Triple j unearthed winners and latest signing to I Oh You records, Snakadaktal seem almost too good to be true. The teenaged band are a perfect synthesis of the best lo-fi pop produced in the last decade. All strange, laid back but urgent arrangements with catchy melodies and thoughtful lyrics, they're at times reminiscent of the retreating wave of French pop vocalists in the tradition of air and Charlotte Gainsbourg, with nods to more recent acts like Florence and the Machine. The two singers, Sean and Pheobe, share dreamy, laid back boy/girl vocals that sound a little like The XX climbed out of their K-hole, washed their hair and went outside to play.
Add this to the musical virtuosity of the rest of the five-piece, the home-spun art-school aesthetic to the groups film clips and press material, and adorable Ziggy Stardust meets Medicine Man glitter painted on their faces and they are just too good for their age. I started to think they are some kind of evil-corporation-creation-masterful public relations stunt that's actually comprised of 28-year-olds playing teenagers like Friday Night Lights all over again. They deny it.
"Unfortunately we are not. Thank you for the compliment, but we are just a couple of friends who really enjoy being able to make music together and hope that others will listen and click their toes," they said. "[Our drummer] Barna might just be. In all the time we have known one another, we are yet to find something that he does not excel in. He is a well-oiled machine."
They beat 700 competitors to take out 2011's Unearthed High competition largely thanks to their breakthrough single Chimera and its accompanying film clip, a dreamlike Peter-Pan themed thing that, as this goes to print, is nudging 100,000 views on YouTube. As part of their prize they got to play with The Living End at their school, the Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School.
"It was unreal, the whole day felt like a haze or a dream. The boys from The Living End are legends of the music world, so to share a stage with them was an incredible privilege." They were flown to Sydney to re-record their song with triple j's team of producers and sound engineers. They followed that up with their single Air a song so wistfully beautiful that I haven't heard anything like it since that band Air released Moon Safari.
"The song Air was written when we hit VCE. But throughout year 11 and 12 we have managed to fill all our free time on band, creating our debut EP. We are all really good friends and music is our hobby, so it's almost our break from school."
In the wake of this success, Snakadaktal have been snapped up by I Oh You records, who will be releasing their first, self titled EP.
"It's all very exciting. We recorded the EP in basements or vacant rooms between our houses, so we believe it has a very home grown sound. We really enjoy [the recording] process and love the time and influence we can devote to the recordings. We are planning a release of either an LP or another EP for mid next year, which will be after VCE for most of us."
This is the really mindblowing thing about Snakadaktal. They're still in high school, and fit their music in around the regular commitments of school. Given how polished they sound, it's easy to forget that they're just starting out - in every way. The name Snakadaktal was invented by Sean (vocals, guitars and keys) and a school friend passing time in math class by drawing creatures fused together. One day they drew a snake and a pterodactyl together, and made a Snakadaktal. "It was never created to be a title of the band, but was a useful way to get through math's class."
Anecdotes like this and a certain Steiner-school-student-film aesthetic to their clips are the only giveaway to their age. The band are about to depart on their first national tour with dates in Melbourne, Ballarat, Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast supported by the national youth broadcaster, when a couple of months earlier they had to sneak into overage venues to play.
"We have become used to the underage dilemma other the last 20 months. Before winning the triple j Unearthed High competition we had to sneak into venues to play gigs. Some nights spent more time hiding in drum cases and getting in through bathroom windows then we did on stage. So it has become a bit weird to walk through a venue's doorway."
It's hard to relate. When your humble journalist was in VCE age he was hard at work freaking out over workload and mortgaging his future in a variety of imaginative way, the kids from Snakadaktal are calmly demolishing their exams, planning a tour and looking forward to what will likely be a brilliant career, if the Snakadaktal EP is anything to go by.
Snakadaktal EP is out now through I Oh You, and the band play the Toff In Town in Melbourne this Saturday December 3, as well as Push Over Festival on Monday March 12, 2012 at the Abbotsford Convent.