It’s been an extraordinary 25 years for Archive, spanning 12 studio albums that encapsulate restlessly inventive shifts in sound, vision and personnel that has ensured the music has remained fresh, dynamic and absorbing. To celebrate their anniversary Archive release “25”, a deluxe box set highlighting 43 tracks over six vinyl discs (or four CDs), with eight new compositions, including lead-off single ‘Remains Of Nothing’, a collaboration with Southampton’s Band Of Skulls. The vinyl box set also includes a 10” EP and exclusive 7” single (a collaboration with Steve Mason ex Beta Band), plus a 160 page book of contemporary interviews with current and former band members and photos from Archive’s private collections.
Since their formation in Croydon, South London in 1994, Archive have operated as masters of their own destiny, eschewing prevailing trends for a more unique musical blend of their own. Founder members Darius Keeler and Danny Griffiths, who had previously worked together in pioneering drum & bass outfit Genaside II, joined forces with South London rapper Rosko John, and Iranian-born singer Roya Arab, for 1996’s trip-hop tinged and critically acclaimed debut album, Londinium.
1999’s follow-up Take My Head saw a change in personnel, and a shift in musical direction to a more soulful and energised sound. South London singer Suzanne Wooder replaced Roya Arab for the album, which included ‘You Make Me Feel’, one of Archive’s most popular and enduring tracks to this day.
By 2002 and the third album You All Look The Same To Me, the line-up had evolved further; Wooder had been replaced by Dubliner Craig Walker, and the music had broadened out, with cinematic and progressive traits coming to the fore: as Keeler recalls, “We got increasingly confident and ambitious.” Key evidence is the first of Archive’s side-long epics, the 16-minute ‘Again’, which despite its length became Archive’s breakthrough track at European radio.
Right from the start Archive had taken off in France, making the cover of monthly rock bible Les Inrockuptibles around the release of their second album. After selling out two nights at the prestigious Elysée in Paris, and signing a deal with Warner France, none other than acclaimed film director Luc Besson commissioned Archive to write the soundtrack for Michel Vaillant, a drama set around the 24 hour Le Mans race.
A year later, in 2004, fourth studio album Noise – which more prominently introduced guitars into the mix - made Archive superstars across Europe. However, even as Archive’s momentum gathered pace the band would go through further line-up changes with the departure of Craig Walker - Keeler and Griffiths subsequently deciding to retire the idea of one singer, in favour of several voices, and a flexible collective approach moving forward.
Three new vocalists were recruited following Walker’s departure; Dave Pen, Maria Q and Pollard Bernier came on board in quick succession, and all featured on 2006’s Lights album.
2009 saw the conceptual pairing of Controlling Crowds I-III and Controlling Crowds: Part IV, the latter released when Archive realised they had too much great material for one album. “It was our response to the state of the world,” says Bernier, naming the Iraq war, technological revolutions, and social media as the inspiration behind Controlling Crowds.
Controlling Crowds I-III included the track ‘Bullets’, another of Archive’s best-loved songs, and proof of the increasing socio-political nature of Archive lyrics. “It was our protest album!” says Keeler “and our most ambitious too in some ways”.
With Us Until You’re Dead, Archive’s eighth studio album, was released in 2012 and saw the introduction of Sydney-born singer Holly Martin into the collective. Holly’s dark and powerful lyrics, most clearly evidenced on the single ‘Violently’, quickly endeared her to the Archive fan base. With Us Until You’re Dead was also the first Archive album to see a UK release since 2002’s You All Look The Same To Me, with Archive starting their own label, Dangervisit, as a joint venture with distributor Play It Again Sam [PIAS] in 2012. Keeler noting at the time, “It's great to be a big band all over Europe, and we certainly don't take it for granted, but we're a UK band, and we want to be successful here too.”
Further Archive albums this decade have been marked by soulful, shivery and spellbinding moods: multiple voices and multiple beats rival each other for impact alongside beautifully layered keyboard and guitar. Axiom (2014) was the soundtrack to their own dystopia-themed film, premiered at the London Sundance Film Festival that year; Restriction (2015) reprised the twisted-love-song angle of With Us Until You’re Dead but with leaner, sharper edges to the music, and notably featured three singles released simultaneous on the same day.
Most recently, The False Foundation (2016) was a darkly foreboding work, built around an underlying theme of “cults, false prophets and communities build on sand” according to Pen, musically the album represented a return to a rawer, more analogue sound.
The tour that accompanied The False Foundation was Archive’s most ambitious to date, it saw the band playing inside a giant cube of visual projections, to packed audiences right across Europe. As Keeler says “I think they were our most impressive visual shows to date. I think we recreated the otherworldly mood and ominous feel of The False Foundation really well, certainly the fans seemed to be blown away with the show”.
And so to 2019, and the “25” retrospective; as well as an opportunity to take stock of the journey so far, Keeler very much views the project as an opportunity to push on, reinforcing the concept of change and collaboration in the process. Says Keeler, “It’s been a great opportunity to collaborate with some new people, I think the track with Band Of Skulls (‘Remains Of Nothing’) is one of the best things we’ve ever done, and working with Steve Mason was a real honour too.”
‘Remains Of Nothing’ was co-written and sung with Emma Richardson and Russell Marsden of Southampton’s Band Of Skulls, whilst ‘Lightning Love’ is a shared venture with ex Beta Band member Steve Mason. “25” also introduces Welsh singer Lisa Mottram (aka Cherryshoes in her solo career) to the Archive collective, as it continues to push forward.
For 25 years, Archive have been on an incredible journey: musical, spiritual and emotional. Says Griffiths, “It’s hard to fathom how we’ve stayed together all this time, but it’s remarkable, it’s longer than many marriages! I think it’s because Darius and I constantly challenge each other, there’s a mutual respect and understanding of where we want to go, and emotionally what we want to experience.”
Says Keeler “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done as a collective over the years, and I’m excited to be celebrating that work in 2019. It really is all about the music!”
MUDAZE & PIT DAHM