In pictures: Download Festival’s huge launch party in London
Take a stroll down the black carpet and into the exclusive Download Festival launch party to kickstart their 20th birthday extravaganza!
“If you don’t see yourself represented in something you like, that’s your opportunity to fill that space. We weren’t hearing the music we wanted to hear, so we started making that music, and we became the people we wanted to see in the scene. That’s why WARGASM started.”
As fearless leader Milkie Way outlines, the birth of WARGASM came from an absence its members observed in alternative music. The vocalist/bassist and her bandmate Sam Matlock (vocals/guitar) weren’t seeing, hearing or getting what they wanted out of the alternative scene, so they set out to create something exciting, provocative and dangerous all for themselves.
Formed in 2018, Sam came into the project following the split of UK rockers Dead! – a band who’d been tipped for big things by many, including Kerrang!, before their swift demise – while Milkie had been working as a session musician for singer-songwriter Barns Courtney in-between modelling work.
Bonding over a shared desire to bring some fresh energy to rock in the way Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit did in the early 2000s (“We’d be listening to their music at parties and both be thinking, ‘They’ve got it, but where’s that energy in music now?’”), the time the pair spent hanging out morphed into jam sessions, with Sam bringing his recording equipment to Milkie’s flat to work on ideas.
Debut single Post Modern Rhapsody – a fiery dose of anarchic punk – arrived in 2019, and a buzz around the pair rapidly began to build, with WARGASM landing tours alongside YUNGBLUD and Creeper, festival bookings for Download and Bloodstock, and considerable radio play, with support from Radio 1’s Daniel P. Carter and Jack Saunders. 2020’s monster single Spit. propelled the pair further, stretching their streams into the millions and proving that nu-metal, when done right, still had a place in contemporary rock.
Thanks to a broad catalogue of singles that cover every inch of ground between nu-metal, electro-punk (Your Patron Saints) and rap-rock (their reimagining of N.E.R.D.’s Lapdance), a diverse and rapidly-growing fanbase were mobilised, allowing WARGASM to slot seamlessly into different environments – one day playing for YUNGBLUD’s TikTok-hungry hordes, the next stepping out in front of thousands of diehard heavy metallers at Bloodstock.
“Something I love about what we’ve built with WARGASM is that our demographic is so fucking wide – we routinely go from being the heaviest band on the line-up at one show to being the most ‘pop’ at the next,” Milkie smiles. “Anyone who’s been to a WARGASM gig will tell you that’s reflected in our crowd – you get old metal dudes in their battle jackets, teenage girls, mums, little queer punks… it’s the widest demographic of anyone I’ve seen, apart from maybe at a Dolly Parton show!”
For Milkie in particular, broad representation is important. Not only were WARGASM formed due to their members’ desire to fill a sonic void in the scene, but her experiences of touring America as a session musician confirmed to her the significance of audiences seeing women onstage with guitars.
“I had girls coming up to me after shows in the States saying they’d never seen a woman play a guitar onstage,” she remembers. “That was fucking mind-blowing to me, so now to be in a position to provide people with that is super-important.”
Speaking of mind-blowing moments, it was WARGASM’s electric appearance at Download Pilot in 2021 that confirmed for many something special was happening with the band. Rocking up to the main stage with a point to prove after many months spent shut inside, Sam and Milkie attacked their performance with venom, winning over the unfamiliar and finally getting to acquaint themselves with fans who fell in love with the all-out ragers the band dropped over lockdown.
For Sam and Milkie, it reaffirmed their belief that WARGASM could be the band they always wanted.
“At that time, we had no idea what our fans looked like, or if we even had fans,” Sam admits. “But performing Spit. on that stage and feeling the energy and respect from the crowd, that felt really good. For me, that was the moment where things kicked up a gear – since then, it’s all felt special.”
Download Pilot was, undoubtedly, a huge moment for WARGASM, offering something of a rebirth. The true genesis of their phenomenon, however, lies much further back. For one half of the duo, their roots in rural Northern Ireland fuelled a desire to discover a more welcoming world where their creativity could flourish, while for the other, WARGASM provided the lifeline required to pull themselves from the wreckage of a “rock’n’roll implosion”.
For Milkie, life growing up on the Northern Irish coastline was a far cry from the environment in which WARGASM would eventually form. She picked up the bass at 15, but despite an early desire to join a band, the closed-minded nature of her peers – “They didn’t want a girl in their group, basically,” she sighs – meant that her early musical exploits amounted to little more than those of a “bedroom bassist”. Performing in local musical theatre productions somewhat scratched her creative itch, but her frustrations at her surroundings remained.
“There’s a reason none of the young creatives stay in Ireland,” Milkie explains. “It’s a shame, but there’s no infrastructure to support creatives in those rural places. I just had to get out of there. As soon as I moved to London and started making friends in the fashion and music industries, everything clicked. It was like, ‘This is where I’m meant to be – I’m not supposed to be surrounded by closed-minded people.’”
Initially studying fashion, Milkie dropped out of university and began to make friends at the gigs she’d attend with her disposable camera, in the process becoming known as The Girl In The Pit – a project through which she’d eventually meet Sam. Alongside her photography work, Milkie was modelling in places as far away as Tokyo, while also touring as the bass player for Barns Courtney.
For Sam, the period immediately preceding the formation of WARGASM felt a little bleaker. He’d had a taste of rock star success playing guitar in Dead!, the hotly-tipped UK outfit who’d appeared at Download, Slam Dunk and Reading & Leeds, and who’d also been christened one of the Hottest Bands Of 2018 by Kerrang!. Their debut full-length The Golden Age Of Not Even Trying arrived the same year to a positive reception, but just months later it was all over as the four-piece abruptly announced their split.
“The industry pitched Dead! as an emo band, but I always felt we were a very DIY outfit,” he reflects. “There was a real Soho punk attitude to the whole thing, but then as all good rock’n’roll bands do, you have to implode at a certain point. When that happened, I was absolutely gutted. It was back to the bar job for me, and it felt like I’d lost my passion and love for music for a while, which was a weird feeling because I’d always had those voices in the back of my head telling me to play the guitar and write a song.”
Sam had already met Milkie by the time Dead! had called it a day – “Our manager got her down to a Dead! show to shoot for Girl In The Pit, and I just remember seeing this little blonde thing bobbing around the place and absolutely annihilating everyone!” he laughs – and a friendship had formed. After hanging out and bonding over a shared love of nu-metal, anime, Tarantino movies and fashion, Sam asked Milkie if she wanted to work together on some song ideas he’d had. It’s a good thing the two were already friends, because Milkie wasn’t exactly complimentary over what Sam had initially come up with.
“I was like, ‘This song suuuucks.’ It really needs work,” Milkie smiles. “Quickly, though, we got to a point where we’d be playing the tracks we’d recorded to other people in the industry and they’d be like, ‘This is so fucking good!’”
“When I decided I wanted to do a new project, I knew I wanted it to have a riot grrrl attitude with female vocals and two characters at play, almost like you were getting two sides to a story and a conversation over the music,” Sam adds. “And that’s exactly what Milkie brought to the party. The idea was for this to be the Keith Flint and Courtney Love collaboration that never was.”
It’s a bold comparison, but there’s an undeniable energy between Sam and Milkie that is unmatched in rock right now. Anyone who saw the pair at Download or watched them tear up their K! Pit set will be well aware of the raw and rowdy duality at play whenever the pair perform. Both play with attitude: Sam is a blistering ball of energy, echoing nu-metal’s finest party-starters, but it’s Milkie who so often steals the show. “An absolute fucking rock star… a nightmare punk-rock pixie,” was how Kerrang! described her Donington performance.
There’s nothing out there quite like WARGASM at the moment, and as Sam observes, it’s the relationship between the two of them that sets he and Milkie apart.
“A lot of the classic relationships in rock like The Edge and Bono and Slash and Axl, they’re fire and ice,” he says. “And I think the reason WARGASM works differently to that is because we’re fire and fire, and I think the world wants a bit of that right now.”
He’s not wrong. After years spent locked down with no shows or opportunity for fans to have the cathartic release that only comes from live music, it’s no wonder WARGASM are gaining followers at a furious pace. Their live reputation already borders on the incendiary, but as the duo look ahead to a busy 2022, that early promise will be put to the test. With big stages and bigger plans in the works, the pressure is on for Sam and Milkie deliver on the hype, and grow WARGASM into the modern rock behemoth it’s been threatening to become.
This week WARGASM embark on a mammoth UK tour as main support to Neck Deep. It’s a run of shows that will see Sam and Milkie set foot on some of the biggest stages of their careers, including London’s legendary O2 Academy Brixton, where they’ll play to an audience of 5,000. The nerves are jangling – “Especially because we don’t have loads of money to do a big-stage production,” Sam admits – but so too is there a sense of excitement, as the duo set about converting more audiences to the cause, ahead of what’s set to be WARGASM’s biggest and best year yet.
“It’s going to be really fun,” Sam says of the Neck Deep tour. “It’s a real honour to have been asked to do it, especially because it’s been such a tough time for everyone over the last few years – we’re lucky to be in a position where people want us to do so many fucking shows, and we’re so thankful, because it’s what we love doing. And to be on those stages with Neck Deep is something we can’t wait for. Plus, you’ve got Higher Power to add into the mix there as well – that’s a band who’ve really got it down. It’s a really fucking cool tour to be on.”
As well as the Neck Deep run and a stint across the pond in April supporting Enter Shikari, 2022 should finally be the year that WARGASM’s much anticipated debut album arrives. The band have thus far stuck to a steady formula of single releases, and have been hesitant to commit to when a full-length could arrive – “We’ve always said it has to be on the level of Hybrid Theory – if it’s not, then it’s not fucking coming out,” Milkie says – but despite their past reticence, it appears as though activity by way of an album is afoot.
“To be honest with you, it’s nearly done,” Sam says of WARGASM’s debut. “The way WARGASM has always worked is that we just drop tracks when we feel like it, and that’s resonated with people, but we both feel like the time is coming to release something a bit more substantial. It’s definitely on its way.”
So why the change of heart? Why, when breaking the mould for release campaigns has brought success, ditch a winning formula? Why is now the time for a WARGASM album?
“I see a lot of people in magazines say, ‘I’m inspired by Nirvana. This means everything to me. I’m so proud of it,’ and I’m like, ‘Did you really just compare yourself to fucking Nirvana?!’ Sam laughs. “People put out tracks and they’re proud of them, and I back that, but you’ve got to remember that one day in music history The Prodigy dropped Firestarter and it wasn’t even premiered on the radio – and that’s the fucking standard, you know?
“There’s something to be said for coming from a songwriter background,” he continues. “It means you always want to be better, you always want to explore and evolve, and that’s been the hold-up with the record. We wanted to get it to the point where we’re like, ‘Fuck me, this needs to come out!’”
“And we know we’re at that point now where we’re ready to release an album,” Milkie adds, “because the hardest part of being in WARGASM recently has been resisting the urge to leak all these fucking songs! They’re outrageously good – I love them so much – and I can’t wait for people to hear them.”
That might sound cocky, but WARGASM have never been ones to go about their business with humble indifference. They know they’ve got something, they know they’re different, and they know that, wherever they go, more and more people are won over by their self-described ‘angry songs for sad people’.
WARGASM are key to the UK’s current wave of innovative, angry and emotional artists – those with something to say and a dynamism to the way they say it. Along with their peers in Nova Twins, Trash Boat, Static Dress and the plethora of killer bands that make UK rock so exciting in a post-pandemic world, WARGASM are living the change they wish to see and hear.
“I like escapism and catharsis in music, and I think people need that in this age of anxiety where it feels like the world is on fire,” Sam concludes, pondering WARGASM’s purpose. “A lot of people can relate to the need to just jump onstage and scream about being pissed off. Everyone’s angry and everyone’s fucking sad, which is why we make angry songs for sad people. Whether that means WARGASM stands for something or not, I don’t know.”
Milkie, picking up the mantle from her bandmate, seems to know exactly what WARGASM’s motivations are.
“We stand for chaos.”
WARGASM tour the UK in February with Neck Deep. They will play the main stage at Download Festival in June – get your tickets now.
Take a stroll down the black carpet and into the exclusive Download Festival launch party to kickstart their 20th birthday extravaganza!
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