Bloc Party: “The fact that we did change the line-up meant that we could carry on”


By Oliver Mawhinney

It is testament to the enduring appeal of Bloc Party that upon their return to the mainstream with their fifth album Hymns the aura of excitement that has stalked the band’s career sustains. It is over ten years since debut album Silent Album throttled the post-punk revival scene, heralded as NME’s album of the year and selling over a million copies. Yet, much of Bloc Party’s ilk from the early noughties have departed from the conscious as quick as Shoreditch has become the new Camden and the trilby and Libertines-esque militant jacket became destine for the local Oxfam.

Lead-guitarist and founding member of Bloc Party, Russell Lissack is all too aware of the achievement in still remaining at the forefront of the scene: “the fact that 10-or so years later we’re still doing this is an achievement in its self.

“To look back at 2004/2005 it was a boom period for guitar music in the UK and a lot of artists from that period don’t exist anymore so you could certainly to put that in itself as an achievement.”

I prompt Russell as to whether it is more difficult to be successful in a band today in comparison to the band’s formation following Russel’s encounter with lead-singer Kele Okereke at Reading Festival in 1999: “Definitely, definitely, there’s so much difference.

I’m really excited, we haven’t done a proper UK Tour for about 3 or 4 years

“In UK the popularity of traditional live guitar music has been replaced by pop and electronic music. The whole system of how people listen to and treat music has also changed, people don’t really buy music anymore, some people do still- if you’re Adele or Coldplay you can still operate in the traditional ‘put out an album and a lot of people will buy it method’.

“But for the majority of artists that system doesn’t really exist anymore and you have to find alternative revenues and methods- touring being a much bigger part for us now.”

“On the one hand you’ve got a lot more opportunities to get noticed and upload your music which is great but on the flip side how do you stand out against countless other people also doing that?

“I don’t know, if I was a sixteen-year-old now trying to get my new band noticed I wouldn’t know where to begin. It seems a lot more difficult, we kind of botched it, we were part of the last period of that way of doing things through gigging in pubs, sending demos to record labels and that culture.”

“Maybe that’s why electronic music and pop music are a lot more prevalent because the system is very different for them.”

However Bloc Party haven’t been without their own difficulties, a hiatus following third album Intimacy saw the four-piece switching attention to side-projects and rumours surfaced suggesting Okereke had departed the band to focus on solo-projects. Reports of difference have long circulated across the media, perhaps it was therefore unsurprising that bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong departed the band in the 2013. In a characteristic manner, Bloc Party have remained muted regarding the bands split with Okereke only suggesting cocaine was a contributory factor.

Yet with the subsequent arrival of bassist Justin Harris and drummer Louise Bartle, Bloc Party appear rejuvenated ready for a new stage in their life, Russel considers: “I think strangely the departures actually meant that we weren’t going to disband, I think if we tried to carry on as the four of us then the way the dynamics had become between us it wouldn’t of worked and we wouldn’t have made another record or played any more shows.

“The fact that we did change the line-up meant that we could carry on and put out a new album, we’re already working on new music and about to go on tour again.”

The band are currently preparing to play the headline slot on the seminal NME-Awards tour alongside Drenge, Ratboy and Bugzy Malone during January and February, the first opportunity to see Bloc Party in the UK for many years:

“I’m really excited, we haven’t done a proper UK Tour for about 3 or 4 years. We’ve got a really cool bill alongside us, it’s a really eclectic mix that’s been put together beside us.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them because there’s a lot of different styles put together, it will be interesting to see how the audience react to the gigs so it should be really fun.”

The tour coincides with the release of Bloc Party’s fifth album on the 29 January, an album many never expected to hear prompting a stream of excitement and curiosity of what Hymns will offer.

Although giving little away Russel asserts: “This record is very different, certainly from our last record. I think that was a conscious decision on our part to try and do something completely different but I think that’s always been the case with us.

It’s all part of the Bloc Party journey and wanting to challenge ourselves and do something that is different and exciting

’Four was a decision to do something completely different to Intimacy which was quite an electronic album whereas Four became quite a loud-brash guitar record. In that sense it’s all part of the Bloc Party journey and wanting to challenge ourselves and do something that is different and exciting.”

After the turbulence of the past few years, Bloc Party appear in a very positive place, Russel reflects: “We’re finding it really enjoyable, everyone’s getting along really well which is nice, we’ve just started touring and playing live shows and they’ve being going really well. People have been commenting that everyone seems to be really physically enjoying themselves on stage.”

2016 is looking like one of the most exciting years in a long time for Bloc Party, looking at their freshest in years, major festival headline slots inevitably await this summer.

Unlike many of their contemporaries Bloc Party are not petering down just yet…

Photograph: Bloc Party

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