Quality Control is a name you obviously heard about if you are into hardcore, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years. I met Ola a few times either in London at the Violent Reaction last show, at the Venezia Hardcore Fest in Italy or in my hometown when I put up a show for Arms Race. She had and has for sure a key role in bringing the whole New Wave Of British HardCore at its current level, prevailing on the old continent for a few years now. By putting out awesome releases through her label QUALITY CONTROL, which is for me one of the best in Europe right now, or playing in various bands, the whole London / Leeds crew she is part of helped in raising the overall level of quality of European Hardcore. It took us some time to finish this interview because we are both pretty busy bees but here it is eventually !
Hey Ola. First off, can you please introduce yourself?
Hi! I live in London and have and Polish/English background, am 33, love Star Trek, making music, collecting records, lemons, Chinese take away, history books, and Tudor art.
What do you do for living and when you have free time?
Until recently I worked as a staff trainer for Lush Cosmetics for 6 years. It was a pretty intense job, and it was good to work in a retail environment where there was also purpose beyond selling stuff. I’m taking a break now just for myself, and am a full time punk haha. I run Quality Control HQ Records, play in Arms Race, Game and Farce, go to museums, collect hardcore punk records, watch Star Trek, YouTube make up tutorials, and play quizzes on Sporkle.
How long have you been into Hardcore Punk and how did you get into it? What were the reasons you got into this kind of music in particular?
I guess my story is fairly typical of its time (the early 2000s), but also a bit weird. When I was 9 I stumbled upon Ozzy Osbourne singing Perry Mason from his Ozzmosis album on Top of the Pops 2, a programme that was on the BBC here in the UK. I guess my parents left the TV playing in the background and it just came on. Hearing an electric guitar for the first time my life changed me forever. Then I quickly caught onto Smashing Pumpkins and grunge, which seemed more honest, and that quickly led me to punk and hardcore for those reasons. I didn’t really know anyone who was into it, my whole school liked Spice Girls and Boyzone, but that just strengthened my resolve. Combing through thanks lists on CDs and finding the odd Gorilla Biscuits 7” at Tower Records was a thrill. When I left home for university, I finally met punks and started going to shows in London. That year also I decided I needed to meet fellow straight edge people into hardcore punk specifically (I got into Minor Threat earlier, and realized my teetotal lifestyle and beliefs had a name). The internet was at an early stage back then so all I could find out online was pictures of Courage Crew from Syracuse. I decided I needed to go there, so went on my own to Hellfest [the original Hellfest in Syracuse, not the huge french metal fest] and met some UKHC folks in a hotel lift (elevator in UK speak). When I got home, that was that. I believe that was 2002 or 3. Shout out to Martine from London for finding me in that lift.
When I came over for the Violent Reaction last (two) shows I was agreeably surprised to see how cool and open minded everyone was. Even though most of the people on stage or in the audience were probably straight edge it still felt way « more punk » and « goofy » than other scenes in European countries where everyone is more uptight. How would you explain this, if any explanation can be given?
I think what you experienced was the crème de la crème of Europe all in one room for 2 days haha. There were so many people from mainland Europe at those shows. Having said that the UKHC scene has always had a witty sense of humour, it is how people deal with issues here. Satire has had a firm place in political commentary in the UK since the 16th century as seen in printed pamphlets and poetry. One can assume this extended to general verbal exchanges also. Anyone reading Shakespeare can see how much banter the UK audience enjoyed, and certain regions of the UK subscribe to a ‘pull your boots up and get on with it’ mentality coupled with self-deprecating humour. Nevertheless you don’t want to put too much weight into sweeping judgements about a whole nation, but I will say that on the whole the people currently involved in UKHC love a good joke, having a good time at shows, and on occasion a roasting meme on Instagram. If you can’t laugh at yourself on occasion it all gets a bit dull and ‘safe’. I think many of us understand that quite well here. Music is meant to be enjoyed and friendships forged, humour is an expression of that I suppose.
Among all the cities / countries you’ve played in, what’s your favorite one and why?
Oh there are a whole load, but I love playing hardcore all-dayers/fests in the UK. People come from all over Europe and the mosh is strong. Venice/Treviso/Padua is also another new favourite region. I’ve made some strong bonds there with people who enjoy good music, moshing the fuck out, banter and good food. Also really enjoyed playing an aftershow at Damaged City Fest, USA in 2014. That was wild. Big fan of DC. Anywhere in Poland is also a good shout if you only play one show on a weekend, because the whole of the Poland hardcore punk community will travel and go nuts.
At that VxR last show, pretty much every singer on stage made a little speech telling how important Violent Reaction and their crew have been for the UK scene (that includes you) and the way they’ve been inspiring people to get involved, start bands etc. Do you feel the rise has come to its peak, a page is gonna turn and a new era of UKHC is ending along with the end of Violent Reaction?
There is no doubt that Violent Reaction, Abolition and The Flex brought a new wind into the sails of UKHC around 2013-15. This was off the back of a somewhat quieter scene in the late 2000s. Of course punks and the LBU community kept things going but apart from that things were pretty small. A new generation had to come and get organized. New UKHC bands are starting all the time now and it is really quite complicated to see who has influenced whom in a scene that is so massive now and has various sub genres. This is good because it means its not relying on a few people and is sustainable. The internet also complicates matters because there are people out there who are engaged with the scene but perhaps live in the middle of nowhere in a shire and are too young/broke to travel alone to go shows regularly. I have noticed this because I write the address labels on QCHQ mail orders personally. Public transport in the UK is terrible if you live in rural areas also. So the impression people from other countries may have when they only come for the big shows in the UK or ‘see’ the scene online may be quite skewed versus the reality. I would say the average local show in one of the big cities like London or Leeds has about 100-150 kids turn up these days. That’s sort of where the scene was at during the mid 2000s before it died on its arse in the late 2000s. What’s interesting is we are seeing bigger shows pull around the same amount of people (excluding Outbreak), whereas it used to be around 300 people from the UK alone. I think the internet, where people are more inclined to stay at home because everything is more accessible, and the breaking up of the scene into smaller subgenres is the reason behind this.
The other thread to this story that I’m interested in is that London and Leeds have secure venues again after many closed in the late 2000s, which influences the community greatly. Without venues you have no scene, and it’s only getting harder to find new ones. Making squats illegal definitely had an impact on the punk scene, as squat venues were a staple in the UK for decades.
Finally straight edge and veganism have ebbs and flows everywhere, but weirdly I think these waves go at lightening speed in the UK compared to Europe. Right now vegetarianism/veganism is on the up, perhaps thanks to bands like XRepentanceX, and the general boom in the lifestyle, when it was totally dead and sort of laughed at before. Straight Edge is in a weird spot I think at the moment but luckily, or unluckily depending on your perspective, bands like Unjust, Insist, Standpoint and Payday are bringing it back.
Brexit has been voted in June 2016. I know you were strongly opposed to it and expressed your feelings by publishing a text online (along with Carry The Weight records) explaining how it would affect the UK Hardcore Punk scene. In your opinion are the effects already perceptible, first on a local scale within the UK hardcore punk community, and second on a general level in everyday life?
There were a couple of immediate impacts. One was the pound losing value. This totally fucked me at the time because my pressing plant is in France and I pay in Euros so my prices had to rise to cover costs. More importantly many of my Polish hardcore family have moved back home and there is a general fear and sadness I would say. The thing is until negotiations start and we are clearer on what the outcome will be there’s not a lot we can do at this point other than make our voices heard by writing to our Ministers of Parliament to vote a certain way on individual issues. If you live in the UK you can do that here: www.writetothem.com I’m applying for Polish citizenship and passport to cover my back regardless, as both my parents have Polish citizenship.
To keep going with important matters, I want to ask you how do you feel about being involved in Hardcore Punk as a woman? When starting the label or bands you are in, did you feel some kind of pressure or expectations (either good or bad) different than if you had been a man?
Oh you had to ask didn’t you! Damn, ok well here goes…
The experience of being a women in hardcore punk from my perspective has improved a lot, especially in the last couple of years. When I started going to shows it was a terrible time for women in UKHC, and in the USA as well, although I actually didn’t know it at the time, because I didn’t know any different. Watching documentaries about Hardcore specifically, it was interesting how it did not take on the values of bold and strong women taking their fair share that the initial burst of punk did. It made machismo it’s core, being harder and tougher than ‘punk’. Maybe I’m a masochist or perhaps it was just where I saw more people with a lifestyle that didn’t revolve around the pub, and I just preferred the music, that I ended up initially more drawn to the hardcore scene, despite it’s difficult record of having a space for women. Women were still coming to shows and getting involved, putting on shows, being in bands on occasion, taking photographs, writing zines and pitting hard. However, the only social roles women were allowed to inhabit were ‘slut’, ‘wife’ or ‘one of the guys’, with dubious lyrics about kicking vaginas and drowning in a man’s seed accepted without question (these are real references). Any woman of my age that felt pressured to appear ‘as tough as the guys’, or not feel their opinion about which NYHC Demo is best was welcomed, because they decided to wear lipstick to a show, knows what I’m talking about when looking back at that time. When I started bands and the record label, it was quite late into my time being a part of the hardcore punk community, when things were starting to shift. I had found a supportive group of friends who wanted to play with me and mentors who I could learn from to do the label right. At the end of the day the main ingredients to doing anything DIY is always going to be determination, initiative and friends. If you sit at home complaining behind a computer/phone all day, you will achieve nothing. It was a matter of changing the conversation in my head from ‘I can’t because…’ to ‘I will’ and ‘I want’.
Feminism is such a hot potato at the moment, both within hardcore punk and outside. The truth is it should have been part of the conversation always, and now we have to deal with a backlog of sorts. I also think social media is being unhelpful in a lot of ways, because it’s not allowing us to have healthy face-to-face conversations. Posts about women’s issues often attract trolls, and conversations quickly dissolve into who can bring the wittiest banter to the table, even when it is someone baring their personal shit. I mean really, what’s the point? Society in the UK is at a junction at the moment, we’re remembering our 70s feminist roots, and it has spawned similar conversations, such as what is feminism, how can we create a supportive intersectional feminist movement globally, as well as within the sub-culture that is hardcore punk. This means that, although sexism is still occurring, there is a, usually heated, conversation happening to counter it and there is a sense of a shift in attitude, and greater awareness, amongst all genders. It is brilliant to see so many outspoken women in UKHC taking part in the conversation, of what it means to be a woman, with words and/or actions, shaping the future. Decondition Fest was a great example of this. The vast majority of the bands had women playing, a woman put on the fest, but it wasn’t exclusive or tokenistic, just a Fest where the majority of bands had more than one gender. That was a real moment for me personally. It’s important to make sure these things are not forgotten and recorded, which luckily is a little easier in the digital age when you can create your own archive. I’m curious to see what will happen in the future, and also how we’ll look back on this time. My only hope is that there no backlash, a step back, and we continue to grow as a community, as a positive influencer to the mainstream. This isn’t me saying that hardcore punk has any major sway in the world, but it is a world, and is not closed off, it does have influence around it’s edges, just as no person is just ‘one thing’.
You are running Quality Control HQ which is for me the best current European label. How and why did you start it and what are you plans with QCHQ?
Thank you for the kind endorsement! I was working in NYC around 2009-10 where I met a wonderful bunch of punks who would end up nurturing a massive community to this day. They actually just had their last show which was really sad for me. I absolutely loved the Crazy Spirit Demo and thought it should go immediately onto vinyl so I asked and luckily they said yes. I’d been a record nerd for years, and have the good fortune of mates who run labels (La Vida Es Un Mus, Static Shock Records, and Demo Tapes), who were willing to share their expertise with me. I always intended to put out UKHC releases primarily and support the scene that way, and luckily after a couple of releases I could start to do that starting with Violent Reaction and a band I played in called Stab.
I know it’s a hard one but what’s your favorite QCHQ release and why?
I’m gonna be boring and say I really love them all. I mean, why else would I put it out and go to all that effort? However, I’ll throw you a crumb and say that I really went goo goo for printing nerdery when the second press Violent Reaction s/t 7”s sleeves arrived at my house, as that was the first ‘multi-panel cross’ style sleeve I did, and I still really love getting those done, and I believe there are 4 releases with those. Close second in the printing beauty pageant is the 3mm spined printed half disco 7” sleeve for Shrapnel, with a slick poster insert. Sexy. I’ve just done another one of those glossy posters for the Big Cheese 7” insert. Oh and also the Rival Mob reissue 12”, which had a tip on sleeve, full colour and with foil accents. Right well I guess you got your answer after all haha.
Not sure you want to talk about it but one of your last releases, the BARGE LP, was withdrawn from sale a few days after it was released. Can you explain the context that led you to take this decision?
I’ve said my piece elsewhere about this, but in a nutshell, I don’t want my label promoting or representing a person who committed sexual assault. It hurt like hell financially and emotionally but for me there was no choice. Alex from Grave Mistake made the same decision for the American press. The rest of the band supported us in this decision.
You are playing the guitar in Arms Race, which happens to be one of my UK’s favorite at the moment. What’s up and what are your plans for the future?
Thanks! We just did a tour in Japan which was an incredible experience. As am sure you would agree having done one yourself! Masa Low Vision invited us and took such good care of us, it was a very humbling experience, as people are so nice there, and we made friends easily and for life. Fave bands we played with were Low Vision, Kriegshog, Akka, Moonscape, Unarm, Diebirth, Milk and ‘Untitled’ haha. Every night the shows had varied line ups, and every day included buying way too many records. It actually got a bit silly at the end and I was half glad I was going home before I went totally broke. One of the last places where record stores still mean something and internet doesn’t rule all. Raging shops.
We’ve got a new 7” coming out in February called ‘The Beast’, which is also the name of one of the songs haha! We recorded it a while ago so excited to have it out. I guess it only seems like that in my head as we have been playing two of the new songs for a while now. One of the songs is a bit more experimental (at least for us). It’s out on Painkiller Records and La Vida Es Un Mus, like the LP.
Also we’ve got a tour with The Flex in March/April on the East Coast ending up at Damaged City Fest. Haven’t toured America in a while and we will be hitting cities I haven’t played yet like two shows in Florida. I used to go to ‘This is For Your Fest’ in the mid 2000s in Daytona, and love 80s Florida HC-P. Did a radio show with Charlie from Arms Race where we play a new AR track and covered some 80s Florida HC if anyone is interested you can check it out here.
Am excited also to see some of the new bands popping up in Florida. Seems like a really thriving scene right now with bands like Day by Day and Ecostrike, and then I also really like Labrón, and Result of Choice.
Are you or have you been involved in other bands? I’ve seen you are playing in Farce and Game, tell us about those?
Farce is a band I’m doing with Callum from Obstruct, Shrapnel, Culprit, True Vision and Violent Reaction, Jyoti from Runt and Ollie from The Legacy! Going for pure Ripcord/Heresy/Extreme Noice Terror/Icons of Filth worship. We have a demo out and are playing shows in the UK and Ireland next year. We are a vegan band in fact, but more in the crusty punk sense, haha. Really enjoy playing with that crew.
Game is a fairly new band I’m also playing in with Callum. Nicky Rat is on bass (Arms Race, Subdued, Night Force, Mr Awesome Artwork) and Jonah from Fucked Up/Career Suicide is on drums. We’re going for an ADK/Dogma Records catalogue style sound, primarily Gism I would say. I sing for the first time, in both Polish and English. I would say also an influence for me is Siekiera (the punk era). We’ve got a Flexi Demo 7” out. Doing a mini-Euro tour next February, so come hang out!
I’ve also played guitar in Slur, who were a Skandi style D-beat band with members of No/Shitty Limits/Obstruct/The Flex. Stab was my first band with Nick from Arms Race/Crown Court/Violent Reaction/Abolition. I guess you could describe that one as going for Plasmid Demo/Ripcord/Voorhees.
Cheers Alexis! Thanks for rockin one of the best HCP distros in the planet! x