There are two of them. They are The Sixteens.
They are from San Francisco and I have rarely anticipated a gig as much as their appearance at Tescodisco in London, one of the final dates of their current European Tour. The music? A heady (as in ‘uses it’s own head and engages yours’) mix of übercool synthpunk riffs, electronic noises, with cameos for bass and guitar, all mapped against a relentless rhythm box. Kristen (she) and Veuve (he) trade vocals that sound like insults. Sometimes chanting, sometimes screaming, sometimes whispering... but always thrilling.
What is the history of the band?
Veuve: We’ve been together for ten years now. I met Kristen in San Francisco while we lived together with the original third member of the group, who has now left. Essentially the band started from a point of love. I’d played music before, but found a new way of expressing myself through the formation of the band with Kristen.
Kristen: We did a lot of experimenting in those early years. Deconstructing pianos, that sort of thing. We used to annoy the hell out of our neighbours to the extent that once, a huge onion was thrown through our apartment window at us. Veuve just picked it up and took a bite right out of it. I think our sound hits certain frequencies, which wake people up.
Do you think your outlook or approach to your music and live performance has changed much over time?
Kristen: We’ve changed a lot in terms of performance, I think. Every tour moves our sound on in some way, probably because we tend to play ahead of albums being released. The way we move on stage changes. We’re always questioning what we look like and how we feel. One tour I wore a mask on stage. Now it’s a different kind of display.
Veuve: Our approach to making music hasn’t changed much, though. We’re still abrasive, although I suppose some of what we do now could be considered more ‘dancefloor’. I now have a better awareness of sound and the possibilities of melody, particularly those that have a trance-like quality. Although some of our newer stuff might be considered ‘dancefloor’, I still like sound that cuts through...that jumps out of the music. I don’t like that compressed sound you find in dance clubs. You can go to dance club and basically become a zombie.
Some would describe your music as ‘synthpunk’, and California was one of the key players in the late 70s synthpunk scene, producing, as it did, bands such as The Screamers, Tuxedomoon, Factrix and Nervous Gender. How conscious are you of being one of the most prominent bands to pick up where Californian synthpunk left off?
Veuve: I’m pretty conscious of it.
Kristen: But I grew up in the suburbs. I had a different kind of upbringing to Veuve. We had all sorts of musical instruments around the house, like violins and pianos. So, I grew up on basically everything, from punk to classical. At school I never even considered doing music, no-one was playing in bands. And then, when I started out with The Sixteens people started to say that we sounded like The Screamers and I didn’t know who the f*** they were! One big Californian influence was The Centimeters, who were contemporaries of ours. I relate to them the most. Cole Palme from Factrix is also a really good friend of ours and helps us out, and Nervous Gender turned up to one of our gigs recently. We also supported Tuxedomoon a few years back when they played San Francisco.
You’re currently in the middle of a European tour. How’s the response been?
Veuve: The tour’s going really well. There are different energies in different cities. For example, Spain was really energetic.
Kristen: We’ve played with different people on this tour, which has been very refreshing. Also promoters got in touch with us rather than the other way round, which has made a nice change.
Veuve: Of course, it’s been hard work. We do all the driving and unloading of equipment, etc. It’s very DIY. A bit more help would be good!