Tim Hughes hears from local favourites Young Knives about returning with a live audio visual event at Modern Art Oxford

SPIKY, sharp and intelligent, art-punks Young Knives are among the most interesting bands to have ever emerged from Oxford.

The punchy indie-pop act have always done things their own sweet way, whether in the subject matter of their lyrics (eulogising the banal, raising it to surreal heights and revelling in the power of the human spirit), their DIY approach to releasing records and in their eccentric attire (the band initially standing out with their love of tweed, corduroy, tortoiseshell-framed glasses and knitted ties – long before hipsters made it all trendy).

After a short absence, Henry Dartnall, his brother Thomas (nicknamed The House of Lords because of his role as final decision maker) and drummer Oliver Askew are back with a new album about to drop. And how they revealing it? Not with a simple gig –that would be way too predictable – but with a live audio visual event which goes on for six days.

Barbarian Experiments at Modern Art Oxford sees Young Knives developing and showcasing ideas for a dynamic new stage show with installations, bringing together songs performed live for the first time from their forthcoming album, imagery, soundtracks and sonic sculpture.

Visitors can watch and, importantly, be involved in this process in such ways as entering an alternative polling booth (there's an election on, don't you know?) and through a new stage installation. The show started on Tuesday and runs through to Sunday.

“Modern Art Oxford approached us about working together, and it was a perfect match with the ideas we already had about a video/sculptural live show," says Henry – originally from the Ashby de la Zouch area of Leicestershire.

"We are experimenting with film and sound to make something as wild and exciting as possible. It is the first time the new tunes have been played in public so it is interesting to see how it all works live, but we are also just playing around with sounds and film to make a show that incorporates the songs and makes a whole experience."

The new songs are their first since 2013's critically acclaimed and self-released Sick Octave – the follow up to 2002's seminal The Young Knives ...Are Dead, 2006's Voices of Animals and Men (which charted just outside the top 20), 2008's Superabundance (a top 30 hit), 2011's Ornaments from the Silver Arcade.

Live favourites include The Decision, top 40 tunes Here Comes the Rumour Mill, She's Attracted To and Weekends and Bleak Days (Hot Summer), The Decision and Turn Tale.

Henry says a theme developed in the making of the album.

“However technologically and scientifically advanced we become, we don’t seem to be any less cruel to each other," he says. "We do not become better people. This is a running question through the album: if we are somehow naturally barbaric, how do we come to terms with this?”

"The residency is an exciting and nerve-racking proposition for us. An idea of playing within a prison of images and lights has been with us for a while, but the technicalities of it were a bit daunting – well they still are – so having the opportunity to try it out first is really appealing.

"We are just going to see what works and what doesn’t work, and get the vibe of an audience in an environment where people understand that it’s an experiment, not a finished thing. "That’s really exciting for us because it means things will happen that we weren’t expecting. I’m hoping that people will give us ideas, and inform what we are doing. I reckon it will just expand what we think we can do.”

And, he says, it will prove to be a unique experience: "Modern Art Oxford is an important place for us, and it has always been an inspirational place to visit. I think there will be enough in these experiments to entertain and excite the imaginations of the visitors to the gallery as well as ourselves.”

  • Young Knives: Barbarian Experiments is at Modern Art Oxford, Pembroke Street, until Sunday. 10am-5pm. Free entry