“My WhatsApp message to Andy afterwards simply read “Dialects were fucking sick”. I was almost angry when the bassist applauded the audience at the conclusion of the set. Fucking stop that, and revel in my adulation, you brilliant bastards.”
Late last year, I sent a budding reporter friend of mine out on a fact-finding mission to The Good Ship in London. Given that his favourite band were playing (and I was on the other side of the country) it was the least I could do. The headline act of &U&I got him in the door, but it was the two support acts – Waking Aida and Dialects – that really won him over, forcing his hand to send me messages like the one above.
At this year’s ArcTanGent Festival, I managed to introduce my one-time guest writer pal to Dialects guitarist Conor Anderson, such meetings being commonplace at the annual weekender. Conor was actually one of the first people I bumped into myself at this year’s festival, us both seeing each other every other year at Fernhill Farm. We caught up backstage, along with his axe-wielding partner Steven Gillies, to discuss the wonders of the festival – notable this year especially, being their first year to actually play. A huge crowd quite rightly turned up for the momentous occasion, but even just discussing the festival itself has the pair beaming. So how was it for them to finally play?
“Unbelievable. The best show we’ve ever played as a band.” Says Conor. “Biggest crowd we’ve ever played to, and nice to be playing to a crowd that love this type of music. The reception was pretty heart-warming.”
Steve was unable to attend last year’s outing, but has had an eye on the festival since its initial year, coming himself as a punter in 2014. The festival just happens to almost run parallel to Dialects’ history, as he goes on to say. “That was before our band even started. We started the same year as the first year, I guess. It’s always been something that myself and Conor – ‘We need to get on next year – and to be here, just four years into it running, to be playing The Yohkai. It’s a massive deal for us. So thanks very much to Simon, Goc and James for having us. Cheers guys, same again please.”
The backstage area is filled with small groups of people, having a drink and comparing notes from the weekend and talking shop. The Dialects pair are no different, with Conor and Steve just as eager to discuss the acts they’ve watched over the weekend as they are to talk about their own performance.
“It’s not been a disappointment. There’s not been a bad performance.” Says Steve. “Bands don’t disappoint here. Whether it’s crazy tech – Intervals and Animals As Leaders; super human people playing instruments. Or whether it’s just big, groovy, riffy stuff – there’s just not bad bands here. It’s such an eclectic mix. You’ve got pretty much every sub-genre of the prog oeuvre. It’s unreal.”
One band on the lips of every attendee at the festival is Meet Me In St. Louis. Having returned for a final run of shows this year, their appearance at ArcTanGent would end up being their last. Whilst shouts for Godspeed You! Black Emperor and American Football filled the fields throughout the weekend, it was MMISL that had the majority excited. Frontman Toby Hayes had quite the weekend himself, performing with his latest ensemble Eugene Quell in the early afternoon.
“I think it’s the appreciation.” Says Conor, discussing the turnout shown not just for MMISL but also Eugene Quell. “Obviously Meet Me In St Louis playing this was like such a big thing. Everyone was buzzing that they came back. I think James, the organiser of the festival, he kinda said in one of the podcasts prior to it that he was gonna help ‘em behind the scenes in making a comeback. I think for the fans it’s obviously just a big appreciative piece – to be associated with a project like that is gonna interest people and they’re gonna want to see the progression, the next steps what they went on to do.”
“I think they were one of the bands, for me certainly, that were doing stuff like this before it was really a scene here.” Comments Steve. “Like, you had bands like them, some of the older BSM bands like Secondsmile (RIP) and various other bands that I’ve probably forgotten. Million Dead, to an extent. They all had that slightly, kind of mathy infused…”
“I came into all this music a bit later, but it’s like that kind of attitude people have around Biffy.” Sums up Conor. “Like ‘I liked it before it was cool’, do you know what I mean? They’re that band for a lot of people, like I know of them from what they did before and it was amazing. For people like myself who didn’t previously know about them, then he (Steve) introduced me to them, like – you should listen to this band – I was like, oh my god they’re incredible. Then they start coming back and I’m like – jammin’, get to see them. That’s well good.”
The Glaswegian quartet were no slouches though, taking in bands across the weekend as well as putting in a real shift themselves for their debut ArcTanGent performance on The Yohkai Stage. Given the year they’ve had, it comes as no surprise to see the hard work paying off. Squeezing in numerous shows throughout the year as well as the recording of their debut album, Dialects also embarked on a whirlwind Canada excursion in May and recorded an Audiotree session for good measure.
“It does seem like the only way is up, that’s how it feels for me anyway.” Says Conor. “It’s been great, all the opportunities we’ve had this year have been excellent. They’ve helped the band get out there a bit more and for folk to start hearing our music a bit more. I just hope it continues; we just want to try and do as much as we possibly can.”
The pair put 2016 seeming less busy down to the amount of shows they packed into last year. During 2015, Dialects went out on the road four times, making the most of their first year of touring. Not content with smashing through numerous tours, there was also release of their debut EP ‘LTKLTL’ in May. Following Conor’s comments of the only way being up, Steve is in full agreement. “I feel personally really proud of our second year of touring and only our third year as a band. We’ve played shows in Canada and a couple of shows in North America, we’ve done an Audiotree – which TTNG have done, Vasudeva have done, Gulfer, And So I Watch You have done two. It’s a total box ticker for us.”
Canadian Music Week, the industry conference/music festival that takes place over ten days in Toronto, is a real influential tastemaker event. This year alone included performances from the likes of Tegan and Sara, Eagles Of Death Metal, Fat White Family and The Black Lips. So when Dialects were invited along to perform, the quartet were slightly hesitant.
“We thought it was a joke.” Admits Conor.
“It didn’t sink in. Even once we were there, it didn’t sink in.” Agrees Steve.
“We thought they’d made a mistake.” Continues Conor. “When they emailed us, we knew what it was – we knew it was Canada’s version of SXSW. When we originally got the email we were like – that can’t be right. They wouldn’t ask a band like us to do it. We went back to them and we were like, are you serious? The guy had to convince us by sending our video to us, saying ‘are you this band?’ and he was like ‘Yep, we definitely want you guys to come play’. It was amazing. All the stereotypes of Canada are true, everyone was really nice, so polite. The food’s incredible, the weather’s great.”
One of the main highlights for the quartet came in the copious amounts of poutine available and the various concoctions the Canadians cook up. There was also the small matter of blowing people away who were unfamiliar with their particular blend of experimental math/post-rock. One particular occasion occurred on a seven band bill at a venue called The Hideout, in which Dialects were setting up to perform well after midnight to a quiet room.
“…All of a sudden there’s a total influx of people who’d clearly been venue hopping. That was a total high.” Beams Steve. “People came up afterward and said ‘We don’t know what you guys just did, we’ve never heard anything like that before’. So for some people, I don’t think they’d heard the kind of bands that would play ArcTanGent or Tramlines or Strange Forms. They weren’t maybe acquainted in anyway with that progressive scene of music. Even after that, people bought stuff off Bandcamp and attached little messages like ‘I’ve never heard a band like you guys before’. It’s awesome to play to people that appreciate and love this kind of music. It’s a different kind of awesome to turn someone onto it. I find that very fulfilling as a musician in this kind of band, for someone to go ‘I’ve never heard of that before’. Give them a different avenue of stuff to listen to, that’s pretty awesome. We had a guy maybe in his late-30s-early 40s come up to us and he was like ‘I’ve never heard anything like that before, that was amazing.’ Then just went on with his night.”
“It’s pretty hard to react to that for me.” Admits Conor, still taken aback by the situation. “Obviously it’s great, you get people coming up to you after you’ve played a set who’ve really enjoyed it, that’s cool. But to have people come up and say that that’s the first time they’ve engaged with that type of music in any shape or form, it’s quite humbling.”
“That and poutine is unbelievable. If poutine became a thing over here, kebab shops would go out of business.” Nods Steve.
My introduction to Dialects came back in March of last year, initially discovering and being taken in by their backstory before hearing a note. A couple of Christmas party escapees, Conor and Steve joined together with ex-drummer Jonny Gormley to create the groundwork that would become Dialects. Rather than taking to the internet immediately with early recordings, Dialects opted to hold out for studio time with their friend and producer Nick Lawrie, who would also go on to produce the debut album.
“I really like it, I’m still very proud of it for the first EP. I still really like the songs.” Says Steve of LTKLTL, jokingly prodding Conor. “There’s two songs on it that Conor refuses to play now, ‘cus he thinks they’re quote-unquote shite…”
“Nick told us when we were recording. The first time I spoke to Nick about it, I told him we’d started this new band.” Conor starts. “We were pretty drunk in the street, absolutely steaming. I’ve got my phone out and I’m like ‘Listen to this’. The first song he ever heard was ‘Unknown Orbit’ and he was like ‘I’m recording that, we’re going into a studio and recording that’. Quite chuffed to see how over a year on it still stands strong, a lot of people still listen to it and like the tracks off it. I still like all the tracks on it as well. There’s maybe two that I don’t wanna play right now, but it’ll come back.”
“Conor currently likes all ten songs on our album, enough to play them live. So hopefully by the time the album comes out, we’ll still be playing maybe five or six of them live. So if anyone likes our album and sees us play some of it live, treasure that. Cherish that. Conor will write that turkey off.” Laughs Steve.
As well as having a near parallel history to ArcTanGent Festival, it was one of the organisers of the festival itself that gave Dialects a much needed nudge in the right direction. The ArcTanGent Twitter page was one of the first to share the video for ‘Unknown Orbit’ on its release, a definite doff of the cap and a sure sign of what was to come.
“Simon even put it on his personal Facebook. That was well before the EP came out. Right away we were like – people dig this.” Comment Steve. “So yeah, I’m still proud of it. I still think it sounds good. I think it’s a fair representation of the band we still are. I wouldn’t feel hard done to if somebody had only heard that. Our album’s got shades of that… but I feel it’s a logical progression.”
“I think there are some things that might surprise some folk, in terms of some sections being a lot heavier.” Adds Conor. “We’ve used vocals a little bit more on the album, not massively…”
“…More as an instrument, more as a layer.” Continues Steve. “There’s one song that actually has audible lyrics; it’s kinda gang-chanty then it gets a bit screamy. There’s two other incidences of vocals on the full album and they’re very background, it almost sounds like synth or a pad. We kind of felt it was necessary.”
“I’m interested to see what people think of those songs, see how the reaction is for them, ‘cus it’s a bit different and it’s nice to be playing about with that.” Comments Conor. “We don’t wanna completely rule it out, Steve’s a great singer, he’s a good vocalist. But we don’t wanna waste stuff like that when we know it’s there and we know that we could make use of it.”
With discussions quick to turn to new material and the release of their debut album, Conor and Steve are anxious to reveal all, but quite content to play the long game as they have to this point. A 2017 release is pencilled in, with the album now finished and mastered and ready for release. New management Tone MGMT are in talks with various different people, which Conor tells me could lead to “some smashing things”.
“Potentially there could be some cool stuff and some cool releases.” Adds Steve. “There’s a couple of labels that haven’t told us to fuck off, which is nice. But like anything, our first EP was recorded in December 2013 and didn’t come out till May 2015. We ideally wanted to put it on a label, we spoke to a couple of labels and thought we had something going, but circumstances beyond our control meant it didn’t pan out.”
Faced with the choice of self-releasing their debut and considering the personal finances that would need to go toward it versus getting a label on board is something the band have been discussing at length.
“To have to wait till 2017 is really not the end of the world.” Figures Steve. “We’re still gonna be playing live, we still have the first EP available, we’ve got the Audiotree session. All four songs we played in our Audiotree session are all from the album, so that’s available if people want newer songs. There’s enough out there and I think, as we were saying before, it’s difficult being in a band to feel like you might be perceived as being complacent. We’re not literally sitting about twiddling our thumbs, we’re doing stuff, we’re rehearsing together at least twice a week, we’re planning future tours, future shows. We’re dealing with artwork; we’ve been speaking to Jodie – the wonderful artist we work with – talking about the concept behind the songs so she designs appropriate artwork. We’re speaking to people about potential new music videos coming up. There’s always stuff going on, it just might not always be public domain. We knew we were going to Canada from November last year, it was under wraps for a while till we had everything sorted.”
“You have to take time to plan everything out, to make sure that you can get it on the best platform you possibly can.” Comments Conor. “We did it with the EP, we did the best we could with it and it seems to have done well. We’ll do the same with the album, we’ll do the best we can with that and see how it goes.”
Whilst discussions take place behind closed doors and the album is temporarily put on ice, Dialects have still got things to sate the appetites of those wanting more. Their aforementioned releases online will no doubt do the trick, and the quartet are also playing Damnation Festival 2016, taking place this weekend in Leeds. The UK’S premier indoor UK Heavy Metal fest will see Dialects sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Cult Of Luna, Electric Wizard and Abbath, squeezing in one more festival before the year is out.
“I think for us that’s important, the organisational side of things. As much as we’re doing this because we love playing music and we enjoy writing music together and playing live, I think we all want it to get as wide a platform as it can.” Comments Steve. “Especially this kind of left-field, progressive music. You want to be doing things like ArcTanGent, Tramlines and Strange Forms and Carefully Planned. So the planning part of it is really important, otherwise you just end up sitting around for x months going – we should probably put a song out. It can get a bit half arsed. You can’t be too organised with this. The great thing about having our manager Joe, who plays in a band as well, he kind of understands that planning things out and having a structure for releases and announcements does help. Even if it sometimes appears like we haven’t put out any music since October, there’s been a lot of stuff happening.”
Since their relatively short time together, Dialects have taken a measured approach in every aspect of the band. From their initial release and cinematic music videos, to the whirlwind twelve months they’ve just had. As discussed, it’s this work ethic and organisational streak that the band excels at, utilising their strengths and working closely with those who can help push them in the right direction.
“We’re in no rush to do anything if we can’t do it right.” Sums up Conor. “We want people to enjoy it as much as we do. To do that, you need to plan, you need to get everything ready and spend time working on that. That’s maybe the frustrating bit, ‘cus sometimes you want people to hear the music straight away, but we need to make sure we do it right and do the best we can.”