extraneous information about the band that, in a sense, wasn’t interesting. We only wanted to present ourselves to people with what mattered – and that was the conscious decision – rather than deliberately holding things back.”
What mattered then, as is still the case now, was presenting the group’s work in a way that was cohesive and complimentary, their online visual presence providing an additional life and a sub-plot to their music. As Andrew asserts, “We’re all really into the internet, but we prefer to use it in a creative way rather than a constantly commercial way.”
Right from the outset, the band have looked to embrace the positive nodes of interconnectivity, the tools at their disposal, to present their work in an interesting way – much like a painter envisaging the world of opportunities that could be created using his brush, rather than being infatuated with the brush itself. Which is, perhaps, a pit that some bands, namely WU LYF, may have fallen into; a situation where the nodes of image and creation of mystique become more of a focus than the music.
Andrew: “We’ve just made a new website which we definitely see as a vehicle to push our whole aesthetic. Somewhere you can listen to our music, but also where you can get an idea of our visual identity and a sense of how we relate to things like the internet.”
Nicholas: “And that’s not hidden, it’s not held back, it’s not like we don’t want anyone to know anything about us, that’d be a disaster. In a way, it can be a trap; I think WU LYF struggle with their image; eventually you have to play a load of shows, you can’t constantly be the guys in masks.”
If you visit Outfit’s website you will immediately become aware of what they mean. True, you can listen to the music, but the visual allure of the space is clearly constructed to compliment the band’s sonics. It’s hard not to wonder if both aspects are born at once, or whether the visual element is created as a reaction to the music? “Both of them developed in tandem really,” confirms Andrew. “Nicholas and I started to mess around with video and we stumbled upon a style that was kind of our own at pretty much the same time as we’d started getting this band together. I see a relationship between some of the subtle hues of the pictures and imagery we work with, and say Outfit’s keyboard sounds. It’s natural for there to be a relationship, as we’re making it all at the same time.”
Outfit’s debut physical release featuring Two Islands and Vehicles lands this month on transparent 7” vinyl, courtesy of Double Denim. As a label, they provide a perfect option for the group, with previous releases by Christian AIDS, Palmistry and Celestial Shore sitting very comfortably alongside Outfit’s offering. The label’s aesthetic drifts between a milieu of bleeps and twisted pop, a kind of extension and development of the (slightly clumsy) chill-wave moniker. For sure, artists such as Washed Out or Ariel Pink and their mixing of lo-fi guitars and ambient electronics are viable reference points to Outfit, but is that movement something with which the band feel an affinity?
Nicholas: “In terms of the fusion of ambient electronics and guitars, those types of bands certainly are responding to their technological surroundings. We play a lot on themes of isolation and loneliness, and also loneliness through things like media saturation and the internet. The fact that ambience is starting to play into that makes perfect sense. That sound works nicely with things that have a sense of the vague about them. I think a lot of the Double Denim stuff has that to it. It’s a strong aesthetic to the label. I don’t know how well we fit into that but I enjoy a lot of it.”
Throughout their recorded output thus far, and certainly present in their live shows, is an emphasis on the rhythmic. In a similar way to Fools Gold or Wild Beasts, there is a kinetic spine to the band’s work. Do they see this as a central element to what they do?
David: “We all like dance music. Techno. I guess that’s a big influence; music that works purely on rhythm and has an effect on people through that but with little melody. We all enjoy that kind of thing.”
Tom: “Techno, even with no lyrics or emotional signifiers, can still be lonely and alienating. That driving rhythm is something that we certainly are influenced by.”
And in that you can again see the relationship between all the elements of Outfit: the lonely disorientation of the filmic, fused with the driving, spacious, yet ambient nature of the musical. On the Two Islands and Vehicles split 7”, the band have managed to condense these elements in their most arresting and accessible way thus far. So, is this indicative of the way the group are moving forward as a band and how their songwriting is developing? Andrew believes so: “I think we hit our stride a few months ago. We’ve written some more tunes and taken things in a slightly different direction. So, yeh, I think those songs are indicative of where we’re heading.”
As well as veering into new areas musically, Outfit are also drifting somewhere else physically. By the time you’re reading this article, the band will have upped sticks and left Liverpool, moving en masse down to the smoke. Cynics may accuse them of chasing the industry, jumping down to London at the drop of a hat as soon as the sniffs have started. But, as the band animatedly confirm, that couldn’t be further from the truth. “Moving to London was something we’d decided to do before even making Outfit,” Nicholas protests. “It’s something we all just want to do as people, the change is important. Liverpool has been great. Going to Useless on a Tuesday night when we were, like, 16 was just the highlight of the week. The bands there were all doing things that were weird and unusual and certainly got me thinking in terms of different ways to make bands and songs and whatever. It’s definitely been an important part of my life.” And with that we escape from our perch in the wheat field, scrape down a river bank and meander back towards an access road across the west Wirral marsh.
Outfit are a band at the forefront of a new wave of critically well received artists from Liverpool, a band completely comfortable with, and indeed embracing, the possibilities of the modern world to provide an overall context and artistic aesthetic to their work. Luckily, they also have the tunes to boot. It will be enthralling to see them develop into an essential band of the indie-avant-garde, a position that I believe they are destined to achieve. In a world of knowing everything, perhaps all we need to know is something. Perhaps that something is Outfit.