THE LUXEMBOURG UNDERGROUND
by Aug Stone
Back in 2009, a zine asked me to write something on the music scene in London. I thought I’d use the opportunity to interview some of my favourite musical personalities at the time. They also happen to still be among my favourites as I write this today in 2011. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I’d done the interviews, the zine went on a somewhat permanent hiatus. Thankfully Cheap & Plastique has offered to put the interviews up on her blog so my efforts from a few years past won’t go to waste. But the story itself starts long before that.
On April 29, 2005 I headed to Come Out 2 Nite at the Purple Turtle in Camden to check out a band I’d heard quite a few people raving about recently. It was an exciting time – in the past week I’d discovered The Long Blondes and The Pipettes, as well as renewed my interest in The Real Tuesday Weld. The name Luxembourg had been coming up frequently lately, usually accompanied by the comment “Is it about a boy or a girl? I honestly can’t tell”, said of their excellent single-that-never-was Close-Cropped (even the “three-day stubble” line didn’t quite clarify the issue). The medium-sized club was full and the atmosphere was eagerly expectant, jovial even. By the third song, the electro-rock stormer, Success Is Never Enough, I had made my way up to the front, completely sold. And by the end of the first chorus of the comical yet heartwrenching (I Need) A Little Bit More (Than You Can Give Me), I had found my new favourite band and one of the best songs of all-time, this even before I knew its title contained two sets of parentheses. I bought their collection of work-to-date, Best Kept Secret, (which they were adamant was NOT their debut album) and the What The Housewives Don’t Tell You and proceeded to go see them live almost once a week until the end of the year. A year that culminated in the release of one of the best statement-of-intent songs I’ve ever heard, Luxembourg Vs. Great Britain. I would tell anyone who would listen they were “the greatest band in the world”, and describe them, rather too simply, as “Suede meets Pulp”. The intelligent lyrics encompassing joy, sadness, and often both at the same time accompanied by a beautiful voice (David Shah) and supercatchy synths (Alex Potterill) a la Pulp with the brilliant guitar work (Rob Britton) and rock solid rhythm section (Jon Bacon, bass & Steve Brummell, drums) of Suede. Or as they put it, “pop noir”. When I moved back to the U.S. for a bit, I urged anyone traveling to London to go see them. One visiting friend even attended the gig at The Metro that Morrissey came to. And there’s The Smiths comparisons as well, though personally I’ve always thought there is more to David’s lyrics than Morrissey’s, and consider him a better singer.
Roll on 2006 and the release of the debut album, Front, which also sees Jon playing his last gigs with the band. Two singles from the album – We Only Stayed Together For The Kids and Sick of DIY– preceded the full-length release in October. Visually, their records always looked great as well. Sick of DIY being one of my favourite ever single sleeves – curtains slightly blown open as faint light falls on a lovely splash of colour in an otherwise grey sitting room; a lot like life really. And let’s not forget the Blue Skies Up: Welcome To The New Pop Revolution compilation from Lux’s own Dogbox record label featuring the majestic pop of their Not My Number, a song both bitter and sweet, led by an instantly catchy synth line. The 16-track compilation also featured Swimmer One’s We Only Make Music For Ourselves, Morton Valence’s The Kiss, The Bleeding Hearts’ Stars (soon to change their name to Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring, Bed Scenes by Robots In Disguise as well as many others. Front, when it arrived, offered the four previous singles, a handful of tracks we hadn’t heard before, and, thankfully, recent live favourites, Faint Praise, the achingly beautiful Mishandled, and the gorgeous Relief.
After Jon’s departure (you can download his last gig for free on the band’s last.fm page, along with all their releases), in stepped International Man-Of-Rock and author of the official Suede biography, “Love & Poison”, David Barnett, to take over the bass duties. His live debut came at London’s Bull & Gate in March 2007 when Luxembourg played a secret gig as The Exhibitionists.
The band was eager to perform new material and their set quickly filled with the magnificent pop of Radio, The Beast In The Jungle, Steady Pressure and the perfection of London Is Blue. A collection of Deleted Scenes From An Unfinished Sequel is available at their last.fm page. Entitled Last Holiday Before Divorce, the phrase came to Rob, somewhat presciently, in a dream. It contains all of the above plus such dreamy melancholy as I’m A Phantom and 8 more. But by the end of the year it seemed like things were winding down for Luxembourg, and in early 2008, heartbreakingly for us die-hard fans, they called it a day. But the one big consolation, as is often pointed out, is that there are now five very talented people continuing to make music in at least as many projects. Alex Potterill fronts the very glam Jonny Cola & The A-Grades. Their insanely catchy debut album, In Debt, is available for free download on the Corporate Records site. As is the brand new e.p., The Strike, from David Shah’s The Melting Ice Caps and many more songs are up for free here (but more on Mr. Shah in a bit). Rob released a lovely solo album, Found Wanting, in 2008 that is available for free. He now plays guitar in 8-piece indie-popsters, Brontosaurus Chorus. Steve plays drums in The Melting Ice Caps live band as well as for Rebecca Jade. I could gush on and on about Luxembourg and what they meant to me – incredible, well-written pop songs played with the right combination of intense feeling and humour – but I should get on with why I’m writing all this in the first place, cycling nicely back to those interviews I did, and the last member of Luxembourg to catch up with, David Barnett.
The fun all began with 2006’s romp-around-the-capital video for Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive? by David’s The New Royal Family, a project formed to finally give an airing to songs he wrote as a teenager. And incredibly catchy and fun they are. Chocolate Digestive was released as one side of a 7” in 2007 with Keith TOTP’s classic I Hate Your Band on the flipside, and quickly became a live favourite. But nothing could’ve prepared us for what would become the song of 2008 – I.W.I.S.H.I.W.A.S.G.A.Y. .
Not being one to shock easily, I was simply stunned when the opening lines of “Beat me with your penis…” came through my speakers. Clocking in at a whopping 1 minute and 3 seconds, David doesn’t even really consider it a song proper, just a realization that one has much better nights out at gay clubs than at straight clubs. 2009 saw a 3 track e.p. with accompanying video for The New Royal Family Rules O.K., complete with its own dance. Disappointingly the band called it a day at the riotous gig for David’s birthday in 2010. But he’s back with something new, The Famous Cocks, who, while not an Adam & The Ants cover band, have only performed Adam & The Ants songs live thus far. And David is also featured with my new project, Eiscafe, on our collaboration Slag To Love.
Harking back to 2006 again, July 28th to be exact, I had made my way down to The Windmill in Brixton to see my beloved Luxembourg once again. It was a magical summer evening about to become even more so. I had heard quite a bit about David Devant & His Spirit Wife, the band attracted a rabidly devotional following, but I had never actually heard them yet, despite their having been around since the early 90’s. I never quite knew what to make of the name, were they a goth band?, but once I found out none of them were actually named David Devant and that that appellation belonged to a Victorian magician whose bag of tricks involved conjuring a spirit wife, well, it “made one wonder”. This is a phrase often associated with Mikey Georgeson, known also as The Vessel in DD&HSW (where he acts as a conduit for the spirit of Mr. Devant to come through some of the most amazing pop songs you’d ever want to hear) and Mr. Solo when he’s on his own or fronting a band of the same name. (To add to the confusion of names, it turns out it might not even have been Devant, but instead Maskelyne, who performed the trick of the Spirit Wife). Mr. Solo happened to be headlining the evening (I believe The Indelicates were also on the bill but had to cancel as perhaps the world wasn’t yet ready for what would’ve truly been the best line-up ever) and as soon he began, I knew this was music I had been wanting to hear for a very very long time.
As the Numan-esque synths of Home Sick Home kicked in, Mr. Solo stood there in front of a screen showing the accompanying video, resplendent in sparkly black catsuit, silver boots, thick black eye make-up, and eye-catching quiff. It was a glorious pop moment. I rushed home to buy everything I could by the man, who I have come to regard as one of our greatest living songwriters.
The best description of Mr. Georgeson’s music I have seen comes from a 1996 interview in the NME. Speaking of Devant, Mikey says, “Somewhere around 1973, pop could have gone somewhere else. And I think that we are at the end of one of those corridors that has been neglected.” For me, the music has always been difficult to describe, both familiar and strange, like a song you’ve always known but not yet knew you knew it, continually, pleasantly, surprising. There’s the Bowie influence, sure, as well as a lot of glam in both music and presentation (though perhaps there is no difference between the two), but as far as what it actually sounds like, I find it hard to pinpoint. Classic, timeless pop songs played with all the magic and enthusiasm of rock. The debut Devant album, Work, Lovelife, Miscellaneous is a perfect record, as is the follow-up Shiney On The Inside, continuing the magical glamorous journey through darker territory. The videos for the singles are also a treat – Cookie and Pimlico especially.
And Mikey always surprises and delights with his lyrics, one of my personal favourites being the chorus of Parallel Universe—“Is there really only one Big Bang? Is there only one Kool & The Gang?” As Mr. Solo he has released two near-perfect records thus far. 2006’s All Will Be Revealed exploring a more synth-pop vein and Wonders Never Cease being my favourite record of 2009, featuring the stunning Astrology and Yellow Jelly Babies. Mikey is also constantly adding to a collection of Demonstration Songs that one can download for free from Corporate Records. And you can check out his very interesting blog here.
And last but certainly not least, I had the chance to interview David Shah about The Melting Ice Caps. I first saw David perform on his own at the single release party for my band H Bird. The audience was blown away by his never-before-heard solo material, Hard To Get and Don’t Say A Word, and greatly enjoyed his cover of Kirsty MacColl’s We’ll Never Pass This Way Again. After Luxembourg broke up, those two songs would make up the first Ice Caps’ single, the former produced by Lux’s Alex Potterill and the later co-produced with myself. On themeltingicecaps.co.uk now, there have been 6 further singles, an EP, 8 other songs and a split single with The Soft Close-Ups. The Soft Close-Ups being David and myself. Having always been an admirer of David’s wonderful voice and lyrics, it has been a great honour to work with him. All The Soft Close-Ups songs thus far are also offered there for free. Having begun as a one-man project, The Melting Ice Caps now feature a full live band, who also play on The Strike EP. Ice Caps videos have started to make an appearance too – the cute Mise En Scene as well as Pavlovian Boy and Oh Brother from the new EP.
And no overview of the Ice Caps would be complete without mention of the essential pop listening that is the gorgeously bittersweet Selfish Bachelor.
The interviews with David Barnett, Mr. Solo, and David Shah will be up here as well over the next couple of days. You’ll also find a list of links to almost all their projects, with free music aplenty.