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

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I first saw ILL around three years ago and their infectious energy, riot of colour and influences and girl gang attitude blew me away. Their debut album We Are ILL has recently been released on Tyneside label Box and it’s an absolute blast. The band evolved out of Womb – “a Manchester-based women’s improv noise collective which at its peak included 14 members!” – and was in part a way of finishing some degree coursework. “The first songs we wrote were completely improvised, recorded in one take at the university studios. ILL Song was born out of one of these sessions – a very slow and menacing version, which at that time sounded much more like Slithering Lizards than its current incarnation.” Budgets and commitments meant that the album had a long gestation but fast forward to 2018 and a fortuitous message from Box’s Matt Batey and the album is finally out.

We Are ILL is a glorious blend of styles, from post-punk to garage stomp, punk funk to creeping noise, but there’s no formula. “With ILL we never set out to write in a particular genre, we will just play around with ideas when we’re jamming and sometimes everyone will stop, look at each other and say: ‘This is great, what is this? Let’s try it again.’ It’s a very instinctive way of working, and it allows us to experiment without being restricted to a particular sound.”

You could say that ILL have weaponised sarcasm

Aside from the music, one of the most notable things about ILL is the scathing humour they use to tackle their subject matter, largely eschewing the more polemic approach taken by a lot of their peers. “You could say that ILL have weaponised sarcasm. It wasn’t a conscious decision to go down this route but when you have been fighting the same bullshit every day, making a joke and laughing at it can be a powerful statement. Reducing the situation to something that can be poked fun at gives you back a sense of self-determination and control and it’s a wonderful way to connect to other people. We’ve all been there – when on the surface something seems proper, but there is one person in the room who says ‘Wait a minute, this is rubbish, isn’t it?’ and suddenly everyone feels a sense of relief. We feel like it’s our part to play to be that person.” And despite being part of a supportive and inspirational network, the rubbish is always there. “We used to get much more trouble from people in the early years of the band, most likely because back then we would play all kinds of local gigs at pubs, sharing the stage with wannabe indie bands in matching turtlenecks and all kinds of random cookie-cutter rock bands… It’s only occasionally now when we have a bad experience at a gig – it’s sad that some sound engineers still feel like they have to mansplain how the microphone works to us when there are two audio engineers in the band. But we are trying to re-educate them, one at a time.”

The band are already itching to get working on their second album – “more disco, and lots more heavy noise!” – but first there’s some UK and hopefully some international dates. The ILL live experience is a marvellous thing so let them re-educate you, one at a time.

ILL play Newcastle’s Head Of Steam on Friday 1st June with Blown Out and ‘surprise special guests’. We Are ILL is out now on Box Records.


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