if it feels good, do it…
Enigmatic electro-post-punk outfit Leg Puppy have been an anarchic presence on the electronic music scene for many years. Known for their satire and pointed commentary, Leg Puppy have tackled everything from social media, politics, bio hacking, identity theft, past life experiences and the decline of music venues.
Songs such as ‘Selfie Stick’, ‘Twit Machine’ and ‘Meds and Beer’ have become distinctly familiar compositions that also gaze into the turmoil that is contemporary pop culture. Leg Puppy’s 2020 album A Guide To Social Distancing presented a frenetic fever dream journey, which seemed an apt reflection of lockdown UK.
Meanwhile, their live shows have become a legendary combination of thumping beats and unpredictable performance art. There’s also a clown.
The Electricity Club caught up with Leg Puppy’s Darren Laurence while he was in the midst of yet another creative moment (“writing lyrics inspired by Jim Morrison on algorithms…”). At the same time, he mused on a more stripped-down approach to live performances. “Rather than turn up with three keyboards, a guitarist and a singer, I’m just going off loops now – it’s so much easier.” We discuss new album The Air in Utopia is Poison as well as Leg Puppy’s unique musical vision.
How did Leg Puppy get started?
Me and Claire [Jones], the first singer, years ago, we were at a party and everyone was all in bands and showing off. You know when people think they’re really cool: “Oh yeah, we’re in The Tin Pots, how about you guys??” “Oh yeah, we’re in the Zoom Busters…” And they looked at us: “What about you guys?” and Claire went “Yep, we’re called ‘Leg’!” and I went “’Puppy!’” (laughs) and that was it.
Claire was already a singer, did loads of acoustic gigs, great voice, wrote her own tracks, was already a performing artist. I didn’t have any… I was going to say confidence, but it wasn’t that. I always put people on pedestals that are in bands. I didn’t think it was possible for me, because I couldn’t play any instruments.
Then one day I was sitting with my old flatmate watching a fetish documentary about the secret life of human pups. It’s about these guys that dress up as puppies, they put on the fetish mask and they have the dog owner and the pups. I’m not into it at all, but I really respect people who are into stuff and they do it. My old flatmate was a bit fetishy anyway, she goes “This is absolutely brilliant!” and I said, “I know!” (laughs) and we were sitting there just being absorbed by it.
It was not our thing on any level, but something in it just resonated with me. I don’t know, performance-wise, it just did something. So, I went away and wrote a track called ‘Puppy Play’. I did it all in GarageBand, wrote some lyrics and put it out there. I released it in a couple of months, it was so shit I took it down, but people started going “Oh I like this, it’s really cool.” Then I met a producer who worked at the Windmill and he taught me so much about music, how to mix it, how to master it, how to rehearse it and he gave me a lot of confidence. He was like “You’ve got charisma and you’ve got a style – use that. Don’t try and emulate anybody else.”
Because you picked up on it in one of the first reviews you ever did actually. You said lyrically and tonally, it’s a little like Ian Drury, which was a massive compliment and that’s how ‘Selfie Stick’ was born. So basically, I did all those loops and stuff, wrote ‘Selfie Stick’ because I was really angry. This happens to me quite a bit, I get really pissed off, so I write a track.
I was on Twitter one day, this was years ago, and Josefin Öhrn had just released their album Mirage. To this day, it’s my favourite album of all time, and they put it on Twitter and there was three re-tweets and a couple of likes and I was like “This is a fucking masterpiece. Why isn’t anyone listening to it? Why isn’t anyone engaging in it?” And the next Tweet was someone doing a selfie and it got hundreds and it annoyed me. That’s when I went away and wrote ‘Selfie Stick’ and the bit in-between of me singing about “Hayley Clausen can’t seem to stop grabbing her bare boobs” and “Latest Instagram post.” In the studio we needed a breakdown, I’d go on Instagram and I was literally just reading off of people’s posts, so it was quite authentic! (laughs)
And it just developed. I get inspired by so many people. The obvious ones: Your New Orders, your Depeche Modes, your Bowies, blah, blah, blah. But something that inspired me massively loads was Mark E Smith: Can’t play an instrument, he said he couldn’t tell the difference between an A and a B chord and I was thinking “Fucking hell, he’s written some of the greatest songs of all time.” Like, he is a poet and he knows what he wants. I can come up with a melody, give me a band, give me four people in a band, I could make an album in a day. The ideas just flow. That’s the easy bit for me. So, I just surround myself with brilliant musicians, some talents that can pick up my ideas and that’s how you work as a team. But yeah, it’s been a brilliant journey.
Is there an ethos or mission statement for Leg Puppy?
I just love that Super Hans quote: “If it feels good, do it.” You can dress that up, you can make a pretentious metaphor out of it. If it feels good, do it – and that’s what I do. I’m not afraid to write about stuff that’s quite challenging. I mean, ‘Dick Pic’ is quite a tough topic to challenge. That took me about a year to think “How can I release a track about people being sent dick pics?” without naming and shaming the idiots that are doing it? Without preaching. Because that’s the big thing about music, you don’t want to preach. So, I just thought about doing it in a piss-taking way. A lot of my music is piss-taking and satire. It goes over a lot of people’s heads. That doesn’t bother me, because I’m happy with it.
Have you found that Leg Puppy’s music has significantly evolved over the years?
I’ve worked with three different producers. The first album was quite electronic. The second album, Non Disclosure Agreement, which I think is our best album (apart from the new one) had much more guitars on it. That’s much more of a band album. There’s drums on that, there’s bass guitar, there’s Rachel (Voi Vang) singing on it. It’s much more of a band thing: we rehearsed as a band, we recorded as a band.
‘Tears’, we literally jammed that in a studio. I had the lyrics already in my head because it’s from a past life experience. The poem that Rachel read beautifully, me and Rachel came up with on-the-fly, but I wanted the poem up front to reflect my experience.
Then it went to A Guide To Social Distancing, which again was a piss-take title – who thought social distancing would be a thing for that long, right? (laughs) In years to come, when people read on Google or wherever we are in ten years’ time, “Social distancing? Oh, someone made an album about that…” But that album, or the new album – that should have been one album, but I split it into two. I wanted to release something during this time. Instead of sitting on my arse during lockdown, I wrote songs, I recorded tracks. I was really productive. So, I put that out and then I put out the remix album. So, this album, the new one, was to be There’s No Rock Stars, would have been those two albums as one.
But in terms of your original question, I do think we’ve definitely gone much more electronic, much more dance-based now. Like, the new one there’s only two guitars on it. I just wanted to simplify it. But I do have another album ready to go for next year, which is all guitars! (laughs) So there you go! It evolves in all different directions. Who’s not to say I might be into Afro Beat next year?
Because I’ve noticed with Leg Puppy’s material that your approach does change quite a lot. The material on this album, for instance, is significantly different from, say ‘Selfie Stick’ or ‘Twit Machine’, it could be a completely different group.
Yeah, ‘Tears’ was inspired by that Josefin Öhrn track on Mirage. Have you heard that album? Give it a listen because it’s brilliant. It’s like if the Velvet Underground were around today, it’s what they’d sound like. It’s Josefin Öhrn, who I dueted with on ‘Secret Friend’. It’s incredible and she’s got this real presence, like Nico, and the music’s phenomenal. But track four ‘Rainbow Lollipop’, it’s just mind-blowing and I remember hearing that track, I have to create something like that. So that track, it’s why I had to do a track like ‘Tears’.
But I’m inspired by The Prodigy, I’m inspired by Underworld, I’m inspired by The Fall. So, all these zones, when they’re happening – create. I go home, I write a track, I make some beats, I come up with a guitar line and I just do it. If you let it fester, it goes. When it’s in your head, get it down. If it’s shit, don’t use it.
You’ve been a big advocate for the defence of live music in the past. How do you think the live musical landscape looks in 2021?
I was really naïve when I started out. It was all new to me. Performing live was just completely new and fresh and I just embraced it and loved it. From the early days of the gigs we did with Kurt at that venue in King’s Cross, Water Rats. Those days were really good because it was all new to us, so we really went for it and made sure all our friends came. Kurt was really good at putting these events together.
I think round about that time as well, we did Worcester music festival and it was really strange because I’m quite humble and I get a bit embarrassed when people say stuff to me about my music. I was sitting there and this girl comes and sits next to me and was “Oh I’m really excited! I can’t wait to see Leg Puppy!” and I was like “Oh yeah, I hear they’re good, yeah!” (laughs)
So, we played this gig and me and Bev had this chemistry on stage and they just got it. They really got it. The venue was packed, most packed gig we’ve ever done. I thought “Does it get better than this?” Because for me, that was cool. If that was like that every time, fine. I just want to stage dive once in my life. Jump off stage into a crowd. Haven’t had enough people to do that yet, but that’s my goal! (laughs)
Then obviously this shit happened, which completely killed it. But I’d say prior to that I think something did happen. Were people getting bored of live music? I don’t know. You go to a lot of gigs; did you see a change? Maybe it was me, maybe I was doing it so much that I lost that initial curiosity, naivety.
Well to begin with, I found it strangely good because I could put the brakes on a bit. Because I was going to gigs continually and it is quite draining.
It is. It is draining doing the gigs and this is what I found working with a live band. If you’re on at 11, you’ve got to soundcheck at 4. Obviously you want to support the other bands, but it’s very hard to stay somewhere for seven hours and not get pissed for starters. I’m always paranoid about my kit.
Now with one little iPad and a little plug-in thing and that’s it. I don’t have to worry about kit, I don’t have to worry about soundcheck. Just easier. I mean Sleaford Mods have got it sussed: Turn up with a laptop, press play – bang and then go home.
I got to the stage where I thought “You know what, I want to take a step back. I don’t want to be at the front acting like a twat all the time”, which I love doing because it’s a character. That’s why I got Bev involved, because Bev was great at doing that. I can stay back and I can play the riffs and control stuff and let Bev be the centre of attention – and she was and she was brilliant at it. And then she went and had a bloody baby! (laughs) I’m very pleased for her, but I miss her badly. We’re not the same without her, but you evolve. Actually, our next show, we’re thinking of killing the clown actually on stage.
That’s pretty dramatic because he’s like the mascot of the group!
Call it our Ziggy moment, yeah? Simon has got something brilliant planned, so we’re trying to think of how we kill the clown. He’ll still be there, it’s more of a show, like a performance that we’ve spoken about. We have got a good idea actually.
That brings me on to the next question. Leg Puppy’s live shows have become legendary for their unexpected antics. How do you conjure up these ideas and how much planning goes into them?
It’s like I said, if it feels good, do it and I’ve got no filter. I was looking at some photos of a gig we did a couple of years ago. I like to keep my friends involved, so, my mate, I bought him this blow-up alien and he pumped it up and he came on stage and just started doing this stupid dance and it was brilliant. It was one of the best things we ever did. It was just so stupid. And then Alice drags out Simon on a leash, she’s all dressed in fetish gear and I love the fact that you’re standing there and thinking “What the fuck is going on?”
I’m going to read you this quote that someone put on one of our videos and it sums us up: “This band capture the mood of driving around the midlands listening to Scooter in a van while looking for MDMA. Niche mood, but I’m here for it” (laughs)
What a quote! I love live music, but I do get bored when I just see two people playing instruments. Even though they’re phenomenal, they’re technically brilliant, I want to see something more. And maybe it works against us. People might think “Oh Leg Puppy, they’re just a bloody joke band”. But I want people coming into our world for half an hour to go “Jesus! What just happened there?”
I couldn’t work out what was going on, the first Leg Puppy gig that I witnessed. You’re watching this and thinking are there people in the audience just messing around? And no, it’s all staged and set up to do these weird and wacky things. But it also kind of works. I don’t think any of the Leg Puppy gigs that I’ve been to look half-arsed. It all works, even though it’s all madness and chaos.
You’re right, it’s organised chaos. There was one where I said to my merch guy, “Right, can you get a workman’s top and a broom and halfway through our set, just start sweeping around”. So, he did it and I just remember looking at people and they were thinking “Is he working??” It throws them and I love that.
If I was younger and I went to St Martins and had loads of actor friends, my shows would just be full of that. It would be absolute chaos.
Do you plot these things out carefully in advance? Or are they just conjured up on the day?
It’s before the gig, so I’ll say to Simon “I’ve got a great idea, why don’t we try this?” We don’t rehearse the stage show because it’s too difficult to rehearse that. We did this one gig at that venue in Finsbury Park and Alice was all dressed up in her fetish gear and had my friend Chris, who was our stand-in clown, and he wears fishnet all-in-ones. The brief there was “can you pull Chris out on the chain? Pull him out, let him go and then you two just do your own thing.”
I wouldn’t say it went wrong, but she abused him (laughs). She was pissed. I got photos of it and poor Chris was getting trodden on, she was literally yanking him. I was doing the gig, so I couldn’t check on them. But I remember he was lying flat and she was literally walking on him in her high heels! (laughs)
After like three bands had come on and done their normal set and then we came on, they must have been like “Oh God, what is this?”
The new album has plenty of witty compositions and Leg Puppy’s traditional satirical takes, but it’s also quite bleak. Do you think Leg Puppy would ever be capable of delivering upbeat, happy songs?
OK, ‘Meds And Beer’ aside, which is a really uplifting track and ‘Tears’, apart from those two tracks and maybe ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’, I don’t think we’ve done that many upbeat tracks.
Yeah, maybe this new album is kind of dark, but that’s kind of cool because we’re in quite a dark, very dark times, so I kind of wanted to reflect where we are in society without being obvious. I don’t ever want to be obvious; I want to be a little subtle. Although you could argue that ‘Dick Pic’ is quite obvious.
Many of your songs are a scathing critique of social media. Do you think the weird digital landscape we currently inhabit is fixable? Or is this the path we’re on forever?
Social media has some incredible positives. If you were a musician back in the day, the only way you got your music out there was you got signed to a label and got your records in a shop or you did gigs. It’s very easy to communicate and contact other musicians and collaborate. It’s brilliant for getting information. I think there are so many incredible possibilities with it. I don’t want to get too deep and political, but the problem is, in the last couple of years, it has just become a tool for propaganda and it’s getting a little bit dangerous now.
Going back to the music, the ‘Algorithms You’re an Arsehole’ track, the reason I wrote that is because I was getting a bit pissed off. The only way to promote your music on social media properly is you have to spend money. If you want to people to hear your music and get it out there, you have to spend money. Which is fine, I don’t mind doing that. But Facebook has become a joke right now. Say you’ve got 3,000 people in your Facebook group and you put a post out, it might deliver to 25 people! (laughs) What about the 3,000 people? They don’t get to hear unless I boost it and even when I boost it, they still won’t get it.
I did a lot of those really annoying video marketing courses – “How to promote your music!” I learned a lot out of it. Because social media is quite consistent in the way it looks and the way you put stuff out. But I have noticed over the last six months, it’s even harder to get yourself out there now. Because it’s all about big tech companies, it’s all about what can they sell you. Even now, when you put a post up, they want to link a product to it.
Do you remember the band Pop Will Eat Itself? Someone recently said social media will eat itself and I truly believe in that. It is so divisive though, isn’t it? That where we are at the moment is so divisive. It’s not a pleasant place. You can just choose to hide away from it, or be part of it but be part of it by what you want to be part of it for.
Basically, what it’s done is given everyone a voice and no one will say “I don’t know”. There’s no such phrase as “I don’t know”. It’s fine to say, “I don’t know”, but everyone’s got an opinion and their opinion’s right. And if you don’t agree with their opinion, it’s wrong. There’s no debate and it’s really sad actually.
Although I suppose the pro-side is that it gives Leg Puppy this endless supply of material for songs!
So, track 2, ‘Sync Deal’, I’m on quite a few websites, like trying to get your music synched. I apply for all these synch deals. Moby was the first artist to get all his tracks synched on adverts. Since then, it’s become the way to make money. Bands struggle, bands don’t make much money. But if you get your track synched to a Netflix movie or whatever, it can break you big time. There was a band, actually, covered Britney Spears’. It got picked up for a trailer and that band, because of that one track, got hundreds of millions of streams and they’re now selling out arenas.
I’ve had one track, ‘Utopia’, that got down to the finals for a Netflix show and I was like “This is it! It’s going to make it!” But it didn’t. When you apply you get an email, you get a “No thanks” and it’s basically those lyrics for ‘Sync Deal’, I literally cut and pasted those lyrics from the email and wrote the track! The irony is that I apply for sync deals with that track! (laughs)
What sort of equipment do you use in the studio?
In the studio I use a Novation Circuit. I’m making my beats there, I put samples in that. I’ve got a Korg Monologue, I do all my bass lines on that. I use a lot of samples and when I want to use a guitar, I will use one of my guitarists. If I want a drummer, then I’ll use a drummer. Igor (Autorotation) actually played drums and guitar on ‘Nominate’ and I work with an unbelievable producer. He’s phenomenal, he’s straight out of uni, loads of ideas. We work brilliant together. So, I will send him, say, a really rough track and I’ll send him 8-bar loops and he will make a track that makes it sound incredible, like what he did to ‘Your Profile Is Dope’ is amazing. He adds his own little thing to it. Maybe that’s why the music’s a bit darker. I think the last two albums he’s produced, so maybe that’s why actually.
Leg Puppy seems to me to be more of a music collective at times. I mean you had Voi Vang on the last album, you have Violent Vickie on the new album, so there’s this good, collaborative effort from within the community. Do you think the current electronic scene is healthy in that respect? Because there is that community spirit.
I would say there is. Haven’t really been out much recently to experience it live. I’ve gotten into a lot of Swedish music and a lot of Polish music. Have you heard of Zamilska? Absolutely phenomenal, just amazing Polish producer. Minimal techno, but really, really dark. From discovering her on Spotify, I’ve discovered other little bands. There’s a band called BOKKA who did that amazing cover of a Joy Division track.
I mean, Artefaktor’s doing amazing. That station’s grown and grown and grown, promoting electronic music. Some of it is just a bit poppy for my tastes. I like the route Depeche Mode went down when they went really dark.
Even the other day, the guys from Brutalist Architecture In The Sun put a post on Facebook saying, “I need a vocalist, quite punky to do something on my track.” I replied saying I’m up for it. So, he sent me some tracks and I wrote the lyrics, did it, bang – done. And that’s it. We collabed in the space of a minute. He said he wanted it to be really punk, so I just channelled my inner John Lydon. I’m quite pleased with it. So, to answer your question, yeah man it’s fucking brilliant.
I mean, Vickie, We talk more or less every other day about music stuff. I love her music, I think she’s brilliant and I wanted to collab with her, but I just didn’t get around to it until the last track. So, I’m really glad I managed to get her and put her on that track. Social media is great for that. It’s great for connecting.
So, what are Leg Puppy’s plans for the future?
I still have this dream to support the Sleaford Mods. Like, someone interviewed me the other day and said “What is success for Leg Puppy? You last video got 20,000 views.” I said, “That’s not success.” I had a budget and I knew how to market that video. It’s not success. As for me, it would be supporting Sleaford Mods or a band equally as big. That would be amazing.
Do you not think that’s a strange choice?
Yeah, but I think we share the same anarchy. I’m not as political as them, but I’ve got something to say as well. I think it would mix. Like Andrew, the guy who does the laptop, he saw us live in Nottingham and he was really dancing to ‘Selfie Stick’. And then obviously Simon stage-bombed one of their gigs at the Roundhouse. Just absolutely brilliant. And I thought that would have been a moment where we had some sort of connection, but we didn’t and it’s really annoying! (laughs).
I tell you what I did try the other day actually – Soft Cell. They’re doing a tour next year. They actually got back to me. I was really surprised. They said “ We’re not having a support!”
Have you seen the Sparks movie? I was watching it thinking “Leg Puppy are a lot like Sparks”, a lot of satire, they’re taking the piss quite a lot. About 6 months ago they released a track called ‘Put your fucking iPhone down and listen to me’ and I put “Great track guys, but we were there first” and I tweeted ‘Twit Machine’. They haven’t got back to me! (laughs)
The Air in Utopia is Poison is out 27th August 2021: https://legpuppy.bandcamp.com/album/the-air-in-utopia-is-poison
Leg Puppy will be performing live at Vanishing Point @ AMP Studios on Thursday 2nd September 2021 alongside Gabrielle Sey and Naz & Ella. More details: https://demerararecords.com/vanishing-point/