Talking identity and Inferno with the modern day New Romantics.
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.