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Les Baxters

Les Baxters

Interviewed by
Ben Coley
Wednesday 27th May, 2015 11:59AM

Christchurch four-piece Les Baxters assembled early last year and immediately began creating doomy sci-fi exotica. Despite having only recently formed as band, Les Baxters consists of long-time friends John Chrisstoffels, Dave Imlay, Paul Sutherland and Erin Kimber, all of whom have been around the Christchurch music scene for a long time and feature in other seminal acts including Into The Void, The Terminals and Fence. 

Heavily influenced by post-quake Christchurch, horror movies, and interesting instruments they create a textural, dynamic and transcendent sonics that are unique, surprising and have an immersive quality. UnderTheRadar spoke with synth-player Erin Kimber to find out more about this mysterious group...

UTR: Hi Erin. Firstly, can you give me a quick history on Les Baxters?

EK: Well, we’ve all known each other for ages. We formed in February 2014. Our first show was about three weeks later, at John’s exhibition closing at The Auricle. People seemed to really like it and we got asked to play other gigs. Since then we’ve played quite a bit at bars and a couple of gallery shows. We all write the songs together. It’s a very collaborative band. Dave, Paul and I all live in the suburb of Richmond and the landscape is kinda crazy post-quake. Lots of demolition and noise and also this weird silence when people have gone. I think that has influenced our sound somewhat. It’s been said before, but there is an apocalyptic feel, a certain unease. I think that quality comes through in the music. It’s quite dynamic.

You've all played music in other bands for a long time. What was the reason for forming?

Dave and Paul play together in Into The Void and they had played with John as Fence. Dave and I were in Shadow of the Valley. Plus, I worked at the library with Paul for ages too. So we all know each other pretty well. That’s especially important to me, because I get quite bad stage-fright. We all have quite different takes on our music – bringing different influences and ideas. We get together to practice at my house and it’s lots of fun. We all sit around the kitchen table while we play. My cats come in and run around on the keyboard and stuff and I think it comes together nicely. I don’t think there are many people around who are doing something similar. We’ve all been suprised by the result. And it surprises many of our audience as well.

You're described as being sci-fi doom beatniks, can you elaborate on this and your sound for people that may not have heard your music?

I wrote that and I’m not sure what I meant! Beatnik is just a funny word to me. We do have that 50's sci-fi B-movie sound at times but we can also get a bit dark and heavy as well, kinda doomy. It’s sort of an immersive sound, you can’t really ignore us when you are in the room. There is a spiritual aspect to our music, I do want it to be transcendent And well we are beatniks. I mean we’ve been known to enjoy jazz. And we all wear a lot of black. We love Funny Face. And Paul has written poetry. We don’t have bongos though.

Your live performance looks rather unique and you use some interesting instruments, can you explain a little more about the set-up?

We definitely wanted something that is electronic but not laptop music. Tabletop rather than laptop. Dave plays a Casio CK-500 keyboard, I play a Korg MS-20 analog synth, John plays the theremin and Paul does beats and samples and radio. It’s really textural, he creates the atmosphere that we respond to. He uses those mini Korgs (monotron and duotron) and the kaossilator. We should be sponsored by Korg! We have toyed with having a flute and bass but maybe that’s getting a bit too Kraftwerky. We usually all plug in to the one amp, but that kinda depends on the space and PA. From the start, we wanted to be song based, not just endless noodling/free noise, but generally there’s still a lot of improvisation. People always comment on the way we look on stage. We’ve been called stenographers, telephone operators, a panel of judges, scientists. We don’t put on a show per se, but you know, well we’re all kinda funny looking.

The feelings the music conjures up makes me think that it would suit a short film or be a good soundtrack. Is there a visual aspect/element to the music?

Yeah definitely. John’s a film maker and our first show was at his exhibition. It was brill. We all watch tons of movies, I think visuals are important to us. I’m really into horror. John Carpenter soundtracks are a big influence as is the Morricone Argento stuff. I would love to score a horror film. That would be the ultimate for me. We generally play with some kind of visual accompaniment which John creates it. I like that because I can pretend that I’m at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Plus it means people aren’t just staring at us.

Where did the name Les Baxters come from?

I think that we all had a hand in the naming the band, which reflects the way we write the songs. We all love bad puns and I remember we were all trying to somehow channel the Les Baxter/Martin Denny sound in our own compositions. Perhaps the name just popped out of that. The idea was that we are a quiet band, a rest from our other bands which are noisy.

You have some Auckland shows lined up, what else is in store in the near future?

Yup two shows in Auckland, two different sets. The Audio Foundation gig is gonna be a bit spacier, more free. The Golden Dawn set is the dance show. We are playing with some really ace people. Kraus, Chronic Fatigue Sindrome and The New Existentialists. I think each night is going to be quite interesting, so I’d recommend attending both. We played tons last year, so this year we are gonna focus on recording. Some of our instruments are on their last legs, so we need to capture the sound before they die. When we get back to Christchurch, Henry (from Log Horn Breed) is gonna record a couple of tracks at their studio. I've never recorded before, so I am super excited about that. And I reckon given that we do have that cinematic feel, we should get some videos made. And if people come to these shows, we might tour somewhere else as well.

Les Baxters are playing Friday 29th May at Audio Foundation with Kraus and Chronic Fatigue Sindrome, and then on Saturday 30th May at Golden Dawn with The New Existentialists. See below for more details.

Photo by Marine Aubert