We Are ILL

On their majestic raging debut of banshee-punk-funk with extra gobshite gravy, ILL take ’You go, girl!’ and turn it into ‘FUCK YOU’, ‘FUCK THE PATRIARCHY’ and ‘FUCK THE FUCKING TORIES’

For a long time now we’ve been inundated with ‘female individualism’ narratives, from ‘Is it empowering to wear a £500 girl power bracelet to my twerking yoga class?’ to the various ‘Look, I overcame!’ stories of female resilience in pop music, to the recent Amy Schumer film I Feel Pretty to Sheryl Sandberg’s dear old Lean In book of 2013. Aspirational success and personal wellbeing, we are told, are within your grasp if you just work hard enough and invest enough of yourself in being powerful and sassy, while ignoring any personal and social politics that may affect you or those around you. If you don’t make it, it’s your fault.

Viciously recessive government policies and the eruption of #metoo should, of course, completely blow this worldview out of the water. Powerful and sassy is tough while you’re struggling to pay the bills, keep your flat, be a primary carer for kids or elderly parents, while you’re only being offered low-paid work on zero-hour contracts; it is exhausting and demoralising to live in a world where sexual harassment is rife, self-care is next to impossible when the organisations who help with your depression and anxiety are on their knees after years of funding cuts.

The noise and fury erupting from ILL spits a massive gob of invective in the face of all this bullshit. From their Manchester base, ILL have built a solid reputation in the UK music underground with their energetic and chaotic gigs. Finally, we have their debut album, We Are ILL, which carries on the work they started out on 2016’s Housewives Trilogy EP – three fem-punk screeds on murder-revenge fantasies, prescription drugs and patriarchal pressures (“Mother hero / duty to procreation… This is what god wants / this is your purpose”). We Are ILL takes their SCUM-punk manifesto and pushes it to the next level as their songs blast out of the speakers in a ruckus of boots, glitter, maladjusted face-paint and vicious pop noise. For the uninitiated, opening track ‘Ill Song’ (and its video) provides a powerful sense of what ILL are about. Singing about getting help for their various ailments on a beleaguered NHS and an uncaring system, There is a gleeful sickness about the group, as careering organ lines, grinding guitars and fevered off-key vocals are performed by banshees in smeared make-up and trashy costumes. They sing about getting help for various ailments from a beleaguered NHS, and their distorted masquerade of stressed, hysterical women driven to the edge is played to full effect.

Their sound doesn’t conform to any one genre – it’s a definite cacophony of kitchen sink fuck-punk-funk all over the place with hyperactive noise pop overtones – but ILL are definitely part of a proud lineage that stretches from The Slits, X-Ray Spex and The Raincoats through riot grrrl and queercore, via garish pop explosions such as Shampoo, Kenickie and Fuzzbox, taking a swerving detour with a hefty slab of gobshite gravy surrealism that you’d expect from The Fall and Eccentronic Research Council.

As such, We Are ILL is all abrasive guitars, chunky wedges of grumbling bass and off-kilter organ synths. They can pretty much out-scream any edgelord ‘extreme’ noise acts, but they also have actual songs that you can thrash around to with wanton abandon. ILL are great fun to listen and dance to – witness ‘Stuck in a Loop’, as the wrecked and crushing bass belies a stompy beat and sparkle pop harmonics, or ‘Bus Stop’, which despite the rackety noise and shouted lyrics is buoyant and full of catchy hooks.

Alongside the sonic power of We Are ILL is the droll quality of their lyrics. On first listen, they may seem like direct call-and-response chants, but there is a cheeky and downright pissed-taking anger and wit as they deploy what they call “weaponised sarcasm”. ‘Space Dick’ shoots everyday sexual harassment into space where Zapp Brannigan propositions you in the airlock (“On the lunar base / Sit on my face!”), while the scuzzy reportage in ‘Bus Shelter’ name-checks both The Fall and the KLF’s rollcall of Northern grimy towns before everything collapses as they proclaim, “The world is coming to an end!” Happy fun nihilism times, indeed.

While We Are ILL is chock full of fantasies about blowing sex creeps out of airlocks and Nurse Ratcheds sozzled on gin, there is something seriously blackened and vicious lurking beneath, like one of those night-time monsters under the bed. ‘Bears’, for example, is a gothic fairytale of revenge where they hunt and track the prey that used to stalk them, promising, “I’ll feed you to my bears,” which could be actual bears or just a coterie of burly gay cannibals. Then there is the pulpy and excoriating ‘I Am The Meat’, not so much a song as a deranged spell of the flesh, complete with screamed chants and banged instruments.

ILL are a band of happy nihilists and pisstakers, but still the anger on We Are ILL is personal, political and heartfelt. This rage builds all the way through the album, and reaches its apex in ‘Slithering Lizards’. As this 10-minute psychedelic death-disco dirge gathers speed and momentum, they warn their sisters, “You’re not safe anymore / They’re coming for you / You better stay indoors / Keep your head down.” As the song spins to a bombastic and chaotic ending, ILL’s contempt for our vicious and misogynist political landscape is laid bare.

The wrecking ball of austerity has destroyed – is still destroying – lives across the UK, and we know it affects women more than men. We Are ILL is a response to this dire state of affairs, a simple FUCK THAT, in the noisiest, most disobedient, most defiant way possible.

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