alt-J (∆)’s name takes a little explaining. Pronounced “alt-J”, the delta sign is created when you hold down the alt key on your computer keyboard and punch ‘J’ on a Mac computer. The symbol has a deeper meaning for the band, as guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury notes, “in mathematical equations it’s used to show change,” and the band’s relatively new name came at a turning point in their lives. Gwil, Joe Newman [guitar/vocals], Gus Unger-Hamilton [keyboards] and Thom Green [drums] met at Leeds University in 2007. Gus studied English Literature; the other three Fine Art. In their second year of studies, Joe played Gwil a handful of his own songs inspired by his guitar-playing dad and hallucinogens, and the pair began recording in their dorm rooms with Gwil acting as producer on Garageband.
Needless to say, the response to Joe’s hushed falsetto yelps and Gwil’s rudimentary sampling skills was good. When Thom was played the tracks he joined the band straight away. “I hadn’t heard anything like it,” he says. “It was music I was looking for, I just didn’t know I was. I just loved it.” Gus completed the band’s lineup and together the four friends spent the next two years playing around town, developing a precise and unique brand of alt. pop that draws on poignant folk verses, crushing synths, smart hip hop syncopations and tight vocal harmonies. alt-J (∆) gave them a unique name to go with the unique, genre-bending sound they now concoct in the basement of a terrace house in Cambridgeshire.
Admiration and favourable comparisons have come thick and fast for alt-J (∆). Before the release of their instantly sold out debut single in October 2011, the band were described as “Nick Drake meets Gangsta Rap,” and they were likened to Wild Beasts, In Rainbows-era Radiohead, The xx and Anthony & The Johnsons – acts acclaimed for their ability to create the kind of patient, sophisticated, intricate music that alt-J (∆) do. And by challenging what constitutes folk, hip hop, indie and pop music, the band found themselves in the studio at the beginning of 2012, already hotly ‘tipped’ for 2012 by Radio1, Clash, the Independent and NME, recording their debut album An Awesome Wave for Infectious Music with long-time producer Charlie Andrew (Micachu & The Shapes, Eugene McGuinness). An Awesome Wave was released at the end of May 2012 and crash landed into the Top 20 whilst peaking at #3 on iTunes, making it one of the biggest debuts of the year.