Low Island: “Did that really happen?”
Oxford has always punched well above its weight in nurturing high-quality bands, and in 2017 our city shows little sign of slowing up. The four Oxonian members of Low Island have made music together in various formats, from theatre scores to DJ sets, for the vast majority of their lives, but this time round the foursome look set for stratospheric success – and only after 11 months as a coherent act.
“This particular project only started last November,” singer and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Jay tells me, “and this time we certainly feel like it’s different.” Indeed, not all friend groups get picked up by NME, Radio 1, The Times and BBC Introducing in under a year. I ask Jamie where that difference has come from.
“It’s hard to say,” he ponders, “but now, we’re finally making the music that we actually want to make. It might sound like a strange thing to say, but one of the hardest things for a band to do is to make music that they themselves would actually want to listen to. It’s very easy to get into a situation where you feel like you’re ‘supposed’ to make a certain kind of music, but then you get in the car or you get home and you listen to something completely different.”
Low Island’s brand of swirling, ethereal alternative music – impossible to brand under an individual genre – draws from electronic pop, techno, old-school indie rock, R&B and hip-hop, all layered under Jamie and fellow singer Carlos’s soaring vocal lines. Their current output may sound effortless, but Jamie is the first to admit that it was a “long journey” to find their style.
“Me and Carlos used to be a DJ outfit called Cubiq, playing and producing house and techno,” he continues. “We were heavily into the more esoteric end of dance music, and at the same time, we were in an old-school indie band called Wild Swim. So, we’d play an indie gig with Wild Swim and then afterwards all get in the car and listen to banging techno. After a while it doesn’t make sense. It sounds really obvious, but it’s taken us this long to actually get on stage and play the kind of music that we actually enjoy.”
Low Island’s visual offerings are just as ambitious as the tracks, with a single video accompaniment for all four tracks of their ‘Just About Somewhere’ EP, released in January this year. Restriction can be the mother of creativity, as Jamie explains:
“We only had enough money to make one music video, but we couldn’t choose a track we loved the most, so we had the idea to make a video that encompasses all four tracks in an overture-style relay. We came up with the story, found the locations and knew the actor personally, so we were deeply involved in the entire process.”
The actor Jamie refers to is Marcin Rudy, who delivers an exceptional piece of choreographed movement theatre. ‘Just About Somewhere’ culminates in a thrilling and comedic scene on top of a hill, featuring Marcin and an inflatable ‘skydancer’. For Jamie, the novelty still hasn’t sunken in:
“The week before the shoot, we were thinking, ‘Are we really going to have one of those inflatable waving bouncy castle men on top of a hill at sunrise?’. And we really did it, and now every time we go in or out of London we drive past those hills and think, ‘Did that really happen?’”
The band may be asking that very question a few more times on their ascent to headline status. Low Island’s work rate – and smart attitude to release formats – shows no signs of slowing, with a third EP being released track-by-track, rather than all on one date. The real excitement for Jamie, though, is in the upcoming tour:
“We got sick of the format of most live gigs: one band performs, another band plays, you have a sip of a Red Stripe, you keep your backpack on your shoulders, and then you go home. We wanted to make something much more immersive – more than just bands performing. We have contemporary dance installations, illustration, live electronic acts, DJs, visual art, and it’s much more of a crazy carnival vibe.”
The ‘Low Island & Friends’ tour is coming to The Bullingdon on 21st October – it’s an ambitious project, but if anyone can pull it off, you’d be hard-pressed to find better candidates. Oxford clearly continues to have ‘something in the water’ – and long may it stay there.
Tickets are available at seetickets.com.
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