Over the Counter Culture:
From left-field electronica as part of the iconic band Hot Chip to his own solo ventures, Alexis Taylor has cemented his place as one of the most relevant and consistent British musicians of the past decade, and he doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon. A chance spotting in a Junya jacket around East London brings him back to Goodhood, somewhere he’s frequented over the years, to talk Bernhard Willhelm, the Desert Trek, and why variety is the spice of life in our first edition of Over the Counter Culture.
Alexis Taylor has been busy – he’s got a new solo album coming out on Domino on 20th April, and is in the area on recording duties for new Hot Chip material. Again, he’s working with the crème de la crème of British music and has been working on his latest solo project with a producer for the first time in his life – Tim Goldsworthy who used to be part of DFA Records, Unkle, and Mo Wax. He reflects on the experience, a totally new approach to how he’s gone about making music, and with someone who’s quite experimental in the studio. For someone like Taylor it must be a stark change but, as a man with a seemingly endless supply of interest, curiosity, and knowledge about almost anything, here he’s less focused on the projects he’s been working on, and more on obscure German designers.
“I used to shop in the first Goodhood store,” he begins, “just when the shop first opened – you used to stock things like Bernhard Willhelm...” Not many stores in London around 2007 stocked the labels he liked, he explains. An expedition with a friend of a friend on the hunt for a particular brand, possibly PAM (Perks and Mini), possibly something else, led to the original Goodhood store on Coronet Street. Alexis explains that he’d always had an interest in fashion and found it refreshing he’d been able to find KTZ (Kokon To Zai) and other hard-to-find labels in the store.
There’s a fairly extensive list of labels he has a particular affinity for, Beams and Neighborhood being immediate go-tos, along with RRL by Ralph Lauren, and Cav Empt, whose jacket he’s wearing today. He also mentions Vuokko, a pioneering modernist label from Finland by Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi that’s been going well over 50 years and was previously, he says, unavailable anywhere except their Helsinki store. He’s into brands with a sense of heritage, brands that have left their mark within the fashion world, but Alexis says there’s a range of elements at play – it’s the playful way Bernhard Willhelm deals with clothing, the attention to detail of Vuokko or Junya Watanabe, along with the fun of second-hand finds at car boot sales and the established look of labels such as Palace, Supreme, and Levi’s.
Alexis picks out a Noma T.D. striped sweater saying he’d seen it recently in passing, and we discuss how several brands he’s seen this season make reference to the ‘70s, CMMN SWDN being a particularly strong example. It seems to point towards a wider trend for nostalgia, one that Alexis agrees could be symbolic of the era we live in.
“I think there’s an element of that. Whether or not people knowingly embrace the clothing for that reason… you know shops like Labour and Wait where they sell things that are kinda classic or hark back to an earlier era – utility and workwear and things like that. That’s definitely been in vogue for a while and it may be to do with trying to simplify and get away from the harsh realities of the world… I don’t really know, I’m no expert on that but you do see these movements happening!”
In an almost instinctive manner he’s drawn to a pair of Clarks Desert Treks, enquiring if they’re the Beams edition or just the regular ones, meticulously explaining the difference between the two models – mainly the former’s higher cut silhouette. We discuss why there’s a particular affinity for the Desert Trek; as a teenager, his uncle would give him a pair of Clarks Desert Boots on his birthday, a regular occurrence he’d really look forward to. They’d always be in ‘this sort of sand coloured suede version’, he explains, and so he’s been wearing them on and off for around 20 years. Like Red Wing boots, they’re incredibly classic and comfortable – they can go with anything and will still look smart.
We discuss the immediacy with which he was drawn to that particular pair of shoes. This, he says, is how he approaches buying clothes generally – he sees a lot of things that don’t register his interest before finding one thing that really ‘pings’ out and feels quite different from everything else. He explains that he’s not somebody that takes a long time to deliberate over an item; it’s either there or not. With brand’s he’s worn for years such as RRL it’s easy – he’s not looking for innovation, they just know how to do something good and in a classic way.
“A few years ago I’d often be looking for jumpsuits, boiler suits, things like that for the stage that I don’t tend to wear so much on a day-to-day basis, and if a brand had made one I’d be interested in it straight away because there weren’t that many of them around. I think maybe even in the old Goodhood store there was Wood Wood, or one of those brands, that had a good jumpsuit that I was looking at…”
There’s a definite sense of ‘brand authenticity’ in the way Alexis approaches his style, and we discuss other pieces that he’s more immediately drawn to. There’s Beams and Neighborhood sweats – thick, and good quality. Alexis has, he says, a huge collection of vintage ‘60s sweats, as well as a fair few more recently made Japanese ones – well made and able to be worn with everything. “They’re not making a massive statement, but they’re quite pleasing in their simplicity.” The Norse Projects’ Johannes Wide Stripe Tee is a winner on account of its ‘60s ‘border tee’ styling, as well as the fact it’s got bright orange stripes adorning it, with Alexis assuring “I’m into wearing fairly bright, bold things.”
We discuss how his style has evolved over the past 10 or so years – Hot Chip from back in the day seemed to perfectly symbolise two ends of a spectrum, East London in the midst of its brightly coloured Nu-Rave heyday, on the one hand, thick-rimmed spectacle geek sophistication on the other. “I think maybe I’ve toned things down a bit,” he explains. Previously he enjoyed the boldness of the kind of colourful look he used to adopt, one which he describes as ‘more garish’ than how he dresses now. There’s also the element of standing out on stage, which is equally pragmatic as it is stylistic. Whilst there may be a particular image of a band that’s styled on stage, and further pushed in press, it’s an image that may not necessarily be true to how one actually dresses on a daily basis. It’s just a theatricality associated with performance. Then there’s the feeling bands have, he says, of not wanting to be part of something people automatically associate them with, style or otherwise.
“It’s interesting with fashion, you know? You can always look back on an era and think ‘wow, that was very much of its time’. And when you’re going through that time you’re just wearing what you’re interested in, and you may be oblivious as to whether it’s fashionable, or just part of a movement… I think I’m a bit of a contradiction in that I’m wanting to be in the background, a quite quiet, softly spoken person, but I’m also quite loud in terms of my clothing choices. I kind of flip between those two extremes.”
With this, our time draws to a close. Alexis says he soon has to be at a nearby recording studio – he’s working on a myriad of projects and time’s tight. After his solo release, due out in April, there’s another Hot Chip record on the way, recorded just around the corner. He explains that, as a band, you’re always just trying to do something better than the last thing you did, and that instead of operating in terms of how you position yourself you just want to make a record you’re excited about. Something different to what’s been done before, and something that doesn't tread the same ground. Working on other projects outside the band – he’s up to 4 solo records, 3 records with About Group, along with touring with a myriad of other bands, Fimber Bravo, This Is Not This Heat, and Scritti Politti to name but a few – teaches you a lot, stops you staying in one zone all the time, and means you’re excited coming back to the longstanding projects. The key he says, as with anything, is variety.
Alexis' album 'Beautiful Thing' releases 20th April 2018. Visit alexistaylorsolo.com for more info.
Shop Alexis' selections below.