On-Piste: An Interview With Chinatown Slalom
Some noticeable fashion connoisseurs think nothing of taking risks to mesh all sorts of patterns, colours and textures together - dots here, stripes there, floral prints everywhere - and, somehow, it all makes absolute sense. Following this 'caution to the wind' approach in music is Liverpool besties, fourpiece Chinatown Slalom, recently disclosing their second EP, Meet The Parents, following 2019's attention-grabbing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Soundly in the stellar Juan Wauters, Mac DeMarco, Haich Ber Na, Myd crew of meddling countless vibes and styles and borrowing sonic flashes that entice, and not fans of simplicity. Liam points to just how Chinatown Slalom's debut wound up bonded, cohesive, yet experimental rather than a jumbled mess in a garage sale in suburbia.
"A lot of it is just the magic of the moment throwing out solutions randomly. The majority of it was improvised. That's always how I feel I get the best poetry or songwriting. But once we have a song mapped out, it does take us a while playing with the production until it's perfect. We can go through so many different mixes of a tune. But in 2021, the production basically is the songwriting!"
Prestigious Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, founded by our Beatles hero, scouse legend Paul McCartney, who knows only too well of transforming popular music into commercial art, is where Slalom's story begins, sit comfortably. You can pinpoint the scene to the Sound Technology department, where, with only 30 places on offer per year, there has to be humongous potential spotted in the hopeful applicants, requiring that little bit extra. However, life had other plans for our four, as it so often does.
“We all auditioned and got into LIPA. Me and Jake met first in freshers before classes had started. Within the week, we had already formed the components of the band before any music had been made. We were on the Sound Tech course but only did our first year, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire made life go in other directions," Liam recollects affectionately.
Like creative institutions housed all over the globe, there is always the simmering anticipation that, at any given minute, a Fame style performance, up to the eyeballs in legwarmers, will erupt in the corridors. Hurriedly turn a corner and bump into a dancer stretching against the wall while a ferocious drummer practices their rudiments; it is the sorcery of the subject that no student would alter. Mikey thinks of his short duration,
"I wouldn’t say it was serious like a usual uni; this was a Performing Arts place, so it was a bit more like Glee. I’d say what made us different to other people there was that we really didn't take ourselves very seriously. As with most Performing Arts unis, there are people with a pompousness about their work, but as we studied Sound Tech and didn't have any pressure on us to be a band or to even write songs, I think it freed us of some of that brooding people can have around their work. We just have fun and throw caution to the wind in the studio, and I think people can hear that."
Richard dissects a memory of recognition: devoted self-belief washed over the pals after a particular track reached the heights they craved, permitting themselves to feel excitement for their musical future, and what is more, musical future together as a band.
“I think after we’d made Just Love, we recognised it as the first song that had passed a certain threshold; that we'd actually made a good song. Jake and Liam shook hands like we’d signed a business deal, and I can remember us all jumping on his tiny hall's bed, cheering with joy!“
To a quartet of inexperienced young'uns - wide-eyed and keen - the music industry can come as a bit of a shock, especially to those artistic souls having to factor in demanding and regimented business needs in order to progress. Jake describes his initial reaction to their new environment and a degree of familiarity that rose with experience,
"I guess I was surprised at first about how small it is. Everyone knows everyone. And it’s really all about who you know. The industry part anyway. The actual art is a totally different thing. I wouldn’t say we love the industry, but we have to accept how it works and play along with it until we’re as big as Kanye and can cry for revolution without worrying how we’re going to pay rent!"
Fresh five track EP Meet The Parents inevitably flourishes into 'grown-up' territory for the group, not dismissing all that has maketh the man before, such as the fun-loving Rave and Hip Hop features, but handing a more instrumental approach to their output.
"I’d say it feels more mature. We did pay more attention to the structure of traditional songwriting; the tunes feel more smartly dressed like they’re ready to Meet The Parents! With this project, we did focus more on guitar and trumpet than hip hop or rave influences, but we do think each tune comes with its own flavour, in Slalom style! We hope each project we release brings in a different audience; we’re not the type to make the same thing twice," Mikey declares confidently.
Jake moves on naturally to approach the 'crisp production' for the video of their recent track, 'Why'd Ya Wanna Come and Act Like That?', where it was imperative to mirror their adopted 'smartly dressed' tone, swagger and refined direction. Well, that was the final presentation displayed in any way.
"The actual making of the song couldn't have been further from the truth! We’d had to leave the house we were staying at as it was so mouldy the ceiling fell in on Mikey’s bed! We moved all of our stuff into our practice room, and it became our storage lounge-bedroom studio, and it's where we started producing quite a few of the tunes. There was a ground hum and bands drumming next to us every hour, so the early recordings were pretty dirty, but I think it’s where they found their character."
The chaps were famed locally for airing their tracks to close pals looking to let their hair down to bounce collectively at unrestrained house parties, where, Ricky states, the critique that followed proved invaluable feedback with certainly no holds barred.
”We haven’t actually thrown any parties in a long time for obvious reasons, but you can be sure we’ve been making music that can be played at them. On other projects, we have focussed more on Dance music and Electronic music as it is the kind of live show we’d like to bring to the world. We have lots of stuff we can’t wait to put out. And yeah," he laughs, "Our pals tell it how it is; they know us well enough to give honest opinions... hopefully!"
Article by Beverley Knight