PVA: Dance Music in Sound and Sensibility

In light of their recent collaboration, Mura Masa described PVA to possess the ability to reimagine a ‘classic sound’. But what does that actually mean? Sonically, PVA are hard to pin down, mixing traditional instrumentation with electronic beats and joyously danceable synth sounds. It is this refreshing combination which diverts them away from seeming nostalgic or evocative and into a visceral and original live act. In conversation with Ella and Josh from the band on a cold and bleak early December evening, it becomes abundantly clear that their motivation is dance music, in both sound and sensibility.

When I call PVA they are illuminated by the side of a SAD lamp, its warm glow a necessity to a band busily working on new music. By their own admission, lockdown has been a reflective, albeit frustrating time for a band quickly becoming noted as one of the most exciting live acts around. They are known to be spontaneous; a dance music band unbound from backing tracks. Fittingly, a principal preoccupation over the course of the lockdown has been continuing to swap the software for hardware, computer error for human instinct and adding more physical synths and instrumentation. This ethic has enriched their gigs with the opportunity to show-off the creative chemistry between members and let their floor-ready tunes grow organically on stage. The result, as Ella attests, is “beautiful chaos”.  

Many will have first heard PVA though one of the collections released by Dan Carey’s Speedy Wunderground label. A spot on his yearly compilation is slowly becoming a heavy accolade, and a barometer for who is the next big thing in alternative music. It’s track-listing is both an exercise in spotting the market trends of indie music, and reminiscent of the best festival line up you could imagine. These bands are the pioneers of a new wave of artists who highlight the small and vibrant local music scenes they originate from, nurtured by grassroots venues.

PVA’s new EP, Toner, succeeds in capturing their live energy, and is an exciting opening statement. They tease how “The best is yet to come” on lead single ‘Talks’, either an audacious gesture towards future music, or perhaps a self-effacing invitation to dive into the rest of the EP. Three singles are joined by a trio of remixes from the likes of Mura Masa, Lynks and Girl Band’s Daniel Fox, each serving to flesh out and expand the extended PVA universe. This is where this dance music culture is most starkly drawn upon, with the willingness to tap into that culture of re-interpretation and making it a central part of the listening experience.

The EP appears in two parts, firstly the three singles and then the remixes. These remixes have a real prominence on the album and stand as an integral part of Toner. Was the choice to include them born out of simply out of respect for the art form or a restlessness to see where else these songs can be taken sonically?

Ella: I think what we found when the remixes came together [is that] we have a real heart and love of dance music and it’s been really nice as part of this project to work with artists and remix the songs, in a way that you see in classic dance records. But also I feel like the remixes really nicely sum up the sounds we bring to our lives shows. It’s a sound which people might not have seen yet in our recorded music. So having the euphoric synths in the Mura Masa remix, then the more pop-focus Lynks remix and the industrial focused remix from Daniel Fox I think is really nice. They sit on the EP really nicely and give people a taste of what we are really like, sonically.

Josh: It’s really cool to send your music away to people and get back these different versions of it. They give them a new life as well, for example, the Mura Masa remix made it into a dance track and took it to where it was always supposed to be at, in a way. ‘Talks’ is in a way a pop song, and Lynks extracted that and turned it up to 10…

Ella: … 10,000! It’s so nice to see these songs taking new life and create a more rounded introduction to us.

Josh: We want to show all the different sides that we have. We like to move around and not stick to one specific genre and I think that works with the songs that we have chosen. Adding the remixes on top of that expands it out more and shows that we enjoy putting out music to dance to.

Ella: I think we have started to reach a more dance-orientated audience with this EP and get a response from people who might not have discovered us through the Speedy Wunderground release. With the remixes it’s been nice to reach those people, and that’s the beauty of remixes.

You alluded to remixing being a collaborative experience. There is an argument to suggest that the task of making a remix could be the opposite to collaboration, because you are asking somebody to create totally freely from the original song and take it to a new place.

Josh: It’s definitely different if you are directly collaborating with somebody on a track that you are going to release together. There is still a fulfilment about it because you have made the original material, and then you give the whole finished thing to someone else for them to pick out what they like and completely flip it. You definitely think about your music in a different way, by hearing how other people respond to the work that you have done. We draw ideas from that.

Ella: I know in the past when we have remixed other people, I have always felt way more connected to that artist because you hear their song in such a raw form. When you hear the stems, it’s quite vulnerable, they could listen to just your vocal. Although it’s not a direct collaboration, there is definitely a trust you put into someone and that’s really important when building a creative relationship. It’s really fun to do though, I find that when you look through the stems it’s like you are doing a little treasure hunt. You solo all the stems and listen to all this stuff and then you hear a sound and you loop and it and are like ‘wow that is really cool!’

Josh: Also if it’s music that we wouldn’t make and you discover how you respond to that genre and that can inform your ideas in the future, creatively. It’s like thinking about music in a different way.

You have mentioned in a previous interview that the lead single, ‘Talks’, is informed by the games we play in relationships. One of the relationships you suggested that you observed was that of Abigail and John Marston in the video game Red Dead Redemption. Is the irony of having a song which laments game-playing and basing it off a totally fabricated relationship intentional?

Josh: I want to say it was, in a sense it kind of was. There are references to the actual playing of the game: “I’ve been the furthest reaches// In search of forgiveness” or “I’ve rolled the dice.” There are direct references to the actions you do in the game but put in this metaphor of being in a relationship with someone.

I thought it was a really interesting comparison. Games like Red Dead are so much a part of our generation that it is perhaps one of the places that we learn about relationships.

Josh: I think that’s what is so important about games. How we inform ourselves about life is through art and film and books, but games can be like that as well. We listen to music and watch theatre to understand how we are feeling, and in some games where there is a focus on narrative and people it can inform that just as much. Because you are taking an active role in the game you are also getting to make some of those decisions yourself.

I first heard about you guys from one of Dan Carey’s Speedy Wunderground collections. His style is notable for its ‘no bullshit’ approach, everything recorded efficiently, usually live and with few overdubs. How has that experience informed Toner

Josh: What I think is cool about our collaboration with Dan is how we wanted to stretch those rules a little bit. I think we have taken that into Toner, because there wasn’t tones of overdubs or anything like that so the main core of the EP was recorded live, and that’s how we wanted to do it. The core of the EP is live, all of us in the room playing the songs but because sonics and production is so important to us and for it to be dance music, there is a lot of electronic elements that have been thought a little bit more about after the fact, rather than applied immediately. It’s been definitely an exploratory process.

Spatially, PVA are synonymous with an emerging London scene. How do you think you have benefitted from expanding out of a local music community?

Ella: I find the last year before lockdown it has been really nice to reach wider audiences and play with new bands and discover artists around the country and around Europe who are making similar sounds.

Josh: There is a wider scene of other bands who are also making dance music, like Lazarus Kane and Scalping. I think we want to play to as many people as possible and we want our music to reach as many people as possible. We have got to travel around a lot, we’ve been to Manchester, Birmingham, York and I think there are sick music scenes all around the country. In all these different cities, there are a lot of similar things going on around the country with people wanting to enjoy dance music. We love to dance. 

You are frequently associated with independent venues such as The Windmill and The Five Bells. How important do you think these venues are at the moment and do you fear for their survival?

Ella: I’m massively, massively fearful for their survival. Especially those that were highlighted by the music venue trust. I could talk about this for days and days. I actually used to work at the Windmill and that is how me and Josh met because he used to put on nights there. They are so, so important for communities of weirdos and music fans and creative people all around the country. I have found so many friends there. We have been really lucky to play some bigger venues, but if we went to Shepherd’s Bush Empire with the set that we had at the Five Bells or the Windmill it would have been atrocious. If we didn’t get booed, then we probably would have run off stage ourselves!

Josh: If you think about the music industry, there are bands playing these huge spaces, but you have to get to that point, and you only get to that point by playing small grassroots venues that allow you to experiment more. I definitely feel like I found a lot of people who are similar to me by going to these music venues. So more than the music, the venues are there to just bring people together.

Ella: Recently we did the Windmill takeover and on their Instagram we asked people to share their embarrassing moments of playing live at the Windmill. Honestly we had about 70 people send stories of them falling over and things breaking…

Josh: Pooing their pants…

Ella: Yeah, there were some quite graphic ones. If you did these things at the O2 Academy, I feel like it would be a career-ender. So having these space to fuck up is so vital. I think that is why there is such versatile music coming from these spaces. Like in Manchester you have The Peer Hat or in Bristol you have The Old England – I don’t think I’ve ever had a normal experience at The Old England.  

Considering this is an EP that is so dance heavy, do you worry about the discourse that its release has collided with, and that people might hear it differently not being able to consume these songs live?

Josh: Obviously we are known to be a live band and that is how we have got people interested. So over the past year not being able to do that has been strange, and stranger in terms of who are we getting our music out to?

Ella: I think that it’s definitely been a real exercise in adapting. Having to present this EP as a less of an accompaniment to the live show and as a body of work in itself has been interesting. With songs like ‘Sleek Form’ and the remixes it doesn’t necessarily feel like the right time to be releasing it to the world; but at the same time it feels so right as well, because in this time people need stuff that uplifts them. The way it has been recorded, it does feel quite live and so maybe that’s a nice thing when there is so live music, to be able to close your eyes and pretend you are listening to it at a venue at 2 o’clock in the morning.

I understand that the EP release went along with a VR live event at the Moth Club in London. How did you utilise this technology? How effective was it at communicating the live personality of the band?

Josh: As a band we have always thought of the live shows as an experience. You come there to be a part of the music and the people and the environment, and that is all part of the show. Virtual reality is a way to do something completely different from that but in a different spirit. We aren’t trying to recreate a gig but create a whole new experience. With the technology we have complete total control of your perceived environment, so we can create an experience which isn’t live standing there and watching a band. We can take you on an unrealistic, out of this world and hopefully quite exciting experience. That is kind of the idea behind it. 

Words: Oscar Edmondson Photos: Slow Dance

PVA’s debut EP ‘Toner’ is out now via Big Dada. Stream or purchase the album via Bandcamp here.

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