The Norwich duo played an unexpected festival headline set to a crowd of 30,000 last weekend
For Norwich post-punk dance duo Sink Ya Teeth, performing in front of a 2000-strong crowd at Pohoda festival last weekend was one of their biggest audiences to date. Formed in 2015 by Gemma Cullingford and Maria Uzor, both musicians were excited to be appearing at the Slovakian festival for the first time and smashed their set over on the Europa stage last Friday afternoon (July 12).
Just a few hours after that performance, though, things took a surreal turn. The festival’s promoter, Michael Kascak, was frantically trying to locate the duo to ask them a very important question: he’d seen their set earlier in the day, and now wanted to know if they were up for headlining the festival’s main stage in just one hour’s time to an audience of 30,000. No biggie, then.
Lykke Li was originally due to headline, but had to pull out at the last minute due to issues with travel. Despite having just one hour to prep, the duo responded to Kascak’s dream request with a resounding “yes”. To their delight, festival goers stuck around for the performance, the set was a huge success — and their remarkable story has since gone viral.
We caught up with Sink Ya Teeth to ask them all about this most maddest of experiences.
NME: Greetings, Sink Ya Teeth! Have you in any way recovered from the insanity of the last few days?
Maria: “It’s still quite crazy! When it first happened, it didn’t really sort of register.”
Gemma: “It was a bit of an out of body experience really [laughs].”
Maria: “We played our set and we settled down, and just had a bottle of wine and some beers and stuff. We weren’t then expecting it, but halfway through that time, the owner came up to us and just said: ‘Lykke Li can’t make it, do you want to headline on Friday.’ We were like, ‘uh yeah, alright!’”
Gemma: “We had an hour to get ready, I think, to soundcheck and everything.”
Maria: “Yeah, yeah it was an hour. We were happy enough with [the set earlier on] but obviously if someone asks you to play on a main stage, you’re not going to say ‘no’ are you? [Laughs].”
Before the festival, you were both talking about how this was already one of your biggest audiences to date. How did you cope with suddenly having 28,000 more fans in front of you?
Maria: “You just go into almost tunnel vision and think: ‘Right, we’ve got a job to do, let’s go and do what we did earlier. Do what you usually do.’ It felt quite natural as well – I thought I’d be nervous at the prospect of it, but we weren’t really, we just [got on with it]. I think because you can’t see the whites of the audience’s eyes as well it’s less intimate, you don’t really feel as nervous, you just go on there and do your thing.”
What happened between the end of your set and being asked to play the main stage?
Maria: “The festival’s PR, Michael Kascak, saw about 5 minutes of our set and we played at, what, 6PM I think?”
Maria: “Then he came up afterwards and said he really enjoyed our set and we were like, ‘Oh cheers thanks, means a lot’ and didn’t think anything more of it. We just had something to eat and started drinking [laughs]. Then he suddenly found us again later and said: ‘Do you want to headline?’ We just did what we did. We didn’t have any time to do anything, we had no lights, had no visuals, we just had to play this huge stage with the tiny set up that we had.”
Gemma: “We didn’t even have our own sound guy with us! It was very DIY I guess, we just did what we usually do with no frills but it seemed to go down well.”
Maria: “And we had to rely on our sparking personalities too [laughs].”
How did the audience respond?
Maria: “I found myself saying cheesy stuff like ‘make some noise!’ which we never, ever fucking say at a gig [laughs]. But they were responsive, they were like ‘yeah!’ and they literally did make noise.”
Gemma: “When we were soundchecking, you know, we soundcheck and it was empty outside so you did think ‘Is anyone going to come and watch?’ Because they know that Lykke Li isn’t here or they’ve heard on the grapevine that Lykke Li’s cancelled, so the fact that it was seemingly to us, like, full and people stuck around and didn’t leave was pretty special.”
Maria: “[When on stage] I could just see like these little sort-of-outlines of people’s heads and stuff. There were so many people there.”
Gemma: “Even though they were a big crowd, it seemed a bit unreal. It all becomes a bit abstract so the first few rows you can see which were similar to what we’d played to earlier that day which maybe is why it felt okay.”
Maria: “I think sometimes like one-to-one interactions can be far more daunting than standing on stage in front of thousands of people… It just went really quickly for me.”
You seem to have had a lot of support and love from your Norwich hometown after this.
Maria: “Yeah it’s been lovely, it’s really heart-warming. Norwich is a good old bunch.”
You performed at the Manchester International Festival last night. Was it surreal taking to the stage again after such a huge gig at the weekend?
Maria: “Kind of, yeah. I mean it was really nice to play but it, sort of walking into the Pavilion and stuff and you know, just outside Manchester Town Hall and seeing the size of the stage was like, ‘Oh my god, this stage is tiny’ [laughs]. But it’s a decent-sized stage!”
Gemma: “Normally we’d have been going, ‘Oh wow, that’s big!’”
Maria: “It was a really good gig as well, we [were invited] by Dave Haslam and the International Festival in Manchester. We played with LIINES as well, some friends of ours. They just blew the roof off as well. It was really good, people just getting down and we got loads of good feedback on Twitter and stuff.”
Gemma: “I think the local press kind of ran with us saying it was like playing Live Aid and it sounds like that’s what we really thought now [laughs]. It was a bit Spinal Tap as well, just me and Maria walking round feeling weird walking round this huge space and then just little old us walking round backstage and looking out and the only thing we could relate it too was Live Aid.”
Do you think this will lead to more offers and opportunities?
Maria: “I don’t know, I hope so, yeah, who knows? I mean, it’s all down to the music and the performance at the end of the day, and if people like our music and like what we do on stage then hopefully they’ll book us.”
How did you meet and when did you start performing?
Maria: “We started about three-and-a-half years ago and I was in another band, just like a solo band, but I had some other musicians I knew in there. It was just kind of like bluesy stuff, rocky indie and alternative kind of stuff. I was looking for a guitarist and the bassist suggested Gemma, and we played in the band for about four gigs before it all fell apart. The [rest of the band] sort of went off travelling and stuff like that, so Gemma and I just decided to form something ourselves, just sat in a pub one day – where all the best decisions are usually made! We decided to be a two-piece.”
Gemma: “Yeah, easier to arrange two people and, you know, we weren’t going to go off travelling [laughs].”
Your self-titled debut was released last year and received some excellent reviews…
Maria: “Yeah, we self-released it, totally DIY. We’re pretty pleased about that and it made the BBC 6Music end-of-year list as well; it had a lot of support from [Steve] Lamacq. We also did a KEXP session, which was great.”
How would you describe your sound?
Maria: “Sort of post-punk – everyone uses that word post punk, but I guess we are – I mean we’re influenced by so many different things but I guess if people want to put this into a box, I’d say post-punk electro with heavy bass lines and edgy vocals.”
Gemma: “Yeah, with the 80s in there too! … We didn’t have a total complete aim of what we wanted to sound like, I think because of our set-up of being a duo and having a lack of live instruments. It was easier to go down a dancier route because we used a backing track for some of it to fill out the sound. That sound just kind of happened naturally, I think.”
Maria: “There’s so many influences as well, some of which are apparent in the music and some which probably aren’t. Like Gemma’s really into ESG and New Order, which you’ve probably heard that in our music.
“But then I’m also like into people like Bowie and then we like stuff like Can, reggae, hip hop and I really like Grace Jones so it’s just kind of a mixture of so much stuff. Chicago House, funk and all those just like little ideas that you pick along the way, just all come together and hopefully end up making something that sounds a little bit different.”
What are your plans for 2019? Will you be recording a new album soon?
Maria: “Yeah, we are working on it now, we’re actually just finishing it up. We’re mixing over the next month and then watch this space for announcements. We’ve got some new dates to announce imminently, but we’ve got a few gigs coming up first [see their live schedule below].”
Thinking back on the experience, what was the best moment about it all for you?
Gemma: “The best moment for me was just after we’d been asked because it just felt so ridiculous!”
Maria: “Yeah because actually Gemma was in the loo when the promoter came up and asked me; we were at different stages and apart [at that point]. Gemma was watching Snapped Ankles and I was [elsewhere] and he came up and asked me. I said: ‘Yeah, of course, I just need to find Gemma.’ I was texting her frantically and she wasn’t answering so we went across to where Snapped Ankles were playing… everyone was just hunting: ‘Where’s Gemma? Where’s Gemma?’ Then thankfully she came back and she was literally just about to go on the Ferris wheel. It would have been a completely different story if she’d been stuck on the top of the Ferris wheel; we couldn’t have played [laughs].”
Maria: “I think it says a lot about the festival as well. They could have moved one of the other larger acts from a different stage to the main stage, but they didn’t.”
Gemma: “They took quite a risk really, but I think it paid off.”
Sink Ya Teeth Live Dates
August 10 – Concorde 2, Brighton
August 22 – Corsica Studios, London
December 7 – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham