Leiko Ikemura, Sven ‘t Jolle, Mai-Thu Perret, Sophie von Hellermann & Sybren Vanoverberghe
Bursting into peals of laughter every five minutes in their cluttered Brixton house, Flamingods talk about growing up in Bahrain, their collection of exotic musical instruments and setting fire to bandmates. Apparently it happens – even among the best of friends. Meet Kamal, Sam, Craig, Charles and Karthik.
Tell us about growing up in Bahrain.
Karthik: I actually grew up in seven different countries and home is somewhere between Dubai and Kosovo. I think it’s so important to experience different places otherwise your outlook on things becomes stagnant. The most important thing is to get out of your bubble; bubbles are the worst.
Kamal and Sam: Bahrain is an unbearably hot, humid island – it’s even humid in the winter. It’s a small, small country; everyone knows each other, which is good and bad in many ways. But there was no music scene there so we came here. It’s nice to go back there because it’s very relaxing – that’s all you do: relax and get fat on your mum’s cooking.
Speaking of weird weather, have you noticed how the seasons are fucked and calendars don’t seem really relevant any more and time is just confusing?
Kamal and Charles: Definitely! I think we can time-travel through black holes. There’s a theory that the Nazis already invented time travel. It’s pretty outrageous, but apparently they’ve done it. It’s because they all disappeared to Mars or something. We’re really into conspiracy theories. Actually, we’re pretty convinced that time travel is possible because we were walking down the street one day and we saw a man who looked like Charles but much older, Future Charles. He walked up to Charles, grabbed him by the shoulders and said, ‘Hi,’ walked away and that was it.
Black holes aside, travel seems pretty important in your music.
Kamal: For me, travelling is a way of expanding your knowledge about so many lifestyles, cultures, music and film. I don’t think we’d exist as a band if it wasn’t for travelling. Encountering tribal music in the Amazon was really significant for me musically. The fact that they were just playing rhythms that had been passed on to them by their ancestors and that they could improvise without any apparent structure had a profound impact on the way I make music. The same goes for the street musicians I met in Tanzania.
Sam: It’s so important to do things off the beaten path and experience things as they come.
Kamal: Plus, all the instruments we’ve collected come from trips we took around the world. We have a taishögoto, a Japanese instrument that Kamal got from a shop in Camden – kind of like a typewriter sitar, if that makes sense: you can plug it in and make loops and stuff. We have these hand drums from Bahrain called darbukas with these lovely Ancient Egyptian designs, which make a beautiful high pitch; and we use rasta-heads during our gigs, made out of shells that always fly off and hit people in the head. But our most precious possession is a keyboard that makes an out-of-tune, clangy sound. We can’t find another one anywhere. If this thing dies our careers are fucked.
What do you miss from your travels?
Craig and Sam and Kamal: Freedom. When you go somewhere you don’t have any structure, you’re not tied down to anything, you don’t own anything. You are outside your comfort zone but in a good way; we love that loss of comfort zone. Everything seems exciting on holiday, you get a hotdog and you’re like, ‘YEAH! I GOT A HOTDOG!’
Is the cool stuff you wear during your gigs collected during your travels? You have a pretty awesome array of headgear.
Flamingods: We wear Thai ritual hats and a Persian warrior helmet, and Sam wears his favourite poncho. He’s only washed it three times! One time we were at a festival and the smell was pretty bad, so we decided to move Sam to another campsite. He was asleep in his tent at the time, so we picked up his tent with him inside and moved it. A while later we saw Sam emerge from the tent in a huge cloud of smoke. Turns out we put the tent on a dying campfire which burned through the whole tent, his sleeping mat and his poncho. It was hilarious.
Kamal, I heard that you might have to leave the UK? Being forced to travel can’t be much fun…
Kamal: Yeah, the UK government have changed their visa laws so I have to find a full-time job that pays 20 grand per year within the next two months otherwise I’ll get deported. There’s no way out; it’s looking pretty grim. I’ve received a lot of marriage proposals, though…
Flamingods play on 20 July at Roodkapje in Rotterdam and on 21 July at De Nieuwe Anita in Amsterdam. Both shows are free for Subbacultcha! members.