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October 2021
ALT+LDN

Bob Vylan take on 2021's festivals: "A moment of community, and solidarity? That's incredible"

If we’re talking about acts we want to build a whole new musical civilisation around, where better to start than Bob Vylan?
Published: 12:25 pm, August 26, 2021Words: Jamie MacMillan. Photos: Derek Bremner.
Bob Vylan take on 2021's festivals: "A moment of community, and solidarity? That's incredible"

As if we needed any more reasons to be excited about the return of live music, one of the biggest buzzes is finally getting to see those artists who got us really excited throughout lockdown. High on that list is Bob Vylan, the London grime-punk duo that dropped one of the most incendiary releases in recent years with their ferocious 'We Live Here' EP. Early festival spots and some unmissable tour dates are confirming everything that we already knew. One of those precious acts with the ability to stop you in your tracks, Bob Vylan are proof that the live experience is irreplaceable. Visceral, unforgettable, vital, communal. So, a few days before their tour kicked off - and ahead of their set at new London festival, ALT+LDN - we caught up with the pair to see what was going down.

Sitting down over Zoom, the pair are in full chill mode before the madness begins. It only takes about a minute before the conversation between Bobby (frontman) and Bobbie (drums) goes off on a tangent and leaves us behind. Bobby gives us both a full calorific breakdown and review of a new protein shake that he's trying, so much so that Sainsbury's really should chuck him some money. "Vegan, tastes like a Terry's Chocolate Orange, PENG!" is his glowing review, before moaning about the heft of the glass bottle. As the environmental benefits of using glass is debated, and how pollution is more the fault of big companies rather than individual consumers anyway, we slowly move our Starbucks mug out of view of the camera and knock over an entire pint of water across the living room floor anyway. Like the professional we are, we ignore it, and the conversation moves swiftly on.

"Talking about music festivals, did anyone watch that space rocket launch yesterday?" says Bobby, intriguingly. Bobbie, not a fan of the Musks and Bezos of the world, it's safe to say, bemoans that space exploration is now all about money and not scientific progress. "I'm not having him pop up to space while his fucking employees can't go for a piss," he says. As the debate goes back and forth, we're ten minutes into our chat and have barely mentioned music. And it's great. Knowledgeable, opinionated, excitable, a bit intense to keep up with, the pair are pretty much the same as their EP - just minus the righteous fury, for now at least. We ponder who'll be the first people to play a gig in space. "Could be us, man," grins Bobbie, before realising the more likely truth. "Nah, it's gonna be Bono bruv. U2!" Cackling, Bobby agrees."100% that motherfucker will get up there, bro… right, let's talk about what we need to talk about." And we're off.

With tour just a week and a bit away at this point, there is a mix of excitement and nervousness in the pair. After the last year and a half and everything it brought, there is also a sense of not wanting to get carried away just yet - with a festival appearance beforehand, they just want to get through without the dreaded ping, or worse. "If one of these fucking bastards gets me ill…" laughs Bobby. Hitting the road with Witch Fever and Zand, it's an exciting mix of acts that are set to sweep the old punk guard out with a sturdy broom. We begin by chatting about the oddness of being a band that broke big over lockdown, and what first-time gig-goers can expect. That answer is probably a little different to what they might expect.

"I think people will often neglect to see the nuances of our personality through the music," says Bobby. "I think they assume that everything is just angry ALL of the time. Like, RAARAGHGH, every single second. And it's not the case at all." Describing some of the playful elements of their live show, they both get increasingly animated. "The amount of times where people say 'oh, you guys are actually really nice'," laughs Bobby, "People say some crazy, wild things about what they assumed we would be as opposed to what we actually are?" There's a healthy sense of self-awareness between the pair, being massively aware of how they are often portrayed in interviews as pure rage merchants. "We get it, they gotta get people to click or buy the magazine," grins Bobby, "So they're always gonna lead with the most clickbait-y thing."

To be honest, though, you could easily forgive them for being angry all the time. 'We Live Here' deals with some of the very ugly and very real elements that run through modern Britain. Racism, police brutality, how the working classes are treated, it's all running through every second of their music. Crazily, it seemed to make the actual release of the EP trickier initially after what they describe as having their music called "too extreme" by many in the industry. It all feels very different now, of course, but Bobby has spoken in the past of his frustration at having his voice ignored until Big Business began to sense how the landscape was changing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movements around the globe. Are they ever frustrated at now being talked about as 'the band of now' when they were just as good and relevant two years ago?

"I know what you're saying; I've seen it framed in various ways," agrees Bobby. "We have seen so much injustice, and then this music speaks to that. So people are connecting the two, but it's not new? Some bands' next albums will no doubt be reactionary to it all, whereas we live it." Bobbie concurs. "I think now people are recognising 'oh wait, racism does happen'," he says, "And it's not that it didn't happen. But people recognise it now because it's so easily visible." Bobby's more worried that if they're thought of as the band of 'now', that it means that one day they won't. "Good music will just be good music, even if the times and social culture changes," he points out. "Plenty of music from back in the fucking day, forty years ago, is?

Attacking that classic punk sound from a completely new angle is what helps to make Bob Vylan stand apart from the host of bands that are currently being swept up in this latest wave of punk and post-punk acts. "The aim for us has always been to say that the punk that you knew is not necessarily the punk that is now," states Bobby. "If you look at what is hailed as the new voice of punk music or whatever, that shit just looked the same as it did. They might have ditched the leather jackets, or spiky green mohawks or whatever. They might have been to university. But it still just ain't that much different than it was? It's still the same group of guys in a band, talking about something that they haven't even necessarily lived through. It's just whack. We want to be the anti-that. The counter-that."

It's a huge reason why they've invited Witch Fever and Zand with them on tour, two more artists that challenge the tired old White Men With Guitars tropes. "They're the new punk that we're talking about!" says Bobby excitedly, "Obviously, Witch Fever's set-up is more traditional, but their new stuff that is coming out, you can hear influences from different things. And of course, with it not being an all-male band, I just think that is what punk is now. It's more inclusive. And Zand just makes fucking crazy dope music; it's SICK!" "You have to create space," says Bobbie softly, before Bobby continues. "100%. And then hopefully, when Witch Fever and Zand do their tours, they then bring people with them that they think aligns with them. And again continues to change the idea of what it means to be a punk musician or band, whatever that means today. Like, if we take to the stage in jogging bottoms or tracksuits and that, it's still punk? Some people are welcoming to that, and others are obviously a bit 'Let's Make Punk Punk Again'. Fuck that, mate."

Our chat naturally leads on from a rose-tinted view of the past to how it always takes something seismic for the majority of the country to realise what many have been shouting about for years. As the national reaction to the actions taken by police at the Sarah Everard vigil in the summer is brought up, and how different the response was to similar scenes of police brutality against Black people around the world, the pair get, rightfully, fired up. "I'm just gonna say that some people need it to touch home," agrees Bobby. "Because otherwise, it's a 'their problem' rather than an 'our problem'. We understand it, 'we' might be getting it now. But they'll find a reason, and then 'you'll' get it too. Some white woman gets dragged around at a protest? Then it becomes an issue." Bobbie nods, taking over. "It's hard, you wanna think that people will just accept what you're saying, even if they can't necessarily relate to it?" he says, "Next time something is told to you, you need to take it onboard more, give it the time of day. Because it just felt like it [police brutality] has been discounted for so long. It's not something that's new; it's something that has been my whole life. I've always told people about it, but nobody cared about it much until there was an incident where they could relate it to them." "It just became so VISCERAL that people couldn't deny it," chips in Bobby, the pair now finishing each other's sentences. "The average person always thinks 'well that person must have done something wrong'. Why are we forced to comply with a fascist regime? Why should I HAVE to comply with somebody that is trying to initiate me, trying to skip me when I'm just going about my day? That. Is. Not. New."

We are so far beyond our allotted interview time by now, but the pair don't care. "Let's just log out and in again," Bobby offers, so we go again. They are so engaging about whatever subject is thrown at them you feel like you could chat for hours. We talk about who they're excited to see on the road and at festivals, and the list is long and varied. Princess Nokia, Ski Mask, Stormzy, Ghetts. They reel off names excitedly, full of buzz to be doing what they do best again. Connecting with their fans, winning over new onlookers. Each Bob Vylan gig traditionally ends in a big group hug, and with Reading & Leeds on the horizon, is that set to be the biggest one yet? "Might be a bit Covid-y that one," cackles Bobby, but Bobbie's not worried. "That's our last day anyway," he grins. "Hopefully nobody gets ill," finishes the frontman somewhat more seriously, "But as an embrace, a moment of community, and solidarity and a shared experience? That's incredible." The group hug of all group hugs awaits then. Don't miss it.

Taken from the September issue of Upset. ALT+LDN takes place on 30th August at Clapham Common, London.

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