There are few alternative bands in Britain with a following as youthful, diverse and dedicated as that which surrounds Enter Shikari at every turn. Now in to their second decade as a band, having formed back in 2003, the four component parts of Enter Shikari- Rou Reynolds, Chris Batten, Rory Clewlow and Rob Rolfe embody the sort of organic roots that breathe life in to the hopes and dreams of young bands across the U.K. Even off the back of their hugely popular debut 'Take To The Skies', which introduced the world to the eclectic genre busting post-hardcore vs. electronics sound, few would have predicted the continued success of a band who went on to exponentially develop and expand not just their sound but their message. Enter Shikari have become a band immersed in socio-politically aware lyricism, veering from extended metaphors on the failures of national politics to globally broadcast call to arms'. Alienating some fans and rallying others, it was a step, for a band that has always sought to break boundaries sonically, that made absolute sense and it's a move that's always endeared me to stick with Enter Shikari over the years as their albums have gone from strength to strength.
I spoke to Rou Reynolds (vocals) and Rob Rolfe (drums) on the night of their much anticipated return to the live scene. A homecoming show, on the eve of a stint of global touring hitting Russia, Eastern Europe and the United States before coming back to a huge slot on this year's Reading and Leeds main stage. All this off the back of a lengthy absence recording album no. 4. As we sat in the empty Style Bar before the show at the Hatifled University Forum that has played host to their now trademark one off shows there is a bittersweet feeling to the early evening. I was half expecting the guys to be raring to go and get back out on the live stage instead they came across as calm and a little subdued on an occasion that also marked their leaving party before their mammoth globe-trotting summer.
Enter Shikari have made their name selling out nights at the now defunct Astoria, the Brixton Academy and Hammersmith Apollo, taking big slots at the summers festivals year after year, a trend that their fourth album is sure to maintain. With this platform comes the potential to have an impact on the wider sphere of British music. I suggested to Rob and Rou that this influence translated to a degree of responsibility in terms of aiding bands looking to break the big time, something the band have always seemed to do. Marmozets, Young Guns, Hacktivist and Neck Deep have all cut their teeth in support slots with Enter Shikari and gone on to bigger things in their own rights, and on this night upstarts Roam and hot property Baby Godzilla open up proceedings.
Enter Shikari @ Download 2013
This suggestion of a weight of responsibility is not a concept that Rou and Rob seemed particularly keen to indulge, however, it's something far more organic.
'I don't know whether it comes down to responsibility, it's a natural urge to want to promote bands that we feel deserve to be heard. A lot of bands rely on their label and booking agent to cobble together some form of contrived tour and you can tell. We always try and give new bands a chance and keep the bill diverse when we are headlining.'- Rou Reynolds
'It helps that these bands are coming up from the kind of roots where we developed. It's a lot easier to have a band playing with us who have been touring themselves round and playing for the right reasons, rather than have a label force bands on the bill.'- Rob Rolfe
When venues across the country are closing at an alarming rate, the Millenium Music hall in Cardiff, The Peel in Kingston have all bitten the dust, while Bristol's Fleece, Plymouth's White Rabbit and many more face imminent closure. It comes down to bands the calibre of Enter Shikari giving up and coming acts a platform to build a fan base, which will in turn breathe life back in to the scene. Promoting and protecting this is something the band are more than used to.
"As we were growing up there was a great promotion company in St Albans, putting on bands like Sikth and Capdown. Then we took over with our promotion company. It was actually originally for the Duke Of Edinburgh award, but we were kicked out from that for not doing the paper work, but just carried on anyway. That was really successful but when we started touring we couldn't keep it going and it sort of died out. Certainly our local scene seems to have receeded from what it was."- Rou
When I mentioned the power of music as force for resistance the tone of our conversation changed. Often bands promoting political messages flit in and out of their beliefs, finding creative and lyrical solace in global issues, in the case of Rou Reynolds this is not a criticism that can be levelled. He lives and breathes the messages sewn in to his lyricism and it became clear to me as he and Rob both opened up just how much this band matter. So often delivered with great British wit this is someone who also understands that it's not just believing in something but translating it in to your art that is as important. Take their most recent single Radiate's opening refrain.
"To take away our expression is to impoverish our existence".- Radiate (2013)
"Music can be one of the most powerful tools to radiate resistance throughout a population. It's a good way to spread messages, put out aggressions and ideas"- Rob
Enter Shikari embody the power of music as resistance. It's not a characteristic that they believe is vested solely in 'political' bands, it's an ethic, often a subconscious one, that reaches far deeper in to the culture of music in the 21st century.
"We're very aware of the politics and socially conscious music. It's the ball that's attached to my foot, we can't really shrug it off. A lot of people claim there is a lack of that sort of [political] music, which there is. It's important, however, that any music just by being music played live is a unifying experience, that in itself automatically makes it against the power structures. It's important to keep art as a big part of your life"- Rou
"We have just the same amount of brotherhood with other bands that don't talk about this kind of thing but just play the music for the love of music."- Rob
After I spoke to the band they demonstrated this unity in quite literal style as on emerging to the stage before they had played a note Rou launched himself in to the crowd triggering a staggeringly loud and dedicated chant of 'and still we will be here standing like statues' (documented in the montage above). Having chatted casually to the band earlier it's this moment right at the start of their set that brings everything they've said home; when your fans are this devoted, they can often be heard far louder than Rou throughout the gig, it would be impossible not to feel compassion, comradeship and unity with people you've rarely met from all corners of the country and the world screaming your words at you. The band blast through a career spanning set, sounding as tight and powerful as ever and it's lapped up by one of the keenest crowds I've seen for a long time, the whole room moshing, bouncing and singing in unison.
Rou also manages to shrug off sounding too cliché when comparing the uniting power of music to that of the church yet one that is far less discriminate.
"Everywhere you look there are structures and concepts that are there to divide people. Either as a side project of something else or as an explicit tool to segregate. Music is the last thing that brings people together indiscriminately.
It's important to have ways of unifying people. Especially with the downfall of religion, an antique way of bringing people together. But obviously that was not universal, that has created more war than anything else."- Rou
"People come together at lots of different points in life. You all come together in a cinema, but it's a one way interaction of entertainment, we make sure our live shows are a two way experience, you feel part of what is going on. You know other people are having the same emotional reaction to music as you. It is universal."- Rob
It doesn't seem as though 7 months out has changed anything either with the fire in their belly's well and truly lit for album number four. If the first teaser of new music, a live video of track 'Anaesthetist', is anything to go by it could all be getting abstractly brutal.
"The doctor begs the anaesthetist...I want to go under the knife I believe in this".- Anaesthetist (untitled album no. 4)
"Oh yeah all of these messages are in the new stuff as well. Don't worry about the album it's angrier than ever" -Rou
The poignancy of everything really hits home when the band take it down a level and end their set on the ponderous 'Constellations'. A song that starts like a tour diary and ends up a call to arms to save humanity through unity and resistance.
"The sparkling light of the morning sun is all we should need to feel one'... "With forgiveness our torch and imagination our sword, we'll untie the ropes of hate and slash open the minds of the bored"- Constellations (2013)
Tonight it's the much anticipated and essential return of a band loved by all in attendance that makes us feel as one. Enter Shikari represent resistance and yet often unassumingly wield great power. They have accepted their responsibility to provide the young bands of the UK with a platform to be appreciated, they also represent one of a handful of bands wearing their political hearts on their sleeve but most importantly Enter Shikari are a band that have done all this on their own terms. They put their heart in to what they do, they mean every lyric they write, they choose every band they play shows with. Enter Shikari matter and it feels so good to have them back.