Regressive Left: Technicolour Surrealism, Disco Leftism

Plucky percussive synths open up Regressive Left’s debut EP, commanding movement even before frontman Simon Tyrie’s David Byrne-esque presence enters the fold. It’s clear from the onset that something extravagant is on its way. As Georgia Hardy’s precise drumming and Will Crosby’s virtuosic guitar slide into place, that extravagance comes in with full force channeling 20th century sounds. Part B-52’s and part DEVO, but also equal parts Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem, Regressive Left feel instantly and cathartically familiar. Yet, despite their retro stylings, brimming with the hope of a time gone by, the three-piece hold a remarkably progressive and current edge.

As the name would suggest, the Bedfordshire dance-punk outfit are built on a deeply politicised framework. Influenced by the former industrial shell of cities like Luton, as well as the draining grandeur of London, Regressive Left’s music waves a proudly socialist flag. Channeled through Tyrie’s sardonic outlook on the world, brought to life by a voice that moves fluidly across charismatic falsettos and a deft deepness, the songs are a perfect example of 21st century left-wing art. Defiantly satirical, yet strongly aware of the dystopian horrors of capitalist living, all with an unwavering point of view, it could not be a product of any other time. While there may only be three voices in the band, with Hardy and Crosby contributing vocals too, the band sing for the many.

In part, the band’s charm and rhetorical power comes from their aforementioned influences. Rather than backing their messaging with walls of gritty guitars and chanting vocals like a preacher on a soapbox, Regressive Left use all the colours they can to create a vibrant musical landscape that grabs the body and compels it to dance. Propellant synths, fine-tuned percussion played by both humans and drum-machine, and guitars that shred with exuberance all make it hard to ignore the group regardless of your own political leanings. As their manifesto rails against the investment-focused, profit-oriented life that we are forced into from birth, their exuberance welcomes many into their collective.

Now, on a sharp, consolidated collection of four tracks, the trio are ready to take their agitprop to the masses. With production from Sheffield’s Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys, MIA) and guest vocals from Mandy, Indiana’s Valentine Caulfield, On The Wrong Side Of History feels lively, dynamic, and in-your-face. Using bold agility on tracks like ‘World On Fire’ and emotive breakdowns on ‘Bad Faith’, Regressive Left capture exactly what the nation needs right now. Chatting to me about the EP, their own dynamic, and representation in the music industry, they give an even deeper insight into their psyche.

We’re currently in the midst of you releasing your debut EP! How are you feeling? How has it all come together?

Simon: I’m happy we’re getting the songs out, it’s been a long time coming. We’re excited to have a record most importantly and to have some vinyl, that’s fun.

Georgia: All the tracks prior to the EP were written and formed during lockdown, whereas the songs on the EP are more developed from when we could play live. It feels like something different.

Your initial singles were all self-produced but for this EP you worked with Ross Orton in Sheffield. How do you feel that impacted the songs you had in the end?

Georgia: All the stuff before this that we’d released, we’d self-produced, self-recorded, and self-mixed, mainly as a financial thing to begin with but then on the odd occasions that we did work with someone, they didn’t really understand what we were trying to do. But then, for this EP, we had a chat with Ross for about two hours before we even agreed to do anything with him and we could just tell from there that he got the project. He knew what we wanted to do and not just from a musical perspective but he got us as people and the identity of the project.

When you’re doing it all yourself you can get lost and absorbed in it. It was actually really nice having someone on the outside looking in to say “this bit’s really good, this bit’s too much”.

I suppose especially when you’re working with someone so intensely for a series of days, it becomes really important to have someone you can trust.

Georgia: And the producer is such an important part of the music, it’s insane. Like a mix can completely change how a song sounds. It can decide whether a song is good or not. It’s really important that your producer is almost like a fourth band member!

On that point of collaboration, you also worked with Valentine Caulfield from Mandy, Indiana on the single “Bad Faith”. Can you tell me a bit about how that came about? 

Simon: We had a part of a song that we weren’t able to sing very well because it was all in French and our manager has been working with Mandy, Indiana so we had that connection. We actually saw them play when we first played Wide Awake, they were on right after us. That was the first time we met them all and we got on really well. Val has always been really supportive, probably THE most supportive. She’s like the number one Regressive Left fan and we’re the same for Mandy, Indiana so it just worked. The politics is there and we had a section in French and she could sing it. It was just a perfect collaboration and she just nailed it as well. 

When she came into the studio she just did it in a couple of takes. It wasn’t exactly what we had in mind because we thought she’d do something like what she does for Mandy, Indiana but she was actually singing a little bit more than the dramatic spoken-word approach she usually takes. 

Is there anyone else you’re eyeing working with in the future?

Georgia: Well we’d played in the Netherlands a couple of times and Lynks came down to watch our set and afterwards he said he’s a massive fan, he listens to us at home and he actually brought his parents to see us at a gig. We’re massive Lynks fans and I think one of the first shows we ever played together live – at Latitude Festival – we saw them there together.

Will: Yeah it was the first thing we did when we arrived.

One thing that’s very obviously an important part of the band, as you touched on earlier, is the politics. As the name suggests, left-wing politics course through your music but you marry it with incredibly fun, vibrant music. Was that juxtaposition of serious subject matter and gratifying music a conscious decision? How do your songs actually come together?

Simon: I don’t think being fun was necessarily conscious. I think there’s definitely a lack of music that touches on politics. Maybe not now, but when we started out, music that touched on political subjects tended to be a bit po-faced and I could see that angle being a bit off-putting because it needed to be this ridiculously serious thing. I think, as performers, we like having fun so even if I’m writing about something that’s really serious, it feels like the most natural thing to stick it over something fun.

I mean there’s the electronic music aspect to it and I think it’s quite hard to make electronic music not fun sometimes? That’s probably a load of rubbish, there’s so much electronic music that’s so serious… for me, I find it hard not to make fun. When you’ve got the four-to-the-floor beat it just lends itself to that.

Georgia: I think, as well, at the time we were starting the project we were listening to a lot of B-52’s and stuff like that and we’re all big fans of them. We wanted to bring that energy to our set.

Simon: We watched the Confidence Man set back from Glastonbury and we’ve been following them since they started. They’re really good and fun.

Georgia: They’re also really obviously influenced by the B-52’s.

Simon: I think their first single tackled sex politics so I think there are loads of songs that do it.

Are there any worries that with the heavy irony of your lyrics that it’ll get taken in with the wrong crowd? Have you had any experiences with people completely getting the wrong idea?

Georgia: We have had a few. It’s always a bit weird. We’ve had a few weird messages from people who don’t get the irony and we’re like “we’ve written these songs about you, not for you”. It is a bit of a weird one but Will always says, once you put your music out there, that’s it, it’s not yours anymore. We could be writing non-political music and right-wing people could still like us. Regardless of the politics, they could still just like our music.

Will: I don’t get worried because regardless of who ends up liking it and what kind of people they are, our position is very very clear to anyone who really listens to what we’re saying. There’s a part of me that takes great delight in anyone who’s clearly politically opposed to us still enjoying our music because that just means we’re doing something else right in the music. Or, I’m just quietly humoured by the fact that they don’t get the irony or the sarcasm and it flies straight over their head. I find it quite amusing and satisfying.

Simon: I think it’s more worrying when music isn’t overtly political and still gets loads of support from the far-right because then there’s something else going on rhetorically. Whereas with us, it’s so written into the song what the politics are so I don’t think we were worried even though it does happen a lot.

Will: It is still a minority of fans when we say it’s happened a lot!

Georgia: [jokingly] Our whole fanbase is made of right-wing nutters!

Will: I mean there’s a lot of them, right?

Simon: It’s like all the Rock Against Racism stuff and all the punks in the ‘Oi!’ movement. That’s like the most infamous example of a lot of skinheads getting into a music and all the people making the music are like “we hate you”. But, fortunately, we don’t have hordes of skinheads turning up to our gigs. As with anything, you’ve just got the odd weirdo now and again.

While we’re still on the politics of the band, one thing I always wonder is what happens when the members of an overtly political band disagree on messaging. How do you guys handle disagreements if and when they come up?

Georgia: Generally we’re all on the same page and we all get what we’re trying to do. Like we talk about politics and we joke about it. That’s why the band is the way it is because that’s how we are in our day-to-day lives. Occasionally there will be things where it’s like “no you can’t say that, that’s too close to the bone” or we work on the delivery of something. ‘The Wrong Side Of History’ is a good example of that. It started off essentially as a spoken word piece and we wanted to put music to that. It took a long time to get the delivery of that right. We didn’t want it to be something that took itself too seriously or be like someone speaking at you. So on some songs like that we’ve had to work through the balance of it being political but not someone nagging at you.

Will: Yeah, I don’t think there’s ever been any disagreement in the sentiment of the lyrics. Obviously, Simon writes the lyrics and Georgia and I sing some of them but it’s always about just making sure none of it becomes sanctimonious or comes from a holier-than-thou place. Which it never is in our music. It’s all about delivery and wording that we might discuss rather than the content of the lyric.

Simon: I like to think it’s not always that easy to disagree with what I’m saying because I don’t think it’s ever that absolutist. If there ever is a thing that I’m writing about that I don’t think people will agree with then I will normally not feel 100% about it myself and will address that in the lyrics anyway. So far, though, there haven’t been any disagreements. There were some verses taken out of ‘The Wrong Side Of History’ but that was mostly my own doing and self-censorship.

How do the politics that you sing about impact and affect your approach to the band off-stage and off of the recording?

Will: I think it’s foundational to the fact that we’re in this band and how we run it.

Georgia: 100% from the very beginning. I mean it helps that as my day job I’m a promoter and run bookings for venues so I work with a lot of people in the industry. But, because of that, from the outset, I was like I don’t want anyone who worked with us to not understand what we’re trying to do. If they represent us they represent us. It’s crazy, I try to book a band I really like and their booking agent is like a really rude, nasty person sometimes but that band might know that even though that agent is representing that band. So, it was really important to us that the people we work with are just really nice people and I hope that’s how it is.

Will: It’s like how we said, even working with Ross, we spent time getting to know him and making sure as people we were on the same page, as well as then forming a professional relationship with him.

Simon: It was also a two-way thing. I can’t speak 100% on Ross’s politics, I can’t say what he thinks on X number of topics, but it was a two-way thing. Ross, when he heard our music, was a bit like, “oh I like this but what are their politics?” I think he was a bit like “have I misread this? Have I got this wrong?”, and he wanted to know where we were coming from. It doesn’t necessarily have to boil down to, “oh are you a socialist? Yes? Ok, then we’ll work with you”, but it’s more are you coming from the same position as us? Are you seeing the same problems as us and trying to address that?

Georgia: We have turned down offers that probably would have given us a leg up but we turned them down because we thought “oh to what end?” We’re trying to make music from what we think is the right place so we don’t want to be represented by some people even if it would make us bigger.

Simon: But then there’s the other side of it like the iPhone capitalism argument of “oh, you have an iPhone? Then you’re not anti-capitalist”. Like, obviously we’re still trying to exist within the music industry to a certain extent so we do need to play by the rules, but we try to do as much as we can to keep it as OK as possible.

Something you mentioned, Georgia, is that you put on events. In fact, all of you have hosted club and DJ nights. Does that influence your music and your setlists?

Georgia: Yeah it had a massive impact on this project. We were all making music for quite a long time but never releasing it. About a year before the pandemic, we were all so busy with jobs that we weren’t gigging, just rehearsing for fun. Instead, Simon and I were DJing, and one of the first times we hung out with Will was at a night we put on. We realised we have way more fun DJing than playing gigs. When you’re DJing, the crowd has so much fun because they’re not watching you, they’re just listening to the music and dancing. When we were writing this music we wanted to bring the energy of the DJ sets into the live performance. I still don’t think we’ve fully nailed how we want that to be.

Will: We’re getting in there in terms of like we write transitions between songs so the set plays as one thing so we can segue between songs in a way that makes sense. It’s interesting how as we add songs to the set we need to rewrite things to make that still work. 

Carrying on discussing influences, have you found touring up and down the country and in mainland Europe affected the outlook through which you write?

Georgia: The biggest eye-opener has been that Simon and I have never really left the UK and it was only when we played The Netherlands that we were like, “wow, the UK is awful”. It’s not till you go to other countries that aren’t doing as badly that you think ‘how do we live the way we do?’ If we weren’t in this band we wouldn’t have been abroad very much so and it is important for people to have experiences with other countries to compare.

Simon: It’s a bit of a catch-22 because a lot of people who are more likely to go abroad will have enough money to live in places where they already have a nice quality of life and not realise how far the UK has fallen. A lot of the people who don’t have the money, or if they do it’s for the cheapest package holiday, they won’t be able to realise how the other half lives.

Do you find when you play with bands from outside the London bubble, their context influences them towards a different world outlook?

Simon: We went on tour with BODEGA who are a New York band and there were definitely a lot of differences in our outlook versus theirs, even though on the face of it we come from the same positions. One funny thing about BODEGA is that they really like Sports Team. We had a friendly discussion about it with them, but also taking the mickey out of them because everyone loves Sports Team but there is a bit of controversy since they’re seen as very posh and privately educated. BODEGA didn’t really see the class element to it. They understand all the left-wing side of it but they think we’re obsessed with class.

Georgia: They were saying just because they’re rich kids doesn’t mean they can’t make good music, which is completely true! We like their music and we like them as people but on a broader level, that’s not the point. The point is that there are a lot of working-class people that can make music as good as that but will never get the opportunity to. In guitar music we have a monoculture of middle-class white kids making music, which to an extent that’s what we are as well. Like we’re from Luton and to a lot of people we interact with in London, they probably see us as working class but none of us felt like we were poor or had a lower hand.

Simon: It’s just that the guitar world is so, so posh and so just not going to private school is a pretty crazy thing and in that way, the UK has gone back a lot. A lot of the big bands from the 60s and 70s were working class. Bowie was a working-class kid from London and I think it would be really difficult for a Bowie to come through today.

Wrapping up on that bleak note, what more is in stock for you guys? You have your EP in July and a headline tour in the Autumn but is there more you can share?

Georgia: We’re basically going to spend the summer writing and recording. We already have loads of new songs that need demoing so the plan is to roadtest some of them on that headline tour.

Words: Varun Govil // Photos: Luis Kramer

Regressive Left’s debut EP ‘On The Wrong Side Of History’ is out July 15th via Bad Vibrations Records. Pre-order and stream the singles via Bandcamp.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: