Fusing the hauntingly bleak with a twisted, anarchic energy, Kelora are leading a new wave of Glasgow musicians in capturing the realities of modern Scotland
This is Scotland. In one of the most abstract and striking music videos of last year, two lonely young figures stand shoulder to shoulder dressed in faded high-vis jackets, framed by the heaving expanse of the Clyde Delta.
Battered by purple rain and a jagged tide, they chant in unison through the doe-eyed choruses of “BOY”, Kitty Hall and Benedict Salter‘s debut single as Kelora. The camera pans through the halogen-lit streets of down and out Glasgow before returning to shore. Eventually, the tide recedes around the pair and the crags of the west central Lowlands harden into view.
In their self-made music clip, Salter and Hall lay bear their vision of Scotland as it exists today. “It looks apocalyptic,” says Hall of the shoot setting, where upturned shipwrecks puncture the coastline. And just like their music – a kind of doomed, ice cold goth-folk – Kelora’s video plugs powerfully into the moment, the product of a dark, uncertain 2017.
“When ‘BOY’ came out, all the reviews said it sounded very ‘now’, like this time in politics,” says Salter, a Celtic studies graduate. “The political situation is like a bad dream in Scotland, it’s beyond a joke. (The country has) been humiliated and subjugated in such an obvious way.” In post-Brexit Scotland, Kelora feel abandoned by their country, left to fight their way forward.
But they aren’t alone in their struggle. Among Kelora’s network of friends in Glasgow, radicalised by the darkness of the times, a new scene of powerfully bleak music is germinating. Centred on industrial music label Domestic Exile and coldwave club nights So Low and Kunst, bands like Total Leatherette, BrotherMichelle and the mask-wearing Modern Institute are setting fire to stages across the city.
“The last time I saw them live, they poured petrol on a chess board and set the whole thing alight,” Salter recounts of the Modern Institute, who write punkish death-disco like Cabaret Voltaire at their most vaudevillian.
“Sisters and brothers banding together, getting ‘sad wae it’,” say the band’s Domestic Exile labelmates Total Leatherette of the local scene. The group is a latex-clad duo peddling Mondo Trasho-esque lyrical flourishes and pulsating, satanic beats. “They say folk is a journey into the open wounds of a mammal’s soul,” the group’s singer, Nikki, continues in a rambling email. “Techno – a pulse of discussion acting upon an uncontrolled urge to respond.”
Key to Domestic Exile’s DIY operations is Alicia Matthews, who works for the label while making bleakly sexy cyberpunk as Sue Zuki – or “rhythm and gloom”, as she calls it. On the slinky “Boring AF”, Matthews intones over a leathery, circular bassline: “I’m boring… I’m only inspired by people I see on the TV.”
Up against the guttural throbs of the Domestic Exile roster, Kelora’s sound might seem amiable, less antagonistic. But while “BOY” and “White Walls” – the two singles from their BOY EP – borrow from the lyrical existentialism of Scottish forebears The Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins, the pair are unwavering in their opposition to artistic nostalgia. Kelora want their material to speak subtly of the present, taking cues from the ruins of the past.
“People kept saying, ‘It’s so sweet, it’s so cute, you make angelic music’. I felt like, ‘No, there needs to be broken glass in it’” – Kelora
It’s why the band baulk if their music is labelled as twee. “People kept saying, ‘It’s so sweet, it’s so cute, you make angelic music,’” says Salter with a screwface. “I felt like, ‘No, there needs to be broken glass in it.’”
Broken glass for a broken Glasgow. Across sound and vision, Kelora’s menacing aesthetic is a considered commentary on modern Scotland. “There is a very end-of-the-world thing about the high-vis jackets,” adds Salter of the band’s outfits for the “BOY” clip. “You see them on riot police and wardens – they create a mood. More and more, I believe this is the last chapter, essentially, that we’re in now. You have to make some reference to that.”
Hall and Salter, who met as students in Glasgow, tested out the limits of their multidisciplinary approach, hosting an anarchic club night called Paraphernalia in a disused railway arch. “We were given the night to do whatever the hell we wanted,” says Salter, who formed Kelora with Hall last spring (bassist Finn O’Hare, who looks like he walked in off an Alien Sex Fiend video set circa 1983, is a recent addition to the line-up). The pair’s shows at the venue combined light installations, performance art and the use of live insects. “We were fed up playing boring venues and shows,” says Salter. “So we started putting on nights where we picked who we wanted to play.”
“Glaswegians can see the beauty in everything, even the darkness. I feel sad about the state of the world, but it’s vital to channel it into something beautiful” – Sgàire Wood
It was here that they were introduced to Dickensian-looking model and dancer Sgàire Wood, who supported Kelora at the Glasgow University Memorial Chapel in January. For her funny and nightmarish live sets, Wood mimes to traditional Irish folk songs spliced with early-00s dance-pop. “I’m always on the lookout for hard-style remixes of iconic tearjearkers,” she says. “Ethereal, pitched-up vocals and that kind of stuff. Celtic nightcore.”
Like Kelora, Wood thrives on the twisted energy coming out of Glasgow right now. “Glaswegians can see the beauty in everything, even the darkness,” she muses. “I feel sad about the state of the world, but it’s vital to channel it into something beautiful.”
Wood and Kelora also share a fondness for extreme juxtapositions, marrying hyper-modern aesthetics with the ancient and the folkloric. At a London show in March, Kelora wore their trademark reflective jackets and lined the stage with trees spray-painted silver. “It feels strange, doing ‘modern’ stuff (like the jackets) in a (natural) setting,” says Hall, a practising artist whose paintings have been displayed at the Royal Scottish Academy. “Our aesthetic stems from that – we unite these things. It’s important to create a world for it all to sit in.”
Back home, the pair host parties in their decrepit Victorian homes. “It feels more futuristic than if we were living in super-modern buildings,” says Hall of the houses they and their friends live in, some of which have relic statues jutting out of them. “(At parties) there’ll be loads of people on MDMA, but you’re in a Victorian living room,” adds Salter.
There’s a certain power in this image – of a brave new world, of Glasgow’s fearless youth partying into an uncertain future among the rubble. What’s going on in Scotland right now is larger than music and larger than Westminster: it’s the uneasy rumble of new beginnings and endless possibilities. “It kind of looks like things completely broke down,” Salter says of the gatherings. “It’s as if life has been swept away and there’s a whole new set of people.”