Witch Fever: Manchester doom-punks ready to smash toxic masculinity

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’ll see opening the bill for your favourite act. As they warm up for a new EP release – and support slots with Bob Vylan and IDLES – the Manchester group on how lockdown refined their songwriting and the messages they want punters to take from their live shows

“We didn’t start being in a band to be political,” Witch Fever drummer Annabelle Joyce tells NME via Zoom from their home in Burnley. “It’s just that the way things are, you kind of have to be.” Looking around at the world the young Manchester doom-punks are set to inherit, it’s hard to disagree: between fresh waves of far-right rhetoric in the UK, COVID conspiracy theories and Brexit’s disastrous impact on musicians and beyond, it’s almost enough to forget that the ocean is also on fire.

Singer Amy Walpole and bassist Alex Thompson are nodding firmly in agreement on the call, each doing their best to survive July’s merciless heatwave from various corners of Manchester and Burnley. After forming five years ago alongside guitarist Alisha Yarwood, with Thompson joining last in 2017, the band’s raucous live shows have already caught all the right kind of attention; dates opening for both IDLES and Bob Vylan beckon in the coming months.

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2017’s ‘Carpet Asphyxiation’ proved to the first of many Witch Fever tracks to air their thoughts on its blood-flecked sleeve – “I want my sanity, see, and not your dick” is one of many uncompromising lyrical highlights – as well as a rock template for what Walpole calls their “doomy” riffs. A string of singles followed right up to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, though it seems that wasn’t enough to stop them writing; recent single ‘In The Resurrect’, set to appear on a forthcoming EP of the same name, was written while the band were all in different households.

A year ago to the day that the band speak to NME, they were finally in the studio recording it. “After spending so much time not being able to do anything that we were trying to work towards, it was so nice spending some time together and actually creating all together,” Thompson says. “But if [the first lockdown] hadn’t happened, we probably wouldn’t have had as much time to write.”

While the band are keen to stress that their politics is more personal than an overarching mission of the band, it’s clear they’re all brimming with ideas and unafraid to criticise the old guard, especially those who loom large over their home city of Manchester. Times change, of course; growing up, Thompson tells NME she was a self-professed “indie girl” and devoted Smiths fan. “But fuck Morrissey,” she adds.

Witch Fever
Credit: Debbie Ellis

“It’s such a shame that so many old rock stars seem to be dickheads,” Walpole chimes in. “It’s the same with pop-punk though. With so many of those bands, it’s slowly being revealed that they’ve dated underage women and groomed people. It’s just depressing. I’d much prefer to put my energy into newer music.” Thompson agrees: “They just need to keep their mouths shut.”

Where are today’s heroes, then? While the band are reluctant to make any grand pronouncements to NME about the state of punk in 2021, or the possibility of a new movement is brewing, Walpole is unequivocal in her admiration for the band they’re currently on tour with around the UK. “Bobby Vylan is an absolute star,” she says, “and what he’s speaking about is so important. Everything he’s saying is the Black experience, it’s important and people need to know about it and learn.”

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An album is on the way – one that promises to “push the boundaries of what Witch Fever is” – and before that, some potentially exciting collaborations: Walpole says she’s been in discussion about teaming up with Bob Vylan on a track. “With all my heart, I would love to do something with Scissor Sisters,” Thompson suggests, forging the possibility of a grunge rework of ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’.

All things being well, the band’s forthcoming tour dates will be an opportunity for energetic punk catharsis. But Walpole also hopes that Witch Fever fans will head home from their gigs and keep questioning, keep calling creepy men out, and keep making noise long after the ringing in their ears from the show has passed. “There’s important things that we need to be speaking about, and the bigger our platform gets, the more important it is to speak about things like that.”

Those platforms are already getting bigger fast, and the message is getting louder. So many of their songs, like 2018 single ‘Toothless’, find Walpole once again raging against toxic masculinity, against a culture that normalises femme bodies being viewed as “your cut of meat”. There’s a hope, too, that young fans hearing those kinds of lines will go home angry enough to try and change the world around them for the better. “I hope that’s what happens at our gigs,” she says. “I’d like to think that people don’t just hear it and ignore it, because that’s why we’re speaking about it.”

Witch Fever’s ‘Reincarnate’ is released October 15

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