the UnDerside of
Music that reflects and responses to a lot of hard, dark and distressing questions in both modern and past societies. Disturbing rhythms of injustice, inequality and hatred. Voice of struggle, more intelligent and more complicated which motivates you for self developing and improvement yourself as a citizen of this world. Aiming not to forget past and learn how not to make the same mistakes in present or future. All that is just a part of one of the most intense and kind of disturbing live performances I’ve experienced so far. And it’s all about one band – Algiers, four-piece band born in Atlanta, Georgia. Before we witnessed their amazing live performance we talked to Ryan Mahan and Matt Tong about wild geography of their tour, differences of audience, touring with Depeche Mode and long-distance relationships within the band.
You play a lot of cities and countries that are not popular among other bands. Why did you choose this route?
Matt: We play a lot of places we’ve never been to before. We are kind of students of history being very aware of importance of history. Going to places like Croatia and other countries of former Yugoslavia we learn a lot more how complex the history and events of that region are. And relationships between different countries and between people. Sometimes you just can't believe what a history of that region is.
Ryan: It is important for us being a band that actually tries to connect with people from around the world. It is a part of what we do, right? I mean we called Algiers. It is something that represents our point of view that sits outside of being American. Attempting to transcend that in some way. And we always ask our manager can we go to this or that country? There is very few places that we wouldn’t play to be honest. We even trying to play few shows in Algeria but that’s a long process. And in the same time we don’t know what to expect visiting new place for the first time. You never know will people come to your show or not.
How did you get possibility to tour with Depeche Mode?
Ryan: That’s not something we planned doing. But it’s the only band we actually toured with properly. Our management is "Mute" management. And "Mute" is Daniel Millers' record label. They have all these bands that we really love. So Daniel is a big fan of ours, he owns the label. I guess he suggested us to Dave Gahan and he listened to it and became a fan. Than we did a remix which is cool too.
Matt: It was great opportunity. We were really happy being offered to be a part of that experience and it also helped us in so many ways. When you relatively underground band and suddenly start playing at football stadiums - that's interesting.
Ryan: Yeah, we did it and it was cool and we picked up some people that actually enjoyed the set. And it’s the most important thing. When we played in Paris everybody had to be inside because of the security issues since the bombing and other threats. So all 90 000 people were in there already. And they were watching us. And that made a huge impact. Next time we played Paris (after that) we had so many more people.
How are you making new music and communicate with each other when you live in different cities? And what is the story about using Tumblr as a platform to communicate with fans?
Ryan: Obviously we were unable to do it. First record Franklin, Lee and I lived in different places but we had a label that gave us money to record our album. So we were actually in position we can spend time together. Actually it worked out. We were together for short period of time, we made a record. Than we rehears. Before this tour we didn’t have a chance to rehearse because we just didn’t have time to do it. But we do it during sound checks and when we play. We trust each other so... this is the process that is pretty functional actually. And about creating new music - it's almost the same. We had six weeks off in between last European tour and now. I had some time on my own to write. Franklin, Matt and Lee had time on their own. So we can kind of do it separately and send it to each other. Even sometimes trying out doing it on stage in between songs like “check out this new thing I’ve got”. People have to respond. There is a lot of improvisation. Well, that’s the process.
About Tumblr. The initial reason for that is because Lee, Franklin and I grew up on punk rock and zines and tapes so you can exchange tapes from other people, like hard core band gives you a tape and than you exchange it with someone else. We didn’t exist physically as a band and Tumblr was like zine for us. "Oh this is cool this is what we like." If you hear our music you’ll probably think “what is this?” We also tried to show our associations that people might have see what kind of the world that we are trying to create as Algiers. So I think that really helped. And the “Blood” video is kind of an extension of what that is. Past issues and past work of influences and maybe things that people will say “oh, these don’t make sense together” but for us it make sense.
How do all this music-lyrics-visual parts come together and what message do they leave?
Ryan: Some of us are louder than others about what we add to the band, in terms what we think about the world and history. But at the same time we all share very similar common grounds about what we see is injustice and distaste and strong hatred of injustice, wherever that is. Plus this something that… We are looking for some sort of sense of universality beyond particularity. Something beyond our particularity of our environment. So when we talk about racism and injustice in the U.S. I think it can be applied to a lot different people circumstances: a lot of different places that might not even reflect what we are talking about. But that’s the idea to draw associations and also bring out some human elements as well. Melancholy sense, anger, joy, you know you try to put that in. That’s what life is.
Matt: Yeah, human element definitely is really important. It’s not good just providing list of influences and ideas if you can’t actually write yourself into that. In sense, not like in arrogant, you know self centered way. "This is how I actually experience that."
If you're not paying attention, if you're not careful it’s really hard to have like realistic uprisal or understanding of narrative unfolding because suddenly one side is winning, someone else is winning.. you know it is so binary.
Do you get some feedback from fans that your music help them in some way?
Ryan: It happens all the time. We had letters from people in Algeria talking about “oh, it’s amazing that you are inspired by some element of what we’ve contributed to the world in terms of struggling against oppression.” And recognizing that it’s not us taking their name and appropriating it but recognizing that it is an influence, that it is something inspirational. We have it all the time.
Another example we played in Portland, Oregon. Liberal wealthy city. But we had a younger black girl come to the show and said “I really appreciate you are playing here because I feel so isolated in a very white city. I feel the power and strength of you, guys playing.” And also the way how we look differently and how we come together in that way and express it in very strong way. It is something that really inspiring for us. We hear from academics who write about politics from around the world talking about “this is very interesting music and message that we don’t hear often from other bands.”
Do you see difference in audience in U.S. and Europe?
Ryan: It depends on where you are but definitely there is that difference. It’s difficult one to say, because US music people… It can be sense of oversaturation. There are so many bands and people are a little bit disaffected. It’s like hypercapitalism. People have everything so they just pick and choose. And in that hypercapitalism somebody has to tell you what to like and what is cool...
Matt: ...Sometimes it’s not only have to be told what to like but also have to be told how to react.
Ryan: And if you don’t get told that this is band you should like – people sometimes just don’t show up on a gig. In Europe there is a lot more open mindedness about who we are and what we can be and what that reflects. It’s very different environment. Big cities in US of course are big cities and people come to the shows. But outside of that it really depends. And if we are playing London, Berlin, Paris, Prague or other European city there is completely different vibe. People come out and they excited, enthusiastic...
Matt: … seems more honest, I guess.
What short message you can leave for a people who have never heard of you to make them try listen to your music?
Ryan: I can't say anything other than the fact that world is crumbling and we need to come together and hopefully our music is the kind of music that will make you feel that.
Matt: Yeah, Algiers. We mean it!