Gen Z’s post-hardcore visionary Olli Appleyard takes Sophie Walker down the rabbit hole of Static Dress.
Sit. Sit. Wait. Patience is a virtue, and for Static Dress, it is a virtue that is highly rewarded. In an age of disposable content, where expression is discarded with a swipe and intentions dismantled with a shuffle, this isn’t about instant gratification – this is about longevity.
Beckoning a curious listener down rabbit holes of their own design, littered with smoke bombs, red herrings and gold rushes, Static Dress are doing more than shifting the post-hardcore revival into top gear: they’re embodying illusion, blurring the lines between the real and the imaginary. A hall of mirrors, portals to warped dimensions; worlds within worlds, stories within stories, the lore of Static Dress is something you can unravel with your own hands. Sign up to their mailing list, and you might find a VHS on your doorstep holding secrets. Go to their merch table and buy USBs containing clues. Follow QR codes leading to netherworlds; unpick audio to unearth hidden messages. Untangle the binary code that flashes at the end of a livestream, and it reads: “This is all for you.”
Peering through the blinds, from the outside looking in, is Leeds-hailing frontman Olli Appleyard: the algorithm’s greatest adversary. Static Dress is his vision. He stands several times removed from his creation, just as he appears through layers of TV screens in their music videos, pale skin and flaming red hair bleeding through the pixels in rooms you can never visit. Before I meet Appleyard, I already know he's planned exactly what he's willing to give away, what bones he's willing to throw and what cards he'll keep close to his chest. Because he, more than anyone, has patience down to an art.
We meet at The World’s End in Camden which is where Static Dress seem to begin. It’s the night of their inaugural show at The Underworld on their first tour, despite already being two years deep into their story. It’s one of the few times the band have had the chance to move in our dimension. Their latest single “Sober Exit(s)” dropped the midnight before and they've just announced forthcoming EP Prologue… and Appleyard has been sleeping on the sticky floor of last night’s venue. “I was up until 5am making the assets for all the pre-orders,” he tells me with bleary eyes. “Even the canvas for Spotify for ‘Sober Exit(s)’ – that got done ten minutes before it went out.”
It’s chaos, but it’s always controlled. Prologue… got the green light with only two months’ notice, so Appleyard set to work bringing its accompanying comic book to life with illustrator Tanya Kenny, spinning the web for the next stage in their narrative. “Sober Exit(s)” itself was pulled together in three hours. In fact, the entire demo tape was never even intended to be officially released – it was only meant to be available as a physical copy for those intrigued enough to find it.
Static Dress makes a point of rewarding physicality. “If you look on the last page of this comic, there is so much hidden in it that you can basically get the next look into what’s coming next,” he explains. “When we did the livestream shows, you got cheaper tickets if you bought a hoodie or a print. They each had a QR code which took you to some code, which when you translated it, took you to a livestream where you could get tickets half price.”
I ask what it’s like inside his head. “Terrible,” he says. “A horrible place. It’s kind of like wearing oversized shoes and trying to run a race. If my head isn’t spinning with ten ideas at once, I feel like a failure.”
Appleyard is observant; acutely aware – but never more so than towards himself. He places himself squarely as his own worst enemy, and satisfaction is a stranger. For their most successful single to-date, “Clean”, there were 147 different versions of the chorus before they’d even recorded it. “If you want to strive for perfection, you’ve got to hate it a lot to make it good,” he says simply. “There are some people who ride on that success forever. Ego swallows them up, and it’s embarrassing. I always want to get better and better. If you’re comfortable,” he shrugs, “then you’re making shit music. If you’re making music with the intention of making it easy, something that blends into the background, then you’re about as useful as birdsong at that point.”
"People say we’re the scene revival, but it’s not really though, is it? If you like that, you’ll like this – but I wouldn’t say it’s derived from it.” - Ollie Appleyard
Static Dress’ name is already catching fire in the rock world as the next heirs to the throne. Listen to their music, with guitars that strike like an executioner, drums that thunder like a death knell, raw lungs from screaming white-knuckled poetry and melodies that feel like a gulp of fresh air, you can close your eyes and feel like it’s 2004. It scratches an itch that hasn’t been satisfied since the glory days of Underoath and My Chemical Romance. But when those scenes were thriving, Appleyard was barely old enough to remember it. “I only really touched the surface,” he admits. “Most of the bands people say we’re similar to, I’ve never even heard of. We were compared to The Used’s self-titled album, and I listened to it and didn’t like it.”
While the comparisons are flattering and, to some extent, are understood, Appleyard says, “I look at these scene bands we’re compared to and I’m like, ‘Okay, show me where they have an interlude track using vocoders. Explain to me where My Chemical Romance’s electronic EP is. People say we’re the scene revival, but it’s not really though, is it? If you like that, you’ll like this – but I wouldn’t say it’s derived from it.”
‘Emo’, however, is a term he proudly wears. He believes that ‘emo’ is a lineage of music that extends long before the MySpace era of eyeliner, black nails and fishnet gloves. “You can look back as far as classical music and find emo. There’s probably some better emo there than there is now,” he says. “Emo is something that can push emotion out. It’s not a guitar tone. It’s not a vocal style. It’s not a production technique. If you saw us play our first few shows, I’d literally be going that hard that I’d throw up everywhere, multiple times – but it was because it means so much, I’m willing to break myself in order for it to succeed. Emo comes from actual heart, I think, as lame as that is to say.”
‘Nostalgia’ is a word that rubs shoulders with Static Dress; it runs through their veins musically and visually. But Appleyard is insistent that it has nothing to do with consciously harking back to sounds of yesteryear – the common denominator is effort and intent. “I know what it is,” he insists. “It’s good song writing, putting work into your music, and mixing and recording that’s not done to perfection – intentionally. The state of guitar music these days is shit. I wanted to write guitar parts like how they used to be written. Now, the guitar world is at a point where you can do the bare minimum: rip off a Blink-182 song and lay it over a trap beat, and there you go – hits for days. That’s cool, but even that’s gonna have its day. Every single person has a shelf life of about three months. You just have caricatures of what guitar music is now. How loud can I be? How annoying can I be? Here’s some spikes and studs and some flames. Grow up,” he snaps. “No matter what we do, I don’t want to look back in 20 years and cringe.”
Appleyard is clear on his intent: “I want to create something that is impactful and emotional, that people and sing along with, but also mosh to if they want to. These days, you’re either light or you’re heavy, and both worlds have a limit.” His ambition for Static Dress, rather, is to move without any constraint or definition. “I feel like the people who are making the curve are the people who aren’t even thinking about the curve. There are some people who aren’t even thinking in the same realm as anyone else, and that’s what I like to do.”
"Spotify could die, right? Fuck off forever, doesn’t exist – and then I could make my own schedule because the art you make should be pushed out the way you want it to be."
I meet Static Dress as they are entering a pivotal moment. After years of turning out what little was in their pockets for the band, with Appleyard building every aspect of their universe from the ground up, including the visuals, merch and lore, they’re reaching a point where they can make a tentative step onto the next rung of the ladder. And with that, he has had to learn to relinquish his control. “I want to focus on and connect with the few rather than the many, and when we first started, that’s all it was. It was kind of like an exclusive club,” explains Appleyard. “Like, ‘You wanna know what this band is? You’ve gotta be on the mailing list to know anything about it.’ I’ve slowly had to ease it off to be able to get bigger and make it work. We have to learn to let people in. This is me identifying the rungs on the ladder we have to take, rather than rejecting them altogether. When we first started, I was like, ‘I don’t want a manager, I don’t want press’, because all of that takes away from what this is. But over time, as I’ve matured, I’ve had to start accepting it – but accepting it at arm’s length. It’s kind of allowing the right people into your space to make our output better and bigger. I think everyone’s on board to make the art good, not to make money.”
If he wanted to make money, he laughs, he believes he’d turn a better profit selling tat in the street. In fact, every time they release merch, they make a loss. “If you wanna make money, go and work at a bank – go into any other business in the world,” he says. “Making money in music really, really doesn’t work. I’d be able to sell more socks in three years than I would my band’s t-shirts. Hands down. That’s why I have to bow down to some things so we can get along and do what we really wanna do. I will make some cringe decision somewhere along the way if I have to, as long as it has the payoff of being able to take this to a bigger level and afford the privilege of putting my heels in the ground to stop this horrible train that’s coming towards us. That’s the analogy I see in my mind: I have to stop this trend of terrible, terrible music that keeps getting made.”
But just because Static Dress are playing the game, doesn’t mean they like the rules. The release of Prologue…, which Appleyard refers to as “the soundtrack”, has been riddled with anxiety. “I’m in a battle with it. The whole concept of New Music Friday makes me feel sick. We now have to cater to a fucking playlist?” he says incredulously. “Spotify could die, right? Fuck off forever, doesn’t exist – and then I could make my own schedule because the art you make should be pushed out the way you want it to be. And that’s what we’ve always done. With the upcoming project, being industry-catered, I’m going to see how things go when they have it their way. I’m trying to find a middle ground of what’s actually gonna work and what’s not, because I just don’t have faith in the way things are done. You copy the same thing that someone else did for a release and it’s not gonna work – that’s how you get into this world of fast, over-generated music to keep posting on Instagram to look popular. Like nah,” he shrugs, “let me make something that actually has substance and longevity to it, rather than just hype-train jumping.”
More than anything, it’s social media that Static Dress have blacklisted. In this world, there are no rewards for a follow. “Eventually, I want to get to a state where we don’t have any social media because I feel like social media is just the most anti-social thing in the world,” he tells me. “Screens just project pixels, and that’s as far as it goes. I’ll sit there and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m so upset because this post didn’t do as well! And then I realise I’m getting upset over an app that someone else owns, making money off content I create for validation from people that I might not even meet.” This tour is the first time Static Dress have been able to quantify their success in real life. “When people come up to us and say how we’ve been an inspiration for their own art, that’s way more meaningful to me than a comment on my post, where I’d go, ‘Okay, cool. Next’. Swipe.”
"Everyone always says you should be yourself – but if I don’t want to be, that’s my choice."
Appleyard has always preferred operating in the shadows. If he had his way, you’d know nothing about him at all. He is content to exist as a voice and a vision – no more, no less. “I don’t go on stage as myself,” he tells me. “I don’t walk out like, ‘Hi everyone! It’s me! Sounding boring as hell with my stupid northern accent!’” (Which, by the way, if you’re from any further south than Sheffield, then “you might as well be in France”). “Everyone always says you should be yourself – but if I don’t want to be, that’s my choice.” Like everything in Static Dress’ world, Appleyard likes to keep any external forces at a neat, two-meter distance, and there’s no surprises that he does that deliberately. “I want to know as much about them as they know about me. I keep this band in a box. That’s not me saying, ‘Stay away from me!’ or anything like that – I just want to keep things at arm’s length to keep people wondering and wanting, because it’s the want that allows artists to exist.”
Static Dress is about always choosing the red pill: there is beauty, sometimes, in ignorance. Reality, in all its bitterness, is something Appleyard fights every day. “I don’t want to be like, ‘Here’s this world I’ve created for you’ and then be like, ‘But yeah, I haven’t eaten for four days – thanks for picking up a t-shirt.’ I want to be able to help people detach from reality because all I wanted when I was younger was to not be myself and not be where I was,” he says. “I want to be able to make a home for someone in what we do.”
It’s for that reason that the world this band has created is not real. It doesn’t exist. Even his own song writing, no matter how personal, is just that little bit too ambiguous, a little too fiction-driven, to be easy unravelled. “That’s why I’m never doing to do a live video,” Appleyard insists. “It runs on the concept that it’s on its own timeline. I want to keep a big barrier between real life and what my world is. I’m not going to have people walking around in the green and white room and all our illusions, and be like, ‘Wow, here I am.’ You don’t walk into that. You’ll never find the room of anything we’ve created. I don’t want you to be able to walk into this space. It’s a dream world, and that’s where it exists, and you won’t ever go there.”
I tell him that in the dedicated Static Dress discord server and subreddits, where legions of their ever-growing fans share and untangle clues to the band’s mythology, they’ve already discovered who the anonymous member of the band is, whose face is obscured by a long black wig. While the band have been on tour, particularly eager fans took a picture of the guitarist and turned up the brightness to expose his face, identifying his name through the song writing credits, linking his picture to his LinkedIn profile. Appleyard sighs, “It’s like two different people… But anyway, does it even matter? My point is, people seem to want to shatter their own illusion and it becomes a million times less interesting. Even if they’ve worked it out – which I’m pretty sure they haven’t – I’m never going to admit that they did.”
Appleyard deliberately stays away from his fans’ online communities. “I have to stay away from all that. It just makes my head spin too much,” he confesses. “I respect everyone in there, and it’s sick, but if I start to look in there, I’ll start catering things for other people and worrying about them knowing too much or too little. If I cared what other people thought about this, I wouldn’t do it at all. Half the time, on Instagram Q+As, I’ll confirm something completely wrong. For every easter egg I give you, I’ll also throw in a smoke bomb if people are getting too close. It preserves the longevity of everything. It’s not me going, ‘I don’t want you to know’ – it’s me going, ‘Just wait.’
"It’s kinda like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory: you pick up a chocolate bar, and it might find a golden ticket in it – but then again, you might not."
Without having a clear gauge of how effectively his clues are being dissected, insisting on being hands-off throughout the process, there have been enormous revelations that have gone undetected. The music video for “Sweet.”, for example, had been released three months before its official drop. It was mailed out on VHS format in a giveaway, and miraculously, was not shared in advance. “It keeps people on their toes, right?” Appleyard smirks. “It’s just exciting. If I laid out everything for you in black and white, you’d get bored of it. It’s kinda like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory: you pick up a chocolate bar, and it might find a golden ticket in it – but then again, you might not. How far will your interest be piqued?” He knows it has worked when he sees the numbers rising.
But what if it doesn’t work? “I will go out of my way to make sure it does,” he answers firmly. “The first draft of the video for ‘Clean’ was terrible. It was trash. That’s where the whole TV thing came from,” he explains. “At first, it was just the green and white room. But then, when we put it through a TV, suddenly it looked great. If anything you make is terrible, make it look worse and then it will look twice as good.”
Even now, Appleyard feels that Static Dress has barely even started. “Even though the project has just been announced, for the next three years, it will still only just be getting started. Right now, it’s barely even got a foundation. As soon as I feel satisfied with this, it ends. We’ve already got so much stuff written and done, go to go, and that’s for at least the next five years. In fact, I know I’m still going to be doing this in ten years – even if it’s on a bigger level or a smaller level, it will still exist.” And that sense of satisfaction, he tells me, will only arrive when he leaves this world of music in a better place than how he found it.
That night, while Appleyard leans into the crowd who swarms around him, gazing at his face like his words are gospel, reaching out their hands for that electric feeling of touching the artist that has made their feelings tangible, I remember what he told me: “I’d rather play to a room of ten people losing their minds, thinking this is the best shit ever, compared to a room full of people who really liked that one song I did. There’s stuff I’ve got planned that I want to do for the small numbers – like, the very small numbers – and it will be very special. It’s the obsession in music that I want to create: not just with the band, but with the whole scene in this world that has disappeared.”