In an era of lockdowns, closed venues and curfews, music that thrives on live shows is dealing with uncertainty that was unimaginable a year ago. It’s hard to think about the impact the pandemic has had on the scene – we know of venues closing down, but many of the long-term effects are yet to be apparent. Nevertheless, the defiant, thriving sound of Bristol’s hardcore and post-punk bands isn’t going anywhere. Emblematic of the persevering and diverse band scene in Bristol are Milo’s Planes; four young men who despite their youth have already built an extensive catalogue. From early self-releases recorded in the founding members’ bedrooms, to their most recent output on Gravy Train, their three albums chart the group’s development within music, as well as their own coming-of-age. Milo’s started out as singer Joe Sherrin’s solo moniker and has steadily grown into a four-piece, the first addition being Joe’s brother Harry. “We had a band before, when I was 11 and Harry was 6” Joe reminisces over Zoom, “we were called Testys. We even recorded a tape – I can’t find it now, but recordings of ‘I Wanna Be A Lawnmower’ are out there somewhere”.
“I was writing about when I was unemployed, and all the weird routines that go with it” he says of the track; specifically, “just relentlessly eating crisps and not being very nice to yourself”.
With Harry on drums, Charlie Horne joined as a bassist by their second album, and Sam Green added a second layer of percussion for their third. There’s been a clear maturation to their sound throughout the years; “to use the technical term, it’s…thicker” they comment, and it’s true. The fuzzy, slightly emo-inflected post-punk of their early years has built up into a throbbing visceral noise that remains tight and snappy, evoking Gang of Four or Big Black. Now, over three years since their last album, they’re back with a new record called Belly - promising that “each album has intensified musically, and this one in particular…it’s definitely intense”. The lead single ‘Wreaths’, which dropped in January, gives a little of this away. Running at just under two minutes it’s a stylish compact punk number, but clean in its sound compared to what fans of the band may be familiar with. “It’s the least maximalist one on the record”, says Sam, “where we all kind of did our own thing without trying to just thicken the sound”. Easing the listener in with neat riffs, it’s the introduction to a record which builds into “mania”. Compared to previous work, Joe says, “the process of making this album was more democratic – everyone did bits on it – like Sam making that horrible instrument he plays”. “that horrible instrument” is an old plank of wood, lovingly hammered together with a few guitar strings added in something reminiscent of Seasick Steve’s bizarre personalized guitars. Its abrasive and distorted sound became a core piece of Belly, a sound they call more “demanding” that plays with complex rhythms and smatterings of math rock. Conceptually it’s taken a step towards the abstract, too. Whereas previously Joe’s lyrics centred around “the mundane, boring things in life that you can blow out of proportion” – boring people, boring work – on these songs “I was writing narratives based on characters, exploring feelings through them”.
Although COVID-19 has had an obvious impact on the band rehearsing or performing, Milo’s are used to the inability to actually get together. Having spent years spread across the country while all at university “it took ages for us to write stuff” Harry says, “but I did enjoy how we did it because it kept the songs fresh”. Stealing time to rehearse hours before shows made them urgent and exciting; before their geographical separation “we’d get sick of the songs and play loads of unreleased stuff… at our first album launch I think we played like two of those tracks and then just the whole second album”. Now, they can’t wait to play the new album at shows – despite the songs actually being recorded at the end of 2019. “We were never together”, Joe explains, “so most of these songs took a long time to write, because we could just do it as and when we saw each other”. While still deciding what to do with the record, lockdown hit – “we didn’t want to put the album out without shows” – gigs being the fun part in the sea of “admin” that surrounds releasing music. The strange existence of being a musician at a time when an integral part, the performance and shared enjoyment of music, is illegal has weighed on Joe. “I have put out a load of stuff under other projects through all this” he says, “and it’s just sort of…poof…it’s out there, maybe go and buy it?”. Disengaged from fans, sweat and tinnitus, there is a sombreness to making music right now that many have commented on. Milo’s found themselves booked for a gig, which is then rescheduled, and rescheduled again “about a million times” in 2020. Coming to the frustrating realisation that live music as we know it is still a long way off, they decided to put the album out this year regardless. True to their uniquely DIY philosophy, though, this is no standard album release. Instead, each of the ten songs is being drip-fed to fans, released as a single a month until the full album is available in October. “This approach has helped us, with not being able to gig, it keeps people excitement – like, ‘hey, that band is still a band!’”. Starting with ‘Wreaths’ and continuing this Friday with ‘Unemployee Of The Month’, each single is paired with a (very) limited edition print by Sam – “it was nice to create posters that had a consistent style so each single has this neat token” he comments, although “I always end up hating the art I’ve done after like a year…but these ones still seem pretty fun”.
The new single, written by Harry, is a prowling beast of post-hardcore influence that pounces in bursts of guitar and growled lyrics. “I was writing about when I was unemployed, and all the weird routines that go with it” he says of the track; specifically, “just relentlessly eating crisps and not being very nice to yourself”. Staccato and visceral, it teases future sweat-soaked shows. Looking beyond COVID, there is an understandable sense of nervousness about how the past year has impacted Bristol’s music scene. “There was a good sense of community in the band scene”, Charlie says, “it always felt very pally – like there’s not some intimidating scene, just your mates”. At the centre of the DIY scene here, Milo’s have been championed by local labels like Breakfast Records and Gravy Train; they are playing a twice-rescheduled show for Gravy Train this May, still restricted by social distancing measures. “It might be weird, all seated – a lot of the most fun stuff in Bristol before was a little bit debauched, so we don’t want it to feel underwhelming”. Many beloved venues have closed or been forced to crowdfund for survival after a lack of government support, and Milo’s feel worried that small venues disappearing will limit the DIY community. Thinking positively, however, “there is an opportunity to do things differently, utilise spaces that no one would have considered before or put on fun outdoor events”. While people might be anxious about larger groups or indoor spaces for a while, “people do generally find a way to put on shows and enjoy music”. For Milo’s Planes, there’s nowhere they’d rather be than playing a rowdy show at Mother’s Ruin – “it’s so tiny, you always fill it up, and someone’s definitely falling down those stairs”. Belly will be out in October 2021. The next single, ‘Unemployee Of The Month’ will be available with a limited run print exclusively from their Bandcamp on Friday 5th March: Photo by Simon Holliday – Instagram @simonholliday