On Ninja Tune
The story of the most fun new force in electronic music goes a long way to explaining just why their music is so good. Letherette are two childhood friends with a current of empathy between them so strong that they seem more like brothers than anything else. Their serious intent is always expressed endearingly; they never take themselves too seriously, but they do want their music to be seriously good.
Richard Roberts and Andy Harber were both born during a deep snowstorm one December - at the time the worst since 1960 - that prevented the ambulances that came to get their mothers from reaching their houses. They grew up thirty minutes away from each other in Wolverhampton, and met at the age of 11 when they were sent to the same secondary school. Andy threatened to beat Rich up if he didn't invite him to join a football game, and they took things from there. It's perhaps helpful to know that whilst Andy was the same height then as now, Rich used to look entirely physically different. He went so suddenly from blonde to dark haired that his father claimed he was swapped in his teens.
The pair quickly became firm friends, their (now friendlier) football games lasting long into the night, and remaining their main pastime until they discovered girls, cigarettes and, most importantly, music. Both had strong musical experiences early in their lives. Andy had two older sisters and was 'made' to sing along with them and his mother in the car. They'd harmonise along to The Carpenters on their annual journeys to Wales. He also loved guitar music: Jimi, The Beatles, Moody Blues and T Rex. His first purchase was an MC Hammer tape, and his eventual love was the electronic music of Orbital and Aphex Twin and the avant-garde work of pioneers like Stockhausen.
Rich had a profound early experience when he heard "Reach Out and I'll Be There" by The Four Tops. To this day, whenever he hears it he remembers how excited he was at the capabilities of this thing called music. His dad has a massive soul collection, and he devoured it happily in his youth. Later, he taught himself guitar by freezing videos and copying chord shapes. He used to go to Andy's in order to make use of his friend's more expensive gear.
They began making music together, initially just hitting record and improvising for hours and hours, making experimental music. 'We'd just smoke joints and indulge ourselves,' they say. It seems it was a fertile starting point for their career. 'Wolverhampton is perfect,' says Rich, 'because there is nothing to do. It was recently voted the 3rd or 4th worst city in the world, with some shanty town in Brazil the next worst.' Easy then, he says, to get into creativity. 'We couldn't live in London,' they laugh. 'There'd be much too much to do.'
They did make the most of what little music there was in their hometown though, soaking up the commercial house music at Wolverhampton's two main clubs, The Canal and Light Bar. Andy worked in the latter as a glass collector at 16, and the pair clubbed at both together. You can hear the influence of these days in their own exuberant, unrestrained music, which moves the feet as much as the mind. Despite their regional upbringings, they are firmly part of a generation of artists taking electronic music to a new level, making the artform richer.
Actually, they went to a sort of anti-Brit school for young electronic talent; Actress was two years above them, Alex Nut in the same year. The latter introduced them to Bibio - still a great friend and contemporary - and like him and Lee Gamble, they attended courses at Sonic Arts college. This mixture of musical pedigree and regional boredom was a strong tonic for the young duo. Myspace was a real tool for them, and they met Kwes, Machinedrum, Jimmy Edgar and Brownswood records via the social networking site. They remixed Machinerum and Bibio in 2009, and were then invited to submit a track for the ‘Brownswood Electric’ comp in 2010. They played their first, ‘awful’ gig with a crashed Ableton at the comp’s launch, in front of Gilles Peterson himself.
A mix for Andrew Meza’s BTS radio was a huge turning point, as were the two EPs Alex Nut released on his Hotep label. For a while after that they felt slightly stuck, they say; they were talented beatmakers with potential, but needed inspiration to move on. That inspiration appeared in the form of manager Greg Eden (Mark Pritchard, Clark) who told them he’d take them on if they took a step up. They put their heads down, worked hard, and won him over within only a few months.
And the work they made to do so became part of the demos that saw Ninja Tune eagerly pick them up in 2012. Ninja ‘saw the light,’ they say, and helped them to do the same. Now, they are full time musicians whose stunning debut album is winning applause from all sides. People fall in love quickly with Letherette, whose playful, ‘70s referencing, sexy stylings and joyful music are infectious.
They want, says Rich, ‘to be in a position where they make great albums playing to great people.’ 'We always want to be in touch with what's good,' Andy adds, 'and to make music we're proud of and never go stale. If that ever happened, in my ears, we’d call it a day.’ May that never come then, because it would make the musical landscape a significantly poorer place.