Steeped in sci-fi dystopia, avant-garde sensibilities and a multi-genre assault, Teeth Of The Sea exist in an “alchemical headspace” where sonically, almost anything goes

It’s a summer’s evening in 2019, and – ladies and gents – Teeth Of The Sea are floating in space. And not for the first time. As evidenced by their brilliant new album ‘Hive’, this London trio are experienced followers of cosmic visions. But on this night in particular, we find the lysergic shapeshifters removed from their typical environs. Instead of a shabby rehearsal room or modest music venue, they’re playing synths and guitars beneath the gargantuan IMAX screen at London’s Science Museum, as documentary footage of NASA’s Apollo mission to the moon is projected behind them. 

Following an introduction by Wally Funk – a veteran aviator who’d been a volunteer in NASA’s Women In Space programme in the early 1960s – Teeth Of The Sea perform breathtaking music, avoiding by design all the “cosmic” cliches too often indulged by space rock. Instead, with nary a wibble of ‘Star Trek’ theremin, these pieces connect with the emotion underlying the footage of this epochal moment in history. 

“We wanted to evoke a feeling of being dwarfed by the cosmos, of being humbled by it,” says bass and trumpet-player, Sam Barton. “The melancholy and the existential doubts one must feel when travelling through space – that sense of jeopardy.” 

Jeopardy was, in fact, something Teeth Of The Sea were all too familiar with that night. 

“We were the most nervous we’d ever been before a concert,” remembers guitarist Jimmy Martin. “We’d never played for two-and-a-half hours before. There was so much that could go wrong.” 

But much like that fabled 11th Apollo mission, the production (which Martin calls “the most elaborate thing we’ve done – like a Metallica gig or something”) was a triumph, their splashdown greeted by rapturous, near-universal applause. There was one dissenting flyer in the ointment, however. 

“I could see Wally Funk down the front as we performed,” sighs Barton. “She had her fingers in her ears all through the concert.”

Well, you can’t please everyone… indeed, the quixotic, brilliant discography of Teeth Of The Sea proves you’re perhaps better off trying to please only yourself. 

The group formed 15 or so years ago, from an amorphous gang of music-obsessed dudes who all worked at the much-missed branch of HMV on London’s Oxford Street. The three who would become Teeth Of The Sea killed time with their mates on the shop floor, having long, rambling, passionate discussions about music, which continued through to inevitable post-work sessions at the pub and on regular trips to get their ears boxed at gigs, clubs and the legendary All Tomorrow’s Parties weekenders. 

Martin cites a gig by electro-noise terrorists Wolf Eyes at London’s Electrowerkz as a key inspiration for TOTS. 

“It was a genuine epiphany,” he claims. “Wolf Eyes were making bracing, avant-garde art, but it was also incredibly visceral, immediate and hedonistic – a pulverising racket with a party atmosphere. It’s what made us get into a rehearsal room and make our own noise, and it was much more fun than we’d expected.”

From the start, that noise reflected the clashing influences and skills of the musicians making it, coining a winningly diverse lexicon of reference points they moulded into their own mutant sound. Their latest offering, ‘Hive’, is their boldest, most coherent suite yet, shifting with laser-guided vision between caustic industrial slow-burners (‘Get With The Program’), glacial electropop (‘Butterfly House’), gothic Aphex epics (‘Liminal Kin’) and muscular but ambient funk (‘Powerhorse’). This sonic restlessness characterises all Teeth Of The Sea’s releases. 

“We’re never gonna make a straight-up metal or jazz tune, or an electronic banger,” says Mike Bourne, the man responsible for the group’s electronics. “Because if one of us wants to do that, the other two are going to bring their completely different influences to the table.” 

“We still want to surprise each other with fresh ideas and move Teeth Of The Sea in new directions,” adds Martin. “We’ve never cared about fitting in anywhere. Whenever people try to pigeonhole us as a psych rock band or a post-rock band, or an electronic band, we always pigheadedly resist that.” 

“The next record could be entirely made on fucking mandolins or something,” laughs Bourne, though it sounds as much a threat as a joke.

The IMAX show wasn’t the band’s first foray into live soundtracking – they’ve previously accompanied sci-fi classic ‘Flash!’, ludicrous post-apocalyptic actioner ‘Dog Soldiers’, and the 1984 adaptation of Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ in the shadow of the Large Hadron Collider. 

“They’re a lot of work,” admits Barton of these projects. “Composing music that’s performed perhaps twice to a combined audience of around 75 people, and then never heard again.”

But there was something to this Science Museum material that Teeth Of The Sea couldn’t stomach abandoning to their archives, and three of the pieces reappear on ‘Hive’. Two of those tracks – ‘Artemis’ and ‘Apollo’ – both soaked in trumpet-driven sadness, bookend the album, grounding it with the existential melancholy they’d reached for at the IMAX. 

The “cosmic” is a regular inspiration for the group. The title of the new album is itself a nod to ‘Hellstrom’s Hive’, the 1973 novel by ‘Dune’ author Frank Herbert. 

“With science fiction, there’s no rules, no limit to your imagination,” reasons Bourne. “Imagining the future is very attractive to us.”

“There’s a long lineage of artists, like Tangerine Dream, testing the outer limits through science fiction,” chips in Martin. “And we’ve always vibed off the music in sci-fi movies, like how Kubrick used György Ligeti to conjure something otherworldly in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.” 

Those who do it badly, however, earn a place in TOTS’ bad books. 

“Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack to the recent ‘Dune’ movie felt very rote,” says Martin, frowning. 

Perhaps ‘Dune’ is a candidate for a TOTS live soundtracking? 

“Maybe,” he answers. “People ask why we don’t do film scores, but the truth is the opportunities haven’t come our way.”

“We do still live in hope of being asked to soundtrack something though,” says Bourne. 

“It wouldn’t even have to be dystopian sci-fi,” adds Barton, as wary as a Hollywood star of the dangers of being typecast. “A knockabout romantic comedy would be great.”

‘Hive’ is out on Rocket Recordings

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