New Young Pony Club - Electro stars rise from the rave

New Young Pony Club rode the nu-rave scene to a Mercury Music Prize nomination in 2007. Now the female-heavy electro-pop group are back. Rob Sharp meets them
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Andy Spence, one quarter of New Young Pony Club (NYPC), is exhibiting some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. He's on his hands and knees, dustpan and brush gripped in his paws, shovelling up dirt. "I just like to keep things clean," laughs the guitarist as the rest of the band – vocalist Tahita "Ty" Bulmer, keyboardist Lou Hayter and drummer Sarah Jones – buzz around their North London studio. Hayter and Jones make their apologies and leave as Bulmer and Spence bounce down on to a comfortably tattered and old-looking sofa.

If an inquiry about our current location, a complex of rehearsal rooms and recording studios – "you'll be lucky if it's still there mate" – is anything to go by, the band have gone to ground a bit since their debut album Fantastic Playroom heralded the arrival of electronic-indie "youthquake" nu rave in 2007. That year Klaxons drunkenly took to the Mercury Awards podium in a flurry of gold lamé (having beaten NYPC, who were also shortlisted). Such groups, with their shiny clothes and androgynous haircuts, seemed the perfect antidote to the post-Strokes rise of landfill indie; the Kooks, the Pigeon Detectives, the Wombats. Nu rave's acme came with the NME's 2007 indie-rave tour, where NYPC joined Klaxons, CSS and The Sunshine Underground on a schoolyard romp around the nation; Klaxons' Jamie Reynolds even dated Hayter. Presumably their babies would have been born wearing shoulder pads.

These days it's a different story. Though NYPC have just attended this year's NME awards, they did so reluctantly, after being coerced into doing so by their management. Klaxons, meanwhile, are still to release a second album, and were forced to re-record parts of it after their follow-up to 2007's Myths of the Near Future was deemed "too experimental" by their label, Polydor. In fact, NYPC's most notable property over the last three years has been an almost complete lack of press attention, which they put down to their absence on a world tour, as well as a slightly stuttering approach to writing their second album, The Optimist. This new record is self-released, self-produced and self-funded after the band parted ways with their Australian label, Modular, in 2008.

While Spence and Bulmer have focused on the apparently stomach-wrenching task of penning this sophomore outing ("recording our new album was like cutting our guts out," Spence told the NME last month), Hayter and Jones have pursued their own side-projects, Hayter gravitating towards her own vampish electro-pop mantle, the New Sins, while DJ-ing with stylist-of-the-moment Nova Dando. Jones has toured with Bat for Lashes. The group has also seen off their bassist, Igor Volk, who somewhat euphemistically "departed to pursue his own projects" (later Bulmer calls him "Ego", explaining that mystery with majestic efficiency). So where do they see themselves in the post-new-rave landscape?

"In one way we're a pop act," asserts Spence, affably. (Bulmer occasionally finishes his sentences for him.)

"There's this massive scrum, this seething mass of bands all trying to emerge on top, but the way most people do that is to have this huge peak where everybody has heard of you, and then no one has heard of you, because the record labels are not willing to invest in people in the long term."

Bulmer chimes in. "So to have longevity you have to take baby steps and you have to do things at your own pace, even if people ignore you for years," she says. "Sooner or later the cream will rise to the top. There are cases of bands surely but slowly doing this."

Indeed, never before has the self-released album been so accessible. The flip-side to the decimation of the music industry could be something liberating for bands who gain kudos from appearing to operate from the peripheries. "You almost have two industries," adds Spence. "The one where the artists get decided on by the gods of the music industry – coming up with the Florences, and so on – who get thrust upon everyone. But I don't know if that's what people want. I don't know if that's what they're signing up for." NYPC, the pair say, want to operate half-way between mainstream acceptance and credibility, cherry-picking the best of both.

When the music press first started to give NYPC full-scale attention in 2007, the NME described them as following on from glamorous American outfit Fischerspooner, who themselves spliced dance music with early 1980s new wave.

In truth, the group deserved more room than was offered them by the nu-rave pigeonhole. As individuals, they were already prolific by the time New Young Pony Club first opened its doors, prior to their first album. At this time, Spence had been involved in the music industry for nigh-on 15 years as a DJ, producer and musician in electronic outfits like Freakniks – described on some websites as an "acid jazz duo" – and the Latin-infused Organic Audio. Bulmer's father Rowan played in a band with the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones; she had already co-written with electronica outfit Blue States (their "Season Song" appeared on the soundtrack to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later) when she met Spence. The two combined forces, their keyboard player and drummer joined and very quickly they had a hit, "Ice Cream", released on independent label Tirk Recordings in 2005 and then reissued two years later by Modular. The song was a somewhat advert-friendly, innuendo-laden chance for Bulmer to combine sex with sweets, delivering lines, as is her shtick, in a child-like punk-ish bleat.

When the album was released their sound was compared to "electroclash" – a US-founded movement that rose to prominence in 2001, featuring artists like Ladytron, Le Tigre and Peaches. Mostly it combined overt pop moments ("The Bomb", "Tight Fit", "Ice Cream") with more challenging interludes ("Fan", "Hiding on the Staircase", "Talking Talking").

The Optimist, as well along with Bulmer's new bleached-blonde hair, was first unveiled to the public on a chilly mid-February evening at London club Madam JoJo's. While it is unmistakably less polished than Fantastic Playroom, it still maintains a lot of that album's sensibilities. "Lost a Girl" and "Chaos" are still out-and-out pop tunes ("Chaos" was supposed to be included on the first album). One of The Optimist's darkest, most inspiring moments comes with valedictory track "Architect of Love" – presumably a vehicle for Bulmer to lament the end of a relationship ("This was broken from the start/ The blueprint had no art/ The architect of love does not remember us"). The Optimist has garnered mostly positive reviews.

"There was definitely a feeling that we wanted to be a bit rawer," says Spence. "Maybe we were a bit over-sensitive to the fact we got labelled as this style band and part of us was like: 'We'll show you style band.' There was probably a bit of that and that's how it turned out the way it did. I think next time we'll chill out a little bit."

He seems to think that his band's association with nu rave hurt their popularity. "As a band that scene thing didn't have any effect because there was no scene, that was a press fabrication," he adds. "It was more of a movement, a desire for all of these bands to make an electronic, funky, dance-like sound. That NME tour was fun, it was exciting, it was a great time to be making music. A lot of new things were coming out. The common desire we all had was not to replicate Beatles songs. I do think affected it people's perceptions of us, though. I think people who had heard of us found it was easy to label us. A lot of people maybe think they take music more seriously and they dismissed us."

Bulmer takes the opportunity to champion the band's three female musicians. "Unless you've got a massive ego and you're going to be a front person, then I think female musicians are backward in coming forward," she says.

"This is probably going to sound really patronising but this is my experience. As a musician, when you walk into a room, you're surrounded by men in their late teens and early 20s and the testosterone is just a seething mass. People are shouting and throwing their weight around, everyone wants to be heard and it's the female mentality in that situation to keep quiet. When you have an idea it might be 10 times better than the five blokes in the room but you don't want to be shouted down, you don't want to rock the boat.

"Even just a rehearsal can be a tremendously fraught environment. Women are much more about the collective good, especially at that age. That's one reason that women aren't in bands, because it's very hard to deal with that day in, day out. It's the way things work. If I'm the lead guitarist and I'm a woman, I'm going to play what the track needs. If I'm the lead guitarist and I'm a guy, I'm going to play what makes me look good."

The Optimist is "taut and dark, like The XX learning to dance, with basslines that seize your spine and hooks that snag your brain," according to The Independent on Sunday. The future will probably be riddled with pitfalls. "It's hard to be in that bit in the middle," concludes Spence. "We want success, we still want people to hear the record, but we don't want to just do anything to get that. We want it to be satisfying us artistically."

'The Optimist' is out now; touring to 27 March (