Ciaran Breslin caught up with Mark from Enemies to chat about their new single, Japan and meeting the cast of The Wire.
Formed in Kilcoole in County Wicklow in 2007, Enemies represent the more experimental side of emerging Irish talent. Mark tells me a little about how the band got together: “It was basically a solo project that Eoin was doing. He was just doing post-rock music from his own studio, putting the songs up on My Space under the name New Man Eoin. Everyone else was just listening to it, and we were all big into experimental music. That’s how we got the name: New Man Eoin became N-M-E and it just stuck”. Was it always instrumental music that the band were into? “Not really, there was a really good punk scene at the time. We were all playing in local bands around Kilcoole. It was a big leap from punk to post rock and math rock. I guess it was kind of a side project for Eoin and our interest became more experimental. The music developed as we left the punk bands”.
Suitably art-school chic and boasting an infectious brand of psychedelic indie-math rock, their appeal lies somewhat left field of mainstream tastes, with their instrumental sound quite far removed from the stylings of the more familiar success stories of recent years in Ireland. Part of a collection of exciting instrumental bands signed to the Richter label, Enemies are at the forefront of an emerging scene in the country, perhaps echoing the recent success of similar instrumental music in England and further afield. I was interested in the kind of reception they had experienced, particularly in Ireland. Perhaps I was slightly skeptical of the capacity that Irish crowds have for this more eclectic (and frankly interesting) side of homegrown talent. Mark however, is confident and gratified in answering. “We’ve had a really really good reception. Richter have so many great bands and there’s just such a high standard of instrumental bands from Ireland. They’ve really been allowed to flourish and they’re so well received here”.
I ask if they have ever found it harder as an instrumental band? “Occasionally we’d have an odd person who’s like ‘where’s the vocal’, but yeah, it’s never really been a huge turn off. Instrumental music is a longstanding tradition in Ireland.” This is of course true, instrumental music, mainly traditional, is extremely important in the Irish musical tradition. I wonder if they feel in any way part of a uniquely Irish lineage in their music or if they are carrying on any kind of torch. Mark, quite rightly, seems reluctant to align Enemies with those other styles of music. “Personally we’re not trying to hark back to a forgotten age. I guess there is a lineage, with bands like Planxty in the seventies, perhaps, theres room for Enemies at the end there. Maybe we’ll do our own Trad fusion job, team up with The Chieftans!”
No, despite my attempts to thrust the mantle of Irish instrumental heirs on the band it’s clear that Enemies’ sound has a lot more in common with the likes of Hot Chip and later Foals records than Planxty or anyone of that ilk. What are the bands influences then? “Starting out we were actually all going through a big instrumental phase. I think the guys were quite influenced at the time by the likes of Battles. I suppose over the years we’ve started listening to that kind of thing less and less. Our main influences these days are from electronic and indie music. I guess that’s a kind of good thing as we’re taking these influences down and applying them to the instrumental sphere. There’s definitely a bigger electronic influence on the new stuff, more loops, dancier”.
The new stuff Mark mentions is represented chiefly by the single Indian Summer, which Mark tells me will feature on the new album. The single is a fantastic advertisement for the album, all bouncy bass and jangly guitars with a melody that lodges seamlessly in your head. Indian Summer also marks the first use of vocals for the band, albeit a faint choral effect designed to complement the overall sound rather than stand out in contrast from it. The video is equally impressive, seeing the band clad in white jumpsuits playing in a warehouse and getting gradually more caked in layers of paint as the song progresses, with the stark white scene giving way to vibrant paint splattered chaos. I ask Mark about how they recorded the single originally. “It was a non traditional approach where we recorded it bit by bit, part of the first chunk of recordings we did [since We’ve Been Talking, their debut album]. We wanted to show everyone we were still tapping along. I think we were building on a sort of sound emerging slowly in our music.” He mentions the filming process for ‘Indian Summer.’ “Lewis had the idea for a video that would be some sort of big battle. We pitched the idea to Tiny Ark [production company] and they kind of took Indian Summer and looked into this Holy festival in India once a year where they throw this coloured powder at each other. It was definitely one of the most fun experiences as a band!” Does he feel the video represents a different avenue of expression for the single? In the absence of lyrics perhaps? “There’s room to do whatever you want. Its not like, ‘This is a song about a girl so here’s me on a bridge looking really sad’. I guess with instrumental backing music it’s a little bit kind of arty, like with bands like Battles and [Japanese instrumentalists] Lite. There’s a lot of room for expression and doing mad zany things”.
In the two years since their last album, Enemies have returned to tour Japan after an initial two-week tour in 2008 following the release of their debut EP Alpha Waves. Mark is extremely positive about their experiences there. “Japan was fantastic. We went on a tour of our EP but to go back with a full album and build on the kind of fan base that was already there was amazing.” What else have they been up to in the intervening time? “We did some touring around Europe as well which was lovely. Then it kind of quitened down. I finished my degree and decided to focus on writing”. Perhaps the bands most triumphant moment of late however, came around a month ago in a field in Stradbally where they made their Electric Picnic bow. Mark has nothing but good things to say of experience: “Absolutely mind-blowing. We were absolutely chuffed to go. We got a slot for half one on the Saturday, so we were a bit worried about having a crowd. We decided we were just going to do it, go down and have a great time. But then we were shocked to see that once we cracked into the first song a ton of people just kept screaming! Absolutely chuffed.” It’s not hard for Mark to pick his festival highlight. “I guess it shows the kind of incestuous nature of Richter but we loved the bands we knew, the likes of Not Squares, they really blew me away. The likes of The Cure and Sigur Ros too, it was a great experience. On a personal level, meeting the Irish actor Aiden Gillen was a huge thrill for me, just as a little fan boy! He said he really enjoyed our set and well, that’s good enough for me. That was definitely a high!”
Electric Picnic marked the crest of a fantastic summer for Enemies. Indian Summer was released on the 13th of August to critical acclaim and with a new album on the horizon, things look bright for Irelands instrumental math-rock pioneers. The Richter Collective is an excellent resource for nourishing an exciting scene that has quietly built up a following in Ireland. The time is ripe for Enemies, or one of their sister bands, to take Irelands indie-instrumental sound to a much wider audience.