For a real Reptile Youth live experience you need strong shoulders and plenty of stamina. For those with a more delicate constitution, the boys will soon be available as a studio version: Under the aegis of star producers Mark Ralph (Hot Chip) and Dave M. Allen (The Cure) the duo recently put the finishing touches to their impressive debut album
A fantastic team for three-and-a-half years, Mads Damgaard and Esben Valloe of Reptile Youth know how to captivate an audience. Bored by the standard set-up of artist on stage, fans out front, Mads loves nothing better than to dive into the fray for a round of crowdsurfing! And their eager fans honour the band’s spectacular – and incomparable – sound escapades with an equal dose of energy and enthusiasm.
What started during their school days with a trip to China has now taken on a hyped life of its own, raising the album expectations through the roof. And rightly so, as the Danes’ debut is long overdue. After several adventurous detours – a. o. a trip to the other side of the globe, a vital name change from Reptile and Retard to Reptile Youth, an intensive interplay of their diametrically opposed influences and a long, long search for the right producers – Mads and Esben are now close to fulfilling their rock star aspirations. With the professional support of expert sound specialists (a. o. for Hot Chip and The Cure) they are set to release their first album this year, a veritable and vital techno punk pop sound clash mixing slivers of LCD Soundsystem with Moderat and Pink Floyd.
After all, Reptile Youth are all about taking a consciously different approach – with plenty of rock, even more roll and the video clip of their song Speeddance as building blocks for their impending international success. And while they call themselves “illegitimate children of psychedelic 1960s soul, post punk and synth pop", this description is not entirely off the mark, as their wonderfully weird live performance at the Danish SPOT Festival 2012 more than proved.
Back on the ground and all set for our interview, Mads and Esben swap their onstage tension for a more laid-back, yet no less inspired approach.
How did your band name come about – and why did you change it from Reptile and Retard to Reptile Youth?
Mads: To cut a long story short: We changed our name because we simply couldn’t identify with the old one anymore. We had changed a lot musically. We used to be a laptop and synthesizer set-up. Now, we are more of a bona fide band with drums, guitar and bass. At the same time, there has also been a shift in the things we focus on and want to communicate. In order to get that across more clearly, we decided to pick a new name.
What was your trip to China all about?
Mads: Something the two of us have in common is this urge to live our dreams and adventures. We wanted to become rock stars in China – that’s the reason why we started the band in the first place! The idea was that, to date, nobody has really managed to make it in China, so we decided to give it a try. China only has terrible pop music, but a pretty decent punk scene. So, we simply travelled there and started to play. We wanted to change something and make a difference!
Describe your sound in three words!
Esben: Punk. Pop. Techno.
How do you write your songs? Which one of you usually starts off with an idea and which one tends to be more critical?
Mads: Both of us are very critical. Most of the time, it is me who comes up with a potential lyric which I then build upon. Then, we pick up our guitars to develop a melody. We prefer old-fashioned songwriting, i. e. playing around with our guitars before we settle down to record it all with synthesizer, drums and guitar.
You have become infamous for your expressive live shows. Why has this become so important for you or, to rephrase, why do you literally go crazy on stage?
Esben: We don’t really go mad. It is more a means to let off steam and energy. Something we only talked about just now is the fact that there are very few bands capable of intense communications. But that is exactly what we want to achieve – delve in deep and stand out from other bands. So, it’s less of an explosion of our energy, but more our way to get a deeply felt message across. At the same time, we are on thin ice because occasionally it all escalates, while other times it does not.
Mads, you regularly throw yourself into the audience for a spot of crowdsurfing or jump on top of the speaker stacks. Did you ever get seriously injured during your shows?
So, why do you do it?
Mads: Because I enjoy it. So far, we have had a few incidents at gigs, but nothing truly life-threatening. And I like scars; they are a lot cooler than tattoos! Scars are the new tattoos.
Mads – at last night’s gig you lost your shoe. I assume that is something that happens all the times? Ever thought about getting a shoe sponsor?
Mads: I also lost my socks! But I did get my shoe back. And no, no one sponsors my shoes. And it’s not something I really think about. Sometimes I notice that someone slips off my shoe or that I’m about to lose it, but that’s okay. It’s part of the whole thing to follow the flow and soak up energy to figure out how far it will go.
Why did it take you three-and-a-half years to finally publish your debut album?
Esben: The two of us have very different personalities, but also different musical influences. So, it takes a certain amount of time to find common ground that both of us can identify with. Maybe, we started playing gigs too early because they raised everyone’s expectations before we were actually ready. We simply didn’t feel like it back then and even now it is somehow a little bit weird to think about the album release. Not to forget our search for the right producers willing to follow our direction to figure out the right sound for us. Now, we have come a lot closer. What you get on the album is what we mean.
Why did you record the album in London?
Esben: Because that’s where our producers live! Dave M. Allen, who produced many of The Cure’s albums, and Mark Ralph, who worked on Hot Chip’s latest album, turned out to be a winning combination.
What is the song Black Swan Born White all about? Does it contain a specific message?
Mads: It is a very introverted song and more or less about myself. Somehow, it is a depressive song, it tells you how I felt when I realised that I used to be this great hippie kid and now I had turned into a monster by comparison. I am still a good boy, but sometimes you simply don’t feel too great in your own skin and I guess that’s what happened when I wrote this song.
Reptile Youth’s debut album is set for release in September 2012 and promises to be at least as amazing as the band’s live performances. For a sneak preview and corroboration, check out the album’s second single.
More information on Reptile Youth: www.reptileyouth.com
The band’s debut video, Speeddance
Video: Black Swan Born White