Film commonly relies on music to add emotional impact. However, with The Go! Team, who hail from Brighton, England, it works the other way around. Early singles were flush with action and near-cinematic thrills, all guitar squalls and percussive thrust, with soaring horn lines that burst through your speakers. The Go! Team’s debut album, “Thunder, Lightning Strike,” even ends with the jubilant aftertaste of a summer blockbuster, harmonica and symphonic swells reminding of us of heroes high-fiving as the credits roll.
For people who grew up during Reagan/Thatcher years, the album’s retro-sounding samples may also dislodge memories of “School House Rock,” nascent hip-hop and just about every Uzi-emptying action series from ’80s prime-time TV. The nostalgia hits you indirectly: Northern Soul trumpet lines echo “The A-Team” theme song, Bollywood strings masquerade as Moog chords and schoolyard chants strut like an early Salt-n-Pepa demo. All of this commotion is propelled by the clang of lo-fi guitar and drums being pummeled to splinters.
TG!T are certainly not the first to create a coherent musical language with such a large vocabulary; artists like The Avalanches and Beck have successfully cross-pollinated for years. What’s exceptional about “Thunder, Lightning Strike” is how every kitchen-sink track comes off chaotic, yet comforting, even strangely familiar, like garbled radio frequencies picked up by an orbiting astronaut.
Scratchy production values reinforce the feel. The album has the waver and hiss of a mixtape that sat in a car too long, making it difficult to distinguish between what’s live and what’s sampled.
That is intentional, says Ian Parton. A television documentary maker by trade, Parton assembled most of the band’s songbook in his basement using an aging sampler and four-track. Parton dismisses the notion that his background in film influences his music. “I’m not an editor,” he explains. “I was more involved in directing and research, but there’s a certain editing mind-set in the music. It’s all about how things work next to each other. And I like that. I like the contrast between things.”
Taking the band’s name from the cleanup crews that specialize in airplane crashes, Parton says the idea behind The Go! Team was to keep it “trashy and colorful,” he says, running overly polished vocals or horns through a compressor to dirty them up.
The fuzzy sheen that coats The Go! Team tracks is one source of charm, but the main appeal can be summed up in two words: “action packed.” Parton fancies the phrase, using it frequently during our phone conversation. “I didn’t want [the album] to sound like some fictional cop show theme or anything,” he says. “But I did want it to sound action-packed, and I love that ‘Rocky’-style trumpet,” adding, with a laugh, “and well, I did sample ‘Ironside,’ though.”
The past year has certainly been action-packed for Parton. Eleven months ago, he was the Go! Team’s sole member. When his label, Memphis Industries, secured an opening for Glasgow art-rock outfit Franz Ferdinand on their Swedish tour, he had only three weeks to assemble a band. The result was three Brighton boys on bass and guitar, while the girls — one British, one Japanese and one German — handled emcee duties, two drum kits and a number of instruments not usually associated with the rock canon (recorder, melodica, etc).
It’s not your typical lineup to be sure, and that seems to be the point. “I wanted people who wouldn’t normally be in a band together,” Parton emphasizes. A confessed Sonic Youth acolyte, he was determined to avoid forming “another indie guitar band,” and went out of his way to assemble something outside that mold.
“It’s almost like a social experiment in a way,” he explains, a hint of pride in his voice, “You get people from totally different backgrounds, musical tastes and personalities, and then put them together in a tour bus.”
The experiment seems to be working: “Thunder, Lightning Strike” enjoyed a sleeper success in the U.K. and the group recently finished a tour with Basement Jaxx. An American distribution deal is pending (Parton also just turned down a commercial deal with McDonald’s). Everyone recently quit their day jobs as well to concentrate on the next album and hit the summer festival circuit, including the John Peel stage at last month’s Glastonbury and Fuji Rock later this month. Because The Go! Team bassist, Jamie Bell, is getting married on the day of their Fuji Rock performance, Stereolab’s bassist, Simon Johns, will be filling in.
Does Parton hope to do music full-time? “I think I might go a bit mad if I worked on music all day,” he admits. “As soon as this becomes too serious, it’s going to lose something, you know? If it becomes a career . . .” he pauses. “Well, I hate that way of thinking about it.”
He may warm to the idea after this summer’s tour. If recent reviews and EPs are any indication, The Go! Team’s upcoming Japan gigs will pack a wallop. The band has adapted the four-track cheekiness of the album for a concert setting, playing, singing and shouting most samples live. A 23-year-old spitfire known as Ninja fronts the band, belting out ’60s girl-group vocals as forcefully as her proto-Queen Latifah raps.
Parton is happy to report that his outfit is gelling as a team, but he hopes to retain creative control. “The Go! Team’s sound is an expression of my ideas and tastes more than anyone else’s in the band, really. I don’t want to dilute that. But at the same time, everyone has their own styles, and they’re all better musicians than I am,” he says with a laugh.
As for exactly where The Go! Team is going, Parton seems genuinely perplexed.
“I don’t know really. Lots of the stuff that I’ve wanted is happening already.” He likes the idea of a real horn section adding extra punch to the live act, but for now, Parton hopes to keep building a dynamic with his band mates. Thrilling an audience takes a team effort, and The Go! Team plan to earn their exclamation point.
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