POP NOTES PEN PALS #1 – JANUARY 2019
Once upon a time, there was a zlut named Jenny, who met another zlut named Charlie. They met through a mutual friend on one mind-bending and rather debauched night out at a zlutty Leicester nightclub (which shall remain nameless, for fear that they should be banned for life!) They became fast friends, and proceeded to get up to all kinds of unprintable shit on this wild night out, which they describe as the “messiest night out ever known to humanity.” As it would happen, the very next day Charli XCX (Charlie’s fav) and Wolf Alice (Jenny’s favs) dropped a collaborative remix. Now, Charlie and Jenny are certainly no fools, and they can recognize a goddamn cosmic sign when they see one. It became instantly clear that their destinies were to be intertwined. And so it was that Jenny and Charlie became ZLUTZ.
ZLUTZ are a nü-witch political trash pop electro-punk duo from the UK. Like many other emerging artists in the pop underground, they frequently collaborate online (Jenny attends university in Brighton most of the year). Together, they have given birth to DIGITAL WRATH, a darkly energetic debut LP that dropped the first week of 2019. DIGITAL WRATH is filled to the brim with thrash-trance anthems, nightmarish melodies, politically charged prose, and a number of other dreadful delights. The stark digital soundscapes that Charlie produces often surround Jenny’s vocals like a sinister fog. Sometimes she sounds like a punk Persephone screaming out from the murky subterranean depths of the underworld (or perhaps as if she’s “living on Pluto all alone,” as she sings on “ICE”). Other times, her stirring, surprisingly soulful vocals sound more focused and clear. But whether she’s screaming loudly or singing softly, Jenny always sounds totally confident. Her eloquent lyrics flow gracefully over the jagged beats that result from Charlie’s accomplished production technique.
“Trash” is the track that kicks off DIGITAL WRATH, and it quickly becomes one of my favs. It’s a rage-fueled trashpop banger that is both chaotic and ecstatic and sets the mood that permeates the entire record. ZLUTZ achieve their sound by navigating spaces that are consumed by equal parts distortion and beauty. “Grievance” is a song drenched in gloomy beats and a haunted atmosphere, with a ghostly pop chorus that can be heard swirling amidst the tension. Elsewhere, “Cold Water” layers Jenny’s ethereal vocals and cryptic lyrics atop an icy synth line and a blistering electro beat. In other words, it sounds Really F***ing Cool, and became an immediate favorite of mine. “Cold Water,” along with the psychedelic voyage and subsequent comedown that is “Heaven (Cheap Entry)” and “Heaven (Reprise),” forms the conceptual centerpiece for this thrilling debut album.
I definitely recommend that you take a look at the ZLUTZ genius page and spend some time with the lyrics, which are not only impressively poetic but also reveal the political nature of the project. “Das Kapital” draws from critical theory to condemn a culture of consumerism, while “Poison” suggests a critique of the pharmaceutical industry. Themes of autonomy, animal rights, and dystopianism are in abundance. As much as I *love* bubblegum pop, it feels refreshing to return to music that challenges the listener by exploring deeper political messages than the more common lyrical themes of heartbreak and love.
“Fear Me,” the absolutely perfect album closer (and perhaps my most favorite tune in this collection), is somewhat reminiscent of 90s alt-dance group Underworld, who authored the generational classic “Born Slippy” from Trainspotting (more on that in a bit). Jenny unleashes her delivery with rapid-fire precision over the driving, dirty trance rhythm in a manner which is inexplicably addictive. I’ve literally had it on repeat for 25 minutes and it only gets better with each spin. “I am the resurrection and I am the light,” she sings declaratively. And I’m just like, okay, I totally buy that.
DIGITAL WRATH is ultimately a punk record. And a great one at that. It is propulsive, political, and brimming with an electric sense of urgency. ZLUTZ rock. And they rock harder and better than any guitar-based band could in 2019. Their pounding industrial-rave rhythms and manic energy hit like life-affirming sonic shockwaves that rattle me to my core. ZLUTZ are noisy and aggressive and confrontational. What exactly is a zlut? A zlut is everything you could ever want from your favorite young, new, underground buzzband. ZLUTZ exploded out of the ether and straight into my heart. ZLUTZ are fresh and interesting and have amazing potential, and I am very excited to hear what they do next.
I had the opportunity to correspond with ZLUTZ recently so that I could get to know a bit more about them and understand their vision as a band. They provided thoughtful and detailed answers that helped me to appreciate this exciting new project even more. I absolutely adore ZLUTZ, and I hope that after reading this interview, you adore ZLUTZ too!
PS Alice Glass please please please give ZLUTZ a call.
POP NOTES: Where are ZLUTZ based? And does your hometown influence your style?
ZLUTZ: We’re both based in the UK, Charlie lives in Leicester and Jenny is at uni in Brighton. Our music is mostly shaped by how we collaborate over the internet because we live relatively far apart, but the political environment in Leicester definitely influences our interest in social issues and giving a voice to the communities living in run-down areas.
POP NOTES: Were you involved in any musical projects prior to ZLUTZ?
Charlie: I was previously making music similar to ZLUTZ as Spirit Circle before becoming influenced by EDM and pop music, and transitioning into a new project called ANG3L. Some of the tracks on Digital Wrath actually use riffs I made as Spirit Circle and ANG3L when I was younger.
Jenny: I’m primarily an indie/alternative singer-songwriter making solo music and fronting my band Chewing Gum based in Brighton. About a year ago I met Charlie who introduced me to electronic punk music and I fell in love with ANG3L’s music and knew I wanted to get involved.
POP NOTES: How would you describe your musical style?
Charlie: I like to call it trashpunk or nü witch.
Jenny: I always call it political trash pop when asked.
POP NOTES: Can you tell me a little bit about your songwriting process?
ZLUTZ: Charlie tends to make the track and email over an MP3 for Jenny to write the lyrics and melody. Sometimes Charlie will have an idea about what the instrumentation suggests the song should be about, for example on “Das Kapital” we knew early on it was going to critique capitalism. Other songs change their meaning quite a bit, for example, “Fear Me” started out as a breakup song and finished as a really angry track about empowerment, more generally in the #MeToo era. And if you compare the themes of the opening track of the album (“Trash”) to “Fear Me,” there’s sort of a narrative arch of growth and the discovery of internal strength because both tracks explore surviving abuse in contrasting ways.
Charlie: I start easier with a bass line or a riff for the chorus and I build the chords around that. I don’t really pick a key signature before I get going, I kinda do the riff or the bass line and then pick the closest key signature to what I’ve done on the riff and then put it all in key. I always always always work in 4/4–everything else upsets me. I tend to stick a supersaw synth on every track in some shape or form, usually the bass or a really distorted lead. Other than that I don’t have a strict routine, I just start a track and then finish it within like, a few hours or the same day, because I work stupidly quick. I don’t like working in studios, I’ve tried before but it just doesn’t work out because it just doesn’t feel like an environment I enjoy being in to create. I need to be surrounded by my own environment.
Jenny: Charlie’s own environment includes a massive picture of Grimes. I think that’s very important to us and our art.
POP NOTES: Who were some of your earliest musical influences? And who or what influences your style today?
Jenny: How early are we talkin’? Girls Allowed/JLS early? Or Charlie’s Directioner phase?
Charlie: Legitimately in terms of influences on ZLUTZ how can I not say Alice Glass, CRIM3S and Teeth, Though there’s a lot of influences from the 90’s and 2000’s punk scene like No Doubt, Hole, and 2010 witch house like Pictureplane and Ritualz.
Jenny: Honestly, in terms of genre I’m totally just influenced by Charlie’s early stuff as ANG3L and Spirit Circle, but I do a literature degree which really influences my lyrics. Sylvia Plath is my favourite writer and lines of her poetry are in nearly every song. I’m also very influenced by James Joyce and wrote much of the album after finishing Ulysses which sparked a bit of an old testament phase which you can kinda hear. “Das Kapital” is really influenced by social/economic theory, nearly every line is a quote from Weber, Tocqueville, Comte or Adorno and I actually mention Durkheim’s theory of capitalism and how it’s making us depressed.
POP NOTES: I was really taken by the deep and political nature of your songs! Can you tell me just a bit about the political situation in Leicester, the UK in general, or any other causes you are passionate about?
Jenny: I think the current political and social climate will be remembered as a time of deep polarisation and division. The right is far right, the left is far left, the rich are very rich, the poor are very poor. We’re still feeling the aftershocks of Thatcher’s brutal demolition of unskilled labour industries so that higher education has become a necessity and yet it’s treated like a luxury.
It’s a time of great possibility, opportunity, and liberation but this only seems available to the educated. And with rising tuition fees, child poverty, and austerity cutting school funding, it’s only the rich who have access to a decent education to go on and make something of their lives.
The echo chamber that social media algorithms have created is punctuating this polarisation and creating an absurd politics of personality in which politicians just need to manipulate the numbers. We’re entering a new world and everything is very uncertain and strange and scary and it’s moving a lot faster than the arts and critical theorists can keep up with. I guess we’re trying to bridge some gaps.
Charlie: I write a lot about abusive people, the opening track Trash is about my friend’s abusive ex, I feel the need to write about that kinda thing because it heavily provokes me emotionally. I found that the majority of the songs on the album that I wrote alongside Jenny all came from a place of anger towards abusive and manipulative people.
The song Grievance is about our views on animal rights and agriculture and that is something we’re passionate about as well as politics. We’ll be exploring this all further in the next album.
POP NOTES: Which movie soundtrack (of any era) do you wish one of your tracks could have appeared on?
Charlie: Totally hands down Resident Evil, or Alien or Saw. Something classic, gory and angry. I produced Grievance with Resident Evil specifically in mind. The lead synth in the verses kinda reminds me of a Resident Evil in-game pause/start menu or something like that. I could totally see Alice fighting her way through a hoard of the undead with Grievance playing in the background, she’s a badass.
Jenny: Trainspotting. I want a ZLUTZ song to be this generation’s Born Slippy.
POP NOTES: All great choices! I got really excited when Jenny mentioned Born Slippy, because it’s one of my all time favorites. I hope you actually do write your generation’s darkly iconic rave anthem!
ZLUTZ: The song “Heaven (Cheap Entry)” has a similar vibe we guess. We compare club culture to a religious experience with the resurrection of Christ.
Jenny: It all started when I was at Liverpool Pride in the parade and we saw some drag queens walking around with signs saying “HEAVEN for cheap entry talk to me”. I turned to my friend and was like “woah is that meant to be like a political message about buying your way into heaven or something” and my friend was like “Jenny, Heaven is a club. It’s Heaven till Seven tonight, lets go.” So I wrote a poem about it and then used the lyrics for the song.
POP NOTES: If you were to sum up your project with one ZLUTZ lyric, what would it be?
ZLUTZ: Gotta be “say my name and you’ll know to fear God” from “Fear Me”. We want people in power to know we’re not afraid of them and they should be trembling. They should know how it feels to be intimidated. But also on a more personal micro-level, we’re not letting abusers take any more of our time, karma’s a bitch and it’s coming for you.
POP NOTES: Okay, ZLUTZ, what should we be streaming, where can we find you online, and what is coming next?
ZLUTZ: Obviously you should be streaming our debut album DIGITAL WRATH out now on all streaming platforms including SoundCloud and YouTube for free. Charlie’s twitter is @ANG3LZLUT and his insta is @ANG3LWORLD. Jenny’s twitter is @jjennyeva and her insta is @jennyeva.jpg. You can also find us on Facebook @zlutzband and on Twitter at @ZLUTZZ. We’re already working on our second album which will be darker and moodier, think low drones and sultry tones.
POPNOTES: I’ve just read that you are doing your first live show. Can you let us know the details? And is it true Charlie’s dad will be recording the whole thing? Is that who I’ll need to contact for a bootleg copy?
ZLUTZ: We can exclusively confirm that the rumours are true. We’re trying to put together a mini UK tour, hopefully we’ll be playing in Brighton, Stamford, Leicester, Manchester and London. More details as soon as we have them. As for a bootleg copy of our live set … piracy is a crime, this video explains our thoughts.
POP NOTES: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the public?
ZLUTZ: The Royals Killed Diana, Americans shouldn’t stan.
POP NOTES: *literally dies* Omg please put that on a t-shirt! Anything else?
ZLUTZ: We just wanna say that this album is our baby and we’re overwhelmed by the positive responses we’ve already gotten. We hope we’ve made it onto your new music radars in a big way and you should expect to hear a lot more from us in the future, this is just the beginning. Oh and also, Alice Glass will you collab with us?
POP NOTES: Finally, tf is a crumpet?
ZLUTZ: Jenny has trypophobia and doesn’t wanna talk about it. No further comments will be made.
Charlie: Although I will say, crumpets are fucking amazing and y’all are missing out.
This has been the first installment of our new Pop Notes series exploring the emerging futuristic universe of underground pop. Rather than try to name this musical ecosystem or define what it means in terms of genre or substance, Pop Notes will be profiling the many art stars that make up the vanguard of this exciting new wave of pop, in order to render a picture of this digital movement in its own terms. Like punk, rave, electroclash, and bloghouse before them, this is a scene bursting at the seams with a reality-warping diy energy that is undeniable, addictive, and seemingly poised for world dominance(??). Stay tuned for more profiles of exciting artists emanating from the online pop scene!