Behind the ampersand: Dimbleby & Capper

Photo: Lucy Brown

Beautiful Small Machines, Metric, Ellie Goulding and of course, Lady Gaga among countless others…Out of the many styles dominating the music industry at the moment, electro-pop may be here to stay. Naysayers often point out the un-inspired dreariness of synthesiser-toting singers backed by 80s drum machines, and they have a point.

A lot of what’s out there is nothing you haven’t heard before – so Dimbleby & Capper turned the heads of many with their raw, electro-tinged tribal beats.

There’s been nothing but praise for the act – after a string of successful gigs over the past year including a Maida Vale session for Huw Stephens at Radio One, a slot at Glastonbury on the BBC Introducing Stage and an intimate performance at Latitude, the future looks bright with raving reviews about the Slick Maturity EP released earlier this year.

Despite the ampersand, 22-year-old Goldsmiths graduate Laura Bettinson is the core of D&C.

She was born in Rugby, Warwickshire. “I spent my whole childhood there in the countryside where we had chickens on our farm. It was beautiful and very relaxing. It gives me a break from people and places,” she says. “It was a really small town where everyone knew pretty much everything, so as soon as you started to do anything alternative everyone would go wow.”

Though she took piano lessons in her younger years, Laura didn’t take music seriously until she was in her late 16s, living a life “far removed from Rugby”.

Dimbleby & Capper – Beautiful But Boring

“I entered this teen idol competition that ran in the Midlands when I was 15. I won it playing a cover of Natural Woman, and then I started to have a look at the industry. I did a few demos, since I didn’t want to sing someone else’s songs all the time,” she remembers.

“I did very private gigs on piano. I would be going around the Midlands doing acoustic venues and stuff alongside theatre acting. If I hadn’t done music I probably would’ve done art,” she says. “My dad is a theatre director in the West End, so art has always been in there somewhere. He didn’t have anything to do with music and my mom was a physiotherapist, but I kind of knew music was the thing for me. I was always in that art world, dabbling in everything. I knew for sure I didn’t want to go to a classical conservatoire, though.”

Naturally, she moved to London to study Popular Music at Goldsmiths, attracted by their practical approach. “It was my first time in the South-East of London, which was a big shock for me. I’m very much used to seeing the glitzy tourist side of London because of my dad’s musicals and theatre shows, so it took a while to adjust to,” she says. “I really enjoyed the course, and I came to love it down here. It’s one of those things where you’ve gotta put in as much to get stuff out of it.”

Goldsmiths was also where she met the members of her live act. “I couldn’t carry a piano to every venue, so I took a month thinking how I can take traditional melodies and put it over something that’ll fit into a suitcase. That’s where my electronic stuff comes in,” she says. “And now I’ve brought in a band as well, including a drummer that stands. All of us wear masks on-stage, too.“

“I do the odd show where it’s just me on stage, doing purely improvised stuff. It can be a little bit….Well, you do fine, but when you look back you think ‘oh no, I shouldn’t have sung about that for so long’. It’s really frightening,” says Laura. “It’s too easy with a band to focus on weird little things, but when you’re going solo there’s room to do things, samples to make up. It brings me back to the reason why I started doing music – to be creative, to be who I am.”

Photo: Laura Bettinson

Indeed when she first started, she sang under her own name. “After I started messing around with electronic samples and such, I decided to pick a name for myself. Dimbleby & Capper was drawn out of a hat really,” she says. “It was inspired by a series of photos I found of my grandfather and his friend who kept appearing in the most random places. One time you would see them standing on a cliff in 1940s suits, and in another they would be holding a massive fish up by the sea. I liked the idea of following them around and giving them a fictional story. I like writing stories. I quite enjoy stepping into someone else’s shoes.”

Laura’s appearance on the stage clearly reflects that idea, with DIY outfits often made of naught but tape and heels. “I like that sort of extreme customization, and I’m definitely going to start making more. The fashion I make will certainly be expensive and exclusive, but it’ll be a bridge between fan merchandise and high street fashion. My friend Lisbee Stainton was saying ‘bloody hell, you’ll be making your own perfume’,” laughs Laura. “I also wear stuff that my friends make like jewellery. There’s amazing people out there without the kind of PR they need, so I try to give them a leg up by doing things like that. I think it would be cool to have an outlet to promote each other’s art.”

She seems to have ambivalent feelings about art. “It has such weird energy. There’s very little reward for so much input. You have to put up with the crap and believe you’ll get your big break,” Laura says. “I mean coming out of uni with a degree in music, you find yourself in this weird world where you’re bright enough to get a full-time job, but you find yourself doing part-time work at a used vintage clothes shop on Deptford High Street while trying to do whatever your passion is.”

It’s easy to see how passionate she is about music; when not gigging or recording in her home studio, she does remixes for various artists on the side. “I was recently commissioned to do one, so I pumped all the money into a music video for ‘Want This’ since I thought I needed one. It’s me in three different costumes that I designed, and the central thing is this white mask with a black strip across the mouth, kind of like being trapped in your own eccentricity.”

Becoming trapped as an artist is one of the biggest challenges Laura has had to face. “When I did a demo with Liam Howe (Marina & the Diamonds) called ‘Beautiful But Boring’, it was played a lot on the radio and everyone really liked it. I had to come to terms and say ‘it’s just a demo, I don’t want to do that kind of stuff for an entire album’. I mean, there’s pretty no much room to go anywhere when you’ve worked with a producer who has such a strong style,” she says.

“It made me go you know what, I’ll do it myself. So I did an EP, slammed my fist down and said THIS is what I’d be, because if I didn’t then it would be like ‘oh right we’ll just send you around to ten other producers and bash out an album’, kind of like what happened to Little Boots. People would listen to her for a month and then say it’s bad. Someone should’ve just told her to ease off the hype. I feel bad for a lot of people that were swept into the hype machine. I mean, they’re human beings.”

Laura’s determination has clearly paid off with positive reviews of her Slick Maturity EP released in January this year. “I’m far from well-known, but I think it’s different from what’s out there. If we had the budget I’d love to get a junkyard kit for our drummer. I always do multiple vocals so there’s an army of me. I’d love to have holograms of me in different costumes on-stage, maybe even cardboard cut-outs. You don’t mind if I put those on do you, chaps…?”

Laura is working on new material for a release this autumn and watch her Myspace for updates on upcoming London gigs.

Free song downloads of ‘Beautiful But Boring’ and ‘Want This’ are available at her and blog pages.

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