Problem Patterns interview: “If you’re singing songs that are political and then you don’t do anything, it’s disingenuous”

Problem Patterns Blouse Club interview

Belfast punks Problem Patterns are the latest band to come bursting out of the Irish and Northern Irish scene, creating a cacophonous typhoon of queer and feminist rage set to grizzly punk tunes.

Overblown sat down with Bethany Crooks and Beverley Boal to talk about their new album, Blouse Club, politics and their varying influences.

As is the case for many new and up-and-coming bands, Problem Patterns all work alongside their creative endeavours. “It feels like you’re constantly juggling burnout”, muses Boal. “We all are very mindful of that, but the four of us have such a good relationship at this point, we’re like family, which takes some of the stress away and helps with burnout.”

The lack of financial support for new musicians and the burden of increased living and touring costs mean that fresh bands have little recourse other than balancing their music with full time work. The grindstone isn’t all bad though, as drummer Beth Crooks interjects; “in terms of writing new stuff, we write about stuff that we get angry about. I got really angry at work and lyrics just started pouring out. So I’ve got a big bit written today!”

She elaborates on the cause of this ire. “This guy sent me a cheeky email at work, right? Two cheeky emails in fact – and fuck him, I don’t care about him, right? But it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I feel all this anger right here and I have to get it out!”

The two compare work stories and we get chatting about how Problem Patterns create. “We write about stuff that we get angry about, so we get angry and then we write lyrics,” Beverley explains. “And then in terms of the music, guitar, bass riffs, we come up with some stuff and then record it in our phones”.

Bethany takes the reins. “We come together with all the lyrics that we’ve written while we were angry and put those together with things we find from voice notes, like riffs we recorded on voice notes or whatever, or jam new things on the spot.” To put it lightly, the they’re being modest here. The DIY spirit of the band runs deep, and that sense of spirit is present throughout Problem Patterns’ songs. They pour everything into an album that is gloriously punky, with big, earsplitting riffs and heavy barrages of rhythm throughout.

The group don’t shy away from politics either, far from it. They are outwardly political and rally against established norms of sexism, homophobia and transphobia. ‘Poverty Tourist’ is a prime example of this, with the band decrying gentrifying charity shoppers depriving the working class of affordable homes and commodities.

Letter of Resignation’ is a rallying anticapitalist war cry, and ‘TERFs Out’ speaks for itself. “In Northern Ireland. Our politicians do fuck all. it’s probably the same in England, too, but we haven’t had an Executive in two years”. Filibustering and anti-democratic bureaucracy has brought NI politics to a grinding halt. “They focus on things that aren’t issues, such as trans people and all that bullshit. I think obviously, if you’re singing songs that are political and then you don’t do anything, any kind of activism in your personal life, it seems a little bit like you’re just being like, oh, I’m a cool political punk and you’re not actually doing anything. It’s disingenuous.”

Problem Patterns aren’t plastic punks whatsoever. They put their money where their mouths are when it comes to activism, and try to inspire change for more than back-pats off Guardian readers. “We put out some albums to raise money for Women’s Aid over lockdown, and we try at our gigs, our home gigs, to raise money for local charities.”

The reality of being a working band is never far behind though, and Beverley continues. “There’s only so much you can do, we work full time, do the band full time and there’s little space for more. We’re very particular about who we play with or where we play or what promoters are putting the show on. I think that’s also a kind of activism there, because we’re really trying to keep ourselves safe and also the people that are coming to our gigs.”

Creating a safe space at a punk show is the sort of thing that tedious old heads may sneer at, but – as Problem Patterns embody – there is nothing more punk than sticking up for the marginalised and rallying against the toxic systems, and those who uphold them. This is a constant reoccurrence throughout Blouse Club, a debut album where gigantic riffs and frantic rhythms collide head on anti-establishment lyrics. None more so than ‘A History of Bad Men Part II’, where the band take on the patriarchy with style.

There is such a rich tapestry of Irish and Northern Irish alternative music currently, with sociopolitical issues birthing a punk scene with serious teeth. “I think Northern Ireland specifically has been really good at churning out punk because it’s been quite a politically hostile place for a very long time,” Crooks says of the fruitful scene. “So much of that came from the troubles, where young people didn’t feel safe, and didn’t feel represented by their government”.

There is a real fire in the eyes of the band members as they begin to delve into the shortcomings of their elected officials. “Young people were seeing their friends getting blown up and killed and they didn’t really take either side in it. And that’s where the punk movement kind of came in Northern Ireland,” she elaborates further. “We’ve got a different struggle where it’s more like queer-focused about femicide and that sort of thing, but we [Problem Patterns] have the same heart as those bands”.

This heart on the sleeve attitude is part of what makes PP such a force to be reckoned with. Their sound is monumental, and the wailing punk spirit that runs throughout the record is undeniably passionate. People bemoan a lack of protest songs ‘these days’, but these people have clearly not listened to Problem Patterns.

Photo credit: Ellen Blair

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