Algiers doubles down on Underside of Power
It’s difficult to distill the essence of any musical act in just a few sentences. Even if brick-and-mortar facts are succinctly recounted and current inspirations are engagingly discussed, it’s near impossible to do more with a band write-up than (maybe) lobby the reader into further exploration - all before they turn the page or click on something else.
That’s doubly true for a band like Algiers.
The quartet draws from a seemingly endless range of divergent musical influences - from gospel, post-punk, and R&B to industrial, jazz, hip-hop, and more.
And for Algiers, the message is just as important as the music - perhaps even more so.
Before the threesome of Ryan Mahan, Franklin Fisher, and Lee Tesche (former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong joined in 2015) released their first single in 2012, the trio bonded through critique and examination of the institutional racism so prevalent in their hometown of Atlanta.
Creating an open and intelligent discourse on politics, history, racism, capitalism, and beyond became priority number one. And while band members now live in different cities across the globe, they’ve done exactly that over the course of two albums.
Their June-released sophomore effort, The Underside of Power, ups the ante on their 2015 self-titled debut in just about every way.
As Algiers heads out on a two-month tour, PACIFIC caught up with Ryan Mahan during the bassist’s first-ever stop in Buffalo, NY, ahead of his band’s first-ever stop in San Diego.
PACIFIC: Feel good to get back out on the road?
RYAN MAHAN: For sure. As a band that recorded an album before we played shows, and also being spread out across the world, it was very difficult, at first, for us to tour. We’re just now having the resources to do that - get together as a group, as a unit, and spend a lot of time. We kind of did everything backwards, in a sense.
Well, you can look forward to the sweaty madness of the audience right on top of you when you play San Diego.
You know, that’s what we like. We grew up loving D.C. hardcore. And Lee and I used to play a bunch of house shows. So we’re used to that kind of energy. And it’s strange for us, actually, because we’re used to that kind of energy, but never really had that. So it’s something that we’re really looking forward to doing - being immersed in that type of environment.
We were lucky enough to do some shows with Depeche Mode in these massive stadiums and the energy was actually really good. The response was really good. Their crew was great and really looked after us. But it’s a completely different thing when people are right on top of you. And I feel like our music has that energy.
Underside - definitely feels like a bigger record.
We’re always trying to push things forward. We never feel satisfied. We never feel like we’ve actually arrived at where we want to be. And I think that’s a positive thing. With this record, it was a real progression from playing live, doing those tours, and being a four-piece with Matt. It really helped us expand the sound.
You’ve created such a specific world for yourselves. Is there room to pivot?
You don’t know how the world is going to respond when you speak to it. That is, until it’s out, and then it changes. We had steeled ourselves to what the concept of this band should be, and we had articulated it, even before the music: There was this place called Algiers, this place of conflict and violence representing history and layers of history.
It was an intervention into music as a discourse in itself - into the way that the culture industry packages and reproduces music, and the way that it challenges certain representations that sit outside of a particularly assigned genre. And that can speak to the ways that the music press codifies race, exploits blackness, and puts blackness into very specific boxes. We had set out from day one to challenge that and to be an intervention into those discourses.
Now, do we sit down and write treatises before we make a record? Not necessarily. It’s just a consequence of who we are and what we do. And it’s flowed in quite naturally from our outside lives. I’m interested in history and politics. It’s what I’ve studied and what motivates and inspires me. And we find that in the music we like as well.
But there’s space and room for the concept itself to grow - even to speak to silences more instead of saying everything we want to say through our music and interviews. There’s definitely space for us to, as you said, pivot. And I think that’s something we do talk about from time to time.
People are constantly trying to define us, make sense of us. We initially felt like we had to push that along a bit. But I think we’ve said a lot of the things we wanted to say and going forward, there could be different ways to present ourselves.
Algiers with Blood Ponies
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 1
Where: Soda Bar, 3615 El Cajon Blvd., Normal Heights.
How important is the live show to what you do?
First and foremost, we’re a band. I think we’re still getting the message across that we’re a fully functioning live band. And that’s important. Because of the way we use programming, and because of the way we use synthesizers, along with the strong electronic element, and industrial and hip-hop influences, it’s easier to read as not a fully functioning live band. But we are, and there is so much more to see from us. There is so much more that we can give.
Do you feel like the new record has been able to continue the dialogue you started? And is the plan to expand it with each release?
It’s exciting. We didn’t know what people would think of it. We didn’t know what people were expecting. But we know there’s so much more to do. We have a lot of records in us.
And we’re inspired by bands that refuse to compromise - bands that aged in a raw sense. Bands that expressed the growing pains instead of calming down. Growing up being influenced by DIY and hardcore and punk rock - it was fundamentally all about the music and the community and the message. And that’s how we view music. It’s a form to which we speak.
So to be able to do this, we feel lucky. And as we move forward, we will stick to this idea of music first/challenge first, other considerations second.
Is the creative process continuous?
It is. The process goes on from playing live. We like to challenge ourselves and bring in new, little interludes between songs. And on a lot of those interludes, we surprise each other on stage, and many of them turn into songs.
Walk Like A Panther was something I had been working on for a while and played it as an interlude on our last tour. I was using that Fred Hampton sample and I wanted something with some bite that would engage with trap music, but that was kind of a critique in itself.
And that grew, and Franklin and I ended up recording it in London. We hit a demo out in an hour. Same with “Cleveland.” That started in the same way. That’s the process. And we have a few new songs that we’re working on now.
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