Battles Park it in Balado

It's been a tough 14 months for Brooklyn's chief spasmodic melody makers, but shit's about to get ten times heavier when Battles share a tent with Will Young in a field just outside Kinross. Dave Kerr asks Ian Williams whether he thinks he'd better leave right now

Feature by Dave Kerr | 08 Jul 2008
  • Battles

“I’d like to see the Pogues…never seen them!” Speaking from a tour bus en route to Minehead for All Tomorrow’s Parties – guitar virtuoso, keyboardist and all round sound manipulation guru Ian Williams can think of nothing better than to sit back with a cold one and vibe to the sound of McGowan et al rousing the rabble with Dirty Old Town come T in the Park this month.

And who could deny Battles a little time off? After all, it’s been quite a year for the Brooklyn based quartet; having committed Mirrored - one of our favourite long players of 2007 - to wax, they’re still out there touring the beast. “We took a little vacation from February through April, which is really the first break we’ve had,” says Williams of what small reprieve they’ve had from a gruelling 14 month long intercontinental itinerary. Having witnessed their first show since this break when they played Coachella back in April, it’s pretty safe to report that the hoards will be dazzled by an attack to the senses when these masters of polyrhythmic synchronicity take the Pet Sounds Arena on their Sunday in Balado.

Video: Battles - Atlas (Live on Jools Holland)

Whether it’s playing the underground indie aficionado’s weekend away at ATP or appearing on the same stage as Will Young at T, there aren’t many bands around with such an amorphous flexibility that they can find a home on both bills, but the genre busting proficiency of these lads has hoisted them to the next level of dualism: “On this tour we just played a straight up jazz festival in Germany filled with a lot of old guys with white beards and berets. It actually worked pretty well. And then we played a techno festival in France the next day - that worked. Battles can easily fit into a straight up rock show format too, so we definitely work multiple sides of the thing.”

Flitting from tents to main stages as Battles have been doing in recent times, I ask Williams whether by ‘fitting in’ he imagines a circumstance where they’d consider tailoring their set for a wider audience – Battles slaying Download could otherwise be a stretch – but that disc jockey mentality won’t wash. “We just do our thing without considering that too much, as soon as you start to try and figure out something like ‘oh, which parts do the 18-26 year olds like?’ I think you have no clue of what the fuck you’re doing anymore. Something that appeals to you is all you can really hold on to.”

It’s just another gig to Battles, whatever the perceived orthodoxy of the festival might be, but some appear to be more like ‘Nam than others. “Festivals can be great, just like any show,” shrugs Williams. “The situation can be perfect or it can suck. When you’re playing in the elements, sometimes you’re setting your electronic gear up in a puddle of mud backstage, your socks are getting soggy and you’re like ‘huh?’ Then you’ve got to get up onstage and play music. You just feel like somehow it’s not supposed to be like this, but then it keeps things fun to have those challenges.”

Having now endured four years of such challenges together, it’s clear that Battles outgrew any ‘side project’ stigma a couple of tours ago. “This is our main thing,” asserts Williams, although the way he describes the formation of the band makes the whole thing sound like a fluke: “I think we became a good band through a combination of playing on stage and not really practicing beforehand; we just started to tour. The very first time I felt like ‘We’re actually a pretty good band’ was in Japan when we played a 12 date tour. We played every day and during that time it became apparent that we could really be tight.”

Video: Battles - Tonto

So how exactly does a Battles ‘tune’ come about? Have crowds been witnessing the conception of new songs that might stick during some of the more spontaneous segments of their performances? “We all have our own private stuff we’re working on and we do end up with these new interludes between songs that start off simply enough, but then after doing it for two weeks it melds into a much more complex thing. I don’t know if we’ll use those things or not, but everything’s on the table.”

And with that, can we expect Battles to strike with a new album while the iron is still very much white-hot? Williams draws a quick sketch: “We’re going to play - mostly at festivals - until the end of the summer and then we’re going to stop playing shows and write music with the aim of recording. Some time in 2009 there will be a new Battles record out.”

For now, we’ll leave him to some well earned leisure time. “Alright dude, I’m gonna go watch The Last King of Scotland.”

Battles play the Pet Sounds Arena at T in the Park on Sun, 13 Jul