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Exclusive: School of Seven Bells Sound Off on the Electro/Indie Divide

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Photo: Elle Muliarchyk

On Alpinisms, Ghostly International buzz band School of Seven Bells carve out a musical niche somewhere between electro-pop, dreamy shoegaze, and experimental art-rock. The melodic interplay between former Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis and twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (both formerly of On! Air! Library!) is fleshed out by electronic beats, synths and an array of live instruments.

Roughly translated, the band have managed a meteoric rise by dropping popular indie sounds into electronic atmospheres so fluid it makes you wonder, “why didn’t I think of that?” We spoke with Curtis about the band’s combination of electronics and rock and their insistence that the music, not labels or scenes, is what defines them.

Flavorwire: Alpinisms has had cross-over success with indie and electronic music fans. Did you expect that these two different musical scenes would both appreciate your music?

Benjamin Curtis: We feel really lucky to somehow exist between many different genres. We’ve collaborated with other musicians with really disparate influences — like Prefuse 73, Robin Guthrie, and Blonde Redhead — and it seems our music can easily relate to any of their fans as well. We like many different kinds of music, so I don’t find it hard to imagine that other people would feel the same way. I mean, I know we’re not the only ones who like the Velvet Underground as much as we love Kraftwerk, so it never occurred to us that it would be a novelty.

FW: How do you think these scenes are different and alike? Do the crowds expect different things at live shows?

BC: It seems like the club scene in the United States is a little more exclusive. People with more eclectic tastes tend to spend their time in smaller bars rather than going to larger clubs. In the rest of the world, it seems like going to a proper dance club is a little bit more common for the average music fan.  I think everybody is essentially looking for the same thing in a live music experience, which is some kind of immersive environment, and some sort of exchange with the performers on stage.

FW: What would you say to the indie fan who says your not indie enough or the electronic fan who says your not electronic enough?

BC: Maybe I would say “Excuse me, who are you?” I don’t understand what these words mean, anyway. The last I heard, most of Beyonce’s music was electronic, and I don’t think anybody would say she is an “electronic” artist. Also, from what I’ve seen, most labels that release “electronic” records are independent. Does “indie” mean bands that sound like Pavement? If so, I’m not sure if the comparison is even relevant.  For the most important part of their career, New Order was an “indie” band, so if that’s what you mean, then I’d say we’re pretty “indie”.  On the other hand, they were very electronic, so maybe we could ask them the same question?

FW: Are there ever conflicts between the three of you about the electronic/indie balance?

BC: I think we’ve come far enough to begin to de-emphasize the distinctions between what is electronically manipulated and what is not. I’m not trying to be contrary, as I do understand there is a fundamental aesthetic difference between what Fennesz is doing and what Jose Gonzalez is doing. However, I don’t think it always has to be one or the other.  We play what we like, and we like so many different things, and we never imagined our music in terms of any sort of juxtaposition.

FW: What is more important to your overall aesthetic, live instruments like voice, drums and bass or electronic beats and effects?

BC: I would have to say our voices, because our voices come directly from our bodies, and our bodies are irreplaceable.

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