Beggar are a band for the ever-darkening modern times. Originally forming in the suburbs of Bristol prior to relocating to the mire that is inner London, the group weaponise elements of doom, sludge, extreme metal and surprising suaveness that parallels the traumatising nihility that's rampant within our national culture.
With their brilliant debut long play Compelled To Repeat now out via APF Records, the band have quickly become a topical point within the extreme metal scene - all for good reason. To understand more about their craft and their background, we had a chat with vocalist and bassist Charlie Davis.
Can you give us a super simple background on the history of Beggar?
"Yeah would love to. We are a four-piece band based in London. In terms of our biographical background we began as a band in Bristol in about 2011. At the very start we jammed in a huge, cold and creaking student house that Abe and I lived in, which was right down in the Gorge near Hotwells for those who know that area of Bristol. It was originally me, Abe Whitworth (Guitar), Jake Leyland (Guitar, Vocals) and our previous drummer Ant, who was with us until about 2015 when he left to pursue other things. He has since published a true crime novel called Out of Thin Air."
"After a little while we found Bertrand Sautier (Drums), who had moved from south west France to London a couple of years prior and who had a background in grindcore and death metal. We began the process of adapting to each other’s playing and it was a really cool exchange of vibes, in that playing with us he had to develop a strong sense of groove and looseness, while at the same time he gave the rest of us a real sense of backbone and precision that wasn’t really there before. I’m talking about him as if he is the ‘new guy’ but really he is a totally integral part of this band. The four of us are all still super close mates, which is kind of miraculous."
What are your collective inspirations, both musically and culturally?
"We play what we just see as being ‘sludge metal’ and we use that as an umbrella term to catch the core of what we do but at the same time we try to include elements of grunge, heavy psych, post-metal on one hand, and something of the sensibilities of death metal and blackened extreme music on the other – while at the same time being easily apprehended as something like a sludged-up Pantera or a more ‘metal’ Eyehategod, something like that. I am a huge fan of the classic second wave of black metal and of 90s death metal, and I’m also massively into the sludge/doom canon, especially things like Thou and early/mid Electric Wizard. I also love punk, noise rock, jazz, drone, experimental stuff – and I know the other guys have palettes more varied than mine."
"In terms of our cultural inspirations we have been taking a lot from writers like Georges Bataille, Emil Cioran and Eugene Thacker. A lot of the inspiration for our stuff comes from the written word. But a lot of it is like you say ‘cultural’ – it’s about the culture of grinding yourself down in front of a screen, giving the best of yourself to your employers while your loved ones get the shit that’s left over. The culture of pinch-faced stoicism as you give up on the dreams that illuminated your youth in order not to frustrate the expectations of others. The culture of individual self-interest above all else at the expense of the intractably unhealthy society of which you are a part."
The title of the record is a reference to an essay by Sigmund Freud, could you expand on that?
"Yep, Freud’s ‘compulsion to repeat’ is an idea he brought out in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and it’s to do with dealing with trauma. The thrust of it is that the events that make a serious impression on our lives are repressed and occluded, pushed right down inside, but they manifest symptomatically through compulsive behaviour. I guess that’s the root of it. Because repetition is at the heart of our lives, and every day we perform a scheduled and itemised routine, a pattern of repetition. We are forced into it if we want to survive. Not to perform the endless repetitions is total insanity. So on a personal level we are compelled into repetition but the same force gets exerted on a cultural level, too. A writer called Paul Gilroy has asked whether decline, and the declinist attitude of a lot of British people, might be a case of postcolonial Freudian melancholia, a compulsion to repeat on a huge, shared level. That was said long before the Brexit vote but the idea that a lot of people are exhibiting this nostalgic irrationality as a means of processing the trauma of the loss of empire and the decline of Britain’s global dominance has become a lot stronger since then."
There's an evident element of grime, dirt, misanthropy, filth in the tone of the record. Is that in relation of living and recording in London? What was the recording process like in general?
"It’s in relation to living in the world. It’s not just London that is built on dirt and misanthropy but everywhere that people proliferate. At the same time London is a place where you see the most privileged right on top of the detritus left by the system that privileges them, with all the poverty and waste that that system excretes, and those worlds exist in the same breath."
"The recording process was really great though. We were lucky to get quite a long time at Bear Bites Horse to record and mix, so we could really get our heads into it. The main man of this album is Wayne Adams. It was great to have Wayne’s ear and wisdom on this record,. If you don’t know his work as an engineer check out some stuff he has worked on, Green Lung or 11paranoias or Petbrick (which is his band with Igor Cavalera), all of which sound totally different but all of which sound incredible."
You're releasing the record during a very anxious and strange time, what's it like to release an album of this nature during this period? Do you think it amplifies the message within the record?
"It’s definitely a strange time right now. We have just had to cancel our album launch shows for Compelled to Repeat all on account of something that can’t stop repeating itself in the bloodstream. Maybe the track ‘Anaesthete’ is going to resonate because it’s a song about seclusion – ‘sequestered here in a closed fist / with a haptic interface with the world’ – and about things that self-perpetuate – ‘one sick multitude / persists forever / obnubilates the world / like a gas cloud’. But whatever, it’s a really shit time at the moment, and we don’t have it as bad as some. We all just have to look out for each other at the moment."
James Plotkin mastered the record. What was working alongside him like?
"James Plotkin did a really great job mastering the record and it was a trip to work with him because I’m a huge fan of some of the projects he has been involved in. (For the record Khanate remains one of the scariest listens it’s possible to have.) Obviously the mastering was done remotely as he is based in New York and we are out here in London but the mastering was done really efficiently and with an end result that we’re all happy with."
What do you want people to experience when experiencing Compelled To Repeat?
"We want them to experience a desire to buy several more copies to give to their friends as gifts. Really, though, I’m excited to see whether this can speak to people on some level. I don’t think we can be the only ones feeling the things that we put forward on this record, so hopefully a lucky few might get where we are coming from."
Finally, the world may be in an odd shape, but current plans for this year?
"Plan is to stay alive. We need to figure out what is even possible this year. We have a bunch of really cool shows lined up for later in the year – Stonebaked Fest in Leeds, Fogfest in London, a small UK run with Desert Storm and an appearance at Obscene Extreme Festival in the Czech Republic – but who knows what will happen. For now we’re all just burrowing in and doing whatever writing we can for the next record."
Compelled To Repeat is out now via APF Records. You can purchase the record here.