Enter Shikari: “I really dislike hope just for hope’s sake, false optimism”

Enter Shikari have been one of the most consistently interesting bands of the past two decades, and with their ambitious new album ‘Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible’, they’ve outdone themselves.

“The album is basically about possibility. Musically, we pushed ourselves in all sorts of ways, but also lyrically it looks at the theme; what’s possible in this day and age.”

When Rou Reynolds chatted to Dork in early March, the UK had yet to be fully gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Enter Shikari frontman’s description of their new album feels grimly prescient as he gives us the record’s mission statement.

“Possibility has historically been looked at as something quite positive, the prospects of the future. Whereas now, possibility is something else. With the political and social shocks of the last five years, we’ve had things that we never thought would happen. Possibility has become a much more even-sided thing, and some things are quite terrifying, really.”

“Semantically I find it really interesting because the more used phrase is ‘Anything is possible’, which has always been a faux motivational phrase. A platitude like ‘You can do anything, man!’” Rou expands. “Whereas, ‘Everything is possible’, is a lot more interesting and a lot darker.”

Since hauling themselves out of St Albans in the mid-2000s, Enter Shikari have always been a band to weigh every word and note carefully, their wild brand of neuro-punk cradling delicately assembled themes. Rou is on a roll detailing his latest creation.

“If you break it down as any of the things are possible, it implies choice, it’s like you’re looking at an array and any of these things are possible so you can choose some of them and do them. Whereas ‘Everything is possible’, is saying all things are possible and probably going to happen, whether you’re having something to do with it or not. It sort of takes away choice, so it makes it much more disconcerting and menacing.”

The current crisis has robbed the band of a string of release shows for bonkers new record ‘Nothing is True & Everything Is Possible’, but Shikari are making sure the album comes out on time to give us something to dance to, locked in our bedrooms for the foreseeable. The LP itself is a lurching, shapeshifting beast, a collage of everywhere the band have been so far and places they’re yet to go. The 20s waltz of the de facto title track, an actual symphony (more on that later) and two multipart suites; even for Shikari, this is a rollercoaster ride, taking the listener on a zig-zagging, dizzying tour of their past, present and future.

As always, amongst the climate collapse, crony capitalism, and other injustices that decorate their songs, there’s room for optimism.

“’The Dreamer’s Hotel’ is a space of peace and imagination and collaboration and community,” Rou expands on the album’s lead single. “It’s thinking about the future in a positive way and thinking about design and where we can go, human ingenuity and what we’re capable of in a peaceful and respectful manner. We don’t seem to check into those kinds of spaces really anymore,” he laments.

‘Satellites’ is a defiant love song where Reynolds aims for empathy with members of the LGBTQ+ community who face persecution for displaying affection publicly, in light of multiple violent attacks on same-sex couples in London in the past few years.

“For me, that’s one of the most important things, encouraging empathy in society, encouraging people to think about other people’s lives and situations, because as individuals in society, we’re often discouraged from that. It’s a very individualistic society that we live in and from the 1980s onwards from Thatcher and neoliberalism, she said herself, “the death of society” (“There is no such thing as society”). [That song] is just trying to get people to think about other people’s situations. And not always be in one’s own head with one’s own problems.”

After over fifteen years and five full-length albums (not to mention piles of EPs, standalone singles and live bootlegs), Enter Shikari have carved a unique path in modern rock, masters of their own destiny as they reinvent and reinvigorate what’s possible for a rock band. They’ve crisscrossed the planet, recently embarking on an Eastern European trek that took them as far as Siberia. The sense of community their music creates allows them to journey to the edge of civilisation and still find a few hundred people hanging on their every lyric. 2017’s ‘The Spark’ was an inward journey borne of anxiety, a coping mechanism wrought in concise arrangements and singalong choruses. While the new album isn’t necessarily a reaction to that, the quartet have this time hurled everything at the wall, including a fully orchestrated symphony, courtesy of the BBC’s flagship composer George Fenton, who you might know from Attenborough’s Planet Earth series.

“It was a dream come true really working with him, being able to learn from him was incredible,” Rou admits. It’s a stirring, moving piece, but it wouldn’t be Shikari without carrying some heavier, deeper meaning than mere mood music. “It’s trying to tell the tale of life on our planet, but just through music. In classical they call that ‘programme form’ where you’re trying to elicit or convey a certain thing just through the instrumentation,” he tells us.

“It starts off with these very sprightly strings, little flutters and little flurries of woodwind, the guitar and that’s supposed to be conveying the Cambrian explosion, the different species coming to life on our planet. Then it goes into the second section, which is a march, very literally the march of life if you imagine the evolutionary tree broadening out.” And then we come along and fuck everything up. “The last section is the Anthropocene and us affecting the planet in such a negative way and 50% of species being lost, and it ends in a big, horrible, distorted discordant mess.”

“It’s not so much of a conscious thing, but I try to always just keep our output realistic rather than edging towards optimism or pessimism,” Rou elaborates. “I really dislike hope just for hope’s sake, false optimism which I think a lot of bands fall into. But at the same time, we couldn’t be a doom metal band either. There’s an energy of hope that’s always going to be within the music somehow. So it’s just it’s just getting the balance right I suppose.”

The past few years have seen the emergence of a vibrant, defiant youth climate movement, which in part inspired the rallying cry of the anthemic ‘Crossing the Rubicon’. “That was definitely inspired by the various youth climate change movements. I just felt so rejuvenated and re-energised. That youthful vigour and power, the sheer knowledge and passion that was on offer from these people was just really energising.”

In precarious times where things are changing by the hour and our whole way of living has been thrown into doubt, ‘Nothing is True & Everything is Possible’ is a mirror to our dysfunction, at times a torch of hope and at others an ominous tick on the doomsday clock. Breaking down walls and winning hearts with reckless abandon, Enter Shikari are still here, standing like statues. 

Taken from the May issue of Dork. Enter Shikari’s album ‘Nothing is True & Everything is Possible’ is out now.

Words: Dillon Eastoe

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