It’s a 32 minute tape of sad queer songs about trauma and love and gender and ugliness, written last spring when I was heartbroken and homeless.
Side A has guitar & synth songs with my melodramatic voice crooning about rape culture, gun violence, internalized transphobia, bullying, unrequited love, and feeling creepy, plus a different cover song on each tape. Side B is solo improvised cello; an exploration of the instrument’s capacity for ghastly textures and general ugliness.
The digital version is ✨free✨ / pay-whatever. There are 28 cassettes, and they are priced at one for £1, one for £2, and so on up to one for £28. I’m donating 15% of the sales money to Action For Trans Health as an act of solidarity because they do amazing direct action work to fund healthcare for trans people in the UK.
This project has been really important to me personally because music was weaponized against me by my abusive ex (fuck you, Charles Potashner, aka Shapeshifter promotions in London) and it’s the first time I’ve written music since then.
It’s also the first time I’ve made music all on my own, without any help, ever! I did every part of the project by myself: writing the lyrics and music, engineering and recording each cassette direct-to-tape in my bedroom 29 times (28 tapes + 1 for the digital version), painting the shells, hand-writing the liner notes, typing up the plant fact inserts, hand-drawing the plant artwork, and photographing the whole process; and, I’ll be hyping and selling and shipping them all out myself too. It’s been a lot of work and I’ve found it to be empowering, frustrating, cathartic, and long.
This is the first year I’ve played and performed since I left Charles; reclaiming music has been difficult and wonderful. I’m so so grateful to everyone who has encouraged me, asked me to play with them, allowed me to play with them, come to our shows, recorded with me, and especially my housemates who tolerated my repetitive live bedroom performances as I recorded these tapes.
EDIT: We will not be giving any money to Movement For Justice, because recently a former member has spoken out about the structure of MFJ as a front organization for Revolutionary Internationalist League, run by white English men (not migrant-led) and rife with psychological and emotional abuse, which (within the organization and in general) disproportionately falls on women and migrants with precarious immigration status. MFJ has materially helped some asylum seekers and refugees, but we believe survivors when they say that the organization is abusive and that the material aid is tokenistic and only offered when it’s politically advantageous. We won’t be donating any money to MFJ because we believe and stand with survivors of abuse. You can read what they have to say here: unfollowmfj.wordpress.com
Last week, myself and another (anonymous) survivor of abuse teamed up and disrupted an abuser’s upcoming gigs by messaging all of the bands who were going to play the shows he was promoting under the name Shapeshifter. Unexpectedly, enough of the bands responded positively to us and refused to play the abuser’s shows; so they were cancelled! I was surprised but very happy, and we wanted to make sure the bands weren’t punished by losing a gig, so we decided to put on our own gig in celebration/vengeance. We became promoters, calling ourselves Angry Plant.
Born out of anger.
Angry Plant is a tiny collective of outspoken survivors, fed up with the silence and acceptance of abuse in the music scene.
Support survivors; support bands who support survivors.
We organized a gig at the Beehive in Bow with one of the bands from the abuser’s gig (Artefact), and another great band (Witching Waves), and myself playing as Plant Dad. It was my first time promoting a show in London, and my first time playing a solo cello set, and it went well! People liked my noisy cello and we made enough money to pay the bands which is always a victory. We also had lots of support and solidarity from friends and many bands in the scene. There was minimal bullshit, from people resistant to the idea that they know an abuser.
Predictably, the abuser is threatening to sue us for “defamation” which is hilariously unlikely to work in his favor. He’s also trying to work with other abusers to delegitimize survivors’ claims against him. Advice to all abusers (including you, Charles Potashner): if you want people to stop publicly denouncing you as an abuser, try not abusing people; if you have already abused people, try apologizing and offering to do whatever the survivors ask to restore their agency and be accountable. It’s actually really boring to constantly talk about abuse but since the music scene is still full of abusers, here we are, and we’re not shutting up about it any time soon.
[Image description: a grainy photograph of myself, wearing a pink cap and a gray scarf, playing the cello on a stage next to a drum kit, under green lighting. Photo by Christopher Gill.]
15% of the money raised will go straight to the TLC (that’s bandcamp’s usual cut), and on top of that I’ll be donating 15% of my share to Action for Trans Health in the UK. It will only be available for 24 hours, from 8:00am Friday August 4 to 8:00 Saturday August 5, during bandcamp’s campaign. After that if you want to hear it, you’ll have to wait until I release the whole EP at the end of the summer.
The A Side is “But Why”, a song about weird romantic cultural norms. The B Side is a cover of “I Am Hated For Loving” by my fav trash lord, Morrissey, re-imagined as a trans love song to self. “But Why” will be on the full EP, but the cover won’t be so if you want trans mozzer, this is your only chance.
It’s only £1!
Support trans artists & trans activism!
When I release the full EP, the digital version will be free / pay-what-you-can, and I’ll continue donating 15% of my earnings from both the digital and physical versions to A4TH.
UPDATE: Thank you so much to everyone who bought or shared my pre-relase single yesterday.
Bandcamp’s profits were about $100,000 (!!!) which will all go to the Transgender Law Center. My sales are just a drop in the bucket but I’m really proud that my music contributed to this massive fundraiser. On average you spent almost 4 times as much as my suggested price: bandcamp’s share came to £10.13 which will go to the TLC, and I’m giving the same (well, £11, rounding up) to Action For Trans Health. Lots of the support came from other trans artists which warms my cynical heart tbh.
I’m overjoyed that my music can materially support activist groups. When I release the full EP at the end of the summer, the digital version will be pay-what-you-can / free, and I’ll keep donating 15% to A4TH.
[Image description: Anohni’s pale face, dark hair, dark eyes, and somber expression, with the words “I Love You + Want The Best For You” written on her cheek]
Content note: discussion of state violences, dysphoria, abuse, death
HOPELESSNESS is an ode to neoliberal imperialist USAmerica, an embrace of the ugly sides to capitalism and the erosion of our environment, our privacy, our human rights. Written by Anohni and produced in collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, Anohni’s singular voice dominates the album, surrounded by colossal strings and beats. On their own, her lyrics are scathing political commentary and heartbreaking poetry; paired with the wide-open upbeat electronics and swelling strings, HOPELESSNESS interrogates the genres of pop and dance. Can you make a pop single about drone bombing, or ecocide? You not only can—you should.
In the gorgeous video for “Drone Bomb Me”, Naomi Campbell cries as she lip-sync’s Anohni’s lyrics about survivor guilt, begging to be killed by a drone bomb and scattered across a mountain. The imagery is beautiful and disturbing:
Blow my head off
Explode my crystal guts
Lay my purple on the grass
If you weren’t paying attention, you might think it’s just a dance track—bodies sweat and thump in blue and green lighting and smoke to other lines like:
Choose me tonight
Let me be the one
The one that you choose tonight
“After all / I’m partly to blame” is the running theme of the album: we’re all complicit in the horrors of oil-thirsty imperialism.
The second single, “4 DEGREES” is just as impassioned and unapologetic. “I have grown tired of grieving for humanity, and I also thought I was not being entirely honest by pretending that I am not a part of the problem,” Anohni said. “’4 DEGREES’ is kind of a brutal attempt to hold myself accountable, not just valorize my intentions, but also reflect on the true impact of my behaviors.” It’s an accelerationist take on climate change, backed by huge drums, deep brass, and syncopated strings:
I wanna hear the dogs crying for water
I wanna see the fish go belly-up in the sea
All those lemurs and all those tiny creatures
I wanna see them burn, it’s only 4 degrees
The track finishes with “Ooh let’s go, let’s go, it’s only 4 degrees”.
Track three, “Watch Me”, also has double-meanings. In the first verse she croons:
Watch me in my hotel room
Watch me move from city to city
Watch me watching pornography
Watch me talk to my friends and my family
It’s an ode to voyeurism with sexual overtones which could be about a controlling Daddy Dom, and quickly becomes about NSA privacy breaches and the collection of personal information. The surveillance state isn’t Big Brother, it’s Daddy:
I know you love me, cause you’re always watching me
Protecting me from evil
Protecting me from terrorism
Protecting me from child molesters
Protecting me from evil
Watch me in my hotel room
Watch my iris move from city to city
Watch me watching pornography
Watch my medical history
Anohni is the first trans music I heard, about six years ago with her previous band Antony And The Johnsons. Their songs about dysphoria and self-directed abuse, supported by sappy piano and orchestral arrangements, still make me cry.
I am very happy, so please hit me
I am very, very happy, so please hurt me
“Cripple And The Starfish”, 1995
One day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful woman
One day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful girl
But for today I am a child
For today I am a boy
She’s always been an Important artist to me, and I’m so glad to see her get widespread acclaim with HOPELESSNESS. Anohni’s voice quivers with angst and sorrow, and anyone familiar with her work will recognize it immediately despite the new pop dance aesthetic. Her poetic lyrics are simple, clear, and beautiful. Their directness is what makes them so moving. It’s also inspiring to see a trans woman at 45 years old, visible and still angry and engaged and relevant and alive. HOPELESSNESS is an eloquent as ever shift from the personal to the (explicitly) political, with bigger percussion.
Track four, “Execution”, sings in praise of capital punishment. It cheerfully hooks:
Sometimes a feeling is reason enough
It’s an American dream
The justice system which legally murders as punishment is a key part of the USAmerican “dream”, the mythology, the terror of the state; it’s viewed as a part of our “free democracy”, but Anohni correctly groups the US with China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Nigeria as states which practice the death penalty. The bastardization of morality among the USAmerican right: it’s enough to execute someone simply because you feel like it’s right, with no appreciation for that feeling stemming from classism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, and/or queerphobia.
Track five, “I Don’t Love You Anymore”, is a break-up song: to the US, to neoliberal capitalism, to herself as a member of the state and a reproducer of its power? It could be ‘just a break-up song’, but given the political content of the other tracks I find that unlikely. The lyrics
You left me in a cage
My only defense was rage
are a too real description of my own feelings about our current state of affairs. Whether a comment on the prison system or feeling trapped by an abusive partner, the line speaks to the value and necessity of anger as a coping mechanism, an emotional survival strategy.
Track six, “Obama”, captures our disillusionment with the US president who we were once so proud of. I’m going to include the lyrics in full because they’re so pointed:
When you were elected
The world cried with joy
We thought we had empowered
The truth-telling envoy
Now the news is you are spying
Executing without trial
Scarring closed the sky
Punishing the whistleblowers
Those who tell the truth
Do you recognize the yellow
Staring back at you
All the hope drained from your face
Like children we believed
All the hope drained from your face
The juxtaposition of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden as truth-telling whistleblowers incarcerated and in exile, to Obama as a spying imperialist elected on the false premise of truth, is a reminder that the continuation of Obama’s policies in Hillary Clinton is not good enough, and how Bernie Sanders’ promises of a just society which have so inspired the disenfranchised could too end in further decay of leftist values and more militarism.
“Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?” interrogates the distance we feel between our consumption and the environmental destruction caused by it.
I don’t want your future
I’ll never return
I’ll be born into the past
I’m never, never coming home
Why did you separate me from the Earth?
What did you stand to gain?
This time, Anohni rejects profit as a priority over the ecosystems, and rejects the mythological future of luxury capitalism. She goes on to list crimes against the Earth with vivid imagery while strings pluck away and pad synths swell.
“Crisis” begins minimally, with staccato deep bass beat and a metronomic tone behind Anohni’s voice, before adding in wet strings dripping with delay.
If I tortured your brother
If I filled up your mass graves
And attacked your countries
Under false premise
It’s an apology to everyone killed in US-NATO adventurism in the Middle East in the name of “crisis”, and a renaming of those deaths as a crisis greater than the ones which allegedly brought us there.
The title track, “Hopelessness”, echoes the sentiments of “4 DEGREES” regarding individual environmental accountability:
I don’t care about me
I feel the animals in the trees
They got nowhere
Nowhere to go
I’ve been taking more than I deserve (hopelessness)
Leaving nothing in reserve (hopelessness)
Digging til the banks runs dry (hopelessness)
I’ve been living a lie (hopelessness)
On the final track, “Marrow”, Anohni continues to ask us what it means to be USAmerican. She concludes that as we steal money and oil (and land, and lives), “We are all Americans now”.
This is an album in the traditional sense. It has rhythm and cohesiveness, alternating between chipper pop melodies (like “Execution”, “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth”), big dance tracks (“Drone Bomb Me”, “4 Degrees”), and somber open soundscapes (“Obama”, “Violent Men”, “I Don’t Love You Anymore”). I’m not an “album-enthusiast” who decries the death of the LP making way for internet singles, but HOPELESSNESS is a satisfyingly unified body of work, both thematically and aesthetically.
I haven’t bought the album; I pirated it yesterday, after listening to the two singles “Drone Bomb Me” and “4 DEGREES” at least 100 times each on Anohni’s bandcamp (protip: use a different browser or an incognito window to get past the 4-play limit without purchasing). This is how I get most of my music—the rest are £0.50 cassette tapes and 3-for-£1 vinyl at my local record shop. I want to support artists and pay for their music; I also struggle to make rent every month. There is no ethical consumerism when you’re poor. Hopelessness.
Despite the title and the bleak themes (the latter not a departure from Anohni’s earlier work), the album is empowering. It’s powerful to hear that artists are as disappointed and disillusioned, embracing the hopelessness of late capitalism and challenging our collective complacency. This album offers solidarity. It gives me hope.
I’m very excited to have my cello featured on Abi Robins’ new folk album, Such A Mess. Abi’s a good friend of mine and an excellent musician, and it was a pleasure to record and perform with her around Denver.
Performing with Abi and Sean Renner last year at Swallow Hill
We recorded with a home-made mic in her basement studio.
You can hear me on “Let Me Explain”; “I, Of The Tiger”; “Liar”; and “What Can I Say”.