It’s nothing you’ll see on Shameless, but– whisper it – Salford has an artsy underside that is shaping up to be a Northern variant on Warhol’s early Factory. Based in a former disused Mill and shrouded by council High Rises, its first breakout stars have emerged. Welcome, if you will, The Ting Tings – the Sonny and Cher of Salford Precinct for the Noughties.
The Ting Tings are Jules de Martino and Katie White. They met when she was just out of being a Wigan school-girl and bonded over a shared ambition to rock the foundations of pop music.
Brought up on an exclusive musical diet of radio pop music (“any old crap really”) on a farm in the delightfully named Slag Lane (“try living with that in the school playground”), Katie is quite the most unusual front woman you might expect to crossover as the figurehead of Manchester’s Bohemian margins. She speaks as she finds, admits to being fired up by ‘a massive chip on me shoulder’ and hadn’t heard of The Smiths until she moved into The Mill. She also possesses the unique ability to whip the stage up in a manner entirely befitting of a frenzied thrift shop messiah. You wouldn’t know it now, but she started her musical life in a girl band, which was, as she freely admits, “the sort of thing you did in the mid 90s, wasn’t it?” If she wasn’t in The Ting Tings you could quite imagine Katie turning heads whilst fagging it outside Night and Day on Oldham Street or picketing to keep Afflecks Palace open. She’s bluff Northern alternate-girl incarnate. Funny, brassy, not a boring bone in her body and with one ear always cocked to the chorus.
Jules is the ying to Katie’s yang. East London born and bred, with a surfeit of early art school experience, his Metropolitan charms are a direct counterbalance to Katie’s brusque Northern manner. He can appear a little more pragmatic than his frontwoman but for the moment that you hear him pounding the drums as her musical foil. Ting Tings are very much a two-way operation. They share lyric and music writing duties. “If it feels right,” he says, “then it goes in, whoever has come up with it.” Jules admits that it was Katie who taught him to accept the pure thrill of pop music. “Even though we come from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, we have sort of reversed roles. I was always ‘the alternative one’, now it’s the other way round.”
The heart of The Ting Ting’s plucky, arty, double-headed power-pop assault is back home at The Mill. Home to sculptors, painters, webbos and DIY musicians given free reign to do what they want with their private areas of creativity. Too urbane to be called a commune, the only time the occupants of this diverse and scintillating space came together was for ad hoc club nights that became word of mouth Mancunian sensations a year or so ago. “There weren’t many places that you could go and get off your face to white noise back then,” notes Katie.
It was at the Mill that Katie’s fuller rounded musical education began, courtesy of Jules. He introduced her to Talking Heads and Velvet Underground. She developed a minor, platonic girl crush on Heads bassist and Tom Tom Club front female Tina Weymouth. Her lack of Smiths knowledge was nipped in the bud when erstwhile guitar God Johnny Marr started renting space at The Mill, dropping in on occasions to here the manic pop thrill that was going on down the corridor. The Ting Tings aren’t the most famous occupants of The Mill. Yet.
Jules and Katie have been writing together for over four years. They began exchanging visits between Manchester and London (“I’d stay at her dad’s farm and we’d write in a barn,” explains Jules, “it was a cheap way of doing things”) before Jules decided to bite the bullet and up sticks to the North for good.
Their first serious endeavour was a three piece, with an additional DJ,
called Dear Eskiimo, a locally celebrated 3-piece with an additional
member on decks ("we were kings of the Northern toilet circuit,"
deflects Katie), that caused a fleeting In The City sensation before
getting lost in record company development hell. Jules was ready to pack the musical relationship he'd developed with Katie in when Dear Eskiimo imploded. "But she," says Jules now, "had the bit between her teeth."
“Suddenly I was angry,” says Katie, picking up the tale. “And I had something to sing about.” The defining moment came in their studio at The Mill when Jules had returned back to his first love, drumming, and Katie decided to pick up the guitar. The Ting Tings were taking shape. “She played a D chord that I’d taught her, badly. She was swinging the guitar round and screaming and kept dropping it. That was the moment. We found our energy through a bum chord that turned into Great DJ. We created a loop and we were off.”
Together, Jules and Katie have configured a sound that represents the pure heart of British pop. Driven by personality, unstoppable momentum, friendship and the love of great pop music - however stylised it arrives - The Ting Tings learnt to forget the attention to detail that they had slaved over in Dear Eskiimo and drove their new beast on raw adrenaline. It is littered through their sensational debut album, a record that grips on first listen and refuses to dislodge from the brain. Snappy choruses trade off against angular guitar work, whipsmart drumming and a succession of loops that they create live with the use of delay pedals. Half redolent of a thrusting girlband schooled at CBGBs and half informed by a post modern desire to break the codes of manufactured pop, their sound is immediately identifiable and purposefully perky.
Precisely at the moment that they thought no-one was interested in them, the world came knocking. The Ting Tings are a great British pop story: break the rules and watch others follow. “We didn’t think anybody would listen to us or even be interested,” says Jules, “We just knew exactly what we wanted to do.”
The first public manifestation of The Ting Tings singular brilliance came with the independent release of ‘That’s Not My Name’ (a bit like My Sharona down the indie disco), the song that they wrote in direct response to the apathy of the record industry and which doubles up as a classic proto feminist pick-up rebuff. In true DIY fashion, they pressed the record with limited edition, hand done artwork, mirroring the anything goes direction of the band itself. Buzz built in the North West and the record sold out in days.
By their third gig at The Mill – “essentially in our living room” notes Jules – they were causing a record label frenzy. In 12 months, the lives of two people who’d started 2007 thinking of themselves as ‘damaged goods’, spat out by the record label conveyor belt, had spun dizzily 360 degrees on its axis.
Touring became central to the band as they travelled the country in the back of Katie’s Mini, one junior drumkit and couple of amps in the boot. The Ting Tings exist to play live. On the back of one independent single and these apocalyptic shows, they were invited to play the BBC’s Introducing stage at last year’s Glastonbury. This year they should return a fully formed smash sensation, with one stella album under their belts.
By the time last autumn’s funky call and response cut ‘Fruit Machine’ had been released The Ting Tings were ready to go international. In an elaborate art hoax, they played dates in Manchester, London, Berlin and New York, inviting audience members to fashion their own artwork for the single and then trading the sleeves across countries and eventually continents. “We just have to do things our way,” says Jules, “there’s no point otherwise.”
True to form, The Ting Tings debut single for Columbia was the song they divined together first off, the song that marked their entry into becoming a great pop band. ‘Great DJ’s singular attitude and no-nonsense call to arms (The Girls! The Boys! The Strings! The Drums!) melted the airwaves at Radio One, becoming the first non-chart eligible record to be A listed two months upfront.
A deliriously appealing mix of Go-Gos beat pop, clubbier beats and Katie’s grippingly rankled vocal delivery The Ting Tings fashioned their entire album in six weeks at The Mill. It’s a rollercoaster mash up of energy, anger and pure pop arousal. “There’s nothing wrong with people getting it the first time they hear it,” says Jules, “In fact, that’s what we want, if we could say there was anything like an intention behind this.
If there’s a loose thread to the songs it is about Katie being very pissed off indeed, but this isn’t angsty teen poetry. It’s about being heard just for the fun of it. That’s Not My Name, Fruit Machine and Great DJ share a unique women-in-control motif and a disorderly and strangely orderly disco-punk energy. It’s on the gentler, lilting Traffic Light that the first quantum surprise of the record happens, but the positive energy of The Tings Tings never slopes. They are the opposite of introspection. And sure enough, before you know it you’re back to the instantaneous funk licks and pouty pleasure of Shut Up and Let Me Go and Keep Your Head.
If The Ting Tings debut album sounds like the sound of 2008, then many agree. Touted as a must-hear by industry symposiums and kids on the corner of urban High Streets alike, it is live that the whole enterprise takes on its full three dimensions. Unsurprisingly, they were chosen to open The annual NME new music tour at the beginning of 2008. The competition was duly sleighed by the pair that started making music for no-one but themselves.
The Ting Tings intuitive pop nouse is about propulsive energy, positive thinking and smashing up a couple of rules along the way. Who really wouldn’t want a little piece of that?