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Do Nothing on Experimental Song Writing, Playing Moscow and Making a Proper Record

30 October 19 words: Becky Timmins
photos: Tom Morley

It’s exciting to witness the rise of local quartet Do Nothing. They’ve played some massive shows this year — including a sold-out gig at The Bodega — and are soon to embark on a European headline tour, featuring a highly-anticipated hometown show at Rescue Rooms in November…

I’m sat in an empty cinema screen with Do Nothing, and they’re debating who is the funniest band member. “It’s Kasper,” frontman Chris Bailey tells me, of guitarist Kasper Sandstrøm. Drummer Andy Harrison replies: “Well Chris, you’re more into comedy than the rest of us,” to which Chris retorts: “Yeah, but it doesn’t make me funny.”

Bassist Charlie Howarth completes Do Nothing, and together their divergent, razor sharp art-rock has been causing quite a stir over the past year. Acerbic guitar riffs, strapping bass lines and exhilarating drumming coalesce during their live performances, and at the core, Chris’ on-stage persona — a confrontational, rambling character whose lyrical delivery fuses traits of Mark E. Smith and Stewart Lee — creates something slightly sardonic and totally thrilling.

While this comedic character is clearly considered, they didn’t set out with such an intention; it evolved from Chris no longer playing guitar during gigs. “You have to do something with your hands and feet – it creeps the audience out if you just stand there,” he explains dryly. Andy elaborates: “I’ve seen it develop in him. The more shows we’ve played, the more he’s realised he can push it.”

Softly spoken and somewhat inscrutable offstage, Chris sits twiddling his fingers like he’s messing with something. As he discusses his palpable song writing style, it makes sense; fragments from Chris’ mind form the basis of Do Nothing’s output. “I demo lots of stuff at home. Then we’ll learn it or play it live, and usually the parts get changed after that,” he says. “It’s a growing, changing thing, and I agonise over every single song. We’ll play certain tracks for a while, then filter them out of the live set, so I can steal elements and turn them into something new.”

Resultantly, you’ll be unlikely to hear exactly the same song twice when you see Do Nothing, besides their current three recorded tracks. It’s an inventive approach which is as tantalising as their actual sound. “There have been songs that Chris has slaved over, only to tell us he’s through with them. But he sends them to us anyway, and they often become our favourite live tunes,” says Kasper. Andy agrees, adding: “It means that our roster of songs is always weirdly fluctuating, because we’ll add a new element to a song, and another will get harvested for pieces.”

It’s an approach that’s as effective as it is experimental — their latest single, Gangs, has been picked up by all kinds of industry bigwigs. When I ask why this one soared, Chris says: “It was written to be a good live song. Often when I write, I think about the part that song will play in the wider set.” Charlie agrees: “Gangs had been going down well for a while before we released it, so we were excited about putting it out because of the reaction it got.”

We consciously tried to do what we know we’re good at, and not play differently because of the size of the stage or crowd

Do Nothing’s idiosyncratic slant is fuelled by a cacophonous pool of influences, particularly Canadian quartet Ought and UK indie dismantlers Black Midi. “This new scene is emerging that we’re all super excited about, with bands like Squid, and Black Country, New Road,” says Charlie. So, the mild indignation they have for their frequently garnered post-punk label isn’t surprising. Andy tells me: “There’s a lot of post-punk happening at the moment, and maybe we’re riding that wave. When you listen to our early tracks Waitress and Handshakes more closely, they do have those elements, and Gangs is a bit of a post-punk tune. But they also play with rhythm in a way that post-punk doesn’t. It’s not as linear as that.”

He continues: “Chris and Kasper do a lot of DJing, and I’ve been sensing more disco and funk influences lately, which we’re definitely trying to zone in on.” Kasper adds: “Those kinds of music are always really fun, so taking elements from there gives songs a groove you can get behind.”

There’s a discernible trust between these four, which only comes from playing together for a long time, and which is necessary when harbouring an ambition as ablaze as theirs. It’s certainly earning them increasingly sizeable shows, like supporting Interpol in Moscow back in June. Kasper laughs: “It was such an insane show. Bands of our size don’t get to do that — ever. So we felt really lucky.” While they don’t currently have any preparation rituals (though they assured me they have one in the pipeline) it didn’t matter in Moscow. Andy says: “We consciously tried to do what we know we’re good at, and not play differently because of the size of the stage or crowd. We felt very assured of each other out there.”

Do Nothing’s simultaneous fascination with experimental song writing and the audience experience at their shows is striking. When I ask about a recent gig that’s made an impression on them, they recall Confidence Man: “They’re very inclusive and fun — it’s a real stage show,” says Chris. “It taught us something about how you can achieve audience participation without forcing stuff,” adds Andy.

While taking liberating cues to develop their live performances, Do Nothing are also edging further left field with their writing, and are keen to baulk the industry trend of putting their existing songs out as an album. “Even we don’t necessarily know when it’ll happen,” Chris says when I ask about their anticipated debut. “Technically we could put an album out now – we have enough material. But it’s got to be a proper record.” Kasper elaborates: “We want to take time over it. We like albums which have an actual flow to them, rather than just being a bunch of songs.”

By the end of our chat, they’ve convinced me that it will be worth the wait. Despite already being an explosive force to be reckoned with, Do Nothing’s sound is a living, breathing thing, and that’s part of what makes it so enthralling. United by a desire to shatter boundaries, they’re here to challenge audiences, and to coerce us into a proper good boogie in the process. Music inherently needs change makers, and while it’s a tricky line to tread, I get the feeling that if anyone can do it, Do Nothing can.

Do Nothing play Rescue Rooms on Thursday 21 November

Do Nothing Facebook

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