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Dispatches from London’s Punk Scene: Dream Nails and Screaming Toenail

Dream Nails in Concert

Roar writer Elena Veris-Reynolds reviews Dream Nail’s self-titled debut album and Screaming Toenail’s Growth. 

In recent months, several new searing punk releases have come out of London. One such of these is from “punk witches” Dream Nails, whose self-titled debut album was released at the end of August. Formed in 2015, the band are perhaps most known for their self-described ‘hexes’, including ‘Deep Heat’, released on Donald Trump ahead of the 2016 election. While their curses on misogynistic politicians were definitely excellent punk bangers, four years on, Dream Nails have widened their scope a little. However, this blistering 24-minute release is still an unapologetically loud, queer and feminist call to action.

The album opens with the skit ‘Affirmations’, before launching into the shimmering beach classic ‘Jillian’, reminiscent of the Undertones upbeat punk, (think ‘Here Comes The Summer’). ‘Corporate Realness’ is a fiery take down of capitalist culture, and is followed by ‘Text Me Back (Chirpse Degree Burns)’, an angsty lament about being ghosted. ‘Vagina Police 2.0’ follows, and with its chilling reminder that “your body is not your own”, is an angular resistance anthem against sexual harassment and patriarchal violence. ‘DIY’ is a roaring, fast-paced reminder of the true nature and origin of the punk and feminist movements and is a powerful argument for being self-sufficient.

‘People Are Like Cities’ is a stand-out track and a pop-punk classic, as Dream Nails turn a little more introspective and personal, over some classic riffs and raw guitar sounds.  ‘Swimming Pool’ and ‘This is the Summer’ embrace surf rock influences and are the perfect soundtrack to the September heatwave the UK recently experienced. ‘Payback’ similarly echoes the defiant message of ‘Vagina Police 2.0’ but is even more furious this time, as the band scream “one day, we’ll make you pay”. The album then closes with the raw, defiant and intensely emotional ‘Kiss My Fist’, which is prefaced by a snippet of a news report about the homophobic attack on two women that happened on a London bus in May 2019. The song directly addresses the fetishisation of queer love, challenging specifically those that watch LGBTQ+ pornography but can’t stand to see queer people in real life. It ends with the powerful line “you fear us more than we fear you”, and with that punk is most truly alive.

Another recent debut from an emerging London punk band came in the form of Screaming Toenail’s Growth, the first full album from the anti-colonial four-piece. Growth is a rather darker record, embracing hardcore and grunge, as well as a grimy guitar sound. The record opens with an interlude, ‘Very Testing’, which features samples from various anti-immigrant media reports. This leads straight into the first song ‘Swarm’, which examines ideas about the “good immigrant” over ominous, spiky guitar riffs. ‘White Saviour’ follows, as the band take on the white saviour mentality that believes Africa and other non-Western countries need white people to go and ‘fix’ them. Screaming Toenail have the scathing last word with “Save yourself before you rescue me”. Next up, ‘Define and Conquer’ is a defiant anthem against the establishment, with a thumping synth/dance punk breakdown as singer Jacob V Joyce drawls “I want you to choke on my words”. ‘IOU’ is an impassioned, bold rally against the free labour expected from marginalised people.

Following that is ‘Sever’, a more sombre track, with haunting lyrics about being mutilated and sewing yourself back together. ‘Crystal Queer’ opens with the powerful words of Eartha Kitt as she laughs at the idea of having to compromise for a man. This raw track attacks the white, cis and privileged face of the LGBTQ+ community that has built itself on the labour and work of the Black trans and queer community. At the start, ‘Get Cute’, seems to be about having an innocent crush, but soon the weirder undertones become apparent as Joyce sings about wanting to pretend to be the ’cute’ subject or describes them as a “collage made of toenails”. This clever juxtaposition is slightly uncomfortable but makes ‘Get Cute’ one of the most interesting and complex tracks on the album.

The release closes with a cover of ‘Giant Woman’ from the Steven Universe soundtrack. It feels like a moving homage to many of us queer kids who grew up with Steven Universe as the only example of queer experiences on TV. Screaming Toenail have made it entirely their own, extending it into a radical celebration of feminist leaders. This album is a deeply personal and political tour-de-force, it is for everyone who has ever been stamped on by the so-called “Great” British empire.

Stream Growth on Bandcamp and Dream Nails on Bandcamp or Spotify.

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