- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

Audiences may have been expecting a few sur- prises at the 2007 Na- tionwide Mercury Prize ceremony in London, a prestigious album-of-the-year award for British and Irish acts. After all, troubled talent Amy Winehouse was on the shortlist and, well, there’s just no telling what she will or won’t do (often with a bottle of booze in hand).

Miss Winehouse did shock the crowd a bit by actually showing up that September night, and also by delivering what BBC News called “a breathtaking rendition” of “Love is a Losing Game” from her smash-hit sophomore album, “Back to Black.” The biggest surprise of the evening, however, was that the chanteuse didn’t win — nor did fellow nominees the Arctic Monkeys, who took home last year’s title. Instead, the honor went to Klaxons, a rock outfit that’s been in existence for less than two years and remains virtually unknown in the U.S.

“There’s definitely a sense of being recognized by the establishment,” Klaxons guitarist Simon Taylor says. “It’s something concrete.” For Americans, the award may be the stamp of approval that kick-starts serious stateside interest in the band, yet in Britain the group is already something of a phenomenon and this honor was merely the latest achievement in a string of many.

Since Klaxons’ founding in late 2005, the crew members have put on show-stealing performances at the Reading and Leeds festivals, had British media outlets fawning over them, taken home NME’s 2007 Best New Band title, seen the band’s debut album (January’s “Myths of the Near Future”) rise to No. 2, and invented a new music genre called “New Rave.” (We’ll explain more about this last credit later.) Call it beginners’ luck, or call it the realization of lofty ambitions and the product of innovation.

Mr. Taylor says that when he first teamed up with frontman Jamie Reynolds and keyboardist/vocalist James Righton, they wanted to give post-Libertines London a jolt — “to fuse the idea of a live band and the atmosphere of a nightclub.” Their intention was to make music that was smart, yet ultimately dancey and pop-minded — chart-topping, even. “We were interested in the underground but thought the coolest thing was to be a pop band and be mega-successful,” Mr. Taylor says. “We felt playing for just 10 people was quite boring.”

So, Klaxons resurrected the energy of the ‘90s rave scene, threw in doses of punk flair and garage rock fuzz, and began penning forward-thinking tunes about fantastical journeys. (Imagine the soundtrack to a Guy Ritchie version of “The Odyssey” that uses a script by William S. Burroughs and you get the idea.) At some point, Mr. Reynolds used the term “New Rave” to describe the band. It fit with the trio’s vibe, the old-school “warehouse”-style parties they threw (announcing the location last-minute), and the rave tracks they sometimes covered.

(Note that despite the synths and occasional samples, Klaxons tunes employ way too much electric guitar and double-time drum work to be considered electronic or even akin to ‘90s-era club music — yet the amped-up spirit of rave somehow permeates them.) Suddenly, the label was all over the press and fans were showing up to gigs drenched in neon, whistles and glowsticks.

Mr. Taylor still seems to be taken aback by that phrase’s popularity. “We decided we would invent this and get the press excited about this nonexistent musical genre, and it slowly became a reality,” he says. “The young teenaged kids in Britain really got into it — and it sort of filtered out. Now, you can go into [trendy clothing stores like] Topshop or H&M; and buy a kind of New Rave outfit.”

Maybe the term helped the band get attention initially, but Mr. Taylor says at some point it got a bit out of control. “We became quite frustrated that it was literally all people wanted to talk about,” he says.

The crew members were relieved when they showed up for their first official U.S. tour earlier this year to discover that Klaxons’ audiences hadn’t fully embraced the New Rave lifestyle and, instead, seemed more focused on the music itself.

Mr. Taylor suggests this may be because “America doesn’t relate to the rave scene the way the British public does.” In his mind, that’s a plus — but, it may also be partly why the band has been slower to catch on over here.

If Klaxons’ trajectory is anything like that of previous Mercury Prize winners (including Portishead and Franz Ferdinand), it’s only a matter of time.

“We’re really excited to come back to America again,” Mr. Taylor says. “Last time [we came], I don’t think the shows were particularly amazing, but we had a ridiculously good time.”

Klaxons play the 9:30 Club (www.930.com) on Monday night.

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