Yola Fatoush

Fail again, fail better

Text by Jacob McGuinn

Photography by Yola Fatoush

Unpredictability – the unanticipated, the unexpected – is what a lot of people look for in music. Something different, something that will surprise. But what is most surprising about London’s Yola Fatoush is their apparent reluctance to conform to “experimentation” in its more overt calibrations. There is no atonality, no apparent aggression in their music. Their songs channel pop and R’n’B in the most unusual sense: neither with a regressive sentimentality or with the irony of pastiche. The band explain how  “unpredictability is one of the main reasons why it’s worth spending time listening to music… placing straightforward chord progressions into unconventional structures and noises is basically how we write songs, but it’s also how pop music has been written for a long time”.

Yola Fatoush perceive themselves as part of a pop tradition, despite the obvious unconventionality of their music. Indeed they seem to cherish this ambiguity. “If anything, we’d like to embrace that quality rather than get past it,” they insist.

Their eponymous debut EP – released last June on Parlour Records – contains pop songs, certainly, but they have been dissolved into the band’s whorl of sounds. Obvious reference points for their music are James Ferraro and Hype Williams; but that doesn’t do justice to the variety of music they incorporate – or to its singularity. “It’s not like we don’t embrace or enjoy the tension which is created when you mix unlikely styles together, but it’s often kind of incidental, rather than being something we set out to do. It seems quite common for people making music to feel like once they decide to reference a particular genre then they have a responsibility to write songs which they feel are in some way true to it. We don’t feel like that at all.

“Our approach is maybe comparable to the way Arthur Russell would appropriate elements from genres and imbue what he was doing with different rhythms and styles, but not try to own those styles or be them.

“We just read an interview with Rudy Tambala from AR Kane and he was explaining about this goal they had to make music that was in some ways flawed, with these gaps that the listener could fill in themselves – but that it was only as a pair they could make music that was truly flawed in the way they wanted it to be. If they made it individually it came out too correct.”

Embracing the possibility of failure as an opportunity to create new, different music is part of the group’s unpredictability. They create electronic music that isn’t too correct; pop music without the immaculate blandishments of advertisement. Their music is seductive in a very different way.

“We started off making songs with a drum kit and a keyboard in a practice space, so it’s how we’ve always approached making music – how we play now has been a gradual development into what it is, so it’s just natural to do it this way. We definitely think of ourselves as a band, rather than two producers.

“The idea of ‘creating a space’ appealed to us a lot when we first started doing stuff together because at the time we couldn’t necessarily see our music fitting into any existing scene. We felt a need to create our own space for the music to inhabit instead.”

Yet the band resists this performative aspect of gigging. “For us, playing live is more about an audience just being with us for a bit while we do our thing. It sounds weird, but we don’t really like thinking of it as a performance; feeling like we’re putting on a show always makes us feel like a kind of clown.”

The result is unpredictable, surprisingly affective music, which is engaging because of its unpolished surface. Pop that remains distinct from the pop underground.

Yola Fatoush have a new EP out on Time No Place and a 12-inch with House of Trax, both in February.


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