When you form a band, the first live show is normally the last stage of the process. After initial rehearsals you might start to write some of your own songs, and once those have been perfected and you’ve spent hours coming up with a name, you’ll take the tentative steps to performing in front of an audience. But Porij (pronounced like the breakfast oats), did everything backwards.
After living in the same block of halls at uni in Manchester, the foursome – who are all studying popular music at The Royal Northern College of Music – became pals. Although they’d messed around recording bits and pieces, they hadn’t properly considered becoming a band until a friend was forced to pull out of a live show in Leeds.
“A mate was like ‘our band can’t play this gig, are you lot a band?’ And we said ‘yeah…’” Porij’s vocalist and guitarist Tommy tells NME over Zoom, where they’re dialling in pre-lockdown from the house three quarters of the band live in. Suddenly they found themselves having to write an entire set in under a week.
“It was literally going through Tommy’s computer [listening to recordings] being like ‘yeah we’ll play that… we’ll just need to make it five minutes longer!’” drummer Tom laughs. Thankfully, the gig went well, despite missing bassist James, who wasn’t actually in the same country when it happened, and thus, Porij (the Ready Brek-themed name has “no meaning” and was picked at random) was formed.
The quartet – rounded off by vocalist and keys player Eggy – are now set to release debut mixtape ‘Breakfast’, their first proper body of work, on November 24. It’s a genre-splicing collection that flits between nu-jazz, house, funk and art-pop. ‘Closer’ is a fizzing slab of electronic-pop, woozy ‘150’ evokes Maribou State and Khruangbin, and ‘White Noise’ – a bombastic cover of the Disclosure belter – is a breakneck trip of Nintendo blips and jangly guitars. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, the sound of a chaos-fuelled group sesh that’s currently impossible.
Some songs on the mixtape date back to the end of 2018, while others were completed during 2020’s first lockdown, with each of the six songs chosen to showcase a different element of Porij’s sound. Writing it was a proper group effort; they all produce beats and write, then record their respective parts in their bedrooms.
Their four differing perspectives is what keeps the variety in their sound. “I think what’s so magical about Porij is when we all agree on something, it’s like a wonderful magic potion that we’ve all created,” says Eggy.
Although there may be some disagreement in the writing room, there’s one thing the group agree on, and that’s their love of Disclosure – hence their take on ‘White Noise’. Are they nervous about the prospect of the electronic duo hearing it?
“What if they hate it?!” Eggy exclaims, before Tommy quips: “Bad publicity is publicity… I want them to Tweet – ‘who the hell is this?’ because that means they’d have listened to it!”
As for their other influences, the band sing the praises of Swedish electro-poppers Little Dragon and jazzy left-field multi-instrumentalist Louis Cole, before dissolving into a heated discussion about UK garage don MJ Cole’s back catalogue – which results in the band booing Tom when he says some of it “isn’t good”.
As the world experiences a weird state of flux, most musicians are missing playing live, but as Porij were formed with the explicit intent to gig, they’re feeling it more than others.
“It’s been really bankrupting, we have no money left,” Eggy says of their lack of touring. Although they enjoy recording, the band miss the terrifying pressure that a live show brings. “The thing about a gig is when the gig is over it’s done,” says James. “If you make a mistake in a gig, that’s it, you can’t go back and fix it.”
No gigs also means no spontaneous onstage experiences. “I used to play trumpet in the band as well, and one night the trumpet valve stuck,” Eggy begins. Unable to play her solo, she had to come up with another option sharpish to keep a room of sweaty uni students interested. “I just did a skat solo, and it was the weirdest experience of my life. I love that anything could happen at a live show!”
Porij are understandably worried about the future of live music. “A lot of the small venues that were already on the rocks have gone under or are going to go under soon. That’s quite a worrying prospect to think about what the live music sector will look like,” says James.
But despite the uncertain future, they remain optimistic. “I think people will appreciate live music much more and will enjoy music more, and that’s a beautiful thing,” says Tommy. And though it could be a while until we see Porij back onstage, you can bet that once it’s safe to gig again they’ll be bringing the wild, floor-filling fusions of ‘Breakfast’ to a sweaty club near you – and it’ll be worth the wait.
Porij’s new mixtape ‘Breakfast’ is out November 24