“If you ask me if I’m in a girl band, I don’t think that’s even a question”
Yassassin, named after the legendary Bowie song, leapt onto our radar when we crammed into the tiny basement venue under The Waiting Room in Tottenham a few months back. The newly-formed five-piece sit somewhere between Violent Femmes and Sonic Youth with a brash, all killer, no filler sort of sound.
Fast-forward to this week and the band are playing The Dome in Tufnell Park, supporting none other than Flying Vinyl alumni Oscar on the biggest stage that the London quintet have played to date.
It’s filled with kids in bright pink jackets and pastel yellow baseball caps and with a line-up completed by Girli, probably not their usual crowd. But their set’s electric and on the massive rig they have in the venue, you hear all the amazing intricacies of their sound.
Yassassin as an entity was born of frustration; formed from ex-members of a number of other bands and a need for the individual members to find something more cohesive than the momentary spotlighting of certain artists for all the wrong reasons. They call it ‘chasing cool’.
This is something that’s more prevalent in London than just about any music scene in the world, a scene where bands become hyped because of their style and back-story and often not because of their music. All this in an age where images and information travel fast and wide. This is a band who wanted to rid themselves of the strange self-induced shackles of past music projects and create something more fun and honest.
We all squash onto a picnic bench in the dimly lit smoking area of the venue for a drink and cigarette.
“That’s what I love about this band,” says lead vocalist Anna, there’s no pretence, you know, I’ve been in lots of bands and it’s always like, you can’t do that because it’s not cool, we just want to have fun.”
When you hear stories about bands downing bottles of Jack on stage before you hear about their music, or whether their style is so fucking bohemian, you can see why a band would form to push back against this tide of narcissism.
Their debut single Social Politics, included in the September edition of Flying Vinyl, explores both the social power struggles that exist in the capital’s cultural scene but also the battles being fought in wider society.
“It’s London, this whole scene can be really selective and pretentious,” Anna continued, “and is more about being cool than being good. It shouldn’t be about the way that you dress or the way that you listen to music and that’s the smaller picture of the bigger picture of society… it’s really fucked up right now.”
And so we talk about austerity, the wealth gap, punk and Brexit, why more bands aren’t making music that’s pushing back against these things and how an increasingly powerful elite is slowly killing culture in the city.
“It’s got everything to do with that,” bassist Raissa said, “it’s the main idea behind it but you can break it down onto your social group, some people being elite or whatever, whether in your social group or society.”
The band were friends before forming, something that’s immediately apparent as they shout over and at each other, causing a sort of controlled chaos, but they’re so incredibly likeable.
I ask them how many interviews they’ve done, given that the band have played less than ten gigs and they say not many, I follow up by asking “You haven’t been asked the girl band question yet then?” to which they erupt into laughter and begin mocking my terrible journalism skills. “If you ask me if I’m in a girl band, I don’t think that’s even a question!” Raissa shouts. My question, when the laughter died down, in fact was “As a female band what’s it like to be constantly asked about your gender?” but it’s clearly something that they’ve already been forced to manoeuvre.
“I think it’s funny that it’s still being asked,” Raissa continued, “Four years ago it wasn’t relevant now it’s relevant because a lot of things in politics and society changed that.”
“Yeah, It’s very ironic, cause in a way you can highlight it as a ‘girl band’,” added guitarist Moa “because the world is becoming more equal and feministic, but then the industry wants to bring up all these ‘girl bands’ and say ‘oh this is a girl band’ and that’s then completely contradictory.”
We discuss how female artists may be currently viewed as an en vogue product by the industry, a fashionable commodity that may not be so fashionable when the next wave comes rolling in. Drummer Ruth chips in “That’s one thing I get frightened of, being in a band with other women, is that label and you don’t ever want to self-doubt and say ‘I’m only here because I’m a marketable commodity.’”
Raissa adds, “Use your fucking music to get you out, don’t use something that’s a label because then for me you’re dead because you’re using something that someone else created.”
Truth-be-told, there’s probably never been a better time to be a female in indie music — traditionally it was a genre dominated by men. Now you have huge movements happening behind bands like The Big Moon and Dream Wife for example, it’s breaking down barriers and changing the way that people view the genre and Yassassin will almost certainly form part of that movement going forward over the next year, but they’re keen not to be pigeon-holed.
We’d recently handed the band their first record, which had been one of the stand-out releases in the September 2016 edition of Flying Vinyl and copies of the record were scattered across the table as we talked.
“Thanks for giving us the opportunity, you give the chance to have a vinyl out and it’s great to physically touch it” Anna said, “We’ve become so fucking digital and [music’s] become such a consumer product it’s like going to McDonald’s and having, like, a fucking Happy Meal or whatever… Vinyl feels much more special and you actually value it more.”
Ruth adds “All these bands, you never know how long they’re going to be around and with physical [music] you can always keep that and say ‘hey at a point in time I was there, I saw this band this night, they signed my record — I’ll never forget that’, you can’t get that with a digital download.”
Yassassin are set to headline the Flying Vinyl takeover of The Victoria as part of Oxjam Dalston on October 15th, come along and see this band live, they’re one of our big tips for the future!