London duo Glows talk through their excellent mixtape, ‘LA, 1620’, a gallery of woozy electronics and artful noise
Glows, a London duo of one GG Skips (aka Marco Pini, also of Domino recording artistes Sorry) and visuals guy Felix Bayley-Higgins (an MA from the Royal College of Art) have been working towards something special for some time. Tracks have been popping up on the underground, floating out on streaming platforms since 2018, in between them organising art shows of photography and music. They appear to be self sufficient, operating their own label Slow Dance and moving among a tight-knit group of young artists and sundry groovy fuckers in London’s East End, within spitting distance of London Fields.
Their dishevelled bohemianism snaps in (and out) of focus with the enigmatically titled mixtape, ‘LA, 1620’. It’s not a proper album, they say, but if they release a proper album better than this, then we’re in for treat. They call their process “world building”. It’s constructed from fleeting ideas, scraps of tunes, lyrical hooks, voice notes, field recordings of cities at night, half songs abandoned and revisited, all artfully slung together to give an impression of breezy looseness, behind which there will be hundreds of conversations and late nights. There are many high points, but the slurring ‘Postpunk’ is one that welded itself to the Electronic Sound sound system for several weeks, with its disturbing hallucinogenic lyric: “Standing in a room, all you see, Cynanide and magazines, I’ve been in this pub before, I’ve been in this pub before…“
They met at Marleybone School, a girls grammar school with a mixed sixth form that specialises in performing arts. It has a three-storey arts building with a recording studio. No wonder Glows sing its praises.
“We met on the first day,” says Felix. “The first two hours or something.”
“We were 16,” says GG. “That’s what this whole project is about. I did Glows on my own for a while, then as soon as Felix came on board it made a lot more sense.”
From their description, sixth form seems to have more closely resembled an art school in the grand British tradition of the 1960s, when they were birthing pools for distinctive creative talent, as likely to spawn bands as they were painters and sculptors.
“It was a really great school,” says Felix. “If you wanted to do crazy stuff, they really encouraged you to be interested in the world and to be proactive. They had catalogues of magazines, and loads of stuff that when you’re 16 and you get to rifle through everything, you familiarise yourself with what’s out there. We’d sit and slice up magazines and talk about stuff.”
“A lot of things came from that time,” says GG. That’s why the album is called ‘LA 1620’, it’s a reference to 2016 to 2020.”
Not, as I had imagined, a clever conjuring of life in an imaginary Los Angeles at the end of the Middle Ages. The album’s woozy distortions of rhythm, melody and texture would certainly lend itself to that kind of parallel reality thought experiment.
“Sorry formed in that period, which I then joined,” says GG, referencing the Domino-signed band whose debut album ’925’ was released to acclaim in 2020. Their second album, 2022’s ‘Anywhere But Here’, was produced by Portishead’s Adrian Utley. “It felt like a school where everyone found their practice, everyone went off and did shit.”
The other shit that GG and Felix did was to take GG’s already existing Glows project and use it as a container for their ideas which are layered all over the mixtape, and in photographic form on the walls of their studio, a white-walled space under railway arches. They had a private view the night before we meet, and are a little worse for wear. The images are like the music; snatched glimpses pinned to the walls without explanation. Lush green cow-dotted landscapes are matched with images of industrial piping, stained car park tarmac, pencil scribbles, a white moth. It’s like being inside someone’s dystopian Instagram feed. Everyone from the 16-20 period showed up.
It was an era where, GG says, “everyone was doing stuff and sharing it. There was a big demo/Soundcloud energy going down. It was about the things you were making. You would go to party, and people would put their demos on at the party. And that wasn’t weird or cringe. It made sense.”
You had a baked-in audience to start with then?
“You could say so, yes,” they laugh.
A lot of people would beaver in isolation and not necessarily have that kind of structure around them.
“It’s friendship,” says GG. “You’re so excited to meet people who have that energy. So you share shit. I think that’s why Felix and I get on so well. We both came from schools backgrounds before Marylebone where the noise… it wasn’t creative. Then we discovered that you can share the weird shit you’re into. Everyone says that sixth form is the best years of life, and it’s important to document that. That’s the point where you turn your interests into your career.”
Glows has had “many different incarnations”. GG did it on his own for a while. And several people from different bands have been involved at various points.
“There was often a duo relationship,” says GG. “Patrick from Death Crash was in the duo for a while. It’s funny because Felix was always supporting my projects, he was involved in Slow Dance, when we started the label, and then it’s nice how it’s formed with one of your best mates. I’ve worked with loads of musicians but it took someone who wasn’t originally a musician to make this.”
“I don’t have any musical training,” says Felix. “The angle I went into it was through the visual, translating images into sound. Almost mathematical. I was curious was how you could go from sound to image and back again.”
These methods, and ways of understanding the process of music creation, are more in line with the Brian Eno (art) school of thinking, where ideas inform the sound, and where sound and image combine to create the unexpected.
“We did meet Eno,” says GG. “He was producing a hot shit record in the studio next to us one time. There was a window through which you just see Brian Eno. And then he came in while we were literally doing the start of the set with a kind of ambient loop.”
“He was just like bustling about,” Felix continues. “And we started setting up the lights and all the gear and everything. And he comes through, stops for a second and says: “Something’s happening.”
The both laugh.
Something is happening. This is what makes the Glows project compelling. There are great melodies and grooves, you could even call some of the tracks songs, but they aren’t the only reason to pay attention. It’s the context they emerge from that seals the deal. From the flowing intro of ‘It’s All Love’ into ‘Pull’, to the aforementioned ‘Postpunk’, the hazy hallucinatory distortions, breathless chants, dreampop atmospheres and rudimentary synth stabs, loose loops and drum machines, the whole shooting match shifts like a mirage, presenting as one reality before merging into another before you’ve really got your bearings. It keeps up this slow forward lope through altered states throughout. It’s almost urban pop music, it’s almost dance music, it’s almost shoegaze… I’m going to say it’s contemporary inner city electronic psychedelia, emotional yet detached, and purposefully unfocussed.
“This project is hugely psychedelic in both of our minds,” says Felix. “Everything that we’re talking about is very… expansive. Our shared experience of psychedelia, basically, but I’ve never done any psychedelics, not hard ones. But I have an understanding through creativity and the refining process, because creativity is psychedelic.”
“We’re from an art background, making music is another practice,” says GG. “It’s another way for you to realise what the hell’s going on with this weird shit.”
There is an album on the way, they say. The mixtape is a retrospective, a gallery of ideas. The album will be more refined. But still shot through with their messy, hazy Glows vibe.
“We’re going to keep going like this,” affirms Felix.
For more Glows, visit slowdance.co.uk/artist/glows