After being mightily impressed by both their live shows and recorded output, we thought it was high time we delved deeper into how Hangzhou-based dystopian synth-pop outfit Junks go about business. Frontman David Kay is in the hot seat…
How has your taste in music changed or developed over the years? And how has this affected the type of music you want to make?
My taste in music has evolved quite a lot over the years, broadly speaking going from the Britpop of my youth to the synthwave that I tend to favour recently – but in many ways it’s kind of gone full circle. As a really small kid I remember loving Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack to The NeverEnding Story, and on one of my dad’s 70s compilation albums my favourite track was ‘Pop Muzik’ by M, so from a very early age I liked music with that arpeggiated synth sound, without even realising it. Later, when Britpop came along – and when I started taking music seriously, getting into bands and stuff – keyboards were out and guitars were in, so I dove headfirst into all of that stuff and left my childhood faves behind, although they always lingered in my imagination.
After the break-up of my band Tiny Dancers I kind of got fed up with guitar music and started going back to the things I liked when I was a kid, or more accurately I started searching for music that would reignite my love for music, things that would recapture my childhood sense of wonder and fun, as I think it’s important to retain that as you get older, more cynical and a bit jaded. That led me to form Party Horse with Ursula and then later Junks. The music I make now is a far better representation of who I am than anything I’ve made before, and in that way I’m really happy with it.
Being DJ Ectoplazm has also led me towards genres like synthwave and retrowave, as this kind of music, for some reason, just really hits my sweet spot. I try and incorporate elements of these genres into my music whilst at the same time retaining the traditional structures and tropes of a pop song. So that’s where I’m at these days.
Please tell us the lineup of your band, i.e. band members and what they do.
At the moment Junks are me on vocals, Ursula who raps, Yifei on keyboards and new member DJ Onichan, whose role we are still working on. He’ll play keyboards too but will probably incorporate different elements as we go along as he’s very talented. It’s a work in progress at the moment.
Junks have a very striking image onstage – what inspired your look?
Thanks! I’ve always been interested in image, and when you’re in a band it’s a great opportunity to put something together that carries through both the music and the way you look in addition to the artwork. I think all great bands and artists have this going on, from David Bowie through to Yacht, so for me it’s just something that goes hand in hand with being in a band. You have to make an effort, have an image, project something that’s worth people’s while. I like to try and capture people’s imaginations before a note of music is played.
For Junks the look is actually not so far removed from the way I dress on a day to day basis anyway, it’s just exaggerated a bit with some LED lights, lasers and tassels added for good measure. The vibe is kind of post-apocalyptic. It’s very 80s, very Blade Runner. In my mind I have a very specific vision of how Junks should look and sound, and I try my best to bring it to life. A few other artists that I like have a very similar vibe, Julian Casablancas + the Voids, for example, so I guess I’m not the only one who likes this kind of thing.
I’ve always liked dressing up and stuff so for me it’s just normal. Plus I think it’s easier to express yourself onstage in China as there are less knob-heads in the crowd to get upset about the tightness of your pants or the state of your hair.
You have lived in China a significant amount of time now – how has the music scene changed and developed since you’ve been here?
I’m not sure I’m a great person to ask about that to be honest, as I never really pay too much attention to what is going on! It’s not that I’m ignorant, it’s just that I prefer to focus most of my time on what I’m doing, and I can be quite blinkered in that sense, a bit of a lone wolf. I do know that China has lots of really cool bands though, and from what I can tell the scene is definitely improving. I’ve played quite a lot of gigs, at big festivals and at underground parties, and there are plenty of kids out there who are doing good things. Even in Hangzhou there are some really cool bands and DJs, but of course the scene struggles to grow due to the powers that be. But like I said, with two kids under three I’m hardly the party guy I once was so perhaps I’m not the most reliable commentator!
What has been the highlight for Junks so far?
I have a lot of small, personal highlights that are hardly worth mentioning – like finding the right snare sound or writing a great hook – but in terms of big things our slot at Nanjing Forest Festival at the tail end of last year was pretty special. The crowd was huge and it was just great to get up there and do our thing. Playing with Nova Heart was great too. I’m looking forward to doing more shows later this year once we recalibrate our live show.
When you write a song can you tell me what your approach is? Is it a case of getting a melody stuck in your head? Writing some words and then wanting to put them to music? Or does the music generally come first?
With me words are always the last thing I come up with. First I’ll come up with a good synth line, drumbeat or riff, and I’ll build a song around that. As I’m laying the ideas down or just messing with sounds, the vocal melody will begin to reveal itself and later I’ll write lyrics to fit the melody. Rarely do I come up with a lyric first.
I used to write on the guitar but now I almost exclusively write on a keyboard or on my computer. It just works better for me, and if I can quickly get the vibe right then writing the actual song comes quite easily. For me it’s all about getting the right feeling, the right sounds and the right spirit.
Can you tell our readers what music you have released and where they can find it?
Sadly I haven’t released much music over the years, as I suppose I’m a bit of a perfectionist and always find good reasons to hold releases back – something I’m trying to change this year. You can find my old band Tiny Dancers on iTunes etc (our album was called Free School Milk) but in terms of my new stuff and new direction you’re better off going to the Junks Soundcloud page or searching for videos on YouTube, where you’ll find some things from both Party Horse and Junks. Just look on the interwebs I guess.
*Check out Junks cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees classic 1978 hit,’Hong Kong Garden’
What’s scheduled for the future, do you have an album coming out this year?
I’m trying to finish a Junks album right now, so all going well that will come out later in the year, preceded by a new single and video in the next month or so. I’m really excited to get the music out there and start gigging again. I have so much music in my head and so many ideas that I’m doing my best to funnel all into one record.
When and where can our readers expect to see you perform live next? If no dates confirmed tell us your favorite live venue and why readers should go and see a gig there.
I think we will play a show with our new lineup in May, and then hopefully do some festivals and cool parties over the course of the year. We will probably do a single release party under the banner of DISCO ’88, which is following on from ’86 and ’87, and it will probably be at Lineout, our venue of choice in Hangzhou. We prefer to play gigs that have a party atmosphere as opposed to regular gigs as it’s more exciting for us and the crowd. We want people to dance and have fun, not stand around holding pints of weak lager.
Thanks for your time – we’ll be harassing you some more when that album’s released.
Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/junks-5