Sam Kilcoyne is sat idly thumbing through a magazine, when he comes across a headline which aggravates him: “London’s Next Big Thing! How can so many things be London’s Next Big Thing?” he questions. “What does that even mean anymore?” He is achingly familiar with the nuisance of such hyperbole; having been attached to this bold gesture of approval on numerous occasions. He is well positioned to be cynical. He is also just 19.
At 14, Sam launched the Underage club; a club night for kids under 18 to see the underground bands they were too young to watch in pubs and bars. The night eventually launched into a successful festival. This is when he became London’s next big thing for the first time. He didn’t care. In his own words Underage was simply: “Never meant to be anything more than getting to see The Horrors. That was it. And have fun with my friends and meet girls. Drink booze when I’m not allowed.”
Without realising, he quickly became a poster boy for generation Y. It is unsurprising, since he is handsome, has great style, great ancestry (Sam’s Dad is Barry 7 from Add N to X) and is innately fanatical about underground music and counter-cultural happenings. He was being groomed by the UK press into being a raconteur/svengali/tastemaker, and a youngster whose knowledge was ripe to be picked and marketed to the world. These weren’t roles he ever wanted to apply for and he resisted: “There were offers to do talks, be on panels, present TV shows. I didn’t want any of that. I wasn’t a promoter, martyr, preacher or genius, I never even wanted to preach to kids to listen to The Cramps.” In many ways being a teenager literally became his profession, to the point where Sam exasperatedly jokes: “I feel like I’ve been a teenager for thirty years. And it became a career. We were never proper promoters. It was just the thrill of having people want to pay to come to our shows in the Coronet cinema, in my neighbourhood Elephant and Castle. It became a really beautiful thing, which also did inspire other people around the world to do the same thing. I loved every minute of it.”
Underage is now in Sam’s past: “Well unfortunately I’m now overage so I intentionally don’t have much to do with it anymore, which is a shame. Last year was my last festival and I ended up getting kicked out of it. Me and a good friend of mine ended up getting hideously pissed and celebrating being underage.” Early on in the genesis of Underage, he realised the club had to be run by kids for kids: “It needs to be promoted by someone who’s in school, hearing everybody’s opinions. One of the things which is a big shame about leaving school is you lose contact with a huge range of different people. When you leave school you’re suddenly completely alien to them, some of them will become solicitors, some of them will become bums. When you’re at school you all have separate cliques, but you all have to sit next to each other in History so you get to hear about what people are listening to in garage, hip-hop or grime or whatever new rock band is coming up from South London. Also, this day-to-day culture of having new things constantly rammed down your throat is just too chaotic for me now.”
i’m happy as long as i can take a girl out, and as long as i can get a cab home when i’m wasted. but if i make shitloads, then that’ll be fucking rad
Perched on a sofa in a recording studio just off Curtain Road in Shoreditch, Sam has just finished an afternoon of demo-ing new tracks with his band S.C.U.M, where he plays analogue keyboards. When the band emerged from South London in 2008, he was indeed heralded with sycophantic glee as London’s next big thing again. They paid little mind to the praise and quickly became entrenched in the network of tuned-in minds, which navigated around London’s East End, becoming recognised as their friends The Horrors’ young apprentices. Their commanding energy saw them performing an early landmark headline performance in Shoreditch Church at a fertile moment for music in the area which was quickly nailed into a box (together with Experiment on A Bird In The Air Pump and Factory Floor) named dark wave.
S.C.U.M started out making an inhumane mess, tearing music inside out, with vexed duelling synths, charging warrior rhythms, and Tom Cohen’s commanding choral vocals. Sam laughs: “We were a mess. We didn’t care if anyone was watching or not. Didn’t know what we were doing. I didn’t know how to play the Moog, so I just hit every key I could. Suddenly we were the best band in London.” They were embraced by the legacy of artists in the area, their vividly ominous sentiment appealing to Tim and Sue Webster who were rarely seen out of their S.C.U.M t-shirts and Matthew Stone, all of whom have since added their own distinctly heightened romantic chaos to the bands’visual identity through artwork and videos.
i wasn’t a promoter, martyr, preacher or genius, i never even wanted to preach to kids to lis
Once we are kicked out of the studio, strolling over to the Horse and Groom pub, with his centre-parted shoulder length dark hair and jacket emblazoned with a bold Navajo print, Sam could easily have stepped through an hallucinatory psychedelic mirage in Jodorowsky’s acid western, El Topo. His conversation hyperactively spins like a top between free jazz heroes Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Pharoah Saunders, to Julian Cope (“His Japrock Sampler book saved my life”). He fervently bounds down Scrutton Street, arms flailing imitating a pounding rhythm S.C.U.M’s drummer Melissa Rigby laid down on a new track. Then frustratedly doubts why critics liken the band to Echo and The Bunnymen: “None of us have ever even really listened to Echo and The Bunnymen. It’s either them or The Psychedelic Furs.” He pauses briefly, takes a deep breath. “Then we get called goths. Goths! I had never been aware that what we were making was goth, until it was too late and we were labelled goths.” He takes a pragmatic approach when our dialogue swings to money: “I’m happy as long as I can take a girl out, and as long as I can get a cab home when I’m wasted. But if I make shitloads, then that’ll be fucking rad.”
The journey from S.C.U.M’s debut single to their debut album took 3 years, when they released Again Into Eyes in 2011. The time had been well spent crafting their compelling dramatic sound which prowls enigmatically somewhere in the darkness between Bowie, Bauhaus, Birthday Party, Depeche Mode and Throbbing Gristle, always underpinned by Tom’s crooning; now part Parisian chanson, part quixotic street preacher. It’s opulent post-industrial pop music, and majestically overwhelming; Winding up Sam clarifies he is, “fascinated by noise which becomes physical. You need to see it and feel it.” Continuing, he explains he is now driven by a solitary ambition: “To find out how you can create a beautiful wall of energy and intense sound. I’m tired of this term wall of sound, I get it, it’s a physical version of sound, but I wish we could re-invent it.”
Hair Joshua Gibson using
Sassoon Salon for Sassoon
Make up Ken Nakano using MAC
Styling Assistance Luci Ellis
Special thanks to Andy Fraser,
ProVision and ProLighting