The few years that straddled the late 1980s and early '90s have long been considered one of British rock music's most vibrant periods - that moment when the Stone Roses, Ride, My Bloody Valentine and the like defied the notion that 'indie' was, by definition, underground and underachieving. Bolstered by unassailable self-confidence and innovative sonic ideas, their albums became generational touchstones, and are now not only inextricably linked to the times in which they were created, they're regarded as the precursors to the cultural phenomenon that was Britpop.
But that same period has also long been considered one of music's great anti-climaxes, a dashed opportunity. The Stone Roses disintegrated amidst drugs, warring egos, and too much time and money (as did Happy Mondays); My Bloody Valentine became paralyzed by its pursuit of an indefinable perfection; and countless others lost their original, most potent vision to the tides of fashion. It was, in fact, a moment concluded by such a heartbreaking failure of collective will that its music came to sound like a frozen remnant of a lost age, never to be reexamined or pushed forward.
Until Tomas Kubowicz, that is. The Swedish guitarist and songwriter was living in his native Norrköping when, years after it had first come and gone, he heard this music for the first time. "Sweden is, musically, quite Anglo-inspired; many of my friends listened to this kind of music, and that's the way I got hooked on it," he recalls. "The Stone Roses was kind of an introduction - I never had any high thoughts of their debut album when I first listened to it, but when I picked up the album again a couple years later and had a listen, it totally exploded. It's a masterpiece. I've never left them since."
In 2005, Tomas relocated to Stockholm, where he met bassist Anton Lindberg. Unable to find simpatico bandmates after a year of searching, the pair moved to London in summer of 2006. "We struggled quite hard to find the right people," says Tomas. "The music we had to offer was [perceived as] being a bit uncool in London, which was more into post-punk, thousands of sub-Libertines and Arctic Monkey bands, and also the nu-rave scene was at its peak. But I never was disheartened by it, and just continued to write songs."
Eventually, however, they found drummer Alfonso Tammaro, and the newly solidified trio (with Tomas also providing vocals) quickly made an impression upon producer Mark Wallis, who has worked with the Smiths, the La's, the Go-Betweens, and many others. The fruits of the band's sessions with Mark make up their official debut, Tour de Force, a limited-edition CD/7-inch released by Shelflife Records.
While its influences are clear, Tour de Force sounds surprisingly contemporary and singular in its vision. At once dreamlike and kinetic, pastoral and urban, it's a conception of modern psychedelic pop as the Ruling Class' forebears intended - but never quite got around to realizing. Tomas notes that since the band's debut was recorded, "many people think our sound is quite original and fresh."
Yet while Tour de Force marks the Ruling Class' debut as a recording act, it's also a final document of the band in that particular manifestation. Eager to focus entirely on his songwriting and guitar playing, Tomas surrendered vocal duties to Jonathan Sutcliffe in December 2007, also bringing on board rhythm guitarist Andrew Needle. In the short time since then, the band has moved forward quickly: Legendary London indie label Fierce Panda - whose past discoveries include Coldplay and Keane - is now managing the band and will release a vinyl single on sub-label Fandango in July.
Until then, marvel at Tour de Force - a rebirth, and a new way forward, for a sound whose time has come again.
Praise for The Ruling Class:
"Since they first appeared in my life only a week or two ago, I've quickly realized how much I love The Ruling Class. Their debut EP+7" Tour De Force is out right now on Shelflife Records, who have seemed to being nothing but spot-on since their rebirth last year. The EP is full of glistening and jangly, sometimes shoegazey songs that wouldn't have felt the least bit out of place between Ride or Slowdive in 1991. I'm currently totally obsessed with "Sleeping Beauty" - track one on the EP portion of Tour De Force. The ringing, twinkly guitars and fast paced drumming make me feel like I'm listening to some long lost track that should have appeared on Ride's Nowhere LP. Other highlights include the Field Micesque "Umbrella Folds," which appears on the 7" and EP closer "Marian Shrine" which couldn't be more 90s Manchester if it tried." - Skatterbrain "I've been waiting for the debut from The Ruling Class since I first wrote about the project quite a long time ago. Their "back to Madchester and britpop"-sound is extremely catchy and it's almost impossible to sit still or be in a bad mood when the Ruling Class starts with their infectious Stone Roses-loving grooves. The Ruling Class borrows a lot of elements from the days when baggy clothes were the coolest fashion and the rockers found dancing acceptable again. They borrow, but they don't copy. They do it their own way, and the songs are really good. It's like they have refined the style and taken britpop onto the next step.
I understand that things have changed a bit in the band since these recordings were made. When I heard The Ruling Class the first time, "they" were basically "him", - one man, the Swedish guitarist Tomas Kubowicz. Tomas found bassplayer Anton Lindberg in 2005, and drummer Alfonso Tammaro became the third member of the band soon after. The trio came in contact with producer Mark Wallis, who had worked with The Smiths, The La's, The Go-Betweens and many others, and the recording session they did with him resulted in their official debut, this new Shelflife cd/7" called "Tour de Force". Tomas on guitar and vocals, Anton on bass and Alfonso on drums.
Now, when their debut is released, they are a full band, and Tomas has left the microphone to focus on the guitars and the songwriting. Jonathan Sutcliffe has taken over the vocal duties, and rhythm guitarist Andrew Needle has also been included in the band." - Eardrums "Like C.S. Nielsen's pitch-perfect recreation of Johnny Cash's style of songwriting, the part-Scandinavian/part-British The Ruling Class similarly adopt a faultless Stone Roses style (with maybe more than a few nods to The Charlatans). The reason artists like this succeed is because they follow in exactly the same footprints as their influences -- not beating around the bush (because the songwriters can't quite find the vein they're attempting to replicate), or providing listeners with a karaoke-esque recreation, but deftly hitting every emotional chord that caused us to fall in the love with legends like Johnny Cash and renowned Manchurians The Stone Roses. Our parents have boundlessly assured us that "there will never be another group like The Beatles," and maybe they're right, but The Ruling Class have stepped into shoes that haven't moved quite like this in a long time. There's an art to what they have done that is beyond imitation; it's more like disproving the idea that lightning never strikes the same place twice." - It's a Trap "If you're looking get that Britpop Monkey off your back, this album is sure to be your umÉbanana." - Panic Manual "We all feel a little cheated with the fact that The Stone Roses only released 2 albums between a 5 year label battle. Well, reincarnation through inspiration. Swedish guitarist Tomas Kubowicz loved the whole Manchester Brit Pop movement and set out writing and singing what he loved. Evolving as all projects do he now leaves the vocals to Jonathan Sutcliffe and concentrates on guitars and writing. Take yourself back to 1989 and listen up." - Even If You Don't, You Do
The Ruling Class
Tour de Force
Catalogue number: LIFE1005
Photograph by: Antonio Silva
1. Sleeping Beauty
2. Flowers (mp3)
3. If You Wonder
4. Marian Shrine
A. Umbrella Folds
B. Shame or Pride ON THE WEB:
www.myspace.com/therulingclassuk PRESS DOWNLOADS:
Cover art hi-res