MidPointMusic: great presentation with @topicdesign at the AMA luncheon Friday. enjoyed the folks we met and learned much!
If you’re going to call your house party “RAGE,” you’d better deliver. In May 2008, at a shindig by that bold name, littered with disposable cameras and drenched in beer, the London noise-pop trio Male Bonding played its first gig. Although singer and bassist Kevin Hendrick concedes that a giant trampoline stole the show (“I did trampolining at school. I’m really good at it. Really can get some serious air”), Male Bonding, in a scant two years, has built up some major momentum.
The formula: “Tinnitus. And a hook.” And a speedometer pinned deep in the red.
Male Bonding plays fast. Nothing Hurts, the band’s first full-length, gets it done in half an hour, and most songs clock in at around two minutes. “I don’t like long songs,” says guitarist and singer John Arthur Webb. “I lose interest when listening to them, and I lose interest when writing them. We always end up speeding things up without meaning to. Too much coffee.”
According to Hendrick, one of the band’s key phrases is, “I like it—shall we try it a little faster?” As he taught himself to play, Hendrick spun LPs at 45 RPM. “For hours, I would listen to all these rock songs, and I’d hear the bass line and was always wondering what it would sound like sped up. It appealed to me more. Imagine these stodgy riffs fast and choppy. I loved it. I’d zone in on these lines—they were probably guitar lines, too—and I’d play along to them. The rest of the music and vocals would melt away.”
If you will know their velocity, you will remember their melodies. Every song on Nothing Hurts, whether a clipped, snarling rock anthem (“All Things This Way,” “Crooked Scene,” “Pumpkin”) or something more foggy and contemplative (“Franklin,” “Worse to Come”), carries a hook that’s immediate and permanent.
Indeed, there’s much more to Male Bonding than high-speed, high-impact punk. “We love the slower, hazier stuff as well as the punkish stuff,” says Webb. Hendrick’s favorite bands include “shoegaze” forerunners My Bloody Valentine and Ride, and he loves Teenage Fanclub’s A Catholic Education. “All my favorite pop songs,” Hendrick says, “are ballads. There’s a hippie in me and it’s fighting with the inner punk.”
Emerging from the fertile D.I.Y. rock scene in Dalston, a gentrification-proof London neighborhood with ample “lo-fi” bands and Turkish restaurants, Male Bonding paved its own way, releasing a split 7” with the band Pens, on its own Paradise Vendors imprint, that’s now way, way OOP. (For those playing the home game, Paradise Vendors is still going strong and unique, slanging sweet records, tapes and shirts—like everything else about Male Bonding, the business is stuck on fast-forward. Check it.) When that blew up, Male Bonding toured with Vivian Girls (who are featured on “Worse to Come”) and gigged with Health, Fucked Up, No Age, The Soft Pack, Dum Dum Girls, Smith Westerns, Best Coast, Strange Boys, Metronomy, Crystal Castles, Mika Miko, and other loud-and-proud notables.
Hendrick recalls a particularly transcendental show on Halloween ’08. “It was us, Pens and Graffiti Island. It was zombie-grunge themed. You know, ‘Grunge is dead, etc.’ We were winging it. It was amazing. So much blood and green skin. All three bands were amazing. It was to celebrate a cassette release we all did together. Really felt like the start of something amazing. We’re all mutating in different ways now, but there will always be a connection between us three bands.”
“If everyone at a show is open to whatever unfolds before them,” he adds, “it amps up some kind of mutual force.”
Male Bonding’s fast songs paid off quickly. After the American label Sub Pop ordered some singles from Paradise Vendors, “we joked with them about asking us to do a 7” for their singles club,” Webb recalls. “About a week later, we were drinking Cava and eating crepes whilst signing a contract.” And here we are.
Alongside Nothing Hurts, Male Bonding is contributing to a Flipper tribute, to be released on Domino. Fun fact! For entertainment, John Arthur Webb enjoys listening to Flipper’s Gone Fishing at 45 RPM. “It sounds like Bikini Kill. I think I prefer it.”