Up Close and Personal With Ist Ist
Words & interview by Frankie Lee. Images by Paul W Dixon.
There’s a lot of hype around Ist Ist, the electronic 4 piece from Manchester. Reviews, recommendations, comparisons, people bragging about how many times they have seen them live… Those of us lucky enough to see them return to Rough Trade for their first headline show in Nottingham, were treated to an intense evening of soaring notes, atmospheric electro sounds, driving bass and drums and stronger than ever guitar layers.
Before they took to the stage, I chatted with Adam Houghton (vocals and guitar), Andy Keating (bass) and Mat Peters (keyboards and guitar) about the tour, art, the importance of vinyl and their refusal to compromise, to stay true to themselves.
The band are currently touring the UK promoting your second EP ‘Everything is Different Now’, how has it been going?
Adam: Really well, it’s nice to see the turnout growing. This is the second tour we’ve done and it’s more than quadrupled.
Andy: We consciously decided to play some of the same venues, partly so that we can look at where we were 12 months ago, when we last toured, and you can genuinely mark the difference. Mat joined the band after that tour so he doesn’t know what the audiences were likely but the rest of us do and can see it’s a real step up. People are wearing Ist Ist t shirts in London but telling us it was the first time they’d seen us!’
You seem quite surprised by that – there are a lot of people talking about Ist Ist right now, are you not aware of any of that?’
Andy: No, we’re really not. When you’re on the inside looking out you don’t really take stock of that. You just do your thing and if people like it then that’s great. A guy came up to us before we played a gig recently and said he’d not been this excited about a gig since he saw the Smiths in the 80s, and part of me thinks, “that’s really nice that”, but there’s another bit of me that goes “Really?!”
Adam: ‘We’re not as good as The Smiths, it’s great to hear that though.’
You’re playing your hometown gig tomorrow, have you been concentrating on playing around Manchester?
Andy: Last year we really broke out on our first tour to cover more places, before that we did sporadic gigs, Sheffield, London, but you have got to lay the foundations in your home city, you have to make that your priority.
Adam: We are starting to see people doing multiple venues on the tour too. We’ve even seen a bit of an Ist Ist off; one guy was saying he’d been to 7 gigs and the other said he’d been to 8 – he was listing venues I couldn’t even remember us playing. It’s amazing. When we played a year ago, I remember thinking Rough Trade has a bit of a name for itself, but we’re not really known in Nottingham, there might not be many people come, and then there were people coming up to us that were properly into us, it was lovely. There were real collectors buying lots of our stuff.
Your music and merchandise seem to sell out really quickly?
Andy: We often do limited releases and then once they’re gone, they’re gone. We could have absolutely cashed in on some, but why would we? Collectors want one of a hundred, they don’t want one of a hundred, then you release another hundred. We wouldn’t do that to them.
Adam: I want us to make cult classics, not manufactured, mainstream stuff. We seem to be growing in popularity by turning things down. We get offered big gigs, but we knock ‘em back cos it’s not right for what we’re doing. That’s not us being all punk and going screw the media, screw the mainstream, we do want to be successful, but on our terms.
"It is like a cult following and I prefer that to us being on the next Coca Cola advert."
Andy: It’s a very bitter pill to swallow, but in the long run, that’s why we’ve done this, and that’s why I think we’ve got this really devoted fan base – it is like a cult following and I prefer that to us being on the next Coca Cola advert. We don’t want to put our faces on lunchboxes, we’re just normal people, we’ve got work on Monday.
Is juggling day jobs alongside being in Ist Ist difficult now?
Mat: Me and Joel work in a music shop, that’s how we met, I was in another band and that fell apart. I was talking to Joel about it at work and he said “oh well our band’s thinking of getting a fourth member,” and then he spoke to the other guys.
Adam: We were already going down that route – in the really early stuff I was trying to do synths while singing and playing guitar. Me and Mat are massive synth geeks, that’s how we met, talking in the shop.
Andy: On the Spinning Rooms EP we started adding a lot of electronic elements, but we didn’t have someone to recreate them live. It’s ok to use a backing tracks, but you lose a part of that live element and you’re restricted by it. We play the songs within the structures live, but you are absolutely bound to play at that tempo within those confines every single night.
Mat: The synths I bring are pretty lucid, they’re different every night and that’s why I like doing it, you can tailor what you’re doing to what you’re feeling, the atmosphere, what type of crowd - you can work the room, a bit like a DJ!
Adam: He’s still in his probationary period though!
Andy: The thing is he’s got the Ist Ist tattoo on his arm now, I think he’s probably forced his way past the probationary period with that!
Adam: All you need to get in our band is £30 and no common sense!
We’re in Rough Trade, which is synonymous with vinyl, it seems that’s an important format for you?
Andy: yes, our latest EP is already sold out on red vinyl - all 175 copies have gone! We’ve only got the black vinyl now. I love vinyl, for me that’s what your music has got to be on. Anyone that listens to music on vinyl will know that the best way to listen to music is on vinyl – you can’t get the same depth on other formats. Others have their own benefits, like convenience. Adam: I’m waiting for someone to bring out a record player for cars.
Mat: Driverless cars on the way, you can just sit in the back with your record player then!
Adam: I like the whole ceremony of listening on vinyl – selecting the record, looking at the sleeve, handling it really carefully.
Andy: you commit to it then, you listen to the whole piece. The art of the album is dying I think, but vinyl helps preserve that. Yes you can skip tacks on vinyl, but you don’t.
Mat: you will listen to tracks you don’t like on vinyl, and even if you don’t like them, you accept them as part of the whole, you form some kind of opinion about them.
Andy: You might not like that song, but it might play a part in linking the previous songs with the next ones – it could be the link piece. Adam: If you look at a painting, you don’t just look at that bit in the corner, you look at all of it. The intro on the new EP is the same as the ending of the final track, Undignified, so if you listen to that on a loop,, where Entry starts, it’s where Undignified ends, it sort of creeps in as that one fades out. You wouldn’t get that if you didn’t listen to the record. We barely get any plays of the intro on Spotify, and I get that, people want to get straight into it, but it’s absolutely part of the package in hard formats.
Mat: We love the intro, I wish it was half an hour long! You settle in ready for the rest of the EP, it sets the scene for what’s to come.
Another thing you don’t get with digital music, is the artwork, which seems pretty key to the band, with the geometric symbols?
Adam: Absolutely, when we do a new release we obviously have new artwork but when Andy’s designing the artwork, he’ll do it to fit with everything else, like a transgression – everything will all complement each other – whether it’s for sleeve art, Twitter, Facebook, digital releases, they will have a common theme. We don’t post lots of pictures of ourselves and our normal lives – we concentrate on the art. What I do other than this is what everyone does. Music should be a temporary escape from normal life. We want people to feel something other and get engrossed in it, like people do if they like to drive fast cars, or jump out of airplanes, it’s that same release. That gets lost if you start posting pics of you having a brew!
Andy: We want to have a strong look and that people recognise that’s us when they see our designs. The design has to have an aesthetic that matches that music.
Adam: Everything memorable has a symbol – think of Blair Witch Project – crap film but you remember the stick symbol.
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Andy: ‘We’re playing Kendal Calling, maybe Dot to Dot and we might do a smaller tour towards the end of the year, maybe play some places we’ve not been before. It’s difficult there’s places we’ve not been able to play, and we get a bit of grief from people cos we’re not playing their town, but it’s just not viable, whether it’s cost implications, work, Adam has a young baby… We wanted to play Birmingham but could only get a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, which we can’t do. Maybe when we are bigger or we can get Friday or Saturday, we will.
Plus we’re going to write an album! We’re not setting a release date, cos it’s gotta be the right time. You only get your debut album once, you’ve got to make sure you leave a big enough footprint to make it count.
Mat: Now we’re getting to the end of the tour we’re itching to get writing again. The tour helps us gauge what people like and where we should be heading too.
The band play Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh on March 30th.