In conversation with Algiers
Algiers is an experimental American band from Atlanta, Georgia, that labels it’s sound as dystopian soul. This is a transcontinental affair as the project’s members met and played together in the United States but the band was officially formed in London. Their African country name evokes the anti-colonial struggle, symbolizing a contested space where violence, racism, resistance and religion commingle. The critics are trying to corner their message next to The Birthday Party or punk blues outfits, but I believe they are more close to Public Enemy type of speech.
The band has is releasing and recording music both on the US label Matador from New York, but also on the electronic indie label Mute in London. So, there is no wonder they have toured with bands like Depeche Mode and Interpol, whose labels are the two above mentioned. “All Power to the People” seems to be their motto as they perform with a Civil Rights Movement flag in the back of the band during their live shows.
For this interview we have talked with Ryan Mahan (bass) and Matt Tong (drums)
| How do you build your live shows?
Matt Tong: We’re fortunate that Franklin is such a gifted and compelling performer because in a sense, we don’t have to reign in the chaotic elements of our recorded music. Because of Franklin, the rest of us have perhaps a little more leeway than most bands to experiment on stage and to allow certain sounds to get away from us. We all appreciate that it puts a bit more pressure on him, but hey, he’s a total natural.
There’s also a lot of interplay within the band, mostly directed by Ryan, because he can control the song structures from his computer, so we’ve developed a weird set of visual cues to help coordinate what’s going on. Sometimes we change the structures of the songs in real time.
Ryan Mahan: Well, first we have to ensure Matt Tong is ready to play each night. Being an ageing cyborg, Matt needs quite a lot of maintenance and rebuilding, including changing out his sprockets and oiling his joints.
In all seriousness, it has required a lot of care and attention to build our show. We work with drum machines, samplers and live instruments, so it takes a lot of work to bring it all together. We hope you see and feel it when you experience it live.
| When do you feel like changing your compositions for the live sets, is it boredom a factor?
Matt: We make sets based on our energy levels. A six week tour can be exhausting so sometimes it doesn’t make sense to fill a set with bangers. Sometimes... you just get a vibe at a venue and feel like it might be your night, so you just go ahead and try and make the setlist the most uptempo thing you can do. But yes, doing the same set every night would be boring.
| For your latest album, “The Underside of Power”, you recorded in seven studios. Was this because of the producers involved in the production?
Matt: Ha. That wasn’t intentional. We just had a lot of logistical difficulties with this project, which meant we had to spread out the recording over a period of many months and several continents! Different producers bring different aspects to the fold, we all know that. I think we were interested in Adrian’s approach to texture and usage of synthesisers.
| You guys have done an amazing stripped down Mute Studio Session. What are your favorite Mute Records albums? Can you each choose 2 please?
Matt: Nitzer Ebb - That Total Age and John Spencer Blues Explosion - Orange (re-release)
Ryan: The very first record they ever put out: The Normal - TVOD/Warm Leatherette, Fad Gadget - Back to Nature/The Box, Einsturzende Neubauten - Strategies Against Architecture I-III, Depeche Mode - Black Celebration
| Can you guys tell me some stories about your gear and how you tend to experiment with them?
Matt: Well, it catches fire about 50% of the time. Lee is quite the inventor. Currently he has something called the “Tesche 3000” made out of the body of a knock off Strat. It has no strings, only springs arranged over the pick ups and it makes a pretty crazy sound when you drop it on the floor and kick it. He’s on his second one right now. I think the other one broke in half.
| What is our standpoint on music awards and the music industry worldwide?
Matt: Errrrr. The culture industry has a lot to answer for, right? The issue of identity and particularly within the circles we operate, black identity, is something that we spend a lot of time thinking about and the question of how we wrest back control of this dialogue from our presumed “tastemakers” drives us along most days. Music awards are a totally awful form of validation/vindication, though were we to win one, it would at least be a platform for us to roll out an honest take on the nature of it.
| How much faith have you got in the human race?
Matt: Whaaat? Not much faith, I guess.
Ryan: The human race doesn't exist outside of very specific conditions, economic and political. Under our current paradigm, we are simple zombies feeding on the living.
| Can you share with us some of your musical and internet related guilty pleasures?
Matt: The fact I use the internet at all is a guilty pleasure. Music? I don’t know. I like Fleetwood Mac and I think “Fly Into This Night” by Gino Vanelli is one of the great coked-up-getting-ready-for-the-disco jams of all time. The rest of the band made me turn it off the one time I tried to play it in the van. Suckers.
Ryan: We obsess over Inzane Johnny and Da Muthafuckin' Sharezone memes. Nothing is a guilty pleasure. It's all good. I love Iron Maiden just as much as I love Janet Jackson and Bobby Brown tracks.
| Are you guys sports fans?
Matt: AFC Bournemouth all the way. We currently have a Romanian player called Alex Dobre, who’s out on loan with Yeovil Town. He scored for them the other day. He’s been on fire for our U21s so I’m hoping he eventually breaks through to our first team.
Ryan: I fuck with basketball. We played the promoters of SuperUho last summer, and took them to school.
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