On The Radar: Formation

On The Radar: Formation

“It’s like record labels are clinging onto the edge of a cliff that they’re about to fall off!” He’s laughing, but Will Ritson isn’t joking.

Formation’s singer is trying to describe his band, and the closest he can get is to define what they’re not, namely, part of a music industry conveyor belt of flimsy pop and rock bands.

“We’re not like these people, we don’t feel like they feel or make the music they make,” he says. “I don’t want to put anyone down, but a lot of it is boring, just fucking… the ‘90s and guitars. Trash.”

We’re speaking two days after the NME Awards, and it’s a convenient reference point. While Ritson respects the independence and enduring spirit of grime (winners Wiley and Skepta dominated coverage of the night), admiration of his musical peers ends there.

“We don’t fit the ‘pop’ or ‘rock’ mould. There are more people who want to be famous or start a band for the sake of it, it feels very forced and contrived.”

According to Ritson, those last two words go against everything Formation is about. The singer started Formation with his synth-playing brother Will in 2013 in their Wimbledon base, adding bassist Jonny Tams, Sasha Lewis, who also plays synths, and drummer Kai Akinde-Hummel when an initial self-titled white label release sparked enough buzz to warrant assembling a live band.

Early articles came peppered with references to Ritson’s well-thwacked cowbell and LCD Soundsystem comparisons, but debut Look At The Powerful People is the unruly, heavy and socially-conscious product of years of growth.

The noise and loose grooves of tracks like Drugs, On The Board and Pleasure distil its appeal.

“Everything we’ve done so far has been very accidental, quite ramshackle,” Ritson says. “We don’t fit into any one box, people can’t really label us.

That made it difficult to create a unique style, but our style is that we’re not pretending at any of it. We’re quite uncompromising in that respect.”

Ramshackle or not, Formation’s self-belief is no accident. They never expected to get signed, but Warner subsidiary Meno records changed all that.

“Meno is one guy behind a desk in a massive office and Warner have stepped in with money when we’ve needed it,” Ritson says. “We’re on a massive label, but we’re still a tiny band doing whatever we want, it’s quite interesting.”

He proudly describes recording with co-producers Ben Baptie (Adele, The Strokes) and deep house DJ Leon Vynehall as “a real team effort, we made what we think is one of the best albums of the year, no doubt.”

Ritson really is that sure of the record. “I love it. I’m not saying that to be egotistical, I’d tell you if there was something I didn’t like about it,” he says.

Much of his affection stems from admiration of what his collaborators did, but he has huge personal attachment to a record that’s “about self-empowerment, respecting the unity of people and finding yourself as part of something bigger”.

Having something to say is important to Ritson, so he “made sure it’s really sincere and something I’ll always believe in, in that sense it has timeless appeal. It’s the right time to say these things.”

The prospect of unshackling Look At The Powerful People has Ritson laughing again. “Having people hate it, love it or respond to it is scary, fulfilling, exciting and dangerous, but it makes me feel alive!”

Once again, you can tell he’s not joking.

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