It is hard for anyone to be entirely arcane, even if one were to work as hard at being secretive as most would at becoming famous. Carefully designed anonymity, after all, is one way of achieving the latter end. Take the case of WU LYF, an English band that refuses to do interviews or pose for publicity photographs and played their first show in America, at Glasslands in Brooklyn, on April Fool’s Day.
After releasing only a handful of songs, WU LYF (pronounced Woo Life) was called by The Guardian “the most interesting band” in Manchester and by the BBC the “anonymous stars of now.” The singer has a terrifying, gravelly yelp, and he plays a synthesizer set to sound like a church organ. The guitar is filled with reverb and echo and mostly noodles around melody lines. The rhythm section is loud but minimal. All the songs sound like anthems. Critics say their style is “heavy pop,” which is a neologism born out of the band’s song of the same name. There used to be a Tumblr for the band to sell its handmade EP. Only 14 copies were made. After turning down most reputable labels in England, WU LYF will self-release their debut full-length in June.
An expensive-looking band Web site explains that WU LYF is an acronym for World Unite/Lucifer Youth Foundation. Shaky videos of them playing live are on YouTube, their faces quite visible. They have a publicist and a manager. They have a Facebook page that lists the contact information for both. No names are given. The manager is listed as “War God.”
The Observer contacted the publicist first. “I know the band hasn’t done much in the way of interviews,” The Observer wrote in an email, “but I thought I’d ask anyway.”
Night came and The Observer had heard nothing. We never would, either.
In March 2010, Paul Lester at The Guardian named WU LYF the “New Band of the Day No. 743.” He noted the band’s absence of a biography and the pleasure of being “baffled in this digital day and age. Even writing about brand new bands, you find that, more often than not, everything is spelled out at the first possible opportunity.” The Observer wondered if there was a difference between that and being able to spell out exhaustively the fact that nothing is spelled out exhaustively.
The critic Sean Michaels, who wrote a longer piece about WU LYF for his blog Said the Gramophone, told The Observer he discovered that all of the photographs on the band’s Web site traced back to the site for Four23, a Manchester ad agency that refers to itself as “a multi-disciplinary creative studio.” Four23 owns a venue called An Outlet, “an independent licensed coffeehouse based in the Piccadilly basin of Manchester,” where WU LYF has played many of their shows. Four23’s founder is Warren Bramley, a young advertising prodigy. His email matches the one listed on WU LYF’s Facebook page under the title “War God.”
“It all pushes my buttons,” Mr. Michaels told The Observer. “I bought their 12-inch single and it cost me something ludicrous–between 10 and 20 pounds. And its lovely heavy vinyl, it came with a sleeve, it came with a bandana with their logo, and it had two songs on it. And they were pretty good.”
Mr. Michaels included a picture of the group with his post. It features 10 people. They are standing in a horizontal line, dressed the way one expects a young band to look: tight jeans, denim jackets, wrinkled T-shirts. But everyone is wearing a white scarf wrapped around his or her face. They are atop a building, and part of the Manchester skyline is visible, a cold and ash-colored backdrop with the sky looking like rain. There is a leafless tree nearby. On the ground are cans of what look like flares, releasing yellow signal smoke into the damp air. The person in the center of the line has his arm raised to the sky like something terrible might happen if he puts it down.