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A Taste Of Lemon Jelly

While longtime session-hand type Nick Franglen is responsible for the studio assemblage of London pop duo Lemon Jelly, it's Fred Deakin who provides the band's specific style. A longtime DJ and ravenous record collector, Deakin creates the beat-loops and chooses the kitschy samples that color the pair's polite grooves; which goes along way to giving the cuts their eager personality, which is probably a large reason Lemon Jelly's cheesy-listening summer-breezy mood-music holds the appeal it does.

And it's Deakin who is the graphic designer behind Lemon Jelly's presented artistic façade, an image of visual continuity that takes the place of publicity pics, the band devoutly pledging to never be photographed. They are, if nothing else, an act that takes their visual appeal seriously, such a sensibility best seen in their luridly-coloured and revolutionary-packaged records that are always housed in anything but the run-of-the-mill digipack; the combo even putting out an obscure seven-inch single last year ("Soft" b/w "Rock") that found the record housed in a sewn-up jeans-seat, replete with flavoured condom in the back pocket.

After following up their lemonjelly.ky set, which compiled their first three EPs onto one album, with their first proper longplayer, Lost Horizons, Lemon Jelly have just followed that up with their first headlining rock show. Having warmed up for the occasion by debuting their live performance at some summer rock festivals in the UK (y'know, the usual), the band celebrated their first chance to play for their audience by making everyone get dressed up.

"We made everyone wear a T-shirt to get in. The T-shirt was the ticket, so you had to wear it to get in," chuckled Deakin, also happy at "a whole lot of other shit" — set dressing, stage visuals — that they used to make their debut anything but prosaic.

Probe lightly into Deakin's history, and you find a litany of conceptual projects leading up to such an idea-centric "debut" with his latest outing. It started off in high school, a time in which North London youths Deakin and Franglen knew each other, even though they wouldn't get down to making music until they were into their 30s. And it started with a band called Spasm.

"Spasm were a lot of fun," Deakin recalled during a phone interview. "A kind of industrial metal band. We had two rules: 1, we would never have any rehearsals; and: 2, you had to find your instruments in the street near where the gig was happening for every show, and then you had to leave them behind at the end of the gig. As a result, we didn't get very many gigs.

"It was good fun, but we were absolutely awful, though. Terrible." He paused and laughed. "We had this one really enthusiastic fan, who was this punk who drank lots of Guinness and cider, and stood right at the front, and got completely off his face, and jiggled up and down. He thought we were brilliant, actually. But I think he was in a minority of one."

After spending coming-of-age time in a handful of rock bands, Deakin came to the conclusion that he "wasn't very good at it," and decided that he was going to try and make his teenage habit of being "the guy at the party with the bag of records" into some sort of ongoing musical exercise. He was going to become a DJ. "I was completely obsessed with music, and I was really desperate for some kind of creative interface with it. So, I started DJing, and I've been doing that for 20 years now."

Upon a move to Edinburgh, Deakin started to run his own clubs, the most notable being his exercise in high-kitsch, Thunderball. "The very first clubs I ran were kind of looking at what was cool in London, and then doing that. But I got bored of that because it was just too easy," he said. "So, we started these clubs that were completely crazy, where we'd play anything from heavy metal to Country & Western to house to hip-hop. That was when things started getting interesting. We used to make people dress up, we'd do things — things that seem a bit old hat now, but certainly weren't then — like have bouncy castles, stage tea parties. We'd have cake nights that would invariably end in food fights. We'd stage nights in castles, ice rinks, and art galleries. Just lots of really stupid stuff to try and make people have a good time, to leave their cool baggage at home. To leave all their genres and cliques behind.

"That was where it really started working for me, and where I learned a lot," he continued. "That's where I got the graphic design thing from, certainly, because I was designing all the publicity and the interior visuals. And, I also learnt about communicating with an audience, both with the music that you played on the night, but also in promoting it, finding the people who were interested in you and trying to establish a 'community' by making them feel part of it."

Upon moving back to London as established, estimable conceptual-club bigwig, Deakin set about creating and maintaining his hipster club Impotent Fury, in which he's carried on his conceptual jones to particularly cute effect. His favorite of his wacky, anti-cool gimmicks is "The Wheel of Destiny." "It's got 12 musical genres on it, and every half an hour we spin the wheel, and whatever comes up we have to play for the next half an hour."

With all this in mind, it's little surprise that Deakin has worked hard, through artwork, Web site, and, now, live performance, to make Lemon Jelly a bit more like some grand concept than just another sample-based chill-music duo. Applying that hope to their live shows is, he sees, the biggest test of that aesthetic.

"The big difference between a gig and a club is that, at a gig, there's much more of a defined line between the performer and the audience, whereas, at a club, you can merge the two much more successfully. At a gig, you've got a band, and an audience looking at them, and there's not much you can do about that. But, we're doing our best to blur it. Like, we wore the T-shirts, too, so we were all one big happy family."

He continues: "It's not the traditional route of bands to blur that line between performer and audience, and I'm not sure we're going to be able to do it, to be honest with you. I think what we'd like to do is have some kind of communication with the people who like our music. And we're lucky that we have a lot of armoury to do that, especially with our Web site. I think they [the fans] understand that, because we're involved so closely with every facet of the band — we produce all the visual material ourselves — that they feel that there's much more direct lines of communication."

The Lemon Jelly Web site features excerpts from the group's EPs, along with hypnotic visuals and other goodies. "Most bands, by means of necessity, have to get other people to help them with artwork, and with Web sites," Deakin said. "Because we can do that ourselves, we can convey much more of what Lemon Jelly is about." — Anthony Carew [Monday, Dec. 9, 2002]

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