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Meet Hex Girlfriend, the duo combining gritty industrial sounds with their own theatrics

Hex Girlfriend are the industrial noisemakers with a playful edge...

By Nick Reilly

Hex Girlfriend (Picture: Press)

By their own admission, anyone wanting to truly understand the duo that is Hex Girlfriend – friends Noah Yorke (more on that recognisable surname later) and James Knott – needs to attend one of the duo’s chaotic live shows – which are fast becoming a word of mouth sensation in underground circles.

It’s here where, according to one video from last year, you’ll find the duo caked in white make up – with James grinning menacingly like a lunatic clown who has long been abandoned by his own circus – while dishing out an almighty industrial racket.

While comparisons to Nine Inch Nails might be the obvious jumping off point for this pair, they combine those heavy sounds with lighter, pop driven sensibilities too.

“In the noughties, it felt like that at that time you were either a serious person who liked NIN and grunge and heavy music, or you were a pop person who liked Britney Spears. This is meant to be the collision of those two things,” Noah succinctly tells Rolling Stone UK.

All that, and that aforementioned love for clowning around too. “For us it’s quite fun turning up to a venue and just having this makeup and trying to put a lot of emphasis into the performance to separate it,” James explains.

You can read our interview with James and Noah on all things Hex Girlfriend, what the duo are about, and why any comparisons to a very famous father’s band are made at your own peril…

Afternoon, Hex Girlfriend. Where do we find you at the moment?

James: We’re in Slovenia for a festival called MENT, which is our first proper international gig. But we’re playing at half eleven tonight and we’re gonna be very sleepy.

That feels like a natural slot for you in some ways though. Your music leans into the industrial side of things which is likely to give punters a kick up the arse if they’re drifting off…

James: Yeah, we really rely on crowd reaction and it’s such a high energy thing that we deliver as a band. If the energy isn’t there it can make it really difficult for us, so I think today will be good. The fact it’s going to be dark and in a dingy venue, that’s going to work in our favour. For us, getting the right space is so important as we’re trying to have a shared experience and I think tonight, we’ll get lucky with that.

The whole point of our PlayNext series is giving artists a chance to tell Rolling Stone UK readers what they’re about. If you had an elevator pitch, how would you describe Hex Girlfriend?

Noah: Oh man! I’m not sure we have an elevator pitch. We normally apologise to people who have heard our music! But I think there’s a lack of humour in music and we like hiding seriousness under a layer of theatricality. There’s only two of us, so it’s not like watching a band play necessarily. We have to make up for that with intensity and this cartoonish element to us. Everything is turned up to 11.

James: If anyone was wondering what our music was about, I’d just tell them to come to a show because that’s where it really comes alive. We’ve been very DIY with how we’ve recorded stuff, right up until our last song ‘Cafe Culture’. We make stuff at home on a laptop, it’s recorded awfully to be honest and it just started out as a bit of fun. The stuff we’ve recorded is good, but I think the live show is what it’s really about with us.

To my ears at least, it sounds like what would have happened if Nine Inch Nails had ever decided to experiment with funk.

Noah: Yeah that’s pretty much on the nose! I’ve described it before as pop music filtered through industrial music. I really like Nine Inch Nails and their stage presence and their production. How all the noise that comes through but they’re still pop songs in a way. They have a catchiness to them and we’re a bit like that, but there’s a lightheartedness to it and a groove to it. It’s accessible, but also quite brutal.

James: I try and visualise it like noughties MTV, but on another level. There’s something quite cool and attractive about taking the era of cheesy pop where there was this OTT attitude with boybands and just throwing some grit into it.

Noah: It felt like that at that time you were either a serious person who liked NIN and grunge and heavy music, or you were a pop person who liked Britney Spears. This is meant to be the collision of those two things.

But at the same time, you’re hiding behind an element of theatricality too?

Noah: Yeah, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of bands at the moment who talk about things being their true self projected through music. I think we both find a lot of freedom in the idea of character and the idea that people of used to do that and then there’s a lot less of it now. You can find a little niche for yourself. But with a bit of grittiness thrown in too.

James: It’s funny because we went to Download Festival and a lot of the music’s actually not what I would be into, but my favourite performance was by KISS. It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. The over the top theatrics, the face paint. It’s a spectacle. They had so much fire. I think it’s impossible to watch something like that and even if you don’t like the music, to be like, oh, that was quite something.

It’s interesting because in London there’s so many of these pub venues that we’ve done the circuit on and we’re still doing the circuit on. But it’s the performance that separates it. A lot of the time the music might be great, but you’re watching the band replay the record. For us it’s quite fun turning up to a venue and just having this makeup and trying to put a lot of emphasis into the performance to separate it.

It’s clear you’ve got massive live ambitions. Noah, your dad is Thom Yorke – who of course is no stranger to putting on a brilliant live show himself. Have you bounced ideas off him for your own live shows or for the band in general?

Noah: Ahhh. Well, I just think this has absolutely nothing to do with that to be honest. It’s just very – I don’t want to say depressing – but it’s very tiring. Especially with this, which is so far removed. What does this have to do with him? Nothing, I would say this is between us as a duo. I think everybody has a preconceived idea of what might be going on behind the scenes in terms of creating ideas and bouncing stuff off different people. I think the only people we bounce off is each other, to be honest. To the point where no one else gets it. I don’t know if he gets it. I hope he does, but I don’t really talk to him much about it.

I respect his opinion greatly but it’s so far removed that it’s not something I think about. It’s a bit exhausting, because it makes no sense. We’ve made a song called Freakshow which is on Spotify and I think that’s about as diametrically opposed to anything he’s done. If you’re listening to The Smile, who are amazing by the way, you’re not going to find us on related artists. It would freak you out.

That’s fair, but with your dad being as prolific as he is, you must have had an idea that this question was likely to pop up in interviews right?

Noah: Well I had hoped that it wouldn’t. Again, this is just so far removed from that, I get why people might ask, but I don’t think this has anything to do with that.

James: Yeah, we put out our music on my label, we’ve got 1,000 followers and we’ve played The George Tavern. It’s not like we’re playing Wembley. I think a lot of people might ask you [Noah] questions when they should try and reach out to him.

What’s the rest of 2024 looking like for you?

James: We’ve got 90 or demos and we’ve lived together for four years now. I’ve got Ableton on my laptop and there’s maybe 90 or so demos in the folder. We just have so much stuff and a lot of it is very disparate, genre wise. There’s all kinds of stuff in there.

Noah: There’s beautiful ones, there’s harsh ones and we make whatever we feel like making and I guess we’ll see where that takes us. If people wanna come and see it then and give us opportunities to play in places, then we’ll fucking do it. We’re up for anything.