Young Knives: how to make a pop album for £12,000

That’s what Mercury-nominated Young Knives managed – once they’d learned how to solder and weld

It’s five years since Guns N’ Roses delivered Chinese Democracy, the most expensive album ever produced, costing in excess of $13m (£8m). But the ravages suffered by the music industry since then have caused artists to cut their cloth. Now one acclaimed British band has produced their latest album for just £12,000 after mastering soldering and welding to build their own instruments.

Young Knives, the former Mercury Prize nominees with a string of top 40 singles to their name, have taken the DIY principle to extremes.

Today they release Sick Octave, a record created from found objects, second-hand kit bought from eBay and instrumentation built from scratch using a Maplin soldering set.

As the music industry moves to download and streaming services, which pay artists pennies instead of pounds, the days of record companies shovelling huge recording advances to bands are over. After blowing £60,000 on Los Angeles recording sessions for their last album, Ornaments From The Silver Arcade, Young Knives have downsized, building a home studio in an Oxfordshire garage to create Sick Octave, which is released on the trio’s own label and pledge-funded by fans through an appeal on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

“The old funding model is unsustainable,” said Henry Dartnall, Young Knives’ singer and guitarist. “We spent £60,000 recording our last album but we didn’t make £60,000. You pay £500 a day to hire a studio then find that the demos you made at home actually sounded better.”

Going DIY gave the band creative freedom. “We built our own synth from a ‘how to make a circuit board’ manual,” Dartnall said. “I did GCSE electronics and I only got a C, but it was possible to do the soldering. We wanted a bass sound which would have cost £350, so we asked: ‘How can we replicate it?’ We got a big project box from Maplin for £25 and learnt how to connect resistors to a circuit board. We made our own theremin, too.”

The band bought old Casio synths on eBay for £20 and built their own pedals to manipulate the sounds. They produced additional hand-painted Sick Octave synths and sold them for £75 as part of the Kickstarter appeal.

Instead of splashing out on expensive percussion, the band rooted around for sheet metal and junk. Dartnall said: “I live next door to a farm, so I borrowed lots of stuff I found in the barn. We found an old pulley system that sounded awesome when you hit it and gas canisters which you got different tunings from when you hit them with scaffold poles. We used that as the percussion basis for a track.” A free iPad app provided the toy piano sound for one song.

The band exceeded its £10,000 pledge target, with 413 backers raising £12,135, earning rewards that included a role in the band’s next video. The group spent £1,000 on a recording desk used by Right Said Fred for their novelty hit I’m Too Sexy. “There was a button called ‘hit’ in the middle but we didn’t press it,” said Dartnall.

Young Knives will take their customised synths, circuit boards and sheet metal on tour this week to reproduce the album in full. Dartnall, who spent the weekend packaging albums and spare equipment to post to pledgers with his bandmates, believes other groups will follow in their footsteps.

“You have to be a cottage industry these days,” he said. “It was daunting because the industry tells you that you have to spend money on an expensive studio to sound good. But once you’ve got some mics for £9 and a few bits and bobs off eBay, it’s much more fun and creatively inspiring to do it yourself.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor