Having made great strides with their debut Bella Union EP Boys Again, Berlin-based multi-nationals Ballet School have upped the ante with their brilliant debut album The Dew Lasts An Hour. From ambient intro ‘Slowdream’ to the slow R&B jam of new single 'Lux’, from the swooning dream-pop of ‘Pale Saint’ and ‘Heliconia’ to the ecstatic hooks of ‘Ghost’ and ‘Heartbeat Overdrive’, the album is a fresh, vibrant take on the lush, emoting tropes of Eighties pop and rock, but sounds resolutely 21st century, its diverse influences placing the trio at the forefront of pop's new alternative.
“We’re not a synth band, we’re a guitar band, but one that’s trying to push the boundaries of the traditional set up,” declares Rosie Blair, whose beautiful, octave-stretching vocals spearhead Michel Jun Collet’s luminous guitar figures and Louis McGuire’s equally inventive drums. “We write pop songs. I never thought pop music was a lower form of art. We actively try to play with the model of mainstream pop against what indie is supposed to be and find our own new form. And though I love laptop pop, it’s vital that people witness our energy, that punk lust, when we play live. I feel like I crawled through fire to get to this point, so audiences have to experience that too.”
Ballet School began in earnest in early 2011, when Blair first met Collet playing guitar in Berlin’s U-Bahn underground. But the trio’s roots lie even deeper, in Rosie’s childhood in a strict, religious household in Belfast. She discovered pop by developing a healthily sacrilegious love for Madonna. Headstrong and passionate, she formed numerous bands in her teens, but discouraged from a musical career, after graduating from St Martin’s School of Art Blair worked in web design for the BBC. But that was before Ireland’s financial meltdown, the brutal end of a relationship, and much more decisively, her mother’s death from cancer. “That’s when I decided had to do in life what I felt compelled to do,” she says.
Rejecting the idea of a solo career, “I needed the pure aesthetic and realness of a band.” Rosie’s silent prayers were answered when she was heading home on the u-bahn at dawn after a late work shift and heard a boy, “playing amazingly delicate, arcane, beautiful guitar. We bonded over Cocteau Twins, our favourite band, which was the music I thought sounded most like what I was writing. We both immediately knew we had to be in a band together.”
From Sao Paulo, half-Japanese, part French, part Chinese Michel Jun had first moved to London with dreams of startingband, but fate had driven him toward Berlin. The pair became Ballet School: “I wantedname that was soft and gentle, which is way cooler than tough,” Blair explains. “The central concept of the band is grace, just becausethink it to be the highest physical and emotional attribute.”
While the duo searched forsuitable drummer, “someone who could balance live and electronic,” Ballet School self-released a slew of digital singles, including a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Sara’ alongside the original ‘Day Off School’ and 'All Things Return at Night. But after meeting Britishborn McGuire at a gig in one of Kreuzberg's best known artist-run spaces Mind Pirates, witnessing the talented young drummer playing an electronic kit and simultaneously triggering bass lines, the trinity was complete. Next thing they knew, Bella Union boss Simon Raymonde - lest we forget, Cocteau Twins’ bassist - had embraced ‘All Things Return At Night’ and got in touch. “He was the first person who believed in us,” says Rosie. “It was extraordinary. Simon is a person we utterly respect and Bella Union is sweetheart label, they fall in love with their bands. We immediately felt we had foundhome.”
The Boys Again EP included the pop-euphoric pair ‘Heartbeat Overdrive’ and ‘Ghost’, which reappear on the album in re-recorded versions, likewise the dynamic ‘Yaoi’ with its’ early-Eighties Cure/Banshees guitar chime, and the aforementioned alternative take on ‘Crush’ joining a new version of ‘All Things Return At Night’ and seven brand new tracks. They’re all housed under a title influenced, says Rosie, by the poetic imagery of Felt album titles, but inspired by life-and-death matters. “Another concept of Ballet School is the desire to be heard before your moment passes,” Rosie explains. “If I’m making one statement, it’s about wanting to endure the moment, to survive.”
‘Cherish’ tackles that feeling head on, “I didn't want any irony. Why put distance between yourself and what you really mean and who you really are? Have the guts to lift the veil. I just wanted to be really true and clear and accessible on songs like Cherish and Heliconia. Part of growing up is realising that bad things will happen and you just have to get on with it. Adults in their twenties know this, but for kids in their twenties, it’s wake-up call.”
If Rosie’s brilliant hooks and vocals - which show her love of Cocteaus’ chanteuse Elizabeth Fraser and mainstream royalty Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey - will get the lion’s share of praise alongside Collet’s sophisticated playing (check the exquisite effects at the start of ‘Heliconia’), the singer’s insightful, illuminating lyrics deserve equal attention. Rosie often from a feminist perspective, for example ‘Yaoi’, named after the manga/anime sub-culture of literary erotica about boy love, which addresses sexuality from girls desires rather than what men want.
There are songs that elevate the ephemeral world of girls and celebrate girlhood - the title of ‘Heartbeat Overdrive’ is based on “the sound a girl makes when she's crushing out.” - as well as the break-up of love in ‘All Things Return At Night’ and ‘Gray’. In other words, bad things can happen, but the lesson is to survive and get stronger, and The Dew Lasts An Hour is proof of the band’s resilience. The album title may refer to the transience and fragility of youth, but Ballet School’s sublime debut is going to live on for a very long time.