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Clockenflap Music Festival

Ahead of Clockenflap show, 65daysofstatic talk No Man’s Sky and their constantly evolving sound

Founding member Joe Shrewsbury discusses the writing process behind the post-rock band’s emotive music, scoring one of this year’s biggest video games and coming to Hong Kong again

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 8:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 1:53pm

The surest thing you can say about post-rock bands is that they hate being described as post-rock bands.

More or less every group described this way rejects the term, which has come to stand for a sort of generic, over-earnest, noodly neo-progressive music. Never have such protestations rung more true, however, than in the case of British band 65daysofstatic, who headline the KEF Stage on November 26 at Clockenflap.

The band, from Sheffield in the UK, produce a particularly emotional and melancholic yet soaring, euphoric, transcendent style of music that can often defy categorisation, with an electronic orientation that has become more prominent over time.

They’ve played once before in Hong Kong, in 2013.

“I remember the show that one time was great, and I remember the drive from the airport to the city was amazing,” says band member Joe Shrewsbury. “I was so tired, though, it felt like a dream – traversing the periphery of a mega-city in the future.”

The band will doubtless be a Clockenflap highlight for many in post-rock-mad Hong Kong, although Shrewsbury adds drily that “I don’t know how many fans we have in Hong Kong. I assume it’s millions.”

At first 65daysofstatic – the name, depending on who you ask, refers to the soundtrack to an imaginary film, a period when the CIA blocked communications systems so it could spread propaganda during the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’etat, or the amount of white noise determined during psychological experiments to be sufficient to render someone insane – started out as a fairly anthemic guitar-driven post-rock band, as seen in their breakthrough single Retreat! Retreat! (2004) and most of their first three albums.

It all adds up for math rockers 65daysofstatic

They took a break after that, coming back with a wider sonic palette on 2010’s We Were Exploding Anyway, with guitars largely becoming synths and the drum kit often replaced by a left-field selection of sampled and synthesised beats, heavily influenced by techno, glitch and experimental electronica. The dance influence was less obvious on 2013’s Wild Light, but the programmed sounds were still out in force.

Shrewsbury says the band’s music changes constantly when they perform it. “These days playing a song live is as much about interpreting the recorded version as trying to accurately portray it. Likewise, we’ve started to realise that recording a song is only about capturing it at a particular moment. The music continues to evolve, always.”

Music as emotive as 65daysofstatic’s tends to inspire a degree of devotion, and the band are known for their astonishingly loyal fanbase, the 65kids.

“It’s amazing,” says Shrewsbury. “No band can exist without someone listening to it. We are endlessly grateful that people show up to see us, buy our records and listen to our music. They are responsible for keeping this strange, slow machine alive. I don’t think there’s pressure musically – it’s a bad idea to try and write music that pre-empts how you think you’re audience wants you to sound. I guess any pressure comes from trying to be the best you can live, and that’s something we take pretty seriously.”

The dreamy, anthemic nature of their sound also makes the band a natural fit for soundtracks. They dipped their toes in the water in 2011 with their alternative soundtrack to the 1972 eco-science fiction classic Silent Running. But they had a wholly more unusual soundtrack-writing experience this year, providing the music for video game No Man’s Sky, parts of it generated procedurally using tiny fragments of their sounds.

While the massively hyped game itself received mixed reviews, the soundtrack has been widely acclaimed and has introduced the band to a wider audience. “Writing No Man’s Sky essentially involved writing a record and then about another album or so’s worth of extra material, in a normal way,” says Shrewsbury.

“The procedural aspect of the game was obviously really important, but we approached it after the music was written. We had to make sure the record was the best it could be, so we didn’t want to compromise it by worrying too much about how it would fit in the game. It was more important that it had the emotion, the gravity, the feelings that we wanted.

Game review: No Man’s Sky is a beautifully crafted piece of infinity, with a game attached

“I’ve only played the game for a little while, but I thought it was great. There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in there about the relationship between creativity, consumerism and hype, because clearly there’s a difference between simply not enjoying the game as opposed to feeling like you’ve been sold something that doesn’t adhere to what you were told it was.

“We wrote the music as a response to the game’s aesthetic, its scope, the idea of the game, rather than what playing the game is like. The attention has been really useful. We need the band to be bigger so we can keep making music together, because at this point our lives are wholly structured around being in 65daysofstatic.”

Get the full line-up for Clockenflap 2016