The much-feted experimental rock scene in London has nearly everything you’d want from a burgeoning axis of new bands. There’s mischievous virtuosos like Black Midi, whip-smart world-builders like Black Country and New Road, and endearing scamps with crossover appeal like Squid. The only thing it has really lacked, up to now at least, is a true party band — a group who can channel that sense of euphoria which accompanies a genuine sea-change in a city’s musical identity. Enter PVA…
“I’ve had all my best live experiences to dance music. The serotonin that flushes through you when you just dance, smiling with your friends: it’s so good.” Ella Harris, one-third of PVA, glows when describing the power of dance music. We’re sat in a south London ‘Spoons just down the road from their Brockley rehearsal space, and a short bus journey away from several of the current scene’s key hangouts. Not only the semi-legendary Brixton Windmill — site of early shows by Fat White Family, Shame and Black Midi — but Deptford’s Sister Midnight and Buster Mantis, Peckham’s Rye Wax, and south Bermondsey’s DIY Space for London and Venue MOT, all of which have variously played host to scene luminaries like NME 100 stars Talk Show, Porridge Radio, and Steam Down. It feels like the right place to meet Ella and her bandmates Josh Baxter and Louis Satchell — slap bang in the middle of it all.
“One of the first times I met Josh was when he worked the door for a gig I put on,” Ella recalls about the group’s early days. “We kept bumping into each other at house parties. Then it was one of those things where you’re really drunk one night and say ‘oh yeah let’s do something together’… but then you wake up and you actually want to do it.”
From there, she and Josh set about creating the compulsive, new wave-infused brand of dance-rock that would become the PVA sound. They played their first show at another vital south London venue, the sorely missed Five Bells. A few months later, they were joined by Josh’s school friend Louis on drums, and the behemoth that is the PVA live show — think LCD Soundsystem meets Cocteau Twins, doused in irresistible acid techno — began to take shape.
“We’re now making the music we intended to in the first place,” Ella coolly and confidently asserts.
“We did have plans to bring out a single early on, but we weren’t quite happy with what we’d got — whereas we were really happy with the live show,” says Josh. “But then the opportunity came along to record with Dan Carey, and it felt perfect.”
Carey runs Speedy Wunderground, the UK’s hottest indie record label, and personally produces each 7” single they release. On the recommendation of fellow Speedy alumni Squid, he approached PVA last summer and they agreed to make a record together. As far as the band were concerned, it couldn’t have gone any better. “We always said that in a dream scenario we’d release our first single with Speedy,” beams Josh. “So when he came up to us at End of the Road Festival… we just had to try and remain cool.” He’s pretty giddy.
The result is ‘Divine Intervention’, the band’s debut single. As introductions go, it’s quite the statement of intent: nearly four minutes of cast-iron groove, swaggering bass, and gliding, lofty vocals. It was, appropriately enough, produced speedily as per the label’s internal rules, with one day in the studio and a short period of Carey mixing alone — a ruthlessly efficient and swift process for such a meaningful track.
“The lyrics to ‘Divine Intervention’ are from quite a sad place, being lost in the past — but it’s also about embracing trauma and moving on with your life,” says Ella. “That’s the euphoria of dance music. It’s cathartic to be able to perform it all the time.”
“That’s the thing with dance music – it’s about everyone moving to the same song, feeling the same thing”, adds Josh. This kind of communal experience is not a superficial aside for PVA: it’s at the heart of everything they do, and has been for as long as they’ve been involved in music, together or otherwise.
“I used to go to a lot of raves when I was younger,” Josh continues. “That was big for me, feeling the full force of dance music, being in the beat — and the first stuff I made was dance music. We [he gestures towards Louis] were really interested in ‘90s rave culture as a piece of music history and the music they played: jump-up, tech-house, disco-house. It’s definitely rubbed off on the music we make now.”
“We’re really fortunate to work closely with really interesting electronic musicians, too,” says Ella, nodding along. “Glows, the stuff on Slow Dance – it means we’re constantly surrounded by live, experimental electronic music. But it’s based on the fact we all used to go raving. Raves were the first places I experienced live music, when me and my friends were too young to get into gigs. I used to go to drum’n’bass raves when I was in college. I’d go to a rave in Tottenham ‘til 7am then go straight to my shift in a supermarket without any sleep.”
Louis’s musical background is subtly different. “I grew up on funk and soul, and only really started going to clubs when I turned 18. I didn’t really go to warehouses and stuff before. But I’ve definitely been enjoying listening to dance music recently.” He and Josh share a glance. “Drawn towards… beats and shit.” They all laugh in agreement. “Our reaction when we come up with something that feels really thumping is… ‘ooooh!’” Ella confirms excitedly.
‘Divine Intervention’ has been rapturously received, with critics and DJs worldwide falling over themselves to declare it their single du jour. “My nan keeps texting me when she hears it on the radio,” smiles Ella. “She’s like one of those online bots that tells you what’s playing!”
2020, then, is off to a flying start and it’s promising to be a big year for PVA, with more music to be released before the summer (this time on Council Records), a hectic live schedule and “some very exciting travel plans” which remain under wraps for now. Euphoric, thoughtful and organic, PVA’s rise so far has been a breath of fresh air. It seems we’ve got the party band we’ve been waiting for.