Wed, 14 Sep 2022
Read in 17 minutes
“There’s a lot of people who’d like to kick you down in the world – fuck them”
The heat at this year’s Bloodstock festival was scorching and incessant, much like Pupil Slicer’s grinding, eclectic -core based sound. Bloodstock, this year especially, was a tale of two cities; the traditional metal core of the festival seemed more abundant, and perhaps more uninspiring for my tastes, as ever, however the fresher -core core of young bands, mainly playing the tented second stage, presented something different. The beauty of a festival like Bloodstock is its ability to cater to every need. It’s always a fine balancing act trying to not only stay afloat as a festival during difficult times but also to expand and grow. Bloodstock, being the big dog of the metal summer festivals, has to compete with the bigger headed dogs of Download and the scarier headed dogs of Europe: Wacken, Hellfest and Brutal Assault. Though much of the main stage may not cater to my personal persnickety tastes, when I reflect on the range of music at this years’ festival I can only nod in reflective approval.
A particular highlight was jumping from one legendary act to the next on Friday. It was invigorating despite the heat. Time was spent grooving to the fizzing, wizened D-Beat grooves of Discharge and hating-life to Eyehategod’s degenerate swamp sludge. The battered veteran sounds of both bands frothed through the speakers of the Sophie Lancaster tent early in the evening before I wandered to the main stage to be greeted by circle pit dust storms and old school thrash wonder. Exodus - wizened now too - ripped with precision and fantastic energy. The heat made no difference to them; the Bay Area legends embrace heat. Ramping up things in the twilit heat, Testament follows. Like Exodus, it’s a perfect band for a dust storm mosh fest. Though these thrash bands may have lost a touch of physical on-stage energy, their efficiency and ability to stay faithful to the speed and aggression of yesteryear is respectable. A special shout goes out to Killing Joke on Sunday evening: a ritualistic industrial masterpiece spearheaded by a maniacal Jaz Coleman - he shows no sign of age!
Of the three headliners - Behemoth, Mercyful Fate and Lamb of God - I was most excited to see Mr. Diamond. Mercyful Fate’s over-the-top aesthetic and beautiful harmonic riffage twinkled through the cooler night. It was a headline set that demonstrated the silliness and the imaginative power of heavy metal. Though small, Mr. Diamond is huge. The stage itself seemed more imposing than usual and the set ripped through banger after banger (minus some slower, uninspiring ‘new’ tracks). But, to go back to the opening lines, it was the young bands that brought the most heat. Pupil Slicer, Cage Fight, and Heriot in particular performed with a fresh sense of aggression that invigorated me. Though appreciative of the power of Behemoth and Lamb of God, bands who excited me back in the day, it was the rejuvenating power of bands on the Sophie and New Blood stage, combining mathcore, emo, post-rock, post-metal, post-you-name-it in their sets, that captured my imagination. Perhaps it’s a case of being drawn to no-frills entertainment - no pyro, no big production, no costumes, just cascading rage and aggression.
Pupil Slicer’s set was fizzing with energy and so was Katie who I met a few hours after Pupil Slicer’s set. With Pupil Slicer’s 2021 debut album Mirrors impressing a range of metalheads and non-metalheads, Pupil Slicer continues to dip their fingers in many musical pies. After tours with Rolo Tomassi, trips to Brutal Assault and Tech Fest, and time spent creating new sounds for their upcoming second release, Katie – lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter – met up with me in a sweltering, sticky tent at the heart of the metal festival.
Aker: I want to thank Katie for standing with me in the boiling heat.
Katie: It’s fucking horrible!
Aker: How do you cope with the heat?
Katie: I don’t. I put a jacket on for our set earlier which was a terrible idea on the stage in this heat. I meant to take it off for the last two songs but the next one started before I could get it off, so I had it on for another song. After that I felt like throwing up. I was so out of breath and dying. But I recovered after one more song.
Aker: You said it was the biggest crowd you’ve played to, is that a bit of hyperbole?
Katie: No, I feel like there must have been four-five thousand people there. The most people we’ve played to before today was two days ago at Brutal Assault when there was like two thousand people. Before that it was probably with Rolo Tomassi in London which was about eight hundred. So, we’ll keep it going. Ten thousand people next year!
Aker: How do you psych yourself up for getting on stage?
Katie: There isn’t time to psych yourself up. We were still trying to set stuff up when it was time to start the set, and we’re just like “cool let’s start now.” You can’t run over at festivals, so we have to be on time - that’s the main thing. You’ve got to be professional. If you’re not ready by then you just go with what you have ready. We had no sample. Our drummer, who usually has a kick mic he sets up that goes into a mixer into headphones so he can get a really nice tone, just had to set that off as fast as possible. It still went well though the monitors weren’t perfect today. Apparently, everyone’s been having sound issues, like Behemoth’s mics were not on for half the first song yesterday. It’s bound to happen when you’ve got this many bands playing, and you’ve got to turn round, kick people out at certain times, get the next band in – it’s very busy. Now we’re done with the set we’ve just got a bit of press and then relax for the rest of the weekend.
Aker: You’ve released your debut album and started coming up from ‘the underground’, getting press interviews and being pulled left, right and centre. How have you felt having to become more professional?
Katie: There’s way too many things. There are so many emails and there are only going to be more. Perhaps at that point you start to get people to help you. Hopefully it’s going to remain manageable. It’s a pretty intense time, the amount of stuff. Brutal Assault two days ago: we got ready, someone was like “if we do your make-up can I have your pass” and we were like “yeah!”. We had two hours getting all our make-up done, coloured corpse paint which was cool, and then played our set. Had to get everything down after that and go to do press meet-and-greets. We watched one Conjurer song and we caught them saying “this one’s dedicated to Pupil Slicer” which was nice. We were late to the meet and greet because we got lost on the way and chatted to some fans. We then did an interview, then had to go and get our make up removed, which took another hour, then we got food, then Conjurer were like “do you wanna hang out for a bit” so we played Fussball with them for half an hour, then it was getting late so we had to ask them (Brutal Assault) to get our merch back, and there were problems getting our merch back, and then we got to watch two Mercyful Fate songs as we waited for our merch to come back, then we got a lift back to the accommodation. So, we didn’t get to watch many bands that day. It’s a very different experience at a festival. It was great though. We still had a great day. Today’s been really busy so far but after this we’ll get some food, watch some bands and chill tonight. The difference is at Brutal Assault we’re walking around with AAA passes but today they’re like “you’ve only got a Stage 2, 3 and 4 pass, you can’t come here! This is the main stage band station.” Our friend Dan P Carter, who does the BBC Radio 1 Rock Show, he was like “Come on let’s watch Lorna Shore from the side of the stage” and we walk up there and security say “sorry mate you can’t come here, you’re only Stage 2.” He [Dan P Carter] tried to fight for us but we didn’t get to see Lorna Shore at side of stage. We don’t feel as powerful today, and we don’t get a free meal! Only the main stage bands get a free meal. Atrocious!
Aker: You’ve been shafted!
Katie: We’ve been shafted! We did get some crisps, some beer, some Haribo. I’ve still got to eat those Haribo, got a Starmix in my bag. When you leave the dressing room you’ve got to dump all the beers that are left.
Aker: You’re definitely moving on up with the free Haribo. Okay, I’m going to ask you a question about music. At Roadburn, a musician usually curates the festival and they pick bands to often play a special set-list or album. If Pupil Slicer were to curate a one-day festival – money doesn’t matter – what sort of bands and albums would you love to see?
Katie: Well obviously you bring Botch back and get them to do We Are The Romans. I’ve seen Dillinger enough that I’m not that bothered to bring them back, I’ve seen them about seven times in their final years and went to their final shows. I could say early Dillinger like Miss Machine and Calculating Infinity, that’d be cool. Luke (bassist) would pick one of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s albums ‘cause he loves them, or a Yes album, King Crimson, something like that. He’s a big prog fan.
Aker: I can see that with his slap bass.
Katie: Josh (drums) would probably pick Machine Head, The Blackening. I’m speaking for them here!
Aker: Any more left-of-centre picks? Any non-extreme picks?
Katie: Do you mean like Lil Nas X doing Pantera? Maybe Charli XCX doing the whole Vroom Vroom EP thing, that’d be cool.
Aker: Roadburn does a lot of collaborations and crossovers, so they might have Charli XCX doing a duo with Dillinger, so if-
Katie: I don’t think Roadburn would do that! But I get what you mean…
Aker: So if you were to do a special crossover, what would be a wacky dream?
Katie: I would love to do something with Charli XCX! She’s fantastic. I want to write a “Vroom Vroom” cover and then get her to hear it. Her fucking drummer in America is in Jesus Piece! I was chatting with the guy who used to do our PR and he was like “yeah, we went to see Earth Crisis together last night.” So she’s into the riffs! She’s ready for it.
Aker: I’ll tag her in the post. We’ll start a campaign.
Katie: Yeah, let’s start a campaign!
Aker: I suppose when it comes to modern music you talk about Knoll and Heriot, are they your friends or enemies?
Katie: Yeah, they’re our mortal enemies. No, we love Heriot. They’re great. It’s really cool to be coming up with a band who seem to be increasing in recognition. We’re playing Brutal Assault, they did Download. We’re both doing Bloodstock, we’re both doing ArcTanGent. We both did the Rolo Tomassi shows. It’s cool. We’re both competing for the same slots but at the same time, when you seem them, we’re still mates. We all know each other, we all get on really well. It’s great having another band around. I think we’ll have that push-and-pull where we release our next album and they release something. Its quite funny because we’re like “they’re one above us at the next thing and we’re one above them at this thing!” It’s just a friendly rivalry.
Aker: Warm competitiveness in a way.
Katie: Yeah, well you need that. You can’t rest on your laurels. If there was no one else it’d be hard to judge how quickly we’re proceeding. They seem to be gaining fans at the same rate as us, so it pushes us to try and outdo them. I’m like “their social media’s way better than us, they’ve got all these cool pictures. That merch is way cooler than ours.” Then I go and do some cool merch. I don’t know if they feel the same way about our stuff – they’re way sicker than us.
Aker: Hey, it’s all about the punkier edge! Leading on from that, do you think there’s been more of a push in -core adjacent, or grindy or just punkier in spirit, bands in the UK metal scene?
Katie: Yeah, I think so. We’re a weird choice for this festival I feel, and then at the same time we’re not really because Malevolence are headlining that stage [Sophie Lancaster second stage] and they’re pretty massive and they’re a post-hardcore band. I feel that Bloodstock typical bands are who you’d expect as the headlines [main stage] like Behemoth and Lamb of God. We’re not really that kind of band. But then there still seems to be an audience for us. On the stage we played, the Sophie stage, it was Cage Fight after us. Vexed are playing later and Heriot are playing tomorrow. It’s really cool to see the scene. It’s like we’re rising in parallel with all these bands we consider local bands who are really cool. We’re all decently big now with two thousand people coming to see us. It’d be harder for a band who sounds exactly like Lamb of God, right now, to break through. Whereas all those bands who sound like we’re sounding were reinventing Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan (who are not really doing that sort of music anymore). It seemed to be a kind-of resurgence, a gap in the market here. And we loved doing this. We thought no one else is doing this so let’s keep doing it, and then everyone had the same idea at the same time – but why not, it’s great. There are so many riffs around right now, it’s great! So many breakdowns!
Aker: Have you considered the Riff Economy? You can measure a riff as currency. So, when there’s an overwhelming array of riffs in society, society is better for it.
Katie: There’s a good economy now with riffs.
Aker: Are you scared of the Nu-Metal resurgence?
Katie: No, it’s fucking sick! What are you saying – you don’t like Vein.fm? What’s wrong with Nu-Metal?
Aker: It’s a leading question. We’ve been sat with Korn all afternoon at the tent. Well, the slap bass of Pupil Slicer I can see is linked [to the Korn style].
Katie: That’s all Luke fucking listens to: Korn and, well, Iron Maiden.
Aker: Do you think Nu-Metal can be a thing you can rephrase, recreate and reintegrate?
Katie: I think Vein are already doing that, because Vein are just Korn playing covers of early Converge songs and that’s sick. Vended, with Corey Taylor’s son in, are doing a slightly fresher take on the Slipknot sound. Slipknot Jr. you could call them. No, that’s mean. I can see that happening, maybe we’ll be Nu-Metal on the new album – who cares? Who knows.
Aker: I’m going to do a bit of a mean thing now. I’m going to throw two bands at you and you have to kill one. Only one can survive. First, Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan.
Katie: Dillinger have broken up so I’ll kill them. They’re not going to be making anymore riffs!
Aker: Second: Car Bomb or Daughters.
Katie: Well, Daughters have had their time.
Aker: They’ve been canceled.
Katie: They’ve been cancelled, and they haven’t done any fucking riffs in like ten years anyway. They released a good noise-rock album but it wasn’t riffs mate.
Katie: It was Swans-lite. I like Swans!
Aker: If Luke was here, I’d ask you and him both: Deafheaven of Fen.
Katie: Well, there’d be a clear answer. Luke would say “Fen, Deafheaven are wankers.” And I’d say Deafheaven, they’re like the greatest band of all time.
Aker: And that’s because they introduced you to post-black?
Katie: Nah they got good riffs, regardless of if they weren’t the first one. Sunbather is still one of my favourite albums of all time. I do like Fen.
Aker: If you were to be the voice of Luke, what would he say in response?
Katie: [in the voice of Luke] “They’re fucking hipsters mate. Wolves in the Throne Room and Fen and stuff, they were doing all that way before Deafheaven. And everyone talked about Deafheaven like they were the new big thing.” Yeah, uh, he doesn’t like people thinking they invented something new. My viewpoint is: other people were doing it but they [Deafheaven] did it fucking better than anyone else when they did it.
Aker: Ten years time: what are you doing?
Katie: Co-headlining with Nine Inch Nails with Charli XCX supporting.
Aker: At your own curated show?
Katie: At my own curated show.
Aker: Which would be held where?
Katie: I’m not sure, we haven’t played in enough places often enough to know where the best places to play are. When we played at Birmingham the first time it was a very different experience to playing there the second time. The first time was like three-four hundred capacity on tour with Rolo. The second time was with Ithaca with a hundred people in an attic and it was 34 degrees when no one was even playing. It was the hottest gig we’ve ever played and the crowd were pitting the entire time. I don’t know how they did it. I don’t know how I did it. It felt like my guitar had been dipped in oil, it was so wet, everything was soaking wet. We don’t know about bigger places to play yet.
Aker: I have a silly question. If you were to create the testament according to Pupil Slicer written on stone. What would be the testament of Pupil Slicer?
Katie: Thou must riff. I don’t know. I don’t know if we have riffs. I don’t know what a riff is. Okay, don’t half arse anything. On our first album, I was very cautious about ripping off other bands and I was trying really hard with it. I didn’t know if any of the weird vocal things would work. It was a lot more cautiously approached but everyone was like “oh yeah, it’s all sick. I really like the bits where it doesn’t sound like anyone else.” So now it’s just us amalgamating all the differences so we don’t really sound like one thing. One of the commandments can be: there’s nothing wrong stealing a good riff. If it’s a good riff and you can think of a good way of creating a good musical idea with the same riff that’s fine, just do that. As long as it’s good people like it. I don’t mind if two songs sound similar. In “Dimorphous Display” [Loathe] there’s a riff that’s almost exactly the same as the one in “Gored” [Loathe], or very similar, but they’re both sick because they’re different interpretations of the same musical idea. Steal as many riffs as you want. I’m looking forward to the day people steal riffs from us, that’ll be so weird. I’ll be like “woah, what’s going on there.”
Aker: That’s what you hope for the future, to enrich the riff economy.
Katie: The riff economy is fed by me because I write our songs ripping off bands I like, and I write more music that I would like because there’s never enough riffs! So, if other people rip off us, there’d be riffs I like. So, whoever you are: it’s free real estate, take them all. Take them, do them better, and become a bigger band than us. Then we’ll come and watch you!
Aker: Well you seem to be smashing it at the moment. Thank you for giving me your time. I’d like to ask if there’s anything you’d like to say. You’ve got the platform like Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner.
Katie: I would say Pupil Slicer is for everyone and we’d like to deliver a message of love and inclusion. There’s a lot of people who’d like to kick you down in the world – fuck them. Apparently when I said that during our set earlier someone in a Burzum shirt walked out, and I think that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. So, I’m gonna be saying that every day. We have a big Intersectional Pride flag that I like to bring around. It is for everyone and a lot of people would say it isn’t. Everyone have a nice time. It’s nice to see people who aren’t just a load of burly dudes making the music. Nothing wrong with bands who are a load of straight guys but to see more representation is great.