Interview: Girls In Synthesis

...the results speak for themselves. People come away from our shows having felt something. That’s the whole point. Hate it or love it, we’d rather have a reaction. And that’s what we get.

Formed in late 2016, Girls In Synthesis is comprised of John, Jim and Nicole who, inspired by the early DIY punk and post-punk movements, have had four releases The Mound/Disappear, the Suburban Hell EP, a Dub version of Suburban Hell and very recently the EP We Might Not Make Tomorrow. As exciting as the first time you heard your favourite band their music is intense and abrasive drawing on Crass, Flipper, Wire and The Fall as influences although to be honest they sound like none of them particularly and do sound like a jarring, adrenalised version of life in Britain and every band that’s made you feel alive. No wonder Louder Than War commented on the Suburban Hell EP ‘…feeling utterly original….Girls in Synthesis are clearly very sonically clever, and the mix of the waves of feedback and swirling myriad of sound colliding with the very minimal and primitive is hugely effective…A truly exciting, exhilarating assault on the senses…’(1)

Enthralled by a band who sound like they’ve re-energised punk and who have a real DIY ethos, they’ve kept everything in-house; artwork, videos, performances and recordings all being created by the band and a small group of collaborators, I made contact with John for an interview…

(((o))): Girls In Synthesis came together in late 2016-did you have a clear vision for the band from the start or has it been more evolutionary?

There was definitely a strong and clear vision before we played a note or wrote a song. The vision was to bludgeon the ears, without resorting to heavy riffing, distortion, rock n roll clichés etc. It has certainly evolved over the last year and a bit into something a little more nuanced and subtle. We present the group as a full package, so if we can’t sell an idea to each other (visuals, music, presentation etc) then we veto it. That has been in place from the start.

(((o))): Engaging with your music is an experience of being confronted with distilled reality as opposed to escapism-is that what you intend? A music that mirrors the jarring, anxiety inducing social and economic experience of many in neoliberal  Britain (2)?

I think there is some truth in that, yeah. Some probably see our outlook as po-faced and maybe a bit impenetrable, certainly musically that has been thrown at us. But, as we are all past the glory years of our teens/20’s, there has to be a time to face up to reality. I have a son, and while I’m able to bury my head in the sand (to some degree) for my own sake, I can’t do it for his. I wouldn’t say we tackle politics head-on, like some groups do, but we do address it in our own way. The ‘personal politics’ aspect of life we can tackle, as although it varies from individual to individual the pace of life and the strains of living affects most of us in the same ways.

(((o))): Do Girls In Synthesis draw attention to that experience as an act of resistance? Picasso’s idea that art can be a weapon, an alarm bell?

Hmm… I guess so, but sometimes it’s hard to remind yourself of that, I think. We do feel that we project a form of opposition in some way, and through the noise hopefully people can hear (and identify) with the lyrics. We always make sure they’re printed in full with each release. But can music change anything? I’m not sure… It’s hard to see what can at the moment. I think deep down the group presents itself as a sounding block for each of us. A weapon, perhaps, but I couldn’t say what for.

(((o))): Your approach to gigs seems to be to create an immersive environment not just play music for people. An art installation more than a conventional gig?

Yeah, why not! We started performing in the audience at the end of last year, and the shows became a million times more memorable. If you were going to be critical, I guess some could level a “attention seeking/spectacle” charge at it. However, the results speak for themselves. People come away from our shows having felt something. That’s the whole point. Hate it or love it, we’d rather have a reaction. And that’s what we get. People have much better ways of spending a Tuesday night in East London, why not give them something to react to and, essentially, remember?

(((o))): As far as I understand it Relational Aesthetics was the idea that a piece of art was completed by the involvement/contribution of others-a ‘participatory other’ rather than a passive consumer. Is that what you are doing live? Transforming the ‘audience’ into part of the creative process?

Absolutely. There wouldn’t be a great deal of point performing this music without an audience present… our music isn’t technically interesting, it’s pretty unforgiving and belligerent. I guess it doesn’t care whether you like it or not. But, as I’ve said, audiences do react if you give them an opportunity to. We’ve had shows where people will just grab the mic and start doing there own thing. We’ve given people our guitars and let them get on with it… we’ve only really just started touching this aspect, really. We often wonder what we’ll do when we play bigger venues or support acts in such places… but we’ll get round it. Playing on-stage for a whole show isn’t an option for us.

(((o))): With the organisation of space at your gigs dismantling the artist/audience dichotomy and hierarchy (3)-is that the intention? 

Yes and no. Undoubtedly, there is a hierarchy, whether we like it or not. It’s not an open mic night… but, in very simple terms, part of it is us being bored to fuck of bands with long hair staring at their effects pedals while playing a show. Ten a penny. It’s a way of involving people, giving them a bit more for their money/time. I think people respect the fact that we get among them.
“Destroying the barrier between the audience and the artist” is a bit hackneyed, isn’t it? No one else, as far as I can see, has really made a proper stab at it. Saying that, I doubt we’re the first, but maybe just the only group making the effort to achieve it at the moment?

(((o))): A widening out of the punk DIY aesthetic to everyone present…?! 

Yeah, I’ll have that.

(((o))): Is there a group of bands that you feel a musical affinity with? The almost physical intensity of your sound reminded me a little of Gnod, Housewives, Idles. 

Not really… I’ve heard all of the above, and as good as they are, I think we’re far too wrapped up in our own world to really consider the good and bad about contemporaries. I love Bad Breeding, they’re the best group I’ve heard in years. They’re a lot more hardline that us, both musically and lyrically, but I’m from a similar suburban area of Hertfordshire as them, so I identify with the way they project their frustrations.

(((o))): Starting on the 15 June there is a photo exhibition in London documenting the band, with all money raised going to the charity Mind, could you tell us a bit more about that, how it came about?

I can… my partner works at Lomography in London, and she is a huge proponent of analogue photography. She has been documenting bands since her teens, and she’s the perfect person to have document us visually. She has a huge collection of photos of us, from day dot up until now. They’re works of art within themselves, we’re merely artists’ models in some way. There’s no self-consciousness from our part when she’s snapping, so her work suggested she use the small gallery space to show people what she can do.

It’s going to be a great, celebratory night for us, having just released the new E.P. Every other celebration has involved playing a show at the end of it, so we’ll just be playing some records at the launch, drinking and marvelling at wonderful photographs of our ugly mugs. Her Instagram is if anyone fancies a look.

(((o))): So far you have had three releases The Mound/Disappear, the Suburban Hell EP and very recently the EP We Might Not Make Tomorrow. What sort of subject matter and themes do you explore on the different releases?

I think the first single dealt with an abstract representation of frustration and paranoia. I think the music is where strength lies for those particular songs.

‘Suburban Hell’ again, deals with personal issues alongside the title track’s anger towards middle class suburbia. I grew up among this, so I feel at least slightly qualified to comment on it! ‘Phases’ is about the stupidity and nativity towards hard drugs, and how there seems to be a blight among young musicians at the moment. Maybe it’s always been there, I don’t know.

I think the WMNMT E.P has the best lyrics so far, and they stretch from the fear of COLD WAR II and the real threat of nuclear war to the governments attitude towards animal rights, the USA elections and ageing and fading youth. To explain them all too deeply would probably kill some of the interpretation, but I’m very proud of this collection. Jim’s lyrics are excellent and add another point of view to my own.

(((o))): Your artwork is really interesting, what sort of ideas informed the images? The cover of The Mound/Disappear for some reason reminded me of, and subverted, the gender hierarchy of Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews. Could you unpack the artwork for us?

‘The Mound’ artwork was a gesture towards us not wanting to push the personal parts of us as people. So you nearly get to see us, but you’re looking at torsos really. Could be anyone… I’m not aware of any gender roles being subverted here, that certainly wasn’t the attention. It was purely to remove any ‘personality’ from the cover. That’s changed now of course (see the exhibition answer) now we can’t get enough! Haha. However, I think that now we’re documenting the spectacle. We just happen to be part of it.

(((o))): Suburban Hell has a double garage with a limp England flag. The whole thing looks drab and dull, the asserting of an easy ‘off the shelf’ identity in a mundane suburban environment…the reproducing of a small minded worldview (2) based around an elite serving top down narrative?

The cover photos for both E.P’s we’re taken by an old friend, Bonnie Carr. She has a fabulous eye for the mundaneness of her surroundings, and it fit perfect with the subject matter of the title song. That feeling of pride, misplaced probably. Proud of what, exactly?

(((o))): Another garage on We Might Not Make Tomorrow…!!      

Again, taken by Bonnie. None of these photos were taken for the E.P’s, by the way. We just saw them and they seemed to fit perfectly. This photo is of a hearse with a stack of coffins, in some industrial unit somewhere. This helps narrate the title track perfectly, it represents the death, and huge amounts of it, hinted in the song. It also represents death as an industry. Pile them high…

(((o))): The Dadaist idea was to create their art by drawing on resources that didn’t reproduce the status quo? Would Girls In Synthesis be happy to be included in that line of artist?

Nahh… I see our artwork as slightly more functional and utilitarian in a way. Musically, maybe.

(((o))): What are your plans for the second half of 2018, will we be able to catch you live?

We’re recording over summer, so I don’t think we’ll be doing an awful lot show-wise. But we are booking ourselves a small tour for the end of the year, when we hope to have another release scheduled.

Photo by Bea Dewhurst.

(1)Britton, A. (2017) ‘Girls In Synthesis-Suburban Hell-EP review and exclusive track premiere’.
(2)Hardy, SP. (2017) ‘New Music-Girls In Sythesis’
and ‘Girls In Synthesis Q&A’

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