GIVEUP is the solo project of Ashwin Bhandari, a prominent figure in most modern indie/ alternative/ punk/ emo/ metal/ any other genre, you’ve more than likely seen them crowd surfing at a hardcore show at some point in the last 10 years or so, or calling out some narrow minded commentator in the NME comments section. Based up and down the country, London, Brighton, Oxford, depending on where they happen to be that day. If you know Ashwin you may consider them outspoken, but dive into their music and the intimate stories strung in between chugging chords tell a different story. Speaking on many issues of mental health, self acceptance and trying to find a place in this world, their music is raw, and yet full of vibrancy. They’ve returned now with the latest project under the GIVEUP name, moving into the realms of noise rock and experimental electronic music. It’s an EP full of candid recordings that allows the music within to shift and change, leading you into new and ever expanding sonic landscapes with each turn. We sat down with Ashwin to learn about how their new sound came to life, what this means for the future of GIVEUP and why Oasis aren’t Shoegaze and will always be shit.
So this EP was created over the last 8 months or so over various lockdowns, has this time allowed you to get back into writing music?
So with both my bands, Night Swimming and Red Terror, we were supposed to be doing stuff this year and they both subsequently got cancelled because of Covid. One of which we were supposed to play a show with our friends in NEWMOON, who are a Belgian shoegaze band and then the first lockdown got announced about 2 days before then and there was just no way of fitting it in before lockdown came into effect. So I went back to my parents for a bit with my brother, and he has a Fender Jazzmaster that he just straight up doesn’t really use, and an amplifier with loads of effects pedals. And in April people were doing more improvised livestreams than they perhaps are now. So I just did this noise rock set in a balaclava for about 25 – 30 minutes and uploaded it Youtube and then took the best parts of that improved set and turned it into separate tracks. I then moved back to London with my partner and I was struggling to write music on my own because of trying to keep within the noise restrictions around here, it’s a bit harder to record stuff. But basically Ruminations is just that noise rock set cut into different tracks. And then a Slowdive cover that I did ages ago, which I decided to just whack on there for the sake of keeping it a bit longer. I’ve always been quite influence by Jesu, Have A Nice Life, Planning For Burial and Sunn O))), all those kind of drone goth type of bands. And I always imagined if I was going to do noise rock sets then i’d rather use the balaclava with that over my sad acoustic songs because theres something about wearing that, that has empowered me in a weird way. I know that people don’t really take me seriously and I do a lot of stupid shit. But having that and amplifying having that presence of feeling cooler than I actually am is nice. I am really self conscious about self promoting, but this time I decided that because it’s a noise rock EP and does go into bits of different genres i’ve just been spamming various different subreddits and it’s actually worked! Everyday i’ve been checking the Bandcamp stats and they’ve very slowly gone up, which has never really happened before because usually i’d slap music on there, maybe some friends might listen to it and then that’s it. But this i’ve tried to make a conscious effort to be like “No, you’re in lockdown, you’re not going anywhere, you can listen to my EP whether you like it or not” haha.
I’m really excited about what we’ve got coming with my bands, the next Red Terror release is just going to be a two track, which is also the first material i’ve recorded with that band. There’s some vocals that still need to be re-done, so those songs are essentially in limbo. They are basically fully recorded but I think we’ll wait until next year. And with Night Swimming we have a full song recorded but it’s a case of when we should put it out. Because it’s a really good song, but we worried that if it’s released now then no-one will give a shit and it’ll just get lost because we don’t have anything to follow it up with.
So doing stuff with this project is a nice way of keeping myself actively doing stuff. And seeing friends do it is really nice as well. It’s also a case of trying to keep your work consistent. In January of this year Night Swimming got offered to play a set with this fairly big American post-hardcore band, but the other band members couldn’t do it. So I decided to do a GIVEUP solo set and it was really odd because it was a free show but it was a packed out room. And with almost putting no effort in i’d played to the biggest crowd i had so far. Which was frustrating to realise how easy this is if you stop worrying about it. But it did also give me false hope for the rest of the year, being like “Oh if i can just play to complete strangers and then people come up afterwards and say that was good” then maybe I can give this more of an effort. I just assume no one gives a shit about the solo stuff, no matter how many times I try to push it. But I’ve been doing that for 4 or 5 years now and I just wanna make sure that i’m not just playing the same three or four chords over and over again. There’s a lot of songs on there that I wrote when I was nineteen or twenty which I cringe back on now, but I still play them live because I don’t have a massive repertoire of stuff.
As you said the EP has a more noise rock feel to it, moving away from the more acoustic side of your previous work. The element that keeps them consistent though is the lo-fi recording quality of them, why do you gravitate towards that style of recording?
It’s just more interesting. Not to sound like a complete pretentious asshole, but I am really into noise music, field recordings and ambient music, there’s something almost charming with lo-fi and I don’t feel with the sort of music I want to do i’d ever want something to be overly produced. At least with this project, with Night Swimming we’ve actively gone out of our way to up the production values and make everything more pristine. When the first Night Swimming EP came out people where calling it lo-fi and I was a bit upset by that because I was like “No, we’ve paid for recording studio time, this isn’t demo quality”. It was recorded originally with this producer who mainly does math-rock and post-rock recording, so doing a shoegaze band was already a bit of a weird thing for him. We’d paid about £150 for it and to also do mastering as well, but he came back to us saying “I’m going to be honest with you guys, this is demo quality, can you not put my name on the credits?”. So we had to pay someone else to mix and master it, which when we released sounded really good, but unfortunately it got tarnished with the lo-fi tag and I really didn’t want that haha.
In my other projects I actively go out of my way to not have the lo-fi sound, but I like the accessibility of just being able to record stuff on you iPhone and then bang it into Gargeband and just mess around with the EQ settings. I would like to learn how to use Ableton one day, I’d like to not just use a Focusrite, i’m aware i’m every single cliché when it comes to lo-fi recordings. I’ve recorded in bathrooms or under bridges in public, all sorts of different places to capture the atmosphere that I want for whatever I’m doing. I like doing that because there’s only so many presets, there’s only so many times you can use the telephone voice. But i’ve never tried to do the same thing over and over again, i’ve like having concistency in some ways, but i’ll always try and add something new. Ruminations was basically a bunch of songs that had been sitting on my laptop for a while that I didn’t really know how to put down in a cohesive way. I was originally thinking that I could just put the entire noise rock set as one really long track but then suddenly realised that no-one is going to listen to that. So i might as well keep it as individual tracks, which means even if people just click on the Slowdive cover that’s fine by me. One day I would like to be able to record with an actual tape recorder or an 8 track. So essentially I want to get even more lo-fi if I can but I need to get the right equipment for it, there’s only so many times you can record on your iPhone and make it sound lo-fi. If you get a newer model, the microphone will be slightly higher quality each time, so you’re actually losing that lo-fi level. Which is why I used to intentionally do it on an iPhone 4, the shittier the mircophone the better the lo-fi for me anyway.
There was an interview I watched with King Gizzard where they said that on their newest album they still record some elements with an iPhone to get that signature distortion.
Oh shit no way! Yea getting the peaks in there.
So after splitting the set up into the different tracks, did you then find songs that fit a specific meaning that you were trying to put behind them? Or was it just more of a — approach?
I gave the illusion that it was more technical than it actually was. The first two tracks are the same riff slowed down and then sped up, and then messing around with whatever was in tune with each sound. But that riff is something I wrote about three or four years ago and I could never make it work into anything for the other projects, mainly because I don’t write guitar parts for those bands which is fair enough really. Then I thought it would make a good set opener, which is where I used it. Then “Ruminations” and “La Petit Mois” were just a case of moving the capo slightly further up the guitar and hoping that I didn’t play a bum note when I was doing the finger picking. Funnily enough I had someone say to me the other day that those actually sound like they have structure, but in reality I had no clue what I was doing. Hopefully it sounded consistent enough to boil down into two tracks. The idea was to have really slow atmospheric pads that would build up into this giant wall of noise. The use of the whammy bar came into it as much as possible because I don’t get to use that very much in Night Swimming as, understandably, our guitarist isn’t really a fan of it. Essentially just detuning your guitar when you could get that effect from various pedals. But because it’s the sound I was going for I tried to incorporate it as much as I could whilst keeping in time.
So after extracting the sound into Garageband I just split it all into different projects. The full track idea was there for while but it does change a fair bit so unless I had some cool interlude parts to fit in between, which as it stood was just me changing the position of the capo. Being a noise rock set on a livestream I just assumed people would duck in and out for 10 seconds and just be like “Ah, Ashwin’s got a balaclava on their head, cool”. So it’s a weird experiment and i’m really happy with how it turned out. As you will probably notice there’s only drums on two of the tracks because I just couldn’t get it to work for other tracks. For “…” I didn’t feel it was heavy enough without drums so I just used the keyboard tapping for that one, which can be a bit of a pain because you only have so many drums sounds to work with. I have a mate who helps with the production of this project sometimes and I spoke to him asking if he thought that the guitars worked well enough on their own and he was quite adamant that they worked like that. A lot of drone music is just guitar anyway so I thought it would be a bit more interesting than just playing the same two notes for a few minutes. I feel those two songs, “…” and “Fucking Knackered” almost take you on a journey of some sort because you’re following along with it.
Yeah I definitely got that when listening as those two go into a bit more electronic sounds
I would one day like to just do a straight up power electronics project, which is where the balaclava comes from. I’ve seen a lot of noise artists who use something like that to create that sense of anonymity on stage, even if you know who they are. I have two Korg Micro devices, a duel and a reverb, small almost Fisher Price level instruments. And they’re cool but i’m not sure how i’d do an entire set with those if it wasn’t just completely improvised. But i’d like to be able to have it one day where I can have parts programmed so that there are consistent songs compared to “lets watch the little freak in a balaclava play around with a stylus for half an hour whilst vaguely shouting things”.
So going from this EP do you think you’d want to move into more “sonically diverse” territory”?
I’m quite happy with the sound I have now, with it only just coming out and being quite fresh, I haven’t really thought too much ahead about what i’m now in the future. There was a band I went to go see at the Windmill in Brixton and unannounced was this guy who had a candelabra at the back and his back to the audience whilst playing guitar. And I was just like “that is exactly what I want to do with GIVEUP” but I want people to actually come to see me. However I felt that was a really effective way of showcasing the music to an audience that wouldn’t have usually listened. To have a consistent live show and create an atmosphere that isn’t just sat in your room listening to this outsider depressing music would be nice. I think i’d just like to expand on what I’m already doing with that and maybe add in some harsh noise, some programmed drums. I haven’t really thought that far ahead though to be honest.
So far this is the most amount of reception i’ve had from people. I find it incredibly hard self promoting and I need to get over that hurdle. With a band all your members are doing it so it’s a shared effort of embarrassment. There was a meme that came out a few days after I posted my EP that described my situation almost word for word and I really don’t know if someone made this about me or not. But then I realised that this is pretty common for lockdown music. I know other people self promote but they seem to naturally get other people to listen to whatever they and I get that sense of jealousy. I will say this though for people self promoting, the least likely way for someone to listen to your music is if you add someone on Facebook for the sole purpose of sending them a link or the worst one i’ve seen was this band who once made this group chat on Instagram of about 80 people to get people to listen to them and watch their video which immediately turned me away from them. I don’t want to say however that sponsored posts are the devil, because I have actually gotten into some good music through that whether or not that’s intentional. But there is definitely a trend of 4 white guys saying “Hey we’re a pop-punk band and this our new single about quarantine!”. Then again it’s almost a new way of advertising music because you have bands like Cigarettes After Sex that almost accidentally got big because of Youtube algorithms. So there’s a certain mystique behind wondering if you did sponsored music and it did somehow go viral. It’s that what if that makes you feel a bit less embarrassed about self promoting. I think if I knew that everyone felt the same way about it then I would feel less conscious about it, but what I struggle with is seeing other people naturally getting people to listen to their music or sharing. But from that I don’t know whether they are plugging people left right and centre with a link. There’s also no guarantee with that either that they will actually listen to your track, so you just have to take their word for it. This Arthur meme comes to mind. I’m completely guilty of doing the same though, and it’s not that I don’t want to support my friends but it’s usually just at a bad time that somebody’s sent me something.
Nowadays i’m trying to go out of my way and give feedback. Then it’s a back and forth of you’re promoting your art to me so you can listen to mine and give each other feedback. What was the original question haha? But yeah that sound I do want to expand on, I might even get my friend Matt to do some drumming for me because he’s done a lot of programming and production, helping a lot with that side of things.
Would you ever turn the project into more than just you then? Or do you like the idea that it’s just your music?
I like the idea that I can just turn up anywhere and just annoy the fuck out of people for 20 minutes with a guitar. I think it would take a lot more planning, but also I would not want to become a band dictator in some way. If I was to incorporate more people then i’d let them take their own takes on things as long as it was in time or in tune. I don’t know how i’d feel about a full band as I wouldn’t want to turn into Car Seat Headrest where it’s technically a band but it’s Will Toledo that kinda thing, where the front-person is the centre of that. I feel a bit odd about those kinds of things as other people are contributing just as hard, with going on tour and sacrificing as much so they should get as much credit as they’re due. But I think I need to write a lot more material to warrant having a full band. I’m quite good friends with James Clayton who’s in Crywank and they had a period 4 or 5 years ago where they tried turn their 2 piece into a full sounding, plugged in electric band. Some people really liked it but they said they hated it which is understandable as their music is purely based around trying to push the limits of an acoustic guitar. So just because you have a full band doesn’t necessarily mean you create a fuller sound. I missed the tour but some friends told me that when Elvis Depressedly played the UK about 3 or 4 years ago they had a full band and the songs didn’t sound anywhere near as decent quality as the recordings which was almost hampered by having a full band. Which is a shame because those songs feel they should be great with a full band, but maybe I shouldn’t judge everything off of that.
So being on your own gives you more freedom to just be like “I’m doing this style now and that’s it”
Yeah I like just going places and being like “I’ve got a bag of tricks up my sleeve” haha.
With you adding the Slowdive cover to the end of the EP I wanted to ask, what does Slowdive mean to you?
Big big humongous question. So I got into Slowdive kind of late, but my friendship with the bassist in Night Swimming, Aiden started at uni and mainly revolved around us getting really high and listening to Slowdive. I had an introduction to shoegaze around 2013 from the emo and punk bands that all crossed over into that a bit, and then I got into the “real” shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Swervedriver. I do think though that now there are more shoegaze bands doing more interesting stuff and I tend to veer towards punk bands doing shoegaze because I feel there’s a level of intensity you get rather than just being a MBV ripoff. Before I even saw Slowdive live I saw Minor Victories which is the Supergroup of Rachel Goswell, one of the members of Editors, somebody from Mogwai which was incredible. Then I saw Slowdive play this really really small venue in Glasgow called The Art School, which has burnt down like twice now unfortunately. And then in Oxford and Field Day basically the day after, and then in Brighton and they are always incredible live. They bring quite a mixed generation of people to their shows which is really cool as people who saw them in the 90’s can still appreciate their music. That self-titled album they did three years ago is incredible. And I think now they’re weirdly getting the recognition they should have had in the 90’s, because they got completely overshadowed and shafted by Brit-pop. If you haven’t seen it already there’s a Souvlaki documentary that Pitchfork did on Youtube.
Yeah i’ve been meaning to watch that!
Really really good. I’m not sure about whats going on with them lately. I think as well they’re really in touch with modern shoegaze and who they get as support. Some older bands you see are almost just living off their legacy and any reunion albums they do are just bonus. I don’t wanna say too much and i’m sure they’re sweethearts but MBV and Jesus and The Mary Chain seem like they’re making the main amount of their income being able to do live shows off of the legacy they had 20 – 30 years ago, but I don’t feel like Slowdive are doing that at all. It seems like they’re evolving, even if it’s not the biggest shift ever, it’s more expansive and i’m genuinely really interested to see what they do next. Whereas other bands in that scene I might go see live, but i’m not hankering for a new record.
I saw on Instagram they’re supposed to be recording a new album.
Yeah they’re demoing stuff out which is cool. Another thing I will say about Slowdive is that there’s a level of innocence and angst to their music because they were teenagers when they wrote their first two records. And now as parents and people in their 40’s/ 50’s they still retain this sense of melancholy and despair but it’s done from the perspective of age, they’re not still pretending to be teenagers. Even the music they wrote as young adults, it never comes across as cringy, it’s very timeless and still translates very well. With Souvlaki being written about Neil and Rachel breaking up, it’s amazing how they were able to still be in a band and 30 years later they’re still able to sing those songs and there’s no awkwardness, which I think is really charming in a way.
To put it as the kids say, they’ve “kept it real” as such. And it’s probably helped that there’s this huge nostalgia trip that everybody’s on at the moment to get back into the 90’s culture.
Yeah definitely and they have that level of accessibility as well. I bought my dad a copy of Loveless by MBV for Christmas one year and I think he listened to it once and never played it again. And I was like “But you like U2 and the edge was inspired by them?” but he just said “Nah, it’s too heavy”. Definitely should have just gone with a Slowdive record instead. There’s also a nice thing about having their music as background music, or for intense long journeys. If you’re looking to introduce someone to shoegaze but don’t really know where to start then Slowdive is a nice as it almost transcends different genres. Some people try and call them Dream-pop but I think there’s a very clear difference between the two, Beach House do not sound the same as Nothing.
You can’t really compare the two, like dream-pop is more in the mainstream with people like Lana Del Rey and M83 and there’s a lot of crossover stuff with that. Whereas I feel with shoegaze there’s still a level of undergroundness with it, even if bands like The 1975 or Pale Waves have shoegaze songs it doesn’t mean that they’re a shoegaze band. But it’s still cool as it brings people into that atmosphere as it’s the scene that celebrates itself.
What’s interesting to me is that the name ‘shoegaze’ was meant to be an insult, when someone was reviewing Slowdive they said “they were just looking at their shoes and pedals the whole time”. But they accidentally made a whole genre. I think that type of music will live on as it’s still being churned out in a way that’s interesting and people take influence from that. Whereas Oasis, Blur and Pulp and all the Britpop era are all nostalgia in a way, but there aren’t really bands now doing that sound. And I think it should be left, from the people that have this fixation with the 90’s and not being able to move past it is just mutually unhelpful and the people from that era are getting older now, there’s only so much of a time capsule that you can have from that. Weirdly enough I don’t have a problem enough with people doing that from the 80’s as that’s aged enough to the point that things that sounded new then now do sound vintage. Whereas stuff from the 90’s still sounds shit and it sounded shit then. I don’t have a problem with 90’s nostalgia as long as people who review aren’t basing their whole opinion on whether it sounds like those bands from the 90’s. It’s like when every guitar rock band gets compared to Nirvana, it’s just quite lazy. So many press releases will say “90’s revival or takes cues from the 90’s” which is almost feeling like if you say 90’s enough it will stick and people won’t listen to the music at all. Just going off the nostalgia and trying to recreate that feeling you had of “oh when I listened to this life was good” but you have to address things critically, rather than just pigeon holing stuff because it sounds similar to whatever your dad listened to when he grew up.
Yeah the amount of people that are trying to live off of Liam Gallagher’s continuing legacy is crazy
I will say this though, I watched that Supersonic Highway documentary as it was on last Christmas and it is a really well made documentary if you want to understand how big of a cultural phenomenon Oasis were. Purely based on that fact I would recommend people watch that, anything else with Oasis can get in the bin. No matter how many times people force it on me or tell me “But their early stuff sounds a bit shoegazy”.
I’ve seen that and as well with Nirvana, I’ve heard people reference them as Shoegaze but with it’s just like, well where do you draw the line?
It seems to be if vaguely someone uses a reverb or a flanger or anything with layers to it then it gets put under the label. But there’s more to it than that. I’m one of these people whose says that Shoegaze is a very specific thing and you can’t just liberally slap it on there, because it’s not consistent otherwise. You can’t just have one or two tracks, you need to go the whole mile with it.
Have you thought about any more livestreams or when shows eventually return, what are your plans for that sort of thing?
Right now I haven’t got any plans for livestreams but that could change depending on what I feel like at the time. What I’m trying to focus on is getting that Red Terror and Night Swimming music out in some capacity and then try and figure out what we do next, if and when shows go back. By which we mean when there’s a vaccine, rather than the socially distant shows. I understand why venues and bands are doing it, but especially as I’m shielding it’s just not something I can do. And it’s not viable for some people, I think it would be just better to wait. You know we’ve come a long way with the vaccine and it does feel like things might go back to a semblance of normality in a few months time, I can’t tell really. I’m doing a few social media and planning bits for Washed Out Festival in Brighton for next year and we don’t even know whether that’s going to happen or not. It’s in September so fingers crossed. I’m really excited about what we’ve got coming, the next Red Terror release is just going to be a two track, which is also the first material i’ve recorded with that band. There’s some vocals that still need to be re-done, so those songs are essentially in limbo. They are basically fully recorded but I think we’ll wait until next year.
We want also to expand both bands audiences, mostly so far it’s been just in the south so i’m hoping we’ll get some decent turnouts once we can get back. I’m not pretending that we’re not going to have shows where we have 5 – 10 people attending again. But i’m fine with that and for me it’s just as long as you’re doing something creative then it doesn’t really matter how many people listen or if you can make money from it. It’s the fact that you’re putting something out there. I still have to keep telling myself that though and I still check the views and streams on my music each day and if they haven’t gone up I overthink it a lot. And I need to stop asking for validation from people for that, I need to find it in myself to be like “I’ve recorded this, it sounds cool, if people like it or not then that’s up to them”.
Livestreams could be cool as I could always do the same as the new EP again and chop it up again, but that mainly worked by chance. But if there is another then i’d put a lot more thought into it and have a proper set up. Having more vocal samples in it or something like that. My favourite part about that is trying to find something from the most obscure bits of media and then get people to go out of their way to try and find that, that journey of discovery is really interesting to me. I saw this harsh noise project in Brighton and I took loads of drugs before and the guy had all these visuals from various different horror films. But because I was fucked I couldn’t tell whether they were snuff films he’d got from the internet or real films, and the fact it was that convincing made me go out of my way to try and find it. Which I eventually did and it turns out they’re from Martyrs and Irréversible which got me into all the pretentious horrible French cinema films, which then lead me down a rabbit hole that you can’t escape because if you’ve watched one you want to watch them all. Because of those samples and the visuals it made me go and find that art which i’m really grateful for now because i’m really into it now. So i’d like to have something like that in my set, which is a cool way of expanding your art into more avenues.
Ruminations is out now and available to stream and purchase here.