Wolf Alice Subverts the Indie Status Quo

By Erica Martin, August 6, 2018

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Before they became one of the UK’s best new bands, Wolf Alice debuted in 2013 with the single ‘Fluffy,’ a nod to small town restlessness that frontwoman Ellie Rowsell named after her cat. In the video, the band hangs out with Fluffy and then smashes a TV with a hammer.

Next came ‘Bros,’ a dreamy ode to childhood friends in which two young girls feel a kinship because they were both “raised by wolves and other beasts.”


Such surreal lyrics and empowering themes make sense considering that Wolf Alice take their name from a short story by Angela Carter, an English writer known for reinterpreting classic fairy tales through feminism and with the lush weirdness of gothic fiction.

Rowsell admits that Carter’s aesthetic doesn’t have a direct influence on her songwriting, but adds, “I do think Wolf Alice have elements of all those things in our songs. I like finding the magic in the everyday and I think Angela Carter liked finding the everyday in the magic.”

Everyday magic embodied by both female empowerment and a spine-tingling gothic flair is apparent in Wolf Alice’s output, most recently in the album cover for their September 2017 sophomore effort, Visions of a Life. The faded photograph depicts a young ballerina pointing her toe in a sun-dappled garden next to a white sculpture on a pedestal that on closer inspection reveals itself to be a horse skull. It’s a real photo, and the woman is Rowsell’s aunt as a child. The striking image sets the tone for the record, but doesn’t encompass the ambitious complexity within. 

Album image via Spotify.

“We were just trying to be braver,” says Rowsell of the difference between Visions of a Life and their 2015 debut, My Love Is Cool. “If we had an idea that we thought was a bit silly or too difficult or something, we would bring it up anyway. I guess we learned from the first album that if you hold back you might regret it, but if you try something and it doesn’t work, then you haven’t lost out.”

Rowsell recently described Wolf Alice on Twitter as “a four-piece grunge/folk band from Camden,” but she has also expressed her dislike of the compulsion to assign genre tags to bands, which is especially pointless given the range on Visions of a Life

'Space & Time'

From detailing the cheesy bliss of young love (‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’) to a panic attack on an airplane (‘Sky Musings’), the songs span grunge, synthpop, punk, folk, shoegaze and much more.

“I hate umming and ahhing about what music we play,’ she says. “I just think it would be easier when people ask me what I play, to just say ‘rock music’ and for that not to be an embarrassing thing.”

Rowsell also displays incredible range on Visions of a Life, veering from glistening pop balladry to punk screams to spoken word, sometimes in a single song. “Singers like Lana del Rey, Sia, and Andre 3000 reinforced to me the fact that the voice is just as much of an instrument as anything else,” she says. “You can shape it to fit a certain song without losing all your character.” 

'Yuk Foo'

One of the album’s many highlights is its first single ‘Yuk Foo,’ a cathartic hit of punk-rock rage and sexual energy in which Rowsell rails against the expectations she’s held to as a woman in music.

She explains that ‘Yuk Foo’ stemmed from her interest in the American hardcore scene after reading the seminal music book Our Band Could Be Your Life. The song’s roots in the Riot Grrrl movement are also apparent, however, and she acknowledges that influence on the band as a whole.

“I think the Riot Grrrl movement had an impact on us in the fact that it paved the way for making it easier to be a woman in a guitar band,” she says. “It was quite unusual to be a woman in rock before that movement and definitely unusual to be a woman in rock who spoke about how hard it was and shamed the men and women who made it harder for them. It’s probably a far less intimidating thing for a woman to start a band now.”

Photo courtesy of promoter.

Wolf Alice are taking Visions of a Life on their first China tour this month, landing in Beijing and Shanghai just a few days before headlining Tokyo’s Summer Sonic Festival for the second time in three years.  “I’ve never been [to China], so I’m really looking forward to it,” Rowsell says of the upcoming tour.

“We have a few Chinese fans who come to our shows in Europe and America, so it will be nice to finally come to them!”

Beijing: Aug 15, 8.30pm, RMB350 (advance), RMB400 (door). Tango, see event listing, buy tickets.
Shanghai: Aug 16, 8.30pm, RMB400.
Modern Sky Lab, see event listing, buy tickets.

Photo at top courtesy of promoter.

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