There is a feeling that heavy music in the U.K. has somewhat retreated in 2020. The necessary anger somehow in hibernation, with individuals too exhausted to push against what’s in front of them, stowed away and gathering thoughts on how to proceed in the uncertain present and even more uncertain future.
However, if one does enough digging, they will bear the fruits of their labour.
Yes, there’s always something. Someone. And in this instance, it’s London punk collective, Bruxa Maria.
Consisting of vocalist/guitarist Gill Dread, bassist Dave Cochrane (Terminal Cheesecake, Head of David, GOD), noise manipulator Robbie Judkins (Left Hand Cuts Off The Right), and drummer Paul Antony (Ghold), Bruxa Maria released their second full-length album, The Maddening two weeks before the first national lockdown.
The eponymous opening track starts with tin can drums and an anxious silence before a powder keg explosion that spills across the next eight songs like an oral bludgeoning. The remnants of buzz-saw guitars that spit and swerve (The Brutal Attack, The Shock Into Behold!) along with wild axe-wielding rhythm sections (Manual Labour vs Office Dickheads, Zaragoza) fill the room with a vital urgency and raw chaos not heard anywhere else up and down the country in 2020.
The Maddening draws from an array of styles, not limited to sludge and noise-rock, adding new razor-sharp dimensions to this unhinged contraption of punk.
It’s all held together by leader, Gill Dread, who delivers a stunning performance, spitting venom for the The Maddening’s frenetic 36 minutes. Dread‘s quiet/loud vocal style exudes an anxiety that encapsulates these dark times. The album’s title in itself, a prescient snapshot of the world’s current standing.
Last week, we were fortunate to ask Dread some questions.
Sun 13: Obvious question first, how have you been coping with the lockdown situation?
Gill Dread: “Well, Bruxa was very lucky that we managed to have our launch night for the The Maddening before this all kicked off over here. It was on March 7. So we just made it. But then had to cancel the tour.
“It is what it is, really. I think it’s much easier to take, when this is happening to everybody.
“Our way of getting lemonade out of the lemons was to focus on writing the next album as soon as we were able to rehearse together again. And to be honest, I have really enjoyed just being able to focus on writing new stuff. It can so easily become something that you fit in around rehearsals for gigs, that it has been really nice just having no distractions and getting on with it. Kind of like those big rock bands in the ’80s who would spend months in some château in France ‘writing their next album’ – no distractions.
“But instead we were in a small, sweat box of a room in Tottenham with no distractions (laughs). But a big part of me has loved it, as I really struggle with focus and memory. So for it to be like… ‘you got one job… do it!!’, amazing… for me anyway… (laughs).
S13: I know you used to drive bands around. I’m not sure whether you still were before the lockdown, but if so, obviously the current situation has had a crippling effect on everybody in the music industry. How are we going to come out the other side of it?
GD: “Yeah, another lucky thing for me timing wise was that I have been backing off the driving jobs. So I was back to doing cleaning work and care work, self-employed styles before this all hit.
“How will we all come out the other side of this, is a good question. One positive we all should know is that DIY will never die. Even if it is different people ‘doing it themselves’, that will always be there, because needs must.
“The reason DIY exists is because of the lack of infrastructure, support or recognition of the importance of subcultures, particularly working class subcultures. That is nothing new, so it does not in the least bit surprise me that there is no government or official, shall we say, support when this pandemic hit.
“But the need for subcultures to exist and survive will continue and the communities that need this will continue to exist. So as always, we stick together and do the best we can for each other.
“Of course, this kind of slap in the face still hurts… but it’s nothing new, and we made it this far, we must keep on keeping on.
“I kind of feel it for the rave culture more in a way. ‘Cos rave is a subculture that did come from DIY scenes, pirate radio, warehouse parties etc. back in the day… And now look at the massive industry that has come from that, the amount of money this country has made from what it grew into (good or bad). But when that needs some support back, it’s dropped like a stone. Like yeah, you made money like the big guns, but really, when all is done and dusted, you ain’t the big guns.
“It seems so easy for the U.K. establishment to belittle and dismiss working class subcultures next to the arts of the (traditionally) upper class, such as opera, ballet, theatre, etc. How many times do we hear working class subcultures described as ‘Youth Culture’? Like it’s all some flash in a pan, fad that is tolerated (if money can be made) but should never be taken seriously.
“First generation punks are in their 60s now. I’m in my 40s, regularly listening to Kool London, Flex, Rinse FM etc. to hear people from their 20s to 50s DJing jungle and drum and bass. This is not a fad, it’s our everything! This is the stuff that gets us through each day.
“The mental well-being we get, as human beings, from the arts and the subcultures that come from that, are immense and yet so easily disregarded. Particularly in the U.K. and particularly towards the arts of the working class. That classic where people compare the price of supporting culture, with the price of a hospital or whatever… yet never putting together that these subcultures emanate such well-being with such effectiveness, that these subcultures are keeping people out of the hospitals in the first place.
“One should not have to like someone’s art before they can see or accept the value it has to others. The value is the well-being of others, so of course it should be valued and supported.
“I would hate to be youth right now. I’m glad I am the age I am, living through this time. I would totally have been that little prick that escaped out me parents house to get shit-faced and go raving.”
S13: Your new album, The Maddening, was released earlier this year. How’s the reception been?
GD: (Laughs) “Well it’s difficult to know when you don’t see your audience (laughs)… When we get to tour this album, I’ll let you know what the reception was…
GD: “Sorry… seriously, sales have been great despite not being able to tour. Which is amazing. Hominid Sounds keeps us updated on sales and were very happy with us, and we’re happy with them. Again, I think we were so lucky that we got that album launch night to play it live, before the pandemic hit.
“My brain is so onto the next album we have been writing and are booked to record this month. The Maddening seems like another world away, I almost forget we did that, mainly because we didn’t get to tour it.”
S13: Bruxa Maria have been around for a while now. Can you give us a bit of history on how it all started?
GD: “The last band I was in split up, but I kept writing, and writing and quickly went off on one, and thought I better record this and put it together, so had to call in favours of musician mates who were up for rehearsing and recording this stuff with me. So technically I didn’t form a band, I asked people if they could just help me put an album together. So the first album, Human Condition was with Ben Dawson on drums (Palehorse) Will Elvin (Lupins) and sometimes Seamus (Defcon Zero) on bass.
“Once I had the album recorded, I had something solid and worked out… Like these are the tunes and they go like this… Who wants to rehearse and play this stuff live? It’s a much more solid offer to people, they know what they are getting into and what they are investing their time in.
“If I had from the off, before recording, said to people, ‘who wants to be in a band with me?’ That is a big ask, a big commitment, I think there would have been a lot of tumble weed response and fair enough. I learnt from the last band I was in, that life gets in the way of functioning in a band, very easily and especially in London. So I kind of got it into my head that I break down this process into more bite size pieces. Like the band functioning was more important than who made up that band at that point.
“Now Bruxa Maria has a solid line up, which I hope will continue as long as possible, but of course life does get in the way. But at the moment, we’re good. All very talented lads that also keep me sane.”
S13: It feels as though Bruxia Maria dip their toes into a whole array of styles from the heavier leanings of music. I think The Maddening captures Bruxa Maria overall sonic landscape. Would you agree?
GD: “Thank you. Yeah I always hope it does. To be fair I felt that be more of a concern on the first album, and people seemed cool with it, and I learnt a lot from the responses. I remember being worried that some parts might be too poppy, like the tune Bredder My Bredders I was nervous about that being too poppy, and just told myself to stop being a pussy and see what happens, and actually the response live was really positive, so my concerns seemed incorrect, which was really interesting. I mean through my love of dance music I am a fan of accessibility to heavy-ness, as opposed to making some monolithic, heavy, yet unlistenable art wank, or acting like making some epic racket of a noise that makes everyone leave the room makes someone the King of heavy, as opposed to the King of utter art wank.
“If I learnt anything from the rave scene, it is that you can be both, accessible and heavy, you just have to have the bollocks to risk it and learn and fine tune things you learn along the way. And not just stay safe in your cool, art wank hole, constantly covering fear of failure with some bullshit about being too avant-garde for people to get it. That is not a risk to me. That’s an art wank comfort zone.”
S13: I find that there’s a real live feel to the album. Was it recorded live?
GD: “Hell no! (laughs) I am not a fan of recording live, as I feel it’s a lot of pressure that often ends in difficult compromise, for me, anyway. My focus is freaking awful, so less pressure is better for me. And I really don’t mind doing guitar overdubs. I usually get them done quite quick. It’s vocals that are the stress fest. I like to get all the music recorded, then leave some time, like a week or so, and record vocals after. That way I am not so exhausted and have time to be sure about the vocals I want to put down.
“So the live vibe, I think it’s a combination of having noise man Robbie (Judkins) being the kind of noise glue, and the talented Wayne Adams recording us. And Johnny Chimp‘s mastering keeps things sounding quite raw.”
S13: There’s also a tongue in cheek aspect to the band. The brilliantly titled Manuel Labour vs Office Dickheads and Mr Hardcore Lives Next Door. How did these tracks and their titles come about?
GD: “Yeah man, you’ve got to have humour to get through shit, right? Yeah, we often either rehearse or on tour, can start to go a bit delirious after a long day and start coming up with stupid shit someone has to write down and some make it to being actual titles. Manual Labour vs Office Dickheads, was kind of my surmise of all this shit people talk about ‘toxic’ working environments and ‘micro aggressions’ seems to be office dickhead shit. I never worked in an office in my life, always done manual labour.
“Working in an office sounds like an extension of school where you are cramped into the same room each day with a bunch of people you never chose to be with and not fall out with them. Of course that shit will get toxic!
“In manual labour, if someone’s being a dick, you call them a dick and move on to your next job and it’s most likely done with when you next meet up in the greasy spoon or whatever. Our job only becomes a problem when we’ve got to call the office dickheads sat in their unhealthy, bitchy lair.
“Mr. Hardcore Lives Next Door, was a tip of the hat to comic strips, Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door, and ‘cos we were often rehearsing next door to a D-beat of some kind.”
S13: Pushed to the Brink of Madness then Demonised seems to be so reflective of our times. It really highlights the collective anxiety. Was the recording of this track something you captured as the incident played out?
GD: “Thank you. Yeah it was the less romantic use of Youtube videos of different incidents layered over each other. People drunk, getting into fights, to anger out of defensive confusion, to the main clip, that was of a massive unit of a man wielding a machete up and down a street in Hackney, making some, mad unsettling high pitched noises.
“The clip I chose seems to be filmed by some hipster types on their phone in their house. At the end, one of them says ‘maybe you should stop filming in case someone see’s you, like in case that guy has friends’, and this other guy responds with ‘you think he’s got friends?’ Which is pretty funny as yeah, a guy losing his shit with a machete is unlikely to have friends. But there in lies the point. How did that incident get to that? Where were his friends, his support network, his family, how did it get to that?
“The mental healthcare in this country is almost non-existent, to the level of support people need. But the first signs most people will see of that will be when it has all gone way too far. It’s easy to demonise at that point. Too easy.”
S13: Shock Into Behold! kind of feels like the centre-piece that ties everything together. Would that be accurate?
GD: In a way, those tracks together were kind of the elephant in the room for Bruxa Maria at the time. As we had been in a really bad van crash on tour with Silent Front. Thankfully no one died, but the van did spin 180 degrees on a French motorway, then we rolled over like three times into the gutter, like we were stuck inside a slowed down washing machine! It was the first time I was not driving us on tour. I can’t imagine the state I would be in if it had been me driving.
“A bit like Bredder My Bredders, these tunes felt risky to me. Particularly, as I have often told myself, that if I write anything in a raw emotional state about an actual thing, best put it on the shelf long enough to see it from a different viewpoint and check for cheese and cliches that may miss the mark or translate badly. There are little cuts of dark observations tied with humour in there, that made me feel tougher about it, I guess. And when I presented the idea to the lads, no one said, ‘what the fuck is this shit?’ So we put it down.
“It was a shock, and behold we survived.”
S13: I’m not sure how you feel, but given the current state of affairs, there doesn’t seem to be enough angry new music coming out of the U.K. at the moment. Thoughts on that?
GD: “Oooo… I am probably the wrong person to ask, to be honest. One of the wicked things about driving bands on tour was hearing what music everyone was listening to as well as playing, and exploring lists of stuff I had made when I had returned. I’m kind of missing that now. ‘Given the current state of affairs’ maybe people are using different coping mechanisms, or maybe they are at home making angry shit later to be released after lockdown times.
“What will come will come, just be sure to have a wide spectrum when looking out for it. And if it don’t happen, then best start your own band, innit… thems the rules.” (laughs)
S13: I remember reading an interview of yours some time ago where you said that hipsters are the new yuppies. I thought, ‘That’s so true!’ Do you think this culture has become significantly worse over the years?
GD: “Well the ’80s was the decade of greed and it’s just grown from there. Each new generation is born into a normalisation of that self-righteous greed and they just survive by those rules. Some say we get the leaders we deserve.
“I think the system we have gives us the leaders we have and that’s why the system needs to change to put people and the planet before profits. And that be the new normalisation.
“Brexit should show us we should make our democracy more democratic rather than stamp our feet and try and dictatorially override it and dangerously miss the point, in my opinion.
“Proportional representation would be better than first past the post, I think. Freedom of the press should not include the freedom to lie, sew discourse and trample on the freedoms of individuals.
“And politicians lying for votes should also made seriously accountable through, fines, firing, permanent barring from positions, or prison time.”
S13: Social media seems like such a massive thing for artists these days. Where do sit with it?
GD: “The only reason I used social media in the first place is because I was in a band. I miss the MySpace times. I really resented having to do Facebook and I hate it on so many levels. This has created a bad association for me sometimes where I think if I wasn’t in a band, I would not have any social media in my life, and that would be really nice.
“The social justice warrior shit reminds me of crust punk – lefty, vegan, fascist, bollocks I used to get fucked off with, as well. Hence me fucking off to raves for a good decade. I prefer the original sentiment of first wave punk, where people respected difference and individuality. Being true to yourself even in the face of adversity. That felt more honest. And actually tolerant.
“Second wave had all that middle class, hippy pretending at being working class, or ‘right on’ politically (cue Rick the Prick) for sense of purpose. That’s what creates that vegan, fascist, bollocks, I think. Like they ‘doth protest too much’ and miss the fucking point. They seem to attach themselves to very chilled, easy going people and then take over, and the chilled lot just think ‘oh well, freedom of speech and all that’. But the ones screaming just shout everyone down, and start trying to shame anyone with difference of opinion.
“As soon as you get offline you see how small these groups of extremists are. When driving bands, no one seemed to be into that shit in person, there’s always the odd feminazi on the fringes of things. But generally, really good, chilled people in person.
“They ain’t no warrior without that keyboard. Get them out of your head, I say. Freedom of speech all the way, mate. Proper punk as fuck.
“I am a vegan, by the way. I’m just not a fascist about it.” (laughs)
S13: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
GD: “Thank you for contacting us and showing support. We wish all the best to everyone at this time. If you are struggling with your mental health in any way, please consider calling the charity MIND. They’re actually really helpful. It is so easy to think that a charity is for people worse off than ourselves, no matter how much we may be struggling.”
Bruxa Maria‘s The Maddening is out now via Hominid Sounds.
Don’t suffer in silence. If you need to talk to somebody contact the MIND helpline on 0300 123 3393. For more information visit https://www.mind.org.uk