This interview took place in June 2007, when I spoke to Matt Tong before Bloc Party’s show at the Carling Academy in Glasgow. After being initially annoyed at being fobbed off with the drummer, I was pleasantly surprised by Tong’s opinionated, honest and forthright conversation, all delivered with a prominent stammer…
Who the fuck wants to know what I think? I’m only the bloody drummer in Bloc Party for God’s sake!
Probably not the most solid foundation to base an interview on, but as it turns out, Matt Tong has an awful lot to say. An unlikely spokesman for the band, Tong has assumed much of their media activity for their latest album, an interesting tactic considering the outspoken nature of frontman Kele Okereke. But after half an hour spent with The Skinny, Tong’s strangely endearing stammer and refreshingly honest persona suggests it’s a prudent decision.
With an industry driven bandwagon of political and socially “aware” artists in full motion, it’s sometimes difficult to ascertain whether there is any substance behind it. Bloc Party are one such group, and few take themselves more seriously.
“The undercurrent of violence and racism in the UK,” and in particular the troubled climes in the capital are unsurprisingly “worrying” for Londoner Tong. His views on the root of the problem, however, are slightly more forthright. “It’s symptomatic of the English embrace of American culture. The media have taken a lot of US values and made them normal. So now it seems commonplace that gang culture is rife in London.”
Ask him about the stereotypical English view of the Scottish, and he lets fly with another tirade. “Red headed, angry and alcoholic. I don’t subscribe to it though, the English have used that for years to cover up their own frailties. You just have to look at the hooligans flying English flags all over the world. And then the Americans slag off the English in turn, to disguise their problems.”
Tong’s reluctance to embrace patriotism extends to a disdain for facets of the British music industry. “People think you have to be pretty shameless when it comes to getting attention and success.” He assures us that as a band, Bloc Party are “cynical of what the industry has to offer.”
However, with the levels of attention given to all the next brightest hopes by the likes of NME, who championed Bloc Party, it must be hard to ignore. Tong brands such overexposure “harmful” but explains that sometimes, it’s just better to smile and nod. “We knew it was going to happen. But you can’t assume you’re above it, even if it can be a hindrance. I think we give our fans some credit though, quality prevails.”
Those guilty of wrapping their arms around celebrity culture are dismissed by Tong as “puppets,” and he has no qualms in giving his views on some of the more notorious pawns.
“Johnny Borrell is an arse. Write that down. And Pete Doherty too. I have my opinions and sometimes I’m wary of them being misconstrued. But they’re just fucking arses.”
Seemingly under no illusions as to what this industry offers, Bloc Party could be in for a long and illustrious career. So, in this age of frequent reformation, what does the long term future hold? “We’re gonna split up after the third record,” he asserts with his tongue boring a hole in his cheek. “We’ll develop a Pixies-esque cult following that explodes into something far and above what we experienced in our original lifetimes and come back for a multi-million pound tour. That’s the plan.” Not a huge Police fan then? “Sting can fuck right off!”
As known associates of Franz Ferdinand and confessed lovers of contemporary Scottish music, Matt also proves somewhat of a historian, suggesting the successful Scottish underground scene can be traced back to the Act of Union. “The richer scene stems from a perpetration of trust by the English. Scotland had to maintain a sense of identity which results in the whole thing being more interesting than the English. I’m not a massive fan of bagpipes though!”
One would be forgiven then, for thinking there was little about Tong’s native green fields that gives him pleasure. Au contraire…
“Well there’s something bloody marvellous about Morris Dancing, if you’re talking about traditionally English things then that’s it. There’s something so intrinsically silly about it that makes it fantastic. Nigel Mansell as well.” Is it for his charisma? “No it’s his moustache, I think for the same reasons I like Morris Dancing.”
Video: Bloc Party – Banquet