XX Teens may not be the hottest new thing on the block these days, but we can’t resist a good lampooning of Fox News. Michael Wylie-Harris shares the joke
by Michael Wylie-Harris, first published in LondonTourdates #028 ,8th August 2008
It’s a good job XX Teens have got their fingers on the pulse when it comes to terrorism prevention. Otherwise, where on earth would we be? Dead probably…
The London five piece’s February single, ‘How To Reduce The Chances Of Being A Terror Victim’, was in fact taken entirely from the Fox News website. A deadpan recital of a list of dos and don’ts in a potential ‘Bin Laden-esque’ scenario, that includes such gems as “use your instincts; if a situation appears suspicious leave the scene”, “make out a will and letter of instruction in case you die” and – my own fave - “try to fly on wide bodied planes, terrorists often avoid hi-jacking them”.
“I think the track is pretty self-explanatory,” says Teens’ singer Anthony Silvester. “They are not our words, they’re taken from Fox News. When we released it I was actually amazed at the reaction of some people.
“There really are some amazingly either lazy, angry or stupid people out there. I’m not sure, but there were reviews from certain people saying, ‘Who do XX Teens think they are?’”
“It is all actual advice from the Fox News website that was given to Americans after 9/11. And Fox News obviously carries a huge amount of baggage. I guess it just kind of perfectly summed up the mass hysteria that followed really.
When that happened all they said was that it was an attack on freedom and that is exactly what has happened since.”
The track – set to the band’s characteristically stripped sound of angular guitar, sparse drums and occasional electronics – comes across as cutting satire.
Highlighting the utter ridiculousness of Fox’s manual for survival, Silvester puts particular sarcastic emphasis on lines like “terrorists love car bombs” and “do not speak unless spoken to or do anything to attract attention to yourself” to create something that, in the end, is just very funny (Silvester assures me the band are not vehemently political).
Having now been together since 2003, XX Teens have existed on the fringe of the London unsigned scene for a while. July 2008 has seen them release their first studio album, Welcome To Goon Island, on Mute Records and with what now feels like a finalised line-up, a new, less inflammatory name (they changed it from Xerox Teens to XX Teens when “Xerox told us we had to change it, bribed us with some money and we accepted”) and a more assured sound it looks like the band could finally be ready to break through to a wider audience.
Early (Xerox) Teens were an entirely different creation from the current band. With a different drummer and bass player (“We’ve actually had a lot of line-up changes. We just keep changing line-ups. We can’t help ourselves”), Silvester tells me that the band that play on Goon Island is “totally different” from the one that recorded some of the earlier singles.
And it shows… Early Teens performances encapsulated a much more spiky, less conventional spirit, with vocals tending to be shouted rather than sang. Though the current sound has lost none of its art house or experimental edge, the new stuff has a definite feel of being more melody driven and – as a result – more accessible (this is not a bad thing).
Silvester puts the more assured feel of the latest record down to a number of things… “It’s a different band,” he tells me. “It’s completely different I think. I mean the two guys that sing – me and Rich (Rich Cash) – have remained obviously but other than that it’s completely different. The band that started was called Xerox Teens. It’s now called XX Teens. It really is not the same band at all.
“We’ve taken away a lot of our indie pop sounds and made it a lot harder. A lot more rock. Generally our reviews always used to say we were ‘DIY’, ‘punk’, ‘electronic’, ‘shunky’… that sort of thing you know? I think that melody has taken a much larger part now. I think at the core of every track is the drums and the base, so I think the fundamentals have really shifted a lot.
“The drumming has shifted tremendously. I mean if you listen to the drumming on the older stuff, the beat is totally different. Also, the guitars now are just like big rock guitars, and I think that’s made it become a lot more melodious. I guess the band in 2003 was sort of like 22 and 23 year olds and now it’s just like 27 and 28 year olds you know.”
Welcome To Goon Island saw the Teens working with producer Ross Orton in his Sheffield studio. Previously of the electro trio Fat Truckers, Orton’s recent work includes production on M.I.A’s Mercury nominated debut, Arular. Silvester tells me the producer was instrumental in creating the sound on the latest record.
“We’re so, so pleased with this record,” he says. “It was really good working with Ross. He generally just shouted at us a hell of a lot. It was just him shouting down the microphone at us, telling us to do it properly. I think that was a good thing though. I think it paid dividends.
“He absolutely shaped the sound on this record. That was always our intention though. We always wanted to get a producer in who was going to produce to great effect. We had produced our own tracks before on our own little label years ago, and then we re-did some of those tracks with Ross.
“Now they kind of just sound how they should have always sounded really. Ideas were pushed further and the tracks are more fully formed now.”
Songs from the new album like ‘Only You’ and ‘The Way We Were’ show a more assured, mature and polished side to the Teens, whilst retaining the off-kilter, garage edge they’ve always had. The guitars are just as jagged, the overall feel is just as spiky and the vocals are just as energised; but the songs are just – somehow – much, much better.
Perhaps 2008 could be the year that sees XX Teens ditch the underground scene in London in favour of a more international stage? Let’s just hope they don’t use any wide-bodied planes for the tour…