It was krautrock legend Damo Suzuki who made us realise that the two synth-playing drummers known as AK/DK were Brighton’s best live band. If you’re a music geek you’ll know that the Can singer travels around the world performing with a hometown band every time he stops. The Brighton promoter thought that Ed Chivers and G Sowerby would be a good match and hooked them up for a gig at the Green Door Store. Joined by a bass player, they played a tight, blistering set of complex, noisy, leftfield electro rhythms with an ebb and flow of the most delicately programmed dance music. Obviously there was a nod to 70s German music, but this was all new – exciting and challenging but accessible and danceable. We were completely breathless. Having Damo Suzuki there seemed like the icing on the cake rather than the cake itself.
We sought out AK/DK in the bar afterwards to give pats on backs and asked them how long it took them to learn the songs. ‘Oh no,’ they replied, ‘it was all improvised, we’d never played a note of that before.’ We laughed, but they remained straight-faced. They were serious, they’d just made this incredible, faultless hour of music up off the top of their heads. “I’d never even met Damo until he came on stage,” remembers Ed as we settle into the Duke Of York’s bar a few months later.
“When we were asked we thought, ‘Yes, we can do that,'” says G. “It was the perfect thing. He was so passive, deliberately so. We didn’t discuss the music with him at all. Not at all. It was a real honour to play with him.”
Suzuki-san seemed unfazed by the idea of playing with two drummers surrounded by electronics, but it’s an extremely odd band to find yourself in. AK/DK’s original conception involved booze, obviously.
“It was a complete accident really,” Ed recalls. “I met G at the gig of another band of mine. We had an aftershow party and got drunk together and discussed how much we loved drums and synths. We decided there should be a band that was just drums and synths.”
Like many late night plans, nothing came of it. That is until the friend who introduced them to each other booked them a gig. He wouldn’t accept that it was just drunken talk and one Saturday night they found themselves heading to London with no songs to play. “We went up and played the first set improvised and, luckily, it went off amazingly,” says G. “Who knows what would have happened if that gig didn’t have such an amazing reception?”
Not having any songs appeals to the pair not least because, having been in bands before, they know knocking out the same set gig after gig can get a bit dull. The setlist is now split 50/50 between written material and improvised jams, working with amazing visuals from metaLuna.
“We decided to write some songs in case the sound wasn’t that good,” explains Ed. “For two years or so we improvised or came up with different songs all the time and never really recorded anything. We found it difficult to nail down that excitement of when you’re on stage and you’ve just come up with something. Live, the audience see that and it creates this cycle. Getting that on tape is not easy.”
But getting stuff on tape is exactly what they’ve done. Typically they skipped past releasing a CD and jumped back to the cassingle for their debut. “People buy mp3s now but you can’t sell an mp3 at a gig because people don’t want to buy thin air,” says Ed, wisely. “And CDs are boring. Vinyl’s great but it’s too expensive to produce. The cassette is the symbolic physical product of the mp3 download.”
“I did feel proud when I saw my music on a tape because when I was a kid that was it, I had tapes,” explains G. “They were my whole world and then they were all gone. They’re charming.”
Lead track is the crashing, bleepy ‘Lost Eric’ – almost a pop song in comparison to their live onslaught. Of course it’s as noisy as any band of drummers is going to be, but it’s also catchy as hell and breezes quickly by at under three minutes. “The stuff we’ve recorded recently is like radio edits of something that might go on for about ten minutes on stage,” Ed explains.
AK/DK record their live sets and practices and then listen back to them to identify the best parts. They then spend the rest of the time trying to make a recording that matches up to the excitement of that. “As soon as we’re in the studio and decide, ‘Now it time to rock’, it kills the vibe,” says G. “We try to record everything in case there’s something great.”
There’s talk of recording live shows so you can buy them at the end of the gig but as the pair point out they’ve already got enough equipment to be dealing with. “People always want to buy something and initially we were really anti releasing anything as it’s not really the point of the project,” says Ed.
The one-off, randomness of it all is clearly something the pair thrive on, to the point that if they see a friend in the audience who can sing, they’ll often drag them onstage to join in. But how can they keep on top of all these elements? If they don’t know what noise they’re going to make next themselves, how do they know what noise the other’s going to make? “We did experiment with sign language and stuff but Ed could never remember it,” smiles G. “We’re beginning to remember the things that the other might do and shift accordingly. Also we begin to feel when the other person’s building an intention. And sometime we just literally have to shout across.”
“Eyebrows!” says Ed with a smile. “The higher the eyebrows go and the more nodding says it all.”
“There were times when we first started playing where I felt totally vulnerable and foolish onstage,” admits G. “But you just have to block that out of your mind and try something else. And then sometimes we realise, ‘Hey, we’re in the middle of a song here.'”
“We look down at our hands and they’re doing stuff and we’re thinking, ‘I don’t know where this is coming from,'” says Ed with genuine surprise. We don’t know either but we hope it keeps on coming.
WORDS BY JAMES KENDALL
PHOTO BY KENNY MC CRACKEN, ASSISTED BY ZOE BAKER
THANKS TO TORA COLWILL AT THE DUKE OF YORK’S CINEMA AND ROUNDER FOR THE 3D GLASSES