Running With Knives: Introducing Outblinker

Glasgow’s new psych heroes on the intricacies of sound, music business malaise, and working with Ben Power on their forthcoming album

Feature by Duncan Harman | 05 Aug 2015

An industrial estate on the edge of the city. Up a rust-flaked staircase, the room large and dank, dubious stains on one wall, kitchen knives embedded in another – who said the music business is glamorous?

Then again, we’re not here for glamour. And while there is a film crew present – The Skinny having been invited to document proceedings for posterity – there’s no chancer from daytime TV gormlessly appraising the décor to camera. For this is Outblinker territory. Less a physical space than something fluid, and a sound constantly toying with different states of being – sometimes solid, sometimes liquid, sometimes gas. “It’s pretty much psychedelic music played with lots of synthesisers,” deadpans keyboard player Luigi Pasquini; well, yes – and the sun is a big, hot thing in the sky. For despite such playful understatement, here reside sonic textures rich in form and magnetic in application. “We’re not really an electronica act. We’re an electric band, with amplifiers,” Luigi grins. The Skinny gathers he’s rather a fan of underselling.

Formed at the beginning of the year, the Glasgow five-piece nonetheless own a collective CV that reads like pages from a Scottish noise pop directory. Brothers Jason (guitar) and Graham Costello (drums) comprise Young Philadelphia. Pasquini is half of art-rock duo Kabobo, and beside him, amidst the banks of Korgs, soundboards and effects pedals, Chris Cusack and David Warner’s pasts include tours of duty in agent provocateur outfits Hey Enemy and Foreign Tongue.

"No offence to Londoners, but the standard of band in Glasgow is much higher" – Chris Cusack

But don’t let their hardware suggest disenfranchised synth-pop posturing or Kraftwerk-style musical statues; the Outblinker aesthetic is loud, edgy and dynamic. It’s how to fuse a primal, Krautrock urgency with subtle five-way interplay and a predisposition to drag each riff outside for a kicking. Also: attitude. In droves. “Something had to be done about the waves of soulless, corporate electro-shit masquerading as art, clogging up our creative veins,” begins the band’s press release; even allowing for hyperbole, it’s readily apparent how artistic principals don’t exist to be compromised.

“We all come from a DIY background,” Chris explains. “We work independently of chain venues, chain promoters, that kind of system.” And as Cusack also manages one of Glasgow’s independent venues, you get the feeling he knows his onions. “I think that a lot of bands aren’t necessarily bands in the historical sense; they’re business ventures, focus-grouped, conclusions that have been arrived at via boardroom meetings between people who have nothing to do with those who are actually on stage. It’s frustrating for people like us because it’s skewing a lot of things about the industry, and making it very hard for ourselves and young musicians in general to actually break through and make something of their art.”

It’s a rebel attitude that’s exemplified in various ways. Firstly, everything is played live. No laptops, no box of tricks full of pre-recorded chutzpah to supplant the sound. “If we had a constitution that would be one of the main things; no laptops,” Chris continues. “I think there’s been an element of performance lost in a lot of live music. Music is always a risk. Half the time you’re watching a band, especially if it’s something intricate, there is a danger. This could all go wrong. This is all being made right now, and if somebody drops dead, this song’s goosed. And you kind of get the feeling with a lot of bands that if somebody dropped dead on stage, nothing would change with the music itself – at least for a few minutes.”

Which leads on to another important element: improvisation. “We wanted to have something that was dangerous. That could go wrong live. That could be different every time, had an unpredictable element, and was back to being visceral and created in the moment.

"This is the first band I’ve played in with a strong electronic component,” guitarist Jason adds. “Getting this gear and playing about with it, trying to find new sounds that previous bands we’ve played with weren’t quite as centred around. Everyone’s coming to it with different contributions and cues. For me personally, there was a big element of minimalism that I really enjoy. I think it’s a melting pot of different ideas.”

The traits of this egalitarian melting pot dynamic are more than evident on the band’s recent Pink/Blue EP; twin slabs of Teutonic grind, each ten-plus minutes in duration – detailed, playful and resolute. Yet watching them play live is to truly understand the bevelled dimensions they operate under; the intricate phraseology, the interplay between guitar and synth, synth and drums, drums and guitar. It’s as if the instruments are feeling each other out, ascertaining parameters before committing to the synergistic sweet spot.

In particular, Graham's jazz-infused percussion stands out, eschewing the smooth lines of 4/4 Motorik regimentation for a vivacity that belies a simple kit. It’s rhythm as equal component, the detail behind each snare drum or high hat manoeuvre intoxicating (Graham studies jazz at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; it shows).

His beats represent the soul behind their material. Or as Chris suggests: “We’re all from bands where there’s quite a lot of maths in the timings – you’re counting to five, then you’re counting to seven, and you’re waiting to see how long it will take for the drummer to pick up his next stick – and with Outblinker, it was like wanting something that people can dance to. I don’t mean that as in, ‘let’s turn into Fatboy Slim.’ Rather, doing something that is expansive and open to interpretation each time we play, so that every show is different and people can really get into this, regardless of their background or knowledge of music.”

Next up; an album of similarly colour-coded psych grooves, and with Ben Power of Fuck Buttons/Blanck Mass signed up for production duties, their full-length debut already has more than a few aficionados licking their lips, even before it’s recorded. “In August we’re travelling into the countryside, trying to get away from other distractions,” Chris confirms. “We’re going to do seven days working on these tracks, going to make a record that captures the focused level of being in an intensive situation, allowing for lots of experimentation and ideas to evolve very quickly rather than over a number of months. It’s opportunities like that and touring – spending time with the rest of the band – that’s a pleasure. The band doesn’t force me to hang out with these guys; the band’s an excuse to hang out with these guys. Going away for this little adventure, and seeing what comes out of our collective consciousness, with Ben included, will be really fascinating.”

So how important has Glasgow been to their sound and foundation. Isn’t the scene a little incestuous? “In some senses the idea of it being incestuous is an element of how we all met each other,” offers Jason. “It was all different bands that liked each other who thought of creating a new project.”

“Incestuous is an interesting phrase,” adds Chris, running with the theme. “There’s an irony in the sense that, the more incestuous a scene, the more it makes the quality of the bands better. People are all getting these other projects out the way, they’re working and learning with different musicians. No offence to Londoners, but the standard of band in Glasgow is much higher, and that goes for Leeds, Brighton, Bristol. Incest usually results in weaker genetic material, yet with music, it’s inverse in that respect.”

There’s still much to discuss – how Pasquini’s work as a producer influences the mechanics of the band’s sound; how each mid-track exchange of glances channels momentum – but the film crew need more shots; time’s up. What have we learned? That Outblinker probably aren’t top of any list, should interior design be your bag. And as for as acerbic sonic texture delivered with intuition, you may discover that they’re well up your straße. 

Outblinker play Glasgow's Hug and Pint on 8 Aug and The Skinny stage at Electric Fields (alongside the likes of Blanck Mass, Vessels, East India Youth, and many more) on 29 Aug, plus the Pleasance Sessions at Edinburgh Pleasance (with RM Hubbert, BDY_PRTS and a special guest) on 10 Oct