KEG: muscular art-punk statements from Brighton upstarts
Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’ll no doubt see opening the bill for your favourite bands. This week, KEG talk their idiosyncratic debut EP and their place in the revitalised British guitar scene
KEG choose to embrace mayhem. The Brighton band, whose seven members have wildly diverse musical tastes, use their records as a test experiment: what would happen if you threw all of your ingredients in at the same time?
The band’s debut EP ‘Assembly’ is the first result and it is a glorious success. Over 17 manic minutes, it is a torrent of animated, angular frenzy – a real juggernaut of an opening statement. “It’s really busy, a bit of an assault on the senses,” says guitarist Jules Gibbons. That would be an understatement.
Take ‘Heyshaw’, an urgent track that jerks with Devo-like energy, over which singer Albert Haddenham screams seemingly unrelated geographical place names (“Singapore! Malaysia! Kuwait!”). In fact, the song tells a personal story of Haddenham’s mother’s nomadic childhood in various RAF camps around the world, with Heyshaw being the name of the farm in the Yorkshire Dales where they finally settled. The manic, oddball spirit it lends plays squarely into KEG’s strengths.
“I wanted to write a song with a catchy little story,” Haddenham explains. “I’ve always liked songs with characters, like [Lou Reed’s] ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, so that was my small attempt at doing that, but using the only thing that I can truly write about, my family.”
Haddenham, Wiffen and bassist Joel Whitaker all grew up as friends near Bridlington in east Yorkshire, but life took them their separate ways before the group found themselves all converging on Brighton, forming the band in 2019. Gibbons was a mutual friend that they knew through his association with the group Spang Sisters, and along with guitarist Frank Lindsay, trombonist Charlie Keen and drummer Johnny Pyke, the current lineup of KEG was finally settled.
What is clear from listening to ‘Assembly’ is that the seven band members come from different points on the musical spectrum. Keen has a background in big band jazz and a penchant for free experimentation; Lindsay has spent years as a hip-hop producer. Wiffen’s preference is for “synthy, new wave-y stuff”, while Gibbons, in his typically self-effacing manner, describes himself as coming from “a bit more of a milky, soft background. I just listen to good stuff that I can make my eggs to. Breakfast music.”
These differences may be the key to their distinctively offbeat and idiosyncratic sound, but such disparate elements could never converge in such vibrant formation without there being some key central influences that unite them all. There is currently a boom of exciting new post-punk bands around, but few of them can be as well-versed in the genre’s history as KEG: during our conversation, for example, they casually make reference to underground luminaries such as Cleveland experimentalists Pere Ubu and the Sheffield art punks Cabaret Voltaire, among others. “That’s party music!” says Lindsay, before continuing to rattle off another list of his personal favourites. “It’s when we get drunk that we start bringing those bands out. Those are the bands that made me want to get into being in a band myself in the first place.”
Perhaps what they take most of all from the original wave of post-punk bands such as Talking Heads is the infectious, unstoppable energy of their live shows. Although they only managed half a year of touring before lockdown, it was enough time to impress in opening slots for the likes of Squid and PVA, and it was a desire to capture that spirit that was behind their decision to self-produce the EP, which they recorded early in the year. “We just like to get into the studio as early as we possibly can and crack on with it ourselves,” says Gibbons.
Now, with live shows back on the agenda and a confirmed slot at next year’s Great Escape Festival in their hometown, they are brimming with creativity again, and collectively speak of how eager they are to record their next set of songs for an EP set for release early in 2022. “Everyone’s found their little groove within the seven and now we know when to hold back and when not to play, and that’s been a really crucial skill to develop,” says Gibbons.
If ‘Assembly’ is the sound of KEG before they’ve even found their groove, then how good are they going to get?
KEG’s debut EP ‘Assembly’ is out now