Introducing ∆ (Alt-J)
When multi-award winning artist Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol back in 1992 the move was derided for being pompous and arrogant, even by the standards of one of the biggest selling artists of all time. Therefore, when the student quartet of Joe Newman (vocals), Gwil Sainsbury (bass) Thom Green (drums), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards) decided to do the same thing (without so much as releasing a platinum selling record) and play under the symbol “∆” I am sure there were a few scoffing comments echoing around the local music venues.
However the problem is that the music is…Well, really rather good. To get away with such a name there needs to be some real substance behind the style and Alt-J have it in abundance. Their songs resound with a patchwork of influences, ambitious reference-littered lyrics and world music rhythms cribbed unashamedly from “the internet”. The band has had to contend with troublesome pigeon holes such as ‘folk-step’ and ‘olde-worlde trip-hop’ but for me they are simply the next logical step in a long line of off-kilter semi-acoustic acts such as Arab Strap and I Am Kloot.
It is perhaps a sign of the text-speak, emoticon riddled times we live in that the use of the symbol is seemingly a natural progression for band names. “∆” are more often referred to as “Alt-J” (after the Mac specific keyboard shortcut to produce the symbol) and the name has been lauded for its quirk and individuality, rather than lambasted in the press. Journalists (me included) can’t help but to comment on the symbol, something the band simply explain as being something that “seemed like an interesting idea and looked very esoteric”. Just you try and find an interview which doesn’t mention it!
The band, who make their Fuji Rock debut this year, are something of an accident. “When we first got together and started playing and writing music we didn’t have the intention of being a band” they elucidate. “It’s very exciting and surreal to be traveling to Japan to play. We have been looking forward to Fuji rocks for months”. When the boys met they were still at university in the Northern city of Leeds, a city which has launch a huge number of acts in recent years; The Music, Kaiser Chiefs, The Cribs and Little Boots to name but a few. When I ask them where the city seems to get this pedigree from they tell me it is down to the students, who “ while studying for their degrees not only genuinely support live music in general but they often find the time to experiment musically themselves.”
Indeed musical experimentation has much to do with how they have crafted their unique sound – whether it be in the Maurice Sendak quoting song ‘Breeze Blocks’ or in the Bollywood atmosphere of ‘Taro’. Alt-J have recently been cutting their teeth on tour supporting another great exponent of experimentation, our old friend Ghostpoet. “The Ghostpoet tour was our first big tour as a band” the boys explain, “he was very friendly and welcoming which was appreciated as I think we were all a bit overwhelmed and nervous. But it was a great learning experience for us as a band and we got to play some incredible gigs with him.”
The Red Marquee, a stage synonymous with breaking acts, will play host to their Fuji Rock debut on the Sunday of the festival. Alt-J’s album ‘An Awesome Wave’ will see its Japanese release the same weekend as the event, so the band should be eager to impress potential new fans on the closing day.
Alt-J play at Fuji Rock Festival on Sunday 29th July. Make sure you join us at at the festival this year (27th – 29th July 2012).
Weekend ticket: ¥ 42,800 (tax included)
Day ticket: ¥ 17,800 (limited to 10,000 for each day)
For more information and details on how to buy tickets, please visit the official Fuji Rock Festival website
Words: Mark Birtles
Translation: Iona Nagata