Nova Twins: “Being black women doing punk music is political”

As well as sharing a blistering home performance from lockdown, the punk duo talk to NME about racism in rock, and opening doors for others

After six years of working to become a hugely in-demand live act, sharing stages with everyone from Wolf Alice and Little Simz to Prophets of Rage (with guitar legend Tom Morello calling them the best band you’ve never heard of) Nova Twins released their attention-demanding punk debut ‘Who Are The Girls?’ back in February.

A hyperactive album that blends influences but refuses to play by anyone else’s rules, it’s a defiant, excitable debut. Sitting in the same realm as Enter Shikari and The Prodigy but with nods to grime, nu-metal and arena rock, ‘Who Are The Girls?’ is a colourful and hyperactive record that refuses to play by anyone else’s rules. As the opening blitz of ‘Vortex’ promises, “We are the underground….We’re on your doorstep now.” Ignore them at your peril.

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And for two weeks, Nova Twins got exactly what they wanted. There was a chaotic, unifying run of live shows that was set to kickstart a year of touring throughout the UK, Europe and, for the first time, America, before they got sent home as the world got locked down thanks to COVID-19.

Separated for the first time in years and with their plans well and truly scuppered, Amy Love and Georgia South sunk into a depression. “We went stir crazy,” starts Love, now reunited with South. “It didn’t make sense. If you spoke to us a month ago, this conversation would have been so dreary.”

However they quickly realised, “you’ve got time to think about what you want to do next and how you want to do it,” which has inspired a burst of activity. There have been make-up tutorials, socially-distanced live shows (they’re taking part in this weekend’s virtual reality Lost Horizons Festival in front of a homemade green screen to recreate Glastonbury’s Shangri-La) and lots of new music. “It’s not a completely different direction but it definitely feels like a progression,” says South.

They’ve also been leading conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement on social media as well as curating Voices For The Unheard, a three hour playlist that celebrates P.O.C. alternative artists and hosting an accompanying chat show that sees them sharing their experiences with the likes of broadcaster Sophie K, popstar Connie Constance and The Noisettes’ Shingai. “Where our heads are at right now is if you don’t have a platform, you have to build one yourself,” explains Love.

We spoke to the pair via Zoom to find out about their new world order, and they also shared this rousing performance of ‘Vortex’.

Hey Nova Twins. What did you feel you had to prove with your debut album?

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Amy: “As women and especially as women of colour, you do come against a lot of stereotypes and challenges. This album was us proving a point.

Georgia:” There are no synths, no backing track and no other writers. It’s just us.”

Amy: “So when we do play it live, nobody can say anything ‘cos its going to sound like the record. We can do it all, no matter how much hopscotching we’re doing on the pedals to make it happen.”

Would you say it’s a political album?

Amy: “Being black women doing punk music is political, so yes. ‘Devil’s Face’ touches on Brexit, ‘Bullet’ speaks about sexism, but ‘Athena’ is completely fictional and mythological. We called it ‘Who Are The Girls?’ because we didn’t always feel heard or accepted making the type of music we do, looking the way that we do. It’s definitely challenging and there is a stigma attached to it.”

Georgia: “When we play these festivals, we’re the only people that look like us on these bills and a majority of the audience would never have seen a band like us, so we need to be the best band possible so their whole perception of black women playing rock music is changed. We wanted to be the voices for the unheard.”

Does that feel like pressure?

Georgia: “It doesn’t feel like pressure, it feels like ammunition. We have no choice other than to go out there and smash it. We have to do this for our people and for the community.”

Amy: “If you have a platform and people are listening to you, you have a responsibility to use it. When artists turn around and say ‘I don’t want to be someone’s role model’, I find that really disrespectful. It’s about changing people’s perceptions and giving them something different. What else are we going to do with that opportunity?”

Your music is a blend of genres and cultures. Where does that come from?

Georgia: “We wanted to play heavy music but we’ve had to create our own sound. Growing up not seeing faces like ours in heavy music, we didn’t get influenced by those typical rock bands because we didn’t connect with it in that way. Instead, we took inspiration from our lives and the things that really connected with us. We’re from different cultures, Amy is half Iranian, half Nigerian and I’m half Jamaican, half English so all those elements really come through. It’s like our music is mixed race.”

Amy: “We’ve had a lot of people telling us ‘maybe you should be more pop’ or ‘maybe you should be more hip-hop’ because of how we looked. Our sound is a ‘fuck you’ to all those people.”

Nova Twins. Credit: Press
Nova Twins. Credit: Press

What kind of impact did not seeing people of colour in rock music have on you?

Georgia: “You wonder if you can even be in a heavy band because you don’t see anyone else doing it.”

Amy: “It also affects people in ways they don’t even realise. They start trying to dull themselves down to fit in, but when you try and fit into somewhere you will never, ever belong because your existence doesn’t lend itself to that, it becomes really psychologically damaging. You start questioning yourself and that quickly becomes self-hatred. It took me a long time to accept myself.”

Georgia: “We feel this responsibility to make sure no one else feels like that.”

The punk community prides itself on being welcoming and accepting of everyone. Is that your experience of it?

Amy: “We’ve been a band for six years and at the start, it was really hard to get people on board with the idea of black girls in punk music. They said they didn’t get it. It was black festival organisations like Afropunk and LGBTQ communities like Femrock who accepted us first. Then we got supported by these successful people of colour like Fever 333’s Jason Aalon Butler (whose artist collective 333 Wreckords put out ‘Who Are The Girls?), Tom Morello and Skunk Anansie’s Cass Lewis and Skin who helped open some doors for us.”

And what about now, do you feel part of ‘The Scene’?

Georgia: “The Black Lives Matter movement has been very telling. Some of the UK ‘punk’ bands are only out for themselves. They want to preach about things like Brexit and feel like they’re political, but when a whole human rights issue comes along, they’re mute. The racism we’re seeing is obviously wrong so how can they be quiet now? It’s been a hard few weeks seeing bands that we liked, not speaking out about it.”

Amy: “On the flip side, we do see the people who are being allies and that’s been really positive for us. If we didn’t have that, it would be a pretty scary time. We’ve seen a really nice, genuine community coming together and that’s been a beautiful thing for us to see.”

How are you feeling about this current burst of widespread activism?

Georgia: “Because it’s such a global thing, surely something’s got to stick. The BLM movement has taken a weight off of our shoulders because now everyone’s talking about what we’ve been thinking for years. We felt like we were going crazy sometimes, worrying that something was wrong with us but really, it’s the systemic racism in the industry that’s engrained in everyone’s minds.”

Amy: “Now we can hold people accountable, unapologetically. Before we were a bit polite about it or questioned whether we should speak up about certain things because we were worried we’d be seen as the aggressive black woman. This has definitely given us courage and hope that the brands we represent and the people we work with are thinking on the same level, want change and are advocates for it.”

What can be done to make rock music less straight, white and male?

Georgia: “All we’re asking for is the same chances and opportunities. It needs to start from the top, get rid of tokenism and hire more people of colour but the power is with the audience too. If you support a band, buy their merch, go to shows, you’re giving them power. If you keep supporting POC in alternative music, it’ll become undeniable and they’ll have to be heard.”

So we shouldn’t underestimate the power in the community?

Amy: “We don’t want any limits put on us as a band. We want to go all the way and we want to open the door when we do it, hopefully bringing up more amazing people who kick arse at the same time. It’s about creating unity.”

Georgia: “When we win something, we’re winning it for the people who look like us, that don’t have a voice. If we can encourage people to be open-minded and diversify, but also be a reflection for a young girl who hasn’t picked up her instrument yet but sees us or someone else in our community and believes ‘I can play that as well’, that’s us doing our job. It’s not just about us anymore. We’re part of a bigger picture and hopefully, we can help be a part of that change. When one person wins, we all win.”

Nova Twins perform virtually at Lost Horizons, which is held July 3 and July 4. For further information visit www.losthorizonfestival.com. Sign up to experience LostHorizonin VR or on PC at www.sansar.com/losthorizon

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