Optimistic Dystopia: L-space on Kipple Arcadia
We speak to Lily Higham and Gordon Johnstone of Edinburgh/Glasgow dream-pop band L-space about their debut album Kipple Arcadia
L-space, signed to non-profit label Last Night From Glasgow, are a band that deserve to be as big as their future utopian dreams. The Scottish noise dream-pop trio are made up of Lily Higham, responsible for their ethereal vocals, composer Gordon Johnstone and musician Dickson Telfer, occasionally becoming a quartet with student, synth player Maura Keane. Their music has been likened to Radiohead, Mogwai and Portishead, but their debut album Kipple Arcadia manages to pool together their influences and becomes something more.
If the record is reminiscent of anyone it’s perhaps Air at their prime, or a mellower CHVRCHES with expansive, lyrical fairy tales of cyberpunk futures. Nothing is accidental, everything is carefully crafted and placed; references to Philip K. Dick and contemporary scientific research are entwined with complex melodies and rhythms. “All of our songs have upwards of 40 layers of beats and synths,” explains Johnstone. Despite this, Kipple Arcadia is a futuristic chillwave easy listen, its retro-future electronic pop descends on you like a hypnagogic haze and doesn’t let go for the album’s entire runtime.
The band’s name L-space, short for “library space” references Terry Pratchett's notion that the written word has magical properties and that knowledge is so powerful, literature can bend time and space around it. The album name is similarly inspired by literature, an amalgamation of Philip K. Dick’s idea of 'kipple' – the decaying, entropic detritus of consumerism that collects in corners around us – and the Ancient Greek word 'arcadia' meaning a paradise lost. It’s thus a realist, inherited and used utopia that L-space look towards on this record.
“The concept behind the album really [came together] when we started writing songs,” explains Johnstone. “It was late 2016, early 2017; around the time everybody felt the world was falling apart. We subconsciously tried to write songs about better futures and better worlds. As we kept writing, we stuck with that theme because it came naturally to us – we are fairly optimistic. We wanted to give people something that wasn't just the doom and gloom of our current time, something that was a more optimistic dystopia that they could look forward to, so even though some of the songs sound quite dark they have a hopeful message behind them.”
These doubled-edged tales of “optimistic dystopia” are sung by Higham, often to uncanny effect. Her voice is dreamy, at times breathy – she sounds like a cyborg mermaid calling us into space, particularly on hypnotic single Backup Baby. “It’s a song that shows the double-sidedness of dystopia and utopia quite well,” she explains. “Even though the song is about getting organs so that people can cure themselves and live longer, it’s done in a way that some may see as unethical and horrific.” The eerily blissful music video has been compared to the likes of Black Mirror, with Highman selling mysterious packages on a satellite shopping channel. Such “dark technology,” as Johnstone describes it, occasionally creeps into other songs like Aloe too, a cautionary tale about an everyday Icarus type who has metal wings surgically implanted at great physical cost.
Cyberpunk is not just a theme for L-space’s album, however; the idea that we are already cyborgs because of our reliance on pervasive technology, and the notion of combining the organic with machines, analogue to digital, is integral to their creative process. “I think it’s interesting how a lot of classical musicians using non-digital instruments, they often get an experience of becoming one with their instrument,” remarks Higham. “They are not really thinking about how they are moving their fingers or how they're operating the instrument, it just flows straight out of the ideas in their brain into the instrument, as if it's part of them; and so I think that extends into the digital world as well.
"When we have tools that are digital, such as our phone or the internet to communicate, or an instrument like a synth, if you are really focussed when you are using it, it can become like an extension of your mind or your body.” Johnstone agrees: "Yeah, I think so too – a lot of our writing process is a little bit disparate. There are some songs that Lily and I sat down and wrote together in the same room, but there’s quite a lot that either I wrote the underlying synths and beats and Lily added vocals on top and then we finished everything up. Or sometimes Lily would send me just a track of her singing over a guitar and then I would strip all that away and rebuild it back up with all the electronic elements. I think there’s always been quite a mixture of human and machine and it’s because we live in different cities, you know Lily is in Glasgow and I am in Edinburgh, so this is the only way we could write a lot of the time.”
It’s a process that’s paid off dividends. L-space are releasing Kipple Arcadia on pink vinyl and all streaming platforms with an accompanying behind-the-scenes film and are looking forward to playing the album live. What else is in store for the future? “We have had some fun ideas that haven't happened yet," laughs Higham, "like we wanted to launch one of our records into space with a weather balloon, to try to get the highest vinyl in the world!”