INTERVIEW: UTILITARIAN, nazis get the fuck out
A lot of time has passed since the Sex Pistols wrote ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and today, in 2023, that same message is more alive than ever. After all everyone knows that the UK has been the cradle of punk. From Utilitarian – with the launching of their album ‘Gaslights’ – they rise to give some visibility to minorities, fight against injustices like exploitation in any shape and form, the patriarchy, human rights, rebel against the oppresive system… All of that with powerful and clear messages in their lyrics. There’s no half ways here.
First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to do the interview. I need to ask you one thing before starting: Why ‘Gaslights”? In psychology is a term used to designate psychological abuse being done to someone with the intention of questioning their own reason… is it about something like that?
It’s both. The term is recognised in relationship psychology as being a form of abuse in interpersonal relationships, however, we saw the same kind of pattern in our news media and wanted to highlight the parallels between the two, as well as identifying with the victims of both kinds of abuse.
The relationship our media has with the population is the role of gaslighter-in-chief. We are in the midst of a polycrisis, with climate emergency, war, extremely regressive right-wing governments, fall in living standards and life expectancy, rising police brutality and many other specific issues. All these issues are intersecting with each other and causing a deepening of each of the crises. Our media is playing the role of part-time culture warrior and part time gaslighter. As you watch the television or read the papers, they want you to believe nothing is wrong and that things are better than ever. Then you look out your door and people are sick, starving, fleeing conflict and dying. We are being gaslit.
Regarding your new logo, I can’t help but to notice the entanglement of the classic A for anarchy with an encircled red V. I’m a huge fan of Alan Moore’s work and I wonder if this is a reference to his work in ‘V For Vendetta’, but this could be totally wrong. What is its origin?
We love Alan Moore but it’s not an intentional reference to his work. Our primary intention was to combine the ‘A’ of the anarchy logo with another shape that made it like the heavy metal pentagram. Kinda like Venom would use. Some of the band are also vegan, and that V is often used by vegan anarchists also.
After all the events in the UK (the Queen’s passing, the resign of PM Boris Johnson, the recent coronation of Charles III…) have you felt more enraged about the political situation and fueled up for your songs?
Those are all relatively unimportant issues for us in the UK. The far greater issue the UK has currently is that it lacks an ability to bring meaningful change to the systems causing us misery. We’ve been governed by Conservatives for the past 13 years, and by neoliberals for the past 44 years. Our infrastructure is literally crumbling around us because of nearly half a decade of aggressive austerity and defunding, combined with a deliberate effort to redistribute and focus wealth towards the wealthy through multiple mechanisms like privatization, deregulation, offshoring and tax breaks. “Democratic” institutions do not currently have a solution to these problems. There are no contenders in electoral politics who are proposing turning any of those issues around. Each and every one of them, from Labour, to the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives is a committed Neoliberal. Even if there’s a landslide election which elects a different government, only the faces will change, and our lived experiences of managed decline will continue. Given the poverty and suffering in the UK, displays of wealth such as the coronation are crass and perverse. I saw something about how funding that was traditionally used to provide welfare and relief to the suffering being diverted to fund celebrations for the coronation. Truly a party aboard a sinking ship.
What are the problems you think require an urgent solution? Do you see an improvement in some cases? From Spain we know there’s still a lot to do…
The biggest issue is that every imperative in the world is governed and motivated by the acquisition of wealth and that wealth is hoarded by a very small percentage of people. It’s the reason most people have a job that sucks. It’s the reason we wake up and feelunsatisfied with our lives. Because selling insurance or programming website shops whilst the world burns seems like an enormous waste of everyone’s time. It’s the reason cool bands can’t visit your town. It’s the reason the state sends its police forces to bind your hands and bash your head if you refuse to sell your labour on the cheap.
It’s the reason you have to pay somebody too much money to live somewhere that’s run down and bad. It’s the reason you have to pay somebody to live on ‘their’ land. It’s the reason you feel so uncomfortable just existing in the inner cities. Because if you’re not spending money, then you’re not welcome there. It’s the reason that food that kills you is cheap and food that nourishes you is expensive. It’s the reason you can’t cross borders without being inspected by men with guns. Redistribution of that wealth would transform the world almost overnight. Everything else politically is just a mechanism to redistribute wealth in some way.
I have to say your album impresses me. Every song handles a social problem and I feel it’s even more direct than your previous album, ‘Fight Wars’. Do you feel that way? Did you want to focus on one problem at a time for each song?
Thank you. Our first album is gonna have a real place in our hearts for being our first message to the world, but we made the conscious decision on Gaslights to be as direct with our message as the music is. I don’t want people to have to decode what it is I’m saying, I want the message to be loud and clear and to reach as many as possible. The Utilitarian ethos for songwriting, especially lyrically, is to have an idea on a subject we think is worth talking about, and to then focus our energy on that. Gaslights gave us an overarching subject to tie these ideas together (the media ultimately performs the role of underpinning and guarding these systems) but there’s a lot to cover. Originally when Utilitarian formed, it was around a time when a frequent refrain you’d hear from people who didn’t want to talk about uncomfortable things was “why do you have to bring politics into it?”. We’d all been in previous bands where people had suddenly had to come face to face with politics and it’d made them uncomfortable. This gave us the desire to start a project where the politics was not just a part of it, but was the central heart of it. Not separable from anything else.
In your Bandcamp you state that all proceeds will be donated to Mermaid UK, a NGO that supports and helps trans kids. Also, your physical release is a limited edition book without CD but with a download code inside instead of a disc. Why did you take this approach? Are there any other NGOs you (or your fans) wish to support?
From the start, we had a desire to do things differently. We didn’t want to be a band that carries this message of how we can make a better world, only to then be trapped by capitalism the same way everything else is. We didn’t want to have to beg people to buy our records, to pollute the environment with the unethical production that goes into merchandise production. To have our wallets in mind every time we make a decision on anything. To have to choose our ‘targets’ carefully in case they hurt our ‘prospects’ in future. All of that stuff just fucking sucks and completely waters down any message we want to spread. So we decided on a few things right from the start. Utilitarian would never turn a profit. Any money made would be donated to causes that we believe can really help people in the real world We won’t produce any merchandise that causes long-term damage to the environment We won’t play live shows with any promoters, bands or venues which further the interests of right wing politics. In the past we’ve also supported the following initiatives Shelter (UK homelessness charity) Refuge (Domestic violence refuge charity) Inquest (UK victims of state violence charity) The Big Issue (UK homelessness charity) Black Minds Matter (UK mental health charity focused on helping black communities) Gendered Intelligence (UK trans rights charity) All of these are subjects close to our hearts, and we’ll continue to help the interests of the communities these charities support
Have you performed live or have any intention to do it soon? Your live performance must have an incredible energy!
I can’t say too much about this right now, but it’s our intention to perform live soon and for our live shows to be community events as much as music events.
With your music you support a lot of social causes, it’s heart-whelming what you do and I hope more bands had your involvement, truly. Did you have that involvement in your songs from the start when the band came together?
We have been so lucky to have such kind support from across the music world. Many people have been incredibly kind and supportive of what we do from the start, and we’re very grateful for that. We come from similar places of inspiration, which is anarcho-punk and d-beat stuff that came out of the UK in the 80s and 90s, which I think helps. We’re also saying a lot of the things that musicians in this scene agree with, and we’re saying it in a way that is strong, direct and has the community spirit of heavy metal.
Which song would you say is your favourite from the album? And why?
There’s so many great songs on the album that this is quite hard to choose. Hateriarchy was very popular with a lot of people and it’s got some great hooks in it. I love all the tracks but probably my favourite to sing is “They Fall” because that chorus with “Fight your neighbors, ANTI COMPASSION POLICE” is pure Napalm Death and I get to bark the lyrics out like Barney does during it. Incredibly good fun. Great breakdown in it too. Also the bit that goes “See the profits rise as the people die”. Very cool.
Which influences would you say you have in your music?
Oh there’s a huge amount of influences in our music. Directly we’ve got huge influence from Napalm Death, Crass, Conflict, Discharge and other similar bands in that vein, but there’s also bits of bands like Hatebreed, Kreator, Slayer and Sodom in there. There’s even a not-so-subtle nod to Suicidal Tendencies in Be A Man.
How was recording with Ol Drake from Evile and Andy Whale (former member of Bolt Thrower)? Did you know each other beforehand?
We’ve known Whale for a while and worked together on a previous Utilitarian EP. We met when he was playing drums in Memoriam, and he took a real shine to the music and the message. Ol Drake and Amara have known each other for a while, since we’re from the same part of the world as Evile. Recording with them has been a dream. Just the easiest thing you can imagine. No egos at all. Amazing musicians.
I need to ask directly to Amara… How does it feel to be a woman inside the punk scene? Have you suffered discrimination of any kind?
I have to say that compared to what I expected, the local community and the punk scene in general have been very accepting of me, and very supportive. I had more issues in my other band, where I was accepted readily among our close peers in antifascist Black metal, but judged by the larger black metal scene. The punk scene in the UK (especially Leeds and Sheffield, where I’m based) have always been very welcoming, very queer-friendly.
What were your influences regarding social fight for when you founded this project?
Big influences on our politics have been Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman for their work on Manufacturing Consent. Naomi Klein has also been instrumental with her work covering disaster capitalism (both The Shock Doctrine and The Battle for Paradise) and how wealthy interests profit from disasters both natural and man-made. It was fascinating to see the ICIJ working to expose corruption of elites, and then equally fascinating to see the mainstream journalism outlets of the UK immediately go to work to provide covering fire for those elites and redirect public interests towards different subjects. There’s a bunch of other references in the books that we made along with the albums which gives recommendations for further reading.
In the UK there was always an interesting punk and hardcore scene, full of movement, how do you see it in the present?
A reasonably well-funded welfare system, combined with some social infrastructure and affordable nightlife/council housing enabled the incredible punk and hardcore scene in the 80s and early 90s, along with most of Britain’s other cultural outputs. Thatcher’s dismantling of it through the 80s essentially just priced poor people out of entertainment. If he were born in the 2000s David Bowie would be working telesales in a call center on a retail park, not making some of the best and most influential music of his generation. Music in the UK, and I think outside of the UK is on its arse for the reasons we’ve outlined above. Consolidation of wealth has meant that all the venues are owned by 2 or 3 companies. All the gigs are booked by 2 or 3 companies. The ticket prices are now 5 or 6 times more expensive than they were 10 years ago, but your wages have barely changed. Streaming services have given bands incredible access to huge audiences, but those streaming services are both owned by, and run in the interests of 2 different record companies, meaning we don’t get any money from those services but also if you’re not on them, you don’t exist. The neoliberal noose tightens around the throat. That said, you cannot kill art. Much as you may try. As long as there’s a place people can gather with electricity, we’ll be playing music.
How do you see Utilitarian’s future? Any plans moving forward?
We’re not going to release any new music for a year or two now, but we will be working on bringing the Utilitarian show to the world.
Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure doing this interview. Do you have anything to add for your fans?
Thank you for the support. To close, I’ll steal a quote from fellow anarchist, labour organiser and poet Utah Phillips. “The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses”.