Bloc Party: New kids on the Bloc

London's newest 'DIY punk band', Bloc Party, take a sledgehammer to that made-up genre. Emma Field gets the lowdown
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In a room in Chiswick, west London, four tired lads wax intellectual on the mirages of rock'n'roll. They are as humble as a sack of potatoes, so it's easy to forget that they are on the crest of a wave of live music surging through London. On the strength of three singles and a formidable live reputation, Bloc Party's take on the art-fused punk-funk recently sparked off by the likes of Franz Ferdinand has been selling out concerts in the capital and has led to two successful tours. They recently set off on the international circuit, supporting the effortlessly chic and sonically surging New Yorkers Interpol in the US.

In a room in Chiswick, west London, four tired lads wax intellectual on the mirages of rock'n'roll. They are as humble as a sack of potatoes, so it's easy to forget that they are on the crest of a wave of live music surging through London. On the strength of three singles and a formidable live reputation, Bloc Party's take on the art-fused punk-funk recently sparked off by the likes of Franz Ferdinand has been selling out concerts in the capital and has led to two successful tours. They recently set off on the international circuit, supporting the effortlessly chic and sonically surging New Yorkers Interpol in the US.

Bloc Party's first single, "She's Hearing Voices", alongside its nods to Joy Division and its megaphone tones recalling Mark E Smith of The Fall, marked them as a band on a level beyond the new-wave and Eighties-revivalist bands of the moment. The Bloc Party sound is one of furious energy, with irrepressible basslines, infectious beats and jigsaw guitars, drawing on club and electro music and the spicy musicality of mid-Nineties Blur. The subsequent singles "All the Marshals Are Dead" and "Banquet" - the latter also remixed as an electro track - confirm that they can fuse their influences into a vibrant and modern sound, extending to guitarscapes that recall The Cure and Fugazi and lyrics that build a strangely gleeful repartee of desire and discontent.

It does no harm that they are good-looking and unpretentious: "You can't really get carried away with it when you've got to do the dishes..." says the drummer, Matt Tong. They are quite happy with their reputation for being serious, even geeky; the Bloc Party website includes a section entitled "Discourse".

It has been an intense week for the band: meeting, planning and finalising not only the tour but also their forthcoming single and the order of tracks on their debut album. The lead singer, Kele Okereke, shy and gentle in comparison with his bold singing persona, explains that he has just had his tonsils removed - no doubt a traumatic experience for a vocalist. "It's strange, because we've had three weeks off while I've been recovering," he says. "But from Sunday until Christmas, there's four days off."

It's unsurprising, then, that the band seem a little shell-shocked with all that has happened since they signed their record deal in April, after their inspired idea to send a demo to Franz Ferdinand late last year led to a swirl of label interest. Okereke explains that they didn't really think much of it at the time. "I just read about Franz Ferdinand's influences in the NME. They listen to a lot of the music that I listen to, and so I sent them an e-mail saying that we were in a band that played similar stuff. Alex, their front man, bothered to tell me he liked the demo... It kind of opened a door, but at the time nobody knew that Franz Ferdinand were going to blow up to the thing that they are." The demo was played at a Domino-records party, and, after negotiating with several labels, the band ended up signing to the independent Wichita.

For such a new band, it is surprising to find that something of a mythology has already been built around them - one that they are eager to debunk. According to the NME, Bloc Party are a successful export from a rising DIY punk scene in New Cross, south-east London. Bloc Party find the story quite amusing. "The thing that annoys me," Okereke says, "is that none of us even lives in New Cross. I live in east London, Matt lives in west London, Gordon lives in Oxford, and Russell", he laughs, "doesn't live anywhere."

Russell Lissack is the guitarist with whom Okereke has been writing songs since their schooldays in Essex. After Moakes joined, finding a drummer became the pressing problem. "It was hard work to get to that point," Moakes recalls. "The three of us played for at least two years with loads of drummers, and we were dead set on doing it properly. It's really like trying to find the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle."

"Seriously, finding a drummer is like trying to find a wife," exclaims Tong, who, despairing of finding the right person, gave up playing the guitar and took up the drumsticks himself.

And the name? "It was just a play on words," Tong explains, denying any Bolshevik tendencies. "Obviously, taking the 'k' off 'block party' - something that's an American spontaneous outbreak of partying - changes the meaning."

As regards their reputation for being a DIY band, Bloc Party would like to dismantle that as well. "It's kind of the phrase of the moment, isn't it?" Tong observes. "Because bands are playing gigs on Tube trains and throwing impromptu parties - they are doing it for themselves! It's a sign of the times really, isn't it? It's a sad state of affairs, really, when personal endeavour like that is a big deal. Surely the whole point of doing anything creative is that you just want to do it."

"We are not Fugazi," Moakes adds. "We don't organise our own tours and sell our CDs out of a wheelbarrow at gigs. We are part of a vague process of getting our music to a wider audience."

Since the release of the singles this year, they have enjoyed a steady stream of ever more impressive dates. Initially uncomfortable with playing live, they have recently toured Japan and played at Leeds and Reading Festivals; playing live is now essential to their ethos. Having emerged through performing to London audiences, they are somewhat surprised when people dance to their songs: "One of the nicest things I remember", Moakes says, "is a gig in Nottingham. It was a sort of club night, and the kids went crazy from the start and were dancing the whole way through. I'm looking forward to when the album's out and they've learnt the songs. Then I think they'll cut loose."

It is not surprising that Bloc Party are defensive about suggestions that they are simply raiding the sounds of post-punk bands such as Joy Division, The Cure and Gang of Four. Yet although their songs depart from the sensibility of those bands, the danger of imitation is not far away. Okereke acknowledges: "Obviously, we've listened to certain bands and picked stuff up, but none of those bands really mean so much. The music that really inspires me is modern music. It isn't your Falls and A Certain Ratios or whatever. I didn't hear of Gang of Four until somebody mentioned them and said we sounded like them. I think you would be surprised if you knew what we listened to."

Moakes, confirming his place as pseudo-philosopher of the band, suggests that: "Where people go wrong is that they listen to bands that inspire them and they try to replicate some of the things that they've heard. They are essentially being inspired by particular parts and thinking that that's what it is and makes it different; rather than just being inspired by the space that the band has occupied or how they have responded to the music that is going on around them."

Presenting a resolutely modernist approach to song writing, they insist that they reject anything that is not absolutely necessary for a song, or if it sounds like something they have played before. Okereke assures me that their new album, to be released early next year, will have some surprises. "It's really colourful and it has a real sense of depth. I can't remember the last album that I've heard by a modern band that sounds really like its a sonic album. We've made a real album of sound and texture, rather than just songs. So I'm just glad really."

'Helicopter' is released by Wichita on 25 October. Bloc Party tour from Sunday

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