The Angel is about as drab as pubs get. Arriving there at just after eleven on a morning where London was illuminated by spring sunshine, the place smells like bleach, and silence hangs uneasily over the heads of the assembled few. The pub sits solemnly at a set of traffic lights, peering towards Jamie's Italian, the last stop on a street of chain shops and unremarkable restaurants.
At a high table next to a faulty fruit machine, Joey Bradbury and Rowan Martin are nursing a pint of Pepsi and a cup of tea respectively. Since 2013, as the Rhythm Method, the pair have been crafting wonky, odes to life in a dark decade. They've only released five official singles and a few SoundCloud loosies, most of which were spruced-up versions of Bradbury's iPad demos, but their rise has been swift. They've already performed on BBC Radio 1 and have a live date at tastemaking festival lined up for early-summer. Elton John has played their music on his Beats 1 show: twice. Even with only just a handful of songs under their belt, critics and fans have taken to calling their music "the sound of London." In the midst of one of the city's most undistinguished settings, we're discussing what that could actually mean in 2017.
Like any other city in the world, London is a series of non-places that we collate and curate to create a cohesive vision. The collection of edgelands and nowheres amass into an uneasy unity that doesn't really exist, and never really could. In the same way that there is no real Berlin or Los Angeles, there is no real London. There are only ideas, the Pearly Kings and the Sloane Rangers, a cast of creations that don't correspond to reality. Accordingly, there is no sound of London. The city feels too polyglot, and too multi-faceted; as result of immigration and integration, it evolves on a daily basis.
Or at least that's how I phrase it to the duo. Bradbury—a tall, blonde 27-year-old who looks permanently on the edge of unending laughter, wearing a mask of perspiration and in Inter Milan jersey—rightly identifies that his band doesn't line up that vision of the city. "Drake's probably closer to that than us." If the music that Bradbury and Martin make isn't the sound of the city on the verges of summer 2017, what is it?
Well, it sits somewhere on the banks of the River Wandle, in South West London where the pair grew up, cans in hand, catching snippets of Magic FM and Original Pirate Material fluttering out of the windows of passing people carriers. "There's a listnessness to the place," Martin comments. "There's a lot of sitting about."
You get the sense that mundanity is important to Bradbury and Martin. The duo's friendship blossomed over the course of countless trips back west on the city's various forms of public transport, heading back from the indie clubs and underage pubs that made up their central London social lives. Geographical proximity and mutual friends threw them together, and nights passed in a blur of drinks at Nambuca or White Heat, a semi-legendarily grotty bar and a longstanding indie club night respectively, before the lengthy commutes back to south-westerly Twickenham and beyond.
Even inside that inner-sanctum, the pair never really felt at home. Bradbury admits to feeling like a perpetual outsider, always that slight step removed from the action. "I'd go there and stand outside smoking, looking at my phone." He's noticed a change since then, a broadening sense of social acceptance. "I've definitely got a lot more friends these days, which is obviously completely see through." He pauses and smirks. "But it makes you feel good…"
Eventually they started making songs together too. Just before their official formation in 2013, Bradbury had taken to tapping out demos in a mobile version of Garageband, during a period of haziness in his life—"I was living this depressed life, getting quite high every day and eating a lot of food," as he told The Guardian. Soon the pair moved in together and started working together in depth on those haphazard demos. Their first songs were unflashy mood pieces and subtly drawn character sketches that document a kind of liminality—music that feels just like life does when you're stuck between the halcyon days of an extended adolescence and the acceptance of later life's dalliances with drudgery and doldrums, days spent waiting for another big night out to start.
The Rhythm Method single that best demonstrates this to date is last year's "Party Politics", a song that tells the story of fumbled flirtation with charm and mordant wit ("Be my Cherie Blair, I'll be your Cherie Amour," Joey memorably notes.) while sounding like a perfect cross pollination of sophistipop smoothness and piano house at its most chunkily efficient. It deals with big themes—lust, love, recklessness, the easiness of falling into hedonism as a way of avoiding reality—without bluster. What could be either an overblown laugh at the group's own excessive expense or holier than thou sermon on the party's eventual end is, instead, a sensitive and sincere portrayal of the daily experience of a generation left with little more to look forward to than Saturday nights slide into Sunday morning's hangover.
From the lilting lover's rock of most recent release "Cruel" through to their debut single "Ode 2 Joey," sincerity runs through their output like a stick of half-eaten seaside rock. It's a very particular kind of sincerity, though: more Victoria Wood than David Foster Wallace. The thing about being sincere in an age when that's often unexpected is that it often gets confused for something else. "A friend of us was telling us that he'd heard someone in the toilet of a show wondering if we were ironic or not," Bradbury says, "I don't know why we'd be ironic."
That leads us to a darker side of the group's music—it stings, in a dull and resigned way, with the weary acceptance that pints can't last forever, that jokes end, that the world won't stay the way you'd like it to. In the end you'll just be back there, in a near-empty pub, condemned to your own mediocrity. "We talk about being depressed, but we'd rather not talk about it too much, because it isn't a very nice thing to talk about," Martin says. While he concedes that being reticent to tackle those issues head on might have its own problems, it feels natural. "It's a bit like when actors try and cry—it's so obvious," he says. "When people really cry they do all they can to not cry. That's what the Rhythm Method is all about. Keeping it together. Holding back the tears."
Perhaps it's that gallows humour which has seen them find fans in people like Elton John, Madness' frontman Suggs, Mike Skinner, Squeeze's Chris Difford, Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout, and, all of whom have declared a liking for the group. Or perhaps it's that they write songs most bands in the UK, if not the world would kill for. Songs like "Home Sweet Home," an elegiac number that was released in the wake of the since reversed decision to close fabric, a decision which felt like the beginning of end times for British nightlife, and so became the perfect soundtrack to it—and that, surely, is the sign of artists who truly matter, who truly speak to time and place."We've made no secret out of the fact we want to make a living out of this," Bradbury says. "We want to be rich and famous." In an age of faux-humble, artisan modesty, who'd begrudge him for that?
As the Rhythm Method's music gets out further and further beyond the net curtains of Greater London's suburban sprawl, a conversion seems to be starting to occur. As the group appear at more festivals around the country, as they begin to claim hitherto unexplored territories, more and more Methodists emerge, as more and more people realise that what they've been missing for years now is a band who really do sound like you and your friends and everyone you've ever met on a nightbus, clutching a final homeward-bound drink, dreaming of a life that'll never come, talking about last night's telly, and this weekend's football.
There is, though you'd often forget from reading the music press, a world beyond even the outermost limits of the M25. Britain— for all its regional micro-differences, which largely consist of minute modulations in accent—is an increasingly homogenous country, a total non-place. The thing is, it is within those non-places that we find ourselves, and we find out what we really hold dear socially, personally, and artistically. After all, London's just another nowhere, right? "It's just a matter of consequence," Bradbury says. "An accident of birth."
Josh Baines is on Twitter