By Kathleen Elise
As an American in London, I spent a lot of my time going to venues and twirling around to bands I would never have been able to see in Miami. Some were longtime favourites I’d wanted to catch for years; others I’d never heard of, but have since grown to love; but one left enough of an impression that they eventually became the band I saw most throughout my entire stay.
Fighting Kites are a foursome from London who play instrumental music, but don’t let the term “instrumental music” fool you—there is no Muzak, no pained freeform jazz, nothing at all resembling the music you usually associate with those words. With their biting sound, tight harmonies and jaw-dropping musicianship, they are everything you could want in an innovative band.
Their debut EP, a split with Lo-Tron outfit Broken Shoulder (Audio Antihero Records), was enough to make me a fan, but seeing them live turned me into a devoted admirer. Dan Fordham (Fighting Kites’ resident on drums, sax, guitar and then some), was good enough to answer some questions on the eve of the release of their self-titled LP on Variant Records…
Was it a conscious decision to form an instrumental group, or did you simply start playing and never feel the need for a vocalist?
I don’t think having a vocalist was ever really a possibility. It wasn’t so much a decision to form an instrumental group as [it was] Neil [Debnam] and me—it was just the two of us at the beginning—having some vague and unformed ideas about the music we wanted to make as Fighting Kites, and singing definitely not being part of it. Both of us had sung in bands before, so I suppose if at some point we’d decided we wanted singing we might have done it ourselves. But it never came up.
How would you describe your sound? Can you compare FK to any other acts?
Experimental pop music. I don’t want to labour the point about not having a singer, but instrumental bands are often perceived as a bit “difficult” or “impenetrable” or whatever. I—we—love lots of music that people might think of in that way, but I’ve always been very happy that in Fighting Kites we make music that’s somewhat complex and doesn’t have singing but nonetheless always has tunes and is (I hope) accessible and even (whisper it) fun. People dance at our shows! We couldn’t believe it either, but they do.
As an incredible live band, how do you tailor your performances differently for recordings versus live shows?
Thanks! The album was a chance to try all sorts of things that we could never do live. We spent a LONG time making it, with lots of layering and extra parts and so on. In one or two cases, [there are] songs that we never managed to learn to play live. And I think we’re all really happy with the way the album turned out as a result. Playing live, on the other hand, is obviously more about the sound that four people playing in a room together make, which is often quite a different, [more direct] thing. In recordings we’ve done since the album—the split EP with Broken Shoulder, for example, although in the end that came out before the album—we’ve been keeping things simpler, much closer to the way we play live, partly as a reaction to the way we made the album.
Each of you is clearly a talented musician. Is anyone classically trained, or are you all self taught?
Thanks again! I think we’re mostly self-taught, although I will admit to having had saxophone lessons when I was at school. [I also had piano lessons] when I was very young, from an old woman who used to rap me across the knuckles with a ruler when I made a mistake—which, needless to say, was frequently. Very odd way to introduce a child to music. No doubt she knew what she was doing though.
How was your experience working with a vocalist like Benjamin Shaw?
There is no vocalist like Benjamin Shaw. Actually, having said all that about the superfluousness of singers earlier (and Neil is on record as a singing hater), it was great to be someone’s backing band in that way for the Christmas song we did with Ben. He’s a great songwriter. I’d love to be able to do more stuff with him.
How is FK different from your other projects, like Broken Shoulder, Neil’s solo project? Is there any interplay between your work in FK and your other music?
Neil’s music as Broken Shoulder is much more abstract than Fighting Kites. There are little bits we’ve done as a band that nod in that direction, but his Broken Shoulder stuff brings it to the fore. Neil says while Broken Shoulder is “low quality control, spontaneous, warts and all,” Fighting Kite’s music is very precise and distilled (I think he is using quite a broad definition of “precise” here).
What is in Fighting Kite’s future?
Good question! At moment half of us are in London, one quarter in Tokyo, and one quarter on a small island in the Inner Hebrides. I think the next time we’ll all be in the same place will be Christmas, so perhaps we’ll break out the Benjamin Shaw festive collaboration. In the meantime, the Broken Shoulder machine seems to produce an album every other week, and Luke is living off the fat of the land and Dave and I are making our first tentative steps toward something new to fill the Kites-shaped hole.
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You can buy the bands self-titled LP via;