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“I loved how Kraftwerk made a drum machine that was basically just some contacts and hit it. And everyone emulates that sound but you don’t see anyone with a bit of tin foil and a coat hanger going ‘thunk’.” Ben, one of the three that make up London trio Eaux, is thinking about where the band’s music comes from. They’ve just one release to their name so far, the Luther/No More Power 7”, the first release on promising London label Morning Ritual, but already what they promise is powerful. Both songs on the 7” bristle with a loose and subtle insistence. Singer Sian’s voice is engaging, more forthright than her work for Sian Alice Group, and both songs beat raw and direct yet delicately.
“Our thinking is no boundaries. We want to see what comes naturally with the toys we have to play with in a space.” Sian, Eaux
In concrete terms, Eaux came out of the band Sian Alice Group, whose 2008 album ‘59.59’ carried an intriguing and wraithlike slant on post-rock and wistful electronics. That band seemed to naturally fold due to some differences in how they wanted to progress, and three of its members – Sian, Ben and Stephen – became Eaux. We talk during summer’s first heatwave in a park near their studio in East London just off Mare Street. The Throbbing Gristle legacy the area holds isn’t lost on the band (their recording space is virtually around the corner from where Chris and Cosey infamously recorded in the 80s), and it’s easy to draw parallels between that band’s visceral electronics and what Eaux do: “There’s definitely thinking about Chris & Cosey’s first few records and how they did it. You should be able to improvise and make different versions and see where it takes you.”
But that influence is not a primary concern. What Eaux do is very much its own beast, with a desire to pull electronic music back to when playing live was the most important thing: “Looking at Detroit techno and trying to take it back into drums, guitars and vocals. Looking to the people who actually put down the sounds on those records.” They bring up Can and other early German music born out of open-minded improvisation as way to explore new sounds and textures.
How the band write and record is in that tradition. “All these songs have come out of very completely democratic, mutual improvisation and it works very naturally. It develops very simply, naturally.” Everything is played and recorded live – “the laptop isn’t part of the writing process” – and that gives the band both a looseness and more direct edge than Sian Alice Group. The ambient rumbles and light, techno, pulsation of on No More Power, for example. Sian states: “Our thinking is no boundaries. We want to see what comes naturally with the toys we have to play with in a space.”
It’s a contradiction in that playing and recording everything live means that they are limited by the equipment they’ve got and what they can all physically play in the moment. But that approach, and the tension created between the band being limited in terms of what they are playing, but not in terms of how they play, seems to be leading them to interesting places. “We’ve limited ourselves but that’s kind of opened things up. It’s all very physical. This is the equipment we’ve got and this is what we’re going to use,” Ben comments on their writing process.
“We’ve limited ourselves but that’s kind of opened things up. It’s all very physical.” Ben, Eaux
This extends into Sian’s singing. Her lyrics retain an ambiguity, born out of instinctual improvisation, and her voice on Luther in particular is bare and forthright. “What I’ve been trying to do recently is in the rehearsal room just freestyle a little bit. But the words end up not being random. I’m just trying not to be too studious about it. I feel like maybe I want to be an instrument and the words will stream out, and as long as they suit the melody I’m not too concerned by having a story.”
Of course, the live arena is important to what they do too. Their very first show was in London supporting New York’s Blondes, an electronic duo similarly informed by the possibilities improvisation holds, and that tension of all their sounds coming out live gave a far more direct performance than anyone armed with only a laptop could hope for. “We’re playing drum machines, electronic instruments. But we’re still really playing them… That element of danger of, like, you could knock that machine off or whatever. There has to be a bit of electricity.” They’ve only played a handful of gigs so far, but seem eager to do more and see how this will further impact on future recordings. “I think there’s something good about songs being almost not finished. They should change and develop. And where we were at say at the Blondes show, if we’d recorded the songs that are coming out now back then they would be different.” How Eaux might change over time is exciting. This is a band open-minded about where things might go, how things might change. But they’ve got the experience and assurance to keep it interesting. As Ben comments, “I think it’s good not to ignore your instincts. It might not all be good but there’s generally something there.”