ONCE upon a time, pop music was all about young love and good times. Oxford band Low Island, however, take a more earnest look at life with a new record which is inspired by the serious issues of male loneliness and mental health.

The band’s new EP, Shut Out The Sun, is prompted by the experience of young men who have shut themselves off from society in their bedrooms because of perceived failings in their lives. It is a phenomenon particularly common in Japan.

The band’s frontman Carlos Posada said: “Part of the idea came from reading about the Japanense ‘Hikikomori’ – a generation of young men who’ve shut themselves away from society because of feeling like they’ve fallen short in their lives.

“I found that, while some of their issues were very specific to Japan and its culture, others felt more broadly relevant to society as a whole – be that a damaging form of masculinity that prioritises repressed emotions over openness and vulnerability, or having such high expectations of our lives that we can never hope to meet.

“They represent one extreme response to modern anxiety. Another is escapism, and for us, Shut Out the Sun is evocative of both; alone in your bedroom or immersed in the club, both private and communal. It’s a duality that we’re often trying to convey in our music by setting these subjects against instrumentals that draw strongly upon dance music.”

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The band of Carlos, Jacob Lively (bass) and Felix Higginbottom (drums, percussion) met at primary school, meeting Jamie Jay (vocals, guitar, keys) in their early teens. They took their name from an island off the south coast of Ireland where Jamie’s family have a house.

They describe their soulful, dreamy mix of synthy electronica, dance and indie as ‘best for late night drives’. They began by DJing at Oxford clubs such as The Bullingdon, in Cowley Road, and former venues The Cellar and Babylove.

Their Oxford musical pedigree is impeccable. Felix’s father is the acclaimed conductor, organist and Director of Music at New College, Edward Higginbottom. His brother, Orlando, is the electronic music producer known as Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.

Witney Gazette:

The new EP follows previous releases Just About Somewhere, acclaimed debut single Anywhere, second EP In This Room (which explored another heavy issue: the idea of public shaming in the era of social media), and follow up EP This Other Life (which delves into populist politics and the impact of technology on mental health).

They have played sold-out shows at London’s Scala and recorded a Maida Vale session for Radio 1. Celebrity supporters include Radio 1’s Huw Stephens, Annie Mac and Phil Selway of Radiohead.

Success hasn’t been without the odd mishap tough, as Carlos explains? “Where do we begin?” he laughs. “We were accidentally booked for a drum & bass festival in Portsmouth and cleared the tent; had gear failure in the 35 degree heat at Glastonbury; got stuck at the Spanish border after a show in Gibraltar, were asked to pay €3,000 duty on our gear and subsequently missed our flight home (shout out to the Foreign Office!); and we stayed in a haunted Airbnb in Belgium on the way to Hamburg. Felix woke up to a ghost screaming at him!”

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“We also did some photos with people at Latitude only to later realise they thought we were in Sigrid’s band!”

Like the aforementioned Radiohead, they are not afraid to tackle serious, or complex, issues, though.

Carlos explains: “I know this is something that all artists say, but we write about what is important to us, whether it’s serious or complex is for other people to judge

“I’ve been reading a book called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, all about how the internet is changing the way we think, relate to other people and ourselves, and it raises so many questions about the ways in which technology is changing our lives.

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“Is it a public or a private space? Why, when we’ve been ‘gifted’ the ultimate tool of connectivity, does communication remain such a profound issue for all of us?

“Why do a third of 18-24 year-olds in the UK feel lonely? Why do we feel more comfortable opening up to Google than we do to our friends and family?

“I think pop music can be a great vehicle for exploring these ideas, because it has the potential to be fun and serious at the same time.

“The song Search Box, for example, is about how Google has become the world’s therapist, but it’s also just a funny (at least to me) reflection on our chaotic minds. Both options are there for you. You can choose either, both, or none.”

Witney Gazette:

Tomorrow (Friday) they play The Bullingdon. So what can we expect? “It probably sounds trite, but we hope people get some companionship and catharsis out of the songs on this EP,” he says. “It’s what our favourite artists have given us, and it’s all that we can hope to give to other people.

“The stage design behind this tour all feeds from the ideas of our Shut Out the Sun EP; mainly this idea of a tension between public and private spaces. The stage includes abstracted elements of a bedroom (like blinds and desk lamps), film shoot soft-boxes and it uses almost exclusively white light so we can create lighting states that can be blinding at one moment, intimate the next.

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“We’ll be playing all of the songs off the new EP, some brand new ones and some older ones too. We’ve made the live show more raucous, more outlandish. We’ll throw everything at it.”

And they are excited to be playing their hometown. “It feels great,” says Carlos. “It’s been over a year since we played a show in Oxford. We’ve released more music since then, and played a lot more shows. We’ve come a long way since that last gig and we’re excited to have another chance to play in front of a home crowd with new ideas, a new stage production and new songs.

“Weirdly, we also have a slight sense of deja-vu. The last time we played The Bullingdon we had to fly to Barcelona straight after for another show. The same has happened again! It’s a shame not to be able to stick around and get messed up with everybody. Next time.”

And have they considered a collaboration with the esteemed Edward Higginbottom? “Nothing planned,” says Carlos. “We all played various different classical instruments when we were kids, though. Maybe we could make a sort of early music thing with Edward. We’d definitely make more money, although we’d have to get Edward on board. Not sure he’d be up for it!”

  • Low Island play The Bullingdon, Oxford, on Friday, December 6. Tickets from wegottickets.com