As I arrive at The Hundred in the Hands soundcheck, for sale the floor of the upstairs room of the Old Blue Last is littered with an array of guitars, information pills wires, and keyboards with cases of all shapes and sizes to match. On stage the Brooklyn two-piece seem to glide between their stations, calmly, almost nonchalantly, warming their instruments up and coiling endless lengths of cable around the compact space the Old Blue has to offer. Eleanor, Jason and the beat master extraordinaire (Mr Apple Mac laptop) whir into action for another slot on their summer tour, their appearance in London followed by a much anticipated debut at Latitude and Festival de-Affaire in the Netherlands. Even within the empty room my feet can’t help tapping as The Hundred in the Hands fine tune their breed of electro; sugar spun candy pop sprinkles on a thick, fuzzy electric whirlwind that you can’t help but get lost in.
Once the soundcheck is put to bed, Eleanor and Jason are kind enough to spare me a few minutes for a chat in the luxurious surroundings the Old Blue Last does so well- peeling wallpaper, endless sirens and multipacks of Hula Hoops. But the charming pair seem unfazed by the rush around them, the capital is now like a ‘second home’ to them as this venture brings their UK visits up to four, although Eleanor insists they ‘still don’t know how to get around, nearly getting run over because the cars are going the wrong way.’
As a pair they seem in sync, each listens to the other, feeds off their ideas, never overrunning each other’s sentences. For creators of such urgent and, at times, epic music, there is a calm patience about each of them. Their musical exploration references many shades of genres through history, although their own musical education began with the good old bastion of classic American music: the radio. For Jason it was the ‘golden oldies on the stations, Motown and stuff like that’, a passion shared by Eleanor: ‘Because it was on the radio it wasn’t really a conscious choice, it just drifted into your life. And I listened to a lot of brooding, moody music in the 90’s, of course, as everyone should. But I think when I came back around to pop music and pop forms I realised I did have that in my background, but it was all the golden oldies, the girl group sounds.’
The pop power behind The Hundred in the Hands is undeniable, intentional even, with the band working with four different producers including pop mastermind Richard X and LCD Soundsystem’s aural curator, Eric Broucek. ‘We chose songs that would compliment producers’, Jason explains. ‘They didn’t necessarily shape the idea of the song, but just help it go the extra distance. To tap into the knowledge and ability like that is amazing.’ For Eleanor the assistance of four varying second opinions ‘adds a rush of energy and settle the arguments,’ although few producers would complain about taking on the task of laying Eleanor’s sweet, crystal cut voice over the record. She might be the only girl of the group, but an unmistakable femininity resonates within the melodies, a throwback to their radio listening days.
Their upcoming album is due for release in September and was even originally conceived to be a hip hop album, a nod to their mutual dedication to decades of the genre (although after 1992 it does get a bit wobbly), but the follow up to the pair’s EP ‘Dressed in Dresden’ flirts more readily with a sense of catchy hooks and itchy basslines. With 70 to 80% of the tracks home recorded at some point along the way, The Hundred in the Hands are undoubtedly keeping a lo-fi arthouse panache to their sound, but a heavy touring schedule means the chance to write new songs has got to find its own time amongst the shows.
This is where Mr Apple Mac apparently comes in most handy, not only for spending hours geeking out on dub and hip hop inspirations, but for moulding the biology of The Hundred in the Hands’s sounds. ‘Beats seem to grow; we write as we’re recording and we can’t play it until we record it so it’s always changing. After shows, in between shows, on the way to the next show, we can get the laptop open and work. The difficulty is trying to make the beats feel like they’re happening now.’ Jason’s passion for melding the experience of pre-recording and live performance is evident and is something the pair have perfected for their touring schedule. The frequent appearance of Steve Job’s silvery, shiny plug-in babies on stages across the world has exploded in the past few years, but whilst DJs have benefited endlessly from software programmes that turn the bedroom into the studio, some bands have failed to translate this process into a tangible and exciting live performance. No doubt familiar with this problem, Eleanor explains how the band have moderated their sound: ‘We’ve designed things so with the year of touring we’ve got coming up we have eight different channels of sound coming from the back track, so we’re trying to make it adaptable to a more full on spectrum. Not dance music, but something full on.’
What better place to test the theory than the jammed Old Blue Last. By 10pm the air seems sticky with all the bodies and plastic cups of beer. Jason said he hoped people would ‘get sweaty’ tonight and I do not think he will be disappointed. Opener Tom Tom tip taps through your head and feet but pop the vibration intricacies that make the record such a stunner are somewhat lost in the air. As the songs are reeled out the energy onstage fizzles between Jason’s stopstart juts and stomps on the guitar, and Eleanor’s vocal emerge from her diminutive frame and dishevelled, parted hair. A panicked elegance emerges from each song and new material marks itself out from the darker edge of Dressed in Dresden. A disco electro undercurrent darts from the speakers and limbs start to get looser amongst the audience. The final word must, of course, come from the Man of the Masses, the Voice of the People, or the Man in Front of Me Using Blackberry… “the band is fuckin amazin!”
All photographs by Sabrina Morrison
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