Extreme music is in a very fertile state in 2017, and if you disagree, you’re not looking hard enough. The UK scene is no exception, and Londoners Calligram are on the rise and waiting to scream your general direction given half a chance. Broken Amp recently caught up with bass guitarist Smittens and drummer Ardo Cotones to find out more about the band and their recent activities.
Formed in 2011, Calligram spent a handful of years honing their sound before releasing five tracks of unforgiving blackened crust punk that formed 2016’s impressive EP Demimonde. “We had actually recorded an EP in 2014 but that was so much of an experimental phase for the band, we were figuring out what worked and what didn’t for us so we decided that that record didn’t really represent us and moved on to write Demimonde, that was when the old bassist saw we were going to the heavier/faster route and bailed,” explains Ardo, while Smittens mentions his fast-track to more productive times: “luckily for me I didn’t join until two weeks before we recorded Demimonde so I got to skip all the bullshit.”
Although London-based, the band’s multinational heritage (including Italy, France and Brazil) may have had a part to play in elongating the songwriting process, despite a shared love of extreme music. “Bruno [Polotto – guitarist], Tim [Desbos – guitarist] and myself worked for 8 months on our own jamming stuff out and figuring out what we wanted to play,” says Ardo. “We knew we’d get along well writing music, but because we come from such different cultural and musical backgrounds it took a little while to nail exactly what all of us wanted to do as a band.”
Despite Demimonde receiving a fair amount of attention from both underground and mainstream publications , their recently-released debut full-length Askesis is a step up in every department, and a true statement of intent from the Londoners. With the titles of the two releases seemingly antipodal, Ardo explains the concepts behind them. “Demimonde was a concept created by Tim to homage the outcasts of society and give them a chance to avenge some of the injustices and harm done to them due to our prejudices and beliefs. In a similar way, Askesis is a critique of society and the archaic beliefs humanity struggles so much to let go of. These beliefs only hold us back, life is meaningless, everything we do is because we are bored, we’re not born with a set of rules on how to live our lives and yet we still do.” He further describes the potential advantage of removing such outmoded ideas from our world: “The moment all this disappears, people will have a lot more fun with life and the people that suffer oppression because of such beliefs will be able to enjoy their lives without some c*** telling them they shouldn’t be doing this or that.”
Given the strength of both Demimonde and Askesis, it comes as little surprise to us that Calligram caught the attention of a key UK record label in the form of Basick Records, whom they signed with in September this year. Home to some of rock and metal’s strongest up-and-comers, it can only be a good move for the band. “We sent them an email haha. Pretty simple really,” says Smittens. “Luckily Megan [former label assistant]was already a fan of Demimonde and I guess they saw the progression we’d made with Askesis, and also the hustling we did on Demimonde to get the coverage we did for a pretty unknown band. To be fair there wasn’t really much to talk about. I see Barley [Nathan Barley Phillips – founder and general manager] out and about and we get on, so it just seemed like a good fit for us & hopefully them.”
With the release of their debut full-length and signing a record deal, 2017 has been a busy year for the blackened crust quintet. Ardo explains how the band have managed to fit all of this into the busy schedule of a gigging band. “When we released Demimonde, we had already written pretty much the core of Askesis so we recorded in February so we could gig as much as possible in 2017,” he says. “We will do a similar thing with album 2 which we already have some material for.” “We recorded Askesis with Lewis Johns [Employed To Serve, Svalbard, Rolo Tomassi] at the Ranch in February so since then we’ve mainly been focusing on playing shows,” Smittens adds, “we’ve just began writing album 2 – it’s a lot faster.”
Calligram now have two music videos under their belt, having recently filmed a version of the blistering ‘Scourge’ – one of the highlights of Askesis – and we ask the pair how the process of filming ‘Scourge’ differed from the experience when filming ‘Bed of Nails’ . “I was far less drunk filming Scourge,” offers Smittens before Ardo provides some further insight. “It was a collaboration between myself and the director Nick Suchak ,” he says, “we wanted to create the atmosphere of the album cover and symbolise the moment we escape the reins of belief. I produced, directed, shot and edited the ‘Bed of Nails’ video. It was a lot more fun to do ‘Scourge’ as I only had to focus on drumming for 200 takes.”
Calligram’s sound sits somewhere within the realms of both hardcore punk and black metal – two traditionally very distinct genres that have, in recent years, seen a rise in bands taking such established sounds and incorporating additional elements to create hybrid genres. If descriptive labels ever were important, they become less so with every emerging band that shun such potential hindrances. “We just make music we want to listen to,” says Smittens, “There’s a lot of genres flying around in the room and none of us hang out with people from a certain ‘scene’ or put up with any of that boring bullshit. I just sit down the pub with me mates & watch football, they all hate the music we make and so they should.” The rise of technology and social media may well have also played its part, with the potential for increased musical exposure to become a catalyst for progression. “Definitely the fact that there’s so much more music available to us has helped people let go of the ‘old ways’ and experiment more with different genres,” says Ardo, “although I still see at least twice a day some article about Metallica on my timeline and have friends that when I play them some new music they’ll want to compare it to something from the 90’s.” He also states that Calligram live for defying such conventions. “Audiences of distinct genres get confused when they see us live.” he says. “They might like the punk bits but not black metal or vice versa. We thrive and wanted to challenge that.”
Speaking of exposure, Calligram’s releases have been catching the attention of the mainstream rock and metal press since the release of Demimonde, with Metal Hammer, Terrorizer and Kerrang! all taking a keen interest in the band. “Rightly or wrongly I think it legitimised the band in a lot of promoters’/labels’/agents’/fans’ eyes.” Smittens muses. “It’s all about perception. Luckily enough for us we live in a country where I think the metal press are very supportive of the bands in the UK. The coverage we got on Demimonde definitely gave us the confidence to make Askesis.”
This kind of exposure can also lead to further gig and tour opportunities, which is something Calligram were naturally keen to embrace. Having played a number of shows with the likes of Wolfbrigade and Downfall of Gaia this year as well as with some of the UK’s finest and nastiest (including Gets Worse, The Infernal Sea and Dawn Ray’d), the band have taken a lot away from the experiences. “We’re 1000 times tighter at the end of 2017 than we were at the start,” says Smittens, “we wish we could record Askesis again. Playing with these bands week in and week out really pushes you on because we know we deserve to be playing these shows and it’s good to prove that to ourselves.” Their recent show with The Infernal Sea, Dawn Ray’d and Crimson Throne in Liverpool proved to be a particular highlight. “Dawn Ray’d were absolutely incredible on Saturday night playing on a bigger stage, something we’re not used to yet as we love playing on the floor so much and something which we’re gonna work on for 2018 as our shows start hitting bigger venues. Also, extra shout-outs to Surya, Harrowed, Prisa Mata, Crimson Throne & This Ends Here.”
With highs come lows, however, and Calligram’s scheduled UK tour with Vorvaň was cancelled due to the Russians experiencing visa problems and being refused entry to the country . No matter how infrequently this happens, it’s an issue that could have serious connotations for both international bands looking to tour within the UK, as well as for home-grown bands looking for opportunities to play with their peers. “I wasn’t shocked,” Smittens tell us, “they’re a Russian band playing punk rock, it was always going to be tough. Try being a UK band getting a US visa, it’s been fucking stupid for years; Obama, Trump, Ric Flair, whoever the leader is. For the future, a band like us needs to be able to play in Europe. We get paid more money & looked after really well – if there’s no freedom of movement for UK citizens post-Brexit then me, Ardo & Bruno are all going to have to get a separate visa for every EU country we enter – that’s going to make going to Europe pretty much impossible. Which is very annoying because the beer in Belgium is bloody lovely.”
With a successful 2017 under their collective belt and a promising year ahead of them, Smittens sums up Calligram’s immediate future succinctly: “Write, tour, record & hopefully have the second album out by this time next year or early 2019.” With the world seemingly at their feet, we wish Calligram all the best for what promises to be an eventful 2018.
Many thanks to Smittens and Ardo for their time, and Lisa Coverdale for the opportunity. Askesis is out now on Basick Records.