Talk­ing iden­tity and In­ferno with the mod­ern day New Ro­man­tics.

Gay Times Magazine - - Hmltd - Pho­tograo­phy Reuben Selby Fash­ion Abi­gail Haz­ard Words Elly Wat­son

In a dark venue in the heart of Camden, 1500 peo­ple are pa­tiently wait­ing to fol­low a group of six into Hell. As the crowds make their way into the Elec­tric Ball­room one Oc­to­ber night, they’re greeted by masks stained with blood adorn­ing the walls and makeshift cot­ton wool en­trails hang­ing from the ceil­ing. Pro­jected onto one of the walls there are dis­torted im­ages play­ing on re­peat, and as the lights of the venue be­gin to dim once the clock strikes half nine, the stage is bathed in red light and 20 uniden­ti­fied naked bod­ies stand be­fore the crowd smoth­ered in body paint. If you were un­aware of what was hap­pen­ing, you could be con­vinced that this was a 2017 reimag­in­ing of Dante’s jour­ney to Hell and, well, that could be true. But only if Dante was a fan of post-punk glam-rock concerts…

The night in ques­tion is, of course, HMLTD’s sold-out Lon­don show, and it’s the de­bauch­er­ous an­ar­chic night out that your mum al­ways wor­ried about. “We wanted to cre­ate a com­pletely im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence for our au­di­ence.” Front­man Henry tells me a few weeks later (they pre­fer first names, or some­times sin­gu­lar let­ters as their In­sta­gram cap­tions show). Sit­ting on a sofa in an East Lon­don stu­dio with gui­tarist James, I blurt out a con­fes­sion that I now own a pretty thor­ough col­lec­tion of paint-stained masks and glow sticks, hav­ing taken it upon my­self to bring a sou­venir (or ten) home from the show. Luck­ily, they laugh in re­sponse. “We were think­ing we should ac­tu­ally have said at the end of the gig ‘can ev­ery­one just take some­thing.’” James smiles, “It would have saved us a lot of time clear­ing up af­ter­wards…”

Form­ing around two and a half years ago, the band, who were for­merly known as Happy Meal Ltd (“We hate the name Happy Meal. It’s satir­i­cal. We’re not in­ter­ested in satire or irony, it’s not about that. So yeah, it’s HMLTD.”), each moved to Lon­don from small cities across Europe that they “re­spec­tively hated” in the search of some­thing cre­ative. Con­sist­ing of Henry, James, Duke, Achil­leas, Nico and Zac, the sex­tet be­gan mak­ing mu­sic to­gether, and quickly be­came one of the most talked about bands around, thanks to their jaw-drop­ping live per­for­mances, ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic and striking aes­thetic.

Re­leas­ing 2016’s “Stained/Is This What You Wanted?”, HMLTD fol­lowed the two tracks up with “To The Door/Mu­sic!” and “Satan, Luella & I/ Kinkaku Ji” ear­lier this year, along with sev­eral time-lim­ited tracks on­line. Each a fiercely rous­ing form of the group’s twisted, glit­tery alt-pop, it’s safe to say that their mu­sic is un­like any­thing else out there at the mo­ment. “I think our sound is ba­si­cally de­fined by the lack of a uni­fy­ing genre which ties it all to­gether. It’s about mish-mash.” Henry says. “I think that comes from the fact that there’s six peo­ple in the band all of whom are very dif­fer­ent and all of whom have very dif­fer­ent mu­sic tastes and so it’s kind of like a bat­tle for your own voice to be heard which just ends in this bizarre mon­tage.”

This dif­fer­ence also man­i­fests it­self in other as­pects of the group, mainly their aes­thetic, some­thing that is al­most im­pos­si­ble not to men­tion when talk­ing about the band. Known for their an­drog­y­nous style and bold out­fits, Henry re­jects how the way that they dress has been de­scribed as par­tic­u­larly rad­i­cal. “I think it’s some­thing that peo­ple have been do­ing for a re­ally long time,” he tells me. “We’re ob­vi­ously in­debted to Club Kids and to New Ro­man­tics, so I think, to me, it points out how ster­ile cul­ture is at the mo­ment that peo­ple are even call­ing what we’re do­ing ‘avant-garde’ or ‘dan­ger­ous’. I feel like that’s just by virtue of this cul­ture of norm-core that we have at this mo­ment that this is con­sid­ered avant-garde, when in ac­tual fact peo­ple have been do­ing this since the 70s and 80s.”

“It’s just a kind of mat­ter of iden­tity,” he con­tin­ues. “That’s how we like to dress, that’s how we feel. I’ve never, ever in my life felt like I wanted to wear jeans and a T-shirt, that’s just not some­thing that would ap­peal to me and I feel very un­com­fort­able wear­ing those kinds of nor­mal clothes. I feel most com­fort­able when I’ve got makeup on and kind of like flam­boy­ant out­fits. I mean ul­ti­mately we try and dress in a way which re­flects each of our own in­di­vid­ual iden­ti­ties. Even within that, there’s ac­tu­ally quite a lot of dif­fer­ence within the band. A lot more than I think peo­ple pick up on…”

It’s the sex­tet’s in­di­vid­ual iden­ti­ties com­ing to­gether which makes HMLTD such an orig­i­nal and cap­ti­vat­ing band - a bril­liantly “bizarre mon­tage”, if you will. I ask what we can ex­pect from them in the fu­ture, but they’re care­ful not to give too much away. “If peo­ple want to find things, there are things that are gonna be hap­pen­ing. They just need to look and they need to have their eyes peeled.” Henry smiles. “I think at the mo­ment we’ve been too open about what we’re do­ing.” James con­tin­ues. “We’ve got a lot of things planned that some peo­ple know about and they’ll be very, very good fun. It’ll be the best things that we’ve done but we’re not go­ing to give them to peo­ple, we want peo­ple to work to find things a bit…”

If you’re lucky enough to be in the know about th­ese gigs, it’s cer­tain that you are about to wit­ness some­thing spe­cial. Not just a chance to dance your heart out and scream lyrics in a ran­domer’s face, HMLTD’s shows are a kind of es­capism, as you are lit­er­ally trans­ported into a world cre­ated by the group - whether it be Dante’s In­ferno or some­where else. “It’s not just about the mu­sic and we’ve never seen this as just about the mu­sic.” Henry tells me. “We’ve al­ways seen it as a much wider thing. We want to cre­ate a world.” And we want to live in it.

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