Sparse electronic post-punk funk duo Sink Ya Teeth get stuck into their debut album, touring with ACR and why they’re finished with Morrissey
Spend a couple hours in the pub with Sink Ya Teeth, the post-punk minimalist electro duo of singer Maria Uzor and bass player Gemma Cullingford, and you’ll witness them enthusiastically work their way through several pints of ale while they share stories punctuated with regular outbursts of double entendre-inspired laughter.
You will also be told several times after a particularly fruity anecdote,”Fucking hell, don’t put that down… I can’t say that!”.
Example: They were being given a gong at a local newspaper’s arts awards recently. They had already become uncontrollable during the videotaped interviews they’d had to endure before the ceremony (they’d had “a couple of pints”) and couldn’t actually complete the interview. And when they encountered local TV presenter Helen McDermott on stage during the ceremony, it got worse.
“She asked what Sink Ya Teeth meant,” recounts Gemma, “and Maria said, ‘Come on Helen, you’re old enough! You’ve been around the block’.”
“Oh God, did I? I probably did,” says Maria.
“You did! Then you said, ‘Oh sorry! I love you!’.”
“I don’t remember her taking offence though.”
“That’s because she’d necked two bottles of Prosecco…”
They still won, though. Hashtag winning.
Sink Ya Teeth also strategise on the hoof, questioning their own decisions about future plans and making new ones, admitting that they weren’t entirely sure what the previous strategy was in the first place. Do they have a manager?
“No,” says Gemma. “Is it obvious?”
“We work too fast for a manager,” says Maria. “Do you want another drink?”
No thanks, I haven’t really started this one yet…
“Righto,” she says and disappears to the bar.
We’re here because Sink Ya Teeth’s debut album, recorded at their home studio, has just landed. It comes hard on the heels of a couple of well-received limited edition seven-inch singles (the sparse, catchy ‘If You See Me’ and the Moroder/Donna Summer pulsing of ‘Glass’), which got them noticed enough to secure some high-profile support slots with the likes of !!! and Manchester legends, A Certain Ratio. ACR in particular have taken Sink Ya Teeth under their wing. How did that cosy relationship come about?
“I met this woman in the loo at a gig we were playing with !!! in Manchester,” says Gemma. She loved Sink Ya Teeth, her husband loved them too, so she sent him over to the merch stall to say hello. Turns out said husband was ACR trumpet and guitar wrangler, Martin Moscrop.
The pair had the presence of mind to badger him for any support slots he could throw their way. He did just that, and by all accounts they’ve been going down a treat at the shows.
“The crowds seem to really like us,” says Gemma, happily. “We’ve had people dancing even though we’ve been going on early.”
ACR personify the peculiar nexus of Manchester and the New York City of the late 1970s and early 80s, and that’s perhaps also the best time and place to locate Sink Ya Teeth, despite them being from Norwich, England, in 2018.
Back then, Factory Records and A Certain Ratio, together with the nascent New Order, encountered a music scene in NYC where sparse drum machine dance beats were powering a splintered club music scene that was still in a celebrant disco mood, but charged by the frenetic energy and artfulness of post-punk, while starting to thrill to the sound of hip hop and electro.
Factory were particularly impressed by an act called ESG, four sisters and their pals from the Bronx who played a primitive, hypnotic live electro using drums, percussion, bass and vocals. They were a mesmerising offering, a bridge between New York’s no wave art rock and black dance music, who also happened to embrace punk’s DIY lo-fi aesthetic. Factory immediately shipped them to Manchester where Joy Division sound sculptor Martin Hannett produced their legendary 1981 debut EP. ESG are the band most often mentioned in the same breath as Sink Ya Teeth. All that said, this musical legacy is Gemma’s bag, but not so much Maria’s.
“That post-punk scene was in Gemma’s mind, but it wasn’t on my mind at all,” says Maria. “I do like what I’ve heard of post-punk, but I really like early Chicago house, and the more black side of early 1980s music. I love Prince, Zapp, early hip hop like Erik B & Rakim…”
This is all falling into place. Sink Ya Teeth’s mojo almost unconsciously mines the same rich vein that fuelled New York and then Manchester’s launch into a decade of invention and innovation throughout the 1980s; a happy collision of the traditions of black dance music and the tension of white art rock. But there’s a catch.
“I really love The Smiths,” says Maria.
Ah! The Smiths. The 1980s jangly indie outfit fronted by Morrissey, that well-known enthusiast for right wing fucknuts Nigel Farage and, more recently, UKIP splinter group, For Britain. Well this is awkward…
“I know!” she moans. “I got into them when I was 14. You know how it is when you discover music at that age. It means everything to you and it stays with you forever.”
Did you start wondering about him when you heard his solo albums?
“I remember listening to ‘Viva Hate’ when I was teenager,” she says, “and there’s that track ‘Bengali In Platforms’ and I was thinking, ‘That… doesn’t… seem… right…’, but I wasn’t sure if it was meant ironically, so I didn’t push it any further, because I didn’t actually know.”
You gave it a pass because you loved the music so much?
“I thought, ‘It surely can’t be that blatant’. But in hindsight it was that fucking blatant,” she sighs.
“It feels like fraud after all these years,” adds Gemma. “You feel like you’ve wasted all that energy you’ve put into them. The songs are really good, but, yeah, I’m finished with him. I might as well resign myself to it – he’s a cunt.”
There’s a lot of it about.
“People are fearful aren’t they?” says Maria. “The whole thing of divide and conquer.”
She mentions the Adam Curtis film, ‘HyperNormalisation’.
‘What is it?’ asks Gemma.
“It’s a documentary about how the world got to where it is today; it predicts the rise of Trump, it starts in the 70s, when New York was bankrupt and how it influenced the path we find ourselves on now.”
“I’m not very political… I like to… I don’t know much,” says Gemma, slightly defeated.
“I’m political by my very fucking existence,” says Maria. “I have no choice but to be political. I didn’t choose being political, I can’t step away from an argument.”
“The way I was brought up,” ponders Gemma, “I didn’t watch much telly, so there’s a lot I don’t know, and it’s overwhelming. Whatever I learn now, I don’t have much context for. Oh God, now I’m doing therapy… I used to be in my bedroom dancing to music, my parents didn’t talk about politics.”
“When I was 10, I was in my bedroom dancing to music with a hairbrush or a tennis racket,” says Maria. “It’s what you do at that age. That would be my escapism, but then I would wake up and go into the world and get some political shit happen to me.”
The experience of racism, you mean?
“Yeah, I did experience a lot of racism growing up. And I would feel really shit about myself, so you can’t help but be involved. I did go through a period of low self-esteem, because… who wouldn’t? If you’ve experienced stuff like that, you start to question yourself, ‘Am I really shit? Am I worthless?’. Then you rebuild your sense of who you are and then when you’re on stage you can channel that pain you remember from the past, but also that kind of ‘Fuck you’ element that you have…”
You certainly get the feeling you don’t want to get on the wrong side of Sink Ya Teeth. It’s in the way Maria delivers the lyrics. She doesn’t hold back. She is by turns confrontational (“Why do you have to be so damn complicated?!” she yells in ‘Complicated’, going on to berate the object of her ire for not bothering to write “one damn email”), icily contemptuous, especially as she murmurs the opening line of the album: “He has got a fault with me/A thorn as far as I can see” (‘Freak 4 The Kick’), and moodily disconsolate in the comedown of ‘If You See Me’. The whole album has a pall of ennui hanging over its grooves, a sense of the emptiness brought on when hedonism is assailed by uninvited self-awareness.
“I like a bit of darkness,” affirms Maria with a grin. “Not too much, just enough to bitter up the sweetness.”
“I like the contradiction between the dancey feel-good music and the words,” says Gemma.
“Beauty doesn’t exist without a little bit of its opposite,” nods Maria. “Like ‘Substitutes’ off the album, it’s about having a good time, but constantly looking over at your friend and thinking they’re going to stab you in the back tomorrow.”
Dark indeed. The words are all Maria’s. Gemma says she can’t write lyrics.
“I think there’s something oppressed,” says Gemma. “I need therapy, I can’t get anything out.”
“You need to relax, Gemma,” implores Maria. “I feel very comfortable in this band, we fart in front of each other. Well, I fart in front of Gemma… I’ve never heard her fart actually. The first time I farted at band practice, fucking hell, she went red!”
“No!” says Gemma, mildly affronted.
“You did! You were totally blushing and went totally quiet!”
“I’m going red now.”
It’s true, she is. And she’s hiding behind her pint glass.
“You have to fart,” says Maria, “or your head’s going to explode. It’ll swell up…”
“I could do with a bigger head.”
“So then it would be same size as mine.”
“I’ve got a really small head.”
“When we do photo shoots, Gemma goes in the front and I go behind so our heads look similar sizes. Seriously!”
They’re nearly crying with laughter now. Is there drama in your life now, Maria? Is that where the lyrics come from?
“I do like drama!” chuckles Maria. “Not like, ‘Roll up your sleeves and punch their teeth out’ kind of drama.”
Are you sure?
“I’ve never hit anyone in my life! I don’t know what it’s like to hit anyone, and I want to go through my entire life without having to.”
“Oh!” says Gemma, interested.
“Well, no, but, I’m thinking how far could I push it? Hmm!”
“The band is still quite young…”
“Do you fancy another pint?” asks Gemma, rapidly changing the subject.
Oh, go on then…
‘Sink Ya Teeth’ is released by Hey Buffalo