It’s no secret that Bristol and it’s neighbouring areas are host to some seriously innovative, original and excitingly fresh musical artists. A hotbed for contemporary music, the Bristolian region has birthed an abundance of bedazzling bands throughout the last couple of decades, with artists such as Phoxjaw, Turbowolf, Idles, Heavy Lungs, Memory Of Elephants and countless more calling the city home. However, whilst the South West is home to an ever blossoming math and post rock scene, one band that might have slipped your attention are the contemporary instrumentalists in the Ogives Big Band.
Previously known under the moniker of Øgïvęš, the undertaking was previously the personal project of one Ben Harris (Guitar). However, the mathematical riff powerhouse morphed into a three piece when Ben Holyoake (Bass) and Oli Cocup (Drums) of Lambhorn joined the act. A regional supergroup if you will, the Ogives Big Band is the next evolution of the Øgïvęš namesake, with the respective talents of each member infusing the previous material belonging to the Ogives name with fresh vigour, energy and radiant technicality. The trio immediately proved this sentiment live physically, with the group having recently shared stages with the likes of Delta Sleep, Poly-Math, Bodyhound, Pijn, Blanket, and mostly recently, Torche and Slow Crush. However, the trio ultimately showcased their collective skill with the recently released EP HARM.
An arresting collection of tracks that straddles the lines between progressive metal, math rock and sludge, the three tracks within HARM see Ogives Big Band deliver angular, seizing and surreal polyrhythmic hits that intoxicate the mind before taking it on a journey to technicolour soundscapes. Chokingly dense sludge thins into euphoric drone whilst tearing riffs pop sporadically into creation before crashing into chaotic and uncontrollable breakdowns. All of this mayhem is delivered via the means of unpredictable time signatures, arresting groove and the kaleidoscopic psychedelia that’s synonymous with the underbelly of Bristolian culture.
Whilst this may sound like a lot of contrasting components to be packed into a handful of tracks, HARM is radiant and fluid. There’s no sense of stuttering overindulgence or incoherence present within this EP. Blurring the lines between genre conventions, Ogives Big Band have utilised their collective skill to alchemize a musical substance that takes the consumer on an intense, incandescent and brief trip through a shimmering and metaphorising soundscape.
With a new year and decade upon the horizon, the Ogives Big Band are ultimately set to join the ranks of their esteemed genre and regional peers. With the band having recently brought the sounds of HARM to mainland Europe and with new dates swiftly approaching, we got in touch the band to discuss the EP, the aforementioned tour and what’s set to come in the coming decade.
Can you tell us about the history of Ogives Big Band and HARM?
Ben Harris (Guitar): It started as solo home recording project. I was geographically estranged from my band at the time but I still wanted to create music. Originally the intent was for it to be an outlet to experiment and get better at writing and recording but after a few years I started doing shows sporadically. Then about 2 and a half years ago I organised a release show for a new solo EP and I wanted to do a special one off performance for it. I have quite a lot of unreleased music stashed away, the majority of which is written for a full band setup. So I put together a band in order to perform 3 songs for the second half of the set. It went down really well and several people enthusiastically suggested we turn it into an actual band. About a year later, we did. Those 3 songs are what make up the HARM EP.
What was your recent European tour like?
Ben Holyoake (Bass): Gigging in Europe is always such a treat. There’s such a welcoming atmosphere wherever we go and the hospitality and food is always incredible. Highlights for me include jamming with the locals until 5am after a gig on my birthday, driving around Lake Geneva at sunset, and playing on the roof of an office inside a brewery after getting shut down by the Swiss police.
Oli Cocup (Drums): It's always so good to hit Europe. Hospitality is amazing, shows are generally awesome and its good to see new sights. Highlight for me was teaching drums to French locals till 5am and sleeping on a trampoline in the countryside listening to the birds. METAL.
Ben Harris: I had a fantastic time. We were lucky enough to have our good friend Oriane (Shaky Shots) managing the tour and booking pretty much all of the shows. For the most part the venues were not typical, which made things more interesting. They were all great shows and we were very well looked after. I'd like to go back as soon as possible!
What's your collective approach to writing and performing?
Ben Harris: Typically I'll write a song on the guitar as a kind of blueprint. Then I bring the arrangement to Ben and Oli and we break it down into smaller chunks so that they can write their parts and learn the structure. How much the structure changes varies depending on the song and how we all feel about it. Once we can play it all together we reassess it as a whole, work out the details and refine it to a point where we're all happy. I'd say that this writing setup is what I've been trying to cultivate in a band for many years, it just needed to right people in order for it to work. It's a pretty democratic process and it's very thorough.
Pretty much all the songs start out as solo acoustic guitar pieces (unless it's a reworking of an existing Ogives solo song). The idea being that if it can stand up on it's own as a solo arrangement, then that's usually a good sign. I think that, in terms of performance we want to play live with a good amount of energy and for the show to lean more towards being engaging than playing the songs verbatim. We always aim to be as tight as possible live but I accept and embrace that we might make some mistakes or necessary improvisations through such an approach but, for me, perfectionism is what the recording process is for.
Oli; Harris terrifies us with an onslaught of riffery, somehow we boil it down to something that makes sense to us, we learn it and complicate it again while keeping a sense of normality about us. We don't do complex music for the sake of it, its important to keep heads screwed on and not go too far down the rhythmic pit, however tempting that may be.
Ben Holyoake: Ben and I live together in central Bristol, and we very fortunate to have a practice space in our basement. It makes writing and rehearsing so much easier as there’s no money involved. It’s such a weight off our shoulders when we’re sweating over 200bpm riffs in 13, knowing that it doesn’t matter if we don’t crack it straight away! It’s been a real game changer for the longevity of obscure projects, that’s for sure.
HARM combines psychedelic and sludge aesthetics, how did you merge such themes?
Ben Holyoake: I think most of our output is a weird melting pot of all of our influences. We all love the big riffs but without context they can become very one dimensional, so we use more off kilter sections to break them up so that (hopefully) they land with more impact!
Ben Harris: I use a lot of effects when playing solo but I use them quite sporadically in the big band. It's probably what happens when you strip away the layers of effects to then find that underneath is a big bunch of riffs.
Oli: I like to play slow, and there are a lot of effects, this can create a pretty psychedelic effect crossed with the speed of the riffs.
What are your personal influences?
Ben Harris: The Mars Volta, Aphex Twin, Bjork, Rob Crow, The Knife, Mastodon (pre 'The Hunter').
Ben Holyoake: The Fall of Troy, Earth Tongue, Body Hound, Torche, Red Fang, Cleft.
Oli: Mastodon, Beggar, The Mysterons, Kiki Gyan and the Queens Of The Stone Age album Songs for the Deaf.
Whats happening in the new year?
Ben Harris: We're currently writing music for our next release. I'd like to think we'll have it out sometime next year but it's a bit early to tell. We're planning to do another EU tour and probably a UK one too. There are a couple of other exciting things on the horizon but I can't talk about those just yet!
Ben Holyoake: More of everything. Riffs and fun!
Oli: Writing Writing Writing. Gigs, general boundary pushing and seeing where this band takes us personally and together
HARM is out now via Halfmeltedbrain Records. You can purchase the record via Big Ogive Band's bandcamp.