From painful conflict, they say, comes great art. Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast, is the trembling centre of one of the world’s most long running nationalist conflicts. It’s a city of paranoia, violence and occasional moments of pure, unadulterated bliss. It’s also a city of silence; a place where everything there is to say has already been said. And So I Watch You From Afar are the sensational product, the thumping melodrama that sums it all up, and they’re threatening to not only put Belfast on international music’s map, but to permanently mark the city in bright-red, font-size-32 capitals.
‘We are the Bull, You are the China Shop’, the four-piece instrumental punks inform us on their website, but then again, your computers speakers will probably have told you that before you get round to reading it. The bashing, fast/slow, loud/ soft melodrama of And So I Watch You From Afar is a soundtrack to the modern lifestyle, the loud outweighing the soft and the occasional slowed down moments so dripping with importance they’re impossible not to soak up and enjoy. Their playful stage personas: ‘Gut Slurper’, ‘Bone Cruncher’, ‘Face Eater’ and ‘Blood Gargler’ are not a scary throwback to 80s hair metal, but, according to Guitarist Tony ‘The other Guitarist Rory’s way of amusing himself. We’re very lively on stage, very in your face and confronting. That’s what we do with everything. We thought the names might help bring that across’.
The name, ‘And So I Watch You From Afar’ is a reference to modern day big brother-ism. As a band recently described as the ‘beating heart of Belfast’s extraordinary music scene’, ‘the sound of someone crashing an oil tanker through Sigur Ros’ ice flow’ and ‘Mogwai, if they were from Belfast and had massive balls’, the attention’s something the lads are going to have to get used to. Their song titles are equally expressive, with epic highlights like ‘Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate’ and ‘ Set Guitars to Kill’ saying more than adding lyrics to their songs ever could.
There’s a stigma attached to instrumental bands; that they simply aren’t as evocative, or that they’ll fall into a dangerous, Mogwai-dominated cliché of post-rock crescendos and swirly-ness. Taking the time to praise the Scots, Tony makes the point ‘we’re more like Fugazi, or if we were to aim really high, the Clash. That would be our dream bench mark.’ Rather than referencing classics, however, ASIWYFA prefer to summarise their own music as ‘Jaggedy, and drenched in delay. There’re lots of kind of stop start bits. We just try to keep it interesting’, a summary that seems suitably lacking in pretension.
Off the stage, ASIWYFA have plenty to say for themselves. The lads recently spent their free time baiting partners in crime ‘Fighting with Wire’, in a comedy rant worthy of true superhero villains (and prompting their rivals to don superhero outfits and fake duct tape moustaches in response). When bored of the comedy YouTube videos, the lads tour in a former Northern Irish police van, constantly holding their breath in the hope that the removal of markings is thorough enough not to prompt the more politically-orientated locals to reduce them to less than the sum of their parts.
Having hosted a launch party for their debut album in a venue that’s normally reserved for established bands with international followings – and received more stars next to their name in the press than the Hilton Hotel chain – ASIWYFA are impressively modest about their achievements. ‘People see us as some kind of scene leaders?’ Guitarist Tony Wright asks us. ‘It’s really flattering, but you wouldn’t really want the voice of the whole movement to be an instrumental band, would you?’ In a country where music is often too closely tied to politics or bitterness, perhaps you would.
When it comes to touring, Tony tells us that ‘Apart from the occasional bout of decadence and alcohol’ the band – for the sake of their live performances – are a fairly chilled out bunch. Of course, when they say chilled out, they’re conveniently ignoring their habit of making audiences bounce around like fools night after night. And the extreme tour van experience. And the band rivalries. And the fact that if they weren’t in bands, they’d all be ‘Dead. Except for Chris, the drummer. He’d probably be on Dragons Den’.
ASIWYFA are a band on the brink of greatness, a modest four-piece tottering on the edge of a potentially world conquering album, and basking in more critical acclaim than any Irish act since U2 first stumbled onto the scene 33 years ago. The philosophy? It’s summed up in a song. Don’t Waste Time Doing Things you Hate’. ASIWYFA didn’t, and look where it got them.
As published in Eloquence Magazine, May 2009