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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

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

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