The big review: Download Festival 2023
Celebrating an incredible 20 years with a whopping anniversary spectacular, here’s all the best stuff from Download Festival.
On her new mixtape DEADGIRL, Mimi Barks explores everything from “hating, self-growth, re-awakening, revenge”. Soundtracked by her signature doom-trap, the London-via-Berlin trailblazer is ready to share her journey with the world…
Mimi Barks is naked, covered in blood, her eyes blacked out. As a soundtrack, glitching, harsh noises and almost irritating electronic pulses grind and scrape around her, giving this already quite disturbing scene an extra layer of crawling unease that sounds like someone stepping on your grave. ‘I fuck with evil, venom, death,’ repeats a looped vocal, equally alluring and repellent, before ending with a climactic scream of ‘Revenge’. As all this is going on, sky clad and splashed with gore, Mimi Barks is hugging a goat.
“The goat is a demonic symbol,” she explains. “You find the characteristics of The Devil in goat features. And for a lot of people, goats stand for demons, they’re evil.”
The German artist is drawn to this sort of thing. There’s a grimy, alone-under-a-streetlamp-at-3am darkness to her music – a gnawing mash of industrial, hip-hop, metal and harsh electro she dubs ‘doom-trap’ – just as she herself projects something of the night. Right now she’s explaining the idea behind the video for ABYSS, a work she refers to as “a soundscape” and “more of an art piece” than the rest of the tracks on her brilliant new DEADGIRL mixtape.
Following eight songs that by turns deal with self-loathing, depression, vengeance, questioning your life, and run up to a number entitled SUICIDE, the obtuse scrap metal noise of the closing ABYSS, she says, is the drawing of a line under the past, a more self-centred step into a controlled future.
“The theme of the whole mixtape is me. It’s the rebirth of a broken child – a dead girl,” she says. “It’s me being reborn as a leader, as my own God, and going through the process of awakening.
“It’s the conclusion of the album and an era of suffering and self-destruction,” she continues. “I was fucked-up when I recorded that song, mentally. But at the same time, I went through this whole cycle of writing the album, of hating, self-growth, re-awakening, revenge. Me coming out of this whole mind-fuck is my revenge towards everyone that fucked me up in the past and led me to write this album.”
For the video, this is represented, quite literally, with the goats and the bloody natal carrion, as “a rebirth”.
“I carry a lot of demons with me, so I liked the idea of being conceived in the darkness, in evil, and breaking out of it and being born into the light,” she continues. “The whole theme of the goats and me being covered in blood is that the foetus comes out of the gutter. That’s me.”
YouTube didn't like it. At all. The video was nixed almost as soon as it was put up. A softer version was re-edited to meet their standards, while the original can be found on Mimi’s Patreon (“It’s fucking art – how can you not be allowed to express yourself?”). They probably won’t be that keen on her next one either: she gets dragged to a pyre by angry puritan villagers, and burned at the stake.
“Hey,” she laughs, “Kerrang! didn’t give me The Disruptor Award for nothing, right?”
No, we did not. And now, with DEADGIRL dropping this month, it’s time to properly say hello to Mimi Barks, doom-trap icon, and alternative music’s most exciting new super-freak.
Even at noon on a Monday, Mimi Barks looks like the queen of the night. Nursing a Guinness and blackcurrant in legendary Soho pub The Ship, a place that as K!’s regular haunt in the ’80s has seen a thing or two, she’s a vision in leather, PVC, coloured hair, piercings, silver pentagrams, and everything else in any colour so long as it’s black. “This is just me,” she shrugs, “I’ve always been a misfit.” Maybe it’s the metal teeth.
London is where Mimi has called home since 2019. She moved over partly as a way of getting away from the unhealthy lifestyle she was living in Berlin, partly because “Germany is, like, two years behind with music”, and the buzz she felt for her in the UK offered more opportunity. Mimi has, she says, felt misunderstood by a lot of people. Some got it, but often she found that what she was doing was too dark, too weird, too unconventional.
This isn’t a new thing. Growing up in a small city in West Germany, she recalls that people in her town had “no vision, no ambition”. As she began to get into metal, punk and hip-hop, she found herself becoming increasingly different from her peers.
“I got bullied in school for being different, from the age of 12 or 13,” she remembers. “I looked like an early punk. I was the only kid like that. There was no-one else. So what I did was, I met people outside of school, and I would just hang out with people in different cities, in the punk scenes and the goth scenes. We would literally just listen to music and drink on the street.”
Eventually, she moved to Berlin, where she worked in one of the city’s numerous techno clubs. With a culture of not closing for entire weekends, if you’re looking to live a really gnarly life, Mimi says this will do just fine. Pro-tip: apparently Sundays are the best time to go to one ("You can have some breakfast and prosecco in the morning, then you don't have to queue to get in because all the tourists have gone home") . But for her, it was an all-weekend, all-consuming thing.
“It’s almost reversed hours. You start work at midnight, and you come out at, like, 2pm the next day,” she remembers with a mixture of fondness and matter-of-fact bluntness. “And in summer, you don’t really go home and sleep. You just go to another techno club…”
Around all this, Mimi began making music of her own. Actually, she says, “I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted to be a rock star”. Starting with “sad, grungy acoustic songs” on the guitar, she soon began feeling that it wasn’t quite enough, and looked toward bands like The Prodigy for more unhinged inspiration. In Berlin, she befriended a hip-hop producer, who introduced her to working in a studio, as well as adding to an already pin-eyed sleep schedule.
“We would spend every night working on music, literally ’til, like, 7am, then we would go to bed, and then in the afternoon we’d wake up and go to studio again,” she says. “Then at weekends I would go to work in the techno club, and then go back to work in the studio.”
Do you just not like the sun?
“Ha! I didn’t see much sunlight in my time in Berlin,” she laughs. “It was literally no sleep. It was insane. I don’t know how we did it.”
While the getting was good, it was a fun time, and a productive time. But burning the candle at both ends at such a rate, you won’t last long before it catches up with you. In Mimi’s case, a lot of negativity began to creep in.
“I come from a broken childhood and an abusive childhood, so I always carried a lot of anger in me,” she says. “Living in Berlin and being in the clubs and taking drugs and shit, that definitely didn’t help with self-growth and tapping into my mind and finding myself. It would only fuel the anger.
“Berlin is a very cold place, in a way,” she continues. “It’s very anonymous, so it’s very easy to get lost if you don’t know what you want to do. But if you have a plan, and you follow that plan, then you’ll be fine. You can just get inspiration out of that, too. I kind of lost it, but halfway through my time in Berlin, I kind of caught myself and realised, ‘Oh shit, yeah, wake up. You need to really slow down a bit and get shit going.’”
So, Mimi got shit going. And as she did, she began seeing things differently, not all of it in a good way. On her first EP, there’s a song about it, Enter The Void, in which she details where things were going off course. 'The whirlpool of my sin / I cannot stand the noise / Got lost in cold Berlin / Caffeine to wake me up / And pills to fall asleep / I´m losing my identity.'
“I wrote that in the middle of the night when I came home from a party,” she explains. “It’s got a grimy, disgusting vibe, and I was just thinking, ‘What am I doing? And where am I going? If I continue like this, I’m probably going to die.’ Because self-destruction eventually leads to destroying yourself.”
It was actually lockdown, having made the move to London, that provided the most real opportunity for Mimi to break away, rediscover herself, and move forward. Unable to pinball around as she had been, the music she began working on that would become DEADGIRL was as much about art as it was “fucking therapy”.
“That was the first time the universe pulled the plug on everything on my life,” she says. “It was the first time for me to calm down and tap into my mind where usually I will be running around, trying to find inspiration, trying to find a cure for my pain, having this intense feeling of being addicted to being productive.
“In lockdown, that whole pressure disappeared, and I had time to tap into spirituality. I learned to trust in my higher self, and that everything happens for a reason.”
During the making of DEADGIRL, Mimi was so inspired by what she was doing that she could get lost in it for 10 hours, no problem at all. While she worked, she wouldn’t notice that she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for an entire working day. “I didn’t check my devices, I didn’t communicate with anybody other than myself,” she says. “But I meditated shitloads.”
As she did, Mimi was reassessing everything. What you hear on DEADGIRL is the journey of her cutting off parts of her life and her history, leading to the rebirth. (And, ultimately, the goats.)
“The whole album is a full cycle around the idea of the DEADGIRL,” she says. “The first songs are heavier, more aggressive, and kind of filled with delusional aloofness and narcissism, to self-hatred, or hate for the world, but also chaos in my brain. Throughout the album, I’m going through the process of self-growth through spirituality.
“That whole era of suffering and self-destruction is kind of concluded by reconnecting to my higher self and being content with what I do, and learning to self-love,” she continues. “[The song] SUICIDE is the suicide of my younger self. That leads to the awakening. That is what the whole album is about, to go through the darkness and come out of the other end of it, towards light.”
“It’s literally a journey from self-hating to self-healing.”
To spend time talking to Mimi Barks about all this is to meet someone with no bullshit or pretence in them. There’s a gothic darkness to her, but not a gloomy one. As she dissects her art, often laughing and displaying a charmingly dry sense of humour, she does so with the charge of one energised by and committed to what they’re doing. She has a steely will, and the drive of someone who has learned to rely wholly upon themselves.
“I always feel like if you want to do something in life, your whole life needs to be about that thing. You have to direct everything you do in life towards it,” she says. “That means that you suffer in other areas in your life, like working in shitty side jobs instead of going on holiday 10 times a year. You’re eating shit, living in a warehouse with 10 people instead of having your own flat, but it’s about knowing that it’s going to be reality, and it’s going to happen. And once you know that, everything is cool.”
It’s a philosophy that’s led to a decisive, impulsive way of living her life. For those interested in the occult, listening to Mimi tell you that, “I can form my reality, and I can go in whatever direction I want” will ring bells. But such things are useless if you don’t know what you want. Which is why Mimi moved to another country after she felt the urge to. Why she doesn’t sit on music for too long after she’s worked on it. Why she’s managed to lop away so much and rebuild herself as a more powerful person.
“If I decide to do something, I’m gonna do it tomorrow,” she declares. “Everything is one or 10 – there’s nothing in between for me.
“When I write music, I never try to do anything. It just happens. When I write songs, I directly record them. Whatever you hear, it’s not something I practice for weeks. It doesn’t matter if I have the flow down or not, but I need that feeling at that moment, that real aggression and real emotion. When I write a song, I have to finish it. And if I don’t finish it that day, I will not record it, I will move on. It’s only reality for me in that moment. The next moment you learn something else, and it can all be different.”
This is what gives DEADGIRL its energy and soul. Every song has a self-evident emotion of its own. Mimi points out the differences between SUICIDE (“An awakening”) and the raging ASHES (“Me being absolutely hateful and resentful towards the world and myself”), both of which are distinct from the spooky rap of RAD, which is, for her, “empowering”.
It’s also this that makes you believe in Mimi Barks. It’s no surprise that she’s found a friend in the similarly impulsive human fireball Frank Carter, with whom she’s just finished a mammoth European tour. She may be a less physically aggressive proposition than The Rattlesnakes’ frontman, but the sense of an artist expressing whatever good or bad is bursting to get out of them is, like Frank, self-evident. The YouTube thing was a drag, she says, but it also isn’t important to get anyone’s approval for what she does.
“I literally don’t give a fuck,” she laughs, after pondering the point quietly for a second. “When you don’t limit yourself and play it safe, then there’s always the risk of pissing people off. There’s no boundaries in what I do, not in my music and not in the way I present myself in my aesthetic or my visuals. Not everybody likes that. But I don’t give a fuck.”
What would you like people to understand about what you do, though?
“I don’t want them to understand anything,” she muses. “But I hope that they find a little bit of themselves in my story, my lyrics. I hope it’s the catharsis for them that it was to me while writing it, because for me that shit’s therapy.”
It goes without saying, there is nothing else for Mimi. Back-ups and safety nets are for other, more boring people. You can’t imagine something like that working for her anyway. All or nothing. It makes for a life less mundane. And makes for someone who can win because they’re strong enough to be unafraid of failure. If she doesn’t believe in it, she doesn’t do it.
“From a young age, I was never interested in what everybody else said, what they talked about the way they dress, the way they think, their limited thinking,” she says. “Whenever I started a job, I’d get kicked out, or I left before it finished. You have to believe in something, and you need to put all your energy into that one direction.
"If you have a plan B, that shit just won’t work out. Because the universe knows you have a plan B.”
Listen to Mimi Barks, in every sense. The DEADGIRL might just be about to change your life.
DEADGIRL is released on December 16 via Silent Cult.
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