Rock music is nothing without its idols. The kind of gender-fucking, convention-skewering icons that have misfit teens smudging their eyes with kohl and covering their bedroom posters with lipstick kisses. Whose music teleports you into a kaleidoscopic dimension while also making your everyday life richer. If you haven’t had that feeling for a while, look no further than The Ninth Wave, today’s most intoxicating new band.
The four-piece music is majestic dark post-punk laced with stealth pop hooks and a firmly DIY ethos — at one 2016 gig in their hometown of Glasgow, they created a makeshift stage from disused palettes in a railway arch. But, unlike many of their scene’s peers, they treated their scrappy live shows as if they were being Periscoped to the world, and dressed accordingly in razor-sharp outfits that looked transplanted straight from the iconic ’80s counter-cultural club night Blitz. As well as cementing a reputation as a must-see live act, and alongside their two early EPs being lauded by BBC Radio 1 and The Guardian, their style nous also led to organic collaborations with fashion iconoclasts including Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane and London’s most disruptive new designer, Charles Jeffrey. “We never started with a mindset of ‘We want to be like this band,’” says frontman Haydn Park-Patterson, with a decisive tone. “We’re always trying to do something new.”
Integral to that is the four-piece’s yin-yang synergy, meshing the stately vocals and songwriting of Haydn with the melodic nous of bassist and vocalist Millie Kidd, as well as the technical finesse of percussionist Lewis Tollan. Take their 2019 single “Half Pure” — a narcotic mesh of crunching industrial textures with icy synths, and a gargantuan chorus that’s the stuff of goth-pop dreams — with pointed lyrics that skewer pack-mentality thinking. “Now you’ve misplaced your face, You’ll wear another one instead,” Haydn ominously intones, singing as if he’s getting rid of something with a bad taste. “Sometimes people don’t think for themselves anymore,” he explains. “You’re fed a certain way to think and a certain way to act, which is quite scary. ‘Half Pure’ is a lament about the frustration of existing inside our plastic WW3.” Later this year, The Ninth Wave will be bringing that uncompromising message to a support slot with BRIT Award-nominees CHVRCHES, as well as key festival spots at industry hub SxSW in Austin, TX, and Glasgow’s venerated Stag & Dagger weekender.
“Half Pure” is only a taste of the sonic sorcery that The Ninth Wave are preparing to unveil this year. Get ready for their essential, sonically daring debut album Infancy to be released in two parts. Produced by Dan Austin (Massive Attack, Sløtface), who the band have worked with since 2016, it’s a brooding listen which boldly expands the band’s sonic palette and, at times, brings to mind New Wave, surf rock, post-punk, and sublime alt-pop. “The sound of the band has changed while we’ve been in the studio with Dan,” says Haydn. “You have the chance to experiment with things that you don’t have in your own studio, like old synths that are far too expensive to actually buy. On this album, there’s lot of new elements. There’s modular drums and stuff that we’ve never done before, and it’s a lot more synth-based as well. It just feels like we’ve been growing until this point.”
The album also represents a creative epiphany for Haydn. “The lyrics written for this album are much more personal,” he says. “Instead of looking out at people and observing the way that people act, which was a lot of the first EPs, this is a lot more insular.” For instance, on Infancy’s stadium-sized album opener “This Broken Design,” he sings of torment and paranoia. (“Facing all of them,” he roars in a sublime synth-pop chorus. “But all of them are you.”). For the album’s epic, driving closer “Flower Into Wounds,” Haydn riffed on a favourite literary passage to craft an anthem of self-annihilation. “I took it from Crash,” he says, referencing JG Ballard’s twisted exploration of people with an erotic fetish for car accidents. “In it, the guy’s looking at his body and he says ‘My body’s flowering into wounds.’ So I was just like, ‘How else can you think about that?’ That song is about not being fully accepted.”
Haydn is softly-spoken but possesses the sharp self-assuredness of a young man who’s had a lot of time to think, and is proudly coming into his own. With his raven-black attire, silver pentagram ring borrowed from his mum — and shock of bleach-blonde hair — he’d fit right in on stage with goth-pop legends like Depeche Mode or Siouxsie Sioux, though you can’t quite imagine him settling for being in the background.
His confidence was hard-won. Growing up in the sleepy Glasgow suburb of Barrhead, Haydn felt like “no-one else was on the same wavelength” as him from a young age. Luckily, his parents’ record collection offered him an escape, introducing him to Stevie Nicks, JJ Cale, and AC/DC — the first band he saw live (“I almost fainted when they walked on stage,” he laughs). By the age of seven, Haydn was playing guitar, and developed an obsession with the instrument, strumming it alone in his bedroom for “hours.” Life wasn’t always as calm outside his family home. “You’d always get old men shouting at you and stuff,” he says. “I brushed it off. It’s not totally their fault for being a bit close-minded. It’s just not what they know.” In 2016, he met Lewis at a gig, after the drummer noticed Haydn walking on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, and the pair decided to have a stab at making music. Haydn and Lewis’ creative relationship was effortlessly fruitful, and, after a few line-up shuffles, The Ninth Wave settled on its current incarnation — Haydn, Millie, Lewis and Kyalo — in 2017. “In the last year and a half it’s felt solid,” Haydn says. “Everything’s settled down, and we feel like a proper band.”
In this way, Infancy seems like an apt title for The Ninth Wave’s storming new record. It’s the kind of music that could galvanise a generation, or at least nurture new trains of thought in their listeners. And it’s thrilling to have the sense that Haydn, Millie, Lewis and Kyalo are just in the infancy of an enduring career. Most charmingly of all might be the sense that Haydn is only just truly realising The Ninth Wave’s clear potential to be idols to an army of fans. With wide eyes, he describes the frenzied crowd response to hearing “This Broken Design” for the first time at a recent live show. “To see people reacting to that — a brand new song, they’ve never heard it before — and you can tell they’re really into it…” He trails off, before his face cracks into a smile. “It’s quite a nice feeling, ‘cause you know it’s not just cause they know it — it’s that they’re feeling something from it.”