- TextTom Connick
- PhotographyPeter Carter
The staunch art-rockers keen to highlight the importance of individuality, through any means necessary
There’s something bubbling south of the river. All over London’s lower boroughs, a new breed of youth expression is emerging, casting aside the shackles of convention and strutting forward, glittering in the light and soundtracked by similarly freeing sounds. HMLTD are at its forefront.
Hailing from Athens, Paris, Devon and beyond before crossing paths in the capital, HMLTD’s backgrounds are as disparate as their artistic choices. Their sound is a collage of genres, skipping between brutal post-punk, glam rock frivolity and chirruping EDM without a moment’s thought. Their image is equally vibrant and piecemeal, fusing baroque frills and snakeskin suits with splashes of neon colour and metallics. These expressions are already finding an audience of thousands of rabid young devotees – back in April, they sold out London’s Scala, transforming the traditional stepping-stone venue into a pantomime of brash colour and fantastical set design, and its floor into a writhing mass of bodies. In October, Camden’s cavernous Electric Ballroom awaits.
Faced with an upward trajectory that’d make most bands quiver, HMLTD’s resolve isn’t wavering in the slightest. “We wouldn’t want to do this if it didn’t galvanise people,” frontman Henry Spychalski tells me, matter-of-factly. “We want to give people something to be excited about – something which can inspire people.”
London was a “beacon in the darkness” for a young Spychalski, who grew up in a “quite mundane, quite conservative” area of south-west England – “I stuck out like a sore thumb,” he grins, a face-length, swooping ‘S’ of eyeliner and a turquoise mullet framing his features. Descending on the capital and finding common ground with the members of the group – who were called Happy Meal Ltd until Ronald McDonald’s lawyers came a-knocking – they holed up in a practice room, guitar music’s mundanity in their crosshairs.
“We wouldn’t want to do this if it didn’t galvanise people. We want to give people something to be excited about – something which can inspire people” – Henry Spychalski
“We were all extremely dissatisfied with what we saw happening in guitar music, which was basically stagnation and retrospectiveness, which is something that we object to,” Henry spits. It didn’t take long for those musical ambitions to widen, though. “We don’t really see ourselves as existing within any particular genre,” he shrugs today. “I think a lot of what we do musically – and in all other senses – is about breaking down boundaries and breaking down categories.”
HMLTD’s core message is one of freeing, individual expression. Six disparate individuals, brought together through a shared feeling of disillusionment with their former surroundings, while their musical and visual styles might seem jarring on the surface, dig deeper and there’s quirks to each of their styles. Today, Henry’s stuck his head through the crotch of a pair of fishnet tights – it’s cheaper than a bodystocking, he informs the room. Guitarist Duke, meanwhile, rocks a snakeskin suit which wouldn’t look out of place on a Tarantino set, were it not for the lime-green hue it sports. Keyboardist Zac sits in one corner of the room, ruff shaking as he taps away at his laptop; contrastingly, bassist Nico pairs a cut-off denim jacket straight out of Cobain’s playbook with sky-blue lipstick. There’s a grunge-y glam to their aesthetic – one that revels in the pomp of Bowie and the New Romantics, but isn’t afraid to chip a nail.
“We all try to dress in a way that reflects ourselves,’ Henry says of their eclectic wardrobe – one which the band now share after swaps became far too difficult to keep track of. “For some of us that means suits, or something which reflects masculinity; for some of us, that means something more androgynous. The key message of what we’re doing is not, ‘You have to dress up like us and wear lipstick’,” he explains, “that’s not at all what we’re trying to say. What we’re trying to encourage people to do is to be themselves – as a band, what we’re doing is not a performance, it’s a manifestation of our actual individual identities. It’s not necessarily dressing in any particular way; it’s just openness.”
Collectively, the group are inspired more by their peers than traditional totems of culture. A bubbling crop of new London bands – buoyed by the likes of Sorry, Dead Pretties, The Rhythm Method and Shame – is spoken of in the highest regard, while collaborations with left-leaning designer Charles Jeffrey have helped the group fuse high fashion, art and music in a way not seen in years.
“The key message of what we’re doing is not, ‘You have to dress up like us and wear lipstick’... It’s not necessarily dressing in any particular way; it’s just openness” – Henry Spychalski
“What we try and do is present something in its fullest form possible – in order to do that, you can’t really restrict yourself to a single particular medium, and you can’t just play on one sense. You can’t just play on hearing; you can’t just play on music. You’ve got to arouse the other senses and, obviously, crucial to that is the visual. Artists like Jenkin [Van Zyl] who did our videos, and Charles – who’s obviously been extremely influential to us from a style perspective – that’s why they’re so important to what we’re doing.”
As they continue their charge forward, though, HMLTD are keen to break free of their bubble. Henry identifies a growing rejection of cultural conservatism as their impetus to push on, and with a packed festival schedule taking them out of their comfort zone all summer long, he’s more than ready for the challenge of winning over the uninitiated – “we feel like missionaries!” he jokes. “There’s always gonna be people that hate it,” Henry concedes, Nico backing him up with memories of a handful of early shows where people would walk out halfway through, “but if there weren’t, it wouldn’t really mean anything. You need people to hate something for it to have any real meaning. It has to be divisive in some sense for people who actually do like it to have anything to grab onto.” With countless people already digging their nails in, HMLTD’s ‘do it yourself, for yourself’ ethos is one to shout from the rafters, the world over.
Hair Johnnie Biles using Bumble & Bumble; Make-up Celia Burton using MAC Cosmetics; Make-up assistant Alex Reader.