Pre-Rebellion Festival Interview – Dischord

Growing up in Blackpool, Rebellion on your doorstep, how can you not be involved. It took a few years to get on the stage but now they’re there, it’s time to party. Having been conceived on a Rebellion dance floor many years ago, 2018 was their first year but 2019 promises to be incredible.

Q. What was your initial opinion of Rebellion, as a festival?

Affectionate bewilderment, to be honest! I was born and raised in Blackpool, and it’s a very surreal experience when an entire scene descends upon your hometown for the weekend. It’s strange because it fed this misconception that Blackpool had a thriving music scene – but when we were growing up there was never anything alternative going on outside of that one weekend in August. Hence ‘Music is Dead’! You could only earn money in a tribute band playing in terrible pubs. As a teenager I spent a long time labouring under the misapprehension that you needed a BIG LOCAL FOLLOWING before anyone would take your band seriously, so I spent a lot of time playing in empty pubs before we accepted the fact that our audience was elsewhere. To a lot of people Blackpool is simply ‘the home of Rebellion’, and people seemed to think it was a great place to be, which it is if you’re coming down to get pissed for a long weekend, but I used to be a tram conductor, and Zowie worked on North Pier, so we were literally cleaning up the vomit after the holidaymakers had gone home, which changes your perspective slightly! 

I think everybody has a love-hate relationship with their hometown, but ultimately, I was sort of perversely proud that Rebellion was OURS, even when I was watching the police pull the cadavers of punks who had overdosed out of public toilets.  

Q. Rebellion has been running since 1996, what’s your history with the festival as a punter or an artist?

As a local I’ve witnessed every incarnation of the festival, right back to Holidays in the Sun and Wasted. The line ‘too wasted for rebellion’ in our song ‘Seaside Suicide’ was a little nod to that – as well as a comment on listening to revolutionary music but being too fucked to change anything. I could never afford to go when I was younger, but when you live nearby you sort of experience it all vicariously, anyway. Blackpool becomes a completely different place for that one weekend. Again, that’s a weird feeling when you spend your teenage years getting threatened and chased for looking like a weirdo, and then suddenly this freakshow arrives and it’s safe to walk the streets! The local police love this weekend, because there’s never really any trouble. The punk scene is very good at policing itself. I suppose it’s the mosh pit mentality spilling out onto the streets: if somebody falls over, you pick them up, and if somebody starts a fight, they’re swiftly evicted. Anarchy in action! 

Dave, Zowie and I were at Rebellion in 2010 when Gallows played. They were still touring Grey Britain – one of the few modern records I would consider a classic. It was absolutely insane; they turned the Empress Ballroom into one huge circle pit. (I’ll always remember Frank Carter’s comment: “That’s more of an oblong pit than a circle pit, but that’s fine. You’re punks and you don’t really know what shapes are.”) The Winter Gardens has a very special place in my heart. It’s so quintessentially Blackpool: a remnant of bygone elegance. I saw pantomimes there as a child, countless shows there as an adult, everything from Placebo to The League of Gentlemen. My wife and I got married there, and then there everyone was tearing up the ballroom. It’s what our song ‘Animals in the Palace’ is about. When Gallows played ‘London is the Reason’ they changed the words, naturally, to ‘Blackpool is the Reason’. I think we had a collective moment of thinking “Yeah, Blackpool IS the reason.” We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the moment of conception for The Wakes. It was quite something to be standing there in the crowd thinking “we should be on that stage” to finally getting there eight years later. 

Q. Did your opinion change at all after you went for the first time?

Not especially, but even before I’d gone to the main event (I managed to sneak in without a ticket!) I was always around, drinking with the punks in the street and watching the fringe gigs at The Tache and the Blue Room. You don’t actually need a festival ticket to enjoy the Rebellion experience! I would say my opinion of the festival changed after we first played, though. As a DIY band, we’d always thought of it as quite mainstream, I suppose. But having seen behind the curtain when we played the Introducing Stage in 2018, it’s a genuinely independent festival. Johnny Wah Wah, who runs that stage, is an absolute legend. The bands are treated much better than in other venues and events we’ve played. It certainly made us want to come back. 

Q. Was it always your plan to play at Rebellion?

It was! In fact, there was no Plan B! In 2012, we found ourselves having accidentally started a punk band. That hadn’t been our intention, we just sat down to write an album and ‘The Wakes’ came out. We’d been in other bands before, but it really felt as though those songs had been there all of our adult life, just simmering beneath the surface waiting to be unleashed. Dischord was born of a dissatisfaction with the state of music at the time. It was a strange political era, too, we had the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government, with David Cameron sowing the seeds of the horror we’re in now, and yet there was this weird sense of national pride: It was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics were held in London. That summer there seemed to be union flag bunting everywhere. Danny Boyle! James Bond! Mr. Bean! Everyone was getting nostalgic and patriotic and we were having none of it. (And look where that nostalgic patriotism lead…) It seemed that the country was actually quite ugly, and we wanted to document that dirt beneath the surface. We used Blackpool as a metaphor on that record, to use the idea of the promenade and its funfair façade as a distraction from the drugs, prostitution and drunken violence. 

Prior to Dischord, Dave, Zowie and I had been in a weird goth-folk band, then I played in an electronic band for a while. Whilst we’d always listened to heavier music, we weren’t really involved in the scene in any way. The fact that the launch of our debut album coincided with the country’s biggest punk event – conveniently in our hometown – seemed the perfect way to introduce Dischord. But, of course, nobody had heard of us, so Rebellion didn’t really want to know! We ended up putting on our own gig on the Saturday afternoon. Dave found the poster the other day, it said “Never Mind Rebellion – Here’s a Free Gig!” We were such cocky little shits! I think about two people came. We played a fringe gig in the Blue Room later that same afternoon to about four people. After that we just threw ourselves into playing pretty much anywhere and everywhere, so that by next August there were enough people in the punk scene who knew us that when we played the Blue Room again it was actually full. It was beautifully bizarre – the first time we had ever had a crowd in our hometown and it was made up of all the friends we had made in all the dives we had played in Southport, Elsecar, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Bristol, Birmingham, Derby, Burnley, Nottingham, Wakefield… In hindsight we wouldn’t have had it any other way. I would say that more than anything changed our perspective of Rebellion weekend – the crowd at the gig is a representation of a year of sweat, blood and toil! 

We were so in love with the fringe gigs we had pretty much given up applying for the actual festival, but everyone we knew who was going kept asking why we weren’t playing. We wanted it for them, more than anything. At the same time, there’s an incredibly personal element. Being a sandgrown’un, being in a Blackpool-based punk band who write punk songs about Blackpool… Of course we want to play Blackpool’s punk festival. We were never going to say no! 

We wrote ‘Animals in the Palace’ about Rebellion with the intention of playing at the festival, but we ended up dropping it from the set last year because, as much as we love the Introducing Stage, I wouldn’t call it a palace! We decided we’d only play it if they put us on a main stage – see, we’re still cocky little shits!!  Rest assured, we’ll be opening with it this year!

Q. Who would you love to see play Rebellion? 

I’d love to see Black Eddy on the Introducing Stage, and Vaginapocalypse on the Almost Acoustic. I’ve always thought it would be great if they had a local bands stage – we play an annual ‘Blackpool Bastards’ invasion gig at The Station in Ashton-under-Lyne, it’s a fantastic line up. 

Q. Do you spend much time at The Introducing Stage, do you check out any bands before Rebellion?

Absolutely. It’s all well and good watching the established, nostalgic acts, but if you don’t support the introducing stage then there won’t be a festival in another five or ten years’ time. I’ll be checking out as many bands as I can, particularly Dead Objectives. Outside the main event it’s always worth checking out Bootleg Social, The Tache and countless other local venues. 

Sadly, there’s usually a ‘non-political’ gig held in secret somewhere during Rebellion weekend. Don’t be fooled – ‘non-political’ usually means white power Nazi scum bands who daren’t advertise their gigs because they’re all fucking racist cowards who know we will shut them down the moment we find out where they are. They’re a tiny minority, but these cunts still exist, which makes me fucking sick. Punk is anti-authority, it’s anthems for underdogs, there’s no place for oppression or supremacy. What’s more, it’s rock and roll, which is black music. If you’re a white supremacist, fuck off and listen to Wagner. Better still, listen to Dischord. Open your minds. Open your hearts. 

Q. Would you say Rebellion is the highlight of your year?

Socially, Rebellion is absolutely the highlight of Dischord’s year. As I’ve said, we spend all year gigging all over the country, and then suddenly not only is everyone together in one place, but it’s my hometown! That said, those tiny, out of the way gigs are every bit as important to us as big festivals. If we place sole importance on big stages and big crowds, then Simon Cowell has won. Music – and specifically PUNK music – is not about spectacle, it’s about art and it’s about connection. Speaking personally, I don’t measure my achievements as an artist in gigs. A shit promoter or broken speaker can ruin a gig, I measure personal achievement as what we can achieve as a band. The highlights of the year are always creative highlights for me, and we’re recording our fourth album at the moment. If it doesn’t kill us it’ll be released later in the year, and that will absolutely be the highlight of my year. Will playing a selection of songs from that album at Rebellion be a part of that highlight? Of course! 

Q. How’s your year been, anything you’d like to share about what you’ve been doing band wise?

We’ve tried to play fewer gigs this year as we’re recording the new album, but some were too hard to refuse. Standout moments have been playing Mounts Bay Academy in our annual pilgrimage to Penzance, The Blackpool Bastards gig in Ashton and discovering Fuel Bar in Manchester. But mostly we’ve been locked away in a windowless studio! In March 2018, Zowie and I released a short horror film, ‘Convent Crescent’. We knew it was only the beginning of a much longer story. What we didn’t realise at the time was that it was also the beginning of a new Dischord album.

In 2016 we released our third album, ‘War Or Peace’. It was our proudest achievement at the time; a concept album about war, death, love, forgiveness and, well, peace. The album’s final track, ‘Love’ became our favourite track to play live, and closed that album with our most important lyric: “They call me blind, but my name is peace. I am the silence when the guns have ceased.”

The problem with writing your best album is the question: what comes next? Fast forward to 2019 – imagine a Hellish time-jump montage of Brexit negotiations, Theresa May dancing to Abba, Boris Johnson promising his ‘New Golden Era’, Tommy Robinson covered in milkshake, Mosque attacks, John Lydon sporting his ‘Make America Great Again’, school shootings and Donald Trump mocking the disabled – a post-satirical dystopia seemingly designed by Quentin Blake and Spitting Image on a particularly bad day. Ample fodder, we were repeatedly told, for a political punk band.

But fodder for what, exactly? Evolution has always been integral to our writing process. We’ve never wanted to repeat ourselves. Ultimately, the point of ‘War or Peace’ was that war, political corruption, religious extremism, nationalism, terrorism and suffering are universal, self-perpetuating and doomed to continue indefinitely without drastic systemic upheaval… Despite the reign of leaders so grotesque as to be utterly immune to parody, nothing has changed. There is nothing to say we haven’t already said – and continue to say on stage every night. There are only so many punk songs you can write before they all begin to sound the same.

Having taken ‘punk’ as far as we could without repeating ourselves, we were faced with a dilemma: could we change our focus, push our style to the point where we risked no longer being ‘Dischord’? And, what the hell was ‘Dischord’ anyway? A band who played three minute fast, shouty songs, or four people pouring every ounce of their souls into their instruments?

Should we split up? Start a new band? That would be too easy. Should we grit our teeth and write a hardcore album about ‘Brexit Britain’? That seemed about the least punk rock thing we could do. That’s what you’d expect from us.

Why not evolve? Why not take a risk? As strange as it sounds now, Seaside Suicide was a risk. Prior to that we had never played hardcore punk. We didn’t know we could do it. We didn’t know if people would connect with it if we did.

So, we set ourselves a challenge. Many artists I admired – David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, The Beatles – reinvented themselves from album to album, using new personas to find fresh perspectives and create new sounds. If they could reinvent themselves with each record, why couldn’t reinvent ourselves with each song?

What if Dischord wrote the soundtrack to Convent Crescent?

Thirteen tracks performed by thirteen different ‘bands’, each one of them Dischord in disguise. It was the perfect opportunity to shake things up. For me to get back behind the drums, to let Jake demonstrate his abilities as a guitarist and – more importantly – a producer, to let Zowie take on lead vocals, for Dave to hang up the Gibson and break out the Spanish guitars, 12 strings and effects pedals. 

So began the creation of one the most insidious concept albums ever written. A novel and its soundtrack written simultaneously, with songs for once not written to flow together, but written deliberately to jar, to contradict each other, whilst surreptitiously forming an elaborate concept – a narrative told in secret.

We’ve always said that the album was the ultimate artform, the perfect combination of music, film, art and poetry. We’re taking that to its extreme with this album: A record, a novel and a short film all in one, combining to tell a complete story.

‘War or Peace’ declared love to be the solution, and we thought that was a full stop, but now we’re exploring what that actually means. ‘Convent Crescent’ is a story of love. It is also a story of death, rape, murder, demonic possession, sacrifice, addiction and loss because it’s written by the same damaged minds that brought you ‘The Wakes’, but ultimately it’s about love.

For our last album, we designed a set of tarot cards, featuring characters representing the albums’ themes: The Soldier, Death, Love, War and The Devil. ‘Convent Crescent’ is their story, and if you think we’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention!

Q. Are you planning anything special for Rebellion, Single-EP-Album launch?

Our new single, ‘Director’s Cut’ will be released in time for Rebellion. The cover features artwork by the incredible Mark Hetherington – who drew the tarot cards for ‘War Or Peace’. Rest assured his artwork will be adorning a new batch of T Shirts! So look out for our merch stall, we’ve got a mannequin and everything! 

Q. When do you play Rebellion this year, Stage / Time Slot.

The Pavilion Stage – 4pm on Sunday. Be there! 

Q. Why should anyone come see your band, in a nut shell?

Because we’re grains of Blackpool sand blown by a vicious tidal wind into something vaguely human-shaped. We’re the litter you leave behind, the roar from Bloomfield Road, the howl of the ambulance’s siren and the screams of pleasure tinged with terror as The Big One plummets. We went to the fortune teller on North Pier to find out if we had a future, but every card she dealt was Death, so we did what any right-thinking person without money or prospects would: WE STARTED A PUNK BAND. 

We decided to start this band on the dancefloor at Rebellion eight years ago and spent every second since then working our fingers to the bone to get on that stage – four albums and hundreds of gigs later we finally got there. Join us!