On a particularly hot morning, I find myself trying to find out how to get back to the original point of my conversation with London-based rock outfit Gaygirl. Instead, guitarist Lewis Clark uncovers a strange memory from his teenage years playing in bands with his schoolmates. “One day in school, we had a climbing wall built for us and we played at the opening for this climbing wall.” The laughs died down, and as we approached the next question, Clark interjects, “No one used that climbing wall. It smelled like fish.”
That anecdote may very well be an apt representation for Gaygirl, composed of three 20-somethings with all the chops to envy seasoned veterans and none of the pretentiousness that can come with such skill. Despite the pressure placed upon millennials and the growing importance of creating personal brands for success, Gaygirl recognizes the importance of slow, organic growth, as learned from the blueprints set by the scenes and bands they are influenced by.
Gaygirl formed in 2016 after a chance meeting between lead singer Bex Morrison, as she was canvassing for a charity, and Clark. It reads like punk rock fanfiction: Clark signed up for her charity, bought her a T-shirt, and eventually they found themselves gushing over their shared musical influences such as The Kills and Sonic Youth. After sending guitar parts and vocals back and forth through email, the instinctual itch to pursue their ideas as a full-fledged band followed suit. They found drummer Louis Bradshaw and took to playing as many live shows as possible before releasing music.
The band’s unorthodox beginning, reminiscent of old-school punk bands formed in schoolyards and garages, was primarily due to the inaccessibility of professional recording equipment. However, the few promoters and venues who saw promise in Gaygirl allowed the stage to be their workshop. When it finally came time to record their first single “Paralydise,” they knew they had something to chase after. “When you play live, you have that energy and adrenaline feeding off the audience and each other. Obviously, in a studio, you don’t have that.” Morrison explains. “Trying to recreate that energy and power that you have live and translate it into a studio setting is the most challenging part of it.”
Perusing their live videos is like entering a time capsule of a period where grainy live sets basked in red light were the best way to find music on the internet. This self-imposed duty of documenting bands at local venues has far from died out, but in a city as large as London, it is refreshing to see bits and pieces of Gaygirl’s growth scattered across YouTube over the course of three years.
This relatively low-key internet presence has allowed them to explore their sound, evading all attempts at placing themselves into a genre. The slow evolution of Gaygirl’s sound from 2018’s “Paralydise,” a hypnotic droney haunt reminiscent of Joy Division, to 2019’s “Hair” and “Sick Note” is more logical than abrupt. The result is most aptly described as PJ Harvey filling in for Nirvana’s vocals. Morrison’s painfully sharp vocals creep on the brink of a wail and clash beautifully with the fuzzy guitars. It’s a barrage of sound that encompasses all the senses and evokes a particular kind of emotion and eroticism found in the dimly lit bathrooms of a tattered old venue with the muffled music pounding outside the door. Gaygirl recognizes the comparisons between them and their ’90s alternative inspirations, but ultimately reject genre. “Sticking to a particular genre can box you into a particular sound, which takes away from what can be gained from band development,” Clark explains. Pleasurehead is the result.
The EP’s overarching themes of control, in all of its twisted forms of nefariousness, make for a dark and brooding record that embeds itself into you with each listen. This is possibly due to the lack of context and the endless meanings that can be placed into each lyric. Morrison’s words force you to hang onto them, finding whatever sliver of meaning lies between each line. “When you read the lyrics, maybe it isn’t completely obvious. But, I think I like that.” Morrison realizes. “Though some of the lyrics are quite dark, there is some humor in it a bit. Maybe just for me there is — but for others, it could mean something different.”
Despite a small catalog, Gaygirl’s approach to music is refreshing and echoes back to a time where consumption was a slower, more deliberate act. The act of subverting the oftentimes vicious and intimidating cycle of mainstream success with a focus on nurturing interpersonal relationships with each other — and with fans in local scenes — is becoming increasingly more radical. Gaygirl shows that success isn’t linear, nor should it be. For some, that peak is playing for the opening of a climbing wall, or maybe it’s right over it.