Photos: Mike Massaro
Getting Flamingods in a room together is a minor miracle. Members Karthik, Charles, Sam, Craig and Kamal, who all share various duties within the band, live a scattered and nomadic existence split between London and Dubai. Their last album Hyperborea was recorded by the various members sending snippets and samples to each other across the internet and patching them together to create their own DIY masterpiece.
So, booting up my Skype to find two members, Karthik and Charles together in the same room was a nice surprise, but true to form, a third member, Sam, joined from another location – though admittedly just a different end of London – whilst vocalist Kamal was still in Dubai.
This nomadic identity is what makes the band special. Formed at ATP in 2010, the five had to adapt very quickly to the fact they were scattered across the globe. This has only fuelled their sound though, with their songs being littered with instruments from all over the world and influences that stretch from traditional Thai music to drum’n’bass. “It really is that blend of east and west,” Charles tells me. “I really think both styles work together cohesively.”
As we speak the band are in the middle of rehearsals for their tour in aid of new album Majesty. Evidently rehearsals aren’t simple as mooching down to their practice space. When the five are finally all together, rehearsals are intense. Karthik sighs when he tells me “When we rehearse we normally go in for like five days, but we’re at a place now where you can rehearse for 13 hours straight, so we’re just going to go in and not sleep for five days.”
The recording of the latest album has been different to usual though. Where Hyperborea mashed different ideas together using the magic of the internet, this time round, Flamingods were actually able to book studio time – something they obviously enjoyed. Karthik explains: “This is the first time we’ve had a ‘proper’ studio experience. I guess Sun [their 2013 debut] kind of was, but we were so young at the time. We’d all recorded a lot before, but we were new to recording together. This time we had a clear idea of what we needed to do and it all fell into place quite easily.”
Distinct vocals are an important element to the band’s sound, whether it be the distorted yells on ‘Himiko’ or the traditional vocal stylings of new single ‘Rhama’. They seem as much an instrument as the African drums, Thai Phin guitars or any other tools that litter their songs, and Charles agrees: “Kamal definitely puts a lot of time and effort into how he sings his lines. Especially rhythmically.” The new songs push the vocals up in the mix, something the band feel is a natural part of their evolution. Charles tells me: “The new album tells the story of someone in search of enlightenment. A lot of [Kamal’s] lyrics are based around that idea.”
“People being able to listen to where we’re taking our inspiration from is good. Not that we think that we’re teaching people, but it’s nice.”
For fans of Flamingods, listening to their music is only part of the discovery. “The way we package our music is westernised essentially” Karthik explains, “it’s for ears here in the western world. Just listening to it is one thing, but people being able to listen to where we’re taking our inspiration from is good. Not that we think that we’re teaching people, but it’s nice.”
The band also tell me of the many times they’ve been asked about certain instruments of theirs after gigs. These instruments, which play such a vital part in their sound, are collected from all over the world. Often though, the band choose to not play them in the way traditionally they would be, instead they exploring them in new way,as Charles explains: “We’ve got a Thai Phin guitar and it has a very specific sound that’s linked with that region. But we don’t use it like that. We take that sound and mash it with an african drum. It’s a melting pot.”
“We’ve got a really old Nepalese organ” Sam also tells me, “which we picked up in some tiny shop in Nepal. But onstage, it sits next to a Korg MS2000. It’s funny having such an authentic instrument right next to a badass synthesiser.”
And in a way that’s the best way to sum up Flamingods, the old and new, orthodox and unorthodox all combined to create something otherworldly.
Art is Hard present Flamingods at Exchange on 6th May with ‘Majesty’ out 10th June via Soundway Records.
Listen to ‘Rhama’ here: