Neck Deep's Dani Washington: "Racism doesn't belong in alternative music – it's f*cking dead and gone"

Neck Deep drummer Dani Washington and friend Alex Aiyeniwon on racism in the rock scene and beyond

Neck Deep's Dani Washington: "Racism doesn't belong in alternative music – it's f*cking dead and gone"
James Hickie
Neck Deep band photo:
Tom Barnes
Alex photo:
Alice Blanc

Like so many in pain right now, Dani Washington has a lot he wants to do and say. As a result, Neck Deep’s drummer has started The Rain Awareness Campaign for victims of black prejudice and discrimination, which is donating proceeds from specially designed items from his clothing brand The Rain Supply to Black Lives Matter and The George Floyd Memorial Funds. In the video accompanying the campaign, filmed near his home in his native Colwyn Bay in north Wales, an emotional Dani explains his reasons for doing this.

“It’s my responsibility to use the platform I have to educate younger people on topics like this,” he says. “It’s important to make sure I’m not sitting quietly and not letting this stuff slide, and nobody else is letting this stuff slide, because it’s fucking disgusting. It should be spoken about. Nobody should sit in silence. Nobody should feel oppressed.

“The second reason why I’m doing this is for all the victims of the hate crimes that have happened – especially the more recent ones, such as George Floyd,” continues Dani in the video. “He didn’t deserve to die. These people don’t deserve to die, especially in the ways they were killed by these fucking horrible people.

“My third reason why I’m doing this is because I want black people to know that the music they are consuming is coming from people who care about them and love them. I don’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable around artists or anybody of any race.”

This why Dani has invited Kerrang! to sit in on a conversation between him and his friend Alex Aiyeniwon. Dani first came across Alex’s Instagram account when he was doing some thinking around a campaign on equality for The Rain Supply, and was struck by the artistry exhibited in the pictures. The two met in person earlier this year, when Neck Deep opened a pop-up shop in London to announce their fourth album All Distortions Are Intentional, and quickly found common ground in their musical tastes and experiences growing up in predominantly white areas (Alex lived in Camerano, a small town in Italy, until the age of 15).

“For 20 years, mine was the only black family/people of colour in that town,” explains Alex. “I grew believing the way I was treated there was normal because I didn’t know any different. It was only when I moved to London, which was like a whole other world, that I realised how wrong my treatment had been.”

“After what’s happened recently, I started thinking about how many other people there are like me and Alex out there, listening to the same music we are and feeling the same,” says Dani of the impetus for today’s discussion. “Being in a band, people want to hear our opinions on things, but it’s equally important to hear from a fan like Alex, too, to ensure that everyone knows inequality of any sort isn’t right – and there’s no place for it in a scene that’s built around so many different types of people.”

Alex: “When I was living in Italy I got into pop-punk thanks to the internet. It was my way to deal with things and be in my own little world. I thought the music was cool, but soon noticed there wasn’t a massive representation of black people, so thought maybe it was more of a white person’s genre. I already felt a bit marginalised; when I’d go to gigs I’d get super-excited if I saw one other black person, because I never thought I’d see another black person there. You were always my favourite member of Neck Deep for that reason, because I felt represented.”

Dani: “Before I started playing with Neck Deep I was really into progressive metal and heavy stuff, which are quite white genres. I gravitated towards black musicians, though, but I didn’t know why at the time – I was just interested. Howard [Jones] from Killswitch Engage was one of my favourite vocalists. I loved, and still do, Tosin Abasi from Animals As Leaders. I think it was a feeling of similarity that made me a bit more comfortable. When I started in Neck Deep, I remember we went and stayed at our manager’s house, and I found out that a band called Issues were into Neck Deep. Someone told me to look at their [former] DJ’s Twitter account, because his header was our logo, and it was Tyler [Acord]. He was black, of a similar age, and playing heavy music; it made me think more about how proud I was to be who I was. That’s when I made the decision to have a stage name, Dani Abasi – like Tobin Abasi – and to grow dreads. I wanted people to fucking know exactly who I am and what I represent. I didn’t really know at the time that’s why I was doing that, but I do now.”

Alex: “When I moved to London and started making more black and POC friends, I’d get teased because I was listening to pop-punk, while they were listening to more grime and rap, so I felt different again. I thought I’d moved into a space that would belong to me more, but again I was being marginalised because of that. Meeting and seeing people of colour who listen to pop-punk is really important and has helped me a lot. It’s helped me realise something important, which is that I can listen to whatever I want. It’s my choice. I don’t have to fall into stereotypes that I have to listen to a certain kind of music, or dress a certain way.”

Dani: “I’ve toured the world several times now and met bands from all different countries, and the one thing I’ve noticed is that people seem to appreciate people like me a lot more in this scene because it’s kind of rare. There’s a guy called Saxl Rose who’s played saxophone with Neck Deep; I didn’t know this until recently, but he came up to me at Warped Tour way before we worked together and introduced himself with the words, ‘Yo, light-skinned boys – let’s go!’ A year later he hit me up and told me he played sax and wanted to work with me. I was adamant that should happen because I wanted to support him just as he was supporting me. The first conversation we had was about how cool it was that we were able to share a stage together. It made me feel really comfortable. And I met Kadeem from Loathe at a While She Sleeps show in about 2010. We were both in a pit and it was this cinematic moment where I looked at him, and he looked at me, and we just hugged each other. We remain friends 10 years later.”

Dani: “It’s so fucking hard to know where to start with the negative stories – the situations where people treat you differently because of your skin colour. There’s one story I was reminded of by my old drum tech recently, which I’d forgotten because it’s one-in-a-million stories. A few years back I made friends with two black guys on Warped Tour, both drummers – Klue, who played with Mod Sun, and Diamond who played with Beautiful Bodies. On the last show of the tour, I was walking with Diamond and a security guard was at the door as we were heading backstage. The security guard let Diamond through but put his hand on my chest to stop me and said very seriously, ‘Woah – we’re only allowed one black person.’ Thankfully, before I could even react, the guy who was in charge of the stage had heard what the security guard said and dragged him out to deal with him.

"There was an incident in the last year when we were touring in Europe. We were in a beer hall in Germany with the rest of the Neck Deep guys and some others, all drinking beers and having a good time. Someone down the other end of the table accidentally knocked a pint that soaked a kid. Out of nowhere, a security guard comes over to our table and grabs me, chokes me, and drags me out of the bar. I was going nuts, as we all were, because it was a big place with hundreds of people who’ve seen me being dragged out. The police came and took my ID, asking who we are and what we’re doing there. They asked for the CCTV footage and as soon as they saw it they gave me back my ID and we left. That was the most recent physical altercation I’ve had with someone who’s had a problem with me for no other reason that me being black. Whenever something like that happens it’s a very sad and sobering feeling, because you feel you’re not really cared about.”

Alex: “I have an older brother who’s back in Italy now, and he’s experienced a lot of racism. When he calls me and tells me the things that have happened to him, it breaks my heart. Whenever I see the sort of news that’s been on the television recently, I think of him and worry about him. I have a slight advantage in not being a black man, as they’re the main victims of police brutality.

"It’s not all about police brutality, and it’s not just happening in America. Me and my sister went to a pizza place when I was living in Italy. My sister speaks impeccable Italian and was trying to order some pizzas. The woman working there was very agitated because the place was busy and said, ‘You people just want to come here and speak the way you want to speak.’ You people. Every day I’m reminded people think I’m not important and second-class. When I was at school, everyone expected me to be that person who failed in life because of how I looked, by teachers and so-called friends. It’s weird that now they’ve seen how I am and what I’m doing with my life, not in the shell I used to be in, they think I’m cool. The reason I’ve got to where I am is because I worked 10 times harder, because my mum always told me that as a black person that’s what I had to do.

"Racism is in the UK, too, and needs to be spoken about. You need to look at your actions and how they feed into narratives. Even by making a stupid comment to a person, you are affecting them and making them feel like shit. I’ve never experienced anything bad from people at gigs, though. People tend to be very supportive and take care of each other. They’re not ignorant people, and seem to understand that racism and discrimination are wrong. I feel very lucky to have that side.”

Dani: “Musicians, or artists, or anyone with any kind of reach and people that listen to them should be utilising that for good. We can all use our positions to push music or businesses, but right now while everyone is scrambling to learn how not to be racist, if you’ve got the power to sway peoples’ thoughts with what you create, you have to use it and not be a coward. And don’t ignore it because you think you might lose a couple of fans, while making sure you do your research as well. You don’t want to nurture a fanbase that’s ignorant to the difficulties experienced by black people. You should take on that responsibility. I’ve seen a lot of artists doing it that I might not have expected. But it’s not about whether they’re doing it in a week – it’s about whether they’re doing it in six months, or a few years’ time.

“We’re specifically talking about Black Lives Matter now, but this care and concern should be for anyone who’s disrespected for being who they are based on factors like their gender or sexuality. People need to get used to having these conversations. I had to have a conversation with Neck Deep, obviously, because I’m in the band. I can’t say it was the most comfortable conversation we’ve ever had, but it happened and they respect me for who I am, and actively do things to ensure I’m comfortable. I’m sure it’s something they understood anyway, but the current climate has been a huge eye-opener. And for fans: embrace it. We are here for you. Right now I’m here for black people and always will be, but I support everyone. Equality is really important to me.”

Alex: “There are artists I listen to who aren’t speaking up at the moment and it doesn’t feel good. I’ve had to re-evaluate them as a result. You can really love and respect an artist, but if you feel they’re not there for you when you’re at your lowest, that can change. Surely losing fans that way is worse than losing some racist fans? Bands need to educate themselves – there are so many resources out there – and acknowledge what’s going on. You can’t brush it off and avoid it. People are being marginalised. People are dying. This is our reality and others need to understand that. The conversation is uncomfortable, but imagine how we’re living every day.”

Dani: “People like me and Alex have to know that they’re appreciated. I want people to know that racism doesn’t belong in alternative music full stop – it’s fucking dead and gone. I want any ethnic minority, or anybody who feels they’re not as appreciated as they should be to feel comfortable listening to our bands. I say bands because I hope everyone fucking understands how important this is. The scene and gigs are a safe spaces for black people – and we don’t stand for no shit.”

Alex: “I hope this time there will be change. Everyone seems to be angry but it needs to go way beyond that. We need to make sure that after the anger of these events dies down, we remain vocal and put plans into action. We shouldn’t just be thinking about now, it needs to go way beyond that. This can’t happen anymore.”

Wondering how you can make a difference?

• Donate to George Floyd’s memorial fund.
Fight for Breonna Taylor, a first responder who was killed in her bed by police searching for drugs that were never found.
Help the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot while jogging.
• Donate to the community bail funds of protestors.
• Head over to Movement For Black Lives.
Connect with leaders building grassroots campaigns.
• And check out these anti-racism resources.

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