Following an article in The Guardian last year, exploring Northern Irish bands’ relationship with their country’s government and the protest nature of so much of the local scene’s music, The Fight Is Not Over is a live EP which captures this fiery spirit of four of Belfast’s most vocal bands: Problem Patterns, Sister Ghost, Gender Chores and Strange New Places.
Recorded by Rocky O’Reilly at Start Together Studios, the EP is a musical snapshot of how far Northern Ireland has come, whilst also drawing attention to how far there’s still to go; addressing the need to continue pushing for more inclusive and diverse spaces. It’s an immense, impassioned collection of live songs from each of the bands, encapsulating an empowering and uplifting energy; highlighting a completely necessary and poignant message that we need to spread the word about now more than ever – not just in Belfast, but across the UK and the world.
We had a chat with the four bands involved to find out more about what inspired the EP, the music scene in Belfast and the need to draw attention to prominent issues through music. Have a read!
Hi all! How are you doing today?
Problem Patterns: We are all as well as can be, thank you very much. We’re all getting on with things the best we can given current circumstances. We haven’t seen each other in four months, which has been very hard. We hope that changes soon, safely!
Strange New Places: Perpetually up and down! We’re probably given cultural permission for ennui in the latter stages of a lockdown though.
You’ve all just released your epic protest EP The Fight Is Not Over, can you tell us a bit about this and what inspired you to release the collection?
PP: It’s a great snapshot of what is going on in Northern Irish punk at the moment, and it feels important to capture that on record. The last few years has seen a change in Northern Ireland punk, different perspectives becoming more involved outside of the traditional scope. There is still a long way to go in terms of creating a more inclusive and diverse space, but it feels like things are changing for the better. Although all four bands on the vinyl are very different musically, we are often spoken about as a unit due to the themes of our songs and personal ethics. It has definitely created a bond between us. Our own track on the EP, ‘Sell By Date’, is typically the song that we end our sets with. We thought it would be the best representation of our live shows, especially what it builds up into.
SNP: Yeah! Essentially, we think Belfast punk is at a very special point right now; we find ourselves a part of a new wave of women-led queer bands who see eye-to-eye in terms of politics, organisation, and sound. It’s a mutually supportive scene- one in which we all know and help each other- and it’s worth commemorating that with a collaborative EP. No matter whether or not we influence a wider shift in an often-patriarchal and ableist music culture, we exist now, and we won’t let that be forgotten.
And how did the four bands all decide to get together to do this?
PP: It was actually Third Bar who approached us to be a part of the project. The fact that they have used their resources to amplify our voices, as well as Gender Chores, Sister Ghost and Strange New Places, is such a kind and powerful gesture. We were more than happy to say yes, especially as it is a live album. We love playing gigs more than anything, and we think the album captures the essence of each act perfectly.
Sister Ghost: Davy and Candice invited me up to the Third Bar office for a chat in October last year, and were so enthusiastic about the bands who received coverage in The Guardian article in September, based around a number of acts here with pointed songs against a range of oppressions and systems. They wanted to capture an element of that scene on wax and thought the four of us were the right bands with the right songs for the project.
SNP: All four of us work together extensively already- appearing on the same line-ups, organising the same events and projects (such as the Problem Patterns-led Bangers & Mashups)- so it was only a matter of time before that collaboration came to the studio. But the impetus for this project in particular was from Davy at Third Bar (who are our management and the label releasing the EP). Davy understood the importance of what we were all doing and is really responsible for putting the core idea of The Fight Is Not Over together.
The EP was recorded by esteemed producer Rocky O’Reilly, how was this experience for you all?
PP: Rocky is just a great person who has a lot of respect for what we all do. He’s incredibly passionate and supportive, in particular with what is happening in Northern Irish music. Everything we’ve recorded as a band has been done in his studio, Start Together, and we feel so comfortable there. They always look after us, they appreciate and understand what we are trying to achieve. Working with Rocky specifically was a new experience for us, and it was really interesting for all of us to hear how he would put his touch on the song. We just had a lot of fun working with him. It was also a great experience in the sense that Gender Chores were recording right after us, which meant that we all got to share that moment together. We managed to sneak in for some backing vocals on their track, which means a lot to us as we’re always screaming along to that song during their gigs.
SG: An honour. Rocky is a legend here and working with him is a professional experience from start to finish, with plenty of mutual appreciation for The Simpsons thrown in!
Gender Chores: Rocky is such an all-round wonderful person to work with. His passion for recording and producing music shines through every step of the way, and we had such a lovely experience recording with him at Start Together! He’s been nothing but supportive and encouraging about the whole project throughout its production and release as well, and having admired Rocky’s work for many years, this is a big deal to us! It’s also been a fantastic learning experience as the three of us all have Music Technology backgrounds, and have self recorded the majority of our back catalogue, whereas during the recording of TFINO we got to watch and learn from a true pro!
SNP: Awk Rocky, we adore him. The only unproblematic cis man. We’ve worked with Rocky a few times, and it’s always a pleasure – he really gets how we sound, and how to push us in the direction of maximising our potential. Our hours in the studio are probably somewhat inflated by riffing off conversations about the Simpsons, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
All profits from sales of the EP will go to The 343, an Artist-Focused, Feminist-led, Queer Arts Space in East Belfast – sounds like an amazing place! Can you tell us a bit more about it?
PP: It’s a relatively new space in an old bank building. It is used for all sorts of events, from gigs, to poetry nights, to art shows, to sound installations, to burlesque nights, to independent markets where people sell cupcakes and homemade crafts. It’s also a practice space. It’s nice that this sort of place exists for so many to fulfil their creativity in so many ways. It is home for a lot of folks who perhaps didn’t feel comfortable going to other venues, which has formed a community in of itself. Many queer folks we know have found themselves there, been able to express themselves for the first time there, whether creatively or personally. It’s incredibly important for these spaces to be nourished and supported, for the sake of the folks who find a home there.
GC: The 343 is a venue in Belfast very near and dear to us. It strives towards providing a platform for queer, marginalised and minority voices, and does so with determination, creativity and vigour. The team at the 343 are a wonderful bunch and their work has enriched the local music and arts scene immensely. We have so much love for the space that it was a source of inspiration for a (currently unreleased) Gender Chores song…
SNP: Sure! The 343 has been a good friend to us; it’s where we rehearse, we’ve played shows there, it’s a good spot! What with venues being hit especially hard by the pandemic, it’s important to support them in what ways we can, and we’d very much like to see the 343’s doors to stay open (even if we can never work out how to open them ourselves – Richard, if you’re reading this, thanks for always letting us in).
As a promoter who puts on gigs (pre Covid…) for predominantly female-identifying/non binary/queer bands and artists in safe spaces, what you’re doing with The Fight Is Not Over seems completely necessary and important to me. Have there been specific experiences you’ve had of discrimination/sexism whilst playing gigs/within the music industry in Belfast that spurred you on with this project?
PP: It has been a running joke (because you have to laugh) that between us in Problem Patterns and Gender Chores specifically, we’re the same band. We’ve been at multiple shows where we’ve not been playing, and someone will compliment us on a great set, after Gender Chores have just left the stage. It has happened the other way round plenty of times too. Sometimes we will be standing with friends who aren’t even involved in music, who will be mistaken for one of us. We’ve even joked about morphing into one unit to avoid confusion, called Gender Problems. It is still an issue to a degree, as it never seems to happen to the men we know in bands, but it’s also brought a lot of us together in sharing those frustrations. We hope that with this project, the lines between us will be more defined. We are two totally different bands musically speaking, and it discredits and demeans all of us when people think we’re interchangeable. Unfortunately we still deal with a lot of the general issues that seem to go hand in hand with being women in a band. We’ve hardly ever played a gig that isn’t followed by someone telling us that we are “actually quite good” at what we do, as if it’s a surprise to them that we are capable.
GC: The message behind the project is necessary in and of itself; I (Sam) have yet to meet a queer person, a non-binary person, a woman, who does not have a story to tell about discrimination or abuse in some form that they have faced within the music industry. Every single one of those stories deserves to be heard, which is what spurs a lot of our music in general. We’ve definitely had some instances of feeling patronised, faced dismissive and ignorant attitudes, had photographers approach us and say inappropriate things; we’ve been called the wrong band name in a promotional post on social media – BY the promoter who BOOKED us (I guess all feminist punk bands look the same, right?!). The sad thing is, we would consider ourselves to be pretty lucky that the discrimination we’ve faced pales in comparison to what others have experienced. However, seeing our friends and collaborators facing discrimination only spurs us onto to spread the message through our music. We want the message of equality to transcend past the music scene and reach everyone else in our country. That’s why it’s so amazing that a label as prolific as Third Bar has spearheaded this project, because it only means more attention for such a prominent issue!
SNP: We’ve endured a fair bit of transphobia in the industry, mainly from cis white men at control desks, wilfully misgendering and misunderstanding us. Sometimes that spurs you on, and sometimes it demoralises you. I think especially recently, with a lot of abusive behaviour coming to light in the local scene, it’s evident that we have to uplift women and dismantle the power structures which allow men to do awful things. We’re constantly working towards that, and we hope visibility, through records like this one, will help build a space where social minorities are allowed to fully participate.
And how is the music scene in Belfast generally? Are there particular venues (as well as The 343) that you’d recommend?
PP: The music scene in Belfast has been a bit shaken up recently due to some awful stories regarding abuse by multiple local musicians. The only good thing to come out of it has been to see such a giant amount of acts come out in support of the survivors. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it has been really nice to see the community come together. There are many of us who want to work towards building a safer music scene. We are thankful to know so many like minded folks who share our outlook. In terms of venues, there are some incredibly supportive places who have helped so many bands over the years. The Oh Yeah Music Centre hosts many different programmes that have really helped build the music community, as well as being home to many music-related businesses, charities, labels, and Start Together Studios. We also love Black Box and the Empire. Sizeable Bear are a great group of promoters here, who host a great variety of bands from across all genres. They just love every band they put on, and it shows.
SG: Oh Yeah Music Centre is a supportive venue and a safe space for all. It is the home for Girls Rock here in NI, which I set up in 2016 as a response to the lack of diversity in the scene. So OYC for sure! Back home in Derry for me though I’d say Bennigans bar for sure too, as we ran an all female/trans/non-binary line up there last Halloween and it was super welcoming.
GC: The music scene in general is a really welcoming and expressive space. As much as every scene has room for improvement in regards to diversity and representation, projects such as Girl’s Rock School, Scratch My Progress, GXRLCODE Belfast etc. all make such a difference in that regard. The voices we hear aren’t so homogenous any more, and hopefully that continues. We have great love for venues in Belfast such as the Oh Yeah Centre and the Black Box; two dedicated music and arts spaces that facilitate everything from affordable rehearsal spaces, to live venues for hire, to recording studios, to exhibitions and workshops.
SNP: The Belfast scene generally has been extraordinarily kind to us! We never would have got where we are without the enthusiastic encouragement of the folks at Third Bar, or our friends at Girls Rock School, or especially the Oh Yeah Music Centre. The Oh Yeah is probably our most-played venue, and it’s been a bit of a second home to us.
From the outset, it seems like there’s a great community spirit within the DIY scene in Belfast – would you say this is true?
PP: As with any scene there are things that still need work. However, there is definitely a desire to do better amongst a lot of people. We have met so many of our good friends just through sharing lineups. We all want to support each other, we put each other on lineups, we all want each other to do well. We recently got a bunch of friends together for a compilation called Bangers N MashUps, which is a charity album where all the bands cover each other’s songs. We put all the names in a hat and some of the genre swaps were just incredible. All the money goes to She Sells Sanctuary, which aids charities focused on helping those affected by domestic violence. It was really heartwarming that so many people wanted to get involved to help out.
SG: I would say Derry and Belfast are a hive for DIY bands and artists and I think it’s just indicative of the industry as a whole; if you want something done right you have to do what YOU can to get it done. Third Bar are a very supportive organisation for DIY artists.
GC: It really is. You can go to a gig and find a solo acoustic act, a punk three piece and an indie-pop group all on the same line-up, and everyone is really supportive and encouraging of all the different ways in which the talent in Belfast expresses itself. Personally, I find the DIY community ethos of the Belfast music scene to be incredibly encouraging. We’ve seen bands from backgrounds similar to ourselves be successful in the past, and from the offset of starting a band or a project you feel like you’ve already got the support of your peers! The sense of community is just as important as the passion for music because without the encouragement and engagement from the crowd and other acts, this scene wouldn’t be nearly as addictive!
SNP: Oh 100%! We collaborate both as bands and as individuals on a lot of things, and try to promote each other as much as we can. One example that springs to mind is Problem Patterns’ video for their tune Gal Pals, which featured a whole bunch of the punk-adjacent local crew! It’s a tight-knit group, and we’re always trying our best to extend that sense of community to anyone who needs it.
As we’re a new music focused platform, are there any other Belfast-based bands/artists that you’d recommend we check out?
PP: Beverley is in another band called Bläk Byrd, Ciara is in another band called Big Daisy- both polar opposite musical outlets of what we do in Problem Patterns. We really love Alumna, Heart Shaped, New Pagans, Susie Blue, Sasha Samara, Gemma Bradley, and This Ship Argo. On a broader scope of Northern Irish bands, Cherym, from Derry, are doing brilliant things.
GC: Belfast is brimming with musical talent; we’d recommend checking out Joel Harkin, Alumna, Junk Drawer, Charles Hurts, Ghost Office and Sugarwolf to name a few!
SNP: Apart from those on this record? We’re big fans of Happy Out, Jealous of the Birds and (fellow Scratch My Progress alumni) Hand Models. Also not Belfast-based, but Derry’s Cherym and Reevah are fab. Oh! And our drummer Rain Watt does wonderful solo stuff, strongly recommend checking all those out!
And what’s next for The Fight Is Not Over? Is a joint tour with all four bands (when it’s safe to do so) potentially on the cards… ?
PP: We are just looking forward to the next time we can all even rehearse in a room together as the four of us. We are really hoping we can have a very late launch gig for the EP, when we are able!
GC: Hopefully we will be able to play live again soon and celebrate the release of TFINO in true DIY punk style. A joint tour would be incredible! We all love gigging together and it would be a great opportunity to travel and have that experience with such an incredible bunch of people. The idea of sitting around for breakfast and sharing pancakes with these bands before popping off to do a gig together makes us eternally happy.
SNP: We can neither confirm nor deny anything! Unfortunately for the immediate future, we probably can’t make plans to pack out any venues, but with how much all the bands on this EP work collaboratively, it’s only a matter of time before we’re on the road together.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
SNP: A shoutout to Emer and Cassie, two people who are always go above and beyond for us!
Massive thanks to all four bands for answering our questions and creating such an important record!
The Fight Is Not Over is out now on Third Bar Records and is available on 12″ vinyl here, with all profits going to The 343, an Artist-Focused, Feminist-led, Queer Arts Space in East Belfast.
Artwork: Jacky Sheridan