It’s tempting to place every piece of music under a political microscope right now. Each declaration of freedom could be seen as an attack on the current climate, an instant retort to post-Trump times. But the records currently coming out were, by and large, put together before or during the year 2015, way before everything started falling apart.
Take Ten Fé’s debut album ‘Hit The Light’ as an example. A dose of optimism just when it was needed most, the first work of Ben Moorhouse and Leo Duncan feels like a different slant to the wave of pre-apocalypse panic sweeping social media. It’s free-spirited, positive and open-ended, and it matches up with the group’s name, which in Spanish translates to “have faith”. But it wasn’t intentionally dropped just in time for armageddon, nor is it a tough-stance response to current events.
“I don’t think it’s ever felt right to just present something that’s dark, without having something to counter it,” states Moorhouse, who shares vocal duties with Duncan. “Things might be bleak now, sure, possibly never bleaker,” his bandmate adds, but Ten Fé’s background is a tale of hardship. Struggle is all they’re really known, and a positive spin is what they use as an antidote. “It’s never been easy,” Duncan says. The pair built their trade by playing gigs on the London Underground, more as a hobby than an actual, fully-fledged band. “When we started a band it was busking – having no money, just going out and doing it.”
“The reason we started the band was as simple as playing the songs we’d written to each other and being totally excited by that,” insists Moorhouse, who used to work as a music tutor. “It was just the genuine reaction, being excited by the songs, wanting to get them realised together and recorded properly.”
The songs on ‘Hit the Light’ walk a tightrope between Springsteen and War on Drugs-style escapism and blurry, chart-ready synthpop. Berlin recording sessions with Ewan Pearson (Depeche Mode, The Rapture) helped give the record its electronic undercurrent. Musically, there’s no real trace of the band’s busking heritage. But every track is eager to please and make a quick impression, almost like it’s trying to gain the attention of a phone-glued commuter.
Starting out, Moorhouse says the aim of Ten Fé was to remove a “big distance from the audience.” They fell in love with being a hair’s breadth away from crowds on the tube, and they disliked the idea of “cool, mythical, mysterious” bands that seemed to be crowding out London when they formed. “We both used to play a lot of old songs together – we still loved a lot of older music. And the more time’s gone on, the more we felt comfortable bringing [old and new] together.”
Both are speaking a few hours after sleeping off their Berlin launch party for ‘Hit the Light’ the night before. They’re in celebratory spirits, especially as the launch was their first chance for a tipple, post-Dry January. It’s been a long time coming for Ten Fé – they started out solely under the name ‘Fé’, built a loyal foundation of fans from their busking days. But it wasn’t until the glistening ‘Elodie’ single broke through last year that they began to look like a serious prospect. ‘Hit the Light’ has plenty more to offer: the Chromatics-style glaze of ‘Another Way’ and moody synth banger ‘Make Me Better’ are highlights.
It’s still early days, though. Moorhouse and Duncan are still busking, although they haven’t braved the city’s Night Tube just yet (“It’d be too loud – busking to drunk people is a nightmare”). Their preferred crowd is a post 9-to-5 lot. “District Line, Friday night, rush hour, it’s packed in and you’ve got to make sure these people take their earphones out,” Duncan explains. “The challenge is to get people engaged.”
All being well, ‘Hit the Light’ will be the first of many positivity-fuelled doses of escapism from Ten Fé. There’s enough potential hits here to monopolise radio playlists, but chances are the duo still have plenty more to give. Duncan cites “tough circumstances” as the band’s foundation, this idea of “pushing to get things better and better” no matter what was going on. This could easily be the band’s mantra, a belief that there’s always another level and another means of pressing on.