They Hate Change sound like nobody else
Vonne Parks and Andrew ‘Dre’ Gainey are peering closely at their screens.
I’ve shared links to two videos in the Zoom chat window. The first is the song Walk This Land, a stoned, funky, 90s drum‘n’bass classic by Suffolk group E-Z Rollers. The other is Brendan Grace’s guest appearance on the Ireland-set but UK-produced sitcom, Father Ted, as the ridiculous priest who rumbles the parochial house by blasting jungle music from his boombox, all day and night.
These two masterpieces of their kind come up in conversation because, as Floridian electronic hip-hop duo They Hate Change, Parks and Gainey revel in this type of underground dance music – the genres, like jungle, breakbeat and drum‘n’bass, that once powered the UK’s pirate radio stations. Promotional notes that accompany the pair’s 2022 album, Finally, New, boldly claim it will scratch an itch for “geeky headphone trainspotters”. And like the movie Trainspotting, Finally, New bears an appreciation for a certain strand of 90s urban Brit culture. But Parks and Gainey openly admit that they don’t have music nerd levels of knowledge on any of these musical forms – hence my need to place Walk This Land in front of them for the first time. Their response, deferred; the tabs are left open to watch later.
“We love getting put on,” says Parks, eagerly. “That’s what we love about travelling around and talking to people in the UK. When they find out that we’re interested in their music, they don’t try to [talk down to] us because they can tell we’re not trying to act like experts.”
They Hate Change’s first exposure to jungle wasn’t via the late-90s UK rave sound. Instead their roots were established, unexpectedly, in Atlanta, home city of elusive producer Ethereal (born Obie Rudolph), who, in 2012, dropped his excellent throwback club music project, Car Therapy, to near-zero ceremony. Nonetheless, it eventually found its way to Parks and Gainey’s ears. “[Car Therapy’s] genre tag on Bandcamp said ‘jungle’. I’d never heard of that before – I thought he’d made it up!” admits Parks. “That was the first time we’d ever heard [of jungle].”
About a year later, Parks’ brother-in-law generously donated a crate of records to the group. The strongbox of riches included classics by the likes of Shy FX and DJ Zinc. Parks and Gainey immediately twigged this old wax as the roots of some of the contemporary music they loved. “We started to do our research to try to understand what we were hearing,” says Parks. “From there, it was just diving in and finding what we could, when we could, and just learning.” Parks even compares going to see a Goldie show to an illuminati meeting, full of seemingly disparate people united by a special enlightenment. “It’s almost like being in a secret society,” replies Gainey.
They Hate Change formed in the Gulf Coast city of Tampa, the name of the group coming from the angsty idea that they were doing something different that nobody else could appreciate or understand. Gainey moved to the area from New York at age 12, having grown up on mainstream rap – Jay-Z and Jadakiss, to name a couple – and the city’s chief mixtape-makers, such as DJ Clue, Green Lantern and DJ Envy. After unexpectedly meeting Parks in an apartment complex at 14, he discovered some of his new home’s key underground rappers, like Tampa Tony and Tom G. “Vonne’s always putting me on to some more Florida classics,” Gainey says.
The duo began buying up various equipment to aid their music-making exploits; the Korg MS-20 synthesiser, in particular, became a key part of their arsenal. “Everything sounded loud,” Gainey says of their early experiments. “We just wanted to wash everyone away in synths, and we used to perform that way too,” elaborates Parks. “Our friends INVT’s live sets are all about synths and drum machines – that was definitely our vibe.”
Over time, Akai rack samplers became their go-to weapon. “We figured out that was what a lot of producers were using in the 90s,” says Parks. “Whether it was jungle and drum’n’bass or even hip-hop producers, they were using these racks. We got a couple and that’s when we started incorporating gear into the mix – we wanted a different sound. That’s where we’re at now.”
“Whether Finally, New was the first time people were hearing us, or the last, we were about to let you hear us in the purest form”
Andre ‘Dre’ Gainey
In pursuit of a singular sound, the duo caught up with their ambitions with their third album, Finally, New. Immersed in electronic subgenres percolating in Florida, the UK and beyond, its synths scamper and ping while the sub bass snarls. Beats are layered with the pair’s dinky rap verses, their bookish rhymes covering everything from personal insecurities and punk icon Poly Styrene to their beloved dogs: “I’m a blonde and so is my pet,” raps Parks on Blatant Localism – something I can confirm, as during our conversation, they multitask by attending to their little dog, Juno. Their first album for heralded indie label Jagjaguwar, Finally, New has netted them more attention and acclaim than ever before. Yet, despite the project’s name, Finally, New is the result of the same approach to music-making that Parks and Gainey have been tinkering with since day one.
“We’ve been [making music] in obscurity for so long,” says Parks. “So it was very validating to keep doing the same thing, but once it actually hit everybody on this larger platform, we saw it was, like, ‘Yeah, everybody was always going to like this thing that we were on, they just didn’t hear it.’”
Parks adds, “the ethos, influences, approach, everything – we thought, ‘We’re about to do the same thing that we were doing in 2018 just to make sure y’all realise we’ve been, been, been on this thing,’” they emphasise. “We never ended up on year-end lists ‘cause people just didn’t hear our music. With this record, we had to approach [music] the same way. With the next [album] we can go crazy. But we had to stamp it on this one.”
Gainey agrees. “Whether it was the first time people were hearing us, or the last, we were about to let you hear us in the purest form so people understand what we’ve been doing. Here it is in final form.”
Which, to the uninitiated, means the beeps and blips of out-of-this-world sci-fi tunes Coded Language (Interlude) and From the Floor, inspired by the likes of techno giants Carl Craig and Theo Parrish. Who Next? is constructed out of a deep, dubby bass line and speedy rat-tat-tat drums as Parks raps about coming up in a DIY community and paying their dues. “We wanted something that blew your face off,” says Parks of the track. “The way that bass comes in…”
“Rumble!” exclaims Gainey, cutting in animatedly.
“Exactly,” concurs Parks. “We wanted to shake you up. We wanted something early in the album to just rattle you, mixing all of our influences.”
“We never ended up on year-end lists ‘cause people just didn’t hear our music. With the next album we can go crazy. But we had to stamp it on this one”
When it comes to recording, neither member has their own responsibilities – it’s a joint process, their musical connection verging on telepathic. “Everything is together,” says Parks. “I think Dre has a better ear for drums. I might have something figured out but don’t know about those drums. And Dre is like, ‘No, here’s how we need to move them around, or here’s where they need to drop out.’ Maybe that comes from his East Coast influence.”
They Hate Change’s eclecticism has seen them support artists as varied as indie star Bartees Strange, the similarly experimental Arizona hip-hop group Injury Reserve, and south London post-punks Shame. They’re back on the road soon, with a series of shows once again with Shame scheduled throughout the UK and Europe. Exciting in every way possible, bar one: these two dog-people will have to leave behind their precious companions. This impending farewell reminds the duo of once being sat on a plane and overhearing a conversation between two players on a soccer team discussing the hierarchy of things they’ll miss while they’re away. “I can call my mom, but I can’t call my dog,” one exclaimed. Parks and Gainey looked at each other, knowingly.
Finally, New is out now via Jagjaguwar
They Hate Change play Peckham Audio, London, on 2 March