From the outset, THE LOST & THE LONGING seems like an ambitious crossover. MORE: DUNE RATS: …
“The entire industry f*cking hated us; it was so brutal.”
MORE: SUNK LOTO: No More Anxiety // STEEL PANTHER: Bringing The Debauchery Down Under REVIEWS: ALEXISONFIRE: Otherness // GREY DAZE: The Phoenix // JOYCE MANOR: 40 Oz. To Fresno // STAND ATLANTIC: F.E.A.R // YOURS TRULY: is this what i look like? // OUTRIGHT: Keep You Warm // MOTHICA: Nocturnal
The sidefringe is gone, but sitting relaxed in his kitchen at home, Oli Sykes doesn’t appear to have aged since his band Bring Me The Horizon burst into the collective HTML consciousness in 2007.
The chaotic breakthrough single Pray For Plagues, complete with tattered and torn visuals, served as a taste (a warning?) of what was to come. No wonder critics felt threatened by the harsh and abrasive vocals; they had no clue of what lay ahead. Those who never opened up a Myspace profile probably won’t understand the sheer vitriol that used to be directed at Bring Me The Horizon on screen and on stage. Sykes told Metal Hammer in 2011 (long after they were awarded Kerrang’s Best British Newcomer in 2007 and toured overseas extensively, mind you): “we’d be getting boos and getting into fights with people in the crowd at our own headline shows.”
There aren’t many living legends that can describe that level of hatred and have their metaphorical star still be rising 10 years later. As is reminiscent of the band’s detractors, many would disagree that Sykes (vocalist, lyricist, and essentially their creative director) deserves that status. However, to those in the know, he is a legend. Belying this status though, his initial quote about hatred isn’t said in some sort of brag or boast. Rather, it’s spoken calmly; clear evidence of a long battle coming to terms with years of actual direct hatred.
For me, it was like the wild west where you could say or do anything. It’s not the case now
[ Oli Sykes ]
From Bring Men The Horizon’s humble beginnings in rainy Sheffield, UK to rapid underground internet stardom (“when Myspace did its final 100 countdown, Eminem was number two and Bring Me The Horizon were number one. That was absolutely f*cking nuts”), the band have rode the social media wave for better or worse. Sykes is candid about the lack of support from professional critics: “At the end of the day I’m thankful for the way we got treated. We got big with absolutely no support from media and actually, the opposite with them actively trying to bring us down. The internet didn’t care and kids loved our first record even though the critics hated it.”
“At the same time we were very blessed,” he recounts about the contrast between the halcyon days of early social media and today’s vast landscape. “We were the Myspace band and we took that platform by the horns. We didn’t know what we were doing, I think that’s the difference between then and now … For me, it was like the wild west where you could say or do anything. It’s not the case now, magazines can’t just call you a piece of shit or completely twist your words like they did back then. We’ve grown up as well, we were very reactive and volatile in that era, because we felt like we were well meaning kids. Then in our first interview, [the guy] absolutely destroyed us. We’d never had someone be nice to our faces to get us to say certain things, just so they can write that you said it in a really aggressive tone.”
In the same vein, Sykes digs deeper into the divide between the ‘real’ and ‘presented’ self in latest single Strangers. Sharing his handwritten lyrics on Instagram, the piece of paper bears manically crossed out words of “myself” and “I’m”, and replaces them with “ourselves” and “we’re” respectively on the page.
When asked about changing the focus from internal to external, he says of the single: “It’s about us all. Sometimes I’ll talk about myself in the singular even though I’m thinking about us all. If you read through them on the final [lyrics], there’s moments where I talk about myself in the singular and then jump straight to us as a whole. I wanted to have more of a duality like when you’re an addict: you have a split personality. It does feel like when you’re in that world and you’re addicted, or going through any shit like that, you feel like you’re the only one. You feel like you’re crazy and never going to get better. I guess my guardian angel missed the memo/cause we’re walking on razors again–I went back through it and swapped each [of the lyrics] up. It kept having that universal feeling, and then that feeling of just me … the song’s about me being in rehab and I didn’t even know how f*cking old I was anymore. I forgot, [and] forgot so much about myself. You do just feel like a f*cking maniac. I wanted to get that through with the lack of continuity in terms of perspectives.”
A change in perspectives is exactly what’s happened to them. With the announcement of their appearance at Good Things in Australia this December, their first ever headline set at a festival in the country, there’s the usual commentary surrounding their supposed lack of ‘heaviness’ of course. But there’s a tangible difference in the commentary he’s experienced, compared to how their position on a tour poster is received today.
“Things aren’t as black and white nowadays” he says of the growing shift in public perception. Not just of fans, but people he interacts with in passing on and offline “It was more ‘love or hate’ back then … People [nowadays] have got their opinions on the music, not based on an idea of who we are as people. Back then [in the past] that’s what it was, it was based on us as people. The amount of times you’d meet someone in real life and they’d say ‘I thought you were going to be a f*cking prick but you’re actually a really nice guy.’ That’s not a nice thing to hear constantly. At least we don’t have to hear that now. The worst thing I have to hear is ‘I love your band, but I don’t like your newer albums. I love Count Your Blessings or something.’ That’s fine, that’s just an honest opinion. It’s not personal and not like it was ever personal, because people didn’t actually personally know us. But that’s just people’s opinions on what we do and that’s completely cool.”
That sort of insight would’ve seemed unthinkable in the late 2000’s from the supposed ‘drunken lads’ of Bring Me that shot cheesy grins or ‘hardcore stares’ from the covers of music mags. As the feature pieces piled up for the band, seemingly so did the confidence and swagger of each member. With a microphone in hand, it was impossible to ignore quotes from Oli Sykes throughout the decades: the knowing barb “You can say I’m just a fool who stands for nothing/Well for that, I say you’re a c**t” thrown out in 2013 single Antivist, “we lived fast and died pretty” in 2008’s Death Breath. Never mind the general abuse hurled in the early days when they got too drunk to play and threw up on amps. They were kids with an unlimited rider and certified famous in the ‘scene’; who could blame them?
I wanted to have more of a duality like when you’re an addict: you have a split personality. It does feel like when you’re in that world and you’re addicted, or going through any shit like that, you feel like you’re the only one.
[ Oli Sykes ]
That ‘middle finger’ attitude to the industry at large seems at odds with the contemplative Sykes on screen today, thoughtfully parsing through his self-admitted personal doubts. “I think what I went through growing up with the band is a universal problem now,” muses Sykes. “When I got a massive complex growing up with the media and how much shit I had to take every day, people also f*cking loved me. We were doing magazine shoots and I’d see Photoshopped me on the cover and I would say ‘I look awesome’ but then I’d look in the mirror and say ‘I don’t look like that’. It f*cked with my head massively. If I spoke to some kid on the street or a fan, they would be like ‘what are you talking about?’ Now everyone’s going through that because of social media.”
It’s difficult to remember when he’s up on stage bathed in flame, on our screens hugging a fan who’s crying in disbelief after her personal mic grab in the front row, or somehow looking effortless in his own clothing line Drop Dead. But Sykes himself isn’t immune to black mirror envy. “Everyone has to be perfect, we go on Instagram and we’re jealous of everyone … You scroll and [think] ‘that guy has a better body than me, that guy cooked better food than me, that person’s going on better holidays than me’. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, and that must be what makes it addictive, it makes you feel like that. It’s human to torture ourselves. Kids are out there not feeling good enough, if you post one tweet when you were 14–a stupid tweet–that’s your life. It’s over. There’s such a parallel to what I was going through and I couldn’t talk to anyone or any of my friends about it then. It’s different now, everyone’s going through it. Everyone’s a celebrity in that sense, it’s weird and it’s a really hard thing to navigate and get out the other side and not be a freak, a weirdo, or damaged.”
“Oli doesn’t like to feel like his stuff is disingenuous,” Sykes’ bandmate Jordan Fish told Hysteria at the end of 2020. “He struggles to fake it.” It’s no surprise then that the singer has pushed Bring Me’s status to the forefront of social media yet again. The kids aren’t making Chelsea Smile their profile song, but nowadays they can post a video and potentially have Sykes provide his personal reaction on TikTok. He often watches fan videos quietly and provides a smile or mouths kind words in support. The content runs a wide gamut: people perform guitar or vocal covers of old or new material, create reaction memes about his famously styled hair (to which he himself reacts, self-aware), or even a pole dancing routine from a girl who says he’s helped her build confidence. With that level of connection to fans, it’s no wonder they’re hitting our shores with top billing.
Many fans older than Gen Z clamour for any information about the band throwing in certified scene classics to their current setlist. Any time a mention of older material surfaces (they performed a ‘deathcore medley’ of 2006/2008 era songs on their 2019 tour, which spiralled into a throwback set in Malta in May 2022 filled to the brim with deep cuts), he’s acutely aware that he might pigeon hole himself into unrealistic expectations. For Oliver Sykes and Bring Me though, expectations were always meant to be broken. “We’ve kind of dug our own graves because now we’re just going to get hounded if we don’t do something,” he says of pulling out surprises on the Australian run.
This writer, of course, took the opportunity to request a personal (and obscure) favourite, Football Season Is Over, given the band dived deep deep into the back catalogue in their May set, with some material not played live since 2008. “That’s a big hope because we didn’t even play it in Malta …” says Sykes. Not one to let a request like that slip though, he follows: “JJ Peters [of Deez Nuts fame, and guest vocalist on the track] might be about who knows … that’s a whole different kettle of fish though.”
Seemingly at the ricochet that quote could potentially cause around group chats and Reddit threads worldwide, and with the same ability to command internet speculation like it’s 2008 he half-smiles: “So yeah, let’s say we’ll do ‘something’.”
GOOD THINGS FESTIVAL 2022
Friday 2nd December // Flemington Racecourse // Melbourne (LIC AA 15+)
Saturday 3 December // Centennial Park // Sydney (18+)
Sunday 4 December // Brisbane Showgrounds // Brisbane (LIC AA 15+)
Bring Me The Horizon | Deftones | NOFX (performing ‘Punk In Drublic’ in full + all your favourites) TISM (Exclusive: First shows in 19 years!) | The Amity Affliction | Gojira | ONE OK ROCK | 3OH!3 | Blood Command | Chasing Ghosts | Cosmic Psychos | Electric Callboy | Fever 333 | Jinjer | JXDN | Kisschasy (Performing ‘United Paper People’ In Full) |Lacuna Coil | Millencolin | Nova Twins | Polaris | RedHook | Regurgitator | Sabaton | Sleeping With Sirens | Soulfly | The Story So Far | Thornhill