Are Hurts the last truly hedonistic band? ShortList’s Tom Ellen visits Berlin to find out
Most bands trash hotel rooms. Hurts trash entire hotels.
“There was this one gig in Iceland,” recalls the group’s immaculately attired frontman Theo Hutchcraft. “I invited everyone at the afterparty back to our hotel. We went round every room, emptying the mini bars into plastic bags. The corridors were full of naked Icelandic girls having sprinting races. People were being sick everywhere. This was a Wednesday night.”
He breaks off for a sip of coffee. The staff at the Berlin hotel that we’re currently sitting in shuffle nervously behind us. Their English is definitely good enough to understand “emptying the mini bars”. Theo continues: “I woke up afterwards with three girls asleep on my floor and blood all over the walls. My door was wide open. So were all the other doors on the corridor. I was like, ‘What the fuck happened here?’ Apparently someone had cut their foot on a bottle and was wiping it on the wall. We trashed the place by accident. We couldn’t even remember doing it.”
Incidents like this are an occupational hazard for Hurts.
Adam Anderson – the band’s no-less-dapper guitarist/synthesist – is full of similar stories.
“Things got debauched in Kiev when I had an eightsome,” he tells me. He chuckles as he remembers it. You’d chuckle too if you’d had an eightsome in Kiev.
“When you’re on tour, you’re like a child,” he adds. “You feel you can do anything you want. Decadence is quite addictive, and in Eastern Europe mad shit just happens. I suppose an eightsome is possible in Halifax, but you’ve got to put in a bit more legwork, haven’t you?”
Legwork is something Hurts know all about. Since the release of their debut album Happiness in 2010, the duo has conquered the farthest corners of the globe with their emotionally charged synth-pop. They’ve had platinum records in Switzerland and No1 airplay in Greece. They’ve played arenas in Belarus and the Hard Rock Café in Bali. On one occasion they performed to one in 60 of the population of Iceland. They’ve toured places no other western band has ever set foot in, including Chelyabinsk, Russia, which has the dubious honour of being one of the most chemically contaminated cities on Earth (“Don’t eat the soup,” says Adam, ominously).
Theo has dated Miss Germany and sung karaoke with Jackie Chan (Chan did Love Will Tear Us Apart), while Adam has been boozing with Boris Becker and once explained the inner workings of Levenshulme dole office to Jay-Z (“He seemed quite interested, actually”).
In short: Hurts are what rock stars are supposed to be. They attract One Direction-levels of screaming adulation across most parts of Europe and Asia, and their superb second album, Exile – out in a few days – looks set to cement their megastar status in the UK, too.
So, why, you’re no doubt wondering, are they not currently rampaging through this Berlin hotel, jackets packed with gin miniatures, dodging naked sprinters en-route to a 16-some? Well, the truth is Hurts are ill.
I’ve come to the German capital to see them play their first gig here since 2011 and brave one of their typically Bacchanalian nights out afterwards. Unfortunately, however, the boys are both worn-down and bunged-up. There will be no bloodied walls or nude 100m this evening.
“It’s ridiculous,” croaks Theo, replenishing his coffee mug. “Three years of touring and I’ve never once been ill. We’ve overdone it lately, I suppose.” He laughs and shakes his head. “It’s stupid to complain, though, isn’t it? If you’re going to complain about being in a band, what are you doing it for? Step aside, because there’s someone in a little town somewhere who’ll be clambering over your shoulders to have some fun instead.”
Megabus to stardom
Hurts’ story begins back in 2005 with Theo and Adam both in Manchester, both on the dole and both stuck in creative ruts. Oddly enough for a band now known for their impeccable dress sense, it was a sartorial slip-up that first brought them together.
“I spotted Theo in some nightclub,” remembers Adam. “He had on this horrendous blue leather jacket. I thought it was a really bold thing to wear. All night I was thinking, ‘There’s something about that lad.’ When we left the club, my mates and his mates started having a scrap, but rather than knock each other out we had a chat. It was perfect. The next day we hooked up and went about our business.”
The “business” in question was an attempt to break the mid-Noughties musical mould. The pair had both had stints in traditional shoegazing, mop-headed indie bands and hadn’t enjoyed it. They bonded over a shared admiration of acts such as Muse, Rammstein and Prince; ostensibly disparate artists with one common trait – the ability to put on a proper show.
“I said from the start that we weren’t going to be another boy-next-door band,” says Theo. “If you want to see five boys-next-door, go to watch your mates down the pub. I suppose the appeal of that is making people think they could do what the band is doing. Well, I don’t want that. When I see Prince I don’t think, ‘I could do what he does’; I think, ‘If I could do what he does, it would be fucking amazing!’ Music’s about escape. It’s about entertainment.”
Armed with this refreshingly unorthodox action plan – and some infectious synth-led tunes – the band began energetically touting themselves to record labels.
“We couldn’t afford the train to London,” recalls Theo, “so we’d get the Megabus with our suits in carrier bags and change outfits in the toilets at Victoria station.”
The suits were always part of the package with Hurts. They used to wear them to collect their dole cheques. “When you feel like shit and you’ve got nothing, you have to look like you mean fucking business,” says Adam.
The arduous coach journeys eventually paid off when the duo signed to Sony, requesting as part of their deal a comb, an umbrella, a Manchester United season ticket and ‘one gin and tonic to be shared in equal measure between Simon Cowell and Hurts’. “We’re still waiting on that last one,” laughs Theo.
Despite their idiosyncratic contractual demands, the band proved an invaluable investment for Sony, primarily because they understood that the music business was just that: a business. Where there was demand for pop music, Hurts aimed to supply it, no matter how far they had to go to do so.
Theo explains their success: “We go to places other bands don’t. Russia and Cyprus were the first places we had airplay; as soon as we got a sniff of interest there, we went. We’ve played Ukraine, Bali, Taiwan. It’s not as saturated in these places as it is in Britain; people really value you for just turning up. If a band plays, everyone goes to see them because it’s so rare.”
“Once we’d been to these places and people knew us, we always got another gig booked,” adds Adam. “Before we knew it, we were an international band.”
Live in Berlin
All of which brings us just about up to date, as I stand crushed between the bodies inside Berlin’s heaving Postbahnhof club, awaiting Hurts’ appearance onstage. This will be the band’s first airing of their forthcoming second album, Exile, in front of a German audience, and the anticipation is palpable. Some fans have been waiting outside the venue, wrapped in woefully ineffective foil blankets, for more than six hours.
Finally, the lights dim and Theo and Adam stroll out, greeted by ear-splitting screams and the pale glow of smartphone cameras. With his perfectly pomaded hair, single hoop earring and knee-length black cloak, Theo resembles a vampiric Matt Goss. His stage presence is borderline bipolar. For mum-friendly power ballads such as Stay, he’s all smiles and winks, tossing white roses into the lighter-waving crowd.
However, during Exile – a brooding, industrial number that explodes into life like an air-raid siren at a feedback factory – he yanks his hood up, throttles the microphone stand and tugs dementedly at his leather gloves like a proctologist about to begin an examination. It makes for electrifying viewing. Not once do I think to myself: “I could do what he does.”
Just as remarkable as the band’s performance is the diversity of their crowd. Surly goths, middle-aged couples and slappable, bow tie-wearing hipsters all rub shoulders happily as they chant along with Theo’s every word. “Our emotional simplicity has always carried us in places where English isn’t the first language,” says Adam later.
Melons and maids
Backstage after the gig, I get an insight into the more extreme end of the Hurts fan base from the band’s support act – a pair of elfin, Swedish-Australian twin sisters called Say Lou Lou. Over lukewarm chicken soup, they tell me that some female Hurts fans get so jealous of their proximity to the boys that they send them Twitter pictures of mutilated Barbie dolls, as if to say, ‘This is what happens to pretty girls who get too close’.
While Theo reasons that, “When you make emotional music, you should expect an emotional response,” Adam has an anecdote or two that proves these responses can occasionally slip from ‘emotional’ into ‘batshit mental’. He recounts one story about a fan that secured a maid’s outfit, sneaked into his hotel posing as a cleaner and asked to launder his underwear. Another gave him a lifesized oil painting of himself, “naked, except for a watermelon over my knob”.
“The worst, though,” he laughs, “is when a girl asks you to put your own music on during sex. That happened in Poland once. Having sex to Theo’s voice isn’t really my cup of tea. I see enough of him already.”
And it seems the duo’s “emotional simplicity” is even making waves in Hollywood. Theo tells me cheerily about a recent text he received from his old flame Miss Germany, which confirms Hurts’ place on a highly prestigious A-list iPod.
“She was at a party in Ryan Gosling’s house and apparently Gosling was getting everyone round his computer to watch our videos on YouTube. That was nice to hear.”
Once the audience has dispersed, the band, their entourage and I decamp to the afterparty at an impossibly chic nearby bar. We’re led straight downstairs to a champagne-fuelled VIP area, which is populated exclusively by the kind of women who, in the words of Naked Gun’s Lt Frank Drebin, “could melt a cheese sandwich from across the room”. The boys make a valiant effort to enjoy their industrial-strength cocktails, but it’s clear they’re both suffering. By midnight, Theo’s voice is so frail he’s communicating almost entirely in mime. Before they slope back to the hotel for some much-needed rest, I ask Adam if he ever finds it difficult to stay grounded when this kind of extravagance follows him at every turn.
“It can be tough,” he admits. “In fact, it came to a point recently where I found I couldn’t balance my home life [in Manchester] and this life any longer. So I just made a choice one day to embrace this life completely.”
He gestures across the bar with his champagne glass, taking in several thousand pounds worth of alcohol and half a Berlin model agency.
“Look around you,” he says, grinning. “It wasn’t the wrong choice, was it?”
Exile is released on 11 March
(Image: Steve Neaves)