Meet the band inspiring a riot grrrl movement for the age of social media
Vicky Greer
12:44 14th April 2021

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Under strict lockdown in ON, Canada, Softcult have spent a lot of time in their home recording studio, where they’re calling up from now. Over the Atlantic, we can see some of the twins and musical duo's surroundings. One thing that particularly catches the eye is a poster of the Kali, the Hindu Goddess of creation, destruction, and power.

More specifically, Kali is the destroyer of evil forces and protector of the innocent. It feels a fitting decoration for Softcult’s studio, in which they brought together all their rage about the world and channelled it into their debut EP, Year of The Rat, out this Friday (16 April) via Easy Life records. “We really wanted to write some music about how watching these things happening and feeling so powerless to stop it was making us feel”, explains Mercedes Arn Horn, one half of the duo along with her twin sister Phoenix.

Lockdown rules in Canada are even more strict than over in the UK, leaving artists like Softcult little else to do than stay at home and make music: in Ontario right now even livestream events at venues are cancelled. But the time off hasn’t been all bad, Mercedes explains: “it has been helpful because I don’t think we’re ever gonna have this amount of time off again to create. We have two EPs finished, ready to go”.

And so, from lockdown comes Year of the Rat, a five-song EP that is written and produced entirely by the duo. Phoenix took the reigns on recording and production, Mercedes worked away on the equally significant visual aspects of the album and both sisters wrote the songs. Beyond their brand of ‘90s influenced dreamy alt-rock, they have their own zine SCripture, and striking music videos. The musical understanding between them is palpable; the kind of synchronicity that only comes from siblings making music together. In our conversation, they frequently finish each other’s sentences.

Year Of The Rat’s Chinese-zodiac-inspired title and striking artwork holds particular importance for Softcult. “It’s kind of a metaphor for how we feel society is run these days. In our artwork there’s a bunch of white rats running up and then there’s one red rat that really signifies that you don’t have to be a part of the rat race, it just takes one person to break a cycle. It just takes one person to start inspiring others to start a movement” explains Phoenix, with Mercedes adding that it stems from the problems of modern capitalist society. “It feels like you’re either getting stepped on or you’re the one stepping on other people - like a nest of rats, so that’s a big theme we had for the EP”.

This rejection of the rat race feeds into their own DIY ethos, inspired by riot grrrl pioneers of the ‘90s like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Phoenix also relates it to their own experiences with record labels in previous musical project Courage My Love. "We’ve always been into doing DIY things. We were in a project before this band where we were signed to a major label and we didn’t really have as much creative freedom in that project. So, when that ended and we had a bit more freedom to do what we wanted, we just went all out with it”. A year at home gave them the unmissable opportunity to put everything into this DIY ethos.

It’s an obvious relief that they’ve found creative freedom in this project. Phoenix and Mercedes are also putting a particular focus on connecting with their growing fanbase on a deeper level, with the help of social media. “We’re just at the beginning right now with only two songs out and my favourite part of starting new projects is finding out who’s listening to you right at the beginning, your first ever fan base”. While other artists struggle with getting to grips with TikTok, Softcult have mastered it and are now building an intimate fan community on Discord.

Their main goal with the EP is to inspire change, explains Mercedes. “Things can change and they will change. The only constant is change. Out generation is going to be the catalyst for change moving forward, so we have to start getting into that mindset.” Continuing the fire lit by the riot grrrl pioneers of the '90s, this sense of community in alternative scenes can go a long way.

As well as the countless bands they list as having had an influence on their music, the hidden gem of Canada’s music scene has also nurtured Softcult. “I feel like Canada is its own little secret which is really cool but also kinda frustrating as a Canadian band, because you spend so much time focusing on breaking out of Canada, when the scene is actually really cool” says Phoenix of the DIY-influenced alternative scene in her home country, and the growing resurgence of house shows and independent venues. “There’s even a genre called Southern Ontario Hardcore and it’s very specific - but it’s so good!”.

But even the hidden treasure of Canadian rock music isn’t safe from the misogyny that has infected music everywhere, which they say has “gotten to the point where it feels insane not to talk about it”. Talking about the growing online conversation of gender balance on festival lineups, Phoenix says that “it’s a problem everywhere pretty much. It’s not just a problem in the UK, we have it here, too”. Softcult has been using their platform and their music to fight back against the treatment of women in the music industry and beyond, and Mercedes shares her own stories from behind the scenes. The culprits? Not just the artists but their management who continue to look the other way. “Back in the day we were going on tours and stuff and our agent would say stuff like “Watch out for this guy, we’ve heard a couple of things” but then why is he still on your roster? There needs to be a little accountability from the higher-ups in the industry.”

The uncertainty of the pandemic isn’t going to put Softcult off making plans for the future. Year Of The Rat isn’t the only EP they’re sitting on right now, and although there are no details as of yet, we can expect to hear from them again sooner rather than later. “We haven’t picked a release date yet, but it probably won’t be too long”, Phoenix says of the secret new music, with Mercedes clarifying that they “don’t like waiting on things”. They have big plans to get back on the road too, when that day finally comes.

Softcult have taken everything they loved about the '90s feminist punk movement and brought it into the present day – a movement for the age of social media. As dreamy as their songs are, their biting lyrics will resonate with their growing audience, and could very well inspire the next generation of riot grrrls.

Year of the Rat EP arrives 16 April.

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Photo: Press