“I like Zapp, not Zappa” goes “Night and Day,” the lead single from London electro-pop quintet Hot Chip, and in one small yet significant statement the five-piece’s attitude to music is shouted loud and proud.
As manifestos go, it is brilliantly apt in proclaiming a preference for soul-funk band Zapp over avant-garde rocker Frank Zappa.
By merging together a love of pop, R&B, dance, hip-hop and just about anything else that comes to mind as long as it’s fun, Hot Chip has grown into Britain’s premier party-electro act.
Fifth album “In Our Heads” is the group’s best yet, and one that again displays an anything-goes approach to creating pop music that stimulates the heart as well as the feet — and knows no bounds.
“Oh yeah,” replies Hot Chip’s multi-instrumentalist Owen Clarke speaking to The Japan Times via telephone from his Finsbury Park home, “that is what we aim for. When people ask me what I do, I always tell them I’m in an electronic-pop group, because that is what we are. I think pop music goes together with people who are enjoying life, and we’re not ashamed of saying we are a pop-music act.
“And that’s the thing with the Zappa line, we are saying you shouldn’t worry about the music you’re into. Don’t take it too seriously. You can like Zapp and Zappa, but you shouldn’t be like, ‘What’s this rubbish, I only listen to serious music.’ Like what you like. Embrace the fun. You have that freedom.”
This notion of seriousness is interesting, as Clarke and his fellow bandmates (Alexis Taylor, Al Doyle, Joe Goddard and Felix Martin), with their slightly shambolic dress sense, bizarre glasses and nerdish temperament, don’t seem like a band who expects to be taken too seriously.
“There is truth in that,” Clarke says. “I think there is a problem with taking music too seriously in general. You shouldn’t forget the fun side of music. But,” he warns, “don’t underestimate us.”
“In Our Heads” was created at a time when creative juices were flowing like never before. A series of side projects (Doyle formed New Build, Goddard The 2 Bears and Taylor fronted About Group) were great critical successes and by the time they hooked up with Mark Ralph (Kraftwerk, NEU!) in an East London studio that was “more like your cool older brother’s room,” records were thrown on and ideas thrown about with abandon.
On “Flutes” and “Let Me Be Him,” Hot Chip strays into exciting new territory: the latter a dreamy epic complete with an irresistible chanted chorus, the former a throbbing, robotic track that makes up the centerpiece of the record.
“I think we did need a bit of time away from each other because that is always healthy, but we came back really energized. And you can tell that in the music,” Clarke opines. There is a joyous, even sunny disposition to many of the tracks, was that a deliberate ploy?
“Well I would say we were influenced by 12-inch remixes from the 1980s and ’90s, and the idea that a track can be long but still be poppy as well. And with that came a positive outlook. You can’t help your emotion and I think we were just genuinely happy. A couple of the guys have had children, everybody is in a good place and I think it all filtered into it. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s make some happy music now. We’re happy, let’s dominate songs with happiness.”
Was it in any way a reaction to their previous record “One Life Stand,” which was seen by many as a coming-of-age album that allowed 30-something men to take stock of their lives?
“There’s still introspection on this album, and I think those things have always existed. We’re not the first to mix the two. It’s a trait to combine an upbeat disc with a downbeat lyric, like ‘I Will Survive.’ A lot of these songs are downbeat at heart, but they become something else when the music sounds joyous.
“But we always find our perceptions of what we are doing are different to other people. People have told us in the past that we have been ironic, or sad, but we never really thought that. We tend to disagree with how people assess us.”
Audiences in Japan will be the next to assess Hot Chip, who play this weekend’s Hostess Club Weekender. A recent London show brought “In Our Heads” to life in such a thrilling manner that will no doubt also impress crowds in Tokyo.
“We’ve been over a few times, we’ve done Fuji and Summer Sonic and we’ve always enjoyed ourselves. You probably get this all the time, but it is like a different world over there and we love to go. I’m not saying anything anyone hasn’t said before, but it’s a fascinating place.
“We’re working on a new show, and it’s going really well. And you know what? It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Hot Chip play Hostess Club Weekender at Yebisu Garden Hall in Meguro-ku, Tokyo, on June 24. The two-day event opens from 1 p.m. on Saturday and 12 p.m. on Sunday. A one-day ticket costs ¥7,900. For more information, visit www. ynos.tv/hostessclub. or www.hotchip.co.uk.