“Natural talent should be rising to the top,” argues James Rushent, vehemently, “but it doesn’t anymore. The shit’s rising to the top… a lot of this album is two fingers up to a lot of people, the people that think that to be a successful band you’ve got to write soul music, which I think is fucking bollocks, you don’t have to do that… At the minute, if you conform and be really boring and obvious, you get rewarded. Do you need a heart anymore to listen to the radio? I don’t think so… It’s all the same, why are we giving awards out?... Talented artists are starting to go to the dark side. I said it to Plan B, I said ‘you’re first record wasn’t a massive hit but it was quite interesting, what are you doing now?’ He got really offended by that. I went ‘why are you getting offended by that? Is it because I’m right?’”
Offended? Shocked? Confronted? You should be. Spend an hour in the company of Does It Offend You, Yeah? and a couple of dozen pints and you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a brilliantly bilious torrent of hatred and disgust aimed at the mass music media, major record labels, sell-out ‘underground’ acts, scene tags, and “bands who write two really good tunes and the rest of the album is pretty much the same as the other tunes but not as good - some of these bands go on and win awards, but they’ve just found a formula…” You’ll find yourself, essentially, in the company of the most uncompromising, un-corporate-cock-swallowing, angry, passionate and dedicated-to-the-cause band in the UK right now. And one who knows the pitfalls of having a gorge-like gob: “Everyone who has a strong opinion gets shot down for it. But we’re fighting the good fight.”
For DIOY,Y?, ‘twas ever thus. Forming in Reading in 2006 around the core of James and synthster Dan Coop (alongside Rob Bloomfield and guitarist Morgan Quaintance), they pricked ears with the incessant electro-sex insistence of ‘Let’s Make Out’ in 2007 – featuring vocals from Death From Above 1979’s Sebastian Grainger. But they followed its dancefloor devastation with a debut album, 2008’s ‘You Have Know Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into’, that was too spikey-around-the-edges to fit into any scene, too unpredictable to slot into a pre-conceived genre and too smothered with imagination for the mainstream to digest so easily. ‘We Are Rockstars’ splurged and frazzled like Daft Punk’s sadistic stepsons; ‘Battle Royale’ sounded like The Prodigy fighting an entire legion of Transformer arcade machines to the death; and ‘Epic Last Song’ was (relatively) self-explanatory. As was ‘Attack Of The 60ft Lesbian Octopus’. Obviously.
Confounding expectations at every turn (including their own; James has a “love/hate relationship” with their debut, claiming “there’s parts of the album I love and parts I don’t know why we did that, but I’m fond of it because it’s quite an innocent record, it’s got these big wide eyes), DIOY,Y? Blew up big. They made a huge impact on the gig scene with their incendiary live performances, remixed everyone from Muse to Bloc Party to The White Stripes, exploded all over the soundtracks of Fast & Furious, The A Team, American Teen, Gran Turismo 5 and countless US and UK TV shows and damn near broke America with a sold-out headline tour that saw James instead break his leg during the last song at LA’s Troubadour. The last gig of the debut album tour, he played in a wheelchair.
As their star ascended, so did their audacity. While their contemporaries concentrated on playing as many UK festivals as they could fit in their schedule, DIOY,Y? headlined a fest in a panda reserve in China and launched onstage rants about the “Glastonisation” of Serbia’s once-cool Exit festival. While other bands played uber-safe ‘new rave’ tours with each other, they’ve gone on missions of electro conversion across North America in support of The Prodigy, Nine Inch Nails and Linkin Park. They thought nothing of shedding their most recognisable character – Morgan – and replacing him with Elle Milano’s Chloe Duveaux and Fields’ Matty Derham in 2009, and when their major record label began demanding they produce radio hits with a ‘soul’ edge for their second album, they didn’t quite get the enthusiastic rolling-over they expected.
“We were so steadfast in what we wanted to do that we fell out with a lot of people at the label,” James explains. “They wanted something that’d get on daytime Radio One and I said ‘well go and sign another band, we’re not that band’. Then you get all the threats and they expect you to go ‘oh alright, we’ll do what you want’ but we didn’t, they got ‘fuck off, we’re not going to do that’. They said ‘if you won’t do what we tell you then we’ll drop you’ and we went ‘bring it on then, do us a fucking favour, let us out of this, you’re not gonna get what you want and we’re not gonna get what we want’. We basically left all our majors. The major system now is not designed for bands, it can’t function with bands.”
“If you’re Kesha or Lady Gaga, fine,” adds Dan. “But if you’re an indie band from Reading, unless you’ve got a happy clappy pop song or a middle of the road rock song they can play on KROQ in America, it hard for them to understand where you’re coming from. You’re the one in front of the camera on David Letterman or whatever playing the song and if you’re not doing what you want to do your heart is falling out of your arse, thinking ‘what are we doing here?’ The whole album is saying we’re very very happy to get out of our major label commitments.”
The second album compiled from the “million” songs that DIOY,Y? self-recorded - over six months in a tiny studio in Reading towards the end of 2009 and in piecemeal bedroom’n’kitchen sessions throughout 2010, including a month’s stint in Dan’s dad’s house where James “blew up the microwave” to record the explosion - reflects their frustration with the machine that threatened to crush them. The anarcho-Prodigy ‘The Wrestler (This Is The Dance)’ includes a sample from 1999 wrestling movie Beyond The Mat which summed up the band’s feelings: “we’re too extreme, we’re too wild, we’re too out of control… fuck you you’re wrong! Fuck you, we’re right!”. The fantastic electro-pop ‘Pull Out My Insides’ (“Stay with me while I make mistakes”) is an attack on the soulful-yet-soulless mainstream pap, riddled with fantasies about their mass cultural cull at the hands of the righteous underground. A cull forseen in ‘The Monkeys Are Coming’, a real rave-rock shit-flinger that resets the spring-loaded spike trap at the heart of DIOY,Y? and asserts their position as the prickliest tech-rock punks on the planet.
“The monkeys represent art in its true form, just fucking mess,” says James. “I think it’s about time we have a fucking mess. We were a year and a half ago in the studio, going ‘fuck them, fuck her, fuck him’. We want to perform music that, if we heard it, we’d go ‘oh, who’s that?’ rather than ‘here’s another fucking 60s soul artist’. It was stressful, panicky and hard work. It’s the nature of how we work, it’s like trying to put a jigsaw together where you don’t know what the picture is at the end. I feel like we’ve come across the finish line with our pants hanging halfway down our legs.”
But what a triumphant finish. Fusing their original concoction of Justice, Metronomy and Prodigy with a new sense of stylistic adventure and synthetic violence all their own, ‘Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You’ promises to be one of 2011’s most visceral and inventive – yet surprisingly accessible – assaults on the senses. When it’s not delving into Soviet squelches, Billy Holiday-esque vocal samples and grime raps courtesy of educated battler Trip on ‘Wondering’, it’s recreating the Blade Runner soundtrack on ‘The Knife’, or coming on like a meta-Muse on ‘John Hurt’ – so named because the legendary actor was due to feature on the track, until the band’s ex-manager missed his ‘window’.
Acoustic guitar segments drop unexpectedly out of hardcore techno thrashes. Zulu chants weave around cartoon monster glam stomps. ‘Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You’ surprises and astounds at every turn; unpredictability is king, no barrier is left un-demolished. It’s a spectacular rebirth, a breaking out of boxes, as evinced by the two tracks which bookend it. At the far end you have the devastating ‘Broken Arms’, a virtually synth-free suicide ballad redolent of Radiohead’s ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’, the first song written for the album in an attempt to do “something completely different”. And right upfront, the resurrection march of "We Are The Dead’, a zombie barn-dance interspersed with 60s-psych acoustic interludes.
“It’s about reincarnation and regeneration,” James grins. “Coming back from the dead. That’s why we picked it as our first free giveaway, to say we’re still alive.”
And how. Finally free of their major label shackles (they’re now signed to various independent labels around the world, including Cooking Vinyl in the UK), DIOY,Y? couldn’t feel more unleashed, in control, reanimated. They’re one of the few bands around today who feel capable of anything, restrained by no-one and thrilled to be beating at the boundaries of their own possibilities.
“This is our break-out album,” says Dan. “It has got balls-out angry stuff and serene melancholic, quite depressing stuff as well. We’d rather show all our hands like that rather than write a whole album that sounds the same.”
“There’s a thing on YouTube where someone put all of the Pendulum songs on top of each other and everything happens at the same time, all in the same key,” James fumes. “I would go fucking mad, I couldn’t do that. I’ve always got to explore stuff and go off and find something. If the album sounds different all the way through, good. At least we put the hours in and did some work. We ripped our hair out, pretty much.”
A good plan, since this is hair-raising stuff: a laser blast from the underground, future rock rebels running riot. Don’t say they didn’t warn you…