Empathy Test is an independent London (UK) based Synthpop band formed in January 2013 by childhood friends Isaac Howlett (vocals, songwriting) and Adam Relf (composition, production). Over the course of a year, the pair recorded and produced four of Isaac's original songs, which would be self-released digitally as the Losing Touch EP in February 2014. Isaac handled the release and promoted it, mostly via Twitter.
The title track and lead single, Losing Touch, caught the attention of Mark Roberts of Brooklyn (USA) based record label, Stars & Letters Records. Roberts expressed an interest in releasing the band’s material, and, spurred on by this early affirmation, Empathy Test recorded a further four tracks and sent them over for his approval. A release date was set for a second EP, Throwing Stones, scheduled for December of the same year.
Losing Touch, which has now had over 1m views on YouTube and a total of 6m+ plays on Spotify, also garnered attention when it was featured in a viral video inspired by Liverpool Football Club created by UK artist and animator Richard Swarbrick. Swarbrick’s animated video clocked up over 264,000 views on YouTube and was shown on Liverpool FC’s official TV channel.
Swarbrick went on to use a second Empathy Test track, Kirrilee, in another viral animated video, Cats of YouTube, which received over 183,000 views. A third track, Last Night on Earth, was also used in a series of basketball animations commissioned by ESPN for the NBA Finals that year. Kirrilee also brought the band further attention in the US when it became the official soundtrack for a Bill Murray-inspired art fair, The Murray Affair.
In September 2014, Empathy Test gave their first live performance. Isaac booked the band a headline show at The Sebright Arms in London with support from Brighton's darktrain and Birmingham based Stars & Letters Records label mates Ruane Maurice. The band performed as a duo, with both Isaac and Adam on keyboards. To the band's surprise, fans travelled from as far afield as Germany and Sweden, and the 120 capacity venue was almost sold out.
The Sebright Arms show also earned the band their first live review, from Louder Than War, who described the event as follows: “in front of a packed room of grinning appreciative people it requires noting just how marvellous this band are and how this band with the synths and laptop have made this music lark look very ******* easy”.
Also in attendance that evening, was Thomas Görnert, an organiser of one of the biggest Alternative/Gothic music festivals in the world, Wave Gotik Treffen. Having flown from Germany to attend the concert at the recommendation of Robert Grund (more on him later). Directly after their performance, Görnert booked Empathy Test to perform at the 2015 event.
On 22nd September 2014, an instrumental version of Throwing Stones EP track Here is the Place previewed as the soundtrack to a video entitled The Next Generation Asks World Leaders at UN: Why Not Act on Climate Change?. The short film was produced by Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and was shown in a presentation at the United Nations.
A week later, the title track from the Throwing Stones EP premiered on Clash Music. Robin Murray described it as “gorgeous, sumptuous future pop” with “nods towards Depeche Mode” and “21st century producers such as Purity Ring”. Here is the Place then premiered via KCRW on 3rd November, with comparisons to M83, Purity Ring and Chvrches, plus praise for “a big dramatic sound that swoons ecstatically between the nostalgic and immediate”.
EP title track Throwing Stones was also Record of the Week on BBC Introducing and the band were interviewed for the show, which was broadcast on 1st November 2014. BBC Introducing Presenter Abbie McCarthy said she was "loving [the track] more with every listen".
Empathy Test gave their first international performance as a duo, at Reithalle Strasse E in Dresden, Germany, on 6th December 2014, having been invited by promoter Robert Grund. Grund was instrumental in Empathy Test’s early growth, playing the band’s music to industry contacts that visited the club and introducing the band to Jan Winterfeld of Pluswelt Promotions, who would later become the band’s booking agent.
On December 9th 2014, the Throwing Stones EP was released by Stars & Letters Records, earning the band a 10/10 review on Swedish alternative music website Brutal Resonance. Reviewer Kjetil Haugen proclaimed: “there is no doubt in my mind that this is a perfect release”. The band were also featured in Idolator’s 14 Under the Radar Synth Pop Acts We Loved in 2014, along with Salt Ashes and Kid Moxie.