By Chris Jarvis
Darlington’s melodic hardcore punks are on the up. Off the back of a new EP, increased media coverage including a feature in Vive Le Rock magazine and The Mixed Tape, they now have tour dates in the diary with Ignite and UK Subs and they look to make 2016 their year. Inspiring comparisons with Rise Against, In Evil Hour combine the speed and aggression of modern hardcore with scathing attacks on the state of society of and politics. It is this latter feature of their music that led The Norwich Radical to talk to frontwoman and guitarist, Alice and Gareth about their political outlook, how it interplays with their musical outputs and what role they see this fusion having in shaping political change as part of our series Music That Matters.
I start by asking how the pair would describe their political outlook – given the overtly political nature of their music. Initially, both Alice and Gareth are reluctant to respond with concrete affiliations, clearly not wishing to alienate anybody with Alice stating “We have a general wariness about putting too strong a label on anything” and Gareth concurring: “I think the root of it is that I think it’s really difficult to get behind one political category or affiliation or background because the problem is that a lot of the political backgrounds mean a lot of different things to different groups.”
But after talking a little further, they do answer with more certainty. Gareth – “We believe in social justice. In terms of UK politics, we’re both definitely, and the band’s stance is behind a lot of ideals really close to the Green Party; their emphasis on social justice, equality environmentalism.” Alice agrees, “Yeah, environmentalism, LGBTQ rights, pro feminism, anti-war. That’s where we’re coming from.”
Given the lyrical content of In Evil Hour’s music, I follow up this question by asking what they believe to be the most important or biggest political issue of the day. After mentioning a variety of issues, not least the ongoing migrant crisis, both settle on one underpinning factor that runs through their political framework and feeds directly into the music they produce with Gareth declaring “The biggest issue is ultimately where the migrant crisis and a lot of the troubles in the world come from – the neoliberal foreign policy that we’ve seen from the 1980s and possibly even before” and Alice adding “That’s probably the biggest theme that runs through our music – the kind of effect that has on society and the general lack of empathy extended to fellow humans.”
Not content with having their political activity constrained to the outputs of their band, both Alice and Gareth are involved politically in one sense or another outside of this. Gareth is active within the trade union movement – “I’m the chair of the North East Region for my Union. I think Trade Unionism today is almost a double edged sword. It can be really rewarding on a small, local level in terms of personal cases and individually representing staff members. On a wider scale, I think trade unionism can be quite frustrating because the restrictions that have been put on them by successive governments have rendered it inert.”
Similarly, Alice’s work consists of a direct involvement in attempting to make a difference to the lives of people around her: “My job, I work in a college offering social support to young people and do a lot of work with looked after children. It’s mainly sort of social support and signposting to, well this is the big thing, whatever local services are left working with us. But obviously it’s quite a deprived area and I think one of the most frustrating things about the job I do is seeing how every single local service we’ve come to rely on recently are being dismantled beneath us, so the options we have to help people are themselves limited.”
Propagandhi – they’re the masters of it as far as I’m concerned in punk rock.
We move on to discuss the rest of the music scene, and the other bands that are fusing music and politics, and the role that this has in politicising people, including the band themselves. In this regard, Gareth states “Obviously there are a lot of bands, and even ones that you wouldn’t describe as heavily political punk rock have political songs, and I think that really seeps into people about punk rock. I mean people like Propagandhi – they’re the masters of it as far as I’m concerned in punk rock. Nobody is as eloquent or writes as wonderful songs as they do while containing such dense, brilliant politics.” Alice adds an additional take on the matter, looking specifically at the influence or lack thereof on her political outlook of such music. “I feel it’s more that I’m drawn more to bands that reflect my politics or my feelings about social justice and things like that. The thing that a lot of people in the punk scene, you know, you hear a band and you hear these lyrics and suddenly you feel less alone.”
She moves on to look at the potential that bands in the mainstream have to make a difference politically: “Rise Against are a big one. They can be divisive, because obviously they are so phenomenally popular at the moment, which can put people off – the whole sort of sell out argument or whatever, but at the same time, they are speaking about some quite important issues to a massive fanbase.” Gareth jumps in here to agree: “That almost makes it more important for me. Its awesome all the sort of grassroots, DIY activism and that’s still important because that’s how the scene starts and that’s how these bands start. But I think its also important to acknowledge that if a band has like 5 million fans worldwide, the fact they aren’t sitting back and saying fuck it, we’ve made our money now, is brilliant.”
In light of the passion that they talk about the music scene and the bands that are adding political music to it, it seemed fitting to ask about their perception of the role of politics in their music, and the role of political music in bringing about change. Alice is clear in describing the political roots of their music: “I think a lot of where it comes from with us, is a general frustration seeing the world around you and struggling to know how you can either raise awareness or do something and I think it’s a kind of catharsis a lot of the time of what we do and what we sing about. That itself feeds into a frustration as well, in that you can sort of write a song and it can exorcise these kind of feelings, but you know at the end of the day you aren’t making much of a difference.”
This final point is telling. Despite the political nature of In Evil hour’s music, despite the love they speak of political music in the punk scene in particular, there is a realism behind their motivations. There is no attempt to be self-congratulatory in relation to the impacts behind had by their own music or that produced by their peers. Alice continues, “I think it’s very important not to overstate the potential. I think occasionally it can be easy to sit back and go, I’ve done something, I’ve put it out there, I’ve put the message out there, but it’s not the same as direct action and I think you have to be mindful of that.”
This should not be seen as a defeatism, though, as both Alice and Gareth point to clear aspects of political music that are important and do have the potential to affect change. For Gareth: “It’s important in opening people up to ideas. It’s not just about the music, it’s about the community and the people and there’s some amazing people that have done a billion more things than we do in getting directly involved. It’s a unifier for people to come together, because people aren’t going to spend every working hour discussing politics – it’s a great thing for people to rally together around.” Likewise, Alice talks warmly of this feeling of community: “It’s more the music should be the beginning of a conversation, the start. Perhaps what we’re trying to do is, I don’t think we’ve been quite this decided, but start a conversation, start a thought process to perhaps lead on to change or direct action. Human beings naturally want to feel their world view reflected in the community around them. A lot of the time, particularly with the scene that we play on is that sense of unity and belonging, so that a least you share a view with these people.”
It’s not just about the music, it’s about the community and the people
To finish up, we move away from talking about politics, and focus just on their future as a band over the coming year. Alice and Gareth confirm that plans for a follow up full length release are in the works, with the end of the year being touted as a potential release date. They also confirm they will tour the UK in the summer and Europe in October, with some (yet to be announced) festival dates in the works as well.
Undoubtedly, 2016 will be In Evil Hour’s biggest year yet, and their political message will spread further and further afield. This can only be a good thing. Having spoken to Alice and Gareth, they are both humble and committed, driven and polite and the combination of this personality with their piercing music and their strong political analysis shows how important they are to the scene today. Without voices like these, the scene will be weaker, their fans will be less energised and less inspired, and so as In Evil Hour go from strength, we can be safe in the knowledge that some small part of music is a little more progressive and a little more exciting.
This interview was part of the Music That Matters series. The rest of the series can be found here.