Last year, the Hong Kong promoters Untitled Entertainment began bringing British buzz bands to southeast Asia on a regular basis. They delivered Bombay Bicycle Club, Metronomy, the Vaccines and The Horrors, and this year they open with Delphic, which performs at Legacy on Monday. Delphic occupies some weird musical territory between shoegaze, indie dance and electronic rock. Should you dance to it? Put it on heavy rotation on BBC Radio 1’s daytime shows? Or geek out over it as the next big indie breakthrough? One thing Delphic are not, however, are guitar rock saviors. Theirs is a synth-driven sound that is a moody, distant and spaced-out version of the electronic pop that dates back to New Order. They are an echo of the 80s, but without the bubbly enthusiasm.
Now touring to promote their newly released album Collections, lead vocalist James Cook admitted to shoegaze-y roots. “The word delphic means obscure,” he wrote, in an e-mail interview. “When we started, we didn’t feel confident enough to show our faces so it seemed to work well.”
Formed in 2009, Cook says the songwriting quickly evolved from indie electronica jams to a more pop oriented ideas about song crafting that by 2012 had them named as one of five British bands to release songs for the London Olympics. The other artists were Elton John, Muse, The Chemical Brothers and Dizzee Rascal.
“We started by making beats or loops and writing around them, but then realized that the key things we wanted to hear in our songs were a strong melody, a lyric that resonates, and a beat that defines it,” says Cook.
As an example, he compares the tunes Halcyon and Doubt from the 2009 debut album Acolyte to others from the new album. Those songs “started out as chord sequences and mumbled nonsense lyrics that we carved into a song on the computer.” But with current hits Baiya and Memeo, “the different sections — verse, bridge, chorus — were linked intrinsically at the very beginning on just piano and voice.” In other words, the starting point has shifted from beats to musical ideas you can sing along with.
For this reason, Cook is not overly concerned about how the songs will inevitably be remixed by others. “I think a lot of remixes are hit and miss. There is only ever one original of the track, and that is what we hope will be remembered 30 years down the line.”
Writing melodies that resonate is a conscious goal for Cook, and his plaintive pop odes derive inspiration from a diverse array of powerful singers. “I grew up listening to Jeff Buckley, Kate Bush and Robert Plant, but as I’ve grown I find so much reward in listening to others such as Sam Cooke and Aaliyah,” he says.
His vocal parts offer a counterpoint to the indie dance synth beats of keyboard player Rick Boardman. “Rick’s synth room is ridiculous,” Cook continues. “He looks for warmth and tone from a synth in the way a jazz connoisseur would look at warmth and tone from a trumpet. It doesn’t really matter what record it is on, if the synth sounds good he will spot it.”
So in this short journey from shoegazing shyness to Olympic stardom, has the band arrived anywhere definable within the musical spectrum? Probably not. When asked about his choice for an ultimate show, Cook admits as much, saying that if given the choice “we’d rather headline the biggest festivals in the world, then head straight off to DJ in a cool club till 3am.”