VH ARTIST OF THE WEEK (11/09/17): Institutes (Live Review & Interview)

Our Artist of the Week this week are Worcester four piece, Institutes. After a striking set on the BBC Introducing stage at this year’s Lake Fest, Thistle Prince caught up with the band to talk songwriting, throwing up on stage, and accidentally hitting family members with mic stands… but first, more on that set…

Rather surprisingly (given that it’s Heredfordshire) the BBC Introducing tent at this years Lake Fest is gently baking away under a particularly pervasive 30 degree sun.

The edges of the tent quietly begin to fill with people as the boys of Institutes fiddle with wires on stage checking and rechecking; clocking and surveying. This gig is after all a bit of a big deal, Institutes have been slowly creeping into the BBC music scene this summer and this is their chance to make their presence known amongst a live audience. The band’s lead singer, Gareth Griffiths, desperately gargles away with his bottle of liquid honey in order to quell the throat infection that he had been wrestling against the previous day. Health couldn’t have chosen a worse time to fail, he is though, ready for his performance and his band mates are certainly behind him.

Though relatively new to the festival scene Institutes have been playing together for a number of years, honing and perfecting their craft to reach a point of true solidity as a band. To be invited to play with BBC  Introducing is a nice leap onto the edge of the possibility of a touring future for the group. They have though, been out there all this time quietly making themselves known, and why shouldn’t we know about them? The energy that they have collectively put into their skill set is obvious, and they are as a result more than well worth listening to.

Despite a bit of a shift around over the years with artists and instruments they are an incredibly accomplished group of individuals with the ability to chop and change styles and songs as they please without ever loosing their edge and the core of what they value; the love of writing and producing really great music. This breakout set is ostensibly a game changer for the boys, and the trickles of people filing into the tent are a sure sign that they have grabbed the attention that they deserve.

Their set begins with some synthy electronic vocals bubbling away underneath a slow strumming of guitars. The initial feeling is that of a far away soundscape imitating the extended psychedelic rock reaches of M83 or Sleepy Seven.

A delicious cocktail of 6 evocative songs follows the opening ‘We See Colour’ which is in itself a buoyant and eclectic beginning that undeniably frames the skill set of  every member of the group.

‘Tempting the Greys’ and ‘Quick Brown Fox’ follow allowing the poetry of the vocals to intertwine with the heavier belly of the instrumentals. ‘Quick Brown Fox’ in particular comes from a place of intimate song writing for Gareth, as it highlights his own struggles and triumphs in tackling the ever mysterious labyrinths of brain chemistry and ADHD. Writing from a personal if not somewhat intimate perspective is always evident in a live set and that is certainly true today. Gareth’s absorption in his performance is palpable. It’s as if his crowd disappears and he engages fully with his writing as he vanishes into his vocals. His movements on stage are somewhat mesmeric as he holds his hands to his face and lifts the tent from its roots with his guitar. Adrian Iliescu, co lead guitarist shifts with him adding grittier and darker tones to the mix, there is something light but weighty about ‘Quick Brown Fox’ that is probably a perfect simulation of the core of its lyrics. Both elements couple perfectly with one another to create both the sound and image of the realities of enduring life inside the skull and coping with one’s own brain.

The most considerable highlights of the set come later with the last two songs, ‘Not Alone,’ and ‘Golden Egg.’ Both stand alone in their own right, but are also brilliantly crafted companions. It is of course no accident that they follow one another in the list and as a pair are a perfect way to end a set.

‘Not Alone’ begins gently, however the song’s sweet and mellow chorus very swiftly crescendos into heavy guitar riffs and some furious addictive drumming from a very sweaty looking Sam Deacon back in the shadows of the stage.

Stylistically ‘Not Alone‘ bares some similarities with that trademark flittering guitar sound of underground progressive rock masters like Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky. This is neatly spliced with Adrain’s heavier deeper guitar and Gareth’s expansive vocals that grow and evolve as the song progresses into its peak. To label it an indie rock song is far too broad and doesn’t do justice to its writing. It is an indie rock song yes, but in reality it sits separately in a very indefinite category. It belongs in that gap where refreshing extended instrumentals and ranging vocals flourish, neither heavy nor soft and ethereal but somewhere in between the two. The ferocity of the last few bars allows the band’s stage presence to take hold as they blur into their instruments and one another; the sweat of such endurance coating their faces as they play. They create an overwhelming wall of sound that really rings around the brain and sticks in the ears making it a difficult song to shake. The fact that it’s written from such a personal place seems to awaken a passion in its performance that really makes the show, leaving one with the feeling of having had a window into the electricity of really great song writing but also something deeply private. It’s as though you’re a curious kid who’s crept into their siblings room to read their diary and you know you shouldn’t keep reading but to tear your eyes away is completely impossible.

Similarly the last song of the set, ‘Golden Egg’ is another inevitable triumph for Institutes. Starting with a synth edge and building with the twang of gentle guitar it creeps into a dramatic and heavy peak that maintains itself until the end of the performance. It is louder and delivered with more ferocity than ‘Not Alone’ but it allows the band to reach the limits of their collective energy on stage. It has something ever so slightly Chili Peppers about it with a little edge of Queens of the Stone Age. Building psychedelic guitar riffs with the buzz of electronic harmonies in the underbelly of the song make it a particular ear worm of a set closer, verging on near impossible to shake it out of your skull for weeks afterwards.

It would be a travesty not to mention the perfect little licks of bass that flicker in and out of the sound at this point. The bass in both ‘Golden Egg’ and ‘Not Alone’ cushion the weight of the other instruments with such quiet intuition that could only be the mark of someone with a real understanding of their craft. Bassist, Adam Lunt, has at this stage only been with the band for a few short weeks. His efforts though are seamless and he has very quickly and comfortably adapted his own skill set to the requirements of the set. It’s hard to believe that he’s only been doing this with his co artists for such a short period of time.

As a group they all move with the energy of the music that they have engineered, dropping into a frenzy as the electricity of the guitar ricochets around the walls of the tent and the bass rumbles underneath their feet. Their set as a whole is a mark of a band that can only journey onwards and upwards but it is those last two songs, ‘Not Alone,’ and ‘Golden Egg’ that work as a combined force to leave their imprint on the crowd and ensure that we remember Institutes and what they are capable of creating.

After the set, Vulture Hound caught up with Institutes for a short but insightful chat.

Who would you say thus far has had the biggest part in writing your songs? Is it a joint effort to write the individual songs, or do you have one person in particular who kicks things off?

The majority of the songs start with me (Gareth) coming with up with a version of the song with vocals and guitar and then we’ll workshop it to get it on its feet as a band. Influences range massively, there are a lot of alternative rock acts like Queens Of The Stone Age and Jeff Buckley who have shaped our sound, but equally the scope and soundscape of film soundtracks definitely drive our ambition to create a big sound that can transport you. All that being said we make a point of not losing sight of there being a strong song at the heart of it all and that sensibility that pop music has is always there – one way or another.

Glastonbury coupled with BBC introducing has been a great step forward for you all this summer. Where would you hope to be playing this time next year?

We’re just gonna take every show as it comes but we’d definitely like to see a good festival streak next summer.

What’s the most personal of your songs and why?

It’s a toss up between two: ‘Not Alone’ and ‘Quick Brown Fox.’ For the most part I do write from a very personal place – writing is cathartic for me and often writing song helps me order my thoughts with something that’s troubling me. ‘Not Alone’ is about supporting a loved one who is suffering from depression – and helping them through it – and that’s come from personal experience. I wanted that song to have something to offer people, whilst knowing it’s a complicated subject – and it’s expressed both in the music and the lyrics about recognising someone’s struggles and giving the right support to help them to address their problems and find a happier place for themselves. ‘Quick Brown Fox’ is the newest song in the set at the moment, it’s not been recorded yet, but it’s the first song where I have allowed myself to go really introspective. It reflects on my ADHD and how it affects my life, more specifically my adult life as it’s changed with age. I’m really happy with how that turned out lyrically because it really allowed me to express what the day-to-day is like.

Do you like your own music? Are you a band that you would choose to listen to if say you heard yourselves on the radio?

For me I’ve taken the “write what you want to hear” approach, that’s actually a lyric that appears and ‘Golden Egg’ and it’s there because that’s what I do. I think we embrace that ethos and that’s why there is quite a lot of variety in the set and how songs come out – because there are so many tastes and sentiments in the melting pot – that some days we want to rock and some days we want to get ambient and some days we just want to flick between the two.

In the time you’ve been gigging what’s the most mind blowing thing you’ve seen on site? Whether that’s the most mind blowingly beautiful, incredible thing, or the weirdest / disgusting etc, however you choose to answer…
There a various, some are probably not appropriate! – One bad one is that I threw up onstage during a festival show once. We were rocking out at the end of our set at a festival in Derbyshire and it was really muggy – we were jamming pretty hard and I just sort of forgot to breathe, a friend of mine – Jasper from Jasper In The Company Of Others – saw from the side of the stage that I looked peaky, and made a queasy gesture towards me, and I just went. I could have just as easily have passed out. I had to run off stage and let the rest of the band finish. Then there’s the time I threw a mic stand off stage and it accidentally hit my mum.

P.s. The story of my mum getting hit by the mic stand once won me a pair of VIP Springsteen tickets… so it was worth it.

What do you think of the vinyl revival? Are there any plans to put your music on record?

Love vinyl I’m a big collector – and there’s nothing I’d love more than to have some Institutes wax on the merch table. That’s actually a life goal for me, a small one, but still… we’ll see what we can do.

Adam, you’ve only been with the band for a short period of time. How have you managed to learn to adapt your own style so quickly? Was it difficult to learn and retain everything you needed to do in such a short space of time?

I think that by spending some time alone just listening to the songs over and over for a few evenings helped me to learn the songs fairly quickly. The songs really grew on me and I think it’s important that you enjoy what you’re playing. It definitely helped. I think the band as a whole are getting to the point where we don’t really need to think about what we’re playing, which is great because it allows us to focus on the live performance.

This one’s for all of you to answer. What’s your favourite dinosaur and why?

Gareth:  T-Rex because T-Rex. Institutes has, in the past, walked onstage to the Jurassic Park theme and also to Sam Neil’s velociraptor speech from the start of that movie.

Adrian: Brontosaurus, because Dink.

Sam: Velociraptor. And you’re all wrong for not saying the same.

Adam: Godzilla, final answer.

Keep your eyes and ears open for next summer’s festival line ups. Institutes are sure to be in there somewhere and are absolutely worth a look, make sure you get there before they are inevitably playing enormous venues and you have to battle your way past the crowds to the front.

Find Institutes on Facebook and Soundcloud.