SANTIAGO STREET MACHINE
Words : David Edwards
Picture : Courtesy of Santiago Street Machine
What’s in a Name? Stepping out with Santiago Street Machine
“Erm….ha ha! Should we just give the standard answer or make up something new?”
“We’ll give you a few answers and then you can decide which one is right!”
You can tell a lot by the name of a band. For example, with The Strokes, you’re thinking angular…simple…defining. Radiohead: technical…paranoid…loving Talking Heads. Butthole Surfers (Ahem, I think that’s about enough now) Of course, you can be wrong (I once spent six months thinking Oasis were a reggae band when I was 13: I was never one of the cool kids) but most of the time, the name of a band makes a firm statement as to their purpose, politics and presence. So then, how do Santiago Street Machine, a name that is steadily and deftly scaling the wall of public attention in Manchester and beyond, explain and define their unusual moniker? A tribute to the powers of human resilience that led to 33 Chilean miners escaping the Copiapó mine last year? A reference to a chaotic drunken night with a lady of confusing physical proportions in the Chilean Capitol? Or maybe I should just let the band explain. Over to you lads….
“We didn’t want something that sounded like a band. We didn’t want something usual”, says drummer Chris, as we sit in Kro bar before Janelle Monáe’s Manchester Academy show in late February: “It’s hard to get something original that reflects what you do musically. So we were looking at clubnights...they always have good names. We wanted something with a dance vibe and I found this night in Chile called “Street Machine”. And they have these nights all round the world but obviously this one was in Santiago. So we went for that one”. With a laugh, bass player Ben Gooch joins in. “We were so desperate to avoid anything with a “The” prefix. It’s become so boring and predictable”, he groans: “We did have another name and we’d booked a gig under that....I’m not going to tell you what it was! But anyway, we got the Santiago Street Machine name sorted after we’d booked it. So we told the promoter and his first response was “Well, I’m glad about that because your first name was shit!”
As the band begin laughing together, it’s easy and immediately obvious to tell that Santiago Street Machine are a group in more than name alone. An eminently likeable, confident and jovial trio, the past five months since I happened to catch one of their blistering first shows at Night and Day in September have been one success piled on top of another. Containing Andy Chandler (lead vocals, keyboards and sequencers), Ben Gooch (bass and backing vocals) and Chris Corrigan (drums, backing vocals and “professional haircut”, as Ben and Andy laughingly dub him), their quixotic, exciting and enigmatic take on rhythmic dance beats cross-pollinated with pop sensibilities and soaring melodies has attracted considerable attention and appreciation across the country and even beyond (the band gleefully admit to already having a devoted American fanbase from across the Atlantic) and have been attracting attention from promoters and A&R representatives after only a handful of taut, sweat-soaked gigs. Including one notable gig at the centre of hipster heaven supporting a Hot Chip DJ set in Brixton. “It was definitely the biggest thing we’ve done so far. The crowd was huge”, says singer and keyboard player Andy: “We came out onto this big stage with this hollow floor...you could hear the boom all the way through it”. “It worked really well”, admits Chris: “That’s the thing that dance nights have over indie nights. When you’re playing with a band, often all the people piss off home after their mates band has played. Whereas with that night, we headlined the five bands on before and everyone had stayed to see Hot Chip, so it worked out really well for us”. As if in agreement, Ben deadpans “My dad loved it”. “Brixton Massive!”, laughs Andy, collapsing into giggles.
Such humour and in-jokes are a hallmark of conversations with Santiago Street Machine but when you bring them round to the subject of their music and aspirations, it’s clear that they are deathly serious. Formed in early 2010, all the members have significant previous experience in bands and are keenly aware that the route to success is metered out in sweat and toil, not sweetness and satin. “Me and Ben worked together doing acoustic stuff for a few years while we were at uni”, Andy recalls. “Basically, we had a ‘seen the light’ moment and realised that we wanted to do something different; write the sort of stuff we’d go and listen to and see at festivals. So we started writing some tunes and then...well, Mr Professional Haircut came along!”. Having just come out of a guitar band (formerly, Chris has played as a session musician and toured with The Cut, Lost Calm and Kava Kava), Chris and Ben form a rock-steady backline from which the beats and melody can skip and dance across with ease. But as Andy is quick to point out, the composition of the music is integrally organic. “It’s from a songwriting point-of-view; it’s considered”, he explains. “I mean, from a lyrics and melody side, I’ve always felt that a strong melody is better than five different parts. So that’s it really. I had the lyrics and the melody, all that was missing was the rhythm: the beats and the dirty bass”. Taking cue from the mention of the low end, Ben explains his inspiration: “When I moved out of London, I’d been really enjoying the growing dubstep scene down there. There’s a lot of really heavy and varied bass sounds going around in London and I wanted to continue that here, but in a band!”.
Both Andy and Ben admit that linking up with Chris and the resulting musical chemistry has been crucial in the development of a genuine bond and kinship that has helped shape their sound and songs. “Creatively, we come from quite different backgrounds….I’d definitely say diverse backgrounds. But we’re heading in the same direction. Which is nice”, enthuses Ben. “And it is what I’ve always wanted to do but now it’s having the right people around me to make it work: it’s brilliant!”. Chris also agrees that this is vital to their sound: “You’ve got to be on the same wavelength, haven’t you? You’ve got to have a certain amount of creativity. I mean, you can’t just turn up and then just do it”.
In many senses, the time is right for Santiago Street Machine. Over the past 3 years or so, largely due to a startlingly mediocre mainstream “boys with guitars” palate, the rise of bands blending electronic and dance rhythms into their sound has bloomed and blossomed. I was keen to know if Santiago Street Machine thought that this was a backlash against guitar music, but the band weren’t convinced: “I wouldn’t say that it’s a backlash”, says Ben. “To me, things like dubstep are a fun thing: a fun thing to go out and listen to on a Saturday night. And for me, that’s what music should be; something you enjoy listening to. So I wouldn’t say it’s a backlash”. Referring to their own place within this, Chris also chips in: “I mean, I’m not sure if it’s specifically what we’re doing….dance music. We’ve never been put on an electro bill. We seem to get interest from many different areas. Which to me, shows that we’re appealing across different areas: it’s not good to get stuck into a label. And if we can get onto all these things, it shows we’re doing something right”. Almost to cap the point, Andy thinks the point over before stating: “Great guitar bands will always be there. It shouldn’t be genre-related. It should be wherever there’s passion”.
With a hectic summer of gigs ahead, it’s looking like a wonderful opportunity for Santiago Street Machine to spread the word and the message through dancing feet up and down the country. And already the omens look promising, with several major media outlets taking an interest, including XFM who have played several tracks off their debut EP already. “XFM have shown a lot of interest”, beams Andy. “They’re certainly keeping an eye on us. I don’t want to count our chickens but I hope it’s only a matter of time before we make a breakthrough”. “It’s nice to receive that kind of recognition”, admits Ben. “To have a big radio station like XFM who are into it…that’s good”. Further support has come from BBC Manchester who have played new track ‘Breaking Bones’ on their Introducing show, resulting in a surge of bookings for the band: “We search the internet and we’re actually finding out about gigs we never even knew we had. Which is fun!”, laughs Andy.
The focus and drive on producing excellent music is clear to see when interviewing Santiago Street Machine. They love their music, they are committed to their music and their goal is quality. “To keep writing stuff of a high standard…that’s something that all artists should aim for, I don’t understand it when people are lazy with music”, says Andy. “But I guess that causes problems….challenges maybe”. “To get each song to be at the same strength: that’s our overall aim”, interjects Chris, drumming his fingers on the table to emphasise each word. “I mean, look at the first Killers album. The first 6-7 songs off that album…absolutely astonishing; a one off. That’s what you should aspire to – that level of quality”. Laughing, Ben interjects “Yep, like 2-Unlimited’s debut!!! Not the follow up though….not so good”. The band quickly collapse in giggles before Ben leans into the Dictaphone and says: “Anita and Ray: if you’re reading this….I love you!!!” *
You don’t meet bands like Santiago Street Machine too often. They’re focused, funny and confidently relaxed all at the same time, with music that stands out in a city already renowned for a creative swell of dance-based music occurring under the greying overcoat of Manchester’s ageing six-string heritage. It might just be the case that the street party might well be catching hold well beyond the borders of the M60 in the very near future. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest….
* Extreme geek kudos is due for knowing the first names of 2-Unlimited. That is one seriously impressive piece of random knowledge. And that’s coming from the man who knows the rap to Peter Andre’s “Mysterious Girl”. Did I just admit that?!!
www.myspace.com/santiagostreetmachine / this interview APRIL 2011 / (c) manchestermusic.co.uk