Backstage at Manchester’s Castle Hotel London five-piece Torches gather in a dimly-lit room to be interviewed. As daylight dwindles outside, the crepuscular setting coincidentally illustrates their penchant for musical darkness. Their current Soundcloud uploads – fittingly recorded in a basement – feature frontman Charlie Drinkwater crooning hauntingly in a sparse, organ-led gothic atmosphere punctuated by off-kilter drumming and metallic guitar strumming.
“I’m quite aware we sound very earnest,” Charlie confesses before laughter ensues. In reality they’re an optimistic bunch. Drummer Stephanie’s glass is literally half full as she checks with band-mates that the translucent liquid is purely water. “They could’ve spiked it. I wouldn’t put it past them,” she jokes.
There’s no lugubriousness present in this close-knit group. Instead their sonic intensity is the result of a deep understanding of cultural history (one trained as an architect, two have music degrees, another was an art-school attendee) and the need to be a creative mirror to society. So what do Torches reflect upon?
The catalyst for early youtube track VTOO (above) was a park near their Mile End home. “There’s a blue plaque saying it’s the site where the first flying bomb fell, so the whole park is there because the surroundings were totally obliterated,” explains guitarist Alex. Towerblock Confetti was written around the time of the Millbank Riot in which a student threw a fire-extinguisher from the top of an office block.
Charlie states “being young at a time of economic recession” as influential too, and frames the recent riots in historical perspective: “I’m no expert but a lot of people were quick to dismiss it as wanton criminality. Cities are quite alienating places… London has a history of civil disobedience. People are quick to say ‘there’s never been anything like this,’ but that’s not true – you’ve got the gin riots and the anti-Irish riots in Victorian times.”
Clearly a perspicacious outfit, Torches are aware there’s a context to their own work. “Postmodernism teaches that you’re so aware of your influences and history that you must use them as a tool and wield them,” explains Charlie. A fondness for Nick Cave’s dramatic force is cited, but there are definite parallels to Martin Hannett’s experimentation with atmospheric tension on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. “We’re quite aware that we’re not ripping up some imaginary rule-book but at the same time we’re trying to make music which is honest and modern to us,” he continues.
Already this modest ambition has proven successful, with showcases played for Vice and Line Of Best Fit, plus a recent covers swap single with Crushed Beaks which accrued online acclaim. Despite the leitmotif of gloom, Torches are fervently aglow with purpose. A bright future awaits.
Words: Simon Butcher
Torches played for us at Northern Noise Live in March. For more info visit our Backstage area