After few more chapters the 40 minutes long dystopian arthouse movie used to open the latest tour is over. Just when the metaphor for Distorted Angels and the messiah about to save the world settles in your mind, a rather large number of black-clothed musicians take stage. There isn’t much talking from the group. Despite the mantric wall of sound that shakes the place to its core, all members of group look like they just came to a professional jazz concert. Trained professionals, rather than band members. DJs, guitarists, drummers, visual artists, singers… During the female driven vocal parts, a rather stunning lady appears. All dressed in black, no showmanship, no unnecessary sexiness. She obliterates the place with her vocals and seems like she is about to break down in tears. After her part is over, she leaves the stage. A lesser band would give her a triangle and let her shake her hips as some sort of an eye-candy, but not Archive. This is how the they operate. A group of musicians that prefer the term “ensemble” over “band”.
So who the fvck are Archive? In a perfect world, this band wouldn’t need an introduction. You can hear their name in passing and the fact that it usually appears in context with discussions about Pink Floyd, Radiohead, UNKLE or genre-hopping powerhouses should sorta clue you in on how skilled they are. Often cited as the true kings of the true underground, Archive is an ensemble that combines trip-hop, post rock, avant-garde, shoegaze, progressive rock, electronica and with their latest album they also dipped their toes into the IDM stream. Although UK is their homebase, they are almost unknown there. They sweep charts of random European countries, sell out venues within a blink of an eye and have no problem packing an arena full of fans. Yet their biggest fanbase is for inexplicable reasons Greece. Rest of the world never really caught up, despite the fact that they are in business for more than two decades.
So before we continue our trip into the dark mist that represents the idea of Archive, let’s listen to couple of tracks. I choose three very distinctive songs that got me into them 8 years ago. They are all taken from
a rather recent album Controlling Crowds. However, this comes with a warning: The song Controlling Crowds itself is known to cause anxiety attacks, and I myself have a first-hand experience with it. If you are prone to anxieties (and / or smoked some weed just now), it is advised not to listen to it on headphones and getting too lost in it.
Although these songs may not show you the extensiveness of Archive’s sound, they are a fine starting point in learning about Archive. Why? Well, and excuse my hipsterism here, Archive are not a band but more of an idea. Feeling. Fleeing glimpse into the stylish darkness that Archive represent and embrace.
This is furthermore proven by their professionalism on the stage, when they let the music do the talking, and the fact that probably no fan knows all the names of the current lineup. When they released their first album Londinium back in 1996, the ensemble consisted of 4 members, although the listed personnel includes 18 names. You can see them perform with 8 people, 9 people, 10 people and I believe their high score of people on stage was 15. And this goes even deeper because you never know who will show up during the live gig. While the core remains the same, you can catch them with or without a rapper / MC, the female vocalists change during the tour and some songs have different versions due to the lineup available. This is why Archive are more of an idea, rather than band. Names, members, vocalists aren’t important, but the message is. The personnel changes, but the message remains the same.
And sometimes this message, especially given the almost classically-trained professionalism on stage, cane be shockingly vicious:
When we are dealing with a band with discography this big (11 albums) and extent of genres this large, it is hard to pinpoint a good starting point for everyone. I believe Controlling Crowds is a fine starting point, but if you are more into post rock and ready for some 18 minutes long songs, then you can pick up Noise or Lights. If you wanna give a listen to more recent addition, then their current panultimate album Restrictions is a fine choice. The two albums surrounding this release might be a rather difficult thing for non-fans, as Axiom is a soundtrack for the movie and The False Foundation might be a little bit too experimental. But as I said, the feeling and the message remains the same, no matter if you have rappers spitting rhymes or rockers taking you on a long journey through sound.
In the end, Archive are what Archive are. Hard to describe, hard to be aware of, yet very easy to get lost in. It is almost an universe of its own, hiding somewhere deep underground, waiting to be discovered, embraced and enjoyed. Make no mistake, it is no feel good music, but it is a music you can relate to when feeling sad, gloomy, depressed or downright p*ssed off. It is not theatrical, it is reasonable and grown-up.
And as the band itself, it hides in a dark mist. Is it right that music this good and performed by musicians this skilled is unknown? Maybe. It is very well possible that Archive wouldn’t be Archive we know if everyone knew them. It is very well possible that Archive and the members themselves need to stay in shadows to talk about shadows. To be unrecognized and unrecognizable. To be what they are.
A fvcking good band.
A fvcking good band that, no matter if in its most rockiest…
… in its most popiest…
End Of Our Days
… or in its most vicious…
… embraces and articulates feelings and fears we all have, but often not talk about.
Archive are not currently touring, but if you feel adventurous, you can catch them in Tbilisi, Georgia this summer. If you are interested in their small movie Axiom, you can find it on YouTube in its full length. If you feel charitable, Archive are supporters and a part of The Hummingbirds Project that helps the victims of terrorist attacks in France.