Shopping is like no other DIY band in the world, but they won’t tell you that. They’ll just show you with their relentless energy and charm. The queer-punkers are nothing if not humble, using their songwriting to release the aggression they’ve gathered from their lives into the timeless form of dance. From her hometown of London, frontperson Rachel Aggs talked to us about dancing as a form of rebellion, Brexit, and what comes next from the already-prolific trio.
Could you give a little background on Shopping? How you and the other two met and started working together, how the band came to be, just a quick little history lesson on Shopping.
Rachel Aggs: So we met when we used to all play in bands together. Actually, Andrew booked my first ever gig with a band called Trash Kit because he used to put on shows in his house in London. And Billy used to be in a band called Wet Dog. Trash Kit and Wet Dog played together a lot. He used to put on a lot of parties and a lot of shows. Then we formed a band called Covergirl with two other people, which was kind of like the beginnings of Shopping because it was a kind of dancey and queer party band. But having five members, it was really just a little bit too chaotic at times. The other team members sort of left to do more art stuff, and we were like let’s do more of a streamlined version of this.
I’ve read some interviews of you and some reviews of your music and think that people often talk about you all involved politically as well as people who are very interested in dancing, but how do you think that those two things interact? What is the relationship between dance and politics? And why are they so often attached to the music that you make?
RA: Yeah, we definitely talk about things that you could see as political. We definitely like to politically engage people. But I think that we don’t want to make music that is really dogmatic or kind of preachy or just boring. We love dance music, we love pop music, so that’s the medium that we are. We’re always going to be a dance band. But I think that the music that we make is not easy listening music. It is frustrating, it’s kind of desperate sounding. So I think the way that the way you dance to our music is always going to be political in a sense because it’s about expressing yourself, like freaking out and letting all of your frustrations go. Like all the frustrations you have about modern day society and just like being present in the moment with other people. Just kind of like a big scream.
Right. I definitely get that. And what is your favorite place to go dancing or your favorite place to dance if it’s not out?
RA: Ohhhh, it was actually shut down recently. There was a bar in East London called the Joiners Arms that was kind of park, kind of a bar. Andrew used to do drag shows there every Tuesday, like the weird night of the week when no one else goes out. So we would always go and it would always get busy after midnight but from like 10 we’d be the only people there. And he does karaoke, so we would just go sing really bad karaoke versions of Tina Turner and stuff. And just dance.
It’s a great thing, karaoke. Do you all identify as a queer band?
RA: Yes definitely.
And what do you think that label means to you all? When you claim that? Because recently there’s been a lot of writing about how the meaning of queer has been changing: it’s been expanding but it’s also been different. And so what does it mean to you all, and to you specifically?
RA: Well, I mean for mean it’s always been really useful. When I was younger I didn’t really know the term and I didn’t really read it as a positive thing, like weird or derogatory. But I think for me growing it was the community I was a part of in London. There was a kind of music scene that was encompassing of particularly trans people and also just kind of like a politicized kind of gayness. And something that was much more involved in zine-making and studying weird punk bands and just like noncommercial kind of stuff as well. I don’t know, I’m not so good in encompassing it in like one big easy form.
Right. I mean I don’t think anyone could ever encompass it in a bite-sized sound-bite.
What role do you think that identity as a theme and the different identities of your bandmates play in your songwriting and music-making process for Shopping, if any?
RA: Yeah, I think it plays a big role. I mean we don’t think about it all the time, but obviously we are all queer. And we write a lot of songs about love and sex and relationships but sometimes in kind of like a twisted kind of way. Andrew writes a lot about rejection and just, like, standard love song issues. But it’s definitely through a queer lens. And I think that’s really important to him. And I definitely think all of us do. And it’s music for queers as well. So for people who maybe haven’t heard their experiences reflected in the music that they listen to, we hope we can provide a space for that and say this is what we’ve lived through! And also being a person of color is really important. And I don’t necessarily write about it that much, but I feel like me being on stage, being visible, taking up space is always really important. And I’m really happy when I meet other people of color in the crowd or after the show that say that it meant something to them. That’s always really important.
Totally. And this is sort of looping back to what I asked earlier, but how do you think that dance music has played a role in creating a space for queer people and people of color? And how do you think in the modern age dance music is important still for creating those spaces?
RA: Oh yeah, that’s a great question. Never been asked that before. I’d say definitely bands that influence us. Lots of like Gravy Train, The Gossip, lots stuff we listen do definitely has played a huge part in inspiring us to make music in the first place. Being like this is fun! It’s not just something that you stand around to like a guitar play. I think it’s the emphasis on fun and community. Because if you’re a dance band and no one dances then you’ve kind of failed *laughs.* So being a dance band is all about getting the audience involved in your gig. I read this quote from Alice Bag, from The Bags, and she spoke about how punk is about there being no spectators, everyone is a participant. And I think dancing is a huge part of that. And we’re like, why aren’t you dancing? You know, there’s a certain crowd or mentality where it can be a really positive thing in a queer space where you’re like, yes everyone we are all in this together.
Yeah, especially because a lot of more like white and male-dominated punk music has such a focus on moshing as a form of expression and violence at shows as a form of expression. And it’s been really important recently, a lot of people have been moving away from that being like this is not inclusive, this is really dangerous, this is not something that we like. And instead we can all dance.
RA: Right, well so I enjoy [moshing] but it’s definitely because I like to feel the crowd moving as one or something like that can be a very powerful feeling. But also, yeah, it’s not so great to be a small female person you know moshing a lot of the time. So yeah, dancing is definitely a lot more inclusive, safe way of doing that.
Cool. Well in an effort to stay contemporary, and modern goings-on, has the London scene that you’re apart of been affected by the Brexit vote, by leaving the European Union? Or has it gone on as normal?
RA: Well it’s gone on as normal of course as things do. But everyone’s pretty down about it. I think there’s been a lot of protests in London. There’s been a protest almost everyday about something and usually Brexit-related. And also the political environment is really weird because on the right-wing the party’s kind of fallen apart but then on the left wing, unfortunately, the party has also kind of fallen apart. But there are these new people also coming through and there’s really positive change, potentially, in the moment. So people are getting way more politically involved which is really exciting I think, potentially. But it’s weird. Everyone feels weird. I was talking to my friend the other the day about this and was saying that I hope that the activism people are doing becomes a little bit less earnest. Because everyone is just seriously angry and down. But ah, I hope people do more pranks… we need more fun in activism, and I think that’s where the music scene could get involved.
Well I guess just to sort of wrap up, what’s next for you all? You’re going on tour or playing some shows coming up. Where are you all headed and then what’s next for your band? Or is just a day-by-day you know, figure it out as it goes on?
RA: Well, we’re going to the states in a week and we’re playing New York, we’re playing Silent Barn and Baby’s Alright. I don’t remember all of our dates, but you can go on our Facebook. We’re also playing in LA at Berserktown Festival, the park fest, which is really exciting. But, what’s next? I don’t know. Just touring and we have a new album. And we have a remix EP with five remixes from our friends, basically. We’ve got Carson from Merchandise.
RA: Yea, he’s remixed one of our songs. And lots of our friends from London and Glasgow as well.
Wow, a ticket for Merchandise and Shopping would be so great.
RA: We did it! We already did it. We toured with Merchandise in the UK. We got offered it and we didn’t know anything about this band, but we kind of have to do it. And it turned out really because we got along really well with them. Such nice guys.
Shopping plays D.C. at Comet Ping Pong tomorrow. You should all come, and dance of course.