Photography Charlie Horne
Text Teddy Maloney
Under Westway’s looming motorway that towers over the sprawling garages of West London. An area left partially behind in London’s mass development. An ode to a bygone time, reminiscent of DIY culture, but a community whose philosophy is not forgotten by groups such as DEADLETTER. An area culturally rich with the spectres of groups such as The 101’ers and The Clash placidly dwelling down alley-ways. DEADLETTER keeps the culture of DIY alive. The group's diaspora ranges from upbringings around the country, with members hailing from North Yorkshire, London and the surrounding countryside areas. Now they roam all over London. We convene at their practice space. Located in the upstairs of a shipping container, between car mechanic garages, a tight 2x4M space drenched by the rapturous sound of their rehearsals is where I find DEADLETTER. Joining as a spectator to witness their practice, previously the space has been filled with laughter as they recounted their experiences of their European Tour supporting Placebo. However, once the pedals are plugged in and the drums begin to roll and reverberate through the confined space – their professionalism immediately sets in – following a well-practiced routine of precision. But nothing is perfect. A microphone dangles in the middle of the room, suspended as it is pulled tight around the ceiling light to function as a make-shift microphone stand for the saxophone. A self-proclaimed, “feat of engineering”.
With some of the members of DEADLETTER having been together musically for over a decade, they know each other well. “Three of us moved down to London and have just incorporated more and more people over the years. DEADLETTER started in 2020, and since we’ve been DEADLETTER, there have been six of us.” DEADLETTER’s musical process “starts with a drum beat and a bassline, then the lyrics are added. Afterwards we add the guitars with a lot of pedals and the saxophone”. It sounds relatively simple and that is essentially the case. The process is non-hierarchical – each element is allowed the space to add to each song, as each member just “dives in and intuitively plays”. Creating what is bluntly stated as a “sharp” sound. “We just do it. That sounds basic, but it is true. We literally just play what we like the sound of. We don’t think, that has worked so let’s do it again. We often just repeat little melodies and riffs that we like and change them around, but it is never complicated. Lyrically we are making people think, sonically we tend not to be too pretentious in the music that we make, in terms of the actual sound there’s nothing too mathematical going on.” DEADLETTER released their debut EP, ‘Heat!’ on So Recordings in November 2022. An intricate and explosive series of songs that need to be heard, for once they are, the listener will surely be converted into the growing masses of DEADLETTER supporters. Yet, they truly thrive in their live shows. “We prefer playing live, on top of the fact that we don’t have enough funding to spend a lot of time in the studio. So, when we are in the studio there’s an urgency to it. Whereby we get down what we have done live without much time to give it anymore thought.” It is that urgency that naturally translates into their songs.
With a vast volume of music being released out of London at the moment, there is a necessity to offer up something different. To separate a group’s sound from the masses in order to acquire recognition. “Something we’ve thought about is the fact we don’t keep ourselves within one realm. It is just the case that we wrote it and therefore it is a DEADLETTER song, which is important. Sometimes you can hear a song by a band you know but never heard before and instantly know it is that band. We think there’s something quite romantic in the idea that being a band where people can hear the start of a song and not know it’s you, then maybe realise later.” The dynamic ability to be unrecognisable, stems from the fact that DEADLETTER is uncomfortable with recreating their previous sounds; “structurally if we listen to a song we are making and the structure is the same as something else, we actively change it. To push ourselves”. A key part to DEADLETTER, a factor that separates them from the majority of contemporary post-punk, post-genre music is its danceability. “We find that the music we listen to is often very groovy, simple and danceable. That’s what we like to make. It is nice to go out, have a fun time, and dance.” Live music venues have struggled in their economic recovery from COVID, whilst nightclubs have been able to recover relatively more effectively at detrimental cost to live music venues. “People need an escape, a time not to think. Dance music helps you not to think. You just go out and forget what’s going on around you, just have a good time.” DEADLETTER offers a welcomed armistice between these two distinct modes of musical exploration. A bridge upon which one can experience the joys of dancing alongside the inexhaustible drive of rock & roll. Pairing viscerally delivered lyricism that engages with intellectual social commentary, as songs are littered with political subject matters. Yet, they do not see themselves as the vanguard of revolting music, “We don’t necessarily think it’s always strictly political, when you’re writing about what’s going on around you there’s elements of politics that naturally come into it. If you’re making observations about humankind, then, of course, politics is an inherent part of that”. Even still, DEADLETTER offers a decisive reflection of the difficulties that surrounds our modern times, forceful social commentary delivered alongside direct instrumentation.
A rapid-fire section of questions, to get to know DEADLETTER even better:
T: Favourite venue to play at?
DL: Difficult question, we have done a lot. The Windmill, Brixton or The Lexington.
T: Musical Inspirations?
DL: (Each member had a say, so to name a few) Mark E. Smith, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Spacemen 3, Morphine, Massive Attack, The Clash, Leonard Cohen.
T: If you could play on a bill with any other artist(s) as DEADLETTER?
DL: The Pogues.
The questioning is paused as a member of the band subtly saunters over to the edge of the roof and begins to piss off the side of the rehearsal studio. Another chimes, “I do it, it’s good shit”. We continue…
T: Someone to feature on one of your tracks?
DL: Little Simz. We keep saying, it’s going to happen. One day she might just think, “Fuck it, Yeah,” Or any of ABBA, just one of them, then we can hang our shoes up.
T: Curry sauce or gravy?
DL: (An unanimous, resounding) Gravy, everyday all day.
DEADLETTER is driven through the intense repetition of the rhythm section, it is vital. It perpetuates resonating resilience. It drones through the bodily orifices; this is the sound of DEADLETTER. It carefully inserts a sonic blade and makes a delicate incision in the spine. The acute lyricism functions as an opiate, offering a release, soothing the movement of the sharpened edges. As the songs roll through, they place a mechanism into the spinal cord, engaging a neural link between mind and body. The cerebrospinal fluid inside becomes infected as the music takes control of the senses. Bodily movements become imperceptible to the rational mind, subconsciously you begin to move and lurch in all directions. Once the upload is fully connected, you start to mainstream the music of DEADLETTER, and its effects viciously tear through you. With two new singles on the way and a longer body of music in the works, DEADLETTER is continuing their capturing of music lovers all over. They have substantial desires for 2023, “we want to play, hopefully all over the UK and all the way around Europe again. Hopefully someone will take us to America at the end of the year. That would be nice, we’d love to be there”.
Connect with DEADLETTER on: Instagram