INTERVIEW: Bob Vylan | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Let’s start at the end. Wrapping up an early-morning chat with Bobby Vylan, frontman of searing grime-punk-rap duo Bob Vylan, I’m looking for the take-home message.

“Eat healthy, drink water, try to get enough sleep. Eat one meal a day by yourself, enjoy that meal, and don’t look at your phone. Just have some time for yourself.”

Wholesome stuff, especially considering how lazily the music press paints the band as ‘extreme’. Yes, Bobby and drummer Bobbie Vylan infuse their work with the reality of their experience of police brutality and racism. But, zoom in, and their work is about as extreme as Charles Dickens getting a bit sharp about interminable poverty and sickening social conditions, and every bit as essential to understanding England today.

Within our own family, friends and community, no one is shocked. If you’ve never had your face on the floor and police on your back when you didn’t do anything wrong, it will seem extreme, but it’s a well-proportioned reaction to what we’re going through. Dare I say; it’s still not as far a reaction as is warranted.”

Bob Vylan exploded into wider public consciousness in 2020 with scorching album We Live Here. Creating a record label to get away from a controlling industry, in the wake of the George Floyd murder they threw up their (now scarily relevant) new music, and a surge of interest ensued – one that still rankles.

It’s painful, man. We’ve been talking about this from the beginning of time, before we made music. Within our communities we’ve been facing these things and figuring out how to live under occupation. It’s popular today to be like ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘defund the police’ and post infographics on Instagram and be like ‘yeah, doing my part, man’. We don’t have that luxury. Every day we have to live and exist in this skin, in this country, under these power structures designed not to support but oppress us. So to see other people take it as a momentary fashionable thing to prove that they’re inclusive and not racist, it’s incredibly frustrating. It drives me crazy.”

Every day we have to live and exist in this skin, in this country, under these power structures designed not to support but oppress us

As interest snowballed, the promoters and magazines that ignored Bob Vylan in the past crawled out of the woodwork, compelled by an editorial push to forefront Black voices. “I’ll forever be angry. It’s not that people hadn’t heard of us or heard any of the things we were saying; they just chose to ignore it or deem it too violent. It’s opportunistic when the rights of Black and dark-skinned people become a talking point and something that people are scared about getting called out over and being called a racist or not being seen to represent all people. It makes me extremely angry.”

Even as we speak, Britain’s most senior police officer Cressida Dick has just stepped down after a damming report showcased a police force rife with racism and discrimination. Yet more affirmation of all Bob Vylan have been talking about since day one, Dick was infamous for dismissing accusations, saying there is the occasional “bad ‘un” within the ranks.

The thing is like you can’t have that in some professions. All the apples have to be good. If we’re not going to defund it and redistribute the money into community-driven initiatives, then there needs to be a discussion of what can be done to weed out said ‘bad apples’. A more in-depth psych test would be the bare minimum. Get the psychopaths out of there.”

Not willing to allow cosy visions of bobbies on the beat and chocolate-box fantasies of the British Empire to erase their lived experience, Bob Vylan reappropriate the iconography of the UK in their music and art to tell their own vital story of being English in the 21st Century.

We grew up in areas where if you saw a Union Jack or a Saint George flag in a window, that’s a no-go area. As a child, you know. We have just as much claim over this country as anybody else, which means we have just as much claim over the symbolism and direction of this country.”

Picking up from where We Live Here left off and the vivid new vision of England it evoked, a new album is just around the corner. Bobby remains cryptic about the content. “Expect the unexpected is all I can say. It’s more empowering and fun in the production and the lyrics. There’s been an attempt to find the comedic aspect of some of the topics we’re talking about. I’m excited for people to hear it because we’ve been just listening to it and enjoying it for a long time. It’s a great album, and that’s not me trying to sell it!”

A concept album, the theme that runs through Bob Vylan Presents The Price Of Life is the interaction between people and money – the things people do to get it and keep it, and its effect on health and communities.

It’s about how you eat and live. There are so many little lines in each track – that’s the gold, the nugget, that one line or bar that says so much. Every time I listen, I think, ‘oh man, I like what that says’. I would sit here and recite it if we had more time!”

Honestly, it’s tempting. But time is tight, and I need to know what we’re leaving people with. One of the most exciting bands in the UK right now, Bobby and Bobbie Vylan are an explosive duo, cripplingly charismatic producers of seismic soundscapes overflowing with the truth of their lived experience.

So what’s the take-home message?

“Wash your cartons out!”

Bob Vylan play the Sticky’s stage at Stockton Calling on Saturday 16th April. Bob Vylan Presents The Price Of Life is released on 22nd April via Ghost Theatre.


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