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Belleruche turn genres and obstacles into rhythm and melody
words Sven Carlsson / images Press
Belleruche have been making catchy but left field music out from London for a few years now. Beatnik caught up with the British trio ahead of the release of their new album, 270 Stories.
Belleruche epitomize independent music in a few ways. It’s not just that the trio’s music flirts with obscure, analogue samples, or that the distribution of their first record consisted of countless visits to record shops in London. They’ve also paid a fair price for the creative control they enjoy.
“With [our second album] The Express, we lost our distribution company three weeks after we released it, so we were all heartbroken,” the group’s lead vocalist Kathrin de Boer explains from the UK. “We were on the electronic charts in four countries, and then a few days later, you couldn’t even get a hold of our album. So it was a bit tough.”
Two years later, we are now expecting the release of their third full-length 270 Stories, out 11 October via Tru Thoughts. We do so much thanks to the group’s resilience (“You just carry on. Cut your losses and carry on. There are greater tragedies in the world,” Kathrin says). There was no salt in the wounds, no internal conflicts, or stifled creativity as a result of the debacle. Belleruche just got on with it.
The tightly knit formation seems to draw strength from each other. When distribution fails, they make new music, and when summer gigs keep them from resting, they turn their Friday nights into Sundays — even when they’re interrupted by a journalist operating in the wrong time zone.
“Haha, actually it’s Sunday,” Kathrin says when I call her up at 9.30pm in the UK. “We call this Sunday evening. We’ve made Friday Sunday, just because we haven’t had a Sunday for quite some time. We’re making a nice curry.”
But if their culinary chemistry in any way resembles their music making, I’d vouch for that curry being tasty. Drawing on their experiences in jazz, hip-hop, heavy metal and opera, among other musical fields, Belleruche come together to make a coherent, collaborative whole for each release. Given their range of reference points, the inescapable categorization is tricky, and for good reason. The common ground of blues that Kathryn cites makes sense, and so does ‘turntable soul,’ which is Belleruche’s preferred description.
It’s also fair to say that there is a welcome appreciation—call it geekiness—for noises of sorts. The trio’s mixing of samples with turntables and whatever instruments are available has always created an intimate soundscape, despite lagging behind in the latest equipment fads.
“Initially… We didn’t have very much kit at all, we had more memory on our telephones that in our computer. We’ve finally figured out how to use all this stuff, haha. It’s a learning process. Rather than recording with blankets around us in the spare room, we now have a vocal booth. It’s just a general progression.”
Belleruche have taken some babysteps from rags to riches in terms of gear, but 270 Stories, while exhibiting a welcome evolution in sound towards something a little more electronic, still retains the group’s overall recipe. The lovely ‘Ginger Wine’ is one to watch for, and final track ‘Churro’ goes a little Skunk Anansie with the vocals. In a good way. As before, the effects on the vocal tracks remain sparse; this is about several instruments, and Kathrin’s voice is one of them.
“We’ve played around with [vocal] effects in the studio, but only really as a joke,” Kathrin says.
“We try to make music that’s fairly raw and if the song, the melody or the lyrics don’t carry something and don’t make the listener feel something, then an effect on the vocals I think are the last thing that is going to do that. With the new album there’s some manual effects on the vocals that we use live, too, and we’re using a loop pedal.
“Some people like to stay lo-fi, some people say that we should have ‘made the vocals sound so much better’. We’re music people, we don’t like to compress the soundwaves to maximize their effects in people’s stereos… we’re not trying to do that, we’re just trying to make music. We’d like the live gig to resemble the sound on the CD as much as possible.”
The neck-breaking single ‘Clockwatching’ arrived this spring, and when we speak with Kathrin, that song is the current favourite off the new album.
“‘Clockwatching’ was written for a friend who was going through a bit of a tough time. This person is someone who has always been very strong and it was an encouraging song for him to get back to his senses. Melodically, we used a kind of doo-wop sound with backing vocals for the first time. Usually, we’ve been pretty sparse and raw, and we’ve not used vocal harmonies very often. This album has a bit more of that.”
While melodies are everywhere in Belleruche’s music, there is also a clear tendency for Kathrin to go tit-for-tat rhythmically with the tracks that DJ Modest and Ricky Fabolous provide. It may not be emceeing, at least not in the conventional sense, but that’s not to say that the songs don’t draw upon the oral rhythm of the genre.
“Absolutely. The beats and the breaks underpin what I do. With the sparsity of a lot of our music, it’s DJ Modest on turntables and Ricky on guitar. There’s a lot of space between those two, sonically and rhythmically. A lot of the time I try to think of ways of hooking into both of them. Since there is so much space, I need to fill in quite a lot and form it into a song, basically.”
Have you ever wanted to emcee?
[Laughs]. It’s a funny thing. There’s a track on our EP from March (‘Gold Rush’) where there’s a bit of a stab at it. But I’m not trying to to be an emcee, haha. I wanted these bonus tracks to 207 Stories to be a fast, more syncopated thing. I’m getting into it, but I’m a bit coy and shy about it.
Album: 270 Stories, 11 October
Single: ‘Clockwatching,’ stream video above
Buy 270 Stories