Breton are a band in the old style – their emphasis is on the artistry, not the cool factor, as frontman Roman Rappak tells
IT’S ALWAYS AN interesting experience to see a relatively new band play on a big stage. While bands are always willing to talk the talk about wanting to take their music to the masses, it’s often the case that they only warrant such an elevation much later in their career.
Then, there are bands like Breton. At last December’s Transmusicales festival in Rennes, the London-based band peformed on the main stage in a huge warehouse as if they did this kind of gig all the time. The visuals, the production and, most of all, the tunes worked like gangbusters in that impressive setting. It’s a far cry from the shoddy, crummy down-at-heel venues they’re used to playing.
Frontman Roman Rappak remembers that Transmusicales show with satisfaction.
“The idea behind the band was always to do something on as big a scale as possible,” he says. “We grew up around the indie circuit and playing squat parties. The visuals for the early gigs were projected onto a piece of cloth pinned to a wall from a crap projector.
“But the idea was the same. We wanted to respond to people complaining about downloads and how free music was devaluing music itself by saying that this put more of an onus on a band to put on a great live show.
“A show like the one at Trans was the kind we want to play. It works so much better when you’re in a room with 2,000 people and big screens and it’s part cinema, part club and part gig. That show was a big step in having the stage to put on the kind of ambitious show we were always talking about.”
Rappak is an articulate frontman, well able to deconstruct the ambitions behind the band. Those ambitions have already produced an excellent debut album, Other People’s Problems. Its rich, evocative, challenging suite of accidental pop tunes, wayward electronic grooves and enigmatic twists and turns work on every level.
To Rappak, the idea of releasing a record and interacting with what he calls the “unpleasant” music business is a bizarre notion to begin with. “You can’t talk about music culture and the role of the musician without going back 75 years to this weird thing called the music industry. The idea of selling records was strange to begin with and it’s a miracle it has lasted this long. No other type of artist has experienced a similar shift in the last 100 years. No one else has this thing where you make a piece of art, we duplicate the recording and we sell it to infinity.
“You also get a lot of unpleasant people working in music and you get people who join bands because of that bizarre cliche of becoming a rock star and making loads of cash and buying flash cars.”
For Breton, it’s about playing with the preconceptions of what a musician is supposed to do. “Before recordings came along, you had to go to see a musician live,” says Rappak. “There was no other way to experience music, but the industry that has grown up around music has bastardised that a lot and it’s now about coming out with an album, a few tours and one or two videos every year.
“But it’s interesting to play with that. Bands aren’t just bands any more and more acts need to realise this. You can watch films they’ve made or read blogs they’ve written. Bands have to respond more to the changes rather than complain about how people are downloading their stuff off Pirate Bay.”
Yet Rappak firmly believes that it’s no use being snobby about your music. “You can have all these conversations about how music is changing and evolving, but there is this danger that you get a shift towards pretentious, difficult, snobby music. Putting out an album was a reaction to that. If we really wanted to be pretentious, we wouldn’t have put out an album.”
Rappak would like to see more acts remember the art that got them into making music in the first place. “I think we’re going about things in an old-fashioned way. An artist has always been someone who uses and reconsisutes whatever new technology is around them, be it photography or Super-8 films, to come up with something personal or something which illustrates what’s happening in the world. It’s a very simple thing and as long as you do that and don’t over-complicate things or become too caught up in strategy or falseness, you can still do that.”
He says easy access to technology has faciltated Breton coming together and getting this far. “We’re not trying to start a revolution, we’re more a product of what’s around us,” Rappak explains. “I don’t think this band could have happened 10 years ago and the Breton that will be around 10 years from now will be different still. I think people respond to us because we’re not trying to steer things, it’s quite natural. I think if people had the same instruments as us and were in the same situation that they’d naturally end up going the same way. We wanted to create a band that we ourselves would go to see.”
What Breton have found – to their satisfaction – is that they’ve begun to attract acts who want to work with them and their Breton Labs offshoot, which looks after remixes and videos (they recently shot Sinéad O’Connor’s The Wolf Is Getting Married).
“The greatest thing about the band is getting to meet incredible photographers, having great conversations with some journalists, meeting amazing people like Facthna (O’Ceallaigh, O’Connor’s manager) and getting offered really interesting projects.
“When I was 15 or 16, I really wanted to go to art school because I wanted to meet fascinating people and that’s the biggest luxury about being in a band now. We’re self-sufficient – even though we don’t have a lot of money, we can keep the band going and eat and survive without having to get day-jobs – and that allows us to do these projects.”
Other People’s Problems is released today on Fat Cat