There are two groups of people that go by the name Dark Horses. One is a set of talented musicians who live in the world we all share. They might drink in the same pub as you, give you a smile as you walk down the street – hell, you might even see them in the supermarket. But the other Dark Horses are a more interesting prospect. They’re a leather-clad group of neo-rock stars who apparently sleep under the pier and live in a grainy black and white world of smoke lit by the taillights of a beaten up ’57 Chevy. Both make incredible music, a stunning mix of scuzzy lo-fi indie and krautrock-influenced dance music that seems totally futuristic and like the whole of rock’n’roll history at the same time. Debut single ‘Alone’ comes on like PJ Harvey’s ‘Is This Desire’ dragged into a Merry Pranksters’ rave to lose itself.
Normally we’d want to get the people behind the music, break past the image to discover the personalities. But with Dark Horses the carefully-honed mythology is so exciting, so complete, that to even discover that the band members breathe air rather than pure nicotine would be to ruin the spell. Do we want them to break character, and anyway, will they even give us the truth if we ask?
“That depends on what you ask and how you ask it,” says singer Lisa with a coy smile. “It depends what we want to tell you.”
“No,” admits guitar playing Andy in response to our doubts, “She’s going to make it all up.”
As well as the Dark Horses-logoed biker jackets and capes there are art house films, a mysterious red pyramid that appears on their artwork, an allergy to colour photos (our cover shot is the first we’ve seen), invented biographies, and even an obtuse motto, “The lightning is within you”. Hell, one of them goes by the name Tommy Chain and plays, wait for it, a heavy, metal chain. As myths go, they’ve certainly put the graft in.
“I don’t know if it’s a myth so much as our own reality,” suggests Lisa. “You can live in whichever reality you want to, and we just create one that we enjoy.”
So you’re saying that what the audience perceives of Dark Horses is pretty much it – it’s not an act, not a construct?
“That’s part of it but at the same time you project what you want on to something anyway,” explains Lisa. “So Dark Horses is all about a space that people can be in and feel a certain thing, think a certain thing and be quite open and be quite free.”
Despite not really knowing whether we want to know the real answer or not, we ask how the band came together. Lisa dodges our dilemma by offering a kind of shadowy spirituality that lurks across all the mediums they work in.
“If you send out a signal, a certain soundwave, and it oscillates in a certain way then only certain people are going to hear it,” she claims. “And if those people hear it, they’re the people that you want to hear it anyway and then they’ll come and find you. And that’s essentially what it’s about, energetically.”
“I’ll give you a reality, an actual thing that happened,” says Andy. “I was working with Unkle and Lisa was working with Unkle and we both lived in Brighton. She had an acoustic band and I played electric guitar.”
“I wanted someone who could play guitar but who couldn’t play guitar, and Andy fitted the bill really well,” finishes Lisa, dragging us thankfully back to the cryptic.
There’s a delicate balance to rock’n’roll, a pull of opposites. Too artful and you lose the rawness, the grind, the sex and violence of the genre – things get too considered. But go too far the other way and you end up like Oasis. Most importantly though there’s a line you don’t want to cross and head into…
“Pretentiousness,” Andy concludes before we can say it. It’s clearly a word that the highly visual band have come into contact with before. What’s more important, the emotion of the music, or the art of the image?
“Well we’ve been really lucky because we’ve had visual direction, artistic collaboration, photographers involved in the project of Dark Horses since the beginning,” Lisa explains with a nod to Wiz, a hugely talented director who has made videos for Dizzee Rascal, Suede and many in between. “That’s always been part of the animal, part of the beast. Everyone has their own particular element that they’re drawn into focusing on. But it’s meant to be more of a collaborative, creative experience together. I wouldn’t say one’s more important than the other, it depends who you ask in the group.”
“I think the boys in the band would say that they were more interested in trying to make some nice music,” Andy says, stressing that he counts Lisa as a boy. “But we’re lucky, because most bands don’t tend to have that access to those great, creative people like Wiz.”
Another key part of the gang is photographer Ali Tollervey who has been documenting the band for so long he’s been snapped up to show his Dark Horses pictures as part of the Fringe. The evocative black and white images taken on grainy film have the feel of Pennie Smith in her 70s heyday and really add to the band’s mystique.
But with external elements like Wiz’s artistic input playing such an important role, can Dark Horses be the gang they appear in print and on screen? Surely it can’t be a democracy, and does that matter anyway?
“There’s two sides to it,” considers Andy. “There’s the stuff we’re doing musically and there’s the art side of it. They’re two different things and definitely there’s people making things look a certain way, and perhaps the band don’t have a big hold on that.”
“Yet at the same time we’re all feeding from the same water source,” adds Lisa, “so we’re still very much part of a unit. We take adventures together, you know.”
When those adventures include things like playing their third ever gig on the huge stage of Brixton Academy supporting Kasabian, making their tracks with Richard Fearless and putting out beautiful artefacts like their newsprint book, you know this is a gang that you’d want to be part of. Regardless of whatever the reality might be.
LIVE: Sat 14th May, Jam at the Great Escape
EXHIBITION: AM Gallery, Weds 25th-Tues 31st
Words by James kendall
Photography: Kenny Mc Cracken Assistants: Matt Hodson and Sam Wilson
Art Direction: Kenny Mc Cracken, with Pierre Angelique and Ali Tollervey for Dark Horses
Make Up: Anna Inglis Hall Hair: Emma Hedges Styling: Megan Dow Studio: Garage Studios