“I’ve bored the pants off people about wearing the suits, I can waffle on about it for hours.”
I’m fifteen minutes into a phone call with Snapped Ankles’ frontman Austin and the conversation has come round to the elephant in the room. The ghillie suits worn during live performances have become synonymous with the band, as though they were Hackney’s answer to Goat.
I’m curious whether it ever becomes a chore answering questions about their peculiar look.
“Maybe because we’ve just been on the road and not done a lot of interviews, no one has asked me that for a while. Also we didn’t just do the suits for the shits and giggles, there is thinking behind it.”
Austin launches into what I imagine is a well-worn monologue about the pagan masked ceremonies that inspire the band’s attire. He touches on woodland legends like the Green Man and a European parade called Krampus, where people go around with terrifying masks and scare children.
“I always found that really interesting – these kids are scared but they also can’t help but enjoy it.”
To Snapped Ankles, there is not much difference between this kind of masquerade and some of rock and roll’s icons from the last sixty years. Whether it’s Iggy Pop strutting around with his shirt off or Elvis shaking his hips, these figures are supposed to be fun and outrageous but slightly scary at the same time, suggesting “this is what you shouldn’t do.”
The ease with which Austin references these specific histories makes me think he must be used to this kind of hand holding. But in essence, Snapped Ankles are conveying some of the sentiment behind rock and roll’s great show offs with ancient fears of woodland carnival-esque characters.
Their masks also offer logistical benefits:
“If we ever have a photo shoot and one of us can’t make it, we just get a randomer in to wear the outfit.”
With their anonymity preserved however, little is known about the four-piece other than their origins in East London. Musically they’re equally at home writing three-minute pop tunes or more sprawling motorik efforts (in that vein, check out Xylophobia from their most recent LP).
Whether you subscribe to their kind of image-making is a personal decision, but there’s no doubt Snapped Ankles are at least trying to be different from scores of other post-punk bands making records about ‘modern’ issues.
“I feel like every third song these days has an environmental slant,” Austin explains, “saying oh we’ve fucked it all up. You think… yeah mate. As a band, we’re just trying to have fun with the impending apocalypse of the day.”
Although they would likely reject an association with the genre, post punk can feel wearily self-conscious at times. It’s as though some groups sculpt their image with Ian Curtis on one shoulder and Mark E. Smith on the other, overbearingly serious and didactic.
Whatever you want to say about Snapped Ankles, they aren’t afraid to at least take the piss a bit. After all, it takes a certain amount of playfulness to dress up like a tree monster and play synthesisers built from rotten logs onstage.
Their desire for experimentation extends into live shows and Austin tells me one amusing story about a chaotic gig at Village Underground back in 2019.
The band asked some friends to surround the audience, each with their own instrument and speaker, with the idea being that an audience member could locate each unique sound coming from a specific area of the room.
“We wanted them to move in a circle around the audience and make a vortex of noise. Obviously you can do that fairly easily with a high end audio system and spin an audience out… in reality no one had a fucking clue what was going on.”
Having started out in East London’s warehouses and squats, it’s as easy to imagine this idea working in those spaces as it is failing in a more formalised setting. But at the heart of these decisions is an ambition to develop the band’s relationship with the venues they play.
This topic brings us round to what at time of writing will be their most recent gig, an evening slot at the Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer. I wondered if Austin had any doubts over how that type of crowd might respond to some tree monster chaos.
“We had similar reservations, so went down and checked the venue out. We couldn’t actually get in at first because there was a queue of people waiting to see the queen, which was amusing. But the space is mental, like a 70s concrete ski chalet.”
The group have only just returned from a tour of the US and are super tight from playing all summer, but didn’t have anything super conceptual planned as opposed to shows in the past.
“The thing about the conceptual ones is that sometimes they go really badly wrong!”
“It’s Saturday night, we have a few things up our sleeve but the focus is on doing a good show rather than trying to reinvent the gig. But don’t worry we will try to do that again at some point.”