“What’s your angle then?”
Alex Rice, frontman of the band Sports Team, is mid-soundcheck and throwing a question to me from the stage across the now-silent room in Rough Trade’s east London record shop. A minute or so earlier he was strutting across the stage with a posture befitting a regal yet jacked-up swan. Now he wants to hear – with a knowing side of charismatic, grinning irony – how Noisey will be covering his band. More on that later...
Really, Rice doesn't need to be that bothered about what we might write: Sports Team's live shows speak for themselves. Over the past year, whispers of their performances and the absolute imperative of needing to see Rice and his fellow mischief makers in the flesh have spread like a wildfire – one reminiscent of the sort of word-by-mouth that carried stories of the spectacles put on by Fat White Family or, more recently, Shame. The band are a compelling live proposition, majestically coordinated yet slightly unhinged, with Rice’s performance elevated by an expressionless, mute key player. As for the music – so far one EP released in January, a year or so after their first London shows – think of the following: a potpourri of the famed dry wit of Stephen Malkmus; Haircut 100 without the brass instruments; a lottery ticket love child of the harmonic and songwriting abilities of Paul Heaton and Jarvis Cocker. Needless to say, Sports Team are in the mould of a gold-medal winner.
The six-piece met when studying at Cambridge University a few years ago and don’t feel any shame in saying so. The scene in the university town was a strange one; devoid of regular gig nights, the group initially started out playing flat parties and university balls – sometimes finding themselves at the 6AM arse-end of bills that may have included Nero, Loyle Carner and Pendulum earlier in the night. Because their mates largely didn’t want to hear guitar music, Sports Team needed to bring something different. “We would make the show gag-heavy, tell a lot of jokes, dress quite stupid, have a lot of fake guitar solos or fights on stage,” Rice says, as we nurse a beer before tonight’s show.
The line-up back then was different. Members jostled for position; at one point they had four lead guitarists. It was, all in all, “a fucking shambles” according to bassist Oli Dewdney. But all six members loved what they were doing and post-university continued to make music in London, using a house that three of them rent in Harlesden as a base. “I don’t think any of us thought we were that great,” remembers Rice, going on to say how things kicked up a gear for them when they were scouted by a management company who convinced them to take things seriously and practice.
A year and several shows later and Sports Team caught the attention of Dave McCracken (Ian Brown, Depeche Mode, Florence & The Machine) who came on board to produce their debut EP Winter Nets. The record is enchanting, equal measures debauched and poetic – it sounds unlike anything you’ll have heard from a British band in years. “Camel Crew” has a little bit of The Pale Fountains about it, if The Pale Fountains ever wrote a chorus that packed a punch. Rice rolls his syllables on “Back to The Point” like a young Heaton pogoing around the microphone in his Housemartins era. These references might make the whole thing seem retrograde but Sports Team take from these influences and assimilate them into an overall new sound, placing them firmly in the Here and Now and as one of less than a finger-full of British bands doing something genuinely interesting.
Take lead single “Beverly Rose” and its video, which we’re premiering above. Shot in and around their Harlesden house, more than anything it’s just really fucking entertaining. Use your eyes and learn about that in full but know this: it includes a bath, the luxurious juice of a fried egg being squeezed from its previous casing and onto a plate and dance moves better than anything you’ve seen on Eurovision. It’s the element of intoxicating excitement, as songwriter Rob Knaggs will attest, that is what the band are all about. “There’s no money in guitar music,” he says. “The press isn’t really looking at it... So if you’re not having fun, why are you doing it?”
So, I ask Rice, what do you think the angle of this piece should be?
“Sexy frontman held back by hangers-on.”
“That’s exactly where I see it fitting.” He pauses. “Actually… It was quite funny, there was a recent piece where they called us ‘glam-theatrical,’ which we’re absolutely not, then tried to categorise us alongside this south London scene… saying ‘they hate their surroundings.’ Really? It’s the antithesis to lots of the miserable Fall knock-off stuff that’s going around at the moment, right?”
Correct. As an angle, that’ll do.
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