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'This is the part of the revival where shoegaze starts influencing the charts and genres like never before' - In conversation with Whitelands

Epigram speaks to Whitelands off the back of their debut album.

By George Dean, Proofreader

Coming off the back of warming up for Slowdive during their February 2024 tour, Whitelands are carrying the torch for shoegaze’s next generation.

Their elegantly-titled debut album Night-bound Eyes Are Blind To The Day (released 23rd February 2024) is a darkly oceanic record. Sending the listener inside a wave under the luminous dark of the night, time is reverbed – crashing gently through drenching guitars, we sink and float into the soundscape. The instrumental is content to be at the fore, as Etienne Quartey-Papafio’s soothed lyrical delivery breaks through the distortion of the deep sea.

I spoke with lead vocalist Etienne about such matters as shoegaze revival, neurodivergence, and the diverse concoction of influences which influence their artistry.

Regarding the Slowdive tour, I inquired as to whether there was a conscious effort on their part to shine a light on and uplift the next generation of shoegaze bands: “There is a conscious decision to uplift us, Slowdive has been amazing during this tour! From the way they interact with us, to paying for our meals, chatting with us, and guest listing us for shows going back to 2022. They are such an incredible band. Even just by taking a risk with having us as an opener is already uplifting us! 

Simon was the first member of Slowdive we met and the way he interacts so humbly with us genuinely fills us with glee. They’ve put us in a space where we get the opportunity to interact with this community and let our music speak for itself – it is so important for this genre to have legends continuously look after the next generation to keep it alive, as there is an incredible amount of new talent that exists”.

Pictured left to right: Michael Adelaja (guitarist), Jagun Meseorisa (drummer), Etienne Quartey-Papafio (guitarist-vocalist), Vanessa Govinden (bassist) | So Young Magazine

I asked Etienne his thoughts on the perception that we are in the midst of a shoegaze revival. He responded with bold optimism: “I think this is the part of the revival where shoegaze starts influencing the charts and genres like never before; teenagers love it, adults from the 80s love it … now there’s kids making shoegaze type beats on YouTube. I think it will have the notoriety that rap has, it’s just cool!”

I was curious as to whether Whitelands had any notable musical inspirations that may surprise people. Etienne confessed: “Lots of Midwest emo stuff is what got me here: American Football, Foxing, Modern Baseball … I definitely do carry that in my lyrics I feel”.

Through Whitelands’ collaboration with deary on the track ‘Tell Me About It’, there was a lighter dream-pop / ethereal wave sensibility which came through in contrast to the more plunging sound that typifies the band.

In this vein, I asked Etienne whether the quartet were making a conscious effort to diversify its soundscape, and if so, what other styles they may experiment with in the future:

“Genre bending is nothing new to us … our upcoming EP will definitely be incorporating more of this stuff – the ‘Prophet & I’ already had breakbeats.

Diversifying the soundscape sounds fun! More likely we’d be going into a disco, soul, R&B direction”.

Etienne is currently studying for his university Master’s. He told me of his experience juggling academic commitments with being in a band: “I am actually not doing so well on that front. I have ADHD and haven’t had my medication since November due to the shortages, so I have been really struggling”.

Etienne solicited advice to anyone seeking to balance creative pursuits with other commitments, whether that be education and / or paid employment:

“My advice is to do university part-time, take things slow; as a band full of working class people we don’t have a choice regarding work, there’ll be some sacrifices – sometimes it’s relationships, money or health and sadly the arts doesn’t pay enough to offset those. My advice is just to keep going but don’t die over this”.

My first encounter with Whitelands was on the Brighton leg of the Slowdive tour: I felt immediately drawn to the band’s shy and polite disposition, as they radiated an understated, cool softness. It does seem that shyness is central to the essence and appeal of shoegaze, fostering a sense of mutual understanding and connection with the listener. Etienne commented:

“I think shoegaze does have a lot of shy people in the genre, and a lot of undiagnosed neurodivergent people too. 

I really struggle with social situations and mostly leave that to Jagun [drummer] and Vanessa [bassist] whilst me and Michael [guitarist] kinda hover away! It does appeal to people who are exactly like that, we don’t hide our diagnoses!” 

Night-bound Eyes Are Blind To The Day (2024) | Stranger Than Paradise Records

Chris Thompson (PureMzine) highlights that the album title of Night-bound Eyes Are Blind To The Day was derived from a quote taken from Khahlil Gabriel’s The Prophet (1923), a work of philosophical prose poetry. Thompson interpreted how it “encapsulates the album’s essence, which explores intimate settings, emotions, and sensory experiences through descriptors of light, celestial bodies, water, and abstract concepts”.

I was curious as to whether these themes are also at play in the vivid and aesthetic designs for Whitelands’ album and single covers. Etienne illuminated the “massive” role that non-musical art forms play in the creative process:

“Anime, books, paintings, films ... there’s a lot of non-musical art forms all over the writing process. ‘Tell Me About It’ had Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels (1995) as a basis so that’s why it’s a lot softer than the other songs!”

To conclude our conversation, I asked about the origin of the band name. I couldn’t help wondering whether it had something to do with operating in a white-dominated genre, but the answer turned out to be simpler than that:

“It’s just the first place I performed at – Roehampton University, Whitelands campus”.

Featured image: NME

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