Dead! are a band of four fiercely creative people in their late teens and early 20s. These ambitious, imaginative youngsters found themselves in a cultural cul-de-sac as they watched their music scene disappear around them on their native Isle Of Wight a few years ago and decided to do something about it. The quartet aren’t the sort of people who wait for opportunities: they go out and hunt them down. With a fire in their belly, they formed a band, toured Europe off their own back, moved into a house in London together, released their own music, made their own videos and now have a fervent fan-club who follow their every move. They are one of the UK’s most exciting new rock’n’roll bands, armed with a stack of raucous, punk anthems and a gung-ho, do-or-die attitude. This was the way it had to be. There are no half measures for Dead!.
Singer Alex Mountford, guitarist brothers Sam and Louis Matlock and bassist Sam Chappell, known by his surname, all grew up on the Isle Of Wight. Their paths criss-crossed as they formed their first groups, whether it was at Battle Of The Bands’ competitions (Chappell’s band at the time won) or at college. When he was 17, Sam moved to London for a few months to undertake an internship in the music industry but as he was working, he realised he wanted to be the artist. He wrote a bunch of demos and, because writing his own songs and being in his own band was at the top of his bucket list, put them in a folder on his computer named “Dead”. The exclamation mark, added later, was stolen from Australian band ‘Dangerous!’, who the band all have a mutual love for.
A few months later Sam began university at Southampton and immediately hit it off with Chappell, an acquaintance from home. He told Chappell about a guy he knew who was a singer who wrote good lyrics and Mountford joined. “We don’t all like the same things, but we were in similar places at the same time and were part of the same music scene,” says Sam. Their ambitions were stoked by the bands they’d catch at the nearby Southampton Guildhall. It was a case of ‘if they can do it, why can’t we?’.
Their first show was at a competition to open a local festival. They went out of their way not to win it, instead putting on an in-your-face performance designed to startle the crowd. Their unrefined nature immediately connected – they won. It was February 2012 and by now they could regularly be found at the Guildhall, going round with a stack of handmade Dead! flyers and an iPod with some headphones so people could listen to the band they were being besieged about.
Emboldened by the success of their early shows, they began to look farther afield. “It was a lesson for us, we were very DIY,” says Sam. They started playing venues across the South Coast and when they played a show with a band in Bristol who’d put up the money themselves for their whole tour, they were inspired. They always felt they didn’t need to wait for permission to do this, now they knew. “We didn’t have to wait for promoters to call us up,” says Sam. “If you can call up the venue and the finances work and you work hard enough at your day job to pay for the petrol, you can do it yourself.”
After a few line-up changes around the core trio as they self-released an EP and mini-album, Sam’s younger brother Louis joined in 2014. Dead! were complete. They are a band of intense creatives to the point where battlelines need to be drawn. “You see people in bands acting like they’re in a lovey dovey relationship, humouring each other,” says Louis. “We have our spats but it’s a healthy thing.” “The way we do things is more frank and very upfront,” says Alex. “There are some things that I think make a great song or video or picture that Sam doesn’t agree with. It’s hard when you both have such a clear idea of what you want but when we do agree, it’s very satisfying.” This melting pot of minds is one of the key things that makes Dead! tick. They know that being a virtuoso with your instrument has nothing on good chemistry. They have it in bucket-loads: Mountford possesses a perfect frontman mix of pent-up aggression and delicate reflection and Sam is the driven, focussed engine of the group. Chappell is the outgoing diplomat who you imagine is probably handy at defusing any arguments and youngest member Louie is possesses a to-the-point exuberance.
Living together in a London house that they christened the Deadhau5, songs were written and re-written and ideas were swapped and squabbled over. By the beginning of 2016, they had honed their sound into something where the lairy punk aggression and indelible melodies sat effortlessly next to each other. They signed to Infectious and their debut single for the label, You’re So Cheap, was released in May. It was a crunching rock anthem that sounded like a mix between the Pixies and My Chemical Romance. Their next release is called Something More Original and it’s an explosive punk-rock singalong. It’s another menacing leap forward. “It’s about people who aren’t happy but who just sit around and don’t try to improve their situation,” says Alex. “Whether this band happens or whether we crumble, we’re fucking trying.” The tongue-in-cheek title refers to the fact that “we don’t have a new sound… but we don’t care.” “Something More Original is just a good, fast, British rock song,” says Sam.
Their reputation as a thrilling live act was cemented with self-curated nights across the country. They realised they were starting to connect during one gig at an art gallery in Glasgow that they’d hired themselves. It was packed to the rafters and the crowd knew every word. Recent shows, including a slot at London’s The Forum, have made Dead! set their sights to bigger stages. “There’s gonna come a time when we have some absolute, over-the-top production but the ethos of how the band works is if you give us one amp each and we plug in and go, it’s still gonna be just as good,” says Sam. The band realised they should set up their own fan-club when they were out flyering for a show and bumped into some fans handing out flyers for them off their own back. Their fan-club is named after the band’s first bedroom demo – The Damned, Restless Future – and they are a rapidly growing horde. “They’re on our side, it’s safety in numbers,” says Sam. Dead! are a band with a clear vision and an all-or-nothing spirit that rages hard against the mediocrity of life in 2016. “When we’re together, we’re not Alex, Sam, Louis and Chappell,” says Alex. “We’re Dead!. This is a magical thing to us, the experience of being onstage and being together.” Dead! is a gang that everyone will want to be part of. They’re recruiting now.