On their debut EP Bondye, Hounfour have delivered a dark slab of ambience in the vein of The Stranger or The Haxan Cloak, with touches of old-school dubstep reminiscent of Distance. Their boast that the majority of sounds on the release are developed from field recording is intriguing (barring a short piano and string theme at the end of the final track), and with the record layered in the hiss and whirr of the Grey Outdoors we’re transported to the nowheresvilles that incubated the group’s two members, Oli Hulett and Lewis Carpenter.
Moreover, there’s a neurotic-yet-banal element to the recordings, with delay, panning and bitcrushing employed beautifully to disorient and jitter the listener at every step; the musical equivalent of looking up just before you walk straight into a lamp-post. The six tracks are absorbing and brooding without the need to veer into oppressive atmospheres, and at points could even be said to be danceable(!); captivating stuff to be sure.
Bondye is now available on Bandcamp for a name-your-price download, so do check it out. Intrigued, we spoke to Hulett and Carpenter to learn more about Weston-Super-Mare and Vodun…
How did you guys get together?
LC: We met through university and through mutual friends, Oli was in the year above and we originally wanted to write hip-hop but it actually took us about a year to sit down and work on something. After producing the first track (‘Overture’) for our end of year gig, we decided to keep it going because we enjoyed it.
You’ve said the album is mostly field sounds. Could you tell us about how you collected these and made them into a record?
LC: We basically had a field recorder and went out around our university campus. There was an old skip outside our uni, which we dug through and found random objects to use. You can hear it the most in ‘Kanga’ within the percussive aspects.
OH: It’s the most blatant use of Foley in the EP I think. There’s a lot of woodcutting with an axe as well.
LC: Processing wise we used a lot of in-the-box plugins and pushed various distortions as much as we could.
OH: We caused my computer to have a meltdown. I think we were oddly picky with what audio samples we used.
LC: We were making this when Oli was still living in Weston, and with the audio and synths, which Oli and I make as well. When you are making synths, you set out to have an idea of the sound you want to make but when working with audio you get a lot of unpredictable results that we couldn’t have imagined when working with synths.
OH: I think as well it’s a lot like working with analogue gear, you get a lot of unexpected hisses and ground noise.
LC: The way me and Oli work is quite reckless, we didn’t pay much attention to signal flow and are generally quite chaotic.
OH: Organised chaos.
Three weeks is quite a short time to produce music these days, with so many options available in software and mastering. Was this a time limit you imposed on yourselves, or an intention to make the EP efficiently?
LC: Oli was busy doing his dissertation when we made this EP and I was finishing my second year. We didn’t self-impose a time limit on ourselves, we wanted to play our end-of-year gig but we couldn’t perform without music and they offered us a 20-minute set so we were like oh ok… this EP was made chronologically, the first track we made was the first track and the last track was the final track. There’s a narrative in the music but after the live set we continued to refine it, our first gig was a bit raw.
OH: It was more for our own ambition and gratification.
LC: We didn’t have much ambition going into this before we started making the music and our lecturers told us nothing like this had been made before on our uni course.
OH: We tried to avoid making just hip-hop or something like that and wanted to make something questionable.
Is Weston-Super-Mare really as cold and windy as it sounds on Bondye?
OH & LC: Yes…
LC: This is actually quite interesting because in Oli’s room it was freezing. We wrote most the music in Oli’s uni accommodation before finalising it in the studio and Oli’s flat is underground. If you looked outside his room all you could see was overgrown trees and a brick wall.
OH: Despite being made in the height of a heatwave… it wasn’t really a conscious decision.
LC: It’s a juxtaposition when I think about it now and it’s not that cold now but when winter comes you definitely notice.
OH: It’s the sea breeze that’s most noticeable no matter where you are in Weston.
Which artists influenced you when writing Bondye, musical or otherwise?
LC: Well for me personally it was a lot more a sound design exercise than a music one.
OH: There wasn’t much musicality involved really…
LC: No. I mean obviously there’s chords and musical elements but it’s not at the forefront of the music, except for the obvious musical passage at the end of the last track.
OH: It’s a palette cleanser.
LC: Yeah. We were thinking when we made that we weren’t the last band to play at the gig and after was a reggae/rock band, so we wanted to remind people what ‘actual’ music sounded like. And also, me and Oli are proficient in making things that are melodic and musical as well and after the 20 minutes, we thought it was nice to add this subtle melody at the end of the last track.
OH: It’s the relapse after the abuse of noise… it’s like a wakeup call.
LC: I think we were more influenced by works of fiction, we spent a while looking at various images…
OH: I think if there were two artists I would name it would be The Haxan Cloak and The Body, but even then I wouldn’t call it much of an influence… more like an association.
LC: Yeah, when we were making it wasn’t a case of “This sounds like this artist”, we just thought it was different.
OH: We still don’t really know what genre it is…
LC: I think we coined the term ‘Negative Music’ with one of our friends…
I know that you’re also big fans of doom metal. How do you feel that Hounfour relates to that genre?
LC: I’m not that into doom metal, but do you see any similarities?
OH: It’s more like just, brooding atmospheres more than anything else.
LC: I think it’s the vibe as well…
OH: Yeah we could probably play with a doom band and get away with it but we’re not doom metal, I guess we’re metal but I’m not sure.
LC: A lot of the time the classification is more for the listeners… you know some might say “Oh! It’s a bit Aphex Twin-y”.
OH: Yeah, it’s almost like Aphex Twin had a baby with Sunn O))). It’s drones with techno beats…
Hounfour and Bondye are both taken from Vodun praxis. Is there a spiritual aspect to the group’s sound or style?
LC: Well Oli first gave the name Hounfour and explained to me what it was.
OH: Well you first suggested using Voodoo masks for something so I suggested Hounfour as a name.
LC: It’s not really for a spiritual aspect, it’s more for the lore…
OH: It’s for storytelling purposes.
LC: We discussed doing different aspects of Voodoo for different EPs, like Bondye is Haiti Voodoo. But like me and Oli are in the discussion of our next release which we think will be a full album. It’s probably not going to be Voodoo but it will have a very expansive story.
OH: It’s less Voodoo and more to do with occultism.
LC: Oli is a big fan of stuff like the Necronomicon and the Lovecraft stuff.
OH: Yeah, it’s to do with the ‘unimaginable horrors’ and that sort of thing and I guess that’s where the doom metal influences come from.
LC: It’s a lot to do with the track names and album artwork.
Speaking of which, are you planning to get in touch with the band Vodun?
LC & OH: Maybe in the future! Who knows…
What are your thoughts about taking Hounfour to a live environment?
LC: We have! As we explained earlier, Hounfour was born with the live environment very much in mind.
OH: The first gig at The Electric Banana, which is on YouTube, it was very much an unrefined idea and I think when we do it live again it will be a lot more controlled, I guess.
LC: And also our first gig wasn’t in the environment or with an audience who I think would fully appreciate it, like our parents were there and my boss was there and he said it was very ‘arty’. We’ve had all the verbs for someone who’s trying to be polite.
OH: Yeah, no one is really sure how to approach us about it.
LC: And I think, as well, Weston is a small town and hasn’t got a very vibrant music scene, so I think if we were going to take it somewhere else we’d put the research in and put ourselves in different circles and relevant circles so we can reach the people who seek this sort of music, as opposed to your mate from the pub looking for a pint.
Lastly, do you have any ideas for the next release?
LC: We’re working on an album, but with the first release we were working with a time limit, so it was more a matter of trying to find where we want to take this project musically, and with the album I think we will push ourselves and further that.
OH: I think when we start recording the album we’ll put our own time limit on it so we can really work on it and not procrastinate…
LC: And for this album, we’ll definitely scale up our ambition and since Oli doesn’t live in Weston anymore, we’re putting more time in the narrative and fleshing out the story before we start recording. We’re toying with the idea of using more analogue gear and real musicians etc.
OH: Yeah, having real people work on this with us as well, it’s more like a collective experience. We’ve had a few offers from other musicians who want to work with us on the next thing but not necessarily be in the band.
LC: A lot of people we know have done the band thing before, so I think they like the idea of contributing without the commitment of a band…
Bondye is out now. Download here.
Words: David Burke