Cooped up around the back of this year’s AIM Independent Music Awards, a steady stream of indie celebrity passes through a press room positively humming in the word’s every import. To our left, a newly triumphant Romy Madley Croft and Jamie Smith reticently tell of their temperate elation at having received the accolade for Best ‘Difficult’ Second Album in Coexist, while an incongruously suited Enter Shikari stealthily raid the table to our right – one laden with booze and bar snacks of course issued gratis. If some of the British music industry’s most significant figureheads are busy hobnobbing outside, then it’s the media – incessantly productive, if perennially trivialised when it comes to the promotion of independent music within borders British, and indeed beyond – that keep the show rolling, if only for a few hazy hours. Tomorrow, the balance of power will once again shift in favour of the founders, founts of press release frenzy and so on, though tonight, we’ve Franz Ferdinand to ourselves. And stuck in the middle with both Paul Thomson and Bob Hardy, we set about stringing together some thoughts, words and reaction – whether right or wrong – for your vicarious digestion.
“I wouldn’t call it a chore, even though you’re playing to a bunch of people sitting around having their dinner” says Hardy, Franz having played a snappy three-track set inaugurating in earnest the evening’s proceedings. It’s a role they’re well equipped for, and one in which they’re better versed than most, having previously frequented more than their fair share of showbiz carousals. “We still got a buzz from it, and after you’ve played, it’s just loads of people and lots of free alcohol, so it inevitably turns into a party. Which is fun!”
But ancillary to the people and the partying is of course the press responsibility, even in light of which Thomson reassures: “I’m glad I came!” His voice a fierce blend of roll-up cigarette and complimentary Merlot, he’s as wondrously incompatible with his surroundings as Enter Shikari so obviously appear when seen in satiny plastic two-piece ensembles. It’s a niche scene, and no matter how slick Bullet might’ve sounded around a half-hour ago, it’s one into which the band haven’t always had the smoothest of integrations: “I’ve never really felt at home in any of the more showbizzy things we’ve been to – it always felt as though we’d gatecrashed ‘em!” Paul confesses impishly. “My past was always very, very visible.”
His interpretation tonight of the event’s ‘smart casual’ dress code is lovably impressionistic, too: beneath a black bomber Richard Hawley would be proud of, he’s (perhaps only inadvertently) cultivated the look of a Catholic renegade, a scintillating crucifix hanging from a plain white tee James Dean and, more latterly, the caricatures of the late John Hughes have together translated to quintessential rebel wear. From his collar stems a tattoo of a barbed rose, wriggling almost worrisomely up the left of his neck. It’s obviously not only that most observe their earlier showing when ensconced in seated, well satiated comfort which sets him apart from the supposed high rollers conglomerated together outside…
For in a sense, for a band to have indulged in as much luxury as Franz Ferdinand have over what is fast approaching a ten-year tenure of off-kilt Brit pop, they must have found their impromptu introduction of sorts an if not chastening, then aptly grounding experience. Playing before people only too aware of their every previous – whether good, bad, or indeed indifferent – must surely be a somewhat nervy prospect: “And every other person in the room owns a record label!” Hardy corroborates. “I think it probably just means that they’re into the same sort of stuff we’re into, so I’ve got a lot of respect for them all.” Whether the deferential outlook is mutual remains unclear, although in Domino they’ve at least the one table to have so staunchly aided, funded, assisted and financed their art-pop escapades.
It has been an enduring rapport to have served the band supremely in times both past and present. And it’s one that Hardy maintains has remained perfectly synergic as they may now look forwards toward the future: “You couldn’t get the relationship that we have with Domino with a major label – we’ve tried, and you just can’t. So there’s no question really, and I don’t think there’s anything that a major label can do that an independent can’t nowadays, to be honest.”
And with the event itself saluting great British independent record labels – Domino cofounder Laurence Bell’s contribution to the highly nuanced musical microclimate brewed by those this evening convened in Clerkenwell was incidentally commemorated in 2011, when he was rewarded with the inaugural Pioneer Award – Hardy and Thomson struggle to recall a more worthwhile cause. They’ve no vitreous accolade to take home and call their own – they weren’t even nominated for one. Although in the wake of their latest, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, we can but assume they’ll feature among the names and numbers for next year: “We just really wanted to show our support for independent record labels, ’cause independent record labels have basically been propping up major labels for years” Thomson confides, his smirk broadening wickedly. “Majors essentially just steal – they follow the trends that the independents spot.”
Franz Ferdinand of course have a not insubstantial amount of previous with those devious majors aforementioned: sophomore recording You Could Have It So Much Better was released via Epic and distributed by Sony stateside, as was its follow-up, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Though if nothing else, it was when NME really got ahold of the term indie whenever it was midway through the naughties that, if the word lost much of its initial significance, the band were most closely associated with it – whatever it then meant. They were positioned – primarily due to said publication – at the very forefront of what could then have been considered a somewhat vanguardist movement: here was an act with members picked up from all over the place to subsequently form in Glasgow; one heavily influenced by highland denizens Orange Juice, and fuelled by a primary, somehow even primal intention to make “music for girls to dance to.” They had absolutely no right to garner the critical, let alone commercial, acclaim that lay in wait.
“Well, we were an independent band, and that has always meant the same thing to me” Paul reassures me. “Though I see us as being independent, as opposed to being indie. I guess the term just got hijacked and became a genre; it became a sound. I’m still not entirely sure what that sound is exactly, other than guitar music I suppose. But we very much see ourselves as an independent band on an independent label.”
And although the AIM Awards may be that little bit more demure when set against the pomp and show of, say, the BRITs (in which Franz already have no less than two victories and a hulking eight nominations to their name), the overarching sense of ceremony remains. It’s one that’s intrinsic to the cyclical rigmarole of the awards season into which we’re now entering yet that said, “it’s a bit different to the ones we’ve been to” concedes Thomson. “There’s not a tux in sight!”
There is, however, a vibrant array of sartorial flair on display – a reminder that, independent of major label dosh, the AIM Awards ought to themselves be commended for their bringing together of so many likeminded, though most importantly pioneering, if at times seemingly disparate, individuals, imprints and what have you. It’s very much a positive, promotive occasion in many senses, though it feels similarly significant in its reconnecting of an intangible product with a material upshot. That is to say that we tonight see abstract art paid off in the glassy hulks the likes of Django Django, Geoff Travis and Enter Shikari proudly lug around all night.
“It’s not really [a prevalent thought, this reclamation of the material]” Hardy admits. “I mean I couldn’t even tell you what we have won, to be honest! It’s not something you wake up celebrating every morning. ‘Look at this one! It’s all shiny!’ The events are nice, and I think they’re important, but I don’t…” For someone so unanticipatedly pragmatic, it’s disconcerting for his words to dawdle. Thomson, by contrast, is rather more brusque in his appraisal of the evening: “I mean the whole idea of an independent music awards – at first, I questioned it. Why do they have their own fuckin’ ass-kissy, back-slappin’ awards ceremony like the rest of the music industry? But then I guess I can understand, ’cause they wanna be seen in the public eye to actually be making a contribution to music, ’cause they are. Independent labels, record stores and whatever else – they definitely do.”
And just before we go our separate ways – Franz Ferdinand return to the plentifully laden tables of the ceremony itself, while the conveyor belt of reputed VIP continues to churn its way right through the media room – I slip in a quick quiz on Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. Released late on last month via Domino, it sees the four-piece revert to the soi-disant ‘right track’, harking back to the band’s more vivacious past. Gone is the superficial glitz of, say, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, replaced instead by the gritty eccentricities of the eponymous début. “Is that a good thing?” counters Hardy, palpably hankering to return to further inebriation. “I think it harks back to songwriting. But harks back? I mean when did songwriting really go away?”
Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is out now on Domino.