Let’s Eat Grandma: the freaky teenagers reinventing pop, in Norwich

Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are just 17 and make experimental pop with carefree abandon. They also reckon the recorder is ripe for a pop revival

If there’s one thing Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, the two Norwich 17-year-olds who make up experimental pop outfit Let’s Eat Grandma, feel passionately about, it’s the rehabilitation of the recorder. “People are so stuck up about recorders,” complains Hollingworth, as Walton recounts how her mum banished the instrument from the family home. “She couldn’t stand it; I used to play it really loud and squeakily.” The pair, however, are tired of this disrespect. “It’s magical,” insists Hollingworth. “The most underrated thing known to mankind!”

The good news is that, as one of the most chattered-about new acts of 2016, the pair are well placed to engineer the recorder’s comeback. To start with, they’ve put the instrument to work on their brilliant and strange debut album I, Gemini (and if you think it’s precocious to be putting out a record at 17, they actually recorded most of it two years ago). Joined by helium-high vocals, clapping-game percussion and lyrics about baking cakes, much of their collection of weird pop has a creepy, childlike glaze. It’s a mood compounded by their eerie live shows, in which they glower, do deadpan dance routines and utilise their Rapunzel-length hair (the sort that says: “likes Philip Pullman and plays the cello”) by draping it over their faces.

The girls say their uncanny aesthetic is partly intended to counter the “docile” and “calm” way they sense young girls are expected to behave on stage. But they also just enjoy goading people with weirdness. “We like the audience to have a reaction; we’re not really that bothered what it is,” they say, before chorusing a memorised bit of internet abuse. “Somebody commented: ‘horrible, horrible haunting voices and I’m suffering them now on 6 Music’,” they laugh delightedly. “It’s just funny when people don’t get it.”

And there is definitely an element of “getting it” where LEG are concerned. It would be easy to dismiss the band as either unselfconsciously eccentric or studiously pretentious, but much of their freakiness is meant to be funny. “People so far have been like, ‘Oh these girls are very serious,’” says Hollingworth. Yet there’s a lot of out-and-out comedy on the album, from a ridiculously ungainly sax entrance on Sax In The City to their Rock DJ-like rapping on Eat Shiitake Mushrooms, which awkwardly incorporates hip-hop cliches such as “getting in the zone”. “The whole album is almost taking the piss out of popular music,” Hollingworth explains. “So many things in it are just hilarious.”

Let’s Eat Grandma.
Let’s Eat Grandma. Photograph: Francesca Allen

Not that the pair dislike mainstream pop – in fact they say it’s one of their main influences. Friends since they were four, Walton and Hollingworth started making music together when they were 13, recording themselves covering songs from the charts. But they soon grew bored of the repetition and paucity of ideas in the music. “You think you could just take the best bits and create something that’s really condensed,” says Hollingworth.

“Rather than spreading [ideas] out over a whole album, we just try and shove it all into one song.” The pair began performing live and got a break in 2014 at Norwich’s Sound & Vision festival, when fellow young musician Kiran Leonard saw their name on a poster. Amused, he checked them out online and showed his manager, who then became their manager. Later, the pair signed to indie label Transgressive.

It’s a relatively traditional trajectory, but in musical terms the girls couldn’t seem any more current. The attention-deficient way their songs bounce between segments (“My mum always used to say, ‘There’s three songs in that one!’” says Walton) is reminiscent of how Kanye constructed tracks such as Famous and Pt 2 on The Life Of Pablo, while their appropriation of everything from chart pop sounds to unglamorous instruments speaks to a generation operating in a fog of post-irony. It’s linked to the way teens nowadays embrace things conventionally considered uncool (pop, parents, Labour party politicians) as a kind of rebellion – a snobbery against snobbery – but also as a big, liberating joke. For young musicians, it means you can make direct, wacky, inventive songs and not be held back by fear of looking stupid or people not taking you seriously, because you don’t. Fittingly, Walton and Hollingworth take the reaction to LEG lightly.

“If I was somebody outside who heard our music, I’d think is this really good or really shit?” says Hollingworth. “You don’t know – I don’t know.” “Is it?” they ask each other, blithely. With that spirit, the pair have the freedom to push pop forwards – recorders in tow.

Let’s Eat Grandma play Electrowerkz, London EC1, Wednesday 1 May; I, Gemini is out on 17 June on Trangressive


Rachel Aroesti

The GuardianTramp

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