Making the jump to Lightspeed

Liz Dodd 7 February 2008

Apparently Lightspeed Champion, alternative music’s man-of-the-moment, was responsible for inventing new rave. “Oh, God,” he rolls his eyes when TCS brings up the NME cover story. “I’m so sorry! I don’t even know what it is!” Leant up against the wall in the Cambridge Barfly hours before the first gig of his first tour, Dev Hynes, previously of the Test Icicles, is a paragon of self-deprecating indie-geekdom. His album, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge, may have come out to huge critical acclaim, but as far as Dev’s concerned it’s “bad. I don’t know. Bad all around,” he laughs, punctuating a modest refrain familiar to anyone who followed the Test Icicle’s sudden breakup and Dev’s resurrection as cartoon character Lightspeed Champion. “I used to say the character was just me,” he admits. “But I’m starting to see it as a completely different person. I see articles and posters, and I kind of freak out a bit. I remember the other day I had a particularly bad night, it was raining, and I was walking and I saw this poster. God, it was like the last thing I wanted.”

Lightspeed’s fragile confidence, both in himself and his own work, is reassuringly bolstered by the team of friends he tours with – he was jamming with long-time buddies the Semifinalists when TCS arrived. “We’ve only practiced once,” he admits. “But I always try to tour with friends. Like Patrick Wolf,”

“I see him as a musical big brother – there are definitely similarities between our music, so he gives me advice.” Like Wolf, Lightspeed has chosen to populate his new album with bizarre, often archaic, instruments. Does he have a favourite? “There’s a half guitar. Which is a strange instrument, it plays everything an octave higher. On Dry Lips I redid all the guitar parts with this octave guitar…so it had this weird feel, like you never know what pitch it’s in. The wurlitzer was pretty fun,” he adds, before taking a characteristically self-deprecating turn, “but it was all at a level of just…bad.”

With artwork for the next round of releases already in mind, and a run-through of a brand new song at soundcheck, it seems that, lack of self-belief aside, Dev’s only looking forwards. “There’s loads of new stuff,” Dev agrees. “I recently found stuff from about four years ago which is pretty good, and I’m just like… wow… So just going to see what happens with that. I’ve been compiling a discography,” he reveals. “But it’ll probably be a really long time before that sees the light of day. At the moment I’m writing… re-describing the Lavender Bridge album, writing paragraphs about each song. I see reviews and people don’t really get certain things, and I want to just tell them.” Dev has to leave on this, a whirlwind of genius and modesty, to return to soundcheck, and the gig later that night does indeed showcase more Lightspeed’s unique musical talent as much as it does his eccentricities. “I don’t know any more songs,” he warns the crowd when the set finishes fifteen minutes early. “What do you guys want to hear?”

Lightspeed Champion can get away with just this kind of brutal, endearing gonzo-professionalism, and it’s a kamikaze attitude that, refreshingly, you wouldn’t expect to hear from the artist behind an album as complex a piece of work as Lavender Bridge. Whether his blend of honest self-deprecation and genuine passion for music will last the abuse of a UK and US Tour remains to be seen but, naïve or battered into cynicism, you get the feeling Dev Hynes will still come out way ahead of the game.

Liz Dodd