Fingerless gloves. A tie worn over a band tee that’s been shrunk two sizes too small in the wash. An MSN Messenger screen name formatted like xXTh_isXx.
That’s just some of the imagery that comes to mind when listening to Static Dress, a post-hardcore band based in Leeds that sounds like a modern blend of Underoath, Alexisonfire, and The Bled. With their They’re Only Chasing Safety-era breakdowns, vocals that recall a young Gerard Way, and homemade videos that make use of the VHS aesthetics, cold lighting, and fish-eye lenses that dominated music TV in the mid-00s, Static Dress scratch a familiar itch for those of us who never spiritually grew out of our snakebite piercings.
Go to one of their shows, though, and you won’t just find the usual cast of geriatric emos hungry for a rerun of their salad days. The crowds are also full of the same Gen Z kids you see listening to emo rap and hyperpop – styles that have their own roots in 00s alternative culture, with its young, obsessive, digitally native fandoms.
As a new generation processes the sounds and styles of their childhood, and older millennials celebrate the two-decade anniversaries of albums like Tell All Your Friends and Full Collapse, it’s hard not to notice signs of the aughts bouncing back across the internet, whether it’s through trickle-down nostalgia or scene culture finding a new home on TikTok (albeit with some ironic distance). But while Static Dress seem like they were tailor-made for this latest-of-many revivals, the 00s post-hardcore sound isn’t something they’re actively trying to revive or even reference. Twenty-something Olli Appleyard, the band’s vocalist and aesthetic locus, says he didn’t have a clue who any of these bands were until he started giving interviews about his own.
“Everyone involved [in the beginning] was into hardcore, and that’s initially what Static Dress was,” he explains. “But I was like, ‘We can’t just do another band like this.’ I wanted to make the lightest heavy music possible, so that’s what we did.”
Speaking over Skype from his parents’ house, Olli cuts an exaggerated figure against a backdrop of suburban mundanity. He’s sitting in front of a drum kit in an attic room and looks pretty much like an artist’s rendering of an emo kid, with his chipped black nails, dyed red hair, and pale face reddened by early-summer hay fever. “My eyes are extremely puffed right now,” he says, pushing his face up to the webcam to illustrate his swollen eyelids. “This is me opening my eyes wide.”
Olli and his family live in the small town of Bingley, just outside Bradford, a working-class city in the north of England. Picturesque and relatively quiet, Bingley is full of locks, moors, industrial history and traditional pubs—all things that sound like bliss to stressed-out adults looking for a walking holiday, but that create a suffocating tranquility young people are often desperate to escape. “It’s an absolute Karen state,” Olli says of his immediate surroundings. “I go into the local shop and everyone stares. Like, ‘Hello, yes, it’s me again with the coloured hair.’”
Though life in his hometown has been slow, his own life has been moving incongruously fast these days. When we speak in early June, the band has just released a buzzing new single called “sweet,” a suckerpunch of post-hardcore complete with plenty of dissonance, a chorus to flip a table to, and lyrics about first kisses and pulling over on the side of the road to cry. They’re two weeks away from playing Download Festival, their first show in 16 months and their first festival slot ever, but before that happens, Olli, who has a side-hustle directing and producing music videos for other artists, has to wrap up one of his biggest jobs to date. He’s unable to be more specific, but says he is now getting to a point where he’s no longer working “for like two buttons and a bag of Skips.”
Complicating matters is that earlier this summer, Static Dress underwent a line-up change that saw the departure of two of their founding members, drummer Sam Kay and guitarist Tom Black. Judging by some of their social media posts, the split doesn’t seem like an amicable one. (Olli, for his part, says that Kay and Black “were and still are my best friends, but my best advice is not to start a band with people you’re friends with.”)
That’s a lot going on for a band that has played less than twenty shows, self-released only seven songs, and had half its lifespan eaten up by the pandemic. And pressure has been compounded by the cult-like fandom – which partly comes down to the way they’ve chosen to release what little material they have put out.
Every Static Dress single has a video, and every video contributes to a wider process of world building, with visuals that repeatedly pull from the same handful of independent motifs: A room covered in green and white striped wallpaper. A mysterious red rotary phone. Watching these images flash by on screen, from video to video, feels like dipping your toe into a lake of unknown depth; you feel compelled to wade in, with only a vague idea of what you’ll find.
There is also the matter of codes. Adding to the feeling that we’re accessing a strange new universe piece by piece, the band packs their videos and communications with easter eggs and clues leading to early listens of tracks, early access to merch, and indications of forthcoming releases. During a lockdown livestream in February of this year, QR codes flashed up on screen that led viewers to a Dropbox full of bizarre digital ephemera including a cover of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s “One Of Us Is the Killer” and a recording of Marilyn Monroe talking about the fickle nature of happiness. They also send out cryptic messages through their mailing list; fans flock to a dedicated subreddit and unofficial Discord server to decipher them, with one long-suffering individual likening the process to “trying to get into a bunker in Warzone.”
Being a Static Dress fan requires a lot of patience. In the age of “airing your dirty laundry,” as Olli puts it, there is very little information available about them beyond what they’ve released. They don’t follow anyone on social media, their only posts are about live dates, and their website is just a landing page for whatever their most recent video is. That’s partly why the fandom is so intense: The less you give people, the further they’ll take it. Days before the line-up change was revealed, fans had already figured it out based on a photo posted by a friend of the band while on set for “sweet.” In it, Kay and Black were absent, replaced by new drummer Sam Ogden and a guitarist whose identity remains a mystery, their face obscured by a mane of black hair.
Another factor is that Olli operates with an almost Kubrickian level of specificity. Nothing is done without a reason, and everything is done and re-done until it’s perfect. Behind every song and video, Olli says, is at least 20 pages of ideas, which then become drawings of how this all might play out on screen, which then beget even more pages of writing as he works to fit the details into a broader narrative. Olli works across every step of the process: storyboarding, set building, filming, lighting, editing, grading, assets. Here, as in his other video projects, his inspirations aren’t musicians or songwriters, but directors and artists: Tim Burton, Floria Sigismondi, Saw co-creatorJames Wan, a 2000 psychological horror movie called The Cell starring Jennifer Lopez that is so low budget it’s currently streaming on YouTube, in its entirety, for free.
“I like creating a space for people to fall into,” he explains. As someone who says he spent most of his time alone as a teen, he understands the value of losing one’s self in an imaginary world. “I don’t have to stand around and get bullied by the kids living on the cul-de-sac or whatever. I don’t have to sit here and twiddle my thumbs waiting to grow up. I can go off and be somewhere else.”
Olli spent much of his formative years immersed in video games, comic books, animated movies, horror films, and leafing through old copies of the UK rock bible Kerrang! Because his family didn't have a Sky box, he had to visit his nan’s house to watch Scuzz, where he’d absorb their staple rotation of rock music videos from the 90s and 00s, like “Everlong” by Foo Fighters, “Duality” by Slipknot, and “Nancy Boy” by Placebo (incidentally, Static Dress’s own videos wouldn’t look out of place among the roster). Since there wasn’t much in the way of alternative music scenes going on in Bradford, he’d travel to neighbouring cities like Leeds and Manchester on evenings and weekends to photograph bands in exchange for guestlist.
“Going to shows and hanging and chilling – that's all I'd really have,” he says. “If I wasn’t doing that, I'd be just sitting in the dark, making art for myself for no reason.”
It was through spending so much time in Leeds that Olli fell in with Sam Kay and Tom through mutual friends and started singing in a more straight-forward melodic hardcore band called Galleries. When bassist Connor Reilly moved to Leeds from Manchester in 2018, Galleries folded and Static Dress was born. Their debut single “clean” was meant to be a straightforward release, but various delays created a gap in which Olli’s ambitions for the band grew larger.
In the UK, where mainstream guitar music has spent the last decade languishing in a samey landscape of metalcore and stadium rock, Static Dress represent a return to idiosyncrasy. Like My Chemical Romance, Senses Fail, and other mainstream emo acts before them, they combine a sound that is decidedly niche (a corrosive hybrid of metal and melodic hardcore with pop hooks; a constant push-pull of harsh and delicate sounds) with a bold stage presence (Olli usually goes for eye glitter and a crop top). It’s a combination beguiling enough to attract a dedicated audience of fellow weirdos, people who seem to find something of themselves in their music’s ambiguities. And while the UK may be lacking in infrastructure when it comes to alternative music spaces, there is one thing that remains constant: Weirdos are really, really good at finding each other on the internet.
It’s a geographically disparate but intimate community, and it’s not unusual to see Static Dress mentioned alongside like-minded acts over in the US – like the Washington-based Wristmeetrazor, San Diego’s SeeYouSpaceCowboy, and Los Angeles’ If I Die First – who are dragging post-hardcore and screamo kicking and RAWRing into the 2020s. The latter collective, especially, is a veritable conglomerate of 2021’s subcultures, comprising emo rappers Lil Lotus and Lil Zubin, GHOSTMANE’s Nolan Nunes and Cayle Sain, producer and past Lil Peep collaborator Nedarb, and Travis Richter of scene stalwarts From First To Last. As the beginnings of a new global scene plant their roots – perhaps growing into another commercial moment, perhaps more of a micro-community – connections are beginning to form naturally among its key players. Olli tells me he’ll often call up Nedarb just to shoot the shit about life, music, whatever they’re cooking for dinner. “The music was the introduction, but the friendship is what lasts,” he adds. “I think I'm going [to L.A.] in a few months to do some music videos for people, so hopefully I'll be able to reconnect with them then.”
It doesn’t take long to realise that Olli thrives under constraints. When a project has a shoestring budget, no time, and requires a certain level of industriousness and creativity to work around sub-optimal circumstances – that’s when Olli feels exhilarated. He is at his best when he’s creating something in his mind’s eye, doing whatever it takes to bring it to life, and making space for people to interpret and appreciate it along the way.
“There have been so many moments, especially recently, where I’m like, ‘I’m gonna stop doing this because this sucks,’” Ollie says.” But you have to power through the struggle to really make something worthwhile.” By way of an example, he points to the first Terminator film and dives into a detailed explanation of how the final scene was shot on a highway without a permit after the budget ran out. “So the drive-away sequence is done on the fly. The camera is hidden and wasn’t even meant to have been filmed at all. And look how well that did!”
From filming videos in Olli’s garage and wallpapering the sets by hand, to announcing tours by printing out the poster, sticking it on a wall, and taking a photo of that (rather than simply… posting the original file), Static Dress is putting the patience back into art. As an approach, it goes directly against an industry fuelled by instant gratification and algorithms – and by all accounts, it’s working. After two years spent drip-feeding their universe into public view, their cards are still close to their chest. And though Olli says they have some bigger projects on the way, Static Dress is clearly playing the long game, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in the confidence they are leading to something more special and longer lasting than social media numbers and Spotify playlist placements.
“In the time it took between recording the first single and getting it out, I’d created this entire world and this entire story,” Olli says. “The next thing I knew, I found myself writing up pages and pages of ideas of where to go with it. Then it turned into a narrative, and then that narrative turned into a full universe, and suddenly, I had something much bigger than just us lot standing in a garage with a nice light above us.”
All imagery courtesy of Olli Appleyard.