Creativity isn’t a requirement, it’s a gift. Imagination combined with a general perception allows an individual to suffocate regularities and standards and be original and authentic, so much in a way that a thought, a product or an action convulses into something beautiful. Compared to the rest of the hardcore/metalcore genre, English quartet ENTER SHIKARI don’t quite fit as their blend of alt metal and electronica pushes forward a new identity that’s backed by a staggering live set that you really just need to see for yourself. A few hours before their recent headlining gig at The Annex Wreckroom in Toronto, we sat down with bassist Chris Batten to discuss the group’s progressive push into North America, their DIY ethic and how they’ve slowly earned the respect of “haters”.
It’s been said that music is a universal language that knows no boundaries; do you agree?
Yes I do. I think its pretty obvious from the style of music we play that we don’t really hold to any boundaries whatsoever. We’ve always made music that’s been a very expressive art form and to be in one certain genre and give yourself rules is a bit of a contradiction.
With Enter Shikari having a successful history in the UK, do you have any idea as to why it’s taken you guys a bit longer to break into the North American scene?
We have our own theories (laughs). I think when we first started coming overseas we approached it wrong. We came over and played a week or two doing one coast as a headliner and no one knew about us. It was pretty silly to be headlining. Once we started doing support stops with a guaranteed audience, things happened a lot quicker. It’s a common thing for bands in the UK to be a certain size there and then come over here and have to start again because the country’s so big and people don’t look outside of the borders.
The major cities in North America are very, very saturated with new artists. For your style of music, what ignited the band to decide to fuse metal with electronic?
It really wasn’t a specific idea like a light bulb switching on inside of our heads. When we first started, we were very influenced by our local scene – which was a thriving music scene with a lot of hardcore, metal and punk – and as we got older we kind of just discovered dance music. We had London right on our doorsteps so it had everything to offer us so it became a pretty natural thing. Once Rory joined the band and started playing guitar and Rou became focused on singing, he wanted to do something that was in another outlet and so he then started getting into production, and it just all came together really.
Electronic music is just starting to grow and become mainstream here in North America, but I understand that in London and the UK in general, there’s a much longer history of dubstep and general dance music.
Yeah, definitely. Ever since the rave scene, dance music has been pretty big and drum and bass and dubstep really just happened over the last few years. Drum and bass has been around a bit longer than dubstep but it’s become a really organic movement. You now have a lot of people producing the type of music and it’s now on the radio.
One of the reasons it seems to be a bit more popular in the UK is because a few bands here criticize mixing it with other genres. Do you think the appreciation is the biggest difference between the two scenes?
When we first started doing it, we always had our “haters” – you know, the elitist people who say, “Why are you ruining my genre? I can only focus on so many things”. We always knew that kind of reaction was going to happen, but we learned very quickly that it was actually happening and I don’t know… I think as we kept doing our thing, people respected us more for it. Now it’s just an expected thing; people are experimenting more.
Has touring and festivals like Vans Warped Tour helped you introduce your type of music more?
Definitely. Warped Tour is a great festival to do and we’ve done it twice now and it’s great because of its wide reach. You get to tour the whole country with a lot of bands playing that you wouldn’t normally see together. Even if someone is walking past your stage, they could take in what you’re doing and even enjoy it. That’s the thing with North America – you have to tour here in order to be successful. We’ve found that out the hard way.
Well, that’s the thing – it’s really hard to sell CDs these days and you have to be able to do different tours. As a band, Enter Shikari are very DIY as you have your own record label, but when you decided to take your music to North America and beyond, you chose to sign to another. What was the reason behind that choice?
It’s one thing being really independent and big in the UK and parts of Europe, but to be honest North America is really a different world. We didn’t really know anyone at first and knew we would have had a terrible time without being on a major label. We kind of felt like a small fish in a big pond so we signed to one, but they became more focused on iTunes and other things than actually releasing our record. Now we licensed the rights to Hopeless, a much smaller independent label, and things are now starting to come together.
Was there a specific reason you chose to be DIY at first?
I think it was really just a necessity (laughs). When we were at the level of starting to be successful, we were still very underground and none of the labels really wanted to take a chance on us even though you could see 400-500 people coming to our shows up and down the country. We’ve never been a band to kind of sit back and wait for things to happen and we got fed up as well. We then met our manager – who had run independent labels before – and getting into that became a natural thing to do. When it was time for us to release the album, major labels finally took time to see what was happening.
Do you think moving to a bigger label compromised your intent to be DIY?
No, not really. We had some distribution problems with our second album and ended up licensing to a major which made it follow a major label cycle. We look at that as just a lesson learned; it really didn’t work out for us and we realized later that when you do things yourself and you’re that attached to it, things simply work out better for you.
They say you should never let someone do something you could do yourself.
Yeah, and the thing with major labels is that everyone wants to feel like they’ve done their job. Like your A&R man wants to feel like he has contributed a bit to the songs and others want to feel like they created a part of the artwork as well. At the end of it all, everyone just wants to add into what you’ve done and you lose something.
Regardless of the reception, Enter Shikari always seem to push forward as a group. What’s the main inspiration behind that drive and motivation?
I think it’s really just the excitement of being on stage. When we’re on there, we always want to be writing new records and when we’re doing that, we can’t wait to hear what people think of them. It’s just that excitement, and waking up in a different city every day isn’t a bad thing at all.
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