If ever the fiddlers could be found fiddling obliviously while Rome – or in this case, the Global Capital Empire – burns, it is at this very moment. To be sure, as this is being written, America is dangerously blundering its way backwards without a government; Brexit is threatening to spiral once “Great” Britain into irrelevance; and around the globe, neo-fascist rule has decisively shoved its way into the international political zeitgeist.
One might expect a creative golden age as a result, with music and visual artists raging against the machine with corresponding levels of fury; yet, in fact, culture has never seemed less up to the task.
But Manchester’s poetically named Lost Under Heaven have a poignantly titled new album, Love Hates What You Become (their second via Mute), which at least spits fire in the right direction. The duo of Ebony Hoorn and Ellery James Roberts (formerly of WU LYF) are cultural provocateurs in an age when one must grudgingly accept that cultural provocation has its limits within the business of ideological warfare.
Still, the music is grippingly visceral. From the haunted strains of “Post Millennial Tension,” with its portentous manifesto, “My generation’s burning / Still we sing our love songs,” to the widescreen, post-punk epic “For the Wild,” to the anxious, funereal “Bunny’s Blues,” and on to the industrial-gothic chaos of “Come” (with its plea, “Show me visions of Utopia”), there’s a disquieting beauty, a sort of quixotic romanticism to all the chillingly apocalyptic proclamations.
As Lost Under Heaven set out on a winter tour of the UK and Europe, taking them from Brighton to Paris, Berlin to Amsterdam, before an appearance at this year’s SXSW, we caught up with Roberts to discuss the music, and, of course, the Western world’s possible date with doom.
The name, Lost Under Heaven, seems like it could have multiple meanings. Is there a significance to it?
Yes, we see beauty in the sense that we all have to deal with the same trouble of existence, a universal struggle to find meaning, purpose, all under the same sky. As a project name it has come to define our pursuits.
Your debut album Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing was released in May of 2016. Then the entire “system’ began to unravel: Brexit, Trump, international fascism. How much did that inspire Love Hates What You Become?
In its way we feel a lot of the writing of our first record was a continuing study of the systems in which we live, acknowledging the dissatisfaction with the status quo and the direction in which Western culture was headed. We had a certain sentimental optimism that a progressive movement could rise up and face the challenges of the day. As we have seen, the opposite in fact came to pass, with infantile populist regressives who, rather than being sold on a future that works for everybody, harken back to a mythic past that worked for the privileged few. If we are honest, we had not taken seriously the depth to which the masses are manipulated, conditioned from birth, bred in ignorance.
And that fed directly into your writing…
The second record then became much more introspective, taking to the study of self, attempting to find the root lock of mind-made manacles and letting loose. How we are actively complicit thru the daily convenience of advanced capitalist culture in the suffering of others and the self-righteous absurdity of believing that we are separate. So the title Love Hates What You Become suggests the adulteration of our essential nature.
Those who know better already well understood the global capital system to be in some stage of collapse. Do you sense a “Fall of Rome” moment in the West?
Yes, we have seen a depiction of the fall of Rome with parallels drawn to our contemporary narcissistic nihilism, hedonistic abandon and bloated economic system that functions only to prop up the elites’ strategies of self preservation. A study of history shows cycles, we rise and fall. The question then becomes what good, what progressive aspects can be salvaged from the ruins, or do we truly [enter] a new Dark Age…World War III?
What becomes of culture in the “New Order”? Do you have a sense that your ideological stances are effective? Or merely cathartic?
Our songwriting is definitely a process of catharsis. I think at its best it transcends any ideological trappings it inevitably falls into. I think a universalism is a key to moving through these times, truly appreciating the interconnected relationships between all life on this planet. I used to believe in the flawed romance of protest songs, but they need to speak the universal truth of hope and perseverance. Any ideology starts to build walls of separation.
Technology has eviscerated culture, not in the way most people think. It’s not just a question of monetization, but really that technology has become culture – the delivery has eclipsed the content. What are your thoughts on that?
We have often been discussing this with each other. To an extent these are very frustrating times to work on something with depth or value beyond surface hype; as with hyper-consumer-culture, the hungry ghosts are constantly starving for novelty. However, I do not believe mass culture speaks for everyone; I know there are many out there who turn away, you can always choose what you put your energy into. True culture of the dynamic present happens offline, away from devices. We believe in the eternal soul that shuns the ego trappings of contemporary noise, status symbols and popularity.
Another thought: technology evolves culture. We are increasingly intrigued by functional music, “muzak,” ritual use for elevation, stripped of artists’ personality, like the great works of Tibetan Buddhist artists. Anonymous and transcendent. Times change. Don’t cling to a nostalgia of what culture was.
You’re involved in the blockchain venture Vevue. Can you elaborate on that?
Thomas Olson, the founder of Vevue, came to us when the first album was released – he had found a deep connection with the lyrical sentiment. We exchanged many emails talking about the ways in which blockchain technology can transform technological culture and put the power back in the hands of the people. Early in 2018 he launched his video platform and invited us to begin experimenting with it. There’s a couple of powerful features for artists and creators: digital scarcity giving value, the ownership of your work being written into the blockchain…and a fair, direct ability to earn currency from your work. Essentially, they have built a far more preferable alternative to corporate monoliths like YouTube. It is in the early stages, and the community is small; but we hope as awareness for LUH grows, our fan base begins to interact wholeheartedly with the platform.
Blockchain ventures seem to be full of cracks and fraught with deficiencies – for one, being subject to hacking. How specifically do you feel it can change our lives?
Inevitably, for the minds of the people creating are still stuck in the trappings of the past. To be honest we had no real concept of the “Blockchain Bros,” until meeting a lion’s share of them on a crypto-yacht, drunken boat to Armageddon. It’s a strange culture, plenty of Wolf of Wall Street, slick and heartless people, in it for quick cash. But there are genuine utopian optimists who are attempting to build decentralized technology that will empower those who are willing to embrace it. Again, it’s early stages, few work beyond beta level; but I can foresee it re-designing a leading edge of culture.
Doesn’t all revolutionary technology ultimately come under the control of the power structure?
Yup. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Learn from the mistakes of past.
About the music…in songs like “Serenity Says” and “Bunny’s Blues,” one can perhaps hear echoes of The Fall and Joy Division. Does being from Manchester still inform your music?
In truth I have never been especially enamored with Manchester’s musical heritage, other than perhaps The Durutti Column. Though recently, I have begun to appreciate the humor of our Liam and Noel [Gallagher].
“The Breath of Light” actually reminds of early Echo & the Bunnymen. Is it actually politically okay for a band from Manchester to reference something from Liverpool?
My dad is actually a Liverpudlian born and bred, so in a way I feel a stronger kin to the Scousers than the Mancunians. He used to play Echo & The Bunnymen often whilst I was young, particularly “The Killing Moon” and their earlier records. It was not intentional, but I am happy to hear it seeped through.
This album doesn’t just reference post-punk aesthetically, but actually seems to be capturing some of the wild anarchy of that incredible time. Do you think there is still hope for music to be something other than just a recycling of the past?
Music is wide and infinite. Yes, certainly there is often boring regurgitation of predictable sound palettes. Guitar-based music is most of the time a fetish of the past, inevitable cliches posing as their childhood idols. But we have never been motivated by imitation of others’ strategies of success, by generic sound and approaches. The song always informs the style. We see every record as an experiment, an opportunity to learn, to inform the next work. We like to sing and feel free, elevate the mundane to soul heights. We look to the future blues.