WILLIAM Doyle has no regrets. The British electronica composer, who records as East India Youth, recently released his debut album, Total Strife Forever. The title is a pun on Total Life Forever, a top- 10 LP by British indie band Foals.
To his amusement and mild consternation, the question keeps coming up: was he laughing at Foals (whose hipster haircuts and zinging guitars are easily mocked)? Or offering homage?
“I’m not sorry about the name, though I’ve been talking about it ever since,” says Doyle, chuckling. “I knew [calling the LP] Total Strife Forever was stupid. I had used it as a working title. I ended up sticking with it. Why not?”
As it turns out, he doesn’t have particularly strong opinions one way or the other on Foals. The reason he stuck by the original name is because it conveys humour and irreverence of a sort largely absent from dance music nowadays. In that regard, he harks back to an earlier generation of electronic artists such as Aphex Twin, their often brooding soundscapes undercut with witty track titles and album sleeves.
“I thought ‘well maybe, this is a bit dangerous’. I decided I would stay with it anyway. I wanted to be sure there was humour in what I did. Whenever I’m interviewed, I always ask that the album title be printed in upper-case, so that it looks properly ludicrous.”
He may plead bafflement. Still, it is understandable why Doyle would be seen as taking a pot-shot at Foals. Before East India Youth, he passed time in a sequence of unremarkable indie outfits. In previous interviews, he complained about growing deathly bored with the music he was making. Reading between the lines, it is easy to imagine Foals and their ilk as an anathema to everything he represents.
“I kind of cultivated the idea that I was in all those [workaday] bands,” he says. “In fact, my last band wasn’t a very standard indie group. There was a lot more to it than that. We were quite interesting, I think. Ultimately, I was tired of the conventions of being a touring indie rock musician. I wanted the freedom to explore ideas — to make music to which I was emotionally attached.”
Doyle grew up in Bournemouth, a British seaside town that has seen better days. He named East India Youth after the ‘East India’ area of London’s docklands. As an artist, he was fascinated by its air of transience — far from the hubbub of central London, it feels as if you are on the edge of the world. He wanted to reproduce that otherworldliness in his music.
He didn’t expect Total Strife Forever to find a very large audience. The music struck him as terribly obscure — the best he could hope for, he thought, was a small cult fanbase of electro devotees. So it has come as a surprise to see the project embraced by the mainstream, the LP going Top 30 in the UK. He is one of the headliners at next weekend’s Body and Soul Festival Westmeath, something he would never have imagined possible just a year ago. Success has blind-sided him slightly. “I thought it was going to be a niche, leftfield release,” he says. “I would be happy with a modest following. For people to react in the way they have, is amazing. Honestly, I didn’t see it coming.”
Then he doesn’t regard himself as an archetypal electronic musician. He disdains the scene’s culture of anonymity. The cover of Total Strife Forever is a portrait of Doyle in the fleshy style of British artist Lucien Freud. In his own modest way, Doyle is somewhat of a rebellious figure.
“I don’t regard what I do as electronic music in a very traditional way,” he says. “I don’t fit into that classic mode. Yes, I use electronics. I am reluctant to tie myself up in any definitions.
“That’s why I opted for the album cover I did — and why I make sure the press images are pictures of me taken straight on.
“This is quite a personal record. I want my personality to come across.”
Total Strife Forever is an ambitious album — especially when you consider it is a debut.
In the moment, Doyle didn’t really give the fact any thought. Looking back, he agrees it took considerable chutzpah to put together such a sprawling-yet-cohesive work.
“I had to be confident in my ideas. I knew what I wanted to achieve and went for it.
“I tried not to think too far outside the immediate process, in terms of whether I had bitten off too much or what have you. I had to detach myself, I guess.”
Less straightforward has been the process of bringing the music to the stage. Doyle doesn’t want to simply stand there noodling, surrounded by banks of equipment. At the same time, the material is quite solemn: he can’t run around like Jon Bon Jovi.
“I try to be as physical a performer as I can,” he says. “I don’t want it to be me up there triggering loops. It would be quite hard for me to stay interested. I try to breathe life into the music, in a more extreme way than on record. Hopefully audiences will respond to that.”
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