British band Stateless are a difficult act to categorise. Formed in 2002, they have been compared to experimental hip-hop and trip-hop acts such as Massive Attack and Portishead that crashed into the limelight in the early and mid-1990s. Occasionally they mine similar musical veins as Radiohead, as Coldplay, DJ Shadow and UNKLE.
Are they an electronic band or an alternative rock band? And what’s with the dabblings in psychedilia, the purely acoustic interpretations of some compositions, and their exploration of visual as well as aural worlds?
Even their name suggests endless possibilities. “We were basically thinking of Stateless being without boundaries,” says lead singer Chris James. “We’re without musical boundaries. That’s where we were coming from.”
While Nick Ramm, the band’s keyboards and piano player, finds comparisons to acts like Portishead flattering (“It’s good, and we do have to live up to that,” he says), he also insists that the Stateless sound is unique and constantly evolving. “We also have to just do our thing, play our sound and not be too associated or compared with someone else.”
Ramm says his band mates are broadminded in their influences, personally citing everything from jazz and classical music to Jamaican disco diva Grace Jones. Literature, poetry, and cinema and film scores also play core roles in the Stateless concept. “I’m a huge fan of Bjork, Radiohead, there are so many,” says James. “Cinema is a huge influence in what we do, and we’ve worked in that territory with some amazing artists such as FIELD, a German design duo who work here in London.”
Stateless collaborated with FIELD on the official video for their 2011 single Ariel. The groundbreaking video features a digital dance performance exploring the eternal struggle of good and evil, with the song’s two opposing characters visualised as surreal human figures drawing dynamic sculptures in space. “That was, for me, where I felt that Stateless had arrived at a good place in terms of the aesthetic,” says James. “The motion-capture animation with the sonics that we were experimenting with … the synergy of those two processes worked really well together.”
Band member Kidkanevil, who mans turntables and also lends his hand to sampling and programming, comes from a hip hop background but has increasingly eclectic tastes. “I’ve been into all music really, like electronic music, folk music, classical music, whatever it might be,” he says. “Outside of music, I’ve always found visual arts and cinema really inspiring. That seeps into this project quite a lot. It’s quite cinematic and definitely has a film quality to it.”
Kidkanevil says the bands approach is collaborative and democratic, allowing each band member – and numerous outsiders – to flourish. “You have to be creatively open and free for other people to be a part of it – it’s not necessarily about your specific vision – and to be happy to pass ideas around and let other people run with things you’ve started, or pick up things that other people have started.”
Ramm agrees, adding, “You’re not doing the whole thing, you’re doing parts and then you have to fit that part in. You have to write something that is unfinished in a way, something which is just a part of a bigger picture.”
Nowhere was this outlook more evident than on Stateless’ second album, 2011’s Matilda, for which the band teamed up with Grammy-nominated Canadian producer Damian Taylor. James had met Taylor – best known for his work with Bjork and the Prodigy, as well as with the Killers and Arcade Fire, among many others – at a Bjork show on her 2007-2008 Volta tour.
Once the producer was on board, he pushed Stateless’ combination of classic signwriting and story-telling into deeper electronic territory. “Damian Taylor came about at a really good time,” says James, “just after we’d finished the first album and we were looking to explore more of the electronic aesthetic.”
More recently, Stateless have completed a new project entitled Sixfold Symmetry, an audio-visual collaboration with London-based producer Blue Daisy. “We felt with the AV element of Sixfold Symmetry that we were pushing the music into a completely new area for us,” says James. “It’s way more psychedelic and less song-based, much more about the experiments in sound, processing these organic elements in a very digital way.”
Taylor has also been drafted in to work on Stateless’ third studio album, which will once again see the band joining forces with a host of cutting-edge innovators in sound. “There have been collaborations with several artists where they’ve begun in a very freeform, improvised manner,” says Stateless drummer Justin Percival. “The said artist will have free time to themselves to experiment with analogue synthesis, with various sampled beat sounds, and they basically just improvise within their own environment.”