In an industry built on formulas and formats, forever focused on finding the next Number 1 and following the trends, you could almost forgive bands for playing it safe the deeper they get into their careers. There are artists who slip into the mainstream consciousness and remain there as the small fishes in a big pond, content with the stature they’ve sought for so long. Alongside them come the rebellious rulebreakers discontent with colouring between the lines, who opt to bend and break the boundaries at play between underground and mainstream sounds.
Having broken through the mainstream barriers since their 2007 debut ‘Take To The Skies’, Enter Shikari have been bending genres to fit their politicised social commentary, constantly recreating themselves album-to-album. As they prepare to release their sixth album – ‘Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible’ – frontman Rou Reynolds tells Upset why Enter Shikari are the only band on the planet who sound like them and why they’ve been allowed to do it for so long.
“I’m not really sure why it is, but we’ve managed to carve out this niche area where we sort of get away with anything,” muses Rou, buoyed by his band’s ability to blur the lines between genres without consequence. “It’s like we’ve been given these reins and with a lot of bands, you have to do it immediately, like with the second album, you’ve got to make that departure otherwise you get locked in, and people expect you to make the same thing again.”
“There are loads of bands I want to hear similar things from because I love it so much, but it doesn’t really allow for the reason why musicians and artists exist, which is to explore and experiment, at least that’s my definition. Music to me would have all of the intrigue and interest taken out of it if it was all the same.”
Experimentation and exploration are terms Enter Shikari fans have come to expect from the St Albans foursome, and are ultimately the lynchpins holding together the bipolar blitz of pace that runs through ‘Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible’. Opener ‘THE GREAT UNKNOWN’ is a pulsating industrial club banger blasting your eardrums whilst ‘Crossing The Rubicon’ is streamlined sunny-day synth-pop, meanwhile ‘Elegy For Extinction’ is a climate change-tackling symphonic masterpiece, seeing the band create a suite of classical music in collaboration with the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra and composer George Fenton. ‘Elegy For Extinction’ is Enter Shikari at the peak of their creative powers, evidence of their ability to inject meaning and melody into absolutely anything.
“We can’t do an album without at least one song about climate change. I think every album we’ve done we’ve had at least one, and even though it’s very widespread and ubiquitous, we still have to keep pummelling it, it has to drench the whole of society and keep people fuelled and wanting to be in activism.
“We had to sit and think how do we do it in a way that’s original and interesting. I never want to be a band where people say, ‘Oh, well, you made that song four years ago, and ten years ago, why did you do something so similar?'”
With the fear of falling prey to retracing their lines as they repeat the socio-political narratives, they’ve been writing and exploring for more than a decade in the back of their mind, Enter Shikari took their music to the most extreme end of the spectrum.
“I had this idea of using the type of classical music called programmed form where you try and convey a real-world thing just with instrumentation, like an event or an environment, and me being me went for the very grandiose, ridiculous concept of making this track about life on our planet.”
Life on our little planet subconsciously became the building blocks for the basis of the entire album. Having dug into the deepest depths of his own mind and mental health issues on 2017’s ‘The Spark,’ Rou and co. decided it was important to open up the floor using the new-found freedom that came from finding the light in the dark following the hardest time of his life.
“On this album, I was in a very different place, and if anything I felt more free. I actually had a choice on what I wanted to write about because I wasn’t in a period of intense hardship in my life, so I had this elevated sense of freedom and possibility, like – what’s possible? What can we do?
“So whereas ‘The Spark’ was about vulnerability and exploring vulnerability as an innate characteristic of our species, this album became about possibility, not just musically and pushing ourselves forward in that respect, but addressing possibility as something in society. I think the last five to ten years have socially and politically shocked us with things we never thought would happen that have happened, so possibility has gone from being something we’ve looked forward to as positive prospects in to something that is now actually quite terrifying, and I wanted to address that.”
If possibility is the pillar on which ‘Nothing Is True…’ leans on, then the balance between optimism and pessimism lies somewhere in between, something which Rou is very much concerned with maintaining.
“One of the things I really don’t like is offering false hope, giving people an ‘everything is going to be fine’. I think a lot of music in our world can offer false positivity, which I think is dangerous, so realism is the most important thing to me.
“There will always be a balance between optimism and pessimism in the music that we make. Likewise, we couldn’t be a doom metal band; positivity will always be central, that was clear from ‘The Spark’. I wrote that album in very much the worst year I’ve ever experienced, and so much of the music still came out positive, both in how it sounded with its upbeat nature but also a lot of the lyrics were full of fortitude. I’m not sure where that came from, I wasn’t trying to do that consciously, but there’s something innately within me that seems to always want to grasp at least one hand in hope even if we’re addressing issues that are actually quite terrifying.”
Rou is careful not to send mixed signals on the messages they’re trying to send, in fact, he makes a point of noting that ‘Nothing Is True’ is a social commentary open for interpretation more than anything else, to encourage and educate the masses.
“All the usual things are there, like the music we’re trying to encourage, it’s diverse, which philosophically we’ve always been about unity, about bringing the diversity of humanity together and we all know how divisive and polarised the world has become, so that’s quite central.
“There’s a degree of seriousness to it. All of the themes we’ve been singing about for like 15 years, they’re getting our species more and more into deeper trouble. There’s an element of annoyance in this record, but it’s important to balance that. ‘Modern Living’ is literally a song taking the piss out of ourselves. I think for people, like me and the guys, and anyone sort of on the left – even though left and right have become somewhat defunct terms – you’re constantly expecting the end of the world. We’re always predicting the apocalypse every other week, and it’s taking the piss out of that a bit.”
It appears that in the midst of the apocalypse, and at the time of writing, a real-world global pandemic, that Enter Shikari have embraced the symbolism of tongue-in-cheek humourism in their music. Humour, much like their music, is a means to an end in evoking the emotional responses required to explore and experiment with the activism the world needs.
“Humour is a wonderful thing because it can often be thought of as a cheap and immature thing, but humour really is a defence mechanism. Even in the worst fascist regimes, if you have humour you still have a soul, they haven’t taken everything from you, so I think humour again is a very unifying thing. To laugh is very similar to music in the fact that it has a very immediate, instinctual, kneejerk reaction – sometimes you cannot help but laugh at something, you don’t make the decision to laugh, it’s instinctual, and that’s the same with music, it will make you feel something, and whether you like it or not it will have an emotional reaction within you, which is what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to sculpt output to make you feel something, so they’re two unifying things.”
In writing about the unification of the planet as a whole, Rou understands the importance of utilising the platform he has to promote positivism and possibility. It’s an opportunity, and a gift he’s not afraid of making the most out of and is very aware of the lack of caution fellow artists with platforms operate both online and off.
“Anyone with a following should be thinking slightly more than usual when they’re putting something out into the world. Often you’ll find ‘rock stars’ feel the need to just fucking speak, just utter gibberish. In Budhism they call it ‘Parshavajra’, one of my favourite words, which is just gibberish speak, like ‘oh, people are listening, I need to say something’, and they don’t think about the consequences of it.
“We need a much more considered thinking, this whole doing instead of thinking is a real widespread philosophical faux par which we see from the very highest aspects in terms of people like Trump. When Trump starts a sentence, he starts about three sentences at the same time; he’s like ‘welcome, good to see you all… by the way…’, he just goes off on little things. It’s mad, so much of it is unplanned. He’ll get to the end of a sentence purely through luck, and we see a lot of it on smaller scales on social media, it’s constant fucking nothingness. I’m lucky we have the time to think and put something out that reflects that we’ve had time to think, and that we’re serious about that.”
Even with all the experimentation and exploration, all the positivity and possibility, and even all the time to put out perspective-based art using their platforms, Enter Shikari are at their bare bones four men familiar with the pressures of putting their personal beliefs out there for public consumption. The pressure of living up to the standards they themselves have set, both as musicians and as people, is always at the back of their minds.
“If I stood here and said it didn’t affect me and didn’t seep into my thinking, I’d be lying. Even if it’s a subconscious thing. I try to ignore that side of it; I try to do the whole Oscar Wilde thing of taking no notice of public opinion – the public should be non-existent to an artist is how he put it.
“I’m sure deep down within me I’m always thinking if our fanbase will like this and appreciate this, but we’ve come so far now. We’ve never had confidence before, all four of us, me especially, we’re not really like fucking rock stars, like cock-sure confident, assertive people, it’s just not in our nature.”
“We’re always second-guessing things, it’s in our nature to worry, but over the years we’ve built it up and the fact we’re still growing and gaining new fans, even after time and all this experimentation, I think it would give even the most timid person a degree confidence to go forward and not think about being upstanding with a certain framework of what we should be and how we should act, and that’s what I wish everyone else would follow.”
Taken from the May issue of Upset. Enter Shikari’s album ‘Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible’ is out now.