Interview: Drop Out Venus + Exclusive Download
Hearing that a band has a manifesto isn’t something that is ever going to endear me to them. Aside from the immediately visible grimace and rolling of the eyes various thoughts flicker through my mind. Chances are that you are going to be dealing with sixth form idealism scrawled on whatever scraps of paper that couldn’t be rolled and thrust towards already ravaged nasal passages or crudely fashioned into smokable devices or perhaps even worse the deadpan philosophising pseudo-gravitas of art school students with greater vocabularies than wells of talent. The latter is liable to be presented nicely; they’ll probably be able to explain the choice of typeface if pressed upon, probably drawing on the names of whatever little known European philosopher they plan to quote exclusively from in their dissertations. You can guess at this point that Drop Out Venus have a manifesto. Before meeting them properly for the first time I’m also informed that two thirds of them have recently shaved their heads and that the guitarist has adopted a Bulgarian name. The closest English translation is ‘zig-zagging rabbit’ although the first part is to be taken more as a comment on its internal state than the way it would cross a field.
Meeting them in their house in Deptford I was profoundly grateful not to be subjected to the tired pretension that I had been preparing myself for. I’m quickly assured that I can call guitarist Chris exactly that, and that referring to himself as Zaek Nakrivo was little more than a bit of fun, a “nice way to give simplicity to a side of yourself for certain occasions”. The shaven heads, rather than being some space monkey statement of uniformity, seem more likely to have been the result of access to clippers and free time. At one point a discussion started about the possibilities the shorn locks held and the spinning of yarn to create dolls to be sold as merchandise, perhaps for usage as cat taunting devices.
I get played a mixtape the band have put together, snatches of their material and a cover of a Bulgarian folk song interspersed with conversations surreptitiously recorded by their manager. It makes for something of an odd listen. The inspiration for this aural collage is supposedly J Dilla. The plan is to dub a hundred or so of these and distribute them personally, primarily among friends. It exists almost as a starting point. Chris and Iva have been writing together for a while and previously played under the name Rough Kittens. These songs encapsulate that time, recorded here and there, the drumming a mixture of friends, themselves and the odd bit of help from a drum machine. “Where Drop Out Venus begins is where we feel we have something ready to present.”
They have a growing clarity as to what it is they want to present as DOV, hence the aforementioned manifesto. It’s called the Junk Jazz manifesto and it’s less wanky than it sounds. Well, possibly. The bit I’ve seen is referred to as part 1, but it seems to have been taken down from the band’s website between speaking to them and writing this. Junk Jazz is a phrase that Iva came up with to describe their sound although at one point Chris borrowed it and “tried to start a boy band with a bunch of confused individuals in which they could do Thelonious Monk covers”. The disappearance of the band’s proclamation of intent is most likely down to a desire to fine tune it, they acknowledged that it was a work in progress, a fact clearly displayed by the “part 1” in the version I saw, things being changed and added as they talked them over with friends. Though the band are all big jazz fans they’re referencing it as a concept rather than a sound. “Junk Jazz is more about the idea of junking things, recycling stuff. When I say Jazz I mean bebop, New York in the 1940s kind of jazz where people were just kind of creating this music that was really organic in the way it came about … people were coming together in the city in a way that hadn’t happened before, and in a way the same thing is happening now with the internet whereby people can listen to stuff from all over the world”. This cross pollination of ideas is key to things. Artists they say that embody the spirit of their ideas are people like Beck, Bjork or Tom Waits; artists that get tagged with the lazy but accurate term “genre-defying”.
While these artists are all still highly creative not a lot of hope is held by DOV for newer acts. tUnE-yArDs is the most modern musician who draws a favourable mention during my time with them. Conversely Lana Del Rey is picked upon a few times, not in a band wagon jumping way, I get the feeling that they’d dislike her even if the press weren’t mid backlash, but I guess because her bus covering omnipresence make her an example at the forefront of their minds. Slightly more surprisingly Grimes comes in for a similar level of dismissal. What it mainly boils down to is those ideas often bemoaned for their lack of truth and authenticity. These are things seemingly held particularly dear to Iva. When I first meet her she is subdued and withdrawn, sat with her knees drawn up on her chair, speaking quietly and occasionally picking up nearby guitars to fiddle with. Once she gets going though she speaks with a fervoured intensity that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the band live. She does admit that she sounds at times to be suffering from quintessential teenage angst but denies that it is that simple. She does this with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer badge pinned to her jumper, but I’m not sure she remembers it’s there as she says it. She holds her “generation” with some serious contempt and seems willing to dismiss them almost outright. “I don’t really feel that there is a lot of truth being said by young people, by young musicians, by young creative people in any field, the way they express themselves is much more to do with a projection of something than with saying something that they really mean, that really matters. Something that in a different universe, in a different reality could be a life or death matter.”
DOV don’t have a lot of time for music as a form of distraction. Not in a pious way, they see the appeal but also feel the potential for it to convey more. With pop music “its purpose is to entertain and to be a thing to dance to and move your body to. Its purpose is not to really shake your fucking soul. There’s a difference, nobody’s going to give a shit about it in a hundred years time for the simple reason that it’s very derivative and it’s not saying anything about anything, it just exists as entertainment. Its purpose is to entertain, it’s not to stick with you through your entire life and for you to pass it on to your children and for them to pass it on to their children.” A fact that is brought up more than once is that Q Magazine readers apparently once voted the song ‘Live Forever’ by Oasis to be the greatest song of all time. Its simplistic message of willful ignorance is something that frustrates the band. Its refusal to acknowledge the pain in the world.
This is something that seems to be a mortal sin, the ignoring of pain. Artists used as example that didn’t are Elliott Smith and Kurt Cobain, it’s hard to not cry teenage angst at this point but the look in Iva’s eyes when she talks about it suggests that it might not be a good idea. She sees her generation as too surrounded by comfort, too willing to be distracted by hype and gloss. She doesn’t think people are willing to suffer for their art anymore, to live through the experiences that can add depth to their work and fears that because of it she won’t see someone with the authenticity she looks for appearing from her peer group. She does make sure to clarify that she is not claiming to be deeply unhappy herself, it’s not a My Chemical Romance fan type cry for attention. It’s more a belief that greater truth is seen when the darker parts of life are acknowledged. “It’s about how you deal with that pain, not ignoring it. Most people’s advice in terms of music is ignore the pain, if you just acknowledge the pain, it becomes, and then what? You can move on.” You are given the ability to do something with your life. It’s an almost Dead Poets-esque message that the band are driving at.
Whether our generation are as lacking as DOV worry is yet to be seen and is probably not something I agree with but I am interested to see how they continue to express their opinions of the world. They’re as yet unsigned but seem keen to do releases on their own terms. There are apparently several hundred songs that they have that could be recorded, it’s just a matter of getting into a studio. They don’t really seem to have a plan and have yet to really give thought to things like art work. There is no careerist ambition, instead a simple desire to create art that they feel they can hold up as true. That is as authentic as the artists whose work they revere.
Listen to Drop Out Venus – Tapes exclusively here: