Jouska are a bit of an enigma. Comprised of veterans of the more ‘unusual’ elements of Leicester’s music scene, from the off they’ve set out on their own path. Intense, instrumental and washed out, with samples of everything from BBC Radio Leicester to David Attenborough intertwined with their music, they sound like little else. They claim to be the soundtrack to the diverse urban sprawl of Leicester by night, and to be honest, that captures them perfectly.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision at first,” explains guitarist Craig Ashenden. “We’re all from the Narborough Road area. It’s a really vibrant, colourful place but also not without its fair share of bleakness. I think our music reflects that; it’s definitely lively and exciting, but it does have a melancholic undertone. I’m a firm believer that you should write about what you know, and I think we did that, unconsciously at first.”
“We took the concept a bit further… an exaggerated version of the city; the street lights and shop fronts blurring into something spellbinding. I want you to feel that you’re part of the fabric of the city, you’re within the thousands of lives experiencing the city in their own way.”
This sonic landscape is generated by three mute musicians – Craig, Jimmy and drummer Rob Adshead. With no vocalist or conventional lyrics to provide reference points, you’re left with a wall of noise and the occasional sampled voice. “Initially we were looking for a female vocalist and tried a couple out, but it wasn’t really working,” says Jimmy. “It was becoming quite frustrating, so we decided to just start gigging anyway, and once we were able to get a feel for how our music came across in a live setting, we realised that we have everything that we need and just really began to embrace it”.
“It took a while before we were completely comfortable as an instrumental band” continues Craig “but now we’re happy with the songs we have and feel that they express what we’re trying to express without vocals.”
Does that change an audience’s preconceptions of the band? “That depends on the situation,” muses Craig. “Live, I’d like to think that there’s enough going on and the set is interesting enough in its way, that people don’t really focus on the lack of a singer. On record it’s a tricky one. I think for guitar music, instrumental bands still get filed into a niche much quicker than they should. I mean, for years people have accepted that electronic music can be great without vocals, I think that nowadays, guitar-based music is a bit behind in that respect.”
Jimmy is pragmatic about it. “Sometimes a band’s limitations can be what people end up liking about it, but I also understand that there will no doubt be people that hear us and feel like something is missing, some people need something more obvious to grasp onto, lyrics to relate to. I get that, but I like to think that we have enough going on musically; the riffs do the singing.”
Without obvious reference points it’s a tough sound to describe, and it’s clear the band have the same problem. “When I’m in the pub trying to explain how the band sound, that’s where it’s hardest to get the point across. I think you have to hear it, ideally see us live, to have a fully-formed idea of what we’re about.”