Kate Boy first emerged, fully formed and seemingly from nowhere, at the tail end of 2012 with the sonic blitzkrieg of Northern Lights, a song so disarmingly amazing its reach spread across the internet like wildfire. With a moniker that purposefully plays around with gender roles, press shots that experiment with androgyny and a debut, self-directed video for Northern Lights featuring an undulating visual representation of the band almost as one character, it felt like the emergence of a fully formed statement of intent. Made up of Australian, Kate Akhurst and Swedes, Markus Dextegen and Hampus Nordgren Hemlin (formerly of Rocket Boy, hence the name), Kate Boy isn’t a solo female pop act. Kate Boy are a unit who collectively take full responsibility for every aspect of what goes out under their moniker, be it audio or visual. “We are a band,” Kate says. “We share everything.”
The story of how this entity was formed can be defined by one word; serendipity. Having signed her first publishing deal at the age of 16, Kate had fallen into a rut of writing for others, be it in Australia, LA or, more recently, in London. Over in Stockholm, meanwhile, Markus and Hampus were busy producing, tailoring their sounds to whoever they were with at the time. “I’d been living in LA for four or five years and writing for other people and I just kind of hit a wall with that,” explains Kate. “I wanted to be more creative and not work within the frames that I was given. I wanted to shake things up and because I loved Swedish music and part of my family, generations back, came from Sweden, I thought ‘I’m just going to go over’. Basically loads of our mutual friends then said the three of us should meet.”
With a flight booked back to London from Stockholm for the next day, the three initially just hung out, chatting about mutual musical inspirations such as Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Grace Jones and Brian Eno, with none of them consciously looking to form a band. Soon enough music started to be made and fairly quickly something magical started happening. “We were making music that none of us expected to be making ourselves,” continues Markus. “Everyone was bringing out a surprising side of each other. We’re very different in our musical backgrounds and it all seemed to solidify. It felt like music none of us could make on our own.” The rush of discovering their own style – a sort of sonic fusing of the organic and the metallic wrapped up in gloriously catchy melodies – was almost overwhelming. “I think when we wrote the songs, we loved them so much and we instantly realised that we had our own sound,” says Kate. “It was just about making music we wanted to make and nothing else”, agrees Hampus. That first night together ended with the three of them writing a song – Northern Lights. “It has a different meaning for me now,” Kate says with the broadest smile on her face. “It means so much”.
Keen to cement this seemingly once in a lifetime opportunity, the trio started referring to the band as Kate Boy. “We loved that it was a bit of a question and we loved that it was mixing genders,” explains Kate. “We didn’t feel like a band where there’s a drummer, a guitarist etc. We felt like one unit from the beginning and each of us felt like they couldn’t do it on their own, so this sort of Kate Boy character was formed – like another person that was made up from us.” It also bled into their live shows, which after Northern Lights were booked all over Europe and North America. “We liked that feeling of being a whole unit and that’s why we wear the same stuff on stage. We really like this element of it being like a uniform.”
Having taken the time to properly work on the songs and not rush things following their explosive start back in 2012, the band feel prepared for what’s to come. “At the start we did everything and thought ‘let’s just put it out ourselves’.” Now signed to Fiction, they’re finding the benefits of allowing some of the work to be done by other people. “We did everything on our own at the start because we had no choice, but now we’ve had some stuff out we can work with other people, but we still need to be happy with it. Every aspect – from writing lyrics on a song to what we’re wearing – we see them as equal,” continues Markus. “It’s such a cool feeling when someone else in the band comes up with something you would never have thought of. It helps us cover more ground.”
With their forthcoming album self-produced and recorded in Stockholm, i.e. the capital of pop, Kate Boy aren’t afraid to unleash an almighty chorus. But while pop’s current obsessions seem to be with singing about dancing up in the club or sipping on some bub, Kate Boy’s songs deal with the unifying pull of self-empowerment, of trying to bring people together as one giant bundle of energy. This is shown on the joyous mesh of electronics that is the pogoing The Way We Are (“just like live wires we all need plugging in”) and on the sky-scraping Higher, sample lyric, “we’re different but still the same, move your mind to a higher state”. “We speak about these things everyday” states Kate, “and we just didn’t want to write a song about being in the club and love and all of that. Why not write songs about what we really care about right now?”
It’s not just with their lyrics that the band are keen to look outside of the box, but also with the intricacies of the music itself and the way they present it. Bonding over a mutual love for the Fairlight CMI – a digital sampling synthesizer from the late 1970s used by their musical heroes that basically means you can make music from any sound,– and obsessing over and building their own synths. Their music has the electronic warmth and texture that only comes from vintage instruments. For their unique, visual aesthetic inspiration is taken from the likes of Finnish artist Pia Mannikko, painter Franz Kline, photographer Serge Najjar and filmmakers such as David Cronenberg and David Lynch.
Their experience of playing live to ever-increasing crowds has also filtered through to the songs. “When you see people singing along to songs we’ve written and we see them singing along to something with an important message, it’s so empowering for us,” says Hampus. This vitality and joy at simply being alive is epitomised in single Self Control, a percolating electronic swirl peppered with delicate production flourishes that suddenly launches into a joyous chorus of “free yourself, don’t let nobody take control”. Elsewhere on their forthcoming debut album, they create icy drama on When I Was Young and deal with the destruction of the environment on Temporary Gold. “That was inspired by a time we were in Australia and we saw that they were going to dredge all of the mining over the Great Barrier Reef and it would die” explains Kate. “It had been approved and part of me died. We have to write about what we’re passionate about.”
Asking Kate Boy where they see themselves in the future leads to a fairly unsurprising answer given the perfect happenstance of their creation. There’s a brilliant sense of living in the moment that seems to permeate everything about them. “I’ve changed my thinking completely,” says Kate. “I always used to think ‘right, I’m going to do this and then do that’ and I’d plan so far ahead and then it would never happen that way, which would make you feel unsatisfied. Now I’m embracing that day by day thing and not thinking like that.” “The lesson we’ve learned from this is don’t plan anything,” the three of them say in perfect unison.