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by Wyndham Wallace
Journalist's preconception: Fridge have absolutely no idea what they want to be.
Journalist's realisation: Fridge have absolutely no desire to be anything in particular.
If you do the least sensible thing possible, eventually it will start to make some kind of sense. Fridge seem to have based every decision they have made in their short career around this short maxim. Over one seven inch single, one twelve inch, one split single (with Add N To X), and one single spread over seven inch and twelve inch, not to mention two lengthy albums, they have flitted across pretty much every musical style known to mankind. One minute they're toying with electronica, the next they're kicking into some bass-led groove, the next they're hitting you with bleeding psychobilly. It makes no sense whatsoever. Great bands are meant to have a distinctive sound and style, a handle that marks them and makes them identifiable. Fridge seem determined to make it impossible to recognise their style. And therein lies their greatest strength.
Fridge are sat backstage at London's Powerhaus which, these days, no longer resembles the inside of a tramp's pants and, instead, looks as though it was designed for some 80s bratpack movie, with its naked pipes and neon lit bar. It's cold - suitably so for their moniker - but it's due to the overwhelming air conditioning rather than any lack of facilities. They're due on stage in a couple of hours, supporting Germany's Mouse On Mars. In a typically wilful display of contrariness, they will choose to play their rock set rather than their electronic set, a decision that could easily backfire given the nature of Mouse On Mars' own music, but one that pays off as they hit their stride with considerable panache. The three of them are drinking water - as they openly admit,
"We're totally not rock'n'roll. Don't drink, don't smoke . . . totally not rock'n'roll."
I confront them with accusations that, musically, they can't sit still for a moment. They are delighted:
"We're seriously paranoid that the tracks get boring," explains Keiran Hebden, dubiously ponytailed spokesman for the band.
"We start recording a track and then we think 'well, this whole riff's been going on for twenty two bars. Shit! Everyone must be bored, let's start adding another instrument.' So, every song ends up sort of building up." He continues,
"I listen to the new Kreidler album. They have songs that chug along for ten minutes - not changing much - which I'm totally into. But we'd probably never try doing that ourselves, because we start thinking 'Oh, this is getting boring,' so we try and add some new things."
What about the fact that every song you do sounds like it's been recorded by a different band?
"I don't want to get too focused," argues Keiran
. "I like the idea that Fridge are always going to do something different. We did that David Holmes remix. The first time the A&R guy heard it - it goes straight up house in the middle - he just looked at us like 'what the hell's going on?' He was expecting, like, straight up guitars on it. And I said to him look, please don't ever expect a certain sound.' As far as I'm concerned we've done that now, we're going to do something else."
"We did a Mogwai mix that got turned down," continues drummer Sam Jeffers
. "That was straight country! That's what Fridge is all about. Even though the album might sound like a compilation album, it's definitely always Fridge. But," he continues
, "you couldn't take one track and say 'this sounds like Fridge."
"It's like Miles Davis said," Keiran says, warming to the theme
. "'I love playing ballads, it's my absolute favourite thing,' but then he said, 'but I'm never going to play a ballad again. I've done it, I've been there, that's happened.' I don't want us to get into one style and
keep doing it. We've done it and I've got other ideas that I wanna ... I'm buying new records, listening to new things. I'm buying, like, four or five albums a week. I would love to do the backing for a hip-hop record. Get some classy American rapper to come and do a remix with us or something."
Actually, hip-hop must be about the only style these musical magpies haven't tried. Which is ironic, given that Output, the label that released their first two albums, is run by Trevor Jackson, aka The Underdog, remixer of, most famously, Massive Attack. And it can only be a matter of time before they indulge their fancies there as well. It has been the dance press that has responded most favourably to their music, and this has undoubtedly opened their minds to plenty of new styles, as has Trevor himself. Fridge make no secret of the fact that they lift openly from the records that inspire them, and currently Keiran is like a man with a mission.
"I'm on this mailing list on the internet called Cosmic Groove," he enthuses
, "where I get about twenty e-mails a day recommending just the weirdest albums. Like three people playing harp with a funky drummer behind it. I'm well into that sort of thing at the moment. I'm listening to Pharoah Sanders, Charlie Haden, whatever I can get my hands on."
This constant search for new sounds is what drives Fridge. It's this that makes them so restless. If there's all these great genres, why doesn't someone mash them all up? There's a million different combinations, you'd never stand still.
"At the moment I want to do records like no-one's ever done. So, I wanna do, like, bluegrass tracks with sitars on. I wanna do, like, Krautrock with crooners." The rest of them explode with laughter at the thought
. "We're having fun, we're not shitting bricks about it," he finishes
But the problem with that is that you end up reminding your listener of the other bands that you could be listening to. Tortoise, Bill Laswell, To Rococo Rot, Guana Batz . . . (no, really!)
"I think there's lots of moments where we sound similar to other bands. It's a bit of a game for us," Keiran admits
. "'I know, let's do a song in the style of this, or the style of this.' I think we have lots of moments where we sound like certain bands, but on the whole we
don't sound ..." He trails off
Probably one of the things that sets Fridge apart from the rest of the scene that refuses to call itself post-rock is that they are the only band to accept that phrase. In fact they positively welcome it.
"It's the attitude. You know, the studios are instruments as well as the guitars round your necks. You can take from, be influenced by, all the records in your collection. Not just the guitar ones if you play guitar. It's worth being influenced by the dance records, even if you're not going to play those types of music. I don't know why everyone gets so freaked out about it so much."
. "Every label's inaccurate, because you're going to be put next to bands that aren't you."
"Yeah, but there's hardly any bands that are involved that I'm sitting here thinking are shit," Keiran retorts
. "So, if someone's knocking our name around with all these bands that I think are doing something pretty interesting in music today, then that's fine by me."
Unheard of! A band positively encouraging people to pigeon-hole them. But, like everything Fridge do, it's contrary. The opposite of what you would expect. Wilful, difficult, schizophrenic, ambitious, unapologetic . . . Fridge will soon have something for everyone for some of the time...
CWAS #3 - Summer 1998