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April 26, 2010 | by  | in Music |
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47 Diamantes: An Apopalyptic Electro Party

Wellington dance duo 47 Diamates are about to embark on their first official New Zealand tour—co-headlining with Tommy Ill—playing shows at Mighty Mighty, Cassette #9 (Auckland) and Goodbye Blue Monday (Christchurch). Salient’s Kim Wheatley met up with the two band members, Kelvin Neal and Gemma Syme, to discuss, among other things, the apocalypse, their next single, and male genitalia.

It’s a miserable Wellington afternoon and I’ve just interrupted Diamantes’ practice by showing up a few minutes early to Gemma’s flat for our interview. The duo is about to embark on their first official tour the next week, and they’re clearly still in practice mode when I arrive. After a little bit of umming and arring over whether we should start the interview straight away or wait until they run through one more track, Kelvin launches into an explanation of the band’s backstory.

It turns out the two members met when Kelvin ended up joining Gemma’s band, Wellington’s indie stalwarts Holiday With Friends, as a drummer. Unfortunately, HWF split soon after, with the boys forming the Beasties-influenced rap group the Crackhouse 5, while the girls started the driving guitar band Diana Rozz. Despite the breakup, Gemma and Kelvin remained friends, and soon ended up flatmates. It was also around this time when Kelvin fell in love with dance music after seeing a Holy Fuck set at an independent music festival in his native Australia.

Before long he’d bought a MacBook and was spending late nights at the keyboard, searching for the ultimate dance ‘drop’ in his headphones. Things seemed to be coming together, but he needed a vocalist to test drive his would-be bangers. As his next-room neighbour, and the front-woman of a band in her own right, Gemma was the obvious person for the job. Gemma describes their first collaboration as being “basically a rip-off of the Crystal Castles song ‘Alice Practice’, which we recorded one evening and then forgot about. It was a bit of a joke really.” By chance, Gemma stumbled across it on her hard drive three months later and gave it another listen. I asked them to describe the song as though it was a physical object.

“A piece of poo, wrapped in diamantes, and run through an Atari,” answered Gemma.

“So we made a MySpace page and put it up there,” explains Kelvin. Amusingly, the song was given the irreverent title: ‘Second Best Snog Ever’. “It was supposed to be called ‘Second Best Song Ever’, but I spelt ‘song’ wrong,” chuckles Gemma.

Following this revelation, I decide to ask whether there’s a similar story behind Diamantes’ nonsensical band name. Gemma grins, and explains that their name comes from a story about her grandmother who used to enter beauty queen contests in Kaikoura. “She always kept coming in second place. But then one talent show she had ‘the vibe’, wowed everyone and came first.” The first prize turned out to be a tiara. “So she wore the tiara, and it’s been going through my family ever since. My mum has it, and eventually I’ll get it. And it’s got 47 Diamantes left in it!”

Once we’ve covered these formative anecdotes we move on to discussing the band’s sound, prompting Kelvin’s usually jocular voice to take on a slightly more serious tone:
“We make dance music that sounds more like indie pop. Specifically, the structure of a Diamantes track resembles an indie pop song more than a club banger, but we do still use synths and sampled drums, so there’s a bit of both going on.”

Gemma elaborates further, emphasising how important it is for the duo to have fun with their music: “The lyrics are inspired by teenage sensibilities. They can be quite melodramatic, whereas indie music can often be too cool.”

Kelvin agrees, explaining: “My whole life I’ve listened to guitar bands. But dance music is something that I think is really fucking fun. Basically, I wanted to be in a really fun band myself, so starting a dance band with my friend just made the most sense.”

Live, Diamantes set-up is about as simple as it gets, with the MacBook providing the sampled drum beats, over which Kelvin uses Diana Rozz’s microkorg to lay down his incredibly catchy synth lines. This leaves Gemma with plenty of scope to hurl her reverb-drenched voice around, dance manically or perhaps high five the audience during the teasing build-up to one of Kelvin’s massive drops. “We’re a visual band,” says Kelvin, “You know how some bands present the whole package…” But before he can finish, Gemma interjects: “With us you don’t just get the penis, you also get the balls, and maybe the perineum as well. Basically, we’re a perineum band.”

Definitely a heady mix then! And one that makes for a refreshing change from the proliferation of serious-minded guitar bands that seem to have been dominating the New Zealand music scene lately. After reflecting on these contrasts for a little longer, we joke about the absurdities of trying to put a label on Diamantes’ sound. I suggest ‘Post-Apocalyptic Electro-Pop’, but Gemma disagrees: “I don’t think we’re destructive. We would be fighting to the end, so the apocalypse can’t have happened yet.” Kelvin chimes in, exclaiming: “Maybe we’re Pre-Apocalyptic!” before Gemma laughingly suggests that they might be “Apopalyptic Party Pop,” a description which we all agree is perhaps the most apt.

My attempt to describe Diamantes as apocalyptic proves to be fruitful in more ways than one, because it also prompts Kelvin to give me a preview of their new single (Kelvin calls it a “slow-banger”): a collaboration with Tommy Ill which they’ve serendipitously decided to title ‘Armageddon Ready (For the End of the World)’, and which is due for release via the band’s MySpace on the same Monday that this issue of Salient hits the streets.

“We’ve been wanting to do a song with Tommy for ages,” explains Kelvin, “and since we’re going on tour with him it made sense for us to record something together.” Naturally, the collaboration will be performed throughout the tour as part of Diamantes’ set. Given the energy and visual spectacle of both involved parties, the prospect of seeing them on stage together is a mouth-watering one.

47 Diamantes are playing at Mighty Mighty with Tommy Ill and Old Grey Wolf this Thursday (29th April). Tickets are $5 on the door.

You can also download 47 Diamantes’ new single, ‘Armageddon Ready (For the End of the World)’, for free from here!

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Comments (3)

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  1. Lucy Eva says:

    Well written dude

  2. Shitkicker McGee says:

    I thought his name was Kim Tom Wheatley? You fucked up, Salient!

  3. smackdown says:

    tom cat wheatley

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