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Escape Velocity

The Fur Will Fly: Deep Tan Interviewed
Patrick Clarke , April 19th, 2022 08:42

Deep Tan speak to Patrick Clarke about how internet subculture and London's queer club scene shaped the trio's spartan sound, and why we need a new name for post punk

Photos by Alex Loveless

Deep Tan are in high spirits as they speak to tQ on an early morning Zoom call from a Newcastle Travelodge. A three-piece band with a spartan setup, they can fit comfortably in a family room. The mononymous Celeste, Wafah and Lucy are halfway through a two week tour supporting Bambara, which began the day after they finished playing across Europe in support of Bodega. They missed last night’s afterparty to make sure their heads were clear for our interview. “We really wanted to go, but an early night every now and then is good for the sanity, I guess,” jokes bassist Celeste.

At least they've made the most of the extra rest – they’re sharp, engaging and spirited throughout our hour-long conversation (which is divided into two halves due to their overrunning of the Travelodge’s free WiFi limit). When post punk comes up, for instance – their spikey and minimalist sound has been garnered plenty of familiar comparisons from The Slits to Joy Division – they throw down an immediate challenge for the press to come up with something better. “Post punk was forty years ago,” Celeste says. “I understand that we’re drawing from those influences, but at the same time, that was a lazy name for a genre even then.” The best they’ve heard so far is memecore, which reflects their fascination with internet subcultures. For their song ‘Do You Ever Ascend?’, they collaborated with their favourite Instagram meme page to produce a video collage of various women being pied in the face and mudwrestling.

When they write, they’ll embrace that chaos and oversaturation, starting with the instrumentals and then riffing on a theme that suits its energy. They’ll pack the lyrics with references and jokes, from deepfake porn to the insane ghoulishness of Rudy Giuliani. “That’s a huge differentiating factor between us and post punk,” says Celeste. “There’s been a huge shift in what’s accessible to us.” They discuss their recent Speedy Wunderground single ‘Tamu’s Yiffing Refuge’, for example, for which they pepper a tightly wound bass riff with manic stabs of guitar. For whatever reason the music made furries – the internet subculture in which participants role play as anthropomorphic animal characters – and yiff – the name within the community for furry pornography – spring to mind. From there they thought of the chorus to Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’ – “I wanna fuck you like an animal” – and ran with it. “Trent’s getting closer to God, gripping tight to his new cattle prod,” Wafah sings coolly on the middle eight. “Trent Reznor goes to a furry orgy is the kind of thing we might talk about,” says Celeste. “I love this job.” She hopes that one day he’ll hear it.

For the song’s video, they donned furry suits and charged around a Sainsbury’s in Dalston. Wafah, who was dressed a cat, seized sacks of cat litter. Celeste, a wolf, crafted a makeshift strap-on out of a courgette. To their surprise, security found it as funny as they did. “I used to work in Sainsbury’s and we always had weirdos coming in,” Lucy points out. In the end, they had to ask them to pretend to throw them out. Still fur-suited, they also took the bus to Walthamstow to pose outside of the old greyhound racing track, where a passer-by using an electric scooter asked if she could be included; in the video they chase her down the street. They also visited one of their favourite queer club nights, Dalston’s VFD. “My friend was hitting on me; I was hitting on her… I love being in that costume!” Wafah exclaims.

It was at another club, a monthly lesbian night called Female Trouble that Celeste hosted, where they believe that she first met Lucy. “It’s more of a theory than an actual fact,” Lucy says. “I went to it, and Celeste runs it, so we must have crossed paths.” Celeste had already met Wafah via a “famously terrible” lesbian dating app called Her, “but I was already in love with someone else when we had the first date,” says Wafah. The two formed a lasting friendship nevertheless, and eventually became housemates. Wafah was then fronting a different iteration of Deep Tan, and when her original bassist left, Celeste agreed to stand in, and later, when their drummer moved to America, they put an advert for a replacement out on the Female Trouble Instagram to which Lucy replied. “She just played so intuitively,” Celeste remembers of the subsequent audition. “And she’s also a sound human being. It just felt right.”

When Deep Tan’s lineup settled on the trio, their sound changed dramatically. Their 2019 single ‘Shimmer’, for example, was recorded with the older lineup, and is a drifting psychedelic pop song, whereas its B-side ‘Constant Inconsistencies’, the first song written with the current band, feels like the total inverse – all snaking bassline, swathes of thick gloom and thorny guitar. Their sound has got darker and more complex still in the years that followed. Wafah calls herself “a chameleon” who can shift styles easily, but that does a disservice to the intensity with which she approaches production. She helms the majority herself, in occasional collaboration with Brighton-based Rob Flynn. “Wafah is a wonderful, deep person, with so many layers,” says Celeste. “She’s got this intensity, but a lot of the songs that were in the original Deep Tan set were quite bright and poppy. I was just thinking, ‘Wafah’s got a lot more depth!’”

It's telling how often in our interview the three musicians will praise one another, whether for their playing or simply their value as a friend. It’s a confidence that is reflected in the band, and is particularly apparent when they play live. Onstage they’ll stare out their crowd with intensity, revelling in the tension between their brooding presence and the rabbit holes they dive down lyrically. “It’s all about the contrast,” says Wafah.

Their audiences tend to consist in one part of people from their own queer scene, and in the other part of older, straighter, cisgender men who like the way their songs recall the post punk of their youth – the kind who actually purchase their records, the band like to point out. They enjoy playing with that contrast too. They wrote the song ‘Gender Expansion Pack’, about “embracing the divine feminine,” specifically for the latter of the two groups. When they introduce it, “you can see a bit of a look, like ‘huh? What is this?’” says Celeste. “But having that song in the mix can weed out the ones we don’t want. In that demographic, there are plenty of people who are there from the music, but there are also some backward-looking people. Misogynists and homophobes. We don’t need their energy, so if ‘Gender Expansion Pack’ is going to turn them off us, then it’s housekeeping!” On the other hand, says Lucy, “if they stick with it and listen to the rest of our set and like it, it could be the start of them thinking slightly differently.”

“The majority are lovely,” Lucy continues. “A lot of the middle-aged men we get are just hardcore music fans. We’re really happy that they like us. A bunch of queer women prancing around on stage isn’t what you might think they’d like.” Even if they would like a new genre name, and though the influences are unconscious, they’re happy to lean a little into the post punk touchstones that brought that kind of fanbase in the first place. “We get a lot of women coming up to us after shows too, saying we sound like The Raincoats or The Slits, or saying, ‘I wanna be in a band like that’. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of that. Sometimes it can be irritating when you only get compared to girl bands, but you can see whether they’re just being lazy, or whether they really mean what they’re saying.” As Wafah points out, however, Deep Tan do not go out of their way to write songs that might cater to any particular audience. References to older music “are unconscious,” she says. “We’re not thinking ‘we want a song that sounds like this’. When we work on a song, it’s just about the song itself, and how to make it stand out.”

And if nothing else, Deep Tan most certainly stand out. The band is essentially an act in bringing the internet’s strangest subcultures and the queer scene that was so important to the formation, and presenting it all in stark, broad daylight for all to see, like a furry on a busy bus. What’s most telling, and most heartening, is how many people are willing to engage on their terms. Whether supermarket staff more than happy to let a kinky musician fashion a dildo out of their courgettes, or a middle-aged post punk fan led down a rabbit hole that dismantles gender binaries, most are more up for it than you might think.

Deep Tan's new EP Diamond Horsetail is released digitally on May 6 via Practise Music, with a vinyl release to follow on July 22. A Dinked Edition combining it with their previous EP Creeping Speedwells will also be released