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Be Nice or Go Away: The Summer of Milk Teeth

Monday, 31 July 2017 Written by Alec Chillingworth

There are are lot of people in this car park. You’ve got a healthy contingent of common or garden emos, along with a handful of crusty lifers venturing out for rare public appearances. Then you’ve got curious kids in H&M Nirvana shirts who want something more. There’s a smattering of norms. Some metal maniacs. Some punks. Several people in onesies. They’re packed cheek by jowl for one reason: Milk Teeth.

Slam Dunk festival’s Signature Stage hosts some ridiculous acts throughout the day. Frank Iero & The Patience, the Bronx and Against Me! command top billing, but none pull in the punters like Milk Teeth do. Prior to their arrival, what appears to be a teatowel hangs from the back of the stage. In scrawled marker pen its message reads: "Be Nice or Go Away".

When they do hit the stage, Milk Teeth knock it out of the park. It’s not anything particularly new – it’s four 20-somethings blasting out music they’d love to hear themselves, music that could’ve been on the radio when they were growing up - but it feels vital and alive.

Nirvana, Sonic Youth and the Pixies are three obvious reference points but Milk Teeth are very clearly a 21st century reimagining of ‘grunge’, if you want to slap such a useless tag on it. It’s not a cash-in, nor are they one trick pony revivalists. This is the product of undying love.

“I think it genuinely happened by accident,” Becky Blomfield, Milk Teeth’s bassist and singer, says over the phone after completing a sweltering three hour Megabus journey. “I was born in ’91. A lot of my favourite records are from around that time, so they’re often our go-to points for inspiration.”

The power of nostalgia can invoke cynical diatribes, but when it’s this good and a number of steps (stacked with bubblegum melodies) removed from ripping anyone off, then what’s to hate? You’re annoyed because something reminds you of some of the greatest records ever made? Get over yourself.

Milk Teeth’s popularity (at Slam Dunk and, increasingly, further afield) isn’t just down to that warm, fuzzy feeling conjured by days gone by, though. The band’s recent single, Owning Your Okayness, was released a little before the festival and it turned some heads, to say the least.

It was featured as the Rockest Record on BBC Radio 1’s Rock Show, and has received moderate airplay since. It’s getting the exposure most young bands would do unspeakable things for. “It’s nice to know people are switching on to it,” is Blomfield’s grounded take on the whole thing.

The band have come a long way since forming in 2013. They haven’t quite shot to stardom like newbies from pop and R&B, but Milk Teeth’s rise has been wonderful to watch, especially since the release of their first full-length, ‘Vile Child’, in January of last year and their recent signing to Roadrunner.

They join a stable of young acts - among them Marmozets, Creeper and Code Orange - paving the way for the label’s next phase after they spent the ‘90s repping Type O Negative, Slipknot, Machine Head and more before ceding the floor to Killswitch Engage and Trivium.

“It was a massive compliment and a sign that…not that we had to take it more seriously, but it felt like it actually had potential where it could be viable,” Blomfield explains, pausing for what seems like dramatic effect but, in all honesty, might just be someone realising they’re onto something ace. “I could actually get to a point where it’s my full time job. That’s what I’ve always wanted.”

But there is always the fear that stepping into the big leagues will result in a band’s identity being steamrolled from without. But Milk Teeth’s jump is not, in the eyes of the public, being treated like Against Me! joining Sire just over a decade ago, or any one of a thousand similar stories.

It’s part of this well-deserved rock renaissance we’re experiencing of late. It doesn’t feel like the mad scramble that engulfed Seattle in the ‘90s. From a distance it looks like a label understanding that these young bands have the ideas and the talent to take on the world, as Code Orange did with their sublime ‘Forever’ LP earlier this year.

“Roadrunner wanted to be involved in everything we did,” Blomfield says. “They were so switched on. We’ve always relied heavily on maintaining on our own creative control. The four of us, when it comes to the music, video concepts, the merch designs…there’s a hell of a lot of input. We wanted to keep that, and Roadrunner’s been cool with it.”

Milk Teeth’s debut release for the label, ‘Be Nice’, is four tracks of what they do best. It has the anthemic alt-rock of Owning Your Okayness, while guitarist Billy Hutton does his throat some damage on the raging Fight Skirt, adding that manic, Nirvana-doing-Radio-Friendly-Unit-Shifter racket to the mix. Hibernate ends the record, with its icy, acoustic body breaking down into a denouement as chilling as any ‘scary’ metal song you might care to mention.

It’s impactful because it means something. Blomfield doesn’t just want this, she needs it. Focusing on music during her education while working assorted creative jobs, she’s never let anything get in the way. That bite, that refusal to let this band be anything less than the best it can be, is evident in the consistent excellence of ‘Be Nice’. “We spent even more time on these four songs than we did with the whole of ‘Vile Child’,” she says.

‘Be Nice’ is the first half of an EP couplet, with its art set to dovetail with part two’s as-yet-undisclosed cover. Its yellow background, purple barbed wire and a dead fly is a stark contrast to the title, to say the least.

“I read a poem in GCSE drama. It was about a serial killer,” Blomfield says. “I think it was by Simon Armitage? Anyway, it was about a serial killer. He started out killing small things, like birds and flies. The power he felt was like playing God, he said. He then moved onto killing people. It struck a chord with me and I’ve always remembered it; we were talking about irony around the ‘Be Nice’ title, and that image came through straight away.”

That sinister streak pervades the Milk Teeth live experience this summer, too, with Employed To Serve providing main support on their current UK run. A savage hardcore band might seem a bizarre fit given Milk Teeth’s pop leanings, but it’s something really, really special. Blomfield knows it. “When we’ve supported bands, we’ve always been the oddballs,” she says, with the image of them supporting Refused quickly coming to mind. “We handpicked Employed To Serve. We want them to be a part of this.”

This is just the beginning. That sounds like hyperbole, but whatever. Milk Teeth proved they were a cut above on ‘Vile Child’. ‘Be Nice’ cements that and, given that Blomfield says some unused tracks have been saved for the full-length, the future of rock music is looking very milky indeed. They might come across as slackers straight from a stoner movie on stage, but the crowds know what’s good. A circle pit in a car park at three in the afternoon can’t be wrong.

'Be Nice' is out now on Roadrunner.

Milk Teeth Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon July 31 2017 - LEEDS Key Club
Tue August 01 2017 - NORWICH Epic Studios
Wed August 02 2017 - NOTTINGHAM Bodega Social Club
Thu August 03 2017 - SOUTHAMPTON Joiners
Fri August 04 2017 - LONDON Borderline

Click here to compare & buy Milk Teeth Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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