A few months ago, Koko took to the stage in London’s venue The Waiting Room. There was dancing, sweating, and sing-a-longs to their single Freak, even though it was just released a couple of days before the show. Not to mention: There wasn’t a single sight of face masks, hand sanitizers, and safety distance.
Fast forward a few months and this sounds like a barely unrecognizable scenario. While it is painful to all of us – fans or industry professionals – it’s hard to imagine the disappointment the whole industry shutdown bares for young and upcoming bands. Koko were – like so many other newcomer bands – set to play dozens of promising shows and festivals this summer, leading up to more music releases.
Back in 2017, the three musicians met at a party in their adopted hometown Bristol. Soon later, Oliver Garland (Vocals), Harry Dobson (bass/ synthesizer) und Ashley C (synthesizer/ lead guitar) formed Koko. With their previous singles, including the latest release (I Don’t Wanna) Start Fights from early July, the trio has created an energetic and genre-bending mixture of indie, pop, and electro. They sound like a good mixture of Billie Eilish, British indie music, and hyperactive electro. While their excessive electro sound dominates, they are also capable of producing slower tracks, such as Tell Me Do You Care? off their debut EP Follow, released in March 2020.
Ready to Get Back Out
During our Zoom call in late July, the three-piece are divided into different parts of the UK. While it’s not clear how the rest of the year and the whole pandemic situation will turn out, I can sense that there’s a longing uniting the three of them. And that longing includes gigging, partying and most of all: human connection. Naturally, the first questions of our Zoom call had to spin around the question that took on a whole new meaning in 2020: ‚How are you?’
We’re all well. The lockdown sent some spanners in the works, as we were about to get gigging. I tested positive, that sucked. It’s been mad really, we feel ready to get back on the bandwagon, release music, and get gigging. We got quite a few dates coming in, we’re excited to share some dates for Germany. They won’t be soon, but we are hoping for the best.
Unlike many other bands, Koko’s struggles with the pandemic go beyond having to cancel gigs. Lead singer Olly got infected right before lockdown.
If the lockdown didn’t happen, we couldn’t have toured anyway. I was bed-bound for two months, I couldn’t get up at all. It’s not just a flu and it doesn’t discriminate, I’m a healthy 25-year-old and I got really sick. I’m back on my feet now and want to get going.
But how does it feel like to be a band ready to start off with touring and gigs, just to be hindered by a pandemic? Luckily for the three-piece, Corona didn’t infect their enthusiasm:
It just sucks really, we are so ready. Luckily, we got a lot of tracks recorded already. We have been writing during lockdown through Zoom calls. We’ve been productive still, it’s more the case that we want to play but we can’t. Everyone is in the same boat but it does suck.
What do you miss most in these days? Partying, gigging or just hanging out with friends?
All of the above. Just be together and vibing I guess, whether that’s in a party or in a studio.
How did the lockdown influence your writing process?
We’ve seen each other twice now in London for writing, but we have got to follow the social distancing measures. It’s weird, but we have some new music in the pipeline now. We’re back on track.
So can we expect material written about the situation in the past months?
Not yet, it’s still a bit fresh in the minds. Maybe in a couple of weeks, we might. We got so many stories of parties that we need to write about, we are still backtracking to parties that happened before the lockdown.
Not just in our interview, also within their music, Koko make it pretty clear, that they’re a band trying to fully embrace the Rock’n’Roll lifestyle. Their party ambitions can also be heard in their latest single release (I Don’t Wanna) Start Fights. The song’s pulsating bassline reminds of 2000 UK garage and dubstep music.
Connecting in Hard Times
What can we expect from future releases? Will they be slower or electronic?
It’s going to be a bit of both. We have been taking elements from both and mixed them together, swinging a bit of electronic in between. ‘Start Fights’ was fun and we thought, why not? I wouldn’t really say that’s what you have to expect, but it’s going to have influences of that. You’ll hear the electronic influences throughout our second EP. It’s good.
How did you connect with your fans during the last few months?
We made spray painted artworks that we gave away to interact with our fans. And we are trying to speak with them through social media because that is the only way to connect right now. We are answering a lot of questions and DMs and did a few live streams.
Whether it’s on stage, or on record, it’s hard to overlook Koko’s pumping energy. During the UK’s strict lockdown that energy had to slow down for a while. However, Koko are back with even more motivation than before:
When people meet us for the first time, they say we have this energy. We call it ‚the Koko triangle‘. We wanted to bring that out in the visuals as well, to get us across and to make people understand what we’re like as people. You can see the love we have for each other, but we’re all a bit bonkers, jumping around and having a good time. We had so much more time to write while being at home. Before COVID, we were in London every weekend, traveling, it was really go, go, go. In a way, we were able to relax and reset during Lockdown. Now we’re just as hungry and wanting to get back in the right road, and that’s our focus again. We’re just as keen as ever to push through.
The band was able to returned to London a couple of times to write in hotel rooms and rehearse in their Soho studio. The city’s partying pulse has slowed down but some British pubs have reopened. It must have been nearly as challenging for the band to go without partying as with gigging. They tell me, that they still have a big ‘backlog of party stories’ from pre-Corona times that they want to write about. That being said, we can only imagine how much these boys were partying in normal times. In order to be able to go back to partying and gigging once this whole thing is over, the band managed to save one of their favorite Bristolian locations:
A lot of the places in the UK are actually going bust but we saved all venues in Bristol via crowdfunding. Louisiana is a famous venue in Bristol and as a community we managed to keep it going. It’s a hub where everyone hangs out, everyone goes to pubs and gigs to hang out. It’s nice to have these places. The music scene in Bristol is wicked. There are some really good up-and-coming bands as well as bands that are already big.
So, what are the next steps for Koko? During our interview, they tell me plenty of times that they want to go back on stage. Until this point, it isn’t quite clear how bands will manage to tour, even with safety distances and hygiene measurements.
We just want to go back touring, regardless if they’re jumping, sitting, or whatever. That feeling we get when we go on stage is something you can’t describe, you’ve got to witness it. Regardless of what the situation is, I just want to get back on that stage and get hot and sweaty.
In the meantime, Koko announced their first post-lockdown gig and it’s even an international one: They’re set to play Reeperbahn Festival in September, one of the only festivals happening despite the pandemic. While it’s not quite clear if the festival’s concept will work out in indoor locations, it helps to keep a positive mindset. That’s what Koko do anyways:
We’re on the phone to each other everyday, trying to stay positive, trying to write new music, and planning for what to do next. We’ve always been positive.
KOKO’s debut EP Follow is out now via OKOK Recordings.
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