Sing like a Ting Ting
In 2006, two Manchester bar staff began playing small gigs in the club they worked in. Soon, the major labels were crashing these day-glo arty parties to hear the pair’s electro-pop. The Ting Tings tell Brian Boyd about keeping their heads while rising fa
DRIVING through Manchester’s Salford area on a bleak wintery night, you don’t have to work too hard to figure out where Joy Division got their inspiration. Things don’t improve too much as you pull up outside a former cotton-spinning factory. Once inside, though, the dramatic metamorphosis begins – the cotton factory has been turned into a “multi-media art space” and the place quickly takes on more of a Madchester meets Andy Warhol hue. Where once (you imagine) raggedy children pleaded for a second helping of gruel, there is now a type of dayglo avant-garde arty party going on.
Topping the bill tonight are “the most exciting new band in the country” (say the music press), the electro-indie-pop duo that are The Ting Tings. Their record label have put on an “industry showcase” as an early-warning call for the soon-to-be-released debut album. A sort of White Stripes in reverse, The Ting Tings are drummer Jules De Martino and guitarist and vocalist Katie White.
An industry showcase crowd is usually more concerned with the free bar than the actual music being played, but tonight from the get-go, The Ting Tings have everyone’s full attention. Channelling the sound of The B52s with the occasional nod to the likes of Hot Chip, the band are in effervescent form throughout. Already, previously released singles such as That’s Not My Name and Fruit Machine sound like mini-classics, and for such a numerically challenged outfit, they manage to produce a full-on, bounce-it-off-the-walls sound.
If the overall impression is of “cuttingedge dance pop”, it’s no surprise given the track record of the band’s members. Katie White broke her teeth in a local girl pop band (claim to fame: they once supported Atomic Kitten) while Jules De Martino comes more from the Kraftwerk/Massive Attack end of the musical spectrum.
The two, who are also partners offstage, first met in London before De Martino followed White back to her native Manchester. They formed a band called Dear Eskimo (who had a sort of Scissors Sisterslite sound) and scored a big recording deal with a major label.
De Martino takes up the story: “We thought we were the finished item and the record deal was just the icing on the cake. We weren’t really given any time to develop and work on our own sound; we were just polished up by the label ready for an assault on the charts. But then there were all these personnel changes within the company and the only people who really liked us ending up leaving. Nobody knew what to do with us. We had all these songs but there was no sign of any album coming out so we just did loads and loads of remixes of the songs we had already recorded. Then we got dropped.”
They both ended up working behind the bar of the Salford cotton factory turned art space known as The Islington Mill. “That really was the beginning of The Ting Tings,” De Martino says. “Because the place is such a creative hub, with loads of bands, artists and photographers around all the time, we were exposed to all this experimental-style music. There’d be weird acid rockers one night, then something totally different the next. And we’d hear names being mentioned such as Nico, so we’d go off and explore that.”
With De Martino deciding to be the drummer of the new band, White had to quickly learn how to play the guitar (until then, she was just a vocalist). The pair used Islington Mill as their rehearsal space and once they felt confident enough, put on free gigs at the venue.
“We just used to call them our house parties,” says De Martino. “When more and more people started coming to them, we started to have a small entrance fee charge. Then things really took off – we made up about six or seven CDs of our music and gave them to a few people.
“Those CDs seemed to end up in radio stations and soon DJs were telling people when our next house party would be on. For us, we had been classified as having failed when Dear Eskimo were dropped, so this was all a big shock for us. It was even more of a shock to start getting so many A&R people coming to our house parties. Then there was all this different bidding going on for us. It was a long, long way from our experience with Dear Eskimo.”
The band knew something was happening when just three gigs in they got an e-mail from über- producer Rick Rubin, who had heard of The Ting Tings house parties/gigs and was trying to score him-
self an invite. “When we got that message, we just had to wonder what was going on,” says De Martino.
“And then, when we played only the fourth-ever show, someone we knew took all these photographs. If you look at those photographs now, you can see most of the heads of all the major record companies in the audience. Industry people were even flying in from abroad to come to the shows.”
After receiving a lot of big-money offers, the band opted to sign with SonyBMG. Meanwhile, all the artistic effort around them in The Islington Mill was beginning to influence the band – particularly the DIY approach to creating art work – so for their very first single releases, the band went to great lengths to personalise all copies. “In the beginning, we used to hand-design the limited-edition releases,” says De Martino.
“We’ve even done things like buying loads of old seven-inch singles on eBay just so we could customise them on other limited edition releases. We’ve done shows in four different cities and got the audience at each show to design 100 blank seven-inch singles. So the ones the audience designed at show one would be sold on at show two.
“Obviously, that sort of approach is going to change now we’re about to release an album on a major label, but I think in a way it reminds us of the Islington Mill, about where we started and all the artistic influences we soaked up there.”
What really seems to work for The Ting Tings is that clash of sonic styles. De Martino freely admits he’s a newcomer to the pop sound that Katie White has brought to the band.
“I was always only into left-of-centre stuff,” he says. “That whole pop thing was alien to me – whereas Katie really knows that world. The only thing we seemed to have in common in the early days was a mutual liking of Portishead. At the time, I was working away on this really sinister sort of trip-hop sound and it was all very dark, but Katie brought that dance-pop element into it. We found ourselves coming up with songs that completely defied the whole trip-hop ethos – it became a sort of mix of dark and droney and bubblegum pop.”
The band are well aware of the hype swirling around them at the moment and are using past experience to negotiate their way through all the expectations being placed upon them.
We had all this before, albeit on a different level, with Dear Eskimo,” says De Martino. “A few things happened really quickly for us. First, we got on Later with Jools Holland about two months before the first major label single came out – which was very early for us, if you think about it.
“But what really seemed to kick the whole thing off was coming third in that BBC Sound Of 2008 poll (behind Adele and Duffy). That got a lot of people interested, particularly the music press, and then we got all those White Stripes comparisons, not because of our music but because of our line-up. It has been all very quick, I will admit that. I mean, when we got signed to a major, we only had three songs. How many bands can say that?”
Tinging outside the box: Jules De Martino and Katie White