The word ‘dystopia’ has been used a lot to describe our current circumstances. Most likely, it comes from the realization that the extremes we thought had to happen for the world to be classified as a dystopia don’t immediately start out as “extremes” instead they start out slowly until they become a natural part of society. And in a lot of ways, we were already living them.
The question that has been posed then, is what do we do with this realization, how do we survive our realities, and what are the required steps to dismantle a dystopia and create a utopia? Which is a heavy and loaded question. But, it’s one that’s on the minds of many–especially young adults who bear the burden of the world as it’s given to them. One of those ways they seem to be handling it is through the ways many of those have before them: creativity. (Albeit in more technological ways and outside of different barriers.)
This is where I introduce you to one example of this with the band Dystopia. Coming from East London, the trio consists of Amna-Janine as the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Abby as the drummer and occasional lead guitarist, and Ify as bassist and serving backup vocals.
The story of the band starts in year 8 (for those in the states, year 8 is our 7th grade) with Amna-Janine and Abby being in a previous band together for a battle of the bands. “In year 10 (9th grade), I felt inspired to be in a band again so I asked her if she wanted to be a part of it and she said yes. At the time, our former member Shamima was taking guitar lessons, so having got to know her more when she moved to my English class, I asked if she wanted to join as lead guitarist,” Amna-Janine recalls. Thanks to Shamima, the girls connected with Ify who agreed to join as their bassist.
Then came the name: Dystopia. “In primary school, we were studying opposites and had to draw a poster of utopia vs. dystopia,” Amna-Janine continues. “The word dystopia just stuck in my mind and so I put it forward and everyone was in agreement with it.”
As we grow into young adults and musicians, we face new situations or deal with old ones but as a group where we all affect each other. – Abby
Music was always a significant part of Ify, Abby, and Amna-Janine’s individual lives and their vast interest in different genres inspired them to be musicians. “I was really inspired by Alicia Keys and wanted to play my violin (which I initially played before bass) in a genre that wasn’t classical. But to be in a band?” Ify laughs as she poses the question before talking about musical influences. “I’d say 5 Seconds of Summer, I was obsessed with them in school. I was also into bands such as Blink 182, Green Day, All Time Low, and Pierce the Veil, etc.”
“I don’t remember ever realizing I wanted to make music, I just sort of always knew? My parents say I sang before I could speak so there’s that,” Amna-Janine laughs. “The artists that inspired me to want to be in a band were definitely Lemonade Mouth, Lillix, and Lindsey Lohan’s band Pink Slip in the film Freaky Friday. As for artists that inspired me, Avril Lavigne is definitely one of my idols. Tonight Alive was a big inspiration vocally during my teen years.”
Abby’s music journey started first with wanting to sing and then transitioning to learning how to play as many instruments as possible. “I first wanted to start playing the drums when I was 8 and watched Bratz: Rock Angelz for the first time and later saw my cousin play the drums and rap at the same time. It motivated me to try it out,” she explains.
“We all write lyrics and music parts based on our experiences and styles then bring it to each other and we all just add them together and build off it. Give every song a bit of us all,” Ify says about the ways in which each of them utilizes their influences and experiences in their music. Abby adds that her interest in listening to and analyzing rap lyrics for their wordplay, double entendres, and metaphors as well as growing up listening to Congolese music with their melodic guitar riffs and loving the intricate drumming of metal music (though she hasn’t mastered this one yet) are all things she’s excited to bring to the band.
As friends, working together creatively, the girls have learned the ways in which they’re similar and different as artists and people. “As we grow into young adults and musicians, we face new situations or deal with old ones but as a group where we all affect each other,” Abby shares.
Their latest single is “Mania,” an alt-bedroom pop track about loneliness, mental health, and reaching out. When I ask them how they manage their experiences with it, Ify starts first by saying that talking about is the hardest part.
“Talking is always hard especially when you feel like a burden. But that’s never good, seek help in the appropriate places,” Ify exclaims. “Talk!!”
“For sure I agree, talking about it is the hardest,” Abby adds. “When you come from an environment where you’re not used to being open about yourself or you’re the kind of person that buries issues, it’s important to have a support system and that’s what I like to think Dystopia is to me.”
Amna-Janine agrees as well. “Bottling everything up my whole life meant that people around me couldn’t understand why I acted the way I did and because of that, I couldn’t get the appropriate help or understanding I needed…I didn’t even understand it myself,” she admits.
The song ends with a conversation as the instrumental continues. It starts off saying, “I don’t wanna wake up in the dark anymore, or chase empty highs. I wanna live, to love, to know I’m alive, you know?” And continues on questioning the ways of the universe and blaming the government in an honest thought dump that manages to be both heavy and light in some ways. “At the time, I had been home alone all day and hadn’t spoken,” Ify begins about how that became a part of the song. “I was feeling a type of way and had all of these thoughts going around my head so I thought let me talk to the song while testing some settings. There was a section of what I said that I felt related to the song so I cropped it and kept it in the project. We have so many thoughts every day that pass and you don’t remember them all and I like that when we listen back to the song we can hear how we felt at that exact moment in time.”
We have so many thoughts every day that pass and you don’t remember them all and I like that when we listen back to [Mania] we can hear how we felt at that exact moment in time. – Ify
The ability to explore their music in that way comes from getting to have creative control of their work which Abby says is the most exciting part for her. “There aren’t any higher-ups to deal with so we can express what we want from a track freely,” she shares also adding that she’s excited for the release of their next single, “If I Sleep” so listeners can hear the lyrics and guitar solos.
“I think I’m most excited to see the reaction to the style of song and the different vocal parts,” Ify adds. “We don’t really stick to a genre and so it’s always fun to see people react to music they think we wouldn’t make.” For her, the most exciting part of creating music comes from drawing inspiration from anything be it a laugh or an accident while playing.
Amna-Janine agrees with the excitement that comes from the pieces of each musical puzzle coming together while including, “Also the excitement of coming up with ideas and bouncing off of each other’s energies and ideas at the start of the song’s process.”
“I’m the type of person that struggles to show my emotions and always keeps everything bottled up, so to have to be emotionally vulnerable and face them has always been a bit difficult for me, particularly in the last couple of years, and especially having to share them with others. But [writing] has definitely helped me to open up more,” Amna-Janine responds when I ask them what’s been most surprising about their writing.
Abby shares that for her, all of the themes they’ve explored in their music has been surprising. “Nothing is off-limits and that surprises me but it’s my favorite thing about being a creative. I could write about custard creams and nobody is allowed to refute that if I think it slaps.”
In terms of what their writing process is like, the girls agree with Ify when she mentions that she works best with unplanned inspiration. “For me, I feel like going into writing a song with an idea of what I want it to be about, makes it hard because I’d try to zone in on specifics of that concept and then get stuck. My head is normally all over the place and moving very fast so songs will come out however and whenever they want,” Ify admits. Amna-Janine also adds that though she’s never experienced (or written about) heartbreak and love, they both intrigue and scare her.
I hope that when people listen to our music, they can relate to it in their own ways. To feel the similarities and differences and know that they’re not alone. – Amna-Janine
As a band, Dystopia both in music and name seems to explore the ways of getting by in a world that is crumbling or unjust. It’s shown in lyrics and riffs and even their social media. “I hope that we can open a discussion on different topics through our music whilst not being limited by genre,” Abby responds about what she hopes they contribute to music. “Also, wishing to inspire people that feel as though they don’t have a voice or don’t see themselves being represented on the platforms they look up to.” Amna-Janine and Ify agree.
“And becoming the artist I never had growing up,” Amna-Janine adds. “To have touched or inspired at least one person, to show people they can be whatever they want to be despite who they are or where they came from. For people to feel and find themselves in our lyrics, to close their eyes and feel safe and understood.”
The group shares that so far the response to their music has been really good with listeners from different countries reaching out and offering support. “I hope that when people listen to our music, they can relate to it in their own ways. To feel the similarities and differences and know that they’re not alone. To make of it what they will,” Amna-Janine says.
“I also hope that we can bring a sense of release; take someone out of their head and into their hearts,” Abby mentions. “There are so many different things that can affect individuals and if one person out of however many followers we have feels comforted or spoken to through our message, I would feel like we’ve succeeded as musicians. That’s the way music makes me feel and I want us to be that for someone. I will bear their burden so they can feel at ease, even if it’s just for a second.”
They cite other UK bands as setting a precedent for the type of artists they aspire to be with Abby saying that being in the UK, “inspires me to continue in that path whilst creating our own and being another component in what makes people love bedroom pop.”
Along with other UK bands–such as Queen, who Amna-Janine says she’d want to sit in on when they recorded A Night at the Opera–the trio also learns from artistry across genres. Amna-Janine’s interest in Queen comes from the way they stayed true to themselves instead of letting the radio or a genre define them. For Abby, she gives a shoutout to Jacob Collier, Melanie Faye, and Taylor Gordon saying, “I could learn more in a day watching them than I probably could by myself in a year.”
Meanwhile, Ify chooses the recording session for Jeffy Buckley’s “Grace.” “I had to study the song for GCSE music in school and there were so many layers to it so I’d love to be there and see it being recorded,” she says.
As young independent artists in 2020, social media has proven to be a key tool in building a platform. At the same time, social media is also a place to showcase everyday life and be used as a form of personal expression. “It’s easy in some ways but at the same time, it’s not,” Abby answers about looking at social media in both ways. “It’s not exactly like a personal account where you can post whatever you want because we’re entering a stage in our careers where people expect certain things or results from our posts. However, I guess it’s easy since it’s how we promote/share our music which is something that we want to do so the drive and passion to go through with it is naturally already there,” she explains.
Since the start of our interview until now, the year has shifted in many ways. But hopefully, their intention and hope still ring true as they share they’re really looking forward to putting out more music and content throughout the rest of the year as well as interacting more with listeners. “I don’t know what could happen this year, but we’re moving at a quicker pace than we have in the last five years. So I’m looking forward to it alongside everyone,” Abby exclaims. Until then, their social media pages are filled with covers of songs as we wait to see what they share next.
Dystopia’s Mini-Playlist for Readers:
Abby: Anything by BTS! I will push the BTS agenda as much as I can because they should
be applauded for their lyrical sincerity (language should never be a barrier when google is
free) and their appreciation of all mediums of art. I would also include some Elton John and
The Strokes (a long time favourite of mine).
Ify: There are so many songs but I guess right now: Affluenza – Conan Gray, My Honest
Face – Inhaler, where is my mind – The Pixes, Iris – the Goo Goo Dolls. Strange – Celeste,
Circle the Drain – Soccer Mommy and I have to agree with Abby BTS!
Amna: Don’t Tell Me – Avril Lavigne, La Bombe Humaine – Téléphone, Catching Feelings –
Dounia, Sleepover – Hayley Kiyoko, motherlove – Bea Miller, Pretty When You Cry – Lana
Del Rey, Take Me – Aly & AJ