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Next Big Things 2011: Esben and the Witch


Home sweet home: Brighton, England
Expect: Dramatic neo-goth that makes Florence look like M.I.A.
Must hear: Violet Cries (Matador), out now

There are certain things that Esben and the Witch don’t want you to know about their lives. “A lot of artists we admire don’t give much away, especially in the current climate when everything is so public and exposed,” explains singer Rachel Davies, in a London pub, to murmurs of agreement from multi-instrumentalist bandmates Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher. “The moment you try to dismantle that wall, it’s inevitably disappointing,” says Fisher. Everything important, they say, is contained in their debut album, Violet Cries, but they will at least concede that they’re in their mid-20s, they live in Brighton on the south coast of England, and they formed in 2008. As anyone who’s heard their neo-goth caterwauls or seen their intense live shows or, more vividly, their harrowing “Marching Song” video can attest, the band has been inspired by the macabre and fantastic, specifically:

Fairy Tales
COPEMAN: “?’Esben and the Witch’ is a Danish fairy tale we stumbled across. We like the way [fables] were used as moral compasses.”
DAVIES: “We get people asking, ‘Which one’s Esben? Are you the witch?’?”
FISHER: “It’s about how a youngest brother proves himself. The ideas and the imagery fit the music, but increasingly, we’re expected to be experts.”

David Lynch Movies
COPEMAN: “It’s not the music in Lynch films so much as the sense of unease — the distortion of everyday sounds and looks.”
DAVIES: “It’s almost nauseating. I remember coming out of Inland Empire and not being able to say anything. I was dumbstruck.”

Francis Bacon andHieronymus Bosch
COPEMAN: “I first saw the Eumenides [the three Furies of ancient Greece] in a Bacon triptych, so we had the idea of a song in three different movements. We’re invariably trying to write music to tie to an idea or an image.”

Obscure Afflictions
COPEMAN: “We’re drawn to oddities. Argyria [a skin condition caused by the ingestion of silver, also the title of Violet Cries‘ leadoff track] is such an interesting disease because it’s born of human folly. We don’t like to explain the songs. If people want to, they can go and find where all these references come from.”

Watch: “Marching Song”