Bristol’s new school of weird pop

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Creative work is literally turning your attention to another way of seeing… anyone can do it, and feel a resonance beyond themselves.

A strange thing is happening in Bristol right now: a small but meaningful movement of silver-voiced solo artists are making all kinds of loopy pop music. Forget your usual future-pop, though (Grimes, Lorde and Banks can sling their hooks for a start) — 2015 has three different names all over it. Rhain is an Iceland-influenced snowflake blown in by way of the Isle of Wight, Isolde is a travelling civil rights fighter with a penchant for the exotic, and Howling Owl’s newest addition, Wenonoah, is a DIY-till-she-dies philosopher.

You might think such disparate visions would prove very different opinions, but if there’s one thing they all agree on (apart from the deliciousness of avocados) it’s that Bristol is a good place to be if you’re a DIY artist right now. All three have moved here from far away, or moved away and come back again.

Rhain is newest to Bristol, but she’s already fallen in love with the ‘village’ feel of her slice of Easton. Her move from what she calls the ‘incestuous’ Isle of Wight gives her a ‘reverse culture shock’ when returning to the island: “Look at all these old people!” she cries in faux horror. However London is a step too far for her –- ‘too tiring’ – so Bristol is the perfect compromise. Wenonoah shares the same sentiment: “Bristol is big enough that there’re enough interesting things happening and lots of interesting people, but not so big that you’re running around all the time. You have time to think.” Her attitude towards London is also similar: “It takes a lot out of you”. Even native Londoner Isolde found London ‘isolating’, moving to Bristol seeking ‘community’ and that sense of ‘knowing your neighbours’.

Community is a word that comes up again and again, and this sharing, caring attitude seems to have permeated Wenonoah’s viewpoint on well, everything. Her creative process stems from the assumption that although we obviously have ‘personal’ experiences, the majority of what we think and feel is felt by others too. “You operate as a little unit, and because you are inside looking out, you can feel like your experience is unique and unlike anyone else’s. That can make you feel quite isolated. Your experience, however insular and however particular actually relates to people a lot more broadly. When you’re feeling something, then actually, it’s something other people are feeling.’

There are people dying and you want to write a song?

This point of view links to how she approaches creativity: “I feel that creative work is literally turning your attention to another way of seeing. If you take the time, anyone can do it, and feel a resonance beyond themselves. I’ve never had the feeling that what I had to say was special – but, I know if I think about it in terms of it being work – when I’m doing it, it’s just the best feeling ever.” Along with this comes a way of surviving self-judgment, too: “The only way I can approach it is that its okay to pursue something that might seem very self-serving because you’re doing something for its own sake. When do people usually do that? They don’t.”

Self-criticism is something that Rhain struggles with too — “It’s horrible. There’s so much self-loathing” — and Isolde feels like she has to constantly justify her music not only to others but to herself, “There are people dying and you want to write a song?”. It’s interesting that Isolde has these hang-ups, as she’s seen for herself what a positive force for good music can be. She’s travelled to India and Nepal on ‘musical journeys’ and brought back what she’s learned to support enterprises at Bristol Drugs Project and Hamilton House. “Songs change things” she says, simply.

When asked what success looks like for them, there’s an agreement of sorts. For Isolde it’s not about the money, and goes as far as saying good music can only be made without monetary incentive: ‘you have to detach yourself from the material gain of music if you want to make good music, but you have to be real about it too in terms of ‘how do I sustain myself?’ It’s an interesting edge to walk’. Wenonoah agrees: ‘anyone that’s making music that I respect and I like, they have other work that sustains them. Very few people are going to be making their entire living from music. You have to adjust.’

So if it’s not about the cash, what is it about? It’s straightforward for Rhain: “It’s all I can do – I can’t do anything better. I wish I had a scientific brain or a mathematical brain but singing is all I can do. People seem to be saying ‘go for it’, but I’m really reliant on people saying that – I really need people to encourage me.” She shouldn’t worry – she’s already a member of Chiverin, a music community supporting all kinds of great Bristol-based acts. Pretty good for a Bristol newbie.

Although they might share viewpoints on some things, each artist’s music is completely unique. Isolde sums it up: “Anyone that’s making decent music for all the right reasons owes a service to other human beings to share it and send it on its journey”. When the music sounds this good, that’s not hard to do.

Wenonoah’s full-length has just been re-released on Howling Owl, with Isolde’s new EP ‘Seed Bud Bloom’ out later this month. Rhain’s ‘Hand Over Your Eyes’ available on the recent Chiverin RSD release.

Check out ‘Wenonoah’ right here: