Much has changed since Outfit first emerged in 2011. Early tracks like Every Night I Dress Up As You, Firemen Don't Fly and Two Islands/Vehicles introduced Outfit as a band who revel in an apocalyptic beauty, full of spooked sonics and melancholy melody. Immediately picking up plaudits from the likes of Q, Pitchfork, The Guardian and NME, Andrew Hunt (vocals/synth/guitar), Thomas Gorton (vocals/synth), Nick Hunt (guitar), Chris Hutchinson (bass) and David Berger (drums/production), were catapulted from the confines of their hometown Liverpool into the media glare whilst still in their infancy. Two years on, Performance, their debut album, is now complete.
For those new to Outfit's backstory, the band started life living in a 20 bed Merseyside mansion known as The Lodge with a lot of other musicians and artists. They threw parties, put on bands and DJs, ran a magazine and practised in the basement. Whilst rent was cheap and fun appeared limitless, the constraints of living in such an incessant environment at times felt out of touch with reality. “It was quite a formative place for us when we were starting the band. When you're conflicted with that many people and such a dense social scenario, you're forced to make assumptions about yourself. You think about what it is you're doing in this big, weird house avoiding normal life”, says Andrew. “Those thoughts were quite important when forming ideas about the band and it's travelled through the album.”
Outfit moved to London in the autumn of 2011, looking to experience a bigger city. Double Denim released their debut single Two Islands/Vehicles and followed it up with the release of A.N.D.R.E.A in May 2012, a four track E.P that documented their outlook of life in the capital. Fizzing with tension and frantic introspection, the post-punk noir of Everything All The Time, gloomy echoes of Humboldts, R&B groove of Drakes and the TV On The Radio romp of Dashing In Passing marked a new direction for the band.
In the spring of 2012, the band began writing songs for their debut album, drawing influence from melancholic electronica like Nicolas Jaar and Caribou as much as the wild eyed experimentation of Eno's early solo work. Outfit were to benefit from one last location. The estate owned by their previous landlord had a block of abandoned flats based in the mansion's grounds which became their new home from October 2012 to February 2013. Previously used as a refuge for asylum seekers, they picked an old dining room in the 150 capacity building and built a studio. The block and its beautiful brutalist architecture which adorns the album's cover art, was the ideal setting for the band to record their album. Not only did the vacancy of the building give them freedom to take their time perfecting the tracks undisturbed, but the block's stark and eerie isolation can be heard throughout the record's haunting atmospherics.
Produced by the band themselves, Outfit combined live instrumentation with heavily processed samples, manipulating everyday noises and field recordings. Their methods were inspired not only by creative desires but also by the limitations of their studio, exploring necessity as a creative tool. "We didn't want a big studio drum sound but we also would not have been able to record like that anyway. At the same time we wanted the record to have quite a classic feel, an album arc, a less harsh overall sound and so on, we wanted something that sounded lost in time. But as it is informed so much by working in a modern way, recording on a computer etc, we had to find different ways to achieve those things.” says Andrew.
The album opens with Nothing Big, an ode to late nights, friendship and ultimately, love. An introduction into their spectral soundscapes; the song's flippant title is wracked with irony – the song cascades with ambition and come-together crescendos. I Want What's Best is a track about the agony of having to choose one of many paths in life, before ill fated love story House On Fire ignites, a song made all the more lonely by the space echo of rotation rims, clattering like the foundations of a relationship collapsing. The spaced out psychedelia of Spraypaint finds Outfit questioning modern life, while Great Outdoors is a deeply visual song, using an intimate narrative that tells a story of simultaneous strong-willed independence and loneliness. Thank God I Was Dreaming is a ghostly house influenced track, referencing skittish, garage percussion, before previous Two Islands is rewired as the album's euphoric closing track, leaving the listener high and hypnotized.
Inspired by Talking Heads' knack for off-kilter pop, Portishead's 'Third', the ambition and diversity of Radiohead, 70's prog and the ambience of Cluster, this album is rich in textures and plucks compositional tricks from techno and house. At the heart of Performance however is an escapism, says Andrew. “We want to take the listener somewhere else and make music that's evocative and not down to earth musically.”
Painting a world that's as beautiful as it is dystopian, as hopeful as it is uncertain, Outfit's debut album is a step into the glorious unknown.