I have a confession to make. I used to hate The Darkness. I can’t recall exactly why, but it may have had something to do with my glam-rock obsessed friend hitting repeat on “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” every time we had a party. Then another friend, with particularly excellent taste in music, gave me a mixed CD which included “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” and I was finally swayed.
In a time, that being 2000, when the market was flooded with hip hop, rap and the usual pop – and with reality TV stars on the verge of exploding on the scene – what made the men behind The Darkness choose to take the bold step back in time to create something more old-school and, dare I say it, authentic?
Sitting in a soaked Cape Town and speaking to Frankie Poullain (bassist for The Darkness) in London, he tells me that for lead singer Justin Hawkins it was always about “doing it his way; rocking out and blowing his top off”. This is evident from their pumping rock, impassioned lyrics and energised performances topped with flamboyant outfits reminiscent of 80s hair bands.
Hitting the scene in 2000, they rocketed to rock stardom garnering acclaim, popularity and awards along the way. After two studio albums, replacing their bassist and losing their singer they broke up and went their separate ways in 2006, only to re-emerge in 2011 with the original line-up of Justin Hawkins as lead singer, his brother Dan as guitarist, Frankie on bass and Ed Graham on drums.
Now they are set to visit our shores at the end of the year, supporting Lady Gaga on the final leg of her Born This Way Ball Tour. Their own brand of wild aesthetic is the perfect complementary act and I’ve heard of many who will be attending the show only because they want to see The Darkness.
Frankie – collected and calm, polite and professional – allows a hint of excitement to creep into his voice when I ask whether they are looking forward to visiting South Africa. He asserts that they “are excited” and, proud of our local music scene, I ask him whether they are familiar with any of our artists and what their impression is of them. Unsurprisingly, he names Die Antwoord. “They’re an important band and we would love to collaborate with them.” The thought of these two musical sensations coming together is quite a mind scramble, but certainly a thrilling notion. I can’t resist asking whether he knows that Die Antwoord were asked to open for Lady Gaga and turned her down. “It makes sense,” Frankie says “it’s awesome that they manage to challenge Lady Gaga when it comes to visualisation”.
Are there any other bands that have left an impression on them? “Foxy Shazam,” Frankie answers promptly. He calls them a “theatrical rock band that have a lot of charisma”. Looking at their own work, it is easy to see why they would appreciate them and the two bands have worked together in the past.
The Darkness themselves are not particularly perturbed about the inevitable comparisons they have drawn to bands such as Queen and Aerosmith. Frankie tells that “there was a lot of argument about who we aspired to sound like. In the early days we were called a gay AC/DC and the next moment a straight Queen”.
Asking him of other, less obvious influences he cites the likes of Prince, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen: “influences that help us escape the small, English town mentality”. When it comes to their music “there is a theme of escapism; musically we try to escape from Brit rock and use American influences.” Hailing from Lowestoft in Suffolk, Frankie describes it as “a small fishing village. Very quiet, particularly now that the fishing industry has collapsed. We’ve tried to escape from that and all of our albums incorporate these themes [of escapism] and informs our music and mentality”. He further expresses that these towns are tough to live in and you merely “go there to die”.
On the note of their albums: they will be releasing the third one, “Hot Cakes”, in August. Can we expect to hear anything from the new album when they are here? “We’ve been road-testing a lot of the new songs and they’re going down well” and when they’re down here we can definitely expect “a selection from all three albums” – including, Frankie mentions, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”.
With all the energy and verve that they ooze on stage, they must love performing; but what informs their presence? “We don’t like to have uniforms, because we all have different personalities…you’ll find others all in skinny jeans or combats. We like to exaggerate, create spectacle, an extension of ourselves”.
With all this talk of energy, passion and a unique flavour, I ask him his take on today’s music. “A lot is not really music anymore. It just creates an impression. It’s not there to serve you or invigorate you. It’s lost its warmth”. Their emotive music defies the technical coldness and alienation that this decade’s dubstep and electronica often present. Their welcome return, coinciding with the current revival of the 80s, is evidence that people still crave ingenuity and passion. The “mix of humour and affection”, as Frankie calls it, that they create in their music is offered with fervour and zeal and The Darkness is doing their bit in this stagnating age to keep it real and help us continue to believe in a thing called music.