Story by Maddy Howell
When Tokky Horror signed their first record deal and released their first single in 2020, its three members had never even met one another.
With dual vocalists Ava Akira and Mollie Rush and producer Zee Davine each isolated within different parts of England during the global pandemic, the trio formed virtually, sending demos back and forth online to quell the monotony of their day-to-day. Coining the term ‘virtual hardcore’ to describe the chaotic blend of hyperactive beats, jungle-inspired electronics, and punk attitude that emerged from their experimentation, Tokky Horror found a home in the unconventional.
“I've always been someone who’s all about getting into the practice room and putting your hours in with the instruments and the band. It’s a very social thing, but originally Tokky Horror was me being antisocial and learning to write and make music on my own,” Zee recalls.
“I remember having a conversation with Mollie and Ava towards the end of the pandemic about whether we were actually going to play gigs. The idea originally was to have a DJ and two vocalists, which is entirely different to how we make music now. As the world has opened back up again, it’s been interesting to find a natural balance between playing as a band with live instrumentation and the DJ and producer culture that started this.”
Inspired by artists like Le Tigre whose creativity sparked by sticking on the drum machine and playing along, Tokky Horror’s sound has grown organically as they’ve transitioned from bedrooms to basements. Born within a unique period of time which saw them emerging from isolation to play their first ever show in a sold-out room, they’ve spent the last two years honing their craft through unrelenting live shows and fearless experimentation.
Serving up a taster of their sonic carnage on debut EP ‘I Found the Answers and Now I Want More’ and its follow-up ‘Home Recordings 2020-2021’, following their explosion onto the live circuit Tokky Horror are delivering a defiant declaration of intent with their latest EP - ‘Kappacore’.
“Up until now it’s been experimentation. We’re trying to find the limits of what we do and what we like and don't like. We had a bunch of tunes that we hadn't released on ‘Home Recordings’, and songs like ‘Jazz Music’ and ‘Tranmere Raver’ we’d actually decided never to release. We went back and worked on them though, and now they’re two of my favourite tunes to play,” the producer explains.
“I don't know anyone that just likes one form of music, so I think people can handle what we’re doing here. It's all about creating a cool song that people are going to enjoy and that will resonate, rather than trying to create something that fits into a particular scene or sound.”
Taking influences from electro, punk, dance, and countless other spaces and expertly blending their own unique formula, whilst ‘Kappacore’ is far from the final form of Tokky Horror, it’s a vital step towards something huge. A band which likely won’t ever be fully out of its experimentation phase, the beat on ‘Maxine’ dates back to the same era as the band’s first single, whilst others such as rave-ready ‘HAMMER 2 THE FACE’ are much more recent additions to Zee’s repertoire.
A patchwork of vibrant ideas that unite the pounding bass and breakbeats of a warehouse rave with the community-focused spirit of dimly lit punk basements, Tokky Horror are honing in on the weirdness and sticking two fingers up to the punk purists.
“We include punk music because it's where I come from. It's what I've always played, it's what my dad played, and it's something I've always been around. It's a form of music that I like and enjoy, but Tokky Horror is an electronic project,” Zee nods.
“It’s created using electronic instruments, samples, and drum loops, so it's hard for us to try and appease purists. At its core, Tokky Horror goes against the fundamental beliefs of drums, guitar, and bass, and some people really respond to that and love it. You can make music that is abrasive and has a punk ethos without necessarily having the punk instrumentation. There’ll always be people who’ll refuse to believe it’s still punk though.”
Currently signed to Venn Records - the UK label established by Gallows founding member Laurent ‘Lags’ Barnard - Tokky Horror’s DIY punk roots are often tucked away in amongst basslines and beats, with ‘Tranmere Raver’ even sampling a track from the Watford hardcore band.
At a time when artists like Bob Vylan and ZAND are pushing the boundaries of punk in the UK scene, as the trio continue building out their world - they aren’t allowing themselves to be put into boxes. Guided by what each individual song needs, rather than how best to align themselves to existing movements, they’re focused on making positive change in every aspect of what they do.
“With Tokky Horror we’re trying to stand for something that can be transferred between scenes whilst maintaining our own identity,” Zee nods.
“The people who like our music aren't the typical audience at those type of shows. Within drum and bass and jungle, there isn't a huge amount of female or queer representation. We want to champion queer people within that scene, and the same goes for heavier music, which still has that hyper-masculine element to it. We’re keen to create a space where people are always welcome.”
It’s a matter that’s especially pertinent to them after years spent trying to find their place in punk and activist spaces, noticing a lot of people talking the talk and not enough walking the walk.
Speaking to those who are just there for the party on ‘Toilet’, as the producer has gotten older, they have found themselves more driven to live by the ethics and morals they speak out about. Keen to pursue more than just performative action, and tired of seeing marginalised artists lumped onto line-ups to fulfil quotas whilst little is done to actively support their progression, Tokky Horror are inspired to set down a blueprint for a more ethical future in the music industry.
“I always want to be better and do better. We went on tour with Enter Shikari recently, and we realised how spot on they had it, from their outlook to how they treat the crew and how fairly they pay their support bands. There was an eco-friendly focus with no single use plastic backstage, and it just felt like a lesson in how to run a band ethically and fairly,” Zee says.
“That was such an inspiration for me to see independent artists operating at such a big level. They've just had a UK number one album, and they’re still operating with complete humility and respect. Unfortunately, that’s quite rare.”
Striving for better in their scene whilst creating freely, the future seems truly limitless for Zee and their bandmates. Placing no parameters on their influences and embracing the power of innovation, they’re here to make music the way it should be made.
Driven by the sheer joy, excitement, and curiosity of experimentation, with a trilogy of EPs now in the bag, the trio could never predict how their sound will evolve over the coming years - and nor would they want to - but with an album in the works one thing’s for certain, the explosion of Tokky Horror is imminent.
“The future is definitely heavier and more guitar-based. I enjoy nice melodies and harmonies but ultimately, I always come back to that heaviness and intensity because I want to create music that’s as chaotic as possible. It needs to be effective on the dancefloor and get people moving,” Zee finishes.
“Whether we’re challenging ideas around what punk is or we’re challenging why there are no women at jungle raves, those are firm beliefs that we hold personally. As long as we're making music, it will naturally always channel those ideas, and we always want our art to do that. We want to push this as far as we can, and I don't ever really want to stop. We want to push everything that exists around Tokky Horror to its absolute limit.”
Kappacore, the latest EP from Tokky Horror is currently available via Venn Records - HERE
Tokky Horror UK Live Dates 2023
26th May – Sneister Festival, The Hague NL
9th June – Fiestas De La Artes, Manchester
5th August – Rebellion Festival, Blackpool
18th August – Convoy Cabaret Festival, Dorchester
19th August – Arctangent Festival, Somerset
9th September – Burn It Down Festival, Devon