Actual Crimes are a DIY band with a difference. Kirsty Fife (guitar, vocals), Aaron Batley (drums, vocals) and Ruth Mair (bass) have made a definitive mark on the London underground post-punk scene since forming in 2013. They’ve self-released a series of cassette/download mini-albums and played a string of coveted support slots with the likes of Trust Fund, Chain and the Gang and The Spook School. While some DIY bands opt to scream over generic thrash guitar and other groups take a musical route through angular art-rock or no-wave dance-punk, Actual Crimes have been acclaimed for playing a dual pop and punk style – without skirting anywhere close to dubious hybrid, ‘pop-punk, in the process.
“I think we are a pop band”, Aaron tells TGA, when we catch up with them. “We’re a song-writing band who write hooks and harmonies rather than just noise – but we have a lot of volume and power.” The band shrug off previous comparisons to bands like Jawbreaker or Minutemen in favour of a different set of influences: “I like them”, Kirsty says, “but definitely for me my influences are more driven by women and queers making music. I spent my teenage years listening to whiny boy indie, but Sonic Youth, Gossip, Queen Adreena and The Breeders changed that. I guess what influences how I write is stuff like early Cat Power and PJ Harvey, Sleater-Kinney, Blonde Redhead and Chalk Circle. Scrappy guitar music with powerful female vocals.” Ruth, meanwhile, came to punk by way of Kerrang and “unravelled what I liked and didn’t from starting off with Nirvana, Misfits and Bob Mould.” And Aaron? “I saw the Manics play the Brits in 1997 and decided I wanted to play music. I discovered Sleater-Kinney shortly afterwards then other bands from the Riot Grrrl movement.”
A key go to number of reference points then. But what sets the band apart, is Kirsty’s voice. A stand-out key element of the Actual Crimes sound, with its haunted, wounded tone recalling the melodic dissonance of Pauline Murray or Exene Cervenka. “I guess for me this band is a continuation of previous creative work, mainly my zine writing and art,” she states. “That comes specifically from a personal place rooted in vocalising trauma/isolation/personal histories that are hard to put out there. When we started playing I wasn’t really confident in my own voice and tried to write stuff from more distanced political perspectives – but that’s changed and now I’m very focused on writing/singing from [my] perspective. That feels very powerful and brave to me.”
The band describe themselves as a “working-class feminist racket”, suggesting a wider purview in operation, but as Aaron explains: “We don’t talk about our politics a lot but I am constantly writing about the same things. Relationship to others, my labour, class and wages. I’m trying to achieve the perfect dialectic between all those things.”
Kirsty agrees: “The songs I write tend to be about tough stuff, like sexuality, class, trauma, sense of place. I don’t really write songs about big P politics, but I think of the stuff we do as politicised because of the position and perspective I write from (as a working-class queer fat femme). I think making music or doing any sort of cultural work as a marginalised person is inherently political,“ she says. “The ‘just give it a go’ approach of the DIY scene is also radically political in challenging traditional concepts of craftspersonship – the emphasis is on the importance of *your* voice as a marginalised person rather than your technical ability to play music, which is amazing.”
So has the DIY music scene bypassed the wider industry hierarchy? “There are still class dynamics in DIY”, Kirsty replies. “For instance, the difference between having a day job or not, the latter of which isn’t really possible without financial support. Making music in DIY as a working-class person often means doing stuff around other commitments, which ultimately limits the amount of creative output you can have. However, I definitely think DIY is a safer space, and it’s not reliant on the validation of wider culture, so I can just put stuff out there without requiring someone else to invest in me.”
If the band are intent on one thing, it’s ensuring that their voice is heard.
“I don’t feel that working-class voices will be silenced overall. If you really want to do it, you’ll do it regardless. People are building things all the time.”
Actual Crimes continue to help build the DIY scene and are currently recording a new album. Find their previous releases on bandcamp.