Lip Critic: “Why would you even play a show if people didn’t move around?”

The NYC hardcore band playing techno clubs

Stoke Newington’s Wetherspoons isn’t exactly what you’d call one of London’s top tourist attractions. Earlier, when I was putting it forward as a venue for our interview, I’d panicked slightly and described it to Lip Critic as ‘ basically Margaritaville, but more depressing and British’, and as we step through the doors on this cold November Thursday night, it appears I’m bang on. The smell of stale beer, Tikka Masala and B.O. mingle in the air while men silently stare into their pints or mechanically shovel money into several loudly glaring gambling machines. It’s more post industrial hellscape than quaint London boozer, but the members of Lip Critic don’t seem to mind. Snatching up a menu almost as soon as we sit down, they pour over it like archaeologists discovering a long lost script. “Look at these prices,” exclaims Danny Eberle, one of the band’s two drummers. “You don’t get this kind of shit in New York!”

The band’s excitement is forgivable; after all, this is Lip Critic’s first trip to the UK, and understandably, they’re keen to take it all in. Formed in 2019, in the past four years the band has gone from conquering their neighborhood venues to becoming one of NYC’s most talked about acts, and they are now poised to branch out to a global audience. By all accounts, the last year has been their busiest yet, with the band hitting the road supporting Screaming Females and sharing the stage with IDLES on some of their recent US dates, and recently they signed with Partisan Records. They’ve done all this while confusing the hell out of everyone. Their sound is so hard to define that they’ve found the band playing hip hop nights, punk all-dayers and even the occasional techno club.

Everything has been happening so fast that it’s left Lip Critic still trying to process it. Asking them about their recent signing with Partisan, the band stares at each other and puff out their cheeks in disbelief. “I mean, it’s crazy, right?” Drummer Ilan Natter asks me. “It’s like PJ Harvey’s label!”

It’s not bad going for a bunch of kids just out of college. “Connor, Ilan, and I were studying music. Danny was studying anthropology and journalism,” explains frontman Bret Kasner, recounting Lip Critic’s early days. “Danny and Ilan were in another band who had a show, and the bassist couldn’t show up, so they tried to salvage the gig by having Connor play bass and asking me to sing. I guess they thought it was funny. They had me just say stuff over the music; we were improvising; that was sort of like the start..”

These haphazard beginnings have evolved into their defining strength. Everyone brings something different to the table. Drummers Eberle and Natter hail from a raw hardcore foundation, reminiscing enthusiastically about their formative years playing high-school parties and gritty dive bars. Connor Kleitz, the primary sampler operator, subtly raises an inquisitive eyebrow at their anecdotes. Rooted in an art school background, his solo music on Bandcamp hints at a love for sparse techno and expansive electronica.

Kasner, on the other hand, occupies a space between these influences. A self proclaimed lover of Deerhoof and Skrillex, his primary goal appears to be igniting dance floors. “Why would you even play a show if people didn’t move around?” he shoots back when I ask him about his influences. “The whole point of music is to give people that feeling.”

Watching Lip Critic perform live, you can see what Kasner’s getting at. The band are unlike any other punk or metal act out there. Drawing from their foundation as an improv act, almost none of their songs follow an established blueprint or pattern. Some tracks have the dual drummers managing to sound like bass players and the synths sounding like percussion; others see the band playing off each other, like some weird jam band. The only thing that stays consistent is Kasner’s vocals of bizarre slogans and ironic statements barked out seemingly at random, turning every song into a hybrid of industrial noise, party-boy dubstep and the soundtrack to a Dance Dance Revolution game. Written down, it sounds more like a recipe for disaster than instructions for high-energy dance music.

Speaking with the band, the desire to constantly work and rework their sound stems from a determination never to be boring. One of the main things that motivates Lip Critic is the need for entertainment – not only for the audience but also for themselves, and this runs through almost every facet of their music, from the complete lack of structure to the tongue-in-cheek delivery. “I’ve always felt that in music too many people worry about being uniform,” says Kasner when I ask them to explain where this instinct comes from. “Having your tracks on the record sound exactly the same as you play them live, having all your photos look exactly how you think you should have them to fit in with your genre or whatever.”

“It’s mostly an effort to give you a reason to come to the shows,” adds Eberele, only half joking. “You can listen to the record at 1000 BPM and it’s going to rip, for sure. But if you go to the show, we’ll play it totally different. We’ll have alterations to the original version of the song, some of which are like entirely new sections.”

Kasner smiles mischievously and nods in agreement. “That’s always been so funny to me. I remember seeing a Skrillex set where he revved every song up to triple speed, almost as a statement about the fact that he was tired of playing the same song again and again every night. I mean, I’m sure that everyone else was probably pissed, but I thought it was so funny that people had come to hear these classic songs and they sounded completely wrong. I think it’s endlessly entertaining just to blow stuff up and try to put it back together rather than just stamp the same thing out repeatedly. But, hey, that’s just me.”