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KINESIS: Looking back at teenage obsession

One sure sign of getting older is being able to look back at the music you listened to a few years before and think “What the hell was I thinking?” I would imagine most people will have the odd band they there once adored but now find unlistenable. One Christmas, both me and my little brother received the same Sum 41 album as neither of us could deal with the idea that it was the other one that possessed it, and there are certainly some poor choices on the mixtapes I used to make taping off of the radio.

But while I had a fun time listening to Sum 41, Travis and Sash!, these did not inspire the level of obsession that one band did above all others. A band who popped up just at the right moment, slap bang in the middle of the greasiest, most awkward and gangly moment of my teenage years. A band who were second on the bill at the very first gig I ever went to (not counting The Smurfs), and thus were little known enough for them to really be MY band. A band who, until a few months ago, I had forgotten about almost entirely.

Most people nowadays will have probably never heard of Kinesis. Their time in the sun – if you could call it that – was brief, spanning from 2000 to 2005. During this time, they released a couple of EPs, a handful of singles, one major label debut album and a self-produced follow-up before promptly calling it a day.

I was only introduced to them through chance. I was visiting relatives in Norfolk one school holiday and my cousin had a spare ticket going for a Hundred Reasons gig. What confused me was that I thought Hundred Reasons were being supported by InMe and Kinesis; there was in fact a fourth band – The Copperpot Journals – who opened the night. Subsequently, I thought The Copperpot Journals were Kinesis and that Kinesis were InMe (having seen InMe on MTV2, this confused me further). It was only when InMe came on and played some songs I recognized that I finally twigged what was going on.

Despite the confusion, Kinesis captivated me from the off. Their music was energetic and brash, full of youthful angst and vitriol that the teenage mind is typically so susceptible to. They had a strong image, always wearing white T-shirts and throwing around catchy counter-cultural slogans like “Shopping is not creating.” They too were young, releasing their earliest work while most of the band were still in full-time education, and were politically engaged – this was even reflected in their name, meaning “a movement in response to a stimulus.”

Although this political engagement was perhaps not as sophisticated as that of other bands such as the Manic Street Preachers, it made it much easier for a whelp like me to latch onto. The fact that they were largely unknown only helped matters.

Musically, they tapped into that post-hardcore wave that Hundred Reasons were at the vanguard of, while also taking inspiration from other aspects of the alt-rock scene that I was so into. Apparently on their single ‘Forever Reeling’ you can actually hear lead guitarist Conor McGloin utter the words “I want to be Matt Bellamy” before launching into a solo.

With all these boxes ticked, I became duty bound to inform everyone and anyone I knew about this wonderful band. I collected all of their singles (turning to Ebay to pick up their early independent releases), revelling in b-sides such as ‘Zyklon B’ and ‘Killing With Ease’, a track that had the working title of ‘Existentialism’. Prior to the release of their first album I would make mix CDs featuring all of the tracks I could lay my hands on and pass these around to friends, family, girls I fancied – anyone who would be willing to humour my requests.

Over time, as the spark of their brief existence began to fade in my memory, their status as my Ultimate Mega Favourite (UMF) band began to erode. They have been replaced many times over since then, with bands such as Feeder, Muse, Electric Six, Radiohead, British Sea Power and Ezra Furman jostling for the position of UMF at various times.

A few months back though, I stumbled across an article by – yes! – Conor McGloin that he had written for the Guardian on what it was like being in a rock band. The article provided me with not only a lovely piece of nostalgia but the impetus to dig out Handshakes For Bullets and You Are Being Lied To and see whether the music was still as fun as I remembered it, or whether it would inspire that familiar feeling of “what the hell was I thinking?”

I was quite surprised by the results. Back in the day, Handshakes for Bullets had been one of my favourite albums of all time. In contrast, I had felt that You Are Being Lied To – while enjoyable – had lacked the big hitting singles of the first and featured a number of lightweight moments. After revisiting the two, I found my opinions were entirely the opposite.

While the lyrics of tracks like ‘Billboard Beauty’, ‘Average American Corpse’ and ‘Everything Destroys Itself’ had directly appealed to me as a 15 year old, nearly 15 years later they failed to have the same impact. For example, ‘Billboard Beauty’ felt melodramatic and hyperbolic in proclaiming “choking on conformity / nothing hurts like solitude.” Elsewhere, ‘Average American Corpse’ felt as clumsy as its title in several places: “Massacre, home shopping, rifles, obesity / Constitutional rights of the free.”

Punky guitars and anthemic choruses interspersed with occasional stripped back verses and space-rock guitar solos. Although the songs never feel derivative, the songwriting rarely Handshakes For Bullets departs from this model.

On You Are Being Lied To, both music and lyrics have stepped up in sophistication (even if the album title suggests otherwise). Alongside compositions that were stylistically similar to their older material, their dynamic range was much broader. There was the rock opera of ‘Everything You Thought You Knew To Be’, the almost-electronic nu-metal bubbling of ‘Have My Sympathy’ and the theatrical balladry of ‘The Question Has Changed’. After more than a decade since its release, it is this album that offered the more compelling revisit.

The heavy-handedness of their debut hadn’t completely gone – see song titles such as ‘Principles Are Luxury’ and lyrics like “supremacy stands to be knocked down” – but there is a tangible sense of maturing on album number two. In many ways, it is a shame that the band downed their weapons before their fans got to find out just how far they could take their craft.

I enjoyed dipping back into Kinesis’ music after all those years. Many of the songs still managed to quicken my pulse just as they had done when I was growing up. Although certain tracks or lyrics may have triggered a raised eyebrow, there was enough substance for my nostalgia to not feel misplaced. While they once sang “there will be no vndying memory,” it turns out that they had a voice worthy of preserving.

For anyone who would like to see what Kinesis were like, McGloin has set up a convenient bandcamp page containing all of their songs that are not held by their old label – this includes the whole of their second album, You Are Being Lied To.

Words by James McIntosh