Friday, 10 November 2017

Truth Equals Treason: "(Punk's) message should not be diluted, we need to be inclusive and open to new ideas or it's pointless"

Photo by Debra Wilson.

In his book  'Lipstick Traces' Greil Marcus connects Dadaism, the Situationists and early Punk as movements that creatively disrupted and exposed society as a construct (1), and in so doing pointed to the possibility of something better than what was. Punk has long been a contested art form struggled over by both those who see it as a DIY grassroots artistic expression of progressive politics that may or may not be musical and those who would reduce it to a musical style with associated fashion accessories. In a continued attempt to defang and domesticate punk the BBC recently commemorated 40 years since the release of never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols by representing punk as a bygone historical movement, an interesting museum piece, references to ‘the punk era’ were common.

For those who consider punk as a DIY grassroots artistic expression of progressive politics there never was a punk era! For them punk is an ongoing vibrant voice of dissent, a problematic community that at its best offers a glimpse of solidarity, tolerance and alternative social relations. One of the bands who best express these aspects of punk are Lincoln based Truth Equals Treason, at present a three piece, who formed in 2015 and released an EP It’s Got a Photo of Thatcher, Must be as Punk as Fuck early this year. Having seen them deliver an astounding set of well structured, danceable, riotous, compassionate, political songs at a weekender in Nottingham recently I contacted them for an interview.  

I caught you at a Punk 4 The Homeless gig and was blown away!! Could you give us an overview of Truth Equals Treason? How did you meet? When did you start?
Jam: 3-piece punk band from the Lincoln area - used to be a 4-piece, but we recently mislaid our original guitarist in bizarre circumstances... Alan, Glen and Jackson had started a band in 2015 called 'T.W.O.C.', but needed a bassist, so I volunteered (even though I hadn't played bass in a band since 1985...) and the rest is history - started as the embryonic T=T in August 2015; played our first gig in February 2016; became a 3-piece in August 2017...

Alan: I was only 16 when the band first started - I was in a bar with my dad when we met Jackson, and he introduced me to Glen. We used to practice in my front room to begin with - our first song was a cover of 'Taken by surprise' by Poison Idea!

Glen: Yeah, I was asked by Alan and our old guitarist Jackson to come and have a cider-fuelled jam-session round at Alan's house back in 2015. We tried a couple of cover versions ('Scarred for life' by Scottish band Last Rites and 'Taken by surprise' by Poison Idea) and also had a half-formed song or two knocking about from mine & Jackson's previous band that we kicked into shape. Rehearsals were chaotic to say the least - vast amounts of booze was consumed and local lads and lasses wandered in and out all the time...

Great band name, how did that come about?
Jam: After I joined, we decided to change the band name from T.W.O.C. to 'Death Rattle', but that lasted less than a month before we had a rethink - I came up with 'Truth Is Treason' (inspired by cases like Bradley/Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, etc. and the state/media reaction to them), but after a week we realised it had an unfortunate acronym, so TIT became TET...

Glen: Hahaha - I have no recollection of the Death Rattle thing at all! T.W.O.C. was bandied about for way longer than was sensible until Jam came up with Truth Equals Treason - it suits us.

Your set was really well delivered at The Doghouse despite being down a guitarist! I guess you’ve been in bands before Truth Equals Treason?
Jam: Thank you very much - it was our first outing as a 3-piece, so it was a little nerve-wracking waiting to see if me switching to guitar & simulating a bass sound by means of electrickery would actually work out OK on stage (we'd only had two practices up to that point...), but by all accounts we pulled it off! As for other bands, I've been playing about with various outfits in and around Lincoln since about 1981, but it's very unlikely you'd ever have heard of any of them, although some did at least make it as far as playing live (Cri de Coeur (recently reformed...), Doctor Rat and Shanarchy).

Glen: I'd never been in a band 'til RatRaven - a band I'd played with the year before T=T with my good mates Whaler, Jacko, Nugs and Black Metal Adam. It was shambolic at best but we did put out a track on a great comp 7”, so all the 9% lager and fallings-out were kind of worth it...

Alan: I hadn't had much band experience, but I was studying at Access To Music and had a little band there. It wasn't long after I began college that I started with Truth Equals Treason and now also play for Cri de Coeur.

Who would you admit to you as musical influences?!
Jam: I've never been able to pin down whether I'm influenced by other bands when I'm writing or playing or not, but I've always loved Crass, Dead Kennedys, Discharge, Subhumans, etc.

Glen: Bands that got me into music and I love - it all started with Bay City Rollers and the Wombles... At 8 years old I started going to record shops - I bought Madness, Undertones, The Jam, Clash, The Police and all the classics of the time! Later I got into electro and early hip hop, then a friend (who later became a Nazi) introduced me to basic punk. Dead Kennedys blew me away. Round about the same time, I saw The Exploited on TOTP - my dad weren't keen... In about the mid '80s I started to listen to John Peel and it all kicked off - Chaos UK, ENT, Napalm Death, Ripcord, Electro Hippies plus all the Yank core: DRI, MDC, JFA, Septic Death - I spent a ton on imports. The anarcho sentiments of Crass, etc. strongly influenced my thinking, but I was swept away with the harder and faster choonage. Saying that, I was also listening to metal, industrial, hip hop, reggae etc. These days I listen to h/c punk, metal, hip hop and jungle mostly, but I love old skool London music like Johnny Moped and Chas & Dave - working class music with heart, innit...?

Alan: When I was 14, my dad bought me a drum kit and I taught myself to play by listening to music on my headphones. I would say I have been influenced by bands like Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, and The Exploited.

Who would you not admit to?!
Jam: I'm rather partial to a bit of Slade and have an enduring love of Blondie, but I don't see too much of them in our sound (although Glen might look good in a big sparkly hat...)!

Glen: Well... I love good pop - Kylie, Adele, Manics, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, Amy Winehouse... There's not much I wouldn't admit to liking - I have little in the way of shame!

Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start or has it evolved? Where are you in the punk spectrum?
Jam: As the 'new boy', I just went along with the flow to begin with, so it's probably fair to say that the first songs had more of a metal influence courtesy of the then-guitarist. As things have developed, though, we've moved away from that somewhat and I personally think we're probably tending towards more of an anarcho punk feel now (which covers a great many styles and neatly dodges the question!). A couple of people have described us as 'anarcho street punk', but they were drunk at the time!

Alan: When we first started I believe we were looking to do something Discharge-sounding or The Exploited, but it didn't seem to go to plan...

Glen: Hahaha! I'm in a band whose music I would listen to myself. I've always wanted it to be hard-edged music with heartfelt progressive lyrics. The punk spectrum is big these days and as long as we're not playing with braindead fence-sitters or stagnant '77ers I'm normally happy... I do like to see diverse line-ups (grind, HC, etc.) - it brings people and our ideas together. Mates of ours like Sods Law, The Domestics, Kill Bitches To Dress Foxes, White Skull Death Snakes Of Death, The Rioters, Paul Carbuncle, Nieviem and more, I see as our peers - that's our present spectrum and it suits. We've played with folk punk through to grindcore bands - they were all punks.

I noticed that you are donating all profits from your latest track ‘Through the Cracks’ to Punk 4 The Homeless, the lyrics seemed really empathetic,
‘Spend all day just traipsing the street.
Numb inside, life on your feet.
Alley for a house, step for a seat.
Stark, cold living death - bricks & concrete.
Scrounger, parasite.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Believe the lies - demonise.
Never want to sympathise.
Spend every day in a world not fair.
Pass every day in a living nightmare.
You gotta fight for the meagrest share.
See the people round here, they do not care.'
Is this an issue that particularly troubles you?
Jam: I think it's fucking shocking! People have signed up to the lies trotted out to them by the Tories and right-wing media and swallowed the 'austerity agenda' hook, line and sinker (the 'I'm all right, Jack' mentality always prevails when the Tories are in power). Unfortunately, the people who fall 'through the cracks' are increasingly fucked as mental-health care, social services and safety nets are eroded and they're left to fend for themselves. For one of the richest countries on the planet, the state we're in is an absolute disgrace, and it's all down to ideological dogma!

Glen: If we're not looking out for those at the butt-end then what are we? Our home city is particularly bad at the minute - all funding for homeless people has been stripped and I hear a lot of victim-blaming. One of the biggest issues we have is with the legal highs - it's terrible from what I've seen. People shuffling, underweight, often convulsing on the floor. What are people escaping from now? It's heartbreaking to see. We live in a country with hundreds of thousands of empty houses - they should be homes not investments for the rich.

You released a 5 track EP It’s Got a Photo of Thatcher, Must be as Punk as Fuck in January, could you talk us through the subjects you engage with in it?
Jam: Mainstream media manipulation and false news; dead-end jobs, wage-slavery, erosion of workers' rights; the plight of refugees and immigrants; the negative effect of religion; reality TV, exploitation of the needy and dispossessed, vilification of the poor, and back full-circle to mainstream media manipulation... Essentially modern life in microcosm, sadly. The title might also be a little dig at lazy 'dad-punk' that sometimes appears to think that wearing a pair of bondage trousers, surrounding yourself with the tired iconography of 35-40 years ago, and singing about puking your guts up after 20 pints and a kebab is all that punk's about... I mean, I'm a fully-paid-up old fart myself, and we all wallow in nostalgia at times, but c'mon - punk used to shake the foundations of society for fuck's sake! There are still plenty of battles to be fought here and now to try to make the world a slightly better place, so let's have it!

What resources do you draw on in your lyric writing? Personal experiences, other sources like films and books?
Jam: For me, my songs are usually based on politics (local, national, international and personal) and current affairs, with personal insights if I've been affected/involved by either.

Glen: It depends really, it can be different with each song. A song like 'Fuck off back to Eton' can be seen as flippant and knee-jerk, but it comes from a serious place - sometimes I'm adding the politics to the personal experience sometimes vice versa. I really haven't been putting pen to paper very long, but I've been ranting all my life so it comes naturally - hahaha!

How does the creative process work in T=T? Is there one main songwriter or is it very collaborative?
Jam: I come up with the music these days, with the lyrics usually coming from Glen, although a few of my little ditties will probably make an appearance in due course (I'm not a vocalist, though, so my lyrics tend not to take into account minor things like breathing, being able to remember fourteen verses, etc.!). Once I demo a new tune, it's then a collaborative process sorting out arrangements, etc. - Alan's got a good ear for song structure, and the song usually evolves fairly quickly from that point, although we've had to take a couple of months off from song-writing recently to adapt to our changed line-up. We're firing on all cylinders again now though, and plan on getting back into the studio in the new year to record our next EP.

Glen: The creative process has been fairly organic up 'til now - Jam has a decent bank of riffs and our Alan is a powerhouse on drums as you know. We've had to adapt slightly now we're a 3-piece but it's still flowing, although we don't set out to write songs to any deadline. Jam's lyrics are a bit more cerebral and wordier than my own, but I like that mix, it works for us!

What is the music scene like around Lincoln? Are there plenty of opportunities for bands to play?
Jam: In spite of a shortage of good venues, there seems to be a bit of a punky resurgence in Lincoln at the moment with fairly regular gigs and quite a few good bands on the go - Mothcob, Nieviem, Boycott The Baptist, Throatpunch, SkinLover and others I've probably forgotten, sorry! Having said that though, in the two years that we've been going, we've only actually played our 'home-town' once, so we're possibly not the best band to ask...

Glen: Pretty healthy tbf! We get on quite well with all the lads and lasses involved with the Lincoln scene and it's been brilliant to hear how we've all progressed over the past couple of years. Me and Jam are like the elder statesmen obviously (well, we're old!) - not that the rest of the little fuckers would ever listen to us...

Alan: Not the best place for live music, not enough places have live bands.

How would you say the DIY punk scene is doing more generally, is it in a healthy state?
Jam: It seems in fairly good health, although getting people off their arses and out to gigs (or actually in to watch the bands instead of standing outside with their mates having a fag...) is an age-old problem. We've done DIY gigs in Bradford, Derby, Grimsby, Lincoln, Norwich, Nottingham, Manchester, Peterborough, Sheffield, Wellingborough, and usually found the events well organised, so there are still a lot of committed folks out there keeping the flag flying.

Glen: The enthusiasm from promoters is definitely there, but it seems to be hit-or-miss with the punters. Not to say all gigs are under-attended, but it seems you need a 'big name' draw to get a crowd sometimes...

Capitalism tries to create a sense of anxiety and insecurity, tries to get us to root our sense of self in consumption. Do you find the punk community and exploring your creativity helps in resisting those pressures to conform and consume?
Jam: I haven't felt any pressure to conform for about 30-35 years - I am what I am, and if people don't like it, they can go fuck themselves... (I'm quite the diplomat, as you can see!). Also, I don't know if there is a single punk 'community', to be honest - some of the people who call themselves punks should be ashamed of what they've become, in my humble opinion. Seeing people who've grown up listening to the same music and messages I have, but obviously haven't understood a single fucking word makes me weep! 'Punks' slagging off 'foreigners', minorities, 'benefit scroungers', LGBT+ people, women, even tattooed/pierced folks, veggies/vegans, etc. - what the fuck is that all about?! And at the same time, these cunts are often waving the flag, proclaiming their devotion to 'our troops' and licking the arse of Farage, Britain First and the like! I saw a snarky comment a bit back when Trump was elected, saying something like, “watch all the anti-establishment punk bands now trying to find words that rhyme with 'Trump'”. My question there is, what the fuck is an ESTABLISHMENT punk band...?! So to be honest, half the time I find the 'punk community' more of a frustration than a comfort, but I've always been an awkward sod - hahaha! As for capitalism, well sadly it's unavoidable in the world we live in - like it or not, we're all consumers, but you CAN minimise your participation in the whole rotten system if you want to: choose ethical companies where you can (or more ethical, at least...); don't rip people off for a fast buck; don't be daft enough to believe that the latest expensive shiny gadget will make you any happier; if you have the choice, don't work for or trade with wankers; do-it-yourself wherever you can, etc., etc. As Flux said all those years ago, “Strive to survive causing the least suffering possible” - that will be different for every single one of us, but at least it's a start...

Glen: We still have to operate within the neoliberal capitalist system, but we can as punks only try to be fair and try to exploit those around us as little as possible. Punk as an identity and philosophy is important to me - whether punk is affecting much in the way of change globally, I don't know, but things like P4TH give me hope. We cannot afford to stagnate. Our message should not be diluted, we need to be inclusive and open to new ideas or it's pointless - it's good to see the new blood involved, they should be taking it to the next level! In my opinion, the 'non-political' punk scene is often just Bernard Manning playing bad heavy metal really, but there's a lot of it about!

How has your politics developed? What were the influences? Where would you place yourselves politically or is it a continual evolving of thought?
Jam: Ideologically, I've always considered myself to be an anarchist (anarcho-syndicalist, if we're splitting hairs; which anarchists inevitably always do...). Having said that, I'm also a pragmatist, and acknowledge that as a far-distant goal rather than any sort of immediate reality, so in 'traditional' political terms I'd probably have to describe myself as a socialist. It's something that you continually re-evaluate in response to changing events (even just getting older), but in the face of the damage caused to people and the planet by the greed & selfishness inherent in capitalism, 'neoliberalism', 'neo-conservatism' and the like, I'm still firm in my beliefs that no matter the political system, we need to work together for the benefit of every member of society, not just allow a privileged minority to flourish while the rest of us drown in shit.

Glen: I'm a socialist with anarchist tendencies. My politics have become cemented over the years through life experience, union work, travelling and reading. I volunteer when I can in the community and I'm on the parish council, which raises the odd eyebrow, but fuck it! Think globally, act locally - amirite?

What are your plans for 2017 - will you be out gigging a lot, do you have more any planned releases?
Jam: We have a couple of gigs on the cards for the remainder of 2017 and several already confirmed for the first half of 2018, but we're always up for more, so get in touch, people! Hopefully we're recording again in January, with another EP in the works, which with luck will be released early next year.

Glen: Nothing to add really, just to say it's been a brilliant trip so far!

What bands and writers have you been enjoying lately?
Jam: I've been reading war poems by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon recently, as well as starting the first book of Sassoon's 'fictionalised autobiography', the 'Sherston Trilogy' (the ruling class doesn't change its stripes much...). Music-wise, in the past year I've bought new stuff by Active Slaughter, Armoured Flu Unit, Healer of Bastards, Nieviem, Oi Polloi, Shot!, Steve Ignorant/Paranoid Visions, The Domestics, The System, as well as catching up on stuff by Witch Hunt, Resist, Ação Direta and discovering Verdun, a sadly now-defunct French anarcho band.

Glen: Bands I'm currently enjoying are Sods Law, The Domestics, Nieviem, Anti-System, Bratakus, Doom, Bring the Drones; also I've been revisiting some old thrash metal (Kreator, Sodom, Death Angel, Hirax, Toxic Holocaust) and '80s British HC (Napalm Death, Hellbastard, Ripcord, Heresy) - I love the rawness of that era's music. I've also been listening to Sleaford Mods, Idles, Wonk Unit, Scroobius Pip, Lovely Eggs, Hygiene, Good Throb, Hard Left, Shandy, & Hard Wax. On top of all that, two bands that have impressed me with comeback albums recently are Wu-Tang Clan and Iron Monkey... Book-wise, I've just finished a great book on skiffle by Billy Bragg called 'Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed The World'; also John Lydon's autobiography, the NOFX autobiography ('The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories'), a book on social mobility and class by Dr Lisa McKenzie whose title escapes me because I left it  in a caravan in France, Maximum Rocknroll and Ripping thrash zines, and the newly re-energised Class War insanity! Oh, and Elvis Costello's autobiography which was the beige-est book I've ever read...

Alan: I have been enjoying Burning Flag, Sods Law and Nieviem. I don't really read books, though, so don't have a favourite...

Jam: And on that note...

Glen: Thanks to Tim for the interview - we appreciate it a lot. See ya soon!

Marcus, G. (2011) 'Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century', Faber and Faber, London.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Dystopian Situationists Black Light Mutants/Interview.

Photo by Outer Site Pictures.
I was wondering how to write the Intro to this interview that was arranged after I saw Black Light Mutants at a small social centre in Nottingham and was blown away by their full spectrum presentation but when I checked out BLM's webpage I realised that I didn't need to do an Intro because I couldn't write anything better than this superbly formed self description that borders on a manifesto. 'Formed in 2011 Black Light Mutants are a group of DIY misfits creating dissident pop hits, putting together vibrant artwork, questioning the rigid ritualistic systems that people follow and trying to send out a positive message for our consumer. Our sonic output experiments with mixing together things such as noise, space rock, anarcho punk, electronic music and spoken word. Combined with our psychedelic and apocalyptic visuals and glitched out videos we try get our strong dissident message across in a creative way. We are anti-fascist, anti-homophobic, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anarchists amongst other things and are strong believers in, and lovers of, everything DIY. We love creativity and freedom of expression and are constantly striving to create brand new and thought provoking concepts for people to enjoy and for us to enjoy making.' See, I told you it was a lovely bit of writing. Anyway here's the interview. I wrote the questions. Joey wrote the excellent answers. 

How and when did Black Light Mutants form?

Black Light Mutants was originally formed in February 2011. Johnny and Sean two of the original members had been jamming doing a bit of an industrial project called "Earth Rod" with guitar / a 1980s Korg and an old drum machine. I was at a gig with Johnny at the local venue and we were talking about art and music and he mentioned the project they were doing and asked would I like to sing on a few tracks. Martyn my friend from school who I was living with then joined on bass and another guy called Joe joined on drums. After a couple of practices we came up with a bit of a heavier sound than our original experiments and the first version of Black Light Mutants was formed. 

A couple of months before the band I'd been doing quite a bit of brightly coloured / psychedelic post-apocalyptic artwork so we decided that would become the bands original aesthetic. So John and I came up with the idea and theme for the band that we would make music what the mutants would listen to after the apocalypse and we were kind mixing a fantasy post-apocalyptic world together with a political message. After going through a few band names on the theme of mutants Sean came up with the idea of adding Black Light to the name. We always wanted the band to be visually interesting both with the art and on stage so we used lots of lasers, UV lighting, on stage props and wore UV tribal paint at our events. 

Did the band come out of a shared politics, shared musical interests?

Yes, all the band came out of a shared left-wing political stance, I think at the time the Tories had just got back into power so that became a little bit of a focus when we could see what they were starting to do. Music wise there was a large range of musical interests throughout the band, we were all into a bit of punk but loved lots of different other genres between us, with me and Johnny liking more anarcho and weird bands, Sean coming with the sound of free festivals and Martyn with his love of Hardcore. The original band took influences musically and lyrically from bands like Throbbing Gristle, Amebix, Hawkwind, Killing Joke, Psychic TV, Public Image Ltd, Manic Street Preachers, Black Sabbath, Syd Barrat, Atari Teenage Riot... we were listening to lots of things at the time and trying to mash bits of it together. 

There have been various personnel changes, has that had much effect on BLM's musical evolution?  

Yes, there have been various changes that have affected the sound, by our 2nd release Trash Town we got a young guy called Alistair on board who was a big metal fan and played the double bass drum, this gave us a much heavier sound for that period. We then went through another few changes of members playing that sound live. In 2014 the band split so I and Johnny decided to write our own new album Acid Burn Alice and The Master Control Program just with the two of us, we were unsure if to at first but decided to release it under the Black Light Mutants name. This was a bit of a change in sound, dropping having a live drummer and moving from using analogue synths to using digitally generated sounds via a laptop. Martyn re-joined for a live line-up for awhile with a guy called Chris on laptop and kaossilator duties. The band then split again and I got Aidan and Dan for awhile bringing in a sort of post-punk / goth sound. In the current line-up, we decided to remake all the songs and streamline things with just laptop/guitar and lots more visual art after seeing bands in the electronic scene just use laptops and bands like Sleaford Mods doing it. So it's now just me and Rich who I originally met in 2012 and who has been a fan since very early on after we played quite a few gigs with his band PedAgree Skum.

How would you describe your current sound? I thought I detected hints of Joy Division in there somewhere!

Yes with the new line-up we are trying to go for a bit of a cleaner sound maybe with more post-punk influence / electronic sounding more than the fast shouty punk, as well as trying out different sounds I've been trying out different vocal styles too in there. We describe the sound as "Crass for the Megadrive" generation, a kind of updated version of anarcho-punk for those that grew up playing megadrive and PlayStation at an afterparty after dancing all night to electronic music in a warehouse, the technology, the ads and marketing from the era, the chaotic late-night channel 4 television, hacker zines and BBS's, the sounds of 90s computers and cyberpunk culture in the 1990s / 2000s and all that, adding to our older sound while taking bits in from post-punk, riot grrrl, grunge, 8bit / chiptunes / Amiga mod music, acid house, nerdcore rap etc.

When I saw BLM live you combined aural and visual presentation really effectively. How do the ideas for the visuals come about? Are they a transposing of the lyrics or do they have a life of their own?

A bit of both really, some of the videos use clips from our actual music videos we have been trying to make recently mixed with lots of flashing images, symbols, clips from 90s cyber punk movies, video games and lyrics and things to make it really visually interesting, some of it is from abstract video art stuff I do too. With the visuals taken inspiration from acid house videos of the 90s, bands like Psychic TV's visuals and visuals from things like the Demo scene on 8 / 16bit computers. We have also recently developed our 3D avatar/band member to announce songs and things, we are trying to keep a flow going so there is no sound / visual silence at any point during our set. We want our live sets not to be just about the sound but a full on assault to the ears, eyes and mind.  

Your set felt very 'cyberpunk' in the ATR digital punk sense of knowing how to use technology to good effect... 

I've been using a computer since before I could walk in the 1980s so know my way around one a bit. I've also been a software developer and digital designer/artist for the last 12 years and now work doing clothing design/marketing for PUNX.UK and Sabcat Workers Co-Op so I'm used to creating visual art/branding / etc. With the new lineup we are trying to use as much tech and software as we can to make our sound and live set as interesting and engaging as possible, doing our own videos, visuals, sound, recording, artwork everything ourselves and trying to make that look nice and polished and professional as we can do DIY. I'm a big fan of ATR and bands like that so take a bit of inspiration from what they are doing.

How does a BLM song/presentation come into being? 

Our current songwriting process is probably more like making dance music, we usually get together and lay a kind of structure out for the songs in our software putting down the drums and maybe bass, we then add guitar parts over the top and then add in synth, bass and other effects in via a midi keyboard before recording the vocals on top. Then after this we come up with an idea for visuals, filming clips, creating artwork and gathering other bits from online. 

You've a new album The Product out soon(ish), what sort of subject matter do you engage with on the new album?

The new album should be out around November time. The main concept of the album is that its set in a future dystopian city/world that is the end result of gentrification, the rich destroyed the cities and built huge tall brutalist towers devoid of culture in their gated / walled communities, while the rest of the people live on the other side of the wall are not allowed in. The album explores themes of gentrification, the commodification of areas, communities and culture, the death of music venues and creative spaces, the worlds of consumerism, advertising and marketing and surviving as anarcho-creatives in the modern age.  

What is the new track 'Another Martyr' about?

With the track 'Another Martyr', I was trying to write kind of horror B-Movie inspired sound and lyrics about a blood-sucking vampire who is addicted to killing and torturing his victims but in the end, it all catches up with him. I kind of had the idea that it was about some kind of addiction that you can't escape in modern society, drugs, TV, porn, consumerism etc. 

Your first release was a Demo in 2011, have the subjects you engage with changed over time?

Yes, I think we have become quite a lot more political over time since 2011 after seeing what the Conservatives have been doing and experiencing a lot of it first hand, we've written a lot about that. We have tried to keep the fantasy meets politics element in the though with some of the music and art. I've always tried to turn the things and times I've lived through into an imaginary story, maybe romanticising all the bleakness and horrible things that happen, maybe as some kind of coping method. With our first releases being all post-apocalyptic, it captured kind of an end of the world vibe that we kind of felt living under the new Tory government and all living in a town that was completely shutting down, everyone was unemployed, buildings boarded up, no hope left, feeling kind of like a dead wasteland. Then the concept on Acid Burn Alice was about an all-powerful AI controlling people in some glitched out world (Sort of 'I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream' meets 'Alice In Wonderland'), using this idea as a metaphor I explored themes such as domestic violence, mental health and government control. Then on Earth Tribe Technocracy, the concept was about a tribe living around the globe surviving on the scraps on a technological wasteland, kind of capturing the feeling that "the tribe" are all online connected by the internet these days to share our ideas and creativity together. 

Who would you cite as influences on your art and politics?

I went to college to study art in the late 90s at the tail end of YBA thing where there were lots of modern conceptual artists, so that's always a big influence on me, the idea that art can be anything you want it to be and also that the mainstream art world is shit. I'm also into Situationism, the cut and paste aesthetics/politics/symbolism and things like that. Then all the anarcho bands that used that kind of thing in the 80s like Crass, mixing that with their DIY approach to everything and their black and white photocopied art look. I'm also into a lot of pop art, in particular, the artists who came from advertising and marketing backgrounds who subverted that whole thing to get their message across. I also love all the old prog style album covers with surreal landscapes, I kinda do a bit in my work. Recently with the band art, I've been taking a bit of inspiration from old eastern European art, posters and marketing from the Soviet era that is quite minimalist looking while at the same time looking very modern. Politics-wise we are probably influenced a lot by the anarcho bands and also we just write about things that happen and what we see in modern life. 

What are your plans for the rest of 2017 and 2018?

We are planning on doing the album release of The Product around November time also incorporating the new tracks into the live set around then too. We're also planning on doing a few more videos to promote the album release as we have just got our hands on some nice new equipment for that. Other than that we are hoping to travel around the country doing lots more gigs in 2018 after having a really great response to the new sound and live set so far.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Dissident alt-rockers Thunder On The Left!

TOTL post LW. Photo by Jane Moriai.

Drawing comparisons with both Rage Against the Machine and Gossip dissident alt-rockers Thunder on the Left formed in early 2015 releasing their debut EP The Art of Letting Go later that year to very positive responses. I was lucky enough to see them at this years Loud Women Fest in early September where they took the day by the scruff of the neck and gave it a damn good shake! After their electrifying set I had a very excited chat with someone else who was also stood grinning at the back just because we both wanted/needed to talk about what we’d just witnessed! But that was quite a measured response compared to The Revue Magazine’s review of one of their shows which understandably commented that ‘the future of rock music may just depend on’ them!* After their set Carla Tully (guitar/lead vocals), Adam Kingsley (bass/vocals) and Arun Dhanjal (drums/vocals) somehow discerned a request for an interview in amongst my excited approach to them and kindly answered a few questions.

Could you give us an overview of Thunder on the Left? How did you meet? When did you start?
We don't even know if we actually exist...

The band name is the title of a book, isn't it? Any reason for choosing it?
The book is about being disillusioned with society, need we say more.

I would guess from listening to you and seeing you live that you've been in other bands before TOTL!?
We have, but none like TOTL.

Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start or has it evolved?
We had a template/outline of frustration and riffs, that was coloured in by our own individual styles - that was always the formula.

The last track you played at LW had a slightly different feel, quite Rage Against the Machine...
The track you refer to, ’The Cognitive Map,’ is the newest song we play live - we’ve been compared to Rage Against The Machine a lot, ever since we started.

You released an EP The Art of Letting Go in 2015 what sort of subject matter do you explore in those 3 songs?
Shining a light on those who have a fundamental lack of self-awareness.

Are your lyrics mostly based on experiences or inspired by other sources like films and books?
(Carla) - My lyrics are based on lots of different things, not just my own personal experiences - sometimes putting yourself into someone else’s position, or simply just a parable.

How does the creative process work in TOTL? Is there one main songwriter or is it very collaborative?
Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night, circa 3am, and have a song fully fleshed out in our eardrums that we have to capture in that exact moment, so it doesn’t disappear in our short-term memory. This has happened to us all simultaneously in the past - where we hear the same song, then we simply transcribe it in the rehearsal room. That is usually the creative process.

There is a lot of concern about venues closing, are you managing to find as many opportunities to play as you would like?
It is saddening that some venues are dropping off the face of the earth due to capitalism, building flats and gentrification etc, however, there are bigger concerns we have with the world than music venues closing - music will always exist, even if it is driven underground by the dystopia.

Carla, a lot of female musicians seem to experience a degree of sexism, what has your experience as a musician in the DIY rock scene been like?
I have experienced sexism - yes. A certain type of man (note - not all men) is intimidated by a woman who can actually play the guitar, who is intelligent and who has something to say. I don’t let it get to me - I’d rather point it out, challenge it and move on. I have had experiences and it is always interesting how people think you won’t notice their projected sexism. The world still turns.

You’re a band that’s feminist and political- how has your politics developed? What were the influences ? Where would you place yourselves politically or is it a continual evolving of thought?
This is a big question - we are all individuals who are stimulated by evolving and growing, but we hold fundamental beliefs of the need for equality, justice and fairness. We don’t align ourselves too much with politicians - they are largely un-trustworthy and self-serving, bar a few that are generally more marginalised by the mainstream sheep who hold a majority of the vote. The problem is the system, not being politically aligned - until the system changes, nothing will change enough through any party.

I watched your videos on Youtube, 'Sick' had a unambiguous anti austerity/anti Tory message, are you encouraged by the number of young bands whose politics play a big part in their music, I'm thinking of IDLES, Sisteray and Skinny Girl Diet.
Yes, it is encouraging that more bands on the scene are putting their beliefs out there and provoking people to pay attention.

I was very impressed by the video to 'Pretty Little Victim' really intelligent and sophisticated-could you unpack what you were exploring a little bit?
It’s for the viewer to interpret, and it’s all in the video/song.

What bands and musicians have you been impressed by lately?
We’ve been listening to Chelsea Wolfe a lot on the way to our gigs.

What are your plans for 2017 - an album on the horizon at all? Will you be out gigging a lot?
All will be revealed, so stay tuned!


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Jitterz: Lo-fi Feminist Punk!

Photo by Lewis Cutts.
Comprised of Beth Morris and Jamie Brown Jitterz formed in early 2016, their first release was in October that year and this Summer they released their debut EP Get a Real Job (which includes the excellent ‘One Good Song’ and ‘Unicorns and Glitter’) to positive reviews, alphabetbands commenting... ‘damn catchy pretty much encapsulates Jitterz perfectly. Each of the four tracks on the EP is highly infectious. Riffs and rhythms combine brilliantly to batter your brain into submission, able to withstand no longer it lays down and allows Get A Real Job to plant its flag and set up camp’ (1). Intrigued by an EP that oscillates between lo-fi punk and blues while exploring Neoliberal Britain, relationships and relationships in Neoliberal Britain an interview was arranged.   

Could you give us an overview of Jitterz? How did you meet? When did you start?
Jamie: We were both playing separately at a gig, and saw each other’s sets, I thought Beth’s set was really great and different to other acoustic artists, so I went and awkwardly introduced myself...we started playing together, and even tried to get a normal person on 2nd guitar, but they were too good.
Had either of you been in bands before?
Beth: I gigged as a solo acoustic artist for years and then started getting angry and wanted to make loud noise so I bribed Jamie with cake and here we are.
Jamie: I have been in bands since 2013, but never had an input on lyrics before, which is really nice to start to being able to do, especially given how well I think Beth and I work together during the writing process.
Who would you admit to you as musical influences!?
Jamie: Me personally, I’d say Daru Jones for drumming, Shawn James for singing, and Kate Tempest for lyrics. But also I think we both like The White Stripes and Courtney Barnett a lot, and would very much like to be friends with all of them.
Beth: S Club 7
Did you have a fairly clear idea of the sound you were aiming for from the start or has it evolved? How would you describe Jitterz’ sound?
Jamie: Beth can definitely answer this better than me, as most of the songs are hers. I would say that since we have written a couple of songs together, there has been a different feeling to them, like ‘Lobotomy Eyes’ feels more on the Blues-Rock side of things, and newer one, ‘Too Big For Your Boots’, combines several elements of Punk, Blues, Soul, and Hip Hop beats. At the start, I didn’t have any idea of a particular sound, I remember just feeling excited to play with Beth.
Beth: I didn’t really have a clear idea, I just wanted to be super cool and be in a band. I achieved the latter. I think. I’d describe our sound as awkward noise which sometimes gets a little bit too rowdy for your Grandma. Apart from the rock&roll songs I wrote. She’d like them.
Jamie, you commented “we don't take ourselves too seriously, but our sometimes very serious tastes (like Kate Tempest and dystopian art) are informed by current political and social issues like the constant presence of war, the refugee crisis, and the hate people direct at these victims”. Did those shared concerns play a part in forming the band? Did you feel you had things to say from the start?
Jamie: I don’t think that played a part in forming the band, but after hearing Beth’s lyrics and having conversations with her, I could see we care about some very similar things, which I think has brought us closer together. most things I write don’t have a particular direction, even when I’m part way through writing them, but they seem to end up with one at the end.
Beth: I think it really helps that we have common ground. Jamie is one of my favourite people and we have really interesting chats about everything and nothing and it’s great. At Uni they tried to make me join a band… they were like “Beth, you don’t have to want to MARRY them. Just join a band”. I was too much of a rebel and just carried on bumbling along on my own as it didn’t feel right just yet.
Give us a few pointers about dystopian art(ists)...
Jamie: I am very into Utopia by Dennis Kelly, which is about overpopulation, and the struggles that could be faced in near future, also Humans (about artificial intelligence), and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. All of which are not overly far-fetched, which I think is what makes them so interesting and scary at times too.
Beth: I had to stop watching Humans because it freaked me out so much. I need to catch up on that. I have heard amazing things about the new TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale but I stopped after episode 1 because I couldn’t hack it. I’d like to read it first. When I hear Dystopia I think about the usual… Orwell, The Scream, Francis Bacon, reality TV. I love a casual existential crisis.
The lyrics to ‘One Good Song’ include
‘Here we've got no galleries,
Here we've got no Greek beauties,
All we've got is supermarkets and free time,
Here we've got no fine red wines,
All we've got is parking fines,
How far can we get with metal minds?
One good song could be my way out of here,
One good song could be my way out of here,
The sun is shining in the sky,
I'll take off all my clothes you'll be my alibi,
One good song could be my way out of here,
I don't want to work 9-5,
I hate my job, I hate my life,
It's no joke, I can't cope,
Cos when I lose my mind, I lose all hope,
You're too thin, you're too fat,
He doesn't love you, don't go out in that,
Buy our things, buy them now,
Sofas, cereal, self-esteem now,
Sofas, lipstick, face cream, homes,
Mobiles, magazines, sex, lust, hope…(2)
A superb critique of many people’s lives in 21st Century Neoliberal Britain, did the song come out of particular experiences?
Beth: I worked at a rubbish coffee chain for two years and it got me really angry.  There’s only so long you can pretend to be enthusiastic about a skinny-one-shot-sugar-free caramel latte. This song just fell out of me in a 20 minute rage. It’s still really cathartic playing it on stage now. Without music I would probably be rocking in a corner shouting at a Coca Cola bottle.
You released an EP Get a Real Job in July, what sort of subject matter do you explore in the other 3 songs?
Beth: I just write about whatever is on my mind at the time. I get nervous talking about my songs, I prefer for people to just take from my songs whatever they can. I feel like the majority of the EP suits dancing around in your pants. I hope so. Try it.
Jamie: The only song on that EP I wrote any lyrics for was ‘Lobotomy Eyes’ (second verse), what I wrote about there was the feeling of the huge presence of information being constantly thrown at us by the mainstream media, which leads me to feel desensitised. but I think that part links to the rest of the song through the last line which talks of using the delicate balance this situation demands to make a genuine connection with real people and experiences.
Are your lyrics mostly based on experiences or inspired by other sources like films and books?
Beth: Always from experience. Once a song is written I try and work out what I was blabbing on about. Song-writing is very therapeutic. The occasional cultural reference will probably creep into my lyrics though because I am a massive nerd. I find books better company that people. OK not all people. Most people.
Jamie: the lyrics I have written have been about experience, but the phrase ‘Lobotomy Eyes’ comes from Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson when he was describing the passive nature of the partners and families of the Hell’s Angels, I thought that passive nature really related to what I was writing about there too.
How does the creative process work in Jitterz? Is there one main songwriter or is it very collaborative?
Jamie: Beth is definitely the main songwriter, she writes all the music and 99.999999% of the lyrics. But we have been becoming more collaborative in terms of writing and structuring recently. Most of the time, Beth will come to me with either a fully formed song, or a part-done one and we’ll iron out structure, I’ll hit things in time with it, then work on backing vocals if they add to the song.
Beth: Yeah, most of the time I will bring a song to Jamie and like magic he will come up with a beat which really lifts the song. I am a bit of an antisocial songwriter but it’s nice writing something and knowing Jamie can bring something so great to it.
What is the music scene like around Leicester? Are there plenty of opportunities for bands to play?
Jamie: I really enjoy the music scene in Leicester, and yes, there are plenty of opportunities to play. There are so many amazing artists and bands doing great things, and apart from standard gigs, there are collectives like House of Verse and Anerki that put on events with loads of weird interesting things happening, and it really feels like there is a community which welcomes and encourages new artists. Like any scene, there are some who try and take advantage, but since the community is so strong, I think it will always thrive.
Beth: The best thing about the Leicester music scene is the people. There are some really lovely people who put on shows/come to shows/fellow band-y people that make gigging extra great and worthwhile.
Beth, a lot of female musicians seem to experience a degree of sexism, what has your experience as musicians in the punk/DIY scene been like?
In Leicester there is a great community of DIY bands and in the company of them I feel completely supported and at home. I have experienced occasional sexism but we try and play DIY shows with nice people so it rarely happens in those circles.
It still happens sometimes though. Earlier this year a manager of a band we were supporting told me how pretty I was and how I need to be more outspoken on stage because I’ll never get anywhere being how I am. He also mansplained to me being in a band and how great it can be to release your own music and do your own videos. I couldn’t be arsed to tell him I have released my own music for years now and made me own videos and got by on my own. Whilst he was talking at me I nodded along, smiled sarcastically, and completely ignored everything he said to me.
Another time a guy heckled me and told me to “smile” so I dedicated the last song in my set to him and singled him out down the microphone. Don’t fuck with someone with a microphone my friend.
Capitalism tries to create a sense of anxiety and insecurity, in women particularly. Do you think a sense of community and exploring your creativity helps in resisting those pressures to conform and consume?
Beth: Yes. Being creative helps a lot of things. I am a pretty anxious person and throwing all that into being creative really helps. Writing songs helps me process my weirdness and my place in the world. When I perform on stage I feel like the strongest and best version of myself. There are some really great local queer bands that make my heart melt because it’s so exciting and essential for queer people to be visible. I get so excited seeing women/queer-folk in bands being bad-ass. It’s important to see people that look like you doing what you want to do.
Jamie: I would agree with that. For me, having a supportive group allows for a positive environment in which self-expression can flourish, and with that, I think, comes a sense of belonging and security, so I don’t need to look for that within consumer society, not that I think it can be found there anyway.
You’re a band that’s feminist and political- how has your politics developed? What were the influences ? Where would you place yourselves politically or is it a continual evolving of thought?
Jamie: I think that a person’s politics should be ever-evolving, because then you can constantly challenge your own thought and add more validity to it. My politics are based mainly around wanting all to be treated with respect, and being able to do and say what you like as long as that doesn’t impact on the happiness of others. Obviously, that’s an ideal, which I don’t think will be achieved fully, but it’s something I think we should aim for to improve things. My politics have developed as I have learnt more about the world, being relatively young, I know I still have a lot to learn, but I find that exciting and see it as a chance to better myself as I do. This feeds into feminism as it strives for equality, which is something everyone should have.
Beth: I hate Donald Trump. My theory is that Donald Trump will peel off his skin and underneath there will be Ronald McDonald. It is not a coincidence that both names have DONALD in. In all seriousness, I care strongly about a lot of things. Intersectional feminism is the bee’s knees and there’s a lot to talk about and stand up for and get angry about right now.
You played at Glitterfest in September-how did that happen? Could you tell us a bit more about it, it’s been organised by Intrsktr, an Intersectional Feminist group, hasn’t it?
Jamie: Intrsktr are friends of ours, as are some of the other bands on the lineup like Kermes and Ash Mammal, so that’s the connection. It came about because Leicester Pride was the day before, and that hasn’t felt very inclusive to many people, so this (like all things Intrsktr do) aims to be as inclusive as possible. It turned out to be an amazing event, so many people turned up, there was such a friendly atmosphere and it was a really lovely time. It really proved that Leicester has a great music community, and that we are proud to be who we are, and of what we can do.
Is there a particular scene that you feel part of or has particularly welcomed you?
Jamie: The gigs we have played in Nottingham for (promoters) Fanclub have been particularly lovely, they put so much effort into their promo, and they really look after the artists: last gig we played for them, they fed us, paid us, got an audience through the door and gave us free glitter! So I think everyone should show them all the love in the world as they are some of the best people.
Beth: We feel very welcome in our hometown Leicester too. There’s a great little community of DIY folk making great noise and just being lovely. AHEM Kermes, Ash Mammal, Anatomy. Take my Heart.
In the book One Chord Wonders, Laing comments that first wave punk created space for women to deconstruct and explore gender (3). Do you think that is still true of the punk/DIY scene or have hegemonic gender stereotypes reasserted themselves?
Jamie: I wouldn’t say that the hegemonic gender stereotypes ever really lost much assertion, as there’s still very obviously a gender imbalance in music as a whole, as well as in the Punk/DIY scene (although, within Punk/DIY, I’d say there is less so than in music in general). However, I would say that since Punk and DIY have become more mainstream since its first wave, it has been able to include more people, and it has that reputation of creating a safe space for those who need it, so I think that now there’s more non-binary presence in Punk and DIY, which is progress in the way of lessening the assertion hegemonic gender stereotypes hold, but there is still a long way to go, which is why things like Intrsktr need the support they deserve.
Beth: That’s a question and a half! I feel like there is a long way to go. Certain DIY circles can feel far more inclusive and stand for what we stand for. There’s definitely a feeling of support among queer DIY bands. But in the mainstream I feel like there are still a lot of boys being boring. And gross. Yes Cabbage I am talking about you. I just googled Cabbage to read up on it again and thankfully it came up with photos of actual cabbages. Far more appealing.
What are your plans for 2017 - will you be out gigging a lot, do you have more any planned releases?
Jamie: I am moving to Manchester for Uni soon, so I will be looking for gigs for us up there, and hopefully now we have our EP and are known a bit better than when we started, we can gig in other cities and grow further that way, but no releases planned for the time being, I think we’ll need to find how running the band from two cities goes for a while, but I’m really excited to see what we can do with what I can find up north.
Beth: I am going to write a casual rock opera whilst Jamie is at uni to keep me entertained. And learn 48984 more instruments. We will still be being jitter-y, and will still be gigging. I will basically turn up at Jamie’s halls like “MISS YOU! LET’S SING A SONG!”.
What bands and writers have you been enjoying lately?
Jamie: As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been listening to Charlotte Day Wilson, I love her voice, its super gritty but subtle at the same time. Also By The Rivers’ new EP, everything they release sounds so fresh, they’re always evolving and I love that in a band. I listen to a lot of Hip Hop too, so Ocean Wisdom is my main staple in that at the moment, I really love the self-deprecation, comedy and flow that is really prevalent in a lot of British rap, and the music behind it usually seems to have some kind of Jazz or Soul sample which sounds real smooth.
Beth: Yesterday I was casually listening to Stravinsky REALLY loud on headphones. I recently bought a hefty book of Mozart sonatas and selected works by Phillip Glass, and I have started destroying them on piano. I have been listening to Hanzo’s debut a lot. If you like Tarentino/surf listen to them and lap them up. I have also been obsessing over this one song from Frozen which is SO CATCHY. I blame my girlfriend – she made me watch it and because I am convinced there are lesbian undertones I now secretly love it.

(1)’J’ is for ...Jitterz. July 2017,
(3)Laing, D. (2015) 'One Chord Wonders; Power and Meaning in Punk Rock', PM Press, Oakland, CA, USA.