Original dance-punks bringing sunshine to Leeds Festival

The Sunshine Underground.
The Sunshine Underground.
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Interview by Graham Chalmers

For their latest album, exciting Leeds band The Sunshine Underground had to go back to basics and start again.

But founder member Craig Wellington says he’s delighted with the way third album Finally We Arrive has turned out after a topsy-turvy period for the band.

“We wanted to create an album unlike anything we’d done before. For the last album, Nobody’s Coming To Save You, we’d wanted to move away from ‘Nu Rave’ as far as we could, so we got into guitars and ‘proper ‘songs. But we’ve been listening to electronic music a lot again. It was time to get our heads round production and beats programming.”

As anyone who saw this energetic outfit support Happy Mondays on their Bummed anniversary tour at O2 Academy in Leeds last year will know, the trio’s return to electronica packs a mighty kick, more so than Shaun Ryder and co themselves these days.

The Roland synths and hard beats have injected serious amounts of new life in the band, though this new start may never have happened had not their original bass player Daley Smith left the group.

“Daley’s going changed the way we wrote songs. Ideas for tracks were brought in by Stu or Matt or myself as individuals outside the rehearsal rooms. No one had set jobs in the band anymore. It was more fun.”

Fans who want to hear these original dance-punks play Finally We Arrive live on stage - Craig and Matt using pads and keys as well as guitar and drums with Stu turned programmer - will have to wait until their UK-wide tour in October.

Unless they get their hands on a ticket for the fantastic Leeds Festival next month.

Thankfully, the band are playing the Festival Republic stage, not the main stage.

I say this because most, though not all, of the best performances I’ve seen at Leeds Festival over the years have taken place indoors.

It’s a sentiment, Craig agrees with.

“Festivals are great. There’s so many different things to see. But watching a band indoors is definitely better than standing outside on a windy hill at the main stage.

“The thing I always say to myself when it comes to live shows is “at least it’s got a roof on it!”

The Sunshine Underground will be on after 9pm on the Friday night at Leeds – all ready to blow the roof off.

Eight years after The Sunshine Underground rose to fame with debut album Raise The Alarm, the band remain one of the big names to have emerged from Leeds during the musical indie revolution of the early Noughties – along with The Kaiser Chiefs, Alt J, The Music and Wild Beasts.

The latter have also gone ‘electronic’ on their most recent album – albeit in a more reflective way than The Sunshine Underground.

“It’s a great album,” says Craig, “the new sound suits them.”

His remark is typical of the unusually friendly nature of the Leeds music scene though, ironically, both bands aren’t from the city itself, hailing from elsewhere and meeting and forming at university.

“We knew each other at college in Telford and were all friends but we didn’t write any songs together until we moved to Leeds.

“As soon as got here bands and promoters took us under their wings. We were overwhelmed by the community spirit. It was amazing.

“The great thing is, there is no one Leeds sound. It’s got such a flourishing live scene. We owe the city a lot.”

It’s a long time now since the fledgling Sunshine Underground used to share other bands’ amps and appear on bills with alt rock bands such as Forward Russia and This Et Al, a band I brought to Harrogate during my Charm era.

Despite their success at home and abroad, The Sunshine Underground remain close to ‘indie’ in the original sense of the word.

The new album has been released thanks to crowd sourcing site Pledge, their loyal fan base raising the right cash in less than six months.

It also meant they could invite renowned producer Ross Orton of MIA and Arctic Monkeys fame to the dance-punk-synthwork-party that was their recording sessions.

This turned out to be very handy, indeed.

“Ross was key in bringing a band element to all our individual ideas on the album. He took our demos and made us think of who should play what in terms of the instruments. There was a lot of swapping around.

“He brought it all together and made it sound like a good representation of our live sound.” Being so ‘indie’ has its downside, of course, Craig admits.

“We now have our own label and we own everything, which is great. But we don’t have any financial support from a label to tour. Fortunately, it’s live shows which keep us going, financially, thanks to our fans. That and the festival circuit which supports many bands these days.”

The Sunshine Underground play Leeds Festival on Friday, August 22.

They also play The Cockpit in Leeds on October 10.