Panthers In Paris: How Rage Drives Algiers, 2017's Most Vital Band

In the age of Trump and Brexit, a band with Atlanta roots are spitting at the system...
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David Lynch’s Club Silencio is situated in the heart of Paris' 2nd arrondissement, surrounded by smart terrace bars packed with the great and chiseled of France’s nouveau intelligentsia. As I arrive at the unmarked entrance, following a fraught eight-hour train ride from Barcelona that pushed the limits of me and my demonic hangover, I can hear the guttural thud of Algiers somewhere in the depths below. My train was two hours late and, after traveling over 1000km overland, that thud sends me into mild conniptions over fears I've missed them. 

Thankfully, I discover it’s their first song, and though inside is literally as hot as Algiers the swelter only increases the intensity of their polemical gospel-punk-electro-soul. Since their self-titled debut album was released in 2015 they’ve become one of the most arresting - and potentially important, which is a terrible word but in Algiers’ case feels right - acts on the planet. Originally a three piece comprising Franklin James Fisher (vocals), Ryan Mahan (bass) and Lee Tesche (guitar), they’ve now added a drummer - Bloc Party’s Matt Tong - and his presence has added another dimension to fury that underpins their work. 

Influenced by the radicalized violence the original three observed during their upbringing in Atlanta, their music is less like songs than calls-to-arms for anyone who’s ever felt the heel of the system digging into their neck. This is taken to the nth degree on the opening song of new album The Underside Of Power; ‘Walk Like A Panther’ opens with a spoken refrain by Fred Hampton, the Black Panther who was assassinated in 1969. It’s a fitting start to an album where the rage never dips below a simmer. 

Back in Lynch's Club Silencio, and the crowd down the front are losing their merde. There’s a mosh going down and it makes me dizzy so I head to the back and watch the rest from one of the stiff, uncomfortable chaises longues that the club's famously obtuse owner has decided to fit the lounge with. It’s difficult to imagine a band ever leaving more on the stage, and watching them in Paris - city of liberté, égalité, fraternité - feels totally somehow right and fitting. When the revolution comes Algiers will be at the front. bearing the arms of discord. 

I got hold of their drummer, Matt
, and asked him a few questions. 

How did personal experiences drive you to write The Underside Of Power?

TuOP feels to us as a continuation of some of the themes explored on the first record, where we diagnosed (or rather re-established the diagnosis within a pop culture framework) the inherent horror and indignity of structural violence. We may not always be channeling or referring to events and circumstances that have affected us directly (though often we do), but as a group that seeks to connect the dots between political struggles at different points in history, we try and pull these moments into the present and make them personal for us and our listeners. All situations are granular and that is not to say that we aim to paint in broad strokes, rather we aim to present a complexity that is often tightly constrained by our chosen medium.

We've obviously seen the last year punctuated with some deeply unpleasant moments and, of course, that's worked its way into the record in various ways, but you know, Trump, Brexit, etc. These are underlying symptoms, not causes. There are always going to be causes.

How did you arrive at the Motown-ish sound that underpins the record? 

The death of the monoculture makes it more of an effort to locate present day movements that have gained traction and formed around groups and collectives working in their chosen medium. Sometimes we look to movements and scenes of the last 40-50 years to show how they can still exist today. Northern Soul is an example of that, so for instance the title track of our record is an attempt to fuse the sound of an underground soul track from the 60s, which resonated with British northerners in the 70s, with something harsher sounding from later on down the line to draw attention to the kind of lineage that often escapes the attention of most people.

Could you ever go out and sing a quote/unquote normal pop song?

Ha! I feel like I'm Brian Wilson being taken to task by Mike Love in 1967. I get where you're coming from; by contemporary standards we take a somewhat unorthodox path to achieve our ends, but we're at a stage in history where we must constantly question not only what constitutes "normal" but where latter-day boundaries exist and when and how should they just be fucking smashed through with utter disdain. 

How was it playing David Lynch's club?

It was cool. It's the first time we've done a proper headline show in Paris and it was great to have the opportunity to engage with a Parisian audience specifically there to see us. The club itself is a wild space and it was interesting watching rich businessmen pile in with their young girlfriends later on after we had finished packing up. Usually the veneer of exclusivity is this in execution.

Where are you going to be tomorrow, next week and next year?

Tomorrow we'll be playing a football stadium in Frankfurt with Depeche Mode. Next week we'll be playing several football stadiums with Depeche Mode, two in Italy, one in France, and also a couple of our own club shows. Next year we'll be touring Europe, the US and hopefully hitting a bunch of summer festivals. And maybe working on some new music. 

Can’t wait to hear it, thanks Matt!

The Underside Of Power is published by Matador Records and available here. They've also just announced a new tour. Go.