The Darkness: Keeping Rock Alive

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Words by Alasdair Belling and photographs by Simon Emmett

Frontman Justin Hawkins discusses the current state of rock music, the pandemic and of course their latest album

It’s a bygone conclusion that in 2021 rock is dead.

The tastes of Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, The Weeknd and the reworked old Taylor Swift cuts dominate the world of streaming and album sales (for better or worse), with the world of guitar music firmly reinstated underground.

Unless of course you are Darkness and filling arenas and theaters on both sides of the Atlantic with each new album of glamorous and glamorous Sunset Strip anthems.

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“The rock genre suffers terribly from the reverence – a lot of bands come in, they sound good, but they totally base their image on stuff that was going on in the 70s – 1971 to be precise!” says leader Justin Hawkins, when we meet to discuss Motor core, their latest slice of retro riffage.

“There’s a reason rock loses to hip-hop and rap when it comes to being the most prevalent thing among alternative kids, new bands that come out have to establish their own thing, that cannot be a recast of what happened in the 70s, otherwise we will never win, ”he says.

Hearing established rockers talk about the genre’s lack of innovation can be as mind-boggling as it is to the musical content of the tabloids, but Hawkins’ speech has a higher degree of credibility than some of his crisper peers.

Having been founded in 2000, the smokey dive bar has always seemed to be the limit for The Darkness, with their ’80s-influenced near-metal sound seeming more of an homage to a bygone era.

However, a signing from multinational Atlantic Records, which released its seismic debut in 2003 Landing permit, catapulted the club band to theaters around the world – a standard progression for some, but a stunning achievement for a modern glam act.

Nearly two decades later, things look as solid as ever for the outfit, with Hawkins chatting to us from the band’s tour bus shortly before taking the stage at Cambridge’s Corn Exchange, the hall of 1,600 caps, a testimonial of the sustained cult of the group. Success.

“I’m going out with one of those waterboard hats with the tassels – that’s how I go on the whole show,” Hawkins laughs.

“The production stuff is underrated for us on this tour – we can’t afford to cancel shows – we used to fly over audiences, have the trapeze work that we usually do – COVID has destroyed the trapeze industry, you know! “

Hawkins is expected to quickly fall into a devious wink and laugh at the traveling circus he finds himself drawn into.

But at the end of the day as with any successful rock band, it is ruthless quality control that allows him and his band mates to enjoy a career playing heavy guitar music in front of an audience of a size that most teenagers cannot. what to dream.

Hawkins says they “would never just knowingly rehash a bunch of old crap from before – we listen with a very skeptical ear to everything we do.

“Inevitably our influences seep in, but we really try to do our own thing, we don’t throw things out just for the fun of it.

“The number of bands that call themselves rock bands, although they’re barely able to hear guitars in their music, it’s really disgusting.

“I want to say Cold game, fucking hell. It’s just guys with a producer and the guitars are just off these days, you cran your neck to listen to it, but they call themselves a fucking rock band! How can you expect the genre to thrive when you can’t even hear what defines it ?!

“Maybe this is what you need to do to maintain your status as a rock radio band, you need these synths to make your songs sound like the commercial that pays for the station in the first place, it gets so corporate, and corporate rock is synonymous with this type of manufacturing.

“We don’t want to be on the radio if that means looking shit. “

This is a strong statement from the leader, but hard to dispute when you see the fruits he and his band mates have reaped from sticking to their creative weapons.

Indeed, Motor heart takes its name from Motor head and Heart two of the least relevant bands in 2021, but bands that were themselves aberrant even in their prime due to their steadfast approach of not apologizing for their influences and artistic direction.

“The name just came from an email, and that’s where this idea of ​​the sex robot came from … I mean love robot … I mean pet cyborg – that’s where it came from. everything comes, “laughs Justin (a sex robot is the main character on the record).

“We haven’t taken anything out of the safe – it’s all fresh, brand new.

“There is a little more Guns N ‘Roses in there than usual – maybe that’s what you get when you combine No sleep until Hammersmith and Annie’s dream boat.

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Of course, due to the context surrounding the release, it’s fair to assume that the lockdowns would have played a role in the record’s makeup, with the tours breaking up and the unease in the world providing low-hook thematic inspiration.

However, Hawkins is quick to point out that Motor heart was designed in the same way as every other record to which The Darkness has put its name – for the love of writing music. It is not a containment album.

“At the start of the pandemic, there was way too much ‘creativity’, people were making a lot of Covidian music in its day – that stuff won’t stand the test of time,” he says with a grimace.

“How often do you listen to songs about SARS? Who wants to see split screen videos, of people playing in their bedroom or bathroom – we’ve waited until this has run its course and people are ready to rebuild something that isn’t like this.

“We work really hard for a short time when we write – all focused, fuck, you know?

“Some bands do it differently, but we’re an album bunch, and in order for it to have a consistent vibe across 10 songs, you really have to take the time to do it and capture it really quickly – we want to show people where. we are at this particular moment when you are making the record.

Of course, The Darkness was not immune to the effects of the pandemic on the industry.

Their last gigs before the world went out were here below, with the band’s summer tour last year cut short.

As Hawkins points out, that means there is unfinished business for the group.

“We were there when the pandemic started and started to be a real problem – when we played in Sydney there was this feeling that people were starting to worry a bit – there was a very subdued atmosphere. about it all… that was the day Trump declared a state of emergency in the United States.

“We were like ‘Oh damn, are we going to be able to come home here?’ “

“We definitely have some unfinished business in Australia – we have to come back and finish these shows, I think. “

Yes Motor heart is an indication of the state of mind the band is in, we can expect one hell of a rock n ‘roll storm, featuring all kinds of “company cyborgs”, in the very near future.

Motor heart is now available, via Cooking Vinyl.


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