Talk Talk: An Interview With Bad Breeding
Since their emergence in 2013, Stevenage based Bad Breeding have been seen as one of the rare modern bands who stand for something. Combative, engaging and consistently willing to speak out against social injustices, their politically charged tracks resonate for reasons beyond just the music's deafening sonic racket.
The new record 'Divide' was conceived in the wake of the EU referendum result and sees them wrestle with that particular upheaval in attempt to make sense of the way forward. The band take inspiration as much from government policy and the misuse of institutional power as from the lineage of punk projects that came before them.
Ahead of their double header at Sebright Arms in London this week, we spoke to frontman Christopher Dodd about the album and the ways in which funding cuts have affected the arts across the country.
Has being described as "the best punk band in Britain" by the Guardian and other such praise added any extra pressure when making the new record?
Nah not really. I think phrases like that are just part of a particular media narrative. People need stuff to write about and quotes to pull readers in. It’s good to know that you’re connecting with people on some level and that what you’re doing might be translating positively, but doing this has never been about looking for praise. It’s more of a release, not something we do to chase recognition. It might sound slightly narcissistic, but we make the songs for ourselves as much as we do for people who might be into the band.
How has your sound developed from the first album?
With the first record we were just trying to capture ourselves in our most honest form, but with Divide we wanted to develop the language out a little further. Given the lyrical content of the record, we wanted the sonics to help echo that feeling of constraint, pressure and confusion we’ve been processing over the last few years. To that end, we spent a lot of time weaving in machine noise and lots of dense layers to create that element of disorientation within some of the songs.
How much of a challenge was it to transport the essence of punk from its live, rawest, most visceral form onto record?
We’ve been playing together for a couple of years now so that sort of took care of itself. There’s a lot of noise and extra things layered into the record, but all of the performances were essentially tracked together live in a room, much like we did on the first record. We approached the denser elements of the songs once we had the core instrumental performances down. Having limited time making these things is probably beneficial too, recording isn’t always the cheapest thing beyond getting songs down on an eight-track so you just have to make use of whatever time you’ve got in a studio. I think that probably makes you push yourself that bit more.
You’ve gone from self-releasing the first record to working with La Vida Es un Mus and Iron Lung, what have been the main differences in expanding the project?
Not much has changed to be honest. We met both of those labels through playing shows and the idea of doing it together was based on a mutual understanding of what we were both about. We had the first record in their respective distros and working together seemed like a sensible thing to do. Both are the least intrusive people you can imagine and it was nice for someone to just accept the record as it was and base their opinions solely off the songs. That meant we were able to keep creative control of what we did, but still had the chance to share it with more people. One of the main beneficial things was arguably making it more accessible. People were buying the first record off us in the States, but then had to pay more than its original value in postage. Releasing it in two different places will hopefully mean that people don’t get ripped off on postage now.
Did you have a clear vision in your mind of what you wanted before working with Nicky Rat and Carlos Casotti on the album and poster art or is it more of a collaborative process?
It started out with pretty simple collaborative discussions, but both of those guys are incredibly talented so it got to a point where we just let them do their thing. Local photographer Katie Rose was also really important in the process of the cover art too. Katie took this perfectly informed architectural photo essay of Stevenage so Nicky had some great source material to choose from before he got started on the collaging side of things.
The album is heavily influenced by the recent political upheaval; amongst all the negativity, do you see any positives coming from the current situation?
I think some of the debates being held beyond the remit of financially-incentivised political parties and media organisations are an important element to gain traction following the Brexit vote - regardless of whether they’re left or right leaning. These positives will largely be a matter for the individual, though, and you cannot ignore that spike in hate crimes being recorded following the vote. That stuff is heartbreaking. Some of the demonstrations in the UK this year – inclusive of the Women’s March on London and Stand Up to Racism – have given an indication that some important conversations are continually developing at a wider, popular level though and you can only hope that helps bring about some positivity in local communities. Hopefully larger numbers of people will see through the distortion in the British press too - the manipulation of the working-class agenda, the bending of facts and the blatant encouragement of xenophobia in particular newspapers.
Maybe Britain’s withdrawal will ignite more concerted conversations about the integrity of the EU as it stands too. One of the positives we might see is a genuine conversation about a way of continuing the free movement of people and the protection of workers’ rights within a collection of progressive states free from the shackles of an exploitative bureaucratic system. That’s probably me dreaming, though…
What does ‘Divide’ mean to you in this context?
The title for the record was a summary of how we saw things playing out around the time of the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ campaigns. It was also a signifier towards what was being constructed in the press too: these arguments that were influenced by deceit and manipulation to the benefit of particular politicians and media outlets.
What would you change in order to give people in largely unrepresented towns such as Stevenage more of a voice and a chance to thrive creatively?
It feels like a cynical thing to say, but much of those creative opportunities are hindered by economic circumstance. There is so much wasted creativity in lower-income backgrounds and a lot of people are defeated purely by the fact that they are not independently wealthy enough to put their ideas into practice or have them heard.
At the moment much of the focus for large numbers of people is to keep their heads above the water, even those doing full-time hours, not to mention vulnerable sections of society dependent on a welfare state that is slowly being dismantled for ideological reasons. You take those conditions and couple them with a decline in arts funding, rent hikes, excessive transport costs and conservative working attitudes and you find yourself in an environment that is devoid of any creative scope.
When looking at the general exploration of towns like Stevenage in a creative sense, I think it’s also a fair assertion that certain tropes and stories of working-class struggle are favourable in British media, only certain types of stories get told in popular entertainment. Most of these experiences are very rarely informed by people with an actual grip on the reality of what they’re meant to be representing.