Manchester four-piece Witch Fever are busy changing the face of punk music. Originally forming in 2017, the band have spent the last five years making a name for themselves in the UK alternative scene, with their music quickly garnering support from Radio 1’s Daniel P. Carter and publications such as Kerrang! and Upset Magazine.
Last month, I sat down with vocalist Amy Walpole and drummer Annabelle Joyce to discuss punk, politics, and their debut album Congregation. We met in YES before their headline show there that night, and the band led me up a hidden staircase to a small green room at the very top of the venue. Amy and Annabelle were both down to earth and welcoming, playfully complaining about the lack of a rider as we settled down on the sofa to start the interview.
Witch Fever originally met as students in Manchester and bonded over a love of rock. “I did love heavy music growing up. I was all into Alexisonfire, My Chemical Romance, Paramore…” Amy tells me. They soon found a place within the city’s vibrant independent venues, frequenting spots such as Deaf Institute, Soup Kitchen, and the now defunct Sound Control. But the local scene wasn’t quite as diverse as they’d hoped. “When we first started the scene seemed quite… indie boybands in leather jackets sort of vibe”, Annabelle recalls, and Amy is quick to agree: “I wouldn’t say it was welcoming”.
Their music has a distinctive sound: roaring guitars, fuzzy bass, and tight, purposeful drums accompany Amy’s ferocious vocals to create a wall of noise that descends on the listener, taking down anything and anyone in its path. But finding their sonic identity took time, as Annabelle notes. “When we started”, they explain, “we said we wanted to be heavy, but we weren’t very heavy.” Amy concurs, remembering that they were “more thrashy – it wasn’t super heavy. We grew into that sound.”
Like their instrumentals, the politically charged energy that now characterises Witch Fever’s music has also developed over the last five years. “At the time I joined the band, I would call myself a feminist, but I didn’t actually know that much about feminism”, says Amy. “I hadn’t at that point learnt enough about feminism to be able to write lyrics that were reflective of that”.
They’re not these massive c*nts that are constantly throwing their weight around or trying to be like Sid Vicious. But it’s still very much a boys’ club
The band have never shied away from discussing issues such as sexual assault and bodily autonomy, but their new album delves even further into feminist themes, addressing the patriarchy and institutional oppression. “I used to think I had to reach this level of feminist perfection”, Amy reflects. “But a perfect feminist is one that wants to keep learning.”
Despite encountering a lack of gender diversity at a local level, Witch Fever are optimistic that punk is heading in the right direction. “I think that modern punk is way more progressive than it used to be”, says Annabelle. “There’s still a lot of it that is not great, and it’s clear that they still idolise the whole Sex Pistols sh*t, but [bands like] Nova Twins are doing insane at the moment.”
“Post-punk is a different kettle of fish”, ventures Amy, and I get the feeling that she could talk for hours on the subject. “I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but there’s post-punk that is trendy. And then there’s punk that isn’t seen in the same way.” She alludes to Black Midi with a coy smile before comparing them to acts that she believes represent the best of the current musical landscape. “I’d say the forefront of UK punk right now is bands like Nova Twins or even Idles. They’re not these massive c*nts that are constantly throwing their weight around or trying to be like Sid Vicious. But it’s still very much a boys’ club.”
Both band members have simple, no-nonsense advice for women and nonbinary people looking to getting into music. “Don’t let men mansplain to you. Just tell them to f*ck off,” says Annabelle, while Amy states: “Don’t take any sh*t, basically. I feel like it’s important that if someone is making you uncomfortable, then it’s your right to leave and say that it’s making you feel uncomfortable. You’re not overreacting.”
Witch Fever released their debut album Congregation in October 2022, having signed an album deal with Sony in 2020. “The last gig we ever did before lockdown”, Amy says, “the label head came and decided to sign us. They sent for a contract that was just for the EP and before we’d even got a chance to sign it, they sent a full album thing through. We were just like “What? Ok!”’ Amy confesses that the process of making an album has been “Stressful. Quite intense… the label have taken such a huge load of that stress but I’m just glad that it’s out!”
It’s really stress relieving to just scream bloody murder
The band didn’t set out to make any particular kind of record. “We just wanted to make something that was more of a cohesive body of work, as opposed to songs that we’d done and whacked together”, says Annabelle, and Amy elaborates: “We didn’t really go in with a concept or a specific message. We were just writing songs for the fun of it. We knew we wanted a couple of slower ones to demonstrate that we can do something different. But for the first one, it was less about really experimenting – we needed something that was representative of us and our sound.”
Much of Congregation was inspired by Amy’s upbringing in a Charismatic Church that believed in the power of the Holy Spirit and modern-day miracles. She left when she was 16, but has since grappled with the hangover of being raised in an environment with regressive attitudes towards women.
Creating this album has provided Amy with an outlet for her feelings towards the Church: “It’s really stress relieving to just scream bloody murder”, she admits. Producer Sam Grant (guitarist in Pigs x7) also helped foster this sense of healing in the studio: “He was so chill”, Annabelle recalls, before getting down on the floor of the green room and demonstrating the ‘Crow’ yoga pose that he taught them. “He was very nice. No bullsh*t ego, nothing like that”, Amy concludes.
The result of this catharsis is a collection of songs that are as vulnerable as they are powerful. But for Amy, laying all bare has brought difficulties. “It’s really nice, it’s what I wanted and expected, but it is a little overwhelming. A lot of my childhood trauma has been released in this album and sometimes it’s difficult because I’ll say things in interviews and they get paraphrased and it’s not exactly what I wanted to say.” The singer has been particularly concerned about the focus it has placed on her family: “I worry that people are gonna think my parents are bad parents, but they weren’t! They were the best parents!” she exclaims.
But despite the challenges, making such a personal body of work has enabled Witch Fever to form a closer connection to their fans. “I knew that it would get a reaction from people that could identify with my lyrics or had read into my lyrics and had similar experiences”, Amy says. She laughs, remembering that “Someone tweeted [a meme that read] ‘I’m fine… bro your favourite Witch Fever song is ‘12’’, which is the most confronting and horrible one. It’s been interesting: a few people have come up to me at merch stands and said ‘thank you for that song”.
Congregation deals with issues of patriarchal violence and abuse of power within the church, but, as Annabelle notes, the same issues are endemic to all areas of society. “I think the church and the music industry, they’re all institutions of the same society that has these views”, they say. “The church was so key in forming western society in the past that it’s had a part to play in the music industry that has then been formed from it.”
We support the unions, they assert. F*ck the Tories, but f*ck Starmer, and f*ck New Labour also. I think that sums it up.
Amy is keen to stress that misogynistic ideology does not simply manifest in overt displays of violence, but also in more insidious forms. “It’s not always hate crimes and sh*t. Even just being treated differently because you’re not a dude in a band. Being spoken down to, little things like that. On its own it’s not really serious, but when it’s everyday for everyone that isn’t a man, it becomes this big, overarching thing.”
So, with a new album that is so heavily based around institutional oppression, do Witch Fever want to be seen as an inherently political band? “No one’s ever asked us that before!” chimes in bassist Alex Thompson as she comes into the room. “The politics in the music we’ve done has come pretty naturally just from what we’ve experienced”, replies Annabelle astutely. And, when asked about the current state of British politics, the band respond with a burst of venom. “The political climate is a f*cking nightmare”, Amy says. “It makes me want to not get out of bed.” Annabelle offers a succinct conclusion to our conversation. “We support the unions, they assert. F*ck the Tories, but f*ck Starmer, and f*ck New Labour also. I think that sums it up.”
Congregation is out now, and you can stream it below: