No pain, no gain

It’s not long since Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson were claiming the dole in Manchester but now Hurts are on top of their pop game

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Were you to judge Hurts frontman Theo Hutchcraft and partner-in-rhyme Adam Anderson on their sombre styling, you might assume the pair are haughty artistes, muttering pretentious doggerel into their collars. In photoshoots, they sport expressions that couldn’t be more glacial without the aid of cryogenics. The video to their debut single, the Depeche-Mode-goes-rave of Better Than Love, archly featured an androgynous ballet display inspired by the 1974 sado-masochistic film The Night Porter.

In person, however, the duo are more Jack the lad than Jean-Luc Godard: friendly, funny, and prone to discussing the footie results rather than quoting Latin. “Basically, everyone thinks we’re complete arty wa*kers,” laughs 23-year-old Hutchcraft in a disarming Mancunian brogue. “Or public schoolboys with loads of money. Which is interesting for us, because we’re the complete opposite. One interviewer crossed off a load of questions as soon as he heard us speak.

What were they about? High tea and scones?

“But that’s all part of the fun and games of pop, isn’t it – that people think it’s one thing and it turns out to be something else.”

Hurts have been engaged in fun and games with the media since they appeared in myriad 2010 critical tips lists without playing a single gig, surrounding themselves in smoke and mirrors, and remaining teasingly enigmatic. They declared their sound was inspired by disco-lento, an Italian term coined in the early 1990s for music characterised by heavily electronic, slow, emotional ballads, only for it later to be discovered that it was dubious whether the genre had in fact ever existed. And they started a rumour that they had rejected an offer from Simon Cowell to buy the haunting ballad Illuminated – now gracing a Sky ad for HD TV – from them for Leona Lewis.

“Pop music’s about escape. It’s about imagination. And it’s about intrigue.”

Although their past comments perhaps need a pinch of salt, Hurts are unquestionably sincere about their music and their fervour for pop. “I think mystique is imperative to pop music,” explains Hutchcraft passionately. “Pop music’s about escape. It’s about imagination. And it’s about intrigue. At the end of the day, it’s not reality – it’s an art form.”

It’s this vision – coupled with an ambition so large it can be viewed via Google Earth – that has seen them go from the dole offices in Manchester to the catwalks of Milan with staggering alacrity. Eighteen months ago, they were claiming £56.40 in Jobseekers Allowance.

In February, eschewing toilet venues, their first gig was at Salford’s ornate St Philip’s Church, and featured a 7ft opera singer and hymn sheets containing the lyrics to the likes of the ethereal Unspoken. They are the fastest-selling debut band in the UK this year, with their album Happiness entering the charts at number four. Artists as diverse as Kanye West (who posted the video to Wonderful Life on his blog) and Boy George have united in adulation. “We’ve had praise from people you wouldn’t expect,” notes Hutchcraft. “Nicola Roberts from Girls Aloud sent us two cigars as a present, which was very funny.”

Even Kylie Minogue has become a BFF, after agreeing to duet on their power ballad Devotion. Hutchcraft had sent her a fan letter. “Do you know what it said?” he chortles. “Dear Kylie, my name’s Theo and I’m in an unpopular pop band called Hurts. Will you please sing a song with us? It had a little wink at the end, just for the charm factor.” It doesn’t sound a particularly convincing pitch. “It’s better in print,” he quips. “It’s written on a piece of papyrus with a big quill.”

They’ve returned from Fashion Week, beckoned by schmutter-cutter Giorgio Armani to perform at his runway show. “Five minutes before we went on, the police stormed the square in Milan we were meant to be playing in and shut it down,” remembers Hutchcraft in wry amusement. “Because we didn’t have the correct work permits. It led to a surreal scene of the mayor pleading to allow us to play. Sitting in the headquarters of Armani in the clothes we got from Oxfam Originals, you think: ‘What the fu*k is going on?’ It’s a long way from Rusholme Job Centre.”

Aside from their cheekbones to turn bi for, Hurts were selected to play such a high-profile gig because in Europe, they’re approaching superstars. Wonderful Life – simultaneously joyous and mournful, and pivoted on dark lyrics about a romance blossoming out of a man attempting to hurl himself off the Severn Bridge –
is the biggest song of the year in Greece, while Happiness has reached number two in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. They are conquering territories like a game of pop Risk.

“In Finland, we played to 400 people and about 10 of them were men,” grins Hutchcraft. “It’s only just starting to get as crazy at home. Because our faces are on billboards everywhere, we’re getting recognised.

I was getting a coffee the other day and, when I got my receipt, the woman whispered: ‘Here’s another receipt. Can you sign it? Quickly. Don’t let my boss see it. I love you.’”

Hailing originally from North Yorkshire, Hutchcraft is the classic boy whose dreams were too big for the town he was living in. He moved to study acoustic engineering at Salford University. While he secretly harboured a desire to front a band, it seemed an unrealistic career goal until he collided with Anderson outside Manchester student indie haunt Fifth Avenue five years ago.

“It never seemed possible because I’m not very musical,” admits Hutchcraft. “I can’t play an instrument. It’s all my head. Adam is similar – he only learned to play guitar two years before we met. We spent all of our time learning how to write pop music rather than honing our skills on an instrument. Which worked because it meant we didn’t work within the established rules.”

When The Big Issue in the North first met Hurts three years ago, they were trading under the name of Daggers (itself a rebranding of their debutante group Bureau). Google the band name and you’ll be confronted by a riot of mascara and toplessness: the polar opposite of Hurts’ austere, less cravenly commercial aesthetic.

“We were just so lost after Daggers finished – and mentally exhausted,” sighs Hutchcraft. “You can hear that in the Hurts songs: the emotion that’s partly timidly stepping forward but very warily so as not to have your heart broken again, and the other part thinking this is it now, last chance.”

Some critics applaud their grandiose sonic upholstery and titanic choruses while others bemoan that their epic balladeering renders them Westlife in hipster clothing. Tonight, they fly to Iceland to film the video for forthcoming single Stay, where they hope to further their mantra that “pop music doesn’t have to talk down to people. It doesn’t have to be Taio Cruz or Jason Derulo”.Even if it’s taking some directors a while to cotton on to their ethos.

“We get video treatments sent in all the time from people who’ve missed the point of the band,” cringes Hutchcraft. “We got one for Wonderful Life which said: ‘I imagine the boys singing and a Diversity-style dance troupe performing behind them.’ I was like: there’s irony and there’s just plain terrible. In our suits, we’d look like their f*cking bank manager uncles.”

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