Manchester troupe create a collision of dub-punk, politics and homemade capes.
As the sun sets on Haggerston Park in East London, Manchester band ILL are posing for photos in an assortment of dazzling homemade capes, silver and purple sequins glinting against the greenery. Passers-by stop and stare, but they’d be even more agog if they could hear ILL in action: the group’s raucous, uninhibited post-punk racket is about as attention-grabbing as it gets. ILL burst into life in 2012, when vocalist Harri Shanahan, drummer Fiona Ledgard and bassist Whitney Bluzma decided to form their own band after playing together in Womb, a women’s improvisation collective born out of the drone, psych and noise scene surrounding Manchester arts venue Islington Mill. Joined by Tamsin Middleton on guitar, plus occasional contributor Sadie Noble, initially their new venture was also an improv band, but over time their jams solidified into a series of more traditional tracks, many of which are collected on their thrilling debut album, We Are ILL. “We’ve gone from weird abstract industrial to quite poppy,” is how Bluzma describes their transition. While “poppy” might not be the first adjective that springs to mind when listening to offbeat tunes about intergalactic misogyny (Space Dick) and disturbing public transport experiences (Bus Shelter), there’s certainly something infectiously entertaining about the group’s droll, dub-laced DIY rock. Not to mention their zany music videos, which feature garish make-up, fake beards and heaps of wonky special effects. Alongside the green-screen-related japes, the group are intent on making a more
serious statement. The name ILL came from an insult thrown at the band when they first started, and fed into the correlation they saw between women doing what they wanted and being branded as unwell. “I was reading a lot of history of medicine and they’d lock you up in an asylum for reading a novel, or being a lesbian,” says Shanahan. “Removing ovaries to cure hysteria,” chips in Bluzma. “It makes me very, very angry,” continues Shanahan, explaining that their name, along with tracks such as ILL Song and Hysteria, act as “a reclaiming – a riposte to the pathologising and demonising of women.” For the band members themselves, ILL functions as a beacon of solidarity that goes beyond the music. “There’s always been something great about women’s hobby groups, and being in this band it’s the same kind of security and support,” says Bluzma. Shanahan agrees. “It’s catharsis, it’s resistance, it’s therapy, it’s union and it’s protest. And it’s fun.” The latter is something ILL are keen to keep at the forefront of their activity – plans for the immediate future include recording new material and going “more disco”. “It makes people feel amazing – it’s liberating,” explains Ledgard. “…And to justify these capes,” quips Shanahan. Really, ILL’s sparkly sartorial choices are already a fitting accompaniment to their music: a celebration of womanhood that’s wry, gleeful and brilliantly bold.
“It’s catharsis, it’s resistance, it’s therapy, it’s union and it’s protest. And it’s fun.”
Capes of good hope: ILL (from left, Tamsin Middleton, Harri Shanahan (front), Sadie Noble, Whitney Bluzma and Fiona Ledgard), Haggerston Park, East London, 11 May, 2018.