The three members of Real Lies grew up in London’s shadow, in the satellite towns of the overspill, and the city is the ever present protagonist of the stories told in their songs.
The many changes that the city’s undergone in recent years hang ominously over their music, yet the band’s creative output is far more personal than it is political, a mosaic tribute to the times we live in constructed of petrol stations, night bus rides, A-road pubs and other poetic visions of ostensibly mundane suburban arcana. The unceasing changes to the social and cultural fabric of London today provides the subtext to Kev Kharas’ lyrics, but while the band’s output is anchored in a low-level anger about the the changes ravaging the capital, their approach to making music about London is always ultimately rooted in personal experience.
“London feels like a soul turning black from its core at the minute; it’s getting tougher and tougher to find the breathing room,” Kharas explains. “At the moment it feels like the oxygen is reserved for a select few – rising rents and closing clubs aren’t random phenomena, they’re signs of the way the city is being run right now: there’s a real effort to design the type of people who live in London and the lifestyles that are led here.” As expected, however, any discussion of broad political trends or abstract social structures is immediately underpinned by their relation to real life. “[London] can destroy relationships, being pushed further out to the edges… getting buses home at night past airport signs… Sometimes it feels like the city is defined by rejection and heartbreak now, rather than possibility. But with that there’s a need to pull it back, to not go quietly, The fantasy might be collapsing but that gives you a chance to build something real from the rubble.”
The search for authenticity, the desire to salvage something real from within a city defined by fantasy, permeates everything about the band, from the clothes they wear to the spirit of the music they make. Their sound draws influences from baggy to dub to big room house music, but they’re reaching for something more than just revivalism – they want to express what they’re part of in 2016, even if doing so draws heavily on the sounds and visuals of the past. I’m curious to hear if they feel part of any contemporary movement, or if they see themselves as simply drawing on casual culture of the 80s and 90s?
“We love old school casual fanzines like Boys Own and spend our weekends at football matches and all that, but don’t agree we’re part of a movement on that basic level. Obviously terrace culture is everywhere these days, but I’ve seen too many four-pint wankers at Football League games in fake Stone Island to want to be lumped in with that trend. Plus we feel like the implied ladishness isn’t really our cup of tea. We’re on more of a New Dad tip.”
It might not be easy to categorise the band according to a cleanly delineated subculture, but if so that’s probably because the subculture itself isn’t so important as feeling part of something. Kharas describes his early flirtations with subcultures coming out of London as “a rejection of loneliness. The realisation that you and your friends could be part of something bigger, whether that lifestyle was to do with music, clothes, or smoking awful hash at lunchtime.” Ultimately it’s that desire to transcend the loneliness of the city that underpins the band’s approach.
When asked about the cover art of the band’s 2015 album Real Life, Kharas points to references such as Tom Wood’s street photography, but is more insistent that what they created was something loose and instinctive. “I guess we take cultural references from 70s, 80s and 90s, [but] collaborating with people working and living in 2016 it always inevitably feels like we’re making something for now.” That’s probably the best summation of the band’s aesthetic you’ll find. It’s an approach that draws on the visual and musical traditions of London’s recent history, but uses them to construct something far more personal than a museum piece – something real they’ve salvaged from the rubble.
Styling: LAW mag
Hair: J P Scott
Words: Francis Blagburn
Real Life is out now via Marathon Artists