In the aftermath of Slam Dunk, I find myself still stunned at several performances, and my mind occupied by contagious choruses, most notably Lower than Atlantis, and songs from World Record. Knowing that this summer will see them reach higher heights, as their schedule is appears fully booked with festivals galore, I’m thankful I could witness at least one of these festivals this year, as their performance was impeccable at Slam Dunk: thundering sound, passionate energy, and fans singing to the rooftop. I found it unfortunate that a clash of set times meant Mike Duce, frontman extraordinaire, could not pace across the Leeds campus and join friends For the Fallen Dreams on stage to perform his guest vocals on their recent track ‘Yellow’ – I felt it would’ve made a nice touch and show a sign of community; a bridge between America and the UK.
With that in mind anyway, I began to think about Lower than Atlantis, having been aware of them since their starting days; a chaotic post-hardcore quintet, blasting out songs with even wittier names than now, for example, ‘Third Degree Montgomery Burns’. As if I had a timeline set out in front of me, and marvelled, (I also cringed at this point, as I browsed their Last.FM page to see biography updates and old photos I had uploaded back in 2008 on their page – photos of which was as interesting as they are hilarious).
It was 26th January 2008 when I first met Mike and company; they were to support recent Channel 4 famous Yashin, at a gig my promotion team put on, that sold no more than twenty tickets. This was before the release of Bretton, and they only had recorded a four-track demo, and two new, more constructed songs which gained them more than 100 friends on MySpace. I had stumbled across their page by pure chance; browsing the ‘post-hardcore’ genre section on MySpace and laughing to myself that they had named a song ‘Bretton’, as I am from a small area in my city known as Bretton. A few weeks later, impressed with their sound, we booked them for a show.
I remember asking the frontman at the time, Luke Sansom (his brother Ben is still in the band today), why he would name a song ‘Bretton’ whilst I bought their first ever t-shirt (stupidly sold that on eBay last year, didn’t I?), and he said that he works (or worked rather now, could still be there...) in Topman and the song was about a girl that worked with him, in a department they named ‘Bretton’. There you go, there’s a fact for you.
Their performance to the empty room nonetheless blew me away and I was thrilled at their charismatic nature and head-banging sounds; as if the music took over, and from then on, I was sucked in. I have had the good fortune of seeing Lower than Atlantis perform several times after, roughly two years after the first time, they supported Deez Nuts at the same venue as before, the Park, but to a packed room and with short-time drummer Josh Pickett – seeing him play was a nice treat. And again in the spring of 2010 in London, performing that the infamous Facedown club night at the Astoria. I remember this quite vividly: they debuted their Foo Fighter’s cover, ‘Everlong’, and friend Josh Beech (who of which is the inspiration behind ‘Beech like a Tree’) stage-dove, clearing the barrier and crashing into the crowd.
It’s odd, yet charming, to see their progression and how well they’ve handled it – from slumming it at after parties to signing autographs and playing Madia Vale sessions with the BBC: “Mike's on daytime radio” (Deaf Havana – ‘The Past Six Years’, Fools and Worthless Liars, 2011). Certain highlights would include touring America with Norma Jean; I remember Stray from the Path tweeting something along the lines of ‘Not many kids seem to get what Lower than Atlantis are about, but I do, and I totally respect what they’re doing’.
Duce’s own transformation is quite remarkable, from being the band’s guitarist, out of the limelight, to end up taking centre stage and front the band, directing them in a different path entirely – which has worked out tremendously well! As well as perfecting his voice along the way...
Lyrically, he is one of the most unique song writers the UK has to offer, and I mean this genuinely. He writes without thinking, in a way of portraying the everyday down-and-out kid of this country, and connecting with them, speaking of the current times, in the least poetic way possible, it becomes easily respected and daring in approach. Some favourites include:
“Fat slags are 'dressed to kill', with their short skirts barely covering arse cheeks making me ill”
- ‘Eating is Cheating’, Far Q, 2010
“We are the kids of the recession, credit cards, overdrafts, loans and no pensions”
- ‘I'm Not Bulimic (I Just Wanted to See How Far I Could Stick My Fingers Down My Throat)’, Far Q, 2010
And last, but not least:
“Www dot I love you dot com forward-slash will you send me some nudes?”
- ‘A/S/L?’, Far Q, 2010
It’s as if he’s the Nick Hornby of the lyrical word, with mentions of British newspapers, social network websites, Weatherspoons and video game consoles – confronting the scene directly from the criticism they received: “You've got the cheek to say that we're a covers band, with your headphones on and Gallows' dick in your hand” (‘Yo Music Scene, What Happened?’, Far Q, 2010), to the ‘perks’: “I'm searching through my Recycle Bin [...] full of photos from old shows and scene girls in their underwear” (‘Taping Songs Off the Radio’, Far Q, 2010).
Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys was once deemed the voice of a generation by critics, praised for his lyrical style, with lines such as “Ask if we can have six in, if not we'll have to have two. You're coming up our end aren't you? So I'll get one with you. Oh, won't he let us have six in? Especially not with the food. He coulda’ just told us no though” (‘Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secured’, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, 2006), but surely Duce betters that time and time again. Turner is too bland with his delivery and lacks whit. Labelled as a "master of observation" by NME, but... Is he? He recalls events rather plain, with no intent on entertaining. It’s just been a thought that has often crossed my mind.
“I know my lyrics aren't the best you've ever heard, but I say what I mean and I mean every f***ing word”
- ‘Yo Music Scene, What Happened?’, Far Q, 2010
Duce himself is quite a character, which can be depicted alone from his tweets of reminiscent ramblings to hilarious Instagram photos, to his Jack-the-Lad attitude, encouraging fans to send him mail; he is quite the technological socialite. I have two memories of him, portraying his true nature.
The first, which was from the first encounter/gig; he wanted a sex party in a barn as some girls had suggested they party after the show, and they own a barn. The look on his face was priceless, like a kid in Toys R Us on his birthday. I don’t really know how the tale ended. The second was just as hilarious: I remember after a rough night out in Cambridge, and having slept on some living room floor, my friend Toby received a phone call from him. This was still before the release of Bretton, and they were only just making a name for themselves, and along the way they had played shows (and partied) with Many Things Untold – the band Toby once fronted. He informed us he was sat naked in a chair, in the middle of his house, recovering from a party from the night before. The house was completely trashed, several things were burnt, he was covered in marker pen and he was awaiting the arrival of his new housemate, whom he had never met before. On the party scale, that received two thumbs up; and I’m currently taking a passing interest in bio-engineering in order to grow a third.
Mike Duce: groin-grabbingly transcendent (forgive me, but I just watched that episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes a journalist/food critic for the local paper).
Image credit: I found this image on a random Tumblr page having Googled Duce’s name; I am unsure of the source. If you took the photo, please send me a message and I can give you full credit.