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Hello, Home

When I was nine years old, my childhood gang and I were taken by my friend’s mum to the Watershed in Wimbledon to watch his brother playing with his band, Pistola. It was our first gig, and we were so excited that we stood right at the front next to the speakers – a mistake I have never intentionally made again. However, over a decade later I find myself directly under a speaker once more, this time because the crowd is so tightly packed that I physically can’t move anywhere else. Two Pistola veterans, Wimbledon-born identical twins Will and Matt Ritson, are playing with their current band Formation, and the venue is absolutely rammed with fans.

Matt and Will attended Jesuit high school Wimbledon College, and met fellow band members Kai Akinde-Hummel, Johnny Tams and Sasha Lewis through an interlinking network of teenage bands as they were growing up in and around Wimbledon. With musical backgrounds ranging from the local church choir to working on foreign language Disney films, every band member brings something unique to the table.

With such diverse backgrounds, influence comes from everywhere; always keen to be exposed to new music and different ideas, one can find threads of everything from Highlife, Punk and Hip Hop to black and white photography, Schopenhauer and underground social movements woven into the fabric of Formation’s music. One of the main tags the band appear to have acquired, especially with their recent album title Look at all the Powerful People, is ‘political,’ and I ask whether this had always been intended as a central theme of their work.
“We never thought about it, and it’s not something we focus on, it’s just a part of who we are,” Will responds. “We had that album title a year ago. And it keeps becoming a more and more relevant sentence.”

“I think if you’re a political person and you care about the world and the people in it, then it always shines through your music and what you’re trying to say,” Matt agrees, and Kai adds “I think it’s just us being aware of politics, but people focus on it because it’s relevant.”

I can’t help but wonder if the current turbulent (or at the very least uncertain) political climate therefore provides fertile ground for such a politically-motivated, socially conscious group of people, but the main reaction the band seem to be feeling is disbelief. “It’s like Punch and Judy,” Johnny describes, “but the audience get punched.”

Rather than appearing beaten-down, however, the band are keen for more people to interact and experiment with music as a way of communicating, as well as helping individuals to refine and understand their own opinions and beliefs. Will finds that Social Media outlets such as Facebook and YouTube encourage a lack of focus, passionately arguing that Social Media “isn’t about achieving a common ground, it’s just about shouting each other down and blasting your opinion out there without thinking about it before you do it. It’s massively individualistic.”

“It feels like a pop song is a nice way to make sure you have a certain amount of focused attention to put into one lyrical idea. And that’s it! It’s poetic and it’s creative, and if more people focused their ideas into being creative and doing something a bit more abstract that could be interpreted in a wider way and a more inclusive way, we would achieve a lot more.”

The importance of music for communication in society is an idea shared by the group. “I think, taking into account the kind of attention span that people all have now, if you’re trying to convey a message, it’s difficult to do that through other means, like literature,” Matt muses. “But 3 and a half minutes on the radio is an opportunity, a set time for you to really get something out there.”

Outside of music, the band’s hobbies of choice range between cycling, photography and family life, although Will also admits that “a lot of the focus is just on admin, really!” Sasha is also keen to mention his love for Chinese tea, insisting that I write down the name of Mei Leaf, in Camden. “Best tea outside of China,” he asserts.

I intimated to them a rumour I had heard that they had forsaken the traditional ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ lifestyle for one of clean living, including yoga on tour, and was met with raucous laughter. “We did yoga once! Before the first ever gig we did 5 minutes of yoga and it was the worst thing we’d ever done,” Matt laughs – “we all went on stage way too relaxed!”

But in general, the group do admit that tour for them is more along the lines of trying to eat as well as they can and beating fellow tour members the Foals at MarioKart, than the Rock ‘n’ Roll stereotype. “I’m not wearing earplugs,” their saxophonist for the night, Klaus, laughs, and that seems about as Rock ‘n’ Roll as it gets.

As Formation rose out the ashes of multiple teenage bands, I asked what advice the group could pass on to any aspiring young musicians. “Practice. Rehearse, a lot,” Will immediately responds. “Get good at your instrument, because that will build your confidence. And you need to find confidence within each other, so make sure you surround yourself with people who are making you feel good.”

“Don’t just listen to what everyone else is listening to. Challenge each other to find the weirdest stuff that you can, the most different thing,” Matt adds. Johnny chips in “listen to whole albums, beginning to end,” and Matt agrees “Oh, yeah, learn to actually listen as well.”

Dismayed, Matt continues “everyone’s got iPod fingers now. They just can’t stop listening to 30 seconds and then moving on to another. Just listen to the whole thing. What’s died is this whole sense of thematic development in a song or an album, because people just want hit after hit. You’ve got to get used to listening to a long journey.”

And it’s advice from the best, as one only has to hear them list their tour friends (The Foals and Years & Years both feature), and some of their memorable gigs (Iceland was a favourite, alongside headlining a packed out Wow tent at Glastonbury) to realise that this band are on their way up. Having recently got back from their American tour, they are about to head off again to Japan, Australia and hopefully New York. Their festival line-up includes Bestival, Latitude, Festival no.6 and Prima Vera. Their biggest following, strangely, is in Mexico City, and they hope to make a stop there in the future.

So what are Formation’s Desert Island Discs? Astral Weeks by Van Morrison for Johnny, Soft Bulletin by Flaming Lips for Matt and Love Supreme by John Coltrane for Will all come relatively easily. Kai struggles a bit longer, and settles on Made in Japan by Deep Purple. We look to Sasha, to round out the quintet. “Nothing,” he admits. “I think I would just listen to the desert island.”

Will Ritson © Rhiannon RoyMatt Ritson © Rhiannon RoyFormation performing at KOKO in London © Rhiannon Roy