The London-based Vuvuvultures emit infectious, dark and genre-bending sounds that prompt tags spanning electro-pop to alternative rock. Their debut album, Push / Pull, released last year, concretised their cult-like reputation as a frenetic live act, and gave rise to a string of tours across the UK and Europe.
“Whatever we’ve done draws inspiration from sci-fi novels, gonzo journalism, raging all-nighters, raging headaches, semi-sentient machines, sunshine, motorcycles, boobs and steak” explains the band. Three-quarters of Vuvuvultures hailed from South Africa before moving London. With them in town earlier this year for RAMfest 2014 and their South African tour, PLATFORM had to meet up with Vuvuvultures and talk more about these raging all-nighters, semi-sentient machines and some sunshine. Sadly for some, boobs and steak didn’t feature as talking-points.
Vuvuvultures is partners Harmony Boucher (vocals) and Nicole Bettencourt Coelho (bass), Paul Ressel [Lark, The Humanizer] (guitar) and Matthew Christensen (drums). The band has also established Energy Snake Records and a creative party-throwing collective called The Island.
G: So, three of you guys are originally from South Africa. Harmony, you were born in Australia. How did Vuvuvultures come about?
H: These guys [Paul and Nicole] met each other first, and they started making music together in London.
P: Yeah Nicole and I kind of moved to London at the same time. She moved from Nashville, I moved from Cape Town. Before then we’d met once at Assembly a while back, believe it or not. Yeah, and then when I got into producing in London, Nicole came over and we started making some music in the studio I had setup there. But we needed someone who could sing.
H: And I kind of hovered around until they let me. When we started playing live a bit more we needed a man machine on drums, and then along came Matt.
G: Does the name ‘Vuvuvultures’ have a meaning outside the band? What’s its relevance?
P: We really just had a list of names… and Vuvuvultures was the one that we chose.
H: Yeah the first blog post we had was this massive list of all the names we were knocking around.
N: Vuvuvultures was just the first one that none of us hated.
G: Your sound is refreshingly hard to categorise, and often that results in it being described in vague terms. How would you describe your sound to people who haven’t heard Vuvuvultures before?
H: Electro-rock Metal-pop, all smashed together through a glitch machine.
P: (laughs) Almost…yeah, I think we’re a blend of our individual influences in a very literal sense. We all come to music from pretty different angles, obviously there is a lot of common ground, but Vuvuvultures’ sound basically amounts to all of us adding our own genre preferences to whatever we write together.
G: You’ve been touring on and off since last year and have visited Sweden, Finland and South Africa so far. How has it been? You guys seem comfortable as an on-the-road group.
H: Yeah we’ve been doing two weeks here, two weeks there to balance things out. We did a big UK tour around the end of last year, and went up to Scotland and everything.
P: Scandinavia was damn cold. But the scene seems great, I mean, you can tell that they really care about music there, [the venues] are all really kitted-out and people really know their shit.
H: As an audience, they’re also really open to music over there in Finland.
N: Helsinki was all about the rocker bar vibe. We got there and there were, like, ‘Sailor Jerries’ everywhere.
G: There’s a table of Germans behind me (laughs), I wouldn’t repeat that too loudly. As far as your South Africa tour goes, the range of your shows and tour stops are really exciting. You guys have obviously made a conscious effort to make the most of your time here. What do you make of the full spectrum of South Africa’s music scene?
H: Yeah I mean we were like, you make the effort to come over here – you should really try and hit everywhere you can. The first thing that comes to mind is that there’s actually a pretty decent DJ scene in PE, which I found surprising.
H: I loved Durban. The weather was perfect and everything, including music and its scene, is just so relaxed there. It’s London’s opposite.
P: LIVE in Durban also seemed like really a through-and-through venue to play at, it was very cool.
G: Yeah LIVE does set a pretty great precedent for music venues in Durban – I watched Shortstraw, Beach Party and Gateway Drugs there in December and it was the best.
H: For the Puma Holidays Tour? Nicole and I were at that gig!
G: That’s crazy. What did you guys think of it?
N: Ah it was awesome; I really liked all of the bands that played that night.
G: Let’s talk about RAMfest. How was your experience of playing there?
P: RAMfest has always been one of my favourite festivals. I mean, when I was with Lark we played it every year. Vuvuvultures had a great time at both RAMfests. The Johannesburg show was especially good for us. We played the main stage and got a proper sound check and everything, and we actually sounded like us.
G: You ended up playing the comparatively smaller Stellenbrau Carnival Stage in Cape Town. Why was that?
H: Yeah, the Headliners were running late, apparently with equipment and stuff, so we ended up playing the smaller stage. It actually worked out in our favour though.
P: We ended up playing a far more intimate show to a really hyped-up crowd. So, yeah, not so bad!
G: RAMfest has always had to strike a balance between genres, mostly between so-called ‘alternative rock’, metal and electronic music. To an extent, these all feature in your approach to music and represent Vuvuvultures’ sound. What did you think of the balance of genres at RAMfest this year?
H: I hadn’t ever been before, but I liked the genre mix at this year’s RAMfest. It was a sensible blend of acts, I think. And the festival site was completely walkable, so you could, like, within the time of half an hour, see three completely different types of music which was unusual.
P: We saw Foals in Joburg, and that was obviously pretty cool. Between them and Haezer and the like, along with the foreign metal acts, you were really spoilt for choice without it being odd or unsuited.
G: You guys have played live shows, acoustic gigs and DJ sets during your time in SA. How do you approach each kind of performance relative to its different nature? What differs in your approach, say, between and acoustic and plugged-in live set?
H: I think it would be impossible not to bring a different overall performance, both in style and interaction with the crowd. Like, acoustic Vuvuvultures are completely different to live Vuvuvultures. With acoustic performances, for us it’s a lot more about, like, pretending you’re on an island somewhere or something – very chilled.
N: Even so, our acoustic shows aren’t really remotely acoustic either. We have amps and our electric guitars. We just turn our amps down a little bit. (laughs)
P: Yeah and, on the other hand, we play a lot of dirty pop stuff during our DJ sets. We’ll see how many of us can fit into the booth tomorrow night at Fiction.
G: Your first LP, Push / Pull has been out since July last year. Have you guys been itching to write new material since?
N: We were itching to while recording it!
H: We have actually been writing a lot since then, and trying to slip those songs into some live sets – both acoustic and not. But we’re in a pretty lucky position with having our own label, so how we choose to release music is completely up to us.
N: We also have a new song coming super soon, called ‘Art Party’. It’s out March 18th.
G: So what has establishing and running your label, Energy Snake Records, taught you guys?
P: I think, if anything, we’ve learnt a hell of a lot about how the music industry actually works, especially in terms of logistics and all that non-music stuff.
N: Exactly, I mean in starting our own label, and releasing all our music from it, we were able to make all our mistakes on our own band, and it really has been a lesson in that sense.
G: Certain factors that influence the development of music scene and culture in a given environment are out of artists’ hands, such as pure population numbers, economic strength, a developed media industry, and so on. What has moving to and playing in London taught you about developing as artists outside of these variables?
H: I think London in general is just a lot denser, in terms of what is going on there, so you can really kind of go there and create music and be what and who you want to be and someone will be there to like it. But at the same time, one very quickly realises that it’s completely pointless doing anything but putting 100% into that which you actually want to do, music-wise, for example. You know there are so many people involved in every type of music scene but none of them will care about your band as much as you do. I think being able to take that and see the effects of that.
N: It boils down to resources and opportunity.
M: London also forces you to work a lot harder, you know. You can slip through the cracks all too easily if you’re not focussed and don’t take working on music seriously.
G: Paul, with you having insight into both worlds, so to speak, how does this all contrast with the life of recordings artists in South Africa’s music industry?
P: Because there is less going on, in terms of number of bands and all, it’s far easier to like rise to the top, if you will, because if you’re doing something even vaguely interesting there are few enough contemporaries for people to take notice, and then all of a sudden you’ve really bypassed all the steps between bottom and top that musicians would have to climb in somewhere like London. But I think the main problem is what you do with that ease, how you take advantage of it once you’re at the top. From my personal experience with Lark, I think that if I had known then what I know now, I would have been very different terms of the way we managed our career.
G: How are Vuvuvultures progressing as a band? Are there any new sounds, influences and objectives you’re exploring?
N: I think the most important thing for us is to maintain a source of inspiration by keeping things – music style and everything – fresh for ourselves. Ideally, we always want to approach every potential new song in a different way, and not be like ‘this doesn’t sound like Vuvuvultures so we shouldn’t do it’, you know?
H: Exactly. Like, the biggest thing is not feeling like you have to make Vuvuvultures songs all the time and that we can actually make any songs we want.
P: Even our live setup changes like, every week.
N: We’re still equally as passionate about rock music as we are about electronic music, and like, bringing the sonic tastiness of electronic music to performing live is an ongoing challenge and a constant balance that we’re trying to achieve, so our music will always progress in pursuit of that.