O. Children's Tobias holds out a massive hand as I greet the band in Brixton’s dingy Windmill venue on a cold January evening. I had heard and read the man was tall - he’s around 6’6” - but his strikingly angular facial features coupled with a sizable frame gives him an aura to behold.
Sitting in a stark East German-style backstage shed, somehow befitting of a band that could accurately be described as having early 80s post-punk roots, we start at the beginning.
The band are a combination of Tobias and drummer Andrew’s ex-band Bono Must Die (who counted Peaches Geldof among their trendy/wannabe fans). The controversy of that moniker led to a subpoena being served by a record company and disbandment, “We were playing gigs we didn’t like – I promised I’d never be in a band again,” says Tobias of this time.
This all changed after Bordeaux-born guitarist Gauthier was introduced to Tobias via a friend. “At first I was like ‘oh he’s French,’” says Tobias, “but it turned out he was really good at guitar and we liked the same music”. Bassist and down-to-earth Yorkshire lad Harry met Tobias at a “rad” party where they ended up chatting about music whilst listening to Rage Against The Machine until 7am, after Harry spotted “those legs…” walking into a room. Previously, Harry had been putting on house and techno club nights on his arrival in the capital after dropping out of the University of Durham.
The band were briefly called Sex Pest, “but we thought ‘we can’t call ourselves that”, says Tobias. The boys adopted their current moniker after bonding over a love of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, thus adopting one of the Aussie musician’s song titles as their name.
O. Children are keen to point out their influences are wide and varied, ranging from 70s disco and Donna Summers, to Birthday Party and Siouxie and the Banshees. Their fusion of disco and synth backing tracks from an iPod, layered under Gauthier’s John McGeoch inspired guitar, results in an edgy early-80s electronic sound.
While this is not unique, it is certainly made more interesting following the addition of Tobias’ definitely-not-Ian Curtis baritone vocal. Early comparisons to Joy Division annoy the band - which is fair, as in fact they are more New Order than the Manchester band’s ancestors.
Drummer Andrew is keen to dispel any Joy Division comparisons: “We’re not a Joy Division rip-off, we’re a pop band with edgy dance tinged elements. Live, we play with a backing track and it works.” He's also keen to point out that this dancier element doesn't make them like bands “who plug into a laptop and shout ‘penis, penis, penis’ while people dressed as cardboard robots dance around!”
Tobias does admit to a similarity to Joy Division in the early days of the group, however. “I was thinking about this today, and thought 'yeah maybe at first', I could see it. My voice is kinda deep, so I can see the association with Joy Division.
“But on the other hand, Ian Curtis did not invent the baritone vocal. The more we’ve played, the more our music has matured from making a specific sound.”
The band have been playing in and around London for the past few months, perfecting their sound in gigs to uber-cool East London crowds. They are keen to broaden their horizons, though: “We don’t just want a bunch of hot checker babes from Shoreditch knowing who we are” says Tobias in his Miami/California meets London accent. “The scene is cool, but we have much more musical clout than the scene itself.”
“We want to get into people’s heads, play to everyone. It’ll be a beautiful thing,” Gauthier adds poetically.
The band come across as extremely ambitious, and plan to play Europe soon. “Italy have wanted us to play for a while,” says Andrew, while Harry adds “my friend went to Japan recently and all the girls had our CD” (a previously released split single with S.C.U.M.).
Plans to tour will have to wait, as Tobias mysteriously has had his passport taken away by the law owing to reasons that we can’t go into on these pages. O. Children are playing the long game. They have no plans to release an album during 2009 until they have found the perfect record deal which gives them artistic freedom in true punk ethos, plus the bonus of lots of cash. “Then we’ll sell out and buy yachts!” quips Tobias.
Their live set is dominated by Tobias, complete with funk-dance moves and skinny-jeaned long legs. Their live sound is different to their MySpace demos. It’s catchier, and not quite as intense. Flanking the stage, Harry and Gauthier stand fairly lifeless in baggy sleeveless shirts, crucifixes adorning their chests.
Performing later to a subdued yet musically discerning South London crowd, O.Children rattle through a five song mini-set including the eerie Smile, underpinned perfectly by echoingly deep vocals.
The upbeat Ace Breasts sees Tobias break out those (surely soon to be legendary) dance moves again, encouraging the paying punters to get their freak-on. The stand out song of the set is Dead Eye Lover, with a beautiful 80s synth backdrop, edgy beats and backing vocals that hang on the listener's ear afterwards.
Dead Disco Dancer is carried by Harry’s catchy, loose bassline at a pace some may find painfully slow. Stick with it, though - it reaps rewards. This is followed by a smack in the face with Tobias’ massive voice as he shouts poignantly, “# I am the disco dancer’s son/And through my soul he’s going to linger on #”. With the snap of a guitar string, O. Children march off in true pissed-off rock and roll style, bringing the gig to a standstill.
interview by Andy Fairclough, January 2009
O Children have a week of recording planned in early March. They then embark on a series of live dates: Powers, Kilburn, London (March 6), Club XFM @ 333, London (12), Saki Bar, Manchester (21), The Old Blue Last, London (23), Inside Out, Darlington (27), The Lexington, London (April 4) and Lennons, Southampton (25).