Born from a shared passion for punk music and hip-hop, Para Fiction have built a name for their distinctive brand of raucous rap. END. discuss the convergence of punk and rap, the importance of politics in music and the state of the music industry with the duo in their hometown of Brighton.
Wandering along the seafront in Brighton in mid-November with Para Fiction's two members, James and Jules, it is hard to imagine it as the bustling seaside town it becomes in the summer. "We don't want to just get a bunch of photos on the beach", James objects, "that's too clichéd."
Far from the picture perfect impression of Britishness that is plastered across postcards and calendars, grey skies, empty streets and cold winds reflect the political situation of the country as a general election looms and Brexit drags on into another year. Having begun their journey as Para Fiction four years ago, James and Jules have spent that time honing their musical style and songwriting abilities, reflecting on the state of contemporary politics, and seamlessly blending punk, rap, surf rock and hip-hop to deliver a raucous sound that feels wholly their own.
Unapologetically political, but with tongue firmly in cheek, the 21-year-olds offer a joyous celebration of youth and culture a stone's throw away from the capital. Showcasing that not all of the country's youth are disaffected, the duo have become a mainstay on the local circuit and beyond, performing with punk duo Slaves, experimental hip-hop artist JPEGMAFIA and electronic producer Vegyn around the country. A voracious live act with a slew of formidable singles under their belts, Para Fiction released their second EP, "Episode II: The Epidemic", earlier this year on their own label Parasitic. A frenzied blend of their influences and full to the brim with humour, political statement and passion, the duo exhibit an intention to cultivate a culture of change.
Sitting down with Para Fiction, END. discuss the convergence of punk and rap, politics in the modern age and the benefits of remaining independent in the music industry.
What led to you form Para Fiction?
James: My dad was a music journalist, and we both grew up listening to a lot of music that was passed down from our parents. He never made music so always encouraged me to follow that path – he never forced me to do it but he offered it as an option. We actually met on the off chance after a Drum’n’bass club night at the seafront in Brighton. Jules was about to dip but for some reason we started talking about music and we realised with both liked punk and hip-hop – we started making music together a week later.
Jules: James was playing in a punk band and I’d been making loads of beats in this style myself – they were a bit more untamed beforehand, but I was looking for a frontman as I’m a producer really. So James came round and we made “Time Debt” – that was the first song we wrote together.
James: We started the band as a way to create what we wanted to hear – making that mix of punk and rap that wasn’t really around in the scene. We wanted to be the mutts in the middle.
What inspired your decision to blend post-punk and rap?
James: Bands are becoming a bit of a dated thing now, with the technology that is available you can do everything yourself at the same time. The formula for the way we make music looks back to punk but does it in a modern way, with the least amount of equipment and being innovative with what you have.
Jules: There used to be so many indie bands playing all the time but I don’t really listen to bands anymore – we both listen to way more hip-hop. There wasn’t really a scene on that side of music that I wanted to be a part of at the time. I just feel like it is more exciting and interesting to create music in this way. They both share the same ethos, even if hip-hop can have a bit more ego and arrogance to it.
James: At the end of the day, we’re also products of the internet. We don’t just listen to punk and rap, but the main reason I wanted to blend these two styles was because I want to make a change and to make something positive. I feel like these two genres are the best way to make a statement on ecological issues or political issues.
Para Fiction seems to be rooted in social critique, with tracks like 'Age of the Imbecile' and more recently, 'Time Debt' and 'Primordial Soup'. In an era of global political turmoil, why do you think that musicians are increasingly saying less about these topics?
James: It has become a bit taboo, it seems, and people assume that you’re just going on a rant. We bring in satire and social commentary to expose the world for what it is, rather than offering an answer, because we don’t know the answers to these problems. We’re not the saviours of the world!
Jules: A lot of contemporary music is just about what clothes people are wearing or how much money they’re making. It’s ignorance. I don’t hate on that kind of music either, I just think that most people have stopped caring. It’s about fun and hedonism, people seem to be resigned to thinking that the world is fucked so just want to have a good time. Having said that, I don’t want us to take ourselves too seriously though.
James: It’s not a joke, but the way we look at the world is very tongue in cheek. Our generation has been left with so much shit that all we can really do is laugh at it. We are the meme generation, so it’s finding that balance. At the end of the day, some memes can be really dark and some memes can educate you. Everything has just become a joke, but satire is rooted in a truth. It helps us to be able to talk about real problems, such as political issues, toxic masculinity and mental health.
Who is your music aimed at?
James: Growing up, I was an outcast and didn’t have many friends. That made me want to actually change the world, as little as I can, because what I’d experienced until recently had been pretty negative. We wanted to give a voice to young people who feel like outcasts, to the weirdos who are like us. What I love about our gigs is that it isn’t just one type of person who comes to our gigs, it’s people from all different groups coming together, which creates a new type of culture, an amalgamation of all these different people. That was a big thing that we wanted to do as Para Fiction, we wanted to burn down the divide between all these different scenes. Everyone comes together and shares a similarity when they’re at one of our shows. That’s what I think the world should be based on – diversity. We want to help give people purpose, cos I think that if I didn’t have music, I wouldn’t have any purpose – it got me through some very dark times. Art is for that.
Your lyrics and attitude are quite confrontational, is it your intention to build an atmosphere of unease?
James: The world isn’t a beautiful place, is it? Our music is a reflection of that. The vibe of Britain isn’t happy at the moment, it’s pretty tense but also melancholy. All we have at the moment are grey skies, so that atmosphere is heavily reflected in the music.
Jules: Some things just need to be called out too, you know? Both politically and in the music industry - it’s aggressive music because of that.
You have released your music on your own label, Parasitic – what led to your decision to stay independent?
Jules: In the industry there seems to be a lot of issues around creative control – I’m not the biggest industry nerd, but from what I’ve seen a lot of artists are stripped of their creative control and you can tell that from their social media. The industry channels a lot of music and they hold artists in certain places and pigeonhole them. It’s business at the end of the day I suppose, but no one really talks about that. We’re all part of it but no one really talks about it – there could be so much more transparency around this culture, especially when it does have a massive impact on politics. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that xan rap is popping off when pharmaceutical companies are making loads of money the back of it. Everyone is too afraid to say anything about it and if you do, then you’re not gonna pop off and you might not know why. People are understandably worried about that. Being independent allows us to still just say what we want and not have to worry about it. At the end of day, hundreds of people get signed but how many are actually popping? A couple. Big businesses are trying to control culture.