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Album Of The Week

Radio Heads: Finally, New By They Hate Change
Miloš Hroch , May 12th, 2022 08:09

Tampa Bay's They Hate Change channel the pirate sound of 90s London into a full-length debut that breaks all the boundaries, finds Miloš Hroch

Operating a pirate radio station in 1990s London was a fundamentally local affair, almost a neighbourhood and local community service. By that time, pirate broadcasters had escaped from the seasteads of the 1960s to hideouts around the inner city, occupying the rooftops of high-rise buildings or spare rooms in family houses. DJs often needed to move their equipment from different secret locations in bedrooms, kitchens, or garages. In the years between 1991 and 2002, in particular, they were constantly chased by officers from the UK’s Radiocommunications Agency. All this made listening to such radios a unique and often fleeting experience. Decades later, pirate stations shifted from acting as the informal city’s infrastructure to being celebrated as cultural heritage. They functioned as laboratories of new dance genres like jungle, drum & bass, breakbeat, dubstep, and happy hardcore. 

Despite its ephemerality, exploring the history of 90s and 00s pirate radios is now easy. You can watch footage of jungle sets or documentaries on YouTube or even revisit London Pirate Radio Adverts from 1984 to 1993 thanks to the archaeological work of label Death Is Not the End. Although pirates broadcasted to only a few miles radius, their impact was far-reaching. One of the proofs of that is the Tampa Bay rap duo They Hate Change, consisting of Vonne Parks and Andrea Gainey, who describe themselves as Anglophiles, music omnivores and UK rave crate-diggers who fluently serve post-punk references in their bars. 

“Now, when I wanted to hype myself up to be inspired to write, I’d watch some old pirate radio grime set or a jungle set to get that vibe back,” explained Parks last year to The Wire magazine. Their latest record and Jagjaguwar debut Finally, New rides on that vibe strongly. It establishes a solid bridge between the local spirit of UK pirates and Florida parking lot parties. As They Hate Change state on one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘Blatant Localism’: “We be that rag tag band from the No Man’s Land.” The record was written, produced, and recorded in a 150-square-foot bedroom in pirate radio fashion. Their music is umbilically connected to where they come from. In video clips, they even pose next to their favourite sandwich places, parking lots and diners.

The bassline on Finally, New is constantly in flux: it stands as a steady driving force throughout the album, setting the mood. Take the single ‘Floor the Floor’, starting from heavy bass frequencies and breaking into a warehouse-ready jungle feel with a metallic-sounding bassline. “Came up from the floor, we were plotting on the low / If you trying to kick it, then you know just where to go,” Vonne repeats to the rhythm as if he were a jungle MC rather than a rapper. “You feel that bass / that’s how I ride.”

Framing the latest album as a debut is tricky because They Hate Change aren’t newcomers. They’ve left quite a distinctive online trace already. Since the 2017 instrumental EP Meters, the duo have been reliably delivering music. Their EPs – 2019’s Clearwater, Juices Run Clear released the same year and 2020’s Maneuvers – were put out by Los Angeles’ rebellious label Deathbomb Arc, which raised hip hop anarchists Death Grips, clipping., and more recently JPEG Mafia. Comparisons to any of these aforementioned rappers are necessarily wobbly. But if clipping. could give you a heart attack, with their claustrophobic, barebones beats assembled from alarm clock sounds; They Hate Change will smooth your path to the morning bus ride and probably lead you to give occasional smiles to the passengers around you. What both projects share is a deep immersion into sound.

Vonne Parks and Andrea Gainey are childhood friends. They met as fifteen-years-olds in the same apartment complex in Tampa and shared an appreciation for the same music. Soon after, they started hanging out and playing basketball. Later, they started producing beats and experimenting with music. “Our connection was instant – it was clear we should be working together. We’re two sides of the same coin, and that makes our production work stronger. I’ll go crazier, lean more towards our wild, experimental side, while Dre knows how to tame that and turn it into stuff people would actually listen to, how to move stuff around and carve out space for us on the track,” Parks describes their music-making process in a recent interview for tQ.

Parks explained the connection with the UK sound in another interview for The Line of Best Fit: “We’re super inspired by the Second Summer of Love, which happened in the UK in the ‘80s. The rise of acid house and unlicensed raves. That same thing happened in central Florida. Everyone was on house music and breaks at the same time as the UK. We’re inspired by that legacy and the fact that the exact same things can happen in different places.” 

Their love for breakbeats can be traced to 2019’s Juices Run Clear, most evidently in ‘Giancarlo’ with its distinctive drum & bass beat. On their latest album Finally, New, They Hate Change develop their sound more complexly. Ever-evolving track ‘Breathing’ starts from a two-step pattern expanding into unrushed breakbeats. The duo manifests their DIY fuck-off attitude by “cutting records in remote locations”.

The colour of Park’s voice vaguely resembles Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler, but they prove themselves as a versatile rapper who can switch flows and styles. From slow-paced Odd Future-esque declamations in ‘Sometimes I Hate My Voice’, a vulnerable sleeper hit about gender identity, to high velocity spitting in ‘Who Next?’. Then you have to add witty and enigmatic jokes, “Take post-punk / But our public image say this probably bumping out your trunk” as in ‘Stuntro’ with its comforting beat and trap hi-hats. They Hate Change makes lines you will remember.

They Hate Change channel British post-punk textbook knowledge, name-checking X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene and junglism with Miami bass and regional subgenres in a way that is organic, exuberant, and fun to listen to. Finally, New feels coherent and honest. This is a record that doesn’t respect any traditional genre boxes and sticks to the vision They Hate Change created for themselves.