We caught up with Nic Offer of !!! to talk about everything from the brand new album and the one he’s currently working on with the band to the tragedy of losing contact with one another but the purity of emotion it can conjure up. A pioneering dance act in their own right, !!!, or Chk Chk Chk as they’re also known, are delivering their ninth album with Let It Be Blue and it’s another searing reminder of just how potent Offer and his group of rabble-rousing dancefloor junkies are.
But our conversation sadly began with addressing the continued gun violence in America as we spoke shortly after a New York city subway was attacked by a masked gunman. It’s a familiar picture that most in the US have sadly gotten used to. Nic tells me: “You know, I think it was one of those things that look weird everywhere else — everyone I know was suddenly texting me about it. But I mean, you know, it’s America’s shootings happen.”
Thankfully, there were brighter moments to illuminate a black day as in preparation for our chat, I had landed headfirst into Let It Be Blue and found myself breaking out the glowsticks for a revival of my foot-stomping days on the dirty dancefloors of Britain’s capital. I was excited, but with nine studio albums and a whole heap of other recordings to boot, how did Nic stay excited about releasing a new album? The truth was, he was too busy looking forward to the next one: “I wouldn’t say I get excited to put it out — I get excited to make it.” For a serial creator such as Offer, that’s not entirely unexpected.
The truth is, since the band started back in 1998, things have changed dramatically in the industry: “Now records are different, you know, it just comes out on Spotify,” he replies acknowledging that the actual “release” of an album doesn’t come close to the creating, something Offer values more than anything else. “I wouldn’t have been up till six last night, working on the next record, if I wasn’t still excited to be making records., you know what I mean? There’s, there’s a detachment, it’s like, once you finish it, it’s done.”
It would appear as though Offer and the band are still deeply entrenched in that process and ready to throw the odd curveball every now and then. For Let It Be Blue, that curveball comes in the form of the opening track ‘Normal People’ an unusual acoustic number for the band. “It takes you nine records to get to the acoustic song,” replies Offer acknowledging the departure from the band’s sound. However, dealing in differences has always been a part of the !!! manifesto. “But, you know, it’s always been that, I feel like we’re kind of founded on the basis of post-punk, which was always about finding something new. The part of it that we connected to it, to fetishise the 1970s part of it, what we liked about it in the ’70s, was that it was in the ’70s, looking towards the ’80s. And so when we were doing in the early 2000s, we were looking towards 2022.”
“You just get to a level of you’re constantly experimenting, that finally you’re building and building and building upon more and more experimentation. So I hope that’s where we’re at. And I hope that the next album is wilder.”
It’s hard to ignore the group’s legacy. For many people of my age, !!! were a mainstay of almost every festival you ever set foot upon. And now, in 2022, they seem intent on once again marching full steam ahead into the cultural conflict. The band’s dedicated fanbase provides an ample army for any such battle but one war Offer seems keen to avoid is the war on streaming. Despite my own expectations for Offer to be a vehement defender of classic recording and releasing, in truth, he is far more forward-thinking.
“I think in some of the conversation about streaming and the way things are supposed to work now, it’s like, the old rock and roll model of sitting around and waiting for months for them to give it to the press and send it out. All that stuff has gone. That’s all a construct that’s been put upon us by the record industry. And now that the record industry has been decimated, it’s reasonable that it should change.”
In an ever-changing world and with over two decades of work behind you, it would be acceptable if !!! and Offer, in particular, crumbled under fatigue, but that’s not an option when it comes to music for the singer and musician: “The fatigue comes from other things, it doesn’t come from the music part, the music remains. I would be lying to you if I said that I hadn’t noticed it in peers, you know, that it does seem like people kind of like detach from the music. But, we remained fans.
“I’m still trying to figure out how I can get better” Offer continues, reflecting on his all-night session the previous evening as well as the gigs he’s got lined up for the following days. “Like, what I was doing last night — I want to be better tonight. You know, last night was just a learning process, so there’s no fatigue there.”
There’s a youthfulness to Offer, an enthusiasm for his craft and an appreciation of his position that is humbling. Operating as a figurehead for such a prominent and influential band is one thing, but to do with humility is quite another. Likewise, as I dragged him back to the streaming debate, Offer was more than happy to accept that such a decimation of the record industry, much like bush fires, offered fertile ground for new shoots of musical revolution: “Absolutely. Wasn’t that what we were trying to do back when we were punks and we were post-punks — this is the dream!”
“I always wanted to destroy rock and roll, but it was a little different when The Rolling Stones started dying, it was like ‘Oh wow, we’re really gonna kill rock and roll, this is really happening’. It’s a different era and it [rock and roll] is going away. Honestly, it’s fucking exciting.” For Offer, like many music lovers, the chance to be connected to so many groups and artists so easily is a proposition too tantalising not to enjoy. “I listen to so much fucking good shit, at my fingertips, all the time. That’s inarguable; it’s fucking better. Fuck that old, you got to go into Record Store and pay 30 bucks because the guy recommended and maybe it’s going to be good and, when you get it home, it’s just obscure. I’m over it man.”
“We wanted to decimate the music industry we’ve done it, you know, and we’re living in a golden age right now.”
However, there was one area of streaming that concerned Offer and that was the control Spotify and other streaming platforms have on the algorithm of our listening patterns. Not only can they force-feed you some of their most unholy garbage, but they can do it covertly. “It is scary to me how much control Spotify has. We’re all subject to how Apple fucks up now. They change something and suddenly all my plugins aren’t working.”
Offer expanded: “I want the music to flow freely, always forever. That’s what I want. You know, like, I want a free-flowing stream, I want to fucking revert to the ocean of music. I don’t want Spotify to fuck that all up. And certainly, we’ve given them a lot of power,” but despite fears for the future of music, Offer remains hopeful, “Now, I am afraid of what could happen in the future, but, I don’t know, man; it seems hard to kill music.”
Music cannot be underestimated. The power of such an art form has come to the fore during the pandemic, with songs being used as a way of gathering communities together and to show support for those who need it. As music provides both an escape and a chance to connect internally, Offer confirms to me that those high-end concepts are more of a benefit of making music rather than a drive to do it in the first place. “You think all things,” he confirms, “certainly, sometimes that is coming into play. But, generally, you’re trying to make yourself happy. Then as you shape it, concepts do come into play, but not every time sometimes, it’s just like; ‘this thing goes.'”
I pushed Nic into picking out one song from the album that he personally felt most attached to. Kind enough to not laugh me out of the Zoom meeting room for such a basic question, the answer was worth sticking around for. “If I’m pointing to one that I think is like more for me, and maybe not for everyone, I could definitely say the song ‘Crazy Talk’. I was excited about that, because that expressed something I hadn’t heard in a song before in that it was like, a romantic song about friendship.”
A notoriously troublesome subject matter, Offer confirms it’s a song devoted to the beauty of companionship rather than a ‘friends with benefits’ situation: “The song isn’t necessarily sexual, but you know, your friendships are romantic too. Sitting late at night on the porch with your friends, or just a couple of people, it’s when the night is silent and thoughts are just flowing freely, and the jokes are flowing freely. And that’s the same thing that romance or a sexual relationship touches. So this could be between two people who would have sex or whatnot. It doesn’t matter. It’s about that other sort of romance. I just didn’t feel like I heard another song that was like that.”
With a brand new tour on the horizon, we looked back at the lockdown and the chance to break out onto the stage once more. While during the lockdown, Offer and the band set up their Ableton studios and began writing a new record almost instantly, it’s getting back on stage that really grabs them. Their first show back, in NYC at the end of last year will be one memory that lasts forever. “The first show we played in Brooklyn, back in September was absolutely one of the funnest shows we’ve ever played in New York. We’ve played some fun shows over the years, New York has always been good for us. But this was a lot of people’s first concert back and I was kind of a little nervous. I’m not usually nervous before shows. I was a little nervous before that one.
“I was just like, ‘Can I do this again?’ I didn’t know. I didn’t know if the whole thing went. But within the first 20 seconds, we were like, ‘oh my god, we fucking got this’. Sometimes you just know, right, then you don’t lose it. And it was one of our best shows — it was great.” The band will be out on the road for dates across North America which you can find here.
It’s standard practice, when you sit down with a hugely influential musician, to hear suggestions of perpetual creativity, a desire to destroy the system and a palpable urge to connect with their audience on an emotional intellectual and physical level. It’s not, however, usual to acknowledge that said musician would put their money where the mouth was at the drop of a hat. Nic Offer is certainly the latter and !!! have become, and likely will continue to be, one of the most inspiring acts of the last two decades because of it.
Listen to !!! (Chk Chk Chk)’s brand new album Let It Be Blue below.