Formation Interviewed: On Ignoring The Hype, Paying Tribute To David Bowie And The Enduring Genius Of Nas’ Illmatic’

London newcomers Formation just premiered their new single ‘Pleasure’ yesterday. Stream it below, and after that read Josh Shreeve’s interview with the band.

“It’s all hype, man” says Formation’s Matt Ritson, referring to the endless stream of ‘New For 2016’ lists his band have found themselves on in recent months. “It’s hard to tell, really, who’s gonna be big ‘cos no one’s released an album or solid body of work” agrees his identical twin brother and bandmate, Will. “It’s cool that we’ve got a bit of momentum but for us it doesn’t mean anything until we release the album.”

Slowly simmering through the surface with their agitated electro-pop, few would describe supporting Foals on their European tour last summer and an ever-growing number of festival slots this year as a modest “bit of momentum”, but the Wimbledon duo are staying realistic. “We’re 26 now so we’re getting on with it. We can’t really fuck about,” says singer Will, who started the band with Matt (keys/synths) a few years ago, before recruiting three friends to complete the line-up (Sasha Lewis plays keys/synths, Jonny Tams is on bass and Kai Akinde-Hummel drums). “I don’t think we really nailed what we’re about yet on those two EPs, they were testing the water” he admits, referencing 2015’s well received ‘Young Ones’ and the ‘Under The Tracks’ EP’s.

But when it comes to Formation’s debut album, which is due for release this summer, Will couldn’t be more self-assured: “It’ll be a surprise, it’s gonna be really fucking good. It’s definitely a marker and I’m gonna say not even just for us.”

The album, which is still without a title, may soon have some artwork as brothers Will and Matt rummage through postcards at London’s Tate Modern during our interview, searching for inspiration. We end up talking about David Bowie’s death, which strangely they’d had a premonition about a few months before his passing. They tell me they were busy in Eastbourne finishing pre-production for the album at deep house producer Leon Vynehall’s studio when they first heard the news. “I knocked on the door and went ‘Will, David Bowie’s died’, and he just went ‘I told you!” says Matt, gesturing at his brother, who responds: “Six to eight months ago we were sitting around the table and someone had died and I was like, he’s next man, Bowie’s next. I never should’ve said anything!”

The pair, whose unpredictable electronic groove has been likened to Bowie himself, immediately decided to change their plans in the studio: “We did a version of a song that’s gonna be on the album, but as a tribute [to Bowie] because when we wrote it we took inspiration from the line from ‘Fame’ that John Lennon sings. I don’t wanna give away the name of the song but it’ll be at the very end of the album,” grins Will.

It might be a risk to try and slip in a homage to one of Britain’s most loved icons in your debut album, but the pair aren’t afraid of experimentation – with the shuffling ‘Back Then’ and recently-released ‘Love’ being the only previously released tracks that will feature on the record. More new material comes in the form of a track which spits a Beastie Boys-style bassline, and a song that may raise a few eyebrows, about chess. “It’s spoken word that builds up into this track about chess and for me it’s like the pinnacle of the album” says Matt. “It’s psychological warfare in a song,” adds Will intensely.

While comparisons have been drawn between electro icons LCD Soundsystem, Matt focuses more on the 90s hip-hop scene as a bigger influence for the album. “We’re doing the whole thing with interludes,” he says. “For us the whole album has to play from beginning to end and a big part of that for me, like ‘Illmatic’ by Nas, is that there are a few bits that happen in between the tracks. There’s a lot of it in Biggie albums.” The band also have praise for other artists pushing through right now including Loyle Carner, VANT, Oscar and even Jack Garratt. “The way he does his thing, it’s like a fucking octopus!” exclaims Matt. But with such admiration for others, the duo feel their music is still very much sidelined compared to their fellow musical pals.

Perhaps it’s because they’re more concerned about the perfectionist elements of their songs, I say. “That whole lifestyle thing is bullshit,” says Will, and Matt agrees, adding: “I would definitely give those bands more credit than people do, ‘cos when we went on the road with Foals I thought that they were just gonna get smashed. But they have a drink after the show and love to hang out.” The pair enjoyed a short European stint with the Oxford band at the back end of 2015, and when I ask what tips they took from them, Will laughs: “Yes. Get a fucking tour bus! We would turn up at the next venue and they would already be there just waking up…”

But until they can afford a bed or two, there are no plans to get caught up and start on album number two just yet, according to Will. “Once the album’s out, you’ve got to learn to play the songs [live] on it – it’s not just over”. Matt, too, is eager to relish the album release before it fades away: “Unless you get picked up for awards and people start talking about the album again, the circle of talking about music doesn’t continue. It just ends when the PR campaign ends.”

Formation’s new single ‘Pleasure’ is out now on Meno Records.

They are on tour this summer:

April
30th – Live At Leeds

May
1st – Stag & Dagger Festival
19th – Bournemouth, 60 Million Postcards (headline show)
20th – The Great Escape
21st – Southampton, Lennons (headline show)
27th – Manchester, Dot To Dot Festival
28th – Bristol, Dot To Dot Festival
29th – Nottingham, Dot To Dot Festival
29th – Lost Village Festival

June
8th – France, Paris, Point Ephemere (pre-MIDI Party)
11th – Parklife
12th – Field Day

July
2nd – France, Belfort, Eurockéennes
9th – Italy, Milan, iDays Festival
13th – Norway, Tonsberg, Slottsfjell
15th – Beat-Herder Festival
16th – Lovebox
17th – Truck Festival
20th – The Netherlands, Nijmegen, Valkhof Festival
21st – Secret Garden Party
22nd – Tramlines
29th – LeeFest

August
12th – Boardmasters Festival
20th – Green Man Festival

September
1st – Poland, Gdank, Sounddrive Festival
2nd – Lithuania, Vilnius, Loftas Fest
3rd – Festival No. 6

October
25th – London, Village Underground (headline show)