Introducing: 57 Down
The White Stripes proved that you didn’t need a bass player to be successful, that you didn’t have to nestle within the standard rock band member formula to be deemed a proper band. More recently Royal Blood proved that a guitarist isn’t necessary – a two piece of just a drummer and bassist/vocalist, they’ve challenged the norms of what we expect to hear, dynamically speaking, from rock music and carved out a niche for themselves in the process. That niche has since become a chasm and the band has exploded.
Locally speaking, Hyena Kill – consisting of a drummer and guitarist/vocalist who plays through a fuck off bass amp – are another band sticking their middle fingers up at the traditional. And they’re rise is continuing with a menacing pace.
Here then, is another way of breaking the mould: How about a band with no guitarist but two bass players? Meet 57 Down, their riffs don’t wash, they’re the size of woolly mammoth turds and they have grooves in spades. There’s no six string in sight, but when you listen to them you’ll realise how effortlessly they pummel you with magic without one.
“I think as long as you have good songs, the rest is just frequencies,” ponders Matt Chapman, their left-handed bassist who plays a right-handed bass upside down. “We have ways of colouring the sound if we need it.”
“The creative process changes slightly without a guitar,” adds Billy Law-Bregan, their other bassist who, like a reflection of his colleague, is left-handed but plays a right-handed bass upside down. “You have to picture the groove you’re trying to achieve and work the song around that. Whereas, with a guitar, you can come up with a melody and work backwards.”
Says Matt: “I think there is maybe more to be gained by having two stylistically very different guys on an instrument they are most at home with and most creative with than shoehorning myself into a guitar.”
Billy: “When you involve two basses and try to get them to fit with each other, it can be quite tricky. But, when they go together, they really complement each other, giving the overall sound a complete feel, which, to me, can sometimes be missing with the two guitarists and a bass player set up. For me, there’s something about the bass tones that cannot be replicated elsewhere. It has a primal feel to it, and I find that really appealing.”
It is exactly that primal nature that forcefulness belied to them through two low-down and dirty bass guitars, down tuned to drop Bb, and no high end that underpins their mantra and identity, as Billy explains:
“We’re four passionate musicians that like to rock, but, at the same time, it’s got to be fun. And, for me at least, I think you can hear that in our music. It’s tribal, raw, energetic, sometimes brutal, but it’s always fun.”
The Who’s Pete Entwistle once said that it’s not a bass, it’s a bass guitar, and Chapman is quick to note his importance in, not only the shaping of his own band, but of modern rock bass as a whole.
Matt: “He pioneered modern rock bass. Everyone after him owes him a great deal. The dynamic way he played, his sound and the way he was able to some extent, tame moon.
“Peter hook is a big influence too, for me he was the first guy to look at bass as its own instrument: Almost peculiar to any other way. Some say ‘he has it like a guitar’ but I think that is doing him a massive disservice.
“A lot of bass players are constrained by guitarists. I had always been told ‘just hit the root notes’ or ‘just follow the guitar’, but I’ve always stood my ground. I could hear more. I could hear melodies and infinite tonal possibilities. But all I was being told to play was ‘E E E E’ all the time. Most bass players I knew had the same issues, but I'd fight toe to toe with guitarists.” He talks with a defiance that is definitive of the bands innovative desire of breaking from the norm, just as The White Stripes and company have done before them.
Billy meanwhile initially thought up the idea of forming a drone metal band not too long ago. That idea ended up morphing into what would eventually become 57 Down and so a lot of the sonic punch he brings to the foray is of a much darker character:
“I grew up with skinheads and punks, so I’m influenced by the sheer energy of that era. Moreover, I was heavily influenced by bands like Black Sabbath, (The) Melvins, Sunn 0))), Earth, Nirvana, and the whole grunge scene. Also, that sludge, desert sound you get from Pantera, Kyuss, etc. And I think you can definitely hear that in how I play.”
With an album on the way, soon you’ll get to hear exactly what two cranked up basses are capable of doing side-by-side. Trust me when I saw it’s loud.
Matt: The album is coming along nicely. We aren't rushing though. We've been in the situation before where it's been rushed due to label pressures, money, or just over excitement. When recording two basses, it presents a very particular set of issues. Neither of us are particularly ‘Lead bass’, we just write our parts around the other one, and that is ok live, but when recording it's another story. Direction wise, it's definitely us, but we have a more diverse range of songs available than our EP.”
Manchester’s very own Paul Cooke is the man responsible for their logo:
“I’ve said this a lot, but I think that guy is a genius,” rhapsodises Billy. “He wanted some songs of ours to listen to, and handful of lyrics, and boom: It was magic.”
Matt: He heard the music and threw a load of sketches at us. We suggested small alterations and he basically understood exactly what we wanted and when the finished product appeared we were blown away.”
Stay tuned with Manchester Rocks for updates regarding their new album.
Words: Phil Weller