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Meet Tokky Horror, the genre-blending group transforming underground music

Formed in bedrooms across the country in lockdown, Tokky Horror are now a musical force IRL.

By Sophie Porter

“We want people to be completely unable to describe it,” says Zee Divine, the producer and bassist of Tokky Horror.

Take one listen to the group and you’ll soon realise that Divine has something of a point. Tokky Horror exist somewhere in the netherworld somewhere between punk and donk, the now five-piece creating high intensity music with an honesty which encourages both fun and meaningful action.

Their live shows are celebratory, actively carving out spaces for queer folk, driven by their own identities and experiences within live music and rave culture and a passion for providing necessary representation and validation for other young gig-goers. “I think with Tokky it’s much more about being influenced by our energy, being influenced by passion,” says Divine.

The group came together in bedrooms hundreds of miles apart during lockdown, but they’re now an IRL force too – appearing at the likes of Glastonbury, Bang Face Weekender, and Boomtown, as well as touring with British rock stalwarts, Enter Shikari.

This year alone Tokky Horror has released 3 EPs (HARD JOY, CLOWN BLOOD, Kappacore), and are currently in the process of writing their debut album which is set to see the band enter into the physical writing realm, promising to be their most enthralling work yet. As they gear up to hit the road ahead of the release of the extended edition of Kappacore, featuring remixes from Bobby Wolfgang, VLURE and All Trades, plus new track ‘Leave Wiv Me’ that collaborates with alt artist Zand and vocalist Remée, we caught up with Tokky Horror’s Mollie Rush and Zee Devine to learn more…

For the uninitiated, maybe you could tell us a little bit about who you are and the band’s general inception!

Zee: I don’t know who I am! And – totally serious answer – I don’t think the band knows what we are either. It was very much a lockdown project, which I guess kind of all bands are in some way. I don’t think many people start a band with an agenda and I think those people who do are probably a bit weird, but I think we were just going to make some music and kind of see what happened under the premise of it being over the lockdown period. It had to be very virtual and we would be sending tunes back and forth, and it was really my first time ever using production software and making music through DAWs. Since then, I think we’ve just tried to kind of navigate a changing landscape with it. So it’s become much more of a live band and it’s grown from 3 to 5 and there’s probably more guitars in it now and live drums. But to say, I think what we are and what we do is probably still quite hard for us.

Leading on from that, Tokky Horror kind of straddles genres. What’s important about doing that and maybe what do you take from where, sonically or even ideologically?

Zee: I love sounds and I hate the words that people attach to sounds, and I understand why we do it because we’re linguistic creatures, and we have to communicate and want to be able to explain things. But I think we all know how much of life gets lost in semantics now, never mind something that’s kind of nuanced as music. I don’t think there’s ever really been a conversation around genre with Tokky that is positive. I think we’ve always been very kind of negative towards it – as soon as we feel we’re being pulled in one direction or we’re heading in a direction, it’s almost like, let’s do the opposite. Like, let’s completely kill that, whether that’s rock music, whether that’s electronic music or whatever, I think with Tokky it’s much more about being influenced by our energy, being influenced by passion. And you can see that across different scenes. You can see that across different genres, see that across different artistic movements. I think we just want to create basically high energy, intense music.

Mollie: I think to a certain degree I would agree with that. But then I would also disagree because I love having things in categories.

Zee: You’re the type of person that I don’t like!

Mollie: Yeah, but that’s why our music is so angry because actually we just hate each other!

I think Tokky’s been important for me in terms of crossing two worlds, in a broad sense, that I’ve always really loved, which is kind of like, I guess I would use the word hardcore for all of it, but you’ve got so many different offshoots within that. So, I would say I’ve always loved punk and metal and stuff that’s angry and loud in that way, but then, as a teenager, I started getting into drum n bass, which led me to learn more about jungle. And then I started getting into gabba and techno and all of that. So it’s like, I guess the two worlds that I’m talking about is guitar music and then rave music. But I love these two worlds so much and equally. It is really important to me that these two meet with Tokky because then otherwise I think I’d be left with the feeling of missing one or the other and would have to do something else as well.

Zee: Those words, ‘guitar music’, genuinely makes me feel a bit sick. I love playing the guitar and I love having guitar in songs and I love creating with that instrument, but when people go ‘guitar music’, I’m like, ‘What the what the fuck is that?’ Like, that spans from country to death metal!

Mollie: Well, yeah, but I was just trying to generalise between those things and I didn’t know how else to say it.

Zee: That’s it – we don’t really know how to say it. And I think that’s the pressure point Tokky wants to push. We want people to be completely unable to describe it. You know how with some bands, you go ‘Pendulum, it’s like rock and drum’n’bass’ or ‘Limp Bizkit, it’s like metal and hip hop,’ and it’s two worlds coming together. But I think we want to add so many elements to those worlds, everyone just doesn’t like it. It’s just really overwhelming and everyone’s just like ‘fuck.’

I’m guessing this is a pretty good insight into the Tokky writing process!

Zee: Yeah, that’s about 90% of it. Just us disagreeing!

Coming out of writing together virtually during lockdown, what does the process look like now?

Mollie: Well, we’ve still never all been in a studio together. And to be honest, we don’t even really practice much because I live in Bristol and then the rest of the band are in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, which are obviously a bit closer to each other. But the amount that we get in a room is not very often at all, which is a good and a bad thing. It’s not just hating each other, but it also means that a lot of our writing and practicing is done virtually. So I will practice just by listening to the songs that we’ve got in my room and just kind of screaming and annoying all my housemates. But we’ll plan the set out together, or Zee will usually plan the set out, and then we’ll have a kind of structure to it so that we all know that when we do get in a room, we kind of know what we’re going to do. And in terms of writing, it’s just the same. It’s all currently over the Internet. Moving forward from now, I think we are trying to sort that out so we can all get in a room so that everyone’s influences will feed in together a little bit more. But it’s difficult to do right now.

Zee: I think these two EPs feel like a little bit of an end of an era in that way where I’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting on the production of them, which isn’t really how it comes across live. And I don’t really think that’s what Tokky is now. I think bass, guitar, drums in Tokky is much more of a unit than what it ever used to be. So I think that the process for the album that we’re writing, which is kind of the next era, I would say, is more of, at least, the three of us getting in the room for the creation of those songs, which has kind of trickled through a bit, and you can kind of hear that as we’ve gone along. Stuff feels more like ideas we had in the room together, or on tour, or picking stuff up from being physically together. Whereas I don’t think we’ve ever made that final step into actually jamming out a song. It sounds kind of terrifying and not something I want to do if I’m honest but we’re going to do it anyway.

Does the fact that you’re writing in a virtual space contribute to the high energy of your live performances – as in, the fact that you’re finally coming together on stage? How important is that idea of breaking down the space between stage and audience to Tokky as well?

Mollie: To be honest, for me personally, the only reason I really like making music is to have it in a live setting. And you know, when you say is it important to break down the barriers between like the crowd and us? I don’t even necessarily feel like that’s something that’s being done intentionally. Everybody in the band has come from slightly different pockets of subgenres or whatever. Everybody is consistent in going to live music events or going to raves and going to parties. So we’ve all been in the crowd. We all know how it feels to be in the crowd. We know that we like it in the crowd – it’s a good place to be. And I think if you’re just enjoying the energy of a performance or the music that’s around, it just feels like a natural place to go and be. We’ve all met our friends as well in those places. I think how all of my mates that I’ve got now have met at parties or gigs and raves and stuff. So it’s the energy in the crowd and connecting with people – for me, that’s kind of what it’s all about.

Zee: The live setting is very much Mol and Ava’s playground. I’m the studio rat, I’d quite happily never play a gig again in my life, I think. But, I do like observing it from where I am on the stage and watching people enjoy the music and watching that live setting.

Thinking about that connection with the crowd, one thing that stands out is how you’re carving out safe spaces at your shows – from actively showing support for trans folk with signs on stage at Glastonbury, or talking about that idea of falling out of love with specific scenes and making your own spaces as you did in the single ‘Toilet.’ Has this always been written into Tokky’s DNA?

Zee: There’s two parts to this as an answer. The first part is: we’re accidentally quite honest, I think in our songwriting and just coming from a position of us not being massively experienced and not really caring about industry standards and not swearing, and lyrics that are accessible and not alienating people. So if Mol goes out and writes a song about being femme and wanting to drive a car really fast, that’s quite a specific niche audience of people, but we’ve kind of always just been like, ‘whatever. It’s us, it’s what we want to write about.’ There’s a queer nature to our music, as queer people making music, which I’ve always found is… the thing I connect with maybe more with artists than them being outspoken. I’ve always respected artists that aren’t outspoken just because they don’t want to be, like it’s not what they feel they should be doing in that music and, you know, kind of respect them, who just want to go and have their creation and their moment whatever without it. But on the flip side to that, I have felt, particularly within the political climate that we live in, that it would be a very Tokky thing to go and be loud about it – we’re kind of loud about everything else. We go out and kind of say what we believe and say the message in every single song, no matter how serious or, you know, kind of culturally relevant that message is, or silly and ridiculous, to just go and scream it. And it probably is just us also being quite true to ourselves because I think that’s who we are and what we’ve always done. I don’t know, it just kind of feels like what we should do. I don’t think anyone’s ever really questioned it or thought that deep on it.

Mollie: I think for me personally, it just feels like it’s something that’s been ingrained in my brain for a long time. Creating space for queer people in music is something that I care about a lot. I don’t think that when I was younger and I started out in the scenes that I was speaking about earlier, when I was going to drum’n’bass nights or even going to punk gigs, I don’t think there was representation for people like me and who I know that I am now. I’d just love it if young people who were like me when I was younger, if they can see a bit more representation and if they can hear validation and that there is space for them, that’s just something that I feel is really important to me personally. And also, I just can’t really keep my mouth shut about that kind of thing. So I can’t really imagine doing a project where I’m not talking about these things because it’s important to me. But I feel like, with Tokky, it was just a very natural thing that our crowd actually does consist of quite a lot of young queer people, which is really lovely. Again, it just leads back to that connection that I was talking about earlier. But yeah, I think it was just like a natural occurrence, really.

Having come up in a more underground scene, how did it feel to debut at Glastonbury festival this year?

Zee: It feels good, to be honest about it. I think I find in that space is where the project really connects and where we can kind of deliver our music and in the best environment and, having played for a couple of years in punk clubs and with other projects and in DIY spaces, I think to finally be on a stage that is a bigger, physically bigger, where the system is bigger, there’s more people there, it’s late at night, I think that’s where we can really convey what we’re trying to do, particularly with the rave elements of the sound we can really kind of connect. The sun’s coming down, it’s Glastonbury, we’ve been up for 72 hours – I think that’s really where Tokky is the most fitting environment.

Loved touring with Enter Shikari, we love playing little punk clubs, but 7pm on a Tuesday in Stoke just doesn’t necessarily present us in a way where the music is kind of most effective. Which isn’t to say we don’t tailor the sets and we don’t want to do that stuff and obviously we’ll all play whenever we see fit, but I think those moments like Glastonbury and Boomtown and Bang Face, that’s like home turf for us. It’s actually been more comfortable playing the bigger shows than smaller shows.

Mollie: And I like the bigger stages because I can run around more! Glastonbury was a bit of a high moment for us because, to be completely honest, we got booked kind of last minute and we were kind of thinking, ‘Oh, this might be something that happens in the next few years, hopefully.’ And then also to be on that stage as well in Shangri-La, which is an area of people that do talk about political issues that we would align ourselves with. I think that was really special. And also like the reception that we got, not only from the little audience that we had, but also the crew of the stage was really great. So yeah, I think it was a high moment for all of us I reckon.

Zee: Yeah, and Lana Del Rey cut her set short to come and see us. Everyone was wondering why she cut it short, but she actually just wanted to see us do the Gullyteen Remix of ‘Girlracer’, she said she was big into the Merseyside donk sound.

Mollie: She loves her hard tech, Lana Del Rey.

The Kappacore Xtended Edition is available on vinyl from Venn Records on 06/10/23.

Catch Tokky Horror on the road:

06.10 – Newcastle – Zerox

07.10 – Glasgow – Hugh + Pint

12.10 – Bristol – Exchange

13.10 – London – Camden Assembly

02.11 – Leeds – Oporto

03.11 – Liverpool – 24 Kitchen Street