The Others: All tomorrow's parties

Inspired by The Libertines, The Others play for free and hang out with fans. Chris Mugan wonders whether it can last
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The Independent Culture

What links the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios, the London Underground and Radio 1's headquarters? Answer: they have all been scenes of impromptu gigs by The Others. Dubbed "guerrilla gigs" by a music media hungry for bands breaking the mould, such events were not just for publicity, but were a symbol of the inclusiveness of a new generation of bands that have gravitated to untrendy parts of London: the East End beyond Shoreditch and New Cross. Just as The Libertines played gigs in their flats and the homes of their fans, so The Other's leader, the rabble-rouser Dominic Masters, organised gigs that were free and open to people of all ages.

But now the time has come for The Others to stay true to their ideals as they embark on their first major national tour and release their eponymous album. So Masters is sitting in The Griffin, a pub in London's trendy Shoreditch, discussing strategy as well as music. Despite his snarled vocals on singles such as "Stan Bowles" (a homage to the QPR fan and former Libertine Pete Doherty), the Bristol-born Masters speaks with a soft, West Country burr.

He is confident that this tour will show how bands can play decent-sized venues but still be on first-name terms with their fans. Part of the deal has been the arrangement of free after-gig parties for his fans, especially the hardcore fraternity - the 853 Kamikaze Stagediving Division, named after a numberplate that was stolen at a gig.

"I've spent the last seven days on the guest-list allocation for 12 or 14 dates. Martin [the drummer] is organising the parties. On previous tours, we just waited until after the concert and said 'Take us somewhere'."

From the start, his mobile number has been available on the band's website and flyers. He points out that he has only brought one phone out with him to see who is texting him every five minutes. Masters says he gets up to 160 texts and calls a day, and that is not hard to believe.

"You can't cut yourself off. You've got kids who phone up about suicides, cut wrists and far too much drugs or drink; no idea how to control their habits. If you don't stick with them, give them some kind of guidance... A kid phoned up who had been drinking Buckfast, something like whisky called Drams, and taking amphetamines. And he wondered why he was bleeding.

"I do my best to answer every phone call, every text message, but it does get to extremes now. There's no space in the dressing room, so I've got to try and be realistic: take 10 or 20 fans home, the ones that are under 18 or the older ones that have missed the last train. Or me, the roadie and our manager all make a valiant effort to storm the hotel."

Although Masters is attempting to maintain a sense of community, there is a danger of creating an outlet for irresponsibility. "There's not many fights. They know we're organised enough to stop playing. We do provide a crèche facility, and that's possibly why the fans behave in the way they do."

More contentiously, for such a young fan base, the singer and lyricist is open about his use of crack-cocaine and heroin, and espouses a view that drug use can be regulated via self-control. Masters has gained this position through experience, especially of some bad times, but other people might not be lucky enough to scrape through the dangers.

"All of these kids were doing drugs before I came along. I'm sure Pete [Doherty] has led many kids astray, and many bands before him. Led Zeppelin, The Clash, I don't know, even Fleetwood Mac have led fans to different things. I don't think my band... openly encourage people to go out and do it. It is about freedom of choice. It's like Pete says in his interviews, he doesn't get any kids asking him for his dealers' numbers."

Masters is also on hand to help bands he meets on the circuit. Just as The Libertines helped The Others by giving them support slots, now he looks for younger groups to guide through the treacherous waters of the music scene. Masters talks proudly about The Paddingtons and The Used, groups that have supported The Others that have gone on to being signed themselves, a third generation of this new punk scene.

It is tempting to think about bands such as The Others as a reaction against the limpness of previous UK bands and a desire to start afresh. Masters's inspiration, though, comes from one place only: The Libertines. In "Stan Bowles", Masters sings about watching Doherty looking after the kids who came round to his house.

"The Libertines looked after us, so now we return the favour by helping newer bands. It's as simple as that. These teenagers weren't there in '77 so it's their chance to have a bit of punk time." What is different with The Others, though, is Masters' extraordinary work ethic, something he sees as a working-class attribute. "A lot of bands mess it up, because there's too much to do and too much to comprehend. I don't get much sleep. If you want to get signed, you've got to work hard."

Unlike many artists, Masters is aware that he has a lot of records to sell to meet his advance and to continue paying the wages of people around him. No wonder, then, he says, that he needs drugs to take his mind off things, though he refuses to let them interfere with his work. "Sometimes when my brain is working on too many things at once, I cut off and do drugs, but I don't do drugs when I get up in the morning, I don't take them before interviews and I rarely take them before I go on stage. They tend to freak me out and a lot of those kids are only going to see me twice a year.

"I might go on a three-day bender, but generally I'm in on Monday doing seven hours of interviews or whatever. Have I ever cancelled a gig?," he asks, pointedly, comparing himself to Doherty.

Masters is certainly more thoughtful than he appears on record. His songs have a naive quality reminiscent of early punk bands, especially the raw openness of Alternative TV. "I can't write in any other style. I couldn't stand on stage and talk bollocks. I couldn't look into people's eyes."

On "How I Nearly Lost You", Masters sings from the point of view of someone watching a friend suffer from a drugs overdose. Here, the stark honesty of the song helps make it even more effective: "I put my fingers on your wrist/ To see if you are alive".

"That's the only one that I wrote the other way round. I say I'm putting my hands on someone, because I didn't want to glorify death. That was me! I nearly lost my life! God damn, how brave I am, when really it was self-induced."

Masters sees himself as representing a working-class point of view, albeit from a fractured home life. He counts as his peers the likes of Mike Skinner, and the lesser-known MC Skinnyman, who came out of prison to sing about "a council estate of mind".

"I'm a bit old-fashioned about the class thing. I do get people on class a lot better than any other way. If there wasn't kids like us doing it, what you're going to have is less strong role-models for kids to get out of where they're coming from. So what if your mum's on the social? I got two Es at A-level, but still got into university."

I wonder if there is pressure to carry on an interesting life just to have enough songs for another album. "We've only touched the tip of the iceberg,' he exclaims. "I've got plenty to write about."

There is one song that Masters has written with such incendiary contents that his label ordered him to take it off The Others' debut album."I've got to think about the wages of everyone who works for us, but once I've sold 40,000 records, then I can do what I like." Now that is a frightening thought.

'The Others' is out on Monday on Mercury

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