Spandex Ballet: Barberos at Liverpool Music Week

Among those headlining this year's Liverpool Music Week are Deerhunter, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and HEALTH – but further down the billing there's plenty to get excited about locally, including three-pronged lycra-wearing noise rockers Barberos

Feature by Simon Jay Catling | 14 Oct 2015

"We've got these new black suits now. They're very good, although you can't see our curves so well in them. Some people are happy with that... some are not," says PL, one third of Liverpool's lycra-clad noise machine Barberos.

The group recently made the switch from their all-white bodysuits that had served them well over several years, thanks to new designs courtesy of friends Frances Heap and Maria Luisa Olmos, a creative costuming partnership under the name of Costumologists.

For the trio, originally founded in 2008 at LIPA as a five-piece, there's a certain freedom in anonymity. "We can be anyone we choose on stage," PL agrees. You could argue that their aesthetic also encourages a sense of uniformity, a constant state that contrasts with the group's sound, which, over a handful of split seven-inches and EPs, as well as hundreds of live shows, has rarely stayed the same.

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Working off a base of dual drumkit synchronisation and piercing synthesizers, the trio flit between percussive gridlines crying out for the sweaty clamour of the club, to industrial squall and abrasive noise assaults capable of claustrophobia-inducing density. Yet their suits are pointedly blank, a canvas rather than a prescription: "I wouldn't say we act in a certain way every time we perform, it's just however the mood is taking us," says PL. 

Quiet of late on record – although a new album is on the way – the group instead have committed to the road, making light of the established mainland Europe touring circuit and finding themselves in places as far flung as Russia and Lithuania; frequently, these trips have resulted in lost or stolen gear, but for PL it was worth it to – in the case of Russia – look behind the veil of a country that, from the outside, ranges from the socially volatile to the misunderstood.

"The people are so lovely and accommodating," he points out. "They all hate homophobia and nazis just as much as we do, y'know. The shows were mostly amazing – and they taught us how to drink vodka properly too. A valuable lesson." Lithuania, meanwhile, resulted in the group recording in the country's capital city, Vilnius, striking up a friendship with YMIR Audio producer Snorre Bergerud and now having him on board as a creative producer.

If PL exhibits such positivity towards collaboration from outside the group's hometown then his views on Liverpool itself are a little more clouded.

The group have all been involved with independent venues now gone or soon to disappear, such as MelloMello, Wolstenholme Creative Space and The Kazimier. Each one has been a vital centrepoint of the city's creative community; each one is making way for residential redevelopment.

"I think Liverpool's failing as a creative hub at the moment," PL laments. "We as a creative community are being forced out of the city centre. No one was interested in Slater Street or Wolstenholme Square before Mello and The Kazimier etc. opened. Seel Street and Duke Street were lined with broken falling-down buildings and no one gave a shit. Now all these lovely buildings are being turned into 'luxury flats in the cultural heart of Liverpool's artistic community'... except they're killing the culture and soon it will all be gone."

Sadly this isn't a new issue and, of course, it's not one confined to just Liverpool – but there's a particular sadness that it's happening to a city historically so open-minded and inviting to people not just artistically, but in all walks of life. Thankfully that reputation has left an army of souls still keen to find space and create, which counts for far more in a community than brick and mortar.

"I think it'll be a few years before students will want to live in luxury flats by the Bootle dump... but who knows," PL jokes. If such anger surrounding these issues infiltrates Barberos's music, he's less inclined to say. "It doesn't have 'a message'. But we are massively left wing, non-gender specific, vegan feminists," he adds. "And we like to challenge ourselves and audiences as much as possible, while having fun."

Barberos support HEALTH during Liverpool Music Week on 25 Oct at The Kazimier.

Liverpool Music Week takes place at various venues, 22-31 Oct.