Plastics: Finding comfort in the uncomfortable

Brighton’s punk and hardcore scene is a special place, comments Oli Carter Hopkins, artist and lead singer in Plastics. Creativity, collaboration and a willingness to help has created a true family amongst the city’s weird and wonderful.

Have you found ways to stay creative during lockdown?

Oli Carter Hopkins I haven’t got access to a studio at the minute so things have been a bit tight for space, so what I’m working on has been smaller than usual, but I mean, I draw and paint every day even in a normal world, so I’ve been keeping busy with it now for sure.

I’ve been asked to do work on quite a few projects for people and bands, which has been helpful in keeping work going, but I’ve also been doing things for free for other musicians.

I do all the art for Plastics along with our drummer Sam Rack as it is, so I’ve been working on creating more in that area. I designed Drug Victim’s cassette tape recently (Private Revenge/Pressed On, released 26 April on Hollow Life Records) who are a really cool band.

I’ve been working on other projects for other bands either for free or really minimal charge, because obviously shit is really savage at the minute and I want people to still be able to release stuff and get cool shit done.

Do you feel like, especially now, reaching out and supporting people is more crucial than ever?

I’ve always been a proactive person and it’s nice to help people out and keep their momentum going. Some of the bands I’ve worked with aren’t necessarily local bands, Drug Victim are from the South West but that’s the thing with the hardcore scene, everyone seems to almost be in every single band so there are all these links to between Brighton bands, London bands etcetera. So whilst I would say most of the bands I’ve done things with are generally in the south it’s always cool to reach out to people in other areas.

How do you feel Brighton fits within the UK punk scene?

I think the Brighton punk and hardcore scene is super special in the way that when you hear one of the bands from here you can really tell they’re from here, it is almost as if a really specific sound has developed and I find that really, really cool. But then, for example, Ben and Talulah From Vile Spirit have moved to London and Leeds and obviously taken part of this place with them. It is really cool to see the sound travel to new parts of the UK. You’ve got bands like Saliva, who are a London band, and they’ve got a similar sound to them and it’s just really nice to see it growing and expanding to other places and people.

How did you find your way into the scene here?

I knew Lloyd from Never and I played guitar with them for a bit and then from there, through going to shows and meeting people, I ended up being mates with bloody everyone which is super great. It’s a really nice little community here.

A lot of people drop the word ‘family’ when talking about the Brighton punk community, is that something you’ve experienced?

It’s a definite thing for sure. I feel as though the only people that don’t think that are the people that haven’t been to the shows. As soon as you go to shows you realise that the people here are so awesome and so great.

James, the guitarist in Plastics does a lot of hip hop stuff with Basement Flat and recently Taff, who works on a lot of similar projects, spoke to me and now we’re collaborating on a mash up track where I’m going to do some hardcore vocals on one of his tracks, which should be really fun. Everyone is super open and as long as you want to make stuff everyone is always up for it.

In April Plastics dropped a video for BITTER, which you yourself created, is this something you’ve done before?

When I was in art school in Bristol I majored in painting, sculpture and experimental video, so all of the video creations I had done previously were super abstract, conceptual. So obviously the lockdown hit and I found myself thinking ‘I need something to do right now’ and just did what I do best, which is take a load of normal stuff and make it weird and uncomfortable and yeah, you end up sure getting something.

The idea of making people uncomfortable, is this something that acts as inspiration behind a lot of your artistic output?

Absolutely. In all of my painting work I take a lot of inspiration from surrealism, I sometimes call it ‘Drunk still life’ Where I take a load of really normal things and twist them, be it repeating patterns, or changing proportions, viewpoints. It is so that when you look at something – which say, may be super bright and colourful – you kinda really see it and go ‘wait a minute this is not as bright and nice as I thought it was’. It is almost pushing little buttons to make people feel uncomfortable without really knowing why. The video was a lot more jarring, a lot of my artwork is a lot more subliminal in that regard. It certainly feeds back into music and the band also.

It is obviously a hard time for music right now, have you got more plans for Plastics in the near future?

I’m lucky, I live with two of the other members of Plastics so we’ve been able to work on stuff. We’re writing a new record, which I’m pushing to get finished by the end of the year, which would be cool. I’m always making more designs for shirts, records, and merch. Right now I am working on a print with Sam Rack that we are hoping to release to raise money for BLM, primarily geared towards black trans women as its pride month and there’d be no pride without black trans women, so it would be cool to push that along. 

But it’s tough for sure, we had two European tours for May and an American tour for August cancelled, which is obviously a big bum out, but one of the festivals we were supposed to play has already been rescheduled for October, so assuming everything goes to plan we’ll be playing that. We’re just working on rescheduling things, Brexit and that has made Europe quite difficult, but we are hoping to reschedule everything we had planned for next year.

I work at The Hope and Ruin as well, so pretty much every aspect of my life and the music industry has been fucked up, but we’re hopeful.”

Speaking of the Hope, do you feel places like this and Sticky Mikes (RIP) are important as a physical space for the alternative community?

Absolutely. The only reason that I worked at those places was the music they put on, the community vibe that they had. I essentially got transferred over to The Hope when Stickies shut, as did so many of the booked shows, so it became a super concentrated version of everything. 

The Hope has matured, I guess as a result, it has become this centre point of all the weirdos in Brighton. Having these physical places that embody that is so important. It goes back to the sense of community, nothing is anything without the physical community. People come in when there’s no gigs on, or maybe they come in, see something is on, they didn’t know about it, go upstairs and end up enjoying themselves. We find people coming in all the time and asking us where they can go see a certain type of music or band and we can point them in the right places, which is really cool, it really keeps you in touch with everything going on in Brighton.

Also, because I get to put on shows as well, there’s a chance to use the platform to help bring bands to Brighton that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be playing here, which is really positive for everyone, it’s cool to see out of town bands play and experience what we have here.

Also places like The Cowley Club, which does free venue hire and such, these non-profit, volunteer-run spaces are so important especially for the punk and hardcore scene, hip hop also, they don’t care who you are as long as you’re respectful. We’ve done a lot of fundraisers through Final Word And raised really humblingly impressive amounts which has been really fun. Being able to give back to places that give people all these opportunities to perform is really awesome.

Sticky Mikes, gone but not forgotten, how was working there?

Stickies was a super special place. It was one of those things where everyone there was one of my best mates, it was like a big family. Don’t get me wrong it was fucking hard work, especially around things like The Great Escape, working in a venue you do get pushed to your limit a bit, but it was always super worth it when you just went downstairs, and for example, Bleeding Knees Club played for free when I was working and I was like ‘Holy fuck I haven’t heard of this band in years’ and they were just playing gigs where I worked. 

It was always really cool to see bands that maybe don’t get the chance to ever be really big and see them play these fucking awesome gigs because of these venues.