Although their fashion aesthetics and musical influences draw from vintage eras, their sound is quite unique in modern synthpop. Minor keys and Chromatic chord structures dominate as Roberta Fidora’s haunting, powerful vocals melt over stabbing synths and a stark percussive framework, all laced with Macaulay Hopwood’s nouvelle vague bass and six string sensibilities. And the wonderful end result sounds as if DEPECHE MODE are being eaten by SIOUXSIE and THE BANSHEES!
CURXES are certainly attracting interest. The Electricity Club talked to Roberta and Macaulay from CURXES about their inspirations, their songs and how they tackle the challenge of performing live as a duo…
Which periods of popular culture and history most fascinate you and why?
Macaulay: The 1950s – I would quite happily have been 18 back when Rock’n’Roll was completely new and the ideology of the teenager was born.
Roberta: I think for me it would have to be the ’40s and the late ’70s / early ’80s. I’ve always admired the spirit of people living in those particular eras and I love the 1940s film stars, they exuded so much sultry beauty, power and sophistication.
Who were the synthpop acts that first got you enthused about the genre?
Macaulay: THE KNIFE, DEPECHE MODE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and ULTRAVOX.
Roberta: DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, ERASURE, early EURYTHMICS, PET SHOP BOYS and NINE INCH NAILS. The experimentation of THE CURE caught my attention too. Musically and stylistically, they’ve all been extremely prolific and they were always around me growing up. The PET SHOP BOYS performance at the Brit Awards still gets me every time. So do Martin Gore’s leather trousers!
What inspired you to actually take up a electronic based template following your previously more conventional indie incarnation?
Macaulay: It was mainly out of necessity; our previous band was great fun but after a while, we grew tired of the limited sounds and textures that a conventional indie/punk band could make.
After a bit of experimentation, we realised we could do everything we wanted with just the two of us, creating the backbone of a track with synthesizers and putting on the human embellishments with voice and guitar. We’ve both been doing basic programming for a few years but CURXES really threw us in at the deep end. We’ve learnt so much over the last 6 months and now have a complete ball, sampling weird and wonderful objects to use in songs.
Roberta: The pen is mightier than the rock band. As is the synthesizer, sampled football, metal pipe and the heavy breathing. We definitely both felt restricted in our old guise. It got to a point where it was just frustrating to write and Mac had started talking about the possibility of an electronic side project. I wasn’t sure I had the confidence.
How important was it for you to keep guitars in as part of CURXES instrumentation?
Macaulay: Not necessarily that important, it’s just that guitar is my first instrument and it felt natural to play. We honestly didn’t think about it. There are different emotional flourishes between guitar and synth, but they can both be used to compliment one another.
Roberta: I’ve always found something a little too exclusive and elitist about certain types of guitar-orientated music. Often it’s based around bravado and genital extensions, rather than substance. The ones who play indulgent twenty-minute solos and live for their fret-board prowess are the same folk who say that synthesizer music “isn’t real music”. You can dance to THE HUMAN LEAGUE, kiss to M83 and cry to King’s Cross when it all goes wrong. I think there is something in electronic music for everyone.
CURXES are electronic pop but perhaps not necessarily as we know it. What do you think helps contribute to your unique sound?
Macaulay: We usually throw all our musical influences into a pot and see what comes out. Our ideas are gathered from all over the musical spectrum; chord progressions, structures and melodies are often inspired by classical pieces or soundtracks whereas the actual sounds are obviously from a more electronic era. We like creating samples from found objects too.
It’s especially hard to do something different in music now and very tough to shock anyone by throwing a musical curveball their way. Music has developed to such extremes that there are listeners prepared for these and in many ways have become desensitised to such an extent that when they do hear something new, it passes largely unnoticed.
Roberta: Saying that, we’re very grateful for all the positive comments we’ve had and the people we’ve met along the way who really support what we’re doing. I’d say honesty, persistence, samples, fake choirs and having no drum kit/machine are contributing factors sound-wise.
How would you describe the creative dynamic between the two of you with regards songwriting and studio work?
Macaulay: Roberta will often have a basic vocal melody which she will bring to a session and from there we’ll get the feel of the song and will start shaping chord progressions and structures. Then I’ll go away and work on the intricacies of the beats and syncopated rhythms whilst Roberta does the lyrics. It’s very collaborative and we’re defining our roles more and more as we progress, however this isn’t a format we’ll rigidly stick to. We both contribute ideas and the ones which fit best are chosen.
Roberta: It’s funny, when we started, Mac would have all these amazing ideas in major keys and I’d bring along something weird and miserable. The Constructor especially was built from those contrasting styles. I wrote the verse and middle section. Mac wrote the chorus. I think that says a lot about our personalities too. Mac is very driven and optimistic. I’m a bit of a grumbler, truth be told.
You have a preference vintage styled fashion but do you have any preferences for vintage synths at all?
Roberta: Unfortunately, we don’t own any antiques yet, but we’ve collected some later synthesizer models. We’ve got a Roland D-50 and JP-8000, a Clavia Nord Lead 2x and I’m babysitting a Roland JX-3P and a JV-1080. All with manuals. In terms of resources, we’ve got a little way to go before we can start building analogue forts, plus a lot of reading to do!
Macaulay: We’ve been using a few software synths modelled on the old vintage ones too and we’ll create new sounds from whatever junk we can find at the time of recording. In some ways it’s a blessing in disguise, as creating sampled sounds can in many ways be more unique and rewarding.
How are you finding live work with just the two of you on stage?
Macaulay: Amazing. At first it was really scary as neither of us had done anything quite like it before, but so far it’s been really liberating. There’s comfort in the certainty that we both know the songs inside out meaning less margin for human error. Technical hitches with equipment are inevitable but so far we’ve escaped unscathed.
Roberta: It’s been a welcome change from anything we’ve done before. You’re only relying on one other person, which is both a terrifying prospect and wonderful at the same time. I do worry about equipment failure though, mainly because the D-50 is fairly weighty to carry and I’ve nearly dropped it down the stairs several times.
Which of your songs do you feel most connected to?
Macaulay: Our latest song Once Upon A Time is possibly one of the most revealing in terms of lyrical content, so would say that’s the one for me. However, other tracks like Jaws are more visceral – I can go nuts on stage and channel a lot of pent up aggression!
Roberta: The new song is perhaps a little too personal at the moment, so it’d have to be Creatures, which was inspired by Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner. The lyrics are addressing Deckard’s wife, despite her absence from the film adaptation.
Can you tell us anything about the stuff you have in the pipeline?
Roberta: We’ve got a lot of exciting gig dates to announce over the next few weeks and we’re working on remixes for other artists too. That’s possibly all I’m allowed to say for now…
There appears to be a very healthy music scene in Brighton at the moment. Why do you think that is?
Macaulay: Brighton is such a great place for creative people. There’s such a sense of community down here and everyone is pleased to help each other out in all the creative areas, whether it be in music, fashion, design, journalism or any other form. With this many artistic people all gathered in one place it would be difficult for it not to have a healthy music scene. What I love about it is the diversity; RIZZLE KICKS, CAVE PAINTING and BINARY are all new acts on the up at the moment but none of them are part of any particular genre; they’re just under one creative umbrella.
Roberta: M83, KATE BUSH (especially the ECHOES remix of ‘This Woman’s Work’), SILVER SWANS, STRANGERS and THEE MORE SHALLOWS. All beautiful and devastating in equal measure. I also keep ‘The Lost Boys’ soundtrack on hand at all times to balance things out.
Macaulay: My taste is incredibly varied and I veer off into strange territories all the time. Though there are those staple bands which will always stay with you; THE BEATLES, QUEEN, DECPECHE MODE etc, and then there are others who have emerged in recent years who I listen to fairly intensely. A few of those are SLEIGH BELLS, THE KNIFE, WORSHIP, THE XX and ARCADE FIRE.
There are a lot of references to the past around at the moment, be it in music, TV like The Hour and Mad Men or celebrations such as Vintage Festival. Is popular culture in danger of looking too much to the past rather than pushing forward?
Macaulay: I think remembering the past is important, especially as there was so much more romance and mystery in previous eras compared to now. Unfortunately in the digital age, the sense of fun and discovery of new things and ways of thinking is fast becoming obsolete.
Looking back, the 1950s had rock’n’roll, the 1960s had the baby boom generation who changed the world and popular culture as we know it, the 70s had big collars and huge heels! The 1980s is where electronic music and overblown fashion really flourished and the 90s spawned a huge array of sub-genres. Nowadays we have great music being made but let’s be honest, everything is influenced in some way by music from one of these eras. Too many aspects of popular culture now seem fake and premeditated, and perhaps this is why we have period TV programmes and Vintage festivals. This way people who find modern society unexciting have the chance to experience something meaningful.
Your hopes and fears for CURXES in the future?
Macaulay: Hopes – to introduce a new audience to synthpop and electronic music. Fears – mediocrity. We don’t want to compromise the sound to fit any current musical trends, as that doesn’t necessarily mean longevity.
Roberta: Hopes? A decent Wikipedia entry. In all seriousness though, we’ve been thrilled at the reaction to our music and the prospect of taking something we both enjoy so much outside of Brighton is incredibly exciting. I hope that people continue to share that with us. Fears? The imminent key change in The Constructor… and running out of biscuits.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to CURXES
‘The Constructor’, ‘Creatures’ and ‘Jaws’ can be purchased as downloads from Amazon and iTunes
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
6th October 2011