Artificial Pleasure: "It’s cool to be both alternative and pop at the same time"
Formed from the ashes of Night Engine, Artificial Pleasure have set their sights on a resurgence of smart pop.
Published: 2:03 pm, June 01, 2017
The idea of the show can sometimes be a lost art in music. Getting bogged down in the intricacies of studio moments and trying to fit into a certain pocket or direction is all well and good, but it’s hard to forget that ultimately it’s about stealing the show and dazzling like nobody else can. If there’s a feeling in all of that, it’s wrapped into Artificial Pleasure, not so much swaggering into view but bursting with the lights turned up to 100 with a glam-soaked vitality. It’s what feeds right out of frontman Phil McDonnell’s mouth as he sips on a bottle of beer as another Friday night careers into view, dreaming of the seismic checkpoints that lay ahead.
“For me, it’s always been about making an impact. About not pissing around,” explains Phil. “What we’re trying to do is make music that is purely instinctive, both for ourselves when we’re writing and when you listen to it. You don’t have to think about it, you just let yourself go with it - and we really want to smash things out and not be concerned about it being super pretty.”
It’s exactly what makes Artificial Pleasure such a vibrant force. Across the sounds and flicks unveiled so far is an undeniable infectious core, one that fizzes in shimmering pop glory but at the same time bursts like a tidal wave of uncompromising boldness. Packaging together synth-glossed style and soaring hooks that ring out like long-lost 80s chart-toppers, it’s the sound of a band born to play on the grandest stages. Like dropping a sugary sweet taster in a glass of champagne while wearing shades on Miami Beach, Artificial Pleasure lay out their invitation to jump on board at every turn, and it’s impossible to resist.
“What’s really important for us is always making sure that it’s accessible,” details Phil. “We have these big pop hooks that sit in our songs and what’s important to me is that people can then take something away from it all. Like I remember reading a quote about being an evangelical atheist where you just get completely lost in something without it revolving around a specific belief in a God or something. There’s something about that appeal of lacking control, of getting lost in an idea that you can get from the first time you listen to a track. That’s ultimately the experience we want people to have, and it’s something I certainly aim for when writing."
“For me, and us as a band, it’s always been about standing out from the crowd and not wanting to do what the person next to you is doing,” continues Phil, delving into that core ingredient to everything Artificial Pleasure are about - individuality. “It’s always what we’ve done instinctively, even if sometimes it doesn’t work I wouldn’t care, as long as we’re not trying to follow what that band next to us are doing.”
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Front and centre in Artificial Pleasure is a relationship and connection between Phil and synth-groover Dom Brennan, grown out of childhood and submerged in music and friendship. “He was always really, really musical,” remembers Phil. “He was a friend of my brother, and our families were friends too, but his knowledge of music is just so expansive that it’s exciting to be around him.”
It was after years of playing in bands that Phil decided to pick up writing, building on a love of simple yet insatiable grooves, that took him away from a life working in theatres to bedroom sessions exploring the nuances and hits of childhood favourites and interpreting that into a new taste in a new age.
Phil looks back at that moment with wide-eyed abandon. “When I had these demos together, I chatted to my brother who said ‘Well, you should definitely talk to Dom’, because it had been years since I’d seen him. So I messaged him and went over to his place in Cambridge, and it just became us drinking beers in his room and showing each other different music and our own stuff that we could work on.”
After heading through numerous outfits, including the noted Night Engine, and joining forces with drummer Lee Jordan and bassist Rich Zbaraski, Artificial Pleasure took shape as a realisation that could match the daring dreams and unabashed sheen the music deserved. “The nice thing from that time [after the end of Night Engine] was that we found this new freedom of just doing whatever the hell we want, and we became a bit harder and a bit meaner in what we wanted to do. I sort of write whatever I want now, I used to think how it was going to fit here or fit there but now it’s a lot broader and unashamed.”
Dripping in a Talking Heads-esque knack of sweeping off-kilter pop with all the bells and whistles attached, their expansive and all-reaching sound can be heard surging through early single ‘Bolt From The Blue’ and ‘I’ll Make It Worth You While’, but it’s with their latest EP ‘Like Never Before’ that Artificial Pleasure lay down the marker for what’s brewing on the horizon. Jumping between the Duran Duran swoon of its title track, to the Depeche Mode prowl of ‘The Hand On My Shoulder’ and hands in the air euphoria of ‘All I Got’, it’s Artificial Pleasure personified. Morphing alternative detours with a cocktail of pop shots, it’s a blending force that they’re squarely embracing.
“We want to make people realise that it’s cool to be both alternative and pop at the same time,” states Phil. “Before we were told that we’d have to pick one side or the other and that we couldn’t be both, but that’s just not the case. Bands like Blondie and Television back in the late 70s were so good at it, and we just want to show that bands can be all of those things when it comes to being exciting, experimental and accessible.
“There used to be some amazing bands competing in the charts and seizing those moments, and we want to make things bold and exciting again.”
Scoring their own sun-glistened ascent, if there’s one band unafraid to bring the extravagance back, then Artificial Pleasure are certainly it. Best of all, the curtain’s only just rising. Now that’s a show well worth booking a front row ticket for.
Taken from the June issue of Dork, out now.