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Volume Still Up, Windows Still Down: 65daysofstatic on The Fall of Math's tenth anniversary

Volume Still Up, Windows Still Down: 65daysofstatic on The Fall of Math's tenth anniversary

17 March 2014, 14:00

“The explosion that destroyed our city, razed our homes, and transformed our fields into wasteland was nothing, compared to what was now happening to those that survived.”

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a record that grabbed me quite as aggressively in the opening moments as The Fall of Math; that ominous voice sample carries with it a sense of foreboding that sees an immediate payoff, as a hellish wall of noise explodes over a scratchy, looped beat. “Another Code Against the Gone“ provided a fitting first taste of 65daysofstatic for a lot of people; a suitably dramatic kickoff for a band with a sharp appetite for unapologetic levels of volume.

“I think we got it from an old B-movie, that sample,” Paul Wolinski, 65’s de facto frontman, recalls. “One that none of us have ever actually seen. I can’t even remember the name of it now; just that it was low-budget, American, and straight-to-video. It musn’t even be popular enough to be around as a torrent now.”

He’s looking back on The Fall of Math as the record’s tenth birthday approaches; a show at London’s Koko later this month will see the band play their debut from start-to-finish for the first time. They’ve added plenty more to their CV over the past decade – an exploration of dance and electronica on We Were Exploding Anyway, their own soundtrack for Silent Running, last year’s thrillingly ambitious Wild Light – but it seems only right to revisit a release that served as an early mission statement, as they successfully married new approaches to both guitars and electronic music.

“Back in the very beginning, when it was just me and Joe (Shrewsbury), it was me doing all the programming and him being the guitarist, the guy with this weird and wonderful array of pedals. We set out to be a live band, because we were both really excited by the possibilities of electronic music and really frustrated by how there was normally nothing more to it than a guy behind a laptop. We wanted to be able to relay it in a more exciting manner, which is probably why the guitars are so prominent on the first album.“

The band’s focus on live performances meant that there was a considerable time lapse between their formation and the origins of their first record; producing a full-length had never been especially high on the list of priorities. “We had maybe a couple of years of being some form of a band before we started writing The Fall of Math. Rob (Jones), the drummer, joined right around then, and that was what made for such a change; before that, what we were writing were less like songs and more just loads of noise with all these programmed beats. The drums gave us this extra, band-like dimension, and we were able to start writing in that manner as a result.”

“We thought we were just going to put another EP out – maybe five or six songs – but when we first met the label, Monotreme, they told us that they thought they could do much more if they had a full record to play with. The writing took a while, but the actual making of the album was done in under a week – the EP’s worth of material in four days, and then another two or three in the studio to finish the rest up.”

A couple of the more solidly electronic cuts from the album – including the aptly-titled “The Last Home Recording” – were effectively bedroom compositions; it seems bizarre for a record with such a keen sense of the cinematic, but Wolinski relates that it was a reflection of the internet‘s burgeoning ubiquity. “We put everything together at 2fly Studios in Sheffield, but we recorded bits and pieces all over the place. The songs came together like collages, almost. We had all these samples; this was around the time that broadband was just getting into your houses, and Napster was still around, and for a band like us, with a sampler, getting access to the internet properly for the first time was mind-blowing. Just spending days hunched around the one computer that actually had a connection, looking for weird stuff you can download and use, and drum and bass loops you can chop up and put into your own music; that was a pretty big part of the making of the record.”

Like so many of their post-rock contemporaries – Mogwai spring to mind, as do Explosions in the Sky – 65 trade primarily in mood. The Fall of Math positively drips with it; from the heart monitor beeps that underscore the slow descent into a maelstrom of guitars on “Install a Beak in the Heart That Clucks Time in Arabic” to the sky-is-falling apocalypticism of “Aren’t We All Running?”, the whole album is drenched in unease. “We were all in our early twenties, at that point, post-uni, where you’re reading books and starting to both understand the world and become scared of it at the same time. I think the title of the record is as good a metaphor as any for that dread; it’s about how quickly lots of things would fall apart, if one major system was to fail. You know, how crazy things would get, and how fast, if numbers stopped working. I’m not sure what the Americanism’s about, though. There should really be an ‘s’ on the end.”

In places, it feels less like a record and more a forty-four minute exercise in inducing disquiet; as abrasive and belligerent as the furious guitars and rough beats can be, the atmosphere that runs through the tracks, and unites them thematically, is far more subtle. “We’ve always had a lot of myths about us as a band,” Wolinski admits, “like where the name came from, and I think the atmosphere of The Fall of Math is something that contributes to that. We didn’t try to make a concept record, but looking back, I can see how it might look like that. It’s a balancing act, really; we’ve always had a bleak outlook on the way the world is going, and that’s obviously rubbed off on this album, but we’ve always been quite determined that you don’t have to come across as miserable as a result of that. It’s not like it’s self-indulgent whining; it’s more like a rush of futile noise against all of that stuff that we don’t like about the world around us. There’s an overall theme, of sorts, but the record’s not supposed to be about one particular thing.”

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65daysofstatic

Wolinski’s hinting, there, at a political side to 65; it’s something that’s often poked its head above water, whether in the form of droll commentary on the Brit Awards or a spectacular show of support for Edward Snowden from the band’s fans at a recent show in Moscow. It’s certainly not an angle that’s absent from their music, but it does beg the question of how wordless music can carry a political slant.

“I do think that’s in there on The Fall of Math; I hope so, anyway. I think it’s an equally difficult thing to get right if you do have a singer; even the best lyricists struggle to be overtly political and not come across as really preachy, or cheesy, or generally just not very good. You’re talking about a very fine line with that stuff, when you’re dealing with politics so explicitly. We see an awful lot going on in the world, and we can’t ignore it, but at the same time, I don’t want to pretend we have the answers to anything. In a way, being instrumental helps with that, because we do want to say something, even if we’re not sure precisely what that is. Instrumental music is probably a better vehicle for that kind of approach, just because I think that sense of hopelessness on The Fall of Math is almost reflective of the fact that, as a society, we don’t seem to have the vocabulary to deal with the big problems.”

The band agreed to the full-album show at Koko – as well as a handful on the continent – with some reluctance; “we insisted on playing a set of new stuff, too, because we didn’t want to feel like we were living off of former glories.” Certain tracks from the record remain staples of the setlist to this day – “Retreat! Retreat!” especially – but a good chunk of the material had been written off as unworkable live, presenting some serious difficulties in the rehearsal room.

“I think we’re just about getting there,” he laughs. “I mean, half of it we’ve always played live, so that’s no problem, but we’d never felt able to represent the other songs in a way that we were satisfied with. It wasn’t that we didn’t like them, but some of them have been really challenging to translate to the stage. “Default This” is all just hand built electronics, done on a computer – there’s nothing live there, whatsoever. I think we’ll always have people assuming we play to backing tracks, because of the kind of band we are, but we really do try and do as much as we can live, and it can be a bit of a nightmare in parts. The title track, too – there’s just so much going on there. So many samples.”

“What I’ve actually found really interesting is that we’re ten years down the line now, and there’s still this sort of dead end with electronics, where you can only get so far before it just has to be somebody standing behind a box, pressing a button. There’s far more boxes available now, and a lot of them have fancy flashing lights on them, but it’s essentially the same process as it was a decade ago.”

One thing that has changed in those intervening years, though, is the resurgence in popularity of vinyl; The Fall of Math, like plenty of alternative records in 2004, was never pressed onto wax, but will be released as an LP by Monotreme to tie in with the anniversary. The band have already expressed doubt as to whether they’ll have any of the one thousand copies left by the time they hit the road, and that’s testament to the fierce loyalty of a fanbase with a well-documented predilection for physical products.

“We’ve got a lot of fans that have stuck with us for a very long time, and I think that’s because we’ve always existed not only outside of the mainstream, but also outside of the accepted alternative scene. We’re just not invited to any of the parties, basically. I think everybody who’s into us has had to put a bit of work in to find us in the first place; I think that loyalty is born out of the fact that they had to take a proactive approach to discovering music, rather than just going after whatever Pitchfork were pointing them towards. All the best bands have always been about more than just the music, I think, and vinyl’s an extension of that idea – the artwork, and the way that there’s a connection to the band in the tangibility of it.”

There’s a beautiful inscription on the back of The Fall of Math’s accompanying booklet: “how shall we leave this dead-dog town? With the volume up and the windows down.” It serves as a gorgeous summation of the 65 approach – a commitment to brutal loudness and openness to experimentation – but whether or not the town in question is their native Sheffield, the vehicle was clearly The Fall of Math itself, with the record’s success allowing the band to carve out a niche for themselves, and earn a living while they’re at it.

“It was such an exciting time,” Wolinski reflects. “We’d already had a little bit of exposure the year before, when we put out a homemade EP (Stumble.Stop.Repeat) and John Peel opened his show with one of the songs from it. That was a time when bands like us could get onto Radio 1, even if only in the evening. When the record came out, we managed to do a couple of small tours; nothing major, but they got us away from Sheffield for a bit. It was just the fact that there were people there, actually coming out to these tiny venues to see us, and that some of them had actually heard us already. I’ll always associate the album with that excitement, and going back to it has sort of brought home how much it opened things up for us. That’s its legacy, I think.”

The Fall of Math is reissued via Monotreme Records on March 24th. 65daysofstatic tour the UK in March, including a special two set show at Koko on 27 March, where the band will play the record in full.

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