For the band’s first ever show, they were wrapped in bandages, depicting an exaggerated image of their supposed illness. “The band name came from initially just being dismissed as being ‘ill’ because of what we were trying to do,” says Bluzma. “So we took it as a badge of honour rather than a slur.” Their debut album opens with ‘ILL Song’ and the opening lyrics of “putting a stress on the NHS”. The frenetic energy, screeching guitars and demented house of horrors keyboards perfectly aligns with the screams of “take your pills, take your pills.” A version of this song existed for the first ever show and was also something of a mission statement for how they would unfold. “I’ve always had a bee in my bonnet about mental health services and how women are treated, specifically,” Shanahan says. Along with a sort of operating room gone berserk aesthetic the band employed in the early days, their previous member Rosanne Robertson could also be found utilising everything from saws to vibrators as part of their genre-colliding sound.
The band soon came up with the term “disobedient noise” to describe what they do; a description initially born from having to write a bio that soon bloomed into something of a mantra. “For me, that term means being a woman and being loud and openly emotional and full of rage,” says Bluzma. “Growing up in Latvia, and I think this is often true of women as a whole, you get told to be quiet and polite and don’t argue with people. Or if you get bullied then to stay quiet.” This is something Shanahan echoes in terms of her UK-based life. “My family background is super religious and conservative. So I think we’ve all come up against that obedience: at home and at work, in various ways.”
So ILL became a liberating front for disobedience, noise, fun and chaos all rolled into a juddering purification you can move to. “It’s about self expression,” offers Shanahan, “and about being a bit naughty, but we do like people to have a good time. It’s not all inquiet fury, it’s inquiet fury attached to hopefully danceable beats.” Humour is also rooted into the band’s output. Even a cursory glance at titles such as ‘Space Dick’ will allude to that before you hear the lyrics. Likewise on the sludgy Swans-like growl of the hilarious but brutal ‘I Am the Meat’, with its exploration of objectification and lyrics like, “Skinny pudding-fucker / I am the meat.” Shanahan wrote the lyrics in response to “when someone said that the real meat would come from the male bands playing this gig we were on the bill with. I was like, ‘no!’ we’re the meat – we’re meaty.”
Anger and humour have an equal role in the band. “It’s fury modulated by sarcasm and jokes,” says Bluzma. Whilst Shanahan adds, “I have to laugh otherwise I would cry and probably stab people. Humour is a great thing and when people understand the joke and are able to laugh at themselves and the wider world, it can be quite a protective thing. Empowering almost.”
Whilst the band tackle social, political and gender inequality in their songs, drummer Fiona Ledgard says: “I think it’s really important not to take ourselves too seriously.” She then goes onto to recall what in most bands lives would have been a disastrous gig but one they managed to turn into a riot. “We played in Bury in a Wetherspoons-type bar and it was just full of old men. They left the horse racing on the TV whilst we played so we started doing commentary over it. I looked over and one elderly man at the bar was just stuffing screwed up tissues into his ears.”
Shanahan then throws in an anecdote: “I remember playing one gig in Oldham and this guy just tapped me on the back and I turned around and he just said: ‘shite.’” But bad, or funny, gig stories aside, there’s still a fundamental point the band are both making and extracting from such encounters, as Ledgard explains. “I think as women it’s important that we take up space and make noise. A lot of people might not like that and it can still be a shocking or surprising thing for some people.”