Common Dreads is the new album by St. Albans-based quartet Enter Shikari. It was born in a back garden shed in St. Albans after a mental two years (we’ll get to that in a minute) in the lives of these young men. Here, during summer 2008, in a bungalow dubbed The Low built in bassist Chris Batten’s parents’ back garden, the words and music came together
The band then moved to Arreton Manor, a studio amongst the remote and picturesque rolling moors of the Isle Of Wight with producer Andy Gray (who has not only worked with U2, Korn and Tori Amos, but penned that ubiquitous Big Brother theme music). In this the rural seclusion that seems totally odds with the apoplectic and articulate squall of Common Dreads, our four plucky young heroes created a squall of political protest handily disguised as a club bangers and mosh-pit epics. The end result is a soundtrack for an entire generation – one where the party is as important as the politics.
Some are already suggesting Common Dreads will come define the era into which it was born: one of recession, paranoia, state control and the fallout of decades of accelerated capitalism. But – and this is important – also an era of hope and creativity, humanity, hedonism, irreverence and fun. This revolution may not be televised, but it will certainly be amplified. Just check out lead single ‘Juggernauts’, a song that is already eating it’s way through Britain’s radios and sending all the other songs running for cover.
“Politics are unavoidable,” says singer Rou Reynolds. “We just can’t write sappy music. Personally I can’t write limp soulless songs about how lovely a girl is. If the first album was quite cryptic and metaphor-heavy, this one is more direct. Since we gained popularity we realised, whether we like it or not, we have the ability to influence people – and with that is a responsibility to speak our minds.”
And what are Common Dreads exactly? “They’re shared worries,” says Rou. “The things that concern people today on a global level – catastrophic climate change, wars, terror laws, CCTV society, modern imperialism and the affects of capitalism.”
All of this may come as a shock to those who had Enter Shikari pegged as nothing but a lurid new band for the misunderstood Skins / ‘Broken Britain’ generation. Wrong. They were always more than that. But let’s not get too distracted by the politics – ‘Zzzonked’ is pure head-stoving drum ‘n’ bass metal madness with a double side order of donk while ‘The Jester’ is a wry, jazz-infused chooon with a stomping cocksure klaxon of a melody designed to destroy festival crowds. lt’s an album for the late 00s, basically; a big, bold record bursting at the seams with ideas.
Let’s put all this into context for a moment. Enter Shikari (the name comes from a boat that belonged to singer Rou Reynolds’ uncle) formed in 2003 in the quaint and historical home counties town of St Albans, just near enough to London to know something exciting lurked beyond the horizon, but too far away to run headlong into it.
They spent their formative years forging a sound that audaciously melded hardcore punk with hardcore rave/trance. And while media scenesters down the road were harping on about the fictional nu rave scene, Enter Shikari were out there doing something much more exciting. Something that hit a nerve.
Remember those early shows? We do. We remember the sweat and the smiles, the laser beams and the elegiac choruses. We remember the blur of flashing Shikari cygnet rings as somersaulting fists pumped the air; we remember the surges of serotonin up the spine into the lower cortex. We remember looking at the crowds and thinking: holy shit – this is a generational thing! We remember Tony Wilson telling Seymour Stein to check out Enter Shikari – and we remember his reaction: “You’re not a band – you’re a revolution.”
And it was. And it still is. And then things got hectic. In summer 2006 Enter Shikari packed out the MySpace tent at Download festival on reputation alone, and by November of that year had become only the second ever unsigned band to sell out the London Astoria. Two sold nights at the Hammersmith Palais followed shortly afterwards.
This all happened away from the patronage of any of the big record labels. Enter Shikari did it themselves – the old way. The DIY punk way. Which is why, despite plenty of offers, they decided to release their debut album Take To The Skies on their own Ambush Reality imprint. When it cruised in at No. 4 it became one of the most successful self-released rock albums ever. That’s ever.
Accolades came thick and fast: the NME John Peel Award for Innovation in 2007, Kerrang! Awards (including Best Live Band), with sales of their debut now pushing 250,000 worldwide and frankly silly statistics, like the one about their single ‘Sorry, You’re Not A Winner’ having clocked up 6.3million plays on YouTube.
And so onto Common Dreads then, an album whose politicised ‘people power’ beginnings were inspired by the band joining fellow St Albans’ residents to fight against Tesco when the supermarket chain unveiled plans to build a big new store on a green patch of land. “It was the first time we actively got involved in something like that,” smiles Rou. “And, collectively, we won.”
Musically, there are still twists of Refused’s screamo punk in there, but also the everyday colloquial man-in-the-street chats of The Streets’ Mike Skinner and nods towards The Prodigy, the most pumpin’ drum & bass, the most euphoric of trance, Altern-8 and even some of the darkest of dubstep too. More than anything though Common Dreads is an album destined to unite the tribes, divide the critics and thoroughly satisfy anyone who has witnessed the mad live spectacle that is Enter Shikari.
“The main thing we stand for is unity,” concludes Rou. “Although it’s fair to say this is a political album, we’re aware that we don’t want to preach ideas – our only solution to today’s problems is to get together, share ideas and have fun. Because ultimately that’s the Enter Shikari way. You’re only young once, so positivity during dark times is as important to us as anything else.”