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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Elizabeth Aubrey

The Last Dinner Party: the most talked-about band in Britain on defying the haters and their Glastonbury debut

It’s a stifling hot day on London’s Brick Lane, and new music sensations The Last Dinner Party are sweating buckets, having carried their instruments across town for rehearsals. They play Glastonbury for the first time this weekend.

“It’s a childhood dream come true,” says the band’s bass player, Georgia Davies, downing an icy drink. The organisers asked them if they wanted to play the festival last minute, “and we were like ‘Yes,’” adds lead singer Abigail Morris. “We never thought we’d get there this soon. We thought maybe next year, but here we are.”

In case you’ve somehow missed it, the quintet released their debut single Nothing Matters back in April and quickly became the most talked about band in Britain. Critics and fans were united in declaring it song of the year and the band’s distinctive baroque-pop sound and look has been compared to heavyweights like Queen, Kate Bush, ABBA and David Bowie. The single has already racked up 4 million streams.

It wasn’t long, however, before the band found themselves in the midst of a cruel online storm. Some accused them of being manufactured, others said they were industry plants. Many said they were nepo babies – the children of music industry parents – while others accused them of not writing any of their own music. None of these things are true, they say.

“It’s just bullshit!” Davies laughs. “We wrote this music together and we came up with the whole vision. We don’t have anything to hide. People can do their little Twitter think-pieces, but they’re just not true.”

“We’re real friends,” Morris says. They met while at different London universities (some studying music, some English literature) and bonded over music. “The basis of our friendship was just going to gigs all the time,” says keyboardist Aurora Nishevci. “And we did that for years.”

“I think the first conversation I had about the band was at The Shack after watching a band play and Abigail said: ‘we’re going to start a band,’” adds guitarist Lizzie Maylan. “We were watching some post-punk lads up on stage and we were like: ‘This is shit! We need to do something about this. We can and will change the music industry.”

Their visual identity is as important to them as the music. On stage, they wear gothy, medievalish gowns and corsets (think Midsommar crossed with Wuthering Heights-era Kate Bush). “We thought a lot about it, big time,” says Davies.

“Which is why it bit us in the butt,” adds Morris, “because everyone is like, ‘How are they so fully formed and prepared – they must be industry plants!’ But really, it’s because from the very beginning, before we even had a rehearsal, we knew we we’re going to think about this so carefully.” 

Their buzzy live shows at taste-making venues like Brixton’s Windmill built a strong grassroots fan base and after videos of them performing hit YouTube, calls from record labels flooded in. 

“We could have signed to an indie or a major...” Nishevci says, “...but we wanted money,” Morris interjects. Before the deal with Island Records, they balanced their studies alongside odd jobs and gigging to make ends meet. Lead guitarist Emily Roberts was even moonlighting in a Queen tribute band at the time. “I was Brian,” she laughs. “It was my back up plan, I was meant to go on a cruise ship playing.” After the band signed to Island, the cruise sailed into distant memory.

Their medieval goth-wife aesthetic is carefully thought through (Handout)

Of course, the hate continued, with some critics accusing them of ‘selling out’ by signing to a major label. “We weren’t going to turn down an incredible opportunity like this,” Morris says.

“I think it’s a really dangerous mentality, where to make art, you must be struggling, all the time,” adds Davies. “We want to encourage people to be able to do art and make a living from it, to be comfortable and able to do it with longevity and sustainability. If we’re only celebrating or accepting art where it’s been a real struggle, it’s a terrible message.”

They also point out how few artists now have a choice, at a time when so many earn so little from the industry, and arts cuts abound. “If we didn’t have management or any help, there’s no way we could afford to play festivals,” Davies says. “It cuts out so many great bands from these opportunities because of how little [they earn]. I think there should be so much more help… but the government doesn’t fund anything, so they’re not going to fund the arts.”

I wonder whether the negativity they faced after starting out would be experienced by an all-male band in a similar situation. “No”, they reply in unison.

“There are plenty of bands on the same label as us who are all men, or mostly men, and they don’t get any of this,” Davies shrugs. “They don’t get the ‘industry plant’ or ‘they dress too well’, Morris adds.

The band say they “expected” criticism after seeing what happened to Wet Leg, another female-fronted band who, despite huge success here and in the US, received similar accusations of inauthenticity.

“It’s a strange dichotomy,” says Davies. “You see everyone saying there needs to be more women on festival line-ups, there needs to be more successful female acts, and at the same time, a female band like Wet Leg does really well, cleans up at the Grammys, cleans up at the BRITS and the response has been, ‘oh but not like that.’” Morris puts it bluntly: “You just can’t win.”

It’s clearly had an impact on them, but they’ve “supported each other” and have largely “switched off” from it all, focusing on working in the studio where they’ve completed two albums worth of material. Humour has also helped. Davies, who manages their Twitter account, posted what Morris describes as “the line of the century” when people said they weren’t writing their own songs. “Our boyfriends wrote all the parts we’re just there to look pretty!” the tweet read.

“It’s because you’re just too dainty to play the guitar!”, Roberts mocks. “I can’t hold the microphone because of my tiny wrist!” Morris laughs. “My nails are too long!”, Maylan deadpans.

“Instantly in a band of women, people also want to know how the relationships work,” she adds. “Like, they want to know if it’s more emotional.” They’ve been asked about everything from “being bitchy” to what their “hormones are like.”

“We also always get ‘it’s so subversive that you play all the instruments,” Maylan says. Morris shrugs:“No one asks male bands ‘what’s it like being in a male band’. This is what we get as women.”

Still, says Morris, “if at the end of the day we can make young girls feel better about wanting to play an instrument, that’s a bonus… I just want people to imagine ‘rock band’ and it’s women, rather than it being like ‘oh how unusual is that’. I want to live to see the day where the fact we’re all women is not a crazy or unbelievable thing.”

“The playing field isn’t level,” Davies adds. “Which is still the problem.”

They have met allies in the industry, like Courtney Love who offered support and advice when they met at a festival. “After our show we were talking about Nothing Matters and about how we had to change the ‘f***’ in the chorus. She came up with some lyric suggestions written on an empty box of painkillers,” Morris laughs. “She passed them to me and was like ‘think about it,’” she says, mimicking Love’s low, husky tones. “I didn’t use them – sorry Courtney – but I now have this box framed.”

“It was a huge moment, meeting her,” Davies beams. “She’s great with women in music and she’s got a real thing for new London bands… Hole were a really foundational [band] for me and I got really into riot grrl and figured out feminism and shaved my head [because of that]. Hole were the soundtrack to that period of my life.”

They have less kind words for one Mick Jagger, after an early gig last year, following their signing, saw them support The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park. On stage, Jagger thanked his support acts – but forget to mention them. “We were publicly snubbed by Mick Jagger,” Morris laughs. “He should know by now because I’ve brought this up enough times that’s it becoming uncomfortable.”

The band became friends at university, bonding over music (Handout)

“Yeah, he must be in hiding now,” Davies jokes. “My goal is to bring it up so many times that it becomes more and more awkward that he’s not saying anything and that he’s forced to make a public apology,” Morris laughs.

The band say they can’t wait for fans to hear the album. “We just want to put it out now because we have something to prove,” says Davies. “We did this great single, but we’ve got more that we’re so proud of.”

They describe the album as “really weird”, and say fans might be surprised what comes next.

“Every song is very different,” Morris says. “I feel like there is not another song like Nothing Matters on the record… it’s just a vast range of genres, sounds, ideas and emotions.” Song wise, she says it’s about “ecstasy in every sense of the word… like extreme joy and extreme agony and finding pleasure in being able to feel all those things.”

The conversation turns back to Glastonbury. Who are they most looking forward to seeing? “Oh easy, Lana Del Rey,” they say collectively, adding they are “going to be sobbing” when she takes to the stage. And as for the future? “We’re in it for the long haul,” Davies smiles. “We feel very lucky that we get to do this. We can’t f***ing wait for what comes next.”

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