INTERVIEW: Onlooker | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s fair to say that it’s pretty easy to find stuff to get angry about these days; ask Teesside garage rockers Onlooker, whose debut album Total Rest is by their own admission full of things that wind them up: “Working, toxic masculinity, social injustice, day to day bell ends, the government, etc…” they elucidate. “There’s a song on the album written from the perspective of a dog though, that’s a positive one.”

When your music is as thrillingly urgent and energetic as Onlooker’s, getting pissed off with the state of the world lends itself pretty well to your medium of choice. “There’s plenty to get angry about at the minute.” They continue. “One of the biggest fairly recent problems in our country is the mass division between all sorts of social groups. It seems like a great many people only care about their own opinions and have no interest in listening to others any more. You can see this on both sides of the political spectrum, which only seems to be making life in this country worse for most people. More division is never a good thing, it just leads to less compassion.”

One thing they are justifiably pleased about though, is how Total Rest has turned out, and rightly so. Released on 25th February via Sunderland’s Serial Bowl Records, it’s a case study in urgent riffs, pithy vocals and an energy which barely lets up for a minute, veering from energetic garage rock to post-hardcore heaviness with a smidge of post-punk attitude chucked in for good measure. From the start we never wanted to write anything that sounded too derivative. Obviously everything has already been done, but it’s still important to do our best to avoid ripping off other bands. So a big part of that means avoiding sticking to any particular genre. If we write something we all like, go with it.”

Our music is pretty high energy and we like to play loud so that usually transfers well at live shows

While the band cites such bands as Black Sabbath, Rush, Fugazi, Gang of Four and Hot Snakes among their influences, they’re pretty keen not to fall into any pigeonholes, and lyrically – aside from being generally fed up with the state of the world – their observations tackle day to day life. “Outside of music we’re probably influenced by general, mundane, every day things like work or getting cut up on a roundabout.”

Instrumental album opener An Introduction to Guitar Music does what it promises, tuneful riffs gradually make way for a cacophonous mash up of duelling guitars courtesy of axe-wielders Ben Goodwill and Bruce Hobson, amid Michael Kitching’s pulsing drums; the track segues into the sharp shock of Easy Breezy, with its urgent angular riffs and pumping bass; Kevin Ridden’s laconic vocals and urgent bass playing are the highlight of the buzzy Value; while If I Had A Quid shows off the band’s knack for catchy punchy rhythms. Just when you thought the pace had slowed down as Hot Romance’s singular chord chimes ominously, propulsive riffs, angsty, impassioned vocals and twisty solos turn it into a proper garage rock banger.

It’s clear from the meticulous crispness of the recording (all done by the band, incidentally) that Onlooker take their sound seriously, and they’re just as passionate about their live show representing what they do on record so well. “Our music is pretty high energy and we like to play loud so that usually transfers well at live shows.” With a keen work ethic and a reluctance to reveal new material until it’s 100% ready, audiences at their album release shows this month should prepare themselves for a sound that’s as precise as it is ferocious. “That’s what it’s all about really though isn’t it? Sound. It’s music, so if it doesn’t sound how it should then you’re doing it wrong.”

Onlooker’s Total Rest is out now via Serial Bowl Records. They play Off The Ground in Middlesbrough on Friday 11th, with support from Pave the Jungle and Unified Action, and Pop Recs Ltd., Sunderland on Saturday 12th March, with support from Fast Blood.

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