The first night of a festival typically carries a special, slightly feral energy: the excitement of the weekend ahead can quickly manifest into extra pints and a longer night out than originally planned – all before running through exactly the same routine the following day.
When NME meets Sports Team‘s Alex Rice and Rob Knaggs at Madrid’s Mad Cool festival, the pair are certainly getting into the spirit of the occasion. As we settle down to chat backstage, the vocalist and guitarist headbang along to the sound of Metallica‘s mighty headline set – which can be heard across the entire site – over their unlimited refill drinks from the bar. “This they don’t measure out the spirits properly here, who knows what’ll happen next,” says Rice, laughing.
A few hours prior to our chat, the London-based six-piece lit up the Main Stage with their raucous indie anthems, and showcased material from their forthcoming second album, ‘Gulp!’ (due July 22). We caught up with Rice and Knaggs to chat new music, their thoughts on the indie sleaze movement, and the wise words they learned from Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker at Glastonbury 2022.
NME: Hey Sports Team! How have you enjoyed Mad Cool festival so far?
Alex: “It’s been amazing. We flew in from Barcelona this morning, and this festival has been full of free massive drinks – and we’ve got a swimming pool! The show was also amazing: we thought it was going to be a bit continental, but it was actually full of kids from Manchester, so it felt like a hometown show.”
You recently opened for The Libertines. That must have been one to tick off the bucket list…
Alex: “Yeah! [The Libertines] have been demythologised for us in a way, almost. We know them from Margate as half of the band live there now, and they have their hotel, The Albion Rooms, too. But they were heroes for us as kids! ‘Up The Bracket’ was just pure spirit: [the album] felt like a strong dynamic between a group of people, and its also an example of why bands still exist. You’ve got pop music breaking music grounds, but people on stage with guitars still works for some reason. It’s all about the people, and celebrating groups of friends: sometimes they hate each other, sometimes they love each other.”
NME spoke to Pete Doherty a few weeks ago at Glastonbury, and he told us that he “spearheaded” the indie sleaze revival. Do you feel connected to this current movement?
Alex: “[Indie sleaze] is all about the music that we grew up listening to, and some of it gets a bit of a bad reputation. The Fratellis, The Pigeon Detectives and The Libertines: for better or worse, we grew up with them. You’d listen to them when you had your first drink when you were 15, or when you’d go to the pub and get back and think, ‘This [music] is amazing! These people are heroes!’. I don’t think people should knock that: music should be about entertainment, it’s not always about trying to break new ground. If it’s good, then go and give everything [on stage] every night, and people will give that energy back to you.”
How was your own Glastonbury experience? You met Gok Wan – is he a fan of yours?
Rob: “We saw Gok in the backstage area, and we were a bit nervous when we asked him for a photograph. But he was so, so nice: he came over, offered us all cigarettes and his house DJ set later on was incredible. He is genuinely the nicest person in the world.”
Would it be fair to say that Gok Wan is a Sports Team fan, then?
Alex: “Yeah, I would definitely say that! I didn’t see his DJ set, but he’s a music guy now and is really incredible.”
Who else have you guys been hanging out with lately? Have you discovered any other famous fans?
Alex: “We met Jarvis Cocker at Glastonbury and he warned us off our own record label – that was good. He was once on the same [label], and he was like, ‘They’ll run you into the ground boys!’, and we were like, ‘Er, OK, thanks Jarvis!’
“We also went and deliberately met Four Tet, as our bassist, Oli, is a massive fan – Four Tet is his idol. We were sending pictures of us all to Oli and he was like, ‘I hate you guys!’. We were also hanging out with Wolf Alice tonight, and they are incredible; they’re real contemporaries.”
Your second album ‘Gulp!’, arrives in a few weeks’ time. When your debut album [‘Deep Down Happy’] came out two years ago, you went into a chart battle with Lady Gaga. Who are you going up against this time?
Alex: “I don’t think we’re entirely sure what week the album is coming out, to be honest! It’s going to be really chaotic, which is entirely the point with ‘Gulp!’: we don’t want it to feel formulaic.
“I wish I was part of [Beabadoobee’s] ‘Beatopia’ campaign, though. It’s so slick, and it has all of this amazing artwork; instead we’re like, ‘Let’s take a picture out in Spain and stick it on a vinyl.’ We’re all a bit too drunk to take a photo, so we have to wait to go back to London instead. Our [campaign] feels like chaos in a way that some others don’t. It’s like every single time we’re throwing the dice and seeing what happens. It doesn’t matter, though: it’s still fun and we’re having the greatest time in the world.”
What else are you looking to achieve with this second album?
Alex: “Just big live shows. I feel like COVID really knocked back live music, and it’s the most important thing in the world; it sounds cliche to say it, but live music is where people draw their community from. It is really important that people can go out to shows: it’s about trying not to make it too expensive so that young people can afford [tickets]. I don’t care about chart positions, radio play or what some journalist at The Times says about us. I just want to see people in a room.”
So we’re going to take Sports Team global this year?
Alex: “I hope so. I mean, the songs somehow have a really broad appeal… even though they’re about the M5 and fishing on the Thames. But I’m not sure how many Spaniards were in the crowd this evening…”
Rob: “Earlier, at first we were like, ‘This is amazing, all these kids are moshing and they know the words!’. It felt very different to our normal Spanish shows, then we asked, ‘Is anyone here from Manchester?’, and everyone cheered!”
Alex: “They’ve got an incredible English GCSE programme in Spain, I’ll tell you that… they’re clearly teaching everyone the words to ‘Fishing’ instead…”
Check back here at NME for the latest news, interviews, photos and more from Mad Cool 2022.
NME is an official media partner of Mad Cool Festival 2022