The Cover Story

“There’s this wave of change coming”: Creeper, Hot Milk and Static Dress are leading the new British alternative

From high-octane punk to dynamic alt.rock, next weekend’s 2000trees will showcase the very best in emerging British talent. Ahead of the festival, three creative visionaries in Creeper, Hot Milk and Static Dress come together to explain what’s so special about this ambitious new generation of bands…

“There’s this wave of change coming”: Creeper, Hot Milk and Static Dress are leading the new British alternative
Rishi Shah
Christopher Bethell

Guided up an eerie staircase away from the scorching summer sun, Kerrang! have entered the lion’s den – in Static Dress terms. We’re inside their vast, yet simultaneously intimate, Leeds studio space, the hub and HQ where Olli Appleyard and co. now formulate every nook and cranny of their band’s creative output. In one windowless room, leafy ornaments and a 2023 Bring Me The Horizon setlist overhang the drum kit. In another, a framed My Chemical Romance picture perches itself on top of a piano, tucked away in the corner.

“Sums up my entire life, doesn’t it?!” muses Olli, after William Von Ghould jokes that it’s “exactly what he expected”. Olli’s invited the Creeper frontman and Hot Milk’s Han Mee both over from Manchester this afternoon, for their joint K! cover shoot: a fitting choice of location, and one you might recognise from Static Dress’ stunning Rouge Carpet Disaster (Redux) videos. From inception to the finished article, the importance of a space to wholly visualise your own world is something that rings true for all three artists.

“Being able to personally terraform your world, like this, is very impressive about this place,” admits Will. Han – who made Hot Milk’s debut album A CALL TO THE VOID inside a shipping container – agrees. “It’s your own little world,” she nods, “and no-one else matters outside that room. And then you go into the real world… it breaks the fourth wall, massively.”

Carving out their own unique path is of paramount importance to all three artists, and one of the many defining features that they share in common. “Irrespective of anyone else, all three bands exist inside their own space,” Olli says. “Everyone in this room tries to create this grandiose image and idea of what they are.” Will agrees. Having switched up his persona, make-up and even his name for each album cycle, this mantra is integral to the very essence of Creeper, and arguably the foundational principle behind the magic of the band’s music.

Now, they’re reaping the rewards of their graft like never before. Set to co-headline London’s OVO Arena Wembley with Black Veil Brides this October, Creeper’s story so far is one underpinned by hard work, ingenuity and four ambitious albums. Remember when they ‘broke up’ at Camden’s KOKO in November 2018, only to return exactly one year later with an intimate show at 229? Every move in their journey is envisaged with the utmost ambition. That return, billed as Fugitives Of Heaven, also happened to be the third-ever Static Dress show, with the Leeds outfit invited to open for Creeper.

“There were big jazz hands,” recalls Will, adding how he first met Olli when he needed a video editor for their All My Friends shoot. “Neil Kennedy, who [produced] all the early Creeper records, called me up and said, ‘I've met this guy – he reminds me of you, but he’s a younger, more handsome version!’ At first, I thought, ‘I’ve got to kill him!’ Then I met him, and he’s just so full of ideas, such a huge ball of energy. I sometimes feel the world hands me the right pieces at the right times, and I always try to hold on to those people. I need to get as much out of this guy, before he becomes massive on his own, right?!”

He’s not wrong. Frontman. Videographer. Creative director. Video game designer. Olli Appleyard has plenty of strings to his bow, all of which are vividly on display through the medium of Static Dress – it’s no wonder they’re considered one of Britain’s most forward-thinking bands. Today’s shoot marks, amazingly, the first professional images of Olli which were not shot by the man himself. And, having already opened for both Bring Me The Horizon and heroes Underøath this year, 2000trees will mark their first-ever main stage appearance at a festival.

Hot Milk, meanwhile, have an incomprehensibly enormous few weeks coming up, as we speak. Joining Foo Fighters on two UK stadium dates, the band immediately jet off to crush a U.S. run with blink-182, before popping back just in time to headline The Axiom at 2000trees. With a live album to their name in celebration of their colossal hometown headline at Manchester Academy, they’re arguably the city’s most exciting prospect in the alternative sphere. It’s the same city which Will now calls home, befriending Han upon moving there six years ago.

“We’ve done many naughty things together,” grins Han. “We live a stone’s throw from each other, which is a good and bad thing. We’d see each other on a night out, and there’ll be this internal sigh of, ‘Oh, shit. We’re going to be up till 1pm in my living room.’” It’s more than just fun and games, however – this is a friendship that goes far deeper, as Han explains. “I think we are each other’s emotional therapists,” she admits. “Will’s brought me back from the ashes a lot of times, especially during my latest break-up.”

Old friends will be reunited and new relationships forged, when the alt. world descends on Cheltenham’s Upcote Farm next weekend. Beneath the headline trio of American icons The Gaslight Anthem, Australian punks The Chats and Bedford alt.rockers Don Broco, the abundance of British talent at 2000trees is staggering, from fan-favourites The XCERTS and Boston Manor through to nu-rock upstarts Dead Pony and emerging brat-punk star Delilah Bon. It’ll be Han and Olli’s first time performing at the festival, though both have attended previously.

Crucially, it’s perhaps the most family-friendly festival around, and hence an accessible route for young fans into heavy music, in a similar manner to how it serves as a platform for young artists. “It’s the homeliness of it,” agrees Olli. “The fact that you’d be seeing bands who are heavy as shit, but then also a family with their kid, running through the field. There’s face painting and circle-pits.” This core part of the festival’s ethos speaks volumes, says Han, implicitly. “The fact that my friends are bringing their baby for the first time to this one, because they know they’re going to be alright…”

One of the first festivals to take a chance on Creeper, their ascent through the line-up is emblematic of the trust 2000trees places in British talent, arguably more so than any other. “They took a chance on us when we couldn’t get booked anywhere,” says Will. “They’ve had an ear for up-and-coming acts, and they’ve platformed a lot of other bands. I think they’ll be the first festival, if we ever get to that point [headlining], to do it – because they believed in us and campaigned for us, even when they didn’t need to.”

“2000trees took a chance on us when we couldn’t get booked anywhere”

Hear William Von Ghould on how 2000trees champion new artists

The success stories are abundant. The likes of IDLES, SOFT PLAY and Deaf Havana have all been given the call-up to headline after being nurtured through the ranks, over the years. Alongside more seasoned headliners like Enter Shikari and You Me At Six, these examples – and the bravery of the festival – prove that a pathway for British bands to become headliners is possible, when the trust and confidence is placed in them. “They’ve proven that it works,” asserts Han. “They’ve done a lot for the UK scene.”

When Bring Me The Horizon finally headlined Download last year, they represented virtually the only ‘newer’ British band to be given the chance to do so – considering Biffy Clyro and Muse started out in the ’90s. “That shouldn’t take nearly two decades... it needs to be British bands at the top of bills,” says Olli, before Will jumps in. “No-one does that quicker than 2000trees. I guarantee you, out of any [festival] to do it, they’ll be the first ones to go, ‘Okay, let’s see how you deal with that stage.’ The wind must change somewhere first, and that’s why I respect them so much.” Han agrees, hoping that other festivals will follow suit. “It’s [about] showing them that we can do it. Once we do it there, other festivals [catch on]. 2000trees are the backbone, really.”

Throughout our conversation today, there’s also a recurring sense of contempt towards the corporate vultures of the modern-day music industry, something that 2000trees – as an independent festival – largely exists outside of.

“It is void from the conglomerates that we like to call ‘The Evil Empire’,” says Han, with a sense of pride. “It’s on its own, standing tall amongst other festivals. It’s like a strong oak tree amongst the corporate tumbleweeds, a ‘fuck you’ to the shithousery and a place to find yourself lost in raw distortion. [2000trees] is needed more than ever.”

Creeper, Hot Milk and Static Dress exist in an ever-changing landscape, but one which is definitively distinct from any British alternative scene of the past. “Five years [ago], I don’t know if [a line-up] would have all three bands like this on,” considers Han, an idea which Will develops. “In the past, a scene with a certain musical direction and look [became] the dominant trend, which, in turn, equates to lots of the same acts dominating these festivals. I think we are in an interesting time, where that is no longer the case,” he says defiantly.

“It’s just lovely to see this wave of creativity take over,” Will continues. “There’s still work to do, I think, but now you’ve got a really diverse line-up. Hannah [Greenwood, Creeper] was saying to us the other day that it’s refreshing to see more women on crew. It’s just becoming a more normal place.” Desperately wanting to avoid the cliché, Olli deliberates on how to phrase his follow-up comment. “I hate using this term, because it’s so overused and token, but [festivals] feel safe. It feels like a safe space. I’m way more comfortable now.”

“I’m trying to inspire authenticity”

Hear Olli Appleyard on his desire for systematic change

It’s far from plain sailing, however. All three bands find themselves up against the digitalised, capitalist industry machine, something that is simply incompatible with authentic art, argues Han.

“Post-pandemic music became formulaic, rushed and too dependent on the viral factor. Bands like us keep it firmly planted in real life. The live show is the last bastion of reality, and we put on one hell of a spectacle. I feel as though the trio of Hot Milk, Static Dress and Creeper are the golden statues in a decrepit tomb of dying falsehoods and attention-grabbing ‘musicians’ that have no real authenticity at their core.”

In times where it can feel like a constant uphill battle for artists, it’s more important than ever that they band together, finding strength in solidarity and the integrity of their artistry – something Olli feels particularly strongly about. “I’m trying to inspire authenticity,” he says. “I really want to see systematic change. You’re never going to see systematic change if kids are automatically coming off this conveyor belt, feeding into the system of labels.” Will takes a gaze around the circle. “Maybe it’s something that sews us all together a little bit: the need to be a wave of people who aren’t gonna tolerate that anymore. There’s this wave of change coming.”

“There’s a lot of currents that are creating a whole river,” picks up Han. “As friends, it’s really important to have that relationship, because I think it’s a very unique relationship – we are not on each other’s payroll. We can [speak] to each other on a level. I think it’s more important than ever to have these friendships,” she says, reflecting on the microcosm of the room which is emblematic of the camaraderie in the British scene. “I know I value them so much.”

“It’s more important than ever to have these friendships”

Hear Han Mee on the camaraderie of the UK music scene

Authentic British music is scattered throughout the 2000trees line-up. Bob Vylan have combined grime with punk in an unprecedented manner. WARGASM continue to help spearhead the nu-metal revival. Nova Twins were nominated for the Mercury Prize. The road may be filled with plenty of obstacles, but there is a pathway for British artists to stay true to their craft, stick together – and this wave is proving, slowly but surely, that they will outlast the rest.

“That feeling is quite uniquely British, because we don’t think about things like a climb,” Han explains, fortified to make her point. “We’re in a little fucking island – we’re all fighting for scraps. We have to get on, because, you know what? Them in America, they’re just fucking having loads of money, loads of fucking opportunities. We’re here, doing our own thing, and I think we’re better together. And we come up with the best stuff over here, right?”

With the conversation intensifying over the course of this hour-long roundtable discussion, Will delivers the definitive line to break the tension: “The time is now.”

“Is that a John Cena quote?” asks Olli, and the chat falls back into delirium. Will – sneakily or otherwise – then swings the topic towards a wrestling show he’s attending in Manchester (alas, one that has now already happened).

He might just be right, though. For all the talk of revival and renaissance, the rise of the UK alternative scene seems to have reached a state of semi-permanence. Alt. is not only back, but it’s thriving – locally, nationally and even globally. “We’re a band that actually do way better in the U.S. than we do in the UK,” reveals Olli, still almost surprised that those words are coming out of his mouth.

“I think it’s the diversity in sound and visual identity that stick out so much, this time around,” says Will, when asked what he thinks is so special about the contemporary UK scene. With more and more artists empowered to curate and express their visual identity, one can only imagine what the sound palettes across the UK could look like in another 10 years. At the summit of the scene, Will acknowledges the role of Bring Me The Horizon – who, he feels, have a fundamental degree of responsibility for the evolution that this country has seen. “They’re moving on to a place that makes sense to [them], as a musician and artist who wants to progress.”

And when these three forces of nature descend upon 2000trees, we can expect nothing but fireworks.

“The first time we’re ever playing main stage at a festival,” Olli re-iterates, before Will runs through a list of the good, the bad and the ugly that could go down during that set. “You never know what you’re gonna get with Static Dress. You know, there could be a guy being crucified…”

Olli, full of ideas as ever, has his own plans. “I wanted to do my eyebrows like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, where he drives through the fire! But maybe, for 2000trees, I’m going to keep it PG, because of the family [audience] and that.”

Will throws any caution to one side. “Dicks out for 2000trees!”

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