As a mixed-race kid growing up in a small town in Essex, Amy Love of Nova Twins experienced racist micro-aggressions on a daily basis. “It wasn’t even micro-aggressions ” she clarifies. “It was full-on aggressions.”
“Living in London, it was more like micro-aggressions,” chimes in her musical partner, Georgia South, who is from Lewisham and met her future best friend when they were both 16. “In Essex, it was aggression-aggressions.”
Nova Twins are nattering over Zoom about their stratospheric rise. It’s been a dizzying ascent by the duo, whose forte is fun, fizzling and ever-so-slightly freaky heavy rock. A 2022 Mercury nomination for pile-driving second album Supernova – think Prodigy meets Rage Against the Machine via Iron Maiden – was followed this year by a double-whammy of Brit nominations, for best British group and best alternative act.
They ultimately lost in both categories. But just to be shortlisted felt like a breakthrough for a headbanging two-piece who haven’t gatecrashed the fuddy, middle-aged modern rock milieu so much as nuked it from orbit. Now, by way of a victory lap, they are bound for Dublin and only their second Irish show (pushed back a month so they could attend the Brits).
All these achievements were hard-won, they report. The music industry initially refused to take seriously the idea of two mixed-race women, barely out of school and making wrecking-ball rock music. In meetings with representatives of various major labels, they were asked to tone down the mosh-pit element of their sound.
It was even suggested, on more than one occasion, that they think about going R&B. The implication was unmistakable. Wasn’t R&B the sort of music people from their background made? Why try to be different?
“Earlier on, when we first got into the band, A&Rs and top labels, they saw a picture of us and assumed we’d be super-pop and R&B,” says South, who plays bass and keyboards. “They came to rehearsal. We were thrashing out heavy music. They were like ‘Woah’. They were like, ‘Soften your sound and you’ll probably get further with it.’ We were like, ‘We don’t want to’.”
It wasn’t merely the labels. Male producers had the same question: why couldn’t Nova Twins be more pop?
“We’d be in the studio and they’d be like, ‘Play this riff but shorter and more simple’,” continues South. “We’d be like, ‘No, we want to play a long riff’. We don’t want to dumb ourselves down.”
They stuck to their principles and now are reaping the rewards. Nova Twins have been hailed as one of the most exciting new voices in rock in decades. “Polished maximalist rap-rock – they’re ready to be worshipped,” wrote Kerrang! “Supernova is like our generation’s ‘f**k you’ to every version of ‘the man,’ much like The Clash did in 1977 and Rage Against the Machine did in 1992,” agrees Consequence.
They didn’t start a band to make a political statement. They are, however, happy to do their part for representation.
“When we make the music, we make the music,” says Love. “But it’s about diversifying the space and allowing more people to join in so it’s not only a boys’ club. You do naturally get different takes, different flavours, different inspiration. You look at hip-hop and how they used to sample old Motown and jazz records. Suddenly you’ve got a really interesting genre. You look at rock – obviously that’s rhythm and blues and that is essentially taken from blues music.”
Some people want to keep it behind the gate, keep it secret. But we’re up always up for the mainstream
— Amy Love
The problem rock has suffered for the past 30 years is that everyone looked the same. Which is to say they looked like a variation on Chris Martin, Bono or Brandon Flowers.
“Until now, it was just one type of person who was doing it. Everyone felt they had to live up to that,” says Love. “You saw this disparity between the big rock stars and how no one else was following up. Because it didn’t reflect today – and what society looks like or is doing. You look at what is happening now – using subgenres, mixing everything.
Nova Twins have used their newfound prominence to turn a spotlight on young rock bands who are similarly rewriting the rules. They’ve praised feminist punk trio Big Joanie; and Connie Constance, a fantastic black songwriter from Watford influenced by Joy Division and the Arctic Monkeys.
“There are fewer rules, fewer partitions. Letting people in – of course, the music is going to sound fresh,” says Love. “Everyone has their own take. It’s an exciting time of heavy music.”
They want to go all the way too: to the top of the charts and on to the biggest streaming playlists. What’s the use in being obscure? “It’s amazing hearing it leak into the mainstream. Some people want to keep it behind the gate, keep it secret,” says Love. “But we’re up always up for the mainstream. The mainstream is what hits people first. If young kids can see us doing something different they’d like, ‘well, actually maybe I can try that too.’ ”
Before you couldn’t have the conversation [around] this stereotype of the angry black woman. There was a sense of hope in the end. Some things have changed for the better. We still have a long way to go
— Amy Love
The pair met when Love, whose mother is Iranian, and her father Nigerian, moved to London as a teenager. She ended up in the same Lewisham school as South, who is of Australian and Jamaican heritage.
They clicked immediately and were soon accompanying one another to gigs around London – seeing everyone from Beyoncé to Foo Fighters and jazz artist Melody Gardot. Their first album was called Who Are the Girls, which is what people used to say about these two kids always turning up in the front row at shows.
Reviews were positive. “A mosh pit-rocking noise-bomb – a tremendous first step,” said Classic Rock. A tour was lined up. Dates started to sell out. It was February 2020. The worst time in recent human history to release a record.
As the world closed down, they worried their future had gone up in smoke. Then, in the feverish summer of 2020, came the Black Lives Matters protests in which campaigners in the US and the UK reckoned with the legacy of racism in nations that had long considered themselves bastions of freedom.
For Nova Twins, the protests were a catalysing moment. They marched with their friends. And they distilled their feelings about Britain’s racist past and present into new songs such as the pugilistic Supernova standout Antagonist. “I’m not into starting fires,” howls Love. “Whoever sparked the match broke perpetual silence”.
“It started off as anger, frustration – not knowing what to do. The problem is sewed in deep. It’s not like we can just fix it: it’s in everything,” says Love. “Once we took that on, people then started sharing stories. Finding ways to create communities, support networks, groups. Before you couldn’t have the conversation [around] this stereotype of the angry black woman. There was a sense of hope in the end. Some things have changed for the better. We still have a long way to go. At least things are being talked about now.”
As the protests continued, people in Britain began to look around and consider the problematic implications of the many statues and memorials from the Victorian age and earlier. An early flashpoint was Bristol, where a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled. It was almost as if nobody had previously paused to consider the country’s imperial history – and all that it implied.
“At school, they only taught people what they wanted to teach,” says South. “That’s why a lot of people were shocked by the truth that was coming out. If they actually knew what was going on, they wouldn’t’ have been so shocked and outraged.”
With success has come pressure. Every time they step on stage, there is an expectation that Nova Twins will represent something bigger than themselves and their music.
“We don’t shy away from being role models,” says South. “Whether you like it or not, if you have a following, you’re a role model. You may as well do the best job you can to inspire people. And bring positivity into the world. It has been a journey. There’s a whole new world of different bands being created now, which is exciting to see. They all look different, sound different. And that is the future.”
Supernova is out now. Nova Twins play Whelan’s, Dublin, March 18th