Mangled Catharsis: Bad Breeding Interviewed

Before they bring their incendiary, raging live set to Field Day, Bad Breeding's Chris Dodd speaks to Alex Macrow about using their anarcho and hardcore-inspired punk to combat political apathy

Earlier this year, people were quick to decry the current generation of musicians based on the political opinions of a small minority. "Of course those upper class lot with their private education don’t care, they have it made already," they would cry, whilst calls of "bands don’t have anything to say anymore" and the usual, "What happened to punk? What happened to having a message?" could be heard somewhere in the distance.

It’s clear that these people have not spoken to Chris Dodd, vocalist of the alarmingly confrontational Bad Breeding, returning to London on Sunday to decimate Victoria Park as a part of the Field Day line-up. He’s the first to admit that the band is not a purely political entity, and yet discussion of the outcome of the recent general election and the apathetic views of his contemporaries dominates a large portion of our conversation.

When it veers away from the topic and towards the direction of the group’s music then Dodd seems to shed some of his cynicism. Remaining relatively unknown in the UK until an incendiary performance at last month’s Great Escape festival, the Stevenage noisemongers have begun to cement themselves as one of the most exhilarating live bands in the country. After their debut release, last year’s ‘Burn This Flag’ single on Hate Hate Hate Records, one of the more exciting small-scale labels in the UK, the band transitioned to a fiercely independent approach, releasing music in their own way and on their own terms, following it with another 7", ‘Chains’.

I understand that you returned from recording your debut album in L.A. last week. What made you decide to record in the States rather than in the UK?

Chris Dodd: We’d been pondering how to approach the record for a lengthy period and in the end the decision was based around the people we wanted to work with. The prospect of putting the songs together in Los Angeles might seem like some manifestation of financial immoderation or excess, but what we arrived upon was a plan that allowed us to do the sessions on a shoestring budget with a producer who was emotionally and artistically invested in the band.

Joby J. Ford had been a fan of what we were doing and it just so transpired that he had some incredibly charitable friends from the Californian punk community who were able to lend us gear and provide a studio, which helped us save on the cost of flying things over.

On the morning of the outbound flight, as we walked through the nauseating commercial stupor that Heathrow throws you into, I remember thinking to myself how moving it was that somewhere out there room still exists for things to work on the basis of admiration and artistic understanding amongst all the corrupt noise.

In the past, you’ve said that being a Stevenage-based band has had an influence on your music. What sort of impact do you feel having recording sessions Stateside has had on the music?

CD: We’re most certainly a product of Stevenage and I’m sure there are many other young people living in new town developments across the country who feel the same: marginalised, stagnant, ignored… Our ideas were all written in a tiny rehearsal space on an industrial estate and we have always been keen to hold on to what inspired us to write the songs and their structures. Recording in another country was never going to change that.

I’ve been asked the same question by friends and family, who I think were under the illusion that we were flying away to submit ourselves to some wild American experience – which wasn’t the case at all. During the sessions we worked from early morning to late in the evening, and to be honest I’ve probably got more sun by walking my dog back home. There wasn’t any time to become engrossed by American culture other than when we had to navigate through the gross profusion of food on offer at the end of the day.

Does the material sound like the songs Bad Breeding have already released, or are there moments where you experimented with it?

CD: The two releases from the band so far were recorded during a period of relative infancy, just a few months into working together. The whole concept of Bad Breeding didn’t get started until late in 2013 so I’d like to think what we’ve put together on the record is a step forward both in terms of ideas as well as in our presentation.

My sensibilities are in English anarcho and hardcore and I’ve personally tried to inflect more of that into the record, while the others have brought a whole range of new concepts to the songs compared to when we first started. At the centre of the band is the idea of self-empowerment and musically we’ve produced a framework that continuously seeks to reiterate that point, at times through brute force and at others using more subtle manoeuvres. Lyrically the content might be bleak and cynical, but half of the tactic is recognising certain faults and giving time to addressing dark subject matter – I like to do that using both serious content and my own take on macabre self-deprecation.

Are there any details that you can release about the album or the recording session yet? If not, when are you expecting to reveal them?

CD: Not at the moment. If you can bring me Michael Gove’s head on a stick I might be able to give you a preliminary track-listing?

When listening to your music, it reminded me a lot of early punk, but songs such as ‘Age Of Nothing’ sound like they have an indie rock edge as well. Are you a fan of both genres?

CD: The songs are written together as a four, usually around an idea that somebody has brought along. There are lots of different touchstones, but I wouldn’t say there is any conscious effort to bring wider work into what we’re trying to do. Obviously you’re influenced by what you consume – that’s the nature of having a brain and being a human – although I’d say that we don’t really spend much of our time analytically thinking about other people’s output and how it fits within the context of Bad Breeding.

What I would say is that our surroundings and environment seem to be the most conducive thing towards the whole process. We write and rehearse in a restrictive room for a few hours after spending the majority of the day scraping around to earn a living. A two-hour period a few times a week gives us the chance to plough every frustration, anxiety and concern into our instruments, leaving the backbone of the songs to take form out of a destructive, almost primitive, process. At the end of the practice you’ve only got the prospect of going back to waking up at 5 am the next morning to lug bricks around a building site as part of a cyclical, monotonous routine and that definitely plays into the identity of what we create. That rehearsal space can be a tense and punishing environment for all of us and we often have to draw on the strength of our friendship to ensure that we don’t all fall apart or end up chinning each other.

The go-to descriptor is punk, but like you say there are some other elements at play. Punk and hardcore are important to me and my record collection is full of Crass, Flux Of Pink Indians, Crisis, Void, Rudimentary Peni and Noh Mercy, however the feeling is that we’d like to do something that is more inclusive in a musical sense. Some scenes can, by their own nature, go against the idea of inclusivity because of the sense of impenetrability about them. Don’t get me wrong, in the UK there are some great things going on in both London and Leeds – take work by Good Throb, Frau, The Lowest Form, Perspex Flesh, Static Shock Records and places like the Temple Of Boom – but bringing in some softer elements, or maybe more melodic overtones, has been a conscious effort on our part to cast the net a touch wider.

You covered the Wire track ‘Two People In A Room’ late last year. Do you have a particular affiliation with the band?

CD: No particular affiliation really, it was decided upon just as us being fans. I first listened to Wire in my late teens having inherited part of my dad’s record collection. Pink Flag and 154 were both in there and made a real impact on me, they’re brilliant… In terms of the song, ‘Two People In A Room’ was the easiest to play. They’re undoubtedly better musicians than we could ever hope to be.

Your live shows are extremely intense and fairly unforgiving but, from what I’ve seen, you seem to conduct yourself very differently on and off the stage. Do you consciously choose to represent yourself in two different ways?

CD: What happens live is always a fiercely organic process, it’s us putting everything on the line to present our art in a limited period of time. For me personally, it’s about expressing emotions that aren’t always presentable within the confines of my day-to-day existence; a sort of mangled catharsis. The aggression, intensity and despair is also a way of showcasing the band in our most vulnerable form. I said earlier about promoting inclusivity – presenting ourselves in such a manner helps to give people the chance to see everything laid bare. The aim is to convey that we’re not just a bunch of mouthy nihilists.

In terms of preparation, I think we always naturally just tell ourselves to be honest and put in all that we have at each show – that doesn’t always manifest in physical ways either, sometimes going through the songs can be a mental strain too; perennial frustration can do funny things to your head.

You sold one of your previous releases exclusively through eBay and Alibaba. Did this process operate as you expected it to, and did it have the desired effect?

CD: The idea behind that method was to test the water. As a new band we felt that it was important to explore different ways of presenting releases and reaching people. Given the size of that specific release (‘Chains’ was limited to 200 copies) it was a way of examining what impact leaving behind the bureaucracy and autocratic nature of labels would have on us. Going via eBay and Alibaba meant that we could just take the music from its source and pass it on to those who wanted it in terms of a physical release. Obviously things become more complicated when you look to larger releases because of the impact of distribution and more sizeable orders, but it felt necessary to try something without a middle-man creaming too much off the top of your creation.

Knowing what you know now, would you stick to releasing material via this unconventional method, or would you use more conventional vendors such as iTunes?

CD: I think it would depend entirely on the release and the amount of distribution required. We offered the last ‘Chains’ single as a free download via SoundCloud and only charged for the 7"s.

You seem to be a fiercely independent band. I’d be interested to find out why you decided to leave the DIY aspect behind and release the split 7" via Hate Hate Hate.

CD: The Hate Hate Hate release was actually our first. Our friend ran the label and for an initial single it seemed like a nice place to give it a home. The guy behind HHH always had an intensive focus on giving new bands a chance to press something physical – it kind of had its own DIY feel about it. It gave us a platform to put our first bit of material out and also made us think more widely about how to release the second.

I’ve read a few interviews that you’ve done in the past where you seem to be fairly outspoken on the subject of politics, including an NME piece encouraging people to vote. Would you describe Bad Breeding as a political band? Where do you stand on the issue of the lack of artists discussing the topic?

CD: I’d agree that we carry a light for political awareness. I wouldn’t say it defines everything we do: lyrically the band also explores a lot of personal trauma and reflects on a number of things that extend beyond politics.

Political apathy in music is arguably an extension of indifference at a more societal level and I think that’s quite prevalent in the UK. Voting is important as it’s one of the few democratic ways to bring about change so I’d always advocate doing it. What isn’t that productive is encouraging political discourse purely for fashionable purposes, which culminated in right-wing sledging and the preaching of en-vogue liberalism on social media during the most recent general election. This time around social media became a baiting ground for people to pipe up against UKIP and the Conservative party, only for the results to portray a rather different feeling. There are obviously genuine questions to pose about the standpoint of those parties, however writing a few jarring Facebook comments and preaching hate on Twitter isn’t going to contribute to progressive discussion about how to improve our situation.

The internet can often provide wonderful moments of liberation for people all over the world, but social media clearly had its limitations during the election. If people want to make a difference there are other ways to encourage discussion and aid progress. You mentioned a lack of discussion from artists – why not use your art to make a statement, maybe hold a benefit gig for those who are being failed by people in positions of authority or take part in a protest movement in action? Gobbing off in 140 characters does just as much to distort the perception of complex, contextual issues as the work of the heinous right-wing press.

Musicians don’t necessarily have any obligation to discuss politics and I can understand why people might feel impassive – why would you want to get involved with a topic that sees the mainstream media spend three weeks analysing how a man eats a bacon sandwich? There’s also the slight issue of musicians trying to carve out a financial existence from their work. In the commercialised and materialistic era we find ourselves in, there’s more pecuniary reward and exposure in ambiguous songwriting than there is in sticking your neck out on the line or venturing too far into the cerebral.

The general election is still fresh in everyone’s minds, what are your opinions on the outcome?

CD: Like a lot of people I feel dejected and disenfranchised, but most of us were aware of the pitfalls of the first past the post system and the potential influence that the migration of votes towards SNP could have on the result before the leaders’ campaigns began. That said, seeing a Labour defeat at the hands of a Conservative party that has been showcasing morally questionable policy has made me determined to be more active in the future.

I come from a family that has benefited from post-war Labour successes and have also been influenced directly by the aspirational ideologies put forward since 1994. However, I can’t help but feel lost as a supporter. Other than Labour’s naive outlook towards the adroitly-steered SNP, I think a major contribution to the defeat was a lack of connection with those aspirational voters who backed Tony Blair in 1997. The loss in bond only allowed the Tories to galvanise sections of the electorate who still sought ambition and aspiration in exchange for their vote. Stevenage, a town which has found itself in constant search of identity since its birth as a then-liberal experiment of town planning back in 1945, serves as a perfect microcosm of the impact of Labour’s loosening connection.

As a socialist, my concern now lies with what is going to pan out under a majority Conservative government unchallenged by a coalition partner. Since the victory, we’ve seen the announcement of a front bench that includes politicians whose belief systems evidently fly in the face of social progression. You’d find it hard to argue that Labour would not have pushed some sort of austerity policy had they been elected, but I feel vulnerable people are going to suffer even more with talk over cuts in the coming years: ideas being mooted of lowering the benefits cap even further, removing housing benefit for young people, renaming zero-hours contracts without addressing issues of exploitation, cutting help to those with disabilities…

Without getting lost in political nepotism, I’d say my interest predominantly lies with how people are impacted by policy. At a local level in Stevenage, we’ve just re-elected an MP [Stephen McPartland] who voted against the marriage of same-sex couples. In the UK women are charged a five per cent luxury tax on items that hide the natural process of menstruation because of restrictions under EU law. It’s hard not to feel like you’re living in an age where the very basics of human understanding are being eroded by those who you share no common ground with. You can’t blame younger voters for nurturing apathy towards the whole process when they feel like they’re unable to be truly represented.

You’ll be performing at the Sunday of Field Day, alongside Ride, Patti Smith and your former tourmates Eagulls. To me, your music sounds fairly different to a lot of the artists on the bill – does the idea of playing alongside artists so different to you seem intimidating?

CD: Not at all. There’s very little point in being creative or producing something, only to shun away when it comes to presenting it to people. We can’t play to Slavoj Žižek fans every night.

You’re also touring with Mastodon in Ireland later in the month, and supporting Metz. It’s obviously going to be a very different atmosphere than Field Day. Do you plan on adapting your performance in any way to compensate for this?

CD: I don’t think so. We strive to play every show with the same principles as any before it.

Besides the events that we’ve already mentioned and the recently-announced Reading and Leeds appearance, is there anywhere else that fans can expect to see Bad Breeding in 2015?

CD: As part of a guest appearance on Corrie.

Bad Breeding play Field Day in Victoria Park, London, this Sunday, June 7, before supporting Metz and Mastodon and further festival appearances; head here for full details

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