From Bahrain To London: Flamingods Talk
Flamingods. Huh? Is that a mish-mash of the pink bird and a mystical being or a vision of a deity enveloped in a roaring inferno? I can assure you it's the former…
When you’re told the backstory of most bands it normally stems from the same sort of place, meeting at school or uni they gave up everything in the pursuit of a career in the music world and then by some small miracle they found success. Some of this rings true for Flamingods, however they’ve had to overcome obstacles that others might not have, in doing so they’ve created something quite unique. We spoke to Lead Vocalist Kamal Rasool ahead of their appearance at Field Day in June.
The majority of the band did indeed grow up together, in the far-flung land of Bahrain, as high school friends they spent time flitting in and out of Indie bands together, flirting with the idea of making a go of it. They all had different musical upbringings, with some members being classically trained and Kamal himself only beginning to play at the age of 16.
Back in 2009 Rasool had “grown tired of the scene” in his homeland, and was finding inspiration from places such as Thailand, Brazil and Tanzania, this spurned the inception of Flamingods. Initially a solo project he began to get requests for shows, so he rung round some old friends and formed the first incarnation of the band as it is today.
The band has grown since, having met Karthik Poduval at a London party, but there is one incredibly significant moment in their history that threatened to end their progress altogether. Two months before Rasool was due to graduate the UK visa rules changed and was forced to leave, eventually settling in Dubai and leaving the band split halfway across the globe.
“I think art needs to be hard in a way in order to make interesting music, if it’s a walk in the park you’ll probably end up with a boring ass record.”
Rather than be deterred by the logistical challenges that presented themselves at this point the band ploughed on, working across the internet rather than being able to collaborate in person. Everything was “written solo and then shared via dropbox”, a method that Rasool appears to credit with bringing the band to where they are. They relished the challenge and came out all the better for it.
Being able to draw on inspiration from both places was a real plus point for the band, Dubai’s music scene “has only really seen a true progression in the last 10 years”, understandable considering the city has only really been in existence in it’s current form for that length of time. As a result people out there have the luxury of “working on a blank canvas”, with an ability to forge the scene from the ground up. On the other hand London, as we well know, has been a thriving musical hub for years, so despite the overflowing melting pot that the city is, “there’s more opportunity to pursue music as a career”.
Having recently been geographically reunited the band are going from strength to strength, they released their third LP ‘Majesty’ last year and have been touring extensively for quite some time.
“They’re such masters of dance music, using repetition and hypnotic melodies to get you into an almost trance like state.”
Flamingods’ sound is something of a mix between Ambient, Exotica, Indie, and just about everything in-between, it’s a sonic blend with it’s roots grounded in influences from all across the globe. Some of these places the band have visited themselves, Kamal recalls one particular experience of a visit to Nepal back in 2014 where they took a drive up a mountain called ‘Nagarkot’. They were greeted by “an out-of-control dance party the locals were having”, loud speakers, communal food and everybody dancing and generally enjoying themselves. The group jumped upon the opportunity to capture some field recordings of the scene, which were later used in ‘Mountain Man’ on their most recent album.
The music of Nepal was a great inspiration to the band, Rasool talks of their remarkable ability to “drop instruments in and out at just the right time”, a particular skill that they have since put real effort into trying to replicate. They are constantly experimenting with different instruments, including one track recorded using their “friend’s ass”, although Kamal admits “it did not come out as well as we thought it would.”
Flamingods are a racially diverse band, and as such have faced troubles all along the road, Kamal himself holds an Arab passport, meaning “things have been tricky since 9/11”. He feels that this has resulted in a feeling of responsibility to “show the beauty of cultures coming together, to make people accepted and loved at our shows.” There’s a sub-plot alongside their music, one that glows with the ideals that are already present at the heart of modern culture, they actively promote acceptance of everyone “whatever race, gender or sexual orientation they are.” This, of course is not particularly unique in itself, but coming from a band with the experiences that they have had it’s an approach that appears to have slightly more gravitas behind it.
The music of Flamingods has a purpose beyond simply being aurally satisfying, they’re on a “mission to transport the listener somewhere else.” As such they pay painstaking attention to the way they’re presented on stage, they take massive influence from wide ranges of music and as such they’re keen to not only represent visually as well as through sound. Sun Ra is credited as one of these strong influences, “from the otherworldly imagery and music to the costumes and efforts to transport you to his world.” They draw on Exotica too, specifically the idea that it was “conceptualised for the purpose of taking the listener to exotic lands.” This all contributes to the way that they approach performing, there’s reasons beyond simply presenting their music in a live situation.
As the band have grown they’ve had to tone down the party side of life, they’ve “got such a busy tour schedule and a lot more people who depend on them to really be self-indulgent all that often.” It’s not an unfamiliar story, with many artists coming to the same cross-roads at some point in their career. It has a hidden benefit for Rasool though, as he tends to lose his voice when he lets loose, to him it’s more about “just trying to put on the best show you can for your fans instead of focusing on the pleasurable side of things.”
Flamingods' success has been documented by the influx of live shows and releases that they've been able to do, their latest LP was released on ‘Soundway Records’, having met the label’s head honcho after a gig at Glastonbury last year and waking up to an email saying that he’d love to do a record. They’ve just announced an EP forthcoming on ‘Moshi Moshi' in May, ‘Kewali’, the first single from the release has just dropped and they’ve also begun work on their fourth album. It's a busy workload for the band, but one they appear to be revelling in. "Busy as always!"
Flamingods play SXSW and London's Village Underground in March:
15 March 2017 – SXSW – British Music Embassy @ Latitude 30
16 March 2017 – SXSW – Levitation / Future Days @ Hotel Vegas Annex
17 March 2017 – SXSW – Esther's Follies
23 March 2017 – LONDON, Village Underground
Tickets for Field Day are available HERE
Follow Flamingods on Facebook HERE
Cover image courtesy of Matt Walsh