5 Questions in 5 Minutes. I interview Efa Supertramp. Hailing from Wales, Efa proudly informs us of the plethora of bands who sing in Welsh, how to find hope and optimism in current times and inspiration through Angela Davis…
1. How has speaking Welsh as a first language politicised you?
I guess speaking a minority language puts you in a minority, which automatically makes you question the majority? That would be the simplest way to put it. It’s also great to know that if people fight for something it can be saved and that we can resist the English Government’s desire to have everything it’s own way. At the beginning of the 20th century there were a million Welsh-speakers but that declined because of industralization and people being told speaking Welsh was backwards and wouldn’t get you very far in the world – people stopped teaching their children Welsh. Later in the 60’s, there was a revival and protests in favour of the language, they were largely inspired by the spirit of protest of the 60’s (Civil Rights Movement, Anti-Vietnam War protests etc) – according to censuses it continued to grow up until the last census in 2011 when it had decresed by about 2%. I didn’t fill in the last census because of its links to Lochead Martin, who are America’s largest arms manufacutrer – so it’s hard to know what the truth is, because I think a lot of Welsh-speakers are also anti-war, because of course modern warfare is largely profit-driven and is the leftovers of an empire mentality. Either way, I would say that minority languages around the world are under-threat because of mass-media influence, but now our patterns of media consumption have shifted from television to be more on-demand and internent based, we do also have the potential to create our own digital media, connect to other Welsh-speakers online and even Facebook has a Welsh-lanugage setting! Obviously these are all benefits of being a minority language within a European and digital setting, where we have access to this equipment and tools of survival…. then again it’s also important not to be Eurocentric and so focused on ‘modernity’, and to value that things don’t have to be digital to exist, they don’t even have to be written to exist, we just have to keep speaking them, thinking in them and passing them on to the next generation and not making the dominant language the normal one. For me English is just a tool into a wider world context; I am a Welsh-speaker first and foremost, it is the language of my home, my dreams and my identity.
I find it completley laughable when anarchists and leftists question the point of speaking a language which you can’t travel or ‘use’ abroard, I mean seriously, that is an argument for imperialism and a homogenous society – if you want everyone to speak English, Spanish or Chinese, isn’t that the same as wanting only Tesco, Primark and BP on your high street? Diversity is beautiful, and equal rights also means language rights and should equate to speakers of minority-languages around the world being able to use their language to live their lives. Every language has it’s own character and it’s own identity – currently, every 14 days a language dies, globalization and capitalism are to blame for this in my opinion. I don’t want to live in a world where everything is the same, we have to fight for the rights of minority and indigenous languages around the world, before it’s too late!
In saying that, I also have my problems with Welsh-language world and the Welsh-language music scene too, because of how it segregates itself based on language. I think music scenes make a lot more sense when they are based on politics, style or genres to be honest – that’s the great thing about music, you don’t need to understand the language to enjoy it. Welsh-language gigs are quite well attended, I feel there is a kind of conservatism that exists within it, most of the bands are just clean boys playing guitars their middle-class parents bought them, and to me it just didn’t satisfy the desire for pushing boundaries, questioning gender roles and being expressive. It’s too normal and boring for me to be honest. Across the years there have been loads of amazing bands and labels that have created underground music in the Welsh-language, which totally challenged this – Datblygu were one of John Peel’s favourite bands and they had the most spot-on critique of middle-class Welsh culture backed by awesome 80’s post-punk vibes, Anhrefn were a great Welsh-language punk band who toured across Europe pre-internet (they also had their own record label which released loads of greats), Y Fflaps were a female-fronted punk band, Y Tystion were a great hip-hop group and more recently Peski records released some great electronic acts pushing boundaries, including Gwenno who released a sci-fi inspired feminist electro pop record a couple of years ago. We also set up ‘Afiach’ to release radical Welsh music, which included Radio Rhydd, Lembo and myself.So yeah, I guess it’s quite complicated battling both with your English-centric left friends who tell you your language is pointless, whilst being way too weird and inspired by the underground scene to be able to relate to most Welsh-speakers who make music. I’ve always felt like I don’t really belong anywhere…. Too Welsh for the underground scene, too underground for the Welsh scene!
2. From listening to your debut record I feel there is a conscious effort to sound fresh and optimistic. Sometimes I feel protest music can often focus on the negatives. What is part of your songwriting approach?
I’m glad it sounds like that, it was not conscious at all, I guess that’s just how I was feeling at the moment and as it was my first album it was an accumulation of songs written over 5 years from when I was 18 to 23, and you can probably hear the difference in the songs from when I thought freedom was refusing to get a job and live ‘freely’ (i.e. squatting, dumpster diving, travelling, hitch-hiking etc), to realising that that was actually a privileged point of view and that freedom means a lot more than that. Nobody is free until everyone is free, and therefore me living my life outside of society is actually not that radical at all, we have to be involved in campaigns and activism which are focused on ending unjust things such as detention centres and inhumane prison sentences such as I.P.P (Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection). I guess this is the difference between just being a lifestyle anarchist, and actually participating in projects and direct action which can make a positive impact on the world.
Whilst writing my second album, I’ve actually scrapped lots of ideas because they were too negative and that is purely because of my own state of mind. After losing one of my best friends in November 2015, being homeless and sofa-surfing with friends for a while, and seeing the UK vote for Brexit and the US vote for Trump, I was finding it kind of hard to stay positive and be able to write anything with any ounce of hope in it. I don’t want to release some emo record about how sad I feel, and I don’t want to write about a dystopian nightmare (I’m saving that for my side project, Killdren) – as a political singer-songwriter, I do feel some kind of duty to lift people’s spirits and although when I started writing acoustic songs I was definitely just doing it for myself, when I’ve seen people’s reactions to some songs, and their enthusiasm just for me saying what I think in a song and them being able to relate to it, that’s what’s inspired me to keep writing. The next record will definitely include a song or two about deteriorating mental health, and losing my friend, but it won’t be all it’s about. It’s taken me longer to write than I intended, mostly because of this internal battle with myself, thinking everything’s shit and that I’m shit and that everything I write or think is shit – but I’m coming out of that now, I feel more focused and optimistic for the future. I went to an amazing talk with the activist and writer Angela Davis, and it was literally the best thing I’ve ever heard – she has been an activist since the 60’s with the Black Panthers and Communist Party in the US, she’s been framed by the C.I.A, she’s lost countless friends to the struggle and yet she is still optimistic, she is really one of those greats and I cried 5 times during the talk because it was so beautiful, to have a well-thought out arguments which still believed we can win – she said that activists have a “duty of optimism” and it really struck a chord with me – things can be better, things will be better and things don’t change over night. Sometimes it can be hard to keep going because it feels like we aren’t making any gains, but we are – it’s neo-liberalism that has convinced us that our individual lives are important when really they are not, everything we do is part of a bigger picture and a bigger process towards change. Anyway, I’m going off on one now – but I guess related to that, for me writing music is not to make a career, or to make any money or anything, it’s part of a bigger picture – reflecting what’s going on in the world, participating in activism and underground culture, and hopefully inspiring people to get involved themselves; whether it’s participating in protests or making some form of art that says “fuck you” to the right-wing governments!
3. Touring the DIY scene across Mainland Europe we all know things are very different there in terms of how spaces are used (like social centres, squats, etc) operated and supported. Something we have lost in the UK for a number of years. What do you see is possible in the UK to emulate this or even could be adapted to fit as a model in the UK?
I have toured and visited a load of mainland squats and spaces since 2012, and it’s really inspiring to see an alternative mode of operating actually working. It’s anarchism in action basically, communities running themselves, taking responsibility for themselves and creating safe, creative and radical spaces for people to enjoy. I think it is becoming harder for people everywhere to run spaces because of gentrification and change in squatting laws, and so on – I know that even in cities like Amsterdam and Berlin some really great and prestigious spaces are under serious threat of closure (ADM in Amsterdam, Köpi in Berlin) – it is very concerning because these are spaces which have existed since the 80’s and 90’s and once they’re gone, I’m not sure what will happen. They are the remnants of a very radical generation who took things into their own hands and lived their lives as protests. I don’t think this energy exists on such a large scale across Europe at the moment – it’s the same as what I hear from ex-squatters in London, it was a ‘time and a place’ kind of thing and it’s really heart-breaking to think we might be at the end of that. There are still people doing awesome actions with squatting in the UK, in the past couple of months Sisters Uncut Bristol have occupied public buildings to protest cuts to domestic violence charities, Loose Space in Manchester squatted a cinema to provide a creative art space, ANAL in London have squatted a load of millionaires houses and Temporary Autonomous Art London created a squatted art exhibition in the heart of hipster London, but all these squats are relatively short-term, and so I guess are more ‘actions’ than long-term ‘spaces’. I guess that’s why we really do need to fight and support these spaces which do still exist in mainland Europe, they are a testament to the squatting-spirit and the ethics of DIY and alternative living.
Regardless of what happens in terms of these squatted venues, I guess it’s important to focus on the possibility of things working differently – we don’t have to work with a hierarchical top-down structure, even if we have to ‘legally’ acquire and pay for spaces (like the awesome DIY Space For London have done), we can operate as co-operatives and collectives. They might be able to take away squatters rights, but they can’t take away these systems of operating and thinking, so I guess optimistically we have to look at the potential this can give us. Money sucks, and I have never tried to get a lease on a venue (and I imagine it’s pretty difficult) – however the benefits of not squatting can include: being more accessible (i.e. lots of squats are not wheelchair accessible because of weird entrances; people without status might not want to risk being somewhere which might get raided by the police etc) and knowing how long you have to work within that space (not facing violent evictions etc).
In my own experience of running spaces in the UK, I feel there are a few problems which seem to be reoccurring –
excessive use of drugs and alcohol, narcissistic characters, sexual assaults (and complicity in this behaviour) and a lack of self-awareness or self-responsibility. In the Netherlands it’s so inspiring when you visit the squats, because everyone is working on a project and wants to make the environment around them better – they do drink, and they do smoke, but it’s this kind of ‘work hard, party hard’ attitude which I think is all-round much better and fulfilling. In the UK the drinking and drugs so often overtakes the projects, it becomes and all-day, all-night thing, and I just think – this is not the world I want to live in, this is not utopia, this is not what I’m fighting for – there is more beauty, diversity and complexity to life than drinking Special Brew and listening to shit punk bands. Again, it’s this lifestyle anarchism thing – just because you don’t want to work within the capitalist system, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t contribute to the world around you. It’s this lack of responsibility for yourself and your community, and I think all these things feed into each other – the alcohol makes you not care, which makes you distance yourself from sexual assaults when they happen, which essentially is refusing to take responsibility. It is a very destructive form of existence, and maybe that’s the main difference is this focus on destruction rather than construction. In terms of sexual assaults within the activist and punk community, I am just sick to death of people making excuses for men’s fucked-up and predatory behaviour, this is one of the main things which has made me lose faith in alternative spaces in the UK and has actually made me question whether I would want to be part of a long-term project again. Rapists need to be scared, and rapists’ friends need to stop making excuses for them.
4. The zine ‘Give Me Space’ which you released about your 2015 European tour which gave an insight into your life on the road, the people you met and the places you performed gave a frank account of your experiences on the road. Currently you are releasing a new zine…can you tell us more about the upcoming zine?
The next since is continuing on the theme of space, and is going to be called ‘Taking Up Space’. It is a contributor-based zine, which will be interwoven by my own thoughts, rants and articles – I’m aiming to get it out by DIY Cultures on May 14th in London so *fingers crossed* ! The zine explores different ways of taking up space, including looking at mental health, gentrification, autonomous and free spaces and squats.
5. It’s been a while since you’ve done a collection of shows around the UK…what can people expect from this upcoming tour and in particular, the show here in Huddersfield?
Same old Efa Supertramp. I don’t really make plans or think things out……
Efa will be performing at the Red and Green club, Milnsbridge, Huddersfield on the 28th April 2017 supported by Hello Mabel, Acoustic/Folk/Punk from Warrington. Door 7.30pm and it is a Pay What You Feel entry show.