It’s the stuff that festival promoters dream of: the set that gets people talking, a moment that marks the beginning of a band’s explosion. With Reading & Leeds festival having returned after its fallow COVID-year (and amid much line-up-diversity scrutiny), the appetite for something new was higher than ever, with fans clamouring for the future of guitar music.
If you were lucky enough to have been in the Lock-Up Tent on Reading’s Friday night, you might have found it. Walking out after scene legend Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes’ secret show, south London-based duo Georgia South and Amy Love met their audience and, over the course of 30 minutes, converted a tent of strangers into a raucous gathering of Nova Twins fans, setting out their stall for this month’s upcoming arena UK tour in support of Bring Me The Horizon. Not bad for a duo who had never even so much as attended the legendary festival before.
“It’s quite cringe isn’t it!” laughs South, the pair Zooming NME from their respective glam-prep ahead of the night’s Heavy Music Awards (they ended up bagging the best video prize for their cyberpunk banger, ‘Taxi’). “Reading & Leeds is so prestigious and everyone talks about their memories of it, but when I was 16, I never did all of that stuff; I was just doing gigs, just being really focused. But the show was mental – we’ve just been in a daze this whole week, like what the fuck just happened?!”
“It was such an amazing turnout,” adds Love. “We were on with some of our favourite acts right now; Yonaka before us, Ashnikko right after, Dinosaur Pile-Up headlining. It just goes to show how much rock and punk music has come to the forefront again. It deserves to be there – rock is where so many festivals started. It’s nice to see it so strong and having its moment again.”
That ‘moment’ is no joke. Pop-punk and heavy guitar music have thrived during the pandemic, with artists such as Willow, KennyHoopla and Meet Me @ The Altar growing significant fanbases while championing some much-needed inclusivity. Though South and Love have been playing as Nova Twins since 2015, it’s easy to confuse them as part of this ‘new’ wave, given how strongly they have shaken their own reins of late, levelling up in stature without compromising on their rough-and-ready pairing of riffs and minimal production. Inside of 18 months, they have released their blistering debut album ‘Who Are The Girls?’, collaborated with Bring Me The Horizon on the disaffected earworm ‘1×1’ and stepped in last-minute to play the capital’s brand new festival ALT+LDN, demonstrating their ‘can-do’ ethos.
“We literally got added the night before,” says South. “People had been saying stuff online and we didn’t know what to expect, but we turn up and all of a sudden we’re on stage, there’s heat coming off the sides and really loud noises and there’s flamethrowers and we’re just like, ‘This is nuts!’. The crowd was ridiculous, it was one of the best shows we’ve ever done. Everybody was just up for partying hard, in the best way.”
“We’re so thankful for that last-minute opportunity too because we ended up on the second stage, headlining,” says Love. “With all the big-budget pyro. It was like, this feels good!”
Nova Twins should get used to it: a nostalgic-yet-modern showcase of alternative culture, ‘Who Are The Girls?’ was a winning testament to the blurring boundaries between hip-hop and heavy rock. From the nu-metal rap of ‘Vortex’ to the skulking scuzz of ‘Lose Your Head’ (which simultaneously brings to mind Basement Jaxx’s ‘Plug It In Baby’, Nadia Rose’s grime and Limp Bizkit’s fun-time thrash), it’s a record that allows them to roam freely – and all while staying true to their own organic roots. “At first we were like ‘Great, we’ve released our album and now it’s lockdown,’” laughs South. “But we were pleasantly surprised by how many people ended up discovering it.”
Friends since childhood in Essex and London respectively, Love and South’s rise to alt-rock prominence has come from years of gigging around the punk circuit, taking in the Camden Barfly, Lewisham’s Fox & Firkin and The Dome at Tufnell Park. Though they each started out in different small bands and projects, they would take care to get booked onto the same line-ups, cheering each other on before decamping to South’s parent’s house to debrief. When they eventually decided to work together, initially under the name Braats, friends and family encouraged them to avoid conforming or imitating the influence of others. Instead they set about writing songs that felt like them, establishing the blueprint for the individuality that makes Nova Twins so arresting today.
“I think at the beginning, we were just having fun with it,” says South. “It was just us being best friends, writing a song and thinking, ‘Actually, this is really good – let’s write some more’. So I think that kind of natural energy formed the kind of sound of Nova Twins. And then obviously we had different influences growing up. I loved N.E.R.D, anything Pharrell did, Timbaland productions; all of those electronic aspects of music.”
“Reading & Leeds was mental – we’ve been in a daze [since]” – Georgia South
Love jumps in: “On the flipside, I was listening to a mixture of things, growing up in Essex. At first it was a lot of UK garage and soul, but then at college at 16 I was discovering people like New York Dolls and MC5 and got quite obsessive.” She shouts out British hard rockers Deep Purple and funk and soul singer Betty Davis, whom she describes as “just bringing that energy”, adding: “The first Nova Twins song was written on just bass and top line, then we had some drum beats, and then eventually we got a play-in drummer and that was it. We just kept going and going and going.”
Having found in each other what Love describes as “sisters of the soul”, the pair’s loving dynamic has clearly been the driving force in Nova Twins’ defiant journey through potentially hostile industry waters. Their music might be in-your-face, but the endearing politeness they hold for one another creates an humourous contrast, each waiting patiently for each other to finish talking before adding their own thoughts.
“We’ve definitely gone through a lot with each other,” nods Love. “We love music, but to the core of things, people are what’s important. We’ve gone from girls to women together; it’s really nice to have genuine family around to do this stuff with.”
Love is a little older than South, and both are mixed-race – Love half-Nigerian and Iranian, South Jamaican-British – supporting each other through the awkward transition from being teenagers to their 20s. South cringes: “I remember having this massive afro emo fringe, and Amy would always be like, ‘Just get it out of your face!” She shakes out her enviably enormous mass of red curls. “I used to hate it because people would always pull it or touch it or try and put pins in it, but now I think the bigger the better, honestly.”
Though the pair gigged and worked relentlessly, the barriers of racial stereotype did come into play. Both recall feeling overlooked or discriminated against as a new band, and dismissed by those who couldn’t seem to understand why they weren’t performing straight hip-hop or R&B.
“We really noticed that when we first came on the scene there was this whole new wave of feminist punk,” says Love. “A lot of magazines were picking and choosing. NME actually did cover us when we first came out, but even though we were playing the same shows as a lot of our peers, we weren’t getting included or seen as riot grrrls. It was really strange. I’m not gonna mention names, but certain magazines would cover a full event day stage and they still wouldn’t write about us. It was almost like they couldn’t comprehend that two Black women could be seen as riot grrrls, you know? Or maybe the type of music we were doing was a little bit different.
“We’ve definitely gone through a lot with each other” – Amy Love
“We don’t feel that isolation so much any more now the ball is starting to roll, but I do remember us thinking to ourselves, ‘What’s wrong with us?’”
“I’ve definitely seen the growth, recognising how many things we’ve achieved that we used to long for,” says South. “We always used to love watching award shows; the BRITS, the Mercury’s, the MTV awards. We’d watch them all, just being like ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be amazing to host an award?’ Tonight we’re doing it at the Heavy Music Awards, and we’re shitting it!”
Having fought their way through, Nova Twins’ shared imagination has also given them the confidence to take on big organisations and sceptical scene gatekeepers in a measured, positive way. Amid renewed attention around the #BlackLivesMatter movement last year, they made headlines with an open Twitter letter penned to the MOBO Awards, with which they pointed out that there was no ‘Rock’ or ‘Alternative’ category at the ceremony. They asked the organisation to reflect the contributions that Black artists make in these spaces, and the MOBOs responded that they’d “actually discussed” the idea and “will always do our best to represent Black music talent across a variety of genres”.
It took guts for Nova Twins to go up against such an institution, but their point was well-received among fans and commentators, proof that such digital-age discussions can be had without dissolving into combat.
“It was scary,” says Love, “because it wasn’t that we were calling out the MOBOs, which was something we used to watch and think, ‘Wow, what a platform for Black artists to shine.’ But two things were happening: obviously one being that POC rock artists were not being seen or represented, and the other being that people haven’t been educated on where rock really comes from. It’s like hip-hop and R&B is all you can be; you can’t be indie or rock or metal or even certain types of electronic or dance.
“We just wanted to see if they would join ventures with us and help us put rock back on the map, to push it on a big platform so that people can see it. This is what is happening at your favourite festival, this is what people are buying tickets to. Go and support it, get angry and riot but in a safe environment. Unleash it in a really positive way, because that’s what it’s about; it’s not about people turning against each other.”
“At first, it was like people couldn’t comprehend two Black women as riot grrrls” – Amy Love
“The MOBOs have such a young audience as well,” agrees South. “It’s about giving people the option. You could be 12 watching the MOBOs and be like, ‘Oh, actually – I think I am a rocker.”
Nova Twins don’t just talk a good game. Committed ambassadors for their scene, the duo can be frequently found getting properly stuck in, hanging out with fans after shows and – in the last year alone – working with Love Music Hate Racism and The Music Venue Trust; Dr Martens on the curation of an underrepresented POC playlist (which raised funds to The Black Curriculum); and volunteering as mentors for Rip It Up, a bursary programme that offers support for a new generation of diverse music talent.
South and Love are vocal about their racialized position in rock, but have never minded laying down their boundaries – see their very first 2016 single ‘Bassline Bitch’, which layers an interpolation of the iconic festival chant “Papa’s got a brand new pigbag”’ over a no-nonsense message of their arrival: “We’ll blow your mind with it / We’ll slap that look right off your face.”
“There’s not many people in the alt-field that look like us, so we were just like, ‘God, we’re going to have to really go at this’,” says South. “Just think of more ways to be as powerful as possible and slay it in ways that other bands might not.”
According to South, the band’s big 2020 breakthrough was threefold. In addition to the Bring Me The Horizon collaboration and the elevated platform afforded by the Black Lives Matter movement, Nova Twins benefited, she believes, from the fact that music fans had more time than ever to check out new music during the lockdown. “I think we got lucky for those reasons,” she says. “A lot of bands didn’t survive the lockdown, so we just felt grateful that we were given the opportunities to have our name in certain places that there weren’t before.”
When NME points out that South is perhaps being a little too modest, Love nods: “I do feel like this massive surge of POC pop-punk and rock has been amazing because it’s a natural act of rebellion. It’s what the music is about anyway – or should be – so I love that it’s been authentic POC voices leading the charge in the underground and creating a knock-on effect. Maybe the next gen won’t have to work quite as hard just to get seen.”
When it comes to building a truly inclusive scene, good allyship can make all the difference. Jason Butler of American rock trio Fever 333 sticks out as a long-term Nova Twins supporter, signing them to his artist-orientated 333 Wreckords collective with a holistic ethos of “charity, community and change”.
“Touring with Bring Me The Horizon is the opportunity of a lifetime” – Georgia South
“When we first met him, I literally felt like I could fly,” laughs Love. “He is one of the most genuine people you’ll meet in the industry who truly makes you feel like you can do anything. The energy he puts out and what he stands for… When you’re around him, you feel safe and he will make his stance known, so that when people turn up to his concerts they know what to expect and how to act properly.”
South also shouts out Brighton rockers Yonaka and Dream Wife (“they’re absolutely smashing it”) as well as the “super-lovely” Willow, whom they met while sharing the same stage at London’s AfroPunk festival, a showcase for black talent, in 2017. Both Frank Carter and Turner are also favourites: “We did a show with Frank Turner recently and the whole thing just felt like a hug, a really positive vibe. And then of course Bring Me – even [them] asking us to be on their record was amazing.”
Though Nova Twins are already feeling the benefits of having crossed over into Bring Me The Horizon’s fanbase, their upcoming support slot on a nine-date UK tour will mark the first time that the bands have been able to properly meet (in true lockdown style, the ‘1×1’ collaboration unfolded online). Having discovered them through a Spotify Discover weekly playlist, Bring Me frontman Oli Sykes tells NME that his love of the group was near-instant: “I just thought they were sick. I always think that our UK rock scene is good but very small, so when you find those new artists it’s really exciting for the scene.
“They balance that nu-metal edge with contemporary and accessible melodies that can sit on the radio, and they’re both just so fucking cool as well. When I saw videos of them playing live I was just like, ‘These are fucking rockstars in the making for sure.”
He’s not wrong; once you see Nova Twins live, there is no way that even the grumpiest genre gatekeeper could deny the sheer power of their performance. Their rise from Camden Barfly to festival headliner is proof that you can grow on your own terms, and make things better for the people coming up behind you at the same time. As they prepare to take on arenas, their nerves are matched only by their determination to seize the opportunity, to make good on all their current momentum.
“We’re like, ‘We need a nap now – this is too much at once!” laughs South. “But we’re really, really excited about it. [Touring with Bring Me The Horizon] is obviously the opportunity of a lifetime, and playing the O2 arena is one of those manifestations we used to talk about as kids. Between that and then playing with Enter Shikari in December, it’s like the two dream post-lockdown tours that we could have asked for. Mental.”
There is also the small matter of a second Nova Twins album. Having entered a new partnership with Marshall Records, they are five songs into recording on a deal that will maintain their artistic rights with no possibility of, in Love’s words, “giving away album after album and getting stuck if something doesn’t work out”.
“We’ve always been independent; it was a necessity in the beginning, but now we’re at a point where we love it,” says Love. “We’re just trying to create positive change in the game… We’re just trying to fire as many bullets as we can.”
Whatever it sounds like, album two will adhere to the core Nova Twins manifesto: do it yourself and keep it simple. “We’re definitely experimenting with things, and it sounds more like us than ever, in a way,” says South. “All those little details and the scrappiness of things, that’s what feels ‘Nova’. To stay DIY but to keep progressing, it’s cool to send a message that anyone can do it… Just get grafting, and you can make magic.”
“Our thing has always been that if you can’t play it yourself on guitar, drums and bass, it’s not going on the record,” agrees Love. “We’re not saying that we’ll never go bigger, but for where we’re at with a second record, it’s nice to feel like it’s still a ‘come as you are’ kind of thing. We don’t want to say too much just yet, but trust us – when this album comes out, we feel like you’ll know about it!”
Nova Twins’ 2021 UK tour with Bring Me The Horizon begins on September 20 at the Bonus Arena at Kingston Upon Hull