Threads 2022: Jockstrap in conversation with Wu-Lu
London experimentalists Wu-Lu and Jockstrap have more in common than you might think. By channelling the spirit of their hometown, this year both acts released career-making debuts that transcended categorisation, offering instead disjointed reflections on their vivid inner worlds. In an increasingly difficult climate for artists trying to break through, both acts have a simple desire: to create art, no matter what.
Miles Romans-Hopcraft has long been part of the fabric of south London’s thriving music scene. As an early associate of arts collective Touching Bass, co-founder of Hither Green studio space The Room and tutor at Lambeth-based charity arts centre Raw Material, the multi-disciplinary artist is driven by an irrepressible desire to affect positive change in the community he grew up in.
Born – and still based – in Brixton, south London, it was Romans-Hopcraft’s love for his local environment that inspired 2021’s incendiary anti-gentrification anthem, South – his breakout track as Wu-Lu (a nom de guerre adapted from the Amharic word for water). In July, Romans-Hopcraft capitalised on that success with Loggerhead, his thrillingly claustrophobic full-length for Warp, melding influences from turntablism, screamo, post-punk, jazz and drill into a series of searing personal reflections.
A few miles north of the Thames, Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye of Jockstrap have also been enjoying a banner year, culminating with the release of their acclaimed debut album, I Love You Jennifer B. Both alumni of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Björk- and Dean Blunt-approved duo boast a similarly genre-agnostic outlook as Wu-Lu, filtering their classical training through shapeshifting laptop experimentalism, complete with wilfully abstract lyrics and energising tonal gear shifts.
Dialling in from a hotel in Berlin – where Jockstrap are currently on tour – Ellery and Skye linked up with Romans-Hopcraft to chat about their post-genre practice, the challenges of touring today, and the rewards of altruism.
Crack: How familiar are you with each other’s music?
Miles Romans-Hopcraft: I came to your gig with black midi at Visions Festival bare time ago! I came with Louis [O’Bryen] from Sorry.
Georgia Ellery: We haven’t seen you play yet! How many people are in your band?
MR-H: Around six; five on stage, usually, and then the sixth person is our sound engineer doing all the dub delays. Last time I saw you guys play, there were quite a few of you up there. Is it still the same line-up?
Taylor Skye: It’s just us two now. They were amazing, but it’s just a lot, touring with five, six people. I don’t know how you get along doing that?
MR-H: I just bite the bullet, man. I don’t make any money from any of my shows. But everyone in my band is a really good bredrin of mine. It used to be just me doing the whole solo thing, but eventually, I was just like, “Nah, I just want to be able to share these moments with my bredrins.” They’re an integral part.
Crack: It’s been well documented how difficult it is for touring musicians now, with soaring costs and bottlenecks after COVID and Brexit. Have you noticed margins getting smaller? How has this affected you?
M-RH: Hundred percent. Years ago, my dad said, “You can stay in my house so you have a roof over your head and get paid nothing to do shows.” But then that feeds into this whole idea of people [being] privileged enough to be able to tour. Nowadays, it’s even harder to just get it going – especially with all the red tape. Just to go and do 45 minutes in another country is crazy… I saw something about how Little Simz cancelled her US tour because she couldn’t afford it. I’m like, you’re Little Simz though! I don’t know what your experience is?
GE: We are only two or three and we try to keep costs really low. Sometimes we make profit from our merch, sometimes we lose money. But it’s about the long game apparently.
TS: Very long.
MR-H: In my mind, I’m blessed to even just have the opportunity so I’m making it happen. And then when I can’t afford it no more, I’ll just go back to teaching.
“People do try to typecast me, like, “you’re on this punk thing?” Nah, I’m not – trust me, if you listen to [the music on my computer], you’d be saying something different”
Crack: Jockstrap and Wu-Lu are very different propositions musically, but you both have an genre-agnostic approach. How deliberate is that?
MR-H: I would say straight [away] when I saw you guys play – and it was time ago – I thought, ‘Yeah, these lot get it.’ It doesn’t have to be a genre thing, it doesn’t have to be a “we’re doing this” thing. What I got from [the performance] was that you enjoy the process and this is simply the result of the process. I fuck with that fully. Do people ever try to put you in a box?
GE: It’s usually electro-pop or art pop.
TS: I think that’s fair, to be honest. You know, they are relatively conventional songs, done on a computer. We just wanted to do what we wanted to do. Over three years, you go through different things and bang them all together at the end.
GE: Yeah, there were so many genres we were into over the years of making [the album]. And we obviously like different things because we’re different people, so that all went into it. You can hear it.
MR-H: I came into music playing trumpet at home, and being a bit of a grunger in school. But when I really took [music] on strong, I was doing a lot of turntablism. If it was on vinyl, I was trying to scratch it, or do some kind of Krafty Kuts mash-up thing. So that’s how it got applied to [my] music. Things can get a bit directional with the sound but then it could always change.
“We did this in-store and someone handed us a report of their heart reading to sign”
Georgia Ellery, Jockstrap
TS: That’s why I think it’s really good – us working together [in Jockstrap] – because when you make something by yourself you don’t have to run anything past anyone. You can just change completely from day to day. Do you find that difficult? Or do you actually run things past your bandmates?
MR-H: To be honest, everyone gets it. Sometimes I’ll make something, or they will, and I’ll say, “Oh, sick, I love that drum break. Give me the stems and I’ll make something else out of it.” It’s pretty collage-y, man. I love a jam; open the floor up and something good might happen. But I get bored really quickly when I’m making music; I hate being stagnant. People do try to typecast me, like, “you’re on this punk thing?” Nah, I’m not – trust me, if you listen to [the music on] my computer, you’d be saying something different. But I guess South made that a thing. It’s like, you want the screamo thing? Go run with that if you want, but it’s pigeonhole theory, innit? Get everyone’s attention for one thing and then just flip on them because they trust you to go somewhere else.
Crack: What’s been the most surreal moment of 2022 for you?
GE: We did this in-store and someone handed us a report of their heart reading to sign. They’d had a heart attack on the way to the gig and they had gone to the hospital and got their heart read. They were OK but that was surreal. We were like, get better soon, kiss kiss?
MR-H: That’s wild! Bringing my teenage sister and brother out on stage at Glastonbury this year – and showing them that it’s possible to live off being creative – was a big moment for me. But if I’m being truthful, my most surreal moment was just lying in my bed, looking at my CD and listening to these jams. I had this out-of-body experience, like woah, as if I’m making music [for a living]?
Crack: What does next year have in store?
GE: Remixes, touring and festivals. I think the set we have now suits the festival stage more than it did before, so we’ve got that to look forward to!
MR-H: I’m probably gonna get into sessions mainly, do America, and get on the rap thing. I do a lot of painting so I’m going to start putting together an exhibition and some installations. I’m a proper Noah’s Ark type of person where I’m just like, “Right, I’ve done my bit, now time to work on everyone else’s shit, let’s go!” I’m very [about] putting time into the community, helping youngers get up and do cool shit. It’s mad important. You guys ever think about getting into youth work?
GE: I have a couple of nine-year-olds I teach violin to and I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it because it’s an hour or two where you’re just totally focused on someone else. That’s as far as my youth work has gone but it really does make you feel good because you’re doing good.
MR-H: We need to get you down to Raw Material. My dad runs this youth band called Youthsayers, teaching them all about Afrobeat, and we’re always looking for people to come and do some collaborative work with some of the youngers. Come for a jam session!
GE: That sounds great!