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‘Art that enriches the artist's life and others' lives' - In conversation with Witch Fever

Izzy Fraser speaks with Witch Fever, a self-proclaimed ‘doom-punk’ band based in Manchester.

By Izzy Fraser, Second Year, English

Not only was I lucky enough to see Witch Fever absolutely kill it on stage supporting Hot Milk at the Trinity Centre in November, but I also had the privilege of meeting and interviewing them before their set. Witch Fever is a self-proclaimed ‘doom-punk’ band based in Manchester, seeking to evoke change through their grungy music. Topics of our discussion included how their music had changed since they first became a band in 2017, their experience as a group of women and non-binary folk in the music industry, and their view of art as a form of protest.

Lead singer Amy Walpole, guitarist Alisha Yarwood and drummer Annabelle Joyce were performing together in 2016: with bassist Alex Thompson joining a year later. By now, the band have years of experience under their belts.

Regarding inspiration from their early days, Annabelle picked out Nirvana and grunge music. Alex stated, ‘our early music was more straight punk than it is now’, explaining that they have a wider scope of genre-inspiration now than ever. The band joked that they were ‘just trying to play songs’ at the start, but they ‘can actually play instruments now… we really do care how it sounds’. While their style has grown with the band members, they did note some consistencies in their music throughout time, such as heavy riffs and a punk feel.

‘Angry doom punk’, ‘full rage mode’ and ‘cathartic’ were words that various band members used when asked to describe the Witch Fever project. In an interview with Underground England, the band stated 'Witch Fever has become a tool of catharsis for us all to express ourselves… we’ve learnt to utilise our anger and channel it into our song-writing’.

When asked about the emotional side of their music, Alex said ‘Anger is the principle emotion, but we challenge it into a positive thing… its empowering rather than just being pissed off’. Amy added that ‘in music and heavy genres in general we are very used to hearing about anger from men… so it’s really cool to do it ourselves in a different way, and to see lots of other women and queer people utilising that anger too. It presents differently, and it’s cool to break the status quo’.

The band members are hugely multi-talented, keen to explore other artistic avenues and music styles, with the band recently doing a DJ set at the ‘Women in Revolt’ exhibition. Alex, the bassist, explained the event to me, saying ‘It was really sick to meet Cosey Fanni Tutti and the band "Fist F*ck"- they’re OG women’s liberation punks. It was really cool to see what we do now compared to then’.

Referencing how the punk movement has changed since these ‘OG’s’ were at the forefront, Alex noted how ‘things like birth control that we take so for granted were so controversial and so punk back then’. She went on to explain that not only have issues that the punk movement seeks to highlight changed, but what it means to be punk itself has changed as well.

One thing that the band noted as a consistency between the original and current punk scene is art being utilised as a form of protest. Amy recalled how the ‘intro to the exhibition had a piece of writing that said… “male elites in the art world often make art for art’s sake, not out of necessity”. All of the work showed there was art made for necessity and as a form of protest rather than being bored and just doing it for fun’.

Highlighting how important art as a means of promoting change is to the band, Amy stated ‘art that enriches the artist's life and others' lives, even if it’s just to five people… it’s changed something’. The band told me that, while making their music is a completely collaborative process, Amy writes all their lyrics and this idea of art evoking change, be it personal or political, is evident through her lyricism.

Another important thing to the band is solidarity within the music industry, Amy recently speaking at the ‘Un-Convention Panel’ in Manchester. The vocalist explained that the event was about ‘why solidarity with everyone is important in the music industry, and why it’s important to be a feminist and be a socialist in the industry as well’.

She continued, ‘people from marginalised groups really suffer being part of the music industry as it’s not really made for them’, going on to discuss how important it is for these people to take up space despite the barriers. She specified how ‘it’s mainly women and queer people that are… being asked these questions’; she explained how while it is important to give these groups a voice, this led the panel to question ‘what’s stopping people hosting these panels… from asking men? It’s hard that we’re always fighting a battle when we didn’t start it’.

When asked if their experience as a band had been defined by this sense that women and queer folk are often marginalised in the music industry, Alex responded 'a thousand percent- I think there’s so much stuff that happens that isn’t necessarily overtly oppressive but it’s the tone of being patronised’. She noted that ‘a lot of the time, men aren’t even aware that they are doing it’.

She gave the example of ‘doing a sound check and a guy says "hey girls"- not only are you misgendering someone but you’re also instantly placing us as being childlike. There’s a tone that makes it feel like they think we don’t know what we’re doing, or we aren’t professionals.’

The rest of the band nodded in agreement, and it seemed that each of them could recall this undoubtedly frequent experience of feeling belittled in their professional environment. Despite these negative experiences, Alex did say ‘I feel very lucky that I get to experience this world with the bandmates that I do. There’s a power that we have doing that together.’

One thing that the group share is a love of reading, as I found out prior to the interview from the ‘Witch Fever Book Club’ on the group's Instagram. So, being the English Literature student that I am, I unsurprisingly had to ask what they are reading at the moment. Alex was the first to respond, grabbing no less than three books from her bag; ‘Policing the Planet’ which she said is about ‘how fucked up the police are’, ‘Greater than the Sum of our Parts- Feminism, Inter/Nationalism and Palestine’ by Nada Elia, and finally a horror fiction novel.

Alex said she isn’t reading anything currently, but she loves Yukio Mishima’s books. Annabelle said they are currently reading ‘On Burnely Road’ by Mike Makin-Waite, and ‘On Palestine’ by Ilan Pappé and Noam Chomsky. Finally, Alisha let us in on the fact that she doesn’t really read books. I think that the rest of the group make up for this.

I asked the band what advice they would give to people starting a band at university, as they were all at this age when Witch Fever was first created. Alex gave the advice, ‘just keep doing your thing. I think for a long time we weren’t taken seriously in the Manchester scene… just keep going, if you have a vision… you’ll get there’. Alisha gave a different angle, giving her own experience, saying ‘I feel like as I was 17 when we started this, I treated every gig as if it was a party… I think that’s turned into some bad habits getting older’.

She followed up with the advice ‘have a good time but don’t go too far, and don’t treat every gig like that… just try take it seriously’. Alex lastly gave the advice, ‘don’t take any shit. If you’re in a position to call people out [and] you’ll still be safe… then you have every right to do that. Make people aware that their behaviour has made someone uncomfortable in their place of work’.

Finally I asked them about their future goals, particularly over the next five years. They all agreed that as a band, the ‘ultimate’ goal is to not be working to supplement their income. Annabelle said ‘I’ll probably be married by that time’, which was met with great enthusiasm from the others.

Guitarist, Alisha, said she wants to broaden the type of music she creates and to work on her music production. The most undecided of all the bandmates was Amy who said ‘I’m an illustrator, so I’d like to do be doing that more. I really just want to write a book, and I want to do a PhD, but I don’t think I can do all these things in the next 5 years!’

Overall, it seems that the band want to expand the genre and style that they produce in their music, but also expand to alternative art forms as a group, Alex giving the example of how the group have ‘always wanted to do a film script’. She summarised, ‘We want to push the avenues that we’re creating in’.

Featured Image: Debbie Ellis

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