INTERVIEW: Tokky Horror

The last time I spoke with Tokky Horror producer Zee, it was face-to-face outside of Hackney’s Sebright Arms in 2018. They were fronting a completely different band at the time, but the ethos behind their art has always been the same: make space in music for marginalised folks and get in the mosh pit if you can.

When we meet via Zoom for a chat this time around, Zee is taking their lunchbreak in the basement of Future Yard, an independent music venue in their native town of Birkenhead. Opening a month before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Zee has been working as their Operations Manager for the past few years.

“Tokky Horror played our first gig here, which was nice,” they tell me. “Birkenhead has always been this kind of outsider town to Liverpool. There’s a river that runs between us, and Birkenhead is always seen as ‘the dark side’ of the river. We’re not seen as properly scouse, and we’re not seen as properly Welsh, we’re kind of something in between. So it’s actually nice that the majority of Tokky’s beginnings have been in Birkenhead and we’ve been able to play my hometown.”

Alongside dual vocalists Mollie Rush and Ava Akira – two absolute forces of nature – Zee initially formed Tokky Horror virtually, sending demo’s back and forth online to entertain each other during the pandemic. Full of hyperactive beats, punk attitude and jungle-inspired electronics, the band playfully coined their sound as “virtual hardcore”. Since then, Tokky Horror have released their debut EP, I Found The Answers And Now I Want More and toured extensively across the UK.

Newly signed to Venn Records, the trio are currently preparing to release their upcoming EP, KAPPACORE on 12th May. Zee is wearing a black hoodie with the Tokky KAPPA-inspired logo on the front when we speak, which feels pretty apt. I ask what fans can expect from their new release.

“I think we didn’t really know what we were doing when we started Tokky Horror,” Zee laughs. “We just kind of kept rolling with it and writing and having fun just to kind of entertain ourselves. The songs that we’ve come up with that are now on KAPPACORE are the first songs we wrote properly together post-lockdown. Most of them were written around tours and live shows. So this almost feels like our first release. The initial EP we did and the stuff we released through Alcopop! was almost like the equivalent of a band getting into the practice room, which we couldn’t do at the time. It was us jut kind of playing with ideas and seeing what we were, and what we wanted to do. Whereas KAPPACORE is the first time we’d all come together to write something and be like, ‘This is what Tokky is, this is our statement.'”

This statement has been delivered in the form of the EP’s first single, ‘Toilet’. A blend of drum & bass beats, manic riffs and surprisingly vulnerable lyrics, the track is inspired by Zee’s own experiences of finding their feet within activist scenes in music and further afield. This need for real change is something that has always fuelled Zee’s output.

“I think a lot of my music has been about that, forever,” they comment, “but ‘Toilet’ specifically is more aimed at activist scenes. I always felt when I was younger and slightly more naive, that these movements I’d associate myself with were perfect. So lots of queer movements and scenes would be perfect in my quite naive head.

I think a lot of punks love the word ‘anarchy’, but they would much rather be pissed in a toilet somewhere than making genuine change, and it was quite hard for me to realise that. It was really hard for me to accept. I went through this big period of feeling almost hopeless. I think maybe in some part of my teenage, early 20s mind, I was like, ‘we’re going to burn this horrible world down! We’re going to build a new one!’ – then I realised the people who were going to burn it down were just wasted. That’s what ‘Toilet’ is about. You’re more likely to find these people passed out on the toilet floor, then stood outside Parliament protesting. I think I’ve realised that you have to be the change.

Whilst these epiphanies were initially painful for Zee, they were also the catalyst for creating the new space and ethos they felt was lacking from music scenes.

“The entire premise of Future Yard and my work here is to give young people and people from disadvantaged backgrounds opportunities to work and have careers within live music,” Zee continues. “We’ve worked on a tonne of training programmes and it’s about being the active change in your community and actively participating. I don’t think you can wait for a movement to come by and fix it, I think we have to just make these kinds of gradual, small changes ourselves. As far as Tokky Horror is concerned, we try to do that in our everyday existence. We try to play venues where we agree with their ethos, we try to make music that will maybe encourage people to do that. Our team and the people we work with, we trust them to be part of that change.”

Taking part in this year’s Independent Venue Week was another element of that. Tokky Horror played six live dates back in February to celebrate it, beginning their mini tour at The Moon in Cardiff, dropping by London’s Black Heart in Camden, before wrapping things up at the Quarry in Liverpool.

“I love Independent Venue Week,” Zee enthuses. “I love the ethos behind it and the way the public engages with it. You can tell there’s an appetite from people to support venues and support the bands during that week. There’s a real positivity around the whole thing. Particularly given that last January, most venues were closed because of Omicron. It was really nice to see a fully functional venue week this year. It was probably one of my favourite ever tours. You just go to the best venues in the country, what more could you want?

The Black Heart show was funny. It was absolute carnage from the moment we stood on the stage. I’ve always wanted to do that with my music, I’ve always wanted it to be that from the get go, that the room just explodes. The Black Heart was almost perfectly that. The circle pit opened during the intro music. We played ‘Insomnia’ by Faithless and as soon as that synth dropped, our guitarist James and I looked at each other, and we were like ‘this is gonna go off…’ We played some great shows that week. We played Blackpool, Newcastle and Manchester. We sold out a bunch of those dates out as well, which was great.”

Performing live is clearly where Tokky Horror thrive. Vocalists Ava and Mollie are renowned for their visceral, in-your-face energy and their commitment to making sure everyone in the mosh pits at a Tokky show has their boundaries respected. Carving out a safe space for their fans – whilst also feeling safe enough themselves – is at the center of all that Tokky Horror do. I ask Zee if fans have spoken to them about these triumphs, and their response is honest and considered.

“There’s a lot of women and gender queer, and queer people that come to the shows and are in the front row, and it’s really nice,” Zee says. “They don’t feel like there’s going to be this type of masculine mosh pit, and that they’ll get the shit kicked out of them. Having said that, we have had a little bit of backlash against moshing at our events actually. People have said that it made them feel uncomfortable, which I fully understand. I think it’s something that we’re trying to find a kind of happy medium on, where people can mosh and party and move, without it getting out of hand.

It’s such a great vibe at the Tokky gigs. The energy that the crowd brings, we’re always fully grateful for that. I don’t think we’ve ever played a show that’s not had a mosh pit. Even when there’s only five people in the room, they’ll start dancing and kind of going crazy. That’s amazing. We make music for you to move to. It is part of the culture, and it’s part of the band. But we’re trying to do that safely and do that in a way that makes people comfortable. It is 100% what we’re about. I would never want people to not want to come and see us, or turn away from a show because of it either.

I think moshing in general is having a little bit of an identity crisis. We’re seeing an increase in moshing at events that wouldn’t normally have them. There’s been a big backlash against moshing at jungle and drum and bass events. If I’m honest, I love moshing. I think it’s a great way for people to express themselves and to have that chaos and adrenaline rush that people crave. It’s just got to be safe. It’s got to be handled in a way that has the audience in mind, and people’s varying access requirements in mind. It’s a work in progress.”

It’s certainly something the band will be considering on the impressive run of live dates they have coming up in the next few months. This includes a slot alongside Brighton electro-punks CLT DRP – who Zee loves – supporting Alice Glass in Leeds, and a run of dates supporting Enter Shikari on their UK tour.

“Shikari were one of those bands that as a teenager, they kind of blew my mind a little bit,” Zee smiles. “I’ve always really loved electronic music. That’s what my Mum and Dad were really into, stuff like the Prodigy, Orbital and Underworld. But I grew up also loving heavy music and punk, so as soon as I heard Enter Shikari and the ridiculousness that was going on in their sound, something just really spoke to me. I really loved their Take To The Skies album. So to be going out on tour with them now and have that kind of nod of approval is really surreal, but a very lovely thing to have.”

Following these live dates, Tokky Horror will be on the festival circuit, which includes appearances at Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival, Burn It Down Festival in Devon, and the amazing ArcTanGent Festival in Bristol. “It’s the first time we’re playing ArcTanGent and the lineup is absolutely insane,” Zee comments. “We’re playing on the same day as HEALTH and IGORRR, who is one of my all-time biggest influences as a producer. I’m really glad that we get to play it.”

Before I let Zee return to their work, I ask if they have any bands or artists who they’ve been listening to recently that they’d like to recommend.

“I’ve got a tonne! Off the top of my head, I really love this band called Nihiloxica. It’s really percussion-led kind of techno. It’s absolutely amazing. I’d also recommend Zulu, who are a black power violence band. They’ve just dropped their album A New Tomorrow, and I’ve been rinsing that, it’s phenomenal stuff. They’re on my to-see-list this year.”

Tokky Horror UK Live Dates 2023
8th April – Manchester Punk Festival, Manchester (DJ Set)
13th April – St Lukes, Glasgow (supporting Enter Shikari)
14th April – New Century Hall, Manchester (supporting Enter Shikari)
15th April – KK Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (supporting Enter Shikari)
16th April – SWX, Bristol (supporting Enter Shikari)
17th April – Outernet, London (supporting Enter Shikari)
26th April – Oporto, Leeds (co-headline with CLT DRP)
27th April – Rock City Beta, Nottingham
28th April – The Black Prince, Northampton
30th April – Sounds From The Other City, Salford
18th May – KAPPACORE EP Release Party Blondies, London
26th May – Sneister Festival, The Hague NL
9th June – Fiestas De La Artes, Manchester
5th August – Rebellion Festival, Blackpool
18th August – Convoy Cabaret Festival, Dorchester
19th August – Arctangent Festival, Somerset
9th September – Burn It Down Festival, Devon

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Kate Crudgington

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