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Der Fotoautomat Chemtrails Oct23 43

Chemtrails and the joy of absurdity

23 January 2024, 09:00
Words by Alex Dewing

Original Photography by Der Fotoautomat

Ahead of releasing third album The Joy Of Sects, Chemtrails’ Mia Lust and Laura Orlova tell Alex Dewing about their unique blend of nasty-pop and using music as a potent response to societal challenges.

The story of Chemtrails latest record begins with the sea, a wedding, and a serendipitous chance encounter.

Wrapped in a dressing gown against the cold, Mia Lust sits alongside her musical and romantic partner, Laura Orlova, as she recounts the unlikely tale of the Manchester-based psychedelic garage-punk outfit’s collaboration with producer Margo Broom.

“It was just a totally serendipitous meeting in the Italian sea that led to this being produced not by us,” Lust shares with a smile. While away for the wedding of Chemtrails’ previous bassist, the group’s eccentric founders were introduced to a fellow guest out in the ocean – namely Margo Broom (Fat White Family, Big Joanie, Goat Girl). With small talk turning to work chat, and work chat soon turning to music, she continues, “I told her I was producing the new album and then she asked, ‘Okay, what's your reference track? What are you using?’ And I said ‘Touch The Leather’ by Fat White Family, and she was like, ‘Oh, I did that one’. What? What! How can this be happening?"

It’s a story that seems too good to be true and yet is altogether fitting for the psychedelia-infused post-punk outfit who, across their previous two albums, have navigated playful and portentous explorations of the modern world and have always found the joy in the absurdity of it all. It seems to the pair that a chance encounter like this was inevitable, particularly considering the timing of it all. “We were going to self-produce it like we always do,” begins Lust, “but we got into a bit of a crazy kind of…”, she pauses, searching for the word, before Orlova succinctly pipes up, “mixing mess. We just couldn’t get the perspective of it all and then, miraculously, we were at the wedding.”


Since forming in 2016, Chemtrails have defied easy categorisation. Audible in the blend of sleazy punk, surf-grunge, and pounding, danceable rhythms that cavort throughout The Joy Of Sects, it’s easy to draw comparisons to the likes of Pixies, Blondie, and The B-52’s. “I’ll tell you that that’s something which I’ve found just happens naturally. I don’t think it’s deliberate,” says Lust. “I think our music is just everything we like, sucked in and then spat out the other side. Sometimes it ends up sounding a bit like the things we listen to, I guess that's how it works.”

“There’s this endless kind of tension between trying to make music interesting and surprising, and just doing what happens naturally. Which is to make, like, basic pop songs,” laughs Lust. Of course, she doesn’t say this disparagingly. This sense of catharsis pervades every element of this eclectic outfit – from their lyricism, tackling cults and crypto-bros, to their instrumentation which boasts fuzzy basslines and ominous choirs. Their frenetic live performances feed on their nasty-pop songs too, earning recognition from established acts like Dream Wife and Big Joanie.

In short,The Joy Of Sects makes you want to dance. There’s something infectious and purgative about it, even when there’s a sinister undertone lurking within. From lead single “Detritus Andronicus,” which struts and stomps in the same tread, the album settles into its unusual style, unsurprising, given their list of influences are equally experimental with genres. “I really love Warmduscher right now,” admits Orlova, “there’s something [about them] that makes you want to get up and dance, it’s very rhythm-driven.” Lust interjects, “with our band, we just can't help but make pop music in some sense. We never set out to make pop songs; it just comes out.”

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While Chemtrails embrace their natural pull towards music to dance to, fans can still expect the familiar themes of dystopia and disillusionment that the band have built a reputation on. Musing on the ways her personal approach to the state of the world has bled into her writing, Lust laughs that her style of lyricism can be recognised by her friends and family as just her way of always being with some “stupid theory about society or anthropology on the go…”, she grins. “That's the natural sort of human response to dark things, at least to me anyway. To kind of make jokes, or combine the dark and the light elements together.”

Lyrically, The Joy Of Sects weaves references to recognisable figures of power and corruption – Shakespeare’s symbol of transitory crisis, Titus Andronicus; Russian signifier of ruling corruption, Rasputin; and the more contemporary figure of the cocksure crypto-bro. It becomes, almost, an easter egg hunt, the references simultaneously playing with language and reflecting the reality of the world. Lust connects these to the album’s overarching end-of-world themes, a topic that she’s always been fascinated by: “in the beginning it felt like a fantasy thing. But, in the intervening time, it felt like it started to actually happen. It’s gone from being post-apocalyptic fantasies to, you know, present-apocalyptic realities.

Chemtrails’ work is fuelled by the turbulent issues of today and the looming uncertainties of tomorrow, twisting shared struggles especially within the queer community, into relevant and riotous sounds. It’s where the joy of the absurd returns. “In the same way that within the lyrics, you're talking about something serious, you have to crack a joke here and there to not push it over the edge, we like having more irreverent sounds. Nothing too ‘pulling on the heartstrings,’” Orlova says with a chuckle.

There’s a sense of calculation in Chemtrails’ creative process. Each song is a balance of tones and melodies and Lust’s lyrics too become a sort of exercise in puzzle solving. She proudly notes the band’s “slightly” scientific background in describing the ways their songs often seem to write themselves. “I’ll have written down one lyric, which I thought was a funny line or clever phrasing. Then, because that lyric has a certain theme, the next line has to be related to that. Then it’s, ‘well what rhymes with that but also fits in terms of syllables and also in the same theme?’. It feels like you almost have no choice.”

You can imagine the joy to be had in yelling these lyrics back at the band at one of their visceral live shows – songs like “Business Class War Paint”, a glam-rock single featuring an extended game of wordplay, being sure to elicit noisy parroting. Having relocated from London to Manchester’s motley music scene, you’re bound to encounter them at one of the city’s hidden venues, complete with Ian Kane on bass and Liam Steers on drums, and the band admittedly welcome the community they’ve found here. “People are a bit more standoffish in London,” Lust notes. “We play to a lot of crowds who don’t really know us… our dream is to play to a crowd where everyone knows what bits coming up and get the crowd pumped up.”

As long as Chemtrails continue to navigate the lines between pop and grot, their dream seems attainable. When asked what The Joy Of Sects really is Orlova laughs, answering: “We do feel quite powerless a lot of the time, but you get this one life and you still want to enjoy it. That's why the music is playful and fun. Sometimes it's like escapism from horrible things, but you can't always go on worrying about them or you're just, I think, completely doomed.” Inviting listeners to dance through dystopian landscapes that are becoming closer and closer to our realities, the band’s irreverent sounds and irrepressible energy make for a compelling journey. After all, it’s nice to be reminded that even in the face of doom and gloom, the antidote can come from the most unexpected places.

The Joy Of Sects is out now via PNKSLM

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