One gig will be a B-movie horror show, the next an indoor Mount Olympus complete with cotton-wool clouds and flying cherub dolls. Their videos are barrages of gore, clown discos, New Romantic Greco-Roman bacchanals and psychopaths doing DIY. Featuring a motley crew of pirates, professors and S&M dictators, they look, and often sound, like the evil offspring of Adam’s Ants, or Frankie going to Hollywood’s darkest underbelly.
They are HMLTD, formerly Happy Meal LTD, the in-your-face sado-glam, hyper-individualist artpop collective who won’t take ‘eh?’ for an answer. “We want to challenge the audience,” says singer Henry Spychalski, sat in an old man’s pub near their east London bordello boudoir of a rehearsal room, resplendent in a red bondage general’s uniform. “We force them to make an effort. They need to give a reaction of some sort, whether it’s one of revulsion or one of delight. The key thing is there’s never an ambivalent reaction, because that’s not really a reaction.”
A rag-tag of misfits drawn from across Europe – Greece, France and rural Devon – HMLTD are acclimatised to the more negative reactions, having been threatened in Southampton and chased down the streets of Dijon. “There’s a lot of persecution of anything which is flouting ordinary standards,” says Spychalski. “Often I’d find myself running away from fights.”
When the world shuns you, of course, make yourself a new one. Over three singles – the hype-questioning ‘Is This What You Wanted?’, the visceral ‘Stained’ and Tarantino-gone-Rocky Horror western banger ‘To The Door’ – HMLTD have built their own inclusive cult community by drawing on every strand of outsider pop’s shock-and-awe tactics, from Ziggy Stardust through New Romanticism to The Prodigy and Peaches. “The fundamental idea behind the live show is that it exploits every sense rather than just the ears,” explains Spychalski. “Even down to how things smell in the room. At one of our shows we filled all the ashtrays with burning hair.”
As a band who have angels handing out lipsticks at the door of their gigs, HMLTD are a key new component of the current gender revolution, but by embracing and challenging pop’s formulas on tracks like ‘To The Door’ they aim to impact mainstream culture just as fundamentally. They speak of a “wider movement”, of a “rebellion against categorisation”. But mostly they yearn for a new form of beauty. “A lot of it comes down to wanting to create something beautiful,” argues Spychalski, “but something that doesn’t necessarily fall within the standard confines of what you might call beauty.” HMLTD: gorgeously grotesque.
Buy: ‘To The Door/Music!’ is out now
Live: Sunflower Lounge Birmingham (Apr 27), Scala London (May 3), Louisiana Bristol (May 5)
For Fans Of: Fat White Family, The Knife
Best track: ‘Proxy Love’ – An immense tune that sounds like a John Barry Bond theme reworked for Fischerspooner’s shagging tape.