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Interview: Is Tropical

Pepe Jeans S1ngular Festival came to London town last month with a one off performance from hipster rockers Is Tropical at Hackney’s trendy Oval Space. Celebrating 40 years of denim excellence from the London brand originally founded on Portabello Road in 1973, Pepe Jeans S1ngular Festival has made its way through two of Europe’s chicest cities before ending up in front of a home crowd.

As the name suggests, it’s not your usual run of the mill festival. The show is designed to give its audience a unique experience – fusing music and fashion perfectly – with previous performances including upcoming bands Citizens! and Crystal Fighters in Barcelona and Amsterdam respectively. Alongside its hip line up, unique venues are key to Pepe Jeans S1ngular Festival with Oval Space providing the perfect backdrop, allowing views over an abandoned Hackney gasworks whilst boasting a vast warehouse interior.

Native East London trio Is Tropical were a natural choice for a London headliner, with their home grown indie and matching grungy attitude. Their set included a medley of tracks off their debut album ‘Native To’ and 2013 release ‘I’m Leaving.’ In the flesh, the band embody cool Britannia – although they are now signed to French music label and fashion house Kitsuné.

Opening with the b-side ‘Tan Man’ and quickly charging straight through into acclaimed singles ‘Cry’ and ‘The Greeks’, the music is heavy and peppered with energetic synth riffs. For a band founded in an array of inner city squats they certainly look the part, dressed in all black skinny jeans with varying lengths of long hair.

Their number ‘Lover’s Cave’ was where the dancing started, with the crowd bouncing appreciatively off of the subtle bass line and movement-inducing melody. ‘All Night’ elicited a similar reaction, and by the time the encore of ‘Dancing Anymore’ came around (with the help of a guest female vocalist), no one was left standing still. The band’s sound was big enough and full enough to fill the vast Oval Space – despite the crowd barely touching the sides of the warehouse.

Just before we saw their Pepe S1ngular show, Planet Notion sat band members Gary, Simon and Dominic down to talk fashion, their recent achievement of being the first Western band to tour Mongolia, and why music is universal.

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Planet Notion: Hey guys! tell us how you all met and become Is Tropical?
G: We used to skateboard together and hang out; just generally be stupid. We also used to make artwork together and be in competition. We were in the same art classes – in perpetual battle with each other – until we thought, “Fuck it lets just join forces as a group.”
S: We started a squat band and used to be pretty messy. We’d get paid in drugs and alcohol. Eventually we thought lets start again and do this a bit more professionally.
D: Let’s not leave our guitar amps on buses anymore. Let’s keep them in the house.
G: We used to store the number of the bus depot on our phones because every time we got off a bus we’d have to call them and tell them there was another amp on its way somewhere!

PN: So those squatting days are behind you now?
G: Yeah fuck that.
S:  It also got really difficult as the law changed. I remember we used to come back off tour and all our stuff would have been thrown out. It was good in the early days though when we had big warehouse type squats where we could rehearse and also throw gigs.
G: Foals played in our basement once! There was originally another room adjoined to it and there was a doorway so people couldn’t see, so we just smashed the wall down. The basement just became bigger during the Foals’ gig!
D: The best one we had was called The Toilet Factory. It had a ten bed house at the front; then on the back of that there were two warehouses about 100ft long each. It was a crazy place, and we had down bands like Mystery Jets, Man Like Me and Shit Disco.

PN: Sounds hectic! Is Tropical are often described as being a mix between dance music and indie. Do you feel more one than the other?
G: We definitely have danceable elements to our songs. I think it’s hard to define certain genres as some of our stuff is quite melancholic, other bits are more house.
D: On both of ours albums we never went for a straightforward sound. I never think we wanted to make an album where every song is the same guitar sound or whatever, so our music definitely has an electronic vibe to it. With the different instruments we use, you can constantly be changing things up.
G: The first time we we sat down to write together we had no preconceived idea of what it would sound like.
D: I also think the word “indie” in UK culture now has kind of done what “alternative” did in the nineties, where it ended up meaning anything that wasn’t in the top 40.
S: I think it means more like bands on independent labels?
D: Well I could name a fuck load of ‘indie’ bands that aren’t on independent labels!

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PN: You were, amazingly, one of the first western bands ever to play in Mongolia; what do you think you learned about music and yourselves as a band by going there?
S: It was extremely heartwarming going there. The people are great out there, very friendly. Even walking down the street people will stare at you. There aren’t many white indie kids, or even indie dance kids!
G: It definitely taught us that music is universal. You don’t have to travel up and down the UK playing to crowds that know your music. You can go to the furtherest places of the world and they’ll be someone who connects with you. I think this is true on a personal level too. You can be on a bus sitting next to an eighty year old lady and you can be into the same stuff. Having common ground can happen anywhere.
D: It’s such an isolated country because it’s so big and everyone used to be nomadic. Ninety percent of the population that isn’t nomadic lives in the capital. They have bands there that play psychedelic rock. We even met a hip hop artist.
S: We went to karaoke with him and his song was on the playlist!

PN: Speaking of international links, you are all signed to Parisian label and fashion house Kitsuné. What’s it like working with them?
S: It’s like a family. We love hanging out with them when we are in Paris.
G: A lot of bands that sound like us don’t have the other side of it like we do; where we get to DJ, do some fashion shows, do remixes for people and in turn get remixes back from people. Musicians who wouldn’t normally remix a band get to hear us because we’re on Kitsuné.

PN: You have quite unique music videos that are controversial for allegedly being pornographic or showing kids committing violence. How do you respond to those kinds of criticisms?
S: We don’t come up with any of the concepts for the videos, but we’re not a massive fan of censorship so we’re happy to let other people do want they want with our music.
D: We’re the least sexist people out there. We’re friends with people all over the world, and it would be the worst business plan ever to make a sexist video!
G: We didn’t make them although they are creative masterpieces.
D: It’s also better to make risky videos. Although we do get emails from Christian fundamentalists saying we’re agents of Satan – at least that creates some sort of dialogue. We could do an indie video where it’s just images of our faces and a smoke machine. That would be accepted across the board, but it wouldn’t do anything new.

PN: The Is Tropical fashion used to be wearing masks on stage; why was that?
S: We wanted to make it more theatrical but people took it the wrong way and thought it was stand-offish. It made a barrier between the audience and us. At the end of the gig we’d take them off and be like “Who wants to party?” and people would be like “Who are you?”

PN: Finally, what’s the New Year looking like for Is Tropical?
G: So we have got Jordan in January and an Italian tour coming up.
D: We’re also off to Istanbul tomorrow. Lots of new stuff coming up; we’re trying to design some leather jackets with some Italian designers.
G: We’re probably going to be doing some remixes and maybe a new album next year.

Check out the Pepe Jeans S1ngular Music Festival site for more details.

Interview: Sarah Joy



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