Though CMJ brings thousands of musicians to NYC venues every October, when the badged masses huddle together and compare notes, offering recommendations for can’t-miss acts, it quickly becomes clear which bands are “winning” the Music Marathon – bands that somehow manage to be everywhere at once, never giving a dull performance despite the hectic schedule while generating tons of buzz in the process. This year, everyone was talking about Shopping, who came all the way from London for their first shows in the states, kicking off a six-week U.S. tour with nearly a dozen raucous CMJ performances in half as many days.
“It was a lot of shows in a short space of time, and we’d just arrived, but it was really fun,” bassist Billy Easter recalls. “I actually think it was a really good thing to do just before we headed out on tour.” Guitarist Rachel Aggs agrees. “It was good practice for us to bash out all these shows on the road, quite like a test of stamina.” At a Cake Shop performance, drummer Andrew Milk, wearing a Suburban Lawns t-shirt, played until his kit’s cymbals fell to the floor, punching up walloping percussion with liberal pangs of cowbell. Aggs, who also handles most of the singing, rarely stopped bouncing, her guitar lines remaining fleet and lucid, while Easter’s swaggering, manic bass kept kinetic rhythm. The three can sound as though they’re arguing with one another, each shouting back and forth in sometimes overlapping cacophony, their clever lyrics revealing witty cultural critique that never feels heavy-handed.
Above all else, Shopping aim to get every last person in the audience dancing without politicizing their disaffected tirades too deeply. But subversive missives are there for those that want them – from sarcastic analyses of living life in a material world, to narrating tales of bummed-out sex workers, to highlighting skewed power dynamics, to reflecting the sheer claustrophobia of modern existence. “Obviously, we’re called Shopping, and some of our songs have these anti-consumerist kind of messages, but it’s not meant to be dogmatic at all,” Aggs explains. “It’s only political in the sense that it’s expressing a frustration within the context of who we are and what we’re experiencing. We’re laughing at ourselves. I think the ability to laugh is what keeps the music [from being] dry and serious.”
Easter proves that point by cracking a joke. “We haven’t discovered the secret to leading an anti-consumerist life,” she says. “We’re fully immersed in it, as most people are; we like to dance away the heartache.”
Sonically and spiritually, the trio picks up where New York post-punk bands like Bush Tetras and ESG (and their British counterparts Delta 5 and Au Pairs) left off in the early eighties. Their debut Consumer Complaints and this year’s Why Choose renew the same urgency and anxiety of those dance-punk legends, making music that hasn’t felt so immediate or authentic since Bloc Party revived a similar sound. Part of the appeal is that they’re the real deal: Milk, Aggs, and Easter met in and around DIY and feminist punk scenes in London and remain true to those principles. In fact, Milk and Easter still run Milk Records, the staunchly DIY label on which they released their records in Europe and the UK. “We pressed like 1,500 copies of [Why Choose] and it sold out with no distribution – just playing shows [and] hard work, really,” says Milk. “It’s super rewarding. You’re actually writing the names of people that are buying them onto the envelopes, mailing them, and there’s a connection there.”
“But then, as the band gets more successful, you don’t really have the time to do that side of it,” Easter points out.
Milk admits, “We definitely wouldn’t have been able to do a six week American tour [while] releasing our own record. Someone would’ve had an aneurism by now.” When they needed U.S. distribution, FatCat Records was quick to snap them up. “They’ve been super supportive,” Milk raves. “[The] FatCat people that initially saw us play really did love the first album – they were spinning it in the office, everyone was mad about it. They genuinely have massive affection and enthusiasm for the music we’re making.”
Now on an extensive tour through the United States that included dates opening for Shannon & The Clams on the West Coast, Shopping will return to NYC with a show at Palisades on Saturday. The bill features Arm Candy and Priests, who co-headline. “A lot of these bands that we’ve played with have come over to the UK and we’ve played with them or we’ve hung out with them in the past. And then we’ve also met loads of cool new bands,” Milk says. “We expressed our opinion to be put on bills, whenever possible, with queer or female-featuring acts. And if that wasn’t possible, then at least some weirdos. That has, for the most part, happened, so it’s been really good.”
Aggs says the band got on particularly well with Downtown Boys when they played together in New York, and given that band’s political attitude and fierce adherence to “sax punk,” the mutual admiration makes perfect sense. Perhaps the biggest reason Shopping resonate so intensely is that they present a valuable alternative to the straight-white-surfer-dudeness of punk and garage music. Shopping’s alignment with queer and marginalized groups goes a long way toward visibility and inclusion. “I only got into punk music in my early twenties really, and there was a vibrant feminist and queer punk scene around London at the time that I felt very welcomed [into],” Milk says. “People not giving much of a fuck, playing DIY punk gigs and making noise and being visible, that was all super empowering.”
“I would agree totally with that,” Aggs says. “I would also add that our emphasis on dancing has a lot to do with wanting to create a sort of space where everyone feels totally non-self-conscious. I was really inspired by lots of queer bands from the UK, but also American bands like the Gossip and Erase Errata having this attitude of owning the space and not giving a shit but also being really aware and inspiring people like me and saying, ‘It’s okay [to] be weird and vocal and loud.’”
Now that they’re returning the favor, plenty of folks who caught them at CMJ are making a point to see them again on their current tour, so much so that the band jokes about instituting a loyalty card rewards program. “We’ve had a lot of repeat customers,” Milk laughs. “Shopping appreciate their customers. Please come again.”
Shopping play Palisades on November 21. For ticket information, click here.