No Home: The state of the nation
There is a deep sense of unease familiar to British music; a kind of ambient dread that grips your nerves and isn’t confined to one particular genre. You can feel it in the paranoid gloom of Killing Joke and the strange solitude of Japan, the jagged edges of Siouxsie and the Banshees and the menacing groove of Pa Salieu. That same unease takes centre stage in the shapeshifting sound of No Home – the solo project of London-based musician and producer Charlotte Valentine.
When Valentine self-released their first full-length Fucking Hell last June, it was met with well-deserved commotion. Playing with the parameters of punk and noise music, Fucking Hell charts the many indignities of life under capitalism over ten tracks. Much of the subject matter revolves around work – or rather, the double bind of needing to work to survive while jobs and real living wages are scarce. The bitter taste of it all comes through on The Perfect Candidate as Valentine, accompanied by a clean guitar rather than the album’s usual storm of distortion, sings: “Sorry we’ve considered other applicants/ Good luck/ Have a nice job search/ Have you ever considered/ Fucking off forever?”
© Udoma Janssen
Work is shit,” Valentine says matter-of-factly, speaking from their bedroom in east London where they’ve been busy packing vinyl orders of Fucking Hell. “It really does cause a lot of people a lot of problems. Sometimes I feel like I have nothing in common with all the white bands or musicians in the UK – but we all live under the weirdest fucking country. The stuff that I talk about sometimes is so uniquely British, and Britain is weird! Britain is weird. Sometimes…” – Valentine is in full flow now – “… you end up at a fucking fashion house and they’re saying to you that an intern role is 17k, and you text your friend about it afterwards, and your friend is like, ‘17k? you can’t even bury yourself with 17k.’ I think that’s the theme of my music.”
After growing up on Fuelled By Ramen-era pop punk, Valentine entered their 20s and began to search for DIY communities. “I was still into rock music but I wanted to find people who look like me. I was like, ‘Am I tripping? There must be someone.’ I was literally just Googling ‘DIY’ and trying to find out what was going on there.” That path soon led to the closely-linked scenes in London and New York, revolving around venues like DIY Space for London and Silent Barn in Brooklyn. While running their zine Hungry and Undervalued, Valentine connected with bands like Downtown Boys, while No Home began opening for artists like Big Joanie, Priests and Moor Mother. In Valentine’s words, it was a journey of “finding rock stars or musicians who played rock music who were people of colour.”
© Udoma Janssen
Meanwhile it was, of all things, a Tumblr post by Grimes that prompted Valentine to get more involved in production. In the since-deleted post, Grimes listed all the equipment she used, what it did, and how it all fit together. Valentine bought pretty much all of it. “It was the first time someone had ever broken it down for me,” they explain. From then, Valentine began to think of production as its own instrument.
Fast forward a few years, and the atmosphere of Fucking Hell is a part of what makes it so unique. British joylessness manifests in sparse instrumentals and experimental song structures that shift like sand, always keeping you on edge. Fried guitar lines and flurries of percussion pull at the seams of punk-influenced tracks like Drink! You’re One of Us and 4×4, while drones rumble through more meditative moments like Burning the Body and Exile like a prolonged eye-roll. Valentine’s vocals provide a powerful through-line, guiding the emotional energy of each song whether they’re fluttering gorgeously in a high register, layered on top of one another in a discordant chant, or delivering deadpan barbs. Whatever the weather, the instrumentals roll around their voice like fog around the base of a lighthouse.
© Udoma Janssen
In contrast to Valentine’s voice, the lyrics have two feet firmly on the concrete. They’re direct and conversational, carrying echoes of meme language in their way of articulating how comically shit things are. “Oh, modern life is overwhelming/ And therapy’s too expensive/ So I’ll have to sing along,” Valentine sighs on the bluntly-titled I Couldn’t Cry Before I Wrote EPs.
“I think I was trying to reference Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn a bit,” they explain, gesturing to the kitchen sink nature of Britpop without any of the romance. “At some point laughing is terrible because you’re so traumatised you bypass everything, but at a point you have to be like: it’s bad, but what else is there to do? I’m in my overdraft. Do you know what I mean?”
“Sometimes I feel like I have nothing in common with all the white bands or musicians in the UK – but we all live under the weirdest fucking country. The stuff I talk about is so uniquely British, and Britain is weird!”
Since 2016, Valentine has put out a series of EPs under the No Home moniker – the most recent being 2019’s hello, this is exploitation, which was written after Fucking Hell and released to “fill the gap” while they tried to find a label for the album. It’s a short project; three “gross”, noisy and disoriented songs reflecting the similar nature of the creative industries. “Fucking Hell is quite tame in comparison to hello, this is exploitation,” Valentine reflects. “I just completely lost it on those three songs.”
After sitting on Fucking Hell for two years, Valentine self-released it. “I was like, ‘Whatever, no one is going to pay attention to this album because I have no label, I have no manager, I have no booking agent.’” Incidentally, it ended up doing quite well. Now Valentine is sending out cassette and vinyl orders from their bedroom, making trips back and forth to the Post Office around their day job in graphic design, something they stress should always be followed by the phrase: and I hate it. “I always qualify it with that,” they laugh. “Even if it’s the dentist asking me what I do, I say ‘I’m a graphic designer but I really actually hate it.’”
© Udoma Janssen
Almost a year on from Fucking Hell and Valentine is in the “vulnerable” space of starting something from scratch. They’re currently experimenting with concepts for a new project, exploring “girlboss start-up culture and how it can go tragically wrong, and how sometimes the idea of community is actually individualism in disguise.” They’re also feeling inspired by the English countryside – not in a pastoral sense, but by the emotional claustrophobia of the middle classes who live there and spend their evenings writing furious little emails regarding poor customer service or whatever it is that’s irked them throughout the day that they couldn’t say out loud. “Sorry, that’s really vague,” Valentine laughs. “Maybe I can just say parts of it sound like Enya.”
For now, alienation and the late-capitalist hellscape remain the core themes of No Home. All that Britain works to repress and push aside takes form in their sinister minimalism and unmoored vocals, exposing the pain below the surface by playing around with the qualities that feel so intrinsic to our attitudes and art: an almost banal misery, mediated by dark humour.
“I think you need to have layabouts in society to create interesting culture – not interesting culture that you can commodify, but interesting culture that you can just enjoy”
“There’s certain parts of British society that I would not like to be a part of, and that’s the best way I can say it,” Valentine explains. “I think so much of our culture and our laws don’t really allow for fun, and for easiness, or to be a layabout. And I think you need to have layabouts in society to create interesting culture – not interesting culture that you can commodify, but interesting culture that you can just enjoy.”
“It’s fucked up – I think that’s the main message. At a certain age I learned that a lot of people will exploit you because it benefits them, and there’s a point where you just can’t tolerate it anymore,” they add, concluding, with another characteristic laugh, “so you have to take revenge in song!”
Fucking Hell is out now via Hungry and Undervalued