Interview: Bad Breeding
It’s an exciting prospect to potentially push some of our ideas outside of the usual circles and things like Roadburn give you the opportunity to start a discourse that you may not have had chance to do before.
Bad Breeding are an anarcho-punk band from the large town Stevenage, a few miles north of London. Last year they released their 4th album Human Capital, which is a great blast of hardcore-inspired punk, that was mostly written during various Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns. The band was supposed to play at Roadburn Festival in 2020, the edition that got cancelled due to said Covid-19 pandemic, they were then invited to play the festival last year, which sadly got cancelled due to more Covid-19 related illness. This year they have been booked to play Roadburn on a third attempt. Sander van den Driesche caught up with singer Chris Dodd to talk about Human Nature, Roadburn Festival and much more.
E&D: You’ve released your fourth full-length album last year called Human Capital. Can you tell us a bit more about that album. How was the album received when it was released?
Chris: The bulk of the record was written in 2020 and 2021 during the varying lockdowns and sought to explore so much of the shamelessly inadequate responses that capital and its neoliberal dogma were able to provide working communities across the world, responses that were solidified during those years but were rooted firmly in the preceding decades of austerity and ideological punishment handed out by the ruling class. It was a record that attempted to look coldly in the face of the horrors of the last 20 years while also trying to forge some new direction too.
E&D: Is there a running theme on Human Capital, or just various things that make Bad Breeding angry? What basically makes Bad Breeding angry?
Chris: Lyrically one of the central themes that interested me when writing was looking at how our current political economy relies so heavily on peddling nostalgia and storied symbolism in an attempt to obfuscate so many of our lived material experiences, sort of looking at that mirage of fulfilment despite the perennial kneecapping of working people. I think in some ways it was an examination of the inadequacies of responses from the centre-left too, not just an outright decry against the far-reaching tentacles of capital. On Nostalgia Trip, for example, I was trying to bore down into those historic uses of fabled story-telling not just in reactionary nationalism, but also as a tool to sell the ideas of profiteering liberalism that are just as intentionally damaging to the struggle of working people. We’re asked to hark back to the supposed wonders of the swinging 60s or the great triumphs of Empire with a rose-tinted blur, without ever having to reckon with the violence and destruction of British imperialism, of all the lives lost both in the UK and elsewhere in the world at the hands of the British state. Under New Labour the horrors of the past were sanitised under the money-hungry, soft-core nationalism of Cool Britannia. Now we find ourselves pitted against one another in divisional culture wars that only serve to strengthen the position of those who hold power. Why do we E&D: lionise this nonsense? How can we build a future free from these ghosts if we’re constantly stuck in such a cultural retrograde?
Along with these questions, some of the writing was more simply a portrait of the alienation and degradation we’re forced to grapple with in a country still stalked by the predations of austerity. The title song on the record, ‘Human Capital’, is a summation of my working life within the confines of a supposed economic meritocracy, examining those feelings of continual anxiety and uncertainty that come from juggling zero-hours work in the shadow of the mantra that anything is achievable with hard work and dedication. Shuffling around the margins from call-centre to driving job, so on and so forth, feeling your mind atrophy as the centre of your existence becomes more distorted by the hour. You work all day to pay for some overcrowded and poorly maintained flat if you’re lucky, or you’re stuck out in a rural town, where the only work for miles around might be in a delivery warehouse where effort is quantified by the minute and the relentless drumbeat of productivity never stops. You’re beaten into submission. Shifting cluelessly between hope and despondency until it’s time to do it all over again.
A lot of that sentiment bled into ‘Arc Eye’, which was me drawing on the continued atomisation of our collective muscles and how the encouragement of self-interest has forced us to settle for such paltry economic conditions. As we posited in the ‘Atoms’ essay that came with the record, even for those in work the promise of modernity is now just a bleak reality. Wages have stagnated whilst the cost of living rises with no sign of abating — meaning leisure and comfort get hit to account for basic necessity. Children move away from their parents in the face of exorbitant rent and house prices, grandparents work themselves to the bone and don’t participate in the ultimate fulfilment of looking after their grandchildren. We’re wandering the sunlit uplands that modern capital, with all of its frictionless innovation and disruption, has brought us to. A place where we are poorer, wearier and more alone. Where our suffering and pain is sold as a singular phenomenon, individualised to the point of being terminal; every instinct in our body primed to put ourselves first by the world we live in. Leaving our collective conscious stagnant — withered away along with the big stories our societies used to tell themselves about the purpose of living.
E&D: Bad Breeding comes from the UK town Stevenage, which according to Google is famous for “its shopping mall, Stevenage retail park, and its football club, Stevenage Borough. How much has growing up in Stevenage influenced Bad Breeding?
Chris: Monumentally – it’s a defining influence on how I approach things lyrically and it’s also shaped the entire outlook of the band. Growing up and living in a community under the heel of neoliberalism you’re not just made to contend with the drudgery of capital’s oppressive modernity, but you’re pushed to find adequate opposition to it. As much as the subject matter teeters toward greyscale horror, Stevenage has also shaped songs on Human Capital that try to build a pathway forward. The predictable onslaught of austerity measures that followed the financial crash in 2008 were just one weapon in the armoury of a ruling class that have tried to divide communities and erode the ties of solidarity that have bound working people together for centuries. Stevenage and so many towns like it have been put through varied prisms and poisoned narratives in order to sow discord and nurture despondency. But central to Stevenage is a kind of defiance in the face of continued misrepresentation of working towns, an ode to the ideas of persistence and resistance despite perennial attacks on our class. Whether it be in the spirit of the students attacked at Whitehall in 2011, or in the resolve of those men and women who stood up at Orgreave in ‘84, there’s an ineffable power in the idea of community and I find that in many ways the persistence of the Stevenage that I know and love is an extension of that ingrained nature of resistance. I think songs like ‘Joyride’ and ‘Red Flag Rising’ touch on that.
E&D: What is the underground music scene like in Stevenage? Or are you dependent on playing in places like London where there is more of an underground scene?
Chris: The proliferation of chain-pubs and lack of venues has meant that it’s tricky to put on shows in recent years, nothing like what you might have been able to go to at Bowes Lyon House in the 70s and 80s, although a few people have tried to start things up at one of the local pubs which has done well of late. We’ve always tried to tour when we get time off work so there’s always been an effort on our part to contribute to other scenes in the UK and Europe.
E&D: Human Capital was written and recorded over the Covid-19 pandemic, how did the recording process go? Was it challenging with all the restrictions that have been in place?
Chris: We spent most of the lockdowns writing at home after work and would send each other bits and pieces until we could get into the rehearsal space and demo things together. I suppose the distance made you stew on your parts a little more but I still think that urgency and fraught nature of the previous records remained in the songwriting because of the obscurity of the situation everyone found themselves in. It wasn’t too much of a logistical challenge to be honest, we rode things out as best we could working our day jobs until Ben [Greenberg] could come into the fold and we booked out a studio in South London for a week or so to track everything together.
E&D: For this album, and the two previous albums Divide and Exiled, you’ve worked with “Sacred Bones” producer Ben Greenberg to produce and mix the albums. How did this relationship develop?
Chris: We met Ben sometime back in 2016 and have shared so many similar interests when it comes to records, but also in terms of wanting to experiment with the templates of what we have been making together on every recording since. He’s almost become a bit of a fifth member engineering and producing with us. We’ve always had this collective thing of never wanting to make the same thing twice, continually trying to add new layers of language to the songs through industrial elements and experimenting with recording techniques. The main joy in a lot of the process has been ensuring that we push the envelope forward with each record and steer clear of all of the prescriptive language and tropes that have defined previous periods. There are certain nods to those eras in the records, but we’ve tried to develop and push beyond those too.
E&D: Let’s chat about Roadburn Festival. You were supposed to play in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the festival organisers to cancel. Then you were supposed to play last year, but this got cancelled as well. Can you elaborate a bit more?
Chris: Third time lucky… Roadburn offered to have us back after the 2020 edition got shut down during the pandemic and just as we were about to leave in 2022 we had Covid in the camp so didn’t think it would be right to put people in a compromised position at the show. Again the festival were good enough to have us back for 2023 so here we are again.
E&D: You must have played loads of shows in Europe and the Netherlands specifically, perhaps more underground punk shows in smaller DIY venues. How are you going to approach playing at a festival like Roadburn?
Chris: It’s an exciting prospect to potentially push some of our ideas outside of the usual circles and things like Roadburn give you the opportunity to start a discourse that you may not have had chance to do before. If you’re genuinely interested in the transcendent political opportunities that art and performance can provide you need to be putting yourself into uncomfortable positions rather than sitting safely preaching to the choir. It’s that thing of escaping the trappings of social capital and pathetic posturing that come with so much guitar music. Materially you’ve got to realise that everything is in a constant state of flux and that one spark can change things at any given moment and that’s something you’ve got to continually prime yourself for if you really do believe that you can contribute to radical alternatives for the future.
E&D: I assume in 2020 you were supposed to focus the live set a lot on the 2019 released album Exiled, now you have your 4th album released, does this mean the original focus of the 2020 show has changed a bit?
Chris: Yeah slightly, although having put together the best part of four records we’ve tended to ensure that there’s a collection of things from across those years when we play live. We got the chance to tour a bit last year so have been able to work through things and figure out how best to present the newer songs live.
E&D: A lot of bands that have played at Roadburn will tell great stories on how special it is to play there, and bands often try to play a more special set. Can we expect any special surprises during your Roadburn set, or will the set be similar to your usual live repertoire?
Chris: We’ve talked about a few ideas with a couple of people that might be at the festival, but a lot of bands are touring too so it’s hard to link up on things. I think for a lot of people it might be their first time seeing us so in some ways I think it’s important that we try to present things as they usually are for us. We’re not really ones for too much pomp and ceremony.
E&D: Are there any particular bands/artists on the Roadburn line-up you’re excited to see live during the festival?
Chris: Ashenspire, Poison Ruin, Chat Pile, The Shits, Duma, Deafkids, Big Brave, Show Me the Body, Zola Jesus, Ken Mode… There’s so much incredible stuff on. We’ll be on tour so will probably only catch some of the performances on the Friday though. And yeah, big up Walter, Becky and everyone who makes the festival happen.
Bad Breeding plays on Friday April 21st from 19:30 – 20:20 at the Hall Of Fame. Photo by Michael K.