Skip to main content

Home Music Music Features

The Last Dinner Party: ‘we like to go between the grotesque and the beautiful’

As they release 'Sinner', their anthem-in-waiting second single, The Last Dinner Party tell Rolling Stone UK about the journey to becoming 2023's most exciting band.

By Nick Reilly

The Last Dinner Party live in London (Picture: Jamie Macmillan)

It’s a boiling Tuesday night in June, and I find myself at Oslo, an intimate venue in deepest east London where the ice in the drinks is melting at a rate that makes Earth’s polar ice caps look positively tortoise-like.

In the middle of this sweltering scene, the crowd are decked out in a variety of straw hats, extravagant floral crowns and flowing white tops. There would be something quaint about the pastoral display, were it not for the fact that the outfits seem eerily reminiscent of those worn by the grinning loons who condemned Florence Pugh and Christopher Lee to their respective grisly ends in Midsommar and The Wicker Man.

But rest easy, I write this dispatch hours later, with my life firmly intact and having avoided so much as a single mention of the dreaded words ‘funeral pyre’. Instead, the unsettling scene is the work of The Last Dinner Party, who are the most exciting British band to have emerged in 2023.

The group, who arrived in April with the art-rock bombast of first single ‘Nothing Matters’, one of the great debut tracks of our times, unashamedly revel in the theatrics of live music. It means that tonight’s crowd have been asked to wear outfits following a theme of folk-horror — and large swathes of those in attendance have happily followed suit. Similarly, an early gig in Camden saw their fans donning tuxedos and ball gowns for a night at the opera.

“Welcome to our little ritual,” comes the mildly disconcerting introduction from lead singer Abigail Morris, decked out in a messianic crown of thorns. The rest of the all-female five-piece have admirably led from the top in their outfits too, with lead guitarist Emily Roberts standing out in a blood-stained top.

(Picture: Jamie Macmillan)

“We like to go between the grotesque and the beautiful — I think that’s our whole, kind of, ethos,” explains bassist Georgia Davies. “We want to keep cultivating that — the idea of somewhere where you can dress up and be extravagant and over the top and not feel restricted by being too cool or too reserved. We want to create a community where flamboyance is expected.”

“We’re very proud that that’s our audience,” adds Morris.

This sense of community is already working wonders.

“We saw a journalist at one of our early gigs who turned up in jeans and a T-shirt, went to the loo and re-emerged in a ball gown. That was amazing,” Davies explains.

It’s an extravagance reflected in their own music too. There are shades of early Kate Bush in the commanding presence of Morris, while their sound takes in everything from the frenetic highs of Sparks to a touch of baroque pop.

The group began life when Morris, Davies and guitarist Lizzie Mayland met at university in London and spent their time watching cult south London acts such as Black Midi and HMLTD. They later became friends with Roberts and Aurora Nischevi (keys), who completed the group’s line-up.

(Picture: Dan Sullivan)

Their close bond becomes immediately clear during our interview. At one point, when discussing their gigs, both Nischevi and Davies mention the group’s “live energy” at precisely the same moment. It’s like the feted cinematic ideal of finishing each other’s sentences, but for them it’s very real.

“It’s freaky that it happens almost every time we’re together. We’ll just say something at the same time and it literally happens so often,” Morris adds.

These close ties have also allowed the group to enjoy an openness that’s key for a band making waves and tentative steps in a notoriously volatile industry.

“It helps that we were friends before because we’re never intimidated by each other. Whether that’s having an opinion or an idea about how we can change a song,” Davies explains.

The strategy is clearly working wonders. While ‘Nothing Matters’ may have seen the group receive widespread acclaim and even a message of congratulation from Garbage’s Shirley Manson, brief snapshots of their other material proves that the song was no flash in the pan.

The next single ‘Sinner’ , which is out today, revels in new-wave guitars and sounds like the soundtrack to a bacchanalian orgy in old Soho. Other songs at their live show prove they’re capable of pulling out moments of stadium-primed, hands-in-the-air balladry, too.

They’ve been working on those songs with James Ford — the Arctic Monkeys producer who for the most part seems to be in possession of a mixing desk blessed by King Midas himself. The Last Dinner Party look sure to continue his sensational hot streak.

“I think I can speak for all of us when I say he’s the best person we’ve ever worked with musically,” says Morris of collaborating with Ford on the songs that the band are yet to unveil.

“He’s so talented, but he’s so kind and so calm that you don’t feel like you’re in a room with this big producer who’s going to take over the session and make it his own thing. You just feel like you’re with someone who really cares about what you’re doing, believes in you and is just there to elevate your music.”

Davies adds: “There was no ego, it was just taking what we had already done and giving it a sense of a bit more, a little bit more synth in places and a little more organ.” 

(Picture: Dan Sullivan)

Still, the presence of a big name like Ford is one of the things that has seen the group facing unexpected and unfair criticism. Detractors say that the super-producer’s involvement and sharing the same management as acts like Metallica is proof that the band is an ‘industry plant’.

The oblique phrase, which emerged on social media, is somewhat hard to pinpoint, but it’s used by critics who believe that the shimmering brilliance of their debut single can’t have happened on its own. They are convinced that The Last Dinner Party *must* have been cooked up in a lab by a record label executive whose eyes have long since been replaced by dollar bills.

The reality is that those friendships brought them together, with the group previously describing the criticism as a “nasty lie”.

“It felt inevitable; we know enough about the music industry to know how people are perceived, and because we came out fully formed and with such a clear vision, I think it immediately put some people’s backs up because they expect an unrealistic trajectory for a band to not come out fully formed,” explains Morris.

The Last Dinner Party backstage in London (Picture: Jamie Macmillan)

“From the start, we were so ambitious and desperate to stand out as a clear musical vision that perhaps we ended up looking too put together. No one says that about Yard Act or Sports Team, who are on the same label as us,” she says.

“There’s no shade and we love them, but they wear T-shirts and jeans and it’s like, well, we dress ourselves too, but it’s just funny that people seem to see young, nicely put-together women who can also play their instruments and assume it can’t be real.”

Chiming in, Nischevi adds: “We know we’re lucky to be on a label and we’ve never hidden from that.”

Instead, the band are keen to just let their music do the talking. Their stunning Glastonbury debut saw them attracting a packed tent as they opened the Woodsies Stage, while the rest of 2023 will see more releases, their own headline tour and the chance to hit the road with Hozier, too. A debut album is expected to arrive at some point next year.

“We have so much range in the music and in the genres that we do, and we don’t want to be pigeonholed into one style,” insists Morris. “We don’t want everyone to think ‘Oh, The Last Dinner Party just means, like, a corset and a big skirt.’ It’s boring just to do continuous themes in our styles and music. 2023, 2024 and 2025 are going to be massive for us, but then I’m going to work on a farm,” Morris jokingly concedes.

Maybe those Wicker Man comparisons aren’t so far removed from reality after all…

Taken from issue 12 of Rolling Stone UK. Buy your copy here.