It’s tough not to admire Holy Fuck. From the brash irreverence of their name through their dogged devotion to DIY, to their ad hoc musical philosophy; there’s so much right with the band. A quick listen to 2010’s Latin reveals a unit that have only one priority: uncompromisingly energetic instrumental music. It’s gloriously chaotic, kraut-rock-inspired fuzz-pop. No guitars. Aggressively perfect percussion. Assuredly arpeggiated synths. And just enough lo-fi scuzz to seal the tightly disciplined structures with a chaos that grips you by both ears and drags you with it. Don’t let the ‘instrumental’ tag deter you; noodling prog this is not.
“What I really wanted was to try and make something that was somehow a bit more timeless,” explains Brian Borchedt, keyboardist and co-founder of the Canadian group. “Just: out of time. And one way to do that is to compromise your own ability to will it in to any direction.”
From this compulsion, the concept of the group evolved: compromise the vanity of the music by limiting its means of production. “If all you have to make an album with is a four track and a Casio keyboard, you’ll inevitably get something that’s very different than what your peers are making. That was a goal from the beginning, to limit our means and our equipment,” says Borcherdt. “That’s maybe one thing that a lot of people miss about our band, when instead they see it as a fusion of electronic and rock. It wasn’t really about electronic; it was about trying to use the limited means that you have.”
As a listener, approaching the music from this perspective reveals a tacit playfulness hiding amidst the arrangements; like a child who’s discarded a toy in favour of the box it came in. Suddenly, the point isn’t the materiality of the music, but the ideas that lie behind it. “The band was [formed around] the idea, but inside that idea there’s limitless potential, provided you adhere to the simple concepts,” explains Borcherdt. “Really, it’s some psychedelic thing happening… and then within that we just kind of all get to explore our own paths. We write together as a four-headed beast.”
This commitment to a lo-fi approach presents a potential quandary to its main aim: Borcherdt concedes that the aesthetic and conceptual trappings of the band may in fact have caused the idea to backfire, at least initially. “What we found right from the very beginning, [is that] there’s a big distinction between drummers who could follow a Casio keyboard beat, and drummers who couldn’t… Unless we could follow that beat, the concept of the band no longer worked,” he admits.
One of the most admirable things about Borcherdt is that he’s surprisingly devoid of pretension. He seems to answer questions absent-mindedly, but this isn’t due to a lack of attention. He has no interest in acting out the role of the indie musician; he plays music to play music. You can hear the simplicity of it in his voice. “I like the idea of bands that are just doing it for themselves, never really expecting to break out, but just sort of a little bit of a mischievous edge, just taking the piss out of the media and not really playing into their hands.”
This rings true in their recent video for single Red Lights, in which the band cast their own cats as musicians soundtracking a high-speed car chase… It’s strangely compelling.
“I don’t really participate in the online community,” Borcherdt shrugs. “It’s not interesting to me. I’m too restless, too ADD to sit still and stare at my computer for long… I think that there’s a certain pressure to be trendy right now – I feel like the whole world’s participating in this one big battle of the bands, and I don’t like that vibe. I don’t like how trendy and repetitive certain looks and sounds and symbols… Things will go in a specific direction really to the point of nausea and then they’ll move on. I try to avoid all that. I’d rather be free of it.”
This is not an easy thing for someone as entrenched in music as Borcherdt is. As well as having played in countless other bands, and solo, in 1990 he formed a label with a number of like-minded musicians. It’s name, a wry joke: Dependent Records.
When pressed on the notion of ‘Indie’ as a cultural concept, Borcherdt laughs, recalling a performer he saw once who summed it up for him pretty succinctly. “There was a Canadian musician who went up on stage with a doo-rag and a hoop earring. He kinda looked like a rock and roll pirate, a cross between a roadie and a hair band guy from the ‘80s. He did this part eight years ago, when he was calling himself the ‘king of indie rock’,” he laughs. “I thought it was brilliant, because he was basically saying that everything was indie now, because majors were gone.
“But the indie community didn’t like it, because it wasn’t indie – [in that] it didn’t sound indie and it didn’t look indie. But I think he knew that, and that was his joke. Everyone from a shitty bar-rock band, to a boy band, to an Animal Collective kind of band, they’re all indie, because they’re all independent. I think that’s really funny,” he chuckles.
“I guess that I still use the word ‘indie’ to describe my aesthetic or my band. It still has a value to me, to represent a certain kind of ‘90s scrappiness. I think of ‘90s scrappy, I think of Sonic Youth, and I think ‘Oh, indie!’ But in spite of that, that one musician eight years ago had a pretty poignant point… Everything is independent.”
HOLY FUCK play the LANEWAY FESTIVAL alongside Deerhunter, !!!, Menomena, Yeasayer, The Antlers, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Beach House, Blonde Redhead, Warpaint and more at The Footscray Community Arts Centre on Saturday February 5 – it’s sold out. They do, however, play The Hi-Fi on Thursday February 3 – tickets from thehifi.com.au. Latin is out now on 4AD/Remote Control.
BY LUKE TELFORD-