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Escape Velocity

Heavy Is The Head: Divide And Dissolve Interviewed
Patrick Clarke , January 13th, 2021 08:38

Heavy duo Divide And Dissolve aim to destroy white supremacy through overwhelmingly intense music. They speak to Patrick Clarke about ideology, Indigineity, and inevitable backlash

Photos by Billy Eyers

On the ‘About’ section of their website, Divide And Dissolve state their aims: “To secure Black futures, liberation, and freedom; demand Indigenous Sovereignty; uplift people of color’s experiences; and destroy white supremacy.”

They are an instrumental band, yet through their music’s overwhelming intensity they convey an enormous amount. “The heaviness comes from our ancestors,” says guitarist and saxophonist Takiaya Reed. “I am Black and Indigenous. There’s been so much that has happened to us, and I feel this. I carry this with me, and if I decide to have children, they will carry this with them too. I don’t feel like I could not make heavy music.”

Although they do occasionally incorporate vocals – the remarkable poetry of Venezuela-born, US-based artist Minori Sanchez-Fung appears on at least one track per album – their primary mode of communicating those aims is via physical sensation, the way a big rush of overdriven noise and stampeding drums can quite literally rattle your core. “I love having more amps than everyone else, I love taking the longest to set up,” says Reed. “I love shaking a room, when the ceiling is crumbling into people’s hair. I love when the electricity flickers before we start playing.”

“When we’re soundchecking, if my teeth are tickling me, I’ll know that’s the right level,” says percussionist Sylvie Nehill. “Our music is designed to affect people’s bodies. We’ll use whichever frequencies and paces and textures convey our ideas most effectively.” With Reed stranded in the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nehill still in Australia, tQ speaks to the pair in separate conversations.

Reed, who is of Tsalagi (Cherokee) descent, and Nehill, who is of Māori descent, met in Melbourne through a mutual friend, and soon became inseparable. American-born Reed, who has permanent residency in Australia, had roots in her local punk scene. Nehill had learnt drumming in church and played just about everything, often with her brother. “I was in this weird disco band where I did really fast drumming, then I tried to get heavier, then I went all minimal. A bit of it all.”

Playing music together within a week of their first conversation, from the outset they communicated as much through music as through words. “Sylvie doesn’t talk a lot,” says Reed. “And that’s really nice because most of our conversations are through music.”

“The thing that I remember from that first time was experiencing really natural breathing,” says Nehill. “I was used to playing more formulaic drumming before that, but we were just getting a vibe and chilling in the music. It just felt so relaxing. That was a new experience for me as a drummer…”

It didn’t take long for Reed and Nehill’s shared ideology to emerge. They spoke about their Indigeneity and their ancestors, particularly their respective grandmothers – both of them happen to resemble their grandmothers physically and in spirit. “Both of our grandmothers are Indigenous, and we both share a lot of interest in Indigenous people getting their land back,” says Reed. “I feel like we were organically getting to know each other and creating our narratives with each other, weaving them together with our music.”

“I remember hearing Takiaya talk about the world,” says Reed. “I just really admired her. She was really articulate about the things that we would just go out and experience day to day. I would sleep over at her place, and she woke me up one morning and said ‘Sylvie! I had a dream! I think our band needs to be about the stuff we’ve been talking about. I don’t think we can not be a political band. Are you OK with that?’ And we made that commitment.”

The two started playing DIY shows in the local punk scene, in which Reed was already a part, and recorded their debut album Basic in one of the houses where they’d sometimes perform. A heaving, sludgy and lo-fi record, its tracklisting reads like a manifesto: ‘Black Is Beautiful’, ‘Black Supremacy’, ‘Black Power’, ‘Black Resistance’. It took a day to record. “I woke up with another dream and it was like ‘OK, this is what’s going on,” says Reed. “It happened with ease, which became a pattern. Once it feels right, it just kinda happens.”

Their second record Abomination was written in a week, off the back of a lengthy tour playing punk bills, metal bills, and everything in between. “Writing music is one of the easiest things we do together. We’re definitely speaking another language with each other, and we’re fluent in it,” Reed continues. “You could put a blindfold on both of us and we could slow down, speed up and stop playing music together. We don’t need to talk.” It’s a language, she says, they want the listener to hear, and one best delivered at full volume. “We need to be up there resonating with the frequencies of everyone on earth,” Reed says. “Making people feel what we feel.”

You could describe Divide And Dissolve’s work as sludge, doom or stoner metal for its monolithic avalanches of sound, but any genre trappings are incidental, says Nehill. “We just use heavy and low end music because it resonates in a really impactful way.” Metal, in particular, has its own traditions that they don’t feel a part of. She’s a fan of metal and accepts their music has much in common with it, but says that “aesthetically, our music is never gonna arrive at the same place a lot of other metal music does. I don’t wish to pay homage to the same people that a lot of people in metal do. We want to be honouring our ancestors, the earth, and every living thing. That’s what’s at the forefront of our minds when we play music.”

The band’s new album Gas Lit is, by some distance, the heaviest thing they’ve ever recorded. Thanks in part to production from Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson, a fan of the duo who they’ve supported on tour, the hulking giants that stomped earthquakes all over Basic and Abomination are rendered with searing clarity. For the first time, they took their time to write, record and refine, renting a space in the countryside to do so. “It’s definitely us, but it has another dimension,” says Nehill. “He lifted out those textures we haven’t played with before that are sitting in our music.” They found another ally in Portishead and Beak> man Geoff Barrow, who releases Gas Lit via his label Invada Records. “Our publicist in America passed it along to him and he sent us an email straight after. It was in the works as soon as Geoff heard the album.”

“It totally freaked me out with its beauty and extreme heaviness,” Barrow said in a press release, announcing their signing last year. “We 100% support their fight to abolish white supremacy with their crushing doom.”

Divide And Dissolve’s convictions and identity have led to nauseating, if predictable backlash, particularly towards their more provocative work. In the video for Abomination track ‘Resistance’, they urinate into water pistols which they unload onto statues of colonialists Captain Cook, John Batman and Charles Grimes, spitting at the statues’ feet as they do so. “The trolling comes in clusters and it was there from the beginning, but it definitely peaked with that video,” says Nehill. The comments section is, predictably, littered with outraged gammons and smartarsed edgelords. “To be honest, they’re not too hard to wind up,” she continues, laughing. “It’s just kind of surprising to me how many people just really wanna love Captain Cook, who’s a paedophile and contributed in a meaningful way to genocide. It’s mind boggling!”

Though they’re both amused at how easily they rile them, many of the comments and messages they’ve received online are aggressively racist, sexist, and violent. “I always think it’s really serious when it’s happening, when people are trolling us it feels super present,” says Reed. “People have threatened to rape and murder us. I think they’re violent and demonic and possessed by white supremacy. But also, trolls, they love attention a lot. It’s pretty annoying to have to see people say such intense things, and I could focus on that, but what’s more present and clear are the amazing things people say to us and the support that we receive. I feel protected and supported and that people have our back.”

Gas Lit is an enormous record, music with the sheer power to convey, without words, Divide And Dissolve’s uncompromising message. Their message hasn’t changed since the outset, only become clearer and more intense. “It feels extremely appropriate for us to continue to evolve along with the struggles of our people,” says Reed. “You hear of victories, but also you’ll hear about someone’s land being fracked, or them extracting some resource and displacing people. It’s an ongoing struggle, pushing back against the colonial project. I feel that every day that Black and Indigenous people of colour continue to survive and exist, that is a victory.”

Gas Lit is released via Invada Records on January 29. You can find Divide And Dissolve on Bandcamp here.