Formation: "You need to keep reminding people that they can come together through music"
Led by brothers Will and Matt Ritson, Formation aim to bring people together using dazzling pop hooks.
Published: 10:47 am, March 08, 2017
Sitting in a tea cafe in Camden on a Friday night may seem like a different way to start a revolution, but there's something effortlessly unique about what Formation are all about. It's been six months since we were sitting in the sunshine of the south bank in central London, and the cold chills of a new year and a new world are sizzling in the air - yet for Formation, the message continues. More than ever, the journey they've experienced and the potency of what they represent is vital in the world we live in, and not in the sense of a "the world is shit" mentality, but more in a way that wants people to discuss, love and thrive in what we all are.
"The last time we talked was in the midst of a nice break," points out frontman Will Ritson. "We were going off to America, back to London, doing so much in Europe - like, I keep thinking back on stuff and realising that it was only in the past year!"
"Yeah," interjects drummer Kai Akinde-Hummel. "It feels like ages ago, it feels like so much has changed since then, I guess..."
What hasn't changed is Formation. The vibrancy, freedom and passion that flows through everything they do is straight at the forefront of 2017, a fruition that's come from years of experimenting, creating and crafting in all manner of outfits and styles. Whether that's punk bands, hip-hop outfits, working with underground electro titans or sitting pride of place in an orchestra - there's something about Formation which just pulsates with music.
It's a foundation formed by twin brothers Will and Matt Ritson, taking a childhood engrossed in beats and flourishes and following a passion that's lead them into a world not lead by rock-star posturing, but the pursuit of something more. Northern Soul, improvised projects, expulsion from school and an unfaltering sense of individuality laid the groundwork - and in drummer Kai, bassist Johnny Tams and keys man Sasha Lewis, they found a shared bond with music pumping through their veins and families.
"Each of us is quite a strong musician, and we were all brought up around music," explains Kai, whose family stems through touring with The Clash to playing with acclaimed Afrobeat giant Fela Kuti. "Bringing that together, with that understanding - which some musicians may not have - it means we're really good at communicating with each other."
This isn't just the story of a band who all met at school and decided to crack on with things. Formation are a band who needed the multiple strands of history to get them to where they are today - collaborating and meeting at certain points in each other's lives - and in turn developing a bond that's naturally brought them together to the stage they sit at today. As Will explains: "It's an amalgamation of a lot of history and a lot of different interactions finally finding a really good formula between us that works as people as well as musicians."
"Like with Johnny, he was feeding me my influences when I was growing up, as he used to work in the CD shop where I'd go all the time. He was the cool older guy behind the desk who'd suggest new things to listen to, knowing I was a drummer he'd end up pointing me towards bands like Can and all this crazy shit."
"Me and Matt would end up playing him loads of our demos, because we then ended up working in a warehouse together. The plan was always to get Johnny involved, and that was how the White Label EP came around, us taking the demos to Johnny who then helped us to produce it."
When you factor in Johnny's experience of working on records with the likes of Bjork and Madonna and Sasha's experience of working with electro wizard Four Tet, you know this is a band onto something special, a path that's lead to a melting point primed and aimed at being something important and distinctly unique.
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"For a while, it always felt like this was the weirdest band," notes Johnny. "Like when you see us in pictures, we look like we're from completely different worlds, but now we're all part of the same."
"It became its own thing in that way," elaborates Will, "because we weren't ever trying to be anything else but ourselves and then we realised that ‘Hey, that is our image, we can't be any less authentic than that'. As soon as we realised this is us, this is who we are - that was the moment it clicked, because people want to engage with that rather than with something that tries to be something it's not."
The years of history, experimentation and passion have lead to ‘Look At The Powerful People', a debut album that packs an unworldly amount of flares and flourishes into indietronic grooves and infectious sounds. It's the sort of record that makes you sit up and take notice, and one not afraid to swing for the highest level. The result is a band in full stride, confident and natural in every twist and rhythm they head down. Hitting that highest level and marking out their own in the process.
"It was quite intense," remembers Johnny, "because we did it in like two weeks and did pretty much everything. It's weird because we spend a lot of time rehearsing, we used to do it in Will's room, and it's just going 'round to your mate's house - and then getting to a studio with a whiteboard and things to tick off, it's a real experience!"
"There was a great focus for us all and a really strong work ethic," Will remembers. "It felt like everyone had the opportunity there to be creative and give something to each song. And it comes from knowing how to listen to each other, whether that's because of that shared upbringing, growing up together or playing in bands or that experience of the orchestral side of things and being part of something bigger. You learn how to listen to each other, and you learn just to enjoy playing together and enjoying that musicianship and pushing each other to do stuff was there throughout working in the studio."
‘Look At The Powerful People' is packed to the brim with potent hooks that jump between eras and moods, yet consistently exudes that Formation swagger. The swagger that blends every track, live moment and note that they've digested into one distinct cocktail of revolving dance vibes with a hefty punk punch. Whether it's the dazzling slaps of ‘Drugs', the visceral kicks of ‘Buy And Sell', the blinding synths of ‘A Friend' or the rich unravelling of ‘Ring' - from start to finish it's a record that stands squarely for who they are, and one with a voice impossible to ignore.
The power that comes with it, and the impact music can have isn't lost on Will. "It's a point that's been said throughout history, but it's worth repeating because it's a message that keeps being forgotten," he notes. "You need to keep reminding people that they can come together through music and it doesn't have to be as hippy as being in a room together smoking weed and jamming. It's to make something genuine and for that not to be forgotten, and that's important."
As a band gazing out onto the world around them, the platform they have is now more vital than ever. It's a position not lost on Formation. Sitting around the table, all sipping on tea and reminiscing on the body of work they have today, there's a regular referral to meaning something on a wider scale. Of the importance of making music, the words they use and how it plays into a society that seems more divided and fragile than ever before. "It's about opening the discussion," explains Will. "When people interpret the lyrics in a certain way, it's not definable by one thing but has to be open and allow people that discussion.
"Because that's interesting; way more interesting than if we say, ‘This is a song about Trump’ or whatever. There has to be something deeper that you can delve into, and that's what we want to open up - something way more interesting.
"Ultimately, we're trying to find something we can connect with, something that we can connect with everyone on a base level to say - maybe you work twelve hours a week and you're not happy about your life, but come and spend some time with us and maybe we can be happy together for a while."
With ‘Look At The Powerful People', Formation have found their definitive calling card, an open invitation for the world to dive right into the future by drawing in everything from the past. Finding comfort and power in those around them, it's an album born out of rebellion and hunger - and points to Formation being a band destined not just to entertain, but inspire.
"I guess that's the excitement of this whole journey," comments Will as the band finish up and get ready to head out for the night. "It could be something completely different in five years, and it could be us looking back as a moment of discovery and feeling our way through. Maybe it's us reaching a pinnacle five years down the line - or maybe this is as good as it gets!
"This is a good way to start things off, though: this is Formation."
Formation's debut album 'Look At The Powerful People' is out 24th March.