Call them bass and drums, call them techno and electronica, you could even call them high-tech rock n’ roll. They’re a high energy, rapid wave of constant momentum with tunes and electronic grooves that could be as easily expressed on stage as the dance floor. The former trio turned five men group from Brighton, UK have produced genre-smashing electric bombast sending crowds into Matrix-style rave pits since 2009. The core of The Qemists started with bassist Dan Arnold, drummer Leon Harris and guitarist Liam Black. They toured the UK in the late ‘90s getting noticed with radio airplay, acquiring interest in the electronic style of Drum and Bass. Vocalists Oliver Simmons and Bruno Balanta joined in 2009.
They just signed a North American deal with Detroit-based FiXT Music for their new record Warrior Sound. Their new video for Run You tunnels its way into your ear with a pop, synth combination with rock guitars, crowd moving beats and was featured in the trailer for Terminator Genisys.
To a certain extent, the original three guys came up with the name as a kind of spin on the musical chemistry and alchemic blend of sounds they weave together. Wanting to avoid pharmaceutical connections and confused online searches they changed the spelling.
“The reason for doing that was if you type “the chemists” you’re going to get a lot of pharmacies,” said Balanta. “A band from the UK called The Music went nowhere, because no one could find them.”
They have a large following in Europe, playing large festivals and venues.
“We’ve played a lot of festivals in our time but Woodstock (Poland) was the biggest free festival,” Balanta said. “They raise between eight and 18 million Euros every year for various charities. It’s free entry with reasonable prices for the fans and great for the community. They’re happy because they’re getting a good deal and it’s going for a great cause.”
A crowd of 300,000 packed the place as they played the day after Dave Marley headlined on opening day.
They’re hoping to come across the pond later this year or next and give Americans a taste of “The Qemistry.”
“We haven’t played a show in the U.S. yet, so it’s hard to gauge pre-signing to FiXT Music (Detroit),” Balanta says. “It’s been great with them. We’ve had so much response from Americans leaving us messages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We won’t know how big our presence is over there, until we play some shows.”
“We’re hoping to get over there and make an impact,” Balanta says. “In Europe we’ve been fortunate to do a lot of touring in Poland, Russia, Germany [and] France. We’ve been all over Europe, with quite a large following. We’ve been in Japan two-three times a year. We’re hoping to replicate that success in America. We’d love to come and spend some time in the L.A. weather or other states and see all you stateside people.”
If someone comes up with a perfect genre name, the band asks to give them a call and they’ll run with it.
“That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it,” Balanta says. “I’ve been telling interviewers all week that people try to put us inside a box. It’s not something we focus on–we make the music we enjoy making. Whatever people want to label that, we say electro rock. We leave it to everyone else to decide. At the moment we’re seeing success in the rock and dance world and we’re happy with that.
Being compared to bands like Linkin Park and Pendulum doesn’t bother them.
“I’m a massive fan of Linkin Park,” Balanta says. “We don’t shy away from those comparisons. We understand why people compare us to Pendulum and The Prodigy. If you sat down and listened to a Pendulum album, you’d hear it’s not the same thing. People categorize us together because of the rock and dance thing, it’s kind of the same arena.”
Their music is incredibly upbeat, with massive energy output. Being open minded to evolution, they’re not opposed to taking a trip down darker industrial roads.
“I’m not sure on this album, but that’s definitely something we wouldn’t eliminate, people constantly grow and evolve,” Balanta says. “The core Qemists sounds, what we work with, will stay there, but we might go a little heavier and darker. We’re already ready to start working on ideas for the follow up album. You could see the heavier route. You could see some NIN stuff out of us. We just love music. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, it’s not a stressful thing if you have passion for something, you do it. Talent is talent no matter where it comes from. There are no borders to creativity.”
Balanta commented on their first ever single, Stompbox featured on the Jumper soundtrack and recent comic book movies.
“I enjoyed the concept of the movie,” Balanta says. “As with a lot of films, they come with a great concept and idea and you read the reviews and you kind of build yourself up, get excited then they fall a little short. I enjoyed it but wish they’d spent more time on the script.”
“Deadpool was incredible,” Balanta says. “Deadpool wasn’t a comic I read but it was great that they made an adult-rated film. There were enough kids that said ‘can you take me to see this superhero movie.’ First scene of the movie the parents freak[ed] out.”
They don’t do dubstep. With the exception of the song Renegade from Spirit of the System they haven’t touched it. Drum and bass is how they came up with their music and are the core principles with rock fusion.
Balanta says they have a bag of stories for face to face telling that can’t be printed but he shares one personal road story. His first time in Japan, they played a show in Tokyo and went to a section called Roppongi (in Minato), which is notorious for being shady. Balanta met a cute girl in a bar, after a few drinks, she pulled out a menu and he ordered a bottle of champagne. Later, after excusing himself, he returned and she was gone. He was presented with a bar bill for 600 pounds, pushing 2000 dollars and was marched to the cash machine by security to draw out every penny he had. To top it off, he temporarily lost his passport, spent 24 hours looking for it, getting to the point of having to contact the embassy. He got back to his hotel room for one last check and it was under the bible in the drawer, a hellish day with irony.
Their touring lifestyle doesn’t mirror the days of ‘80s decadence but being chosen to tour Europe with Korn was a great honor. Raised on Neil Diamond, Prince, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson, Korn was one of the first bands he gravitated to in that genre.
“It was a great honor,” Balanta says. “We spent two weeks in Europe with them. Everyone can learn something from everyone else, when you’re on the road with guys that have been around as long as they have. Watching them perform, still having the passion was inspirational.”
“The first day, we didn’t want to over approach and bust into their dressing room,” Balanta says. “We’re hanging back and doing everything in the polite way. Munky and Jonathan Davis came in. The greatest moment was when they let us know that they were presented with a list of ten potentials bands to tour with around Europe. Davis saw Qemist and didn’t bother with the rest. He said they’d been listening to Stompbox and other tracks, before going on stage for months prior to that opportunity. That was personal and a nice touch. Everyone was very humble and nice.”
Their live sound is hugely important to them. The original members are responsible for the sound as they are already thinking about the live show during recording.
“It’s massively important to us to recreate everything,” Balanta says. “We don’t wanna leave anything out and have the entire album experience on stage and that’s exactly what we deliver.”
As for U.S. states and venues they’ll go anywhere and everywhere.
“I would love to play the House of Blues,” Balanta says. “We’d like to go to New York, New Orleans, Atlanta, so many places. We’ve been told ‘don’t bother going over there unless you can spend at least six weeks, because there’s a lot of driving to be done.’ “We’d like to spend a couple months there, touring, taking in some sights, hanging out with new bands.”
Size doesn’t always matter.
“No stage is too small,” Balanta says. “We’ll play in whatever environment we have to. The bigger the stage the more energy and movement we’re able to put in which is a big part of the show. We don’t give people a lot of time to catch their breath.”