Les Incompetents are fast becoming one of the most exciting Thames-centric groups of the moment. Serge "Bunson" Burner got pearly suited & booted to chat politely with Les Incompetents vocalist, Frederick Bang:
trakMARX - Tell us a little bit about the birth of Les Incompetents. What's the story, Ballafuckinmory?
Fred - Well everything to do with our band's a little bit nostalgic, and we spend a lot of time reminiscing over our respective childhoods and educations, etc. So our humble beginning is thus perfectly fitting. Our original line-up (four of our current six and one other) formed in order to win our school's battle of the bands. We pretty much had a drummer and bassist, a guitarist who spent most of the gig playing the head of music's antique tuba and trumpet...and two singers, one of which mainly stuck to cowbell and fire extinguisher. It was sort of like the Rapture meets the London Philharmonic. Needless to say we were the best, but the judges seemed to disagree.
trakMARX - Had any of you had any previous experience/convictions?
Fred - We had all spent a lot of time between ages 14 and 16 believing we were in bands, all of which seemed to always have two singers, because we didn't know many people who played instruments very well, or really at all in fact.
trakMARX - What's in a name?
Fred - "Kevin, you're what the French call Les Incompétents"
Anyone who does not understand this reference
should stop reading now and go and jump from the nearest window.
trakMARX - Your MySpace genre category is cited as "Southern Rock/Psychobilly/Disco House" - which makes you sound like ZZ Top playing
Cramps songs through a laptop (& we know that couldn't be further from the truth). C'mon, you must have a better description of 'your bag' than that?
Fred - Okay, how about: one classically trained guitarist, one jazz trained drummer, another guitarist whose there to play bar chords and look good, a revolving door of bassists (whoever's currently in vogue) and two singers, one intent on holding everything together, and the other intent on destroying it all.
trakMARX - You seem to be single-handedly putting the smile back on the often glum visage of the underground alt.rock 'scene' (for want of a
better handle). Is the notion of being an entertainer first & foremost a prerequisite for being a member of Les Incompetents?
Fred - Well if one was to dissect the band you'd hopefully find a healthy cross section of entertainers and musicians in equal measure. There is definitely an appetite for anarchy and diversion from the music within certain members, but if this was shared by as all then we wouldn't make it through one song, let alone through one gig. We're still trying to balance music and entertainment, in fear of any more "Give them a variety show, not a record deal" comments from the NME, but whatever happens the day we stop being fun is the day we stop.
trakMARX - Where do you draw your inspiration from for such a refreshing approach?
Fred - It's less about inspiration in this case and more to do with boredom. It's a cliché, but how many times have you gone to a gig only to hear a band playing their songs quite well - but doing nothing more. That's not entertainment, and it's not a show...it's just a CD player with visuals, and in the case of most London venues, poorer sound.
trakMARX - Tell us a little about the Les Incompetents live experience.
Fred - I hope that to attempt to describe it would mean a description that falls short of the reality, but essentially we put the effort in, the audience hopefully put the effort in and somewhere along the line, the collision of effort causes a sort of non-violent riot: true interaction between performer and onlooker, so that everyone becomes part of something rather than no one becoming part of anyything. Except less pretentious than that sounds, and less self-aware. We don't want to be a band that has to try to be crazy, we just want to be ourselves and let it all out. Hopefully this will come across in the video to the new single that we filmed the other day with type2error directing, one of the funniest days of ALL time.
trakMARX - Retrospectively, it would appear now that 2004 was indeed the 'gateway' to the current independent renaissance - how do Les Incompetents
view the lie of the land in terms of indie versus major?
Fred - It's got to be a healthy mixture really, hasn't it? There's also a bit of a grey area these days - what with labels like Rough Trade and Domino doing as well as majors - whilst signing what are essentially pop acts alongside their usual more 'underground' sort of stuff - and majors signing truly leftfield acts such as Jamie T (Virgin) or Larrikin Love (Warners). So as long as the music is good and the artists aren't being screwed over or being forced into things, then it's all good.
trakMARX - And hard copy magazines versus the internet?
Fred - For us, this is an easy one, what with myspace taking control of so many aspects of life and amazing websites like drowned in sound updating their review databases daily with varied and well written opinions, it seems ridiculous that someone would want to waste nearly two quid on the indie 'Heat' that is NME. You might read a couple of decent reviews if your very, very lucky - but will struggle to find more than five articles that are actually about music, full stop. Tip: buy a happy meal.
trakMARX - Of your contemporaries - who do you love & who could you do without?
Fred - It's a shame how the NME is already trying to pigeon hole the Mystery Jets and all the more experimental and interesting West London acts (who've all played the famous Eel Pie Island gigs) into a scene like they did with the Libertines, because they have a lot more to offer than London's usual shit. Since we played one of the last Eel Pie parties we've ran into all sorts of incredible artists hanging around with the Jets: Jamie T, Good Shoes, The Noisettes, Larrikin Love to name but a few. These are positive contemporaries trying to push things forward a little bit, but anyone trying to hang on to the Libertines/Doherty dream should have quit by now. Luckily we've managed to stay out of both categories enough to (with fingers crossed) not be forced into any scene that we're not really part of. If anything we want to trail our own, along with White Heat (the club, the label and the whole experience) and other up and coming bands such as Fear Of Flying, The Video Nasties and an amazing songwriter named Kid Harpoon, a one man revolution waiting to happen.
trakMARX - Imagine, imagine, imagine a story: Les Incompetents have assembled the greatest 'package tour' in the history of punk rock'n'roll who are the other two hand-picked outfits (past or present) sharing the tour bus with you?
Fred - I would have to speak solely from a personal opinion (the serious differences in our tastes our highlighted below) and say Tom Waits and Nick Cave, both the perfect mixture of storyteller, performer and both complete purveyors of real (or at least believable) madness. We'd all get on stage together at the end of the night and do 'The Curse of Millhaven'. The tour would be called “The Rock’n’ Roll Barndance Apocalypse” - and every venue would be covered in hay and cow carcasses. We'd also bring a couple of bah mitzvah bands to warm up the crowd - and have Andy Kaufman hosting the whole thing...
trakMARX - And which groups would fill the compilation CD blasting away throughout your travels?
Fred - Hmmmm, Shaun would probably want his classic rock on there and Lawrence would want his acid Jazz. You'll have to ask them for the details. But I reckon the rest of us would probably settle for a bit of Tom Vek, The Mystery Jets, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher providing the big beats, slide Blues (Blind Willie McTell, that sort of shit), The Arcade Fire, some 60s stuff for Billy, early White Stripes albums, Jamie Lidell, some private school prog, maybe Yes and The Nice, some acoustic pussy stuff for Chris, The Strokes first album, every Libertines B-side ever, The Coral, Sandinista by the Clash, The Black and White Minstrel Show, most stuff off the DFA label...actually what am I even saying? To try and get us to agree on anything would take most of the journey - and by the end we'd probably be so bored of arguing we'd just go with Heart 106.2 FM!
trakMARX - Tell us about your imminent new 45.
Fred - The A-side was originally a song about a girl named Mandy, but became a song about a boy named Andy. It's now called “How It All Went Wrong” and hopefully it won't live up to the name. It's one of our more poppy tunes - so we wanted to mess about with it a bit in the studio to give it a bit of edge. Hopefully you'll be able to judge for yourself. Our producer, Iain Gore, was amazing in that he pretty much let us do anything we wanted and then helped us to do it. Even when it meant staying up until 3AM each night recording grand piano breakdowns and alarm clocks. The B-side is a really percussive, more stompy sort of shout along - with a bit of cowbell going on, etc. Sort of a live favourite, really, that we wanted to document with some real spirit. As with our début on White Heat Records, most of the artwork will be hand done and unique. I think some bright yellow vinyl's going to get thrown in to the mix as well - so look out for that.
trakMARX - Where next for Les Incompetents?
Fred - It's either going to end in an implosion of blazing glory - or really get going in the same way. So whether we're building up or tearing down, there's going to be a big bang, no doubt involving some serious ego collisions along the way. Or something.
Serge “Bunson” Burner – tMx 23 –02/06