Illumination 14 – DeAnna A.

“Throughout everything – my emotional upheavals and crises from adolescence through to adulthood – creativity has been a stable bedrock.”

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by DeAnna A, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m DeAnna A (you can call me Dee), a musician and activist based in the UK.

My diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder, which can sound scary! It definitely doesn’t have the best reputation. People with BPD are thought of as bunny boilers, femme fatales, or loose cannons… think of all the negative representations in films like the unenviable Single White Female, Fatal Attraction or just plain vague and misleading representations such as Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted.

Borderline Personality Disorder has a number of characteristics and they can manifest themselves in a wide and wonderful range of flavours. I can speak broadly about the diagnostic criteria and only, of course, my own personal experience of them.

First and foremost is emotional instability (in fact, an alternate name for BPD is ’emotionally unstable personality disorder’, according to the ICD-10). In me, this manifests itself as PASSION. When I’m happy, I’m passionate about whatever is in front of me and this includes politics, music, art, writing, work. It can be a tremendous source of energy and inspiration.

The flip side of this is that my emotional intensity also extends to severely feeling negative emotions – depression, anxiety, fear, shame, dread, you name it. It’s no surprise that I was a goth as a teenager and never fully grew out of it. I’m the type of person that, if I’m feeling bad, I’ll metaphorically bake a goddamn black cake and embrace that feeling.

I’ll throw myself a pity party with black ballons. This definitely comes out in our songs too – I mean, our band name is ‘Muertos’ which means ‘the dead’ in Spanish, named both after my Mexican heritage and my love for their famous spiritual (and gothy!) celebration, Día de los Muertos.

This PASSION, emotional instability and energy can also lead to the unstable sense of self that is common in BPD. With varying moods experienced with such intensity, it’s very easy to completely lose perspective – one moment, I am an activist and live 100% for that. The next I’m a career woman, confident and aspirational and climbing the ladder. The next I’m a bohemian musician and want to run off and leave everything behind and just play the violin. If I do anything I do it 100%. I recently started studying Psychology at university and got a distinction in my first two modules, this is whilst juggling a full-time job and another nearly full-time job as a freelance musician in not one, not two but THREE bands, not to mention being a good partner and mum to my two cats.

I personally have to be careful to not try to be all things to all people. This manifestation of BPD may as well be called FOMO – fear of missing out – fear of not being the right person so you try to be EVERYONE. My obsessions may seem funny and they can be channelled for good, but sometimes it can feel very confusing wearing so many hats and switching between them – the world spins. My approach has always been to grab the opportunities by the cojones, but in my recovery, I’ve started to become more discerning about what and who I allow to take up my time. No is a very powerful word.

There are lots of other aspects to BPD – including the intense fear of abandonment. Many people with the disorder have experienced some form of abandonment in their life that continues to haunt them. That’s the only way to describe it. It’s like a ghost – you may know it’s not real, and that a present-day situation that has triggered off these feelings again is just an echo of the past – but when you get that deep sensation it’s every bit as terrifying and chilling to the bones as encountering a phantom staring at you through the window in the middle of the night.

Sometimes I don’t know how to cope with this phantom and react in bad ways. This feeling of abandonment, the belief that ‘no one likes me, no one cares about me, I have no purpose or worth’ is so deeply experienced that I can begin to question my own existence. The ultimate existential crisis.

Emptiness is another common feeling – when facing severe emotions such as abandonment, it can put everything into question and you may lose sense of perspective, which way is up, which way time-space-or gravity is pulling, or feel that all meaning has been wiped out.

Other times, instead of being an intense emotion, it may also be a low-grade chronic kind of emptiness. People who are addicted to drama, to doing impulsive things and using these damaging coping mechanisms in order to feel something, to feel alive, may often feel empty in the absence of drama. For me, I was so used to instability, so used to things being fucked up, that it took me a long time to feel comfortable and trust in my happy life – that my partner is real and not going anywhere, that I really do have a stable roof over my head, that I do have friends that care, that I am good at my job and not complete rubbish, etc. I was always waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under my feet, as it had been so many times before. I have to remember that the rug is still here.

Like many people with BPD, I used to self-harm. For me, this took the form of cutting myself and I am left with a lovely little geometric pattern on both arms as a reminder of those times. Other times it was taking reckless overdoses, not out a desire to end my life, but out of complete disdain and disregard for my body. I also suffered from a severe eating disorder. Anorexia, for which I was hospitalised on four lengthy occasions, was my preferred method of harming myself. Because of my lack of stable self-image and self-worth, I felt that I didn’t deserve to take up space. I felt that I was never good enough. I began essentially turning myself inside-out, hoping my hard skeletal bones would protect me like some sort of exoskeleton. I coped by becoming as small and contained as possible, and by being crueller to myself than anyone else could ever be. It is a slow suicide to which I hope to never return.

I could go on and talk about the other criteria – the intense relationships, having so little confidence in yourself that you idealise others and then completely lose heart and crash when they show themselves to be mere humans rather than the idols you had made them out to be, the sometimes dissociating from oneself and in times of great difficulty, losing touch with reality like it is behind a pane of impenetrable aquarium glass, the anger that comes in waves, like all the other intense emotions.

I’m giving this interview in the hope that others can relate – because at the end of the day, no one is their diagnosis – we are all human beings. Many aspects of BPD will be part of the microcosm of daily human experience, it’s just that some of us experience it on a greater and deeper level.

I am “recovered”. Well, at least 90% so, according to my former therapist and the lady who saved by life, Amanda Watson. For a long time, more than 15 years, I struggled to get the help I needed. People with BPD have very specific requirements for their treatment however due to lack of funding and resources, the therapy we need (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy or DBT) is unfortunately not widely available on the NHS.

For this and many other reasons, I am a big advocate and campaigner for properly funding our NHS and making sure it is fully publically owned. It is completely unethical that private outsourced companies profit off illness and misery. I have been in the mental health system for more than a decade, and at times was turned away because my condition is TOO HARD TO TREAT (e.g. they knew I needed urgent help, but they could not provide it, so they gave me nothing).

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is the gold standard and one of the only therapies that is strongly evidenced to help with BPD. I actually feel like DBT should be given to the whole human population because you learn so many valuable skills – in DBT, people aren’t crazy or bad, they just lack ‘skilful means’. As a result, I have started to notice that many so called normal people also lack skilful means and could do with learning about the four modules of DBT – mindfulness, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness (e.g. skilful communication and assertiveness) and distress tolerance, e.g. treating yourself kindly.

In addition to continually practicing the DBT skills, there are other habits I have that help keep me on the course of recovery. My favourite tool in my recovery toolkit is meditation. I meditate EVERY DAY, this means even if I have to get up early before work, or stay up late after a gig, even if, ESPECIALLY IF, I don’t feel like doing it.

Meditation is powerful when you get into a routine with it, when you don’t do it just because you’re in the mood or because it feels nice. Sometimes the difficulties, fears and anxieties that come into my mind are very real, and meditation helps me to deal effectively and face those things rather than reacting in a destructive manner. It’s about facing reality head-on, sitting face to face and eye to eye and making friends with the glorious messiness and constant imperfection that is life. And other times, meditation can help us see through the stories that our mind spins, for that is what our minds do, constantly spin tales. It’s about watching the hurricane rather than getting caught up and swept away by it.

It also helps me in my life off the meditation cushion. Meditation helps me practice taking each moment as it comes, approaching people and situations dialectically (from all sides, not from a self at the centre of the universe perspective), engaging in the world and not buying into stories that make people or things to be all good or all bad. Once I’m clear on my aim in any given situation, instead of reacting in an emotional manner, I can ask myself what would be the most skilful, compassionate and effective way of approaching the situation.

One of my favourite practices that I recommend to anyone struggling with difficult feelings is the Metta Bhavana meditation – “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be at peace, may I be of service”. Practicing metta (universal loving-kindness) takes us outside of ourselves and helps us have compassion for all beings, even those who we disagree with or who may have treated us badly. This focus on others is a large part of my recovery – I do not want to psychoanalyse myself forever, I want to get on and help the world be a better place.

However, sitting in meditation isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. When dealing with some deep, all consuming shit, there may be times when we need to fully feel, embody and appropriately act on our emotions to process them. This is the dialectic between acceptance and change. For situations where change is what is needed, I recommend, no word of a lie, witchcraft. For everyone regardless of creed or lack thereof, what I mean is tap into your subconscious for deeper wisdom that your rational mind is not able to reach, read those tarot cards for a new perspective, write down all your hurts and worries and sorrows and burn them, let them go with the smoke.

Ritual can touch us and help us move on. Humans are not rational beings, much as we like to think ourselves so, and being in touch with the other dimensions of ourselves can be deeply empowering for healing ourselves and fighting for social justice. For more on healing trauma and our connection the universe I heartily recommend the following books by feminist witches and heroes: Witchbody by Sabrina Scott and Witch by Lisa Lister.

Another thing – sobriety. (UGH). I know. I went a whole year without drinking not long ago, for mental health reasons, and I felt great. I fell off the wagon, due to thinking that it was going so well that it’s no big deal, I can handle it and I must be normal now… and lo and behold, soon fell into the chronic binge-drinking that marked my earlier decades. Alcohol is atrocious for mental health, I’m sorry to say, so I have recently bid it adieu again. If I was someone who could do stuff in moderation, then perhaps it would be ok for me, but I’m not, and it just makes me feel everything more intensely, which let’s face it is the last thing I bloomin’ need!

Lastly, creativity – where we started and where we end this interview. Creativity is a wonderful channel for all of our intense emotions, for all that pent-up energy that is suddenly available when you stop misusing substances and alcohol, for when you stop seeking escapism in self-destruction. However, creativity is much more than a way of coping – it is a way of being. We are not here to be consumers. We are here to make our own personal contribution, not just through buying things or by some arbitrary external measure of success but through finding our own authentic form of meaning. It is very empowering to use creativity to decide and express ourselves on our own terms – not capitalism’s terms, not academia’s terms, not your mum or dad’s or peers’ terms – yours.

Throughout everything – my emotional upheavals and crises from adolescence through to adulthood – creativity has been a stable bedrock. Sometimes I think I have no idea who I am, but then I look back, and it all makes sense. I grew up as a musician, a violinist since the age of three, discovered punk rock and riot grrrl when I was 16, and music and art are the things I always come back to replenish myself.

I channel everything through my songwriting, through drawings – even activism can be creative. Riot grrrl saved my life, learning violin saved my life, my goddamn Open Uni social science module saved my life, as did the many feminists and socialists whose words I’ve devoured for decades. It’s through social consciousness and wanting to empower and help other people that I’ve found out how to save myself, and continued to grow and humbly do my best to be of service and thrive in this world.

Muertos – Facebook Twitter Bandcamp // deannaavis.com

Photo credit: Stuart De Voil

Illumination 07 – Billy Lunn

“I would encourage other creatives to fight against the cliche that we’re meant to be destructive and chaotic.”

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Billy Lunn, as told to Harriet Williamson.

My name is Billy Lunn, and I’m the singer/guitarist/songwriter/producer for the rock band The Subways. I’m currently writing, recording and mixing our fifth album whilst studying an Undergraduate degree in English at Cambridge – and therefore losing my mind a teeny little bit.

I love to keep busy. I’ve always considered being a songwriter and a performer as a very primal thing, so I decided to test myself academically, and worked for about four years to obtain the necessary knowledge and grades to get into Cambridge. I’m still actually quite shocked it even worked!

I’m bipolar, and only really discovered this after I met my wife. After years of heavy drinking, drug-taking, and severe and extended bouts of depression, my doctor diagnosed me with bipolar disorder accompanied by alcoholism and borderline autism. I’m now three and a half years sober and in the most stable and creative period of my entire life.

Looking back, I wish I was diagnosed earlier, but I don’t think there were the opportunities or the time – I kept most problems at bay by staying busy, active and always on the move, which touring with the band helped perpetuate. However, when, after finally burning out and being forced to stand still for a second, I crumbled. I’m incredibly lucky I had my wife there to pick me up and put me back together.


I make lists, as well as short-term and long-term goals. I find my biggest problem is being overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks merely because I haven’t processed them properly and formally organised them in my mind, or visually on a piece of paper. Once I know what I need to do, the world suddenly becomes a place I can understand even just a little bit better.

I understand my limitations, and I openly express them – by verbalising them to myself or others so that I remind myself and others that I’m not completely crazy. I just need a bit of extra time to process and deal with what needs doing, and then I’m usually okay.

Anxiety, I’ve come to accept. It’s just a daily thing for me now. But rather than having that imposing itself as a negative, I try and use it to drive me through the day so that I can achieve what I need or want to. Sometimes this fails, and I just make things worse for myself and everyone around me.

Before, when I was in the wilderness from being undiagnosed and in the whirlwind of addiction and touring, my creative process was somehow managed by my vigorous youthhood! Once that had passed, I needed to find a way to channel my creative energies without stifling or suffocating them.

Saying that, I’m one of the lucky cases in the music biz. Clarity is benefitting my creative abilities rather than cutting away from them. I have my own recording studio, which is kind of a safe zone for me, and there I’m able to play all the various instruments I have stashed away there, to read, watch TV, record, and just generally sit in silence and reflect.

I would encourage other creatives to fight against the cliche that we’re meant to be destructive and chaotic. Order and a clarity of vision, as I have found, are just as valuable – if not more so. Embrace this. Know your limitations and be okay with them. Heck, be proud of them! Nobody’s perfect, and nobody knows everything – and even if that were possible, why would anyone want that anyway. And we don’t always move forward.

Society tells us we must always be aspiring and moving forward through our lives. Sometimes staying still or backtracking is beneficial too. Life doesn’t have to be an act of forward progression. Enjoy the scenery, regress, progress, whatever. And reach out to others. Talk and support others. As well as being kind and compassionate, it’s also a very helpful lesson to yourself.

@billysubway // thesubways.net // facebook.com/thesubways

Illumination 04 – Tommy Stewart

Writer and bassist Tommy Stewart gives a searingly honest interview about his mental health struggles and creative processes.

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Tommy Stewart, as told to Harriet Williamson.

Photo credit: Jake Lewis

Professionally, I’m a ‘journalist’ who works for the BBC. I use the term journalist vaguely because it’s difficult to define what being a journalist actually is in 2017, particularly if you’re working for a huge global news corporation, as I do. I’m fortunate enough to do a job I’ve grafted for and desired since I was about 15, and I’m also lucky in the fact that that role requires enough stimulation to keep me creatively ticking over on a daily basis.

However, on a personal level, I write. I think that’s the only thing I’ve ever been 100% confident in myself that I’m good at, and sometimes it’s my crutch, my most useful coping mechanism when it comes to not completely losing the fucking plot, and surviving. I’ve had things published in zines and online publications, but to be honest, at the moment, I write for myself and my own mental well-being.

However cliché this sounds, it’s not a hobby or a casual interest, it’s just instinctive and imperative to how I function, and it’s been the case since I was in primary school. I sound like fucking Hannah from Girls, but I guess writing is the root of my creative intuition.

I do suffer from fairly severe mental health problems. I was a regular sufferer of sleep paralysis as a child, which at the time I was convinced was a demon who’d took an inconveniently permanent residence within my room. When I was 19, I had my first panic attack on a flight, which triggered anxiety and panic attacks which I’ve suffered from regularly ever-since. After countless therapists, I was told this was due to PTSD, as in I suffer flashbacks and associative hallucinations.

At 27, it’s a fucking pain the arse to be having Fear and Loathing-esc imagery inhabiting your perceptive view when you’re sat at your desk at work. I also suffer from manic depression, and have self-harmed as a result of this. I live with that dog every day, but it’s only the past couple of years I’ve been completely open and unashamed about it, amongst friends, family and colleagues. It’s a relief that I can be self-deprecating and take the piss out of myself about it from time to time.

I’ve been through more therapists than I would dare to bore you with, and have also been on 20mg per day of the anti-depressant Citalopram for the past three years. In terms of staying well mentally via less scientifically conventional methods, probably the most basic and patronising piece of advice that the doctors always give you before throwing random prescriptions at you as you keep knocking on their door, is physical exercise.

I ignored it and had self-destructive disdain for my body for years, but since I’ve started playing football again regularly and walking back from work, I’ve felt a lot better in myself generally. As well as the initial drug-dose adrenaline it gives you for a day or two after which for an addictive class A thrill-seeker, is a great bonus both financially and mentally (yay I don’t need to buy drugs tonight).

It all sounds dead fucking obvious, but it isn’t, because people don’t talk about shit. Since I ‘came out’ about my illness via a Facebook status, I’ve found it a lot easier to talk about it and relate to people with similar conditions. And on a daily basis, I just write about it. I write sloppy poetry, standup routines, spoken word, lyrics, short stories, anything to cope, process and attempt to understand the torturous complexity of it.

19858584_10155493438851882_1504493904_n

I play bass in a band, and have been in bands since I was a teenager, and that’s a double-edged sword in terms of the ‘lifestyle’ that surrounds touring aka excessively using narcotics to distract from reality. On the other hand, it’s productive to make music with pals, be creative and socialise with like-minded people. I sound like a fucking advisory sixth form pamphlet, but there’s some pertinence there.

The impact of my mental health on my creative process is so all encompassing, that I’d say it probably defines it. That’s not to say everything I write is about my mental health, it’s not – I just think it’s the reason I’m able to write, and with the day-to-day suffering, writing is an existential release, a distraction. For instance, if I’ve been romantically fucked-up, rather than seeking some sort of juvenile vengeance*, it’s a lot more productive to write something about it amidst the mist of initial anger. Those sort of etchings usually turn out shit, but it’s immeasurably better than a black eye.

*that’s not to say I’ve never sought out juvenile vengeance in this sort of instance, everyone’s been a dick at some point with exes, me more than most.

Own and utilise your mental health. Strain every ounce of productive and creative material from the darkness it inhabits, from the internal prison it scuttles around in so ruthlessly. Because it’s fucking shit, but if you can survive and cope with it, in a totally contradictory way, it can be a fruitful tool for creativity, which in turn can assist recovery or at least offer some sort of consolation or equilibrium.

Do not feel ashamed if it’s killing your productivity; I’ve gone months without writing because I’m too mentally battered to do fucking anything, never mind try to function artistically. It can come and go in waves and abstract patterns, but when you feel like jumping on the horse, fucking ride it baby.

Also, here is something I wrote about falling in love with someone through the commonality of mutually grieving someone, before realising it was fabricated and disguised by that fraudulent fate, and we were in actuality each other’s temporary crutches:

“…The cut thrust nature of rushed assimilation, is exponentially more fulfilling and overwhelmingly, pejoratively, 51% majority, more devastating and blunderbuss heart-breaking than any exit poll or neo-Nostradamus may attempt to foresee or predict…

…In the vacuous void dagger penetration, reactive self-interrogations, suicidal insinuations that transpire from grief’s bloody mire, irrationality is king…

…With the shadow of nostalgia, and the 4am terrorist insomnia, a date at the dulcimer seems a perennially beautiful idea, a way to inhabit then crucify those insipid fears, that lays separately, but between you and me we’ll have another beer…

…Warning signs are fine because signs are merely a reason to do something consequentially not right. But it felt right. It still feels right. But mutuality in feelings cannot be exclusively healing, if I want you, and you do not want me, if the sky is no higher than the ceiling, if this to me is true, if this to you is bleak…

…Love is a bastard who left me plastered on infinite occasions across the bedroom floor. Where the light behind the curtain, feels so daunting and uncertain, but the knife on my wrist makes me feel more…

…Judas and Brutas and Oswald the shooter, traits of betrayal disguised in dead eyes, honesty and jealousy are close to being enemies, but comedic tragedy ensues when they co-align…

…It’s better to admit, to be clear, to not let tears dictate that we’re stuck amidst the mist, the uncertain convicts locked in a Horwitz, an insufferable conclusion, a limbo that won’t go beyond a false collusion, an illusion, idealism of potential persecution…”

@tomandrewstew

Drowned in Manchester – Autumn/Winter 2016

Greta Carroll from the Whalley Range-based electronic pop duo Bernard & Edith is working on a new project called Westwolf Experiment, where she curates a showcase of mixed disciplines by Manchester creatives, including music, dance, art, and fash

First published by Drowned in Sound, 23rd November 2016

It’s definitely winter now. The weather’s disgusting and the leaves are all sloppy and not fun anymore. Smoking areas are fast becoming uninhabitable. Soon, you’ll have to buy presents for people you feel only a vague attachment to.

The Christmas markets are coming, to clog up the city centre and force you to pay a deposit just for the mug when you want mulled wine to warm your cold, cold soul. The smell of the hog roast will swiftly put paid to your do-gooding vegan impulses, and you’ll inhale a fat roll leaking apple sauce while you argue with your significant other over whose family you both go to over Christmas.

At least we have music.

News

Greta Carroll from the Whalley Range-based electronic pop duo Bernard & Edith is working on a new project called Westwolf Experiment, where she curates a showcase of mixed disciplines by Manchester creatives, including music, dance, art, and fashion.

Greta says: “The purpose of the Westwolf Experiments was to bring together creative people in a space where they could collaborate to shape the future of Manchester’s creative culture. For me, this was a way of responding to the feeling that Mancunian counter culture had become overtaken by the exploitative creep of businesses looking to profit from it. I felt that the way to revive the ailing state that this culture found itself in was with raw creativity, through music and art.”

“Growing up in Whalley Range, I’ve seen it go through many changes. I’ve witnessed the community disintegrating, and I wanted to inspire people to use their local community spaces to create interesting events and bring genuine culture back to Greater Manchester.”

The next Experiment is on Saturday 26th November at St. Margaret’s Church and includes experimental pop from Kiyoko, grime from Yem Gel, poetry by Hammis Rush, and an art installation by Yasmin Lever.

Check out the promo video by Nick Delap here.

In other news, three of the North West’s premier music festivals (Sound City, Kendal Calling and Bluedot) and the popular online music mag Louder Than War have joined forces to create a new music event and conference. The first Off The Record Event was held on 4 November, with a line-up featuring False Advertising, The Orielles, FREAK, Bossy Love, and Noa Noa.

On Saturday 12 November, contemporary art organisation Broken Grey Wires presented ‘Liberate Yourself From My Vice Like Grip’ at Islington Mill. Broken Grey Wires collaborates with artists, institutions and communities to open up a dialogue around mental health, and the Islington Mill event included eight exhibiting artists, and performances from indie shoegaze four-piece Mothers, all-female genre-evaders ILL, and upbeat folk rockers The Yossarians.

Gigs

Media darlings Luxury Death will be playing with HMLTD and Pink Kink at the Castle Hotel on Sunday 27 November. Luxury Death is made up of Ben Thompson from the now-defunct Nai Harvest and his girlfriend Meg Williams, and their bittersweet lofi sound is currently charming everyone from VICE’s Noisey to So Young Magazine.

On 8 December, two naughtily-titled acts will be coming together for a show at The Old Pint Pot in Salford. Riot grrl-influenced Belgian four-piece Cocaine Piss and deliciously soulful ‘anti-folk’ outsider Manchester outfit Crywank will knock the socks off anyone who thinks that punk is dead.

There’s also a delightful Christmas party from A Carefully Planned Festival on Friday 16 December at the Eagle Inn, Salford, with a line-up featuring glorious punk-pop trio Peaness, Chuman, Living Body, and Chrissy Barnacle.

Although not technically a Manchester band, The Orielles certainly spend enough time hanging out and gigging here, so it would be remiss not to mention them. The Halifax three-piece have just been signed to Heavenly and they’ve announced ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallow’, a weekend of gigs curated by the band. It’s been held at Fallow Café on 25 and 26 November, and will feature ZuZu, Party Hardly and The Fentonville Street Band.

Releases

Recorded in a house in Scotland and released on Halloween, The Bear Around Your Neck has gifted us a storming debut album. Big Shiver is a concept offering, mixing country, grunge, and psychedelic influences. Listen here.

Of course, this column can’t mention every amazing Manc artist making waves at the moment, so check out our playlist for some further flavours.

NEW NOISE: The Tuts

The Tuts are three women from West London who batter their instruments, crowdsurf, and write punk pop tunes that demand dancing.

First published by Wonderland Magazine, 31st August 2016

The Tuts are three women from West London who batter their instruments, crowdsurf, and write punk pop tunes that demand dancing. They’re a breath of fresh air in the male-dominated punk and garage scene, fusing brash guitar with joyous vocal harmonies. They can count the likes of Billy Bragg and Kate Nash as their fans, and have toured with Nash, The Selecter, and Sonic Boom Six.

The Tuts are the politically-engaged, angry, totally fan-funded girl band of the future, addressing everything from industry sexism and the Tory government to bad boyfriends and creepy ex-friends. They’re Nadia Javed, Harriet Doveton and Beverley Ishmael, and they’re releasing their debut album ‘Update Your Brain’ this month.

Your debut, ‘Update Your Brain’, is going to be released on 8th September. Are you excited? How long has the album been in the making?

 Nadia Javed: I am so excited that it’s almost tipping me over the edge and my mental health is actually a bit all over the place –  I’m so excited, anxious & worried about the whole thing. I feel like it’s an exam I’m revising for and I could do with another week of revision. When the album comes out it’s literally gonna be the pinnacle of careers.

We’ve funded the album via our Pledge campaign. It works as a crowd funder and we hit our target in 5 days. Currently, 709 people have pre-ordered the album, which is pretty good considering we’re a DIY band with no major label or anything. I’ve loved tracking our progress on pledge and looking at the graphs doing data analysis, I’m a geek like that.

Harriet Doveton: It’s been a long time in the making in terms of the songs. Some date back to when Nadia and Bev were teenagers, some are pretty new! We could’ve started working on recording the album ages ago…but I’m confident that NOW is the time and I’m so glad we didn’t do it any earlier. We’ve been prepping and working so hard day and night this year for Update Your Brain, so now I’m excited to just get it out there and let it also do it’s own thing as well as watch all our hard work pay off. I think people are gonna love it. 100% bangers, in my opinion!

 Describe your sound to us in five words.

Nadia Javed: cacophony of bubblegum pussy punk pop

Harriet Doveton: Yummy, sincere, melodic, girl gang EXPLOSION!

Beverley Ishmael: FUZZY BUBBLE GUM POP PUNK

The video for ‘Let Go of the Past’ is so cool and kitschy!  How did you come up with it?

Nadia Javed: The video idea came from the director Jennifer Doveton. She wanted it to look like Jackie magazine and we loved the idea cos it meant we could dress up all 60s/70s and go all out with the hair and makeup.  We love any opportunity to get dressed up. The video mocks some of the old fashioned views that were around of the 60s 70s. For example, there’s a scene where Bev’s at uni but back in the 70s there were hardly any black people at uni. Teen Vogue were supposed to premiere the video and literally the night before emailed us saying that there wasn’t enough of a ‘peg’ for them. We all got into a panic, had a cry cos it was our first release off the album and we wanted it to go out with as much hype as possible. We got over the let down quickly – at the end of the day, we started DIY and we’ll continue DIY.

Harriet Doveton: When we ask my sister Jen to make us a new music video all she has to do is listen to the song ONCE and she’s buzzing with all these detailed adventurous yet totally doable ideas. She’s a creative genius. And she pretty much goes with her first idea every time, like it’s meant to be. So as soon as she heard Let Go of the Past she knew she wanted it to be based around ‘Jackie’ the magazine from the 1970s. Which gave us SO much beautiful aesthetic and ideas to work with. But its also pretty tongue in cheek and pokes fun at how backwards magazines were in previous eras (and still can be now!) Of course it was hard work, just us, Jen and a few friends helping out. But all you need is a small team of reliable people to make something happen.

The Tuts have no manager or promoter. Talk to us about why you’ve decided on the DIY approach.

Nadia Javed: We’ve decided to go down the DIY route for a few reasons. These days you don’t get major labels signing you up unless your parents are famous or you are lucky and have some sort of connection. The smaller record labels can’t offer us enough, we can basically do what they can without having to give away a cut of our fees (they usually want 15-20%). And lastly, we haven’t found anyone who is good enough and can do a better job of it than us. We write our own songs, book our own gigs, do our own social media, have full control over our creative inputs, contribute ideas about our merch, pretty much taught ourselves how to play our instruments. Last year we signed a deal with this cowboy manager, he had no contacts, told us we were shit and crap and basically put us down. We are 100% DIY – at times though it can get too much and you wish you could focus on the songwriting instead of chasing up press or packaging your CDs up to send off to radio stations.

Harriet Doveton: We didn’t exactly decide on the DIY approach. It was natural for us at the beginning of course to just be doing everything ourselves because who else would do it for us? Now we’ve toyed with the idea of working with others but we are proper control freak business women, so its hard to hand over basically our LIFE and passion to someone else. We worked with a manager for a short period of time and it actually delayed a lot of our plans and everything was a mess. Wouldn’t rule it out all together- maybe we’ll find our soul mate manager one day, are you out there? Call me.

But in the mean time, we are breaking our backs as a busy full time DIY band, but reaping the rewards too. Also, a lot of industry types don’t instinctively want to work with a group of women, they won’t always see us as an investment, perhaps just a passing fad. Of course, this is misogynistic, but we’re gonna just ride that misogyny wave to success. Why let it drag you under?

‘Update Your Brain’ features several tracks that address sexism in the music industry. How prevalent do you think this is?

Nadia Javed: The music industry is still really sexist. Festival line-ups are really bad, although some festivals are great and have a good representation. Sexism is something we are facing but also undercover racism. As a girl band AND women of colour we’re fighting a double battle with our colour and gender. It annoys me when people think the reason for these skewed line-ups are that there aren’t enough female bands but there are! They just aren’t getting a platform. Women are more accepted in pop, RnB, and as mainstream solo singers (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Taylor Swift) etc. but not so much if they’re playing their own instruments and in guitar bands. If there’s a girl band on a line-up they’re seen as a token band and there’s only room for one on the bill, quota filled – no more room. The whole punk, rock and indie alternative scene is still male dominated, things need to change. We’re intersectional feminists with pop punk bangers…the world needs us more than ever. That’s why our new album is called ‘update your brain’ cos shit needs to UPDATE.

Harriet Doveton: It’s always been important to us to discuss corruption or inequality in any industry or even situation. Whether it be sexist, racist, homophobic or anything else equally horrible. Speaking out and keeping a critical mind just feels natural and is how we need to be particularly now in the state of this country, and to be able to channel our frustration into songs is even better!

Beverley Ishmael: Well there’s not a day that goes by where a woman isn’t being harassed or sexually assaulted. We feel its very important to sing about things like this. If you ain’t adding value to the music industry, I feel like you need to quit.

tutsbedroom

The next step for The Tuts is obviously your UK tour. Where are you most looking forward to playing?

Nadia Javed: I think the London show is gonna be the most epic. I think about it everyday. We’re also close to selling out. All our close friends, family, fans will be there. It’s gonna be a special night. Hopefully, I won’t be too high on adrenaline and will be able to control my energy. The last London show was too overwhelming for me to the point where I couldn’t enjoy the show. I think I need to meditate before I go up because I was so hyper it was dangerous.

Harriet Doveton: Yes the tour! Oh my god, everywhere. I love going up North. But its exciting to play some places we haven’t played that many times. Like Southampton and Cardiff. I’m looking forward to seeing all the familiar and new faces at the shows, and that a bunch of the support bands are my mates and their music deserves to be heard! We handpicked the support acts ourselves. Crywank, Personal Best, Joyce Delaney, Milk Crimes, Taco Hell, Happy Accidents! What a list. Some of the stars of the DIY punk scene.

Beverley Ishmael: I really love playing Brighton! I have good memories of playing shows there.

One of the lyrics on your album is ‘I will steal your girl fans’ – how have young women responded to The Tuts? Do you have a broad fanbase?

Nadia Javed: Young women are energised by us, they love it! We get messages from young girls telling us we’ve given them the confidence to stand up against bullies, to pick up instruments and basically empower them to full fill what they lacked confidence in doing. This means the world to us. It’s our duty to empower women and victimised groups. After we toured with Kate Nash we got a lot of young fans but we also have a middle aged man fan base from when we toured with The Selecter. We love our fans but I would love to reach out to a younger audience of bad assss feminists. I feel like the only way of getting to this type of audience is by supporting a young established artist.

Harriet Doveton: Yes, I want to steal ALL the boy bands girl fans!! They deserve to be ours! These girls need to see more women on stage. Imagine what it could do for them and their self esteem. Our fan base is broad, a lot of middle aged punk and ska fans, a collection of punks our age, indie poppers and teen girls!

Beverley Ishmael: Hahaha our fan base is dads and daughters.

Who would The Tuts most like to share a stage with?

Nadia Javed: Currently I would really like to share a stage with Charli XCX she’s half Indian like me, her attitude is great, she’s strong, fierce and has catchy pop anthems with zero fucks given attitude. I LOVE HER.

Harriet Doveton: Paramore or Charli XCX!

 Beverley Ishmael: I would love to share the stage with Beyoncé. I don’t know what we would do though. I’d just be on the stage while I watch her do her thing.

How do The Tuts plan on achieving world domination from here onwards?

Nadia Javed: We would like to tour with another major band or artist that has a younger audience with lots of girl fans. We’re gonna carry on doing what we’re doing so keep reaching out to various press etc. to get on as many platforms. But personally I want to develop as a songwriter and really get into working on songs for the second album. We’re gonna carry on being amazing, blowing up stages and steadily reach world domination on our own upward success.

Harriet Doveton: We have BIG plans that we can not yet reveal. But in the mean time, our album is going to lead us to where we need to be. Plus we want to get on loads more festivals next year, even just for the bantz! Tuts do festivals the way festivals should be done. Play an out of control show, get wild at the merch table, find men to take the piss out of, and run around hyped on sugar.

 Beverley Ishmael: Not get pregnant!

 

Update Your Brain is out on 8th September, on Doveton Records.

Drowned in Manchester – Summer 2016

Dot To Dot returned to Manchester for another epic urban festival instalment on 27th May, with headliners including Mystery Jets, The Temper Trap, and Rat Boy.

First published by Drowned in Sound, 19th July 2016

Summer in Manchester is all about music. It’s festival season, we’ve had at least one spell of warm weather, and the city is buzzing with anticipation for approaching holidays, and the prospect of cold beers and barbecues. As always, Manchester’s best up and coming artists are playing live shows and releasing diverse, innovative, and often completely DIY records that can be your soundtrack for the summer.

NEWS

Dot To Dot returned to Manchester for another epic urban festival instalment on 27th May, with headliners including Mystery Jets, The Temper Trap, and Rat Boy. Local acts made a splash, with notable sets from Blooms, Goda Tungl, and The Bear Around Your Neck, and there were also some stand-out performances from US outfits Diet Cig and Day Wave. Festival Coordinator Ben Ryles said: “It’s great to see local bands play the festival and then use that as a springboard for other opportunities. We have a huge affinity with the scene in Manchester and I think that shows in our bookings for Dot To Dot and our other concerts in the city”.

On 11th-12th June, thousands of revellers arrived in Manchester for Parklife, an independent festival and the brainchild of the Warehouse Project brigade. Parklife celebrated its 7th anniversary this year, with a strong line-up featuring The Chemical Brothers, Craig David, Ice Cube, Chase & Status, Bastille, and Jess Gynne. Parklife has proved so popular that the 70,000 strong event has been moved from Platt Fields in Rusholme, to Heaton Park.

Ben Thompson, one-half of the successful punk band Nai Harvest, and his partner Meg Williams have joined forces to create Luxury Death, a lo-fi indie rock project originating in their bedroom. Thompson will be on guitar and vocals, and Williams on keys and vocals, with a full band for live shows. Luxury Death have already been picked up by an independent UK label, and their first single will be coming out in early August. Stay tuned!

Late night bar Big Hands ran a rooftop all-dayer on 25th June, presented by Only Joking Records, Gold Soundz, Family Tree, and Fuzzkill Records. The line-up included Teeside garage band Girl Sweat, punk/garage outfit Audacity from Fullerton, California, Manchester’s indie/surf three-piece Beach Skulls, and garage rockers Fruit Tones.

On 29th June, all-female indie pop trio Peaness, opened for Glaswegian three-piece Paws at Soup Kitchen. The Peaness girls have also recently released their first single ‘Oh George’, a foot-tapping, joyful indie gem.

GIGS

Manchester’s beloved Deaf Institute turns eight years old this year, and the venue is throwing a massive birthday party on 12th August. There will be live music from Manchester/London-based Everything Everything (their 2016 albumGet To Heaven is out now), Marple indie pop five-piece Dutch Uncles, and Manc techno legend DNCN, plus DJ sets from Mark Riley, Doodle, Girls On Film, You Dig?, Piccadilly Records, Spotifriday, So Flute, Bophelong, and Gold Teeth.

West Coast neo-punk twin brothers The Garden will be playing an intimate gig at Fallow Café on 27th August. This falls on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend, and tickets are already selling out.

Also on 27th August, Bad Habit Events presents a ‘Secret Summer Forrest Rave’ in an as-yet undisclosed Manchester location. Details are thin on the ground at this point, but there will be three stages set up, with sets from deep tech, minimal, deep house, and psy-trance DJs. If you’re interested, the best thing to do is join the Facebook event and wait to be messaged with more details.

RELEASES

Current Mancunian favourites Spring King launched their first album, Tell Me If You Like To at Manchester’s Band on the Wall on 10th June. Hotly tipped by both Zane Lowe and Sir Elton John, Spring King’s album is a riotous blend of noise guitar and spirit-lifting choruses. Distortion-heavy and garage-influenced, Tell Me If You Like To is a record for anyone who likes their British indie suffused with spiky intensity.

The 10-track offering showcases plenty of Spring King’s previously released material, including ‘Who Are You’, ‘Demons’, ‘The Summer’, ‘Detroit’, and ‘Rectifier’, making it difficult to imagine where the band will go with their second album. Tell Me If You Like To is released by Island Records.

Surf-pop three-piece Blooms released their second single ‘Porcelain’ on 16th June, premiering the track on DIY Magazine. With dreamy, haze-soaked guitars, the single’s verses and chorus are undeniably catchy, but the instrumental breaks are where ‘Porcelain’ really shines. It’s a highly personal piece of music, with the lyrics describing the impact of caring for a loved one who struggles with mental illness. ‘Porcelain’ demonstrates Blooms’ range, and provides a sense of depth and maturity, tempered with the uplift of the memorable guitar riffs and melody.

For fans of Fat White Family, neo post-punk five-piece Cabbage are released their debut EP Le Chou on 10” vinyl on 30th June. They’re known for chucking vegetables into the crowd during their packed sets, by Cabbage are more than a gimmick outfit. The album’s lead single ‘Kevin’ is suffused with dark humour, rich guitars, and a heavy psych feel. Other stand-out tracks include the tongue-in-cheek ‘Contactless Payment’ and ‘Austerity Languish’, 2:26 minutes that just beg to be jumped to in a sweaty, darkened room.

Manchester wavey/psych quartet Caesar are releasing their first tape with Blak Hand Records this week, and the A-side ‘Hazey’ is already available on Soundcloud. Expect plenty of reverb and delay, plus some heavy tracks lasting around 6 minutes long. You can catch Caesar at Gulliver’s on Tuesday 21st June, sharing a bill with TVAM, Dirty Heels, and Lavender.

For more amazing Manc offerings, check out our Drowned in Manchester playlist.



Dot to Dot 2016: The Drowned in Sound review

DiS went to Dot To Dot festival over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, calling in at Nottingham on Sunday 29th and Manchester on Friday 27th May.

First published by Drowned in Sound, 8th June 2016

DiS went to Dot To Dot festival over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, calling in at Nottingham on Sunday 29th and Manchester on Friday 27th May. Here’s our two writers’ Harriet Williamson (Manchester) and Dom Gourlay’s (Nottingham) main highlights.

Manchester

Goda Tungl @ Kosmonaut

Our first stop was Kosmonaut, to see Mancunian four-piece Goda Tungl. Perfect for fans of Foals’ first album, the sharp mathematical guitar, pleasingly dark lyrics and frontman Scott Brown’s impressive vocal range combined to create some incredibly memorable electro-indie tunes. Brown’s jerking, long-limbed movements kept all eyes on the stage during a stand-out set, despite early technical difficulties. Top tracks included Shabba, Lostboys, and Teething, all from their new EP ‘Zoo Bar’, available now. Goda Tungl deserves to go places.

Day Wave @ Soup Kitchen

The Soup Kitchen basement proved much too small for everyone who turned out to see Day Wave, AKA Jackson Phillips, and his band from Oakland, California. People were packed into the suffocatingly hot underground space, with more queueing on the stairs. Day Wave’s winning formula is the pre-chorus drop, then the glorious swell as the tune resurrects itself and leads into a wickedly catchy chorus.

Meadowlark @ Night and Day

Meadowlark are not just a vehicle for former YouTuber Kate McGill, they’re a darkly atmospheric folk outfit that are well worth a listen for fans of Laura Marling and Bright Eyes. They already have a substantial cult following, with a new tour starting in September. Unfortunately, the venue’s sound system and the noise of a crowd insisting on carrying on their own conversations did much to cover and blur the sweetness of her voice and the bright, heady guitar.

Baba Naga @ Kosmonaut

Sheffield-based Baba Naga played another packed venue, with festival-goers crammed into the doorway and on the stairs throughout their set. Your reviewer was unable to actually get inside the room or see what the band looked like, but enjoyed the heavy psych vibes nonetheless. With big reverb and languid vocals, Baba Naga are on the circuit for a number of festivals this summer, including Field Day, Visions, Green Man, and the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. Fans of eerie, mid-sacrificing psych-rock should aim to catch them on one of their festival dates.

Blooms @ Texture Bar

Blooms gave a strong performance at Texture bar, and despite the fact that their set clashed with the Mystery Jets’ headline slot, a sizeable crowd turned out to see the Manchester three-piece. Huge energy from brothers Tim Daniel (bass) and Mark Daniel (drums), with Matthew Adams on guitar and vocals putting his heart and soul into the performance. This band is perfect for fans of Diiv, Deerhunter, and Real Estate, mixing dream surf-pop shoegaze vibes with Manc miserablism. Stand-out tracks included the new single ‘Porcelain’ that explores mental health problems, indie pop banger ‘Head is Swimming’, and ‘Alaska’, a song that manages to be both heartfelt and catchy, with an incredible guitar riff.

The Bear Around Your Neck @ Cord Bar

Manchester-based singer-songwriter Nathaniel Scott, AKA The Bear Around Your Neck, has been steadily gathering momentum for quite some time now. His hypnotically dark brand of folk music takes a great deal of inspiration from both country and psychedelia, with delicately picked guitar arrangements breaking through atmospheric amplifier fuzz. Scott opened his set chanting ‘I’m an open wound’ as a segue into the searing melody of The Fruit Fly Way. Scott used the set to showcase a couple of brand new tracks, and closed with a deliberately chaotic patchwork of feedback. Cord Bar reached full capacity and people were turned away, testament to the appeal of Scott’s haunted, emotionally raw brand of psych-flavoured, fuzz-heavy folk.

Diet Cig @ The Ruby Lounge

Diet Cig were hands-down one of the best bands at Dot to Dot this year. The garage punk pop American two-piece was fronted by a tiny dark-haired pixie, Alex Luciano, who exploded on a stage as a ball of pure energy, jumping and high kicking without pausing to catch her breath and watching her, it was entirely possible to forget that live music could be anything else. Drummer Noah Bowman kept a cool presence in the background as Alex bounced her way through crowd sing-alongs, with the biggest grin never once leaving her face. Fuck your Ivy League sweater, as Luciano calls into the crowd, because this band is one worth getting sweaty and losing your cool for.

Spring King @ Central Methodist Hall

Spring King are currently hailed as a Manchester success story, hotly tipped by Zane Lowe and appearing on Jools Holland. Their sought-out headline slot at the Central Methodist Hall wasn’t quite as well-attended as expected, although plenty of younger teens took the opportunity to push and pogo in a sweaty knot at the front of the stage. The venue had sound troubles throughout the day and was an hour behind schedule when Spring King finally took to the stage. Despite their recent success, the band came off as generic with little to recommend them. Spring King might’ve given the show their all, but many people left wondering if their reputation is bigger than the songs that they actually play.

(HW)