I met LICE on a Monday morning in the bar of their former SU. To the uninitiated, they might appear to be four mates grabbing breakfast between lectures, and not one of the most swiftly rising bands in Bristol, due to headline one of Bristol’s best loved venues, Thekla, in little over a week. But equally, I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had come over and asked them for a selfie, such is the trajectory at that LICE are on in this city, and beyond. But the time when they’ll be swamped by fans everywhere they go doesn’t seem long off.
Like many freshers, LICE guitarist Silas wanted to start a band in first year. ‘I was really into bands like The Birthday Party and wanted to create something like that. Then in second year, my friend brought in a drummer, this guy called Isaac, who was a great guy. In my second year house, I had a drum kit in my room, I had amps, he came across and we did some stuff, then Henry the guy who started it all kind of disappeared. So, me and Isaac were playing together for a couple of months, then we decided that we should get a bassist and a singer, or we should stop playing. There’s only so much you can do with a guitarist and a drummer’.
The next step was to post an advert on Bristalt and LiveSoc, two of the music societies here at the university. Silas was ‘very explicit about what kind of bands [he] wanted the band to sound like’. The singer had to be prepared ‘to do and say horrible shit’. At first, only Gareth, their now bassist, replied. Still looking for a singer, they toned the advert down slightly, and Alastair, who would become their frontman, responded. ‘But then was then like “no, I’ve got another band”. It was an Arctic Monkeys cover band.’
They all laugh, and then Alastair continues, ‘You know how in fresher’s you make friends, and you’re like ‘I don’t want to bail on them?’ One of my friends recruited me into this band. His idea was that you developed a fanbase by playing covers, and then you slowly slipped in some stuff that you’ve written. It was the worst thing ever. A few days later, I dropped these guys a message and said’ I’m in’.’
‘We met at the White Heart. You know how there’s two White Hearts in Bristol? I went to the one on the hill, and then eventually made it to the one on Park Row’. That same evening, Alastair continues, ‘Gareth and Silas took me to Silas’ house, we had tinnies, and went to the Love Inn, but before that they played me the first LICE songs they’d written, and they got me to read out of one of Silas’ Physics textbooks, to get a feel for it’.
It might feel that there is a huge gulf between playing with your friends in your bedroom, and playing Thekla. Yet LICE have managed to do it in a relatively short amount of time, and all agree that university is a great setting to start a band. There’s societies, mentions Gareth, like ‘Bristalt – they do the Ctrl Bristalt Delete night, they put on student bands every month. There is a platform there for bands to get a gig when they want one’.
There’s also the fact that ‘students just know lots of people, so we played to 50 people – obviously, none of them knew who we were, they were just our friends’, adds Silas. Alastair nods and agrees that university is ‘a really good resource, just being surrounded by young people who you can very easily sway into coming out and seeing your shit band for like £3’.
It’s been said that a barometer of whether you’re seeing the right band in Bristol that night is if local legend and gig-goer extraordinaire, Big Jeff is in attendance. He went down to LICE’s gig at The Louisiana – their first with their current drummer, Bruce – and ‘wrote a Facebook review, and tweeted about us a couple of times, and literally the next day we were getting emails. That was all it took. That guy, the sway that he holds, is unbelievable!’. Silas jokes as he says ‘That’s how you do it – you get Big Jeff to tweet about you’, but it’s not far from the truth.
But that’s not to say LICE haven’t been working hard themselves – they’ve put on all their headline Bristol gigs to date. Their biggest piece of advice for those wanting to follow in their footsteps is to do the same. ‘It’s actually pretty easy. When Will [at Crofters Rights] first messaged us, we were like “how do you do that?”. He said “you make a Facebook event, you invite everyone you know, we’ll handle a run of posters if you send us a design, tell us some good places to put them, we’ll put it on our site, it’s free hire”. It was easier than putting on a house party!’
I guessed that a night out on the Triangle probably wasn’t LICE’s favourite thing to do during their time at uni. Alastair laments the loss of Start the Bus, which closed last October. ‘That was fucking great – free gigs! You’d just turn up and see good bands. The amount of times I’d be able to convince my housemates who weren’t into the same music as me to come down and have a drink and go see The Wytches or something, just because they could’. In its absence, the battle for the LICE frontman’s favourite venue is ‘probably neck and neck between Old England and Crofters’.
For many people, the first thing that springs to mind when you mention ‘Bristol’ and ‘music’ is trip hop. But, as LICE, and countless other artists prove, things have moved on. ‘There’s not a resentment towards it, but a resistance towards it’, argues Alastair. ‘You can kind of tell, amongst a lot of people amongst a lot of people that were there at the time, it’s almost a bit kind of gauche to talk about it. Nick at The Louisiana, [one of Bristol’s most intimate venues], I’ve known him for a year – and he only told me, literally the other week, that he used to drum in Portishead. He said ‘yeah, we played on MTV worldwide and shit’.
So, how would LICE define the Bristol music scene today? ‘The scene that we exist in, and that all our peers exist in, started in around 2010/11, and this group of electronic artists formed the Echo Collective, and ushered in a new wave of weird, electronic music and techno, and grime and stuff’, feels Alastair. He continues, ‘A year later, Howling Owl came to Bristol, set up a label, got banned from every venue in Bristol, then had to start playing shows in non-venues. After that, loads of other labels popped up – stolen body, now breakfast and gravy train. Everyone knows each other in Bristol now. There’s a lot of very interesting acts.’ Gareth sums it up – ‘there’s no definitive sound, we all just check each other out’.
The sense of community in the Bristol music scene is evident in the music video for LICE’s first single, ‘The Human Parasite’, which was directed by James Hankins who used to be in the band OLO Worms. Alastair tells me how ‘James, Adrian, who’d formed Howling Owl, and Oliver Wilde, who became the biggest breakthrough act of recent memory from Bristol before Idles, all started working at [the record shop] Rise at the same time. James used that as an opportunity, with all these new musicians coming together at the beginning of the scene that we exist in now, to make loads of new videos.’
Sadly, Rise recently closed its doors for the final time, as it is set to become a new branch of Rough Trade in the coming months. To commemorate what has been a bastion of independent music in Bristol, the shop released a 12” compilation of Bristol bands, on which two, previously unreleased tracks from the formative days of LICE feature.
Silas is ‘really flattered that they asked us’ and feels that it was ‘it was a huge honour’ to be included on the record. It was ‘a good chance to get some of those ideas out there, in a no pressure way. It’s not like it’s a single or an EP, but people will listen to it’.
And listen they shall – with a headline slot at Thekla already under their belts, it won’t be long before these Bristol alumni are taking to much bigger stages in this city and across the country.