Fusing industrial electronics, panoramic post-punk and textural distortion, rising Manchester quartet Mandy, Indiana are a force to be reckoned with

“One of my favourite things on TV is ‘Barry’,” says Mandy, Indiana’s guitarist Scott Fair, referring to the American comedy-crime drama. “It has this brilliant tone because it’s capable of the most graphic, disturbing violence and torture, and then slapstick humour right next to it. If you do that well enough, it’s so effective.”

Anyone who has caught Mandy, Indiana’s acerbic fusion of noise rockand gritty electronics should have an idea of what Fair is getting at. The sound he conjures with vocalist Valentine Caulfield, synth wrangler Simon Catling and drummer Alex MacDougall is undoubtedly wrenched from the dark side, but it’s also raucous and grin-inducing, especially in a live setting.

“It’s not meant to be overly serious,” chips in Caulfield over a five-way video call. “It’s just meant to be fucking fun. It’s here to take you places and make you feel weird things.”

This interview comes in the wake of increased exposure for Mandy, Indiana around the release of their debut album, ‘I’ve Seen A Way’. They formed four years ago when Fair and Caulfield met at a gig. Fair was ready to move beyond the noise-rock band he was in, Caulfield was keen for an adventurous project, and so began a flurry of writing, live shows and 2021’s debut ‘…’ EP.

The musical aspect of Mandy, Indiana is steered by Fair’s creative vision. Catling explains that his work on the band’s synths and drum machines starts with Fair’s initial ideas. But listening to their studio recordings, it’s clear how fundamental live performance is to their sound, drawing on each member’s individual impulses. MacDougall’s drumming in particular emphasises the parallel energies of punk and precision that fuel the band’s motorik thrust.

“I like bringing a raw, intense style of playing to the stuff that’s more on the grid,” says MacDougall. “It’s one of the nice things about having a live drummer in an electronic music context.”

‘I’ve Seen A Way’ is defined by this push and pull between different energies, flipping from searing, technoid bangers to eerie, atmospheric creepers via ramshackle avant-rock. After 50 or so live shows and counting, their cohesion as a musical unit is palpable, and it’s equipped them to widen the scope of Mandy, Indiana with confidence.

While ‘…’ was a natural by-product of the visceral material they were writing for gigs, on the new album some of the most inventive music comes via shorter pieces, such as the anti-national anthem squall of ‘Iron Maiden’ or the noir-ish, melancholic synthpop of ‘The Driving Rain (18)’.

From heavy metal hues to cinematic aesthetics, clues to the foursome’s broad influences are littered throughout the record. Early track ‘Alien 3’, a tribute to the 8-bit soundtrack of the Sega Master System game, showcases a band at the mercy of their cultural intake.

“Yeah, there are influences from lots of different movies and soundtracks on the album,” says Fair. “During our sets, we’ve sometimes even used other pieces of music between songs to make them more dynamic. When we played at End Of The Road in 2022, we used a couple of bits from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s ‘Devs’ soundtrack. Geoff was watching us at the side of the stage, but apparently he didn’t notice.”

Video game references pop up frequently, it seems. The video for ‘Injury Detail’ takes you on a virtual tour through an unnervingly people-free CGI space, like a 21st century version of the cult kids’ TV show ‘Knightmare’, but one set in an abandoned leisure centre rather than a medieval dungeon.

Caulfield contributes one of her most direct vocals on the track, her deadpan French phrasing directing “Joueur Un” (“Player One”) and “Joueur Deux” (“Player Two”) to “finish” each other. It’s just one of a range of vocal styles she employs on the album. On ‘Pinking Shears’, she’s a firebrand lashing out at social injustice, while wonky belter ‘Peach Fuzz’ sees her embodying agit-techno.

This many-sided performance is crucial to the band’s electric appeal, especially onstage. If the atmosphere is thin, Caulfield will likely tailor her stage presence accordingly and appear insular. But give Mandy, Indiana a late-night slot at, say, a notorious city festival, and Caulfield becomes a thrillingly unpredictable instigator, leading the crowd to maximum abandon.

“We were playing Manchester Psych Fest and I knew everyone was going to be on shit-tons of drugs, so I got my tattooist to paint me like Keith Haring did to Grace Jones,” she recalls. “I was basically naked, being painted in a staircase while bands were going up and down, then I went out into the crowd before we started and painted crosses on people’s foreheads. It was a really intense show… by the time we left I’d pretty much started a cult.”

In a world where such forthright body positivity and lack of inhibition might be considered controversial, Caulfield in full flight could be viewed as an intimidating figure. But much like the playful ebb and flow of Mandy, Indiana’s caustic sound, the intention is quite the opposite.

“It’s never about confronting people,” she stresses. “It’s more about trying to get everyone losing their shit together.”

Mandy, Indiana have certainly contributed to a good amount of people collectively “losing their shit” in the short time they’ve been around. What’s most exciting is their huge potential and where they go from here. With an autumn headline tour looming, they’ll be able to incorporate a broader range of material into their set, fuelling their unusual evolution.

“We’ve had a weird progression,” reflects Caulfield. “Our first show was really intense – it was in a small room which was absolutely packed. And then just four shows in, we supported Squid at the Albert Hall in Manchester, which is still the biggest stage we’ve played on. We’ve had quite a healthy mix of large and small since then, so our progression hasn’t necessarily been very logical.”

This trajectory is just one of the numerous contradictions underpinning Mandy, Indiana. Their wholesale embrace of chaos is fundamental to the position they’ve quickly carved out as a band to inspire cult-like devotion. Body paint, of course, is entirely optional.

‘I’ve Seen A Way’ is out on Fire Talk

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