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A Magazine for Sheffield

Blood Sport: Axe Laid To The Root

One of the perks of publishing a magazine like Now Then is seeing local acts building themselves from the ground up, brick by brick. In no band is this more apparent than in Blood Sport, whose first album, Life In Units, we featured in issue #50. Fusing post-punk, new wave, noise rock, afrobeat and dance music, the Sheffield three-piece have raised their game since the release of that debut on Hybrid Vigour, their own label and gig collective. New approaches have been forged for their follow-up, Axe Laid To The Root, which has found a home on Blast First Petite, a spin-off imprint of Mute subsidiary Blast First. It's a snarling, throbbing, urgent record, released alongside a mix CD featuring remixes by the likes of Richard H Kirk, as well as early takes of album tracks and songs the band love. We chatted shortly after they'd played two big gigs at Cafe Oto in London with afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen. The new album has a really dirty feel to it, compared with your other recordings, which feels a lot more like your live performances. [Alex] It's about catching the live energy, because we know we are a live band, and the power, rawness and energy of ourselves comes from people perceiving us live, rather than on record. We wanted to get closer to that so we could portray that through our recordings. [Sam] It's also come out of the sense of direction we've had with this release and the kind of music we've been producing over the last couple of years, which is a lot more geared towards the dancefloor. With Life In Units it was a bit more scattergun, the ideas we were working with. We were just playing around with loads of different sounds and fusions, and even though we recognised the dancier, rhythmic elements in our sound then, it wasn't as focussed. When you're playing to a drum machine, it's always a challenge to make it sound natural, not too fixed. Were you aware of that when recording the album? [Alex] Yeah. I do the drum machine and Sam drums, and we recorded the parts together. They were more flexible than a very rigid structure, so that we could capture some kind of live energy and a vaguely improvised feel. We were more excited when we were performing it, because we were playing together, and hopefully trying to infuse more life into it, rather than it being metronomic. [Nick] A good proportion of the 'conversation' between instruments is between the drums and the drum machine. I'll often have a rhythm or a riff that I'll just keep playing. A lot of the slow, subtle changes are between the drums and the drum machine. Is that how you do it live then - you've got fixed parts but the way it develops is different each time? [Alex] We do have structures that we use as a base, but we've been constantly trying to move away from being stuck in that, and leaving it open to explore new territories when we play live, because we find that really exciting. If we're playing and there's a particularly good reaction to a certain part, we can all carry on and milk the potential of it, without feeling obliged to change straight away. There's more of an interaction between the audience and us, in the same way that there is if there's a DJ set. [Sam] We've written a whole new set and started recording new songs since. Because we've honed this aesthetic for the band, over the last couple of years we've been able to stretch and play around with the basic elements and frameworks of the songs on this album, and then add new songs, or in live settings really play off the audience reaction, so that feeds back into how we consider the songs. I remember reading that you have a shared love of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. I can hear elements of that album, and of Talking Heads, in what you do. [Sam] Really?! [laughs] [Nick] Alex refused to listen to Remain In Light for quite a long time, simply because he knew how much of a massive influence it was on me and Sam. They are a massive influence, but I think in many ways it's more about the way they worked. That album was constructed from ultra-long jams which they then deconstructed and reassembled, part by part, which is a process we adopt when jamming and constructing songs out of those jams. We've got a very basic recording setup and we record all of our practices. [Alex] We have always done that, using one mic. We'd select a certain few bars, where it all locked in together, and then expand that and try to build something from that. [Nick] It's that locking in that I love, and I think that's what I really love about My Life and Remain In Light, and what I love about dance music - when you kind of feel that you've found the rhythm. I think that's a common thread across all of those things, and maybe the thing we drew out. The gigs you did at Cafe Oto in London in January were a big deal - playing with Tony Allen, drummer for Fela Kuti, who more or less invented afrobeat. [Alex] It was pretty scary, because we always claimed to have started because of Fela Kuti. I think that took over more directly than Talking Heads, because it was such an exciting sound that we wanted to take influence from. And not really play afrobeat, but just do something which was similar in approach. [Sam] I think we're almost more like that now than we were before, because afrobeat is so extended and so longform, and we're much more like that now than we were originally. We were doing two-minute songs… Whereas now they're about ten minutes. You're getting close. They need to be 20 minutes, really. [Alex] We do have an ambition to do a six-hour set. [Sam] Yeah, that's the holy grail that we're constantly striving to achieve. We've broken the ice of the hour-long continuous set, so now it's just a matter of how many hours. The last album you put out on your own label, Hybrid Vigour, and this one is in collaboration with Blast First Petite. What's the plan for Hybrid Vigour? [Nick] We want to expand Hybrid Vigour beyond it being led just by us. Initially it was a label set up to put out the first record, but the whole idea was that we would have a label to do that and put out releases by our friends, and then we'd do gigs. Hybrid Vigour is this concept of combining the gig space and club space, dance music, experimental music and world music. So now we’re doing a mixtape series too, getting collaborators such as The Audacious Art Experiment’s Clelia Ciardulli to produce interesting mixes that we’ll be putting onto short runs of cassettes. They’ll intentionally explore the Hybrid Vigour idea, mess with people’s ears a bit and include various exclusive tracks. [Alex] We’re also going to be exporting the HV experience to other cities, bringing the world we’ve constructed here in Sheffield to other places around the country whilst collaborating with bands and artists we like to achieve the dream of the elusive non-stop six-hour set. Axe Laid To The Root is out now via Blast First Petite/Hybrid Vigour. )

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