Belleruche were formed in 2005 when Ricky Fabulous and DJ Modest were joined by vocalist Kathrin deBoer.
Quickly landing a residency at a north London music pub, the band began honing their mix of turntablism, sampling and live instrumentation. After creating a stir with their self-pressed 7″ vinyl singles, Belleruche signed with Tru Thoughts records and released their debut album Turntable Soul Music in 2007 – the fastest-selling debut album in the label’s history. The band are known for their live shows, performing around the globe and at major festivals including the Glastonbury and the Montreux Jazz Festival.
As the band prepare to release their fourth album, Rollerchain, M caught up with the band’s DJ Modest.
How do you use a turntable to write songs?
We’ve used lots of different instruments in ways you are not supposed to, and a turntable quite often. From sampling Kathrin’s vocals and using a timecode record to control the sound file and creating a new melody with it, to scratching drum patterns with kick, snare and hi-hat, you can do quite a lot with a record player that isn’t really mentioned in the manual. I always liked the definition of a turntable as the most basic sampler available to a musician.
Could you describe a typical Belleruche songwriting session – how do songs usually develop?
Every song seems to evolve in a different way really, sometimes Kathrin starts with a lyrical refrain or hook, and we mess around in the studio seeing what fits, or I’ll spend hours on a train with the laptop making a odd beat that then gets changed by the other two as soon as we get to work on it together. We don’t really have a template in which we always work, as long as we like the idea and the process, it’s legitimate.
How have your inspirations changed since Turntable Soul Music?
We’ve all listened to a lot more music over the last four years, and we have all learnt a lot more about what we can do, and what we can get away with!
I think it would be fair to say we’ve gained the confidence to take more risks with what we do. We’ve definitely been influenced/inspired by the development of software like Ableton too – which has enabled some of the weirder ideas we’ve always had, to actually be realised, like live sampling of Kathrin’s vocals onstage.
You self-released limited edition 7” singles when you started out, would you still recommend that approach for bands getting started?
Definitely, I think it shows you are serious about your music. In an era when anyone can release a double album on mp3 without any barriers at all, if you scrape together the £600 to press 500 7″s, it really shows you mean it, I think. The medium makes you thick about the music too – if you have under four minutes on a side you really have to make sure that every part of the track is needed, and you trim the self indulgence. Not sure I’d recommend hand screen-printing 2000 sleeves in your kitchen though.
Do you think your early residency in Islington helped you hone your sound?
It was how we started writing songs – the three of us had been making things up and messing around every Sunday for about three months, and we got offered a ‘real’ gig. This meant we had to actually apply ourselves to putting a set together, so we used the time to do that, and to have an audience to play to, although quite often a pretty small one, really helps that process.
You play a lot of live gigs, has that been part of your plan to develop a fanbase?
We’ve never really had a plan of any sort. We just like playing shows, and feel very lucky that we’ve been able to travel so far doing so, and play so many.
What should fans be expecting from your May/June tour this year?
We’re rehearsing at the moment, and the new songs are a lot louder and heavier than some of our older stuff – we’re all trying out new instruments as part of the process of trying to get the new ideas played. It’s a really enjoyable process, and we’re really looking forward to hearing the songs through PA systems.
Where did you write Rollerchain and did it influence its sound?
Some parts were written whilst we were on tour all over the place up until June 2011, but it was all put together in a little room at the top of the Fortress Studios in central London. The studios are very busy with guitar bands arriving by the transit load everyday, so to record our vocals, and work on mixing we often worked until 3 or 4 in the morning, when the building and the streets outside were desolate. I think some of the songs reflect that sort of atmosphere and have a darkness and oddness in them that’s quite different to our older records.
What songs have you discovered this week (old or new?)
I’ve been listening to Breton a bit – I quite like the way they put together the sounds in their records. But I’d have to say the most memorable thing I’ve found recently is a track called Black Snake Blues by Clifton Chenier, which is a Louisana blues or zydeco track released in the mid 1960s I think. It’s a collision of heavy drums, distorted accordion and wailed vocal, and is amazing.
Belleruche’s new single, Stormbird is out on 26 March. Watch the video below.