“You’ve got to be crazy to enter the music industry.” So says Kamal Rasool, founding member and main vocalist of “exotic psychedelia” (their description) outfit Flamingods. Rasool’s talking specifically about how tough it is to make money from music, even if (as Flamingods do) you consistently earn rave reviews for records and live shows and become fixtures on the UK and European summer festival circuit. But he could just as easily be addressing Flamingods’ approach to music in general which is – at least by conventional indie music standards – a little unhinged. Indeed, the whole project started because Rasool was disillusioned with the indie band which he’d formed in Bahrain with school friends Sam Rowe and Charles Prest.
“I was just getting really bored of that format: Verse, chorus, bridge,” he says. “I was sick of it. And sick of the guitar in general. So I wanted to start a project that tried to use the unsung heroes of the music-instrument world – to take those and make indie music with them instead. It just seemed like a more exciting thing to do at the time, and it seemed more genuine to me, as a person, because I had such a fascination with travelling around the world and picking up these musical instruments and records. It felt like the right thing for me at that moment, and still does.”
Inspired by “a mixture of spiritual jazz, world music and weird experimental indie music”, Flamingods’ create riotous, psychedelic, tribal sounds infused with the adventurous spirit of music from the Sixties and Seventies. And they often do this using instruments they’ve taught themselves to play. “We never really play instruments in the traditional way they’re meant to be played, because to us that feels like an appropriation. So we often pick up the instruments and teach our own way of playing it, while also being kind of influenced by what was done with it in the past,” Rasool explains. For example, their latest EP, Kewali, released last month, features a phin guitar from the north-east of Thailand. Kewali was written and recorded in London. Rasool moved there from Dubai a little over a year ago, so, for the first time in many years, Flamingods were able to write and record material while they were physically in the same space, having previously been scattered between the UK and the Gulf. “It made things a lot easier. It was getting really stressful working within that parameter of not being in the same room,” Rasool says. “We try really hard to get this organic sound, but things take a lot longer to explain and trying to progress the song takes a lot longer because you’re not all there to just be, like, ‘OK, I have this idea…’ When you’re [in the same room], you get that feeling of togetherness.”
The four-piece (Rasool, Rowe, Charles Prest and Karthik Poduval – Doporto recently left to spend more time touring with his punk band) are all multi-instrumentalists, although Rasool says they “all have our strong points”. He elaborates: “Sam and KP are kind of the primary drummers, Charles is really good at guitar, I sing a lot and come up with weird melodies. But at the same time, Charles is amazing at bass and keyboards, Sam is killer at all of that stuff, KP is as well. Because of the band, because of the whole theme, it’s forced us to keep pushing ourselves.”
That ‘theme’, like their sound, is something of a throwback. “Between us there are four different cultures knocking about. The whole reason we started the project to begin with was to show the beauty of cultures coming together,” Rasool says. “That kind of ‘East meets West’ that used to be very common in the Sixties and Seventies, but people became kind of afraid of delving into these more ‘worldly’ influences. Maybe because of cultural appropriation and stuff like that.”
More than that, though, there’s a sense that both musicians and audiences alike are more cynical, more unwilling to tread off the beaten path, than ever nowadays, and that a band heavily invested in music’s spiritual power is something of an anachronism. Rasool recognises this.
“There are so many bands that are afraid to speak their mind and afraid to channel the type of music they want to channel, just because of [cynicism]. The whole rise of the anti-hipster, anti-this, anti-that. Just listen to what you want to listen to and get on with it,” he says. “It’s a real shame. The whole cultural appropriation thing has kind of killed culture, in a really ironic way. Like, the whole thing is to preserve culture, but you’ve got people so scared of culture that they’re not even listening to cultural music anymore. It’s like, what good is that doing?”
A huge part of Flamingods’ mission, then, is to reintroduce a lack of fear into music and, even, into wider society. “In this current political climate, it’s important for us to show the beauty of different cultures and to not be afraid of The Other, because you can learn from The Other, and vice-versa,” he says. It’s a point that is very close to home for the band members at the moment. Since Rasool moved to London, the UK voted to leave the EU in a referendum that saw right wing, nationalist groups gain prominence and acceptance.
“This rise of xenophobia that’s coming from just about every corner of the globe, from all these different governments, it doesn’t stand for who we are, and it doesn’t stand with a lot of people,” says Rasool. “We’re trying to do our part in helping say no to that. We address it at every concert we play, as a message of positivity and to keep the solidarity going. It’s so important. And it’s been received really well. It seems there’s a lot of people that share the same feeling.”
Catch Flamingods at one of their many festival appearances this summer and you’ll experience first-hand what Rasool’s talking about. The band’s live shows, he says, are where the celebratory takes over from the cerebral.
“Our records tend to be more spiritual and coming from a certain headspace,” he says. “A lot of people comment on how a lot of our songs sound so different to each other, and, for me, the reason for that is that as a human being I channel – or everyone in the band channels – so many different emotions that are going to come out in different songs. And I think that music is a really good way of kind of putting all these emotions into a physical thing and then, when you play live, celebrating all of that.”
With appearances lined up at Glastonbury, Bestival, and more of the UK’s biggest festivals, Flamingods will be doing a lot of celebrating over the next few months.