The Ting Tings
After the two million debut albums sold for ‘We Started Nothing’ in 2008, the four million singles sold via ‘Great DJ’, ‘That’s Not My Name’ and ‘Shut Up And Let Me Go’, the ‘Best Album’ Ivor Novello Award in May 2009, the Grammy nomination for ‘Best New Artist’ in December 2009, their music and songs sound-tracking contemporary culture itself from ‘Gossip Girl’ to ‘One Tree Hill’ to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and the now iconic 2008 iPod commercial which saw ‘Shut Up And Let Me Go’ storm non stop around the planet, the Ting Tings, naturally, felt insane.
In two rollercoaster years, the Manchester DIY pop-art titans had a brace of global No.1 singles and appeared on the planet’s live stages as the world’s most dynamic duo: an inscrutable man called Jules De Martino giving his all on the drums, while their vocal powerhouse Katie White, armed with giant bass drum and a guitar hanging down her back, shouted out their punk-pop anthems.
Without a break, they toured pretty much the entire globe,especially in America and in December 2009 finally stopped, in Berlin, in a daze of bewildered exhaustion. Having fallen in love with Berlin’s bohemian art scene back in 2008, they moved there to live and work, renting out a disused basement jazz club in East Berlin’s Friedrichshain District and turning it into their studio (much as they had done back in 2007 when they took up residence in the artists’ haven the Islington Mill in Salford, near Manchester where ‘We Started Nothing’ was made). “It’s a cool area, but dirty-cool,” enthuses Katie”. Here, with their music equipment, fairy-lights, pens and gaffer tape they created their own “bubble”, with no TV, no visiting friends and only an unreliable ‘Dongle’ pay-as-you-go gizmo for an internet connection. The minus 25 degrees winter weather outside, meanwhile, collided with the isolation inside the studio in a conspiracy of musical creation.
Finally rested and feeling human again they set to work on their next album and did what any self-respecting, uncompromising, punk-art phenomena would do: changed everything. Out went the simple, drum-driven, hi octane thrills, in came a thundering new widescreen, electronic version of the band featuring Katie’s mesmerising, multi-form vocal powers (hitherto hidden behind the shouting, “probably because I was pissed off back then!”). Inventive, sophisticated smart-pop, it’s been hewn, note Katie and Jules, from a shared love of “the Pet Shop Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Nancy Sinatra, Depeche Mode. We wanted to write songs. With a lot more depth and emotion. Because we’re a bit older and we’ve seen a lot more. And maybe because we were sat on our own in Berlin, depressed and exhausted, going ‘what happened for the last two years!?’”
“When we got to Berlin, we were a mess,” nods Jules, “so to pick ourselves up, we looked to the energy of the music.” The result is a collection of 10 unique, startling and distinctive musical creations once again written and produced by the Ting Tings with a few mixes from label-mate and pop alchemist Calvin Harris. First single, ‘Hands’ is a pulverising electro-disco thriller written by Jules and Katie while she was fumbling to master the piano and which has emerged, accidentally, as a recession-pop anthem: “Clap your hands,” chants the chorus, “if you’re working too hard!” Everything else is completely different: from the exquisitely sad ‘Help’, a melancholy acoustic reverie which builds and builds to a panoramic sonic monolith. ‘Day To Day’, meanwhile, is TLC-tinged cut-up harmony-pop, ‘Give It Back’ is all driven new-wave choppy guitars and the stunning ‘Silence’ an electronic soundscape as towering as Joy Division and a lyrical riposte to the “shocking cattiness” they found on the road with other bands. Back on the dancefloor, the sumptuous ‘One By One’ sees the Pet Shops Boys join the Human League in 1983, ‘Guggenheim’ is a glam-rock girls-own empowerment anthem while ‘This Is Not A Hit’ introduces a mint-fresh pop-art catchphrase: “Je t’aime…le music!” “It’s not a hit,” insists Katie, wrongly.
The Ting Tings are that rarest of pop phenomena: a globally successful pop band with the heart of the art-school punks. Formed in Salford in 2007, Katie is the Mancunian “high street pop head” (vocals, bass drum, guitar, cowbell, lyrics, melodies) to Jules’ avant-garde sensibility (drums, loop pedals, bass, piano, keyboards, songs, backing vocals, a Londoner of Italian extraction with a degree in Fine Art). Acquaintances since around 2002, they forged a friendship and musical relationship in Manchester through a mutual appreciation of Talking Heads and great songs. They became total DIY purists who not only wrote, played and produced the music themselves but created their own art-work, video concepts, stage-shows, styled themselves and oversaw their websites.
However, the on-the-road rigours of 2008/2009 severely tested their ethos: some days, they’d see three countries in one day, became “the most Googled band in Brazil”, learning, simultaneously, how massive success comes with massive scrutiny. “If I Googled myself every day,” shivers Katie, “I’d be mentally ill!” Today, the Ting Tings have a new DIY rule, they’ll only do most of everything themselves.
The new album and singles art-work, for the very first time, has been created by an outsider, New York artist Rosson Crow, an artist the band fell in love with from a serendipity find in a Berlin magazine, who specialises in dripped-enamel paintings of decadent by-gone interiors. Her art-work for the album features a grand piano and two empty seats in a decaying Berlin lounge bar - fittingly sophisticated imagery for the album.
“When you’ve had an album that’s been successful,” muses Jules, “the danger is you go back in the studio and look back and try to emulate it. I was getting on the drums, we were punking out and we just got so paranoid and hated it! It takes a lot of energy to fill big stadiums when it’s just the two of us, so we wanted to experiment with more depth than just radio hits. We wanted more growers. It was almost like we weren’t the Ting Tings anymore, it was a fresh start, with no rules again. And there are so many songs on this album that grow.”
“It’d be so lazy and easy to make the same album twice,” decides Katie. “We had people saying ‘do what you did the first time, it’ll be even bigger this time’ and we thought ‘well, no’. It’s funny, the thing we went to Berlin for was to get inspired through all this amazing music, we were so bored with the sounds we were used to. We saw people playing all this crazy out there music but the next day you didn’t remember it because they had no songs. So if Berlin taught us anything, it was ‘just write really good songs. Songs, in the end, are what everyone remembers.” The Ting Tings - refreshed, re-booted, reborn.