Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds on Sweaty Venues, Arena Tours, and the American Political Climate

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English post-hardcore outfit Enter Shikari is one of those bands where, even if the idea of a blistering metalcore intro suddenly bursting into a 4/4 dubsteppy drum and bass passage makes you want to throw up in your mouth, you gotta admire just how whacked-out and singular of a band they are. You could definitely see what they were doing on their debut record, Take to the Skies, as being a little uneven with the mix of digital programming and post-hardcore riffage, even on its several great singles like “Sorry, You’re Not a Winner” and “Anything Can Happen in the Next Half Hour.” However, as the band’s progressed between Skies until their latest effort, the critically-adored The Mindsweep in 2015, they’ve made more of a name for themselves, with their distinct, playful electronic/hardcore, which is charged by socially-conscious messages and lyrics.

2012’s A Flash Flood of Colour was my first introduction to the band, which blew my 13-year-old mind when I first heard it. If your only prior experience to “electronicore” music is musically basic and gimmicky stuff like Asking Alexandria and Attack! Attack!, what Enter Shikari brings on this loose, rowdy, and sonically overwhelming record seems like the most insane and experimental shit in the world. Tracks like “Sssnakepit” and “Arguing with Thermometers” are tracks that will make you think, while also making you break shit and jump all around. Even to this day, if we are to legitimize “electronicore” as an established subgenre of post-hardcore/metalcore, I think Enter Shikari sits atop that throne, and is one of the only bands in this style still worth jamming to.

Following a massive headlining tour in the UK, Enter Shikari returns to North America this Friday in Seattle. In advance of their performance, alongside Moments, The White Noise, and Hands Like Houses, we sat down for a Skype interview with lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Rou Reynolds to ask him more about the band’s in-studio quirks, their upcoming North American tour, the dynamic of their electronic music side project, Shikari Sound System, and the current state of politics in the United States and the UK.

NWMS: “So you guys are still touring The Mindsweep after it came out in January 2015. What’s it been like touring this very lauded record for about a year and a half now?”

It’s been great. Obviously it’s quite a diverse album, so it’s been really nice playing almost every track live now. They all translate live really, really well. The shows have been good, they’ve been received really good. It’s been a good year.

“You guys have four albums under your belt, and a shit-load of EPs, all of which are loved and praised by the people that support your music. With such a big back-catalog, how do you choose which songs to put into a set? You’ll obviously have the requisites like “Sorry, You’re Not a Winner” and “Arguing with Thermometers” that always make it into live sets, but then you’ll have songs like “Adieu,” the love ballad off Take to the Skies, that never make it into live sets. Do you have predetermined ones that you like have to incorporate into every set, or do you like to kind of switch things up?”

We like to switch it up. Obviously, there’s always going to be a certain element of pressure to play the ones that everyone knows, especially if you’re playing festivals or a support slot, where a lot of people in the crowd perhaps aren’t your biggest fans, but they’ll know one or two songs of yours, and they’ll wanna hear them. We wanna try and please as many people as possible, and play the songs that everyone wants to hear. But we also like shaking it up and keeping it fresh for ourselves, that’s why we do a lot of live remixes and things as well.

“Have you seen the Warped Tour lineup at all? Have you been keeping up with it? People are sort of divisive on it, with some people saying, ‘Oh man, This is a great lineup, they’re going back to their roots!’ But others don’t like how non-diverse it is. I know you’ve played the Warped Tour before, so I was just curious about your thoughts on it.”

I love playing festivals. I love playing music outside, there’s something raw, something primitive about playing music under the sky, you know? It’s what human beings have done for centuries and centuries. I think with festivals, the best thing is when they’re really diverse, and you discover bands that you wouldn’t normally listen to, that you end up really liking. I think that’s what makes festivals really exciting. This year’s lineup looks pretty classic Warped Tour to me. There’s the harder stuff – Whitechapel, Every Time I Die – then you have more of the classic pop-punk stuff. It’s pretty classic Warped Tour.

How does your purely electronic music alter ego, Shikari Sound System, differ from that, because it’s more instrumentally-driven and less lyrical. Do you ever get people decrying it as “not real music” or whatever because there’s no lyrics and/or because it’s all electronic?

Obviously it’s a completely different scene, it’s a completely different area of music, that relies heavily on rhythm, relies on instrumentation and different textures, and it also relies heavily on sub-bass. It’s a form of music that’s basically made to make you dance, and that’s what Shikari Sound System is; it’s purely electronic. Even as it sets out, it’s got a completely different sort of mindset, it’s got a completely different… “goal,” in what type of music it should be and what it should trigger in people, and what it should be used for.

How do your live performances then differ? Because you’re all performing with your electronic equipment, there’s not as much guitars and drums and stuff. You’re more behind the equipment, and it’s more about the crowd energy and all that.

To be honest, we’ve only ever played about four Shikari Sound System proper live sets, so it’s basically just the four of us behind a load of sequencers, synths, drum machines, and things like that, whereas most of the time when we do Shikari Sound System, it’s just DJ sets, and I’ll be MCing along with it. The DJing is more of just a party vibe. We often do it after a Shikari show, so it’s just an aftershow, it’s a place to relax and have fun, have a dance, and get down.

So in some of your songs – especially on A Flash Flood of Colour – there are weird breaks in the songs where you and the other members are bantering, like on “Gandhi Mate, Gandhi” and “Sssnakepit,” where there are spoken/shouted breaks in the song. Are those sorts of moments planned in the studio, or do they just naturally happen during the recording and you incorporate the takes into the songs later?

It’s important for it to be natural, and an honest representation of what goes on in the studio. The “Gandhi” one was all sort of planned, but we said, basically, we’re going to do one take – it wasn’t scripted or anything, we sort of had a general idea of what we’d all be doing – I’d be shouting my head off, and they’d be trying to calm me down, and we said, “Okay, we’ll just do it, we’ll all go into the studio, and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, we’ll move on.” We decided to keep that one take in.

“Do you guys keep up much with American politics?”

Yeah, because it affects the whole world so directly. It’s something we kind can’t avoid, really, if we wanted to.

“In interviews, people always ask you about Donald Trump, but they never ask you about the Democratic side of things. Do you ever follow the mud-slinging and the shots fired that goes on with the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaign?”

Yeah. I’m a big Bernie supporter; I think for the first time in a long time, he’s actually offering a “true alternative.” What most people would say, and certainly could say, of the last few decades is that – South Park, I think, hit the nail on the head with the Giant Douche and the Turd Sandwich – there isn’t much of a choice; it’s a very, very narrow form of politics.

Now, with Bernie, it’s just opened up. He’s a real alternative, he’s got really different ideas, is much more progressive. Obviously he’s all about equality and really upstanding principles. I’d certainly take Hillary over Donald Trump by all means, but I don’t think she has the principles and outlook on politics that Bernie Sanders does.

“Why do you suppose people then are going towards Hillary? Do you think it’s name recognition, or do you think Bernie’s message just isn’t getting out there as much as it should?”

First of all, Hillary’s campaign has a lot more power and money behind it, and I think especially at the beginning, before Bernie got the momentum that he has, she was very much the sort of frontrunner, and most mainstream political pundits and TV and stuff like that were concentrating on her. But also, Bernie’s got the uphill battle because he’s gotta speak about things that people in mainstream politics don’t normally speak about. He’s kind of unafraid to touch on subjects that should be at the forefront of politics, but aren’t.

Then he’s also got the extra uphill battle of being called names by the right – people throwing out “communist,” “socialist” and all that stuff – and a lot of mainstream sort of “middle-Americans” watching Fox News think of those words as insults, if anything. *laughs* They don’t know the history or all the meaning behind either of them, so Bernie’s got that to sort of contend with. He gets a lot of name-calling, and he has to sort of explain a lot of things before he can even get into his policy ideas and things.

“People have been comparing Bernie to Jeremy Corbyn. Do you agree with that comparison?”

Yeah, pretty much. They’re both offering something that’s completely different, and people are very excited about it, especially the younger generations. It seems like a more natural, more positive, more global outlook. It’s very easy for the right to gain support, because they use the easiest arguments, they just relate to peoples’ fear. Fear is something that’s incredibly powerful; it’s the one thing that, through human evolution, if we can pay attention to, say, where the saber-tooth tiger den is, then we’re going to survive.

So being very concentrated in fear, and being very careful, looking out for yourself before others, it’s a way to survive, it’s a survival instinct. But it doesn’t breed a world that’s very safe to live in, and it doesn’t breed things that humans need to live – even just like loving relationships and community and that feeling of belonging to the whole human race rather than dividing people up and having hatred, it’s a much stronger way of looking at things.

“Do you think we’re on the verge of any sort of meaningful change? Especially with this campaign, I’ve noticed that teenagers and young adults are becoming more aware of how tainted the media is, and how they control what you see. Do you see the “next generation” stepping in and changing things for the better?”

Yeah, you’ve gotta hope for it. I’m pleasantly surprised that Bernie Sanders is now able, in this current political climate, to get this momentum that he has, whereas, go back over the last few decades, and I don’t think we could’ve, but now obviously with the Internet and the sort of social values that people are beginning to formulate with the world “getting smaller” with the Internet, it makes these avenues a bit more accessible.

“I don’t keep up much with politics in the UK since it’s really far away from me, but in UK politics, is there an equal amount of infighting between the political parties? Because over here in the Republican side, you’ve got the Ted Cruz supporters always doing whatever they can to attack the Trump side, and vice versa, and definitely with the Democratic side, where every day you’ll see a new thing the Hillary side does to attack the Bernie supporters. Does that sort of thing happen as often where you’re from?”

Perhaps not quite on the scale that you guys have. Occasionally, something big will come out. Our main centre-left party, the Labour Party, when Corbyn became the leader, there was very much a split there, and the party almost basically split in two, where you had the more centrist people within the party, and then the people who weren’t afraid to have a bit more of a principled outlook on things. We certainly get that, but we don’t just have the two parties, though, we’ve got much more of a wider spectrum. It’s slightly different in a few little ways.

“For those of us here in the States that don’t really know, we always hear about how much people in the UK hate David Cameron and all of the stuff that he’s done, but not many of us know specifically why. Why do people over there hate him so much?”

Oh god, how long have you got? *laughs* Again, it’s going on that ruling with fear. The right have a sort of selfish outlook to the world, is the main thing. They’re very dismissive of refugees and migrants, even though it’s been proven over and over again that migrants are positive to the economy. The policies that they’ve put in place from the last few years have pretty much all been catastrophic.

The economic policy of austerity, so basically taking a lot of money out of public services, they’re destroying our National Health Service, heavily underfunding that. They’ve taken away sort of the social safety net, so the money that’s put forward for disabled people. They target the most vulnerable people in society, basically, and only really benefit the upper echelons of society, the more well-off folk.

“So I’ll ask the inevitable question. What do you think would happen to the world as a whole if Trump got into office? The thing with me is, I just imagine him talking to other world powers like he talks to Ted Cruz and them, and it’s scary to think about. World War 3 would probably happen.”

I’m kind of just hoping that a lot of what he does and how he acts is a show. I think he’s a very snide-y and clever public speaker. He goes for simplicity over everything else; he has some very basic, but very effective rhetoric skills. I’m just hoping that if he did get in – which I still think just cannot happen, I think there are too many intelligent, good, well-meaning people in America for that to happen – I have no idea what would happen if he got in. He’d probably start losing friends on the international scale.

“If it does become a Bernie vs. Trump general, do you think Bernie will just wipe the floor with him?”

I would hope. It’s clear that Trump is now not just this thing that we laugh at and make jokes about and just are bewildered that he’s even running, it’s very clear that he’s a main contender. I think he’ll continue to garner more support, but I don’t think he’s a very intelligent person, I don’t think he’ll have a good time of advisors around him, so the hope would be for him to sort of fuck up, and I think if he starts going head-to-head with Bernie, it’ll be very different from him going head-to-head with the other Republican candidates.

I think Bernie will be able to deal with him very well, because I think people are fed up with politics as usual, and you see that both from Trump supporters and Bernie supporters. I think when Trump supporters hear what Bernie has to say, some of them might actually regard it as interesting, and possibly interesting enough to give him support. So yeah, we’ll see.

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“Your guys’ North American tour kicks off this Friday in Seattle at El Corazon. What can fans hope to show up and see?”

Well, we just finished what was kind of our biggest headlining tour ever over here in Europe; it was like proper arenas with shit-ton of production, and as with a lot of things in life, you always eventually want what you sort of don’t have or can’t have. *laughs* By the end of that tour, where we’re playing massive venues, I was really yearning to get back into small, sweaty, communal, intimate venues and just let the music do the talking, really, and just have that high-energy, honest performance.

Luckily, we got this tour booked, which is exactly what that’s for. So I guess it’s just gonna be, what I would say is – even though we’re not “punk” in terms of mohawks, three chords and fast drum beats – it’s still what I would call a modern punk rock show. Hopefully there’ll be lots of emotions, lots of sweat, and people won’t go home empty-headed.

“On the topic of punk, post-hardcore and metalcore music aren’t really known for being socially-conscious and addressing the sorts of issues you talk about in your music. Have you ever been surprised that Enter Shikari really caught on with people that aren’t maybe politically- or socially-inclined, you know?”

No, I don’t think it’s like a prerequisite or like a stipulation that you have to be politically-aware to like our music, at least hopefully not. *laughs* First of all, I write music because I love music, and then often times I’m speaking about social issues because, when you write music, you wanna sort of “bear your soul,” if you like. You wanna write about emotional things, about things you’re passionate about, especially with punk or alternative/post-hardcore/whatever it is.

You’re often running about on a stage shouting your head off like a headless chicken, so the lyrics have to be about stuff you’re truly passionate about, otherwise, you’re being dishonest, you’re “putting on a show,” if you like, and that’s something we never wanted to do. This had to be music with a message, with integrity, and music we could be truly passionate about.

For more details about Enter Shikari’s performance at El Corazon on April 15th, consult http://www.elcorazonseattle.com/event/1113961-enter-shikari-seattle/.

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About Jess Casebeer

NorthWest Music Scene's reviews editor and multi-genre music nerd, Jess greatly values original content that's informative, personable and entertaining. Soundgarden sits comfortably next to Squarepusher in their CD collection. They're kind of like an innerspring mattress: firm, yet comfortable in its own right. Write: jessnwms@gmail.com