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NurseOnDuty: Art As Resistance

Describing themselves as an ‘Anarcho Noize Pop’ project and citing Crass, Sonic Youth and Babes in Toyland (among others) as influences, Norwich based duo NurseOnDuty have been releasing their electro DIY shoegazey, industrial, anarcho-punk, RiotGaze since summer 2015 with LostAndFound Songs. The following EPs 1,2 and 3 show a band evolving musically as they respond to the political/economic/social world around them. Intrigued by the music of NurseOnDuty and by the motivations and ethos of a band who list as their interests subverting mainstream media propaganda and opposing prejudice in all its forms I contacted Ad and Kat to find out more.  

Live photography by Craig Breame.

 

Hi, could you tell us a bit about how NurseonDuty came about – you were both in SugarMouse weren’t you? Are the two bands running in tandem? Is there a sense of musical continuity between the two?

Ad: Nurse On Duty in fact came first it was initially a bedroom project set up for Kat to learn guitar and was influenced by lots of lo-if shoegaze soundscape music I was listening to at the time such as Flying Saucer Attack and Loveliescrushing. We were just making music on an old 6 track recorder in our bedroom. ‘MurderInLebanon’ on Lost and Found Songs is from those original sessions. SugarMouse then formed and became our primary output for a while. However various issues emerged in the other members private lives and practices got more spaced out. I had just finished building a home studio/practice space at this time, so me and Kat revived NurseOnDuty to fill the space in creativity as I was learning to use the new equipment. I guess you could say SugarMouse is currently on ‘indefinite hiatus’, we still see the other guys loads and are all still good friends so who knows what may happen in future with that project. I guess the musical continuity between the two projects exists as I wrote the vast majority of the ‘music’ and Kat wrote the vast majority of the lyrics in SugarMouse which are roles we carried on over in NurseOnDuty.

Photo by Craig Breame

Between July ’15 and April ’17 NurseOnDuty (NoD) released four EPs, (18 tracks) that’s a continual flow of creativity! Has your sound changed over that time? What has tended to cause those evolutions and morphs? Society around you, situations, influences, technologies?

I would say all of those factors have had an impact. We have tried to use NurseOnDuty as a ‘mirror’ as such to society and the experiences we have in life, this therefore involves everything we experience on a daily basis from the political climate at the time to new artists musically and visually we have discovered. It all has a gradual subconscious impact and sometimes sets us off in a whole new directions.

A song may be triggered from anything ranging from a news article one of us may of read, to a discussion we may have had, to a new effects pedal. In fact equipment often has a big impact at times. Musically there will often be a certain sound I may have in my head, trying to find it often leads to a lot of unexpected discoveries through experiments along the way, that can result in us trying something completely different to what we initially intended to do. We both love pushing equipment in strange new ways that they were never intended to be used in. In a way it’s a similar experience to what I used to have when I painted in an abstract expressionist style, the subconscious can lead you to unexpected places and normally leads to a natural evolution over time…

Your sound is very ‘digital cyberpunk’ in the sense of knowing how to use technology to good effect…When I was listening to EP:3 recently, I think because of the vocal sound, it reminded me of the best of Hanin Elias’ early work after Atari Teenage Riot. Have there been any bands that have helped point you towards certain sounds?

Ad: It’s really interesting you mention Hanin Elias as her solo stuff and early Atari Teenage Riot was one of many early influences on the project, definitely in vocal sound! We both love a wide range of music and I am in particular a bit obsessive so it’s hard to narrow down specific bands or artists as there are so many. But it would be fair to say a combination of Crass and My Bloody Valentine alongside 90’s riot grrrl bands like Babes in Toyland featured heavily in our heads certainly in the early days of the reformed project.

We live in societies that structurally and culturally reflect the interests of the elite, would your art be a contestation of that culture – like Picasso stating that art should be a weapon not decoration?

Ad: Most definitely, one of our early ‘slogans’ as such was ‘Art is Resistance’. I see a key role of the artist whatever the medium is to ask questions, particularly, why? The second key role is to challenge people to stop and make them think, that’s what I’ve certainly always looked to art for. Through the act of putting ‘art’ into the world you are making a statement and to me it always made sense that this opportunity for a platform automatically links in my mind to addressing injustice and pain in the world and to me the root of both of those is always capitalism.

In Inventing the Future (1) Srnicek and Williams make the point that cultural change often precedes political change – maybe Rock Against Racism would be a good example of that – do you think music can still play a big part in creating positive cultural changes that lead to more progressive politics – I’m thinking about bands like IDLES, Sisteray, Gnod?

Ad: Most definitely as a teenager I discovered most of my ideals and morals that I carry to this very day through music and subsequent attached cultures. Kurt Cobain telling all homophobes, sexist and racists that they weren’t welcome at his gigs reflected back to me what I already felt but this made me so much more set in my thinking to enable me to speak out against idiots in my own life. Then through discovering bands like Crass and a lot of the 80’s anarcho punk bands I became more interested in politics and activism, those bands actually made me stop and ask questions of myself and my life. The lyrics to a song like ‘Big A Little A’ had a huge impact on my life and the way I have lived it. So ‘Yes’ I definitely think art can have an impact on cultural change, even if that is just on a micro individual basis. However one of things that troubles me the most is that we aren’t seeing teenagers getting together more bashing out three chords in defiance to our current bullshit Tory government as they have been screwed over more than any other generation really, power of apathy enduring social media I guess?…

Could you talk us through the subject matter and ideas you were exploring on the excellent EP:3?

Most of the songs for EP:3 were written during the Brexit Referendum and subsequent general election. So as you imagine fascism, racism, the Murdoch media and the farcical nature of our so called ‘democratic’ political system had a massive impact. Whatever you feel about the EU, Farage and his Nazi billboard and the language being used by some to describe fellow human beings at the time was hideous to witness. We also sadly lost a friend to suicide around this time, a beautiful gentle soul that gave so much to the world but was eaten alive by society’s bullshit, so yeah that featured in our minds too. Both inside our personal lives and in wider society, a lot of parallels were emerging during that time, I guess a common theme was alienation.

What sort of things do you draw on lyrically? Books, films, personal experiences?

Kat: I guess it’s hard to say what I draw upon lyrically as I tend to find it is quite a subconscious process. I tend to focus on sounds that work with a song, and the lyrics tend to be written and developed after this stage. I find sitting and writing lyrics before this stage a little hard, and the process of submerging yourself in the music without a clear direction allows your unconscious mind to do a lot of the writing for you. From this point, listening back to what the words you are using you begin to identify the themes and points of reference which give you some general theme from which you can then build upon in terms of giving the song a coherent purpose lyrically. I guess it’s about harnessing the creative energy of new track, and primarily allowing the vocal contributions to ultimately shape the sound in the same way that playing an instrument might.

In Resilience and Melancholy (2) Robin James seems to be saying, if I understand her correctly, that certain pop music structures parallel values of neoliberalism. The Dadaists wanted to create non bourgeois art by drawing on non bourgeois cultural resources, this led them to look to non European art for ideas. As anarchists how have you approached trying not to reproduce capitalism and capitalist cultural norms via your music – did that lead you to the musical styles and sounds you use? Or do you think it is organic, that if you have internalised an alternative narrative that will affect the structure of your music because that alternative narrative and set of values is an integral part of your creativity?

Ad: That’s a very good question and an eternal internal debate for me. Having ‘anti capitalist anarchist’ ideals and living in the modern world is extremely difficult line to walk at times and often results in hypocrisy if you are not careful. A band like Rage Against The Machine was always a hilarious example to me, you’re ‘anti capitalist’ but signed to Sony who invest in the arms industry alongside lots of other nasty stuff. I guess it’s easier for us, as music is not a career so we don’t depend on it to survive, so therefore we can do everything DIY, we can put all our music up for ‘pay what you can’. But to us that is so important, everybody has a fundamental right to access art no matter how much money they have. Few people have got this balance right. I guess a contemporary example is Constellation Records (Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s label) who used to have a statement on their website saying something like ‘Download our music for free and do with it as you please, but if you would like it buy it…’ and then they presented the most beautiful finished packages in terms of their gate fold vinyls and included free CDs and stuff which made the ‘products’ quality and good value, all produced ethically and even stamped with ‘No export to Israel’, not an easy thing to do in the mainstream music ‘industry’. I guess they are an interesting case study as they were a bunch of ‘anarchists’ that ‘broke’ through and had some ‘success’ on a wider level, alongside the obvious example of Crass it shows it can be done!

In terms of our own person practice we have played lots of political and anti-fascist benefits and of course would never align ourselves with anything that we don’t agree with politically, whether that’s not playing in a venue that rips off staff or for an organisation we do not agree with. Politics and ethics will always come before any ‘profile’ boosting motivation for us, which certainly hasn’t helped us at times with organisations like the BBC but at least we can look ourselves in the mirror and I generally couldn’t imagine doing it a different way. In terms of impact on musical style and sound I guess the DIY spirit has just lead to us doing our own thing and not having to worry about what others may think, as we genuinely do not care what others think about it, as creativity is something we just feel compelled to do.

In Lipstick Traces (3) Greil Marcus talks about Dada, the Situationists and early punk as movements that disrupted and exposed society as construct – would you be OK with NoD being included in that lineage?

Most definitely, well I would like to hope we are anyway.

Capitalism would socialise us into constructing our sense of self from consumption, John Holloway talks about our sense of self being able to emerge from acts of collective creativity (4). Do you experience that tension? Have you found music has helped you derive your sense of self from creativity and community?

Ad: In fact the act of creativity I feel is something I have put consciously into my life to avoid the traps and pitfalls of consumption within the capitalist system. I think music and the creative projects I have been involved in have massively defined my sense of self, however at times due to following our own path that can lead to a further sense of alienation unfortunately at times, particularly in the local ‘music’ scene as unfortunately so called ‘radical’ politics scares a lot of promoters and certainly has prevented us from getting gigs at times.

Kat, if, as Social Constructionists argue, we construct our senses of self from the cultural resources available to us, what role models, thinkers, examples have you drawn on to counter a patriarchal, sexist culture?

Kat: I guess for me, the idea of being a female ‘fronting’ a band has not really sat comfortably as I’m not sure that gender really should come in to it. I feel that we should have moved beyond the need to identify females in bands as a unique ‘selling point’ and often don’t give it much thought. I guess for me, I would not wish to fall into the trap of conforming to the music industry’s habit of depicting female musicians as primarily ‘sexual beings’, with the risk of their sexuality and appearances being the primary factor in promoting their work as opposed to their music being the most important factor in terms of promoting them.

After the brilliant EP:3 what’s next for NurseOnDuty? Any releases planned for 2018? Any chance of catching you live?

Ad: EP:4 is already written and mostly recorded instrumentally and I’m just waiting for Kat to finalise the lyrics but these things can’t be rushed. Hopefully it won’t be too long until that’s out and I hope to play some gigs after that with NoD, but not being the most social beings and due to the nature of the music it can be hard to find places to play so we will probably put on some more of our own nights again and gather the outcasts together. Me and Kat have also been involved in another project with the punk poet/philosopher/musician DoctorThis, which is quite similar in sound to NoD. The project is yet untitled but we have an EP written and I’ve nearly finished recording that so it should be out very soon with hopefully some live dates following. I have also been writing and releasing some more solo music under the name CrAwE. That stuff is more dark ambient drone. I did a self-released LP earlier this year and there should be a new EP for that project very soon, though the latest material is more kind of ‘doomgazey’ in the vein of Nadja and less ambient in nature but that’s pretty much there as well. So yeah, I guess there’s always a lot happening, personally I can’t stop writing currently.

What bands have you been impressed by lately, any authors you would recommend?

Ad: Again probably too many to list but I’ve been listening to lots of Northumbria (Canadian drone duo). I like the new solo album from Efrim Menuck from Godspeed you! Black Emperor Pissing Stars, and also his partner Jessica Moss’ recent solo album Glaciers is very good. Alongside a constant rotation of a lot of classic shoegaze, noise rock and punk, the Subhumans’ back-catalogue is never far from my record player. I’m ashamed to say I have not been reading as much as I should recently, preferring to stick to shorter articles, but the last book I read was George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia which everyone should read and before that it was The Last of the Hippies by Penny Rimbaud. I’m a big fan of Hunter S Thomson’s writing, I often think; what would he write about the current political environment?

And last question! How did you decide on the name NurseonDuty, is it connected with the idea of helping to deal with a malaise?

Ad: There is no great story behind this one, we had borrowed a cookery book from my Mum, she was a District Nurse and we found an old car sticker that said ‘Nurse on Duty’ in it. I also liked band names with ‘Nurse’ in them or linked to sonic healing at the time, I think Sonic Youth’s ‘Sonic Nurse’ had just come out, oddly I’ve never really put much thought into coming up with band names, which is odd as it becomes a primary label for the whole thing, I guess it’s because ultimately I always think the sound dictates your response to the name.

Listen to NurseOnDuty here.

(1) Srnicek, N. and Williams, A. (2015) ‘Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work’, Verso. London and Brooklyn, NY.

(2) James, R. (2014) ‘Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism’, Zero Books, Winchester UK and Washington, USA.

(3) Marcus, G. (2011) ‘Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century’, Faber and Faber, London.

(4) Holloway, J. (2005) ‘Change the World Without Taking Power’, Pluto Press, London and New York.

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