“We know that from time to time, there arise among human beings, people who seem to exude love as naturally as the sun gives out heat. We would like to be like that, and by and large, man’s religions are attempts to cultivate that same power in ordinary people.”
– Alan Watts ‘The Spectrum of Love’
So begins Healos debut album Full Circle, philosopher Alan Watts’s voice ringing out, echoing over drawn out string harmonies that swell and fall. It’s one of those musical moments that makes you want to stop what you’re doing and close your eyes. Haelos don’t give you long to bask in this feeling, though, two minutes into Full Circle and an intricate trip hop beat and throbbing bassline have got you feeling excited – euphoric even. That’s Haelos trick, right there. They pull you through dark, murky depths only to carry you back up into the clouds.
“there’s a lot of darkness in it… but there’s a lot of hope”
The London trio have so far released three singles – ‘Earth Not Above’, ‘Pray’ and ‘Oracle’ – and in March their album, Full Circle, finally hit the shelves to much excitement. Revamping the 90s trip-hop soundscape of Massive Attack and Portishead in a truly fresh way, their music is an enchanting mix of industrial beats, warm synths and heartfelt lyrics.
The band’s journey began in late 2014, when they posted the song ‘Dust’ on Soundcloud along with a picture that showed the photocopied faces of three unidentifiable figures. This mysterious image and track combination caused something of a stir in the music-blogging world, and a mass of internet hype quickly turned into a record deal with Matador. Now, armed with Full Circle and an explosive live set, Haelos are no longer hiding their faces, and in 2016 they’re certainly pulling no punches.
Faced with Dom, Lottie and Arthur at a Wandsworth pub on a friday evening, I find that they are a lot less intense and serious than I had imagined. Before I have even had a chance to speak, Dom announces, “we all met on Tinder”. I hadn’t asked. Dom explains that this preemptive response is merely a reaction to the sheer number of interviews they’ve had lately. We begin, instead, by talking about the music.
“At the heart of it, we wanted to make emotional music and we wanted to reflect things that we feel,” Dom says of the album. “There’s a lot of darkness in it” Arthur adds, “but there’s also a lot of hope.”
“really interesting art comes at that point when two things clash or collide or pull apart and it’s that crack in between the two of them where the light gets in”
It is their ability to convey these subtle layers of emotions that gives Haelos a depth and complexity that draws you in, even if you didn’t ask for it. Hypnotic, mystical and dark but always somehow blissfully uplifting, the Haelos sound is a unique, electronic landscape full of emotional peaks and troughs – something the band has dubbed “dark euphoria”.
“We are really interested in the idea of tensions.” Arthur tells me, “I think that really interesting art comes at that point when two things clash or collide or pull apart and it’s that crack in between the two of them where the light gets in.”
The result of this tension, when listening to Haelos, is that you aren’t sure whether to dance around in an ecstatic state or lie on the floor and cry your eyes out. When I tell them this, Arthur’s response is simple – “well isn’t life a bit like that?” Lottie agrees, “sometimes when you’re at your lowest you can have the best of times. You go out when you’re heartbroken and you have these wild nights and have the time of your life but at the bottom of it all is sadness.” It’s all starting to make sense now – that fine balance of dark and light in Haelos music seems to be reflective of the palette of emotions you experience when you’re in love.
“blood was spilled… literally”
This seems even more plausible when I ask the trio what drove them to write those emotional lyrics. All three cite personal experiences of heartbreak as their main source of inspiration. “We had to convey those experiences in a universal way… a way that could mean something to everyone”, Lottie tells me. I ask them whether it was difficult to channel three people’s stories into one album, to which Dom replies “blood was spilled… literally”. I have a funny feeling that Dom might not be joking, but before I have a chance to ponder whose blood and how much, Arthur chips in, “it’s a bit like mining – you’ve got to dig all the grit out the way to get to the rich seam”. For Haelos, it seems, as with many artists, writing is a cathartic experience, which Lottie reassures me is “all worth it for that euphoric moment when it comes together”.
And there is something euphoric about Haelos. Especially when viewing them in the live space, where they have expanded their collective to include the guitarist and sampler, Daniel, and two percussionists, Martin and Bo, who are needed to translate the impressively complex studio beats into the live performance. “It’s all about the live experience,” says Lottie. “We wanted to make as much of the live experience as possible.” Dom continues, “and that is the minimum amount of people that it takes to make our strongest representation the album live. One of the key things about our live set is that we didn’t really want to have an apple logo flash from the front of the stage.” The result is that Haelos rich live sound is much more than just a replica of the album, well worth seeing if you want to experience the band in their element.
Haelos preference for analogue over digital sounds is also apparent in the studio. The trio meticulously designed every sound on the record themselves, using vintage synthesizers in order to ensure a base level of warmth and humanity in their predominantly electronic sound. Dom describes the trios creative process to me – “we aimed to work within a set of limitations, because we feel like those limitations breed creativity – lots of different styles of buildings but the same materials each time.”
“it’s important . . . to build a world that people can become immersed in and become a part of”
The trio have taken the same care crafting their aesthetic, too. Their instagram – a fairly convincing visual embodiment of their music – mixes dreamy clouds, mountain peaks and Hubble’s most beautiful astronomical images with brutalist architecture and grimy, neon-lit streets. “When it comes to things like instagram, we want to try and use that not to just take snaps, or random photos – you’re also using it as a moodboard,” Lottie says. Their aesthetic distils in its purest, most recognisable form in their logo and album cover, the haunting solar eclipse, which was picked up recently by The Guardian’s design guide.
Haelos exhibit a further creative dimension in their videos, which blend stark realism and dramatic abstraction. The videos for ‘Earth Not Above’, ‘Pray’ and ‘Dust’ – dreamt up by talented young director Jesse Jenkins – come as a trio, with a continuous narrative that explores love and loss in an intense relationship. Having chosen not to feature personally in the initial triptych, Haelos have now offered viewers a more intimate experience with their latest video for the single ‘Separate Lives’, which was directed by Arthur himself. Shot on a handheld SONY camera, the grainy film offers a glimpse into Haelos’ private life as they travel through the busy streets and lonely highways of LA.
“We wanted to give that visual representation, not only of the music, but of everything we’re about”, Arthur tells me, “it’s important when you’re making the kind of tunes we do to build a world that people can become immersed in and become a part of.”
With an ever-growing fan-base and a continuous inflow of gigs abroad, this world is rapidly expanding for Haelos. Exciting stuff for the trio, who are currently on their American tour, having just played Coachella. But what’s next for Haelos? When I ask the three of them what they see in the future, their response is simple – “this is our discovery year”. Whether it’s the universe unfolding for Haelos, or Haelos unfolding a new universe, something tells me this trio haven’t finished surprising us just yet.