Sheffield has produced a number of notable bands over the years. Pulp and Artic Monkeys may be the star names to emerge from the former industrial town in the north of England, but 65daysofstatic, though not in the same chart topping league as those peers, are just as respected.
Formed in 2001, the post-rock outfit have released a string of critically acclaimed albums and EPs that have earned them comparisons with lauded genre stablemates Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky. Their graft paid off this year with the release of their most high profile album, Music for an Infinite Universe, the soundtrack to one of this year’s most anticipated video games, No Man’s Sky.
Finally in the spotlight, the four-piece come to Hong Kong to play the Saturday night headline slot on Clockenflap’s KEF stage. We start by asking them about their most recent release…
What was it like creating a soundtrack for a video game like No Man’s Sky? What were the different challenges compared to a regular album?
It was a huge undertaking, but ultimately very rewarding. The biggest challenge was that, within the game itself, the soundtrack was, for all intents and purposes, infinitely long. And also, it reacted to what they player was doing, responding to their environment and actions. This is an entirely different way of thinking about music, because you can’t arrange songs in a traditional, linear manner. You have to take an entirely nonlinear approach. Instead of songs we created huge libraries of sounds and worked with the sound designer to build the rules and logic that would generate soundscapes from all this material.
At the same time though, we knew that the soundtrack was going to also be ‘the next 65daysofstatic album’. There was inevitably going to be an album release and we didn’t want it to just be a lazy cash-in record. We wanted it to exist as a standalone thing in its own right – something completely valid even if people had never even heard of No Man’s Sky. The whole project took us close to two years, but we’re really proud of what we pulled off.
And now that project is complete, what’re you working on?
Well, to be honest, it’s barely complete. We’re currently on the road. Although the No Man’s Sky project was unique in many respects, it still has one foot in a traditional album release, so we’re going on the road to tour it. We’ve played shows on and off, but it’s been three years since we did any touring of this magnitude. We have a quite a lot of albums now, and too many songs we want to play that we can play in a single night, so it’s a balancing act to try and find the best way to make sets work.
After this, though, it remains to be seen. There’s a lot of things we would like to explore, not least more experiments with procedural or generative music. Maybe that will be tied to a video game if the right project turns up. We’ll have to wait and see.
You just said you have a lot of material to play live now, so what are the songs that still resonate with you all these years later?
It would be a lie to say ‘all of them’, and it’s not like we lose sleep over records we have made and regret. But there’s plenty of stuff we no longer like or could ever imagine playing. Sometimes it’s a bit like looking at photographs of your younger self and no matter how hard you try, you can’t inhabit the mind of the person you see there. Listening to old songs can have the same effect. Why did we do that?? But the ones that still resonate are the ones we still play live. There’s plenty of them and they never, ever get boring.
Fifteen years on from starting the band, how different are you lives now? A lot of time has passed, so how do the changes in your lives affect being in a band?
William Gibson said something great on Twitter not too long ago: “The one single way in which we can choose to not get old: by choosing not to be militant nativists of the era in which we first got laid.”
This is kind of like the problem of being in a band for such a long time. When we started right at the beginning of our 20s, we had no idea how little we knew. Which in some contexts is a vital strength. We carried that enforced naivety with us as long as we could. But you can only ever write your first record once. Bands can make the mistake of trying to recapture that energy and confusion and excitement, but it gets more and more difficult. You can never go back. So as a band, we’ve kind of learnt that we need to not get too hung up on past glories. And not become ‘militant nativists’ of the glorious youthful fire of getting in a van and getting out of your hometown with your friends and making insane amounts of noise to people all over the country and then the world.
We’re not old but we are getting older. So we’re trying to get better, to do different things. We don’t want to be stuck in one mode of being just because that’s what bands are supposed to look like. I don’t know if we have the power to out-run or sidestep the exceptions of popular music and pop culture in this manner, but we are still naive enough to try.
As a band that’s been active for over 15 years now, what keeps you motivated after such a long time in the business? You’ve said you don’t want to carry on for the sake of it…
Correct. Making and releasing records just to avoid having to get proper jobs seems like a disservice to all the things that make music so important in people’s lives.
What’s left of the music industry today is so focussed on working out how to wring money from recorded music somehow that there’s no longer the luxury of considering why that music is being made or whether it even should be. [Labels] just need content. So yeah. In some ways we would be happy to stop now. If we felt like we had achieved what we feel we’re capable of achieving, it would be great to have a chance to explore other avenues that aren’t necessarily tied to being in a band. But, ultimately, it feels to us like we are slowly but surely getting better, and that if we can just keep the band afloat for long enough in a way that pays our rent and bills, then our best work is still ahead of us. It’s a bit of an uncertain living, but it’s totally worth it.
What are your expectations for playing Clockenflap, the biggest music festival in Hong Kong?
So excited. We’ve played Hong Kong only once before and that was a spectacular show. Our expectations are very high. Although we appear to be play the same time as MIA, which is unfortunate…
As a band, what would you say made you as successful as you are now? And should every aspiring band strive to have this?
All success is relative, I guess. Sometimes we feel a long way from successful, but that’s a really indulgent thought, because all it takes is to remember back to when we first started doing gigs to realise how much progress we’ve made and how much luck we have had. We’ve worked really hard, but so much of it is down to luck. I’m loath to give any advice to an aspiring band. I think the whole point is, if you’re in a band that actually wants to carve out its own space, then you’ll figure out how to do that by yourself anyways. Otherwise you’ll just end up as a diluted version of your musical heroes, and none of us need more bands like that.
65daysofstatic Saturday 26 November, Clockenflap, KEF Stage, Central, 9.30pm. Tickets: $980 (Sat day pass), $1,800 (weekend pass); ticketflap.com.