Updated: May 5
Galway punks release their debut EP and address the intersection of the personal and political in their best work so far
To my mind pop music has always been against something. Like for Johnny in The Wild One, who when asked 'what are you rebelling against?' answers 'whaddya got?', it’s not necessarily a specific thing. It’s a sense of railing against the prevailing culture and mores of the day.
Every youth culture and tribe has been against something from the teddy boys in the 50s (second world war austerity and national service) to acid house ravers in the 80s flaunting the Tory crackdown on 'music characterised by repetitive beats'.
Punk managed to rebel against several things at once - how shit life in the UK and Ireland was in the 70s; racism; unemployment; police brutality; society in general and the endless, boring, noodling of prog rock. Punk however was still characterised by a somewhat vague, general feeling of loathing and antipathy towards its targets which might be everything or nothing. Post-punk moved on by intellectualising these feelings, or at least targeting something more specific and providing a coherent focus. This could be radical Marxist politics in the case of Gang of Four, art (The Mekons), Magazine's avant-garde anti-machismo or The Birthday Party's self-destructive bent.
Turnstiles only formed in early 2019 yet already they have mirrored and condensed the musical evolution of punk to post-punk in the late 70s and early 80s. From their brilliantly simple (and simply brilliant) debut Wasting Away, their sound has evolved to a denser more nuanced sound while still retaining their infectious energy and attack.
Their new EP, released on January 8, was recorded at Lakeland studios by Mike O'Dowd and mixed by Daniel Fox of Dublin's fractured, angular Girl Band. As Turnstiles note: 'Mike has been really important in our development as a band and in the studio and we feel at home recording with him. We’re all huge fans of Daniel and his ability to craft dense yet minimal sounding tracks, which is why we wanted to work with him.' What Daniel has also brought is a sense of space even in the sonic assault he has conjured out of bass, guitars, drums and vocals. Well distorted and effected bass, drums worthy of John Bonham and guitars that sound like chaotic, kinetic electrons bouncing around copper coils and amplified 1 million times. Cleverly, Callum's vocals have been mixed to recreate the sound of the rehearsal room where it sounds like he is busting a gut to be heard.
The lyrical themes have developed too, which for me is what defines them as post-punk. Their thrust is the global political systems which not only constrain us but also encourage particular, often atavistic, patterns of behaviour. In parallel they also remind us that there is also individual conduct to consider, otherwise people can simply abrogate their responsibility as if it’s all someone else’s fault. They are not afraid of confronting either strand or the way they intersect as the personal becomes political.
In A State is overtly political with lines such as:
Collect a new collective and we can start again
And from a fresh perspective begin to make amends
For all the brutalism and killing in the name
Of only those who’ve risen enough to play the game
It subtly references left wing politics (a collective) and cleverly highlights the brutalism and killing sprees of alt or far right demagogues which simultaneously referencing Idles and Rage Against The Machine - two of the more overtly political bands of the last 30 years.
Just Bleed takes a more mixed approach with the personal lyricism of:
Pen a line that can open some minds
Break some hearts under westerly skies
Dry some tears under heavenly eyes
Become something that they can idolise
and then adding:
Sing a song that reminds me to breathe
Or raise my fist with gritted teeth
Unlike some political bands they never forget that ultimately life is about connections between people. As Callum sings on EP closer Omniscient Delusion:
If you think you know it all... that's omniscient delusion
How does it feel to be real, to be human?
The EP is a tremendously powerful blast of anger and rage, tinged with romance and shot through with optimism. It's not the poet-punk of Fontaines DC or the pop-punk of Blink-182. It may not even be post-punk - whatever it is, it is the true definition of existential (authentic, grounded in experience, rooted in reality) and it's perfect for 2021.
The EP track listing is:
Something To Die For
In A State
The Turnstiles EP was made with the support of a MISP grant from Ireland's Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media.