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Why London Is Calling For Gang Of Youths

“IT’S called the cloud, right? The cloud. And it feels like a cloud, it feels like god himself is swallowing you up into a big warm little hug. And we found it for 800 pounds from this Zimbabwean hedge fund guy.”

Gang Of Youths singer Dave Le’aupepe is talking about a mattress. After 25 years of “sleeping like a peasant”, he spent the afternoon bouncing around Central London and Soho with his partner in search of something a little better than the $99 IKEA bed that’s still on the floor. “I figured I might need an upgrade so I can get a full night’s sleep without waking up in the morning feeling hideous.”

After stints in Nashville, New York, and of course Sydney, Dave is finally starting to feel at home somewhere. It’s 11pm and he’s about to duck out to a local off-licence for some groceries. Not that he has any issue with that. Gang Of Youths are right at the tail end of an 11-date tour of Europe, and he’s enjoying this rare moment of mundanity since their second album Go Farther In Lightness came out in August.

“We’ve just been trying to get our life together and trying to settle back into a routine that isn’t so predicated on moving around so much. Just doing, you know, the kind of menial monotonous life stuff that becomes really novel and pleasant after months on end of not having a home, not having a bed that you sleep in every night. So we’ve been meandering around, slowly performing the mundane tasks that make life kind of sweet and boring.”

It’s been seven months since The Gang Of Youths adventure made its way to London, or more accurately Islington, a residential district of inner-London that sits between Camden, King’s Cross, and Angel. The band’s house is a pokey five bedder whose flaws have been papered over by a modern renovation.

Though Islington is quite gentrified these days – in a way that reminds Dave of Strathfield in Sydney’s inner-West, where he grew up – they live in what Dave describes as a “dilapidated, kind of brutalist council estate area”.

“There’s a wily band of kids outside riding around on the scooter and setting off fireworks and stealing people’s phones,” Dave says, “so I’m glad that they know who I am and that I live in their complex. They probably won’t mess with me too much tonight.”

Just a week earlier, guitarist Joji Malani nearly had his phone swiped by those same wily kids. “I was five metres behind these guys, and two guys on a scooter came up and tried to take my phone out of my hands. It was like the third time that’s happened to us. They realised we’re locals, and left.”

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“There’s a wily band of kids outside riding around on the scooter and setting off fireworks and stealing people’s phones, so I’m glad that they know who I am and that I live in their complex. They probably won’t mess with me too much tonight.”

FAR from the cliched careerist path a lot of Aussie bands take, Gang Of Youths move was precipitated by two things: a desire to see the world while they’re still young and multi-instrumentalist Jung Kim’s visa problems.

Jung – an American citizen who lived, worked and studied in Australia for over a decade – wasn’t able to make his residency permanent. So the band, who have effectively remained intact since the day they formed in 2012 (drummer Donnie Borzestowski is the only recent addition), decided to relocate with him.

They chose London because of its proximity to Europe, its cultural similarities with Australia, its access to public health, and – crucially – because they could get visas. After two years of living “on and off” in New York, Dave says he’s learning to love London in a way he never did in the past.

“Coming back to London was totally different, honestly, because I think all the puzzle pieces in my life sort of started fitting together, you know, relationship-wise and work-wise. The weather is crap but I’m a fan of the rain, so that’s never really been a problem to me.

“I prefer London to any other place in the world at the moment to be quite honest, and I think we’re all pretty in love with it. We love football, we love good food, we love being within a stone’s throw from Europe…

“There’s something about London is starting to feel like the centre of my galaxy.”

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IT’S a Thursday night in Camden and 1500 people are piled into the historic Electric Ballroom to see a Gang Of Youths headline show. Dave and Jung have just recovered from a “plague of flu” (Jung’s words), but the atmosphere is electrifying, and there’s no way you’d guess there was a “depleted” band on stage.

Backstage before the show, the guys joke about the ethnic composition of the crowd. “If you can’t tell everything in this band turns into race and class,” Dave says, laughing.

“I think there’ll be a fair few Aussies here tonight,” adds bassist Max Dunn, a Kiwi.

Two of those Aussies are family: Dave’s uncle and his wife, who are seeing Gang Of Youths for the first time tonight. Dave is particularly buoyed by their visit, but he’s remaining philosophical about what selling out this “unimpeachably historical and important venue” actually means.

 

“There’s something quite commanding and poignant about selling out shows in your home country, but when you start to do bigger rooms, 1400 cap rooms, in other major cities across the globe, you sort of start to wonder whether the success was just precipitated by a hometown crowd coming to shows in other cities or whether it was locals themselves.”

But there’s no doubt Gang Of Youths are building. Go Farther In Lightness – which somehow upped the drama and intensity of their 2015 debut The Positions – is their first ARIA #1 album. They’re continuing to climb up festival bills and play shows at bigger, 5500-capacity venues like Sydney’s The Hordern Pavilion and Melbourne’s Festival Hall. But until that level of interest is replicated in other markets, says Joji, the level of success they’ve attained at home won’t feel real.

“What we experience in Australia, if that happened all over the world – that would be a success. Having success in one territory doesn’t seem real, especially when you’re touring Europe and there’s like 200 people and you’re playing in front of a few thousand back in Australia. Consistency all over the world – that’s success to me.”

“I prefer London to any other place in the world at the moment to be quite honest, and I think we’re all pretty in love with it. We love football, we love good food, we love being within a stone’s throw from Europe.”

Not that success was ever really an important metric with Gang Of Youths, whose story centres around so much personal pain and tragedy (The Positions was informed by Dave’s ex-partner’s battle with cancer).

Joji: “This band has definitely helped each and every one of us through a very hard time and channelled our griefs, mishaps and things that have happened [to us] into something great. It doesn’t matter what’s happened in our lives, we still feel part of something really great.”

For Dave, he wants to give everything the band has given to him back to their audience tenfold.

“I just want to keep making things that we believe in and that we believe will alleviate the suffering of people; that we’ll give them a soundtrack to their pain, and to their joys, and to their sorrows, and to their elation. I want to continue making things that feel like opuses, that are ambitious and not low stakes indie rock.”

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IT’S getting close to midnight back in Islington, and Dave is reflecting on how unlikely this story was in the first place.

“I didn’t think that this project would go any further than getting a couple spins on FBi Radio in Sydney. It was never meant to go any further than maybe one record or an EP and it did, so anything plus is a bonus. Any chance that we get to in some way positively affect the life of a listener or a consumer or whatever is pretty baller.”

In a few weeks he’ll be off to Vienna for a family reunion – he has Viennese-Jewish ancestry – and then it’s back on tour before their first Xmas in their new London digs. Does he miss Australia?

“I miss my dad and I miss my mum and my non-biological sister, and her husband and their kid. I miss the people who made Sydney feel like home,” he says. “I’ll be back as much as I can, but you know, in the words of Joe Strummer, London is calling.”

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"It doesn’t matter what’s happened in our lives, we still feel part of something really great."

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